Winter Gifts For The Birds

Today is New Year’s Eve, so the boys and I thought we would welcome in the New Year by making a gift for the birds. When I was little I would gather pine cones, smear them with peanut butter and roll them in bird seed. I thought today was a perfect day to hand down this tradition.

Items Needed For Today’s Adventure:

  • Adventurous kids & parent
  • Pine cones
  • Creamy peanut butter w/ spoons
  • Shallow dish i.e pie pan, roasting pan
  • String/Twine

We started off the day by talking about how we could make a New Year’s Celebration for nature.  Us humans are going to be celebrating with chinese food, fire pits and sparklers, but how could we help the animals celebrate? I suggested that we make the birds a winter treat, and the boys jumped right on that bandwagon. We bundled up and headed outside for a hike in search of pine cones which would act as the vehicle for the treat. Our hike turned into an adventure as it usually does, by exploring the little meandering stream, balancing on fallen logs, and turning over rocks looking for treasures. That is part of the fun, going out for a walk and never knowing what kind of adventure you are going to have. Yes we sometimes have a mission, but when the kids go off on a tangent adventure, I follow and encourage the exploration knowing that it is going to lead to something wonderful.

We eventually found some pine cones which I was put in charge of carrying since their hands were full of rocks, pine needles, and make shift walking sticks.

Nature's Balance Beam

Nature’s Balance Beam

Once home we placed our pine cone treasures on the table and examined which ones would be used to smear the peanut butter all over. The boys both decided to use two of the large pine cones we collected prior to Christmas. Well, even if we didn’t use the ones we found today, it was well worth the adventure to go looking for new ones. After choosing our pine cones I filled a small container with bird seed. I used a container that I had on hand which was an unused small kitty litter box, but pie pans, or roasting pans work very well. I then got two small bowls and filled them with creamy peanut butter and  gave each boy a plastic spoon and plastic knife. Since we work on our glass kitchen table I didn’t put any newspaper down to help contain the mess, but I highly recommend doing so if you don’t have an easy to clean table.

Smearing the peanut butter on the pine cones

Smearing the peanut butter on the pine cones

I let the boys smear the peanut butter all over the pine cones, yes this does get messy but memory making isn’t always clean! With a little help from mom their pine cones were slathered up really well and ready for the bird seed. The boys used two methods for applying bird seed which they came up with on their own. They rolled the pine cones in the seed as well as sprinkled it on.

Rolling the pine cones in the bird seed

Rolling the pine cones in the bird seed

Sprinkling bird seed onto the pine cones

Sprinkling bird seed onto the pine cones

Once the pine cones were fully loaded with bird seed, I took some twine and tied a knot near the top of the pine cone, and then again so that they could hang. You can also use a pipe cleaner to wrap around the stem to form a loop then use string to hang. We hung ours on our deck so that we could see who comes to enjoy the treats, however you can hang from branches or bushes what ever you can find.

DSC_0175

We are eagerly awaiting to see who will come feast on the presents we made. The boys have been running up to the window all afternoon in hopes of catching a bird snacking. I am hoping that my Carolina Wren Francine will come check it out. She is such a curious little bird!

I hope you take some time today and get out and explore nature! Happy New Year!

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Falling Leaves

It’s that time of year when the leaves fall like rain making a beautiful orange, yellow, red carpet on the lawn. Some homeowners gripe about how they have to rake all the leaves, but I revel in it because I know with fallen leaves comes big leaf piles.

The boys and I throw on our jackets and rake as many leaves into the pile as we can, and then the fun begins! Both boys take running starts and leap into the pile.  This fun is not just for the kids, every year I also jump into the pile. As an adult jumping into a leaf pile can instantaneously bring you back to your child hood, and it also shows your kids that you are one of the “cool” parents that doesn’t mind getting dirty and playing with them! After we all judge each others leaps and dives, we usually end up having a big old leaf fight. This causes such squeals and laughter that there is no way you can be in a bad mood after that no matter what is going on in your life.

