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Outdoor Mom’s Journal – December

Outdoor Moms Journal Nov and Dec 2016 @handbookofnaturestudy

Where has the time gone? I was looking back in preparation for writing this entry and realized I never did a November installment of the Outdoor Mom. It certainly wasn’t because I haven’t been outdoors! Our November and so far this December have still been very conducive weather-wise for getting outdoors and exploring.

Red leaves and blue skyOne thing that may have interfered with writing it all up for the blog is the fact that we have been doing some renovations on our home…kitchen and master bath mostly. But, now we are mostly done with that and I can turn my attention back towards sharing our outdoor exploring. (I already posted about our 3 Questions Nature Walk if you are interested in reading that entry.)

Winter Berries collage

If you follow me on Instagram, you have probably noticed our weekly hikes and my images of things right in my own yard. I rarely stay indoors all day no matter the weather. The one thing about this particular time of year is that any color really pops out at you as you venture out and this collage of berries images illustrates this well. Don’t forget…berries attract birds so watch for birds wherever you find shrubs with colorful berries!

Stellers Jay in the feeder
I snapped this image of the Steller’s jay in my feeder. He was swinging around on it so it was hard to get a clear image but you can see his brilliantly blue feathers in this one.

I also started the Project Feederwatch counting in November. This is my sixth season of counting birds for this citizen science project and each year it brings such joy to my heart as I anticipate the arrival and sojourn of so many beautiful birds. This is a way I can give back to the birding community there at Cornell University. My life is better because they share their knowledge and experience with me via the internet.

Would you like to see my list of birds? Here you go! These are the high counts for each bird and we certainly don’t see these all in one day at our feeders but the count has taken place since 11/18/16 so that would account for the variety of birds on the list.

Pigeon – 5
Mourning dove – 2
Anna’s hummingbird – 2
Northern flicker – 5
Black phoebe- 1
California scrub jay (new name!) – 2
Oak titmouse – 2
Western bluebird -6
Northern mockingbird- 1
European starling -6
Cedar waxwing -25
Dark eyed junco -9
White crowned sparrow -6
Spotted towhee -3
House finch -5
American goldfinch -2
Steller’s jay – 1
White breasted nuthatch – 2
Bewick’s wren – 1

 Project Feederwatch button

Bird Sleuth button
There is a wealth of birding information on the internet but I have not found a more homeschool-friendly site than the ones sponsored by Cornell University. I would love to encourage you all to subscribe to their homeschool blog (click the logo above to pop over there now).

You can also follow them on Facebook .
You can download homeschooling resources here.
Of course, my favorite resource is their AllAboutBirds website which is a great tool for identifying and learning more about birds in your own neighborhood.

I would love for other families to join ours in watching your feeder birds. It is super easy and you just need to devote a few minutes a week to getting to know your feeder birds one bird at a time.
So what have you been up to this month? Join me here by commenting or leaving me a link to your blog entry.

 buckeye in autumn

Outdoor Mom’s Journal

Whether your family spends a few minutes a week outside or hours at a time, share what is going on in your world.

How Do You Join?

Answer all or just one of the prompts in a blog entry on your own blog or right here on my blog in a comment. If you answer on your blog, make sure to leave me a link in a comment so that I can pop over and read your responses.

  • During our outdoor time this week we went….
  • The most inspiring thing we experienced was…
  • Our outdoor time made us ask (or wonder about)…
  • In the garden, we are planning/planting/harvesting….
  • I added nature journal pages about….
  • I am reading…
  • I am dreaming about…
  • A photo I would like to share…


Outdoor Hour Challenge Plans for Sept 16 to March 17 @handbookofnaturestudy

You can use the free monthly newsletter along with the Handbook of Nature Study book for your nature study. Adding a membership gives you access to the Ultimate Naturalist Library’s ebooks and printablse which provides members with even more in-depth studies each month.

Read more about it!

Birds of North America Notebooking PagesBirds of the World Notebooking PagesBirds - Basic Study Pages

These are affiliate links to products I have used and love.

