Oregon Nature Quiz #3: Winter Wonderland Edition

Winter is finally upon us and snow is swirling everywhere. Over the past couple of weeks, my VIPKID students have been sharing photos of the snowmen they have built and I have lamented that we have nothing but rain here on the Oregon coast. On President’s Day, however, we woke up to a light dusting of snow and intermittent snowfall throughout the day. What fun!

Oregon Nature Quiz #3: Winter Wonderland Edition

It’s been a while since my last nature quiz — and the new snow has brought inspiration. Here are five of the photos showing evidence of wildlife action in the depth of winter (albeit not all in the snow). Can you identify the wildlife represented here?

image of a girl with her hands in the shape of a heart around the base of a tree covered with ladybugs with text: Nature Quiz #3 @EvaVarga.netimage of a pine cone eaten by a squirrel with text Nature Quiz #3 @EvaVarga.netimage of cougar track in mud with text nature quiz #3 @EvaVarga.netimage of bird track in snow with text nature quiz #3 @evavarga.netimage of rabbit tracks in snow with text: nature quiz #3 @EvaVarga.net

Answers:

1. When we lived in Redding, one of our most anticipated nature outings was our annual ladybug hike. It was always fascinating to see the ladybugs hibernating – hundreds of thousands of ladybugs all gathered in one place. Ladybirds hibernate through the winter as adult insects. Different species will usually hibernate in different places; some shelter under tree bark, others sleep under leaf litter, etc. Have you oberseved ladybugs hibernating in a similar fashion? Some will even gather around window crevices, buildling siding, and wooden structures.

image of ladybugs hibernating on bark of tree with text nature quiz #3 @evavarga.net

Close up image of the laybugs in the bark crevices of a Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa).

2. The cone of a Pinus ponderosa that has been broken apart by a squirrel for the nuts. Most recently, my daughter has given the art of taxidermy a try. A squirrel was her first specimen – results have not yet been reported.

3. Pictured here is a cougar (Puma concolor) track in the mud. Native to Oregon, cougars range throughout the state, the highest densities occur in the Blue Mountains in the northeastern part of the state and in the southwestern Cascade Mountains. This photo was taken in the coastal range while we were hanging buckets for sugaring time. Cougars are territorial animals and maintain home ranges of up to 100 miles. Most active at dawn and dusk, cougars are lone hunters. They are generally solitary animals, except for mothers who remain with kittens for about two years.

Learn more about The Science of Sugaring (tapping maple trees to collect the sap to make maple syrup).

4. There were no other nearby tracks so I am not certain, but I believe these bird tracks may be eagle simply due to their size. What do you think? When we lived in Redding, we loved to watch the resident eagles near the Sundial Bridge. The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), our national bird, is the only eagle unique to North America. It’s scientific name signifies a sea (halo) eagle (aeetos) with a white (leukos) head. At one time, the word “bald” meant “white,” not hairless. Bald eagles are found throughout most of North America, from Alaska and Canada to northern Mexico – with about half living in Alaska. The northwest coast is by far their greatest stronghold for bald eagles. They flourish here in part because of the salmon. Dead or dying fish are an important food source for all bald eagles.

Read my earlier post on Exploring Animal Tracks and learn how to use tracks to tell a story. Make animal track stencils and get out fabric paints to decorate t-shirts.

5. Did you guess rabbit? Six species of rabbit like mammals (these include, rabbits, pikas, and hares) can be found in various habitats throughout central Oregon where this photograph was taken. These small mammals feed primarily on grasses and forbs, have at least two litters per year, and are usually found where there are good amounts of concealing cover available. The shrubs under which they take cover are an important food source and conversely, they serve as the primary prey for many carnivores.

 

In the Path of Totality: The 2017 Eclipse

We had been planning to be in the path of totality for over a year, purchasing tickets to OMSI’s eclipse party at the state fairgrounds in Salem, Oregon in July of 2016. As the date approached, the media was inundated with warnings about traffic congestion, fuel shortages, and other issues related to the eclipse.

path of totality - solar eclipse Preparing for Totality

As we prepared for the event and stressed about logistics – wondering if we should change plans and camp in the Cascades [we would need to pick Geneva up on Friday evening after National Youth Leadership Training – (NYLT)], crash at my brother’s in Eugene, or return home and then drive up to Salem the morning of – we spent time learning more about eclipses.

