Monday, March 26, 2012

Snowy owls!

To be this close to this impressive bird is incredible!
Today I had the wonderful opportunity to see and hear Norm Smith speak about his almost 30 years of working with Snowy owls!  Norm is the director of the MA Audubon Society's Blue Hills Trailside Museum.  He has been studying Snowy owls since 1981.  He has been doing research into their migration patterns and their ecological requirements.  He has obtained the necessary permits and permissions to capture Snowy owls at Logan airport.  He has color marked and leg banded most of these birds.  In addition, he has attached satellite transmitters to some of the birds.  The data collected via satellite telemetry on these birds will provide critical information on the physical health and the elusive migration patterns of Snowy owls wintering in Massachusetts.  To learn more about the MA Audubon's Snowy Owl Project, click here.  These photos were used with the permission of Sean Riley  and Dave Larson
A beautiful close-up of this magnificent bird!

I am holding the wing of a Snowy owl.  This bird met it's death at Logan airport and Norn uses these parts for education purposes.

Look at those eyes!
Here is Norm pointing out something of interest.

Norm and the Snowy.

The owl is set free!

Signs of Spring - Natures Green is Gold

Nature's Green Is Gold  by Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

As you are out and about on the lookout for signs of spring to record in your journal, keep this classic poem in mind.  Spring time colors are stunning.  Greens evolve into golds and reds.  Spend some time looking for these special, subtle spring time colors.

Signs of Spring journal writting activity

“Signs of Spring” Journal Writing Project

“Observation is not only the most fundamental science process skill, it is also the most fundamental act of a caring person”  Anon.

During the next few months, I want you to be on the lookout for signs that spring is approaching. Even though spring, or the Vernal equinox, officially arrives on March 20, we all know that spring isn’t really here on that date. I have included a list of some signs of spring for you to be on the look out for, but there are many more. Use your senses! Listen, smell, see, and feel. Each entry must include the following information in your “Signs of Spring” journal:
A. Date
B. Time
C. Location
D. Description
E. Sketch

Your written journal entry should be at least two paragraphs long. A paragraph is 4 – 7 sentences long. Your writing should be descriptive, based on your observations. You may also be more creative and include creative writing such as poetry, your own art work, etc.

You could also include information such as temperature, wind speed, rainfall, etc. This information may be obtained from the weather page of a newspaper, an almanac, or on-line.

Your observations might be of one particular thing or event, and you may follow up with additional observations of that same thing. For instance, if you have a Maple tree in your yard, you might first observe when the sap begins to flow. Next, you might notice that the buds are beginning to swell. Next, you might record when the leaves are beginning to first open, and last, you could write when the tree is fully leafed out.

You may want to comment on how big something grew, how many, or the frequency of, something you saw, or any other subtle changes you observed. Use your senses! Listen, smell, see, and feel.

Your drawings should be observational art, not imaginative art. They need to communicate information. Give evidence in your drawings – size, shape, color, motion, contour lines. Use the “Tips for Nature Sketching” sheet that Mrs. Davis wrote. In addition, I will accept digital photographs you take yourself.

To successfully do this assignment, you will have to get outdoors where you will have a first hand opportunity to use all of your senses to observe the world around you

We will start the “Signs of Spring journal the week of February 6th. Though it is the height of winter, there are little changes happening that let us know that spring is coming. I will let you know the dates the journal entries are due. We’ll continue this until early June.

Journals will be checked and graded!.

