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Mammal Study Big Grid Nature Study

The Handbook of Nature Study newsletter topic this month was a focus on mammals. I was hoping that everyone could find a local mammal not only to learn about but to observe up close.

Mammal study @handbookofnaturestudy nature journal deer (3)

I know this is a challenge that depends on creating some opportunities to be in the right place at the right time AND to be ready to seize the time when it happens. Well, I have been keeping my eyes open this month. Here are the results.

 deer november 2015

We spied a deer in our front yard last week…a buck! This was a great reminder that I haven’t completed a nature journal page for our local and very often spotted mammal. This buck was just walking up the street, taking his time, and looking for an easy meal. This is a California mule deer…..this year, especially with the drought, we have seen more and more deer right in our neighborhood.  We have no vegetable garden to speak of so they are not as unwelcome as in the past. They are just trying to survive in a very dry habitat.

Doing research for this entry I found out that it is illegal to feed deer in California: Keep Me Wild Deer.

deer pair buck mammal november 2015 (1)

Then,  we saw these two in our neighborhood this week. The buck was most definitely keeping a close watch on the doe. She seemed annoyed more than anything else. We actually spotted this pair three times this day and the last time she had curled up inside a big leafless bush. He seemed to be trying to get inside the bush too but his antlers were in the way.

Mammal study @handbookofnaturestudy nature journal deer (1)

One thing we have seen an increase in is “near misses” as we drive along. I can’t tell you how many times there are deer that leap right out in front of my car. We had an incident just two days ago where we had to slam on the brakes or hit a rather large deer. My husband and I were a little shaken up and our dog riding in the back of the Highlander was knocked over but we all survived. My husband has had two major collisions with deer int he past and we have seen with our own eyes how much damage it can do. With the increase in the population of deer living in so close of quarters with humans and their vehicles, the increase in deer strikes on roads and highways is something to always be aware of in our part of the world.

mammal tracks (2) raccoons

Looking for tracks is easier after a good rainstorm! We drove down by the river after a day of rain and walked along the sandy shore until we found some prints. The ones above where just under the water line in the very shallow water. I couldn’t tell if they were old prints and the water had covered them up or if they were fresh prints where the raccoon had walked in the water?

mammal tracks (4) deer

There were many distinct deer trails along the river and this one is an easy identification with the two hoof marks.

The most useful reminder for me this month from the newsletter is the Mammals Big Grid Study page (page 4). It has lots ideas that can fit any habitat or any level of nature study interest. There are 24 ideas there to choose from or mix and match. If you are a subscriber to the blog, make sure to download and save your newsletter so you will have access to this Big Grid Study page for future reference.

Mammal study @handbookofnaturestudy nature journal deer (2)

Other Miscellaneous Mammal Related Experiences This Month

We had fox scat right in our own driveway. I didn’t take a photo….aren’t you glad? We know we have red foxes in our neighborhood but we weren’t able to actually observe any this month.

Squirrels! This is a busy time for squirrels in our neighborhood. We have lots of oaks and they can be spotted scurrying up and down, around and across. I never get tired of watching these little acrobats. We have Western gray squirrels in large numbers in our area. There are also red fox squirrels that visit us in our yard. Both of these squirrels are tree squirrels and can be found in, under, and around our birdfeeders.  You can read my entries on fox squirrels here: Sad Story of Our Walnuts.

Fox Squirrel
This image is from my archives…taken in my front yard.

Here is a link to a mammal nature walk from three years ago that you may be inspired by: Taking an Autumn Hike and Looking For Signs of Mammals.

 Outdoor Hour Challenge Mammal Nature Study Index @handbookofnaturestudy

You can find all of my current mammal related challenges under the “mammal” tab at the top of the website. There are quite a few specific challenges and some free printables for you to use with your mammal study. If you are a member here on the Handbook of Nature Study, you can find the coordinating notebook pages for each challenge in the ebook noted next to each mammal challenge.


