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OHC Summer Series #7 Summer Cattail Observations

Year Long Cattail Nature Study

Outdoor Hour Challenge
Summer #7 Summer Cattail Observations

Train Your Senses

  • Sight: Observe the cattail’s habitat. Look for birds, insects, and animals living or resting in or on the cattails. Look for nests. See if you can find the cattail flowers.
  • Smell: Sit or squat near your cattails and close your eyes. Breathe deeply and see if you smell anything.
  • Touch: Feel the leaves, edges, and spikes of the cattails.
  • Hearing: Take a minute to listen as you stand or sit near your cattails. Can you hear any birds or insects? Water running?

Inside Preparation Work:
Read pages 500-502 in the Handbook of Nature Study if you have not done so before (starting on page 551 if you have the free download version) . It might also be beneficial to read it again this season and highlight the parts that contain information about the leaves of the cattail plant.

Outdoor Hour Time:
Enjoy your outdoor time this week at your cattail spot. If you have been participating in the year-long cattail study since last autumn, you will know just where to look for cattails. Use the suggestions from the Handbook of Nature Study to talk a little about the habitat where your cattails are growing.

  • Is your cattail still growing in water or has it dried up?
  • What does the “cattail” parts of the plant look like now?
  • What color and shape are the leaves?
  • Do you see the cattails seeds or balloons?
  • Can you pull some of the fuzz from the cattail and observe it more closely?
  • How do you think the seeds spread, by wind or water?
  • How crowded are the cattails growing together?

Please note: If you do not have any cattails to observe in your area, you may wish to choose another local plant to observe in each season throughout the next year.

Cattail Seasonal Nature Study notebook page

Follow-Up Activity:
Make sure to allow some time after your outdoor hour to discuss any subjects that your child finds interesting. Encourage the completion of a nature journal entry recording your observation of your cattails. You can use the notebook page and coloring page created for the Summer Series ebook, the notebook page from Autumn, a blank page, or any other general notebook page listed on the sidebar of my blog. You may wish to pull out your other cattail entries and compare the year-long changes in your cattails.
If you would like all the Summer Series Challenges in one place, I have an ebook gathered for you to purchase for your convenience. Here is a link to a complete description:
Summer Series of Outdoor Hour Challenges
Summer 2010 Nature Study Final

Ultimate Ebook Library @handbookofnaturestudy

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Raptors of the Night-Owls: Summer Series #5

As much as we tried over the past few months to observe an owl up close, we just were not able to make it happen this time around. We are hoping to at least hear some owls when we go on our next camping trip to Yosemite National Park in a few weeks. We heard Western screech owls last year. Don’t you think they sound like bouncing rubber balls?

We listened to Western Screech Owls, Great Horned Owls, and Spotted Owls online as part of this challenge. We rarely see owls but we do hear them frequently in our part of the world.

We took the challenge to dissect an owl pellet. One of my sons was eager and the other one was not so eager to complete this activity. The mood changed once we got started and they each ended up learning quite a bit about owls from this activity.

Owl Pellet Dissection
(Maybe we should have found some smaller gloves.)

We each had our own pellet to dissect and I decided I am not very good at this sort of thing. I am not a “detail” sort of person so this was a frustrating activity. In the end, I let the boys finish my pellet. The boys on the other hand were awesome at this activity. I was amazed at the minute bones they were able to extract from the mass of fur.

Tiny Skulls
We all think we had mole and mouse bones in our pellets and we each found skulls and jaws with teeth.

Jaw with Teeth
Now that was interesting to me! Little tiny jaws with tiny little teeth!

Bone Chart and Bones
There were amazing amounts of bones in each little pellet.

Bone Chart and Bones 2
Although this was not a challenge where we were able to see the owls in person or even hear them in the night, we learned so much from our reading, online research, and the dissection. We are all looking forward to being on the lookout for both hearing the owls and seeing owl pellets during nature walks.

“Owls and hawks are predators that have an ecological relationship with each other. This means that whereas owls hunt predominantly at night, hawks fill their niche during the day. Both birds hunt similar prey species.”
Discover Nature at Sundown, page 49.

Just one interesting thing we have been thinking about: There is a cycle of raptor activity-owls at night and other raptors like hawks and falcons during the day. There is always some sort of raptor activity going on in the woods. Fascinating.

Whose-Awake-Me-Too…..hopefully we hear a little of that call on our camping trip this time.

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More Links: Firefly Watch and Mosquitoes

Tricia shared a link that relates to the Summer Series of Outdoor Hour Challenges. Thanks Tricia!