Signs of Spring calendar

Signs of Spring Calendar - 2012

1st Week
• Feb. 2, Groundhog Day. 6 more weeks of winter if the groundhog sees its shadow?
• On warm, sunny days look for signs of snow fleas at the base of tree trunks, like a sprinkling of pepper on the snow.
• Great horned owls begin to nest. Listen for their hooting at night and early dawn.
• February 7th. Full moon 11:38AM. The Snow or Hunger moon
2nd Week
• Skunks emerge to mate about this time of year. Listen for their fights and squabbles late at night.
• Wherever there is open, clear, running water, look for stoneflies on the south-facing banks of streams. One of the few insects that is active in winter, it can sometimes be seen crawling across ice or snow. Stoneflies are one of the better indicators of clean, unpolluted water.
• February 14th – Sunrise 6:43AM Sunset 5:15PM Length of Day 10 hours 32 minutes
3rd Week
• February 19th. Red Sox pitchers and catchers report to Ft. Myers, FL for spring training.
• February 21st – New moon. 5:37PM
• Listen for the spring songs of Chickadees (“chick-a-dee-dee-dee”) and Tufted-titmouse (a loud, whistled “peter-peter-peter”)
• Maple sap starts running. Look for little icicles at the tips of sugar maple twigs.
• Foxes and raccoons begin their mating season around this time. Listen at night for fights.
• On the wet days of late winter, look for turkey-tail and other shelf fungi on old tree trunks and stumps.
4th Week
• First of the returning Red-wing blackbirds appear.
• Starlings, House finches, Cardinals, and other birds begin singing their spring songs. Spring is in the morning air.
• Feb. 28th Sunrise 6:22AM Sunset 5:33PM Length of Day 11 hours 11 minutes
March 2012
1st Week
• Watch for flights of Mourning cloak butterflies on warm days.
• Watch for emerging Skunk cabbage in moist woodlands as soon as the ground thaws in these areas.
• Check the woodland edges for the swelling buds of pussy willows.
• Mud season is upon us.
2nd Week
• March 8th. Full moon. The Sap moon.
• March 11th. Daylight Savings Time begins at 2:00AM.
• March 14th Sunrise 6:57AM Sunset 6:51PM Length of Day 11 hours 52 minutes
• Migratory American woodcocks return to their breeding grounds. Watch for their courtship flights at dusk over old fields and listen for their “peent” call.
• Red-winged blackbirds, Grackles, and Brown-headed cow birds are steadily returning around now.
• Painted turtles are among the earliest turtles to come out of hibernation. They have even been seen swimming below ice.
3rd Week
• Chipmunks emerge from underground winter sleep.
• March 20th – Vernal Equinox. The first day of spring. Day and night are equal in length.
• Look for flights of returning migratory ducks in your local freshwater wetlands and ponds. Ring-necked ducks, Green-winged teal, Wood ducks, Black ducks, and mallards are all heading to their breeding grounds.
• Salamander migration begins on the first warm, rainy night. Watch for them crossing roads in wooded areas.
• Pussy willows are fuzzed out about now.
• Listen for family, friends, relatives, and neighbors to say their favorite weather or nature proverb.
• March 22nd. New moon 10:39AM
4th Week
• March 28th Sunrise 6:33AM Sunset 7:07PM Length of Day 12 hours 34 minutes
• The winter constellations are moving westward. Watch for the last days of Orion and Pleiades.
• On warm days and nights, listen for the soft, ducklike “quack” call of Wood frogs from vernal pools in wooded areas.
• Willow branches start turning green.
• On sunny days, watch for early garter snakes in sunny locations around rocks and rubble, near grasses.
• Red maples bloom; look for the reddish haze in wooded swamps.
April 2012
1st Week
• Listen for the jingle-bell-like call of spring peepers about this time.
• Tree swallows return to the area. Watch for them “hawking” insects over ponds, marshes, and wet areas.
• Robins are returning.
• Red Sox first game. @ Detroit.
• April 6th Full moon 3:20 P.M.
2nd Week
• Forsythia blooms yellow about now.
• Yard grass turns green. Hay fields and old fields are still brown.
• Red Sox home opener vs. the Rays.
• April 14th Sunrise 6:04AM Sunset 7:26PM Length of Day 13 hours 22 minutes
• In wooded areas, listen for the muffled drumming sounds of the male Ruffed grouse. They get up on an old log, extend their wings in an arc, and then in a very quick motion, flap their wings. They start slowly and build up speed. This causes a loud, drumming-like sound the males use to attract a mate.
