Thursday, February 21, 2013

Experiment: Sense of Smell

I am going to challenge you to try a classic experiment with your sense of smell.

fingers to pinch nose
apple and potato, peeled and cut in to small, bite sized pieces

Put on the blindfold. Pinch your nose. Have someone give you, or you give your child, a piece of apple or potato without telling you which one it is. Chew it up and swallow without un-pinching your nose. What do you think it was?  Were you right?

What's happening is that you are using just your sense of taste and not your sense of smell to identify a food. It is much harder for us accurately identify foods without smelling them as we taste them. When we have a cold, food just doesn't taste as good, in part because usually our nose is stuffed up interfering with our sense of smell.

Another fun way to play with smell is to put a few drops of flavoring on a cotton ball, putting that in a bottle or jar, and seeing if you can identify the scent. Some fun smells to try this with are mint, lemon, maple, and anise.

If you try this, let me know how it worked out!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book Review: Skunks

Skunks by Diane Swanson is a bit advanced for preschoolers but if you read it with them, everyone will learn something new. This book has lots of big photos and nice side bars with further information that is great to add when you are reading with older children too.

I like that the information is detailed but not overwhelming.

4.5/5 stars.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Animal of the Week: Skunks

Skunks are a great animal to learn about this time of year. True to the phrase Love Stinks, skunks are out of hibernation right around now and have only one thing on their mind: love. They can be quite cranky and quick to spray so if you see one, give them a wide berth.

Skunks live in all of the lower 48 states and there are multiple varieties but they are all the classic startling black and white. This is a warning to others that they are dangerous.

The spray they are most well-known for is not harmful but it is a good deterrent to anyone who has been sprayed, or had a pet sprayed!, to back off.

Of real concern is rabies. Skunks do carry rabies and you should call your local animal control officer if you find a skunk out and about during the day acting strangely. Like all wild animals, never handle a wild skunk.

To keep skunks away from your house, make sure that all potential den sites are covered and your trash cans have sturdy well-fitting lids. Skunks love dog food so don't feed your pet outside. Skunks are omnivorousness just like we are and they love to eat grubs in the spring and early summer. When you see little dig spots all over your lawn, a skunk has probably been by.

We have a skunk in our neck of the woods most years. They have very distinct foot prints that are often easy to find in the snow. As a beekeeper, skunks can be quite troublesome. They love to eat bees at night. They will scratch on the hive and a bee will fly out. The skunk catches the bee in flight and rolls it on the ground to kill it.

photo credit: ABCnewsgo

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Book Review: Crinkleroot's Guide to Knowing the Birds

Crinkleroot's Guide to Knowing the Birds by Jim Arnosky is a wonderful field guide to common birds. Like all of Crinkleroot's books it really he frames well how to *be* in nature. He always talks about when to be quiet and when to be loud, when to step softly and when to run.

In this book he talks about how to make a bird count and how to use binoculars, two important skills in bird watching. He also shows some ways to attract birds to your yard.

I hesitated a long time to recommend this book for one reason, it isn't available for purchase at a reasonable price. So this is something to check out of the library and to hunt for a book sales.

I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Fun Friday Fact

Hummingbirds are the only bird that can fly backwards.

Bird Experiments

It is really fun to see the different birds in our backyard. Just over a year ago, my daughter went the Worcester Art Museum and made a bird feeder. They gave her a little packet of seeds that she put in the feeder. Within about 10 minutes we had a Rose-breasted Grossbeak at her feeder. This was amazing! It was only the second time we'd seen the bird in our yard and we have feeders up most of the time.

What was the difference?  The Rose-breasted Grossbeak was attracted by a different kind of seed that was in the WAM mix and not in our usual mix.

We learned that different kinds of food attract different kinds of birds. My friend Melissa just learned today that American Goldfinches really like thistle seeds. What would happen if you put different kinds of seeds out at a feeder?  Would some birds like fruit and others peanut butter?

So here's your challenge... put out different  kinds of bird seed and some fruit (like a string of raisins or cranberries) and see who eats what.

Here are directions to a simple bird feeder. If you don't want to use peanut butter try shortening or beef suet.

Here is my favorite bird identification book.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Citizen Science: The Great Backyard Bird Count

It's time!  The annual Great Backyard Bird Count is this upcoming weekend Feb 15-18!  I am going to challenge each of you to participate. Here is the official website but let me hit the highlights.

Make an account at the official website and you can download posters and checklists to make your counting easier. It is just fine if you cannot identify every single bird, just do your best to be accurate in what you do record.

Pick a few times you know you can watch outside, with or without binoculars. Have your checklist and a pen handy and go watch.

When you are finished, record your tally at the official website. Ta da! You will have collected data that scientists use to track birds. Some birds erupt - or just seem to appear in certain locations from year to year, while other seem to do short migrations depending on the weather.

