We set out to look for signs of mammals but good intentions were set aside when we spotted some wonderful butterflies along our hiking trail. I reminded myself that the best advice I always give is to follow interest and to be flexible if a nature study topic comes along that you can’t pass up.
We have long past our winter season anyway so last week’s Winter Mammal study not really a perfect fit. We had plenty of winter mammal observations when we saw the signs of beavers at our creek. We see scat all winter long just beside or in the middle of our walking trail. I have stopped sharing scat photos because it seems a little weird. I don’t want to be the “weird nature lady”.
So, our first subject of the day is this Mourning Cloak butterfly. We looked it up when we got home in our insect field guide and online. It seems the host plant for the caterpillars is the Black willow. I am going to check and see if what I remember observing in this area is a willow.I also read in my field guide that the edges can look a little “tattered” and that was the case with this particular butterfly.
We hiked down to the river, which was extremely low from lack of rain and snow melt, and we threw the ball in for our Kona dog. She never tires of retrieving the ball even when the water is cold. The sun was warm though and I sat on a big rock and felt the refreshing air and sunshine.
So how did this violet arrive here below the normal water line, in among
the river rocks? What a surprise to see its pretty purple blossoms!
Taking a break from swimming…love the pink tongue. She is one happy dog.
On the way back up to trail, I was able to capture another butterfly that we saw as we hiked. There were many, many of these flying around the area but managed to get a really good close-up of this one to share. This is a Pipevine Swallowtail. I did some research and found that this butterfly only lays its eggs on the Dutchman’s Pipe plant. I found after digging on the CalFlora website that this particular plant is found in the area we live in but I have never seen it. I am now adding it to my list of plants to look for during our travels.
One last image from our hike today. The dog went off the trail and disturbed some leaves…my husband spotted this snake all coiled up underneath. We came home and looked it up on California Herps and it appears to be a Sharp-tailed Snake. It was very small but bright red on top and black underneath. I am not a big fan of snakes but we will keep this one in mind when our spring snake study comes along.
Although we set out to look for signs of mammals and we didn’t find any to note, we feel like we were a success in keeping our eyes open for interesting things to learn about as we hiked.
I hope you get outside this week to look for something to share alongside your children.
I challenged myself to hiking four new trails this year and we are excited to share the very first one with you because it was such an awesome hike! My husband and I had an afternoon to spend together last weekend and he picked the destination. We packed up a few snacks and filled up our water bottles, traveling light. The sun was hot and had the feel of late spring/early summer….I made sure to put on sunblock and secure my hat before setting off on the dusty trail. Northern California doesn’t stay green very long in the spring so I will share with you my green hills while I can.
Our new trail at a familiar spot..the Down and Up Trail at Cronan Ranch. The Bureau of Land Management has a huge section of this foothill property down to the river set aside for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. We opted to hike…I love the slow easy pace that we take and the ability to easily stop and take photos of all the amazing sights.
The rolling foothills give way to a river canyon about two miles from the parking lot. Now you can see why this particular trail is called the Down and Up Trail. The gentle ups and downs make it interesting and around each new corner and on top of each new hill there is another sight to take in as you go along. The soundtrack is birds in the distance, slight breeze blowing over the grasses, and the buzz of bees and other flying insects.
We usually hike the Long Valley Trail but this time we heading up hill and along the ridge. The Fiddlenecks are in full glory and I kept trying to pick just the right spot for a photo. This view is looking up from the trail to a hilltop oak….so very Sierra Nevada foothill in flavor. This IS my habitat.
There were many, many butterflies flying and landing on the wildflowers along the trail. Some places had so many that I thought they were going to fly into my face as I hiked. I don’t complain about dodging butterflies because I love them so much.
There are some magnificent oaks in this part of California and we could hear and see woodpeckers as well as swallows flying over and around the trees. I dream of having a home with a huge old oak on the property. I love the shape of them and the smell of the hot oak leaves in the sunshine is a wonderful fragrance…one you don’t forget.
I wondered about snakes as I climbed up on the rock for a better view and to take a few photos. I also stood on the top of this rock for a long time having some FaceTime with my daughter who is living in Bolivia…the reception was perfect up there on the rock and my daughter got to see some of the view that she has been missing.
Then we hiked down the trail and I saw unusual metallic bugs on some grasses and I stepped off the trail to investigate. As I stepped back onto the trail my husband starting yelling at me that there was a snake. A snake indeed! It was a huge rattlesnake and it was stretched out across the trail…I hopped over and out of the way and the rattler moved quickly up onto the hillside into the grass. A little way down the trail we saw a much smaller snake but he was a gopher snake…much to my relief. We think this rattler is a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake.
