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Outdoor Hour Challenge: Poison Oak Nature Study

Brand New! Outdoor Hour Challenge

Poison Oak Nature Study

I raised my four children in California. Poison oak was always a part of our outdoor time together. Whether it was hiking a favorite trail, or just visiting grandparents, poison oak was just a part of the landscape. It was very important to me that my children could spot poison oak and avoid any contact as much as possible.

Here is something you can teach your children:

Leaves of three… let it be!

Use this week’s Outdoor Hour Challenge to prepare your family for a possible encounter with poison oak in your future.

Outdoor Hour Challenge Poison Oak nature study

Gather some facts about poison oak:

  • Read about poison oak in your field guide or online here: Poison Oak.
  • Here’s a printable information sheet about poison oak: USDA Poison Oak.

Make sure to look at the images so you can easily identify this poisonous plant during your outdoor time. As an alternate study, you could learn about poison ivy instead.

See the Creepy things ebook for more poison oak nature study ideas, videos, and printables!

Please note that I will not be posting the complete challenge here on the blog. You’ll find the detailed challenge in the Creepy Things ebook that’s available both in the Ultimate Naturalist and Journey level memberships. Sign into your account and download the ebook for the details, more links, and notebook pages.

Download a sample from the Creepy Things ebook here: Banana Slug Nature Study.

Creepy Thing Ebook Cover image

We will soon be finishing up this Creepy Things series of nature studies and starting the Autumn Nature Study (2015 edition) ebook. It hardly seems possible that it’s time for the new school year to begin. But, I’m anxious to welcome all of the new families that will be joining us on September 4th.

Join Us Ultimate Naturalist June 2020It’s not too late to purchase a membership and become a part of the Outdoor Hour Challenge.

2020 to 2021 plan graphic with ebook covers2



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Brand New! Outdoor Hour Challenge-Rabbitbrush Nature Study

Forest Fun – Rabbitbrush Nature Study

Brand New! Outdoor Hour Challenge

Our habitat here in Central Oregon is filled with lots of rabbitbrush. Use a field guide or the link below to determine if you have access to rabbitbrush in your neighborhood.

  • There is a range map found here: USDA rabbitbrush.  Look for rabbitbrush in grasslands, open woodlands, dry open areas with sagebrush, among junipers, and at the edges of ponderosa pine forests. Bloom time is from July to October.

Rabbitbrush collage

Note: If you don’t have rabbitbrush, you can substitute a study of goldenrod this week.

Outdoor Hour Challenge  Rabbitbrush nature study

Please note that I will not be posting the complete challenge here on the blog, but you will find the detailed challenge in the Forest Fun ebook that’s available both in the Ultimate Naturalist and Journey level memberships. Sign into your account and download the ebook for the details, more links, a coloring page, and notebook pages.

Forest Fun ebook cover graphic

We are working through the Forest Fun ebook which is a brand new series of nature studies featuring things you might find in the forest. It’s not too late to join us by purchasing an Ultimate Naturalist or Journey level membership.

Topics in this ebook include:


Skunk Cabbage


Common Raven

California Quail

Western Tanager

Black Bear





Join Us Ultimate Naturalist November 2019

If you don’t have a membership yet, you can click the graphic above and join today for immediate access to the 24 ebooks and so much more! Remember that all levels, even the Discovery level membership, include access to all of the archived newsletters!


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High Desert Habitat Resources and Ebook

High Desert Ebook cover graphic
Ultimate and Journey Level members can click this graphic to go directly to the library to download a copy of this new ebook. Make sure you are logged in and if you’re having trouble with your password, please leave me a comment or send me a direct email to receive my assistance. Email:

New Ebook is Now Available to Members!

The High Desert ebook is now ready for you to download and use with your family. This ebook has been a labor of love on my part because it is filled with some of my favorite topics and things I have in my own habitat. I have been anxious to share these subjects with you my blog readers for a long time!

I have included many links and resources for nature journal pages for your family to use in your nature study.

We will be working our way through this ebook in a few months so get ready to follow along. Please note that even though this ebook is titled “high desert”, many of the the topics can be found in other habitats. In most cases, I have suggested an alternative nature study idea to supplement or substitute for the ebook topic. I encourage you to give it a try!

2019 to 2020 plan graphic with ebook covers 2

There are 14 brand new Outdoor Hour Challenges for you to complete as part of your nature study lessons with your children. These Challenges are not based on information in the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock. You’ll be using internet links and field guides to glean information about each topic. See the bottom of this post for book and resource ideas you may wish to have as a supplement to this High Desert ebook.

  • This 63 page digital ebook has 14 challenges and supplemental activities
  • There are multiple custom notebooking pages for each of the topics. You can choose from simple notebook pages or more advanced notebooking pages.
  • There are 12 coloring pages.
  • Sample: High Desert Ebook Sample

Here are the specific topics included in this ebook:

  • Bitterbrush
  • Sagebrush
  • Greater Sage-grouse
  • Succulents
  • Mountain Lion
  • Coyote
  • Pocket Gopher
  • Bristlecone Pine
  • Elk
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Juniper
  • Snowberry
  • Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel
  • River Otter


How do you get the new High Desert ebook?

