Wednesday, October 31, 2007


For the past 2 weeks, we've been doing our second short study of Shakespeare. We did our first one a couple of years ago and I posted about it here. I don't want Alexandra to be afraid of Shakesepeare. In fact, when we studied him last time she was only 5 and she went around saying, "I love Shakespeare!" :-)

Last time, the main play we read was A Midsummer Night's Dream. This time, our main play was Romeo and Juliet. We read both of these stories by reading a shortened version written by Lois Burdett who has taught Shakespeare to her 2nd and 3rd graders for years. She writes her play in couplets, just like Shakespeare, and sometimes uses his own wording.
Besides Romeo and Juliet, we also studied about Shakespeare's life and times. Here are some resources:
  • William Shakespeare by Haydn Middleton (What's Their Story?) - great kids biography of Shakespeare
  • Romeo and Juliet by Lois Burdett (Shakespeare Can Be Fun) - she has 5 in this series and this is our 2nd - very enjoyable and it helps to make Shakespeare's stories understandable and fun! We really enjoy the kids art wor and short stories - the kids' vocabulary is amazing!
  • Shakespeare's England: Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and William Shakespeare by Cavendish - I actually read this myself and never got around to sharing it with Alexandra, but she would have enjoyed a lot of it
  • Shakespeare (DK Eyewitness Books) by Peter Chrisp - great photos, etc, of Shakespeare's time

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Mercer Arboretum

On Friday, we went to the Arboretum with my niece who was down for the day. It was a gorgeous day with perfect weather!

A carnivorous pitcher plant
A Gulf Fritillary

Alexandra enjoying the fish

Being silly with the magnifying glass :-)

A Floss Silk Tree, member of the Kapok-Family - these "thorns" (prickles) are sharp! Alexandra asked if it had been painted green - the green is actually from a high cholorophyll content. Because of this cholorophyll, it can perform photosynthesis even when leaves are absent!
Bumble bee (I even petted this "big" guy who then buzzed and scared me)

Bean Leaf Beetle - a pest to soybean, but pretty cute little guy

A sign of who else lives at the Arboretum...

Cool stump
Cypress Trees - I LOVE these trees! Here's some info I got from this site.

Bald cypress trees love the water. Their buttressed bases help them stand tall in the muddy soil. These are coniferous trees, but they're not evergreen. The soft, feathery needles turn brown and drop off in the fall.

The unusual "knees" of the bald cypress are distinctive. The roots send up knobby extensions that protrude from the water. One theory suggests that the knees extend into the air to help get oxygen to the roots.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Black Vultures

Last week, I finally got to photograph, and identify, some Black Vultures. I have seen these huge raptors many times since moving to the Houston area and they always surprise me. They are so large!

I saw about 20 of these incredible birds. (They were feeding on an armadillo.) At first, I tried to just slow down and take some photos from the car. But, then I parked at a fast food restaurant and walked down the road. I wasn't sure if they were dangerous or not - they're big enough to be scary. They came up past my knees!

You might want to enlarge this last one - and then again, maybe not! :-) I was really photographing the vulture in front, but when I looked at the photo, I was amazed at the one in the back. He's on the ground feeding on the armadillo... with his knees bent "backwards!" You can also see the brown head very well when enlarged. The other type of vulture we evidentally see often around here is a Turkey Vulture with a red head. I'll have to be on the lookout for one of these to photograph, too!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


The caterpillars have made lots of changes these past few days. As of right now we have 3 chrysalids (plural of chrysalis), 3 J's, 1 large caterpillar getting ready to be a J, 1 large one still eating, and 4 babies! Whew!

Two days ago, our first 2 caterpillars climbed to the top of their cage to start their transformation. The first thing we noticed, was that they got shorter and fatter. They'd been about 1.75 inches, and they "shortened up" to 1 inch! Then, or maybe while this was happening, they each spun a silk pad which they would later hang from with their last pair of prolegs. (Caterpillars have 6 "true" legs which they'll keep as butterflies and 10 prolegs which will disappear during metamorphosis.)

By yesterday morning, both of these caterpillars were hanging in the J-shape as seen on the left. (The one on the left isn't one of the original 2.) We missed the molting of the first caterpillar, but we actually got to watch the second one molt! I got a poor video of it, but it is still neat. I took this through the side of the plastic cage. We have 3 more who should molt this evening, and I'm hoping to watch and video it!

Too bad videos on blogs are so small - I can watch this full screen. Anyway, they one wiggling around & around & around is the one molting. He's working his exoskeleton off (It's dark near the top of him.) He did this for about 20 minutes, I'd guess. Usually, the skin will finall drop off. This one didn't - it's still sitting on top of his chrysalis, perhaps because we interrupted him.

