Friday, January 29, 2010

Woodpeckers Part 2

There are 8, possibly 9, species of woodpeckers that live in the Eastern Texas Pineywoods. The reason the number is uncertain is because of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker which many believe is now extinct. It is a very large woodpecker that has not been confirmed to exist in many years. So, I'll talk about the other 8.
1. Pileated Woodpecker - I've never seen a live pileated woodpecker. (This photo is of a stuffed one where we went on our "talk and walk.") This is the largest woodpecker in our area at 16.5 inches. It has a prominent red crest.

2. Downy Woodpecker- This woodepecker is hard to distinguish from the Hairy Woodpecker and I'm not sure which type is on my feeder in this photo though I think it is a Downy. The Downy is a little smaller (about sparrow-sized while the Downy is robin-sized). Both woodpeckers have the black and white striped back with a white spot in the middle. And, you can tell the males from the females because the males have a red spot on the back of their head.
3. Hairy Woodpecker - As I said, this woodepecker is hard to distinguish from the Downy Woodpecker. The Hairy is a little bigger (about robin-sized while the Downy is sparrow-sized). Both woodpeckers have the black and white striped back with a white spot in the middle. And, you can tell the males from the females because the males have a red spot on the back of their head.
4. Red-Cockaded Woodpecker - Another type of woodpecker I've never seen. Alex and I once went on a field trip to learn more about these endangered woodpeckers. This is type of woodpecker is found in old, open pine forests. We didn't see any when we went on our fieldtrip.

5. Northern Flicker - Another woodpecker I've never seen - and another photo of a stuffed bird from the nature center. This is a large, jay-sized bird. He is brownish with a white rump and has bits of yellow on his wings and tail. Both the male and the female have the red spot at the base of the neck.

6. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker - Another I haven't seen, but I have seen their work! This type of woodpecker drills horizontal rows of small holes in live trees.

7. Red-Headed Woodpecker - I've seen this one only once. They are so beautiful! They are easily identified by their red heads, though their heads are grey when immature. There are no distinguishing marks between the males and females.

8. Red-Bellied Woodpecker - This type of woodpecker is a frequent visitor to our yard. For several years, we have had these drumming on the metal cover to our fireplace. The male has more red down the back of his neck than the female. He has a black and white ladder back and a white belly. Both male and females have red on the tops of their head.

Lastly, I'll leave you with a photo from our walk. I learned a new word from this class - a "snag." This photo is of a snag with woodpecker holes in it. A snag is a dead or partially dead tree... which are very important for many types of woodpeckers!
I hope you enjoyed this little 2 part lesson on woodpeckers!
(Note: This information was taken from lecture given at Jesse Jones State Park and a brochure published by Texas Parks & Wildlife. All photos are mine.)

P.S. I found "15 Fun Facts About Woodpeckers" on

Woodpeckers Part 1

Last Saturday, Alex and I went to a "talk and walk" about woodpeckers. I loved this class and learned so much! So, I thought I'd share with all of you a little lesson about woodpeckers. (Below is a photo of a stuffed pileated woodpecker which was on display at this class.)

How are woodpeckers unique?
  • HEAD
    • powerful bill
    • feather tufts around nostrils to protect from debris while pecking wood
    • specialized skull to withstand enormous impact of pecking
  • TONGUE (I've posted about their tongues before)
    • long (extremely long in some types)
    • attached near the nose and wraps around the back of the head (wow! Google for images)
    • tip is pointed and has stiff barbs so it can pull "things" out of the holes
  • TAIL
    • 6 sets of retrices (tail feathers) which are genearlly stiff
    • inner pair of tail feathers is longest and pointed at tips - this helps support the woodpecker as it climbs up a tree
  • FEET
    • perching birds have 3 toes that go forward and one that goes backward while woodpeckers often have a zygodactyl foot - where 2 toes go forward and 2 toes go backward. This helps the woodpecker to grasp the bark of tree trunks (rather than perch on a limb). A more recent find is that some woodpeckers have ectropodactyl feet which means they can MOVE their toes into the position they want them!
    • drumming - to mark territory or for attracting a mate
    • calls - their songs
    • many woodpeckers are keystone species (meaning of great importance) becasuse they are a primary cavity nesting species (meaning they actually MAKE the cavity in the tree which other birds and other animals will later use)
    • woodpeckers cause lots of damage to manmade structures (and we chop down the dead trees they need for homes!)
    • people used to eat woodpeckers - here is a great quote from John James Audubon regarding the eating of the Pileated Woodpecker
      • Its flesh is tough, of a bluish tint, and smells so strongly of the worms and insects on which it generally feeds, as to be extremely unpalatable.