• Watch for blooming woodland wildflowers now, before the leaves come out on the trees.
3rd Week
• Snakes and turtles emerge from their winter quarters. Watch for them basking in sunny areas. Snakes prefer south-facing rocky slopes.
• Pine warblers, Barn swallows, and Yellow-rumped warblers are returning around now.
• Crab apples and azaleas are blooming.
• Watch for these returning birds: Towhees, Brown thrashers, House wrens, and Chimney swifts.
• Watch the ground for ants and Ladybugs.
• April 21st. New moon. 3:20AM. Watch for the sickled-shaped, spring constellation, Leo in the eastern sky. A sure sign of spring.
• April 22nd – Earth Day. The 41st anniversary of Earth Day.
• April 22nd – Lyrid meteor shower. Best seen just before dawn looking south.
4th Week
• April 28th Sunrise 5:43 AM Sunset 7:42 PM Length of Day 13 hours 59 minutes
• Toads should be singing by this time; listen for their long trill from nearby swamps and marshes..
• April 30th - This is the eve of the Celtic first day of summer and the date of the Roman festival Floralia. Both were celebrations of flowers and love.
• Listen for the whistled “old, Sam peabody-peabody-peabody” song of the white-throated sparrow.
• “If apple trees bloom in April the crop will be plentiful- if they bloom in May the crop will be poor.”
May 2012
1st Week
• May 5th. Full moon. 11:36PM The Flower moon.
• Black-and-white warblers, yellow warblers, and Baltimore orioles return.
• Watch for early butterflies such as Spring azure, Cabbage white, and Common sulphur.
• Trout lilies, Columbine, Trillium, and other woodland wildflowers are still in bloom.
2nd Week
• May 14th Sunrise 5:23AM Sunset 8:00PM Length of Day 14 hours 37 minutes
• Wood thrushes, Catbirds, and Veeries return.
• The second week in May marks the height of the warbler migration. Over 20 different species of these small, colorful songsters will pass through eastern Massachusetts on their way to their breeding grounds. Watch for them in the tree tops and shrubbery.
• Mayflies are swarming.
• Listen to the dawn chorus of singing birds. It starts as early as 4:30AM and it is a caucfony of sound
3rd Week
• May 20th. New moon 7:48PM. . This is a good night to watch the sky for spring constellations
• The Dogwood trees blossom about now.
• Watch for blooming lilacs. “When the yellow forsythia blooms it's the time to prune roses and fertilize the lawn.”
• Dragonflies and damselflies reappear about now.
• Trees will put out their leaves about this time.
• Scarlet tanagers, Rose-breasted grosbeaks, Red-eyed vireos, and Broad-winged hawks return
4th Week May 2012
• May 28th Sunrise 5:11AM Sunset 8:13PM Length of Day 15.02 hours.
• Earthworms mate about this time of year. Watch for them on soggy nights.
• In coastal areas, this is the height of the shorebird migration.
• Monarch butterflies and Dragonflies move northward around this time.
• Tiger swallowtail butterflies can be seen now.
• Lady slippers and Jack-in-the pulpit bloom in shady woodlands.
June 2012
!st Week
• June 3-4, 2012: Partial eclipse of the Moon In North America, this will be fully visible only from western Alaska
• June 4th. Full moon 7:11AM. Rose moon or Strawberry moon.
• Watch for tadpoles in ponds.
• June bugs appear. Watch for them around porch lights and at screen windows.
• Listen for Bull frog choruses from freshwater marshes and ponds.
• Listen for the bubbling song of the Indigo bunting (sweet – sweet – chew-chew- sweet- sweet)
2nd Week
• June 14th Sunrise 5:06AM Sunset 8:24PM Length of Day 15 hours 18 minutes
• June 19th. New moon 11:03AM.
• First hatch of mosquitoes begins about this time.
• Field wildflowers bloom around this time.
• Orchids and bog-loving wildflowers bloom.
• Baby birds begin appearing about this time; watch for them on lawns and in shrubbery. Most seemingly lost babies are not orphans, their parents are nearby.
• Painted, Snapping, and Spotted turtles lay their eggs about this time of year.
3rd Week
• June 21st – Summer solstice, the longest day of the year. There is 15 hours and 19 minutes of day.
• June 18th. Last day of school!
• First Meadow crickets can be heard about now.
• Fireflies begin appearing in grassy areas.
• Kingbirds nest; young Baltimore orioles call from hanging nests.
• Listen for the haunted, fluted song of the Wood thrush

