Birding!

https://feederwatch.org/blog/

This time of year I start thinking about the birds in my area. The temperatures are dropping close to freezing. I see birds in great flocks swooping into the bird bath and landing on the feeder. Last week there were about 15 Common Grackles splashing and crowding into my bird bath. The winter is upon us here in New Hampshire. The birds need to eat quite a bit of food to keep up their energy for traveling south. Those that stay will need food all winter. I often look out the kitchen window in the winter to see a little black -capped chickadee at the feeder, and I wonder how it can keep warm. The tiny little feet and the skinny little legs look so vulnerable. They need high energy foods and lots of it! I know there are Oak Meadow students that enjoy watching and feeding the birds. If you do also, then you might like to join the Project FeederWatch that is a program of the Cornell University Lab of Orinthology.

Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April and send their counts to Project FeederWatch. FeederWatch data help scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.

Project Overview, FeederWatch.org

Interesting bird facts can be found at: http://www.bio.brandeis.edu/fieldbio/Birds_Kamm_Kuss/Pages/PAGE_HOME.html

Here’s one: The Common Grackle often allows ants to crawl over its body so that they may secrete formic acid, which is thought to kill parasites, a practice called anting. Besides formic acid from ants, the Common Grackle has been observed using various other substances, such as walnut juice, mothballs, lemons, limes, and choke cherries in similar ways.

Do you watch the birds? Do you keep a list of the birds you’ve seen? Let us know!

 

Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Velociraptors, and turkeys? Huh?

I’ve been thinking a lot about turkeys lately! If you are in the United States, you might be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday. It is a celebration of thanks commemorating the first harvest feast the Pilgrims had in 1621. Today families often gather to have a big feast of foods and that meal might … Continue reading "Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Velociraptors, and turkeys? Huh?"

I’ve been thinking a lot about turkeys lately! If you are in the United States, you might be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday. It is a celebration of thanks commemorating the first harvest feast the Pilgrims had in 1621. Today families often gather to have a big feast of foods and that meal might include a roasted turkey.  So, I’ve been thinking about turkeys.

One of my first thoughts led me to wonder where the word “turkey” originated. Why are they called turkeys? An article in the Atlantic Monthly had a good explanation. You can read it here. I was pretty surprised to find that the origin of the word is debated by etymology experts.

Then I was wondering if turkeys can really fly and I started to investigate. Sure enough, they can fly! This investigation led me to thinking about the wishbone in the turkey at our family Thanksgiving celebration. It’s the “wishbone” that is the bone that connects the wings of birds allowing them to fly.

So what do Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Velociraptors, and turkeys all have in common?  I was amazed to find out that many dinosaurs, including the newly found “Mud Dragon” had wishbones. Yep! The wishbone is actually called the “furcula” and is found in birds and in DINOSAURS!

Next time you eat a turkey and find the furcula, remember that scientists have found that the wishbone dates back more than 150 million years!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

The Nobel Prizes

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

In November of 1895, Alfred Nobel passed away and left a very large amount of his money to go toward a variety of prizes. The prizes became known as the Nobel Prizes. It was a generous beginning to yearly honor work in the sciences, literature, and those people working for peace throughout the world.

I am always most interested in The Nobel Peace Prize. Alfred Nobel’s will stated that the Peace Prize would go to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

The 2017 award went to an organization, rather than one person. The Nobel Peace Prize 2017 was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). This is a world-wide partnership of organizations dedicated and focused on a nuclear weapon ban treaty for the world. What an honorable intention to free the world’s people from the use of a nuclear weapon.

In 1904 Ivan Pavlov won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Some of you may have already studied about him and his ideas. You may be studying Pavlov’s work in the Oak Meadow curriculum. On the Nobel Prize website there are educational pages that have some fun facts and games to play. The one about Ivan Pavlov is great!

It is also fascinating to watch the lectures and the award ceremonies. You can view them at: http://www.nobelprize.org/

P’Chum Ben

In the U.S., Halloween is a spooky holiday full of horror films, scary masks, fake blood, and haunted houses. It takes place at a time of year when many regions of the country are undergoing that seasonal shift from crisp, early autumn to the bare, dark branches welcoming winter. The air turns colder, the wind … Continue reading "P’Chum Ben"

In the U.S., Halloween is a spooky holiday full of horror films, scary masks, fake blood, and haunted houses. It takes place at a time of year when many regions of the country are undergoing that seasonal shift from crisp, early autumn to the bare, dark branches welcoming winter. The air turns colder, the wind seems louder, and one can almost hear voices in the air…

But in many countries outside the U.S., this time of year is not as much about how well we can frighten each other as it is about taking the time to commune with one another and honor the cycle of life – birth, death, and return.