The Sick Bed

Alex is sick today. She has a fever, sore throat, ear aches, and a headache. She actually felt bad yesterday, but her fever didn't show up until the evening. So, I set up the sick bed for her on the couch for when she wakes up.

Here are some of the things we do on sick days:

...lay on the couch and stay in PJs all day LOTS of TV (we just got 2 movies in from Netflix, so that'll will be an added bonus!)
...I get out a TV tray and load it with anything she needs... thermometer, tissues, drinks, etc
...drink Sprite (she rarely gets soda at home) with a bendy straw (also drinks Gatorade and clear juices)
...have popsicles anytime she wants
...have "homemade" chicken noodle soup or Ramen noodles for lunch or dinner - depending on when she's up to eating

...we have a special pink tray to eat on the couch with or a wooden one with legs if someone is sick and can't leave the bed board games & card games books computer (or DS) games - we'll probably play some on Webkinz World today - I have my own account (I have 3 Webkinz which Alex gave me... they're so cute!) and we can play in the "competition arena" against each other

It's 9:15 and I hear her waking up, so I'm off to see if she's ready to come to her Sick Bed! I'd love to hear what you do special for your kids when they're sick!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Countdown to Mystery Class: Less Than 2 Weeks to Go

Last year, Alex and I participated in Journey North's Mystery Class. This year's class will start on February 1st. Right now, you can go to their site and download Teacher's Packets #1 ("Discovering Latitude Clues") & #2 ("Discovering Longitude Clues") so you can practice with last year's data. These packets are new this year and I think they will be a GREAT help.

(photo of our graph at week 6 from last year)

If you are not familiar with the Mystery Class, you are basically going on a hunt to find 10 "mystery" classes which are "hidden" around the globe. You will first use sunrise/sunset data to help determine the latitude of each class. In late March, you will receive a special set of "longitude clues" to help you determine the longitude of each class. Then, you will start receiving weekly clues about each mystery class. These might include special holidays they celebrate, landmarks, history, etc. At this point, you will have narrowed down the classes to a latitude & longitude and are using the clues to help you locate the precise city.

These classes are a LOT of fun... and include a LOT of learning. We are getting ready to study the Olympics and then census, so I'm not sure if we'll be participating or not. But, I do want to encourage you to check it out, and I hope we will find the time to join in the hunt!

Monday, January 18, 2010


We watched one-half of the History Channel's movie, King, today. We'll try to finish it tomorrow. We were both learning so much!

We spent the afternoon at a local park and ended up playing volleyball with a dad, his 3 kids, and 2 of his neighbor's kids (3 teens, an 8yo girl - perfect for Alex, and a 5yo boy). I played for 2 hours!!! I'm SORE, but it was so much fun!!!

Alex also watched a movie we bought several years ago called Our Friend, Martin. It's a wonderful cartoon story of Martin Luther King's life. But, as a warning, there are real clips of his life AND some violent clips showing how blacks were treated during this time. So, be prepared and watch with your child! But, we have both learned a lot from this show and Alex has watched it many times.

Lastly, here is a post I made when Alex was 5 that includes some books we read about Martin Luther King when she was younger.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Chicken Enchiladas

I love to post my recipes because then I can make them even when I'm out of town and don't have my recipe file! I got this recipe from my sister-in-law, Stacy.

