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Winter Bark Patterns Hike

Even though it’s been cold, wet, snowy, and icy, we ventured out to the local state park to walk along the river.  We didn’t get very far because with my new hips, I didn’t want to take a chance of slipping on the ice. But, it felt good to be out in the fresh air looking at trees once again. I miss my long river walks!


Winter is the perfect time to focus on tree bark and see the beauty of each tree’s particular bark. It reminded me of a number of years ago when we studied trees in our family and my son and I decided that not all tree bark is brown. In fact, my son noted that most tree bark is more gray than brown. In the case of our ponderosa pines, the bark is more reddish than brown.


As we were observing the bark of this ponderosa pine, we also noted the colorful and interesting lichen growing there. The bright green lichen is my favorite!

Just a reminder: Be open to nature topics in addition to the week’s subject when you’re taking your outdoor time. We started off looking at tree bark but didn’t pass by the opportunity to enjoy the lichen.


So did your family do a bark pattern study? It’s a simple nature study activity that you can do even in the winter time.


If you’re completing the Outdoor Hour Challenge for Winter Trees, you can add a bark pattern study along with that one. See the Winter Tree challenge here: Looking at Trees in Winter.


Bark Patterns Notebook Page

If you’re a member here on the Handbook of Nature Study, the notebook page shown above is available to use in your nature journal.

Ultimate Naturalist Library September 2017 @handbookofnaturestudyThe benefits of having a membership here on the Handbook of Nature Study make it a great value for your homeschooling, nature-loving family. There are 21 ebooks available for downloading, over 120 printable notebook pages and activities, and 76 newsletters. New printables are added every month and there are 4 new ebooks set to publish in the next year.

If you would like to have nature study ideas and printables available for immediate downloading, please consider an Ultimate Naturalist Library membership.

Use the discount code NATURE5 for $5 off an Ultimate membership.

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New Printables for January


Now available in the Ultimate and Journey level memberships:

Bark Patterns * Winter Willow Study * Shivering

I’m excited to share 3 new notebooking pages with members here on the Handbook of Nature Study! These will spice up your January nature study sessions as you look at some winter-related topics.

(See the end of this post for more information on how you can become a member.)

 Bark Patterns Notebook Page

Winter Willow Study Twigs and Buds notebook page

Shivering in Animals notebook page

Bark Patterns Notebook Page: With most trees stripped bare of leaves before spring, right now is a great time to get a good look at the wonderful variations of pattern, color and texture that form the trunks and branches of local urban trees. With a little practice, you’ll be able to easily identify many local tree species by name just by looking at their bark. Here is a website you may wish to look at: Tree Bark and Twig Guide.

 Winter Willow Study Notebook Page: Twigs and Buds: We will be continuing our seasonal willow study in January and this notebook page is perfect for recording your willow observations! You can see the Autumn Willow Nature Study for more willow study ideas.

Shivering Notebook Page: Have you ever wanted to learn more about why animals shiver? This notebook page will get you started and then give you a place to write down all the interesting things you learn.

Note: If you have any subjects you would like me to create nature notebook pages for, please let me know in a comment here on the blog or in an email:

Printables for Members Button

Print a complete list of printables available in the Ultimate and Journey level memberships by clicking the button above.


Ultimate Naturalist Library September 2017 @handbookofnaturestudy

Use the discount code NATURE5 for $5 off an Ultimate Naturalist Library membership!

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Handbook of Nature Study Newsletter – February 2017 Tree Bark

HNS Newsletter February 2017 Cover

Handbook of Nature Study Newsletter

February 2017 Trees and Tree Bark


Please read the following explanation outlining how to get this month’s newsletter.

The newsletter link is not in this email but will come separately. There may be a delay in your receiving the email so please don’t email me until the second day of the month if you haven’t received the link on the first. For some reason, some email providers take longer to receive the newsletter email.

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Handbook of Nature Study Subscribe Now

If you need to subscribe:

  • You will need to go to the Handbook of Nature Study, look to the top right corner for the box to type in your preferred email address, and then confirm the email that comes to your email inbox.
  • Once you subscribe, you will receive a thank you email from me with the download link for the current month’s newsletter.

