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Our November World and Some Reflections of a Nature Study Mom

Back door View- Autumn leaves
Out my back door.

I headed out with the boys for a walk in our neighborhood to see what interested them from our November World. I tried hard to just listen and observe what they commented on or stopped to look at as we spent some time in the crisp November air….we are expecting snow any time now so the air is cold, about 38 degrees F. The wind howled last night and the rain came in but now snow yet.

Back to our walk….I made a mental list as we walked of all the things they noticed.

  • Golden mushrooms- not very large and partially hidden under some fallen leaves.
  • Dark clouds and little peep holes of blue shining through occasionally (Hey, look at the blue sky Mom!)
  • The variety of colors of leaves on the ground.
  • The differences between the two kinds of oaks we saw….one has big leaves and the other has small pointy leaves
  • The sound of a crickets in the late afternoon.

Pretty good list for just a casual walk don’t you think?

I challenged myself to just take a walk and not bring my camera. I know how much I can be distracted by my own interests when I have the camera in my hand. I wanted on this walk, for this challenge to just spend time with the boys and notice things. I noticed that the air is different as the storm makes its way into our area, a sort of stillness that feels heavy. There is also a smell of dampness from the morning dew that isn’t present in the summer. There are still colors to be seen if you look closely and try to find them in the autumn weeds.

Bird in the Feeder
The birds seem more active when the weather is changing and after our walk I spent some time filling feeders and listening to the boys talk about the red-tailed hawk they saw earlier in the week, still gushing about its greatness and size.

It feels good to be living a life so close to our natural environment and learning about the lives of other creatures that cross our path. It is comforting to learn about the cycles of birth, growth, death, and then rebirth that takes place right in our own backyard. Yet, with all the knowledge of such things gained in years previous, we know there is so much more to glean as we keep inviting the opportunities to come by making time to get outdoors every week….just about every day.

Our November World has pretty much turned into a Winter World since I started writing this post a few days ago. We have had really cold temperatures and wild weather. It now feels like time to start thinking about winter nature study.

Stay warm,

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Some More Backyard Birds to Share

We have had an abundance of birds in our yard for the past few weeks. Part of the reason is my new birdfeeder station in our front yard but mostly because it seems to be that time of year.

I grabbed my son’s camera the other day and took quite a few photos of just a small fraction of the variety of birds right in our yard.

Western Scrub Jay with an Acorn
There are always lots of Western scrub jays in our yard. This one found an acorn snack.

Northern Mockingbird
This is the best I could get of the Northern mockingbird in our front tree.

Western Bluebird
There have been quite a few Western bluebirds hanging around this week. I was able to snap a good photo of this pretty little bird.

Nuttall's Woodpecker- Female
There is a pair of Nuttall’s woodpeckers that are frequently on the utility pole across the street from our house. This seems to be the female…the male has red on his head.

Western Scrub Jay in the Rocks
This Western scrub jay was poking around in the rocks. I think he was trying to find some acorns or walnuts that he stashed but I was able to catch him holding still for a few seconds so I could capture his beautiful blue feathers.

Stay tuned because I am sure I will have some more to share soon. We spend time watching birds everyday and it is always fun to share.

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An Autumn Tree Observation Extraordinaire

We decided that our autumn study of leaves was going to be incorporated into our annual fall trip to see the colors of the aspens up in the high country of the Sierra Nevada. The trip is about 100 miles round trip from our front door but it goes through magnificent forests, by snow fed lakes, and in view of some of the most breathtaking mountains in existence.

10 2010 Fall Drive to Tahoe (17)
The first leg of the trip goes through the pine forests and we thought our day had come to an end before it really started when we encountered a control burn of the forest floor by the US Forest Service. They clean out the underbrush by setting fires and then controlling the burns. It makes a lot of smoke but we were able to drive down the highway and past the fires onto our destination.

Hwy 88 meadow with color
The second part of the forest is actually in Alpine County and the forests are mixed in with aspen groves to make wonderful color in the fall. You know the minute you hit this part of the habitat because you start to see the yellows, oranges, and golds of the leaves.

