Swords and Shutterbugs: Our Samurai Pixel Party Recap

After-hours at the Museum on March 1, we hosted one of our exclusive Pixel Parties — where we open select exhibits just for photographers (both amateur and professional). For our first event of 2015, we gave photographers access to Samurai: The Way of the Warrior.

And here’s a small sampling of what they gave us in return:

B. Tse photography

B. Tse photography

B. Tse photography

B. Tse photography

scscphotography

scscphotography

Roberto Valerio

Roberto Valerio

Alfred J Fortier

Alfred J Fortier

Nicholas Foster

Nicholas Foster

James Woody

James Woody

Alfred J Fortier

Alfred J Fortier

Arie's Photography

Arie’s Photography

sulla55

sulla55

Reed's Photography

Reed’s Photography

Bethany Tiner

Bethany Tiner

Dwayne Fortier

Dwayne Fortier

Randall Pugh

Randall Pugh

We couldn’t fit all the wonderful photos into this blog post. To see even more photos from this event, please visit our HNNS Flickr Group page.

Girls Exploring Math and Science 2015

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Last Saturday, we celebrated our 10th year of hosting Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS) at HMNS! Despite the questionable weather, we had a spectacular turnout! From underwater robots to photobooths, we had it all.

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The GEMS event includes two sections – community booths and student booths. Our community booths are hosted by local STEM organizations. They present STEM activities or demonstrations to young students and they talk about how they got their STEM careers. This year, the Subsea Tiebeck Foundation brought an exhibit called SEATIGER. It’s a giant tank containing an underwater ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) for students to learn about how STEM is involved with the offshore and subsea industries. GEMS also included fault line activities, polymer demonstrations, and astronaut dexterity challenges from some of our other community booths!

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In addition, GEMS hosts student booths. As a student booth, students present a project relating to science, technology, engineering or math to peers as well as adults. Every year we award the top three projects with prize money for their school, club or Girl Scout troop. This year we had some exceptional projects! Third place went to Girl Scout Troop 17492 for their project, The Human Battery. Like true scientists, these fourth grade girls had to reconstruct their experiment after their first attempt failed. Luckily, they reconstructed their experiment, and found an alternative way to power a battery using lemons instead! The second place team was another group of Girl Scouts, Troop 126005. Their project, POP! The Power of Programming, examined the intricacies of computer programming and each of the girls designed their own small program too! First place went to Jersey Voltage, the Jersey Village High School Robotics team. The team built a robot that could throw a ball, and they demonstrated their robots talent by playing catch with some GEMS participants! They plan to use their winnings to take their robot to a robotics competition in Texas or Louisiana!

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We hope that everyone that joined us at GEMS 2015 had a great time! If you took some photos in our smilebooth, you can see them here!

Join us at GEMS next year on Saturday, February 20, 2016!!

“On the Trail” Children’s Heritage Excursion

iStock_000010269280webJust in time for the rodeo, little cowboys and cowgirls can learn how the American cowboy shares ways of life with the Bedouin and the Native American. These nomadic cultures are featured when the Archaeological Institute of America, Houston, presents a “Children’s Heritage Excursion” on Feb. 28 and March 1, 2015 at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on the opening weekend of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.

“Heritage Excursions” developed by the Archaeological Institute features tours to cultural sites around Houston. We wanted to include children! We devised this particular tour so that families can visit three cultures under one roof at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

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As you enter the Museum, Saluki dogs will greet you to acquaint you with an ancient breed beloved by the Bedouin. Hands-on activities for children will compare the nomadic life of the Bedouin people to the Native American tribe of the Comanche and the Texas cowboy – two of the nomadic cultures of Texas. All three groups share similar needs of nomadic people such as portability of their belongings, tent shelters as protection from the natural elements, a need to hunt for food, and a reliance on animals for transportation and companionship.iStock_000001796814web

Be sure to arrive early! Early arrivals will have the chance to see a team erect the Bedouin tent at 9:00 a.m., the covered wagon being brought into the Museum at 9:30 and then watch as a Native American group erects the tipi beginning around 10 a.m. Attendees will really have an understanding of how nomadic groups traveled and what was involved in the creation of encampments.