This month’s newsletter link will be available only during the month of December so be sure to download it before 2/28/17.

Remember! All of the archived and current newsletters are available as part of the Ultimate Naturalist Library…every level!

Handbook of Nature Study Newsletter February 2017

Contents of this edition of the newsletter include:

  • February will be a month to focus on trees and tree bark using the ideas from the newsletter. I have written two articles for your inspiration and encouragement.
  • February Planning Page for Mom – Much more than just a planner page, this is full of nature journal ideas, a short challenge for parents, links to the up-coming challenges, and ideas for using the archives.
  • Printables: I pulled a printable from the archives that will help you keep track of your neighborhood trees.

Resources for your Nature Library: I have started to build a nature library store on Amazon that will feature by category my favorite nature study books and resources. Take a look and see if there is anything you would like to put on your wish list for your family’s nature study library: Handbook of Nature Study Nature Library Suggestions on Note this is my affiliate store to items I personally recommend and have read or seen in person.

Please note that Ultimate Naturalist and Journey level members have access to members only printables each month in addition to the newsletter printables. You will need to log into your account and then go to the “Other Releases” section.

Outdoor Hour Challenge Winter 2016 More Nature Study We will be using the More Nature Study – Winter ebook starting on January 13, 2017. You can find it in the Ultimate Naturalist Library.

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New Members Printables – Bark Study, January Backyard and Birds

Printables for Members January 2017 @handbookofnaturestudy

New this month in the Member’s Library:

1. Bark Study – Up Close: This is the perfect place to record your winter tree study as you focus on the bark.

2. Know Your Own Backyard – January: Use this notebook page to record a sketch and some details after you complete a backyard nature study. This is the focus of the January 2017 newsletter and you will find many ideas to help you get started.

3. January and February Bird List Notebook Page: This is for your January and February bird nature journal entry. We love to keep track of our winter birds and this is a simple chart that you can use to keep a running record of birds you observe in your own backyard.

For a complete list of member’s printables, click the button below for a printable list.

Printables for Members Button
Please note that Ultimate Naturalist and Journey level members have access to members only printables each month in addition to the newsletter printables. You will need to log into your account and then go to the “Other Releases” section. You can download a complete list of printables available to members here:

Printables Current List January 2017

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Yosemite in Winter – Winter Colors

We finally finished our four seasons visits to Yosemite National Park. This was our winter trip that turned out to not be so wintery at all. The temperatures were in the 50’s and we enjoyed sunshine for most of the trip.

We decided to take a hike on the north side of the Yosemite Valley where the sun is shining. The Upper Yosemite Falls Trail is just across from the lodge so that is where we began. There was very little water in the falls so we chose to go up the trail about a mile and a half and see the view from Columbia Rock.

We did see a few hikers on the trail but during the winter there are very few people to be found in the park. I think this year there are even less than normal because Badger Pass ski resort is closed so there aren’t even skiers to be found in the valley. At Columbia Rock we met with a family from England, two young college students from Korea, and a Croatian girl.

Here is the view from Columbia Rock overlooking a meadow and the lodge. In the distance Half Dome looms up and dominates the vista. We stood for a bit and gazed at the beauty and then hiked back down the four dozen or so switchbacks to the valley floor.

We started off the hike with lots of layers and by the time we reached our destination we were in shirt sleeves and sweating. It was really warm in the sun on the exposed trail.

The first of my colors in the winter color challenge is black. The Common Ravens are the bird most commonly seen and heard in this area of the park. They are black AND iridescent purple in the sunlight. Their loud and clear CRUCK CRUCK CRUCK can easily be identified. We also saw and heard other birds during our stay like the Steller’s Jay, the Nuthatch, and the Acorn Woodpecker.

In the Village you can see the browns of the trees, acorns on the ground, and the evergreens to make a winter color palette. In this photo you can see Yosemite Falls in the distance, nearly dry. As the day wears on, the falls flow a little more but in the mornings they are nearly dry.

