Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Alaska Raptor Center

Growing from a backyard, volunteer-run operation, the Alaska Raptor Center has become Alaska's foremost bald eagle hospital and educational center, as well as one of the state's premier visitor attractions.
Each year, the Alaska Raptor Center provides medical treatment to 100-200 injured bald eagles and other birds. The goal is to release the patients back into the wild; some, however, are injured so severely they could not survive in the wild even after rehabilitation. These birds may join the Raptors-in-Residence, providing excitement and education for more than 36,000 annual visitors and for the 15,000 schoolchildren we reach through the Adopt-A-Raptor program and Classroom Presentations around the country.

The Alaska Raptor Center's 17-acre campus borders the Tongass National Forest, a temperate coastal rainforest, and the Indian River in Sitka, Alaska, and features award-winning natural habitats for our 19 Raptors-in-Residence.

Calling all students and friends.... visit the Alaska Raptor Center webpage at www.alaskaraptor.org and help me decide which raptor our class should adopt. After looking at the birds available for adoption, post a comment and tell me which bird you want to adopt and why.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Expedition Continues!

The next stop on our adventure was Sitka. Sitka was once the home of the Tlingit people. Then, in the mid 1700’s, Russian fur hunters entered the area. Sitka’s location provided a great port on the outer coast of the Pacific Ocean. For a while, Sitka was the largest city on the Pacific coast of North America! This bustling, trading town became known as the “Paris of the Pacific”! When the USA purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, the exchange ceremony took place in Sitka. Today, the charming town has about 8,000 year round citizens. Commercial fishing is the main industry of Sitka.

While we were visiting Sitka, we were able to visit the raptor rehabilitation center. This center takes injured raptors and birds and rehabilitates them. Many are released back into the wild. Some; however, are unable to leave the center. These birds make the center their home. We were able to see many of these birds. How amazing to be so close to a bald eagle! I am hoping join the “adopt a raptor” program with my amazing 5th and 6th graders! What do you think??

After departing Sitka, we headed for Ketchikan. Ketchikan is just north of the Canadian border. It is known as the “Salmon capital of the world” and relies on fishing as its main industry. Other industries include gold and copper mining and tourism. Ketchikan is an island community, accessible only by land and water. The city lies between mountains and the water, it is a couple of blocks wide and 14 miles long.

While in Ketchikan, we visited the Saxman Totem Park. We were able to watch master carvers make totem poles. We also saw some native dances performed by some native children!

Our last stop on this amazing expedition was Victoria, British Columbia. Our visit in Victoria was a short one. Joe and I enjoyed a great dinner at a waterside restaurant and then a stroll around town before returning to our floating home. Our evening was spent packing and getting ready to return to our beloved Alabama!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Amazing Alaska!!

What an amazing trip this has been! We have learned SO much, seen SO much, experienced SO much! The weather has been so perfect! Alaska has about 288 days of rain each year – we are; afterall, in a temperate rainforest! But, we have not encountered any wet weather the entire trip! (Except for the “Alaskan snow” that Steve made last night at the dinner table!)

So far, we have visited Glacier Bay, Juneau (the capital of Alaska), Sitka, and Ketchikan. Each stop along the Southeastern shore of Alaska has each own fascinating history, charm and character.

Glacier Bay is a huge waterway. Two hundred years ago, Captain George Vancouver observed this area to be a large open bay, blocked at its Northern end by a giant wall of ice. Since then, the ice in Glacier Bay has slowly receded, uncovering a new waterway 65 miles long containing many fjords and inlets. While observing the Glacier Bay area, we witnessed the “calving” of this massive glacier and we saw some wildlife as well!

In the late 19th century, A Tlingit Chief (native American chief) led two prospectors to a creek that emptied into the Gastineau Channel. After just a few hours, Richard Harris and Joe Juneau found gold! That discovery changed the course of history! On October 4, 1880, Harris and Juneau laid claim to the area. They named the area Gold Creek. The discovery was one of the largest finds in the Klondike Gold Rush.

