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Join the Great Backyard Bird Count

I am very excited about the Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count. It takes place Friday-Monday, February 14-17, all over North America. It’s a great family activity. Anyone can participate, even if you only have 15 minutes and are completely new to birding.

Here’s how it works: You can pick a spot to go watch birds (a backyard, a park, a trail, a marsh, or anywhere you think birds might be) or you can join an organized event. You can download a very thorough check list of birds that are likely to be seen in your area. You record the birds that you see and then go home and either send in your checklist or enter the names and numbers in online.

There are lots more tips about counting and recording birds, tricky identifications, binoculars, and much more on BirdSource’s Great Backyard Bird Count page. The site also features recordings of bird sounds and more activities for kids.

The All About Birds site has beautiful photos and information that can help you identify birds. These are the top birds that were reported during the count last year.

So, why count birds in the first place, and why now? The Cornell Ornithology Lab, the Audubon Society and others use the information from the annual February count to track the health of various bird species over time and, in some cases, take steps to protect them. Mid-February has proven a good time to count, as it occurs just before the major Spring migrations. If you find you like counting, you can actually help year-round on various projects.

Last year more than 17,400,00 individual birds were reported by more than 104,000 people. This year you could be part of the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Read about and see pictures of the 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count.

Make a valentine feeder for the birds.

Get ideas for other great citizen science projects like Project Feeder Watch.


Photos: Painted Bunting and Green Honeycreeper by Doug Janson, Flame Colored Tanager by Jerry Oldenettel, Blue Jay: Creative Commons, Northern Spotted Owl by Susan Sachs Lipman

Tidepooling with Kids: Explore Undersea Creatures

The undersea world is always fun to explore at low tide, when creatures like barnacles, crabs, periwinkles, and sea stars, who are normally underwater, become revealed. This summer, those of us on the North American coasts are in store for a great show, as there will be some very low tides, or minus tides, at times of the day and year when we can get out and enjoy them. My home, San Francisco Bay, will enjoy minus tides this June 9-13 and June 23-27. Check one of the tide tables below for tides in your area.

How do Tides Work?

Tides are influenced by the moon, whose gravity pulls at the oceans each day as the Earth completes its daily spin. That pull creates a high tide at the portion of the Earth where it occurs. Most places experience two high tides each day. The second one occurs when the moon’s gravity pulls on the spot exactly opposite it on the Earth. (The second high tide is usually not as high as the first high tide.) Low tides occur when the moon is first rising in the east, or setting in the west, and the strong pull is happening elsewhere. Full or new moons usually create higher high tides and lower low tides than moons in other phases.

tidepool2

Reading a Tide Table

Tides are relatively predictable, but not entirely, as they can be altered by factors like temperature, air pressure, storms, and wind. A tide table is like a forecast, as opposed to a rigid schedule. That said, tide tables are usually fairly accurate. Most tide tables read in military time (a 24-hour clock), rather than using a.m. and p.m. Tides are measured in feet, so a 2.0 tide means that the water is two feet high.

The intertidal zone, which is what you’ll be exploring, is the area that is revealed during a low tide and covered during a high tide. You can begin to see some creatures in this area when the tide is as low as 1.5, but your best bet for seeing a show is to visit when the tide is listed as a “minus tide”, which is an especially low tide. Try to time your visit to arrive before the time listed, so you catch the tide going out. Generally it goes out (becomes lower) for about two hours, and comes back in for an hour and a half, so that’s the window of time for the visit. You need to be aware of the time and the tides, especially if the beach you’re exploring is one that can become cut off from access during high tides, or is known for tides that rise quickly. (The best beaches for exploring intertidal life with children have easy access, even during high tides, and are not known for large waves or drastic changes. That said, visitors still have to be aware of the tides and the time.)

These are some fairly accessible tide tables:

U.S. East and West Coast tide table, search by state

San Francisco Bay Area tide table

There are others online, and others that can be purchased at bookstores and marine-supply stores in calendar form.

