Posted on 3 Comments

Sierra Cement-Icy Morning

Just like many parts of the country, we are experiencing very cold weather. In the Sierra Nevada foothills where I live, the snow is rarely the fluffy flakes you see in winter storybooks. The snow we experience is very wet and is lovingly called Sierra Cement by skiers (watch the short video for an explanation). We had a few snow showers yesterday and that left behind a nice layer of snow and ice….brrrrr it is cold, well for this California girl anyway.

On my morning walk I was entranced by the ice on the deck railing. I could see with my naked eye the beautiful crystals.

So I brought out my camera with the macro lens and was able to capture the ice to share with you.

It really is like a whole little icy world down there.

“The ice on the surface of a still pond usually begins to form around the edges first, and fine, lancelike needles of ice are sent out across the surface….It is equally interesting to watch the formation of the ice crystals in a glass bottle or jar. Water, in crystallizing, expands, and requires more room than it does as a fluid; therefore, as the water changes to ice it must have more room, and often presses so hard against the sides of the bottle as to break it.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 811

Ice, snow, hail, sleet….all great subjects for winter nature study.

Posted on 4 Comments

Family Outdoor Hour: California and Oregon Coast

All photos from Patrick’s Point State Park, California

Patrick’s Point State Park

Some of our Outdoor time this week was spent at the ocean. We took a few days and drove along the California and Oregon coast enjoying the views and the outdoor life that early October allows. We were sprinkled on a few times but nothing that really dampened our spirits too much. We had anticipated the weather and came equipped.

Our first beachcombing adventure gave us some things to be excited about. We saw three sea otters in the surf playing and diving as we watched. Then out past the waves, we saw another creature pop up….a sea lion. He didn’t come too close but we had a clear view of him from the shore.

We hiked around the cove a bit from where we were camping and found lots of interesting items. We saw several colors of sea stars, some brightly colored crabs, some bones, and lots of sea kelp.

The beach was covered in an area of rocks and this area is known for its agates. We joined in the hunt for our favorites and soon had a whole collection in dad’s sweatshirt pocket.

We also found this driftwood with barnacles on it which was interesting to me at the time but now that I zoom in on the photo, I realize there was a creature on the driftwood too….don’t know what it is.

On the hike back up the trail from the beach, I was able to spot two new plants to identify. One is twinberry

and the other is pearly everlasting.

We had a fantastic time on the beach and there were so many things to explore.

Posted on 1 Comment

Squeezing Some More Fun Into the Last Days of Summer

There is nothing more refreshing than soaking your toes in the crystal clear water of mountain lake. It is one of my favorite things to do on a hot summer day. We started out at our house with the temperatures at around 97 degrees and by the time we drove the one hour trek up and over the mountain it was around 82 degrees and breezy at the lake. As the afternoon wore on, it cooled to a perfect 78 degrees.

We had some beach time, a long walk, and then we grilled up some dinner.

Someone had piled the rocks up at the lake’s edge and it captured my attention as I waded along the edge. A lone duck swam by and decided to get in the photo for all of us to enjoy.

The pinecones are littering the forest floor and you can see how dry this area is in the summer. Not much rain falls here in this season except for the occasional late afternoon thundershower. Many of the forest animals use the pinecones for food. This forest is mostly Jeffrey Pines and Lodge Pole pines.

We had a late afternoon bbq/picnic that was yummy. The best part of our bbq according to the boys was the marshmallow roast. Afterwards, the skewers were used for a little sword fighting…of course.

I am still working on drawing trees in my nature journal. Each time they look a little different but not quite right yet. 🙂 I will not let it stop me from trying though since I still love the memory attached to each imperfect tree I draw.

We saw many Brewer’s blackbirds with their “distinctive yellow eye”. The other bird that we observed in an unusually large number was the American robin. The robins were actually being chased by the Golden mantled ground squirrels that were running around gathering seeds. As we were eating our dinner, three white headed woodpeckers were climbing up and around a tree just across the path.

The leaves on this aspen looking like jewels fluttering in the breeze. The leaves have the slightest hint of yellow, letting us know that fall is coming quickly.

I am really surprised to see that the aspen tree is not included in the Handbook of Nature Study. I found a great additional resource for California residents to use as a supplement to the Handbook. It is called, California Forests and Woolands: A Natural History by Verna R. Johnston. I love to read the narrative style of this author and the sections are the perfect length to read out loud to the family after a nature walk. I highly recommend it to California residents.

