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Our Winter Willow Observations-Buds, Galls, and Beavers

This was the week we made our winter willow observations. It’s been cold and snowy, but we put on our boots and hiked out to the willow we tied the string onto earlier in autumn. I’m glad we marked it with a string back in the autumn because right now all the willows look very similar.

12 31 18 winter willow study gall  (2)


Here’s a photo of the willow, leafless and bare except for a few straggly brown leaves.

12 31 18 winter willow study gall  (3)


Isn’t this color amazing? From a distance the willows are a rusty red but up close they are a bright orange. There are small buds just waiting to burst open once the season turns warmer.

12 31 18 winter willow study gall  (5)

It was exciting to find a rose shaped insect gall on a branch. I learned all about this interesting creation last year and it’s still thrilling to discover another one this season.

12 31 18 winter willow study gall  (1)

It looks like a wooden rose on the willow…so pretty.


12 31 18 winter willow study gall  (4)

It’s no surprise to us that the beavers have been harvesting branches from the willows since the autumn season. You can see the evidence of their work in the image above. This is just another chapter in our beaver story…I’ve grown to appreciate their part of the habitat and its changing development.

It’s never too late to start your own year-long willow study, even if you didn’t start it back in autumn. Pick up here and join us! Click the graphic below to go to the original winter study challenge here on the Handbook of Nature Study.

Outdoor Hour Challenge Winter Willow StudyPerhaps you don’t have any willows to study in your neighborhood, but I invite you to take a look at the winter seasonal nature study ideas I’ve collected over the years. You may just find a topic that interests your family and you can get started with your own year-long study. Click the graphic below and see the complete list.

Winter Season Nature Study – Seasonal Ideas


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Outdoor Hour Challenge – Gall Insects

Gall Insect Study @handbookofnaturestudyOutdoor Hour Challenge – Winter Gall Study

From the Archives or from the Winter Ebook

This is one of the most interesting topics that you are ever going to study. I am pretty sure you have noticed galls before during a nature walk but never knew what they were or where they came from. I was the same way when I first started taking a deeper look at things right around where we lived. We have oaks in our habitat and they are a host for so many different kinds of galls. I suggest you look at a local field guide to see if you have any galls in your area to scout out starting now in the winter and then on into the spring and summer.

You may wish to take a quick look at this page for more introductory information: Plant Galls.

Gall Insect Nature Study @handbookofnaturestudy
Gall Dwelling Insect notebook page found in the winter ebook referenced below

Outdoor Hour Challenge Winter 2016 More Nature Study

If you are interested in purchasing an Ultimate Naturalist Membership at this time, you will gain access to the custom notebooking pages that go along with each of the challenges in the ebook.

Ultimate Naturalist Library June 2016 @handbookofnaturestudy

Note: You do not need to purchase the ebook to participate but they are handy to have for planning and for the regular and advanced notebook pages included in each one. Click the graphic at above to go over to check out the Ultimate Naturalist Library membership.

Spring Plans!

We will be working through a new series of wildflower challenges starting in April using a new ebook that will publish sometime in March. The new wildflower ebook will also be added to the Ultimate Naturalist Library so if you purchase a membership now, you will have the new ebook as soon as it is available. I will posting details about the new ebook soon.




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Insect Nature Study – Potpourri

As part of this month’s newsletter nature study suggestions, we have been on the lookout for insect home related subjects to take a closer look at in person. As it usually happens, we found some interesting things to learn about….research was definitely involved.

Insect gall on maple

It does amaze me that there are so many things happening around us in the natural world that go unnoticed. Take the image above. My husband was trimming some tree branches from our maple tree last weekend and as we cleaned up the mess, we both noticed this growth on a branch. What is it? A gall of some sort? We decided to submit the image to for some help in identifying what insect created this home. Guess what? They told me it was a praying mantis egg sack! Cool stuff! (I found this article very interesting: Dave’s Garden Praying Mantis.)

Ant hill in Oregon

We are prone to walking right by the ant hills on our hikes. The common ant is an amazing engineer and we don’t often take time to note his industriousness.

Praying Mantis

Ok, this insect is not in his home but rather in MY home. Do you think he wants some toast or a bagel? We safely escorted him outside after taking a few pictures.

web cat

 My cat is always hiding in the bushes and as we looked for signs of insects in our year she emerged from her hiding spot covered in cobwebs and dried leaves. She knows all the good spots to hideaway in our front yard but is willing to welcome us as we walk up the steps with a friendly meow. Give her a pet on the head as you walk by if you ever visit.

We will continue to look for insect homes as the season progresses. I didn’t spy any leaf rollers this time but I am keeping my eyes wide open for the opportunity to see these interesting creatures up close.

 Outdoor Hour Challenge Leaf Miners and Leaf Rollers Insect Study @handbookofnaturestudy









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Handbook of Nature Study Newsletter – September 2016 Insect Homes

Handbook of Nature Study Newsletter September 2016 cover

Handbook of Nature Study Newsletter

September 2016 – Insect Study: Insect Homes


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

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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 September so be sure to download it before 9/30/16.

