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Faster Than a Speeding Bird? Nope. By Author Elaine A. Powers

photo of bird vermillion flycatcher

After watching a man stalk a hummingbird through the Tucson Botanical Gardens for an afternoon, I wrote a book about photographing a hummingbird. Around and around the man went. The bird appeared to be intentionally taunting him. The man’s tale is told in the humorous book I call How NOT to Photograph a Hummingbird.

I have also spent a fair share of time trying to photograph hummers, but recently I expanded my chasing activity to another species. This bird flitted around the stalls where I board my horse. His bright colors contrasted with the tan ground and gray bars of the stalls. I whipped out my cell phone to get the shot. He flew off to another stall. I pursued. He flew. From stall to stall we went. The bird streaked away. No photograph obtained.

I was delighted when the bird returned the next day. The pursuit continued. Stall to stall without success. I gave up and haltered my horse for a walk. When we reached the turnout pen, there he was – posing at the top of a tree. Perhaps he felt this perch gave me the better shot, and he allowed me to complete my quest.

The magnificent bird pictured above is a male Vermillion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus), perched on a mesquite tree.

What happens to the protagonist in my book who is in photographic pursuit of a hummingbird? Buy a copy and find out! Some birds are worth your time – just like a good book. How Not to Photograph a Hummingbird also includes a glossary of Sonoran Desert flora and fauna for educational purposes. Making science fun is why Lyric Power Publishing LLC exists.

Colorful book cover illustrated with Anna's Hummingbird in The Sonoran Desert
This colorful picture book for all ages teaches about the Sonoran Desert—with a sense of humor. It pits one bumbling human against the desert as he carelessly attempts to photograph an Anna’s Hummingbird. Enjoy the chase as the photographer is tripped up by a rock, stabbed by a Mesquite tree and rattled by a Western Diamondback. Then use the glossary to teach about the rich variety of life in the Sonoran Desert. Humor makes learning fun and easy!

 

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January 21 is Squirrel Appreciation Day by Elaine A. Powers, Author

a gray and brown squireel sitting on a tree branch
An Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis in Corkscrew Swamp

I think squirrels are often maligned unjustly. People spend a lot of time and money trying to thwart them, but have you ever stopped to consider their ingenuity at overcoming the obstacles we put in their way? After all, they are just doing what they need to do to survive.

Squirrels are small to medium-sized rodents. They are native to the Americas, Eurasia, and Africa. They live in almost every habitat, from tropical rain forests to semiarid deserts. They are predominantly herbivores, eating seeds and nuts, but many will eat insects and even small vertebrates, as well.

Many of us interact with local tree squirrels, trying to prevent them from getting into our bird feeders. It’s amazing how much effort we put into attempting to out think these rodents—and then failing. The industry producing supposedly squirrel-proof bird feeders in quite sizable.

Here in the Sonoran Desert, I enjoy my ground squirrels, as well as tree squirrels. I think of their extensive digging as aerating my soil. I often head into my yard when I take breaks from writing. The little ones sitting up on their hind legs to greet me always makes me smile. I don’t discourage them from sharing in the feeders’ contents. I simply add a bit more for them.

I’ve written books about turtles and fish and tortoises and lizards and snakes and birds and plants—and even a fairy!—but not any mammals. No, wait! There is a mammal, a hutia, in Curtis Curly-tail Hears a Hutia, but I can’t think of any others. (A hutia is an endangered rodent native to the Bahamas that has endangered the local ecosystem. Readers of this Curtis-tale tag along on his adventure and then must decide how to solve this conundrum.)

Tomorrow, please join me in appreciating squirrels, those adorable, ingenious rodents. And consider picking up a copy of Curtis Curly-tail Hears a Hutia for the budding scientist in your family.

A book cover with a Curly-tail lizard riding on the back of a Hutia, a rodent
Curtis Curly-tail and Horace Hutia become friends after declining hutia are brought to Warderick Wells. But when the hutia damage the cay’s ecosystem, what will the scientists do? You, the reader, help them decide.
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Cute as a Button and by the way, Dec. 13 is National Day Of The Horse by Elaine A. Powers, Author

woman stands by brown horse, MIssouri Foxtrotter
Button is a wonderful Missouri Foxtrotter

Earlier this year, I wouldn’t have written about the national day of the horse. But this past summer, I did something inconceivable: I had never wanted a horse, yet I became a horse owner.

