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Monday, September 23, 2013

A Lot Going On

Wow!  Hard to believe that I have not been on this blog in over a month!  I really did not know if I would ever get back to post on 4H events or not.  We really are following through with our decision to not be as active in 4H this year.  A lot is going on with our family right now so I know it was the right decision....but...there is still a sense of withdrawal from this amazing organization that we love!

We did turn in record books after all was said and done.  Sean turned in a record book for entomology and it was amazing!  Henry at the last minute decided he wanted to have a record book we rushed to throw together a book for the Wildlife & Fisheries project.  Then we were called two days later to change the category because the entomology project had been eliminated.  So...we quickly revamped his book to make it a Wildlife & Fisheries project!  We were not the least surprised to have the comment from a judge that the two brothers sounded a lot alike!  Unfortunately, Henry was the one counted off for this error...the original thoughts were his!  However, in both of their defense...they were doing the same project and were both leaders so it makes sense that their stories would sound the same.

Both of the boys had their record books advance to the district level.  This was the highest level for Henry and he was given a blue ribbon.  Sean placed first in his senior level and advanced to the state level.  He then placed 4th place overall.  Not bad considering our sudden change of books (Side note:  I was just told this past week b a judge at this level that they were very impressed with his book and he had a lot of tough competitors.  So proud of Sean and all he has accomplished!).  We also found out that the district was mistaken about the book categories...entomology IS still a category!  That is is always good to have a challenge....Sean did well in spite of this handicap...all is good and we can try with entomology again next year.

We did get Sean's application turned in for the Gold Star award as well.  He interviewed (with a borrowed suit jacket) and did a great job.  His interview was very brief but from what we were told the other applicants had short interviews as well.  I was impressed with the answers Sean gave for the interview questions...

If you could add an H to the pledge, what would it stand for?  Honor because we should be honest with those around us.

What was his favorite experience in 4H?  His time in community service, especially making quilts for the women's shelter.

What is your favorite project?  Entomology...of course!

If you were a new parent, what would you want to know about 4H?  The importance of learning in the projects and the leadership opportunities. jump ahead a month!

We decided that the best option for our family was to choose a new club to settle back into our new role in 4H.  We are now a part of Blue Ribbon 4H.  It has been different but fun to watch without all the responsibility.  We will likely be moving by the end of the year so this is a good pace for us.

We also stepped back from one of our favorite projects...Wildlife.  This was hard but we really could not participate fully...we will try to pick it up again next year if we can.  This opened the door for a new project being offered in our county (and in the new county)...archery!  We will see wher we go with it...still taking it slow for now.

Tonight we went to the Gold Star banquet.  Both Sean and Henry were rewarded for their record books.

However, most of all we were awaiting the results of the Gold Star!  So, we were so proud of Sean as he was one of the four (out of eleven) chosen to be awarded a Gold Star plaque!  He was so excited...he got fingerprints on the plaque when he was given the award...he used his shirt to polish it!  LOL!

He was also interviewed for the newspaper along with the other recipients (Cade, Mikayla and Erin)!  We look forward to reading the article!

So proud of our other 4H friends.  Emily and Cade were given the spirit awards.  Mikayla and Preston were chosen as the teen leaders for this year.  Also, Courtney was the recipient of the Danforth Award.

Sean was also pleased, as one of our local radio stations was given the Friend of 4H award...he was the one who thought to choose this business as a friend....they really do a lot to promote 4H and have never been recognized.  Awesome job for that pick, Sean!

SO...a little bit of excitement and change...we continue to try to make the best better...just on a smaller scale!  Urban 4H needs to watch out we are on our way!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Gold Star Application

Sean insisted that he try for the Gold Star while we were still living in this county.  I could hardly blame him, so we filled out the application.  I will try to come back on here soon to tell about this experience.  We will not know the results until the end of September....time will tell how he does!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Our Last Week of 4H

I had meant to post this when we got back from our WHEP contest but I have spent most of this week getting record books together.

I am wiped out from the experience so I will leave this post as is for a bit and come back to tell of our adventures.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Last of the Presentations

Holding this spot to tell about WHEP...will happen when I get from our weekend trip!

Great job with the last of the presentations...Taylor, Zach and Caitlyn!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

How to Manage a Pond

I have been looking forward to our county Extension Agent coming to talk to the group.  Cary knows so much about fact, I once went to a class he taught a few years back (long before I had studied any of the material we are learning) and he knew so much and the little he shared just blew my mind away!  Now that I have had the opportunity to learn some of the vocabulary about pond management through the WHEP program, I was hoping that his talk with not be so daunting.  It also helped knowing that he was going to bring it down to a more elementary level.  I might just be able to handle his presentation!  I was not disappointed!