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Creating Wildlife Habitat


This is the time of year that the rewards of creating a wildlife habitat are coming clear as the insects, birds, reptiles, and mammals visit our yard each day. There seems to be someone enjoying the space at all times. I hear buzzing and chirping during the day and see signs that someone has come to drink water and dig around in the leaves at night. I even have seen where some deer have been sleeping around on the side of our house. My husband saw a fox one evening and I heard an owl in our tree.

Creating a Wildlife Habitat Collage

The yard is so alive and full of surprises each day.

I highly recommend the creating of a wildlife habitat that fits your local area’s wild residents.

The National Wildlife Federation website is a wealth of information on how to create your own habitat, step by step. Read this article about creating a wildlife habitat in your own yard. There is also a short video to watch:

Once you certify your garden online, you can order a flag or sign to proudly display in your yard. I ordered the classic sign and we mounted it near our front walkway. Here are all the signs available: National Wildlife Federation Sign Shop.

Wildlife Habitat PlanWould you like a free printable plan for creating your own Wildlife Habitat? I created one for you to use as you access your yard for the four elements you will need to become certified.

Download and print yours here: Wildlife Habitat Plan

For more information, use this link to the National Wildlife Federation: Certify!



I wrote an entry a few years ago about the making of our own wildlife habitat. This entry mostly shows our backyard and how we planted things and arranged the yard to accommodate a variety of wildlife. Read more about the specific things you need to create a living space in your own yard: Making Your Backyard a Wildlife Habitat.  You may find this entry helpful: Birdwatching 101- Attracting Birds with feeders and plants.

Front Yard Wildlife Habitat

Here is another entry that shows the transformation of our front yard into a more wildlife friendly habitat: Frontyard Remodel.   We have since added a mason bee house that you can read about in this post: Mason Bee House. Here is an entry that shows our frontyard in all four seasons: From My Window.


Winter Garden For Wildlife Part 1: This is mostly about the plants you can add to your yard to make a winter habitat for wildlife.

Winter Garden for Wildlife – Part 2: This post will give you simple ideas for attracting and sheltering wildlife in the winter months.

Finch in the Sunflowers

You may wish to read this entry: Gardening For Birds. In this entry, I share how I have added specific plants to attract and nourish our backyard birds.

Now that summer is here, you may be spending more time in your yard or garden. Take a few minutes to observe any wildlife that visits! Use the printable above to make your wildlife habitat plan soon and then go over to the National Wildlife Federation website to get certified. Then, proudly display your sign and tell your neighbors about the program so they can participate too.

Have you thought about creating a wildlife habitat?










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Keeping a Bird Life List

10 Ideas for a Bird Life List @HBNatureStudy

Bird watching is an active sport. With each new bird you identify you are inspired to get out and look some more! The life list is a simple way to not not only encourage your young birder but also to help them view birding and nature study as a life long habit. Creating a life list is an extension of your time outdoors that helps your child learn how science can be documented and analyzed over a period of time.

Keeping a life list of birds is a simple project. It can be kept in a variety of ways as shown below.

Bird Life List 10 Ideas @handbookofnaturestudy

Ways to Keep a Bird Life List

  1. On paper – in a journal dedicated to keep track long term.
  2. In a book – there are log books specifically created for keeping a life list. Here is the one we have used: Bird Log Kids: A Kid’s Journal to Record Their Birding Experiences.
  3. Back of a field guide – in the back of many bird field guides there is a place to record your life list.
  4. On the pages of a field guide – I have seen people make a note with pen next to the photo or the illustration of each bird they observed right in the field guide.
  5. Notebook page- there are notebooking pages from various sources (including the one below) that you print and keep in a binder as an on-going record.
  6. Online – there are websites specifically dedicated to keeping a birds life list (like e-bird which is an app for your phone as well).
  7. Online- I have discovered several people who create a Pinterest board sharing their life list (like this one Bird Life List).
  8. Computer spreadsheet – some people take their field notes and consolidate them on a spreadsheet on the computer.
  9. Checklist – Find and print a bird list for your local area. Use this as a checklist as you observe each bird, recording your observation data right on the checklist.
  10. Your own cards – Create a field guide card for each bird on your life list (use my printable and idea).