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

Handbook of Nature Study Newsletter September 2016

Contents of this edition of the newsletter include:

  • This edition of the newsletter will focus mainly on insects and their homes. This is a more difficult topic but please don’t be intimidated. Read the newsletter for a variety of insect-related nature study ideas and lots of free printables.
  • This month I have reprinted from the More Nature Study Autumn ebook the Gall Dwellers Outdoor Hour Challenge. This will give you a real look at what a challenge in an ebook is like…please enjoy this freebie with your family when the opportunity arises.
  • September Nature Study Planning Page that gathers lots of ideas for this month’s nature study (including links to the four Friday OHC studies that will be coming up in September).
  • I wrote an article for this edition that includes the Insect Home Nature Journal Topper for you to use with your family.
  • Plus as a bonus, I am including the Insect Study Grid and Bookmark printable page from the archives.
  • Especially for younger students, I have included a coloring page for your insect study in this edition of the newsletter.

As you can see from the list above, I am back to a more full edition of the newsletter. I missed the freedom that having more pages allowed me to include a little of this and that to round out your nature study. Please let me know if there are things you would like to see in up-coming editions of the newsletter!

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 Plans for Sept 16 to March 17 @handbookofnaturestudyPlease click over and read the step by step instructions for using the Handbook of Nature Study and the Outdoor Hour Challenge in your nature study plans starting in September. Let me know if you have any questions.

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Gall Dwelling Insects – Our Winter Study

Our gall study has been going on for several months now and we have gathered quite a few different kinds of galls during our hikes. Some of the galls are really small but once we know what we are looking for we can look for the signs on the oaks. During the winter, the galls are more noticeable because there are far fewer leaves to deal with. Our local forest is a mix of evergreen and deciduous oaks so we still have plenty of leaves to check but not as many as the middle of summer.

I think the key to finding galls is to know what you are looking for. Check the links in the original challenge if you have any trouble getting started.

The California Gall Wasp is only 1/8″ to 1/4″ in size…far too small to probably ever be recognized or identified but we do know what their gall looks like. It is the big gall in the top image and you can clearly see the exit holes. Fascinating stuff.

Image Credit: Naturegirl 78 Flikr

We took time to observe the smaller galls under our microscope. It truly is a completely different world under the lens of a microscope. Amazing…even a hand lens will open that world up.

Empty Galls Image Credit: Christine Lynch Flickr

There is so much to learn about this topic, reaching into insect study and tree study.

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OHC More Nature Study Book 2 – Gall Dwelling Insects

More Nature Study Book #2 
Winter Insect Study – Gall Dwellers

“There are many forms of gall dwellings, and they may grow upon the root, branch, leaf, blossom, or fruit.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 335

Inside Preparation Work:

  1. Read in the Handbook of Nature Study pages 335-337 (Lesson 39). Galls occur on a wide variety of plants, but the Handbook of Nature Study tells the story of galls on oaks, goldenrod, and the willow. The lesson also includes illustrations or images of actual galls and for this lesson it will be helpful for your children to know what to look for during their outdoor time. You can use this excellent visual resource to learn more what a variety of galls look like: Plant Galls. Interesting video of one kind of gall we have in California: Jumping Oak Galls.
  2. Other trees and plants to observe for galls: rose bush, hickory, hackberry, maple, spruce, or poplar trees.
  3. Refer to previous insect challenges: More Nature Study #2 Leaf-Miners or Winter Wednesday #7 Winter Insects.
  4. Supplemental Information: Discover Nature: Close to Home has a chapter on galls that is excellent for children.

Outdoor Hour Time: 

  1. Spend fifteen minutes outdoors with your children, looking for signs of gall insects. Look at this challenge as a sort of “gall hunt” and encourage your children to use their observations skills.
  2. Examine any galls you find. Use as many words as you can to describe the gall. (Ebook users: Some suggested words are found on the Gall Study notebook page.) Make sure to look for “exit holes”.
  3. Alternate activity: Look for any signs of insects in your backyard or neighborhood

Follow-Up Activity:

  1. Galls provide a way for certain insects to survive the winter. Use your follow-up time to have your children explain the life-cycle of the gall dweller or allow time for a nature journal to record their findings. Use the illustrations in the Handbook of Nature Study to help them draw a gall if possible.
  2. Advanced Study: The formal name for the study of galls is “cecidology”. Read this link: Gall-Making Insects. Summarize the information with words or drawings.
  3. Advanced Study: Record in your nature journal or on the ebook notebook page four different galls either from your outdoor experiences or from your research. Also, explain in your own words the life cycle of one of the gall insects featured on your notebook page (egg, gall forms, larva develops, adults, egg).
  4. Advanced Study: Sketch a gall dwelling insect from your area. Write an account of its specific life cycle on the journal page in the ebook or in your nature journal.

