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Winter Day Hike: Animal Tracks

Taylor Creek 12 25 09  Aspens

It was a day of hiking in the aspens and pines….there is something so refreshing about hiking in the snow on a sunny day. The light must be different or perhaps it is the air. Whatever it is about winter hikes, I feel more alive. The indoor life does not suit me very well and getting the chance to spend a few hours hiking with my family makes me smile even now just thinking about our time outdoors.

Taylor Creek 12 25 09  Animal Tracks
Although there were no other hikers on the trail this time, we knew there were other living creatures near-by. The snow recorded their activity for us. We always have a great time imagining who the tracks belong to and then discussing what they may have been doing out here in the woods.

Taylor Creek 12 25 09 Hiking to the Lake
Many times as we hike along we spread out and have some alone time. I love to walk and pay attention to the crunching of the snow under my boots. There were a few birds that showed their faces while we walked and a few that just let us know they were there by knocking on the tree or whistling a little tune.

Taylor Creek 12 25 09 Ducks on the Creek
These ducks don’t seem to mind the cold, cold water.

Our Bird List for the Day:
Mallard ducks
Steller’s jays
Red-breasted nuthatches

Taylor Creek 12 25 09 Creek and Animal Tracks
The creek was flowing along with crystal clear water, much deeper this time of year than in the summer and fall. We observed lots of tracks on the other side of the bank….big tracks where it looks like someone came to get a drink perhaps.

Taylor Creek 12 25 09 Dinosaur prints
I told the boys to be on the lookout for interesting tracks in the snow and if they found some to call me over. These are the “dinosaur” tracks they found….very funny.

Taylor Creek 12 25 09 Animal tracks 4
Seriously though, this photo shows the most interesting and most abundant track we noticed through the trees. It looks like footprints with something that made a line to the side….a tail perhaps? I would love to know what made this track in the snow.

Maybe this is why I love winter hikes so much….there is an air of mystery and awe to them that I love and crave. We are looking forward to more snowy hikes in the near future.


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What a Difference a Week Makes!

Backyard in the snow 12 7 09
Our first winter snow! This is the most snow we have had in December ever!

Garden in the Snow
Here is my garden all covered in a blanket of snow. Last week I was hopeful about the broccoli but even the protective frame that I built over the top is covered in snow…..seems like winter has arrived.

We took off on our snowshoes to see what the neighborhood was like on this first snowy morning. Here I am about 1/4 mile from our backstreet. There were a few children out throwing snowballs and a man walking his dog but we pretty much had the whole street to ourselves. I always forget how quiet it is when there is snow.
Leaves in the snow

We lost a few big branches from the trees that still had leaves on them. The evergreens held up pretty well but the oaks and sweet gums just aren’t built for this much snow.

Snow bear and Kona
Later on in the day, we all built what ended up being a snow bear in the front yard. Even our Kona dog “helped”.

The next morning we had icicles like never before.
Today is really, really cold for our area….15 degrees. The ice is thick on the roads and I am hoping my husband is careful on the way to work. He has to travel over the river and then climb up into the mountains to get to his station and yesterday it was treacherous. I can only imagine today’s drive. He has chained up the truck and he assures me he will be careful. I will be waiting for his call once he arrives.

Sunset in the snow
Amanda hiked up to the top of our hill to see the sunset. The sky was pink and lavender and after such a stormy night and morning, it was great to see the sun again.

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Autumn Seasonal Weather -Blue Skies

yellow red leaves pines blue sky

We had a perfect morning for a weather study as part of the Outdoor Hour Challenge Autumn Series. The air was cold, the wind was blowing, and the leaves were raining down all around us. It *felt* like autumn. Note: This morning it was 38 degrees outside..that is cold.

trees and hummingbird feeder

There are still loads of leaves left on the sweet gum trees but as of this morning, the fall color is breaking through. Reds, oranges, burgundy, and every shade in between are all popping out on the trees.

hover fly on the zinnia

Still a few insect friends in the flower garden…..look at his wings in the sun. Gorgeous and amazing. I think this is some kind of hoover fly.

Seasonal weather notebok page 1

We came back in to warm up with a bowl of soup and then our weather notebook pages were filled in and filed away in our nature journals.

I love having a specific subject for our nature study….it motivates me to spend time with the boys outdoors each week. Don’t let anyone tell you that high school age boys do not enjoy nature study.

