Every fall, two things happen that mark the shift from summer into the fall. The first is when someone calls to ask when to stop feeding the hummingbirds. The answer is whenever the hummingbirds stop eating the sugar water. They know when they need to fly south, and no amount of enticement on our part will convince them to stick around for winter.
The second is when someone brings me a beautiful red leaf to identify.
There is, of course, plenty of non-hazardous beauty out there.
The David Suzuki 30×30 Nature Challenge comes to end today! Or tomorrow if you missed a day. That would be our family. Earlier in the month we enjoyed a day with my parents — space museum visiting, dining out, and swimming at their hotel pool. That night I was horrified to discover that we hadn’t had any nature time! We failed! Alas, our habit was broken and the challenge lost.
However, out we went again the next day and the next, and the next… And we’ll go out again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next… As Dr. Scott Sampson says in his new book How to Raise a Wild Child, it’s “abundant experiences in wild or semi-wild places, typically close to home” that forge the deep connection with nature that I’m hoping to create with my children.
On one of our “close to home” outings we came upon a huge, black, bristling caterpillar. Imagine a solid black wooly bear, traditionally seen in the autumn, twice the usual size. My son picked it up and as it crawled over his hands we noticed that between the black bristles, the caterpillar had skin of dark red. Even I took a turn letting it crawl on my hand to experience the disconcerting feeling of its myriad of scratchy, sturdy feet marching relentlessly forward.
After everyone had a turn to hold this amazing creature — he really was huge — my daughter set him on a fallen log a few feet off the path from where we’d found him. And on we went.
When we got home we searched online and found a link that fit our description of “huge black bristly caterpillar” and as I scrolled down through the pictures, I knew we’d found a match: The Giant Leopard Moth!
But when the actual picture of the moth appeared, I jumped up — I’d seen this moth before in Hunting Red! I found our copy and started thumbing through. I had to go through several times before I found the picture on the dedication page. Yes, there it was — the moth and the caterpillar. Very exciting!
According to the article, the caterpillars eat the non-native invasive honeysuckle. We enjoy plucking the honeysuckle blossoms and sipping the tiny drop of liquid nectar. If you’ve never tried this, The Magic Onions has a short post on how to experience this sweet summer foraging ritual.
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The ruby-throated hummingbirds have returned. I haven’t seen one yet, but I’ve been keeping a casual eye on http://www.hummingbirds.net/map.html to track their migration north, and they have definitely been spotted in this area over the past few days.
That means it’s time to put up the hummingbird feeder. The hummingbirds will stick around for the summer and find plenty to feed on without our help. Putting out the feeder gives us an opportunity to watch their aerial acrobatics up close on a regular basis. They have distinct personalities, and don’t hesitate to find us in the yard and complain loudly if we don’t keep sugar water in the feeder. We have columbines planted for them as well, but the flowers haven’t quite started to bloom yet.
The free Bird Printable Set based on the nine North American birds found in Hunting Red* is ready for downloading! The set contains a full color page of all nine birds, an identical b&w page for coloring, a set of name cards, play ideas, and individual coloring worksheets for each of the following birds:
After creating the page featuring all nine birds together, I printed a copy for my 12yo son to color. He used Hunting Red*, AllAboutBirds.org, and our beloved National Geographic Birds of North America* field guide to accurately color each male bird. I chose to draw all males, although there is a mix of males and females in Hunting Red*.
He scanned the completed page, and printed it on cardstock to see how it looked. Beautiful! I laminated the colored bird page, along with the name cards, and cut them all out. Then it was off to the park to play Bird Search — which is exactly like hunting for Easter eggs, but the fun is year-round!
The children stayed on the playground while I went to a little stand of trees nearby. I hid some birds in the branches of the evergreens, some on the ground under those branches, and some I stuck into the bark of a deciduous tree.
I laid out the name cards on the ground so the children could place each bird with its name as they found them. For my 5yo, I added the encouragement of “hot and cold”: “You’re getting warmer, warmer…oh, colder now, warm, burning! You found it!”
After all the birds had been found, we played 2 more times – once with my boys hiding them for their little sister, and once I helped her hide them for her big brothers. Each time we moved to a new location in the park.
I hope you enjoy the printable set! It was fun to create and plan to make additional sets based on the other flora and fauna of Hunting Red*. In the meantime, before you hunt for eggs — hunt for birds!
You can download the free set by clicking here, and share this post with those who enjoy it! Also, a special thanks to Deborah Leigh for use of her snail picture on the Scarlet Tanager worksheet!
As always, books marked with an * are affiliate links, and you can read our full disclosure at the bottom of the About page!
As the maple syruping season winds down, Indian Creek Nature Center is sharing the first harvest of the year with the community this weekend. The daytime temperatures have been unseasonably warm, in the 60’s and 70’s, and the night time temperatures have also been unseasonably warm, in the high 30’s and mid 40’s. Without the nights getting below freezing, the trees have produced a modest 280 gallons of sap-only enough to make about 6 gallons of syrup.
If you only have one or two trees to tap or lack a good thermometer, consider drinking the sap or using it to make soups and stews. It has great flavor and is rich in minerals.
While the temperatures will likely get cold again, the silver maple trees are already budding out, signaling that the sugars (=good syrup) are changing to starches (=bad syrup). Many of the trees have simply stopped producing sap altogether.
Another sign that the seasons are shifting:
The syruping is ending, but the next wild edible to emerge-stinging nettle-is just beginning to poke through the softening ground.
As spring progresses, keep an eye on the maples. Their flowers in March attract bees, and their sap attracts other things all year long.
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