Posted on Leave a comment

Oaks and Acorns – California Visit

Oaks have a fragrance when the leaves are warm that conjures up memories of all the summers spent living in California. It’s an earthy smell that reminds me of hiking along trails beneath the oak forest canopy.


Dave Moore walking under the oaks
Walking with my son – 2012


Oaks can create a wonderful protective archway and I love to stand underneath and peek up through the leaves to the sky. Along a familiar trail, the oaks create an arching leafy roof that filters the sunlight and I remember watching my boys run ahead of me on this trail, blond heads disappearing around the corner.


Oak Tree california

This week we camped under the oaks at a friend’s house in California. I relished the time to wander the property to see his magnificent oak trees.


The crunching of dried oak leaves was a familiar trail sound as we walk along looking for acorns, none to be found this day. Perhaps it’s early in the season or maybe this year won’t be a “good” year for an acorn crop. Hint: If you dig around in the leaf litter under the tree, you may find a few of last year’s acorns not gathered by the squirrels or scrub jays.


oak leaf nature journal


We compared two different oaks growing at our campsite, the California black oak and the interior live oak. The leaves are very different in size and shape. The California black oak is a large tree with fairly good size leaves. The interior live oak has small, sharply toothed leaves.


This entry includes Amazon affiliate links to products I own and love!


I used the Peterson field guide to trees to figure out what kind of oak trees created each type of leaf. This guide is one of my favorites because of the detailed illustrations of not only the leaf, but also the bud and acorn. This makes it easier to distinguish which oak we are studying. Look for it on Amazon and note there is an eastern and western version for trees.


Lichen in CaliforniaThis day I was reminded that when you study oaks there are many other related studies you could work on at the same time: lichen, moss, mistletoe, woodpeckers, squirrels, and even lizards. Try to take it all in and see your tree as a living world.


See this entry for a free printable: My Tree is a Living World.

Make sure to read the original Oak Tree Outdoor Hour Challenge with a free notebook page: OHC Oaks and Acorns.

Posted on Leave a comment

Outdoor Hour Tree Grid – Another Oak and Acorn Study

Now that one complete challenge each month is to use the grid study…we are making better use of it as we go about our weekly outdoor time. This week we had tennis plans with some friends at the park and we combined this with some time observing the oak trees that surround the courts. 

I brought our tree field guide, our journal supplies, and the tree grid to help us glean more from our observations. There is a picnic bench right under the great big oak that you see in the top image. It is very different from the other oak we observed last week in our backyard. This one has a bunch of large trunks coming up from one spot and reaching out to make a crown.

So we took photos of our tree parts as part of the grid study.

These acorns are much larger than the ones we have on the California Black Oak tree in our yard. We also noticed that there are two growing together, opposite each other. This was a clue to the identify of the type of oak once we pulled out our field guide.

Here is a photo of the trunk with the bark and woodpecker holes. Which reminds me that I need to add the woodpeckers we saw to our bird list for October. We keep a running list each month of the birds we see and now that we have three year’s worth of data it is interesting to compare.

Under the main tree we saw this new oak sprouting….which technically isn’t part of the tree but we thought it was interesting. Looking at the image now it also shows the dry, brown leaves of this oak tree.

My tree pages using the tree grid and bookmark from the October Newsletter. (Amazon link to journal below)

So then we pulled out our tree field guide (A Field Guide to Western Trees-Peterson Field Guides) and tried to determine just what particular oak we were enjoying at the park on a glorious October afternoon. Turns out it is an Interior Live Oak.  We were interested in the fact that the leaves can either be smooth (like ours) or they can be “sharp-toothed”.

So for my nature journal pages for our tree study, I am using the Tree Grid and bookmark from the newsletter, my tree poetry from last Friday’s Using Your Words challenge, and then I will add some additional observations and maybe an image I print our from our photos.

We still have some tasks left from the Tree Study Grid to complete but there is plenty of time in the month to work on them. We have had some debate about which tree is “closest to our house”….it might even mean getting out a measuring tape to have an official closest tree.

I have a nature study group trip this week and I have been gathering some things to take for all of us.

I thought you might like to see what I pack for our group…nothing too exciting.

  • Colored pencils and Number 2 pencils with erasers
  • Scissors (for cutting the grids)
  • Tape
  • Pencil sharpener (can’t see it in the photo)
  • Assorted field guides (which I put in my daypack)
  • A couple of magnifying tools
  • Clipboards with the study grid (we are going to work on insects on this trip)

Even though we are going to be working on insects, I decided to bring in a few other field guides. We have quite a few lizards right now and I know some of the boys are going to want to chase those. I also always bring a bird field guide since that is one that we always seem to need.

