Monthly Archives: October 2010

The Trashiest Graveyard

I teach a Junior Master Gardener class through a 4H club.  We’re called the Baldwin Botanists.

This month we are learning about soil, water and composting.  One of our projects was to bury trash for a month, then dig it up to see what, if any of it, decomposed.  We hold our classes at 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center and the folks there have allowed us to dig our “graves” this week.  Since there are plenty of raccoons around that will dig up good smelling things, we were given turtle boxes to cover our graves and loaded a couple bricks over the boxes for protection.  We buried: egg shells, a glass pickle jar with a metal lid, a potato, a crumpled piece of paper and a wine bottle cork (a real plant-based cork).

our trash graveyard

The burial was Wednesday October 13th.  We’ll dig up our trash in approximately one month.  Stay tuned for results.

Nature Notes 10-17-10: Birds, Butterflies and Beach

What an awesome,  beautiful day for a nature journey.

We started out early, the whole family, for a trip to Ft. Morgan. The Hummer/Bird Study Group ( sets up twice a year during migration to band migrant birds. We went last year and really enjoyed it. This year, my husband came along. If you go, they’ll be at Ft. Morgan through the 21st. As soon as you drive onto the property you’ll see a few cars stopped along the road. Park with them. The bird banders are set up on both sides of the road in the trees. We didn’t stay long but had the chance to watch a Cardinal and a Western Pine Warbler being banded, measured and weighed. I got to release the Western Pine Warbler. I just love it.

The Western Pine Warbler I got to release into the wild

This is the height of the Monarch Butterfly migration to Mexico. Our coastal area is the route they take year after year. There were a lot of monarchs today but I was told there were swarms of them last weekend. According to, our latitude of 30 degrees N would put the peak between Oct 12 and Oct 18; this week. Oh well. 

Two Monarch Butterflies resting in the grass

If you want more information on Monarch Migration and tagging the Monarchs, check out the Monarch Watch website. There is also great information on butterfly gardening.

Next we ventured to the beach. The Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge is so beautiful and peaceful. We walked around in the sand for a while, getting our beach exercise that we were deprived of all summer during the oil spill disaster. While there were tar balls to dodge and scrape off of our shoes after the walk back to the car it wasn’t as bad as I expected. Few people were at this particular spot but it is fairly secluded so I didn’t expect a lot. The sand was absolutely beautiful and white. I do hope the snowbirds don’t stay at home this year. They’ll miss out.
The temperature today was in the low 80s. The sun was hot (I got a little burn) but the air was clear and coolish; the perfect fall day.

Bon Secour beach

On the way home, we stopped at Pappa Rocco’s for a pizza lunch. Yum.

BirdFest 2010

Raptor Show:

American Kestrel

Red Tail Hawk

Great Horned Owl

Screech Owl

American Eagle with a deformed beak

An accidental hybrid

The highlight of BirdFest for us is the raptor show.  My son, Travis, is an owl fanatic so we like to attend this show; plus we can see up close some species we normally wouldn’t.

These birds are in captivity because they can’t live in the wild for some reason or another…a broken w ing, deformed beak, imprinted by humans since birth and many other reasons.  If you find a baby bird leave it alone.  Its parents are not far away and will do a better job of caring for the little one than you will.   Once they’re imprinted with you (hand feeding, etc) its chances of survival in the wild are slim so please leave it alone.  If it is injured call your local wildlife rehab center (keep their number in your cell phone) and they’ll take care of it.

BirdFest also featured art, a birdhouse giveaway, birdseed giveaway, crafts for the kids, birdhouse making (courtesy of the Boy Scouts), hummingbird plant sale, information booths of wildlife and conservation groups and lots more.  Across the street, the city of Fairhope hosted street art festival.

Once again, we enjoyed ourselves and are looking forward to next year’s festival.