Here is a little green lichen I spotted along the trail, landing among pine needles. The bright green really pops out this time of year when the world is filled with grays, browns, and blacks.

In spots where the sun doesn’t shine, the snow is still seen in patches. This meadow has lots of winter weeds showing through and I spotted some milkweed left from the past season.

The second day we hiked to the Merced Grove of sequoia trees. These giants really stand out in the forest with their reddish bark and large trunks. We shared this forest with the trees for a bit, sitting quietly and reveling in their ancient history.

I tried to capture what the bark looks like close up…it is soft and squishy and shreds easily. Amazing.

My husband decided this was the best way to enjoy the sequoia’s beauty…looking up at their tall stature.

So ends a complete year of Yosemite National Park visits. It has been a wonderful experience personally for me to achieve a goal and to learn a little more about one of my favorite places on earth. I feel blessed to live so near such an awesome place to get outdoors and build memories with my family.

My husband and I celebrated our accomplishment with a little pizza and Half Dome California Wheat beer at the Yosemite Lodge. Perfect ending to a fantastic day, trip, and year.

You can read about our seasonal visits to Yosemite in these entries:
Yosemite in Spring – Waterfalls and Biking
Summer Trip to Yosemite – Hikes, Wildflowers, Rocks, and More
Yosemite Autumn Trip – Panorama Trail

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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.

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Our Pear Study Using the Outdoor Hour Challenge

Pear study - leaves

Our study has been actually on-going since the spring when we first noticed that our pear tree was loaded with blossoms. We have been eagerly watching the progress since then and it culminated this week with actually eating the pears…but not until after we had closely observed them and dissected them as part of the more advanced suggestions in More Nature Study #3.

Pear Tree -trunk
We took a quick trip outdoors to snap a few images of the leaves and bark but the highlight was to come inside and actually take a close look at the fruit.

Pear study - Dissection and observations
Mr. B was willing to complete the dissection lab with the pears from our backyard tree and he did a great job recording his results on the notebook page. I think taking the Outdoor Hour Challenges up a notch with the more advanced ideas is a great way to keep them interested in nature study. We actually talked about seeds as they relate to what he studied in biology and we also talked about how growing fruit can be so very satisfying. Tend the tree, pick the fruit, enjoy the labor. What a great lesson in life.

Pear study dissection lab
Notebook Page from my More Nature Study ebook

I love watching him sketch. Makes me glad that we made nature study a part of our high school plans.

Nature study that ends in eating your subject is always a good thing when you have a teenage boy around.

4 18 11 Pear BlossomsWe will look forward to seeing this sight again in the spring!

I look forward to seeing your results and hearing how your observations went.

If you are interested in more Crop Plants study, I have a series of Outdoor Hour Challenges listed here on the blog. You can find them listed HERE. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the list.


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Yosemite National Park – Hikes and Wildflowers

Evening Primrose - Yosemite
Evening Primrose

Up until last year I would not have know what this flower was called but we focused on it during the Summer Series of challenges last year. There is something wonderful about being able to name a flower or tree or bird, making it a part of your world. You can own it.

Yosemite Creek Trail

We took two hikes in Yosemite while camping this week, one new and one familiar. We drove up Tioga Road towards Tuolumne Meadows and stopped at Yosemite Creek. We hiked down the creek about two miles, enjoying the sound of water running over the rocks. This creek eventually filters down to fill Yosemite Falls…the iconic waterfall that so many come to see from all over the world. This time of year it is not much more than a small stream coming over the top but come next spring it will be a torrent.

Yosemite Creek and Wildflowers

Here is another view of Yosemite Creek which right now is lined with wildflowers. We stopped and took a break sitting on rocks as we took in the sights and sounds of the wilderness. We only saw two other people hiking on this trail the whole afternoon we were out there. It is an amazing experience to have this spot of the wild all to yourself.

Ranger Buttons with Insect

Well, unless you count the insects. These Ranger’s buttons had a variety of insects enjoying the summer sunshine. We couldn’t name these critters but it was interesting to watch them do their work.

