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Oaks and Acorns – California Visit

Oaks have a fragrance when the leaves are warm that conjures up memories of all the summers spent living in California. It’s an earthy smell that reminds me of hiking along trails beneath the oak forest canopy.


Dave Moore walking under the oaks
Walking with my son – 2012


Oaks can create a wonderful protective archway and I love to stand underneath and peek up through the leaves to the sky. Along a familiar trail, the oaks create an arching leafy roof that filters the sunlight and I remember watching my boys run ahead of me on this trail, blond heads disappearing around the corner.


Oak Tree california

This week we camped under the oaks at a friend’s house in California. I relished the time to wander the property to see his magnificent oak trees.


The crunching of dried oak leaves was a familiar trail sound as we walk along looking for acorns, none to be found this day. Perhaps it’s early in the season or maybe this year won’t be a “good” year for an acorn crop. Hint: If you dig around in the leaf litter under the tree, you may find a few of last year’s acorns not gathered by the squirrels or scrub jays.


oak leaf nature journal


We compared two different oaks growing at our campsite, the California black oak and the interior live oak. The leaves are very different in size and shape. The California black oak is a large tree with fairly good size leaves. The interior live oak has small, sharply toothed leaves.


This entry includes Amazon affiliate links to products I own and love!


I used the Peterson field guide to trees to figure out what kind of oak trees created each type of leaf. This guide is one of my favorites because of the detailed illustrations of not only the leaf, but also the bud and acorn. This makes it easier to distinguish which oak we are studying. Look for it on Amazon and note there is an eastern and western version for trees.


Lichen in CaliforniaThis day I was reminded that when you study oaks there are many other related studies you could work on at the same time: lichen, moss, mistletoe, woodpeckers, squirrels, and even lizards. Try to take it all in and see your tree as a living world.


See this entry for a free printable: My Tree is a Living World.

Make sure to read the original Oak Tree Outdoor Hour Challenge with a free notebook page: OHC Oaks and Acorns.

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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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Outdoor Hour Tree Grid – Another Oak and Acorn Study

Now that one complete challenge each month is to use the grid study…we are making better use of it as we go about our weekly outdoor time. This week we had tennis plans with some friends at the park and we combined this with some time observing the oak trees that surround the courts. 

I brought our tree field guide, our journal supplies, and the tree grid to help us glean more from our observations. There is a picnic bench right under the great big oak that you see in the top image. It is very different from the other oak we observed last week in our backyard. This one has a bunch of large trunks coming up from one spot and reaching out to make a crown.

So we took photos of our tree parts as part of the grid study.

These acorns are much larger than the ones we have on the California Black Oak tree in our yard. We also noticed that there are two growing together, opposite each other. This was a clue to the identify of the type of oak once we pulled out our field guide.

Here is a photo of the trunk with the bark and woodpecker holes. Which reminds me that I need to add the woodpeckers we saw to our bird list for October. We keep a running list each month of the birds we see and now that we have three year’s worth of data it is interesting to compare.

Under the main tree we saw this new oak sprouting….which technically isn’t part of the tree but we thought it was interesting. Looking at the image now it also shows the dry, brown leaves of this oak tree.

My tree pages using the tree grid and bookmark from the October Newsletter. (Amazon link to journal below)

So then we pulled out our tree field guide (A Field Guide to Western Trees-Peterson Field Guides) and tried to determine just what particular oak we were enjoying at the park on a glorious October afternoon. Turns out it is an Interior Live Oak.  We were interested in the fact that the leaves can either be smooth (like ours) or they can be “sharp-toothed”.

So for my nature journal pages for our tree study, I am using the Tree Grid and bookmark from the newsletter, my tree poetry from last Friday’s Using Your Words challenge, and then I will add some additional observations and maybe an image I print our from our photos.

We still have some tasks left from the Tree Study Grid to complete but there is plenty of time in the month to work on them. We have had some debate about which tree is “closest to our house”….it might even mean getting out a measuring tape to have an official closest tree.

I have a nature study group trip this week and I have been gathering some things to take for all of us.

I thought you might like to see what I pack for our group…nothing too exciting.

  • Colored pencils and Number 2 pencils with erasers
  • Scissors (for cutting the grids)
  • Tape
  • Pencil sharpener (can’t see it in the photo)
  • Assorted field guides (which I put in my daypack)
  • A couple of magnifying tools
  • Clipboards with the study grid (we are going to work on insects on this trip)

Even though we are going to be working on insects, I decided to bring in a few other field guides. We have quite a few lizards right now and I know some of the boys are going to want to chase those. I also always bring a bird field guide since that is one that we always seem to need.

I have gleaned some wonderful ideas from all of you as I watch you work with your grid studies….so many ways to use this simple idea. I hope that showing you a glimpse into our tree grid study will encourage you to give it a try this month or any other month you feel like studying trees.

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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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Outdoor Hour Challenge -Oaks and Acorns

We are starting a new theme for the month of October – Trees! 