Be sure to follow any links to the adjusted times for different spots up and down the coasts, as the tide times change based on exactly where the tide hits.

tidepool

Who Lives in the Intertidal Zone?

When the tide retreats, sea creatures can be seen clinging to, or underneath, rocks. These animals, as well as intertidal plants, are especially adaptable to their changing conditions. They are often also colorful and unusual. The animals you will likely see include limpets, which stick to rocks high in the intertidal zone, and their relatives, the chitons. Children may identify periwinkles, which have a snail-shaped shell, and tough barnacles, which cling to rocks and other surfaces. You may see sculpins, which are tiny fish, moving in the extremely shallow pools, or prickly sea urchins, or everyone’s favorite, the many kinds of starfish (sea stars). There will likely be many types of crawling crab. And you’ll probably also see anemones, which open and close around food, or a gently placed finger, and which squirt a bit when touched.

The best way to identify these various creatures is to pick up a field guide to local sea life at a bookstore or library. Some places also sell easy-to-reference cards that can be worn around the neck, saving you from fumbling with a book while out along the shore.

tidepool3

12 GREAT Tidepool Spots

Some of the largest of these feature more than one great tidepooling beach.

Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego, CA

Leo Carillo State Park, Malibu, CA

Morro Bay, CA

Pillar Point Harbor, Half Moon Bay, CA

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, Moss Beach, CA

Duxbury Reef, Bolinas, CA

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, Newport, OR

Olympic National Park, Olympic Peninsula, WA

Kapoho Tide Pools, Big Island, HI

Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda, FL

Hunting Island State Park, Beaufort, SC

Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, ME

tidepoolanna

Tips for Making the Trip Enjoyable and Preserving the Habitat

Tidepools are very sensitive environments that are easily damaged or even destroyed, so it’s important for visitors to be aware of the fact that they will be walking among, and probably on, living creatures. Remember that you are a guest in the animals’ habitat. It will also help to follow these tips for respectful visits:

Look before you walk to try to avoid stepping on barnacles, mussels, and other creatures. Walk carefully for your own safety and to protect all the tidepool life.

Leave animals where they are. Don’t pry them off of rocks. Removing them from their habitat could be very dangerous to them. Many don’t survive once removed, even if people think they are placing them back in their spots.

Also leave shells, rocks, plants, and other marine life in its place, as much of it serves as homes to the sea life.

Do not bring household pets to the tidepool.

Do not disturb other animals, like seals or birds, that may also be present.

Other tips to help visitors stay safe and enjoy the experience include:

Try to find a good guide book ahead of time so you can acquaint yourself with some of the marine life you may be encountering, and possibly bring the book for use at the tidepool.

Be sure you’ve planned your trip to arrive before low tide and leave before the next high tide.

Stay aware of the tides. Keep an eye on the waves as the high tide is coming in.

Tidepools are slippery, so wear shoes with good traction that can get wet.

Dress in clothes that can get wet and keep you warm. It could be windy or chilly.

Take the time to really observe the tidepool life. Lots of animals are not immediately apparent to visitors.

Something about the act of tidepooling in the early morning hours invariably leaves our family hungry. Plan to stop for breakfast or lunch on the way home and talk about all the marine life you saw.

For more tidepool photos see:

Our Trip to the Tidepools

tidepool4

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

This activity was adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ fun family activities.

Welcome Spring!

(Updated for 2014: Spring will occur Thursday, March 20, at 16:57 UTC, or 12:57 pm, Eastern Daylight Time.)

Spring is almost upon us. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Vernal Equinox will officially occur Wednesday, March 20, at 11:02 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). This corresponds to 7:02 am, Eastern Daylight Time, and 4:02 am on the West Coast.

During the twice-yearly Equinox, the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, and the Sun is vertically above a point on the Equator. (The name “equinox” comes from the Latin for the words “equal” and “night — on these days night and day are approximately the same length.)