Tree with Bark Scratched by Bear

This trail was also home to quite a few trees that showed signs of bear scratchings. The bark on this cedar tree was roughed up by bear’s claws.

Tree with Bear Curls

I started calling these “bear curls” since they were where the bear had pulled the tree bark down making it twist into curls. Interesting? I think so.

Giant Fungus on Tree

We also spotted this HUGE fungus on the side of another tree…really high up. Can you believe the size of it? Amazing to see!

Taft Point Trail

The second hike we took was to Taft Point which is off Glacier Point Road. It is a favorite hike for the boys since there are lots of boulders to climb and the view once you get to the point is incredible….and high.

Taft Point

Here is a shot of the boys at the railing which is right at the edge of the cliffs….sorry no photos of the view to the valley or over across the valley to Yosemite Falls since my camera batteries were both dead. I broke my camera when we were at the Grand Tetons and I now have it duct taped shut but the battery door opens up and somehow the battery drains down very fast. I am in the market for a snew point and shoot.

Yosemite Snake - Rubber Boa

The hike was highlighted by a slithering Rubber boa crossing the trail right in front of us. He was about 24-30 inches long and not in a very big hurry. We were able to get a really good look at him. Funny thing is we were just talking about how we never see snakes while in Yosemite and then we saw this one….weird.


Okay, so if you are not into snakes, how about a pretty wildflower? This is Monkshood and I have only seen in two places at Yosemite so I was happy to catch it in bloom. The yellow in the background is Arrowleaf groundsel.

Bull Thistle and Milkweed - Yosemite Valley

We spent some time in the Valley walking the paths under the trees and I was on the look out for some thistles in preparation for the up-coming thistle challenge. I was pleased to find both milkweed and thistles growing right together along the trail. The thistles are in a variety of stages of life…some blooming, some going to seeds, and some getting very dry.

Dragon Fly on Bull Thistle

Guess who came along for us to observe? Mr. Dragonfly was enjoying the Bull thistles right along with us. So very pretty to look at!

Bull Thistle with Insect

Here is another insect coming to feast on the thistles…this one was very buzzy and I took a quick photo and then got out of his way.

Milkweed Beetle

The Showy milkweed is all producing large seed pods and we found this milkweed beetle crawling on one of the pods. These pods are amazing to see and touch…just like velvet.

Sierra Lessingia

So this is my new wildflower for the trip. We identified this lovely lavender flower as Sierra lessingia. We read in our field guide that Mary Curry (of Curry Village) called it Summer Lavender and I would agree with her that because it grows in such large patches in the flat spots along roads and in the valley, it looks like clouds of lavender. I love learning something new and now I can name that pretty flower that grows so profusely this time of year in the Valley.

So there you have our hikes and wildflowers, bears and beetles, dragonflies and snakes. So many things to enjoy and learn about when you get the opportunity to get to know a place….

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Magnificent Redwoods – Closer Look and a Nature Journal Entry

Redwood Tree Study 6

There are three kinds of redwood trees: Coast redwoods, Dawn redwoods, and Giant sequoias. I have two of the three in my neighborhood. We have a sequoia in our backyard and there is a small grove of redwoods planted across the street at the school. We stopped last week to take a closer look at the redwood while we were out on a walk.

The bark of the redwood is spongy and in the photo above you can see how you can peel the bark in strand-like fibers. This tree is such an amazing creation and our family has found delight in learning the details of the life-cycle of this tree.

Redwood Tree Study 2

Here is an excerpt from the Save the Redwoods League website:
“The coast redwood is one of the world’s fastest growing conifers. In contrast to the tree’s size, redwood cones are very small — only about an inch long. Each cone contains 14 to 24 tiny seeds: It would take well over 100,000 seeds to weigh a pound! In good conditions, redwood seedlings grow rapidly, sometimes more than a foot annually. Young trees also sprout from their parent’s roots, taking advantage of the energy and nutrient reserves contained within the established, shallow root system.”

