Our Foray into Squirrel Taxidermy

Several months ago as I was driving my daughter to campus (she takes classes at the local community college where she is dual-enrolled), we observed a squirrel that had been hit by a car. We’ve always had a nature centered focus in our homeschool and thus she has never been squeamish about such things. In fact her immediate response was, “Mom, turn around! I want that squirrel!”

I did as requested and she immediately hopped out, proceeded to carefully pick up the squirrel with the aide of several paper napkins we had in the car, and gently placed it in the trunk. “It was still warm. I have to call Papa. I can’t wait to try to taxidermy it.”  Ever the teacher facilitator,  I returned home and found a ziplock bag in which to store it and placed it carefully in our spare freezer.

teen girl with a dead squirrelMy father is an avid outdoorsman. I grew up with him hunting and trapping – keeping his family provided for even when he was unemployed due to mill closures. To this day, his walls are adorned with taxidermy trophies of his catches – his freezer is filled with wild game.

Her interest and fascination with taxidermy is not a surprise. She has talked it about it for some time and thus she jumped at the opportunity when it presented itself.

Small Game Taxidermy

There are plenty of books on taxidermy, but none covers small game with the learning and depth of The Complete Guide to Small Game Taxidermy. Drawing on generations of experience, the author covers all aspects of the art. From proper field care and tanning to crafting life-size mounts, this book will help any individual to approach master status.”  When I read this description on Amazon, I knew immediately this was the book we needed. Fortunately I was able to find it at our local library. There are multiple chapters – several specific to taxidermy processes (skinning, fleshing, base building, mount care, etc.) and several focused on specific mammal species.

After reading up on the process and conferring with Papa (he had had some experience with taxidermy himself and was thereby able to guide us through the process), we scoured the internet and found several suppliers of taxidermy kits. A kits provides all of the tools and taxidermy supplies that you need to successfully perform a great mount conveniently packaged together. You don’t have to worry about trying to figure out what tools and items you need.

There are many different poses or mounts available. The hardest decision was therefore what position to choose. The size of her specimen however, it measured just 7.5″ from the base of the tail to the head, narrowed the choices considerably.

Taxidermy Step by Step

One of the best tutorials we found was How to Taxidermy a Squirrel (not for the squeamish – I thereby did not embed the video but link to it if you desire to view it). I love that it features three amazing young women. It was filmed on location and supported by The Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois. Girls in STEAM rock!small mammal or squirrel taxidermy kit supplies

  1. Purchase a Mount and Taxidermy Kit (chemicals for preservation, etc.)
  2. Gather your materials and prepare to skin out the specimen, as instructed in the video and text tutorials.
  3. Make an incision just below the head on the dorsal side down to the tail.
  4. Carefully cut between skin tissue and the body downward and toward each leg, gently pulling the hide away from the body.
  5. Pull the legs back and out of the skin tissue, using your knife as needed.
  6. Remove the hide from the head and ultimately, the tail. The video linked above does an excellent job detailing how to do this.
  7. Once the hide has been removed, carefully scrape off any meat tissue that may remain.
  8. Wash the hide gently in warm water and dish soap to remove blood and residue.
  9. Put hide into a canister with the dry chemicals (from the kit) and shake it around for about 10 minutes.
  10. Let it rest in canister for a day or two.
  11. Test the skin to be certain it fits on the form. Enlarge the recesses for the eyes on the form and make any necessary cuts on the form for a better fit.
  12. Carefully stretch the hide onto the mount and glue into place. Use pins on the lips temporarily.
  13. Secure mount to a wooden stand and / or display.

We are not quite finished with our first foray into squirrel taxidermy. We discovered the mount we ordered was a little too large for the hide. We thus need to do a little trimming. I’ll post an update on Facebook and Instagram as soon as she completes her project.

Until then, you might also enjoy these fun little nature quizzes that feature an Oregon native squirrel: Boy Scout Rank Wildlife Edition and Early Summer Edition.

