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Saturday, March 10, 2018

Of Explorers and Clouds

I've mentioned the Prairie Ecologist blog before. Chris's most recent post dedicated to his friend and inspiration hit me right in the emotional xiphoid process. I noticed immediately how Chris described his friend Ernie as an explorer of landscapes and philosophy who was "incessantly curious, thoughtful and kind". That description checks two big boxes on the NatGeo Learning Framework which describes the mindset of an explorer.

In case you are wondering, those boxes would be the curious and responsible boxes.

I also like the post because, well, clouds and sky. I've been nattering a lot about robins lately but clouds via GLOBE observer app is one of my two other citizen science activities, iNaturalist being the third.

During the winter we have lots of cirrus, stratus, and nimbostratus clouds around here. I am not-so-patiently awaiting the first cumulus cloud of spring which is a surer sign of warm weather than even robins. Cumulus clouds, the Rorschach fluffy, sheepy, pillowy looking clouds, are found in fair weather on warm days. One of my favorite ways to teach cloud types to littles is to have them role play what they are doing when different kinds of clouds are in the sky. Their role plays for cumulus clouds always include a lot of going to the beach and lying out in the sun as if any first grader ever did that for more than 2 minutes.

The clouds outside my window as I type this are stratus. If I were a first grader role playing this type of cloud, there would be napping. These clouds were recently nimbostratus and may yet be again as they brought us alternating rain and flurries all day today. If you look in the dictionary for March you should find this picture of a gray, raw day. In this picture you can see the Ponderosa pine and skein of Canada geese (you may have to enlarge) and the top of a Russian Olive not planted by us but which we haven't gotten around to cutting down.

Friday, March 9, 2018

International Women's Day

International Women's Day is March 8th.


I love the resources I saw on social media this year that amplify the history and contribution of women to science, art, and literature. I almost felt a little overwhelmed. How could I get to know all these amazing stories of the women featured in the video above, or the 15 Trailblazing Women or the first woman to set up a school in India

Until these stories are part of the mainstream narrative-and you know they are part of the narrative when they show up in the K-12 curriculum-it is incumbent on us to seek them out and listen to them, learn from them. 

We can't learn ALL the stories, unfortunately, as once we look outside the mainstream the options are numerous. But we can and should learn some. This is part of being an explorer.

The first attribute of an explorer, the one that comes before all the others, is to be curious. If nothing else, our mindset should be "What's it like to be that person, to live that way, to experience what she did? What did she accomplish? How? Why?"

Nurture your curiosity, not just about the world but about the people in it. The Human Story is a powerful one. Let it move, challenge, focus, and inspire you.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Robin sighting

As I left the SD Discovery Center last night after meeting with the GLOBE team, I saw AND heard a male robin. Yes!

The reason for my exuberance is everyone else in my household has seen a robin; I was feeling behind. Not that first robin sighting is a competitive sport or anything, but I am quite eager for a sign of spring.

He did a peek and tut call and then flew away with the low, skim the ground then arc up swoop. I watched him till I lost sight in the late winter dusk.

Of course I immediately reported this sighting on Journey North when I got home. When I logged on FB there was another post proclaiming first robin heard.

The robins will probably flock back up today with the high winds and snow we are having. But for a few brief hours last night they, and by extension I, were feeling the spring.

Further happiness, I saw a Great Horned Owl sitting in a tree down the block and around the corner from my house. One of the household reports hearing it in the morning dark when she steps outside to let her dog out.

An owl in the neighborhood is not particularly good for the robin population but I am hoping that if we do have an owl it will knock back the squirrels and give the burr oak a fighting chance to actually produce acorns.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Food explorer

One of the ways I explore is through food. I am, as I have said earlier, a tentative food explorer. But when I compare myself to David Fairchild, who in the  early 1900's was a legit food explorer, I feel  positively meek.

To be fair, David Fairchild literally traveled around the world on behalf of the USDA looking for new foods for America. My food exploration consists of buying and trying unfamiliar ingredients like coconut milk and nutritional yeast seasoning. Tame stuff, to be sure.  We modern day folk would be adrift without Fairchild's work since he helped us become aware of kale, avocado, mangoes plus much more. I mean, those are the key ingredients of a smoothie, if not a full salad.

I learned about David Fairchild from this article from National Geographic. Not only does it introduce us to a fascinating character but it gives some pretty good advice on how to be an explorer. I have reprised it here. The words in parentheses are from the National Geographic Learning Framework which describes the attitudes and mindset of an explorer. and are my addition.
  • Ask lots of questions (curiosity!)
  • Reciprocate kindness (responsibility)
  • Write things down (communication)
  • Write letter (communication)
  • Push on (empowerment)
I also like these graphics provided by publisher of the book with some snappy food facts.