Special Activity:Life List Printable

Bird Life List Printable
I have attempted to create a Life List Printable that will be flexible for you to use in your nature notebook. Your list can be as detailed as you wish. Things to include: Date and Time of Day. Location. Gender. Weather. Bird Sounds. Number of birds seen.

Additional resources:
Printable Checklists by Country or Region (updated the link with one that should get you started)
Bird Nature Journal Ideas – from my archives

Learning About Birds 3D coverYou may be interested in the Learning about Birds ebook available here on the Handbook of Nature Study. If you have an Ultimate or Journey level membership, you have access to this ebook that covers every single bird included in the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock.

Handbook of Nature Study Ultimate Naturalist Library

Also I am highly recommending that you purchase the Bird Bundle from as a great supplement to your study of birds using the Outdoor Hour Challenge. Note: These are affiliate links.

All About Birds Basic Study Notebooking Pages
Birds of North America Notebooking Pages

Use code discount5 to save $5 on any purchase $10 or more from the Shop. (This does not include membership purchases.)

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Great Backyard Bird Count 2015 Results

February Blossoms
This year the Great Backyard Bird Count fell on a perfect spring-like weekend. We have had warm temperatures and loads of sunshine, causing the trees and flowers to burst open with color and fragrance. This was great for all of us humans but it seemed to lower the numbers of birds we typically see during this citizen science event.


We participated on two of the four days and here are our results.

Great Backyard Bird Count 2015

  • Anna’s hummingbird 1
  • Titmouse 2
  • Western scrub jay 3
  • Crows 2
  • Spotted towhee 2
  • Juncos 2
  • Pine siskins 2
  • White-crowned sparrows 1
  • Mockingbird 1
  • House finches 9
  • Northern flicker 1

A total of 26 birds. (Of note, we haven’t counted a single House sparrow in months at our feeders as part of Project Feederwatch. Where have they all gone?)

The week before the count we had 8 inches of rain and 102 birds that visited our feeders and yard, including approx. 50 Cedar wawings, a Nuttall’s woodpecker, and 10 robins. Quite a difference!

Here is a link to last year’s results: 2014.

I created my nature journal page as part of the Once a Month Nature Journal Project featuring one of the robins I watched right outside my window in the pyracantha berries. The suggestion was to create a page that recorded something you saw out your window.

American robin nature journal
Once a Month Nature Journal Project for February

I also had some time to create a notebook page entry for the Northern flicker. The Outdoor Hour Challenge a few weeks ago was to watch for a flicker in your yard or neighborhood. I actually saw three flickers one day when I was driving over to my parent’s house. I love seeing them flash in front of me with their colorful underbellies. You can find the challenge here: Outdoor Hour Challenge – Flickers.

Flicker Nature Journal Page

I know people are going to ask me so I will link the Cornell bird coloring book for you to download: Classroom Feederwatch-Cornell Bird Coloring Book.

I hope you had a chance to count birds this year!

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Crows, Ravens, and the Great Backyard Bird Count

Raven @handbookofnaturestudy

We have had some changes in the birds that frequent our feeders and our neighborhood. Here are a few of my observations and thoughts.

1. We are seeing more ravens than crows these days. It isn’t unusual to see three ravens flying over the yard, landing in our tall evergreens right at the top. They sit there and make their CRONK, CRONK sound and then a gurgling. They are so much larger than the crows we have had in the past. I’m not sure what the reason is for the change but it will be interesting to see the numbers during the Great Backyard Bird Count. If you would like to do a really easy study and comparison of the raven and the crow, I highly recommend this page on All About Birds: Crows vs. Ravens.

2. We haven’t had any house sparrows in our feeders since last spring. Where did they go? We still have white-crowned sparrows and fox sparrows but the distinctive sweet song of the house sparrow is absent. Should I be sad at their disappearance? Is it only a temporary thing, perhaps having some connection to the drought we are experiencing? Only time will tell.