For this whole month we will be enjoying trees in our backyards and neighborhoods during our Outdoor Hour time and then following up with some exciting activities. Make sure you are subscribed to my blog and you will get the download link for the October Newsletter in the next blog entry mailed to your inbox.

Outdoor Hour Challenge:
One of the most popular trees that we study here on the Handbook of Nature Study is the oak tree. The oak has many interesting aspects including its leaves, bark, acorns, and the habitat that it provides to animals and birds. This week you can choose one of the previous oak tree challenges to complete when you find an oak tree subject. Make sure to read the suggested pages in the Handbook of Nature Study. Keep your eyes out for oaks and acorns!

Oaks and Acorns (2009 Autumn Series)

Oak and Leaf Activity Suggestion:
This week the challenge extra is a creative way to slow down and look at leaves.

This project which came from The Artful Parent (via Pinterest) is a simple activity where you collect leaves and then thread them onto a stick. I love the variety of shapes and colors and as we work our way through October there should be an opportunity for your family to collect and then make a leaf stick. We found this works best with leaves that are not too dry and brittle. Make sure to include photos of your leaf sticks in your blog entries and then submit them to the blog carnival.

You also may be interested in trying some of the ideas in this Hearts and Trees entry: Things to Do With Acorns. 

Blog Logo 1
Getting Started Suggestion:
If you already own this ebook, this week’s challenge would be a great addition to Challenge #10-An Outdoor Picnic. Find a majestic oak or another tall tree to spread a picnic blanket underneath and enjoy as you have a snack or meal. Bring along a book to read (see widget below for some suggestions).

If you need an explanation of how the Outdoor Hour Challenge is going to work from this day forward, please read this entry:
Nature Study Using the Outdoor Hour Challenge – How to Steps and Explanation.

OHC Blog Carnival
You are welcome to submit any of you blog Outdoor Hour Challenge blog entries to the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival. Entries for the current month are due on 10/30/12. Widgets

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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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Leaf-Miner Study Updated and Some Acorns Too

Leaf Miner 1

Today we hit the jackpot with leaf-miners while we were taking a hike with the dog. We found a whole bunch of leaves with signs of leaf-miners…how exciting!
(Original post HERE and the OHC Challenge HERE)

Leaf Miner 2
We were amazed at how crazy the path is on some of the leaves. Curls and swirls and then along the edges, there seems to be no rhyme or reason.

Oaks and Acorns 1

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

We also were fascinated with the furry, fuzzy tops on these acorns. I like how they grow like twins on the branches of the oak tree.

Acorns and moss
I found a few on the ground along with some moss for a cute little acorn photo.

Just wanted to update our study with our latest finds.

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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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Winter Hike to the River

Before all our rain and snow, we had the opportunity to visit one of our favorite spots on the river.

Cronan Ranch 1 Long Valley Trail
We chose the Long Valley Trail this time which is a little less than two miles down to the river. It is a long sloping walk so it is very enjoyable even on a chilly, hazy day.

Cronan Ranch 2 Cattails
The first thing we noticed was that their were many brown cattails along the trail where there is a little creek running. Of course we had to stop and take a look.

Cronan Ranch 3 Cattails
You see right where the water runs because the cattails are growing along the edges of the creek.

Cronan Ranch 4 Homestead and Oaks
About half-way to the river, there is an old homestead with some lovely old oaks. The tree swallows were swarming in the tops of the trees and we enjoyed stopping to watch them and listen for a few minutes. I love the silhouettes of the winter oaks.

Cronan Ranch 5 Moss Lichen and Plants
The greens and reds on this rock caught my attention and I loved the composition of the various mosses, lichens, and plants growing together on the rock. Very pretty.

Cronan Ranch 6 hazy day and the river
Once we reached the river, the kids and our dog were all off and running. Some climbed rocks, some skipped rocks on the water, the dog went swimming for sticks and I spent some time enjoying the reflections and ripples in this little eddy off the main part of the river.

Cronan Ranch 7 Tree in the rocks
How do these trees grow so large out of the middle of a huge rock? Perseverance.

Cronan Ranch 8 rocks in the river
Eventually we all sat at the river’s edge and watched the water flow by on its way down the mountain. This is the American River where gold was discovered in 1848. We all joke about someday finding a gold nugget along the edge but for now we are content to marvel at all the different types of rock found all together in one spot.

Cronan Ranch 9 winter weeds
One last photo to share of our day. Winter weeds can be quite lovely if you really take a look at them. I found these growing on the edge of the water and with the nice backdrop, it makes for a nice photo.

Well, there are a few of our experiences from last weekend. What started out as a chilly, dreary day turned out to be quite refreshing. We headed home hungry so I was glad I had planned a big spaghetti dinner.

If you are looking for some winter nature study ideas, you may want to check out the entry I wrote last year giving some simple ideas for winter nature study…most indoors.

Winter Nature Study-Taking it Inside