Hwy 88 Taking Photos
We have a favorite side road that has the prettiest meadow. Yes, that is my son out there taking just as many photos as I am on this day….it is awesome to share a hobby with your grown up kids.

Aspen Leaves and Trunks
Here you can see the shape of the aspen leaf and the trunk of the tree in all its beauty. I never tire of looking at aspens.

Hwy 88 Trees and Sky
It was fairly cloudy this afternoon but for a few minutes the clouds parted and we had a chance to capture the blue sky in contrast to the bright yellow leaves.

Hope Valley Color
We drove the next leg of the road which leads through a place called Hope Valley. This is “the” place to see fall color in our area. There were many of us lined up on the side of the road to capture the oranges and yellows and golds of the trees on the mountain. Isn’t it dreamy?

Hope Valley round-up
Then as we headed back around to Christmas Valley, we saw this scene. There were some people on horses rounding up a herd of cattle. Stop the car! Yes, we had to take a few photos of this and it was the perfect way to end up this part of drive.

We observed some of the leaves “quaking”. We learned from our field guide that the reason they shake that way is because the stem is flattened near the leaf and so when the wind blows they shake or quake. It sounds sort of like the ocean to me when you hear them quaking and is a nice sound. Here is a link to try: USDA Quaking Aspens.

There was more to this trip but I will save that for another post. We actually went to see the salmon spawning and there were quite a few ducks to observe as well. Stay tuned for a salmon post when that challenge comes up in a few weeks.

I also am going to post a separate entry for our leaf comparisons since this post became rather long. Stay tuned for part two.  We also have picked a new tree in our backyard to observe for a year-long tree study and I will share our fall observations with the leaf post.

Today we will be working on the apple challenge but the horse challenge is still in the works.

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More Grasshopper Study…And A Little Praying Mantis Study Too

Garden Flowers 9 10

We were busy picking flowers and taking some photos when we had a visitor. It hopped right up on my arm and it tickled. I realized I had a visitor. My son scooped him up and put him on a flower while I captured him in a few photos.

Praying Mantis 1
I was pretty excited until I realized that the challenge was cricket, grasshopper, and katydid….we had ourselves a praying mantis! Oh well, it was fun observing him up close anyway.

Praying Mantis 2
Here is his behind….way too funny huh?

Praying Mantis 4
He was very good at posing. It made me laugh because every time I tried to take his photo, he would move so his head was facing away from the camera. He would actually look right at me and then turn at the last minute.

One last pose…I think he only had one antennae.

We spent last week in Nevada and it was amazing to us how many grasshoppers there were in the barren landscape. I never did get a single photo of the grasshoppers but we talked about their habits quite a bit as we were out and about.They were rather small grasshoppers in comparison to the one we found near a river in Reno.

grasshopper (1)

I shared this guy last week and since them we have been trying to identify him with no success. He was rather large, probably close to 2 inches long. We think it may be a two-striped grasshopper.

Since we had crickets, grasshoppers, and katydids on our minds, we have slowed down a bit to try to find some to observe. We went out several times to try to hear some crickets but they seem to be smaller in number so the volume is less than usual. It has been a crazy weather year and I am wondering if it is effecting the crickets.

Sometimes I think we might learn more when we have trouble locating our challenge subject. We definitely find more to learn about.

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Yosemite Trip: Summer 2010: Bears, Wildflowers, and A Cool River

I have been trying all week to find time to post an entry sharing a little of our time in Yosemite last week. We had a great camping trip under the big trees and hiking was glorious. There were crowds of people in the valley but once you made a little effort to get on the trail, there were quiet and open spaces to enjoy with only a few other people to share the path.

Bear in the campsite
Our camping was made exciting by the visit of a black bear. Two campsites away they left out some food and the bear was quick to find a tasty meal of peanuts and chips. We were up early and making our way to the restroom and back when I spotted what I thought was a bear in the campsite. I did not have my glasses on and it was still early and dark. My husband assured me it was a bear.