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Summer Trip to Yosemite – Hiking, Wildflowers, Rocks, and More

Yosemite National Park in the summertime is an outdoor adventureland. There is so much to do! This trip was very different from our usual summer trips because it ended up only being my husband and I that were able to go. It is a far different experience to have just the two of us as opposed to having all six of us hiking around the Sierra. Both of us love this place so spending time together here is a pleasure and a delight.

There was a large wildfire further south from Yosemite but the smoke laid thick all three days of our trip. It was worse in the mornings but afternoon breezes swept some of it away. Yosemite Falls was dry! The park rangers were calling it “Yosemite Wall” instead. I am so glad that we had visited last May and enjoyed the cooling mists of the waterfalls then and for this trip it changed the focus from the valley to the surrounding areas of Tioga Road and Glacier Point.

We came into the park from the Tioga Pass side (east) and stopped just inside the gates to hike up to Gaylor Lake. This new to us hike (part of my nature study goals for 2013) was at a high elevation which always adds an element of breathlessness as you climb the trail. This is the view back down the trail…we listened to thunder and watched the clouds closely to make sure we would not be caught in a thunderstorm.

The landscape was green and there were quite a few wildflowers to enjoy from my resting spot along the trail. There were few other hikers on the trail which makes it seem as if you own the place as you hike along. We did see a man hiking back from the lake with a sack full of fish he had caught.

The trail crests and you look down over a beautiful basin where Gaylor Lakes have formed. I was still a little nervous about the thunderstorm but it seemed to be moving off in another direction.

Here at the top of the trail the trees are growing slanted and I can imagine how the wind must howl over the top of the mountain in the winter.

This is the Middle Gaylor Lake and on this day we didn’t go any farther. We sat for a long time enjoying the view before heading back to the car and on down Tioga Road.

We stopped along the way and took a quick hike over to Lukens Lake to see if there were any wildflowers but the conditions are much like you would find in mid-September and there were no wildflowers at all. It was still a nice hike and we did see lots of Bluet dragonflies along the edge of the lake.

The next day we decided to hike up at Glacier Point, taking the Panorama Trail as far as Illilouette Falls and then back. What were we thinking? We have done this hike before and it is a killer! The sign at the trailhead says two miles one way but both of us registered 3.5 miles on our Fitbits. That wouldn’t be bad but it is a steep, steep hike back up that 3.5 miles and in the hot sun exposed for most of the way. Guess what? It was worth the effort!

Along the trail we saw this wasp nest in a decaying tree. The insects were flying in and out but I got just close enough to take a good photo.

Here is a view of the whole tree and nest. The nest is quite beautiful and amazing to see…we were wondering how long it took to build this work of art.

Here is my victory shot after making it to the top of Illilouette Falls. The bridge behind me is just back from where the falls spill over the edge and down a 340 foot drop. We stayed on the upside of the falls for a long time just enjoying the beauty with our eyes and ears.

I sat on the top of a rock where the water was running down and swirling into the pool below. I was a little sad that my kids weren’t there this time to jump in or dangle bare feet in the cold water. My boys have even slid down the rocks here like a big slide into a deep pool where there are fish swimming in the crystal clear water. Great memories.

That evening we walked through the meadows in Yosemite Valley which is my favorite time of day to view the granite walls. The golden sunlight makes them come alive and the cooling air is filled with the sounds of the twilight creatures like crickets. Later that night we sat and watched the bats dart overhead. There is just so much to take in…

Here is another sunset visitor to Cook’s Meadow.

Early in the morning the smoke was filtering the sunlight and obscuring an otherwise glorious view of Half Dome from Tunnel View Turn Out.

Our last day we rented bikes from Curry Village and took off to explore the bike trails. The path is nearly flat or at least a gentle up and down so going is easy. This is such a wonderful way to explore Yosemite Valley away from the crowds and hustle of the popular areas. We had a nice pedal around the whole loop which includes several bridges over the Merced River where you can stop to take a break.

I of course stop to take a few photos of wildflowers. The goldenrod was so brilliantly yellow pretty.

This was something new to me…yet to be identified so if you have any suggestions they would be greatly appreciated.