Before he arrived, we had Sean give his presentation on water development for wildlife and water control structures.  I think Sean did a great job...I realized that he is getting more confident in talking to a group...when he read his report...he did not stumble over words as much.  I was able to add just a few key points to clarify some issues.  And, I even had a chance to remind everyone that Cary would be discussing pond management with the emphasis on fish and waterfowl...just before he walked in the doors.  To our surprise...we had our county 4H agent...Mr. Ryan...joined us as well!

Cary started out with a basic drawing of a pond to illustrate the various techniques that keep a pond healthy.  Here are a few of the highlights I remember:

  • Ponds intended for fish and waterfowl need to have deep edges to avoid unwanted sediment from entering the water.  Deepening edges of a pond is helpful when vegetation is too thick around the edges or the slope is not steep enough.  This also allows for native plants to form around the edges.
  • Consider the sediment in a pond as two opposing forces much like charges in electrons or magnets...if the right balance is not obtained, the settlement of the pond will not be adequate and cause negative effects on the pond.  Gypsum or lime can be added but it is not always easy to determine effectiveness without experimentation for the specific pond.
  • The ratio of bass to bluegill should be 50:500 unless the pond is being fertilized and then the ratio should be 100:1000.  This restocking technique should only be used if other methods have not remedied the balance of bass to bluegill.  A well managed pond should not need to be restocked.  Turnover of a pond is a normal cycle in ponds but should not have extreme population decrease.  If large fish are lost, than it is likely due to lack of oxygen.  If small fish are dying then it is due to poisoning.  Usually the latter is the case.
  • The pH balance of the pond water is essential to keep with a range of 6.5-9 on the scale in order to provide a balanced habitat for fish.  
  • If the pond water is too acidic, then it is best to add gypsum to the pond.
  • Fertilizer (with a ratio of 12-52-4) should only be added to the pond (15 pounds per surface acre) if there is not adequate vegetation.  This vegetation includes microscopic photo-plankton that provides initial food source for the food cycle needed for a pond.  This technique should also be avoided if there excessive water flow or the pond is turbid (muddy).
  • Turbidity is also a concern for most land owners.  The pond water should be clear up to 18 inches in depth.  An increase in turbidity is usually caused by erosion from livestock or lack of vegetation along the watershed, which can be avoided by reseeding this area.
  • Seepage on a pond is usually caused by leaks or cracks in the pond walls.  This is often caused by tree root system.  These areas need to be repaired to allow for adequate water level in the pond.
Cary graciously went off topic to help understand a technique mentioned in Sean's discussion on water development for wildlife.  He explained the technique of gushers and windmills.  This technique involves water collection into rain barrels from a watershed or adapted structure to allow for collection.  The windmill is used to pump the water to desired location on the property.  This will likely not be on our contest as it usually is used for drier regions such as west Texas.

WOW!  What great information and it helped to have him explain everything in ways the 4Hers could understand.  I cannot thank him enough for coming to our group to give us a better understanding of the material.  I think this is very practical information for our families.  He even told us this was the most asked question...above lawn care and gardening!  It is pretty impressive that our 4Hers have a grasp of understanding now that many adults do not understand!  Thank you, Mr. Cary!

It was nice to take the two agents around our home away from home...we love the museum and are so thankful for being able to use it each week!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Taking a Break from 4H

After almost ten years of 4H activities, our family has decided to take a break from our involvement in 4H.  It is hard to believe we walked into that meeting place back in September of 2004 without a clue of what we were doing!  We did not know anyone either as we were new to town.

I always thought 4H was that farmer's kid club where they learned about raising animals and gardens.  However, over the last decade, we learned that there is so much more...and we did it all...except that misleading livestock project!

We started out in a run to try to do all the projects we could...we never seemed to really slow down.  Our children have been in various projects from Food & Nutrition to Forestry.

Amanda led the way with her love for outdoors in Wildlife and Forestry.  She could not help but love the idea of Food & Nutrition and Clothing & Textiles as well.  She even ventured out of her comfort zone with Entomology just to improve her score for the forestry team.

The boys were right there tagging along and then went off on their own adventures with a Dog project, Horsemanship, Robotics, and Photography added to our list of projects.  We loved every minute of our adventure, and we will never forget all the friends we gained along the way.

A special thank you to those who helped us on this journey:

Janey Phillips was our first club manager.  She had such a love for the children and a passion for nature that I admire so very much.  She was our first example of what 4H means.

The Morgan family was an amazing start to our 4H experience!  Myra, Eddie, Josh and Caleb were right there to welcome us and help us figure out the ins-and-outs of 4H.  Myra was the club manager for the majority of our time in 4H and also the leader for our main projects. I know Amanda and the boys (as well as myself) have learned so much from them in our projects and just in life.

Connie and Traci Byers were also some of the first members we met in 4H.  Connie and Traci did a great job teaching us about nature.  Traci convinced us that 4H was where we needed to be and that there was so much more than livestock.

