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My Favorite Little Binoculars

Per request, here is information on the binoculars I carry in my purse….yes they are that small but they are mighty powerful as well. They are easy to use and lightweight. I can very easily carry them in a jacket pocket or around my neck when we are hiking. You can see me wearing them in the photo above from our trip last week to the desert. Can you guess where we are?

Big clue in the background.

You can read more at Eagle Optics-Energy.

They come in a variety of colors too so you can pick your favorite.

Eagle Optics Energy Binoculars
I have the green pair. They come with a pouch and the pouch can clip onto your belt if you like to carry things that way.

This is an affiliate link…love and own this product.

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Bird Songs: Our New Area of Interest

Photo by my son Mr. A of Cedar waxwings in our front yard.

This is our blog entry for the Spring Series of Outdoor Hour Challenge-Bird Study #3.

I have discovered that learning about birds comes in layers.

  • You start noticing the birds in your yard or neighborhood.
  • You discover that you indeed have birds in your yard and then develop a desire to know their name.
  • Start to notice the colors, beaks, sizes, etc so you can identify the bird using your field guide.
  • Find yourself reading the field guide just for fun.
  • Start noticing birds as you drive around town for your daily activities. Begin to see birds everywhere and wonder what their story is. The story becomes part of the fun of birding. Does this bird live in your neighborhood or is it a visitor? What does the bird eat? How does it makes its nest? How does it fit into the habitat of your neighborhood?
  • Now you want to take a few special day trips to places you might see new birds. You notice a pond and you look for water birds. You visit a park with a wooded area and you go on the hunt for some new birds, perhaps a woodpecker.
  • You pack a compact pair of binoculars in your purse just in case you might need them.
  • You get a second copy of the field guide to carry in the car.
  • Now you want to keep track of your birds, listing those you have seen and identified.
  • You dream of seeing certain birds you have only studied in the field guide. It is like a treasure hunt only with birds.

Now in our family, we are at the point where we can hear lots of unidentified birds and we want to know who they are. As we hike along, many times the birds are high up in the trees and they are well hidden from sight but we can hear them loud and clear.

This is where this challenge has really challenged our family.

Red tailed hawk A
We chose three birds to learn the calls for this week, keeping them in mind as we go outdoors. We picked the Red-tailed hawk, the American robin, and the Oak titmouse.

We decided that the hawk we hear many times each week is not the Red-tailed hawk but the Red-shouldered hawk. We are now going to take our good binoculars with us to see if we can get a good visual of the hawk the next time we see him soaring overhead. Now that we have armed ourselves with some good visual descriptions, we feel that we can tell the two hawks apart.

The boys surprised me when they said they didn’t know the song of the robin so they now know what to listen for in our yard. I hear the robin’s song early in the morning and I will point it out to them next time I hear it. The titmouse is one that I hear before I actually see him. His flight is so fast that it is easy to miss him but if we can listen for him in the trees, we will know he is there.

We have already picked out our next three birds to learn the songs for and it will fun as the weeks go by to increase our skill at identifying birds by their calls.

I purchased these two items last year and I have not used them as much as I would like to.

The IFlyer Wand and ScanBook: I saved up for this gadget and purchased it to help us identify birds by their calls. The wand reads the bar code of the bird in the book and it plays the bird call for you to listen to. You can also purchase stickers with the bar codes to put into your own bird field guide and scan those instead of the ScanBook that comes with the wand. This gadget isn’t as easy to use as I would like and I’m not sure at this point if it was worth the money. It is definitely fun to use but very expensive.

Someone told me that you can buy an app for your iPhone that does the same thing: iBird. They thought it was a great app but since I don’t have an iPhone, I haven’t checked it out personally.

Western Birding By Ear: This set of CDs helps you systematically work through bird calls. There are three CDs to listen to and a booklet to go along with the CDs. I think in the long run these CDs will be very beneficial and make the learning of bird calls much easier.

My boys have learned to use the iFlyer after going through this challenge. The CDs are now in our car and we will be listening to them as we do our weekly driving.