A Trip to the Landfill

The boys and I took a trip to the Magnolia Landfill this morning with the Baldwin County Master Environmental Educators or MEEs. I’m an MEE volunteer for the county. The lessons we teach include the landfill, trash, recycling, water cycle stuff and so this morning we had a goal of learning as much as we could about how the landfills are made, how long they take to make (from the beginning dig to topping off the hill) and all that goes into it…literally. 

After a “class” with white-board visuals on how the landfill is made and an aerial view of the property, we all piled into a van and took a riding tour of the landfill. We saw were landfill gas is burned off and where the experimental station for turning landfill gas into wattage for energy. We watched a delivery of household garbage being unloaded onto a hill and the spike-wheeled tractor/compactor push the garbage around. After moving the trash, the vehicle then rides back and forth over the trash to compact it.

spiked-wheel tractor/compactor

We visited the site of yard waste that will eventually be turned into compost material, and we saw piles of large household items such as bikes, basketball hoops, refrigerators, metal bed frames and more.

birds attracted to the garbage

Further down the road we went to another location for only building materials. An entire mound, covered by dirt and grass, was dedicated to debris from Hurricane Ivan.

At any landfill, rain water will eventually go into all of the cracks and crevices between the trash and leaching out potential toxins.  To keep this from going in the water table, each section of the landfill is lined with several layers of fabric and plastic.  A drain sits at the lowest spot to collect water that eventually makes its way downward.  The drain forces the water into a water treatment facility on site.  That was the next location of our trip.  There were several pools of water, each themselves lined so the “leachate” (the contaminated water product) won’t leak out into  containment pools.  In these pools the water is treated and contaminants removed. 

a water treatment pool and the birds it attracts

It was a truly interesting trip.  The boys actually enjoyed it.  We had a perfectly beautiful day for such a trip: cool, dry air and a blue sky.  This landfill is number 19 on the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail.  There is a platformed observation deck for birders to the area.   Everywhere we’ve lived, the landfill has been one of the first places people tell me is a great local spot for birding.  With so much to see and learn about, a field trip to your local landfill is a great idea.

Fire Ants

Mobile, Alabama has the distinction of being the point of entry for the fire ants from South America. They either came aboard potted tropical plants or in ballast nests but they came and have conquered. I’m told that probably about 1920.

All of these years later, we still can’t get rid of this invasive pest. There are two kinds: red and black and they survive mostly in the south where the ground doesn’t freeze in the winter.

Our little family has lived in SC, NC, TX, MS, FL, AL. I grew up in Maryland where, as kids, we used to sit on the grass and play games; but living in the south my kids have never been able to do that. Instead, we find a table to sit at and play our games or just run around avoiding ant hills. Growing up surrounded by sand (at the beach) has helped my boys stay away from the ants, although some parks and playgrounds where they’ve mixed dirt and sand for some reason, or have placed sand over the dirt, you can find fireants. The beach is the best place to be able to run around barefoot or sit down and play.  But, sand has issues, too.  It sticks to you and sometimes my boys just don’t feel like being sandy. But the ants really can’t seem to dig and build in it so its a safe place to play.

As we’ve moved around we’ve encountered all types of soil which makes ant-spotting interesting. We’ve lived where, after a rain, ants pile their hills high along the highways and along the edge of the sidewalks. You always know where they are in that soil. Other places where the ground is harder or sandier or even made of clay, you need to be vigilant watching where you step. The hills don’t mound very high and you can miss a hill-spotting before the ants start attacking. In fact, in my yard today I noticed the mounds made by the tunneling moles (ugh, we have them) are higher than the two ant hills I found.

In South Carolina, since we didn’t want to use chemicals on our yard (a dog and 2 kids and chemicals don’t mix) our neighbors told us to pour grits on the ant hill.  We were told the grits would expand in the ants and kill them.  So, we did and watched to see how long it would take to go away.  Later that day we noticed another hill forming a few feet away made of grits.  We watched as the ants came out of a hole and placed the grits on the ground, making a new hill.  So much for that tip.  We also poured boiling water on the hills only to find out fire ants like the heat, that’s why they building hills along curbs and sidewalks which are typically hot during the day.  Chemicals are about the best way to get rid of them. 

