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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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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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Just a Few Backyard Birds…And a New Bird Resource

Are you ready for some more bird photos? I have been busy a little bit each day taking advantage of the dry weather to keep track of the backyard birds that visit.

Woodpecker 1 18 11

First up in my son’s camera is the Downy Woodpecker. He set up the camera on a tripod and we all watched until we saw the woodpecker visit the suet feeder. He was able to snap a few good shots as the bird ate a little lunch. This is a large and colorful bird that we always look forward to seeing in our backyard. Here is a LINK to what he sounds like.

Scrub jays

If you have read my blog with any frequency you know that we have an abundance of Western Scrub Jays in our backyard, even a nesting pair. They always seem to know when I put out their favorite treats….peanuts and walnuts.

White-breasted Nuthatch

We have a pair of White-breasted nuthatches that come every day to our backyard. They are so much fun to watch as they climb up and down the trunks of trees, occasionally stopping to look for insects in the bark.
Here is a LINK to a video showing how they climb.

Squirrel in birdfeeder

Oops! That is certainly not a bird! This fox squirrel is one of three that are daily in our birdfeeders. In fact, as I look out my window at this very moment there is one in the feeder that I can see. I have given up trying to keep them out of the feeders and I added one squirrel-proof feeder to another area just so the birds will still have a place to eat when the squirrels are in town.

I don’t think I have shared the link to a new bird related page that I wrote over on Squidoo. Hop over and maybe you will find some fresh ideas for your yard.

Tomorrow I will be posting the third challenges in the Winter and Winter Wednesday series. Don’t forget to link up your entries for the first two challenges since you are never late!

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Our Family OHC: Pine Cones and More About Pines

Pine Cone 11 22 10
Photo by Mr. A

Our study of pine cones started way back when I was writing the Autumn Series ebook. We gathered a few pine cones to use in the experiments suggested. We had fun soaking the cones in a bucket of water and then setting them in the sun to observe them as they dried and opened up again. Simple things sometimes make the deepest impressions and honestly, none of us had really put all the pieces together until doing the experiments. I know I took photos but they are lost somewhere on my hard drive. Could that be a sign of taking too many photos? I bet a lot of you can relate to my desire to document as much as I can about our world and that leads to lots of images to save and enjoy.

Our unofficial theme as we worked through this study became something like this:
Pine cones don’t just hold still, they are a living thing created for a specific purpose.

What else pushed this pine cone study up another notch?

We have had sort of an on-going study of the female and male cones of the pines in our area.

We studied pine cones back in February of 2008 as part of the Winter Wednesday studies: Cones and a Woodpecker. We also studied pines as part of the Winter Series back in February 2010. This time though we are really trying to concentrate on the cones.

We extended our study of female and male cones.

pine growth
Male cones with the pollen.

This is the photo that sort of started it all so long ago. We wondered if these were “baby pine cones”. Well, it turns out they are not and only after completing a study of what gymnosperms are in our biology study did things start to fall into place. There are male and female cones on the tree. Females are usually at the top and males at the bottom. The males have the pollen that is wind driven up to meet up with the female cones.  How about a simple video that even I can understand? Here you go!

Pine Cones on

Next we wondered why the female cones are sticky and then we guessed it had to do something with capturing the pollen…but that is whole other subject.

Squirrel 11 22 10
This guy wanted to be included in our pine cone study this week. He was so very happy that I put out some extra walnuts for him when I was filling the birdfeeders and he climbed up the tree to look in the living room window at us.

“Thanks a lot”, he said as he swished his big fluffy tail and then dropped to the ground and off to eat some more.

There were also some bird friends that made an appearance but I will save those for another post.

There is always something to learn about in our world and these challenges have helped us focus on things that we never dream of making into a complete study all on their own. I love it.

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We are on the Edge of Autumn

Busy Squirrel

Caught in the act of climbing up to the birdfeeder…this squirrel is a permanent resident in our backyard. He and a friend have totally stripped the walnut tree of any nuts.

Walnut Shells

Here is what my sidewalk looks like under the walnut tree…nothing but shells and casings. What a mess! This is the second year in a row that the squirrels have eaten all the nuts.

10 3 10 walking trail Fall Color

There is finally a little color along our regular walking trail and those are clouds in the sky but there was no rain. My daughter Amanda had to take a trip over the Sierra this week and she said that the trees up on the pass are just starting to turn colors…mostly aspens. We may need to take a drive up their next weekend.

10 3 10 walking trail Wild grapes

We saw lots of these wild grapes far up over the walking trail. They look so good and we wondered if they would be sweet or tart. There was no way to reach them since they were far up in the trees where they reach the sunlight. So I will be satisfied with recreating this photo in my nature journal this week since I love the colors of the leaves and grapes and the shape of the leaves is awesome.

Hummingbird at the feeder

One last photo that really isn’t a sign of autumn but I thought it was fun to catch this hummingbird stopping by to sip at our feeder. We have had a bunch of hummingbirds this summer and I even hung another feeder because there was always a fight happening at the two we already had.