Bear trying to escape Dave banging the pot
We made some noise and eventually grabbed some pots and pans to bang together to scare the bear away from the campsite. There is a meadow and wild space behind the campground and the bear eventually made its way off into the trees…not until after he tried to climb a tree. When he stood up he was taller than my 6′ tall husband. We never felt in danger but we know that once a bear gets accustomed to people food that they become a nuisance and the rangers have to take action. (Sorry for the blurry photos but it was really early morning and I just had my point and shoot.)

Hike to McGurks Meadow
We had two great hikes during our visit. The first was to McGurks Meadow which is off Glacier Point Road. It is the perfect time of year to visit the meadow to view the wildflowers. I can’t keep up with my boys anymore. They take off ahead of me but our family has come up with a way to stay together…a family whistle. They need to be able to hear me whistle and whistle back or they are too far ahead.

McGurks Meadow with Indian Paintbrush
The most abundant wildflower blooming was the Indian Paintbrush.

McGurks Meadow Corn Lilies
The corn lilies were starting to bloom as well. We saw loads of butterflies and when we stopped to sit on a log to rest, a tree frog jumped right up next to us.

May Lake Trail With Mr A
Our second hike of the week was up to May Lake which is a High Sierra Camp. You can hike up there and spend the night in tent cabins or bring your own tent. We just went for the day. Believe it or not, there is a trail there across the granite.

May Lake Trail 1
Here is some more of what the terrain looks like as you hike up to the lake. The lake itself is at about 9,200 feet in elevation. I can feel it in my lungs as we hike up at that altitude. I hike a lot but in combination with the heat and the altitude, it slows me down.

May Lake Trail sharing with Horses and Mules
On this particular day, there were two separate mule teams coming down from the High Sierra Camp. They bring the trash and stuff down the mountain and then after resupplying the packs, they head back up. They seem so sure of their footing even on the granite slabs.

May Lake Glorious View
The lake itself is not very big but so sparkling clear and cold…you just want to sit and enjoy the view for awhile before exploring around the edge. Here my son gives his dad a helping hand up after our time resting.

May Lake Trail Barb
Here I am on the trip down the mountain. Not very glamorous but it keeps the sun off this freckle face.

May Lake Trail Boys need to climb on rocks
The boys still have enough energy to do a little rock scrambling on the way down. They love this stuff and I think they need to do this sort of thing in order to grow up healthy and happy.

Yosemite Valley wildflowers
Our last day was spent in Yosemite Valley itself. We checked out the meadows with milkweed blooming and monarch butterflies fluttering.

Yosemite Valley milkweed with monarch
I almost captured the monarch on the milkweed…see him peeking out?

Yosemite Valley milkweed
The milkweed is just glorious right now…so many butterflies and other insects in the meadows. Coexisting, growing so pretty.

Yosemite Valley Bikes
We spent the afternoon pedaling at bike speed around the whole valley. What a great way to slow down and really see a lot of ground in a short time. Guess where we are parked?

Yosemite Valley cooling off at the river
The Merced River. Talk about refreshing! Most people were drifting down on rafts but we decided to jump in and get wet. No kidding, it was perfect.

Yosemite Valley Half Dome at Sunset
One last shot at sunset of this massive granite rock that we have come to love. Half Dome in all its splendor…until next time.

Hope you enjoyed seeing a few of our adventures.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

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Summer is For Hiking


I really mean to post our Outdoor Hour Challenges but somehow I just keep getting distracted. I am avoiding too much work this week because it feels like the summer sort of thing to do.

Hiking is our activity of choice these days when we have family time. The boys are old enough now that we can take some fairly decent day hikes and enjoy some awesome Sierra landscapes. Wake up, pack a lunch, and lace on your hiking shoes….out the door.

Cascade Falls Looking to Tahoe
Last week we took the one hour trip over the mountain to the Cascade Falls trailhead. We had two choices…the falls or Desolation Wilderness. Since this was a day hike we opted for the easy mile and a half, out and back trail to the falls.

Top of Cascade Falls
You actually hike to the top of the falls and look down over Lake Tahoe.

