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Outdoor Hour Challenge – Blue Jays and Bluebirds


Outdoor Hour Challenge

Blue Birds – Jays and Bluebirds

From the Archives and from the Learning About Birds ebook


This is a fun challenge that incorporates a study of blue birds and also the study of bird beaks. Even the youngest of children will be able to participate after you explain the challenge to look for various kinds of bird beaks.

Make sure to use the ideas in the archive link above to encourage the observation of birds and their beaks.

Bird Beak Graphic from


Additional Idea for Bird Study

Use the All About Birds website to look up more information about any birds you study this week: All About Birds. The archive link above includes links (bottom of the archive post) to this website for the particular blue birds we are learning about in this challenge.  I always love to click on the “sound” tab to hear each bird’s particular song.

Are you enjoying your bird study? You may wish to check out the complete series of bird challenges included in the Learning About Birds ebook.

Learning About Birds ebook Bird List @handbookofnaturestudy

This blue bird challenge is from the Learning About Birds ebook here on the Handbook of Nature Study. It’s found in the Ultimate and Journey level memberships for you to download and use with your family. If you would like to gain access to this ebook, you can purchase a membership now and have instant access.

Ultimate Naturalist Library September 2017 @handbookofnaturestudy

Use the discount code BIRDLOVER5 for $5 off an Ultimate Naturalist Membership.

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No Snow Study- Winter Walk Instead

Winter Walk Snow Nature Study
Our winter continues to be warmer than normal…even record-breaking temperatures. As much as I love the warm afternoons and sunshine, I am concerned for the drying up reservoirs and the very dry forest conditions. I know I have no power to bring on the rain and snow so I am trying to make the best of it.

This week’s Winter Snow challenge was a big challenge indeed. We did find a bit of snow up the mountain from our house but not a whole lot. We opted to complete the Winter Nature Walk- Scavenger Hunt activity from Hearts and Trees.

I took an image of the page with my phone and we used that during our hike to remember the things we were looking for as we went.

Here are our results:

An evergreen
Buds on a tree
We decided this duck weed was more interesting than moss.
Trees that have lost all their leaves – aspens
a bird – Steller’s Jay
We didn’t find any berries but this rose hip was certainly colorful.
Something with thorns
Pinecones – The squirrels had lunch on the picnic table!

One last image from our hike at Taylor Creek. The beavers have been clear cutting a lot of the trees along the water. They have quite a few trees that are ready to fall as well. The dam is getting huge! Amazing creatures with incredible strength.

We are still waiting for some real snow here and I will keep the snow study in the back of my mind for a future time. I hope some of you were more successful with this challenge or you took advantage of the scavenger hunt instead.


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How to Be a Better Birder: Learning Bird Calls

“When a bird sings, it’s telling you what it is and where it is. Learn bird calls and open a new window on your birding.”
All About Birds website, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

It all started last year with our visit to Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology…a desire to be a better birder. I have known that my listening skills are not as sharp as they could be and I made it a goal to learn more of my local bird’s songs and calls, one bird at a time.

We have been at it for about ten months and I have found that just paging through The Backyard Birdsong Guideand listening to the songs has greatly helped me learn to distinguish between a House sparrow and a House finch, a Titmous and a Nuthatch. I think it is like learning a whole new language and as you work on it your ears get accustomed to hearing subtle differences.

This page on All About Birds has some wonderful tips for learning to recognize bird songs: Songs and Calls. I highly recommend it for anyone who is trying to learn this skill. My boys pick up on it faster than I do so don’t hesitate to share the tips with your children.

Last summer I was able to identify a Hermit thrush during our Oregon camping trip by listening and repeating in my head the song he cried out in the forest. I followed the advice to put the bird song into words that I could remember. I now can immediately identify it with no question.

The Steller’s jay that has moved into my neighborhood in the last few months can be heard easily and distinguished from the Western scrub jay with ease.

The titmouse, the Spotted towhee, the Cedar waxwing…all are easily identified now by their sound.

It feels good. You can do it too by taking one bird at a time and making your own memory or aid to remembering.

During my recent trip to Florida, I used my camera video to capture some bird calls for later identifying.

Do I think it is worth the effort to learn the various bird songs of my neighborhood birds? Yes! It has given our family so much more enjoyment in our birding and has helped us to be more skilled at listening. You can use the ideas in last week’s challenge to help you get started: Birding by Ear.

Do you know any of your local bird’s songs? Widgets

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Winter Snowshoe Hike – Jays, Tracks, and Weeds

Winter Snow and Weeds
Tahoe National Forest – California

When I posted on Facebook yesterday that we were going to head out to snowshoe, the weather forecast said something like “partly cloudy, high of 52 degrees, and 10% chance of precipitation”. Sounded good to me. Well no one told us that between our house and our hiking spot that there was going to be dense fog, drizzle, and the temperatures were falling into the 30’s.

I knew Mr. B was anxious to test out his new snowshoes so I didn’t want to disappoint him and we kept going up over the mountain. Once over the mountain it cleared up and we had lots of clouds but no rain.

Tracks in the snow
Needless to say, we kept our eyes on the sky, checking for signs we were going to get rained or snowed. We had the snow to ourselves, not counting the many animal tracks that were visible. So many tracks going so many directions…there must be a whole forest full of animals out there.