So there ends another glorious trip to Yosemite, the second in my goal to visit every season. We have a camping trip planned for late September and I am already looking forward to that time in a season of changes.

These topics I will be adding to my nature journal and hopefully sharing here on the blog as part of my nature study goals:
1. Mountain chickadee
2. Rhyolite
3. Obsidian
4. Chinquapin (shrub)
5. Unidentified shrub with berries the squirrels were eating

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How to Beat the Summer Crowds at Yosemite National Park

The summer crowds at Yosemite can bring traffic jams, noise, and confusion to an otherwise peaceful and quiet place. They come from all over the world this time of year to take in the beauty of Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, and the Merced River. The sign at the entrance station said, “Expect Two Hour Delays in The Valley”. We decided to avoid the Valley for the morning and took the turn to Glacier Point Road.

Tip #1: Avoid Yosemite Valley and Yosemite Village if possible. Head to Glacier Point Road, Tioga Road, or Wawona

Yosemite McGurk Meadow
My favorite wildflower hike is off Glacier Point Road at McGurk Meadow. This is a fairly easy out and back hike which leads to a high meadow, marshy and filled with wildflowers in many places. The marshiness means that there are also lots of mosquitoes and butterflies. The flowers were a little past prime in the meadow but along the edges of the forest we found plenty of color and beauty to enjoy.

Tip #2: Get out of your car and hike a little off the main roads. We hiked less than a mile and were all alone in a beautiful setting.

Leopard Lily
Alpine Lily at Yosemite National Park – We call them leopard lilies.

Like these leopard lilies that were blazing red in the dappled sunlight of the forest. The bees were buzzing along with the mosquitoes as we hiked through this section. I was hiking with a friend and she was a little nervous about encountering a bear on our hike. We decided to not hike quietly as we followed the trail deeper into the woods so we wouldn’t startle a bear if we came across one.

Yosemite Deer in the Wildflowers
The California Mule Deer – Yosemite National Park

We were spooked by this buck as he leaped out onto the path past us and then over to a patch of wildflowers that he proceeded to munch as I tried to discreetly take a photo or two.

Crimson Columbine
Crimson columbine – Yosemite National Park

Back to looking at wildflowers….we found lots of Crimson columbine in the marshy areas and we decided it is such a pretty creation.Our field guide tells us they are in the buttercup family. I have one in my nature journal already but I am tempted to sketch it again just so I can use my oranges and yellows.

Corn Lily
Corn Lily in Bloom – Yosemite National Park

The corn lilies were blooming all along the trail and it is hard not to overlook their beauty when we slow down to take a look at this common plant. These plants can be quite tall and when you see them in mass…it is gorgeous.

Yosemite Bikes at the River
Sentinel Bridge with the Merced River and my beloved pink Roxie bike

Tip #3: If you must go into the Valley, take the walking trail or a bike path to get away from the crowds. 

After a quick PB sandwich lunch on the trail, a bottle of water, and a few more photos, we headed into the valley … braving the traffic. We had our bikes along and we wanted to find a place to park and take a slow ride around the bike path which loops around the majority of the valley. We made several stops at the river to cool our feet.

Yosemite Bridalview Fall and El Capitan
Yosemite Evening – El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls beyond the Merced River

Tip #4: Go early or stay late in the day and you will find the crowds disappear. The middle of the day is a great time to sit at the river and just let everyone else clamor for a spot on a hiking trail or a place on the road. 

We ended our day with dinner at the Ahwahnee Hotel (actually sitting outside at the cafe) and then we packed up the bikes and headed home. Above is one last image looking back at El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls in the setting sun. This is my favorite time of day in the Valley.

There are plenty more ideas for day hikes away from the crowds on my Squidoo page: Yosemite For Families. It is possible to enjoy a day at this national park even when there are throngs of visitors. We enjoyed a great summer day in this awesome and unique place.

I can’t wait to go back again.

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Family Mammal Study – Unexpected Deer and Our Usual Squirrels

As part of preparing for our mammal study this week, I pulled our mammal field guide from our shelf to have for easy reference. I opened to the introductory pages and I would love to share a few thoughts from those pages with you in this post.