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Our Tree: Tuliptree or Tulip Poplar

Trees are such a part of our life and there are quite a few growing in our yard that delight us during the different seasons. In the past, we chose an oak and then the sweet gum tree to study for a complete year.

We talked it over and decided that our new year-long tree study as part of the Outdoor Hour Challenges will focus on a Tuliptree in our front yard. I was leaning more towards studying the Chinese pistache that is actually in our neighbor’s yard but so close to the fence line that it might as well be in our yard.

The boys campaigned for the Tulip tree and since the whole point is to get them enthusiastic about a tree, we will go with their choice. The photo above shows the top of the tuliptree and to the right of it is our magnolia. The tuliptree is much taller than any other tree in the front yard and gives us lots of shade in the summer.

We talked about the tree for a few minutes before we headed out the door to spend our Outdoor Hour Challenge time observing our new tree friend. We talked about how the robins like to sing from the top of the tree, how the seeds are like helicopters, and how tall the tree is growing. One son added that he likes the tree but it is one of the biggest producers of leaves and soon it will mean lots of raking and composting. I shared how I remembered the blossoms on the tree and the humming of the bees last spring. We already knew quite a bit about our tree so we were anxious to see if we could learn anything new.

We took photos of our Tulip tree and gathered a few leaves to put into the flower press. A journal entry was made so we can compare with our winter study.

Most of the leaves are shaped like this……

But there were some that were shaped like this……

We were wondering why the leaves on the same tree are shaped so differently…..any guesses?

Many of the leaves have fallen already and there are quite a few turning yellow-orange-brown as well.

This is the fruit that turns to the seeds….great helicopter seeds that fall by the thousands.

How about that bark? It has the fluffy green lichen and the flat bright orange lichen as well.

We actually had a squirrel friend spend some time in our tree this afternoon.

This was a great start to our new tree study and this tree will be easy to keep track of since I can see it from my bedroom window. I love watching the shadows of the branches and leaves on the blinds. It makes a great swishing sound in the summer when the breeze blows and during winter storms it has a sway and a creaking sound as it bends in the wind.

We will try to spend some time this week watching as the leaves start to really fall and before you know it, this tree will be bare. 🙂


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Our Cattail Study: Autumn Series Challenge #1

We went on a search for cattails and we found that we have two different areas of cattails within walking distance of our house. We decided that we could cut one cattail to bring home to closely observe. I was surprised at how “into” finding the cattails the boys became once we got started.

Another place that we found cattails was along the walking trail we frequent every week. These were much taller than the others and I think this will be the spot we observe over the next year.

There was a little water in the ditch where we found our cattails but not much. It was more like a muddy puddle than anything else.

Here is a close-up of the flower spike and right now it feels like velvet. The boys were surprised at how soft and fuzzy it was to the touch. We talked about what we learned from our pre-study and how the cattail is edible. We all decided that we would like to try eating it someday……something to plan for the future.

My sons were content to complete the notebook page with photos but I was inspired as so many others are by the simple beauty of this plant that we so often don’t take the time to appreciate. I pulled out my watercolors and made a quick painting for my nature journal. I found a tutorial in a watercolor book that I have on the shelf that showed how to add stippling with a pen once the paints are dry. I love the way it adds a little detail to the cattail.

This was a perfect way to start off our Autumn Series of Outdoor Hour Challenges.

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Trip to the Nature Center: Birds, Butterflies, and a Sundial Bridge

So yesterday was our big day trip to Turtle Bay. The weather was perfect which was a big relief. The city of Redding is usually scorching hot this time of year but there were a few high clouds in the morning to keep the temperatures down.

We started off with the outside exhibits at the nature center just in case it warmed up and the aviary was first on the list. What a racket these birds can make! You are given a little stick with some seeds on it to attract the birds down to eye level. This was a great way to spend extended time close-up to these colorful birds.

These Rosellas preferred to sick up high and watch us instead.

This pair of cockatiels posed for me and they never did come down to snack on the seeds.

After the aviary, we visited the butterfly house. We didn’t see too many butterflies this time but this Julia on some sedum was the prettiest one that I captured in a photo.

After lunch we went outside to explore the botanical gardens. What a display of plantings that will grow in our climate! I did not realize that this place had so much information and now I need to go back when I am fresh and the sun is not so hot. We became members of the nature center so we can get in free for a whole year and this will make it easier to go back just to look at the gardens and get some ideas for my yard.

We are going to be pulling up our lawn and replanting with drought-resistant plantings and the display at this botanical garden will help us pick things that will flourish and be beautiful without so much water.

