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December Nature Study Wrap-Up

Our December was filled with birdwatching. We had some exciting new birds and lots of old favorites.

Here is my list and then a few photos:
December 2013

  1. Anna’s hummingbird
  2. White-breasted nuthatch
  3. Western scrub jay
  4. Oak titmouse
  5. House finch
  6. House sparrow
  7. White-crowned sparrow
  8. California towhee
  9. Spotted towhee
  10. Junco
  11. Bewick’s wren
  12. American goldfinch
  13. Lesser goldfinch
  14. Mockingbird
  15. Northern flicker
  16. House wren
  17. Nuttall’s woodpecker
  18. Mourning dove
  19. European starlings
  20. Hermit thrush
  21. California quail – heard but didn’t see
Spotted towhee
House finch
Thinking this is a Hermit thrush-first time we have seen this and only in the snow.
Bewick’s wren
Anna’s hummingbird – at least three still at our feeders in December

Now a little something to inspire you…

I also finished my December nature journal entry for the extraordinary in the ordinary and December Grid Study. I cut some of the squares from the grid and then used them on my journal page. This is a quick and easy way to create a record of a variety of nature observations in a month.

We are definitely building a snowman birdfeeder again…it was so much fun for us and for the birds!

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December Extraordinary Things

We had a snowstorm that brought inches of glorious sparkling snow! I used the opportunity to see the extraordinary in the ordinary as part of last week’s Outdoor Hour Challenge.

Extraordinary Observations

I love the silence that comes from the snow. I was up several times in the night to watch the snow fall…there is something about the first snow of the year that makes it magical. This was the first time in a very long time that I didn’t have boys at home to go out early to enjoy the fresh snow. Times have changed.

The birds flock to our feeders just after a snowfall. They shelter in the shrubs and in the tree branches just beyond the feeders. They seem to come alive with the snow and every feeder is busy all day long. Finches, sparrows, juncos, jays, and even the hummingbirds come in numbers that I don’t see at other times.

I put out extra seed this morning and they still ate most of it up. I had to refill the hummingbird feeder the next morning…it had frozen overnight.

Cold air is invigorating. It is a smack in the face at first but then it stimulates many senses..the numbness of the nose and hands or the stinging tears that come from freezing air. The trees hold the snow until later in the afternoon and then as it melts it makes avalanches of snow underneath. One time I was bombed with snow on the head and it was cold!

The snow crunches and gives way under my boots as I tour the yard with the Kona dog and my camera. Kona thinks snow is fun and spends time chasing snowballs, eating snow, and generally racing around the yard in circles.

Colors are more vibrant and pop out from the white background. Reds, yellows, oranges, greens…all seem more brilliant in a snowy landscape. We gathered a few colorful items for a project that I will share later in the week…look for it.

December shared its snowy extraordinary side this week…just in time to share for this challenge. I look forward to hearing about your extraordinary in the ordinary observations. So much to be thankful for.

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Outdoor Hour Challenge – December Extraordinary in the Ordinary

Outdoor Hour Challenge
Extraordinary in the Ordinary – December Edition

Find the Extraordinary in the Ordinary I challenge you to find five ordinary things in your backyard or in your everyday life that you can study and learn something more about. Find something extraordinary in something you have come to think of as ordinary and usual, so usual that you may not even notice it anymore.

You may remember that we have done this challenge in the past two times. Please be inspired by both of these entries to complete your own extraordinary nature walk this month with your children.

Additional Printable Notebook Page

Notebook Page: Extraordinary in the Ordinary – December

Getting Started Suggestion:
If you already own the Getting Started ebook, complete Outdoor Hour Challenge #8. Take along a magnifying lens on your Extraordinary in the Ordinary walk. Find something to examine more closely…even ice, frost, water from a puddle, the bark of a tree, or snow. Find something to be amazed by and then complete the notebooking page in the ebook.   

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Outdoor Hour Challenge – Autumn Mushroom Study

Outdoor Hour Challenge
Mushroom Study

You can use these ideas from the archives to complete a mushroom nature study:
Mushrooms (2009) – with free printable notebook page
Mushrooms (2012)
Extraordinary in the Ordinary – Mushrooms – with free printable notebook page

You can use these notebook page:
Mushroom Cap Shapes Notebook Page
Parts of  a Mushroom Notebook Page

Additional Activity: Mushroom Shapes
Use clay to form different mushroom shapes. If you need some ideas to get you started, here is a link to different kinds of mushrooms:
Mushroom Chart

Getting Started Suggestion:
If you already own the Getting Started ebook, complete Outdoor Hour Challenge #3.  This week you can try to draw some mushrooms in your nature journal or use the notebook page from the ebook to keep a record of your outdoor time.  

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Our Extraordinary Fungi Study – Turkey Tail

We wrapped up our month-long mushroom, moss, and lichen study with a final hike last Friday. Guess what? We saw the first really nice mushroom of the month! I had pretty much given up hope that we would see any actual mushrooms and was resigned to completing our study in a future month when a specimen presented itself.

Well, we were able to complete the month with a great observation session of this big guy! I love the texture of the cap and the size was amazing…about six inches across. There were several smaller mushrooms nearby but we focused on the creamy brownish one.

