28 February 2011


The Great Backyard Bird Count a couple of weekends ago was fun. It was nice to devote time to observing birds in our yard. I wish I could have gotten out to see more habitats, but we did make it to Millbrook Marsh for a quick Friday afternoon foray. Below are the lists of birds I saw in our yard (no new ones), and at the Marsh.

Our yard:
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal

Birds at Millbrook Marsh:
American Crow - there are TONS of crows in our area right now. TONS. As in campus has been shooting of fireworks to discourage crows from roosting and pooping on everything. I saw hundreds flying over in the hour before sunset that we were outside.
Black-capped Chickadee
American Robin
Red-winged Blackbird

I'm excited to get outside more as it warms up. Less snow means it'll be easier for Roo to walk on his own while we're outside (his snow boots are cumbersome and he falls a lot, so I carry him a lot). Roo walking/running means at least some of the time I'll have two hands free and could, in theory, bring binoculars along on an outing with the kids to squeeze in a little more birding. Depends on the bees though; they definitely take priority and I'm very ready to get out and start learning the Eastern apifauna around here. Come on Spring Beauties! I'm ready to see some Andrena!

21 February 2011

Kid's Nature Bag

Doodle has a friend here who we'll call K. K is the daughter of a couple of science-nerdy parents, and recently had her 5th birthday. What does one give an outdoorsy 5y.o. daughter of a soil scientist and a science writer? Why, a nature bag, of course!

K's birthday card. Doodle drew K, and I drew the bag and scenery as requested.

In standard MamaBee fashion, I didn't just go out and buy a pre-made nature bag, or even any bag at all. Oh no. This sucker was handmade by moi; meaning I agonized over where exactly the pockets should go for optimal bug jar positioning, and how exactly I was going to successfully construct a multi-pocketed, lined bag having *cough* never made one like this before.

I'm pleased with how it turned out. Doodle was eager to model it for me (and will be even more eager to use her matching bag once I finish sewing it).

Doodle picked the fabrics, in K's favorite color.
We stocked it with a magnifying glass and some bug vials. Next time I'm planning to include a little laminated basic bug ID sheet. Unfortunately I didn't have time to throw one together this time around, what with the frantic bag-designing and such.

Pretty cute, I think. Maybe I need a Mama-sized nature bag next.

20 February 2011


Presenting my very own caftan, designed by J and sewn by yours truly. As a bellydancer I regularly need some sort of robe-ish thing to wear over top of my performance costume. I have a couple of covers which have worked okay, but I have wanted a good, reliable, pretty cover-up for a little while now. I bought this fabric 2? 3? years ago after J said he'd make me a bellydance-appropriate cover-up as a Christmas present. Well, other projects have come to the forefront (thesis, dissertation and baby come to mind, plus a bazillion small things too), and the fabric sat. And sat. Until I approached J and proposed that we work on my caftan. One guilty look and a "yes" later, I was looking at styles, we were drafting a pattern, and voila! Caftan!

I love the shiny blue prettiness. And the secret zil pocket inside. But my favorite thing about it is that J put so much thought and effort into making it just right. I love it.

Do me a favor, please: don't remind J that I haven't yet completed my gift to him, promised that same Christmas. Oops.

18 February 2011

Sun! and Warmth! and... mud?

Park outing this morning = success.

It is 66 degrees outside right now. 66! I can hardly believe how warm it is, and how nice this reprieve from ice is. Instead of an indoor playgroup I opted to meet a friend at the park this morning. The same park at 3:30 yesterday afternoon had probably 80% more snow cover at the time than it had this morning. The grass was bare, the bark chips were bare, and the only ice clumps were in the hollows below the swings and at the bottom of the slides.

The kids ran, jumped, slid, ran more, rolled on the grass(!), climbed, and got thoroughly muddy on the baseball field. All three of us needed a full change of clothes when we got home. Totally worth it.

I'm not expecting this to last. In fact, tomorrow it's only supposed to hit 37 degrees. But right now, when the sun is shining and coats are not necessary for survival, I'm all too ready to ditch any previous plans and get myself and the kids outside. I only wish J could play hooky and come along. Hmmm... there's an idea...

Update: Mission:Hookytime was a success! We picked J up early from work and headed to the marsh where we got some quality birding and exploring in before the sun set. Added bonus: Doodle's shoes were still on the roof of the car when we got home!

17 February 2011

Ready, set, count!

Just a reminder that the Great Backyard Bird Count begins tomorrow. Can you devote 15 minutes to looking at birds sometime in the next four days? That's all it takes. You can do more, of course, but the amount of time and energy you put into it is up to you. Curious? Here's a video with the details. I'm hoping to watch our backyard birds a few times this weekend, plus maybe make an outing to nearby Millbrook Marsh with Doodle and Roo to see some new (to me) birds and test out my slowly-improving birding skills.

I'll let you know after this weekend how our counts turned out. Happy birding!

15 February 2011


Yesterday we had a very exciting bird sighting right from our dining table. I was getting lunch together for the kids when I glanced up and saw a hawk right outside our kitchen door! I ran to grab Roo and we slowly crept to where we could see out the door. The hawk was still there! It stood there for a second, looking at the holly bush next to the door while I quickly snapped the photo below, then flew off.

Hawk outside our kitchen door!

We ran outside to see if we could spot the hawk. It was sitting in a nearby tree, and flew farther away when we came out. We figured it was gone.

