Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Hail and Snow - what's the difference? and some Rainy Day activities

Cold weather is sweeping across New Zealand in waves this winter. Children who have never seen or touched snow before have had the chance to build snow people and have snow fights. And discover that while it might be fun in its snow form, it soon melts and turns into wet slush.

I had to walk up into the hills to the snow. But down where I live near sea level we've had hail which lay on the ground long enough, it almost looked like snow.

What, I wondered, is the difference between hail and snow?

My search led me to many complicated explanations. I understand why scientists want to give as much detail as possible and explain a phenomenon as accurately as possible, but, for young children, a simple explanation is what's required.

Here's a simple explanation:

HAIL is frozen rain drops
SNOW is made up of ice crystals 

And here's a slightly more complicated version:
Hail is formed in rain clouds that get very cold, so the rain drops turn to ice.
Snow is formed when water vapour (think of how you can see your breath on a cold morning) in clouds freezes so quickly that it goes straight from vapour to ice crystals without turning into water first. (Usually water vapour cools and turns into water and then cools more to turn into ice.) This is how ice crystals form. The temperature below the cloud (and on the ground) needs to be cold enough that the snow doesn't melt before it reaches the ground.

My search took me to lots of sites to find ones that were clear and easy to follow.
A good site aimed at children is Severe Weather 101.
I also like this student's attempt at explaining it on You Tube by Izzy M. Why does it rain, hail, sleet and snow?
Here is a more technical answer on You Tube: MetOffice UK

On the way I learned that there are many different names for precipitation - wet stuff that comes from clouds.
rain, sleet, snow, 
drizzle, powder snow, 
firn, blizzard, shower,
soft hail, 
snow pellets, 

There are sayings too, which try to describe the kind of rain or snow like:
raining cats and dogs,
teeming down
biting rain

A couple of my own descriptions are:
horizontal rain (rain in strong wind coming in at an angle)
tramping rain (heavy rain that would make noise on a hut roof)

Some rainy/snowy day activities
Next time it rains, hails or snows, invent your own names and phrases to describe the kind of precipitation. Create a precipitation picture dictionary.
Make paper snowflake patterns and stick them on the window. Snow flakes always have 6 points.
Create your own video explanation for rain or snow.
Play in the snow.
Cut a hailstone in half and look at it through a magnifying glass.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Who's In the Garden? my Garden Bird Survey

For a number of years now I've been counting birds as part of the annual Garden Bird Survey. To start with it seemed a bit artificial only counting the birds seen in one hour. But knowing that many birds are visiting, moving from one garden to another, it's a fair approach. What began as a simple survey led me to was to spend more time looking at who was in my garden and when.

Fantails weren't here at survey time this year
When I did that first survey, I found that grey warblers visited our garden. They are such tiny, hard-to-see birds but their trill surpasses all but the tui's. They, and the fantail regulars, are after the insects they can snap up. To start with I thought they were winter visitors only - until I found the remains of nests in the autumn. Clever little birds, they obviously keep a low profile when they are nesting.
A grey warbler's nest
The tui have been nesting here all along too, and making a song and a dance about it. Now I know what that sound loud buzz of wings overhead is about when I'm hanging out my washing. It's a 'keep clear of my nest' warning. Then two years ago rather dramatically a tui nest fell down and the chicks had to be rescued, which mother tui was quite happy for me to do. You can read about this in an earlier blog Tui Chick's in the Garden.
Two of the rescued chicks in the nest 
The Garden Bird Survey was very helpful when it came to deciding which birds I should include in my book In the Garden which was published in 2013.

 Looking at this year's preliminary results, I would have been tempted to include bellbirds and grey warblers, as the numbers reported have increased over the previous years. Three times as many grey warblers were reported compared to the last two years - see Landcare's interactive graphics that show where a particular species was seen around the country. But it's not as simple as taking numbers reported without looking at other factors too, like region and garden type. I was interested to read about the Number-crunching challenges that the Landcare scientists discuss when looking at tui numbers. So I'm looking forward to reading more as the results are processed and of course taking part again next year. Meanwhile I'll be paying attention to who's here in spring and summer too.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Rainbow of Fungi on a Mid-year Walk

This year our fungi hunt was delayed to June. An autumn without rain meant the usual outburst of colour from the ground and trees didn't show until nearly winter.