I look forward to hearing about your bird studies!


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OHC Spring Series #3: Spring Bird Study

This is one of my favorite bird studies of all time! I am very interested in learning to identify birds by their call since many times I do not actually see the bird but hear it up in the trees. My boys are really helpful in recalling bird calls and they are actually better at this skill than I am. We have made our list and I will share with you our results in another post.

Outdoor Hour Challenge
Spring Series #3
Spring Bird Study

Inside Preparation Work:

  • As part of our spring nature study this week, we will prepare by learning about some familiar bird songs. Read about the โ€œSongs of Birdsโ€ in the Handbook of Nature Study on pages 42 and 43.
  • Here is a link to a page that will help you learn about to listen to and then identify birds by their calls:

Songs and Calls

  • Brainstorm a list of birds you know that live in your area. Pick two or three to research on the All About Birds website. Look up each bird and listen to their bird songs. Challenge your children to imitate the bird song and to listen for it when they go outside.

Outdoor Hour Time:

  • Spend your 10-15 minutes of outdoor time this week looking and listening for birds. You might try going out several times during the week at different times of day to listen and observe.
  • This will be a week you can work on a few minutes of quiet time while you are in your backyard or local park. Remind your children that if they are quiet even for one minute they might hear a bird or other animal. One minute can see like a lifetime for young ones so use your good judgment on this activity.

Follow-Up Activity:

  • Take a few minutes to follow-up on any interest that came from your outdoor time even if your children were interested in something other than birds. Review the bird songs you learned and practiced during your preparation work. If you saw an unfamiliar bird, try to identify it using a field guide. Learn more about identifying birds here on this page: Bird Identification Skills.
  • If you do not have a field guide, you can try this online bird site to help identify birds: WhatBird? And this website for additional information as well: AllAboutBirds.
  • Donโ€™t forget to look up any birds you identify in the Handbook of Nature Study and see how Anna Botsford Comstock suggests you learn more about that particular bird by reading the narrative and the accompanying lesson.
  • Allow time for a nature journal entry using the accompanying Spring Bird notebook page from the ebook or your own nature journal.

If you are really interested in learning more about birds, you can work through my bird series of Outdoor Hour Challenges that are found on the Bird Page here on my blog. .

If you would like all the Spring Series Challenges in one book, I have an ebook gathered for you to purchase for your convenience. The ebook also contains art and music appreciation plans for the winter months as well. Please see this entry for more details:
Spring Series Cover
Spring Nature Study with Art and Music Appreciation

Ultimate Ebook Library @handbookofnaturestudy

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Some Migratory Visitors: Cedar Waxwings

Cedar Waxwings: Seven on a Branch
We were visited by a migrating flock of Cedar waxwings this morning. We had a break in our rainstorm long enough for these beautiful birds to take a rest in the tree outside our window.

Cedar Waxwings: Preening
They were busy soaking in the sunshine and fluffing their wings and feathers.

Cedar Waxwings: Yellow tips on the tail
Can you see the yellow tips to their tails?

Cedar Waxwings: Crests and yellow bellies
Their bellies are a softer yellow and they have lovely crests of feathers on their heads.

Cedar Waxwings: Chillin in the Tree
But my favorite parts of all are their black masks and beaks.

These birds are not discussed in the Handbook of Nature Study, but we read over the section on beaks (Lesson 5) and migration (between Lesson 3 and 4) Then we looked Cedar waxwings up at and in our field guide.

After looking at the migratory map in the back of our Peterson Field Guide, we realize that these little birds travel all the way back up to Canada to breed. Truly amazing when you think about it for a minute.