Leaf Fight!!!

So, get out there, rake some leaves and be a kid again with your kids!

When you are done playing come on inside and do some of these fun leaf activities I’m listing below.

Leaf Art: Collect all different sized and colored leaves with your little one in a basket or bag and then bring inside for your craft.  Get some construction paper, and dump your leaves on your craft table. Brainstorm what leaves could be transformed into different types of animals. The sky is the limit here, you can use multiple leaves for one animal or just one leaf and draw the rest. Make sure you glue your leaf or leaves so that your masterpiece doesn’t fall apart. In case you need some help thinking of animals, here is a blog link that has some leaf animals for you to start brainstorming with http://www.sweethappylife.com/2011/toddler-games-activities/autumn-craft-idea-leaf-animals/

Leaf Window Sun Catchers: You will need wax paper for this craft. Cut two pieces of wax paper to approximately 12″, you can adjust the size if you have smaller or bigger leaves. Arrange the leaves on the wax paper. Place the second sheet of wax paper on top of the leaves. Carefully bring the wax paper leaf sandwich to an ironing board. Using an iron on med-high heat, iron the wax paper leaf sandwich to create your sun catcher. The wax paper will melt a bit and stick the two pieces of wax paper together trapping the leaves in place. Once cool, hang in a window.

These are just two of our favorite leaf crafts to do! There are plenty more if you get leaf crazy, just google “leaf crafts” and play till your heart’s content!

Until next time, get out and enjoy nature!!!!!

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The Magical World of Letterboxing

Everything is magical when you are searching for hidden treasures

Looking to get out into nature and see new places, OR see old places in a new light? I have just the fun activity for you, Letterboxing! Letterboxing is perfect for all ages, young and old. It is so much fun that even if I didn’t have kids, I would do it anyway. If you haven’t heard of this activity before you are probably thinking to yourself, what the heck is she talking about now?! Letterboxing is like going on a big treasure hunt. Boxes are hidden all over the world, SERIOUSLY ALL OVER THE WORLD FOLKS for you to find. All you need to do is print out the clues to get you there. Each hidden box contains a special stamp that you use to stamp in your notebook. A lot of boxes have hand crafted, spectacular stamps made by local artists. It is a real treat to see the artwork!

I stumbled across this activity about a year ago and was AMAZED at how extensive the database was for clues. This past summer my family took an extended road trip up the east coast, and I was able to find clues along our route to make the trip more interesting.  The website atlasquest.com explains what letterboxing is the best. “Letterboxing is an intriguing pastime combining artistic ability with “treasure-hunts” in parks, forests, and cities around the world. Participants seek out hidden letterboxes by cracking codes and following clues. The prize: an image from a miniature piece of art known as a rubber stamp—usually a unique, hand-carved creation. Letterboxers stamp their discoveries in a personal journal, then use their own rubber stamp, called a signature stamp, to stamp into the letterbox’s logbook.”

Stamping in our special notebook

Many stamps are hand crafted by local artists

Sound like fun? Good! Your first task as a family is to go to one of the local hobby stores and find/make a family stamp. I am not the artsy crafty type so our family purchased a stamp from AC More w/ a 50% off coupon for around $2. This will be the stamp your family uses to leave your mark in the logbooks you come across. While you are at the store you will also need to purchase an inkpad and a special notebook to stamp in. I purchased a notebook for each child to eliminate any fighting. Now comes the fun part…… type in atlasquest.com (the letterbox clue data base) on your computer and start searching for clues. You can do an easy search where you can type in the city, zip code or exact address of where you are and it will show the clues closest to you. As I said before, this activity is for all ages so depending on the age of the participants you should look through the clues to find the most appropriate ones. For example; most clues will let you know approximately how far the trek is to the clue, which is critical for us parents with small children. They range from “drive byes” where you can pretty much get out of your car and find the box to more extensive hikes, which require the use of a compass or other special gear. When you are on the site, please take a moment to familiarize your self with what the various icons next to each clue mean. It will make your searches a lot easier.  If you become a member (free) you can record your finds on their website as well as make your own letterbox for others to find.