Halloween is certainly connected to ideas of death and return, but it manifests in gory images of witches and zombies wandering suburban streets. In other cultures, particularly ones rooted in the many strands of Buddhism, autumn is a time to pause in remembrance for our loved ones who are no longer with us, and gather for meals and services with those who are.

In Cambodia, the holiday P’Chum Ben (which translates to Ancestors’ Day) is a 15-day celebration which takes place at the end of September each year. It is one of the most important holidays in the Cambodian religious calendar. During P’Chum Ben, it is believed that the souls of relatives who have passed away come to the temples (called pagodas) to receive offerings of food and prayers from their living family members. P’Chum Ben is not to be missed, and much time is taken by all to visit the pagodas and to show respect for their relatives and ancestors.

As with the American Halloween, there is one spooky element to P’Chum Ben: it is believed that some of the dead receive punishments for their sins and suffer in hell, far from the sun, with no clothes to wear or food to eat. It is believed that those souls who are suffering have become hungry ghosts whose tiny mouths cannot take in all the food they need. Those who greet spirits at the pagodas believe that the food they bring can be directly transferred to the dead, and some people throw the traditional sticky rice into the fields as a way to reach the ghosts. Ultimately, P’Chum Ben is an opportunity for these spirits to commune with their living relatives by receiving the offerings, and hopefully gaining some relief for their pain.

Photo of a P’Chum Ben celebration in Cambodia, courtesy of pkocambodia.org. Unlike the American tradition of wearing black to a funeral, Cambodians traditionally wear white – a lighter, more celebratory color.

I traveled to Cambodia in high school with a group of students and teachers, to learn about the country’s traditional art forms. On the trip, I developed a strong interest in Cambodian culture and a love for the country’s arts, landscape, and people.

Several years after my trip, a close friend who had also traveled there, and held his experiences in Cambodia close to his heart, unexpectedly passed away exactly one week before his birthday. In my grief, my confusion over why this talented poet, photographer, and humanitarian had died so young, I found solace in our shared connection to Cambodian culture and Buddhist beliefs in karma and reincarnation.

Each year on November 7th, the day Johnny died, I take time to look at his photographs from Cambodia and reread his poems about visiting ancient Khmer temples. A week later, on his birthday, November 14th, I connect with our mutual friends to speak about Johnny and draw attention to the ways he touched so many lives while he was with us, and the ways he continues to make an impact after his death.

No matter your belief system, or what holidays you celebrate when the weather turns cold, autumn is undeniably a good time to gather with friends, family, and loved ones, to celebrate life and others who lived before us. It is a good time to pause and ask yourself what you do believe, what brings you comfort, and how you can bring comfort to others.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer. Poem by John Harrity, from a chapbook of poems printed by his family. In the photo, Johnny is playing the chapei, a traditional Khmer instrument similar to a guitar.

Here are some ways you can integrate this attention into your daily life this autumn:

  • Make a meal traditional to your family, culture, and ancestors, and bring it to a gathering of loved ones to share
  • Look through old photo albums of relatives and take the time to learn about their lives
  • Journal about your feelings regarding the loss of your loved ones
  • Build a shrine with photos, candles, and objects for a loved one who has passed on
  • Research the ways other cultures, different from your own, celebrate and honor the lives of their relatives and ancestors

THE AUGUST ECLIPSE!!

Solar and Lunar Eclipses Worldwide

Solar and Lunar Eclipses Worldwide

Hello! Here in New England we have had a good summer and it isn’t over yet! There are still weeks to go in August of lazy summer days and cool nights. Here at Oak Meadow one event we are all looking forward to is the upcoming eclipse on August 21, 2017. The following is a quick blast of great information from DeeDee Hughes, our Oak Meadow colleague:

Hi Folks,

We are all a little eclipse-crazy here in Corvallis, Oregon since we are in the “zone of totality” for viewing the total solar eclipse on August 21. I did some research and found this cool interactive map that shows the path of eclipses for years to come. I found a page where you can type in a city name and see what the eclipse will look like from there–I couldn’t resist checking out where friends and family members live. It’s fun to compare different places:  

Brattleboro VT

Santa Cruz CA

Corvallis OR

Seems like everyone in the country will be seeing something cool. Oh, and this article has good info about the solar eclipse glasses and how to tell if you have safe ones. 

