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Outdoor Hour Challenge – Swallowtails

Outdoor Hour Challenge Swallowtails @handbookofnaturestudy

Outdoor Hour Challenge


Inside Preparation Work:

Outdoor Hour Time:

  • Go on an insect hunt! Look for insect eggs, larvae, caterpillars, and mature insects including butterflies.
  • Take some time to watch a butterfly as it works in the garden. Look at the butterfly’s body parts. If you spy a swallowtail, look at the shape of the wings.
  • If you find a caterpillar, watch it eat and observe its horns.

Follow-Up Activity:

  • Create a nature journal entry for the swallowtail butterfly or any butterfly you find this week in the garden. If you don’t find a butterfly, pick one to research and then record your findings on a notebook page included in the ebook.
  • Advanced study: Sketch the chrysalis, caterpillar, and butterfly of the black swallowtail butterfly. There is a notebook page included in the ebook for your sketches.
  • Advanced study: Draw at least two different swallowtail butterflies with colored pencils in your nature journal.

Handbook of Nature Study Ultimate Naturalist Library
Join us for this spring series of challenges every week here on the Handbook of Nature Study.

Spring Nature Study Continues Ebook

If you want to purchase the Spring Nature Study Continues ebook so you can follow along with all the notebooking pages, coloring pages, and subject images, you can join the Ultimate or Journey Membership Levels. See the Join Us page for complete information. Also, you can view the Spring Nature Study Continues – New Ebook announcement page for more details.

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Family Monarch Study – How To Conduct a Nature Study Follow-Up

In any blackboard reading lesson, and, so far as possible, in individual written work by the children, tell —
First. What I did.
Second. What I saw.
Third. What I thought.
If this order is habitually followed, the children are more apt to think for themselves, and to base their conclusions on what they have seen. If told in the first person, as far as possible, class reproduction is apt to be more thoughtful and the pupil’s work more individual.
Nature Study and the Child by Charles Scott, 1900

What We Did:
We sat in the garden on several occasions to try to spy out some butterflies as part of the Outdoor Hour Challenge for summer butterflies. Mom had her camera and was ready to snap some images if a beauty came along. We mostly saw bees of various kinds and the occasional dragonfly.

Fiery Skipper from 2009 – I forgot to plant my cosmos this year…just realized.

What We Saw:
Western Tiger Swallowtail (We studied this butterfly during the summer of 2011.)
Cabbage White
Fiery Skipper (We identified this way back in 2007.)

Swallowtail on butterfly bush
Photo from a few weeks ago showing the damaged wing.

What We Thought:
We wondered why we never see the caterpillars in our yard so we investigated the host plant for the Western Tiger Swallowtail. Turns out we have no host plants so that solves that mystery. The host plants are: willow, cottonwood, and chokecherry. (You can use this link to learn about host plants: Create a Butterfly Garden.)

We also noticed that quite a few of the butterflies that come to our yard have tattered wings. We did a little research and found that butterflies can still fly even with up to 70% of their wings missing. It is really a blessing that they are capable of flying even after a bird has taken a bite out of their wings. (See this webpage.) Did you know that some people actually repair a butterfly’s broken wings? Never knew that.

I forgot to mention here on the blog that my milkweed that I had been nurturing along for a few years in a pot on my deck was totally and completely destroyed by the roofers that came to roof our house back in June. They somehow managed to dump it to the ground and it was just smashed into a million pieces, beyond saving. I shed a few tears and promised myself that I would try again. Reminds me I need to order some more seeds and buy a new pot. I am determined to start a monarch habitat in my yard.

Butterfly garden June 2012 (14)
We didn’t see any monarchs this week but we did last month.

So to wrap up this post, I want to encourage you to try the simple process that Charles Scott outlined in the quote at the top of this post. It is an easy way to structure a nature journal entry….even young children could give a few words in response to the prompts.

 First. What I did.
Second. What I saw.
Third. What I thought.


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You Build It and They Will Come – Butterfly Garden

Painted lady
This is the summer of the butterfly! We have been observing many kinds in our front yard garden…it is amazing to watch as several flutter around from flower to flower. The American Lady butterflies are smaller than we expected but they are daily visitors to the butterfly bushes.

We planned this garden for bees, butterflies, and birds and they are now moving in and taking advantage of our neighborhood oasis that we have created. Our neighbors all stop by to tell us how much they enjoy seeing our yard as they walk and drive up the street. It makes me smile.

Creating this wildlife habitat has been a dream realized. I can honestly say that we have spent time every single day enjoying the wonderful things in this space.

Western Tiger Swallowtail
The Western Tiger Swallowtails are the most frequent of the larger butterflies to visit every day. They spend lots of time on the butterfly bushes but they also land on the lavender from time to time. I think they are my favorite butterfly.