I created a two page journal entry with March’s grid study (cut apart) and some photos of lichen, the mushroom, and a glorious fungus we found a couple of weeks ago. I love the bands of color and the way it looks like a colorful skirt…natural beauty is hard to beat.

I decided that this would be my Extraordinary in the Ordinary subject for the last challenge of March. Turns out…this was a really good choice.

Doing research about this fungus, which we identified as Turkey Tail, we learned it was being used in treating cancer patients. Who would have thought? There are amazing things to learn all the time when you really dig a little deeper.

Mushrooms, lichen, and moss were a fantastic focus for all of us….if you read the entries in the latest blog carnival I’m sure you realized that too. Looking forward to what April is going to bring with reptiles and amphibians.

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Outdoor Hour Challenge – Extraordinary in the Ordinary

Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary in our nature travels is something we try to do on a regular basis. In my experience, the more you examine a subject, the better you really see it and its beauty….its extraordinary-ness!

Revisit the topic of mushrooms (or fungus) this week and try to find something extraordinary to discover. Make up stories about the mushrooms, recording them in your nature journal. Make sketches or additional watercolor entries in your nature journal. Take photos and add them to your nature journal. Enjoy!
Printable Activity: Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary-Mushrooms
Free Printable Notebook Page: Extraordinary in the Ordinary
This is a great activity for using your imagination and for seeing beyond the ordinary. Take some time to find a subject for this Extraordinary in the Ordinary challenge. Take a deep look at any fungus you find in your yard or local area. Try to see the beauty of the structure, the placement, the role it plays in the habitat. Perhaps it provides food for a local animal or insect. Find some aspect to really enjoy as you spend one last week exploring the fungi in your world. 

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If you already own the Getting Started ebook, complete Outdoor Hour Challenge #9 – Small Square Study. Find a spot where you have some fungus growing and mark out your small square according to the instructions in this challenge. Use you keen observation skills to find as many things as you can in your square and then record your results on the notebooking page

Ultimate Ebook Library @handbookofnaturestudy

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California Black Oak Tree – Our Autumn Nature Study

We have spent quite a number of our outdooor hours observing and learning about oaks. We are blessed with many different kinds of oaks right in our own yard so they are constantly a backdrop for many of our studies.  Here is a link to one of our entries that shows the variety we have: Oak Tree Study.

So what did we do for our Outdoor Hour Challenge on oak trees?

  • A little comparing – leave size and shape
  • Looking for acorns – found very few
  • Talked about how the different tree silhouettes in our yard – oaks are the prettiest

We settled on the California Black Oak for our nature journals, with its large lobed, bristle tipped leaves.

California Black Oak
Quercus kelloggii
Resource to print: USDA Plant Guide

“The California Black Oak is strikingly unlike all other deciduous Oaks in the Golden State, for its broad thin leaves are jaggedly lobed, with the veins running out beyond the leaf margins as fine bristles.”
A Natural History of Western Trees.

We have noticed the woodpeckers that enjoy the tall branches, the Scrub jays that frequent the crown, and we are even thinking this is the tree that the bats use for shelter…not sure. It is a truly abundant food source for much of our local wildlife, including bears.

“…it has one admiring friend, the California woodpecker, who finds its acorns, bitter to our palates, exactly to his taste….This handsome redhead devours what he can hold of acorns, and lays up great stores of them, like a squirrel.”

There is always something to learn and to make note of as we revisit even a common tree to our area.

We are looking forward to observing:

  • The yellow leaves of autumn and then seeing the bare branches.
  • The dropping of acorns.
  • Finding a California Black Oak with acorn holes.
  • In the spring, pink or crimson of the new foliage.

Another successful oak tree study….thanks to our ability to see beyond the ordinary.
Printable notebook page for Extraordinary in the Ordinary. 

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Newsletter Challenge: Extraordinary in the Ordinary

Extraordinary Defined: 
Going beyond what is usual, regular, or customary. 
Noteworthy or remarkable. 

The Handbook of Nature Study Newsletter for May 2012 builds on the theme of Noticing Nature in the Everyday. One of the activities from the newsletter is to find something extraordinary in the ordinary….by using the May Grid and Printable Bookmark. I encourage you to spend time in your own backyard, helping your children find something of interest.
Extraordinary in the Ordinary notebook page button
I wanted to expand that a bit with this post and offer a printable notebook page to use to follow-up your Extraordinary in the Ordinary outdoor time. I challenge you to find at least one thing to take a closer look and to then complete a notebook page or nature journal showing what you learned. My family will be participating in this challenge too!

See if you can find something extraordinary right under your noses.

You can see a past example from my post: Extraordinary in the Ordinary.

Free Printable Notebook Page: Extraordinary in the Ordinary – In Your Own Backyard.

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Nature Study on an Ordinary Day – Autumn

Leaves in Kona's Dish

Sometimes it is nice to head out the door and see what comes your way, no assignments. My neighborhood is rather ordinary – no parks, very little sidewalk, lots of empty lots with weeds/wildflowers, and a busy street. I take my lovable Labrador for a walk every morning and in the late afternoon, sometimes with my camera and sometimes without. We head down our side street, around the corner and onto the sidewalk to walk alongside two open lots. Right now if you don’t stop to look closely you would think there wasn’t much there to be interested in. But wait! Don’t judge too soon because you might miss a few interesting things.