Now that its wet and cold enough, those magical fungi have appeared. Some are the fairy kind of magic - charming rings and fairy fingers, bright rainbow of pouches and waxgills, the perfect blue toadstool.
purple pouch fungi, wax gill fungi
wax gill fungi, finger jelly fungi
blue-green potato fungi, blue pinkgill fungi
Then there's the other kind of magic -slimy extrusions, jellies, dark mouldery toadstools, puff balls that let out eerie clouds of dust and evil smelling stinkhorns.

stinkhorn, unknown fungi webcap fungi, puff balls
When I look them up in field guides, our finds read like spells or incantations.

Brackets, caps, pouches, balls, fingers, corals, 
baskets, nets, horns, slimes, moulds, inkcaps, helmets, 
earth-stars, bird's nests, woodtufts, potatoes

L-R T-B shaggy inkcap, bird's nest fungi, basket fungi, Bondarzewia
Here are some of the fungi we saw on our winter tramp into the Orongorongo valley.
spindle pouch
 helmet fungi
another type of puff ball
Scarlet pouch (top) and something else!
orange porebracket
a puff ball
a bracket fungi

I added all the finds from the walk on Nature Watch.

I've used a couple of field guides and books to try to learn more about fungi:
A Photographic Guide to Mushrooms and Other Fungi of New Zealand by Geoff Ridley, photos by Don Horne - the most comprehensive and the most useful as it has 136 species, unfortunately the binding makes it hard to flip through in the field, it just won't lie flat.
Some Common Fungi at Mount Holdsworth by Di Batchelor - a nice little overview that explains the different kinds of fungi lifestyles.
Nature Guide to the New Zealand Forest  by John Dawson and Rob Lucas published by Godwit Press - mentions some of the common fungi, but not enough to really help with identification on a nature walk where so many are seen.

Many thanks to my tramping friends who have shared their photos with me. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Finalist in Children's Book Awards - Under the Ocean

Great news - Under the Ocean is a finalist in the New Zealand Children's Book Awards.

Image from Booksellers NZ

The awards are a celebration of publishing and the diverse list shows that children's publishing in New Zealand is in great shape, with a wide variety of topics, authors, illustrators and publishers.

Best news of all is that authors are invited to participate in a tour of schools and libraries in early August. I can't wait to take part, especially as it was our tour of schools in 2013 that gave Ned and I the idea to create a book about New Zealand's sea life.

The award ceremony will be on 13 August. Under the Ocean will also be featured in the Wellington Storylines Festival that will be held later in August, so Ned and I will have a busy month promoting our book with children and parents

For parents, schools, libraries and booksellers - here are some ideas for Tips for Reading Under the Ocean with Children and you can also find some craft ideas and useful links on my Pinterest board - Explore NZ Sea life.

Congratulations to the other finalists and many thanks to the judges.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Seeing Plants with New Eyes - learning the language of plants

Gillian Candler reviews the NMIT Plant Identification course

An informative guided walk at Otari/Wilton's Bush last year spurred me on to join the local Botanical Society. I’m a children’s author so sometimes take a childlike view of things, I get excited by Hen and Chicken’s Ferns
Hen and Chickens Fern
and Puriri moths in Putaputaweta trees, I love the statuesque Wheki-ponga that look like people wearing cloaks and I delight at discovering hanging orchids.  But listening to members of the Botanical Society I often feel like a stranger in a foreign land who can only say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ in that language, a good conversation being out of the question.

In order to master the language a bit better, I decided to enrol in a Plant Identification course run by NMIT (Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology) for the Department of Conservation. I had already completed some of their Conservation Field Skills courses so was confident the course would be good. The 2-day Plant Identification course is free and is held at different venues all around the country. I opted to do the course in Ohakune/Raetihi and a friend travelled down from Auckland to join me. Of the fourteen participants 9 were from DoC and the rest like me were volunteers in conservation projects.

