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More Snow Experiments: Winter Wednesday

This has been one snowy week for our family. We woke up to snow on two mornings and it was gloriously beautiful.

The birds showed up for the Great Backyard Bird Count even with the snow and it was very entertaining to watch the different techniques for getting to the seed. The Spotted towhee was a master at scratching a hole in the snow and finding the seed underneath. The juncos just waited until the towhee flew away and then they took over.

The bulbs seemed happy to just hang out with the white stuff.

We took numerous opportunities to go out and measure the snow depth. We never got over three inches at any one time but it would snow, melt, and then snow again so I think our total count is somewhere about 8 inches for the season. That is actually a lot of snow for our area and we have enjoyed it thoroughly along with the Winter Wednesday activities. (Teenagers think that they can go outside wearing sandals in the snow….and t-shirts. Brrrrrrrr.)

We enjoyed a few snow walks this week and this particular one was very beautiful even if the trees kept dumping snow on our heads as it melted and fell to the ground.

There were quite a few trees and tree branches across the trail.

This is the first time we have seen water running over this waterfall along the trail. We were excited to see this on the day after the big snowstorm. The sound was the perfect little waterfall sound.

Hope you are enjoying your Winter Wednesday activities as much as we are.

Winter Wednesday Button

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Rabbit Tracks! Mystery Solved!

Rabbit Tracks in the Snow

Both Jennifer and Theresa suggested that the mysterious fur on our trail could be from a rabbit. I thought they were onto something because the fur was so soft, just like a rabbit’s fur.

We were able to hike the trail on Friday after the big snowfall and we were amazed to see that the trail had many spots that you could clearly see rabbit tracks.

I think our mystery is solved.

Thanks for all the ideas and help in figuring out our mystery fur.

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Foggy Day Walk: Our Groundhog Study Week

The Outdoor Hour Challenge this week was to learn about groundhogs/woodchucks, prairie dogs, and marmots.

Since we do not have groundhogs, prairie dogs, or marmots in our area, we just enjoyed reading the information from the Handbook of Nature Study, the Burgess Animal Book, and watching the videos.

After that we needed to take our outdoor time.

We didn’t feel much like going for a walk but once we were on the trail….it was refreshing and it felt good to stretch our legs. The fog was drifting in and out of the trees as we walked and there was a squirrel chattering at us from high up in the trees.

The boys remembered that we had seen a prairie dog at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum and I pulled up the photos to remind us a little more.

Wow, I totally forgot that we saw prairie dogs when we were in Arizona. (We saw so many interesting things at this museum that it isn’t any wonder that I forgot.)

I thought the prairie dog was posing for us because he looked right at us as I snapped the photo. He was rather cute for a rodent. Click on the photo and then tell me….is he posing or not? That is his hole right there between us and it was really big.

Okay, back to our walk.

On our foggy day walk, we started to notice more and more muddy trails off the main trail. We are assuming these are made by animals since this area does not get many visitors this time of year….or any time of the year for that matter. This particular trail heads down into another gully and I can hear in the distance the faint sound of water so I think there must be a creek. One of these days I will convince someone to go exploring with me down one of these trails. The photo looks crooked but it really is a very steep little gully and I imagine in the spring this will not be as noticeable as the trees put back on their leaves.

After completing a little more research, we found that there are marmots in the Sierras and in Yosemite National Park. I have never seen one there but now you know that it will be a goal to see one. 🙂

This was a great challenge for us and we learned a lot about these mammals. This challenge also encouraged us to get out on a day that we would have probably not ventured out as a family and that is the best part of the whole thing.

Autumn 2010 Nature Study cover

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Winter Break Walks-Time That Speeds By

“The teacher may judge as to her own progress in nature-study by the length of time she is glad to spend in reading from nature’s book what is therein written. As she progresses, she finds those hours spent in studying nature speed faster, until a day thus spent seems but an hour.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 7

She is not a little pup anymore. She is only six months old but she is a good size dog already. She loves to walk with us on our rambles in the woods. She loves to explore and sniff and encourage us to go a little further each time. My son affectionately calls her the Lovable Labrador but her real name is Kona.

Even though we have been on a break from our regular school studies, we are still making time for lots of nature walks. It is the perfect time to enjoy each other’s company and to share some adventures.

Today on our walk we had the unmistakable scent of a skunk just about the whole trip down the canyon and back up again. We didn’t see the skunk at any time but he was very close by. We have been seeing signs of other animals along the trail….some holes scratched in the trail’s bank and lots of mole holes in the little clearing. The buckeye fruits are starting to be nibbled on and left by the side of the path. The trails off into the woods are becoming more distinct as the ground become wet and the animals follow the same path every time….muddy trails up the banks and off to the deep part of the wood.

There are plenty of interesting things to look at as we walk along. This winter weed is pretty all brown and full of velcro-like stickers.