Tree in the Falls
It was not too hot so we decided to find a place and just enjoy the scenery. The sound of the falls, the blue Sierra sky, and the warm air is so refreshing and worth the effort to get there.

Wildflower at Cascade Falls
It always amazes me that anything can grow on these giant slabs of granite. They seem to find little cracks and spaces to hold fast to like this wildflower at the top of the falls. In the top right of the photo you can catch a glimpse of the lake and how high we are up on the waterfall.

Waterfall at Woods Lake
This past weekend we took another one hour drive in a different direction and ended up at Woods Lake. A short, short hike around the lake takes you to a small but pleasant waterfall.

Hiking at Woods Lake
We let the boys blaze the trail back and at some points there was a lot of scurrying over rocks. They always assure me that it is “easy”. They forget that I am getting a little old to scramble over rocks and to jump down from logs.

Woods Lake Snow
Yes, that is snow. There were actually still numerous spots around this high altitude lake that still had snow.

Woods Lake 2
The rest of the afternoon my husband and I were planted firmly in chairs on the side of this gorgeous lake. I did some watercoloring in my nature journal and he took a little snooze. Perfect.

Woods Lake 1
The boys didn’t sit still very long and they were lured around the opposite side of the lake for a little more exploring. Let’s just say that shoes got wet on this little outing. 🙂

We found a long time ago that we can explore so many different places by using a simple idea. Take a map and place a big dot on your home town. Now determine an hour’s distance from your home and draw a circle around your home at that distance. Make a list of all the places you can go that are within that hour’s distance and then start one by one giving them a try. We have been following this concept for over a decade and it always amazes us what we can find to do that is within that short distance range.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

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Low Tide Marine Life: Southern Oregon Coast

Southern Oregon Low Tide Marine Life @handbookofnaturestudy

We had an opportunity while on our Oregon Coast camping trip to take advantage of an extremely low tide to view spectacular marine creatures easily. We have done quite a bit of tide pool exploring in the last couple of years but this was by far the most awesome experience ever.

The colors of the marine life are shockingly beautiful with their pinks, bright greens, oranges, and purples. I will share a few of my favorite photos from the experience.

Tidepool with anemones and sea stars
Sea stars and anemones were everywhere you looked, the most I have ever seen in one place.

Sea star really close up
We all loved getting a close up view of the sea stars and feeling their textures. We each had a favorite color.

Leather Star 2
This was the first time we saw this particular kind of sea star, a leather star and it was really interesting to look at. He sort of looks like he is waving to us in this photo.

Sun star
How about this sun star?

Orange snail
There were also loads and loads of barnacles, mussels, and snails. I think the orange one is THIS. I think the striped one is THIS.

Talk about mussels…..some rocks were just covered in them.

Leather chiton
This was the most fascinating creature that we observed during the low tide. The leather chitons were exposed on the rocks and we could really get up close. Yes, it is a living creature.

Red worm
One morning we were out in the tide pools there was a volunteer naturalist helping answer questions. It was a treasure to have her there and we spent quite a bit of time exploring side by side. She was a wealth of information and I learned so much more by watching her movements and looking in places she suggested. She pointed out this worm. I think it might be this red ribbon worm.

Sea birds
It was an interesting perspective to see the sea grasses laying down flat because of the lack of water. The sea birds were having a delicious breakfast as they sat on the rocks. Even though it looks like the water is really close, we never got wet. Someone was always watching to see when the water was moving back in but we had plenty of time to rock hop and examine this habitat very closely.

Sea stars
The memories of this tidepool adventure will be with us for a very long time.

Mr D at the tidepool
It was such a moving experience and we all felt blessed to have been able to take advantage of the opportunity.

I will try to post some of the photos from our hikes in the redwoods soon….awesome in a different way. If you are wondering what beach this is, we were at Harris Beach in Brookings, Oregon. I highly recommend this state park for camping and exploring the southern Oregon coast.

