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Friday, June 29, 2012

Recycled Paper Making

I just finished a recycled paper making workshop with the kids at the Easton Family YMCA's Day Camp.  We had a fanastic time making a bunch of recycled paperboard.  One of the kids asked if I had written instruction which got me to thinking I should write up what I do with this program and post it here on my blog (I also sent instruction on to the camp and I hope they can pass it on to interested kids - making paper at home with mom and dad is a fun activity).

There a plenty of websites and youtube videos that show how to make recycled paper.  This is what I do with large groups of kids.  Research, experiment, try different things out.  There is a whole world of recycled paper projects that can be done.

For example, many years ago a teacher told me about what her son did.  He got very interested in making recycled paper.  He'd go around and buy used blenders at garage sales.  He experimented and became very good at it.  For his senior thesis in high school he wrote a paper on Shakespeare.  He made his own paper which he do so it looked like old parchment paper.  He printed his thesis in an old style font on this old looking paper.  The end result was a paper that looked like it had been written a long time ago.

Use you imagination.  Experiment.  Play around.  Have fun!

The George Steele Method of Making Recycled Paperboard


Step 1 - collect paper to recycle. The two best options old newspaper and old homework or copy paper. Coated paper found in magazines and newspaper inserts do not work as well.

Step 2 - shred paper. It's most fun to shred by hand, but you could use a home office paper shredder.

Step 3 - soak paper in water. The longer you soak it the easier it is on the blender. I did not soak the paper with my presentation because of the time constraints.  Using newsprint and old homework paper results in a grayish paper very much like a typical cardboard egg carton.  Add color by adding some old construction paper.

Step 4 - blend paper in blender. The kitchen blender used a few times to make paper and then thoroughly cleaned afterwards does no harm. My blenders are dedicated just to paper making since I do it so often. An old blender bought at a garage sale could be used if there is concern about the family blender and future food preparation. BLENDER MUST BE USED UNDER ADULT SUPPERVISION!

Step 5 - this step is quite different than most recycled paper making instructions. Google recycle paper making and you will find many websites that provide more information, instructions and videos. For speedy paper production I pour the paper pulp on to the screens "convex" side, not the "concave"/cupped side. I use old handkerchiefs stretched on to an embroidery hoop. There are many different instructions on how to make a paper making screens and use them. Check the web for other techniques.

Step 6 - flip the screen with the paper pulp on to a flat surface. For my program I place a piece of wax paper on top of the paper pulp so that the paper can be moved to a dry area. You can flip the paper pulp on to a table. Use you hands to smooth out the pulp. Be careful not to press to much in one spot or you will end up with a hole in your paper. Use a sponge to soak up water. Use the sponge evenly around the paper screen.

Step 7 - Once you've removed the majority of the water let the paper on the screen dry. This might take a day or two. Once dry you can peel off the screen and pull up the paper.

This produces a thick paper board that can be cut and painted or colored with magic marker. It does not fold well.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me.  The link to my e-mail is above.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Owl study at the Frothingham Library

I had a wonderful time giving my owl ecology presentation this past Monday at the Frothingham Free Library in Fonda, NY. About 30 children with parents and grandparents in tow had the chance to learn about owls. They dissected owl pellets to find out what owls like to eat. Here is what we found.




We took apart 13 pellets and found 34 mice and 1 shrew. There might have been a few more mice undiscovered as some of the pellets had not been completely dissected in the time we had. We did not find any evidence that the owls had eaten moles or birds.



We had a small sample, 13 pellets. By dissecting more pellets we might get a different picture of what the owl’s food preference might be. If you look through the archives of my blog you can find the results that other groups have found when dissecting owl pellets in my programs. In addition, I will be doing owl presentations at other libraries this summer, as part of the Summer Reading Club program. I will post those results here. Check my blog to see what other kids find.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bird Survey at King Elementary in Warwick, NY

On June 16th I did a bird survey with 5th graders at King Elementary in Warwick.  The school has a wonderful diversity of habitat around the school including forest, wetland and field environments.  Because of this there is a wide variety of birds found there.  Here is what we found.