We made it down to the river at last and I took off my shoes to cool my toes. We had a cool drink and watched the whitewater rafters float by and on down the river. It was so refreshing! Two hikers came along as we rested and we told them about the snakes…showed them some photos and swapped snake stories. I love the camaraderie of hikers who share their passions and interests. One of the guys told us of his sighting of a rattlesnake on the trail to Half Dome in Yosemite and we tried to decide how high in elevation rattlesnakes are found. We decided to look it up when we got home. (We read in our field guide that there is a rattlesnake that is found up to 11,000 feet in elevation.)
The water was high and there was very little beach so we opted to sit on the granite rocks and enjoy the sound of the water rushing by. The sun was hot but the water was still freezing…melted snow.
Back on the trail again we found a large area of lupine blooming, this one was in the middle of the trail. The bees were buzzing and it reminds me how much I love the purple and green combination.
Here are some more lovely wildflowers that were clustered along the trail.
I learned about the Monkeyflower a few years ago and now can spot it in the moist parts of our area. These were growing along a little moist ditch with just a bit of water and a bit of shade.
One more snake…snake number three was another gopher snake and he was quickly moving across the trail in front of us as we hiked up the hill. You can read and see the difference between a Rattlesnake and Gopher Snake on the CaliforniaHerps website.
And here is one last look at the trails from the top….left to the Down and Up and right to the Long Valley Trail. This is one of our favorite local hiking spots and there is one last trail to try before we have tried them all. (Don’t you love the panorama setting on my iPhone?)
The East Ridge Trail is on the list of things to do in May before it gets too much hotter. I will be glad if we don’t see any more snakes but I am anxious to explore a brand new area of this park. My goal for the year 2013 is four new hikes…one is accomplished and three more adventures to go!
Last week’s Focus on Reptiles and Amphibians challenge was to start a focus study of reptiles and amphibians in our local area whether that was actually going out and finding a subject to investigate or to use this week’s challenge as a preparation for a future outing. We were fortunate enough to have two different snakes cross our trail (literally) last week and for my nature journal I used the printable reptile notebook page from the Reptile and Amphibian Grid Study entry earlier this month.
I pulled out our field guides and did some research into our two snakes and recorded the information and a couple of quick sketches for my journal. Snakes are not my favorite nature study subject but it is helpful to know a little bit about these two common snakes that live in our area.
I started a “reptile and amphibian” section in my nature notebook and I plan on adding to it as subjects arise. I have a short list of things to research and record as I have time over the next few weeks.
Our first attempt at a tadpole/frog study was unsuccessful. We visited my dad’s pond and could not scoop up any tadpoles but we did get some great insect larvae to observe in the pond water sample. We brought them home in a bucket and used our pond field guide to try to identify them.
Edit to add: I was told this is not a Mayfly but a Damselfly so I will be off to do some more research….now you will understand why I say I should take Eva’s free entomology course down below. 🙂
Meet the Mayfly….which we learned are called naiads during their aquatic stage. (This is an image of a dead one I found lodged in my net.) They live in ponds, lakes, or streams for up to several years. They molt 20-30 times during that period of time. The most interesting thing about Mayflies is their short lifespan for adults- only a few hours to a few days, depending on the species. We actually observed an adult Mayfly that landed on my dad’s shirt while we were observing the pond. What a great insect to learn about!
Even if we didn’t find any frogs on this outing, we sure enjoyed our time just being outdoors at the pond.
As a sidenote: I think we need to take Eva’s Introduction to Entomology course that she is offering on her blog Academia Celestia. It is a free six week online course in a subject she is highly knowledgeable in and is passionate about. If your family is looking for a way to learn more about insects…click over and see it this would work for you.
We took a second trip to the local walking trail where I had observed some frog’s eggs earlier this month. Success! There were hundreds of tadpoles but I didn’t get a single decent image…the one below is the best I was able to get with all the reflections but if you look closely you will see some dark tadpoles swimming in the water.
We will continue to observe these critters in the weeks to come…easy to do since they are on the side of our usual route on the walking trail.
I highly recommend this Golden Guide to Pond Life. We have always been able to identify any creatures or plants we found at Grandpa’s pond using this simple field guide. Great beginning guide for young ones!
There are affiliate links in this entry.
Rattlesnake Video on YouTube….
My husband and I took a hike to the river on a glorious day last weekend. The grass was green, the wildflowers were amazing, and the sun was warm….perfect day for a spring walk through the Northern California foothills.