The ferns are really growing now and the shades of green found in the different varieties are showing very clearly.

With all the leaves gone from this oak, you can see clearly the mistletoe growing up on the branches.

Here is a try at a close-up of the mistletoe hanging up high in the tree. I could not find any information on mistletoe in the Handbook of Nature Study which surprised me.

I am testing out a new book (see below) for my boys to use in their nature study….something with a little more depth than the Handbook. I am looking for a book that will supplement the Handbook of Nature Study when it does not cover particular subjects that we have in our area of the world. I am beginning to think it is totally unreasonable to expect any one book to cover all the bases and that is why I am going to be checking out a few other resources for our family to use. I will keep you posted how this book works out for us over the next few months.

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Fungus and Fern Hikes: Our Outdoor Hour Challenge #41

We have been on the lookout for mushrooms and ferns for the last few weeks in anticipation of this challenge. I am overwhelmed with how much I don’t know about mushrooms at this point but I am determined to document the mushrooms and other fungus that we see so that when I have a cold winter day and I want to spend some time with a field guide, I will be able to flip through the photos and hopefully come up with names for them.

I decided that there are so many photos that I would make a slideshow on to share with you. The fungi are from three different places but the majority are from my own yard or from a hike within three miles of my house. The others are from the Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

Mushroom Slideshow– Don’t miss viewing this page with all my fungus images

As we hiked yesterday, I noticed that the boys were catching sight of more and more varieties of mushrooms than ever before. They even spotted some that I didn’t see and directed me to go back to the spot and take a photo. 🙂

This particular hike they were having a good time in the cool fresh air together.

If you look carefully up over the trail where the boys are hiking, you will notice a tree that broke off and is just barely hanging in place. The boys thought they should try to throw rocks at it to see if they could get it to come down but my husband explained that he didn’t think that was a really great idea.

I noticed that I was getting into quite a few sticker type seeds as we walked along.

We hiked back to the top and noticed that the moon was up over the oaks. What a great blue sky, don’t you think?

So I am still getting used to my new little camera but I think I will like it in the long run. It has a better zoom and the viewing screen is much bigger.

Here are the last of the photos for today.

Backside of a fern
Big ferns along the path.

Ferns along the side of a gully that will have a creek running in it once it rains again around here. 🙂

Here is my son’s mushroom diagram for his nature journal. We copied this out of the Handbook of Nature Study, page 719.

This was a great challenge for our family and we never dreamed we would find so many different kinds of mushrooms and other fungi to study.

I encourage you all to give the challenge a try either now or when your weather is cooperating.

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Wildflower Walk-Purple Chinese Houses, White Globe Lily, Indian Pink, and More

Trail with poppies-it is a steep hike but very rewarding

It was a family hike day down our near-by trail. We just discovered this trail over the winter and have now been hiking it for the last few months regularly. We are finding that every time we venture down it, we find something new and exciting waiting for us.

This afternoon we found lots of new wildflowers blooming, some familiar and some new to us. We also saw at least three different kinds of butterflies and heard a new bird but never discovered who it was…..shy bird with a lovely call. We need to come back with binoculars and spend some time quietly sitting and waiting with a field guide.

“Everyone should have the privilege of enjoying the natural beauty of the countryside. Such enjoyment is impossible if a relatively small number of people insist on picking and destroying native plants for their own selfish interests.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 460-461

Here are some of the beauties we saw on this particular hike.

Some kind of pea flowering on a vine.

California Indian Pink….showy color and you couldn’t miss it!

Purple Chinese Houses
These are some of my favorite wildflowers. Not only are they purple but they are really big. On this trail they line both sides as you walk the upper part.

White Globe Lily or as we call them Fairy Lanterns. They are also know as Snowdrops, Indian Bells and Satin Bells. Whatever you call them, so pretty.

This is a new flower to us. I love the little purple dot on each petal and the yellow center. The interesting stems and leaves make this unusual shape. They were all over the trail…in the center as well as the edge. I have not identified this wildflower yet….any ideas?

This was so sweet smelling as we hiked along…deer bush, California lilac, or wild lilac. The bees loved it.

This was a wonderful way to spend our Outdoor Hour this weekend. So many families have thanked me for starting the Outdoor Hour Challenges but the reality is that this whole process has blessed me more than you can imagine. I have renewed zeal for finding ways of weaving nature study into our life too. It has been a mutually beneficial experience. 🙂 So thank you to all you families who are participating.

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Shooting Stars, Miner’s Lettuce, and Hound’s Tongue

Sierra shooting star

My husband and I took a walk today to see if we could find any more wildflowers blooming early. We were not disappointed. It was a cool morning and the trail was damp but the sun was bright as we walked down the hill. Not far past the place where we parked the car, we found several beauties waiting for us.
Pacific Hound’s Tongue flower

Here is the leaf on the Pacific hound’s tongue that gives it its name. The Maidu tribe used this for stomachaches and burns.