Mrs. Boccia’s class – 9:15 AM, 99% cloud cover, slight breeze out of the southeast, temperature in the low 60’s Fahrenheit

Black Vulture – 1
Turkey Vulture – 4
Mourning Dove – 1
American Crow – 1
Barn Swallow – 3
Tufted Titmouse – 1
House Wren – 1
Eastern Bluebird – 1
American Robin – 3
Gray Catbird – 4
Yellow Warbler – 1
Common Yellowthroat – 1
Chipping Sparrow – 3
Red-winged Blackbird – 10
American Goldfinch – 1
House Sparrow – 1

Mrs. Meehan’s class – 10:25 AM, 50% cloud cover, strong breeze out of the southeast, temperature in the mid 60’s Fahrenheit

Common Merganser – 4
Great Blue Heron – 1
Black Vulture – 13
Turkey Vulture – 3
Mourning Dove – 3
Eastern Phoebe – 1
Blue Jay – 1
House Wren – 3
Eastern Bluebird – 2
American Robin – 2
Gray Catbird – 3
European Starling – 3
Yellow Warbler – 1
Common Yellowthroat – 1
Red-winged Blackbird – 3
Common Grackle – 1

Mrs. Digi’s class – 11:15 AM, 75% cloud cover, very light breeze out of the southeast, temperature in the high 60’s Fahrenheit

Green Heron – 1
Black Vulture – 3
Turkey Vulture – 8
Red-tailed Hawk – 3
Blue Jay – 1
American Crow – 1
Tree Swallow – 2
House Wren – 1
American Robin – 3
Gray Catbird – 1
Cedar Waxwing – 7
Common Yellowthroat – 1
Chipping Sparrow – 1
Bobolink – 1
Red-winged Blackbird – 13
Common Grackle – 1
American Goldfinch – 1
House Sparrow – 2

Mrs. Shoock’s class – 1:15 PM, 70% cloud cover, very light breeze out of the south, temperature in the high 60’s Fahrenheit

Turkey Vulture – 3
Chimney Swift – 3
American Crow – 1
Eastern Bluebird – 1
European Starling – 5
Yellow Warbler – 1
Field Sparrow – 1
Song Sparrow – 1
Red-winged Blackbird – 5
Common Grackle – 8
American Goldfinch – 1

Mrs. Flynn’s class – 2:15 PM, 100% cloud cover, medium breeze out of the south, temperature in the high 60’s Fahrenheit

Great Blue Heron – 1
Black Vulture – 5
Turkey Vulture – 9
Chimney Swift – 1
Blue Jay – 1
American Crow – 2
Barn Swallow – 2
House Wren – 1
Eastern Bluebird – 1
American Robin – 6
Gray Catbird – 1
European Starling – 1
Cedar Waxwing – 3
Chestnut-sided Warbler – 1
Common Yellowthroat – 1
Song Sparrow – 1
Red-winged Blackbird – 1
Rusty Blackbird – 2
Common Grackle – 16
Purple Finch – 1
House Sparrow – 1

Here is a composite list of all the birds identified on June 18, 2012 at King Elementary school.

Common Merganser
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Chimney Swift
Red-tailed Hawk
Mourning Dove
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Tufted Titmouse
House Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Song Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Bobolink
Red-winged Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
Purple Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

A total of 32 species were seen or heard in the habitats surrounding King Elementary. With a mixture of woodland, open field and wetland it is not surprising to get this number. Actually there are several other species that have been observed at King in the past that were not seen or heard today. These include several species of woodpeckers, the Baltimore Oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Wild Turkey, a few other hawks, some of the flycatchers, the Red-eyed Vireo, the Brown Thrasher, and the Northern Mockingbird. There is also a likelihood of one or two kinds of owls inhabiting the woods surrounding the school. It would not be impossible to get 40 or more species of birds in the school environment. An interesting project would be to compile a list of all birds that occur on the school grounds. Some of these birds would be migrants that travel through during the spring and fall migration seasons. The birds we found today are resident birds that have nests and young in the woods, fields and wetlands around the school.