Keep an eye out for ants; the sting is not pleasant.

Baldwin County Fair 2010

It was a beautiful day for the Fair, so we went.  Gary was working so it was just me and the boys.  We loved seeing the animals: chickens, ducks and ducklings, roosters, goats, cows and calves.   There were pig races which hadn’t started yet (I think that was an evening event), a petting zoo and two camels to ride for $5.  We passed on that. 


baby chicks


pig races

Inside the Midway, we just walked around to see what was happening.  We don’t ride carnival rides; we’ll do Disney and Universal Studio-type places, but not carnival rides.  It was fun to watch them. 

Midway rides


This ride looked scarey

We bought carnival food: snowballs, pizza and “fresh” lemonade; ran into some friends.  Travis saw a prize at one of the games that he just had to have, so I gave him a couple dollars to try.  It was a ring toss on wierd shaped pegs.  You never win those things but he was convinced he could get a back row prize: $20 bill or a video game.  He walked away with 4 Mardi-Gras type beads.  Oh well.

Trying to win the impossible

Inside the exhibit hall, we saw some friends from 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center.  They had their possum and skunk with them.   There were other exhibits: ribbon winners.  I only saw one white ribbon and one honorable mention.  Don’t know why they only earned those.  Seems everyone else got a blue ribbon; there were a couple red.  Most exhibits were horticulture or robotics.  Maybe the boys should enter some things next year in other catagories.  They’d probably clean up with blue ribbons.  They did well in the Sarasota County Fair.

The Baldwin County Fair does not participate with the 4H like other counties around the country do.  It’s a shame.  I believe the Fair could have so much more County involvement and more personality; there are a lot of clubs here.  4H does have contests for its members to compete but there’s something really great about exhibiting animals, art/crafts, and other things as a 4Her at the County Fair.  And, I’m sure there are families like us that don’t ride the rides.  More exhibits and entertainment during the day would make it more appealing.  For what the Baldwin County Fair lacks it was still a great day to attend; we got plenty of sunshine.  We only stayed less than 2 hours.  Should have been a full day of entertainment especially for a Saturday.

Fort Gaines and Squid Dissection

Friday we went, with a homeschool group, to Dauphin Island Sea Lab for a class on marine life. Getting there an hour early, we had time to go through Ft Gaines. It was really fun; we had such a gorgeous day I think being outside anywhere would have been fun, but we enjoyed the trip. There were tunnels to run through, hills to climb, paths, buildings to explore. Just when we got to the museum I realized it was time to get to the Sea Lab for our class, so we missed seeing most of the museum and about 2 more buildings but it was a great visit.

Ft Gaines AL

Ft Gaines AL

One of the Fort's tunnels to run through

The class was well done; the instructor went through Kingdom Anamalia and several phylla of sea creatures. He had a collection of preserved specimens of both vertibrates and invertibrates which was fun to look at and touch. The class ended with a dissection of a squid. My boys teamed up as lab partners and together removed the pen, the eyeball, the beak and opened the critter up. Inside they learned how to tell a male from a female (it was a boy) and found the hearts (3) and the ink. Before cleaning up they used the pen and the ink and tried to write. The tip of their pen was a little bent so it was harder to write with than some of the other student’s but it seemed fun anyway. Both boys had a blast.

Getting ready to dissect the squid

The pen; some people call it a backbone but squids don't have backbones. Who knows what it is?

The beak (the squid's mouth)

A little bit of eyeball, some broken tentacles, the beak, ink...

Cutting open the squid

 We walked along the beach before going home. There were several dozen hermit crabs within a few yards of our exploring. Every gastropod shell we turned over had a crab in it. Wish I still had my tank. I collected some sea glass: green and white pieces. We stayed on the beach too long to make a trip back to Ft Gaines before it closed. We’ll be back.

Dauphin Island beach