Great Backyard Bird Count 2015


I invite you to mark February 13-16, 2015 on your calendar and plan on participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count at least one of the days. We have participated in this citizen science project for many years, keeping a record of the birds that come to our yard during the count period. This activity started us on a long term quest to learn all of the birds that come to visit us, learning their names and habits.



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Monterey Monarch Habitat…and More

Monterey 17 Mile Drive Oct 2014 (15) Monarch Habitat
Somehow this post got started and then never finished or posted. I think it was just waiting for me to have some important reason to share it….today is the day. 

Way back in October I visited Monterey and Pacific Grove (California) for a wedding with my son and we had a few minutes to stop and check out the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary which unfortunately didn’t have any monarchs yet.
Monterey 17 Mile Drive Oct 2014 (17) Monarch Habitat

We walked around and looked in the trees and along the trail but not a single butterfly to see. We were just too early in the season.

Monterey 17 Mile Drive Oct 2014 (18) Monarch Habitat

Yesterday, I read an article from the Washington Post on monarch butterflies. The title had caught my eye, “Activists seek endangered status for monarch butterfly”. The article reminded me of our visit to the sanctuary and nudged me to actually finish and post this for you to enjoy.

Monterey 17 Mile Drive Oct 2014 (19) Monarch Habitat

Did you know that over the past 20 years, the monarch population has fallen by as much as 90%, according to the Center for Biological Diversity? I find that statistic shocking! The reason for the decline is partly because of dwindling supplies of milkweed along the thousands of miles of their migratory route and the illegal deforestation of their winter habitat in Mexico. Of course, the monarch butterflies that overwinter in Pacific Grove face their own perils. Reduction in the groves of coastal trees that provide cover and the reduction in native milkweed are of major concern to the California migration of monarchs.

Monterey 17 Mile Drive Oct 2014 (16) Monarch Habitat

The Xerces Society website has a list of things we in California can do to help the monarch butterflies, including the planting of milkweed and participating in the Thanksgiving Monarch Count. The results for the 2014 count are available here: Data Western Monarch Count. Shocking numbers!

I hope you take some time to educate yourself about the seriousness of this issue. Resolve to share this information with your children so that they know how important it is to conserve not only the local milkweed habitat but to encourage others to do the same.

What would the world be like without these beautiful creatures? Sad day if we lose these special insects.

Monarch Butterfly in GardenWe have monarch butterflies come through our garden….we have tried unsuccessfully to grow milkweed but I am determined to give it a try again this year!



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Great Backyard Bird Count – 2014

What? The Great Backyard Bird Count
When? February 14-17, 2014
Who? Anyone around the world…
How? Count birds in your yard and at your feeders. Report the data to the Great Backyard Bird Count

Need so more information?
Great Backyard Bird Count

Video: Great Backyard Bird Count

Sign up for the free eNewsletter from the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Get prepared with printable checklists for you area…by zip code or town name.

Print out and color some bird pages.


This is going to be a year to compare I think since our weather is so very different and our landscape is still very dry and brown. I will be sharing updates here on the blog and a wrap-up post later in the month. If you are participating, leave me a comment and tell me your favorite bird.

What is your favorite backyard bird?

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Handbook of Nature Study – February 2014 Newsletter

Handbook of Nature Study Newsetter Feb 2014 button

February 2014 – Citizen Science

This is a topic that you are going to love reading about in this edition of the newsletter. I am a huge fan of getting children involved in science at a young age and making it fun and relevant. Participating in one of the many, many projects available to families will bring science to your home in a way that builds skills your children will carry into their future.

Contents of this edition of the newsletter include: 

  • Four new articles sharing citizen science projects you can participate in. Three additional articles reprinted from past newsletters on citizen science.
  • Encouraging article from a nature mom/soccer mom
  • February Study Grid and printable
  • Bird Study Grid – reprint
  • My Birdfeeder Journal – printable notebook page
  • Additional nature journal idea
  • Nature Photo of the Week favorites from January
  • Recommended study links

I have attached the newsletter download link to the bottom of my blog feed so if you are a subscriber you will receive the link to the latest newsletter at the bottom of every post for the month of February. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can still subscribe and receive the newsletter link in the next post that comes to your email box. You can subscribe to my blog by filling in your email address in the subscription box on my sidebar.