Now, we will wait about 9 - 14 days to watch the butterflies emerge! The chrysalids should darken as they become transparent about a day before it emerges, so hopefull we'll get to see that, too!
I'm finding the following information from Wikipedia very helpful:
The Monarch goes through four radically different stages:

1. The eggs are laid by the females during spring and summer breeding months.
2. The eggs hatch, revealing worm-like larva, the
caterpillars. The caterpillars consume their egg cases, then feed on milkweed, and sequester substances called cardenolides, a type of cardiac glycosides. During the caterpillar stage, Monarchs store energy in the form of fat and nutrients to carry them through the non-feeding pupa stage.
3. In the pupa or chrysalis stage, the caterpillar spins a silk pad on a twig, leaf, etc. and hangs from this pad by its last pair of prolegs. It hangs upside down in the shape of a 'J', and then molts, leaving itself encased in an articulated green exoskeleton. At this point, hormonal changes occur, leading to the development of a butterfly. The chrysalis darkens (actually becomes transparent) a day before it emerges, and its orange and black wings can be seen.
4. The mature butterfly emerges after about two pupal weeks and hangs from the split chrysalis for several hours until its wings are dry (often in the morning). Meanwhile fluids are pumped into the crinkled wings until they become full and stiff. Some of this orangy fluid drips from the wings. Finally (usually in the afternoon) the monarch spreads its wings, quivers them to be sure they are stiff, and then flies in a circle and away, to feed on a variety of flowers, including milkweed flowers, red clover, and goldenrod.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Poor Robin!

When we got home from running some errands today, we saw this robin sitting at the edge of our driveway. I started to go in the driveway, then realized he didn't fly away so I backed up. I went in more carefully the second time and he still didn't move.

When we got up closer (I grabbed the camera first!), I realized it had been injured. He was missing his left eye and had another injury under this. He didn't move for several minutes and then started to hop a little.

I put on some heavy gloves and took him to the backyard for safety. It was so neat to have this little guy grabbing on to my finger (through the glove) to hang on! My heart was just breaking for this little guy and the trauma he must have went through.

I let Alexandra put on this "huge" glove and hold the bird. It was amazing to be that close to a wild bird - he never tried to peck at us or get away.

We ended up putting him in a box lying on its side behind some bushes for safety. He flapped his wings several times as we got him settled. When we got home a few hours later it was dark and we went to check on him, fearing he might be dead. He was gone! We took the flashlight and looked around, but couldn't find him. We are praying he regained his strength and was able to fly! My sister, a vet, says they often go through shock and he could have recovered and took off.

I'm amazed that this little bird was in our driveway. We've actually NEVER seen a robin in our yard. I believe God sent him to our yard knowing we'd take care of him. I read on someone's nature blog that they pray each morning that God will send them wonderful views of His creation that they can pass along. I mean to start praying this and can't believe how God has blessed us since we started "watching" nature.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Recent Nature Sightings

We have been spending lots of time outside the past few days. The weather is incredible! It's been in the low to mid-80's. And, we seem to find something amazing every day!

I just corrected my previous post, but the bug above is actually a PECAN weevil, not a boll weevil. I got this information from my County Extension Office when I contacted them.

But, we had so much fun learning about the boll weevil. Tonight, we read, George Washington Carver What Do You See? by Benge and it talked about the boll weevil. (We've studied Carver before and have listened to his story many times on Your Story Hour 7.)

So everywhere he went, Carver urged poor farmers to grow peanuts, but they wouldn't listen to him. That is, until a beetle called the "boll weevil" came along. The boll weevil began eating the cotton crops. Farmers quickly changed their minds about growing peanuts. Soon thousands of acres of peanuts were growing."

Of course, then Carver had to find something to do with these unwanted peanuts. The book goes on to tell how Carver prayed to God asking Him why He made the peanut - and God "went with me back to the laboratory and, together, we got down to work."

Unfortunately, I didn't research the pecan weevil as much and don't have much to tell. They do lay their eggs in the pecans and it ruins them.

One of the 6 Monarch caterpillars we are taking care of inside. We found them last weekend and they have grown so quickly! I think they are about ready to make their chrysalis. They better hurry as I'm running out of leaves and there are 3 more catepillars outside! We're excited and hope we get to see them turn into butterflies. We did this once with a Painted Lady kit, but this is our first time with Monarchs from our backyard.