Mr. Whiteman and Sandi...they are such a great team and ran the 4H for our county with precision and expertise.  A lot of people find them tough but I like knowing that when I go into the office for help, they know what to do and how to do it.  Mr. Whiteman retired a few years back but Sandi is still working hard in the office making sure everyone is staying on track.  I can never thank her enough for helping me when I had a million questions...I still have a million more!

Ryan Merrell has brought a new spin on what makes 4H work in our county.  I have enjoyed working with him as our 4H agent.  I hope he sticks around for many years to come.

Sheri Jones and I did not always see eye-to-eye about things but we always made it work out.  I appreciate her honesty and forthright character.  She has helped Sean with his Entomology project for several years and I am thankful for her patience with him.

I hope for the best for Brenda and Jamie...transition is hard and I will pray long after we are gone for the club and that all will go well.

I am sure there are many others who I am forgetting to mention.  Many of the parents have helped me with projects and have been good friends as we learned together.  I hope we can stay in touch in different ways outside of 4H.  These friendships definitely made it hard to make this decision.

So, why are we giving it all up?  After all, we could still have another twenty years of adventure with our youngest only 9 months old.  However, we have spent the last year in a state of stress.  There is no reason to hash it out here on this blog, but for our family it has become too much and we have decided to take a break.  The desire to keep the fun of 4H centered around the youth and not the adults has not been up to our expectations or past experience.  We are not giving it up completely...I am sure we will register as always come next fall, but we will not be active members.

And, once the decision was made...I realized it will be nice not to be known as the 4H family...I would much rather be known as the family who cares about nature, photography, food, science and learning...the family who cares about the community and how we can help those in need.  4H has given us a venue to make that happen but 4H does not make us the family that we just enhanced a desire to make these things happen.

Some will say we just are burnt out and that is why we need this break.  That is far from the truth.  In fact, the boys and I are already thinking about what we can do to share what we learned with others.  I think we will use what we learned to create a nature photography club.  We can combine our love of these two interests to go out and explore the world without worrying about if we are learning the right things for a contest.  We can also be more spontaneous about where we go to learn.

We still have one more big event before we are completely done for this year...our state WHEP contest that we have worked so hard to compete in is in mid-June.  We are looking forward to this again.  I know I will blog about it.

As I read over this post...I thought about how many times we have joked over the years that the adults should be able to turn in a record book.  I think this post is my attempt at writing the story of my 4H experience.  Through it all I have always tried "to make the best better."  I hope that I can continue that motto beyond 4H as well.  I have always believed that everything happens for a reason.  I am not sure what the future holds for our family but we are looking forward to the new adventure.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Songbirds and More

We had the joy of learning about birds today with Ms. Ruth.  So much fun learning with her and enjoyed her expertise.

We started our meeting a little early so we could have the first of our 4Hers present about the management techniques.

Brianna shared information about Controling Non-Native Invasive Vegetation and Fish or Wildlife Survey.

Naomi taught about Decrease/Increase Harvest.

And, Coty told us about Wildlife Damage Management.

Then Ms. Ruth arrived just as we were discussing the possibility of a fundraiser to help cover the cost for the State contest next month.  We are looking at having a raffle.

Ms. Ruth jumped right in telling us about how to identify birds by looking at distinguishing markings.  She passed out stuffed animal birds for the group to view as she spoke.  Some of the main areas of interest on a birds are:

Crown (and sometimes Crest)

It was also so fun to hear Ruth's stories of how she started birding.  She says it started when she found a baby starling that she raised.  However, I think she was born with a love for birds.  Her stories of her childhood experiences were amazing!  I especially loved hearing how she wanted a pet pigeon because she had read about homing pigeons.  She thought she could catch a pigeon and teach it to send messages!  She went downtown on the city bus and actually caught a bird that she fed in order to catch in a paper bag.  She succeeded and carried the bird home in the bag with everyone staring at her on the bus as the bird was trying to escape!

We reviewed all of the birds on our list (well beyond the songbirds she was originally asked to discuss!) and showed us many pictures from her field guides.

She ended our time together with Bird Bingo.  I did not know if the 4Hers would like playing but they asked to play three rounds and they were also so quiet as they concentrated on her pictures of birds!

A big thank you to Ms. Ruth for sharing her amazing knowledge of birds with us!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Tacos and Fajitas

Tonight we had our awards dinner for our club.  We enjoyed walking into the building where we meet to find a construction site.  We would later find out that this was inspired by the activity for evening.

Renee asked everyone to build something with the assistance of all the 4Hers.  She did not give further instructions.  So the adults watched to see what would come of this activity. I was thoroughly amused when Edward decided they were making a battleship raft fully equipped with machine guns and cannons!

After the 4Hers had completed their "battleship," Renee explained that the group had done a great job with team work and cooperation in their building.  However, it was noted that without guidance it was hard to know what the group was supposed to be making.  Renee then pointed out that our projects are like that in 4H.  Without a leader the 4Hers do not have direction and are not as likely to succeed.  She then showed the group what they were supposed to make with a little model of a cabin.