This is one of our families favorite activities when the weather is nice. There are a ton of letterboxes all around where I live in local parks, and state trails, just perfect for an afternoon of fun. So far we have only planted one letterbox but have hopes that we will be planting and finding more soon. Once again, my life’s goal is to make the most magical moments for my children, going on a secret treasure hunt in the woods is one of the most magical things  we have done. I hope you try this fun activity at least once and see for yourself how magical it can be.

Enjoy!

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Fall Scavenger Hunt

The fall brings cool weather and lots of exciting opportunities to get outside! Below is a few things to look for on your fall adventures (Taken from the National Wildlife Foundation)! Make a game of it, award prizes for the person who finds the most indicators of fall on your hike!

Autumn is one of the best times to see wildlife. Many animals are out and about, busy preparing for the winter months by storing food, getting ready for hibernation or beginning migration.

Here are just a few of the magical scenes you can witness in your garden this season:

Monarch butterflyMonarch butterflies: Catch a glimpse of these beauties as they begin their long winter migration to Mexico or California.

Fall leavesLeaves changing color: Watching leaves change is one of the most beautiful autumn spectacles. Once fallen, leaves create a natural home for wildlife like chipmunks, frogs and even helpful garden insects.

BirdMigrating birds: From songbirds to waterfowl, many birds will migrate south during this season and could use your yard as a place to fuel up and rest — or to take up residence for the entire winter.

BerriesBerries on shrubs and trees: In late summer and early fall, many plants produce berries that are essential fuel for migratory wildlife.

ChipmunkSmall mammals stocking up for winter: Keep an eye out for the often amusing sight of many animals, such as chipmunks, jays and flying squirrels, storing food for the colder months.

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Say Cheese!

As I have said before, the magic of nature is all around us, you just have to look. I thought I would start off this Monday with a couple of nature pictures we took this past week. Hopefully they make you smile!

Doc McStuffins having some worm lunch.

Doc McStuffins is doing well! He has his recheck at NC State later this week, and hopefully he will be given the a ok to be released. I will certainly update the blog with pictures from the release party.

While getting a few things out of the garage on Saturday, I noticed a bunch of leaves and pine straw sticking out of the boys old umbrella stroller. When I went to examine it closer a bird flew right out and almost hit me! To my great surprise it was my friend Francine the Carolina Wren! I peaked in her nest and saw that she had laid 4 eggs. Totally excited! Carolina Wren eggs take 12-14 days to hatch once laid, and then another 12-14 days before the little babies are ready to fledge (leave the nest).  We will be checking in on them daily to hopefully capture the day that they hatch. Once they hatch I will be asking for name suggestions from you, so start thinking of some!

Francine the Carolina Wren made a nest in our garage! 

4 little eggs nestled in a nest.

My final picture for this post I took this morning, and it made my day! I have gotten in the habit of throwing my old fruit off the back deck for the birds and butterflies, but today I thought I would put the old blackberries on a saucer near the bird feeder in hopes of catching a bird grabbing one. Well to my great surprise when I looked out the window as I was pouring my coffee I saw this happy fella! He was in his glory!

Mr. Squirrel enjoying a black berry.

I hope these pictures have made you smile today! Stay tuned for more posts!

Thanks for reading, now get out and enjoy nature!

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The Adventures of Doc McStuffins

A walk in the woods is never just a walk in the woods with our family. Something magical always seems to happen. Whether it be a butterfly that lingers near our faces to say hi, or a little millipede scurrying across our path, magic is all around.

Well a couple of weeks ago was no different. My big man Noah was off for a walk in the woods behind our house with his grandpa when he came across an Eastern Box Turtle. He was so excited to bring him home and show me!