Citizen Science

I write in the About section of this journal that doing field research is not a requirement to be an explorer. However, if you want it to be - and who among us doesn't want to live that Walter Mitty fantasy of the intrepid scientist doing field research in an exotic locale - you can make it so through citizen science.

GLOBE is my professional citizen science project while iNaturalist is my personal AND professional project. I also use Journey North for robins.

As this journal develops, I anticipate that it will become a citizen science document through the power of tagging and search. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Weather Maps

Living as I do here in the northern plains, bird migrants from tropical areas don't show up until May, late April if conditions are good. There will be plenty of migrants moving through the Eastern side of the state in the next few weeks, mostly geese, ducks, and birds like robins but they won't be warblers and orioles. Here on the western most edge of the central flyway, we will have robins and a few geese this month.

Weather plays a significant role in migration. I found this Weather Map Primer resource from Journey North. Since it touches upon some of my favorite explorer topics- birds, maps, weather-I was excited to see it. I really like how the weather map reading is applied to birding.

I am facilitating a monthly online professional development opportunity and March's topic is migrations. This resource will make it into the lesson.

Also on that Weather Map Primer page I found a link to current global wind conditions which is not only interesting but visually stunning as well.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


In the Jane Goodall Institute Roots and Shoots online class I'm taking we had an opportunity to explore a Google street view map of Gombe National Park in Tanzania where Dr Jane did her groundbreaking work with chimpanzees.

I was excited to see lichen in the opening screen. It looks like shield lichen from this distance.

Street view is an immersive format that lets you see a 360° scene, including up and down. Roots and Shoots also offers a Google cardboard experience and additional activities about Gombe at 

Maps are fascinating to me as I believe they are to all explorers. Google has brought us into a new immersive dimension with street view maps. You get to be there without actually being there.

And yet, I'm always concerned about the exotic and far making the familiar and near seem less. Less interesting, less fun - and most worrisome - less important.

It is none of these, of course. How do we transfer that sense of wonder and excitement to our local place? Gombe is exciting to us precisely because it is novel. Perhaps looking at our local place with fresh eyes is key.

Monday, February 26, 2018

ISO Robins

Sunday was sunny and the warmest day we've had in a while-actually above freezing-so I decided to set out to see if I could find any robins.

I walked Hilger's Gulch and the play trail, a short circuit around La Framboise and to the river and back on Farm Island.

I don't know where the robins are but they weren't in any of those places. I might pop out again Wednesday the next day we are supposed to have a sunny, warmer day.

Despite the lack of robins, I did enjoy many birds.
  • 7 grouse along the playtrail
  • Canada geese and assorted ducks, gulls 
  • A single chickadee on La Framboise
  • A bald eagle on Farm Island
  • Waves of purple and house finches (Farm Island)
  • Flocks of starlings (Farm Island)
  • A cardinal calling his pew, pew, pew, pew. (Farm Island)
  • A downy woodpecker (Farm Island)
  • More chickadees (Farm Island)
I tried to capture the sound of the birds on Farm Island, particularly the cardinal in this video. I think I might need more specialized recording equipment than my phone. You might have to crank it to hear.  I wonder if I should use the Sound Cloud app?

Side note: It has been a while since I spent so much time outside in the sunshine and fresh air. I figured it was more than 3 hours. I did a short yoga class to stretch out the kinks when I got home. I slept very well.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Curry chickpea

My explorations around food tend to be rather tentative. Still though, over the years I have made changes. I don't eat much meat. I drink tea instead of coffee. And yesterday, I made a chickpea dish with full fat coconut milk and garam masala.

It was (I say this in all modesty) quite good.

I had never used full fat coconut milk before. It was not what I was expecting. When I opened the can I was completely unprepared for what looked like shortening. And I was really unprepared for the coconut water underneath when I took a knife and slid it around the can's inner circumference to add it to the pot.

There may have been a slosh.

Robin Watch

I have been using Facebook as a robin journal of sorts, documenting observations (or in this case lack of observations) of robin activity.

Last year I shared my First Seen observation via Journey North but I feel the need to bring it all together in one dedicated place. I will pilot using this journal to see if this fills that need.


Saturday, February 24, 2018

Ode to Aphids

I follow The Prairie Ecologist's blog because he has beautiful photos and well written posts about, well, prairie ecology. He is an example of someone who is an explorer, a prairie ecology explorer.

Robin Watch

Monday, February 19, 2018

Snowflake Bentley

On a cold day with lots of snow, I wanted to try taking photos of the snowflakes. Taken with my Galaxy 6, enhanced with the Low Fi Instagram filter.

Jane Goodall's Roots and Shoots

I am taking another MOOC through Coursera from the Jane Goodall Roots and Shoots program. The class is about Service Learning.

I undertook this opportunity because 1) I wanted to learn more about service learning and how we might integrate it at the SD Discovery Center (curiosity!) and 2) I would get a certificate on my Linked In page.