To find what species have been counted at King in the past check out my blog, www.schoolyardnaturalist.blogspot.com. On my blog you can also find what birds have been found at other schools I have visited.

Ornithology at Lynnwood Elementary School in the Guilderland School District

In early June I had the chance to study ornithology at Lynnwood Elementary in the Guilderland Central School District.  I worked with 1st graders in doing a bird survey of the schoolyard and with 4th graders studying owls and their predator-prey relationship.


On Tuesday, the 5th and Wednesday the 6th, 1st graders were ornithologists with me doing a survey of birds of the Lynnwood schoolyard habitat.  Here is what we discovered in walking around the schoolyard looking and listening for birds.

Ms. Gabrielle’s class observed or heard:
Blue Jay – 1
American Crow – 2
Tufted Titmouse – 1
House Wren – 1
American Robin – 1
European Starling – 1
Ovenbird – 1
Common Grackle – 3
Brown Headed Cowbird – 2 
House Sparrow – 4

Ms. Tymeson’s class observed or heard:
Pileated Woodpecker – 2
American Crow – 1
Tufted Titmouse – 1
American Robin – 4
Ovenbird – 1
Northern Cardinal – 3
Common Grackle – 2
House Sparrow – 5

Ms. Uttberg’s class observed or heard:
Chimney Swift – 1
Tufted Titmouse – 1
Gray Catbird – 1
European Starling – 1
Ovenbird – 1
Northern Cardinal – 1
House Sparrow – 6

In the three classes that looked for birds over two different days we found a total of 14 different kinds of birds. Many other birds are likely inhabitants of the habitat surrounding the school. These include Red-tailed Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Eastern Bluebird, Black-capped Chickadee, Downy Woodpecker and Baltimore Oriole to name a few. We were not lucky enough to see them. Keep your eyes and ears open for them in the future.

Here is a composite list of the birds we saw in our two days of exploring.
Chimney Swift (the bird that nests inside the chimney of the school)
Pileated Woodpecker (the largest woodpecker of New York State)
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tufted Titmouse
House Wren
American Robin
Gray Catbird (the bird that mimics other birds and usually ends it’s song with a meowww)
European Starling
Ovenbird (the bird that sings “teacher, teacher, teacher”)
Northern Cardinal
Common Grackle
Brown Headed Cowbird (the bird that lays its eggs in the nest of other birds)
House Sparrow (nesting in the school bell near the front door of the 1st grade wing)

On Tuesday, June 5th I did a lesson on studying owls.  As part of this lesson we discussed what owls like to eat.  To learn more about the owl predator behavior and what might be their most favored foods we dissected owl pellets.  Here is what we discovered.

Ms. Romano’s class took apart 11 pellets and found 32 mice, 0 shrews, 1 mole and 1 bird
Ms. Follansbee’s class took apart 10 pellets and found 26 mice, 0 shrews, 0 moles and 0 birds
Ms. Janssen’s class took apart 110 pellets and found 23 mice, 2 shrews, 0 moles and 0 birds

These results support my hypothesis that mice are the most favored food, while shrews make up the second choice and moles and birds are tied for third place. The difference though between shrews and moles and birds is very small. It would be best to dissect more pellets to see if in fact shrews are eaten more often that moles and birds. Students might check the archives on this blog to see what other students have found in previous owl ecology sessions.  Add these findings to what we have found here at Lynnwood.  Does this new data support or contradict my hypothesis?





Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Leptondale Elementary Schoolyard Bird Survey 2012

On May 3rd, 7th and 11th I lead a Schoolyard Bird Survey with 5th graders at the Leptondale Elementary School in the Wallkill Central School District .  Here are the results of that Bird Survey.

Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 2:10 PM with Mrs. Dooley’s class, 100% cloud cover, slight breeze from the west, temperature in the high 50’s Fahrenheit

Osprey – 1
Blue Jay – 1
Fish Crow – 4
Chipping Sparrow – 2
Northern Cardinal – 1
House Sparrow – 2
Unidentified Birds – 6

Monday, May 7, 2012 at 2:15 PM with Mrs. Seymour’s class, 100% cloud cover, no wind, temperature in the mid 60’s Fahrenheit

Turkey Vulture – 2
Peregrine Falcon – 1
Fish Crow – 3
Tree Swallow – 2
American Robin – 10
European Starling – 8
Chipping Sparrow – 3
Red-winged Blackbird – 2
Unidentified Birds – 7
Unidentified Ducks – 4

Friday, May 11, 2012 at 2:15 PM with Mrs. Beecher’s class, 20% cloud cover, 15-20 mph gusts from the west, temperature in the low 60’s Fahrenheit

Turkey Vulture – 2
Red-tailed Hawk – 1
Eastern Phoebe – 1
Common Raven – 1
Tree Swallow – 1
Black-capped Chickadee – 2
Gray Catbird – 2
Northern Cardinal – 2
Unidentified Birds – 5
Unidentified Warblers – 4

Additional comments – there is a pair of Fish Crows nesting in the woods on the north side the upper playground field. At various times during my visit I observed them carrying nesting material in that direction. Individual crows were often seen flying with nesting material from the north of the school building, stopping in the trees along the south-eastern side of the school. They would sit for a while before flying several tens of yards on toward the upper playground. A few minutes later they would be seen flying back without any nesting material. Why do you think the crows would fly to a spot a good distance from where the nest is and wait before going to the nest and adding the nest material?

The front of the school and the upper playground were the most productive areas for observing and hearing birds. In the future these area should definitely be checked out for bird surveys.

I hope students have more opportunities to observe birds.  Look at other Schoolyard Bird Surveys here in my blog to see what differences there are between different schools and between the same schools from different years.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Owl Pellet Study at Ostrander Elementary School

In early April as part of my Ecologist-In-Residence program at the Ostrander Elementary School in Wallkill, NY, I worked with 2nd graders dissecting owl pellets to see what owls eat.  Here are our findings.

With Mrs. Lupoli’s class we dissected 13 pellets and found 33 mice, 2 shrews, 1 mole and 1 bird.

With Mrs. Busse’s class we dissected 13 pellets and found 34 mice, 2 shrews, 0 moles and 0 birds.

With Mrs. McQuiston’s class we dissected 12 pellets and found 33 mice, 2 shrews, 0 moles and 0 birds.

Our total findings were 38 pellets dissected producing 80 mice, 6 shrews, 1 mole and 1 bird.  I had presented to the students the hypothesis that mice are the most favored food with shrews being second favored and birds and moles tied for third.  Do the findings above support this hypothesis?

In the years that I have been taking apart owl pellets I have noticed that there are variations in the numbers and kinds of animals eaten by Barn Owls (the owls that produce the pellets used in my programs).  Could these be related to the seasons?  As a start to answering this we should see if there are any consistencies with pellets dissected the same time each year.  I have some data that we can look at by looking back at what Ostrander ornithologists have found in the past. Here is what we find:

2011 – 29 pellets produced 61 mice, 11 shrews, 3 moles, 1 bird

2010 – 36 pellets produced 72 mice, 9 shrews, 3 moles, 2 birds

2009 – 27 pellets produced 57 mice, 5 shrews, 0 moles, 0 birds
These numbers do seem consistent each year. I wonder if there would be a difference in numbers if we compared these findings with pellets from a different season than early spring, for example late summer or mid-winter. Check out my blog archives for owl pellet dissections done at other times of the year. Let me know if you find a difference.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Bird Surveys at Plattekill and Ostrander Elementary Schools

At the end of March and in early April I lead 2nd and 3rd grade students in the Wallkill Central School District on a survey of birds in their schoolyards.  Here is what we found.