Members of the Ultimate Naturalist and Journey levels have access to the new ebook in their library. You need to click the “Members Area” button at the top of the website, sign into your account, and the ebook is there to download and save for your family to use when desired.

Join Us Ultimate Naturalist January 2020

If you don’t have a membership yet, I’m offering a $5 off discount code that will be good towards your Ultimate Naturalist membership.

Discount Code: OHC10


Here are my favorite resources that I use all of the time in my own study of the High Desert habitat.

The Nature of Bend

Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest

Sagebrush Country-A Wildflower Sactuary
There is also a printable guide to plants of the High Desert found at this link:

Xeriscaping in the High Desert.

I have this printed out and I use it to plan my garden. It may be helpful as a supplement to your learning about this unique high desert landscape.

Please note the links above are Amazon affiliate links to books I own and love.



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New Study: Autumn Willow Nature Study

Outdoor Hour Challenge Autumn Willow Nature Study

Welcome to the brand new nature study featuring the willow! I’m excited to look more closely at my own autumn willows as the season changes. This should be an easy study as you look at the color changes and the dropping of leaves in your willow.

Start Here: Willow Nature Study Handbook of Nature Study Lesson 179 (pages 651-655)

The link above takes you to a summer study of the willow using the Handbook of Nature Study. Pay particular attention to suggestions #8 and #9 in Lesson 179 for specific autumn willow study ideas.

year+long+tree+study+button.jpgIn Addition: Year Long Tree Study in the Handbook of Nature Study Lesson 172 (pages 623-624) My favorite suggestions are to watercolor the shape of a tree with its autumn foliage and to carefully compare leaves found on your tree for any variation.

Watercolor Landscape Nature Journal

Activity: Tie a string on a twig attached to your willow. Observe and record in your nature journal the twig’s changes for a few months. We’re going to be doing this on a willow behind our house along the river.

Autumn Willow Tree notebook page

Both Ultimate and Journey level members here on the Handbook of Nature Study have access to a new autumn willow notebooking page for recording your autumn observations. Look for it in your printable library.

OHC Plan 18 to 19 Join Us

This Outdoor Hour Challenge is part of the 2018-2019 Plan here on the Handbook of Nature Study. We’ll be using the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock to discover new things about the world around us. Join us each Friday for a different nature study topic. Make sure to subscribe to this blog to receive the weekly challenge right in your email box.

Benefits by Level Updated size 500

If you want to become a member here on the Handbook of Nature Study, you can click the Join Us button for more details. Benefits include those shown above including access to ebooks, notebooking pages, archived newsletters, and new ebooks and printables published during your membership.

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Evening Walk – No Mosquitoes

We set out to look for and observe some mosquitoes (as part of the OHC Mosquito nature study) a couple of evenings this week with no luck. I know…sad to NOT observe any mosquitoes which is a weird thing to say. We even sat by the little slow moving stream where we thought for sure we would find some mosquitoes but there wasn’t a single mosquito to be seen.

Instead, we decided to look at all of the interesting things we could find along the trail and here are a few of our images.

Deer at sunset

The deer are all coming in close to town because of the drought. This one was peacefully grazing along the trail in a meadow.

Queen annes lace june 2014 (3)

The Queen Anne’s Lace is blooming all over the place…not very tall this year but lots of flowers to enjoy.

Queen annes lace june 2014 (2

There are Sweet peas blossoming as well…seen slightly in the background of this image.

Queen annes lace june 2014 (1)

Here is a side view of the Queen Anne’s Lace…so very interesting!

toyan berry (3)

The Toyan berry is blossoming right now…this will be covered in red berries come the late fall.

manzanita (2)

The Manzanita is developing berries…I love the way they look.

Pond water with Fish @handbookofnaturestudy

I have the privilege of taking care of two little boys this summer…a little each week. We are going to be doing some of the Outdoor Hour Challenges together since they are avid outdoor kids and love anything that creeps, hops, and slithers. I took over some pond water for them and along with the water I also got four little fish in the jar. These boys spent some time finding a little aquarium, cleaning it up and watching the fish. I was not successful in capturing some mosquito larvae like I had hoped but the boys still had a blast with the little fish. It is going to be a fun nature study summer with them.

We have been spending lots of time outdoors in the evenings so maybe we will eventually see some mosquitoes.



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California Shrub: Toyon or California Christmas Berry

Toyon or California Christmas Berry

  • Rose Family
  • Evergreen shrub or small tree growing to 6 or 8 feet high.
  • Leaves are 2 to 4 inches long and dark green and fine toothed.
  • Small white flowers appear in June or July.
  • Red berries appear by December….favorite food of robins, mockingbirds, and cedar waxwings!

This is a common shrub in our area and right now it is brilliant with red berries. I love seeing it along our walking trail and I realized this week that my dad has a whole patch of it on his hill. I am planning on going over there to take some photos later in the week which I will add to this entry.

I enjoyed this paragraph in my California Forests and Woodlands book:

“The wildlife of Foothill Woodland is often richest in the woods where the pines and oaks intermingle with California Buckeyes, a shrubby undergrowth of Buckbrush, California Coffeeberry, Toyon, and tangled vines of Wild Grape, Pipestems, and Western Poison Oak.”