I have gleaned some wonderful ideas from all of you as I watch you work with your grid studies….so many ways to use this simple idea. I hope that showing you a glimpse into our tree grid study will encourage you to give it a try this month or any other month you feel like studying trees.

Posted on 3 Comments

Outdoor Hour Challenge -Oaks and Acorns

We are starting a new theme for the month of October – Trees! 

For this whole month we will be enjoying trees in our backyards and neighborhoods during our Outdoor Hour time and then following up with some exciting activities. Make sure you are subscribed to my blog and you will get the download link for the October Newsletter in the next blog entry mailed to your inbox.

Outdoor Hour Challenge:
One of the most popular trees that we study here on the Handbook of Nature Study is the oak tree. The oak has many interesting aspects including its leaves, bark, acorns, and the habitat that it provides to animals and birds. This week you can choose one of the previous oak tree challenges to complete when you find an oak tree subject. Make sure to read the suggested pages in the Handbook of Nature Study. Keep your eyes out for oaks and acorns!

Oaks and Acorns (2009 Autumn Series)

Oak and Leaf Activity Suggestion:
This week the challenge extra is a creative way to slow down and look at leaves.

This project which came from The Artful Parent (via Pinterest) is a simple activity where you collect leaves and then thread them onto a stick. I love the variety of shapes and colors and as we work our way through October there should be an opportunity for your family to collect and then make a leaf stick. We found this works best with leaves that are not too dry and brittle. Make sure to include photos of your leaf sticks in your blog entries and then submit them to the blog carnival.

You also may be interested in trying some of the ideas in this Hearts and Trees entry: Things to Do With Acorns. 

Blog Logo 1
Getting Started Suggestion:
If you already own this ebook, this week’s challenge would be a great addition to Challenge #10-An Outdoor Picnic. Find a majestic oak or another tall tree to spread a picnic blanket underneath and enjoy as you have a snack or meal. Bring along a book to read (see widget below for some suggestions).

If you need an explanation of how the Outdoor Hour Challenge is going to work from this day forward, please read this entry:
Nature Study Using the Outdoor Hour Challenge – How to Steps and Explanation.

OHC Blog Carnival
You are welcome to submit any of you blog Outdoor Hour Challenge blog entries to the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival. Entries for the current month are due on 10/30/12. Widgets

Posted on 7 Comments

Leaf-Miner Study Updated and Some Acorns Too

Leaf Miner 1

Today we hit the jackpot with leaf-miners while we were taking a hike with the dog. We found a whole bunch of leaves with signs of leaf-miners…how exciting!
(Original post HERE and the OHC Challenge HERE)

Leaf Miner 2
We were amazed at how crazy the path is on some of the leaves. Curls and swirls and then along the edges, there seems to be no rhyme or reason.

Oaks and Acorns 1

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

We also were fascinated with the furry, fuzzy tops on these acorns. I like how they grow like twins on the branches of the oak tree.

Acorns and moss
I found a few on the ground along with some moss for a cute little acorn photo.

Just wanted to update our study with our latest finds.

Posted on 5 Comments

Trees Do Fall Down in the Woods

Red Shack 10 6 10 (9) Tree Down

Now this could pose a problem…..a big pine tree down across our hiking trail.

Red Shack 10 6 10 (11) Acorns in the trunk

We actually noticed before that this particular tree is *full* of acorn holes where the woodpeckers have made a huge storehouse of acorns in the trunk. We think this is what led to the demise of this big tree. That looks like a fresh acorn inside the hole.

Red Shack 10 6 10 (12) Acorn holes

When it fell, big pieces of the bark came off and exposed all the acorn holes. We climbed up and over to continue our hike. The dog decided to crawl underneath but either way it worked.

Red Shack 10 6 10 (1) Paper Wasp

Further down the trail my son spotted this section of a wasp nest on the trail. These are amazing creations and hard to believe that an insect made this out of their spit and plant fibers. Once again the Handbook of Nature Study helped us to learn a little bit more about the process of building the nest on page 381 (Lesson 95). The whole section is fascinating…here is an excerpt:

“The nest is of paper made of bits of wood which the wasps pull off with their jaws from weather-worn fences or boards. This wood is reduced to pulp by saliva which is secreted from the wasp’s mouth, and is laid on in little layers which can be easily seen by examining the outside of the nest.” Handbook of Nature Study, page 381.

Red Shack 10 6 10 (8) Some sort of gall

We also noticed these puffy growths on the oak branches along the trail. We thought maybe they were some sort of gall. I am still working on figuring out what exactly they are so if anyone has any ideas, I would appreciate an email.

It is nice to be out hiking again as the weather is cooling down a bit. My sons have been down off and on this week with a cold/flu. Mr. A said it was nice to get out and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine and I know it always makes me feel better too.