The Nature Book Club

Welcome to the first The Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. The monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month.

The monthly book club is devoted to connecting children to nature. There is a theme for each month in 2018. The theme this month is winter birds and nests.

We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details and for a giveaway!

The Nature Book Club theme for February: Small Mammals

February Small Mammals

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts! Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.

See all the great posts from The Nature Book Club’s co-hosts in February:

Squirrel Nutkin small world play from Small Worlds Preschool
Our Foray Into Squirrel Taxidermy from Eva Varga
Nature Walk: Looking for Tracks from Handbook of Nature Study
Arctic Ground Squirrel Lapbook from Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus
Beaver Habitat Building for Kids from Rule This Roost
Good Reads for Fun on Groundhog Day from The Playful Scholar
Meerkat Post Art Activity from Wind in a Letterbox
Easy Watercolor Squirrel Activity from Table Life Blog
Stellaluna Online Book Club from Hide the Chocolate

The Nature Book Club theme for March: Buds & Branches

Image of spring blossoms with text The Nature Book Club March Buds & Branches

WHOOP! – The Nature Book Club Giveaway!

We’re so excited about this month’s freebie.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Party Rules

  • Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
  • The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
  • You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.
  • By linking up with us, you agree for us to share your images and give you credit of course if we feature your posts.That’s it!
  • Let’s party.

Ravens in Winter: Nature Study Activities and Lessons for Teens

My father has a pair of ravens that sit perched a top the branches of a snag on his property. They will often squawk upon our arrival and swoop down quickly to snatch up the tasty morsels we toss out to them periodically. Watching their antics is a highlight of our visit and provides a great nature study segue for our teens.

I’ve always been fascinated by ravens. When I was a young girl, my mother introduced me to her favorite author, Edgar Allan Poe. Chills ran up my spine as she read, The Raven. I now enjoy reading it each autumn when the leaves begin to fall from the trees and the cold winds begin to blow.  Teens may wish to memorize this poem.Ravens in Winter

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.” Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

~ Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven

Corvus Identification

Common ravens (Corvus corax) and American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), overlap widely throughout North America and they look very similar. Rest assured, however, that with a little practice, you can tell them apart.

You probably know that ravens are larger. They are actually the same size as a Red-tailed Hawk and will often travel in pairs. Crows, on the other hand, are seen in larger groups.

As they fly overhead, the crow’s tail feathers are basically the same length, so when the bird spreads its tail, it opens like a fan. Ravens, however, have longer middle feathers in their tails, so their tail appears wedge-shaped when open. Ravens ride the thermals and soar, whereas crows do more flapping.

Another key difference is their call. Crows give a cawing sound whereas ravens produce a lower croaking sound.

The Tower of London

The photo featured at the top of this post was taken at the Tower of London while on family holiday a few months ago. “Should the ravens leave the Tower of London, it will crumble into dust and great harm befall the kingdom,” proclaimed the official Ravenmaster we spoke to as we wandered about the grounds.

As you can imagine, the ravens who reside at the Tower of London are an attraction to travelers around the world. You can learn more about them and the role the Ravenmaster plays in their care here, At the Tower of London, a Ravenmaster for the Digital Age.

Living Books

Ravens in Winter by Bernd Heinrich is a wonderfully written narrative compiled from the author’s field notes and studies all aimed at understanding raven behavior. In 1984 he was determined to find out why ravens call to each other when they discover food, a rare example of sharing in the wild. For the next four years he spent winter weekends observing these birds at a remote site in Maine, braving fierce weather, lugging enormous amounts of bait to lure ravens to his study area and sleeping in a cabin where temperatures often plunged below zero at night.

A Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of Vermont, Henrich is the author of numerous books, including Bumblebee Economics, Mind of the Raven, and The Homing Instinct. He has received the John Burrough’s Medal for Nature Writing and has been nominated for a National Book Award for Science.Ravens in Winter provides an in-depth look at raven ethology – particularly their intelligence and playfulness. It is a great living science book for teens, providing a visual picture of the scientific method.