Yesterday we worked in the garden and completed the initial fall clean up. There is still some life out there and a few tomatoes and peppers to ripen up. I composted a bit in one box and I will be planting some peas, spinach, and lettuce later today and hopefully we will have another crop before the winter weather hits.

I think we will take a trip to the apple orchard this week if all my boys are recovered from their cold/flu from last week. Nothing like the thoughts of a little apple pie to perk up a sick boy! Of course we will be tasting different varieties of apples as part of the apple challenge….research of course. 🙂

Have a great weekend.

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Weekend in the Garden

I’m tired after a really busy weekend. Spring weather and the call to be outdoors getting dirt under my fingernails kept us busy, busy, busy.

Here are a few images to share a few glimpses into our weekend.

squirrel in the birdfeeder
Our resident squirrel in the birdfeeder. I love his tail.

Onions and radishes
Harvesting the radishes and the first round of onions.

Blueberries 5 14 10
Blueberries growing so round and plump.

lavender close up
Lavender that is alive with bees.

First weeding of the garden
The first round of weeding around the garden boxes is complete thanks to Mr. A. He and I have been working diligently at getting the weeds under control before the warm weather sets in for good. The boxes are all ready for the seedlings we have been nursing upstairs.

Cricket on a rose petal
We found this guy when we were working in the roses. It was perfect timing since I am working on a cricket challenge for the Summer Series ebook. We were able to do some up close observations before we left him comfortably back on the rose bush.
Edit to add: K left me a comment saying that there is an ovipositor so my he is really a she. Thanks K.

First Strawberries of the Season
No one says that hard work in the garden does not have its rewards. Yummy first strawberries were picked and eaten. The best ever end to a long weekend outdoors, except for maybe the grilled burgers my dear husband made us for dinner which we ate outside on our deck.

Hope you all had some time to get outdoors and enjoy whatever your world offered this weekend. I know that some of you have written to say that you don’t have an apple tree to study but you could just as well study any tree you find in the Handbook of Nature Study as a substitute or you could do a general apple study using some apples you have on hand. If all else fails, spend fifteen minutes outdoors with your children and enjoy whatever comes your way.

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Squirrel Study: Sad Story of Our Walnuts

Pile of Walnuts

We have a beautiful walnut tree in our backyard and it has always given us an abundance of nuts each autumn. The photo shown here is from a few years ago and shows part of our walnut harvest. Around this time of year, we are usually gathering oodles of nuts to dry and crack to eat and save for our baking.

Not this year.

Grey squirrels came and ate every last nut in our crop. Climbing into the tree, they would pick the nuts wrapped in their green outer coats, strip the casings off, and then proceed to crack the shells to get to the meat.

Piles and piles of shells and green casings dropped to the ground, littering the sidewalk and garden below. I thought surely they couldn’t eat them all, but they did.

I have mixed feelings about the whole situation. On one hand, I love having the furry little guys in my yard and away from my birdfeeders. On the other hand, I would have liked to have had a few nuts in my pantry for cookies and muffins and salads. This autumn will be known as the year with no nuts.

Our front yard also has a squirrel that visits quite frequently. It is a different variety of squirrel and he is FAST.
Squirrel in the tuliptree 2
(I shared this photo a few weeks ago during our tree study…we think it is a Fox Squirrel.)

Fox Squirrel on the front wall

He is busy eating the seeds from the tulip tree.

Squirrel on the front wall 2
Look at those feet! No wonder they can climb and jump like they do!

He nibbles and then scurries off down the street, as if he has a regular route he takes to dine at various spots in the neighborhood.

Squirrel on the front wall 1
He is fun to watch as he bounds down the street and up onto the neighbor’s narrow fence top. My son, who does a lot of his schoolwork in the living room at the table by the window, calls my attention to our resident squirrel all the time. We are getting to know him quite well this year.

The other day as I was driving down a fairly busy street in town, a squirrel decided to run out in front of me. I know from experience that they usually dart out of the way at the last minute and I try not to get too excited. This one seemed to look me in the eye as he sat in my lane of traffic, a crazy game of chicken. Starting to move, he zigged and zagged a little in front of me and stood still again as I got closer. I slowed a bit and started coaching him to “Get out of the way!” At the last possible moment, he ran off to the side of the road and quickly up a tree. Why do they do that?

For the most part, we enjoy our neighborhood squirrels and find a great deal of entertainment value in this rodent. Our favorite squirrel actually walks the telephone line at a busy intersection in town. We see him probably once a week doing his tight-rope act, defying gravity and giving us something to be in awe about with this little one of God’s creation.

Here is our link to our previous squirrel study if you would like to read that one:
Squirrel Study

Watch this video to see another common squirrel in our area…the California Ground Squirrel. This video was taken last spring on a hike we took not too far from our home.