The group was asked to disassemble their "battleship" and create the cabin.  Once again the group worked well together and it was a nice looking cabin!

We then had a great meal of tacos thanks to the cooperation of all the families.

As I walked past the cabin, I noticed Jessica was sitting in the cabin alone.  I asked her if she liked the cabin and she told me yes...she was enjoying sitting in her bomb shelter!  I got such a laugh out of this sweet little girl saying such a thing after the boys made such a big deal about their battleship!  Such great imaginations our children possess!

We finished the evening presenting awards to all the 4Hers who completed projects for the year.  Henry created a slide show of all the projects the club was involved.  Then a small gift was given to our Senior graduates...Joel, Katy, and Matt.  It was nice evening.

The following Tuesday we had our county leadership banquet, which we helped to decorate the room.  Brenda, Jamie, Robin, Daniel, Brianna, Sean and I transformed the building into a 1940's USO party.  We had bunting on the walls and tables and old war posters as well.  We even had a little band stand playing old band music.  The center pieces were created with mason jars filled with red-white-blue water marbles along with a flag and patriotic fans.

It was nice to see all the adult volunteers honored at the banquet.  We were fed a nice fajita dinner served by the county extension agents.  The 4Her scholarship awards were also announced.

Both evenings were a nice change of pace from the rush of the year!  A big thank you to all who helped to make it nice!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Humble 4H Pie was our district Round Up.  This year our family took a step back from the frenzy of possible activities and focused our efforts on one project...entomology.  I say we focused on this project...but in actuality, we did not do a lot with it either.

You see...Sean is in the senior division for the second year and I told him that I really wanted him to step up his involvement without me being the one planning out all the details.  Sean agreed to this and said he would practice.  Unfortunately, he did not follow through with this commitment.

Now Sean is very smart and I am sure he knows more than the average person about insects.  I have no doubt that he is capable of learning whatever he sets his mind to do.  But here in lies the problem...he decided that he already knew all the material and did not need to study.  I tried to tell him that he might want to review the information to be sure about what he knew for the contest.

So the results are in and Sean (4 time high point individual) was knocked down to fourth place this year!  I wish I could tell you how surprised he was by this news.  However, I must give him credit...he handled it well and accepted his fourth place ribbon and congratulated the others from the group for their great job.

As we were walking back to the car, he asked me what had gone wrong.  It would have been easy to have an "I told you so." moment, but I just talked to him about his need to always improve his knowledge.  I also told him that it was never too late to try for next year.  My goal for him is to be self-motivated in his interests.  It was not about me helping him but him taking the initiative to ask for help to review the information.

And...fourth place is nothing to sneeze about...he did a great job!  I am very proud of him and his ability to know so much information.  Now he has a plan and I hope that after eating a little piece of humble pie, he will try even harder to be his personal 4H...and more importantly, in his little part of the world...whether that is in East Texas or beyond.

Beyond our experience...I also wanted to share that other members of our group did well today.  In our intermediate group (the biggest group of the day), Timothy received a fifth place ribbon (missed getting his picture) and Coty earned a second place ribbon.  And, our junior...Kristin (first time participant) received a second place ribbon after a tied score with first place participant!  The judges had to look at the spelling to determine the high point individual!  Great job!

I am not sure if there are any other participants in the other contests of the day.  We did have a fashion show contest that will take place later in the day.  I hope to hear back about those results soon and I will update the post.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Chomping at the Bit

Or in our case...tonight at 4H Robotics...chomping on the LEGO!

Tonight the Robotics group were challenged to make an alligator that used a sensor to detect an object in its mouth.  The mouth is supposed to be able to open and close.  Tonight we did not do any programming...we just put together an alligator.  

Each group had a different idea of how the alligator would look.  In fact, one group did not even make an alligator...instead choosing to make a scorpion!  Since the main object of this challenge was to use the motion sensor, I let them choose the animal of their chose in the end. one (being more exact in their challenge) made a very nice alligator that will need to be programmed next week to open and close its mouth.  The second team has an eight-legged creation that looks like a very interesting scorpion.  

I look forward to seeing if their creations can be programmed to meet the challenge!  Stay tuned as we learn as we go!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Friend or Foe?

So we gathered today with our WHEP group to learn about three of the birds in our region.

Hairy woodpecker 

General information 
Stages 4, 5 and 6 provide primary habitat for hairy woodpeckers. They forage on a variety of places such as tree trunks, stumps, snags, downed logs and the ground. Where adequate cover exists, food is usually not a limiting factor. They will forage in Stage 3 if areas with mature trees are nearby. They readily use wooded urban and riparian areas.