Our tables were strewn with leaves and cuttings, so even in the ‘classroom’ most activities were hands on and involved us in plenty of discussion. The clever course design catered for beginners as well as those with patchy or developing knowledge. Our text was the helpful and well illustrated “Introduction to Plant Life in New Zealand: Plant Conservation Training Module 1” from NZPCN (New Zealand Plant Conservation Network). 

We made several trips to the Raetihi reserve - an ideal learning venue because of the variety of plants. Among stunning tall rimu and kahikatea, coprosmas and wheki-ponga, weeds abounded. 
Course participants dwarfed by wheki-ponga
 One participant cried out in horror at all the weeds saying all she could think of was how much work there was to do here, “but I know’ she said “I need to use different eyes today - not my weed eyes”. After we’d finished our leaf treasure hunt my friend said she’d never realised there were so many different leaf shapes, ‘the scales have fallen from my eyes” she joked.
Leaf treasure hunt

I too, felt that I was seeing things with new eyes, describing a leaf in detail pushed me to look and look again, each time seeing something new, whether it was how the leaf was attached to the twig, the leaf underside texture or the shape of its tip. Some of the challenge lay in regional diversity. The kohuhu (Pittosporum tenuifolium) here looked different from what I’d seen in Wellington and a ‘mahoe-like’ tree which I felt sure wasn’t mahoe because the leaves didn’t look like mahoe in my garden, turned out be a narrow-leaved or mountain mahoe (Melicytus lanceolata). Both instances a good reminder to keep an open-mind when trying to identify plants - and keep describing the detail.
Melicytus lanceolata - lanceolata describes the shape of the leaves

This course provided me with the language help I’d been looking for (even if it means I might need to cart my textbook around with me for awhile!) and a framework for going about the business of plant identification. The tutor Beth Endres from NMIT had the skills to manage our diverse backgrounds and levels of knowledge, and keep the course flowing. The other participants were all keen, interested and interesting, as they all brought different knowledge and experiences to the table. They helped make this an exceptional experience. This is the best course I’ve done in recent years and I thoroughly recommend it to other amateurs and volunteers wanting to improve their plant knowledge.

Other useful links:

New Zealand Plant Conservation Network http://nzpcn.org.nz/

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Cool Visit to NIWA's Sea Critter Collection

Ned (illustrator of the 'explore and discover' books) and I were excited to be invited to NIWA along with the wonderful people from the Wellington Storylines Family Day committee. There we met with Sadie Mills, a deep ocean specialist who is in charge of the NIWA Invertebrate Collection.

Sadie telling us about the collection
Invertebrates are creatures without backbones, these include - corals, octopus, sea stars, crabs, shrimps, worms. Fish, birds and mammals all have backbones, so you won't see them here, but there are shelves and shelves of lots and lots of weird and wonderful invertebrates.
'What's in this jar?'
None of the animals here are alive, they've all been preserved in alcohol or dried out, so while it's not quite like seeing a live animal in its habitat, it is the closest we might get to some of them since we are not marine scientists.
Ned's fascinated by this many legged critter.
The collection has to be kept cool, so we didn't take off our coats!
This brittle star has hardened into this shape.
I was excited to see some king crabs, they live in the deep ocean so no chance I'd ever see one of these alive. But seeing them here gives a sense of scale, they are huge compared to the crabs we see on the rocky shore.
Two king crabs
There are over 300,000 jars here, and scientists are adding to the collection all the time as new species are discovered. The collection is used by scientists who are studying the creatures and things in the collection are loaned to museums for exhibitions. The size of the collection is overwhelming to visitors like us, but NIWA staff also post on the Critter of the Week blog and on Facebook, which makes it easy to see some of the most interesting things in the collection.

We are looking forward to the public getting a chance to see some of the collection for themselves along with our books Under the Ocean and At the Beach at the Wellington Storylines Family Day later this year.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Tips for Reading With Children - Under the Ocean

To help children, parents and educators get the most out of my books, I've written down ideas for reading each book, activities and further places to get good information. These have been on the publisher's website, but a recent revamp means these pages are temporarily inaccessible. So for now I'm putting these ideas on the blog.