This describes our habitat perfectly! I love learning about the interdependence of plants and animals…so very interesting. I need to add Coffeeberry and Wild Grape to my list of plants to study in the next year so look for entries in the future.

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Interior or Mountain Rose-Shrub #4

Interior or Mountain Rose
Taylor Creek area of Lake Tahoe

Shrub with thorns, growing 2-9 feet tall.
Flower pink to white and about 2 inches across. Five petals. (not seen during September)
Fruit is a red rose “hip” about 1/2 inch in diameter.
2,500 – 10,000 feet in elevation.

The hips are edible and an excellent source of vitamin C, usually made into a tea or jelly.

This rose is a pretty pink rose that we see along our favorite trail at Taylor Creek. This time of year it is covered in bright red rose hips….which we at first thought were berries until we stopped to take a closer look.

It was an evening filled with smoky air from the Rim Fire at Yosemite. Quiet and all alone on the trail, we enjoyed the peaceful beauty of a late summer walk after dinner.

This time of year you can recognize this shrub by the hips, the leaf shape, and the thorns!

This is the fourth shrub I have recorded in my nature journal this year as part of my nature study goals. One more to go! I am not doing so well on my study of trees….need to get busy.

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Shrub #3 Chinquapin in Yosemite National Park

On our July visit to Yosemite National Park, we found an interesting bush along the Panorama Trail. I decided to take some images and then research it when we returned home. There were lots of unique characteristics to this shrub and to my delight it was not very hard to identify.

This is Chinquapin and is found on dry, rocky slopes. There is a famous intersection where Glacier Point Road and the road to Wawona intersect that is named for this prevalent shrub.
Castanopsis sempervirens

We observed growing in-mass along the Panorama Trail, below Glacier Point in elevation.

Here another view of a large patch of Chinquapin. This shrub is an evergreen and has flowers and then an amber colored burr that develops later in the summer and ripens in September and October.

Here is a close-up of the burr. The burr will turn into a golden brown chestnut like burr with thorny spikes. Eventually they will hold several round nuts.

This plant is in the beech family and forms long cream-colored fluffy catkins in the summer. I wish this image wasn’t so blurry but it is the best one I have.

So if you are following along in my progress, this is the third of five shrubs that I intend to observe and identify during 2013 as part of my nature study goals.

Here are the other two shrubs:
Western Redbud

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California Shrub: Western Redbud

These were the blossoms on the Western Redbud a few months ago, before the leaves appeared.
This is what it looks like now.

Western (or California) Redbud

  • Pea family
  • Usually a shrub 7 to 18 feet high.
  • Leaves are round and heart shaped, winter deciduous
  • Bright purple flowers appear in early spring on naked branches, followed by bronze colored leaves that soon turn green.
  • Seed pods appear in July.
  • Grows below 4,000 feet.
  • Drought tolerant and sun-loving.
  • Native Americans highly prized this shrub and used its autumn wine-red branches for basket-making.
I am hoping to have this redbud as part of my lovely front yard for many, many season to come.

I have long wanted a redbud in my yard and when we did our front yard remodel we left a space for one in the front section. I planted poppies around the base and this spring I got to discover how beautifully they work together in my yard. I need to remember that you are to prune it in the fall, winter, or early spring after the leaf drop.

There is a wealth of information in the printable: USDA Western Redbud.

This the second of my shrubs…only three more to go to meet my 2013 goal.

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California Shrub: Chamise

I have identified my first shrub of 2013- Chamise or Greasewood (Adenostoma fasciculatum). This is a shrub that is just about everywhere we go in our hiking and walking locally. It has such a sweet smell that many times it is overwhelming as you hike through a patch of it. The white clusters of flowers are so pretty in the early spring and in our area they are at their peak right now.

Clouds and Chamise
This is my favorite photo of chamise taken a few years ago on our walking trail.

Chamise (or Greasewood)

  • Rose Family
  • Shrub 2 to 10 feet tall.
  • The white flowers cluster at the ends of the stems.
  • Leaves are short and green.
  • Most common shrubs of the chaparral habitat.
  • Forms dense clusters of shrubs where small animals find protection.
  • Common name comes from the resinous foliage. This quality is what contributes to it being great fuel for brush fires.

We have had fun observing it and finding it in more and more places since we were aware of it…now it is safely tucked into our nature journals as well.

So how am I doing on my Nature Study Goals for 2013?

  • Learn about ten new birds, including nature journal entries and learning their calls. – 2 birds done
  • Learn about five new trees in my local area. – 1 in the works
  • Learn about five scrubs that I see along my walking trail or our favorite hiking trail. – 1 finished, 2 in the works
  • Take four new hikes. (These are tentatively planned in my planner along with maps.) – 1 completed
  • 15 Rocks in the book: Rocks, Fossils, and Arrowheads – 2 down

I think I better get busy…now that the weather is warmer I may be able to tackle a few each month. I will of course share with you as I complete them.

How are your nature study goals going for 2013?