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Celebrate the rodeo at the Museum!

  • Tour a Bedouin tent outfitted by the Saudi Consulate, a Native American tipi, and a cowboy covered wagon from the American Cowboy Museum to discover shelters. 
  • Excavate at prepared archaeological digs to discover how archaeologists learn about the past
  • Participate in crafts and science activities
  • Visit ‘cultural corners’ to see demonstrations of horse gear, cowboy roping, and Native American arrow head construction and drumming.
  • Discover animals used by nomadic groups for hunting and protection. See a raptor and pet Saluki dogs, a ancient breed and a living antiquity

Raptor

Dr. Carolyn Willekes director of the event is a renowned expert on the archaeology of the horse, particularly the Arabian horse. Dr. Willekes is in charge of educational outreach at Spruce Meadows in Alberta, Canada, one of the world’s largest horse shows and also participates in educational activities at the Calgary Stampede, one of the world’s largest rodeos.

This event is generously underwritten by Aramco Services Company
with additional assistance from the Royal Consulate of Saudi Arabia and the
American Cowboy Museum.

Mean green flying machines: the hummingbirds are here!

Photo by JC Donaho. http://jcdonaho.com/

Photo by JC Donaho. http://jcdonaho.com/

What was that high pitched chirping and flash of iridescent green that just whizzed past at lightning speed? You just got buzzed by a hummingbird! The fall migration is passing through Houston, and these feisty little birds seem to be particularly abundant this year. Houston does not have (for the most part) any resident hummingbirds, but a few species pass through in spring and fall as they fly between their nesting grounds in the northern states and Canada, and their wintering ground in Central America.

The northward spring migration is much more diffuse than the fall event – you may hear a hummingbird or two in February or March, but they don’t linger. However, in late August through September and into early October, hummingbirds can be very evident in Houston. These marathon travellers will pass through our area for about 4 to 6 weeks, stocking up on fuel to take them over the Gulf of Mexico to their winter abode. They are particularly abundant on the Gulf Coast, where inclement weather can force them to stay put until a more opportune time comes to complete the migration. Rockport, Texas hosts a huge “Hummerbird Festival” every mid-September, with lots of talks on hummingbirds and other birds, butterflies, etc., and home tours to see gardens that are particularly full of hummingbirds. It’s over for this year, but put it on your calendar for future years and check it out!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photo by JC Donaho http://jcdonaho.com/

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photo by JC Donaho http://jcdonaho.com/

Most hummers you see in Houston (and in Rockport) are Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Males are a metallic green with white bellies, and are named for the patch of dark feathers on their throat that glows a brilliant, iridescent ruby red when the sun hits it just right. Females and immature males do not have the spectacular throat coloring, and are white underneath. Some young males may have a fleck or two of red on their throat.

Two other species are sometimes seen here – the Rufous Hummingbird and the Black-chinned Hummingbird. Juveniles and females of these species are a little hard to distinguish from Ruby-throated females and youngsters, but the males are distinctive. Rufous males are a bright bronze color, with an orangey red throat. Black-chinned males are green with a black throat, below which, in the right light, a brilliant violet band will flash.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photo by JC Donaho http://jcdonaho.com/

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photo by JC Donaho http://jcdonaho.com/

Farther west, in the Big Bend area and west into New Mexico, Arizona, and California, hummingbird diversity is much higher. About 15 or so species are known from the USA, and most of these occur in the western states. For the apex of hummingbird diversity, head to the highlands of South America (e.g., Colombia, with about 140 species), where dozens of different species can be seen, some of them truly spectacular. Most of these are residents in the tropics and do not migrate.

 

Male and Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, slow motion, August 2010 from Hummer Lover on Vimeo.