To expand on your Corvid nature study, you may consider extending with Native American and Norse mythology.

Corvus Study in the Wild

Ravens and crows have the keenest intelligence of all our common birds. Taking inspiration from Heinrich’s study, winter is the perfect time to get outdoors and study the behavior of the Corvus genus ourselves. Their nests are often easier to see in the winter when the foliage is absent from the trees. However, most do build their nests in evergreens. Here are few questions or things to ponder as you observe them – be sure to record your observations in your nature journal:

  • Describe its colors when seen in the sunlight.
  • Describe the general shape of the crow or raven.
  • Are its wings long and slender or short and stout?
  • Is the tail long or short? Is it notched or straight across the end?
  • Describe its feet. Are they large and strong or slender? How many toes does it have? How many are directed forward and how many backward?
  • What is it doing? Describe its behavior or activity.
  • Describe its call.
  • Describe its beak.
  • Where and of what material did it build its nest?
  • If they are feeding in a feed, is there a sentinel or guard posted?
  • What do they feed upon?

Sit down with your sketch book and illustrate a few. Try to capture its movement and different poses with quick, light sketches. Take photographs if the weather is not conducive to sketching outdoors.

Build a Feeder

There are two beneficiaries to setting up a bird feeder in you backyard … birds and people. In regards to the first beneficiary, you should consider:

  1. accessibility to the birds;
  2. shelter from the wind, snow, and rain;
  3. vulnerability to window strikes; and
  4. safety from predators, especially cats.

In regards to the latter, ponder the following:

  1. ready visibility from a window;
  2. ease of filling and maintaining; and
  3. capacity, which determines refilling frequency.

With these thoughts in mind, you can begin to research what type of feeder you would like to build and the potential placement. There are many options to choose from and building plans are easily found at your local library, online, or from local bird watching groups like the Audubon Society.

There are also many opportunities to engage in real science – collecting data on bird migration patterns and nesting behaviors for a variety of citizen science projects. Two that come to mind immediately are Project FeederWatch and the Great Backyard Bird Count.

The Nature Book Club

Welcome to the first The Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. The monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month.

The monthly book club is devoted to connecting children to nature. There is a theme for each month in 2018. The theme this month is winter birds and nests.

We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details and for a giveaway!

The Nature Book Club theme for January: Winter Birds and Nests

January Winter Birds and NestsThe Nature Book Club is brought to you by these 15 nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts! Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.

Here are the co-hosts, their choices of books, and activities for the month.

Something 2 Offer
Birds, Nests, and Eggs Nest Scavenger Hunt

The Usual Mayhem
The Boy Who Drew Birds Free artist study set (John James Audobon)

Preschool Naturally
Whose Nest Is This? Nest Building Activity

Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus
(Backyard Bird Series) CardinalsFree Northern Cardinal Unit Study & Lapbook.

Rule This Roost
Fine Feathered Friends: All About BirdsDIY Bird Feeders

Hide The Chocolate
Those Darn Squirrels Fly SouthFree online book club.

The Homeschool Scientist
Birds, Nests, and EggsMake a Suet Feeder

Forgetful Momma
Snowy Owls Snowy Owl Craft

Table Life Blog
A Nest is NoisyArt Project.

Eva Varga
Ravens in Winter: Nature Study Activities and Lessons for TeensWinter Bird ID

Wind in a Letterbox
Birds for Beginners in Southern AfricaNature Journal Entry

Rainy Day Mum
Coming HomeNeedle Felted Robin

Handbook of Nature Study
Backyard Birds Field Guide for Young NaturalistBackyard Bird Nature Study

The Playful Scholar
TBD – How to Make Hanging Suet Ornaments

Freshly Planted
NestsNest weaving

The Nature Book Club theme for February: Small Mammals

 

February Small MammalsWHOOP! – The Nature Book Club Giveaway!

