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Outdoor Hour Challenge – Learn About a Pine Tree

“At least one pine tree should be studied in the field. Any species will do, but the white pine is the most interesting….the leaves and cones may be studied in the schoolroom, each pupil having a specimen.”

Handbook of Nature Study, page 674


The wonderful thing about a pine tree study is that you can do it at any time of the year. Since they are evergreen, you can examine the needles even when there is snow on the ground. After that, look at the bark and find some cones too! Have a great time using the suggestions in the Outdoor Hour Challenge linked below and the lesson in the Handbook of Nature Study.

Winter Pine Tree Nature Study Handbook of Nature Study Lesson 185 pages 670-675

Check the Handbook of Nature Study index for other tree related challenges for winter.

From the Original Challenge: Simple Suggestions for Pine Tree Study:

  • What is the general shape of the pine tree?
  • Is there one central stem running straight up through the center of the tree to the top?
  • What color is the bark? Is the bark ridged or in scales?
  • Study the pine leaves. Why are they called needles? How many needles in the bundle?
  • Does it have a cone?

Make sure to click the link below to read the entire Outdoor Hour Challenge with helpful links, nature study ideas, and suggested follow-up activities.

Winter Pine Tree Nature Study Handbook of Nature Study Lesson 185 pages 670-675

Bark Patterns Notebook Page

If you’re a member here on the Handbook of Nature Study, you can download the Bark Patterns Notebook Page and use it as part of your tree study.


Winter Nature Study ebooks graphic and promo

A custom notebook page for this challenge is available in the Ultimate Naturalist Library membership in the Winter Ebook. Log into your membership and scroll down to the ebook download link.

Ultimate Naturalist Library September 2017 @handbookofnaturestudy


 links to tree books I own and love!

A Walk in the Boreal Forest

My Favorite Tree- Click over to see my entry for this awesome book that also includes a free printable!

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Outdoor Hour Challenge – Autumn Pine Cone Study


Outdoor Hour Challenge

Autumn Pine Cone Study

From the Archives and from the Autumn ebook

Continuing our use of comparisons, take your fifteen minutes outdoors this week to either find two different cones to compare or to compare a tree with cones to a tree that does not have cones.

These simple suggestions will get you started with your Outdoor Hour Challenge time and the idea is simple enough for all family members to participate.

Click the link to the archive challenge and see more suggestions for both observations and a nature journal follow up page.  If you have access to the Autumn 2010 ebook, there is a notebook page for you to use after your outdoor time.

This is a challenge I am personally looking forward to completing in my new habitat. There are many cones to investigate!

Ultimate Ebook Library @handbookofnaturestudyUse the discount code NATURE5 to receive $5 off an Ultimate Naturalist Membership!

Ultimate Naturalist Library September 2017 @handbookofnaturestudy

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Outdoor Hour Challenge – Pines and Cones

Pine Tree and Cone Nature Study @handbookofnaturestudy

This week we will be revisiting two different Outdoor Hour Challenges from the archives – Pine Tree Nature Study and Pine Cone Nature Study. Both of the challenges suggested for this week can be completed in any season and both contain a free printable of some sort to record your pine and cone study. There are links to the ebooks where each challenge is found so Ultimate Naturalist Members can download the corresponding ebooks with custom notebooking pages if desired.

Outdoor Hour Challenge – Winter Pine Trees (from the Winter ebook)

Outdoor Hour Challenge – Pine Cone Study (from the Autumn ebook)

NOTE: Members here on the Handbook of Nature Study have a new printable in the library: Pine Cone Investigation. Make sure to download and use this notebook page with your older students.

“Their foliage is evergreen but is shed gradually. The pollen-bearing and the seed-producing flowers are separate on the tree. The seeds are winged and are developed in cones.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 674

After reading through each challenge linked above, choose one or two things to keep in mind during your Outdoor Hour Challenge time. Enjoy your fifteen minutes outdoors as you look for pines and cones and make sure to show interest in any item your child finds to observe or bring home to your nature table.

 Ultimate Ebook Library @handbookofnaturestudy

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Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park – Tips and Images

Sugar Pine Point State Park Tips and Images @handbookofnaturestudy

Sugar Pine Point State Park in Northern California is situated on the western shores of Lake Tahoe. This 2,ooo acre park was once the estate of the Ehrman family and features their turn of the century summer home, lake front views, and many year round accessible trails for hiking and snow shoeing. Oh yes, there are the trees too! Sugar pine, fir, aspen, and cedars are all found within easy hiking of the parking lot and campground.