All hummingbirds behave similarly. Masters of speedy, controlled flight, they can hover in place, move backwards and forwards, dive and soar with incredible speed and precision. They can reach speeds of up to 60 mph, their wings whirring at 80 beats per second. Males in particular are territorial and aggressive, cheeping furiously as they drive off rivals from a good food source.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photo by JC Donaho http://jcdonaho.com/

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photo by JC Donaho http://jcdonaho.com/

Hummingbirds’ main food is flower nectar, so they are important pollinators of certain species of plants. They especially seem to gravitate to red flowers, although other colors are visited. Their long thin beaks and even longer tongues allow them to reach inside floral tubes that are much too deep for most butterflies and bees. Since birds in general have a poorly developed sense of smell, flowers pollinated by hummingbirds typically have no scent.

Hummingbirds also eat small insects such as fruit flies and gnats, catching them on the wing or finding them inside the flowers they probe for nectar.

Bottle feeder with ant-guard

Bottle feeder with ant-guard

Because they love sweet fluids, it is easy to provide feeders for hummingbirds, and several designs are available. Hummingbird food is simple to make; you just need sugar and clean water. DO NOT use any other sweetener – including honey or other types of sugar –just your standard white table sugar. Use four parts water to one part sugar. Bring the water to a rolling boil, add in sugar and stir until it dissolves, then turn off the heat. Do not cook it too long or it will start to caramelize. Let the solution cool and you are ready to fill your feeders. Keep extra sugar solution in the refrigerator.

IMPORTANT! If you want to feed hummingbirds you must commit to regularly changing their sugar water food! Sugar water ferments and/or grows mold quickly, and when spoiled it can make hummingbirds sick. Since you will need to clean the feeders about every three days, do not fill them too full or you will waste a lot of sugar solution. Fill them from between ¼ to ½ full, at least until you see how fast the hummers empty them.

DO NOT add red food coloring, and avoid commercial solutions with food coloring. Coloring is not necessary, as most feeders have red parts built in to attract the hummers’ attention. Like spoiled sugar water, food coloring is bad for the hummingbirds’ health.

Every three days, even if your feeders are not empty, clean them thoroughly with hot water and refill them with fresh solution. At the end of the season you should sterilize the feeders either in the dishwasher or using a dilute bleach solution before drying and storing them until next year. I prefer to use glass feeders as these are easier to sterilize.

 

Perky Pet feeder

Perky Pet feeder

A few guidelines on feeder placement – hummingbirds are not at all shy, so you can put feeders near your house where you can enjoy watching their activity. I put one right outside my kitchen window, and hang others around my back yard, especially near trees or bushes where hummingbirds can perch between bouts at the feeder. If you put out more than one feeder (I recommend this!), don’t put them too close, and ideally place them out of sight of each other to avoid their being monopolized by one dominant male.

Salvia leucantha, aka Mexican Sage

Salvia leucantha, aka Mexican Sage

In a good season, you will have dozens of hummingbirds – and the more feeders, the more hummingbirds! I usually put out from 3 to 9 feeders, depending on activity. Of course, hummingbirds also visit flowers for nectar. The classic hummingbird flower is red with a long floral tube, but many others also bring them in. Some good choices are salvias (many varieties), hummingbird bush, coral vine, trumpet creeper, and russelia.

Salvia guaranitica, or Purple Majesty Sage

Salvia guaranitica, or Purple Majesty Sage

Of course, if you have outdoor cats, you should not put out hummingbird feeders or any other kind of bird feeder!

Did you know?

  • Hummingbirds are only found in the Western Hemisphere.
  • Hummingbirds’ jewel-like, glittering colors do not come from pigments, but result from the refraction of light hitting special structures on their feathers.
  • The Bee Hummingbird from Cuba, less than 2.5 inches long, is the world’s smallest bird.
  • The largest hummingbird is the Giant Hummingbird, from Patagonia, Chile. It is about the size of a cardinal, but only weighs half as much (about .65 ounces, or about 1/20th of a pound).
  • The longest hummingbird is the Black-tailed Trainbearer from Colombia. The male’s total length is about 10 inches, including its 6.5 inch tail!
  • The Sword-billed Hummingbird from Ecuador has a 4 inch long beak, almost as long as its body!
  • Check out the PBS Nature special on hummingbirds, “Magic in the Air,” for some amazing footage of these incredible creatures!