This is the famous Sundial Bridge which doesn’t look much like a bridge from this photo because I took it from the gardens. Believe me, it is a very large bridge over the Sacramento River that connects the nature center with the botanical garden. Follow the link above to see the whole thing in a photo.

The bridge really is a big sundial. I took this photo of the shadow at 12:47 and you can see on the rock that it says 1:00….what a great way to teach about the sun and telling time.

One more thing that I loved about this nature center is the way things are so open to explore. This shelf is just what I want in my living room to display all our collections and nature stuff. I might have to have my son take a look at it and see if he can design something similar to fit my space.

It was a very long day with a long drive to get there and back but all of us agreed that it was a fantastic place. We all found something to be excited about and interested in. What more can you ask for?


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Great Sunflower Project

Today we did some observations as part of the Great Sunflower Project. We signed up earlier in the year to participate and they sent us some seeds to plant in our garden. Our job was to observe the sunflowers once they bloom and count how many bees visited our flowers. You are asked to observe until you see five bees or for thirty minutes.

We did not have to wait even a minute before we saw our first bee! We had five bees observed in less than five minutes.
unfolding sunflower
Here is one sunflower that is just unfolding its bloom. I love the way it looks.

lemon sunflower
I love the patterns in this sunflower. You can really see how it is a composite flower with its rays and florets.

bee crawling inside sunflower
This bee couldn’t wait for the sunflower to open…he had to push his way into the inside to reach the pollen.

bee with pollen on sunflower
Have you ever seen so much pollen on a bee before? I couldn’t stop watching this guy and his overloaded pollen sacs. Wow! He is one busy bee.

Mammoth sunflower with blue sky
This is my favorite sunflower in the whole garden. We grew it from a seed saved from last year and it is a Mammoth Sunflower. It is really tall and the bloom is huge.

Mr A with mammoth sunflower
This is my son who is six feet tall….he is dwarfed by this sunflower. Look at how large the leaves are!

finches eat the leaves
This is what the finches are doing to the leaves. They sit and nibble every afternoon. I guess there is enough to share.

This is a really fun and easy project. Check out the Great Sunflower Project for your family next year.

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Yosemite Amazes Me

We had a great camping/hiking trip to Yosemite National Park…it was a little bit hot in the valley so we tried to stay cool by hiking up in the high country, swimming in the river, and generally keeping to early morning hikes and activities.

Here are a bunch of photos in random sort of order just because I don’t feel like moving them around now that I uploaded them to Blogger. (Some might call that lazy…)

The meadows were filled with wildflowers and it was a feast for the eyes as you hiked along. This lovely bunch of flowers was at McGurk Meadow. This place is along Glacier Point Road and is about a three mile round trip hike from the road. The insects are thick but if you keep moving they pretty much leave you alone. The Indian Paintbrush was the predominant flower on this day.

The California Coneflowers were in full bloom at Crane Flat and this one was as big as my hand. It almost looks like a flat sunflower it was so big.

One of the many nature journal entries that we worked on back at camp. The Locoweed was thick at Crane Flat and it was fun to sketch and paint.

How about this wildflower? Elephant’s Head was blooming alongside Lukens Lake.

Here is Lukens Lake on a summer morning. The hike from Tioga Pass Road to the lake is about 1.5 miles and it is worth the effort. It has a beautiful meadow that you could hike across until last year when they closed it for restoration. You now walk alongside the lake the whole way and can only see the meadow from a distance.

Nothing like a swimming hole in the high country on a hot summer day. We were hiking along the John Muir Trail when we stopped to listen to the water falling down the rocks into the pool. Some fellow hikers tried to convince us to jump in but I knew the water was ice cold. We did end up taking our boots and socks off and sitting with our feet dangling in. It is amazing how fast your feet go numb in the icy waters. This is the Tuolumne River just outside Tuolumne Meadows hiking towards Rafferty Creek.

Here is another high country lake with crystal blue waters. We ate lunch one hot afternoon here and there really were quite a number of other folks around…some kayaking, some swimming, some wading in and cooling off, and some like us just enjoying the view.

This is actually just behind our campsite at Crane Flat. The meadow is in full bloom right now and it is tempting to walk out there and take photos. I did obey the sign and we stayed off the meadow. We did see a bear coming out of the meadow a short way from here but it was busy trotting off somewhere and didn’t even notice us.

Now this flower I knew! Mariposa Lily and there were quite a few growing in a bunch alongside the trail at McGurk Meadow. It is just so perfect. Sigh.