12.5 oz can white chicken (drained) (I've also used larger cans)
8 oz light sour cream
1 can cream of chicken
1 can green chilis (we use mild)
2 cups cheese (Mexican or Sharp Cheddar)
garlic salt
ground cumin
flour tortillas
green enchilada sauce

Directions: Mix chicken (break up chunks with fork), sour cream, cream of chicken, and green chilis together in bowl. (I add the green chilis later as Alex doesn't like them in hers.) Season with cumin (about 1/2 tsp) and garlic salt to taste. Add 1 1/2 cups of cheese. Mix together and fill tortillas. (I use about 10-12 tortillas.) Cover with green enchilada sauce and remining 1/2 cup of cheese. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 375-400 degrees.

"King" on History Channel - Sunday & Monday

Martin Luther King


You might want to watch the History Channel's 2 hour special about Martin Luther King. It airs this Sunday and Monday. "Go beyond the dream to discover the man. An unforgettable 2 hour event."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Last Year's Container Gardening... Can't Wait for Spring!!!

I can't believe I didn't post about our contaner gardens last spring! In the Houston area, the county extension office in association with Texas A&M University offers cylinder gardening 'kits' that containers, lesson plans, organic fertilizer, and seeds to schools for FREE! They include everything but the soil and welcome homeschoolers.

A lady delivered our supplies. The containers are big pails which have been cut in half so they have no bottom. We put newspaper at the bottom of the containers so weeds wouldn't grow up into them.

We added the soil and planted the seeds as the lesson plans stated. We had 4 containers. Two were vegetables (beans and radishes) and two were herbs (I believe dill and parsley).

After planting the seeds, we watered them. Here you can see our four containers. They're around some lantana which already attracks some butterflies.

Our first little plants... just 3 days later!

And, here are our bean plants 6 weeks after planting!

And, one of our first radishes. I've never grown any food before and we both thought this was so exciting. I was amazed how God could take a little seed and 'program' it so that it could turn DIRT into something edible!!! Amazing!

Little purple flowers on our bean plant.

A TINY snail we found on one of our plants.

Some of our dill.

And, one of our beans. We got LOTS of beans off of these plants.

Anyway, the deadline for signing up for this program is at the end of the month. I'm debating whether we'll sign up or just plant some of our own seeds. When you sign up, you get whatever seeds they happen to send. We still have our containers set up, so I'm thinking about just buying our own seeds to plant. I'm excited that planting season isn't too far away for us. Last year, we planted during the first week of March.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lessons with Anansi at Story Cove

Today I substituted in one of my daughter's classes. The class is using Story of the World and this week's chapter was about Ancient Africa and included 2 stories about Anansi the Spider.

As I was preparing for this class, I found a site called Story Cove. You need to register, but this site is FREE! They have online cartoon videos of various stories, including a handful of Anansi stories. The stories are sorted by continent, with most of the stories come from Africa and Asia.

The site includes an area for kids to print off coloring pages, mazes, etc. And, it has free LESSON PLANS! Though the plans are mostly for kids in grades PreK-3rd, I found they worked well for my class of 4th & 5th graders. And, the kids REALLY enjoyed the videos! (We ended up watching 4.)

After doing some mapwork of Africa, we watched the video of Anansi & the Pot of Beans. Using the Lesson Plan, we covered:
  • similes
  • friendly letters
  • cause & effect
  • acrostic poems
Here's another sample of lessons from Anansi & Turtle Go To Dinner:
  • cooking
  • verbs
  • fact vs. opinion
  • proverbs
  • onomatopoeia 
It's a great site I've never heard of before, so I thought I'd spread the word. Check it out!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Two Great Picture Books

We've read two great picture books this week - both of which I just pulled off the shelf and had never heard of before.