We’re so excited about this month’s freebie. It is an ebook, Backyard Science – Easy Activities for All Ages, by The Homeschool Scientist.
A huge Thank You to The Homeschool Scientist!

Backyard Science Giveaway
Click on the link above. It’s free until February 4, 2018. No coupon code required.

Party Rules

  • Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
  • The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
  • You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.
  • By linking up with us, you agree for us to share your images and give you credit of course if we feature your posts.That’s it!
  • Let’s party.

 


Piper Now Offers Computer Programming & Coding!

A couple of years ago, I  shared an amazing new tech toy – Piper – which provided kids the opportunity to build their own computer from scratch all by playing Minecraft. What we love most about Piper is that the kids are involved in the construction at every level.PlayPiper

The Piper Computer Kit teaches kids engineering and computer programming through gameplay as well as the physical process of building a computer with hardware.

Piper’s mission is to empower the inventors of tomorrow by giving them the tools to build creatively today.

Piper Grows With Your Child

We have had such fun with Piper these past couple of years and are always impressed with how the company responds to our email queries as well as continually improves their product so that it can grow with the child.

PiperCodeRecently, they announced the biggest update in the company’s history … Programming!  Yes – computer programming code the kids write themselves! How cool is that?!

Kids can now learn to program and control electronics from their own Piper computer starting today! Each project contains step by step instructions to get kids engaged immediately in making awesome creations from the start. For example,

  • Make an LED blink at the touch of a button
  • Design a game to see who can set off a buzzer the fastest
  • Create a light show set to musicPiper allows you to be creative with coding from the very start.  All experience levels are welcome.

Unfamiliar with Coding Yourself?

Piper has us parents covered, too. They provide a multitude of lesson plans to ensure teaching PiperCode is simple and rewarding for students in grade third and above.  Even if you don’t know how to code yourself, you will have fun learning alongside your kids.

Check out the additional resources for educators at Piper to learn more, including how to disassemble Piper and reuse the components with new students. 

Already Own Piper? 

Existing Piper customers should follow these simple steps to download PiperCode:

  • Turn on your Piper Computer
  • Connect to the internet
  • A message will appear alerting you there is an update
  • Click on the UPDATE button
  • Say goodbye to Piper Classic and welcome to the new Piper!

Environmental Science: Our Local Biodiversity & Environmental Impact Statements

The Environmental Science merit badge has been a lot of fun to teach. In many ways, today’s activities were my favorite because they got us outdoors and we were able to visually see examples of local biodiversity, invasive species, erosion, and so much more. We concluded by discussing components of an environmental impact statement.

Today is the final post in the series highlighting the activities I have coordinated as the Environmental Science merit badge counselor for our local Boy Scout Troop.

Biodiversity & an Environmental Impact Statement @EvaVargaOur Local Biodiversity

For requirement #5, we chose two outdoor study areas that are very different from one another (a nearby forested woodland and an area of the sand dune undergoing succession). In small groups, the scouts marked off a study area with flags and counted the number of species found within. They then estimate how much space was occupied by each species and the type and number of nonplant species observed.

After our visit to each area, they were directed to write a report that discusses the biodiversity and population density of the chosen study areas. I look forward to reading their work and discussing what they learned from this experience one-on-one.

Environmental Impact Statements

Requirement #6 of the merit badge requirements is a little vague.

Using the construction project provided or a plan you create on your own, identify the items that would need to be included in an environmental impact statement for the project planned.

I do not know what construction project to which is referred so I was a bit confused. In my opinion, a local real-life construction project would be best suited for this requirement as the boys would have real experience and prior knowledge.

I thereby opted to take the boys for a walk around our neighborhood by which we were able to do several things:

  • visit a residential construction site and talk about the impact the housing development had on the local ecosystem (sand dune)
  • view, from a short distance, the north spit where a liquified natural gas (LNG) pipeline terminal has been proposed

Locally, there has been a HUGE political battle in regards to the LNG whereupon we could visually see the north spit where a liquified natural gas (LNG) pipeline terminal has been proposed. Along the way, we also observed areas disturbed by construction and thus an abundance of invasive plant species, an open meadow-like area (generally shrubs of both native and invasive species and a variety of wild grasses) the city presumably mowed to reduce wildfire danger, and the site where a WW2 bunker had been removed (this greatly saddened us but I believe the local authorities did so due to fear of litigation).