I was sort of worried about the possibility of encountering snakes but we were keeping a close eye out. I had stopped a few feet off the trail to look at some metallic insects on a wildflower stem. I was trying to get a really close look and then I stepped backwards to the trail. My husband immediately started yelling that he saw a snake….startling me and making me scream. The snake was right by my feet….a really big rattlesnake!
He pulled me out of the way and the snake moved across the trail over to the other side. I (of course) pulled out my camera and started taking a video. That is what you see in the video above….me still all shaky and out of breath capturing this huge old rattler as it slithers into the tall grasses but not without showing us his extremely long rattle.
We ended up seeing three snakes that day, one rattlesnake and two gopher snakes. Just in time for reptile month! So have you seen any reptiles in your area yet?
We have been blessed with many lizard sightings in the past few weeks. Just this past Sunday we saw four lizards on our hike and on Monday we saw three! They are all the same kind of lizard, the Western Fence Lizard. They look like little alligators with really big feet. They are super fast when they want to get away but many times they will sit on a rock in the sun like a statue and pose for the camera. These lizards made a great subject for the start of our Reptile and Amphibian Grid Study.
Here are a few of our images from these encounters.
Love the feet!
I have been keeping my eyes open, looking on rocks as we walk.
Here is what I gleaned from our reptile field guide and recorded in my nature journal.
From the family, Iguanidae
They are often found on rocks, on logs, in wood piles, and on rails and rock fences (confirmed by our sightings).
Females lay up to 25 soft-shelled eggs anytime between mid-may to mid-July, hatching about two months later.
Dormant in winter.
Diet consists of beetles, flies, termites, ants, and spiders.
Throat and belly are blue. (We have not seen this so we need to try to take a closer look.)
Range is the length of the Sierra, primarily in the foothills.
For our Amphibian Study:
We also found a spot that has a lot of frogs eggs…a small pool of water alongside our walking trail. We will be watching and waiting for tadpoles to arrive.
Outdoor Hour Challenge: This month we will be using the Reptile and Amphibian Grid Study from the April Newsletter to help us learn more about this interesting topic. Feel free to cut your grid to fit your nature journal or to customize your journal to fit your interests. Don’t forget that you can save the grid study for a future date if you don’t have access to any reptiles or amphibians for this month’s nature study.
Free Printable Notebook Pages:Reptiles and Amphibians Use these pages to help get your family started with good working definitions of both reptiles and amphibians. They also have a place to write any interesting facts you want to remember about these topics.
Getting Started Suggestion:
If you already own the Getting Started ebook, complete Outdoor Hour Challenge #2.Use your words to describe any reptiles or amphibians you observe this month. Learning new vocabulary is an important part of nature study and will help your children in their later study of any life science.
We have arrived at a study of reptiles and amphibians just in time for perhaps some spring observations of tadpoles, peeping of spring peepers, and the awakening of our more cold-blooded nature friends. Whether this study is of real-life subjects or preparation for future observations, I am confident that your children will benefit from learning more about reptiles and amphibians using the Handbook of Nature Study and the Outdoor Hour Challenge.
Contents of this edition of the newsletter include:
4 encouraging articles to help with your study of reptiles and amphibians
Contributors from India, Australia, and England – such a privilege to hear from so many kindred spirits from around the world
April Study Grid to help your monthly nature study
Show and Tell from OHC Participants
Recommended study links and field guides
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Spending part of my time in Florida immersed in nature study was a highlight of my recent traveling adventure. I prepared ahead of time by purchasing a wonderful book focusing on the Florida Gulf Coast. Wow! There was a lot to be excited about! My trip was specifically to Sanibel and Captiva Islands and then a few days in Naples, Florida. Getting the opportunity to explore a new to me habitat is thrilling!
Since my time was limited but I did have a sweet ride in my friend Tricia’s sponsored car from Kia Optima Hybrid, I wanted to have a general plan for our time outdoors. I narrowed it down to a couple of possibilities and we decided that we would visit Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. We started off in the nature center browsing the exhibits and then I asked at the information desk what they suggested we do to make the best use of our two hours that we had available.
They handed us a map and directed us to take the wildlife drive that wound its way through the refuge and would take about an hour and a half. They also suggested that we drive over to the Bailey Tract and look for gators there.
Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge
We followed their advice and thoroughly enjoyed our time driving along the one lane road through Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. There were many birds right by the side of the road so we could stop and observe or take photos as much as we wanted. What made it really nice was the fact that the Kia Optima Hybrid is super quiet while running on the battery. We did not scare away the wildlife turning the car on and off….it was awesome.