In this additional resource, it has a wonderful description of the aspen tree starting on page 140.

“The most widespread tree in North America, Quaking Aspen in California occupies a narrow zone through the high elevations at 6,000 to 9,000 feet, from San Bernardino Mountains of southern California to the Oregon border. It’s airy, sun-dappled groves enfold white trunks supporting leaves that shimmer in the slightest wind on their slender, flattened leaf stalks.”

The end of another great afternoon was spent watching the creek from the bridge. We were observing the crayfish (crawdads) in the creek and some small little fish. In a few weeks, this creek will be filled with spawning Kokanee salmon that swim upstream. Can you see our reflection in the water in the photo above?

I just hate to see the days getting shorter and shorter. We spent some time outside last evening on our back deck just taking in the sounds and sights of the darkness of the late summer twilight. We heard an owl screeching in a tree in our yard and we saw two shooting stars. The air was warm and we were feeling a little melancholy about the changing of the seasons. My husband and I are both very much summer people so when the change to fall hits we feel it acutely.

We are busy squeezing as much summer into our days as possible.

Posted on 10 Comments

So Beautiful It Makes Me Cry: Dragonfly Morning

“It is while we, ourselves, are dreaming in the sun by the margin of some pond, that these swift children of the air seem but a natural part of the dream. Yet if we waken to note them more closely, we find many things very real to interest us.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 404

I don’t know if you have ever had this experience but it has happened to me a few times that I can remember: Something that you see in our natural world is so beautiful that it makes you cry. It could be a sunset, an autumn tree in full color, or in this most recent case, a dragonfly.

I know. You all think that I have lots my marbles over that one but I am going to post some photos that will only give you a hint of how beautiful this dragonfly is in real life.

Here’s the story. I have been putting together an Outdoor Hour Challenge about dragonflies over the last few weeks. I have had my camera at the ready many times because I have several kinds of dragonflies in my backyard and I hoped to get a photo for the blog entry. Will those dragonflies sit still for just one photo? Not usually.

This morning I was up and out on the back deck early, around 6 AM. I was just out of the shower and I usually go out and comb my hair as I survey the morning’s happenings outside. It is my routine. Well, as I was standing there looking out over the yard, I tried to focus on something that was on a beach towel on the deck railing. I knew it was an insect but without my glasses on it looked like a blur. I went into the house and grabbed my glasses and camera.

I couldn’t really get a good photo at first because it was still pretty dark out. Then he flew away and I was so sad to see him go. But, he landed on my lemon tree and he has been there ever since. This gave me lots of time to take a good photo of him. I think that this was a gift to me this morning and now I will share my gift with you.

Black saddlebag dragonfly

See the coloration on the wings that look like “saddlebags”?

You have to click the photo to make it larger so you can see the colors of the wing in this photo. It was like lace with all its fine detail. I actually was able to measure his wing span, 4 inches!

His head is so big and I know he was looking at me too. Click this one for a better view of him up close….you may never get this close to a dragonfly so here is your chance. 🙂

Look at the pattern and colors in the wing…iridescent in one light and spun from gold in another. It looks just like stained glass.

I know my original intention was to share a photo with you when I posted the challenge but this was so special that it gets its own post. The beauty in creation is such a testament to our Creator. Only He could think to spin this dragonfly’s wings out of gold, to make his coloration so distinct, and to give his face a dash of brilliant blue. I am amazed at the beauty and it truly did make me cry.

Posted on 2 Comments

Spring Walk: Thistle, Ladybug, Daisy

Yesterday afternoon was a perfect time to take a walk on our local walking/biking trail. The weather has been rainy the last few days and we were ready to get out and enjoy some fresh air. The clouds kept drifting in and covering the sun but it was still warm and spring-like.

Three of the children decided to come and we had an enjoyable time walking and talking and just spending time together….as they get older that doesn’t happen as often as I would like. My middle son brought his scooter and he was zipping in and out as we just walked along.

The photos in this entry are an experiment in uploading for me so forgive me if the captions are not exactly with the photos. 🙂

This is some kind of flowering clover…I think. It sure looks like some kind of clover but this is really close-up.

Look at this guy….after all my observations yesterday of the ladybug larva, I was happy to see this shiny insect as we walked along.