Here is another photo of the meadow as we hiked along. The meadow was damp and it made it sort of steamy in the sun. Hiking in the shade wasn’t so bad but out in the bright sunshine we got a bit hot….okay, we got sweaty. It was a good thing we had packed lots of water and Gatorade to drink.

These blue butterflies were landing on the damp ground. I learned from Casey’s blog that they call this puddling. They were definitely landing in the moist earth of the meadow and staying there awhile. It made a great chance for me to snap a few photos.

The star wildflower on this trip was the Indian Paintbrush. We all agreed it was our favorite flower in the meadow.

This trip was a boys trip and my dear husband decided to teach the boys to whittle. He had purchased each of them their own knives and presented them to each one once we set up camp. It must be a guy thing. 🙂

Here is dad giving them a lesson on safety and how to use the knife to whittle. They whittled the afternoon away and I finished reading two good books.

It was a great July vacation and we already have plans to go back next year. The boys have plans to hike to the top of Half Dome. I told them that they could go and I would stay behind and have dinner ready when they got down. 🙂

I am not really all that great with heights and since they are both teens now, they are eager to test their strength on a long, strenuous hike. Their dad is undecided about whether he wants to try it or not….we have some time to think about it.

Hope you enjoyed some scenes from our trip….grab the chance to go to Yosemite if you ever come this way.
I recently added a Squidoo Lens on Yosemite books: Yosemite for Families

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Emerald Bay: Day Hike with the Boys

Summer afternoon hike at the lake…not just any lake but a sparkling alpine lake.

The trail is narrow and winds along the shore of the bay. I talked to another hiker along the trail and he was telling me he thinks the view on this trail is in his “top ten” views in the world. It is amazingly gorgeous. The colors of the water are so blue and the mountains, still with a little snow on the tops, are majestic. (The horizon line in this photo is so crooked that it really bothers me but I love this photo of my youngest stopped in the middle of the trail, taking in the panorama.)

It was nice to have my oldest son along since he is a photographer as well. He captured some great shots of the water and the surrounding mountains. We gave each other photography tips and support. He is such a tech guy and I am very much *not* a tech person but photography is a language that we speak in common.

This was a new wildflower to us…so bright pink. I had an inkling it was some kind of penstemon. I came home and looked it up and sure enough, Cliff Penstemon or Rock Penstemon-Penstemon rupicola, figwort family.

Here is the waterfall at the end of the trail. This was a 1.7 mile hike from the trailhead which runs Emerald Bay Campground to Eagle Falls. The falls were hard to capture in a photograph because the sun was behind them at this point late in the afternoon. You can imagine the waterfall roaring and the mist blowing over to us, cooling us off. It was very refreshing.

From the waterfall we hiked down to the shore of the lake to wade in the water and have a snack. The beach had a dozen or so Canada Geese. Look at those feet! They are really big birds with really big feet.

After we hiked back to the car, we drove to our favorite beach to have a picnic dinner. There were lots and lots of Mule’s ear blooming. We enjoyed our food and then walked along the shore one last time before heading home for the day.

One last photo for those that wonder about bears….here is the sign at the place we had our picnic.

No bears on this day. We have encountered bears before in this area and we agree with what the sign says, “Appreciate the experience and move on….”. The bears we have seen in the wild are usually too busy doing other stuff to take much heed of our presence. It is usually a pleasant experience and not one to be feared.

What a refreshing, fun afternoon and evening. We all are looking forward to our next trip to the lake.


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Exploring with Pollen: Black-Eyed Susans


Exploring with pollen @handbookofnaturestudy

We were out working in the garden this morning and the topic of pollination came up. We were talking about the different ways that plants pollinate and as if to illustrate one way, this spider obliged us with his example.

We were really examining these black-eyed susans and their pretty pollen spots and we realized that this very yellow spider was sitting right there in front of us. Isn’t he pretty?

I ran inside and gathered a few things to use in exploring the garden and its pollens. I brought out a few Q-tips and a hand lens for gathering some pollen from the flowers and looked at it up close. We also found that many of the flowers and veggies that we observed had ants crawling in around the inside of the flower. Pollination.

Pollen on a day lily

We took a few minutes more to look at various ways that plants hold their pollen and watched a few bees at work and then we came inside.

Pollen on a petunia

It was a short nature study but the best kind……stemming from curiosity about something we had close at hand.

Gardens ebook Outdoor Hour challenge