Firefly Watch

Here is another opportunity to participate in a nature study related science project. Easy and fun…too bad we don’t have fireflies here to observe. 🙁

Lisa shared this link to some macro photos of mosquitoes being hatched:
Mosquitoes Emerging


Enjoy the links.

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Summer Weather-OHC #3 Sunrise/Sunset Observations

We have been working on this challenge for a couple of weeks. What an amazing way to learn more about the summer season! We have never taken the time to actually note where the sun sets at different times of the year. We are now more keenly aware of the direction and the making of a landmark to keep track from week to week.

We are not able to see the horizon in any direction from our house. We live on a hill, there are too many trees, and even though it is not a crowded neighborhood, we do have near-by houses that obstruct the view. We decided we could still pick a spot on the front deck to observe the sunrises and a different spot on the back deck to observe the sunsets.

Sunrise with clouds
This challenge made us more aware of the everyday event that happens outside our door…far too early at this time of the year. The sunrise is much more north than I thought it should be. We have all watched the spot and agree that it is not where we expected it to be. We had to get up rather early a few times to discover the landmark but now we have it fixed. This morning there were beautiful clouds that made the day a little cooler to start off with. There were actually a few light sprinkles of rain early in the morning. By noon though, it was hot and humid, granted not a Texas humid but a California humid.

Sunset July
The sunsets are so wonderful from our deck now that we have a few trees missing. Although we can not see the horizon from where we are located, we noted from a particular spot on the deck where the sun goes down. It sets just to the left of our back shop’s peak.

The other weather related “project” we have been working on this summer is to note the build up of thunderheads over the Sierra in the afternoons. Many times we can look out about noon and see the beginnings of a cloud bank and then by mid afternoon we notice the spectacular clouds in the distance. Most of the time we don’t experience anything from the clouds because they are so far away. We did have a little sheet lightning the other evening which is always interesting to watch.

Thunderheads at Sunset
I took this photo last night when we were out for a sunset drive. This is facing east so the pink sunset is reflecting in the thunderheads. Sure wish all those utility lines were not in the photo.

One last observation to share:
Sunrise: 64 degrees and 47% humidity.
Noon: 96 degrees and 46% humidity.
Sunset: 83 degrees and 38% humidity.

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Summer Tree-OHC #2 Our Summer Tulip Tree Study

Tulip Tree Bloom
Tulip Tree or Yellow Poplar Tree

We have been observing the tulip tree very closely and I shared the blossoms a few weeks ago when we had the complete tree covered in blooms. Now it is mostly big yellow-green leaves that provide abundant shade on the front of our house.

There is a mockingbird that frequents the tree early in the morning to sing us a song. It is a nice way to wake up, with the leaves silhouetted on the window blinds and the sound of bird song in the air.

My son noticed that the bark has some moss on it still even in the heat. There were ants on the trunk as well. There were no bees visible, but we know when the tree is blooming it is alive with bees.

Here are our nature journals which this time we decided to use photos instead of drawing. It makes a quick and easy journal that looks really nice.

Spring Journal Tulip Tree
I opted to add a photo to my nature journal from last month when the tree was blooming.

Summer Tulip Tree Journal
My son’s journal has a photo of the tree as well. He made a list of his observations and then added a photo to make a very easy nature journal entry.

This entry completes our full circle for the year:

Autumn Entry

Winter Entry

Spring Entry

It hardly seems possible that we have gone all through the seasons with our tree already. This is such a great way to learn more about what is right in our own yard. We have started to think about what tree we will observe next….oh the possibilities!

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Sense of Smell and Mosquitoes: Summer Series #1

Our report for the Summer Series Outdoor Hour Challenge #1 World of Smell and Mosquitoes.

Our family has been spending just about every evening outdoors enjoying the sunset and evening air. Our neighbor had a tree fall last winter and then he cut another one down that was precarious. We now have a beautiful view of the western sky and many a beautiful sunset.

star jasmine
Our list of summer smells is growing and the most predominant evening smell of note is the smell of skunks. The second fragrance that we detect in the evenings is the smell of star jasmine along the fence. This year the flowers are abundant and after a long hot summer day, the sweet spicy smell of the jasmine is intoxicating. The boys always say they smell woodsmoke and grass when I ask. If you asked us during the daylight hours, the most frequent smell in the air is hot oak leaves. There is something about that particular fragrance that is calming to me and it always signals to me that it is summer. This is a wonderful exercise for older children since they can usually detect and identify many smells that we adults perhaps don’t notice anymore. 🙂

Our mosquito study has been limited this year. We did try to find some wigglers to observe but so far we have not been successful. We have collected some water but with no results. This will continue to be something we look for the opportunity to do all summer. We did have some direct observations of mosquitoes though and the most fascinating thing to me is the way mosquitoes seem to choose certain people out of the group to target. I have one son that attracts them like a magnet. I can be sitting right next to him and they will buzz around me but not land on me. They will bite him multiple times and he is then miserable with itching hot bites.

