Sunday, May 25, 2014

Week Ending 25 May 2014

This week I discovered that Miss 13 has a bit of a competitive streak in her and is motivated by statistics - things I hadn't really seen in her up until this point. She has started regularly using eBird to keep track of her sightings and noticed that a friend of ours has seen just 4 more species than us in the region this year. Said friend is out of the country until the end of the month so Miss 13 decided it would be the perfect time to try and overtake her on the Top 100 Birder's List! She sat down with a list of birds we might be able to track down and the most likely locations and formed a plan - limited by the fact that seasickness means we are not keen to try birding at sea again any time soon! Which is a pity because it would be surefire way to easily increase our number of species seen.

We've had mixed success with the plan. Our first port of call was a local estuary and surroundings where we had a chance of spotting as many as 5 new species, but more realistically thought we'd find at least one. After exploring for several hours we came home without having spotted a single new species! We did discover that one of the roads we used to travel down alongside the river had obviously washed away in recent flooding. It simply isn't there any more. And a tree that was supposed to be favoured by Little Owls has been either chopped or blown down. It no longer exists either!

The Tui  - one of the three birds we've successfully spotted this week.

A couple of days later we set out in the opposite direction. We were hoping for two new birds for the year and we got great views of both of them. The Tui didn't surprise us since we went to a spot where we were virtually guaranteed to find them. The  Brown Creeper is a bird that we keep missing even at sites where it is meant to be relatively common, so we were delighted to get good views of at least five of them. Then a couple of nights ago we headed to a park that has a population of Little Owls. We've heard them calling there before but never spotted one. After about an hour of trying to track calls in the dark we finally heard a loud call close at hand. The third tree we checked revealed one small owl perched there. We watched it for about 20 minutes before it flew off silently. Miss 13 loves owls so this was a highlight for her. Today we hoped to head up into the mountains. But two days ago the news carried a report that the only road through the area was closed due to a major rockfall!  Close investigation revealed we could get to most of the area we hoped to visit so, since we'd be virtually guaranteed to see one new bird, we thought we'd still go. However, weather forecasts in the region for today were for heavy rain, gale force winds, and potentially heavy snow. Reluctantly we conceded defeat! So,we are sitting one species short of tying with our friend and two short of nudging ahead of her. The rockfall should be cleared later in the week and hopefully the weather will be better since Miss 13 is really determined to meet her goal by the end of the month!

We didn't spend all week out birding though - tempting though that was. We attended a bird-related meeting - a talk from the head of a shorebird centre where we hope to send Miss 13 for a week long course early next year. If that goes ahead she'll at least know one if the faces in advance!

There was also plenty of time at home for bookwork such as this rather heavy duty Latin translation.

It's the longest and most complex Miss 13 has tackled and she did great.  We  finished The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - or at least I thought we had. The Homeschool Freebie of the Day site recently had a link to both a comic book adaptation and a brief audio dramatization of Tom Sawyer. These were perfect for after we finished reading the novel but before we completed the culminating activities in the study guide. Except I then discovered another study guide I'd downloaded a while ago but forgotten about! It's got a couple of nice activities that I'd like to do so I guess we'll be sticking with Tom for another day or two.  Miss 13 is also busy with these logic puzzles at the moment - very similar to MindBenders  (recommended in The Well-Trained Mind) but free which is good! She's also enjoying Battleships and some other online logic puzzles from this site. I guess logic plus the birding challenge are our extras for now. We've finished with poetry teatime and music appreciation for now but haven't formally replaced them with anything.

In other news Mr 21 dropped by this week to tell us he'd just been awarded a prestigious grant which will allow him to travel to a conference in Chile later this year. That's great news for him. I just hope Chile doesn't suffer any large earthquakes in early October! Mr 16 is busy with a large economics assignment - analyzing changes in New Zealand's Gross Domestic Product over the last 25 years. Dh is in charge of this subject and decided it was time to challenge Mr 16. It'll be interesting to see what his finished product is like! Miss 19 is also busy - juggling her heavy study load with the last minute preparations for the dance club's big event of the year which is just two week's away.

Linking Kris's Weekly Wrap-Up.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Week Ending 18 May 2014

This was mostly one of those regular weeks that makes me understand why there aren't as many inspiring and interesting blogs from those homeschooling  highschoolers compared to the number of blogs focusing on homeschooling during the elementary years. A blog that says we did four maths lessons, three Latin lessons, two French lessons, completed a science unit on plant anatomy,

Investigating the parts of a leaf.

read some more Tom Sawyer, and finished our history unit on the formation of earth and the solar system is short and not very interesting! Important and necessary work, yes, but interesting to read about? Not so much.

