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Entries in hiking (40)

Thursday
May212015

County Parks Tour (part 1)

With the advent of real spring weather comes a decline in average birding success rates. What I mean by that, of course, is that gray, rainy days and thickly leaved trees make it hard to see the birds, and almost impossible to get pictures. On the other hand, though, hiking itself is more enjoyable in a greener environment, and the wild flowers are really starting to spring open everywhere.

Last year we made a goal for ourselves to hike every single county park and preserve in Washtenaw over the course of the summer. It's a big undertaking, with over thirty sites to visit, and with so many travel plans last year we never quite reached that goal. So this year we're going to try again. We've got a map and a checklist and we're methodically crossing them off, one park at a time. If we can visit at least two parks a week, we should be good to go, and we're off to a good start.

At each park we make a record of the date, time, and duration of the visit, and the weather conditions; we note the size of the park, and describe its basic terrain and type of ecosystem or habitat; finally, we make note of all the species we see there (that we can positively identify). This week we visited two parks in the Northeast corner of the county. The day of our visit was cold and dark, but at least it was dry, and we had a good time. We spotted a variety of birds, including a turkey that was trying to hide in the grass, and identified evidence of a variety of nocturnal or crepuscular mammals. We also added wildflowers and trees to our species lists.

Tom A. Freeman Preserve

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, female

Eastern Wood-pewee

Wild Turkey, female

Indigo Bunting


Raymond F. Goodrich Preserve

House Wren

Gray Catbird

We also made a foray into a new township preserve in our area. The trails are not yet well developed, but it's a beautiful hidden spot with lots of wet areas and islands to explore. The best part of the hike, aside from the fact that we got to do it as a whole family, was our encounter with a Wood Thrush. I've wanted to see one for as long as I can remember. They have a beautiful, almost haunting call that sounds a little like water, and it echoes through the woods even while the vocalist remains well hidden, usually on the forest floor. On this hike, though, we could hear that he was close. To verify that I had identified the call right, I got out my phone and played it on my Audubon app. Not only was it the right call, but our friend in the woods answered. We had a short conversation after that, with him getting a little closer every time I played his tune and he'd answered. Finally he hopped out of the woods and onto a branch. He only stayed long enough to figure out he'd been duped and shoot me a disapproving glance, but that was just enough time for me to get the good look we'd been waiting for, and for me to snap a quick (and thus blurry) photo to share.

Wood Thrush

Sunday
Apr192015

Full swing spring

Though the forecast for the coming week is less than rosy, this weekend we're enjoying delightful spring weather with warm temperatures and brilliant sunshine. And the birds, blissfully unaware of weatherchannel.com, are going on with their usual spring travel plans. The first wave of migrators is here, and on our hike this weekend we spotted our first warblers of the season. Things are really picking up, and we are looking forward to the spring birding explosion over the next few weeks.

American Robin

Painted turtles

six Bufflehead ducks (three male, three female), with one Lesser Scaup (female) right in the middle

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-winged Blackbird (female)

Red-winged Blackbird (male)

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Palm Warbler

can you find the moth? (by Calvin)

an acorn growing (by Calvin)

feather (by Calvin)

 

Thursday
Apr162015

Calvin's hike

I made the mistake last weekend of failing to dump the shots from Calvin's camera before posting about our morning hike in Dolph Park. When I popped his memory card into my computer this week to go through his 365 shots, I was met with a very different view point of that same hike. I really, really love these shots. While I was aiming at the treetops, Calvin, who has a hard time just yet finding the constantly fluttering birds with the camera, focused more on the path and the signs of life he found there.

Here's Calvin's view of the park last weekend.

sprouts

a fish in the clouds

a home on the ground

a berry in the leaves

lush, green moss

clamshell fungus

Canada Goose

more sprouts

a seed cluster

a purple vine

green growth

fresh green leaves emerging

puffball fungus

happy moss

a reflection from the bridge

the path

Wednesday
Apr152015

Science in the field

Two more hikes for us this week...so far. This is our new science plan for the next season or two. And there's a science behind that decision, too. I have weekly calendars to keep our school journey on track. I actually started using them about five years ago when we were just getting started with the Five in a Row plan. At the time they were more about art projects than schooling, but they grew and changed quite a bit through the months, and then the years, going from a list of possible craft projects, to a list of books to read and chores to get done, and ultimately to a pretty detailed list of the homschooling things we tackled during a day.

I use the calendar not only for keeping track of where we are going what we plan to do in a week, but also as a means of recording what we have done. On the back side of every calendar I keep a sort of daily journal, tracking the amount of time we spend on subjects, the total amount of time we spent schooling during the week, and even the overall attitude we both have about them.