What a great gift this morning to have these visitors to observe and enjoy.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

In case you are wondering, I took these photos with my old point and shoot through the window….how about that? I was really happy with how great they turned out. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Great Backyard Bird Count: Saturday and Sunday

Saturday, February 13th-We were only able to observe in our own backyard about 30 minutes.
5 White-crowned sparrows
4 House sparrows
1 Anna’s hummingbird (Spotted in our flowering broccoli!)
1 Western scrub jay
1 California towhee
2 Spotted towhees
8 Juncos
1 House finch
1 American robin
1 Oak titmouse
1 American crow (heard but not seen)
1 Nuttall’s woodpecker

Spotted towhees
Sunday, February 14th-Two different times observing for a total of 45 minutes.
8 Juncos
1 Western scrub jay
1 Nuttall’s woodpecker
11 House finches
2 Spotted towhees (There are two shown in the photo above.)
2 California towhees
1 Anna’s hummingbird (in the feeder this time)
1 Oak titmouse
2 Red-tailed hawks (soaring over our house and screeching loudly)
2 Canadian geese (flying over noisily)
1 White-breasted nuthatch
5 White-crowned sparrows
2 American crows (loud caws and then they flew overhead, one had something in its mouth)

Robin in the Tree
I think we did a good job at counting this year and for once we knew every bird in the feeder. This is our fourth year participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count and we have come a long way from that first year where we only knew the most basic of birds.

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The Beginnings of a Robin Study

“Most of us think we know the robin well, but very few of us know definitely the habits of this, our commonest bird. The object of this lesson is to form in the pupils a habit of careful observation, and to enable them to read for themselves the interesting story of this little life which is lived every year before their eyes. Moreover, a robin notebook, if well kept, is a treasure for any child; and the close observation necessary for this lesson trains the pupils to note in a comprehending way the habits of other birds. It is the very best preparation for bird study of the right sort.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 57

What started off as a hike after the rain had stopped, quickly turned into an exciting weekend of robin watching. Heading down our regular hiking trail, we immediately saw a sight that made us stop in our tracks. Up over our heads in huge groups were groups of birds flying, some stopping to perch in the tall pines above us. Some of the birds were just flying very fast all in one direction. I did not have my binoculars on this afternoon so we had to use the camera to see at first what kind of birds they were. Robins! Flocks and flocks of robins!

Robins in a Pine 2 6 10
We were amazed at the numbers of robins and I tried to capture a few photos, but I had my little camera that does not have an adequate zoom. The photo above is the only photo that you see the robins.

None of us had experienced this large of a flock of robins before. We realized exactly what is in the quote above from the Handbook of Nature Study. How could we have never noticed the robins migrating/flocking before? Where are they coming from? Where are they going? We had so many questions in our minds as we finished our hike.

This experience was repeated several times over the course of our weekend. We even had them flocking and flying overhead yesterday morning at our house. The neighborhood was alive with robins.

This is how our robin study started this weekend. We are going to use the suggestions for progressive robin study in the Handbook of Nature Study and spend some time this spring learning about this common neighborhood bird. You can read the lessons starting on page 61.

“For third or higher grades the pupils may have individual notebooks in which each one may write his own answers to the questions of the successive series……The cover or first page should show the picture of the robin colored by the pupil, and may contain other illustrative drawings, and any poems or other literature pertinent to the subject.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 61

The Handbook of Nature Study contains lessons that follow the spring habits of the robin and it will take us a few months to finish our study.

We found the following links helpful:
Winter Robins
What Happens to All the Robins?
Making Sense of Robin Migration This article has some interesting information stating that the robins only start singing when they have reached their territory. Many of the robins we observed over the weekend were singing…so I guess they are home. More info HERE.
Robin Migration Journal Pages I can’t believe what you can find on the internet with very little effort. I was reading this website and realized they have a journal you can print out and use to keep track of the robin migration for this year. Awesome! They also have more generic notebook pages to go with any study HERE.

I will keep you posted on the progfess of our robin study. Don’t forget that this coming weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count. Even if you can only devote 15-20 minutes of bird watching in your neighborhood this coming weekend, you can participate in this important birding event. You do not need to be an expert in bird identification either. Report the birds you do know!

I will share our bird tallies as we make our observations.


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Woodpecker Alert!