Miner’s lettuce

Unidentified flower. I think it may be a wild carrot but I’m not sure.

This pretty little leaf is poison oak… was everywhere around the trail we were on. We didn’t notice it until this time down the trail so we will have to be more watchful climbing up and off the trail from now on. 🙂

I am learning the value of going on a particular trail more than once to see the differences from time to time. We are getting to know this little hill and every time we hike down it we find something new and interesting.

We stood quietly listening a few times. We were rewarded with the sound of a distant woodpecker knocking on his tree trunk. We heard some California quail with their little unique sounding bird call. If you want to hear what it sounds like, here is a link:
What for California Quail if you scroll down the page a bit, on the left side, there is a button to click to hear the quail call.

It was a refreshing hour out in the air and sunshine.

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California Newts and Tree Frogs: Outdoor Hour #3

March 1, 2008
Dear Nature Friends,
Today we took our Outdoor Hour Challenge on the road, or should I say trail? The last Friday of every month we take the day off from our regular schooling to have a Nature Day. This is something I have been doing all year with my 12 and 14 year old sons. We take the day and focus on some aspect of nature that fits in with our science lessons or our interests.

Please remember when you read my post and view my photos (and a short video) that we have been doing nature study in our family since these two boys were able to walk….a long time. We also live in a moderate climate and have limitless access to wilderness. This hike is literally out our door and a few miles away. On a scale of one to ten, this day was a perfect ten. I hope that puts our experience in perspective for you beginners. This is what your nature study can look like in a few years if you keep at it, little by little.

In challenge number 1 I shared our hike on a new trail…the one with the ferns and the unusual bud. We wanted to take the hike all the way to the river this time so after a short stop at our tree in the woods, we headed over to the trail head. We set off at a quick pace but soon we found wildflowers blooming and of course I had to stop to take a few photos.
yellow wildflower 1
purple wildflower 1
I wasn’t able to identify this one yet, need to see it flowering.
We saw our first butterflies of the season, big brown ones and little blue ones. The sun was actually hot and we shed a layer of sweaters and sweatshirts…good thing I had my backpack on this hike. 🙂 We had good conversation as we hiked along. Oh, we saw what the “unusual looking bloom” was from our last trip. It is actually just the way the leaves pop out on this particular plant.

unusual bud 1 unusual bud 3 with leaves
It was a long downhill hike to get to the river, I think about a mile and a half but the hard part is that it was a really steep downhill grade. I kept thinking about the hike back up with great dread. Would the hike be worth it we kept asking?

B and the river trail
The minute we hit the edge of the river and I was shedding my pack, the boys excitedly called to me to come over and look at something. I could tell it was something good by the tone in their voices. Wow! A whole pool of California newts!

newts 1Ca newt 1
We spent quite a bit of time watching them in their courtship dance in the crystal clear water. Fascinating and we felt so grateful to have seen it. My youngest slipped into the water with one foot and had a soaking shoe, sock, and pant leg for the rest of the hike. After a few photos and a video, we all sat at the edge of the river and rested and listened and just soaked it all in.

sitting quielty
Yes, you can train your children to sit quietly and listen.

The boys were soon doing their usual river thing…throwing in rocks. I sat and worked in my nature journal drawing the blackberry leaves and vine next to me. The boys found a little gold flake in the gravel at the edge of the river. We actually live near where the California Gold Rush started on this very river.
gold flake
I need to make a note to put a little vial for collecting things in my backpack. This flake was dropped into the rocks and was never seen again. He wants to go back and try again some time.

But the highlight of the day happened right when we were packing up to go back up the trail…..yes, you haven’t seen the highlight yet. The boys spotted a frog that had just jumped out of the water onto a rock. Back out comes the camera to try to get a photo for their nature journals.
Pacific treefrog
While getting a few good photos, two of the frogs started croaking. Their throats blew up like balloons and the sound of it was awesome. Would you like to hear? [If you are on email subscription you will need to come over the the blog to see the video..I think.]There are actually two frogs croaking in the video and they croak at about 25 seconds and 50 seconds into the video. When we got home we pulled out our field guide and identified this as a Pacific Treefrog.

My YouTube video of a Pacific Treefrog. 

Both boys wanted to do their journals on the newt.
CA newt journal entry
I got a new scanner but I have not learned how to operate it very well yet…maybe next scan will be better.
Thanks for sharing our very exciting “day out” with us. Hope it inspired and encouraged you in to have some of your own adventures with nature study. Our family looks forward to each time we have to share time out of doors. The answer to the question earlier about whether the hike would be worth the effort? Yes, totally and completely. I would go again right now….sore muscles and all.
nature study 1
One last photo of my son and I kneeling over the water trying to see the frogs.