Thankfully there is birding! This week we attended a field trip to a local private conservation estate. It is on the site of a still operating quarry but many of the older quarry pits have now filled with groundwater or have had spring-fed streams diverted through them. These are now home to many fish, invertebrates and water birds. Most interesting to us however were the aviaries with threatened native birds. In partnership with government agencies this private trust breeds these species for release back into the wild. One reason they are so successful is because they are a private facility with extremely limited public access - basically none in fact. (More people means more disturbance for the birds so they are less likely to breed successfully). So we were really fortunate to get the chance to tour through the facility and see some of the rare species, especially those we have never seen before. 

There are only about 200 of these Shore Plovers. We've never seen one before.

These are juvenile Kaki (Black Stilt). They'll spend the winter in the aviary before being released in spring. There are not many more than 100 of these birds but Miss 13 and I were lucky enough to see an adult in the wild last year.

A Kaka - one of Miss 13's favourite birds.
This is a tuatara - an ancient reptile unique to New Zealand.

This blog is called School of Serendipity. I'm not at all sure I love the name,  although I do like the word serendipity. However, it seemed foolish to not start blogging just because I couldn't come up with a name for the blog that I actually liked.  This name came to mind so I went with it. This week, like many others in fact, there was a nice instance of serendipity in our learning. Miss 13 and I are continuing to read from The Bluebird Effect. One section we read this week focused on the author's rehabilitation of a White-throated Sparrow.

The  day after reading the section I was browsing my Feedly account and one of the blogs I subscribe to featured a photo of a White-throated sparrow - a good chance for Miss 13 and I to recall the story and what we knew about the bird. I love it when those serendipitous moments happen.

Mr 16 has spent the weekend at a Scout camp helping to teach leadership skills to younger Scouts. Miss 13, dh, and I had planned a quick day trip out of town but ended up not going. Basil had three seizures in the wee, small hours of the morning. As a result of dealing with him we felt too tired to enjoy the trip and I'm not sure I was rested enough to safely navigate the road which is steep, narrow, and winding in places We hope to go mid-week instead but sadly that means dh won't be able to come with us. On a positive note it did give Miss 13 the opportunity to complete a Modigliani-inspired art project that we didn't get to last week.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Week Ending 11 May 2014 (We Were a Mystery Class)

It's been a bit of a strange week this week - feeling very flat and lacking in energy. Early in the week the cause was waiting for the preliminary redundancy announcement for dh's department. The good news (for us at least) is that his position seems safe. The latter part of the week saw most of us affected by a cold. Nothing major, but enough to have us feeling a little sub- par.

The other odd thing about the week was the number of things that came to an end, especially odd since this was our first week formally homeschooling after a couple of weeks break. Perhaps the most exciting end was Journey North's Mystery Class. The locations were released last week and this week it was the introductions to each location. Now that  Mystery Class has ended for the year I can finally reveal that the secret project I alluded to a couple of times late last year and early this year was related to this. We were Mystery Class 9! Click on the link if you're keen to learn more about Dunedin/read what Miss 13 wrote.

The opening page for Miss 13's introduction to Dunedin, New Zealand (Mystery Class 9)

After last year's Mystery Class ended they called for volunteers for this year.  Miss 13 was keen but they didn't want us to do our city since Mr 16 did that one a few years ago. So we suggested we do Dunedin, a city a few hours drive south of here which we are very familiar with -  I grew up in the area, attended university there and my parents still live just outside the city. It's a great experience being on the other side of the Mystery Class experience - coming up with clues that are neither too easy not too difficult, then researching and writing the introduction. Not to mention it being a great excuse to play tourist! It's also interesting seeing the final product (can't say we are fans of the format - having the text hidden behind images and having to click back and forward all the time makes  it too choppy for our taste), seeing what parts have been omitted, added or otherwise edited and speculating as to why. All in all it was great to see the result of all the hard work that Miss 13 put in. Being a Mystery Class is a learning opportunity that wouldn't have been available had we lived in the US since they specifically seek Mystery Class locations that aren't American. Often I see the negatives in being outside the US, especially in resources that we just can't access, so it's a nice change finding something on the positive side of the ledger.

Another thing that ended was Miss 13's online bird class. She's been attending and writing a weekly post for the class blog since June last year.
Miss 13's final blog post for her bird class.

In many way's it's been a cornerstone of our weeks - especially since (due to difference in school years) we worked on the bird class even when we weren't doing any other formal work. The Farewell Shorebirds video series from Birdlife Australia also finished this week. Combined with the fact that we also wrapped up the book on bird behaviour that we'd been reading, this means we now have a big gap in our schedule . A great opportunity to revamp and refresh our bird studies!

We bought our study of Dvorak to an end. This week we listened to his New World Symphony. We tried using these listening guides but kept getting lost! Obviously we don't have enough of a technical background. So we used this animated site instead - much more our speed!

The graphics on this site helped us identify the instruments and themes we heard.

We were supposed to finish our study of the artist Modigliani as well, but due to the general lack of energy that didn't happen this week. Next week for sure.

Of course not everything came to an end this week. Our science programme continued and this week saw us beginning a section on anatomy and physiology. A frog dissection was scheduled but a) Miss 13 was not at all keen on the concept of dissection and b) we had no easy access to a specimen anyway. So we did the external anatomy by observing our one remaining pet frog and relied on online virtual dissections and Youtube videos for the internal structures.

