Wednesday, January 16, 2013

one of these things is not like the other

we went back to cache creek for another visit.  we concentrated on some other topics this time, but did explore the changes we could spot due to the difference in seasons.
our gathering place.  perfect for hide-and-seek and exploring and table-work.
i enjoy trees in all seasons.  bare branches have a quiet, solemnly majestic stateliness about them. they project a silent awareness and confidence in the promise of spring and new leaves.

there's a display i missed before, about how aggregate from the area has been used for construction

it was a sunny, dry day, but prior precipitation made for marvelously muddy goings, and captured a multitude of tracks

our group started in the visitor center, where our senses were treated to an array of displays and touchable exhibits.  after a participative discussion about ecology cycles and food chains and webs and producers and primary & secondary consumers and decomposers, we got to look and handle to our hearts' content.  for the first time, diana got to touch an otter's pelt and remarked how now she could understand why people would want to wear fur - it was so thick and soft - even though she believes the original owner-animal needs it much more than a person with a variety of options to keep themselves warm.  she also had not realized how soft duck feathers could be and said that by touching them, it was clear to her why some people enjoy feather pillows and beds.

ancient valley oak

american beaver

great horned owl

you lookin' at ME?!

diana with her favorite, a barn owl, like soren, one of the characters in guardians of ga'hoole

the girls were amazed at the softness of feathers on the back of this duck's neck
we transitioned into a hike around the preserve area, stopping to observe the plants and evidence of animal presences and slip-sliding our way through muddy surfaces to see how the creek had changed.
california wild rose hips
horehound. i impressed myself by asking if it was a mint. turns out they are related.
i have no idea what this is but it was floating en masse near the water's edge and i fell in love right away. i want to have a fabric printed with it.
diana saw it in a different way, interested in how it connected and globbed together when disturbed by a prodding stick

i'm fairly certain this is tule

seeing this brightly-colored rock standing out amongst its companions really captured my interest
the kids waded (with boots) in this area back in september
our guide identified this as a raccoon track

cemeteries for trees
i can look at this happily with the understanding that little decomposers are at work
our docent guide recognized that some of us were ready for our lunch break after our hike, so he offered to give us time and space to replenish our bodies and attention spans before heading into the last topic of exploration, looking at beaks.

the demonstrations were simple, yet powerfully effective in communicating the hows and whys of bird beak and bill differentiation.  mark allowed us to look at the skulls of a variety of birds and then group them in ways that seemed reasonable based on the similarities and differences we observed.  besides the sizes, which were remarkable in an of themselves, especially that of a hummingbird, we took careful notice of the shape of the beaks and bills, comparing and contrasting the sharp, hooked raptor beaks, perfect for tearing apart prey; the tubular hummingbird beak, designed for sucking nectar; the long, slim beak of the egret (or heron), effective at poking into the water and grasping tasty morsels; and duck bills with their tiny side teeth for filtering fine particles.  we matched up common household and kitchen utensils and tools with the bird beaks and bills based on their design and function.

the long-beaked skull in the middle was a heron, if memory serves
these raptor skulls included two kinds of owl and a hawk
the group sorting and discussing turned to individual choice and action for the follow up.  pouring out an assortment of food-like substances onto plates, the young students were instructed to select a beak (tool) from among many different kinds and pick up as many pieces of food as they could.  they remarked on the ease (or difficulty) of using their tools and the size and shape of the food bits they could each acquire.  then, they chose beaks that they guessed would be the hardest to use and tested their hypotheses.  finally, they each picked a final, different beak to try out.

this was such a simple, well-conceived, and powerful set of exercises that i believe had more of an effect on our understanding of beak and bill diversity than any other course of study diana and i have undertaken.

in fact, i think the entire visit worked better in a small group of homeschooling compatriots than what we might do in a large class field trip or an individual visit because of the opportunity to offer and consider interesting questions and ideas with other people just as curious as we are.  we were not rushed or shushed.  there was plenty of space to accommodate a variety of temperaments and energy levels.  the thoughtful, well-conceived efforts of the people, particularly the volunteers, who designed and facilitated our experiences at cache creek were well worth it, and very, very much appreciated.


  1. looks like a great time and a wonderful resource. Thanks for sharing all this, Dawn!

  2. I love these photos! I especially love the barn and the last one of the girls. Beautifully captured!!

  3. That beak lesson sounds great. I love reading about a well-designed lesson.