We looked up the information on mosquitoes and learned a little bit more about how the mosquito fits into our local web of life. We have bats in our yard in the evenings and now we realize that the mosquitoes are actually part of their food web. I think our Creator has made such a wonderful world that is in balance and is just right if man does not interfere.

This is from one evening on our camping trip to Oregon…look at that moon.

The section on in Discover Nature at Sundown was also interesting and we learned more about categories of smells. We know have some new vocabulary to use when we describe a smell. Our summer has been full of informal nature study so far in addition to the official Outdoor Hour Challenges and it warms my heart when the boys bring something up and we can research it to learn more.

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First Day of Summer 2010: Know Your Own Yard

I know that yesterday was the first official day of summer but for some reason I forgot to publish this post so you are receiving it a day late. Perhaps it was that my laptop died and I have been working from a different computer….in any case, enjoy the notebook page and your second day of summer.

Note: I am hoping to continue working on a series of “Know Your Own Yard” posts over the summer and perhaps even into the autumn.

Sunflower with petals

When all else fails, know your own backyard.

Take a few minutes on this first day of summer and explore with your children.

Here is a bonus notebook page for you to use to follow up your outdoor time!

First Day of Summer notebook page

First Day of Summer Notebook Page – Free Download!

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OHC Summer Series #1: Mosquitoes and World of Smell


Outdoor Hour Challenge Summer Mosquito Nature Study

Outdoor Hour Challenges

Summer Series #1 Mosquitoes and World of Smell

Train Your Senses

  • Sight: Begin to learn how long it takes for your eyes to adjust as the evening gets darker. Use your sense of sight to observe mosquitoes or mosquito larvae. Can you observe any birds or bats eating mosquitoes?
  • Smell: Sit quietly in your yard, perhaps at different times of day, observing any smells of summer that you can recognize. Can you smell more at night when your other senses are not as useful? Can you smell more on a damp night or a dry night? Does a certain smell bring back a memory?
  • Hearing: Can you hear any mosquitoes or other insects buzzing?

Inside Preparation Work:
1. Read in the Handbook of Nature Study pages 411-415 on mosquitoes. Pay special attention to page 414 where there is a list of places that mosquito larvae can be found. Read through Lesson 105 to equip yourself for your mosquito study.
2. Read in Discover Nature at Sundown pages 14-26. This section will give you some general information about how humans and other living creatures use their sense of smell. We will study several of these living things as part of this series of challenge: moths, evening primroses, mosquitoes, frogs, and bats.

Outdoor Hour Time:
1. This week spend your 15 minutes outdoors at sundown. As you start your Summer Series of Challenges, try to establish a routine of going outdoors in the evening to spend some time observing your backyard or neighborhood as the light fades. Use the suggests above to use your senses during your outdoor time. After reading in Discover Nature At Sundown, you will have some ideas for night-blooming flowers to look for and to smell. Also the book suggests observing sounds on a damp night and a dry night and comparing your results.

2. Also, as part of this challenge, you can try to collect some live mosquito larvae. Here are some instructions:

  • Look in a pond, along a stream, in a rain barrel or any where else you can find some standing water.
  • Collect a jar full of water to bring home to observe. Scoop the water rapidly and hopefully you will get some larvae or pupae.
  • The Handbook of Nature Study suggests putting the jar on your desk to observe the “wigglers”. Use the suggestions from Lesson 105 to study your mosquitoes. Here is a link to a webpage that has more information about mosquitoes: How Stuff Works: Mosquitoes

Follow-Up Activity:
1. There is a notebook activity included with this challenge is to keep track of all the smells of summer that you find over the next few weeks. As a new smell comes to your attention, make sure to write it down in your journal. There is set of free mosquito notebook pages available over on

2. If you were successful in collecting and then observing mosquito larvae, record your thoughts in your nature journal or on the notebook page provided in the Summer Series ebook. If you did not find any mosquito larvae, you can record the things you learned about mosquitoes instead.

If you would like all the Summer Series Challenges in one place, I have an ebook gathered for you to purchase for your convenience. Here is a link to a complete description:
Summer Series of Outdoor Hour Challenges
Summer 2010 Nature Study Final

Ultimate Ebook Library @handbookofnaturestudy