Stellers Jay in the bushes
Isn’t this a surprising sight of brilliant blue on this winter day? Steller’s jays are common and this one was posing for my camera. I love the blue feathers on the nose. My field guide says that these jays are “inquisitive, intelligent, and noisy”. Yep, that totally describes this bird.

Stellers Jay flying
We couldn’t resist seeing if we could lure the jay closer and Mr. B had a pocket full of pretzels. One little bit of pretzel and that Steller’s jay came swooping down for a tasty treat, making his shook-shook-shook sound as he flew.

Snowshoe Taylor Creek
We had to go the long way around since the beavers have now completely dammed up the water in the creek and the resulting pond has spread over the normal trail. This is where we saw the salmon spawning last fall and the mama bear with cubs. No signs of them now, although it smells rather fishy around this bend in the creek from all the dead fish remains.

Taylor Creek with snow and tracks
We hiked along the creek a little way and we noticed that there are places where the creek mud is piled up onto the banks. We could see lots of little animal tracks around the mud but I’m still not sure what kind of animal did this and what they were doing. Winter hikes can lead to lots of questions. You can see the muddy sludge…it is the black stuff there along the edge.

Aspens in the Snow
I never get tired of looking at the landscape here at Taylor Creek. The patterns of the tree trunks against the Sierra sky in the winter is amazing and beautiful. Some people get to look out their living room windows and view a similar scene and I wonder if they stop seeing the awesomeness of it. I come here a dozen times a year and I never tire of this place.

Snowshoe tracks
When you are on snowshoes, you can follow tracks as much as you want but I am always a little afraid of getting out into the forest too far….I have a terrible sense of direction. This area is easy to navigate because I can hear the highway in the distance and I generally know which direction I need to head to get back to the trailhead. Here is an example of a nice clear print in the snow.

Winter Weeds
We did a little preliminary winter weed study while we were out traipsing around the woods. There were plenty of subjects even with snow on the ground. I just liked the way this one looked. I think it is a corn lily. Next week we plan on doing a whole winter weed study so we will revisit these images then.
Winter Snoeshoe Hike
So our first real snowshoe of the year is over and we didn’t get rained or snowed on. We were bundled up warmly so it was really a delight to be outdoors exploring just the two of us. Mr. B decided his snowshoes were perfect and now we will be able to explore the woods in winter as part of our Outdoor Hour Challenges.

You can read more about hiking in winter on my Squidoo page for tips on how to make it fun:
Winter Nature Walks

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Wednesday Walk in the Snow: Beavers and Jays

Winter Wednesday-Week 2 Snow

We haven’t had much snowfall in our area since last week so our plans to complete the snow melting measurement activity are on hold for the moment. We did observe something that the book talks about on page 28 and 29, Snow Melt and Trees.

“During the day, the tree absorbs heat from the sun. The tree radiates heat and melts the snow.”

You can see in these photos how this looks out in the woods.

Here is another photo that shows the melted snow very clearly. Right after we took this photo we saw a coyote over beyond the trees. He was hurrying past on his way to somewhere else….we did not see him again all day.

On my the right sidebar of my blog I have a photo of my summer hiking boots….now here are my winter hiking boots. These are so very comfortable and warm. Don’t they look like brand new? They are two years old! I just love LL Bean. ( I just looked up on the LL Bean website and I can’t find these particular boots there anymore….just in case you were going to ask.)

The snow was just right for snow boots. I was really glad we did not need the snowshoes today because they are a lot of work and I wanted to just relax. Next time I am going to bring them along because there is an area that I wanted to explore but the snow was just too deep. I stepped of the trail and sunk down to about mid-calf.

We stayed on the trail….isn’t this a welcoming little entrance to this part of the wilderness? (Don’t tell Brittney…this is where we saw the bear last fall.)

Several people emailed me about the beaver dam in the header of the blog. Yes, it is a real beaver dam that is along one of our regular hiking trails. I promised a few more photos to go along with the beaver story. The photo above is a good example of what a tree looks like that a beaver has worked on. This particular tree is pretty far from the creek so I’m not sure why they chose it but it is still sitting in the woods. You can tell how big a beaver is by how far up the tree he was working.

You can see if you look closely or click the photo to enlarge it that the rangers have come through and protected some of the tree trunks with wire to prevent the beavers from falling the trees. There are quite a few trees that look as if the beaver got started and then the rangers wrapped up the trunks to keep the tree intact.

The turn around spot on this hike was this beach. This is the beach we spend hours and hours at during the summer and fall. This is a favorite with locals so there are lots of tracks and paw prints in the snow. There were a few mallard ducks hanging around today as well as a very chattery squirrel. More on the squirrels in another post soon.

One more friend from our walk this time.

Mr. Steller’s jay is a glorious blue and even more striking against the winter’s gray. They have to be some of the most loud and squawky birds you can ever imagine but they are so pretty when they hold still for a photo. Click the link above and scroll down to where you can listen to the call of the Steller’s jay….squawk indeed.

That was our Winter Wednesday this week. We are going to make sure to remember to actually do the activities we planned from chapter two when it snows here next….maybe soon.

Winter Wednesday Button