I was wondering why the upcoming eclipse is being called “Eclipse of the Century” when they happen all the time, so I dug deeper. A total solar eclipse is different than an annular eclipse, but both have the moon lined up exactly in between Earth and the sun. In an annular eclipse, the moon moves fully in front of the sun but because the moon is further from the Earth at that time, there will be a “ring of fire” seen around the moon, rather than having the moon block the sun entirely the way it does in a total solar eclipse. The difference between an annular and a total solar eclipse is the distance between the moon and Earth. Here’s an article with a cool “ring of fire” photo. 

That’s my two cents on cool eclipse fun! DD

I’ll also add that EARTHSKY has a very good “Eclipse Day” checklist for getting ready for viewing. Be prepared, have fun, and enjoy the “Eclipse of the Century” with family and friends!

 

Stamp Collecting!

“The word ‘philatelist’ means a person who practices philately or stamp collecting. It comes from the French word ‘philatelie’, which was derived from the Greek words ‘philos’, meaning loving, and ‘atelia’, meaning exemption from tax which also came to mean ‘postage is prepaid.’.”

American Philatelic Society

The American Philatelic Society is the largest, nonprofit organization in the world for stamp collectors.

When I was little and traveled with my family, we didn’t have computers for emailing and so we wrote lots of letters to family and friends. We also made a tradition of mailing ourselves letters to our own home! We would go to a post office in a country or town that we were visiting, and purchase a special stamp. (You can ask the post master to show you what stamps he/she has available.) Then, using the stamp, we would mail the letter home to ourselves. It was fun to see the letters and the stamps when we arrived home. I don’t have a very big collection of stamps, but the ones that I do have hold some wonderful memories for me.

This year a really cool stamp is going to be offered! A first of its kind! Some background first:

You may have read that there is going to be a total eclipse of the sun across the United States this summer. (Monday, August 21, 2017.) People from all over the world will be coming to different spots in the United States to witness this solar eclipse.

Solar Eclipse
Photo Credit: Public Domain

What does a solar eclipse have to do with a stamp? Well, the Postal Service will be offering a first-of-its-kind stamp! It changes when you touch it! The Postal Service announcement says: “The Total Eclipse of the Sun, Forever® stamp, which commemorates the August 21 eclipse, transforms into an image of the Moon from the heat of a finger.”

You can read the story of how the stamp was designed here.

If you would like to view other stamps that have commemorated eclipses, you can view them here.

So, as you travel to new places, or even stay in your hometown, take a look at the many stamps that the post office has to offer!

P. S.  Looking directly at the sun during a solar eclipse can be dangerous; here’s a way to enjoy the eclipse without hurting your eyes: http://hilaroad.com/camp/projects/eclipse_viewer/eclipse_viewer.html

 

A Day to Remember: Memorial Day

Memorial Day, celebrated in the United States on the last Monday of May, is a day in which we honor those men and women (and service dogs) that died while serving the country in the United States armed services.

The day actually started as a way to commemorate those that died during the U.S. Civil War. In 1868 it was established and it was called “Decoration Day.” At that time it was on May 30th and was a day to decorate the graves of those that died in the Civil War.

In 1967 Memorial Day became a national holiday. In 1971 the holiday was moved to the last Monday in May. On the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs website, it states: “In December 2000, the U.S. Congress passed, and the president signed into law, “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” P.L. 106-579, creating the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance.”

The law actually requires that U.S. citizens pause, for one minute at 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day, and honor those that have died in service to our country.