I just wanted to be comfortable riding around the Sonoran Desert. I was having trouble with stirrups, so some equestrian friends suggested I take bareback lessons. The daughter of an author friend became my trainer. I loved riding bareback. The connection between the horse and me was wonderful. We could feel each other as we moved.

My lessons involved two horses, easy-going Lady and stubborn Button. I always liked riding Button the best. I fit nicely on her (she’s only 14.2 hands) and I enjoyed the challenge. As the saying goes, “Calm seas do not a skilled sailor make.” She was stubborn, and I was determined.  I guess that comes from handling large, muscular lizards.

A couple of years into our lessons, we realized Button had chosen me as her human. I was honored. After that realization, I knew that if something happened and Button needed a new home, I’d be willing to take her. The next morning, my trainer asked me if I would take Button. She was getting married and couldn’t keep Button at her new home. Of course, I said yes . . .without even thinking. I am happy with my decision.

Future posts will feature my developing relationship with my special horse. As you can see, she really is as cute as a Button.

If you’d enjoy learning about the Sonoran Desert, and laughing as you do so, this fun story is for you:

Colorful book cover illustrated with Anna's Hummingbird in The Sonoran Desert
This colorful picture book for all ages teaches about the Sonoran Desert—with a sense of humor. It pits one bumbling human against the desert as he carelessly attempts to photograph an Anna’s Hummingbird. Enjoy the chase as the photographer is tripped up by a rock, stabbed by a Mesquite tree and rattled by a Western Diamondback. Then use the glossary to teach about the rich variety of life in the Sonoran Desert. Humor makes learning fun and easy!
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Which Raven is Which? By Elaine A. Powers, Author

closeup of head of a chihuanuan raven
See the white feathers? Only when the wind ruffles them!

Did you know there are two kinds of ravens in the Sonoran Desert? Ravens are one of my favorite birds: intelligent, caring, magnificent in appearance. I have wondered about the wisdom of a black bird living in the hot desert sun, but they are resilient.

Several years ago, a pair of ravens hung out around the building where I worked. I always enjoyed their cawing to me as I entered or exited and I wondered every time what kind they were. You see, the Sonoran Desert has two species of ravens: the Common (Corvus corax) and the Chihuahuan (Corvus cryptoleucus). They both appear black, including their eyes, beaks and legs, and they are about the same size. They both have a heavy, powerful bill for their omnivorous ways, eating anything and everything.

So, how do you tell them apart?

The Chihuahuan Raven (Corvus cryptoleucus) is a native of both the U.S. and Mexico and its former name gives a clue as to how to tell them apart: The American White-necked Raven is now known as the Chihuahuan Raven. But where is this supposed white neck? You certainly can’t see any white feathers when it’s perched or flying. You can only see the white feathers when the wind ruffles the neck. Only then are the white feathers underneath revealed.

I was fortunate enough to see the white feathers on one of the worksite raves. I had my answer–they were Chihuahuan!

And for a fun time learning about animals, Lyric Power Publishing offers workbooks and activity sheets on a variety of creatures. We don’t yet offer a workbook on Ravens, but we do have two workbooks about the Greater Roadrunner, one for Grades K-2 and the second for Grades 2-4. The covers below show the variety of activity pages included in the workbooks.

Thank you for stopping by LPP. We hope you’ve enjoyed this post and will also enjoy and benefit from our supplemental, educational workbooks.

A green and yellow book cover with image of Greater Roadrunner

a turquoise and yellow book cover with an image of the Greater Roadrunner

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Floating on My Back, I Watch the Sky by Elaine A. Powers, Author

Sky at dusk, so arizonaYes, there really is a bat in this photo.

You might have heard people say that in the Sonoran Desert, “It’s a dry heat.” Yes, there is very low humidity in Tucson, which makes the high afternoon temperatures comfortable–okay, tolerable. However, this also makes the overnight temps surprisingly cool. I enjoy swimming and am fortunate to have a nice pool. But I am a wimp when it comes to water temperature. The pool must be at least 88 degrees before I can comfortably swim at night. When those magical nights come, I enjoy watching the night creatures emerge, as the daytime inhabitants head to bed.

At dusk, I float on my back and watch the sky. The first to appear are the nighthawks with their distinctive wings crisscrossing in pursuit of insects. They are the Lesser Nighthawks, Chordeiles acutipennis.