At this point I would like to interject a VERY important note about box turtles….. Box Turtles have a very strong homing instinct. That means you SHOULD NOT EVER take them home and return them somewhere different then where you originally found them. They are fascinating creatures, and it is perfectly fine to pick them up and take a look, but please, please, please, put them back where you found them! These guys are NOT pets, please return them to the wild! To learn more about box turtles, please visit the Davidson College link; http://www.bio.davidson.edu/people/midorcas/research/Contribute/box%20turtle/boxinfo.htm

Since I wasn’t home when they returned from their walk, the boys put him on our screened porch to wait for my arrival.  When I got home the excitement about their find was contagious. I was excited too! This was the first box turtle we had seen all spring. We talked about how we would take a look at him, and walk him back to where Noah found him. Well, when we got a better look at him both his eyes were very swollen and closed shut, and he had mucus bubbles coming out of his nose. I decided to observe him for a bit to see if he could open his eyes at all, but he couldn’t. Oh how upset we all were! We had a     VERY sick box turtle on our hands! I ran upstairs to the computer and typed in turtle rescue for NC to see if anything popped up, and guess what, NC State had a Turtle Rescue Program with a hotline to call for injured turtles. What a relief! We contacted the Rescue Team, and then all loaded up in the mini van to drive the turtle over to the Vet hospital.

NC State Veterinary Hospital

When we arrived at the hospital we had to fill out a bunch of forms about where we found him, what type of symptoms he had, and if we would be interested in helping with the rehab. Would we be interested in the rehab? ABSOLUTELY! What a great learning opportunity for all of us! I think I wanted this more then the boys did! The Rescue Team was going with a Disney Theme for naming their patients and asked us if there was a particular name we wanted. This was a tough one, but since the boys have been loving the Disney cartoon Doc McStuffins lately we named him that. The vet talked to us for a bit, saying that it could either be an infection caused from a compromised immune system or a viral type.  If it was a viral type the prognosis wasn’t good. They were going to start treatment and see how he did. We headed home with heavy hearts not knowing if our sweet Doc McStuffins turtle was going to make it. I promised the boys that I would call the Rescue Team in a couple of days to see how he was doing.

A couple of days went by and of course we called to see how Doc was doing. We were elated to find out he was making significant improvements in his recovery! Yay! They then asked again if we would be interested in helping with the rehab and release of Doc McStuffins. Of course we were still interested! He still needed about a week at the Veterinary Hospital but then he would be put in our care. That whole week the boys and I were talking about bringing  the turtle home, and how cool this was going to be to help with his recovery. The days ticked on by quickly.

Finally a week and a half later the vets called us to come pick up Doc. WOW were we excited as we loaded up in the mini van to make the trek over to the NC State Vet Hospital. The vet took us to the back of the hospital to a room filled with rehabbing turtles, snakes, and spiders. I thought Noah was going to absolutely go insane. He couldn’t stop looking at all of them! Needless to say, he could not pay attention to our instructions for Doc Mcstuffins with all the animals around him. Luckily I was paying attention and I admit it scared me a bit….. I needed to give Doc eye drops three times a day, give him a soaking bath once a day, find him worms to eat, and give him an antibiotic shot every day. I almost died, a shot? How on earth do you give a turtle a shot? I tried to keep my cool when I asked the vet that question since I didn’t want her to think it was a bad idea to send me home with the turtle. Oh my….. she showed me where to put the needle in and told me that if his skin bubbled up with the fluid I was doing it right. I must have looked confident when she was explaining it, because she let me take the turtle home!

Doc McStuffin’s Habitat

When we got home we got right to work making a comfortable habitat for Doc McStuffins. We all felt that he liked it and said goodnight to him so that he could get used to his new surroundings.

The next day we started the rehab. Noah was eager to be my assistant and was very helpful. He was in charge of holding Doc’s shell open while I administered the medication. Noah was also in charge of finding worms for Doc’s breakfast. It amazed me at how quickly Noah took to playing Veterinarian. He was very serious during our rehab times. Giving a turtle a shot is tricky, not to mention scary. I now can say safely that I would not have made a good nurse. I don’t like needles!

