It was raining all day today in the Nashua River valley and it was close to freezing so the streets and sidewalks were icy. I almost didn’t go for my daily bird-count at the local park, but by 3:30 the rain had tapered off a bit and I headed out. And I’m glad I did, because if I had stayed in I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of seeing a pair of Hooded Mergansers, one of the most spectacular birds in North America. I only had a pocket camera with me, but it was enough to get a recognizable documentary photo:
It’s an old adage of research that if you don’t look, you won’t see. In science or scholarship of any kind, if we know in advance what we’ll find, then we’re not really investigating. One of the pleasures of natural history as a basic subject is that you never know what you’re going to discover. But you won’t discover anything unless you go out and look — even if it’s cold and raining — and that’s an important little lesson for your students.
Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) are small fresh-water diving ducks with serrated bills that help them catch fish and other aquatic prey. They occur over most of North America in lakes, ponds, and rivers, but they tend to be somewhat reclusive and usually avoid populated areas. You’ll find them on page 46 in your recommended River Houses bird guide (riverhouses.org/books). The adult males are boldly pattered and have a striking black and white crest that, when raised, makes their heads look almost completely circular. The two birds I saw were both adult males, and even in my distant pocket-camera photo you can clearly see their mostly folded crests as well as their striking golden eyes.
So even if it’s raining, or snowing, or hot, or windy — go out and look. If you don’t, there may be wonderful things that you’ll never see.
What natural discoveries have you made in your homeschool lately? 😊
❡ Homeschool birds: We think bird study is one of the best subjects you can take up in a homeschool environment. It’s suitable for all ages, it can be made as elementary or as advanced as you wish, and birds can be found just about anywhere at any season of the year. Why not track your own homeschool bird observations on the free eBird website (eBird.org) sponsored by Cornell University. It’s a great way to learn more about what’s in your local area and about how bird populations change from season to season. 🐦