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Archive for February, 2011

I’ve been into birdwatching (or “birding” as it is commonly called) for a little less than a year now, and this year the kids and I are participating in the GBBC—The Great Backyard Bird Count.

Basically, everyone in North America can count the birds wherever they go this long weekend (Friday through Monday)…whether it be on birding trips or hikes, or just on a trip to a local park or running errands to the grocery store.  Did you see 6 pigeons when you went to WalMart?  You can count that.  Were your kids playing at the park when a flock of 30 starlings flew by?  Check.  Did some adorable black-capped chickadees come visit your yard bird feeder this morning?  The GBBC people want to know. (Scientists use this information gathered every year to track bird trends, health and other things.)

Here’s the website with all the information you need to participate.  There’s also a section for kids with a birdsong quiz, puzzles, recipes for bird treats, and more.

We are having a blast watching the home page for the GBBC change constantly as it’s updated every 30 minutes or so with bird finds from across the country.  Yesterday morning, when it started, there were a few red dots marking submitted checklists in the west part of the U.S., with a large cluster of them on the East Coast.  Now the map is nearly full of red, with lots in Canada and Mexico, too.  We love to see the bird count and species count change.

You can also access lists for your state and even city.  We are following Utah (because we live here) and Wisconsin (my beautiful home state…I love that my hometown of Eagle River even had 1 checklist submitted! Thank you, unknown Eagle River birder).

Yesterday we watched our back and front yards for a while and counted 1 Black-Capped Chickadee, 1 Mountain Chickadee, 12 House Sparrows, 5 Starlings, 1 House Finch, 1 Dark-Eyed Junco (Oregon variety) and a Spotted Towhee.  The Spotted Towhee was a thrilling find…we’d never seen one before, let alone had one visit our yard!  They’re beautiful birds.  The kids decided they have the head of a Junco, the tail of a Magpie, and the stomach of a Robin. 

Spotted Towhee (from Wikipedia)

Last night we went out to the International Center, near the airport, and saw a Great-Horned Owl.  He was more awake than the last time we’d seen him and the kids were so excited to see him wide awake and looking at them.  We tried to get some pictures but our cameras aren’t the best:

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Here’s the nest, which is a bundle of pine needles, sticks, and leaves, and the owl peering out of his nest

We also had a fun time feeding the ducks in a nearby pond, despite the bone-chilling wind.

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Nia thought it would be fun to pretend this bench was a bed

The kids were beyond excited to come home and enter their count on the GBBC checklists.  They loved the fact that we counted the only Great-Horned Owl and the only Killdeer (as of this morning) for Utah.

Note: In the half hour or so I’ve been composing this blog post, the national bird count has gone up by 4,000 birds.  We hope you’ll consider taking part in the fun!

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Since I homeschool my kids, I’m always looking for ways to make school more creative…more fun…more engaging…more enjoyable.  Sometimes I draw a blank, but I often manage to come up with some fun ideas that the kids love.

One favorite activity is as follows:

1.  The mom/teacher writes activities on slips of paper and folds them

2.  After the child completes a problem (or 5 problems, or a whole page) they get to choose one slip of paper and do the activity on the paper.

3.  Repeat step 2 until all work is done.

pick a slip bowl

If you come up with a large list of activities (many slips of paper), you can keep them in a jar or container and re-use them as often as needed.  Here’s some ideas (not all of these are pure “fun” activities, but they do give the kids a break from school):

* build a tower out of blocks

* do one math problem on the computer (or math game) for 2 minutes

* eat 1 chocolate chip

* do 5 somersaults

* play 1 song on the piano, harmonica, kazoo, or tin whistle

* put away 5 things in the living room

* draw a Star Wars character (customize this one to your child’s interests)

* send a text message (my kids love to text my sisters on my phone)

* send an e-mail (grandmas love getting e-mail from grandkids!)

* go outside and scatter some corn or birdseed for the birds

* bird watch for 1 minute (we have active and busy feeders outside out front window)

* put away 10 things in your bedroom

* jump 30 times with the jump rope

* eat at least 5 nuts or seeds

* drink 1 cup of water

* play a tic-tac-toe game with an imaginary opponent

* read 1 page in a book

And so on.  The possibilities are really endless.  Of course, the kids have to be watched so they don’t “abuse” the game (so they don’t take too long doing activities or decide they don’t want to do something, put it back, and choose a different one); if they don’t like the activity they chose, they “forfeit” that turn and do their next set of problems.  But for the most part they really love this game and it’s a great way to get them excited about finishing schoolwork quickly and well.

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