Juneau is nestled between Mount Juneau (3,576 ft.) and Mount Roberts (3,819 ft). These mountains give the town not only beautiful scenery, but also a natural protection against the cold winds and permafrost experienced in other areas of Alaska.

While in Juneau, Joe and I visited the Mendenhall Glacier. Mendenhall Glacier is part of the Juneau Icefield. Juneau Icefield is home to over 40 glaciers. Mendenhall Glacier is 13 miles from downtown Juneau. The Glacier is 12 miles long, 1.5 miles wide and more than 100 feet tall.

Another great adventure in Juneau was a whale watching tour. We were blessed to see over 24 whales! We got to see mother and baby whales! We saw many whales breaching, and we saw whales bubble netting. Besides seeing whales, we also saw steller seals and even an eagle! The eagle flew right over the top of the boat. It was SO close, I could even see the eagle’s eye! The tour group was invited to attend a salmon bake at Orca Point Lodge. We were served fresh salmon and all the fixins!

Another post will by up shortly!!! Can't wait to see all my Alabama friends and family!!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Greetings from Alaska!

Greetings from Alaska!  Alaska means “the great land” and boy is it ever great!
This great land is a vast, rugged, and stunningly beautiful chunk of county!

Alaska is HUGE!  It is nearly 586,000 square miles.  Alaska contains more coastline, more lakes, more streams and rivers, more National Parks, more wildlife refuge, more natural resources, more forests, more glaciers, and more wildlife that any state in the Union!  Even with all is vast landscape, its population is the smallest in America.  There are only about 650,000 people who call Alaska home.  Alaska is not a very easy place to live- long, dark, cold winters, a high cost of living, and isolation make living in Alaska a challenge!
There are six distinct areas in Alaska.  Each share common ethnic and cultural heritage, common geographic features, and common histories.  The six areas are:  the Arctic, the Western Peninsula, the Interior, the South Central, the Aleutian Islands and Southeast Alaska.

The area I am traveling in and exploring is Southeastern Alaska.  This area is also known and the “panhandle”.  It is an odd looking appendage that hangs down along the coastline south of the main body of Alaska.  This area is bordered by the Gulf of Alaska to the west and British Columbia to the east.    The Tongass National Forest is located in this area of Alaska.   This is the largest national forest in the country.  It is over 17 million acres and takes up most of Southeast Alaska. 

This amazing area is one of the most geologically active places on Earth! There are more earthquakes, more volcanoes, more glaciers, and more mountains than anyplace in North America.  We will talk about how this all came to be during our study of the “Sphere of Earth” and plate tectonics in both 5th and 6th grades this year! 

Alaska’s location on the globe means long daylight hours in the summertime.  Lots of daylight spurs lots of vegetation growth in the summer on land.  It also encourages lots of algae (plankton) production in the water.  This makes this area an awesome habitat for many forms of wildlife!  We will learn much about habitats when we study ecosystems and food chains during the school year. 

Joe and I are on a cruise ship named the “ms Oosterdam”.  It is part of the Holland America fleet. This ship is our “taxi” through the Tongass National Forest.   The ship is 736 feet long and 105 feet wide.  It holds nearly 2,000 guests.  The ship is like a small city on water.  There are guest rooms, restaurants, shops, movie theaters, auditoriums, swimming pools and even a basketball court on board!

Boy, are we having a great time!  The food is amazing and abundant!   The entertainment is exciting! The classes and lectures by Steve Spangler and our naturalist, John Scheerens are very interesting.  The photo options are un-ending.  Everywhere we look is picture perfect!  