I have lived in California all my life and it always amazes me when I find a place that I have never visited before. My husband and I were camping at near-by Fallen Leaf Lake last September when we decided to make the short (and gorgeous) drive past Emerald Bay and onto Sugar Pine Point. We had packed a picnic lunch and made a day of it…we could have stayed longer and may sometime next year visit again with our kids. It might even be a winter trip to snowshoe among the trees if we can manage to get over the mountain. An interesting fact about this park is that it was the site of some of the Nordic events in the 1960 Olympics.

sugar Pine Point aug 2015 (2)

There was plenty of visitor parking and if you just wanted to stop and have a lovely picnic under the tall trees it would very easy and convenient. There are restrooms and picnic tables that are even handicap accessible. You can reach all of the trails from the parking lot, including the 6.5 mile long General Creek Trail.

sugar Pine Point aug 2015 (5)

There is a small nature center and gift shop located in the park. We took a quick look through the exhibits…nothing outstanding but still valuable if you are new to the area and habitat. It will give you some general ideas of what you can see in the park. sugar Pine Point aug 2015 (11)

This was my favorite part of the park….the view of the lake! There is a large beach and you can rent kayaks if you want to actually get out on the water. There is an interpretive trail that follows the shoreline that tells about the history of this area and is about a quarter mile long. If you are short on time, this is probably the short hike you want to take with your children. sugar Pine Point aug 2015 (12)

This is the original home that was finished in 1903 and is built in the “Shingle Style California Craftsman” style using native materials. I could only imagine sitting on this porch on a hot summer day overlooking the lake. It must have been amazing. You can take a tour of the house if you come between Memorial Day and the end of September (extra fee). sugar Pine Point aug 2015 (13)

Lake Tahoe is one of my favorite spots in the whole world. Sugar Pine Point State Park has beach access for families and we saw plenty of young ones enjoying a good romp in the sand on this sunny day. The water is fairly cold but here on this stretch of beach where it isn’t too deep, the water is warmer and there were people swimming. You can’t beat this view!sugar Pine Point aug 2015 (18)

The sugar pine creates these monster cones. We have seen much larger ones but I didn’t think to snap a photo. We were on the Dolder Nature Trail where it merges with the Edwin L. Z’berg Natural Preserve. I highly recommend this 1.5 mile trail through the forest because it will get you out and away from other visitors. This allows for the best chances for viewing wildlife, including birds, deer, and reptiles too. sugar Pine Point aug 2015 (35) garter snake

Yes, this is where we saw the garter snake. He was a big guy and was crossing the trail right when we came upon him. I want to say right here that this is a perfect example of where preparation in nature study comes in. Our family has in the past taken a look at all of the native snakes that we might encounter on our hikes. This advance preparation gave us the confidence to identify this harmless snake and to allow us to actually enjoy stumbling across him on this day when we were out and about. I admit at first I was surprised and did a little squealing when we say him. But, after calming down and seeing that he was a garter snake, we took a few minutes (as long as he allowed) to observe his beauty. Then we were all on our way again….him to find his next meal and we enjoyed the rest of the trail. sugar Pine Point aug 2015 (34) jay feather

The most visible bird we saw on this day was the Steller’s jay. This noisy bold bird makes himself known with his familiar “shook shook shook” sound and his swooping in over the picnic lunch to see if we are going to share something. The Steller’s jay is much darker in color than the Blue jay found in the eastern United States and he has a prominent crest which sets him apart from the Western scrub jay. sugar Pine Point aug 2015 (25)

I’m sharing this photo because it makes me laugh. We saw on the trail map and on a sign that there was a “lighthouse” in this state park. We were curious to see this lighthouse and hiked down the side trail to view it. Turns out it is a beacon light with its claim to fame being the “world’s highest in elevation operating maritime navigational light”. I guess that’s something. We enjoyed the view of the lake from this spot and the interesting rocks.

Sugar Pine Point State Park Aug 2015 @handbookofnaturestudy

This started off as a way to achieve a nature study goal for the year...visit one new state park. But, it turned out to be an amazing day with many memories being made and the desire to visit again in all the seasons. Since it is very near to my home (about 90 minutes), this may be added to next year’s nature study goals. This is a place that families who visit the Lake Tahoe area should make a point to visit. It would make a wonderful stop on a drive from South Lake Tahoe, through Emerald Bay, and on to Tahoe City. You will not see more breathtaking views than along this shoreline drive.

Thanks for letting me share my day with you!