Redwood Tree Study 1

Isn’t this just amazing to see? I grew up with a Coast Redwood in my backyard but I don’t ever remember noticing this part of the growth cycle before. I love the way a more regular nature study has opened our eyes to the wonderful things right in our own neighborhood. Trees seem to become just part of the landscape unless we slow down for a closer look. I feel like a poet sometimes when we are looking at trees….words just seem to spill out.  You cannot stand under one of these mammoth trees and not have a whole string of adjectives come to mind.

Redwood Tree Study 7

We are going to do some more research on the way the redwood will regenerate and I am sure this study will continue when we take our camping trip to coast of Northern California later this summer, a trip we have taken before but we are all eager to do again. A whole forest of redwoods is an experience to treasure.

Humbolt Redwoods 2010
Here I am last summer (2010) at Humbolt Redwoods in Northern California.
Does that give you an idea of how tall these trees are in real life?

Nature Journal - Redwoods 1

I am trying to be more disciplined about adding to my nature journal regularly. It isn’t so much that I don’t want to take the time but rather that I always spend way more time than expected doing research, reading field guides, and then getting lost in joy of the actual journaling time. Even the simple task of sketching a small twig from the redwood into my nature journal brought into focus some special attributes that a casual glance could not reveal. I have been enjoying adding some photos to my entries and find that the combination of sketching, writing, and adding a photo brings me a great sense of satisfaction.

We have had a really busy week so the small square activity and our mammal study have been postponed. Guess who we will be learning about for our winter mammal study? Mr. Fox Squirrel!

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Our Winter Tree Study: Nothing Short of a Miracle

1 17 11 birch study (3)

We started our birch tree year-long study back in October. (You can read it HERE.) I remember saying to one of the boys that soon the leaves would all be gone and we would be able to see the shape of the tree’s trunk and branches better. Well, time has flown by and here we are standing in the backyard looking at just those very things.

Words that are going in our nature journals: bare, thin, flexible, drooping, catkins, white.

1 17 11 birch study (5)
This tree is so different in shape than our other year-long tree studies done with the silver maple and the tulip poplar. The bark on the trunk is different and the seeds are totally different. I anticipate that we are going to learn quite a bit about trees just taking a few minutes each season to observe this tree.

Birch catkins 2
We wanted to take a closer look at the catkins from the tree so we brought a few inside to the table. I bumped one of the catkins and the seeds went everywhere. You can see the partial catkin in the photo above and how the seeds are attached to make it look somewhat like a little dangling cone but it is not really like a cone at all. It is a well organized bunch of winged seeds that are in the shape of a cone. We have seen finches land on the catkins and hang upside down as they nibble their treat.

Close up Birch seed
After much manipulation of lights and magnifying lenses, my son and I were able to capture the seed in an image for you. Truly amazing!

Birch Seed Journal Entry
Mr. B sketched the seed for me in my journal and I added color and the captions after we did the research. So much to learn about seeds and how they are part of the life cycle of a tree. I know in my head what seeds are but when you stop to think about the miracle of a complete tree growing from this one small hard to see with the naked eye structure…well, it causes me to sit and be amazed at our wonderful Creator. It is nothing short of a miracle.

It actually reminds me of this quote that I ran across and wrote down to save.

“Nature is an infinite sphere of which the center is everywhere and the circumference is nowhere.”
Blaise Pascal

My Encouragement to You
If you haven’t had a chance to start, begin now during the winter. Charlotte Mason in her writings suggests choosing trees in winter to observe and compare. She says to wait until spring to identify the trees when the leaves and blossoms appear.

“Children should be made early intimate with the trees, too; should pick out half a dozen trees, oak, elm, ash, beech, in their winter nakedness, and take these to be their year-long friends. In the winter, they will observe the light tresses of the birch, the knotted arms of the oak, the sturdy growth of the sycamore. They may wait to learn the names of the trees until the leaves come.”

There are some simple ideas outlined in Winter Series Challenge #2 or you can just pick a tree and observe, perhaps taking a photo or making a simple journal entry. Don’t hesitate to jump in now!

See this entry for a description. Sample HERE.