Nuttall's Woodpecker 2
Today we identified a new woodpecker in our yard…really exciting stuff.

Nuttall's Woodpecker 1
He was hopping between the tree and the feeder, but I was able to snap a few photos to share with you.

Nuttall's Woodpecker 3

Nuttall’s Woodpecker

Picoides nuttallii
“The only black and white, zebra backed woodpecker with a black and white striped face normally found in California west of the Sierra. Males have red caps.”
Habitat: Wooded canyons and foothills, river woods, groves, and orchards.

I just love the unexpected nature study that happens along with real life. When you have to observe closely to identify a bird, you learn all kinds of things in the process. We learned that the Downy woodpecker that we normally see is very close to the Nuttall’s woodpecker but he has a big white spot on his back. Now we will be able to tell them apart quite easily.

New bird for our bird list!


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Red-Tailed Hawk Encounter

We often see Red-tailed Hawks in our area and they are an awesome sight as they soar high above us. If you listen carefully, their call can be heard from very far away because it is so distinct. Try clicking the photos to see them larger.
red tail hawk colored feathers
This particular hawk landed in a little stream area at the flower farm. You can’t see the little bit of creek in this photo where he is sitting at the water’s edge. He had swooped down over our heads and we thought for sure he was after his prey but he landed and sat for a few minutes which allowed us to take a few photos. My boys commented that he was a lot bigger than they thought and he was a big guy. I looked it up when we got home and our field guide says they are around 22 inches with a wingspan of 52 inches and weigh around 45 ounces.

red tail hawk in parking lot
He waddled through the tall grasses and up into the near-by parking lot and we were able to really see his red tail feathers. He turned his head and gave us his best “hawk eye” and then he flew off.

red tail hawk flying
Off he goes!

For more information on these gorgeous birds, I highly recommend the article. This page has inspired me to try sketching the Red-tailed Hawk in my nature journal, Naturalist’s Notebook, although my sketch will be a far cry from this piece of art. ๐Ÿ™‚


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Yosemite Research Trip: Waterfalls, Dogwood, and Birds

We had a family trip planned for the last few days to Yosemite National Park. A wildfire in Santa Barbara came along and changed our plans. Instead of the four of us going, three of us headed to Yosemite and one went to the coast to fight fire. This is the way fire season goes in our house….be flexible and make the most of it.

Yosemite at this time of year is all about the waterfalls. Big waterfalls. It seems as if the walls sprout water. Bridalveil, Yosemite, Ribbon, Staircase, Vernal, Nevada, and Illillouette are all going strong! The sound of water is everywhere and it gurgles and bubbles along just about every hiking trail.

Another outstanding feature of spring in Yosemite is the blooming of the dogwood. It fills the forest with its beautiful white blooms.

We had a lot of adventures in three days. One morning we got up early and jumped on our bikes and were off to watch the sunrise over Half Dome.

It was a beautiful experience and if you could hear the soundtrack in the background of this photo….you would hear birdsong and water running high in the creek from Mirror Lake down to the river.

Although getting up early wasn’t necessarily their favorite idea, the boys were great once we got off on our adventure. It helped that there were quite a few other people up on the trail already as well. Most of them had big camera outfits with tripods but since we were on bikes and I don’t own any fancy camera equipment, I was happy just to be there and capture a few good photos with my point and shoot.

Here is a photo of Mirror Lake….it’s not hard to figure out how they came up with the name. ๐Ÿ™‚

This is not your traditional birdwatching pose but it works. We also did some water observations as we sat here early in the morning. We saw some sort of larval insect in the water wiggling around and there were mosquitoes and some other winged creatures as well.

Later that morning our bike ride took us by this view. I think I took about a hundred photos of Yosemite Falls on this trip, from every angle possible. The sound of it is just incredible as it thunders over the rocks.

Oh, we did see two bear cubs at two separate locations…no mama bear but we figured she was probably close by. We just keep on going about our business and the cubs would scamper off into the woods.