We believe this is the same cicada we had the other day that drowned and then "came back to life." We found it, lethargic, in the grass yesterday. Last time, Melissa left me this comment: "Jeannie Fulbright has an experiment in her Zoology 1 book where you drowned an insect, then "bring it back to life" by sprinkling salt on it." I'm going to have to find out more about this!
In the past 2 days, we've seen 11 katydids! And, we hadn't seen any before this. So, they must be hatching, I'm guessing. We found both some brown and some green varieties. I did read on this site that Katydids get their name from the way their songs sound. Some katydids have been called long-horned grasshoppers because of their long and slender shape. However, all katydids are more similar and related to crickets than grasshoppers. One of the things that makes them different from their relatives is their antennae which may be two or three times the length of their body. These antennae are covered with sensory receptors that allow katydids to find their way around in the dark, when most of them are active.

Alexandra found this amazing group of about 15 assassin bug nymphs. I'm guessing they'd newly hatched as they were all bunched up together. These have a very painful bite, but they are great for ridding your yard of other pests, so we left them alone. I remember several years ago covering some plants to protect them from one of our rare frosts. When I brought the sheets in and put them in the garage, these nymphs were all over them! I'm so glad I didn't get bit - I didn't even know what they were at the time or that they would bite.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dead? Not quite...

Yesterday, Alexandra found a dead cicada in the pool. She fished it out and we photographed it and realized it was a different species that the one we photographed a couple of weeks ago.
We brought it in and saved it so we could look at it with our digital microscope in the morning. This morning, he was gone! I really thought he must have fallen on the floor or something. We'd played with this "dead" cicada for about 15 minutes yesterday and it hadn't moved at all.
I finally found him about 2 feet away sitting on the side of a plate! He was alive!!! Well, I moved the plate outside and was hoping he'd sit still enough for me to get him under the microscope. He did and I got a few good photos, though he'd crawl around sometimes.
Finally, I was done photographing him and Alexandra wanted to hold him. I told her he was probably going to die soon. He actually tried to fly a few times, but fell over on his back buzzing his wings. Then, he was crawling up Alexandra's arm, and all of a sudden... he took off! He flew across the yard and high up into a pine tree! What a shock!
Anyway, I LOVED his eyes. They are a beatiful grey, compound eye. You can see them without a spot from the light on the top photo if you enlarge it. The second 2 are taken with our microscope.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Here comes the rain...

On Monday, we got a lot of rain... and fast. And, sadly for moms picking up kids from school, it came right around 3 pm. (And, I got so caught up with other things that I forgot to take more photos - this is pretty early on in the "flood.")

We got over 5 inches in a couple of hours and got the worst flooding we've seen in our 11 years here - even worse than a tropical storm & a hurricane! Thankfully, it was only the streets that flooded. But, moms & kids were stuck in their cars in various driveways - we had a mom & kids next door to us and another mom across the street. And, kids were stuck at the school. And, cars were flooded in the street.

We had a lady who drove into the intersection near us and her car stalled. We sat and visited with her for over 2 hours. And, we had a great visit, though I was sorry for the cirucumstances!
We watched as buses continued to drop kids off - and run over our trash can. We had to laugh when the bus driver honked at this new friend's stalled car because she wanted it to move. And, then we sympathized with her as she pulled her window down and had to yell at the kids several times to be quiet.
The good part in all of this was seeing how neighbors helped neighbors. And how teenagers helped out!
Four teenagers pushed this lady's car out of the flooded water and down to her house 2 blocks away. Two of the teenagers retrieved my trashcan, recycle bin, and some wooden boards that had floated away.

It was sad to see moms & kids walking by in the high water trying to get home. And, an older gentleman came by in his dress slacks and tennis shoes. Another father carried his toddler son AND his school-aged daughter across the flooded intersection.

There was a funny moment, though. We saw was a squirrel who swam across the flooded street. None of us realized they would swim! I guess he or she had to get home!

I'm sorry for the damage caused to so many people - mainly to their cars like the lady we visited with. But, I'm thankful our houses were safe. (When a car drove by, the water got within a foot of my garage! And, our pool crested, but it's done that several times.) I know other people are dealing with drought, so I pray we all get the kind of weather we need at this time.


When I arrived to pick up my daughter from a class yesterday, I saw about 50 bees in and around a puddle by the front door. I went and told the director of the program and she blocked the door and put signs up warning about the bees. We have one student and one teacher who are allergic to bees.

When we left, just about 15 minutes after I arrived, there were several HUNDRED bees swarming this puddle. And, they were in the parking lot and everything.

My daughter and I made it to our car without incident, but a couple of bees landed on her. We were even worried they'd get in the car.