Other Tips

  • There is a charge to enter the park, currently $10 per vehicle.
  • The nature center and gift shop are open daily from June through August and on weekends in September.
  • Tours of the mansion are conducted in season and are currently $10 per adult.
  • There is a Junior Ranger program available.
  • There are bears in this area so never leave food out after your picnic or overnight in your car.
  • You can download a park brochure ahead of time for more information: Sugar Pine Point State Park Brochure.
  • The West Shore Bike Trail passes right at the entrance to this state park. There are trails within the park that you are allowed to mountain bike.
  • There are 175 campsites that are open year round. We drove through the campground and it looks like a decent place to stay even though it is noted that many of the sites are very close together.

You can read my national park entries by following these links:


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Ponderosa Pine Cone Study

We have been on the lookout for tree cones for the past few weeks (as part of the Winter Tree Cone Study) and picked the Ponderosa Pine as our subject for a tree cone study. There are many Ponderosa Pines in our neighborhood and they are easy to spot because of their size and trunk pattern. Our family has done a thorough tree study of the Ponderosa Pine in the past but this time we focused just on the cone.

Here is a close up of the cone showing it’s scale pattern and the sap too.

Here is a cone that the squirrels have taken apart to find the seeds hidden inside. This is a common sight along our local walking trail. It seems where there are Ponderosa Pines, there are squirrels.

I completed the tree cone observation page for my nature notebook. I included an image and some facts about the Ponderosa Pine cone. You can find the printable notebook page here: Winter Tree Cone Study.

  • Flexible scales
  • Egg shaped cone
  • Tipped with slender 1/8 inch prickles that can curve out
  • Seed is 3/8″ and the wing is 1″
  • Red and gray squirrels eat the seeds. California quail also eat the seeds.
  • Overall cone length is 3-6″

All information is from my Peterson Western Trees field guide.

You can read more about our Ponderosa Pine tree study here: Our Pine Tree Study.
We share more about our cone study here: Pines, Evergreens, Cones, and Needles. 

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Outdoor Hour Challenge – Winter Tree Cone Study

Outdoor Hour Challenge
Tree Cone Study 

This week we are going to look at tree cones. Such a simple nature study that children love! Use the challenges listed below for ideas on getting started with your family’s cone study.

There are a couple challenges you can use for this nature study:
Winter Wednesday – Tree Cones from 2009
Pine Cones – Autumn #9 from 2010

You may also be interested in reading this entry from The Teachable Heart:
Autumn Series #9 – Pine Cones

Printable Notebook Page – My Tree Cone Observations
Here is a simple notebook page to use with your challenge this week. Have some fun observing a tree cone and help your children make a record of their thoughts for their nature journal. I left the box large enough that you can adhere a photo of your cone if you don’t want to sketch.

My Tree Cone – printable notebook page

Getting Started Suggestion:
If you already own the Getting Started ebook, completeOutdoor Hour Challenge #6. Start a cone collection this week and complete the notebook page provided in the ebook if you desire. See this Pinterest board for display ideas: Nature Display. 

Outdoor Hour Challenge Getting Started Ebook @handbookofnaturestudy

Ultimate Ebook Library @handbookofnaturestudy


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Florida Nature Study – Exploring a New Habitat

Spending part of my time in Florida immersed in nature study was a highlight of my recent traveling adventure. I prepared ahead of time by purchasing a wonderful book focusing on the Florida Gulf Coast. Wow! There was a lot to be excited about! My trip was specifically to Sanibel and Captiva Islands and then a few days in Naples, Florida. Getting the opportunity to explore a new to me habitat is thrilling!

Since my time was limited but I did have a sweet ride in my friend Tricia’s sponsored car from Kia Optima Hybrid, I wanted to have a general plan for our time outdoors. I narrowed it down to a couple of possibilities and we decided that we would visit Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. We started off in the nature center browsing the exhibits and then I asked at the information desk what they suggested we do to make the best use of our two hours that we had available.

They handed us a map and directed us to take the wildlife drive that wound its way through the refuge and would take about an hour and a half. They also suggested that we drive over to the Bailey Tract and look for gators there.

Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge

We followed their advice and thoroughly enjoyed our time driving along the one lane road through Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. There were many birds right by the side of the road so we could stop and observe or take photos as much as we wanted. What made it really nice was the fact that the Kia Optima Hybrid is super quiet while running on the battery. We did not scare away the wildlife turning the car on and off….it was awesome.

We saw a mama raccoon and her *four* babies as they walked along the road and then across right in front of us. The whole drive was full of wonderful discoveries like the Roseate Spoonbill and the Anhinga who was sunning himself. What a great time we had and so many memories were made in a short period of time! I was so glad I had taken the time to prepare a little before leaving home.