Then there was this daisy and I am pretty sure this is a Mariposa Lily.

Okay, this was definitely some kind of thistle.

Don’t you love the view from this part of the trail?

“The thistle is covered with sharp spines, and these serve to protect it from grazing animals. It has beautiful purple flowers, arranged in heads similar to those of the sunflower.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 526

There is a whole section in the Handbook on thistles starting on page 524.

“Every child loves this flower (daisy), and yet it is not well understood. It is always at hand for study from June until the frosts have laid waste the fields. However much enjoyment we get from the study of this beautiful flower-head, we should study the plant as a weed also, for it is indeed a pest to those farmers who do not practice a rotation of crops.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 522

There is a section on white daisies in the Handbook starting on page 522.

“The clovers enrich with nitrogen the soil in which they are planted. They are very valuable as food for stock. Their flowers are pollinated by bees.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 594

There is a section on clover in the Handbook starting on page 591.

Sorry for all the vague descriptions but I didn’t have a lot of time this morning to get a firm identification on all of them. I will try to come back and update as I have the time to research.

This is a life project I decided.

Posted on 8 Comments

Our Green Hour Challenge #14 Bursting with Color: Composite Flowers

This week’s Outdoor Hour Challenge for us was very enjoyable. Our flower garden is just bursting with color and with garden flowers as our focus we decided to read and observe a special kind of flower, the composite.

“Many plants have their flowers set close together and thus make a mass of color, like the geraniums or the clovers. But there are other plants where there are different kinds of flowers in one head, those at the center doing a certain kind of work for the production of seed, and those around the edges doing another kind of work.”

“Can you see that what you call the flower consists of many flowers set together like a beautiful mosaic? Those at the center are called disc flowers; those around the edges ray flowers.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 503

We had a great time studying these flowers and now we are going to be looking closer when we see a new flower to see if we can tell if it is a composite or not.

Here are some of our flowers that we observed.

Close up of a pink gilardia…can you see the anthers?

Yellow gilardias

Tickseed or corepesis

Pin cushion flowers where you can really see the flower parts

Pink cosmos, first one of the season

Close up of the different kinds of flowers making up the composite. Can you see the disc flowers and the ray flowers?

My son’s nature journal entry.

We then put the flowers in our press. I am planning on making a flower calendar to make a record of flowers blooming in our yard for each month of the year. This will be a beautiful way to document our flower study throughout the year by pressing some flowers blooming in each month, pressing them, and then affixing them to card stock with the month neatly labeled on each page. I will share our first month’s page when these are ready to be added.

Another great week in our garden. My son and I both learned something new and enjoyed our time outdoors with a focus and purpose.

Posted on Leave a comment

Desert Study: Outdoor Hour Challenge #8

Here is our family’s Outdoor Hour Challenge #8. 

We just returned from our week long adventure in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. It was so surprising to find so much life and color and activity in this part of our world. If anyone says there is nothing to do for nature study in the desert, I can now whole-heartedly disagree. We spent every waking minute in the great outdoors exploring the fascinating world of the desert, even in a sudden desert rainstorm and at sunrise. We were hiking in Saguaro National Park just about everyday and found that we grew to love this place.

If you have been reading my blog this week, you will have seen some of the more interesting plants and birds that we have encountered. I will be posting more over there in the weeks to come.

Before we left for our adventure, the boys and I read several books to prepare us for what we would be seeing up close and personal. The most interesting and recognizable plant in the Sonoran Desert is the saguaro cactus. (pronounced sa wah ro) This cactus is a whole ecosystem in itself and we were able to observe the many phases of its growth while on our trip.


Here is a landscape with the saguaro sticking up prominently.
The saguaro grows very tall and provides shade for itself with its spines and grooves.

tall saguaro
It also provides homes for birds like the cactus wren and the gila woodpecker. They make their nests inside the saguaro. Here is a photo where you can see the nest holes.

saguaro with bird nest holes
Here is a gila woodpecker sitting on the saguaro and if you look closely, you will see a sparrow in a nest hole near the top of the saguaro.

saguaro and woodpecker
Here is a close up of the cactus itself.

close up saguaro
We enjoyed a sunrise walk in the desert and the colors and sounds are not soon to be forgotten.

saguaro at sunrise
There are so many things to tell you about from this trip but I will narrow this entry down to the saguaro cactus. Maybe later this week I will share all the many other birds that we encountered. I have some awesome hummingbird photos to share and some others that will surprise you that we found in our desert wanderings.