Habitat requirements
Diet: insects such as ants, beetle larvae, caterpillars and adult beetles; diet is supplemented with hard and soft mast

Water: obtained from diet

Cover: cavity nesters; holes are excavated in mature and dying trees and snags; management efforts should focus on maintaining or creating areas with large mature and dying trees, especially in open areas; within wood¬ed areas, at least one large snag per acre should be available

Northern flicker 

General information 
Northern flickers occupy all of North America, and inhabit most of the U.S. year-round. Flickers use open areas in Stages 2 and 3 interspersed with areas of Stages 5 and 6. Northern flickers are often found in riparian and urban areas. They prefer older urban residential areas with large trees, golf courses and parks. Flickers create cavities in trees for nesting and will occasionally use nest boxes. Flickers eat insects, especially ants, as well as soft mast and seeds. Flickers can become problematic in urban areas where they may create holes in wood siding on houses or damage ornamental trees. Wildlife damage management may be necessary.

Habitat requirements
Diet: ants are a favorite food and make up about 50 percent of the diet; seeds, soft mast and earthworms   
are also eaten; flickers are partial to poison ivy fruit and may use artificial feeders

Water: daily water requirements unknown; sufficient water is probably obtained from diet

Cover: tree cavities are used for nesting; old mature trees that show signs of dying or rot¬ting are often 
used; softwood trees such as yellow poplar, cottonwood and willow are preferred; flickers will nest in posts, holes in banks, and holes in houses and structures where trees are unavailable 

European starling 

General information 
European starlings are found throughout North America. They were introduced to the U.S. from Europe and are considered pests. They commonly cause damage to crops and in urban areas. They exclude native species from cavities and deplete food resources for native wildlife. As a consequence, wildlife damage management is necessary to reduce starling populations and exclude them from areas where they are causing damage. Starlings prefer older suburban and urban residential areas with large trees and shrubs interspersed with open areas but are also abundant in agricultural areas. Star¬lings are cavity nesters and nest in large trees or old buildings. Starlings feed on the ground and eat a variety of insects, seeds, grain and soft mast.

Habitat requirements
Diet: insects, soft mast, seeds, earthworms, grain, human garbage, and even dog and cat food

Water: require water during warm seasons

Cover: nest in tree cavities, old buildings

When looking over the information about these birds last night, I found it very interesting to see their connection.  The Hairy Woodpecker and Northern Flicker share many of the same needs but look and sound very different.  There is enough differences however that they could probably co-exist in the same habitat if it is well planned.  

The big surprise came with the European Starling.  I have always known these birds to be a pain but to outright call this bird a pest and plan for its reduction in such an expansive execution was not what I was expecting.  Also, the European Starling is especially harmful to the Northern Flicker and must be addressed for landowners who desire the Northern Flicker in their habitat.  The European Starling will eventually take over the habitat of the Northern Flicker if given the opportunity.  The European Starling causes the removal of many other favorable birds and will even cause trouble for human property.  

The Northern Flicker on the other hand is very beneficial to the habitat as it rids the property of ants (50% of its diet) and other insects.  There is a chance of building damage with the Northern Flicker so a possibility of damage control is needed for this bird.  However, this is only an issue if the Northern Flicker does not have adequate cover requirements met.  

We ended our meeting with the discussion of the remainder of our project for the year.  We will end our year with presentations of the wildlife management techniques.  We will also have two guest speakers discuss song birds and pond management some time in May.  

I look forward to continuing the learning process with the 4H group!

Also, a big thank you to Ms. Christi...she put together a CD with all the bird calls!  She even had a print out so we will know what we are listening to on the CD.  I know ours will be used as we spend so much time in our car...this will give us something fun to do along the way!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Orange Leaf Fundraiser and 4H Promotion

I cannot tell you how much fun we had with our 4H Club fundraiser at Orange Leaf!  I was really surprised by the many family and friends (and just people in general) who came out to support our club's effort to raise money for future endeavors.

Each year our club goes to great lengths to encourage our youth in their various interests.  We look forward to using the money we raised tonight to make this happen.  We also like to reach out to the community to serve their needs and I am sure some of the money we raised tonight will allow these events to happen.

We already know that we have raised over $200 due to the generosity of passers-by who just donated cash to our effort.  This does not even include the receipts that were collected during the three hour event.  Orange Leaf has generously offered us 15% of all sales from the evening!

Great job from all the club families who advertised beforehand.  And a special thank you to our Fundraising Chair...Zachary...for the great idea!  He went to a lot of work behind the scenes to make this a success!

And a special thank you to our break-dancing 4Her (I wish I had the camera ready for that!) who danced his way into a $100 donation...and of course a thank you to the generous donor!

It was also nice to talk to those in the community who had questions about 4H.  What a wonderful way to promote 4H!  I spoke to a mom and her daughters about the many project opportunities available through the 4H clubs in our county.  Her daughters were especially interested in rabbits and  horses.  I hope we see them again next year!

And most of all...we had the opportunity to enjoy a great cup of frozen yogurt!  So good...this was a first for us and we will probably go back soon!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Outside with the Insects

Well...after several weeks studying insects inside with slide shows and insects under plexiglass...we headed outdoors today!