This was the simplest of the virtual dissections we used.

Miss 13  began reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It turns out she hadn't read it and only had a vague idea of the significance of painting the picket fence! I already had a study guide on the shelf and was keen for her to study a couple of novels in-depth this year anyway so it was an easy decision to add it to the schedule.

We also managed one birding trip. As is typical we didn't get shots of the most exciting birds, including a new one for our list. The exciting ones always insist on staying just out of camera range!

Clockwise from top right - Chaffinch, Canada Geese, Pukeko and Pied Stilt.

Linking up with Kris's Weekly Wrap-Up
and Mary's Collage Friday

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Week Ending 4 May 2014

There has been absolutely no structure to this week  - the joys of taking a break - but lots of fun and learning has been happening anyway.

Miss 13 and I had another poetry teatime. This one was actually a luncheon with lots of delicious savoury pastry items that we don't normally eat. For the poetry we read through the entire months worth of offerings on 30 Poets/30 Days - an annual event run by Greg Pincus at GottaBook to celebrate National Poetry Month.This year he's featured two years of encore poems, so we actually read sixty poems which gave us a great variety. And since we'd read one year's selection the year they first appeared but not the other we got the joy of meeting some old favourites as well as some new-to-us poems. Sometime we discussed figurative language, rhyme schemes and  all those other worthy things. But mostly we just read and enjoyed. A great way to spend time on a cold, wet and windy day.

Mr 16 arrived back safely from his tramp, possibly less tired and cold than I had expected. The weather was apparently  nice for the first day but pretty cold on the second day with a lot of snow around and not all the group was up to a strenuous tramp in such conditions. As a result they adjusted their route to avoid the worst of the snow. This also meant they got to sleep in a hut as opposed to a tent for the second night. Once home he continued to be busy with Scouting related stuff. He's taken on a role on a regional scouting group and attended his first meeting this week. He's also been busy, chipping away at the work for his Queen's Scout project.

Miss 13 and I attended the monthly meeting of our local bird group where a university lecturer gave a great talk on the importance of native birds, especially when it comes to the pollinating and dispersing seeds of native plants. It was great exposure to the language and style of formal academic science since many of the graphs etc he displayed were taken directly from academic papers he has published.

We also fitted in several birding expeditions. One was a trip to the house of a relative of a friend of ours. Our friend had repeatedly noticed a small New Zealand songbird in an empty lot next to her relative's house. Due to declining numbers it is not always an easy bird to locate and our friend knew we hadn't yet spotted it this year so she invited us for a visit We were only there half an hour or so when the bird flew in. Conveniently there were several other species around too, including one which has a very similar appearance to 'our' bird.  A great chance to compare and contrast the two side by side, which means we're much more confident of accurately identifying them both. The following day we went for a bush walk up in the hills. Wonderful bird song and great views of several birds. The day after that we had planned a trip to an estuary but the wind was cold and strong so birding would have been unpleasant and difficult (hard to hold the scope steady). We settled for a drive in the country instead and were rewarded with a good variety of birds including one species we hadn't seen so far this year and another we'd never before seen.

One country field turned up a large number of Cape Barren Geese plus four Tufted Guineafowl. Since they were new to us we had to take a photo - even thought they were too far away!

Only two birds at this spot but great views of both the kingfisher and heron.

The location of the Journey North Mystery Classes were revealed and we got them all right! Always a relief since there are usually a couple we are not 100% confident about. Looking forward to learning more about each class next week.

We've had time for lots of reading. Probably our favourite is The Bluebird Effect - a lovely collection of essays and drawings based on the author's relationships with birds she's observed and worked with. It's a lovely memoir written by a keen naturalist. I'm reading this one aloud. We're also reading a book on bird behaviour. It doesn't work so well as a read aloud so we're reading the same sections one after another, which makes it easier to have a discussion. I'm meant to be reading Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, but haven't actually made a start on it yet - maybe tonight! Miss 13 is doing better - she's finished a variety of fiction and several light non-fiction reads and also started Corvus: A Life with Birds.

Basil's owner came to visit him this week and took him for a long run which Basil clearly enjoyed. Miss 13 and I had tried to bath Basil the previous week but to say he was uncooperative was an understatement so after they returned from their run we got a lesson in how to do it. Brute force to get him into the shower seems the only solution. Once he was in it wasn't as difficult - although it was a rather wet undertaking!

He's not always so laid back - especially not when you're trying to get him into the bath or shower!

We've been checking in on Berry College's Eagle cam and Bluebird Cam most days. Exciting to discover this morning that one of the bluebird eggs has hatched. Lots more bird cams out there which could suck us in if we let them!

We did drag ourselves away from all things birds for long enough to bake some delicious spicy gingerbread. Of course it is best eaten when still warm so the butter melts as soon as you spread it!