Plattekill Elementary School, Monday, March 26

Mrs. Bouck’s  Class – 9:15 AM – mostly sunny, strong winds from the North, temperature in the mid-40’s

Canada Goose (CaGo) – 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk (SSHa) – 1
Red- tailed Hawk (RTHa) – 1
American Crow (AmCr) – 2
American Robin (AmRo) – 22
European Starling (EuSt) – 12
Red-winged Blackbird (RWBl) – 2
House Sparrow (HoSp) – 3

Mrs. Moran’s Class – 10:30 AM – mostly sunny, moderate winds from the North, temperatures in the mid to high 40’s

Turkey Vulture (TuVu) – 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk (SSHa) – 1
Red- tailed Hawk (RTHa) – 1
Mourning Dove (MoDo) – 1
American Crow (AmCr) – 13
Black-capped Chickadee (BCCh) – 2
American Robin (AmRo) – 1
European Starling (EuSt) – 12
Northern Cardinal (NoCa) – 1
Red-winged Blackbird (RWBl) – 2
House Sparrow (HoSp) – 2

Mrs. Bailey’s Class – 2:00 PM – no clouds, strong wind from the North, temperature in the high 40’s

Turkey Vulture (TuVu) – 7
Sharp-shinned Hawk (SSHa) – 1
Red- tailed Hawk (RTHa) – 1
Mourning Dove (MoDo) – 3
American Robin (AmRo) – 5
Black-capped Chickadee (BCCh) – 4

At Ostrander Elementary School I did Field Ornithology with 3rd graders on March 30 and April 11.  Here are those observations.

Mrs. Massale’s Class – on Friday, March 30 at 2:00 PM, no clouds, no wind, temperature in the low 50’s

Turkey Vulture (TuVu) – 4
Mourning Dove (MoDo) – 3
Red-bellied Woodpecker (RBWo) – 1
Pileated Woodpecker (PiWo) – 1
Blue Jay (BlJa) – 1
American Crow (AmCr) – 4
American Robin (AmRo) – 5
Tree Swallow (TrSw) – 1
Red-winged Blackbird (RWBl) – 3
Common Grackle (CoGr) – 9
Brown-headed Cowbird (BHCo) – 2
American Goldfinch (AmGo) – 1
House Sparrow (HoSp) – 9

Mrs. Stokes’ Class – on Wednesday, April 11 at 1:45 PM, complete cloud cover, slight breeze from the North, temperature in the low 50’s

Turkey Vulture (TuVu) – 1
Red-tailed Hawk (RTHa) – 2
Mourning Dove (MoDo) – 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker (RBWo) – 1
Downy Woodpecker (DoWo) – 2
Blue Jay (BlJa) – 4
American Crow (AmCr) – 2
Tree Swallow (TrSw) – 8
American Robin (AmRo) – 15
European Starling (EuSt) – 6
White-throated Sparrow (WTSp) – 2
Dark-eyed Junco (DEJu) – 1
Northern Cardinal (NoCa) – 2
Common Grackle (CoGr) – 10
House Sparrow (HoSp) – 9

There are certain times that might be better for looking for birds.  Looking at what each of the classes found.  Why are there different results?  Is there a better date to look for birds?  What might be the reason or reasons that more birds are found at one time of the day versus another?  Why would ornithologists record weather information when doing a bird survey?  Could there be habitat differences that make finding birds at one school better than the other?  How would you find out about this?

Note that the birds are listed in the order that you will find them in most field guides.  These lists are put together by ornithologist after studying how birds are related to each other and how scientists think that those relationships evolved, with the first birds listed being the more primitive and the last being the more recently evolved.