Spring conjures growth and new life, play, beauty, flowers, and the return of the sun and longer days. There are many simple ways to honor spring, from dancing a maypole dance to dyeing eggs.

Celebrations of spring happen all season, of course, as buds bloom on trees and the tulips, daffodils and other bulbs planted in the dead of winter show their cheery, colorful heads.

In my neck of the woods, wildflowers and spring bulbs have recently popped their heads up to welcome this expansive and lovely season. Here’s hoping for a pretty, play-filled spring where you are.

As I often do, at times of seasonal change, I turned to the haiku poets to help give gentle expression to the turning of the year.

Now wild geese return …
What draws them
Crying, crying
All the long dark night?

-Roka

From my tiny roof
Smooth … Soft …
Still-White Snow
Melts in Melody

-Issa

Good morning, sparrow …
Writing on my
clean veranda
with your dewy feet

-Shiki

Opening thin arms …
A pink peony
Big as this!
Said my bitty girl

-Issa

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count

I am very excited about the Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count. It takes place Friday-Monday, February 15-18, all over North America. It’s a great family activity. Anyone can participate, even if you only have 15 minutes and are completely new to birding.

Here’s how it works: You can pick a spot to go watch birds (a backyard, a park, a trail, a marsh, or anywhere you think birds might be) or you can join an organized event. You can download a very thorough check list of birds that are likely to be seen in your area. You record the birds that you see and then go home and either send in your checklist or enter the names and numbers in online.

There are lots more tips about counting and recording birds, tricky identifications, binoculars, and much more on BirdSource’s Great Backyard Bird Count page. The site also features recordings of bird sounds and more activities for kids.

The All About Birds site has beautiful photos and information that can help you identify birds. These are the top birds that were reported during the count last year.

So, why count birds in the first place, and why now? The Cornell Ornithology Lab, the Audubon Society and others use the information from the annual February count to track the health of various bird species over time and, in some cases, take steps to protect them. Mid-February has proven a good time to count, as it occurs just before the major Spring migrations. If you find you like counting, you can actually help year-round on various projects.

Last year more than 17,400,00 individual birds were reported by more than 104,000 people. This year you could be part of the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Read about and see pictures of the 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count.

Make a valentine feeder for the birds.

Get ideas for other great citizen science projects like Project Feeder Watch.


Photos: Painted Bunting and Green Honeycreeper by Doug Janson, Flame Colored Tanager by Jerry Oldenettel, Blue Jay: Creative Commons, Northern Spotted Owl by Susan Sachs Lipman

Snapshot: Fourth Of July

Enjoy your holiday!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Tulipmania 2012

Like the 17th-century Dutch who experienced one of the biggest boom-and-bust cycles in history, my family and I find ourselves gripped by Tulipmania each year. We pore over photos of tulips on the Internet and at our local garden center and ultimately choose a few for reasons that vary widely each year — a lovely pale shade here, a bright color there, a curve of shape or a frill of petal.

Whichever types you choose, planting tulips is a terrific family project that brings you a lot of beauty and wonder for relatively little effort. For more information about planting, see Tulips are in the Ground. Here are this year’s tulips:

Salmon Impression

We chose Salmon Impression for its wonderful pastel color, and it didn’t disappoint. This variety yielded beautiful large flowers on strong, tall (20-24″) stems. I especially enjoyed the subtle green coloring on each petal.

Ivory Floradale

Another gorgeous flower (and another Darwin Hybrid type), the Ivory Floradale came in colors ranging from yellow to cream. They also produced a large and interesting flower on a sturdy 20-22″ stem.

DAYDream

A favorite from years past, the Daydream continued to delight again and was a great compliment and accent to the other colors and varieties. Another sturdy flower on a 20-24″ stem, this Darwin Hybrid produced a bright, apricot color and dark centers that were revealed when the petals opened in the sun.

china town

Our last flower, China Town, looked like a lot of fun, with its frilly, multi-colored petals, but, alas, the bulbs went into the ground and failed to grow. Luckily they were in a separate container, so that our bright display bloomed in a happy group.