 

The Night Sky

This week’s night sky
(Northern Hemisphere)

“You cannot teach anybody anything. You can only help them discover it within themselves.” ~~ Galileo ~~ (15 February 1564 – 8 January 1642)

I love to go outside on a clear night and observe the stars and planets. Last night the incredibly beautiful full moon was so bright that it was hard to see any constellations! I took a walk in the moonlight and thought about how strong the light from our sun is that our moon can reflect enough light for me to see where I am going at 10:00 at night. Awesome! In the 7th grade science curriculum, Oak Meadow students investigate the moon, its phases, and its gravitational pull on Earth. Students also learn to compare the characteristics of the planets in our solar system. The study of astronomy is so fascinating!

Sky viewing is a great time for gathering friends on an evening and doing some star watching. If you know there will be a clear night for star viewing, it’s a great time to HAVE A STAR PARTY!

Send invitations, make “star” snacks, and put lots of blankets on the ground for friends to sit down on for good viewing. It’s fun to have some binoculars, a telescope, or one of the free astronomy apps available. Make sure you have flashlights for looking at books of constellations!

Some towns have astronomy clubs and the people in the clubs are usually very willing to come join in the fun and help answer star gazing questions. The Astronomical Society of Northern New England can be contacted for Star Parties!

“This Week’s Sky at a Glance” at the Sky and Telescope website is really helpful for learning what is visible in your own evening sky. Check it out for the constellation guide covering the whole evening sky. Observing the night sky is such a fun activity on a sparkling clear night!

Great idea!

Benjamin Franklin
Photo Credit: Public Domain

My father is about to turn 94 and consequently, we go all out for his birthday parties! We have a tradition of having him tell us what he was doing at the present age of each member of the family. This past year the youngest among us was a great grandson just 13 months old. It was fun to hear my father speak about what he was doing when he was 13 months old. The oldest at the party was 68 years and that too was amusing!

We decided this year to list many of the things that had been invented in the years since our father (grandfather or great grandfather) was born. Each family member brought a description of the invention to the party. Wow! He has certainly seen many, many inventions in his lifetime!

Photo Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. (Public Domain)

I think we take for granted some of the inventions he saw in his lifetime, such as the color TV or the black box flight recorder. Lithium batteries and the pocket calculator surprised all of us as just being invented in the 1970s.

Not only do I think we take these inventions for granted, but I think we also pay little attention to the people that invented them! Physicists, biologists, chemists, carpenters, farmers–you name it and you may find a profession that has an inventor. Where do these inventors come from? “From 1900 onwards, on average about 10% of Americans have been first-generation immigrants. Yet first-generation immigrants have won 33% of all American Nobel prizes in the sciences since the award began in 1900, representing thirty-five countries from six continents.” (https://m.facebook.com/notes/neil-degrasse-tyson/science-in-america/10155202535296613/)

All this talk about past inventions got me wondering what is being invented (and patented) right now! I found out about The Lemelson-MIT Program which strives to celebrate  “outstanding inventors and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention.” It is so interesting to read about the most recent inventions that are being awarded!

Do you have something that you are working on that will one day be an invention that will benefit us all? Join an inventor’s club! Here’s a list of them by state: http://www.freeinventorshelp.com/Organizations.html#states

Good luck!

Sound Waves and Sonic Booms

Why am I playing a Pink Floyd album as I write my blog? Well, I just couldn’t resist after reading about the newly found shrimp that is named after the band! The legend goes that Pink Floyd once played their music so loudly at a concert that the sound waves killed the fish in a nearby pond.

anothershrimpinthewall-fullres by katepocklington.jpeg

The shrimp has a very large pink colored front claw that it uses to kill its prey. It uses the claw by snapping the pink claw and creating a sound so loud that it can kill small fish. So the scientists (Sammy De Grave of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Arthur Anker of the Universidade Federal de Goiás in Brazil and Kristin Hultgren of Seattle University) thought it would be a great honor to name the new species of shrimp “Synalpheus Pinkfloydi” after the band Pink Floyd!

A cartoon version of the Pink Floyd pistol shrimp is shown in this handout photo. (Chris Jarvis / Oxford University Museum of Natural History)

This little shrimp creates volumes of sound up to 210 decibels! If you are in the 8th grade physics course with Oak Meadow,  you study sound waves, sound pressure, and sound power and the impact they have on wildlife and humans. You will also study decibels, the speed of sound, and the way sound travels. So when I write that the sound created by the snapping of the claw can reach 210 decibels, you know THAT IS LOUD!!!

Read more about this fascinating discovery here.