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Marine Invertebrates Notebooking Pages

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Spring Tree Update: Blossoms on our Tulip Tree

Tulip Tree Bloom 1

Our tulip tree is blooming like crazy! I have never seen so many blossoms on this tree and the bees have noticed too. The buzzing starts as soon as the sun rises and continues most of the day.

Tulip Tree Blossom

Wouldn’t you want to buzz around this blossom and collect some pollen too? The colors and patterns are very impressive if you take the time to observe them up close. You can see clearly the inner part that will become the helicopter seeds in the fall right there in the middle of the blossom.

Tulip Tree Bloom 2
You can see how the sepals bend back and expose the flowers. The design of this flower truly shows the finger of our Grand Creator.

Tulip Tree with blooms
Here is a view of the tree with all the flowers….it is amazing the difference between the seasons in this tree.

Tulip Tree complete blooms
Our next update will be with the Summer Series of Challenges.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

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Quick Thoughts from our World

The ebooks are finished. Our school year is officially over. Summer has begun.

Harvesting oregano and making some bundles to dry was first on the list. We also picked another quart of strawberries, a few peas, a couple of stray carrots, and the last of the spinach.

We planted zinnias, cosmos, Shasta daisies, Ireland Bells, more cilantro, moonflowers, and lots of seedlings. We were able to get all our seedlings into the ground: pumpkin, acorn squash, zucchini, tomatoes, a variety of peppers, dill, and a variety of sunflowers. It makes me tired just thinking about all that we planted. Now the weather needs to stay warm and I need to keep my eyes on all my babies. My husband and boys were such a great help this week in the garden.

Butterfly Garden (2)
Weeding and pruning the butterfly garden was next on the list.

Butterfly Garden
Here is another photo. If you click over to Flickr for either of these photos, I have made notes telling you what we have planted there.

Butterfly Garden (1)
One last angle of the butterfly garden.

Checking the garden beds and seeing what is growing is always a fun task this time of year. We have a few big mulleins growing along the fence.

Baby Scrub Jay 5 27 10
Our baby Western scrub jay is flying now and he regularly sits outside our window waiting for his mother.

Moving from our garden now to our other adventures.

Purple chinese houses
Several long hikes this past week…one hike where we saw the snake and some that were not so exciting. Here is the predominant wildflower on our hiking trail right now, Purple Chinese Houses.

Riding Bikes
We also went on a long bike ride and the boys had a blast.

Photographer Man
My oldest son and I shared some photo moments at the lake when we stopped for a break.

Sand Angels and Canadian Geese
Sand angels and Canadian geese….sounds good to me, except for the sand in the shoes.

I had to stop my bike and take a photo of this phlox alongside the trail. It was just too pretty to pass by.

So I think that catches me up for the last week or so in our world. I love this time of year. We have two Outdoor Hour Challenges to finish up but they will be posted soon. I have emailed out all the orders for ebooks that I have received so if you ordered and did not receive your files, please email me and let me know. I am really looking forward to starting the summer series of challenges with our family.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

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Hike to the River: Spring Wildflowers

Red Shack Trail

Friday we took a long afternoon hike to the river near our house. This is our usual trail but we went the entire distance to see how high the river is with some of the spring runoff from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The wildflowers are amazing right now…here are a few favorites.

Mustang Clover close up
This was really the star of the wildflowers on this particular hike, mustang clover. This flower is blanketing the hillsides. What a show!

Mustang Clover 1
Here is a photo of it along the trail.

The other wildflower making its glorious appearance is the California poppy.

American River
We made it to the bottom of the river canyon and realized our beach is completely covered in water right now. We had to be content to sit on the rocks and watch the water rush by.

Resting on the trail
On the way back up, we stopped for a break in the shade. The insects were buzzing and we even saw our first mosquitoes of the season.

purple monkeyflower
Here is a new to me wildflower on this trail, purple monkeyflower. There was a patch growing right along the trail on a moist bank.

Pearly everlasting 1
I also saw for the very first time on this trail some pearly everlasting.

Two new wildflowers to add to our running list for this trail.

Hope you enjoyed seeing our outing. We definitely had a wonderful time on this spring afternoon.