We were happy to head to the County Extension Building to take a look around the parking lot and into the wooded area.

I missed the first few minutes due to a low tire pressure...but it seemed like the boys were happy to run around to find insects without me...under the watchful eyes of Mr Joe and Mr Steve!

Here are some of the pictures of what they found:

Grub on the piece of a fallen tree

Geometric Moth

This plastic-like worm will soon be a click beetle! 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Let's Get Quacking!

Today we learned about the Mallard and the Wood Duck.  For all those who say all waterfowl are alike...I would like to say...


This is what we learned about these two species of waterfowl:

Wood duck 
General information 
Wood ducks are primarily found along rivers and large creeks within bottomland hardwood forests, Stage 3 wetlands and swamps with emergent woody vegetation adjacent to Stage 2 wetlands, and shallowly flooded Stages 5 and 6 hardwood forest. Wood ducks nest within cavities. Usually, nest sites are within or adjacent to flooded timber; however, wood ducks have been known to nest up to one mile from water. Cavity availability is critical for a sustainable population. Thus, artificial cavities are readily used by wood ducks and have been, most likely, the number one reason for the increase in wood duck populations during the past 50 years.

Habitat requirements
Diet: acorns are the primary diet item in fall and winter; other hard mast, various miscellaneous seeds and soft mast, as well as waste grain (especially corn) also are eaten; in¬sects and other invertebrates are most important for wood duck chicks and hens prior to and during the nesting season

Water: obtain water through diet and drink free-standing water regularly; see cover requirements below

Cover: Stage 3 wetlands and swamps; shallowly flooded bottomland hardwoods; nest in tree cavities in stage 6 hardwoods and artificial cavities

General information 
The mallard has one of the most extensive breeding ranges of any duck in North America, extending across the northern one-third of the U.S., and up to the Bering Sea. As migratory waterfowl, they winter south of Canada, throughout the U.S. and south to Central America. Mallards are dabbling ducks that nest in tall grasses and forbs or in shrubby cover. They need open water (Stage 2 of wetland succession) with associated emergent aquatic vegetation (Stage 3) to raise young. Mallards prefer to spend the winter in wetlands that contain all 4 wetland stages, including Stage 1 (open water) and Stage 4 (harvested grain crops). In addition, riparian areas with open water may be used. These birds feed at or near the surface of the water by filtering food items such as invertebrates, seeds and other plant material. Dabbling ducks are often seen tipping upside down in the water to reach food at the bottom of a wetland. Unlike diving ducks, they feed in much shallower water and do not dive to obtain food.

Habitat requirements
Diet: aquatic plants, insects and other invertebrates, hard mast (especially acorns), grains and other seed are primary components in the diet; ducklings eat mostly aquatic insects; most food is associated with wet¬lands, but mallards will readily dry-feed in agricultural fields during winter

Water: see cover requirements below

Cover: nest in grass and forb vegetation (some¬times they nest under shrubs) preferably within one-half mile of a wetland that provides open water with some adjacent emergent aquatic vegetation; brooding cover is open water with considerable emergent aquatic vegetation for protection from predators; ideally, wetlands have a minimum of 50 percent open water and 10 percent to 20 percent emergent vegetation; in wintering areas, mallards rest on open water bodies, such as streams, rivers and warm-water sloughs

We also learned about wetland succession in order to understand the habitat needs of these birds.  Wetlands are much like a forested area as far as the emergence of plant life.  However, it looks very different...also there are only four stages of succession.  Here are the basic stages we discussed:

Stage 1 — deep water with little vegetation,
Stage 2 — shallow water dominated by submerged and floating aquatic vegetation,
Stage 3 — very shallow water or wet ground dominated by any variety of emergent aquatic vegetation Stage 4 — ground becomes drier and upland vegetation similar to the surrounding area becomes dominant

We then learned about home range and seasonal home range, which brought us to the topic of migration.

A home range is the area in which an animal lives.  A seasonal home range can be defined if an animal uses a different area during different seasons. A seasonal movement, or migration, is made when an animal moves from one seasonal home range to another. Migration for many species, such as waterfowl and songbirds, involves movements to and from wintering and nesting areas.  Long migrations require available habitat along the route.  Areas of suitable habitat or paths that do not restrict movement are required for animals to move from areas within their home range or during migration. These areas are known as corridors

Here is a picture of the corridor paths in North America:

