As April comes to a close and May opens there are new things to look for outside. We are starting to see more and more butterflies, and, as the dandelions turn from flowers to dandelion clocks, you might see goldfinches pinning them to the ground and feeding on the seeds. If there is gorse out nearby, sniff it! Early May gorse smells of coconut. Download the Nature Diary to see what else you might check out.
The WEATHER can change in minutes, hour to hour, day to day, week to week, and season to season. Weather is described by the outside temperature (degrees Celsius and degrees Fahrenheit), precipitation (rain, hail or snow), humidity (vapour in the air – not actual droplets of water), and the winds (direction and strength). We often describe our daily and weekly weather using words or symbols to explain the temperature: cold, warm, hot, as well as type of weather: Dry weather is sunny; Wet weather includes: rain, sleet , showers, snow, which all range from being light to heavy; Cloud cover is described as cloudy, grey clouds, partial clouds, overcast; Snow can include descriptions of light to heavy sleet, hail, or snow; Wind is described by its direction it blows based on the points of a compass, such as the wind blowing northerly, southerly, easterly or westerly. The wind speed can be measured in knots, Beaufort, metres per second and kilometres per second. We also use words such as flooding, blizzards, heatwave and brightness to describe the effects of the weather. Seasonal weather changes are due to the Earth’s rotation around the sun. I
In a previous blog, we gave you an experiment to show how temperature affects the circulation of water in the ocean. Here’s a very similar experiment that you can do to see how the saltiness, or salinity, of the water affects the ocean’s circulation. These are great indoor activities for less sunny days. Why not do them both together using different colour food dyes? You can tweet us photos of your experiments to @NatureAtHomeIE and we’ll retweet the best.
This is A-MA-ZING! The National Parks & Wildlife Service have put a webcam close to a white-tailed sea eagle nest down in Glengarriff Nature Reserve, Co Cork. The camera’s there so that NPWS they can keep an eye on the nest, but it also means we can all watch.
We’ll follow up with some other great webcam sites in a few days. They great gray owl nest is in Montana, USA, so if you’ll be able to watch dawn without getting up too early because of the time difference!
One of the best sights in spring is foamy clouds of blossom on the trees. You might be lucky enough to have an apple or cherry tree in your garden but if not keep a look-out for one on your daily walk.
On a breezy spring day it’s great fun to stand under a cherry tree when the wind makes it fall like confetti at a wedding. And when everyone‘s finished pretending to be a bride, you can gather some of the fallen blossom and have a go at flower pressing.
When you get home simply place the petals between some sheets of kitchen roll and carefully put them inside a book. Pile some heavy books on top and leave them for a week or two until they’ve dried out. You and your kids can then use the pressed petals to make pretty pictures or patterns.
If you saw our What’s in your garden? post, you may have downloaded some of the apps that you can use to identify plants. What about animals? Well iNaturalist is a really good solution for both plants and animals and it’s fun and intuitive to use. It’s a joint initiative by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. It’s completely free, and it’s supported by the scientific community. I signed up and found lots of well known zoologists and botanists using it and suggesting identifications. Like many apps, it uses recognition software to make a preliminary identification based on your photo. It recommends you 10 choices, and you can look those up and choose one. But once you share your photo and identification, others can see what you shared and make suggestions to you. So even if you make the wrong choice at first, someone will come along and improve the identification for you. Better still, it saves all the records that you make, so you can make an inventory of your garden, or favourite exercise walks (within 2 km of your house of course!). I tested it mostly on flowers (because they are easier to take photos of!) and identified lots of wild flowers on the NUI Galway campus, but I had a few photos of garden birds (check out how to make your own plastic bottle bird feeder here to attract them), and a couple of blurry ones of insects.
The birds were the most remarkable. There is clearly a large birder community out there. Within 5 minutes of uploading pictures, I had multiple confirmations of my identifications, which elevates my observations from ‘casual’ grade to ‘researcher’ grade, meaning that my observations might be used by the scientific community.
