Monday, May 28, 2012

Art in Nature Training

Last week I was able to help with an Art in Nature training for Nature Center Camp Counselors. I enjoyed the experience of working with adults, and hopefully gave them some tools they can use with the kids they will be herding. We started the training with a short discussion focused on the questions "What is art?" and "How is art connected to nature?"

For the first question, we came up with three basic ideas: Art can be almost anything- painting, music, acting, sculpture, dance, poetry, even something made of sticks and leaves. Art is something that is created (usually by humans), and Art is a way of expressing an idea, thought, feeling, something inside you.

Most of the counselors answered that Nature is a source of inspiration to the second question, 'How is Art connected to Nature?'. There were different opinions about whether nature itself is art, or if it has to be manipulated by humans.  I would like to explore this subject more in the future.  What do you think, is nature  art?

Wheat grass- Is Nature Art?
Onion Flower- Is Nature Art?
Rucker Canyon Lake, AZ 2005 photo by Jacob
Is Nature Art?

I wrote the following for a handout given to the counselors, and I think it expresses my thoughts about how we can use art to help connect people to nature.

Art reaches us differently than many activities. Visual art, music, dance, poetry, and writing allow us to express ourselves, and connect to the world. At the nature center we want to give children opportunities to connect to nature, and art is a tool we can use. Art is available to all no matter our abilities and talents. We are free to express what is in our hearts and minds. The goal for us isn’t the product, but the process. Be a source of encouragement, and a facilitator of exploration. Art is different from crafts because it is less directed with step by step instructions, and a defined outcome. We give the kids some guidelines and media (paint, rocks, popsicle sticks) and see what they invent. I’m sure some beautiful art will be produced but, more importantly as long as someone’s heart is in it, it will be incredible, beautiful, and powerful.

 We finished the training with a Andy Goldworthy video and time outside making art out of sticks, rocks, leaves, and grass.  Each group made wonderful works, and can share the experience with kids this summer.  

Art Made by kids in Andy Goldsworthly fashion.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bird Beaks Quiz

Bird Beaks

It's been a while since I've made a quiz. Several of the past blogs have starred birds so here is a bird quiz.
  1. Birds use their bills for

  2. feeding, foraging, digging,
    courtship, nest building, preening
    All of the above plus more!

  3. Which of the following has a seed cracking bill?

  4. Northern Mockingbird
    Northern Cardinal
    Yellow Warbler

  5. Shorebirds have long slender bills to

  6. reach food in the sand and water
    scare away predators from the nest

  7. Which bird does not have a duck bill?

  8. Northern Shoveler
    Blue-wing Teal
    American Coot

  9. A Great Blue Heron's Bill is most like a

  10. a spear
    a pencil
    a hammer

Congratulations! You win!

Friday, May 18, 2012

A bunch of April and May photos

Bug Photos

Great Purple Hairstreak Butterfly at the Nature Center on a Mamosa Tree.
The Great Purple Hairstreak is a crazy butterfly.  It has these little hairs on off the back of the wings that look exactly like antenna.  The little 'hairs' move around in the flowers, and there are little circles at the base of the false antenna like a head.  The tree was covered in butterflies, moths, bees, and other insects.  It bloomed for about 2 weeks, and would be a great tree to plant if you want to attract pollinators.

Flower Shaffer Beetle on a Mexican Blanket.  
Beetles are an important pollinator that many people overlook.  However, beetles are often eating the petals as they pollinate making the flowers less attractive to us humans.

Not a Bee, but a Ladybug Beetle on a Bee Balm Flower.

Field of Flowers

Mexican Blanket and Mexican Hat
Bee Balm, and more Mexican Blankers

Unknown pink wispy flower in field of Mexican Blankets

We call our yard The Sunflower Forest!

The sunflowers say 'Welcome home'

How many flowers can you count on this one plant?

Mockingbird with a bug for its babies.  The nest is in our tree!

Female Cardinal eating sunflower seeds
I waited quite a while to snap these pictures of birds that live in our Sunflower Forest.

Hello Antro!

Sunflower forest- looking from under porch

Motacilla in front of the Sunflower Forest
I plan to take more photos of the Sunflower Forest from the same angles as it progresses through the summer.  Stay tuned for more yellow flower fun!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Warbler Day!

I thought I had missed the warblers this year.  On our High Island Trip, I saw only one warbler, a Blackpoll Warbler.  It was a really good warbler.  I hadn't seen before and I got two really good looks at it.  I was happy with what I got to see, but I missed the variety of past years.  For those of you who don't know, warblers are a group of small sized, distinctly patterned and colored birds.  They are beautiful!  They are insect-eaters so they are not lured to yards or bird blinds by feeders.  The best time of year in TX to see warblers is during Spring migration as they fly through in their bright breeding plumage. 