What an incredible, and slightly scary, site! And, it was a neat lesson about how quickly bees can communicate!


While in Oklahoma this summer, I found the largest beetle I'd ever seen! It was amazing! I didn't even have my camera, so I had to borrow one and just got these photos emailed to me yesterday. (The beetle is sitting on a paper plate.)

Here she is! Isn't she amazing? (I sometimes feel like the Crocodile Hunter for bugs.) She, and I do mean "she", is an Eastern Hercules Beetle (also known as the Elephant Beetle or Ox Beetle). I'm a disappointed she wasn't a "he" as the males have those incredible horns! But, this was still very exciting.

You can read a little more about this beetle here, which is a site I just found that has great information on Texas insects.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Math Fun for Fall and Halloween

We've been playing some great fall & Halloween math games the past few days. I'm sorry I forgot whose blog I read about it on, but these games come from Mathwire.

A fun game to work on coordinates

On this activity (and there is also a monster), they tell you how to color each grid square, and when you're done you have a picture. Cute!

And, with these 2 guys, we were working on symmetry. This would also be great to make a Jack-o-Lantern or a leaf person.

They have TONS more fun games and activities and we've enjoyed every one of them that we've tried. So, take a look and have some fun with math this month!
P.S. Marjorie had left a comment on my opera post asking about ideas for Hansel and Gretel. At Mathwire, they also have a graphing project for a gingerbread house that looks like fun!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Rope Walk

At a Fall Festival yesterday, Alexandra got to do a rope walk

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Nature Day

Yesterday, our nature group went on its monthly Nature Day. What an amazing day! The weather was in the mid-80's and we had a great turnout. About 10-12 families with around 45+ people. Our first stop was in a classroom where a park ranger at the W. G. Jones State Forest give us a talk about woodpeckers, snakes, and safety in the woods.

The Jones State Park is actively trying to safe the endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. This is the only woodpecker that makes its cavity (the hole where they nest) in a LIVE pine tree. He showed us an amazing video of how they band the baby woodpeckers. They build their cavities high in the tree. To protect their cavity, the woodpeckers make holes on the tree beneath their nest which makes the sap run out. The sap is very sticky and discourages "visitors." Above is a photo of a man-made cavity that they sometimes place in trees with cavities have been knocked down by storms or for whatever reason. They actually cut a hole out of the tree and use a special epoxy to glue it in place.
The park ranger then talked about the 5 different kinds of venemous snakes in our area. He actually catches these snakes to preserve to show classes! He said his job doesn't pay for his medical bills when he gets bit (which he has) because they've told him it is dangerous and not to do it, but he does it anyway.

Lastly, he talked about safety in the woods. For example, when you have to walk over a log in the wood, take a wide step on and a wide step off. Snakes love to curl up right near the log and will bite if frightened. And, never - never put your hand in any hole in a tree or in the ground - it's probably the home of an animal and he will try to defend himself!

He also talked about what to do if you get lost. Stay put! He said he's been on lots of search & rescues and the people they find the quickest are those who stay put. (Alexandra got to be the demonstrator.) He said if you're lost, there are 360 degrees in a circle and so 360 ways to go and only 1 is right and the other 359 are wrong. Great lesson to teach the kids as the rescue parties will start where they think the lost person is and they walk slowly - a lot slower than someone lost & scared and trying to get home!

A nest that had fallen - there's a piece of a broken egg shell in the nest, and I love the large piece of plastic trash the bird used as building material.

I believe this is a type of leaf-footed but, though I haven't made a positive identification yet. He was a beatiful pale lavender and black!

Beautiful lavender flowers - part of the butterfly garden which had dozens of butterflies

My favorite find of the day - which was pointed out to me; I didn't find it - a grey treefrog! It was a beautiful pale green, almost white. He was sitting in the butterfly garden on one of the leaves!

Cicada skin

A chrysalis - with the butterfly still in it! It was on a tree near the butterfly garden

A bunch of cicada skins on one tree! Later in the day, when we went to the second stop just about a half mile away, I only found one cicada shell! There were lots on this tree. Check out this site about a family who searches for cicadas before they shed their skin!

Our nature group "leader" teaching us how to watercolor a leaf - by tracing the shadow of the leaf so you don't break a fragile one! Then, she watercolored it and used the "wrong end" of a paint brush to draw in the veins. It was a neat effect!

Daddy Long Leg - I remember seeing tons of these at camp as a child and haven't seen any in years

I guess this is a gall on the trunk of a tree which has been broken in half

My photo doesn't do this justice - a tree had a huge break in it and there was lots & lots of sap. I'll see if anyone else in the group got a better photo.
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