More interestingly, iNaturalist was able to identify my really blurry photo of a peacock butterfly (I couldn’t get close and it wouldn’t stay still!). Of course, the peacock is an easily recognisable species, but it suggests that the app can cope with my rather amateur photography which is great news! So check out the iNaturalist website, which has downloads for both the App Store and Googles Play, and see how many species you can record in your yard or garden. If you record a location with your photo, it automatically becomes part of the “Wildlife of Ireland” project.
Purpose is to introduce the idea that preparation for an adventure or outdoor activity can make it a lot more fun, comfortable and safe, while also engaging the children in the outdoors with their imagination and senses. This activity also serves to get the children outside in the fresh air for a break if indoors all day!
Start off by telling your child that you are all going on trek to the woods (or they can come up with a location).
But prior to going outside, you must all go through the preparation questions list (as per below).
Ask what should we bring with us? What do you think we will need going to the woods? Start off by asking something ridiculous i.e. Do you think we will need a tractor? Or a TV? Or a couch? No? Really… ok what might we need? Use a sheet of paper and colours to make a big list. If practical, let them prepare a backpack.
What would we do if it rains? What would we do if we got hungry? How will we know where we are going? What would we do if we got lost? What would we do if we got thirsty? What would we do if it was really hot? What would we do if we got super cold? What would we do if the ground was really muddy? Have we food/drinks? what will we do with our rubbish? Are we bringing our dog? Will we take pictures? Ok, do we need to add anything else to our list? No. Brilliant, let’s go on an adventure…
Then if the weather is suitable and if there is space outdoors, head outside and take a walk around your garden or within the recommended 2 km limit. At different parts of the walk – you can tell them “Oh no, it’s starting to rain what will we do?” Hopefully they have been primed from the previous questions and they have their imaginary rain coats with them.
You can all mime putting on the imaginary rain coat. Battle the imaginary wind, rain, sleet, snow, gales… track imaginary wild animals and build an imaginary shelter… looking at your imaginary map…have your imaginary picnic, tidy up afterwards, pack your rubbish in your bags to take home, walk your imaginary dog, clean up after it, track your way back home.
When you return to your home, discuss how well prepared they would have been for their adventure if it was a real trek. What were they missing and what are the implications of going into the outdoors without proper preparation.
If no outdoor space is available, this activity can be done inside allowing the children to use their imagination further. Have an imaginary trek through your house!
This is the first principle of Leave No Trace Ireland, Plan Ahead and Prepare. Leave No Trace Ireland encourages everyone to protect the environment by following the 7 principles. More information on www.leavenotraceireand.org
1. You can go out in the garden and hunt bugs. Dr Michel Dugon, who used to be known as RTE’s Bug Hunter, shows you how to make a ‘pitfall’ trap out of a plastic container and provides you with a simple guide to identify what you catch in this downloadable guide to Catching and Identifying Invertebrates.
2. If it’s raining or you don’t have a garden, you could watch Dr Michel Dugon telling us all why he likes bugs, especially spiders, quite so much.
Can’t get to the shops for a new board game? We’ve the solution for you. Print out the rules, the board and the playing cards for this game all about the water cycle. Can your raindrop be the first to reach the sea? Will you get drunk by a tiger, stuck behind a dam, or turned into ice? Created by my inventive primary school teaching sister, Rachael Smith, and given professional-looking graphics by my NUI Galway colleague Kevin Healy, this is a fun, easy-to-play game for a rainy day and definitely one for all the family over Easter.
Write a story inspired by your local woods or your favourite tree
If your kids love writing, then get those creative juices flowing with a story challenge. Kick things off by giving them the first sentence and encouraging them to write the rest of the story.
You could also jot ideas on scraps of paper, then get kids to choose some at random that they have to incorporate into their story. These could include:
A tree has fallen in the woods A character has gone missing An animal is shouting an alarm call There are some mysterious footprints to follow. Gather together as a family and share the stories you’ve written. They’ll make great bedtime stories too when you’ve read all the books you have at home.