Note: You can download your newsletter from the link in two ways:


  • If your link is clickable, right click the link and then “save link as” to save the file on your computer.
  • If the link is not clickable, cut and paste the link to your browser, open, and then save your newsletter to your computer.


Nature Study Bundle Button

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December Nature Study Wrap-Up

Our December was filled with birdwatching. We had some exciting new birds and lots of old favorites.

Here is my list and then a few photos:
December 2013

  1. Anna’s hummingbird
  2. White-breasted nuthatch
  3. Western scrub jay
  4. Oak titmouse
  5. House finch
  6. House sparrow
  7. White-crowned sparrow
  8. California towhee
  9. Spotted towhee
  10. Junco
  11. Bewick’s wren
  12. American goldfinch
  13. Lesser goldfinch
  14. Mockingbird
  15. Northern flicker
  16. House wren
  17. Nuttall’s woodpecker
  18. Mourning dove
  19. European starlings
  20. Hermit thrush
  21. California quail – heard but didn’t see
Spotted towhee
House finch
Thinking this is a Hermit thrush-first time we have seen this and only in the snow.
Bewick’s wren
Anna’s hummingbird – at least three still at our feeders in December

Now a little something to inspire you…

I also finished my December nature journal entry for the extraordinary in the ordinary and December Grid Study. I cut some of the squares from the grid and then used them on my journal page. This is a quick and easy way to create a record of a variety of nature observations in a month.

We are definitely building a snowman birdfeeder again…it was so much fun for us and for the birds!

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Using Less Plastic – 2013 Recap and Plans

This year we made progress towards our using less plastics goal. I am going to share all of the links and ideas from previous posts, our continued progress on those ideas, and then outline my plans for continuing to use less plastic in 2014.
We started off in January making sure we use our reusable water containers more to cut back on our plastic bottle consumption. We are still using far fewer disposable water bottles but we could do even more in 2014.
We also made sure we had enough reusable grocery bags to use with our shopping. I have to admit that in the last few months I have forgotten my cloth bags quite a few times. I need to be much more diligent about getting the bags back into the car and remembering to take them into the store.

I have been better at not taking a bag if I can just carry the item from the store. This is something that is now second nature to me. It always surprises me when the clerk wants to put a single small item into a big plastic bag. I usually just take the item and hand back the bag.
I love my stuff bags and I have two of them now! I just need to really, really remember to pull them out and use them. I keep them in my glove box of the car so they are always with me when I am out shopping.
This has been the most consistent thing we have stuck with all year…using better compostable garbage bags. I am happy to say this is something that we have incorporated into our lifestyle. We also use less of them!
We use these all the time for lunches. My husband packs a salad every day and this container is the best ever. We loved it so much we bought two more so we all can make use of them when we are out and about.
We also purchased the soup container by Sistema and my husband is using that to take along hot foods in his lunch box.
We started off using the stainless steel containers quite a bit but I found that they are very heavy if I am carrying them in my backpack. If we are packing an ice chest to take in the car they work much better.

I have to say that we use very few plastic cups anymore. I don’t think I have purchased any at all since writing this post. We just reuse the ones we have or use alternative reusable cups.

Plans for 2014

I am hoping to switch over any of remaining plastic food containers to some like these glass ones. I think they will be better for storing and reheating leftovers. Of course these would only be for using in the home and not for taking out and about.

I have yet to start consistently using my reusable produce bags. I love them but it is awkward to pull them out at the grocery store for some reason. I need to get over it and just do it in 2014!

I know that I am still purchasing lots of plastic packaging for foods and consumer goods. It really takes some forethought and pick things with less packaging. Places I have cut back drastically are in convenience foods, juice, and cheese. I have lots of room for improvement and when I figure out ways to do so, I will pass on the tips.

How did your family do this year? Did you cut back on your plastic consumption?

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