After all of this information, the 4Hers were given a task within their team groups.  They were asked to draw or write a scenario for both species that would show the ideal habitat.  Since these species are very different in their needs, the idea was to show the difference in the land that would be managed for these species.  The groups did a great job with this activity.  Both groups (and Sean our lone senior) chose to draw their land sites which included keys.  This was a good practice to prepare them for contest.
So, after all of that sitting...I decided to let them have fun with a game!  We played Migratory Headache from my Aquatic Wild book!  Well, that was the plan...but this is how I adapted it to fit our situation:
We had a great location for this game to work...a basketball court the day after a hard rain.  There were several puddles of shallow water and the playground (that is filled with pea gravel) had washed out some of its gravel onto the court.  I had all the 4Hers line up along one end of the court (Canada) and told them they needed to get to the other side (Mexico).  The north end of the court was their wintering location and the south end was their nesting area.  The object of the game was to go from their wintering location, find two stopover locations (puddles) to find food (5 pieces of pea gravel at each location) and then find a nesting location to have babies (leaf of their choice), and then return with the same pattern (two more stopovers) before returning to their wintering spots!  Oh...and in order to keep from falling over each other, they needed to be a wingspan apart from each other!

We played this game twice and it was so much fun for them to play and for me to watch.  The first migration went well...and everyone found their needs met.  The second migration...I took out some areas set aside for stopovers because of environmental scenarios as well limited the nesting area.  We lost two birds in that migration.  It was a great way to show the importance of our wetlands.  And, I think everyone enjoyed getting the chance to run (fly) around like birds.

SIDE NOTE:  While the 4Hers were busy creating their ideal scenarios, we spotted a woodpecker on a tree close by...Sean could not resist checking it out closer.  Ms Renee and I joined him and I got a picture of it when it stuck its head around the tree before flying off.  I think we saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker!  It is so fun to be able to know the birds we see!  Well at least try to know them and have the tools to look up those that we do not know! 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Dinobot Challenge

Tonight the teams were asked to create a dino-bot that would roar and crash through a set of pillars knocking them all down in less than a minute.  The teams would not only be judged by their ability to create a robot to meet the challenge, but also a robot that looked and acted like a dinosaur.

The teams did a great job with this challenge.  There was a lot of trial and error.  The teams would try a style of robot and then adapt as needed to make it work better.

Team 1 had a robot that had long arms on each side but it fell apart easily.  The team continued to add supports and wheels to keep the arms intact during the procedure.  Unfortunately, the robot was not knocking the pillars down, but pushing them across the room!  After several attempts, they realized that the arms were not tall enough to get to the tops of the pillars.  So, in one last attempt to have success (down to the wire on their time constraints!), the team added hooks to the end of their arms to raise the level of the arms on each side.  Unfortunately, the added hooks did not have the support needed to keep the arms up and this attempt failed as well.  They were very disappointed but I was glad to see them trying until the very end.  Also, they tried to add sound effects to their robot which made their robot unique.

Team 2 struggled with their robot knocking down the pillars as well.  However, just as Team 1 persevered, so did their efforts.  The big difference with the Team 2 robot was the way it looked.  In fact, the more the team adapted the robot's arms to reach out far enough, the more it began to look like a dinosaur.  In the end, Team 2 not only successfully knocked down the pillars, but they had a dinosaur that began the procedure, opening its jaws and rushing through the 'town' knocking everything down with ease!  YAY!!!  Great job Team 2!

We will be taking off next week, but will finish up strong at the end of the month with our alligator!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Bingo Bash

Our annual fundraiser for our county 4H took place tonight.  We put on a fun night of food and BINGO with great prizes along with a silent auction full of desserts and crafts.  The money raised tonight will help with scholarships and summer camp for our 4Hers throughout the county.

Our family helped by making a fancy pineapple torte with whipped cream frosting for the silent auction.  We also made other desserts to sell by the serving...yummy peanut butter chocolate bars and coconut brownies!  Henry also made a flag quilt for the auction.  There were many other desserts and crafts created by the 4Hers throughout our county.  Then the prizes were either donated or purchased by the various clubs.  The top prize being a large screen TV.

When we arrived, there were lots of people setting up and we jumped in to do our part...we helped arrange prizes and auction items as they came in the door.  Then we purchased our BINGO cards and food and enjoyed the evening!  The last our we spent working the food booth with other members from our club (Mrs. Brenda, Ms. Jamie, Treyton, Brianna, Daniel, Sean and Edward...with a little help from Brendan...Renee, Naomi and Caitlin arrived later!).

Henry did not want to give up our BINGO cards!  I guess it was a good thing because he won a microwave and gift card.  (We hope to use this for a fundraiser for our WHEP contest expenses later in May!)

He also took pictures of the other winners throughout the night.  The best picture was of the lady who won the TV...she was a little excited!  And a woman who won a scarf was a sweetheart...showing off her new accessory! (For more pictures of our fun evening check out my Facebook page.)

There was also a group of older women who won prize after prize...they were surrounded by BINGO cards and you could tell they really enjoyed the game but took it very seriously also.  It was great to see them having so much fun!

Everyone had a great time...even if they did not go away with a prize.  We are so glad we could help out and enjoy the time with all the 4Hers from the county.

Oh!  I also won the bid on that nice flag quilt..I just could not let it go so I bought it back!  LOL!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Election Results are In...Breaking News!