My initial goal in keeping the calendar and journal was to have, should Michigan homeschoolers ever be held accountable, a record of time spent on school and its subjects. But the calendar had a secondary, unforseen but fortuitous, benefit as well. Having all those details about time spent and, especially, our tempers and focus during that time, gave me a larger perspective that has been very, very helpful in tracking our study trends.

And spring, year after year, has been a terrible time for us to keep to a regular homeschool schedule.

Our usual schedule includes reading, researching, and writing, but in the spring we both struggle to sit long enough to do any of these things. Looking back at my notes ("no focus today!", "sooo grouchy about math!") this was obvious. So this year we formulated a new plan. Beginning with the warming of the earth, we are leaving behind our science books (never text books, always living learning books, but still books), and are entering the field to learn about the earth from the earth. We are still keeping to our other subjects, but on a diminshed schedule, allowing us to really focus on that outdoor science stuff right now: at least two hikes a week, more when we can. During this time we are keeping track of the progression of the spring awakening by visiting our favorite preserve weekly. And we are going to record the species we find during the bird migration. We are relating all of it to species identification, adaptations and evolution, the geology of the earth, and the general science of life. Biology, from several different aspects.

It's an exciting new project for us, and it's off to a great start.

This week, back at the Scio Woods Preserve, the frogs were much quieter, but the birds were much more active. We took a packed lunch and ate it at the pond with a Great Blue Heron, a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, and a Belted Kingfisher. Later, we saw just about every woodpecker imaginable in our area, and noted an increased number of insects, which coincided with an increased number of snakes and butterflies. We also discussed the difficulty of identifying species in the field. In fact, with better pictures this week we were able to re-ID a species we saw first last week, but blurry pictures of other species provided a different kind of challenge.

My favorite part, though, as much as I love all the birds and the quiet of the woods, was the time spent visiting with my growing son. Sure, we visit all the time—discussion is a big part of our homeschooling plan—but this was a different kind of conversing, a sort of sharing of ideas and excitement, and that added a special warmth to the already bright spring day.

These are actually pictures from both of our mid-week hike days so far, including Scio Woods Preserve on April 14, and Dolph Nature Area and DeVine Nature Preserve on April 15.

Red-tailed Hawk, juvenile

Great Blue Heron

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

American Robin

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker talking to a Downey Woodpecker

Mourning Cloak

April 15, Dolph Nature Area

Common Garter, red morph

Turkey Vulture

Gray Squirrel, black morph

Red-winged Blackbird (in a not so graceful position)

Beaver evidence!

Eastern Phoebe

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

And how about some ID challenges? Not all of the bird pictures I post are in great focus. Have you ever tried to catch a moving target with a long range telephoto lens? To catch some of the birds, the extra zoom is necessary, but with the lens fully extended every shake of the camera shows, and the birds don't hold still long. So sometimes a blury shot is the best we can do, but usually it's better than nothing, even if it's truly a blury mess. We spotted a bird this weekend that I was sure was a unique sparrow, one I've seen at the same park in the past. The size was about right, and the basic color was the same, but once I got the extremely blury photo in front of me, a distinction appeared—instead of a small yellow stripe on either side of his head, this bird's entire top head was yellow. Putting together what we knew we had seen with the blury photo and a migration pattern timetable, we identified our mystery bird as a Golden-crowned Kinglet. So a blury photo is better than no photo at all.

Here are some "outtakes" that we worked with this week:

Here is our Golden-crowned Kinglet. It is one of several blury shots of this little guy that helped us figure him out.

This Belted Kingfisher is pretty easy to identify here, but still not the best species picture we could ask for.

Without both a front and a side shot this handsome fella is hard to ID. Last week all we had was a shot of his back and we named him a Veery, but with this blury yet convincing full frontal, we've decided he's either a Wood Thrush or Hermit Thrush.

Sunday
Apr122015

Good morning hike

It was our first family hike of the season, because it was our first weekend hike of the season. Calvin and I really like the quiet of the parks during a spring weekday. We run into other hikers on occasion, but usually it's just the two of us and the wildlife. But Jon really likes joining us, too. He's in it for the turtles mostly, and the fuzzy critters, but we're all improving at identifying bird calls, too.

This weekend we took advantage of the prettiest Saturday yet with an early hike (not too early, since it still gets pretty chilly at night) all three of us together. The day started out overcast, but the sun started peeking out early and eventually joined us full time. We found lots of signs of spring in that brilliant green color that will soon flush all our fields and lawns. We found snakes, and for the first time turtles. The squirrels are ubiquitous, of course, and those fluffy little cottontails. And, amongst our usual feathered friends, we spotted a winter visitor migrating through.

Eastern Phoebe (or possibly a Least Flycatcher?)

Northern Cardinal male

Northern Cardinal female

Canada Goose

Red Squirrel

Song Sparrow

Eastern Cottontail

American Robin

Unidentified fuzzy buzzing thing

Painted Turtle

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