A few minutes later, the animals I’ve been waiting for arrive: my favorite mammal, bats. As I quietly float, they swirl, swoop and circle around me . . . at a very high rate of speed. They are gulping insects. I wonder if I’m attracting some of the insects and that is why the bats speed around me. Occasionally, a bat touches the water–perhaps catching a quick drink?

I believe these are big brown bats. The “big” part is in comparison to other North American bats. I like them because they eat insects, especially around my house. I don’t have to put up bat houses to entice them, since they roost in my trees. I do have one that likes the side of my chimney. I am always delighted to see my bat neighbors.

I’m told I should include photographs of my blog subjects. I want you to know I tried, I really did. But, do you know how fast bats fly? According to the Desert Museum’s website, it is up to 40 mph. And they don’t fly in straight lines! I took about 30 pictures to get this one shot.

sky at dusk, so arizona, with bat circledThat gray smudge is a bat.

But I’m not disappointed. I get to enjoy them in person, every night, sometimes, floating on my back in my pool.

Now, that’s life!

For more information about bats, please see Lyric Power Publishing’s supplemental, educational workbook, My Book About Bats and Rats, Grades K-3.

a yellow and green book cover with an image of a fruit bat and a common rat

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Why Does the Tortoise Go Out in the Rain? By Elaine A. Powers, Author

a tortoise on wet patio
Heading out to catch some rain drops!

It’s the start of monsoon season here in the Sonoran Desert. When the rain begins to fall, the tortoise comes out of her den. Why? Is it because she’s afraid the water will rush into her underground den and fill it up?

No, she comes out because it’s time to drink. The desert tortoise finds a depression in the ground where the water collects. Then she drinks and drinks and drinks until her bladder is full.

I’ve tried putting out dishes of water for my tortoise, but she won’t drink from a source where the water is still.  Sometimes, I pretend to be a storm and rain down water from my hose.

It’s a truly wonderful thing when it rains in the desert. We should all be more like the tortoise and go out and drink it in!

Here I am reading Don’t Call Me Turtle! to Myrtle.

If you’d like to know more about tortoises, check out my rhyming book, Don’t Call Me Turtle! My tortoise, Myrtle, asked me to write about the differences between turtles and tortoises because everyone kept calling her Myrtle the Turtle. She’d finally had enough! She likes her book a lot, perhaps just a smidge more than my young readers!

A children's book cover, green with a tortoise standing, coming out of a circle, finger pointed, saying Don't Call Me Turtle

And check our our workbooks on tortoises and turtles at our Lyric Power Publishing Workbooks page. They are full of information, and have lots of fun activity sheets for kids (and adults like them, too, I’m told!) that help to pass the long summer days.

a yellow and green book cover with an image of a desert tortoise

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Reptiles in My Neighborhood by Elaine A. Powers, Author

In this post, I’d like to tell you about some of the common reptiles that live in my neighborhood in the Sonoran Desert.

Illustration of a Red Racer, or Coachwhip snake Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum cingulum) is a slender nonvenomous snake with variable coloring to help in camouflage. In Tucson, Arizona, coachwhips that are pink to red in color are called Red Racers. The pattern on the scales give the snake a braided look, like an old-time leather coach whip. Their large eyes provide good eyesight. In times of trouble, they prefer to rapidly slither away (considered one of the fastest snakes) but, if cornered, they will rise up, hiss, vibrate the tips of their tails to simulate the sound of a rattlesnake, and strike quickly and repeatedly.

The coachwhip is associated with several Western fables. One is that the snake bites its own tail to form a hoop, then rolls in pursuit of its prey. Another is that a coachwhip will chase a person, coil around him, and then lash him to death with its tail. The snake checks the person for life by inserting its tail into the person’s nose. If the person isn’t dead, the snake will continue the lashing.  Of course, none of these stories are true.

image of desert spiny lizard on a rock
Desert Spiny Lizard; Photo by Skeeze from Pixabay

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister) is a large, stocky lizard of southwestern Arizona. The male’s body features a purple stripe near the neck.

 

Illustration of western diamondback rattler
Illustration of Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

 

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) This snake is known for its distinctive rattle when threatened. The keratin rattle mechanism at the tip of the tail twitches up to 100 times per second. The dark diamond-shaped pattern on its back identifies this common Tucson rattler.

Rattlesnakes belong to a group of venomous snakes called pit vipers and are found in a wide range of habitats. The pits, located between the nostrils and the eyes, are used in sensing the heat of other animals, and are sensitive enough to detect a body only a fraction of a degree warmer than the ambient air. Rattlers usually hunt at night, preferring small nocturnal mammals. Rattlesnakes are important in controlling the populations of disease-carrying rodents.