We had previously seen an annular eclipse and the kids were curious how they differed. Best of all, their interest tied into the requirements necessary to earn the coveted BSA Eclipse patch:

  • Boy Scouts: Draw a diagram of the positions of the moon, earth, and sun to show how the solar eclipse occurs.
  • Venturers: Research Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington’s 1919 experiment and discuss how it confirmed Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

We had recently discovered mysimpleshow and it seemed like the perfect tool for this project. We thereby collaborated (learning how to use the program together) on an explainer video for the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse.

As

As this was our first multimedia presentation with mysimpleshow, we struggled with a few things (I can’t figure out why a few of the images appear in blue hues) but otherwise we LOVE it! We will definitely be using it again – I’ll be posting a complete review in September so check back. 🙂

Experiencing Totality

After learning more about the location of Geneva’s NYLT camp, we opted to return home Friday evening – we didn’t get home until nearly 1 a.m. She needed the time to decompress after camp however, so it was a wise decision.

We decided to drive up Sunday afternoon and thereby made arrangements to pitch our tent in a friend’s backyard (Thank you, Hannah!). Traffic was not bad on the way up and we arrived rested and excited for the next day.

path of totality - solar eclipse We grabbed a quick breakfast and made our way over the fairgrounds where the vibe was picking up as our morning coffees began to work their magic. We met up with friends who drove down from Portland and the festivities began.

We meandered the vendor booths and enjoyed the speakers in the amphitheater. The best part of the morning was simply catching up with our friends and taking in each moment – Geneva sketching and Jeffrey cubing.

I loved watching the crowd as the moon eclipsed the sun. Taiko drummers beat out a rhythm as totality approached and were silent during the 1 minute 53 seconds of duration. The crowd was awed and everyone mesmerized by the beauty of the natural event.

path of totality - solar eclipse

It was so fun to experience it with a large crowd – to stop even ever so briefly and not worry about politics or personal strife. Though many people began to depart after totality, we opted to stay.

We enjoyed a leisurely lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant as we contemplated which route to take to return home. As I5 south was already congested with traffic (our GPS map showed it red for the entire length of the state), we chose to drive slightly westward and then proceed south on highway 99 through Monmouth and Corvallis. This turned out to be a wise choice. Though traffic was heavier than usual, we encountered congestion for only a short stretch between Corvallis and Monroe.

It has been several days now since the eclipse and we are still in awe. It was really incredible and we are so thankful we had the opportunity to experience a total solar eclipse in totality. The next eclipse visible in the United States will be 2024. We may consider making plans for this one as well.

 

 

Anticipating the 2017 Solar Eclipse: Activities & Lessons for Middle School

On August 21, 2017, Oregon will be the first to see the total eclipse of the Sun. This much anticipated solar eclipse will be visible across much of the United States. I first learned of this rare occurrence a year ago and quickly made plans to be sure we would be in the path.

Solar Eclipse 2017We purchased tickets to attend OMSI’s Eclipse Party at the Salem Fairgrounds and attempted to make hotel reservations in the area to no avail. We have thereby fallen back on a backup plan – staying with family in Eugene and driving up. I fear, however, that the road will be so congested we won’t reach our destination.

Anticipating the 2017 solar eclipse, I am delighted to share with you a number of lessons and activities with which you can engage your middle school students.

About the Solar Eclipse

A total solar eclipse is when the moon moves right in front of the sun, covering it completely for a very short time. It darkens the whole sky, lets you look right at the sun, and shows you the beautiful corona that surrounds the sun. Stars come out, the horizon glows with a 360-degree sunset, the temperature drops, and day turns into night.

Only look at the sun when it is 100% covered. You must use special solar viewing glasses whenever the sun isn’t completely eclipsed or it may cause irreparable eye damage.