Butterfly garden June 2012
The white butterfly bush is the color that attracts the most butterflies from our casual observation. It has larger amounts of flowers so I think they may be the attraction.

Monarch butterfly garden
We have had a few Monarch butterflies in the past week. This one looks a little tattered. It is exciting to see a Monarch though…this is exactly why we created this habitat. We looked forward to having our nature study subjects come to us…and they have.

Butterfly garden June 2012 (21)
This long thin purple flower cluster is my favorite shape and color. This could be called my purple section since I have purple lavender, sage, and butterfly bushes literally bursting out all over. The bees have found this space and they are here all day long.
The deep purple bushes line the front street and there are hummingbirds that can be seen landing on the blossoms as they take a break from collecting the nectar. The blooms don’t even dip down…those hummers must be super lightweight.

There are a few more butterfly varieties that have come to visit but I haven’t caught them with my camera….yet. I will share when I do.

Just for the record, the bee balm and nasturtiums started blooming this week in the back yard. Beautiful!

Jami’s Tuesday Garden Party meme is open from Tuesday to Thursday so there is still time for you to jump in and participate!

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Updated Wildside-New Garden Arch-Delighted Nature Mama

Arch frontyard - frame
This was a big week in the garden.

My dear sweet husband surprised me by making a new garden arch for my front yard. We had talked about adding a decorative arch, kicked around a few ideas, and then he added his creative touch. I love the way it makes a sort of  “window frame” to the lower part of the garden. He is going to fill in the bare spot with another sage. The poppies are filling in naturally and I think by next year they will be to this lowest part of the yard.

Arch frontyard closeup
He added a few of my favorite things….birds, butterflies, vines. (Maybe all this garden beauty will distract me from my neighbor’s falling down fence.)

Tilled Wildside
He didn’t stop there. He finished up the top terrace of the front yard….he eliminated much of my wildside garden but now it is going to be filled with more wonderful color. Just a note: He used the idea I found on Pinterest to spray a solution of vinegar and water on the weeds before trying to remove them. He sprayed last weekend and let it sit for a week. It was awesome how easy those weeds just hoed out of the ground. He was able to do this entire area in less than an hour! I didn’t get a “finished” shot….I will soon.

Yarrow in the Garden
We are adding more yarrow…a different color this time. The yarrow in our front yard is amazing right now…what a great performer with no water and lots of sunshine.

Yarrow Lavender and Poppies
Maybe someday this new section will be as colorful as the established part of the garden. Here is an image from the top terrace looking down onto the yarrow, lavender, butterfly bush, poppies, and dogwoods. We also added some lamb’s ear among the rock garden. I am going to see if spreads too much but it has added a new texture to the yard.

Switch gears now and head to the back butterfly garden.

Columbine red yellow beauty
The columbine is starting to bloom! This is such a wonderfully happy flower that loves my semi shady spot in the butterfly garden. Look at those colors!

Columbine red yellow
How about the shape? Isn’t it interesting to see how different the back of the flower looks from the front? I am adding this image to my nature journal…I think watercolors.

Swallowtail in the garden
Last but not least, I wanted to share another one of my swallowtail visitors to my back garden. This magnificent butterfly spent quite a bit of time yesterday fluttering among my potted plants. He seemed to like the bright pink dianthus the best.

So now you know what I am one delighted nature mama. I love this time of year!

Jami’s Tuesday Garden Party meme is open from Tuesday to Thursday so there is still time for you to jump in and participate!

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Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly – Our July Newsletter Insect Study

Swallowtail at Yosemite National Park 2006

Since we just studied and observed our honeybees, we decided to learn more about another common backyard insect that we see all the time in our butterfly garden….the Western tiger swallowtail.  There are some amazing images on this webpage. There is also quite a bit of information on Enchanted Learning.

Swallowtail butterfly
We often see swallowtails on our butterfly bushes.

This rather large butterfly is a frequent visitor to our backyard habitat. One afternoon this past week I watched as two swallowtails dipped and swirled around the garden. They are so pretty but they don’t stay put very long at all.

We pulled out the Handbook of Nature Study and read the section on Black swallowtail butterflies to get sort of an overview of this insect. (Lesson 70) Here is a little excerpt:

“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. The grace of its appearance is much enhanced by the “swallowtails,” two projections from the hind margins of the hind wings.” Handbook of Nature Study, page 301

We got out our insect field guide and found out some more interesting facts:
Its caterpillars feed on alder, poplar, willow.
Habitat: Mixed and deciduous forests, open ares, even in urban areas.
Wingspan 3 1/2″ to 4 3/8″
Yellow wings, single “tail”

Tiger Swallowtail Nature Journal

This Saturday, July 16th, is the day that the Great Sunflower Project is requesting that we observe our bees. Read more about how you can participate HERE. I look forward to hearing about your bees as part of the July Newsletter challenge. You can also observe your sunflowers at the same time!