When we returned home, we discussed the impact the residential construction had on the area as well as the proposed LNG terminal. I pulled up the final Environmental Impact Statement that was released to the public and we walked through components of it for quite some time. It is rather lengthy – over 200 pages – so I aimed to summarize and pull out the key components including:

  • topographical maps
  • proposed roads
  • drafts of engineering plans for containment
  • mitigation plans

The previous posts in this series have touched on the following topics:

Environmental Policy Timeline, Key Terms, & Pollination

How Species Respond to Environmental Changes & Endangered Species

Acid Rain, Pollution Prevention, & Conservation Practices

Scientists At Work: Activities and Books to Promote Science Literacy

Promote Science Literacy - Scientists at WorkScience understanding is key to making our way in the world. Whether we are making decisions about our health care, attempting to understand currents events, or learning to perform a new job, science knowledge plays an important role.

The major goal of scientists is to develop current theories that explain bodies of data and predict outcomes of further investigations. Engineers use their knowledge to solve problems.

Modeling, critiquing, and communicating are equally important in STEM fields as are observing and conducing research, testing a hypothesis, and analyzing data.

Promote Science Literacy

Hands-on science instruction and experience in inquiry science is important for understanding STEM concepts. However, it is also important for students to develop an understanding of what scientists actually DO in their day-to-day work. Today, I share a few tips to improve your student’s science literacy.

Encourage students to read nonfiction during independent reading time. Consider reading aloud a biography of a scientist that corresponds with your current unit of study.

Give a book talk about a new nonfiction title. Invite students to share a short book talk on a title they have read.

Create book display to highlight scientists at work. Rotate themes on a monthly or quarterly basis.

Set up a display of the tools and equipment scientists use.

Ask students to interview a scientist in your community. Create posters to share what you’ve learned with others.

Take a field trip to visit with scientists in the field. Consider agricultural sciences, healthcare, and engineering related work.

hydrogeologyScientists at Work

Reading literature and non-fiction books that feature real-world scientists helps students to develop a greater understanding of the world of science. They realize that science isn’t just lab coats and goggles. Here are a few titles that detail the skills and varied experiences of STEM careers.

Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard
Citizen science is the study of the world by the people who live in it. In this title, Burns introduces readers to children and adults, scientists and nonscientists who study nature in an effort to learn more and save particular species of animals.

The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe
In 2006, a beekeeper discovered his hives were completely empty. What had happened to the 20 million bees? Soon, other beekeepers had the same story. This book describes how scientists worked alongside aviculturalists to discover what we now call colony collapse disorder.

Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion
Join oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeryer as he takes readers around the globe and shares his insight after years of tracking debris. With data of ocean currents he brings this concern to the public eye.

The Frog Scientist
Years ago, scientists had discovered that all around the globe, frogs were dying. The decline has many causes, including habitat loss and disease. Follow along with Tyrone, a young man passionate about frogs, who becomes an amphibian scientist and discovers that the most commonly used pesticide in the United States plays a role in the demise of his beloved frogs.

The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity 
Two rovers were sent to Mars in 2003 to discover whether water had ever existed there. See for yourself how the imagination drives scientists and engineers to overcome hurdles and ultimately build models and simulations.

Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon (Newbery Honor Book)
This multi-award winning title offers a thrilling story of the Manhattan Project. The author details how Oppenheimer recruited scientists from a variety of backgrounds to work on plans for an atomic bomb.

 

entomologycareersI encourage you to begin to explore science career options in more depth. Keep a notebook of what you’ve learned. I have shared two previous careers we have explored: Entomology and Hydrogeology.

