Thursday, February 23, 2012

Birding Fun

 Yesterday, I took the St. James preschoolers out to look for birds.  Armed with toilet paper binoculars and too much energy we set out.  Birds are fun to look for with preschoolers because they are all around us and they can fly.  The trouble with looking for birds with preschoolers is that birds can fly.   Since birds don't like loud noises and sudden movements, bird watching is challenging for kids and many adults.  As my brother put it, “you know you’re old when your entertainment is watching birds.”  But I believe that birding is great fun, and that once you start looking it is hard to stop.  Danielle, a friend from the Nature Center, once said that she never realized how many birds were there because she never really looked.  I think it is important to help kids and people like my brother give birding a chance.  

The preschoolers and I saw vultures, a dove, some sparrows, heard cardinals and mockingbirds.  I also set up a spotting scope on a hobby lobby cardinal for the kids to see.  We then sneaked up on the pretend bird on its tree perch.  This past Sunday, Jacob and I spent the whole day looking for birds.  We saw over 80 different species.  Our list included everyday birds like cardinals, and mockingbirds, to more unusual birds such as an osprey, and pelicans.  The variety of birds is one of the things that makes birding fun.  The challenge is remembering all the things that separate the different types of sparrows and gulls.  The excitement is being in the right place at the right time to see a Bald Eagle peak over its nest, a Pileated Woodpecker as it is flying away, or a heron spear a fish. 

Share your bird stories.

We have enjoyed seeing large
numbers of American Robins this winter
Green-wing teal, and American coot feeding on mud flats.

Northern Shovelers shoveling

Thursday, February 16, 2012


I've always enjoyed stories of imaginary places, impossible feats, and unusual creatures.  These fictional stories are filled with awe and excitement.  These myths are also filled with magic.  I suppose I am predisposed to find that magic does exist.  I'm not talking about elves, dragons, or fairies.  I'm thinking of moments when time seems to stop because something is so beautiful.  The beauty takes your breath away.  I'm thinking of the times that you stop in amazement of how interesting a creature can be.  Nature casts spells on me.  It makes my heart soar with birds and clouds, shrinks me to the size of a bug, calms me, and excites me.  I am so glad and thankful I live on Planet Earth.  Our animals, rocks, atmosphere, oceans, and ecosystems are so complex, finely tuned, and amazing.

Art is a tiny bit like nature in that it too can be magical.  A painting can draw you in, and make you soar.  Music can change your mood and touch your soul.  Poems can heal hurts.   A goal that I strive for is to create paintings that have magic.  Will every painting contain some magic?  I hope so.  Will every person be touched by every painting?  Of course not.

We all have our favorites.  I find magic by looking for sundogs, mushrooms, flying birds, shiny bugs, tiny delicate flowers, by watching seasons change. One of my favorite artists is Claude Monet.  His water lily paintings are so calm, and beautiful.  The poem The Daffodils by William Wordsworth always makes me happy.

Please share your favorite ways to find magic in nature and/or art.
Tiny plants growing out of a dead log.

A Shiny Ground Beetle
If you enlarge the photo
you can see its shiny purple color!
Two Mushrooms that have sprouted in the last  few days.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bones are Terrific!

I believe I have the best job!  I pretty much get paid to play.  The Naturalist Workshop and Trade Counter at the Austin Nature and Science Center is where I spend Wednesday through Friday mornings and Saturdays.  Kids bring me treasures they find in nature, and I give them points for knowing information and being curious.  I love hearing the stories of where the kids found their object and what it might be.  I enjoy teaching kids about things in which they are already interested.

Every week two Nature Center preschool classes come and trade.  The Iguanodon class comes on Thursdays, and the Starfish class comes on Fridays.   I especially enjoy these groups because I get to know them over the year and get to watch them grow and learn.  The preschoolers are bright kids who are naturalists in training.  I am happy to be a part of that training/playing.   Rye was a preschooler last year, who has graduated to Kindergarten.  He is one of those kids who you can have conversation with and is excited about nature.  You can see his hard work in the poster below.  I love the title because Bones are Terrific!  I can defiantly see him going on to become a scientist or park ranger.

The person who had the most influence my desire to be an environmental educator was my dad.  My dad can track animals, spot deer laying out under bush, and name most of the trees found on the trail.  My dad helped me learn to look around and to ask questions about what I see.  My dad passed on his love of nature to me.  I hope I can pass on my love of nature to all the kids who come visit me at work.

Did anyone in particular influence your interest in nature or your current job?  Do you have a nature collection?  What is your favorite thing to collect or see in nature?

Me at work in front of the trade cabinets.

Rye, a regular trade counter visitor, made this poster for the
science fair.  He won 1st place in the kindergarten classes.
Well Done, Rye!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

St. James Nature Walks

Every week for nearly two years now, I have taken kids from St. James Episcopal School for a nature walk.  St. James has about 20 acres of undeveloped woods that meets the property where I live.  These woods have helped me adjust to and handle city life.  A small meadow, seasonal steam, woods with giant mesquite and TX persimmon trees, a prickly pear cactus maze, and other treasures are found in the 20 acres.  It's Great!  Before I started the walks, I had never seen anyone else enjoying the natural space.  I thought it a shame that there were no kids out exploring.  A part of me wanted to keep the woods to myself, but sharing my special spots and discoveries has given me much more joy.

Today, our walk followed the water's path from the school's parking lot drains, into the ditch, past large culverts, into a series of water catchment ponds, and into our little stream.  We tangled with weeds, yelled into pipes, jumped over the stream, smelled leaves from the little pond, and more.  I like teaching the kids about bugs, and plants.  I like seeing them become confident instead of scared.  I like seeing them test how far they can jump and how fast they can run.  I like helping them have quiet moments, too.  I do nature walks because the kids make it fun.  

I started doing nature walks in part to give the undeveloped area some value to the school.  If someone is using it, maybe it won't be sold or turned into apartments as quickly.  I would be very sad if I didn't have my little bit of woods.  I hope St. James continues with Nature Walks after Jacob and I leave Austin.