I have included an ornithologist’s shorthand that can be used with field notes.  This shorthand system uses a 4 letter abbreviation for each kind of bird.  It uses the following rules:  for a bird that has a common name of one word, the first 4 letters of the word are used, for example, the mallard is Mall – I capitalize the first letter, some people use all caps; for a bird that has a two word common name, for example Blue Jay, the 4 letters are made up with the first two letters of each word, in this case BlJa (again I like to capitalize the first letter of each word); for a bird name made up of three words, like Red-wing Blackbird, use the first letter of each of the first two words and the first two letters of the third word, RWBl (again for me, using caps for the first letter of each word) and finally for a bird that has a four word name, like the Great Black-backed Gull, use the first letter of each of the four words, GBBG.  There are a few cases where two birds share the same letters with this system, for example Barred Owl and Barn Owl.  In these instances you have to look up what ornithologists have decided to do for the abbreviations, which in this case would be BdOw and BanO (there is no rhyme or reason, as far as I can see, for the selection of letters in this case).

Here are some interesting notes.  The Canada Geese seen with Mrs. Bouck’s class were flying as a pair.  Keep an eye out for this.  When you see Canada Geese at this time of year they will most often be in pairs.  These are mated pairs, they mate for life, that are getting ready for the nesting season.

After I had finished exploring with the 2nd grades I saw a hawk fly by giving a call that sounded a lot like a Flicker call.  I was not familiar with this hawk call so I did some research using Stokes’  Field Guide to Bird Songs - Eastern Region, an audio field guide, and found out that it was Cooper’s Hawk.  I am sure you can google Northern Flicker and Cooper’s Hawk and find out what they sound like.

There was one interesting non-bird observation.  With Mrs. Bailey’s class we searched for birds along the edge of the field just beyond the north eastern corner of the building.  We had been standing at this spot for several minutes trying to find birds that might have been hiding in the bushes along the edge of the field when a Cottontail Rabbit burst out from its hiding place in the bushes and hopped across the open yard to bushes in a different area at the edge of the field.  Why did the rabbit leap away from the good hiding place it had?  Why did it take so long for it to decide to change hiding places?

I have done a bird surveys in the past with both Ostrander and Plattekill students, and with students from other schools.  Check my blog archives for those results and compare them with the results reported here.  If you have any questions I would be very happy to try to answer them.  Keep up your scientific work and good luck observing birds throughout the year.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Egg Candling

I have started a 28 day egg incubation project at the Sapphire Elementary School in Monroe, NY. Kindergarten and 1st grade students have been introduced to the life cycle of the chicken and instructed in the care of incubators. Students are monitoring the incubators, checking the temperature and humidity of the incubators and turning the eggs by hand. I prefer to have the students turn the eggs rather than use automatic turners as it provides the children a more hands-on participation in the project.

The second part of my program is to candle the eggs. My purpose in candling the eggs is to show the students the development of the chick embryo and to help them make predictions on how many chicks might hatch in their incubators. Students learn about what characteristics can be seen in the candled egg that shows chick growth. These include the air sac, veins, the eye spot on the embryo and movement. Here is a video of one of the eggs that we candled.



video
The embryos do not all develop at the same rate. Here is an egg that shows an embryo that is significantly smaller than the one in the first egg. It will be interesting to see if this egg hatches. If it does not, perhaps the slower development of the embryo as seen in the candling may be the cause of the failure.





video


Some eggs show no development at all. I call these eggs “glowing eggs”. Since there is no embryo or veins inside the egg the candling light passes through unobstructed and the egg appears to glow. I describe it to the children as glowing like an ornament. We compare an egg that glows with an egg that has a developing chick. The students can see the difference and agree that one of the eggs appears to glow much more than the other. Here is a glowing egg.



video
Most incubation projects call for the removal of eggs showing no chick development. Since I am using the candling observations as a means of gathering data to make a prediction of how many chicks might hatch I leave the “glowing” eggs in the incubator. At the conclusion of hatching students can see how their predictions compare to the hatching results. I have found that leaving the eggs in have not adversely affected the hatching success.

The hatched chicks will remain at the school for about a week so that children can observe their growth. I will pick up the chicks after this period of time and they will live with my flock of chicks, hens and roosters. Next year these chicks will be the hens and roosters that provide me fertile eggs for additional incubation projects.