We did some close up work last week at home for this challenge with our hand lens. The most interesting thing we found was looking at the bark of our cedar tree…..there is so many interesting things in there like spider webs and egg sacs. If you didn’t get a chance to use your hand lens last week, I encourage you to take a few minutes this week to give it a try.

Posted on Leave a comment

California Newts and Tree Frogs: Outdoor Hour #3

March 1, 2008
Dear Nature Friends,
Today we took our Outdoor Hour Challenge on the road, or should I say trail? The last Friday of every month we take the day off from our regular schooling to have a Nature Day. This is something I have been doing all year with my 12 and 14 year old sons. We take the day and focus on some aspect of nature that fits in with our science lessons or our interests.

Please remember when you read my post and view my photos (and a short video) that we have been doing nature study in our family since these two boys were able to walk….a long time. We also live in a moderate climate and have limitless access to wilderness. This hike is literally out our door and a few miles away. On a scale of one to ten, this day was a perfect ten. I hope that puts our experience in perspective for you beginners. This is what your nature study can look like in a few years if you keep at it, little by little.

In challenge number 1 I shared our hike on a new trail…the one with the ferns and the unusual bud. We wanted to take the hike all the way to the river this time so after a short stop at our tree in the woods, we headed over to the trail head. We set off at a quick pace but soon we found wildflowers blooming and of course I had to stop to take a few photos.
yellow wildflower 1
purple wildflower 1
I wasn’t able to identify this one yet, need to see it flowering.
We saw our first butterflies of the season, big brown ones and little blue ones. The sun was actually hot and we shed a layer of sweaters and sweatshirts…good thing I had my backpack on this hike. 🙂 We had good conversation as we hiked along. Oh, we saw what the “unusual looking bloom” was from our last trip. It is actually just the way the leaves pop out on this particular plant.

unusual bud 1 unusual bud 3 with leaves
It was a long downhill hike to get to the river, I think about a mile and a half but the hard part is that it was a really steep downhill grade. I kept thinking about the hike back up with great dread. Would the hike be worth it we kept asking?

B and the river trail
The minute we hit the edge of the river and I was shedding my pack, the boys excitedly called to me to come over and look at something. I could tell it was something good by the tone in their voices. Wow! A whole pool of California newts!

newts 1Ca newt 1
We spent quite a bit of time watching them in their courtship dance in the crystal clear water. Fascinating and we felt so grateful to have seen it. My youngest slipped into the water with one foot and had a soaking shoe, sock, and pant leg for the rest of the hike. After a few photos and a video, we all sat at the edge of the river and rested and listened and just soaked it all in.

sitting quielty
Yes, you can train your children to sit quietly and listen.

The boys were soon doing their usual river thing…throwing in rocks. I sat and worked in my nature journal drawing the blackberry leaves and vine next to me. The boys found a little gold flake in the gravel at the edge of the river. We actually live near where the California Gold Rush started on this very river.
gold flake
I need to make a note to put a little vial for collecting things in my backpack. This flake was dropped into the rocks and was never seen again. He wants to go back and try again some time.

But the highlight of the day happened right when we were packing up to go back up the trail…..yes, you haven’t seen the highlight yet. The boys spotted a frog that had just jumped out of the water onto a rock. Back out comes the camera to try to get a photo for their nature journals.
Pacific treefrog
While getting a few good photos, two of the frogs started croaking. Their throats blew up like balloons and the sound of it was awesome. Would you like to hear? [If you are on email subscription you will need to come over the the blog to see the video..I think.]There are actually two frogs croaking in the video and they croak at about 25 seconds and 50 seconds into the video. When we got home we pulled out our field guide and identified this as a Pacific Treefrog.

My YouTube video of a Pacific Treefrog. 

Both boys wanted to do their journals on the newt.
CA newt journal entry
I got a new scanner but I have not learned how to operate it very well yet…maybe next scan will be better.
Thanks for sharing our very exciting “day out” with us. Hope it inspired and encouraged you in to have some of your own adventures with nature study. Our family looks forward to each time we have to share time out of doors. The answer to the question earlier about whether the hike would be worth the effort? Yes, totally and completely. I would go again right now….sore muscles and all.
nature study 1
One last photo of my son and I kneeling over the water trying to see the frogs.