Bird of the Week - XXVII

This week's "Bird of the Week" is the Wild Turkey. If you have ever seen a Wild turkey, you can't miss it! They have a bronzy iridescence to their body feathers and their wing feathers are barred black and white. The male is much larger with a more prominent beard, and it's head and neck are completely bare, often with a blueish color and with red wattles. A wattle, or beard, is the skin that hangs from the turkey's throat.

The male Turkey, called a tom, gobbles to attract females, called hens. When she appears, he struts around her. He has his tail fanned and held up vertically, lowers his wings so that the wingtips drag on the ground, raises the feathers on his back, throws his head back onto his back with the bill forward, and inflates his crop. He makes occasional deep "chump" sounds, followed by a low "humm," and accompanied by a rapid vibration of his tail feathers. During the strut his facial skin engorges and the colors intensify, especially the white forehead.
Baby turkeys are called "poults." The male Wild Turkey provides no parental care. When the eggs hatch, the chicks follow the female. She feeds them for a few days, but they quickly learn to feed themselves. Several hens and their broods may join up into bands of more than 30 birds. Winter groups have been seen to exceed 200.

The Wild turkey was a main part of Native Americans and early settlers diet. By 1857, there were no more Wild turkey's in Massachusetts due to over hunting. In 1972 and 1973, the Massachusetts Department of Wildlife released 37 Wild turkey's that were captured in New York into western Massachusetts. These turkeys survived and bred and between 1979 and 1996, Mass wildlife officials trapped more than 500 turkeys in the Berkshires(western Mass) and released them elsewhere in the state. Today, there are an estimated 20,000 Wild turkeys in Massachusetts! 
Photos from All Abot Birds.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Law of Conservation of Energy

This theory states that energy cannot be created or destroyed. It can only be transformed from one form of energy to another.

We can put this another way:

* Energy cannot be made
* Energy cannot be destroyed. It is never "used up."
Energy can just change from one form to another.
The amount of energy you start out with is the same amount of energy you end up with. Only the forms of energy change.

We did many activities and drawings to help learn about this theory.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Bird of the Week - XXVI

This week's "Bird of the Week" is the American robin. The Robin is the first true sign of spring for many people. The American Robin is a familiar sight pulling up worms on suburban lawns. The Robin is a large thrush with gray back and wings and red underparts. It has a dark head with white eye crescents (marks above and below the eye). The males and females look alike with the female paler, especially on the head.
The American Robin eats both fruit and invertebrates. Earthworms are important during the breeding season, but fruit is the main diet during winter. Robins eat different types of food depending on the time of day; they eat earthworms early in the day and more fruit later in the day. Because the robin forages (eats) largely on lawns, it is vulnerable to pesticide poisoning and can be an important indicator of chemical pollution. Robins will occasionally winter over here in Reading, surviving on berries.
In early spring, Robins can often be seen a big flocks in grassy fields feeding.

Robins have adapted very well to human-modified habitats. I bet you have seen and heard Robins in your yard, and maybe even have found a Robin nesting in a bush or shrub in your yard. Robins mate in the spring from April through July and may have as many as three broods (families). Their loud, musical, whistled song sounds like, "cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up."
Photos from All About Birds.


Friday, March 16, 2012

EMS Common Craft videos

The Common Craft videos we created about the Electromagnetic Spectrum are finally up.  They can be found at:
Scroll down and click on group 65, 66, 67, or 68 to see these excellent videos!

Energy, Force & Motion

We are kicking off our new unit on Energy, Force, and Motion by investigating Potential and Kinetic energy.  Using different toys, the students demonstrated the toy with potential energy, them with kinetic energy, and then they identified the force that was neede to change the potentail energy into kinetic energy.


Monday, March 12, 2012


This week's "Bird of the Week" is a bird you probably haven't seen before, but does nest here in Reading. It is the American woodcock. The American woodcock is a shorebird that lives in forests! The American Woodcock is most frequently encountered at dusk when the male's chirping, peenting aerial displays attract attention. Otherwise the superbly camouflaged bird is difficult to discover on the forest floor where it probes for earthworms. The flexible tip of the American Woodcock's bill is specialized for catching earthworms. The bird probably feels worms as it probes in the ground. A woodcock may rock its body back and forth without moving its head as it slowly walks around, stepping heavily with its front foot. This action may make worms move around in the soil, increasing their detectablity.The Woodcock is plump, with a round head, no apparent neck, and a long bill. It's coloring is shades of brown, buff, and gray which allows it to camouflage itself quite nicely. The American woodcock is a gamebird, meaning that it can be leagally hunted.

The male American Woodcock has an elaborate display to attract females. He gives repeated "peents" on the ground, often on remaining patches of snow in the early spring. After a time he flies upward in a wide spiral. As he gets higher, his wings start to twitter. After reaching a height of about 300 feet, the twittering becomes intermittent, and the bird starts chirping as he starts to descend. He comes down in a zig-zag, diving fashion, chirping as he goes. As he comes near the ground he silently lands, near a female if she is present. Then he starts peenting again. You can observe this spectacular courtship display at the Bare Meadow Conservation Land, off of Pearl St. here in Reading. They display just before dawn and again at dusk. To listen to a brief podcast entitled, "Woodcock's Sky Dance", click here and then click Play MP3.

Monday, March 5, 2012


This week's "Bird of the Week" is the Mallard duck. The Mallard is one of the most common of all ducks, and is found throughout North America. It is found in all kinds of wetlands and is a familiar inhabitant of urban park ponds. If you have wetlands near you, there is a good chance you have seen these ducks occasionally in your yard.

The Mallard is a large (almost 2 feet long) dabbling duck. Dabbling means that it tips upside down to feed on aquatic ( water) vegetation. They weigh between 2 -3 pounds and have a wing span of about 3 feet. The male has an iridescent green head, rusty chest, and gray body. The female is mottled brown.

Mallards will eat insects and larvae, aquatic invertebrates, seeds, acorns, aquatic vegetation, and grain.
Photos from All About Birds