As always, we treasured our tulips while they were here. Until next year!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

More Tulipmania from Slow Family:

Tulipmania 2010, Part One (Lots of tulip photos)
Tulipmania 2010, Part Two (More tulip photos)
Tulipmania: One Bubble I can Really Get Behind
Tulips are in the Ground

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count

I am very excited about the Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count. It takes place Friday-Monday, February 17-20, all over North America. Anyone can participate, even if you only have 15 minutes and are completely new to birding.

Here’s how it works: You can pick a spot to go watch birds (a backyard, a park, a trail, a marsh, or anywhere you think birds might be) or you can join an organized event. You can download a very thorough check list of birds that are likely to be seen in your area. You record the birds that you see and then go home and either send in your checklist or enter the names and numbers in online.

There are lots more tips about counting and recording birds, tricky identifications, binoculars, and much more on BirdSource’s Great Backyard Bird Count page. The site also features recordings of bird sounds and more activities for kids.

The All About Birds site has beautiful photos and information that can help you identify birds. These are the top 10 birds that were reported during the count last year.

So, why count birds in the first place, and why now? The Cornell Ornithology Lab, the Audubon Society and others use the information from the annual February count to track the health of various bird species over time and, in some cases, take steps to protect them. Mid-February has proven a good time to count, as it occurs just before the major Spring migrations. If you find you like counting, you can actually help year-round on various projects.

Last year more than 11,400,00 individual birds were reported by more than 92,000 people. This year you could be part of the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Read about and see pictures of the 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count.
Get ideas for other great Citizen Science projects.

Photos: Painted Bunting and Green Honeycreeper by Doug Janson, Flame Colored Tanager by Jerry Oldenettel, Blue Jay: Creative Commons, Northern Spotted Owl by Susan Sachs Lipman

Hearts in Nature: A Valentine’s Day Scavenger Hunt

Everyone loves scavenger hunts. It’s great fun to be on the lookout for things. Hunts can turn a simple walk into an adventure or a game. They can cause us to look around in nature a little more closely than we may have.

In many parts of the world, a Valentine’s Day scavenger hunt can get you outside during winter. See how many heart-shaped objects you can find and keep track of the number of them as you explore. You may be surprised, once you look very closely, at just how many heart-shaped items there are in nature. I dug up a few around the internet:

New for 2013:

New for 2014:

For more inspiration, visit my Hearts in Nature photo album on Facebook.

Read the inspiration for this scavenger hunt, Active Kids Club’s Outdoor Valentine Link Up.

You might also like Love in Nature and in History.

Photos: Tariqweb, Public Domain, Public Domain, dvortygirl, Angi Unruh, Public Domain, Public Domain, Calum Redhead, Pixdaus, Public Domain, Public Domain, Public Domain, Claude Truong-Ngoc, Public Domain, Public Domain, aussiegirl, Bigstock, Bigstock

Celebration of Fall

Where I live, we are ending what has been an unusually spectacular fall. Trees have been ablaze with color. There has been abundant water to satisfy the plants and enough crisp, clear days to enrich us humans. We’ve been walking, hiking, visiting farms, picking pumpkins, digging for potatoes, planting bulbs, collecting acorns and pinecones for crafts and display, and otherwise enjoying the beautiful scenery around us.

I hope your fall has treated you equally well and that winter holds more wonder, beauty and joy. Click on any photo to enlarge it.

Tulips are in the Ground!

My family and I love tulip-planting time. We have many memories of going out on bright and chilly late November or early December days, digging into the dirt and placing our bulbs into the ground, along with our visions of colorful and elegant tulips coming up in the spring.