Alligator and other Reptiles at Bailey Tract

Tricia and I were hoping to see a Florida gator on this trip and we were not disappointed. Along the way we also were treated to many butterflies and a few lizards. I can’t tell you how much fun we had hiking out to look for the alligators. We found one lying in the sun, half in the water and with one eye open. Another item to check off my life list!

South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island

Sanibel and Captiva Islands are known for their fantastic shell beaches. As a native California girl, I have spent my fair share of time at the beach looking for shells, but shelling on these Florida islands is much easier and more rewarding. Tricia and I spent one afternoon walking in the sand, wading in the water, and collecting a few beautiful shells in the Florida sunshine.

Our view from our hotel room was out onto the marina and we saw dolphins a couple of times over the weekend. Two times I saw osprey with fish in their talons flying over the marina. There were nesting platforms along the back side of the beach and one morning I saw some osprey on the their nest. What a great sight!

The Beach at Captiva Island and an Osprey Nest

There were shore birds, skimmers, gulls, sand pipers, pelicans, and plovers. It was a bird fest for this nature loving gal.

Pine Flatwoods at Corkscrew Swamp

Tricia left for home and I met another longtime friend at the second location I was able to explore. I stayed in Naples, Florida and was able to visit Corkscrew Swamp Sactuary. There are miles of boardwalks to investigate as they make their way through a variety of habitats. Slash pine and baldcypress were the main trees but there were some palms and saw palmetto too. The sound of birds singing and the cries of Red-shouldered hawks overhead were the soundtrack for the morning. We also learned to identify the Gray catbird by its call.

Epiphytes or Air Plants

We hiked the complete trail loop and took our time as we stopped to use binoculars and video to try to identify the various birds. There were naturalists out on the trail as well and they were super helpful in giving us information and help when we couldn’t identify a bird. This place was awesome and another place I highly recommend if you ever visit the gulf coast of Florida.

I was overwhelmed by all the things to take in…from the overall impression of the new to me habitat to the calls of some really big birds like the Great Blue Heron and the Anhinga. We saw more gators, squirrels, and more new birds to add to my life list like the Great crested flycatcher, the Pileated woodpecker, and the Carolina wren…all very exciting! I was able to use my iPhone to identify or confirm our sightings and then use the notes section on the phone to keep track of their names. Sometimes technology has its place in nature study and this was one time I was super glad to have it along.

Anhinga and Great Egret

One last stop on my whirlwind nature study adventure…the mangroves at Clam Pass Beach Park. My friend who lives in Naples was able to fit that into our day right at sunset. We walked part of the trail and then rode the shuttle the rest of the way…finding the sun just starting to set and people gathering to try to observe the infamous “green flash” at sunset. We soaked in the mangroves and I saw my first ever Blue jay (we have Scrub jays and Steller’s jays here in California).

Bald Cypress at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Florida

I am grateful for the opportunity I had to include some nature study and hiking into my trip to Florida. What a rich experience I had between the wildlife refuge, the beach time, and the time spent wandering the Florida swamps and mangroves.

I have already recorded my time in my nature journal….I did a quick sketch of the view from our window while in Florida and then finished it up at home with watercolors and details from my notes. I have the memories all tucked away in my heart and in a few good photos.

Would like to see some of Tricia’s Florida nature study images? Pop over to read her entry on her blog: Hodgepodge. While you are over there…check out her review of the Kia Optima Hybrid!

Kia Optima Hybrid Review

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November Nature Study – Autumn Hiking Delights

The mountains and forest had been calling for us to come and explore the season before the winter sets in any time now. The forecast was for partly cloudy skies and perhaps a few snow flurries so we didn’t plan too long of a hike just in case we needed to move quickly to shelter. The sun actually poked through the clouds a few times and that was a welcome treat.

Beaver Work
Right near where we parked the car and started on the trail we noticed that a beaver had gnawed this tree down…can you believe how strong that beaver must be? We weren’t sure if he was going to come back for the log but we marveled at his ability to bring down a rather large tree.

Aspens in November
We hiked through the mixed conifer and deciduous forest, noting that the aspens were all bare but still very beautiful. We listened to the bird sounds and a squirrel chattering too. We saw and heard Steller’s jays, common ravens, California gulls, mallard ducks, white-headed woodpeckers, Canada geese, and an osprey. It was a great day for birds.

