Discovering Nature

Category: Kids and Nature



Things are looking up around here. At least, caterpillars are. Two of our now seven monarchs have made their silk buttons and dropped into their J’s. I hope I’ll be able to see the chrysalis form for at least one of them. We have one more big guy that I picked up today, thinking he’d climb right up to the ceiling with these two and follow suit, but so far he’s munching with great dedication on the milkweed, occasionally pausing mid-bite for a nap.

Still, it won’t be long. I won’t have to worry about supplying fresh milkweed for him for long.

Not the case with this one.


What can I say? I was ready to stop collecting caterpillars, but Younger Daughter was along and felt otherwise. So we have the three big guys, two medium-sized ones with a couple of instars left before they’re ready for chrysalises, and now two tiny ones.

At least they grow quickly!


I think it may give them a better chance to be safe in the aquarium while they’re in the chrysalis state. But I have mixed feelings. Life in the wild looks pretty good too: soaking up the sun and the breezes, eating and napping.


I know monarchs are poisonous to birds, but I’m not sure if other predators eat them: spiders, frogs, milkweed beetles. Maybe the tiny ones have a better chance if we help them out too.

In any case, it’s encouraging to see so many of them this year!

Tanglewood Trails


We hustled through our schoolwork in the morning and drove to the Tanglewood Nature Center in Elmira yesterday. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we took the trail up to an overlook over the Chemung River Valley.



We spotted two redtails circling over the river, but by the time I got my camera back out, they were high above us.

We ate our lunch there, and I enjoyed reading about Mark Twain’s thoughts on such an experience, posted nearby:


On the way back down we paused at this lower point, and a juvenile eagle soared past at eye level. No pics — but a grand sight.


Of course there were many beautiful perspectives on the trail. We passed through yellow sections, red sections, and conifer sections. I was partial to the golden yesterday — even though “nothing gold can stay.”


The reds were lovely too.



I commented on these bi-colored yellow/red maple leaves, and the kids proceeded to gather specimens.





There were apple trees, and faded pearl crescent butterflies.


pearl crescent

We enjoyed the many fossils seen along the trail, too.


When we got back to the bottom, we rested a bit…


…and saw several bluebirds. They were perching in a walnut tree, then swooping down to hawk insects near the ground. It’s always a treat to see our state bird.



I was surprised to see red-winged blackbirds too, plucking and eating the keys from this tree.



On the whole it was a grand way to drink in the sights and smells of autumn.


American Kestrel

kestrel2Okay, it’s blurry. But even blurry, it’s more than I’d ever seen a year ago. I didn’t see my first American kestrel till early summer of last year, despite how beautifully bright and detailed their markings are.

This one was across a field, and I stopped beside a country road to try and get a few pics.



For Christmas, my daughter received a book by master bird carver Floyd Scholz, and among other things Scholz has increased our appreciation for these kestrels. Click on his name and visit his website to see some of his absolutely amazing, lifelike carvings. He has a book about carving and painting an American kestrel which we’ll no doubt invest in at some point if my daughter continues with her interest in carving. For now we content ourselves with the raptor book we now own — an exercise in close observation that inspires nothing short of awe at the grandeur of these magnificent birds.

Red-tail art

My daughter came home from our walk yesterday and disappeared into her room to draw the hawk we saw.

redtail drawing

She’s 11. I love her drawings — they just get better and better.

Homemade Nature-Loving Gifts

We had a great Christmas this year, and one of the highpoints for me was the number of handmade gifts given. My brother made a number of beautiful wood gifts, and I gave calendars made using my nature photos. But the coolest gifts of all were made by my 11-year-old.

We had made a collage of her artwork while I was working on the calendars so that we could frame it and put it in the hall. Here it is.


Disaster struck as we were hanging it, and the frame broke. But here is my younger daughter’s collage framed. Older Daughter’s will look like this as soon as we replace the frame.


I love the cardinals passing a sunflower seed in Younger Daughter’s collage! Her osprey is really good too.

But back to the subject of Christmas gifts. Older Daughter has done some drawing of birds with her grandfather, so we made a mug that featured her collage as a present. It turned out spectacular, with the colors showing vividly against the mug’s black background. He loved it.

She also surprised my husband and me with framed drawings of our favorite birds. His is a peregrine falcon:


Mine (currently) is the red-breasted nuthatch.

nuthatchesLast but not least, she created a nature newsletter to pass out to our extended family. We made some and mailed them to grandparents last year, but it’s been awhile. This was her idea, and she did all the writing. I helped her a bit with Publisher and supplied some pics, but it really represents her creative effort.




byb4We’re proud of her, of course! And as both mom and teacher, I’m amazed at the way our emphasis on nature study starting last year has opened up such a deep response in both girls. When she wanted to create something personally meaningful as a gift for loved ones, Older Daughter’s thoughts went reflexively to the natural world. One of my hopes for her is that she’ll never lose that sense of wonder.

And so it begins

Last year, we got seriously into monarch caterpillar observation. I wrote about it here.

This year, I’ve seen a few caterpillars, but we’ve held off on bringing any home, thinking we’d wait till they get bigger. It makes for easier maintenance. But since we’re seeing far fewer than last year at this time, and since there’s no guarantee the little ones will be there if we wait and go back, I yielded last night to Younger Daughter’s pleas and brought this little fellow home. It’s quite sluggish; I think it may be ready to shed this skin.

*Edited to add: I wrote about the conclusion of this story at my other blog, here and here.

Cornell Hawks: An 11-year-old’s view

Artist at work

My daughter has been documenting the drama of the hawks featured in Cornell University’s red-tail nest cam. It was not an assignment, but something she’s done on her own initiative. There have been multiple revisions of some of the pages as she’s worked to get the details right in illustration and writing.

Last week we visited the campus and were there when the first chick fledged. She came home and finished the project. I think she’s done a really great job of capturing the highlights of the red-tail family’s journey! So I’m sharing the book here as a tribute to her diligence as well as to the impact of the cams as an educational experience.

Yes, there will be more to the story of the hawks, but this is probably where this particular book will leave it. She may go back and type the text and tweak here and there, but the substance is completed. I’m glad she stuck with it all the way to the end! It testifies to the impact learning and caring about something can have.

I’ve written about our real-life visits to the hawks on April 7 (at my other blog), May 12, May 27, and June 6. A few more thoughts and pics from June 6 are here. Our family has had a great time following them through the nesting season!

3/4 of the Raptor Geek Squad, April 7

I’m submitting this post to the Outdoor Hour Challenge, to be published on the last day of June.

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