The umbra (fully shaded inner region of a shadow) will hit the shores of Oregon at 10:15:53 am PDT near the small town of Otter Rock. From the time the shadow first touches land, it will take only two minutes for the shadow to race eastward. As the eclipse passes over the state, cities will experience various lengths of totality based on their varying distances from the centerline. At the Oregon State Fairgrounds, we will be treated to one minute and 53 seconds of shadow at just after 10:17am.

The eclipse will continue across the United States where Illinois will experience the longest eclipse duration at two minutes and 41 seconds. South Carolina will be the last state to witness the eclipse and the final shadow will be over the Atlantic Ocean near the west coast of Africa. See a map of the full eclipse path.

Solar Eclipse

Three Types of Eclipses

Solar eclipses occur during the new moon phase when the Moon moves between the Earth and the Sun and the three celestial bodies form a straight line, Earth-Moon-Sun. There are three kinds of solar eclipses, Annular, Partial, and Total. On even more rare occasions, a hybrid eclipse occurs when there is a combination of two.

Annular Eclipse

An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon covers the Sun’s center, yet the moon’s shadow doesn’t quite reach the Earth. The Sun’s visible outer edges thus form a “ring of fire” or annulus around the Moon. The ring of fire marks the maximum stage of an annular solar eclipse.

We have been fortunate to observe an eclipse in the past. In 2012, we enjoyed an annular eclipse near Red Bluff, California.

Partial Eclipse

A partial eclipse, which are visible to a greater number of people due to its wider path, occurs when the Moon comes between the Sun and the Earth, but they don’t align in a perfectly straight line and thus the Moon only partially covers the Sun’s disc. A Partial Eclipse can be seen on either side of the path of totality where the moon doesn’t completely cover the sun.

Total Eclipse

A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon comes between the Sun and Earth and completely covers the face of the sun, letting the sun’s magnificent corona burst into view, and casts the darkest part of the shadow (the Umbra) on Earth. In this shadow, the Earth is almost as dark as night.

Check out the 2017 Solar Eclipse explainer video we created with mysimpleshow.

Hybrid Eclipse

A hybrid solar eclipse occurs when the eclipse changes from an annular eclipse to a total eclipse along the path of the moon as it rotates about the Earth.

Solar Eclipse 2017Bring it Home – Solar Eclipse Resources

◉ NASA’s Eclipse 2017 guide and information by NOAA Portland 2017 Solar Eclipse

Solar Eclipse for Beginners: General information on the science of a solar eclipse

◉ NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio Eclipse Gallery: Scientifically accurate visualizations of solar eclipses including position of the Earth, Moon, and Sun, and path of the Moon’s shadow from different perspectives.

Shadow and Substance: A simulation for Oregon showing where totality and partial phases can be viewed.

NASA Eclipse Simulation: Students discover relative relationships between the Sun, Earth, and Moon, and how the Moon can eclipse the Sun.

NASA Wavelength: A full spectrum of NASA resources for Earth and space science education.

Explore the Earth’s geometrical relation to the sun by calculating where the sun will be in the sky for any date or time given a particular location on Earth.

Eclipse in a Different Light: A Sun-Earth Day page for educators presented by NASA.

◉ In 1715, Edmond Halley published a map predicting the time and path of a coming solar eclipse.

◉ If you are a Scout, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to earn the BSA 2017 Solar Eclipse patch.

  • Cub Scouts: Discuss what a solar eclipse is with your leaders.
  • Boy Scouts and Varsity Scouts: Draw a diagram of the positions of the moon, earth, and sun to show how the solar eclipse occurs.
  • Venturers: Research Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington’s 1919 experiment and discuss how it confirmed Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Oregon Nature Quiz: Boy Scout Rank Wildlife Edition

To finish up his Second Class rank requirements for Boy Scouts recently, I was helping my little man find photographs of wildlife that he has observed. As we dug through our photo archives, I was reminded of a fun little Oregon Nature Quiz: Early Summer Edition that I posted several months ago. I had posted it with the intention of making it a quarterly series but sadly, life distracted me and I let it slip my mind.

