Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hungry as Vultures

VULTURES are quite common in our area, but usually in more rural parts. Imagine, then, our surprise when we saw one feasting on a delicious dead animal on a lawn not six feet from the road in a quiet neighborhood just behind the school. We stopped to snap a picture but the bird got spooked and flew onto the roof. Then we saw the others - a total of four waiting in a tree for us to leave so they could finish their lunch. In flight turkey vultures and black vultures are easy to distinguish from one another - turkey vultures have white wing tips and white feathers along the back of their wings; black vultures have white only on their wing tips. Up close, the grey heads (not red) gave these away as black vultures. Beauty could not be seen in the eyes of this carload of beholders; however we did appreciate the cleanup work they were doing. I bet the homeowner did too.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Fossil Hunting

WHAT a treat to be taken fossil hunting by a friend's dad. The children had the best time digging around in the earth with old screwdrivers, and were delighted when they found impressions of plants and animals. Millions of years ago, this area in North Georgia was covered in swamp. Dead animals and plants fell into the water and were covered by many layers of mud, which eventually hardened into shale. In between these layers, hidden treasures wait to be discovered. We found brachiopods and crinoid stems. Crinoids are sea animals which resemble today's sea lilies. Brachiopods appear similar to today's bivalves such as clams, but researchers believe they are a distinctly separate group. Not quite as exciting as dinosaur bones, but almost.  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

First Day of Spring... or Summer?

TODAY is the Spring Equinox. We are experiencing an abnormally warm March - in fact today marked the most consecutive March days over 80 degrees Fahrenheit on record (seven so far). We have broken out the shorts and T-shirts and plants are going crazy, thinking they somehow missed spring and it's summer already. A thick layer of yellow pollen lies over everything inside and out and butterflies and bees fly happily between blossoms. It's so beautiful! Red, pink and white azaleas, and in the woods native yellow-orange ones. Pink and white dogwood trees. Pink cherry blossom already snowing down. White flowers on holly bushes. Fragrant sweet bush. Stunning white pear trees. Delicate lilac wisteria. Whatever the season, the display is quite magnificent.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Flower Shapes

I love to look at shapes in nature. This one.. Indian Heliotrope or Turnsole (heliotropium indicum) I believe... doesn't it remind you of an octopus' tentacle?

Heart-shaped, bell-shaped, metaphor of form. 
Is it symmetry or silhouette,
A reminder of shapes of the past,
Connection, categorization,
Or simply individual expression of beauty?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cool but Clunky

THE children have discovered in our garden what they have dubbed "the coolest bug ever". It's a wheel bug. He caught our attention noisily flying around our back patio and we transferred him to a bug box with a magnifying lid to examine in closer detail. These creatures are often called "assassins of the insect world" thanks to their chosen method of feeding, which involves using their long beak to pierce soft-bodied insects like caterpillars with dissolving enzymes, then sucking out their insides. How charming. Sometimes the females even feed on the male after mating. The cannibalism was not a trait I shared in detail with the children, but we did observe that it moves very slowly and jerkily and has of course that huge and strange "bumpy hump" on its back. Big, clunky, and indeed pretty cool. 

Herbal Frogspawn

WALKING home from school one morning after heavy rain, Alexander and I noticed something strange on our morning "snack bush". This is a huge lemon basil plant at the front of a neighbour's garden, which never seems to mind sparing a leaf or two as we breeze past. This day, however, it seemed to have been showered with frog spawn. The strange gelatinous lumps with a black speck in the middle were sprinkled all over the leaves, and piled in masses on the ground beneath the plant. We thought they might be some insect eggs, then on a hunch I checked the basil plants in our garden. Nothing like that to be seen on the regular Italian basil, but yes - the Thai basil and lemon basil both had the same frog spawn. To the internet I went a-running! Turns out the seeds swell with water (rain). In fact, they can be used to make a delicious drink by mixing the seeds with water and sweetening with a little sugar or honey to taste. Naturally we had to try it, and we found it was similar to drinking chia seeds in water, or bubble tea, which uses tapioca. Apparently this drink is common in Thailand, where it is also sold in cans. "Thai basil seed drink" is not especially original, but it does sound more appetizing than "frog spawn drink".

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Nature Study

IT'S great to take sketching materials along on a hike.