It is mid-May and migration is nearly over.  So, you can image my delight on Sunday morning when, we discovered warblers dripping from the trees at Hornsby Bend.  There were Wilson's, Blackburnian, American Redstart, Nashville, Yellow Warblers, and others.  A cold front and Northern wind made the birds stop for rest and to eat (in birding circles this is known as fall-out).  Hooray!!!  Well, not if your the warbler.  Not only were we lucky enough to get to see the warblers, but there was also a flock of Wilson's Phalarope on the pond.  Phalarope are a type of graceful shorebird.  They nest in the Northwest US and Canada.  We get to see them about once per year.  I have continued to see warblers on my morning walks with the dogs.  The dogs must hate birding, but they do get to be out longer.  Walk, stop, look at birds, walk slowly, stop, walk some more.

My brother John, just home from Iraq/Kuwait, made a surprise visit, and got to go birding with us on Sunday.  He isn't a birder, and actually gives my mom a hard time about getting old and watching the birds.  I'm not sure if he realized how great a bird morning he got, but I'm glad we got to share it with him.  Two other special birds that John got to see were Painted Buntings and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers.  I am a little obsessed with Scissor-tails and every time I see one I have to point it out.  They are common in Central Texas, but they never get old to me.  Birds are so amazing.  The migrate so far, and have so many obstacles.  They are beautiful, and it is special to get to see them as they fly on their way.  I am thankful for Warbler Days!  

I forgot to take my camera on Sunday!  So you get sketches and a painting I did after our 2010 High Island trip.  Here are some links if you would like to see photographs and range maps of warblers or phalaropes.

Warbler sketches, 2012 (birds are not to scale :))

Wilson's Phalarope sketch, 2012

Warblers of Boy Scout Woods, High Island TX, painted 2010

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Watching the Seasons Change

Last week, was the last Spring Nature Walk with the St. James Preschoolers.  It is starting to get into the 90s and our afternoon walks are a little too sweaty.  We will start up again in June, but the walks will be in the morning.  Some of the kids who go on Nature Walks will be away during the summer and several will go to another school in the Fall.  I will miss those who do not return.   

We have had fun getting to know our woods this year.  When we started last October, Austin was in an extreme drought.  We could not study flowers or bugs easily because there were so few to be found.  Most of the small weedy plants were brown and crispy.  Our walks have allowed us to watch the rains come, the plants bloom, and the insects fly.  We have also learned to recognize animal sign, listened to birds, met some really old trees, and played some fun games.  Their young eyes are keen to spot hidden caterpillars, and prickly plants.  Seeing the woods through their perspective keeps it new and exciting for me. 

Another change I enjoy seeing is the change in the kids over the three seasons.  The kids are growing faster than the weeds.  Their fresh brains absorb everything, and they are excited to discover the world.  It is rewarding to see the kids become comfortable in the woods.  I hope the kids remember our year, and continue taking nature walks where ever they go. 

Lara, a St. James teacher, lead the walk a few weeks ago allowing me to take a few photos.  We were learning about wildflowers, and made bracelets with tape.  As you can see, we had a great time!  Here's a link to the St. James Episcopal School website.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Proud to work at the Nature Center.

There are many reasons why I enjoy working at the Austin Nature and Science Center.  I get to spend time identifying mystery bugs and plants, kids bring me cool things to trade, I get to work with fun people who are interested in science, and I'm always learning new things.  But, the most rewarding part of my job is seeing kids get excited about nature.  It is fun to see a kid go from being unaware of the environment around them to being experts on rocks, bugs, or another subjects.  Getting to see projects kids have created for school, for a scout badge, or just for fun is one way I can see that progress, and seeing that progress makes me proud to work in the Trade Counter!  

Jack is a regular trader who started trading last summer while attending camp.  He is a fun kid with a great attitude.  Last weekend, Jack came to the trade counter with his grandparents.  We traded some minerals, cow bones, a shark tooth, and a few other objects.  We tested the minerals and compared Jack's shark tooth to fossil shark teeth, but my favorite part was hearing a story about finding a dead goose.  Jack found the goose and noticed it had a metal band on its leg.  With the help of his grandparents, he reported the finding to the Bird Banding Laboratory.  He learned the age, and location of the goose's first capture.  Jack was just as excited to tell the story as I was to hear it.  The credit for Jack's enthusiasm goes to his family.  They encourage him to be curious, and help him succeed.  I am happy to provide a place for kids like Jack to make their start as a naturalist.  I am proud to see young naturalists in the making!

Jack with his Bone project.  Way to Go, Jack!