Noah holding Doc’s shell open to administer medication

We are now a week into rehab and Doc McStuffins is doing well. He does not like any type of fruit or vegetable, but does like his worms. He thoroughly enjoys his soaking baths in the sun during the day, and even likes stretching his legs a bit on our screened in porch. We will be bringing him back for a re check vet visit next week, if he looks good he will come back home with us and we will bring him back to the woods where we found him to be released. My boys are learning sooo much from this experience, more than they could ever learn from books. It is also teaching them how to be compassionate to other creatures which in my mind is invaluable. I will post again about Doc, hopefully after his release in a week or so.

Doc McStuffins

If you find an injured turtle, please see if there is a Turtle Rescue, OR a Wildlife Rehabilitator near you. Also if you are interested in learning more about the NC State Turtle Rescue Program, or would like to make a donation (they provide all their services for free and really need help funding this program) please click on the link: http://www.turtlerescueteam.com/

Noah and Doc McStuffins

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Summer Aquariums

Hi everyone!

I know it’s been a while since my last post, so I hope everyone has been outside enjoying the spring weather with the little ones!

The forests and fields are alive with animals this time of year and the firefly’s are out making the nights’ air magical; perfect weather to go exploring!

Our family has been VERY busy enjoying nature! I wanted to share with you one of our favorite spring and summer adventures. Catching Toads! My kids look forward to this all year long, and can’t wait for the weather to warm up and reveal our spring time friends. Yes this may seem scary to some, and according to my friends I am nuts, but seriously it’s not hard. The kids LOVE the idea of being able to really see nature up close. We call them our summer pets, I let the boys keep the toads for a week and then let them go back to nature. You can do it too! Keep reading to find out how!

What we do is get a 10 gallon aquarium. Most pet stores sell them from $10-$15 dollars, we also purchase a metal screen top at the pet store for around $15. Yes this is a bit of investment but I promise you won’t be disappointed. We then prepare the habitat. This is a great opportunity to talk to your kids about what a habitat is, and do some research as to what kind of habitat toads like. The computer is a great place to start your research. I won’t go into details, because part of the joy of teaching kids comes from learning together with them!  Once your habitat is complete it is time to start searching for toads to temporarily occupy your habitat.

Building a toad habitat

If your kids are old enough, a good time to look for toads is at night since most are nocturnal. This is where the fun and magic really begins! I arm each child with a flashlight and send them into the front yard once the sun has gone down. The toads at our house like to hop near our flower pots, and hide under the bushes. We also use our senses to find the toads. Another GREAT teaching opportunity! Since it is dark out and hard to see, we think of other ways we can find toads; such as listening for them. Sometimes that means hearing the croak, but usually that means we are listening for rustling in the leaves, or bushes. We usually find at least 1 toad when we go out at night, but if you don’t no worries, the kids have a blast searching and will be more than willing to try another night.

Night toad catching, with firefly’s lighting the way

Our house rules include that each aquarium we keep has a maximum capacity for toads. Usually the magic number is 3.  This rule is best discussed prior to catching any toads to eliminate screaming kids when they find toad number four and you won’t let them keep it, yup I learned that one the hard way! Our toad friends usually stay a week in the aquarium, as long as we have time to go to the local pet store and pick up some crickets for them. Most pet stores carry crickets in two different sizes, small and large. I recommend getting the small size to ensure the toads can eat them. I usually get 2 dozen crickets per week. It is a TON of fun watching the toads come out to eat.

Toad friends!

Finally I wanted to share some exciting adventures which I will add to my blog in the near future. My oldest son found an injured eastern box turtle earlier this month. We brought him over to NC State Turtle Rescue, and they were able to help him get started on his way to recovery. Since then, we were contacted by the Rescue to see if we could continue the rehab at our house. We were sooo excited! Please stay tuned for Doc McSuffins rehab adventures at our house!

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