Tips for Reading Non-Fiction With Children

  1. It's okay to read a book just the way it's written cover to cover!
  2. On the second (third or fourth!) read, or the first if the child needs a bit of encouragement to stick with a book, get them to look a bit closer at the pictures and talk about what you're reading.
  3. It's great to get them showing you things, "where is the octopus?" Also ask open questions, ones that don't have right or wrong answers "What would it be like to be swimming through this reef?".
  4. Think aloud as you read, "I wonder what will be hiding in the rocky reefs?"
  5. Show them how to use features like the glossary or index. "I wonder what 'echolocation' means? Let's look it up in the glossary." "Shall we see what other pages have information about penguins? Let's look in the index."
  6. Follow up reading the book to find out more about something that interested them, see ideas below for how you might do this.
Reading Under the Ocean at the Festival of the Elements
Learning More About the Ocean
Ocean life can seem quite hidden and hard to observe, perhaps its the very secretive nature of the ocean that adds to the fascination children have with marine life.
There are some easy ways to get to know more about New Zealand’s ocean.
  • borrow books or DVDs  from your local library
  • find YouTube channels that are dedicated to ocean life, you’ll be amazed what you can see online
  • take binoculars with you when you go to the beach or go out on a boat or ferry
  • visit aquariums and museums
  • find and read Maori legends associated with the sea, such as about, Paikea the whale rider
  • if you have an iPad or iPhone download the free “Moana - My Ocean” marine life App from Auckland Museum to help with identification
  • join a local project such as, Marine Metre Squared, a beach clean up or making penguin nesting boxes
  • in Under the Ocean, we decided not to use the term ‘continental shelf’. The Open Ocean pages 12-15 describes animals that live over the continental shelf, ie the open ocean but still close to New Zealand. The deep ocean picture on pages 16-17 is beyond the continental shelf. For more about the depth of the sea around New Zealand and some interesting pictures and diagrams see http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/sea-floor/media.
Moana - My Ocean App
Do some hands on activities
Some internet sites - mostly these aren't written for children, so your child might need help using them
www.kcc.org.nz Kiwi Conservation Club - content here is written for children
www.teara.govt.nz Te Ara - The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz/ New Zealand Birds Online
www.marinelife.ac.nz/ marine life database
www.marine.ac.nz Marine Centre at Otago University, including Marine Metre Squared project
www.marinenz.org.nz/ Marine NZ information portal
http://www.sealiontrust.org.nz/ New Zealand Sealion Trust
http://www.bluepenguin.org.nz/ The Blue Penguin Trust
http://yellow-eyedpenguin.org.nz/ Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust
http://rileyelliott.com/ Riley Elliott Shark Scientist
http://squid.tepapa.govt.nz/ Colossal squid information
http://www.whaledolphintrust.org.nz/ NZ Whale and Dolphin Trust
http://taputeranga.org.nz/ Friends of Taputeranga Marine Reserve
http://www.octopus.org.nz/ Island Bay Marine Education Centre
http://www.niwa.co.nz/  NIWA water and atmospheric research

http://www.mollusca.co.nz/ New Zealand shellfish

A few ideas for educators
Under the Ocean can be linked to these parts of the curriculum
Te Whariki
Strand 5: Exploration
Goal 4: Children experience an environment where they develop working theories for making sense of the natural, social, physical and material worlds.
The New Zealand Curriculum: Science
Nature of Science
Investigating in Science, Communicating in Science
L1-2 Living World
Students will:
Recognise that living things have certain requirements so they can stay alive
Recognise that living things are suited to their particular habitat
Recognise that there are lots of different living things in the world and that they can be grouped in different ways.
L1-2 Planet Earth and Beyond
Students will:
Explore and describe natural features and resources
Some classroom resources
For assessment and teaching ideas see:
Science Online
Science Learn
Department of Conservation
http://www.doc.govt.nz/getting-involved/for-teachers/ for marine reserve field trip ideas and resources