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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!

Robotics Challenges Complete!

Both teams completed their challenges tonight!  And this one happy 4H Mom!  I was really starting to worry that I was going to need to show how little I really knew about computers and programming!  I am so thankful we have two very smart 4H teams who solved their own challenges!

Team 1 really had me worried because they could not seem to get their robot to release their ball!  I told them to keep trying and it would work.  Thankfully...that was true and the ball managed to be picked up...moved around the room...and then the big release!  The team was so proud of themselves!

Team 2 struggled with rotating the robot around in circles.  I am sure there is a programming skill that they are missing but they eventually got their robot to turn around five times. YAY!

While the teams were programming...the moms were planning!  I found several lessons on-line.  We will meet three more times in the month of April so we picked three designs for the teams to create.  Watch for future blogs about fans, merry-go-rounds, and alligators!