We saw a mama raccoon and her *four* babies as they walked along the road and then across right in front of us. The whole drive was full of wonderful discoveries like the Roseate Spoonbill and the Anhinga who was sunning himself. What a great time we had and so many memories were made in a short period of time! I was so glad I had taken the time to prepare a little before leaving home.
Alligator and other Reptiles at Bailey Tract
Tricia and I were hoping to see a Florida gator on this trip and we were not disappointed. Along the way we also were treated to many butterflies and a few lizards. I can’t tell you how much fun we had hiking out to look for the alligators. We found one lying in the sun, half in the water and with one eye open. Another item to check off my life list!
South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island
Sanibel and Captiva Islands are known for their fantastic shell beaches. As a native California girl, I have spent my fair share of time at the beach looking for shells, but shelling on these Florida islands is much easier and more rewarding. Tricia and I spent one afternoon walking in the sand, wading in the water, and collecting a few beautiful shells in the Florida sunshine.
Our view from our hotel room was out onto the marina and we saw dolphins a couple of times over the weekend. Two times I saw osprey with fish in their talons flying over the marina. There were nesting platforms along the back side of the beach and one morning I saw some osprey on the their nest. What a great sight!
The Beach at Captiva Island and an Osprey Nest
There were shore birds, skimmers, gulls, sand pipers, pelicans, and plovers. It was a bird fest for this nature loving gal.
Tricia left for home and I met another longtime friend at the second location I was able to explore. I stayed in Naples, Florida and was able to visit Corkscrew Swamp Sactuary. There are miles of boardwalks to investigate as they make their way through a variety of habitats. Slash pine and baldcypress were the main trees but there were some palms and saw palmetto too. The sound of birds singing and the cries of Red-shouldered hawks overhead were the soundtrack for the morning. We also learned to identify the Gray catbird by its call.
Epiphytes or Air Plants
We hiked the complete trail loop and took our time as we stopped to use binoculars and video to try to identify the various birds. There were naturalists out on the trail as well and they were super helpful in giving us information and help when we couldn’t identify a bird. This place was awesome and another place I highly recommend if you ever visit the gulf coast of Florida.
I was overwhelmed by all the things to take in…from the overall impression of the new to me habitat to the calls of some really big birds like the Great Blue Heron and the Anhinga. We saw more gators, squirrels, and more new birds to add to my life list like the Great crested flycatcher, the Pileated woodpecker, and the Carolina wren…all very exciting! I was able to use my iPhone to identify or confirm our sightings and then use the notes section on the phone to keep track of their names. Sometimes technology has its place in nature study and this was one time I was super glad to have it along.
Anhinga and Great Egret
One last stop on my whirlwind nature study adventure…the mangroves at Clam Pass Beach Park. My friend who lives in Naples was able to fit that into our day right at sunset. We walked part of the trail and then rode the shuttle the rest of the way…finding the sun just starting to set and people gathering to try to observe the infamous “green flash” at sunset. We soaked in the mangroves and I saw my first ever Blue jay (we have Scrub jays and Steller’s jays here in California).
Bald Cypress at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Florida
I am grateful for the opportunity I had to include some nature study and hiking into my trip to Florida. What a rich experience I had between the wildlife refuge, the beach time, and the time spent wandering the Florida swamps and mangroves.
I have already recorded my time in my nature journal….I did a quick sketch of the view from our window while in Florida and then finished it up at home with watercolors and details from my notes. I have the memories all tucked away in my heart and in a few good photos.
NOTE: If the challenge is included an ebook, it is noted directly after the challenge. If you have an Ultimate Membership, you will be able to pull up the ebook and print any notebook pages, coloring pages, or other printables for your nature study.
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Were there always this many snakes and we just never noticed them?
I kid you not….yesterday my son and I were were in the car and one block from our house there was a dead snake in the middle of the road.
At first we thought it was a fake snake because it was so colorful. I actually *turned around* and went back so we could get out and look at it. My son was shocked! He could not believe that I was going to actually go back and look at it up close. Well, I looked at it from the car window while he got out and took a photo of it with my phone. It was not in bad shape so it didn’t seem weird to take a photo. I really just wanted to go home and make a positive identification using the photo. I will spare you the photo this time. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons) The one we saw was much yellower in color than this one in the photo which made it very conspicuous.
Okay, so now in less than a week I have seen two of the common snakes from our list of snakes from our snake study. It makes me wonder whether they were always here before and I did not notice them. I have been left in no doubt this week of the value of nature study and learning about what is right in our own neighborhoods.
It is a good thing we are not studying mountain lions…..
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