Another day found us hiking in the Tuolumne Grove of giant sequoias. I have given up trying to get an entire sequoia into a photo. This is a great hike if you have an afternoon to spend under the big trees. I am working on a Squidoo lens describing some easy day hikes for families. This hike will be in it for sure.

Our last big hike of the trip was on the Panorama Trail. The road to Glacier Point was open which was a surprise so we took advantage of the afternoon to hike down towards Illilouette Falls. The view of Half Dome and Nevada Falls from this trail is breathtaking. We decided to sit on a downed tree and just take in the splendor of the moment. The photo above was our view.

We also did a little birding as we hiked on this gorgeous afternoon. There was a bird singing a beautiful song as we hiked. We spotted him and we think he was a Hermit Thrush.

Okay, so I have spent a lot of time out in the wilderness over the years but this hike gave me something to ponder over. We heard a sound. Not quite sure how to describe it. At first it sounded like drums….sort of like tribal drums…..thump, thump, thump. But not quite like a drum….it was more of a vibration. The boys thought it sounded more like when you blow air over the top of a bottle and it makes that vibrating sort of sound. We went through a list of animals it could have been but nothing seemed right. We thought about wind blowing in or over something but it was not quite what we heard either. It was not a steady sound but would come and go but always in a series of three….thrummm, thrumm, thrumm. We heard it on the same section of trail both going out and then coming back. It was sort of eerie.

EDIT TO ADD: Shannon suggested a grouse and I did a little research. Turns out there are several kinds of grouse in Yosemite. I listened to the call on All About Birds and it is very similar to what we heard. Here is a link:
Dusky Grouse
Doing a little more research it turns out that it probably was a Sooty grouse. The Blue grouse was split into two species: dusky and sooty. I found a list of Yosemite birds and it lists the Sooty grouse. No way to know for sure without having seen it but it sure sounds like what we heard on our hike. ๐Ÿ™‚

The habitat is right on. Here is what WhatBird says, “Preferred habitats include burned areas, montane forests, slashes, and subalpine forest clearings.” We were in a burned area with lots of downed trees and it was a subalpine habitat. Bingo!

So many adventures, so little blog space. ๐Ÿ™‚

I may be home from Yosemite but it is a place that never leaves my heart.

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Evening Grosbeak in My Feeder and How We Identify a Bird

Very little compares to identifying a new bird in your feeder. This one was so unusual that we just couldn’t stop looking at it.

The photo does not do it justice. It is bright yellow, with distinct markings of black and white. It was fairly good size so we got a pretty good look at it.

Although the photo didn’t turn out well, the memory will be forever with us.

We identified this bird as an Evening Grosbeak.

Yesterday we saw a bunch of blue birds that we had never seen before. We were out driving in the car when we saw nesting boxes all along a fence. We saw flashes of blue and realized that they were birds fighting, not only in the air but on the ground. The birds were very aggressive. When we got home we pulled out our field guide and identified the birds as Western bluebirds.

I shared the following information with a friend about how I identify a bird by explaining how I identified the Evening grosbeak. I personally like using the Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Birds.

Steps I Use To Identify a Bird
1. When I am trying to identify a bird, I rely heavily on color. The bird we saw in our feeder was a bright yellow so that narrowed it down as far as identifying it. The Audubon guide that I suggested for birds is organized by type of bird (clinging, perching, duck-like, etc) and then by predominant color. This makes it fast to skim through a lot of birds visually.
2. After I look at color and general type, I look at size. (sparrow-size, robin-sized, goose-size, etc) The Aububon guide does group from smallest to largest.
3. After color, type, and size, I look at beaks. This is really easy in the Aububon guide because on the photo pages there are three bird photos on a page so there are less pages to look through.
4. If I hit on the right bird by doing that method, I usually do a Google image search on the internet to confirm my findings. If I missed and didn’t get the right bird but I am in the right ball park, I go to and do a search there.

That pretty much sums it up. I know that others have different methods for identifying birds with a field guide but this works for our family.

It was a big bird weekend around here. I love it.