The first one is called The Champion of Children: The Story of Janusz Korczak by Tomek Bogacki which was just published in 2009. The story is about a boy who grew up in Warsaw, Poland under tsarist Russia's domination. As he watched children suffering on the streets, he determined that he would grow up and help them. He did grow up to help children by starting an orphange for Jewish children. During WWII, the Nazis relocated Korczak and his orphan children. There is much more to this amazing story... you can read and find out more! (And, it was neat to put our new 'geography knowledge' to use since now we both know where Poland is located!)

The second one is called Mack Made Movies by Don Brown. This book is about Mack Sennett, an early movie-maker. He worked in Hollywood and 'discovered' such brilliant actors as Charlie Chaplin and W. C. Fields. The book tells some of the history of filmmaking, too, which is very interesting. For instance, movie makers located in California around Hollywood because they did their filming outdoors and needed plenty of sun and plenty of sunny days! And, I got to 'introduce' my daughter to Charlie Chaplin. The YouTube clip below is a piece by Chaplin involving a police chase in a maze of mirrors.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Mastering Geography with Seterra

We started back to school yesterday and I decided we both needed to learn more geography. Specifically, I wanted us to learn the location of major countries, rivers, mountain ranges, etc. I opened up a FREE PDF file I had saved called Globalmania which is created by Knowledge Quest.

One of the sites Globalmania takes you to is called Seterra (photographs are of Seterra).  It is a wonderful geography 'game' where you loctae countries or cities or flags... whatever you'd like to work on. We started with the European countries yesterday. My goal was to have her learn about 15 "major" countries - but we have BOTH learned ALL of the European countries... in just 2 days!!!

Now we are working on the US states. Basically, the screen starts with all of the states (or countries) in green. If you get the question right on the first try, it turns WHITE. If you get it on the second try, it turns LIGHT YELLOW. If you get it on the third try, it turns DARK YELLOW. And, if you miss it on all 3 of your tries, it turns RED. (This was Alex's first try on the US states.)


What makes it so fun is that it lists the "Top Ten" scores after each game on that computer. And, you can write as much as you want. You don't have to just write your name (like "Dana"). You can write, "Yippee!!! I'm getting so fast! :-)" or "That's Dana's best score EVER!!!" Can you see how fun that is???

The "Top Ten" is what is keeping us so hooked on this game. In fact, we are both now making 100% on the European countries, but you can go up on the list by getting FASTER!!! Alex is loving this so much that she got up early today and stayed up late tonight playing!

For the sake of  variety and to make sure we aren't just memorizing that particular map, here are 2 other games we've been playing and really like:
  • Sheppard Software - this one also offers information about each country and includes some city-states not on Seterra
  • Lizard Point - this one also includes the city-states (link is to European countries)

Friday, January 01, 2010

Bald Eagles, Photographing Nature, and a Flat Tire

I was THRILLED to see bald eagles 9 TIMES in Oklahoma last week. But, unfortunately, I wasn't able to photograph any of them. The first few times I saw them, I didn't have my camera. Then, when I did, I just couldn't get a shot. But, my husband's aunt and I went out on a photographic drive...

I believe this is some type of gall. It is about the size of a golf ball. I was suprised at how thin the outer 'shell' was and that there was a fuzzy middle. Anyone know more about what this might be?

A red-bellied woodpecker

(in center- upside down) A downy woodpecker.

A junco. There are LOTS of juncos near my sister-in-laws. I don't see them in Texas and they are so cute!

A bluebird (on main trunk near center of photo).

An old bridge we cross when we go out exploring.

The "warning" on the bridge... that 8 people have died jumping from this bridge so it isn't a good idea. The bridge is over the Illinois River.

I was playing with settings on my camera and love how this photo came out. This was before we got a flat tire. Yep! We were out in the middle of nowhere and had a flat. We had just passed a farm house and we backed up a little. We ended up getting help from that house and 2 men who passed by in a truck - who happened to be cousins of the family we were talking to. Everyone was so kind and helpful. I wanted to take a photo, but thought that might be going too far. :-)

A photo my dh's aunt took of a tree stump.

And, I love this black & white photo she took of the river. I took some shots, too, but her b&w looks so much better.
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