Environmental Science: Acid Rain, Pollution Prevention, & Conservation Practices

What a joy teaching environmental science has been. Thus far, we’ve learned about the changes in environmental policy and how the Boy Scouts of America have contributed to environmental conservation practices. We have also learned about pollination, environmental changes, and threatened and endangered species.

Today, our focus shifts to acid rain, pollution prevention, and conservation practices we can engage in ourselves.

Each Sunday through the month of September, I will post a description of the activities I coordinated and the resources I used to teach the environmental science merit badge. Today’s post is the third in the series.

Pollution Prevention & Conservation Practices @EvaVarga.netWater Pollution – Oil Spill Activity

The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska, March 24, 1989, when an oil tanker bound for Long Beach, California, struck Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef in the wee hours of ht morning and spilled over 10 million gallons of crude oil into the sea.

As the Scouts learned in the Environmental Science Timeline game we played the day prior, this disaster resulted in the International Maritime Organization introducing comprehensive marine pollution prevention rules through various conventions. We discussed this tragedy as I shared several photos and strategies that were used to clean up the oil.

We then engaged in an Oil Spill Experiment of our own. One Scout shared with us a video of an incredible new material – a foam material coated with oil-attracted silane molecules – that absorbs oil but not water. It was fascinating and extended our discussion.

Pollution Prevention & Conservation Practices @EvaVargaAir Pollution – Acid Rain Activity

Acid rain is a broad term that includes any form of precipitation (rain, snow, fog, hail, or even dust) with acidic components, such as sulfuric or nitric acid that fall to the ground from the atmosphere in wet or dry forms. With the aid of the visual above, we discussed the pathway by which precipitation becomes acidic.

While we didn’t undertake the lab outlined below due to time constraints, I encouraged each of the Scouts to set up the lab portion of the activity is to demonstrate the effects of acid rain on our environment.

Materials

  • Six Petri dishes (3 for the control, 3 for the acidic solution you choose to test)
  • Pipette
  • Large bell jar or similar item
  • Sulfuric acid or an alternative acidic solution (lactic acid – milk or a citric acid – lemon juice)
  • Two 2-liter soft drink containers
  • Four small pieces of marble or limestone
  • Small growing plant
  • Four small pieces of raw meat (fish or chicken)
  • Two green leaves
  • Small amount of soil

Procedure

Several days in advance, prepare Petri dishes with soil & stone, leaf, and raw meat (two dishes each). One set is to be the control to which distilled water is added. Add a solution of 50% sulfuric acid to the other set. Keep these in a location that is secure so they don’t accidentally get spilled.

Display the Petri dishes and show the class how the acid has affected soil/stone, plant, and animal materials compared to the items in plain water.  Together discuss what effects they think acid rain would have on the various aspects of their local ecosystem.

Set up the following long-term experiment:

  1. Place the potted plant under the bell jar and add a Petri dish or other small vessel of 10% sulfuric acid. Maintain plant normally including acid solution.
  2. Put about one inch of 10-15% sulfuric acid solution into one of the soft drink containers. Suspend a marble or limestone chip above the solution. Cap tightly.
  3. Duplicate (a) and (b) with water only as controls.
  4. Put a piece of raw meat in each of two Petri dishes; immerse one in water and cover, immerse the other in weak acid solution and cover. Note: these pieces of meat will
    deteriorate but the effect of the acid solution will become evident over a period of time.
reduce pollutionExcerpted from a slide show created by the Utah National Parks Council of the BSA

Pollution Prevention & Conservation

Lastly, we brainstormed a number of ways we could help to reduce pollution and conserve our natural resources. We filled the whiteboard with their ideas and discussed several in more depth.

Each Scout was then directed to choose two to put them into practice for the next couple of weeks. I asked that they keep track of their progress and to report back to me what they learned from the experience.


Join us next week for the final post in the series, whereupon I focus on an outdoor biodiversity study and an environmental impact statement.