  • Most mammals are creatures of the darkness, only becoming active at night after dark and returning home again before dawn.
  • Most nocturnal mammals communicate by odor which humans cannot detect and with sounds which are frequently high pitched and low in volume.
  • Direct observation of most mammals is difficult except for a few species like chipmunks and squirrels.
  • The vocalizations of mammals have not been extensively explored and most make brief sounds called “call notes”.

3 11 11 walking trail deer

We were walking along our usual trail having a great conversation when my son twirled me around to get me to look up on the hill. He had spotted a few young deer not too far from where we were. They were slowly moving along, not really paying too much attention to us.

California mule deer are very common in our area and we often see groups of 8-10 deer alongside the road or in grassy meadows. My husband actually hit a deer with his truck last month when he was coming home from work…minimal damage and the deer bounced back up and ran off into the woods. He was lucky. He once hit a deer and it totaled the vehicle.

3 11 11 walking trail deer

We were planning on studying our backyard squirrels this week as part of our mammal study but we spent a little time reading up on the mule deer too. California mule deer are very graceful and agile mammals. They have lovely eyes but don’t let those innocent looking eyes fool you. They have been known to eat my garden down to the ground in one night.

Fox Squirrel in the Tree
There are three fox squirrels and one gray squirrel in our yard just about every day. They are in the bird feeders and up in the trees chattering at us and the dog pretty much all day long. I started off trying to keep them out of the feeders but it is an impossible task.

Fox Squirrel eating my seed bell
They are very acrobatic and can get to just about any of our feeders.

We spend time each day watching these very acrobatic mammals hop from limb to limb and then hang upside down to eat from the feeders.

Here is a coloring page for a Fox Squirrel.  We found this website that has a recording of the sound the fox squirrel makes.

Squirrel watercolor with photos (3)
Again, I ended up including photos as part of my nature journal entry to show the differences between the Western gray squirrel and the Fox squirrel.

One of my sons told me that it used to be an “event” when the gray squirrel showed up in the yard but now we have so many squirrels that they are commonplace. We have started to think of them as rodent pests rather than welcome visitors.

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Autumn Afternoon Walk-Surprising Discovery

October Sky
Just another beautiful oak day with a beautiful sky.

10 14 09 Red Shack
Here we go down the trail. The rain stopped a few hours earlier and we decided to take advantage of the break in the storm to hike down the hill and see what we could see. Little did we know that right after I took this photo we would see something that would make us stop dead in our tracks.

Deer Bones
There in the middle of the trail were scattered deer bones and one of the hooves.

A little further down the trail was the biggest pile of bear scat I have ever seen. Yikes. (No photos of that I promise.)

We have been hiking this trail for a very long time and we have never seen either of these things before.

We did a quick consultation and decided to finish our hike down the hill but on the return back up the hill, going past the pile of bones, I started to get a little nervous. I was sort of glad to get back to where we had parked the car…if you know what I mean.

I am not usually spooked by this sort of stuff but it was a big pile of bones and a huge pile of scat. It looked fairly fresh but maybe it was because of the recent rain….or not.

We might hike somewhere else for awhile.

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Deer, Deer, Oh Deer

I have been wanting to share a photo of the deer that live in our neighborhood. They are so graceful and beautiful and I never get tired of seeing them graze and rest in the grass and under the trees.

We saw this herd of deer in someone’s front yard yesterday as we drove down to our hiking spot. (click photo to see all the deer in the photo…I think we spotted eight) Typically, we see this group of deer in this same area every afternoon. They come up to graze under the trees and they are actually not very afraid of people. This group is mostly made up of mamas and young ones. On the way back from our hike I did spot a buck sitting near this spot so I am assuming that he belongs to this crowd.

The road is very close to where I am standing and they didn’t seem to mind that I was there taking photos.

I was surprised that deer are not discussed in the Handbook of Nature Study. We used the internet to complete a notebook page on mule deer. (we also used this page)

More Nature Study Book 2 Winter Wonder cover