Oregon Nature Quiz #2: Wildlife Edition

How Well Do You Know Oregon?

Here are five of the photos my son selected to submit to his Scoutmaster. Can you identify the wildlife represented here? Whose Been Here? Oregon Nature Quiz: Boy Scout Rank Wildlife Edition @EvaVarga.net

Who Am I? Oregon Nature Quiz: Boy Scout Rank Wildlife Edition @EvaVarga.net

What Happened Here? Oregon Nature Quiz: Boy Scout Rank Wildlife Edition @EvaVarga.net

I'm Friendly. Or Am I? Oregon Nature Quiz: Boy Scout Rank Wildlife Edition @EvaVarga.net

My, What Big Teeth You Have. Oregon Nature Quiz: Boy Scout Rank Wildlife Edition @EvaVarga.net

Answers:

1. North American Raccoon tracks along the banks of a river

In the wild, raccoons often dabble for underwater food near the shore-line. They then often pick up the food item with their front paws to examine it and rub the item, sometimes to remove unwanted parts. This gives the appearance of the raccoon “washing” the food.

Originally, raccoon habitats were solely deciduous and mixed forests, but due to their adaptability they have extended their range to mountainous areas, coastal marshes, and even urban areas. Though previously thought to be solitary, there is now evidence that raccoons engage in gender-specific social behavior. Related females often share a common area, while unrelated males live together in groups of up to four animals to maintain their positions against foreign males during the mating season, and other potential invaders.

Intrigued by animal tracks and wildlife signs? Check out these ideas for Exploring Animal Tracks with students.

2. Pacific Tree Frog

Pacific tree frogs are common on the Pacific coast of Oregon and Washington. They occur in shades of greens or browns and can change colors over periods of hours and weeks. They occur in shades of greens or browns and can change colors over periods of hours and weeks. Eggs of the Pacific tree frog may be consumed by the rough-skinned newt and other amphibians.

They are found upland in ponds, streams, lakes and sometimes even further away from water. The Pacific tree frog makes its home in riparian habitat, as well as woodlands, grassland, chaparral, pasture land, and even urban areas including back yard ponds.

3. Black Bear claw marks and Acorn Woodpecker holes on the trunk of an apple tree

In the early fall, when the apples are ripe, it is not uncommon to see claw marks on apple trees, particularly in old pioneer orchards that have been abandoned. Brown and American black bears are generally diurnal, meaning that they are active for the most part during the day, though they may also forage at night.

Most bears have diets of more plant than animal matter and are completely opportunistic omnivores. Knowing when plants are ripe for eating is a learned behavior. Bears may mark territory by rubbing against trees and other objects which may serve to spread their scent. This is usually accompanied by clawing and biting the object.

Interested in learning more about animals and the study of wildlife? Check out these great animal webcams.

4. Golden Mantle Ground Squirrel

Scientists classify the golden-mantled ground squirrel as a true ground squirrel, though it will climb trees to reach seeds. Its genus name Spermophilus is Greek for “seed loving.” Like other ground squirrels, the golden-mantle packs seeds and fruit in its cheek pouches and stores the food in burrows, puts on a thick layer of fat, and hibernates in winter. Golden-mantled ground squirrels eat their stored food in early spring, when seeds and fruit are scarce. In addition to seeds and fruit, the omnivorous ground squirrel eats fungi, insects, bird eggs, small vertebrates, and carrion.

Though the golden-mantled ground squirrel can vocalize, it remains silent most of the time. When alarmed, it chirps and squeals. Though not especially aggressive, it growls when fighting with other ground squirrels. Though tempting, it’s not a good idea to feed these or any other wild animals; it distracts them from searching for natural foods, which they must eat in large quantities to survive. Unlike most other ground squirrels, the golden mantle is a loner. It only spends time with others of its kind as a youngster with its mother and siblings.

5. North American Beaver teeth marks on the trunk of an oak tree

Beaver (Castor Canadensis) are known for building dams, canals, and lodges (homes). Their colonies create one or more dams to provide still, deep water to protect against predators, and to float food and building material. While they don’t generally use trees of the size pictured here in their dams, it is fascinating to watch the process of a beaver dam under construction which play a critical role in the ecology of our streams. Learn more in my post, The Industrious Beaver: Nature’s Engineers.