Posted on 3 Comments

Winter Mix and Match Nature Study

Wildlife Viewing Sign
This post is a mix and match post with lots of different interesting things we are studying. I am trying to get through all the photos I have taken in the last month to close off our winter studies before spring comes.

Sweet gum forsythia and river willow
I brought in some branches of various trees and bushes in January and we have been watching them as they unfold. This is such an easy project that I encourage you to give it a try. Any woody plant will work and we are trying some new ones this year.

Here are some instructions you might want to read: Bursting Blooms

bud sweet gum
This is the sweet gum as it starts to unfold. Edit to add that this is a maple and not a sweet gum.

Now this is my mystery tree branch (perhaps a Quaking Aspen) that I brought home from my romp up in the mountains. The branch was broken off on the trail and I decided it might be interesting to bring it home and see if it would sprout leaves. It had buds at first and then the buds burst open to reveal these catkins.
bud catikin leaves- Aspen?

Leaves on branch-Aspen?
The catkins then dropped off and the leaves are now sprouting bright spring green leaves and I am still not 100% sure this is a Quaking aspen branch.

Forsythia blossom
This is the forsythia bush twig that I brought in and it is so pretty in yellow. I must be tired of the winter drabs because this yellow really cheers me up.

seeds trumpet vine and crepe myrtle
These are just two things that have been sitting on the nature shelf that someone brought in to look at and study. We haven’t had time to really research them much, but they are interesting none the less. The crepe myrtle bush has some interesting seeds and the pods have become really hard as they dry. The seed pod from the trumpet vine is filled with thousands of seeds with wings. They are amazing actually.

Now for a few outdoor things that I would like to share.

buckeye with sprout
This buckeye seed has broken open and sent out a pinkish root. They are striking to see as we walk along the trail.

acorn with sprout
The acorns are doing the same thing right now as well. This black oak acorn has sprouted.

acorn sprouting 2
Here is another photo of an acorn sending down a root. Amazing to see in real life. Just think, a gigantic tree can grow from just this little acorn and one little sprout.

Manzanita Blossoms 2
One last photo with some manzanita that is ready to bloom. I love the delicate pink buds that will soon be blooming all along our walking trail.

I think that catches me up with photos from the camera. We are trying to keep up our daily walks and I am feeling the change of the seasons coming. The air is different.

I encourage you to try the Bursting Blooms activity with your kids and to get outside for a few minutes this week to enjoy the day.


Posted on 1 Comment

Black and White Birds: Our Family’s Outdoor Hour Challenge

Outdoor Hour challenge Black and White birds @handbookofnaturestudy

We were hoping to observe some birds from this challenge but we never had an opportunity come up. We will have our eyes out for a woodpecker, a nuthatch, and a towhee. We have heard plenty of woodpeckers and towhees out in the woods as we walk, but they never come close by and let us have a good look for this challenge.

Spotted Towhee

We have seen some birds to note here on the blog. We saw our very first ever grouse when we were out today. After our encounter with the sound of the grouse at Yosemite last month, we were prepared when we saw a grouse here locally. I did not have my camera so there is no photo but here is a link to the kind of grouse that we saw:

We also saw a group of Canada Goose this past weekend. I think they sort of qualify as black and white birds. Don’t you?

We also saw these ducks.

In the Handbook of Nature Study it says to study the goose and the duck and compare them. The questions in the lesson have you comparing different features of the duck and the goose like their beaks and feet.

We made a journal entry showing different kinds of bird feet. This was an interesting sketching assignment and we had to work carefully from the images on this website: Bird Feet.

Although we didn’t see any woodpeckers, we did see evidence that there are some nearby.

This is a tree that the acorn woodpeckers have made holes in the bark and then stuffed acorns in for future meals. Here is a better look at the acorns.

Amazing that they make the holes just the right size.

This is what the AllAboutBirds website says about the Acorn woodpecker.
“All members of an Acorn Woodpecker group spend large amounts of time storing acorns. Acorns typically are stored in holes drilled into a single tree, called a granary tree. One granary tree may have up to 50,000 holes in it, each of which is filled with an acorn in autumn.”

We come across these granary trees quite frequently in our area.

Here is a photo of a white-headed woodpecker that I took last summer at Yosemite.

He was not shy and we had a great time watching him work.

Although we were not successful in spotting this challenge’s birds, we did take quite a bit of time to look for, listen to, and learn about the birds in the challenge.

Posted on 5 Comments

Land of Oaks and Pines Part Two-Connections to the Past: Outdoor Hour Challenge #33

We have a variety of oaks in our yard and on closer inspection, we have a lot of baby oak trees as well. The more we looked, the more seedlings we found to observe.