11 2011 Queen Anne's lace
Queen Anne’s Lace….in bloom….in November! Can you believe that? This is the latest I have ever seen with fresh blossoms in our neighborhood. I would have missed that if I did not slow down to look closely.

11 2011chicory
My neighbor has a fresh crop of chickory blooming as well and it is surprising to see it as late as this.

Sign at the storm drain
Now if my boys were younger we would take time to investigate this sign. Where does the water from our gutter go? The river is really far away and the creek is more of a trickle…is that where this water goes to? We will have to wait until the rains come again and try to figure it out. The gutter and sewer drain were put in last summer so this is something new to our neighborhood.

11 2011 Star Thistle
We have been on the look out for thistles and the lot has a whole field of star thistle. I was hoping to spot a purple thistle but no luck here in the neighborhood. We do know a spot along our walking trail that had thistles so we will need to hop over there one day this week to check it out. (Thistles will be this Friday’s Outdoor Hour Challenge.)

11 2011 Mystery flower
I love a good mystery and this flower is a mystery! There is a little patch of these growing on the hillside around the bend from the end of the sidewalk. Kona went four wheeling off the path and I stumbled onto these beauties. I really need to look them up in our field guide. See? It isn’t such an ordinary walk after all!

Heading back home I slipped the camera back into my pocket and we just enjoyed the sunshine and the time outdoors together.

Rounding the corner and into our drive, I smile at our front yard. Yes, it makes me smile every time I see it.

11 2011 Front Yard Remodel Fall
If you have been reading my blog for the last year you know we pulled up our grass in the Summer of 2010 and added drought resistant plants for a whole new look. Here is what our yard looks like today.

11 2011 Front yard sage
The star performers right now are the sage, the purple fountain grass, and the dogwood. Color! I love the feel and movement in this yard now that the grass is gone and the birds, butterflies, and bees have all moved in.

From ordinary to extraordinary in fifteen minutes! I challenge you to find something interesting on your next neighborhood walk. Comment and let me know what it is once you find it!

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Nature Study: Finding the Ordinary to be Extraordinary

Extraordinary in the Ordinary @handbookofnaturestudy
Find the Extraordinary in the Ordinary I challenge you to find five ordinary things in your backyard or in your everyday life that you can study and learn something more about. Find something extraordinary in something you have come to think of as ordinary and usual, so usual that you may not even notice it anymore.

Sebastian actually gave me this idea that I think would be a great challenge for nature study close to home. In order to start developing the idea, we challenged ourselves to go out in our backyard and find something extraordinary. I decided we needed a little clearer definition.

Extraordinary: beyond the usual, far more than usual, more than expected

It is that “more than expected” part that we want to develop an eye for in our family.

Here are the five things we will be learning about from the Handbook of Nature Study, the field guides from our nature shelf, or internet sources like and

The blue of the morning glory is outstanding and we have never done a formal study of this garden flower. Now is the time to do it since we have lots of blossoms to observe. We already have decided how extraordinarily blue this flower is…not very common in flowers I think.

While we were outside, the cat was chasing this Alligator lizard. Lizards are not an extraordinary creature in our backyard but as we watched this lizard, we started to wonder about its defense mechanism…the breaking off of the tail to distract its attacker. We are going to do some more research about this extraordinary ability.

This California Towhee is a regular visitor to our feeder, or rather under our feeder. We have never taken time to focus our nature study on this particular bird but now we will. I’m sure there is something extraordinary about it that we don’t know yet. The most visible difference we have noticed about the California Towhee is its very long tail…hmmm….maybe that is extraordinary.

We have noticed an increase in hummingbirds in our yard this summer and there have been two in particular that we would like to study more in depth. I was unable to get a photo of the hummingbirds but thought you might enjoy seeing my new feeder. I think maybe the two unusual hummers we saw were migrating and I would love to learn more about where some of our hummingbirds go at different times of the year.

Caterpillars have been dropping out of the Sweet gum trees and before they can crawl away, the birds swoop down and eat them. These caterpillars are busily eating the leaves from the tree but we don’t know exactly what they will be once they go though their life cycle. Look at those colors, now that is extraordinary! We are going to try to identify these critters as part of our challenge.

Now we have a list of things to investigate.
1. Morning glories
2. Alligator lizards and their tail
3. California Towhee
4. Migrating hummingbirds
5. Caterpillar from the Sweet gum tree.

You can take the challenge to find the extraordinary in the ordinary if you are up to it! Find something in your yard to focus on and really see the beauty, the design, and the magnificence of something that perhaps you have been overlooking. It could be as simple as the dandelion in the crack of your sidewalk. It could be the robin gathering worms in your lawn. It could be the ants on your kitchen counter. The possibilities are endless.

If you take the challenge and you blog about it, leave me a comment and I will come over and read about it.

I will be posting our results over the next few weeks.

Stay tuned.