The last few weeks, Shea and I have heard a Northern Flicker while waiting for the bus stop. After this heavy snow storm I doubt we will hear it again for weeks. Flickers like to eat bugs and finding bugs in all this snow will be impossible. But that mysterious hawk in the backyard, I am betting we will be seeing more of him since snow makes it easier to find mice and voles. Hopefully we will get a good look at him this weekend.

Photo from Snowy Owl, Jen Howard, ON, 2012 GBBC

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Repost: 5 things to do in a blizzard

Check out my post  here from last fall on things to do in a blizzard.

Reminder - there is a give away on Monday. Post a question about snow or blizzards on this post or yesterday's post and I will choose a winner randomly.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Fun Friday Fact + give away

While we are in the midst of a huge winter storm that is predicted to leave record snow fall, it got me to wondering. What was the largest amount of snow fall recorded in 24 hrs?

Yeah, I really do wonder about stuff like that.

Turns out to have been 76 inches recorded in Colorado in 1921. That is over 6 feet of snow in one day!

I will have a prize for someone who leaves a comment asking another snow or blizzard related comment. Leave your question in a comment box below and I will choose a winner at random on Monday 2/11/13.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Make your own Magnifying Glass

This was too cool!  Check out directions to make your own magnifying glass. It is simple and the directions are quite easy to follow.  Go here to find out how.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Animal of the week: Red Fox


Our local red foxes are out and about this time of year looking for love. Foxes usually mate during the winter and females will have pups in the early spring. They are a nice reddish brown on top and have white bellies. Every description I've read, and pretty pictures like those above, say foxes have darker brown  legs, but I haven't really seen that in the wild in this area.

Foxes are omnivorous, like we are. This means they eat all kinds of things including large bugs, small rodents and berries. They love snow because they can hear the mice in tunnels under the snow.

Most of the time, foxes are active at night but they do like to be out just before sunset and can sometimes be see out in the early morning.

When I've been out in the woods near where I live in central Massachusetts, I've come across fox tracks, scat (also known as poop) and their scent far more often than I've seen them. They have a strong musky scent that reminds me of a far away skunk but is very localized on a trail. That means that I take one step and I can smell it and by the time I take a second step, the smell is gone.

Photo from

Monday, February 4, 2013

5 things to do with a straw

Here are 5 different science explorations using straws.

1. Take a straw, a cotton ball and a toy car. Try blowing the cotton ball and see how far across the floor you can push it with your breath. Now try it with the car. Which one was easier to push? Why do you think it was easier?  What else can you push with your breath?

2. Grab your straw and some pieces of paper. To be safe the paper should be fairly large. Instead of blowing out, suck in. Can you lift the paper? Try newspaper? What kind of paper can you lift?

3. This is one time you CAN blow bubbles with a straw and not get into trouble!  Try blowing bubbles in different kinds of liquids like milk, water, juice or even oil. Were they all the same? Did the bubbles last the same amount of time?

4. Now let's use the straw to hold the liquids. Put the liquid in the straw and put your finger over the opening at the top. Lift the straw out of the liquid but don't move your finger. The liquid will stay in the straw. Lift your finger?  What happened the liquid?

5. Make bubbles that you can keep. Pour some paint into a shallow bowl. Add a little bit of water and soap. Blow bubbles and then carefully lay a piece of paper over the top. The bubbles will be captured on the paper. You can try adding different colors of paint to see what colors emerge.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Birthday Candle Experiment

In honor of my birthday and all the viruses going around lately, I thought I would share a fun way to blow out a birthday candle without actually blowing all over it!

Put a small amount of baking soda in the bottom of a tall glass. Add an equal amount of vinegar. Don't worry you won't be pouring this on your cake!  Tip the glass toward the candle as if you were going to pour the liquid on it. Instead after a moment the candle will wink out.

So what happened?

The classic baking soda/vinegar mixture produces carbon dioxide, which is heavier than air and can be poured from the glass to put out the candle.

Neat trick  and keeps your cake germ free!

Saturday, February 2, 2013


On Groundhog's Day everyone is watching for a groundhog in Pennsylvania to see, or not see, his shadow and predict the onset of spring. Here in New England we won't be seeing groundhogs for a little while longer. Groundhogs, or woodchucks, are one of the handful of true hibernating mammals in Massachusetts.

Around Valentine's Day, these vegetarians will begin to emerge from their winter dens. They will begin looking for a mate right away and in the spring, the females will usually have a litter of 4-6 pups.

photo from National Geographic.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Fun Friday Fact

Polar bears are really black.

No - I am not joking. Their skin is black and their fur is clear but there is so much of it it looks white. The sun's warmth gets trapped behind the fur just like a car window. The black skin is warmer than white. All this works together to keep the polar bear warmer.