If you want to learn about this fascinating snake, I recommend my picture book, Don’t Make Me Rattle! You’ll also find a 46-page Diamondback Workbook here, which is used by teachers, tutors and parents to supplement children’s educations.

image of children's workbook cover, with picture of western diamondback rattler and a listing of the activity sheets inside

A brown book cover, with a circle with blue sky, with a rattlesnake popping out of the circle, title: Don't Make Me Rattle

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I Grew Up with Snakes! I Can’t Help It! By Elaine A. Powers, Author

You might have noticed that most of my books involve reptiles. I am a biologist by profession, and I particularly like reptiles. My brother was allergic to fur, so growing up we had snakes. This was back in the days when television sets were always warm, so the snake’s tank sat on top.  The snakes were part of the family, being cuddled as we watched TV shows at night. I consider my current reptiles to be family members. They provide an endless source of inspiration for my writing.

image of a gray Sonoran Desert Tortoise on grass
Zoe, a Sonoran Desert Tortoise

When I was looking for a house in Tucson, the disclosure sheet listed an abundance of lizards. I don’t think they intended for this statement to be a selling point, but it was. All reptiles are welcome. In this post, I’d like to tell you about the Sonoran Desert Tortoise.

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai) The scientific name honors Joseph Morafka for his work with tortoises.

This tortoise has adapted to the extreme environment of the Sonoran Desert. The tortoise has powerful limbs covered with thick scaly skin for digging underground burrows, where it spends much of its time. It eats a wide variety of plants, including many that are indigestible to other animals. It feeds most actively during the monsoon season, and is dormant much of the rest of the year. The tortoise stores water in its bladder, allowing it to go up to a year without drinking.

Like other reptiles, as a defense mechanism, the tortoise will empty its bladder to discourage a predator. Unfortunately, this can deplete its water supply and result in death during a drought. For this reason, it is important to never pick up or interfere with a Desert Tortoise. The gravest danger to Desert Tortoises is human-caused mortality.

I have one of these awesome tortoises, Zoe, pictured here, who joined my home through the Tortoise Adoption Program, sanctioned by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. This program assists in the proper care of captive Desert Tortoises by qualified custodians, and since they have been in captivity, they can never be released.  Their behavior has been altered and they might expose other tortoises to diseases not known in the wild.

I had to have my yard approved to participate in this program. Did I have sufficient food, a proper hibernation den, any dogs that could be predators, enough vegetation to provide shade, as well as basking places in full sun, and would the tortoise be kept away from the pool?

I am honored to be allowed to foster Zoe.

Note: Elaine a. Powers became an author after contact with Curtis, the Curly-tail lizard in the Bahamas. Her first book was inspired by Curtis and is an adventure called, Curtis Curly-tail and the Ship of Sneakers.  And though Myrtle, a Redfoot tortoise is neither a turtle nor a desert tortoise, Myrtle asked Elaine to write about the differences between turtles and tortoises. So, Elaine did, in a fun book written in rhyme, beloved by young children. It is called Don’t Call Me Turtle!

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Imaging with Poetry by Elaine A. Powers, Author

An image of a typed poem, with the letters in the shape of the subject of the poem: the X of the roadrunner's footprint and how it confuses any evil spirits that are following.

I enjoy writing the rhymes for my picture books. I believe the flow of the language enhances the reading experience. Besides, rhyming makes science more fun. My illustrators create incredible images to complete the package.  Recently, I was selecting poems for an anthology.  I couldn’t use the text from  an entire picture book, so I was selecting stanzas that could stand alone.

In one of the craft workshops, I learned about positioning the words to enhance the poem’s content.

For my poem about the X-shape of roadrunners’ feet, I decided to try to paint an image with the words. 

What do you think? Does this make the rhyming more fun?

A colorful image of the orange setting sun, clouds and rainbows, along with roadrunner "spirits" chasing the roadrunner of the American Southwest, who gets away because his footprint is directionless.
The rhyming verses and vibrant images of Don’t Make Me Fly capture the reader’s interest and make learning about science interesting and fun.

Elaine A. Powers is the author of science-based children’s books. The “Don’t” Series includes Don’t Make Me Fly, about the Roadrunner, a favorite siting of those residing in the American Southwest.