The big bulbs (and, of course, the gorgeous flowers) make tulips especially fun and easy for kids to plant and then watch emerge from the ground, sometimes among the first flowers to do so after the winter. Kids usually enjoy learning that the bulbs have most of the nutrients inside to create a flower (but still like a little boost at planting time – we use an organic bulb food.) This makes bulbs a great item to plant in school yards or public spaces because they don’t need a lot of watering or care while they’re growing.

Because we live in Sunset Magazine’s gardening zone 17 (USDA Zone 9), we refrigerate our bulbs for 6 weeks to simulate a Northern winter. And, because we haven’t had much success preserving our tulips from year to year (see the next paragraph for ideas about that), we always have some new tulips to try. Of course that’s a big part of the fun – poring over web sites and practically drooling over the local nursery displays. The chosen bulbs then go into the fridge for their hibernation. And, on an invariably cold, crisp day — in 6″ deep holes (aided by a simple bulb digger) and with a little organic fertilizer (the white stuff you see) — into the ground they go. We used sticks to mark different color bulbs while we were planning our planter boxes.

Because tulip bulbs are generally indicated to bloom early, mid or late spring, you may want to choose bulbs that bloom at about the same time (which we did, because we have a small planting area) or choose bulbs for continuous blooms. Heights are also estimated so that you can plant taller ones in the back of a display.  Tulips tend to look best grouped, rather than in a line.

Want to know more about bulbs and planting? The Blooming Bulb site sells bulbs and offers more detailed tulip planting and storing instructions. The Plant Expert is a fabulous resource about choosing, planting, storing and growing bulbs and all kinds of plants. Another is Doug Green’s Flower Garden Bulbs, which sells bulbs as well. Colorblends (which offers more great planting information), Brent and Becky’s Bulbs and K. VanBourgondien and Sons also sell wonderful selections of bulbs throughout the year by mail order. I also recently found an article about storing bulbs for use the next year, which the writer says is a good idea in any garden where the bulbs will be planted over, not just our warm-winter gardens. I think we will try these new techniques this year!

So, what did we plant?

Come drool with us!

DAYDream

Of our four different tulips, one was brought back from two years ago, the lovely Daydream. A Darwin hybrid, the Daydream is a classically shaped tulips in a soft apricot color, with with a little color variation for interest. The flower height ranges from 20”-24”. I found the stem to be nice and sturdy, and the bulb a pleasing size and perfect color. Some of the flowers tended toward pale yellow tones. Daydreams open in the sun to reveal a black center.

Darwin Hybrids were originally cultivated by crossing single late Darwin and Cottage tulips with early Fosteriana tulips to produce beautiful results.

Salmon Impression

Salmon Impression is another in the sherbet-like color range that I like. A Darwin Hybrid, like the Daydream, we’re told the Salmon Impression is especially sturdy and does well in various climates and conditions, as well as producing large, pretty flowers on strong stems that reach 20-24″.

Ivory Floradale

I think a light or dark accent color is nice among the tulips. This year we went for the light and creamy colored Ivory Floradale. It’s another Darwin Hybrid (I guess we know what we like) and is said to grow to 20-22″ on a strong stem.

china town

We usually try to plant one especially exotic tulip – one with frilly edges, or flames of color shooting through it, or a Viridiflora, a tulip type that offers streaks of stem-like green along its flower. This year’s is the China Town. Writes Bissett Nursery: “Flaring petals of pink, edged in cream streaked with a moss green.  Artistic and unusual in design.  China Town also has especially attractive foliage – dark green leaves with white borders.” This flower is said to grow 14-20″ and is in its own pot in a very visible spot.

Photos: Daydream: Susan Sachs Lipman; Salmon Impression: Botanus; Ivory Floradale: Van Bourgondien Nursery; China Town: Bissett Nursery. All others: S. Lipman

More Tulipmania from Slow Family:

Tulipmania 2010, Part One (Lots of tulip photos)
Tulipmania 2010, Part Two (More tulip photos)
Tulipmania: One Bubble I can Really Get Behind

 

 

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