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Outdoor Hour Challenge Winter Tree Silhouettes
An image showing the full collection of Nature Study courses

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Searching for Leaf-Miners and Leaf-Rollers

Oak Leaves 2

We found quite a bit of leaf damage on the oaks in our backyard…nothing that really looked like leaf-miners though. We looked carefully which is part of what this challenge (More Nature Study #2 Leaf-Miners and Rollers) was all about.Taking time to really look and see the leaves opens up lots of interesting thoughts and ideas.  Who caused the damage? Were they nibbled by insects or something else like the birds that frequent our yard?

The preparation work from the Handbook of Nature Study really helped us with this challenge.

Leaf Rollers 2

We went around to the garden side of the yard and started to look at the shrubs there and we think we found several leaves that had been rolled up by insects. This one looks close to what we were looking for so we are going to assume it is our subject for this challenge. Amazing that I never noticed this leaf-rolling in our own backyard until now! What else am I missing?

Oak leaves

Now in the front yard we have a different kind of oak and we were able to see clearly some damage done by some insect…perhaps a leaf-miner. We couldn’t find any leaves that had insects working on them currently but these looked promising enough to bring a few inside to look at under the magnifying lens.

Leaf 2

Here is one image (through the magnifying lens) that was super pretty, almost looked like stained glass.When you hold the leaf up to the light as suggested in the Handbook of Nature Study it is even more beautiful. My husband was wondering what I was looking at and I had to share with him too. He was fascinated by our topic and since he spends lots of time outdoors as part of his job, he is going to keep an eye out for some more leaves to look at with the hand lens.

Leaf 1

Another image up-close at what we think may be what we were looking for this week.

So there you have it…our leaf-miner and leaf-roller study in our own yard. Amazing that we could find it right under out noses. I think that is the lesson I learned from reading the entries to the Blog Carnival for this challenge from different families… amazement that they could even find this subject so close to home.

If you haven’t taken the time to give this challenge a try yet, there is still plenty of time to do so. Make it an investigation after reading the information in the Handbook of Nature Study. Take your magnifying glass with you outdoors to look at the suggested plants (see Lesson 77 in the HNS).

Oak Galls
We also observed some oak galls which are covered in Lesson 79 in the Handbook of Nature Study. These are interesting to observe as well and surprising to most that they are actually signs of an insect.More Nature Study Button


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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.

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Family Outdoor Hour: Nothing Like an Oak

Oaks and Pines 1
My oldest son and I had the opportunity to take a long walk together and enjoy the oaks and pines along the walking trail. He has such long legs that he ends up way in front of me most of the time but that gives me a chance to snap a few photos as we walk. He stops every now and then to let me catch up…..yep, I feel like an old lady.

Oaks make me happy. I love the variety of oaks with their different shapes and here in California we have quite a few to study. Last year we kept track of a Live Oak growing in our backyard. We also have quite a few scrub oaks in the back of our property.Here is a previous post on our oaks: Oak Challenge Entry

oak leaves
There is nothing like the smell of warm oak leaves in the sun.

Oak galls fascinate me and the boys think they are pretty interesting as well. Oak galls are basically abnormalities on plants caused by insects. We noticed that there are not as many as usual this autumn and we wonder what that means.

oaks 2
I love the shape of oak trees and this one at my dad’s house is a big old oak. I took an informal poll of my three boys and asked them which they preferred: oaks or pines? Two oaks and one pine…..I think if I had to make a quick answer without thinking too much I would pick oaks as well.

We have noticed how different the acorns are from different kinds of oaks.

oak trunk
We had a wet morning to observe the oaks in our backyard but I really like the way the wetness brought out the texture in the bark.

oak leaves
Here are leaves from one of our oaks. We are assuming the red parts are the new growth. We will have to keep checking to see if we are right.

oaks in field guide
I really like using the Peterson Field Guide-Western Trees book for our tree identification. The color plates show the leaves, the buds, and the acorns. Once you get an idea of which oak you think you have, there is a reference to a page number to read the narrative account along with a photo and range map. You can find the tree guide listed on the Autumn Series Squidoo lens (scroll down to the additional resources section).

We made leaf prints last week with our oak leaves and they are included in our nature journals for this challenge.

These challenges are helping us stay motivated to get outdoors which is always a good thing.


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Urchins on Oaks?

We took our usual walk the other day but we found something unusual.

These little pink growths were attached all over the leaves on the ground and we brought one home to identify it. I had an idea that it was gall of some sort but I thought it would be interesting to see if we could come up with an exact identification.

I Googled “pink gall oak” and here are a few of the things I found.

CalPhotos: Urchin Gall

Nature’s Oddballs

Fascinating article with a great explanation of galls.

So there you have it.
Urchin Gall Wasp Antron quercusechinus

“There are many forms of these gall dwellings, and they may grow upon the root, branch, leaf, blossom, or fruit. The miraculous thing about each of them is that each kind of insect builds its magical house on a certain part of a certain species of tree or plant; and the house is always of a certain definite form on the outside and of a certain particular pattern within.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 335

You can read more about galls in the Handbook on pages 335-338.

Gall Study - Handbook of Nature Study