Sunday, July 17, 2011


STS-135, the final voyage of the United States' Space Shuttle Program is underway and the shuttle is currently docked with the International Space Station.  Wiregrass residents will have two good opportunities to see the shuttle this week. 
  • Wed, 20 July at 548am, the Shuttle will zip across the Southeast sky.  Look for it at 129 degrees azimuth and a relatively low, 33 degrees elevation.  The shuttle and ISS will be moving from right to left. 
  • The best view this week will be Fri, 22 July at 529am.  The Shuttle will be in the ESE sky almost directly overhead.  Look for it at 108 deg azimuth, 84 deg elevation.  Shuttle and ISS will be moving from right to left.
If the weather is good, don't miss this opportunity.  If you do spot the Shuttle and ISS, be sure to leave a message in the comment field of the blog that we can share with others.  Thanks and Good Luck!

Getting Ready to Depart from - Seattle, Washington

On Saturday, Mrs D and son Joe (a senior at Carroll High School, an Auburn fan, and yet very much a Texan) kicked off the Science at Sea adventure with Steve Spangler in the port city of Seattle.  After a "tough" day of experiments, demonstrations, and fellowship with other educators across the US, Mrs D and Joe took in the sights of Seattle including a visit to the top of the Space Needle, constructed for the 1960 World's Fair.  They also sampled some of the fantastic local food. 
As of midday Sunday, they are preparing to board the Oosterdam by 4pm PDT and will be underway soon!

Follow Mrs D on her trip to Alaska

Mrs D and Joe are beginning the Science at Sea adventure cruising on the ship Oosterdam.  Click on this link then go to the small window labelled "track history" (at the top of the page) and change the number to 6 or less to see where the ship Oosterdam is located.   
Where in the World is Mrs D?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

How Do Scientists Know Where Whales Travel?

Humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy traveling to Hawaii.  Researchers in the Aloha state recently spotted a humpback whale, one that is regularly seen in and near Glacier Bay National Park Alaska.  In fact, this particular whale has made the annual trek from Alaska to Hawaii (2700 miles !) for at least 21 years.
The whale, dubbed #875 by researchers, was spotted on March 15, 2011, by researchers from the Hawaii Marine Mammal Consortium, including Glacier Bay National Park's whale biologist Chris Gabriele. Gabriele recognized #875, a whale regularly seen each summer in Glacier Bay and the waters just south of the park known as Icy Strait.
Click this link to read some really cool facts about humpback whale #875 TRAVELS OF WHALE 875 - COOL STORY
Each whale can be identified by the unique black and white pattern on the underside of their tails, or more properly: flukes.  When a humpback whale dives, the tail rises into the air showing a distinct shape and coloration unique to each whale.  Checkout this website to learn more and to see a catalog of nearly 2000 flukes!  ALASKA HUMPBACKS CATALOG
Researchers use photographs to tell a story about each whale.  This story, or sighting history, documents when and where each whale has traveled.  These findings are used to determine movements of individual whales, who they are traveling and feeding with, when a female has a calf and how many whales use these waters to feed. By compiling thousands of these sightings, we have improved our understanding of the natural history and biology of humpback whales. 
Credit and thanks to NationalParkTraveler.com and to AlaskaHumpbacks.org

Monday, July 4, 2011

Think Like a Scientist ! (How Can You Be Bored? Go Build Something !)

Hovercrafts are vehicles that ride on a cushion of air.  No, these are not boats, not aircraft or helicopters, they ride just above the ground or water going where other vehicles cannot and in many cases they are able to travel at high speeds. 

So how does a hovercraft work?  Fans force air under the vehicle creating a high pressure pocket of air that "floats" the vehicle.  A specially designed "skirt" retains most of the air - allowing it to seep out a bit at a time.  Meanwhile, the fan continues to force air under the vehicle maintaining the air cushion.

The propellers you see on top of these boats are additional fans which propel the hovercraft forward.

Want to make your own hovercraft?  It's easier than you think - in fact, with a few items from home, you'll be able to fabricate your own device that rides on a cushion of air.  Checkout this YouTube video for instructions!! How to Make Hovercraft at Home

GW Long students - want to receive a prize on the first day of class?  Bring your assembled toy hovercraft and a one page report about scientists who pioneered and improved hovercraft.  Include at least one photo of a modern day hovercraft that you like.

Enjoy the 4th of July with your families - Happy Independence Day !