Rare, Bizarre Creatures from the Deep: An Unexpected Nature Study

I grew up on the Oregon Coast in beautiful Bandon by the Sea. I spent many a day on the shoreline investigating the marine invertebrates under the rock crevices and walking the sandy beaches. My brothers and I longed for the minus tides, providing us the rare opportunity to go spelunking in the sea caves just off shore. These rocky islands are now protected areas for marine bird nesting habitat but back in the 70s, it was our playground.

dune geology tunicates

Dune geology features: foredune and deflation plain

Tracking Marine Debris

In all the years I have spent on the beach, I have found a diverse amount of debris and organisms in varying states of decay. I probably spend an equal amount of time sifting through the wrack on the high tide line as I do in wave zone digging in the sand looking for mole crabs.

I have found marine debris from Japan evidenced by the kanji script. An occasional flip flop or fishing net remnants are not uncommon. While immersing myself in marine biology courses at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology one summer, I even found several squid egg cases that washed ashore after a winter storm, providing my peers and I an opportunity to observe the development up close. Yet, once in a while, I am still surprised at what washes ashore.

tunicates

Walking along the ATV trail across the deflation plain

This past holiday weekend, my family and I enjoyed a leisurely walk on the beach near our home. Our goal was to field test a new marine debris app, a joint initiative between the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative. The tracker app allows you to help make a difference by checking in when you find trash on our coastlines and waterways.*

We drove out to the North Spit and thereafter began our excursion through the deflation plain. We soon discovered, however, that there was too much standing water to stick to the trail that meandered through the wetland area. We thus walked along the ATV road until we reached the small foredune. Just a few feet up and over and we arrived on the sandy beach.

No sooner did we arrive at the shore and we immediately were captivated by the presence of a strange organic material that was strewn across the beach for miles. Upon first glance, it looked like a hard plastic tube resembling a sea cucumber. My first suspicion turned out to be incorrect, however. Upon returning home, I learned that what we had found were actually colonial tunicates. Fascinating!

tunicates rare creatures

Planktonic salps, Pyrosoma atlanticum, strewn across the beach.

What are Tunicates?

This bizarre and rarely-seen creature is called a pyrosome, a species of pelagic colonial tunicates. Their scientific name, Pyrosoma atlanticum, is derived from the Greek words pyro meaning ‘fire’ and soma meaning ‘body’ which refers to the fact that they are known for bright displays of bioluminescence.

Pyrosoma atlanticum are one of the few pyrosomes that make it to the west coast of the U.S. The species found here are less than a foot but can get as long as 24 inches. Largely colorless, they can show up as pink, grayish or purple-green.

tunicates invertebrates

A specimen of the colonial tunicate, Pyrosoma atlanticum 

These massive colonies of cloned creatures are related to a kind of jellyfish called a slap. A tunicate is a marine invertebrate animal, a member of the subphylum Tunicata, which is part of the Chordata, a phylum which includes all animals with dorsal nerve cords and notochords.

Each individual organism is about 1 cm long – less than a third of an inch. They are all connected by tissue and in turn form this colony that looks like a plastic tube. The recent winter storms have caused them to strand on the shores and have been found in all areas of the coast.

Usually found in temperate waters as low as 800 meters. The colony of animals is comprised of thousands of individual zooids and moves through the water column by the means of cilia (an organelle found in eukaryotic cells that project from the much larger cell body).

As they move through the water column, sometimes close to the surface and sometimes as far down as 2600 feet, they filter plankton out of the water for food. As it sucks water in, it then pushes it back out, thereby propelling it through the ocean. It does all this via one opening only, so it moves incredibly slow.

For more images of Pyrosoma, check out Bob Perry’s photographs. Included in his work are a few pseudoconchs (false shells) of the pelagic mollusk Corolla which we similarly found.zoologyIf you are interested in learning more about invertebrates with your students, I encourage you to look into the Amazing Animals curriculum unit I have written to introduce middle level students to zoology. This 10-week unit is full of inquiry-based activities and lesson plans fully outlined for you.