Taylor Creek Eagle Habitat
We stopped along the trail to view the meadow and marsh. This spot is known to be an eagle habitat so I had my eyes open wide hoping to see one this day. And…..I was not disappointed. A bald eagle flew very majestically above the meadow from the pine forest and then out over the lake. I was very excited to see this graceful bird as he flew right overhead and then disappeared. It was a moment.

In the photo above you can see how it was snowing up on the mountain peak and we even at one point had soft flakes of snow coming down on us but it didn’t last long or stick to the ground at all. It was a perfect day for a hike.

Tahoe Eagle Journal
Journal tip: It can be overwhelming when you have so many subjects to write about in your journal. It helps to focus on just one of the highlights like our encounter with the eagle and a list of birds. I don’t like to draw birds so I used a photo and then answered the three main questions: when, where, what.

Pinecone - Andy Goldsworthy Style
When I take my creative daughter with me, we always find a way to do something fun. This time we settled on making an Andy Goldworthy style art piece using natural items. There were loads of pinecones on the ground so we decided to feature those in our sculpture.

While we were busy with our sculpture, my husband added this line of pinecones leading down the stairway to our artwork. It made me smile and feel appreciative of the support of a great guy for his nature-loving wife.

Thistles in November
On the hike back we found a patch of thistles to admire. After studying them this autumn I have a new found appreciation for their features. So pretty even now.

Taylor Creek Beaver Dam
We also saw where the beaver is attempting to build a dam across the creek. The creek is flooding part of the trail right now because of the water backed up behind the dam. We had to circle around to avoid needing to wade through the creek. This is exactly where we saw the mama and two baby bear cubs earlier this fall…no signs of them now.

As always, we were rewarded for our efforts to get outdoors and do some exploring. The informal nature study opportunities were everywhere and I made some mental notes on topics we were curious about as we hiked along. Some afternoon on a cold winter day I will pull out some field guides and we will research a few of the answers to our questions. Nature study truly is a life project.

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Pines, Evergreens, Cones, and Needles

Tree Field Guides

This week has been full of nature study….the informal kind that happens as we go about our everyday life. My boys are a big part of the experience and they discover things in our world that I miss. Their eyes seem to be open to so much around them, while my head is full of schedules and tasks that need to be done. I really must make a conscious effort to clear my head more when we are outdoors.

Northern Flicker

First of all, before I get into the pines and cones, I have to share a rare visitor to our backyard. This Northern flicker was up on the tree and Mr. A spotted it and brought it to my attention. Not the first time we have ever had a flicker in the yard but it has been a long time since we observed this interesting bird. They eat bugs and insects from the grass below the tree but they are considered woodpeckers. They also have a red flash on their wings when they fly.

Our focus on cones and needles this week was highlighted by two events.

Douglas Fir with Cone
The first happened last week when we had a huge windstorm with lots of gusts. The wind brought down small branches and cones on the trail where we walk and we were able to get a good look at both. These are not from a pine but a fir tree, Douglas fir. I love what it says in our field guide about the Douglas fir cone. It says, “mouse tail bracts grow between scales”. Sure enough…there they are.

The second event was a walk on our walking trail where we were trying to notice something interesting about pines. Here is a spot on the trail where there are two different pines growing side by side.

Two Pines
Notice the two different colors of needles.

They both have bundles of three and are about the same length. We are pretty sure after much study of our field guides and online sources that one is a Gray pine and the other is a Ponderosa pine. We are going to take our field guide back with us later today and see if we can nail the identification down positively.

What a great week we have had looking for cones and pines! I know that many of you are experiencing cold snowy weather but here in our woods we are enjoying abundant sunshine and no precipitation.

First Daffodil 2011

Guess what I spotted yesterday in my garden? The first daffodil of the year is starting to bloom! Crazy, crazy weather for us too!

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2011 Winter Series Outdoor Hour Challenge #5 Pine Trees and Winter Wednesday #5 Evergreens

Pines and Aspens Winter
Evergreens and Aspens

Another week where the challenges match up for you!

Winter Series #5 Pine Trees in Winter
Winter Wednesday #5 Evergreens/Cones

Please feel free to complete one or both of the challenges as you have the opportunity. We would all enjoy seeing your entries and even if it is at a later date, please come back to this entry and add your link.

Pines On The Lake's Edge with Snow
Evergreens on the Lake’s Edge

Don’t forget to check the Winter Wednesday Squidoo page for more information for #4 and #5 challenges to go along with this week’s study.

weather lapbook
I forgot to mention last week with the winter weather challenge that my daughter has a Weather Lapbook Kit that you can purchase if you want to spend some extra time learning about your weather. Check it out on her blog Hearts and Trees.

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