We had our regular monthly meeting for our 4H club tonight.

We had our regular business meeting and then a program from Mrs. Renee about making laundry soap and glass cleaner.  She did a great job with the presentation and even had a good sample of the two soaps for all those who brought containers!  She let the 4Hers who volunteered to help make the big batch of laundry soap.  Thanks to her for a great money saving soap for our homes!

The main goal of the evening was to elect our officers for next year.  Here were the results with those being contested having an asterisk!

President -Joseph*
Vice President - Sean
Secretary - Kevin
Treasurer - Daniel
Council Delegate - Brianna
2nd VP - Zach*
3rd VP - Taylor*
Council Delegate Alternate - James
Reporter - Jonah
Parliamentarian - Becca*
Historian - Naomi*
Community Service Chairman - Caitlin
Call Committee Chair - Jaron
Fund Raising Chairman - Henry

This was a great experience for the 4Hers to vote.  It was also fun to see the perseverance of those who tried for several offices.  I think everyone ho wanted a position was satisfied by the end of the night.  We will have a strong group of leaders for next year!

We also had a group picture taken with the hopes of having us in a local magazine.  I will update later if this happens.

 It is hard to believe we are already so close to the end of this year that we are thinking about NEXT year!  So thankful for a great group of youth leaders!

The Owl and the Bat

Doesn't that sound like a good children's book?  Of course the Big Brown Bat reminded me of a Dr. Seuss book, so why not write a children's book about these two animals that we discussed at our WHEP meeting this afternoon!?  Well...maybe one day I will, but for today...I was just fortunate enough to have time to teach a class about these two wildlife species!

Big brown bat
General information
Big brown bats are one of 46 bat species in North America. They inhabit nearly all of the U.S., except for south Florida and south-central Tex­as, and use a variety of vegetation types, from farmland to mature deciduous forest. Big brown bats are insectivores. Lactating females will eat their weight in insects daily. Males and females may roost individually or in small numbers, but males and females usually roost separately. Females may roost together in a maternal col­ony when pups are born and nursing. Females usually give birth to one or two pups, often in a hollow tree or attic. Big brown bats, as with all other bat species, are nocturnal and are the only mammals capable of flying. Big brown bats will drink “on-the-wing” by dipping their lower jaw into a water source. Big brown bats hibernate in the winter in northern latitudes, therefore, do not actively feed during winter months, but instead rely on stored fat reserves.

Habitat requirements
Diet: night-flying insects, especially beetles
Water: free-standing water is required daily when they are active
Cover: buildings and hollow trees are often used for daytime roosts; bat houses may also be used for daytime roosting; caves, mines and buildings are used for hibernation

We first learned about the big brown bat.  Here is the information we covered:
Although learning about these animals is interesting and I have a respect for their benefits to our habitats, I must admit that I did not spend a lot of time with this species.

We then learned about one of my favorite animals...the Great Horned Owl.  I grouped these two together for their nocturnal features.  However, the owl is much easier to appreciate.  Even if it does regurgitate its waste, it is an amazing bird!  This is what we learned:

Great horned owl
General information
The great horned owl is found throughout North America in a wide variety of vegetation types including open Stage 6, interspersed with areas of Stages 2, 3 and 4, including orchards, farm woodlots and city parks. They also are oc­casionally found in rocky canyons away from forest cover. The great horned owl is nocturnal and roosts during the day in trees or on shel­tered rocky ledges.

Habitat requirements
Diet: great horned owls forage at night; the diet is extremely varied but commonly includes small- to medium-sized mammals including rabbits, skunks, squirrels and others, as well as reptiles, amphibians, large insects and fish
Water: water obtained from diet
Cover: nest in abandoned nests of hawks, crows or herons, and in large tree cavities, crotch­es, stumps, caves and ledges 

Then I surprised the group with their own owl pellets to dissect   They were suppose to determine the meal of the owl by the contents of the pellet.  After a few minutes, the first group asked if  I had made their pellet.  I laughed and said no...but they insisted that it was home-made.  Sure enough it was FAKE!!!  They got a ball of lint with a plastic skeleton!  The other group had to dig through hair that had been recycled into a nice pod of bones, hair, oil and waste!

I told the second group that I wanted them to pretend they were owls and reassemble the pellet.  They immediately started talking about the lint being pressed around the bone...carried out to the edge of the tree cavity and set out until the nice scientists came by to pick up their specimen in a nice neat bag!

It made me think of a children's book!  Maybe I will write about the little owl who did not want to puke up its guts!  LOL!

Another fun day with the WHEP crew!  I am so glad we are able to enjoy this project!  Many more adventures to go before the end of the 4H year!

Also a BIG THANK YOU to Ms Brenda who gave everyone a bag of wild bird seed to pique our interest in bird watching!  I hope we can buy a nice bird feeder to put in one of our trees in the front yard soon!