Due to our fascination with these rare creatures, we didn’t spend as much time with the debris tracking app as I had intended. We’ll give it a go another time.

Oregon Nature Quiz – First Summer Edition

I have always loved the outdoors and enjoy sharing my passion for nature study with others. I’ve recently completed my coursework to become a certified Oregon Master Naturalist.

To celebrate, I thought it would be fun to create a little quiz to help you get to know Oregon a little better. My vision is to create a new quiz every quarter.

Oregon Nature Quiz #1

How Well Do You Know Oregon?

Here are five photos of plants and animals that are found on the Oregon Coast. Can you identify them? (Hint: All of these photos were taken on the Oregon coast)

  1. What kind of rodent is this?

mammal

2. What is this creepy looking black thing?

fungi

3. Can you name this flower?

flower

4. Is this cutie a lizard or amphibian? Can you identify the genus?

herp

5. This invertebrate is a common sight along the trails and even in our gardens. What is it? slug

Answers:

1. The California ground squirrel (Otospermophilus beeches) is pictured here on the rocky shoreline in Depoe Bay. The squirrel’s upper parts are mottled, the fur containing a mixture of gray, light brown and dusky hairs; the underside is lighter, buff or grayish yellow. The fur around the eyes is whitish, while that around the ears is black. Head and body are about 30 cm long and the tail an additional 15 cm. As is typical for ground squirrels, California ground squirrels live in burrows which they excavate themselves. Some burrows are occupied communally but each individual squirrel has its own entrance. They commonly feed on seeds, such as oats, but also eat insects such as crickets and grasshoppers as well as various fruits.

2. It is rather common in the maritime Pacific Northwest, Frog Pelt Lichen (Peltigera neopolydactyla) can range in color from bluish green to olive brown. It is found growing on both rocks and dead wood, in shady, open forests at varying altitudes. A large, loosely appressed leaf lichen, the lobes are broad, 10-25 mm wide, and the upper surface hairless. Often bearing brownish, tooth-like fruiting bodies on raised lobes along the lobe margins, the lower surface is whitish, cottony, bearing low, broad, brownish or blackish veins and long, slender holdfasts (rhizines).

3. Trillium (sometimes called Wakerobin) is a genus of perennial flowering plants native to temperate regions of North America. Growing from rhizomes, they produce scapes (similar to a stem) which are erect and straight in most species but lack true, above ground leaves. Three large photosynthetic bracts (modified leaves) are arranged in a whorl about the scape. The flower has three green or reddish sepals and usually three petals in shades of red, purple, pink, white, yellow, or green.

4. Rough-skinned Newts are amphibious and are often seen moving to breeding sites during the breeding season. Migration to and from breeding sites varies among populations. Some newts spend the dry summer in moist habitats under woody debris, rocks, or animal burrows with adults emerging after the fall rains. In some populations, adults remain in the ponds and lakes throughout the summer and migrate back onto land in the fall when the rain starts. Often they will form large aggregates of thousands of newts in the water.

Poisonous skin secretions containing the powerful neurotoxin tetrodotoxin repel most predators. The poison is widespread throughout the skin, muscles, and blood, and can cause death in many animals, including humans, if eaten in sufficient quantity. Populations in Crater Lake have been shown to lack this neurotoxin. In most locations the Common Gartersnake, Thamnophis sirtalis, is the only predator of the newt.

5. The infamous banana slug is the common name for three North American species of terrestrial slug in the genus Ariolimax. These slugs are often yellow in color and are sometimes spotted with brown, like a ripe banana. These shell-less mollusks are detritivores or decomposers. They process leaves, animal droppings, moss, and dead plant material, and then recycle them into soil humus.

SCORING:
5 points: You must be a nature docent!
4 points: You are at home on the coast.
3 points: You think the coastal forest is beautiful, but would never spend the summer here.
2 points: You guessed randomly, right?
1 or 0 points: You’d really rather stay indoors.