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Desert Nature Study-Joshua Tree National Park and More

I wanted to share some more of the photos from our trip to the desert that we took a few weeks ago. The photo above is from Joshua Tree National Park. The scene is typical of what you will find as you hike along the trails of the park. It has taken me three trips to the desert to begin to develop a love for the animals and plants that live here. In this strange and wonderful landscape, you can find the most beautiful of things if you look carefully enough.

There really are blooming plants here and if you get the chance to get up close, you realize that there are bees and other insects as well as birds that are attracted to the color and fragrance.

I will admit that there are sections of the park that are more rock than anything else. My two boys couldn’t resist a good climb when they saw it.

When you get up close you see all the intricate patterns and designs of the desert plants. I believe this is some kind of cholla cactus.

Now here was something that surprised me and I examined it carefully for some time. Can you see all the different colors of lichen on this rock? There is a moss green, a grey-green, an orange and a soft yellow-green all living right here on the side of this rock. Beautiful.

Many times as we hike along we name the rock formations we see. The boys named this one “Whale Head”.

Not to be confused with “Whale’s Mouth”.

They keep me smiling…..and thinking.

We came across a wash on our hike and the wildflowers were already blooming. There are three different flowers blooming in this photo…two white and the desert sand verbena.

How about a video? (Why does it take so looooong for the videos to load onto Blogger anyway?)
This squirrel was entertaining us with his acrobatics…trying to get that certain pod to eat.

Here is what the squirrel was gathering to eat. This is a palo verde tree.

I took a lot of photos at the Living Desert Museum and I shared a lot of the butterfly and hummingbird photos already but here are a few more of the larger animals we saw that the boys spent a lot of time observing.

The giraffes…there were four of them.

The cheetahs..there were two of them. I love this photo….look at that face!

For some reason I threw our nature journals in my backpack and we took the opportunity in the afternoon to slow down and do some sketching at the museum. It was a great way to remember our time there.

What a great memory.

It was great way to end our stay at the museum. The desert holds so many interesting and surprising creations for us to learn about….a life time of learning just one plant and one bird and one animal at a time.

So whether you venture out in the national park or you stay in town and visit the Living Desert Museum….there is so much to enjoy as a family. Pick your adventure.

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Skunks and Badgers: Our Outdoor Hour

Our Outdoor Hour Challenge #50 – Skunks and Badgers

Our area is inhabited by quite a few striped skunks. In the summer time we frequently see them in the evening hours in our backyard as they dig under the birdfeeder and in the yard. We even had a family of skunks living under our house a few years ago.

Every night that summer we would have the fragrance of skunk to contend with. We sort of became used to smelling it at night but when they would sometimes spray right up under the windows, it would make you feel sick to your stomach.

This time of year we only occasionally see skunks and it is a nice break in our “nature study”.

This is a photo from last year and it shows what the skunks come and do at night in our yard. They dig around looking for insects and worms and the holes look like swirls when they are done. This was an especially bad night where I am so grateful they decided to dig in the unlandscaped part of the yard and not a few feet over and into the grassy area. They are very good diggers as you can see. This year we have a dog that sleeps outside in her kennel so we shall see how that goes with the resident skunk population.

On another topic, we did have a special treat this week while we were on our trip to the desert. The Living Desert Museum actually had a badger to view and observe! We had never seen a real badger before and we were surprised at the size and the claws! The badger was busy digging in his enclosure so we stood and watched him for a long time and we can now see how he uses those long claws to dig his burrow.

Skunks are really an ongoing nature study subject for our family since we have them so close at hand. We have learned to live with them and to stay out of their way.

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Butterflies Galore!

Just like with the birds at the Living Desert Museum, it was a treat to see so many butterflies at their Butterflies Alive! exhibit.

They also had a butterfly garden outdoors that was a great source of ideas for different plants that I may be able to incorporate into my backyard butterfly garden.

“This graceful butterfly is a very good friend to the flowers, being a most efficient pollen-carrier. It haunts the gardens and sips nectar from all the blossom cups held out for its refreshment; and it is found throughout almost all parts of the United States.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 301

It was hard to know where to look because there were butterflies flying and landing in just about every direction. Make sure to click the photos to see them close up!

There were blue ones.

There were white ones. (Love the heliotrope!)

There were striped ones.

There were ones with beautiful wings and long legs.

We tried to catch them on our fingers but they were very shy. It was more fun just to sit and watch them flutter by on their way to sip some more nectar.

When we tired of butterflies, there were more hummingbirds to observe.

Now I wish I would have written down the kinds of hummers that were there. This one was black with a greenish head and a long red beak.

This one was not shy and came within inches of me over and over again to sip from these red flowers.

I can’t tell you how much we enjoyed this part of our desert trip.

The museum purchases the butterfly chrysalis’ and then mount them on sticks in the window for all to watch. There were rows and rows of them and some were just starting to come out and stretch and meet the world.

My favorite chrysalis’ were the ones for the Queen butterfly. They were a soft green color with a gold line rimming one end. Amazing, truly amazing.

This is a newly hatched butterfly waiting for its wings to fully dry before they let it out into the aviary. So, so pretty.

Okay, this entry is getting rather long and it has completely too many photos. Believe me…I restrained myself.

Hope you enjoyed seeing this part of our trip. I will share more about the cactus and rock climbing in another entry.

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Birds Up Close

One thing that frustrates this bird lover is that it is nearly impossible to get up close to live birds in the wild. So when the opportunity presents itself to get a really good look, even at a zoo or museum…I grab it. We were able to observe quite a few beautiful birds at the Living Desert Museum. If you live in California or even in Nevada, you might want to check this museum out and include it on your next roadtrip.

This Burrowing owl was so gorgeous and he impressed me very much with his wide eyes and his colorful pattern on his wings and body.

They had a hummingbird and butterfly aviary that I could have spent all day wandering around. We spotted this hummer on the littlest nest around. Click the photo to see the texture of his feathers. I will post photos of some of the butterflies soon.

I am amazed at the way the birds are so different from each other. They may all have feathers, wings, and legs but the variety of how those pieces are put together is an amazing testimony to our Creator.

Most of the birds at this museum are not able to be released into the wild. Some have lost a leg or a wing and the owl in the first photo of this entry is blind. This bird is a kind of heron and I forgot to write down his exact name but he was so pretty…and sleepy. 🙂

I encourage you to take advantage of any opportunity that comes along for nature study. I was surprised to see that this particular museum had a badger exhibit so we were able to observe a real live badger as part of our Outdoor Hour Challenge…..more on that in another post.