I pulled some out for us to examine the roots….they were really long.

Here is the oak seedling we pulled out and you could still see the remains of the original acorn too. Just what I need, an oak tree growing under the magnolia tree. Crazy thing is that I know how this acorn ended up far from the mother oak. Western scrub jays will poke acorns into the garden in various spots as a means of storage. They will not come back and find all the acorns and that allows a new tree to sprout far from the original oak.

Here is another kind of oak growing in the backyard.

We collected a number of leaves to examine indoors and to try to identify which kinds of oaks we have in the backyard.The different shapes of leaves were interesting to note. We had big leaves and little leaves. They were shiny or dull, pointed or rounded, and in a variety of shades of greens.

Here is the collection.

California Black Oak-leaves are really large and have deep lobes and bristle tips

Either Interior Live Oak or Canyon Live Oak-I need to go do some more close observation of the trunks and acorns

I am pretty sure this is a Valley Oak.

I can not believe there are so many different kinds of oaks right here in our backyard. We are literally surrounded by oaks. I didn’t even collect leaves from all of them. I know we have a California Scrub Oak in the far back of the property.

Now for the great acorns we collected at my parent’s house. Look at that big guy. He is a beauty. I am fairly certain it came from an Interior Live Oak tree.

The Native Americans in our area used the acorns as a staple in their diet. They collected the acorns and stored them in granaries. They would grind the acorns up to make a flour. Here is a link that explains it simply. The Indian Grinding Rock State Park is near where I live and it is a fascinating place to visit to get an idea of how the acorn was used by the Miwok Indians. Actually there is a place on the creek near my parent’s house that has grinding rocks that were used by the Miwok that inhabited the area before the California Gold Rush. The oak trees were a vital part of their lives.

Posted on 12 Comments

Outdoor Hour Challenge #33 Tree Focus: Oaks

“Nature study is, despite all discussions and perversions, a study of nature; it consists of simple, truthful observations that may, like beads on a string, finally be threaded upon the understanding and thus held together as a logical and harmonious whole.
Handbook of Nature Study, page 1

Outdoor Hour Challenge #33  

1. This week read in the Handbook of Nature Study pages 639-642 to learn more about oak trees. Even if you don’t think you have any oaks in your area, it is still interesting to read the information for future reference. Make sure to note the ideas suggested for studying oaks in the lesson at the end of the section-Lesson 176.

2. Spend 15 to 20 minutes outdoors this week with your children in your own yard or on your own street. The weather should be getting cooler for most of us and it is a very enjoyable time to be outdoors. Take advantage of this time before the cold and wet weather sets in. This week you will have two suggested activities. In addition, how about taking a photo of your child with a tree in your yard? This is a great way to document growth of both the tree and your child over time.

*If you have an oak tree of any variety in your yard or on your street, use the ideas from the lesson on page 641 and 642 to guide your observation of the oak tree. Take along your magnifying lens if you want to get a closer look at the bark or leaves of your tree as you spend time outdoors. Don’t forget to look for acorns. If you have an oak tree to observe, it would be fun to share a photo of your acorn. There are many types of acorn shapes and sizes and it would be great to see what your particular acorn looks like.

*If you do not have a oak tree to observe or you have an additional time period for nature study, choose another variety of tree to observe. Study the leaves on your tree and then describe the shape of the leaf, the edges, the color on top and below, count its ribs and veins, and then describe how it feels and how it smells. Encourage your children to observe quietly for a few minutes of each outdoor time period.

3. After your outdoor time, spend a few minutes discussing any trees you saw. Talk about anything that interested your child. Ask them to give you a brief description of something they saw while on their nature walk. Refer back to challenge number two for more ideas on how to encourage oral narration of your nature time. This would also be a good time to look up any oak trees you observed in your field guide and see if you can learn more about your particular oak tree. If your child found something else of interest, look it up in the index of the Handbook of Nature Study. Read over the pages before your next nature study time so you will be ready to share the information with your child.

4. Make sure to give time and the opportunity for a nature journal entry. There is a suggestion in the Handbook of Nature Study to draw your oak in the fall and then again in the winter. Also, the Handbook suggests finding three leaves from your oak that differ in form, and then sketch them in your notebook. If you would like to complete a notebook page, see the link below to choose one for your child’s journal. A nature journal entry can be as simple as a sketch, a label, and a date. See challenges two and three for alternatives to drawing in your nature journal.

5. If you identified a tree this week, add it to your list of trees in the front or back of your nature journal.

 OHC Blog Carnival
You can link up by clicking the carnival button and sharing your blog entry or you can send the information directly to me:

You can purchase all of the first ten challenges in a convenient ebook along with custom notebook pages. Widgets