I went back to making sandwiches while Roo frantically signed bird over and over and over again, pointing at the door and wanting to see it again. Not two minutes later I saw a flash of brown past our kitchen window as the hawk swooped back into the holly bush it had been eyeing previously.

We dropped what we were doing and all stood near the door, waiting to see if we could catch another glimpse of this hawk. We were not disappointed. We saw rustling in the bush, heard a high pitch "cheep!" then saw the hawk hop out of the holly bush, a dark-eyed junco grasped in one foot. It looked toward the door and, spotting three mesmerized people, promptly took off with its prey.

We were stunned. It was amazing! Doodle was asking where the hawk was going and what was it going to do with the little bird. Roo was signing and saying "bird! bird! bird!" and hitting the door, trying to get me to go find him the bird again. Meanwhile I was scrambling for the bird books to try and identify this beautiful hawk we'd just seen. After consulting with an avid birder friend it's probably a Cooper's Hawk.

I took Roo outside to show him that the hawk was gone. Looking at the snow next to the holly bush we could see where the hawk had left one clear footprint and a larger indentation where the junco had been, complete with one lone junco feather stuck in the snow.

Enlarged image of the hawk from the previous photo.

We certainly were not expecting such an exciting sight while having lunch. The kids and I were all amped up the rest of the afternoon, talking about the hawk and the junco many, many times. No one seemed upset for the unfortunate junco; rather, the only tears that fell were for a hawk that failed to return despite much toddler pleading.

Last night we bought some bird seed and peanut butter to make our own little pinecone bird feeders for the yard. Maybe if we fatten up another few juncos we'll see the hawk again? (I'm kidding. Mostly.)

11 February 2011

Neighborhood drama

These neighbors of ours are so loud and full of drama. Why, just yesterday the kids and I were outside playing when we witnessed some rather un-neighborly behavior. Mind you this isn't the first time this particular neighbor has been the source of a ruckus. Ohhh no. This one seems to bring the drama regularly, much to the dismay of her most common victim. I present to you exhibit A.

Exhibit A: Oak Tree of Dramaland. Moon arrow included to appease the 4y.o.

This oak tree is located just beyond our property line with the main branches-of-drama located above our property. The primary offender: a white-breasted nuthatch. This little bird is feisty. So far we have witnessed a couple of occurrences of the same un-neighborly behavior which has been inflicted upon the otherwise drama-free downy woodpecker.

On a given day Downy will be seen emerging from its hole (seen in exhibit A) and pecking at various places along the Oak Tree of Dramaland and other nearby trees. We hear very little from Downy, but enjoy the regular sightings of this familiar bird.

Enter Nuthatch. I don't know the back story on this one, so this behavior may be fully warranted. I don't know. What I've seen is this one's frequent attempts to usurp the Downy's hole, accompanied by much raucous chatter until the hole is claimed (while Downy is away). Nuthatch becomes silent immediately upon entering the hole, and sits quietly within the hole until Downy reappears and chases Nutty from the hole. Nutty leaves with much ruckus and wing flapping, even hanging upside down swinging back and forth while looking as big as a little nuthatch can. Eventually Nutty backs off, Downy regains ownership and peace is restored in the neighborhood.

But undoubtedly Nutty will be back, bringing drama and noise once again.

Sheesh. What a neighborhood.

10 February 2011


The kids and I were glad to get out and play in the sun and snow today, even if it was only 20ºF outside.

07 February 2011

Great Backyard Bird Count!

I just found out that the Great Backyard Bird Count is coming up in 11 days. It's running from Feb 18-21, 2011. The basic idea is to get citizen scientists out to observe birds for at least 15 minutes during at least one of the days it's running, and to catalog the numbers and species of birds observed during those times. This will help ornithologists track patterns in bird species distributions and has the added bonus of getting people out in nature to look at birds. Want to find out more? Here's how to participate, and here's where you can find out about local GBBC events in your area. There's also a photo contest associated with the GBBC, so if you're the camera-toting type be sure to check that out too!

I'm hoping to do some birding with Doodle and Roo in our yard, and if the weather cooperates we may make it out to the nearby marsh for a little birding variety. Here are some great tips for birdwatching with kids from the Go Explore blog, and here are some activities and tips from the GBBC kids page.

On a related note, I added another bird to my yard list today: a juvenile Northern Goshawk! It's another Accipiter species, and obviously different from the unidentified Coopers/Sharpie I saw previously. This one had a very obvious speckly back (like this) as well as a white supercilial (above the eye) and absent hooded/capped appearance. It sat perched in our neighbors' tree for hours this afternoon, obviously watching some of the feeder birds in the area. I didn't see it leave, but I hope to see it again.

03 February 2011


We didn't have 29 candles, so I got my age in roman numerals. See the XXIX?

Also, fudge upside-down cake with marshmallow on top is delicious. Especially for breakfast.

I feel very lucky to be starting another year with such an awesome little family and wonderful dear friends far and near. Lots of love to you all. I'm off to play, plan our birthday/Chinese New Year/just because sushi party we're having tomorrow, and enjoy the day. Peace.

Kung Hay Fat Choy!

Chinese New Year lantern

Happy Chinese New Year everyone! Here's wishing you a joyful Year of the Rabbit!

Today I find myself reminiscing about good friends and celebrations from years past, and hoping for a year of fun and new friendships to come. Here's wishing you all that and more.

01 February 2011

Shovel fun

When you're 15 months old, even a snow shovel is fun.