I made the decision to do more Nature Study with the kids when our weather took a turn for the gorgeous in mid March.
I signed up for the Outdoor Hour Challenge newsletters and searched the web for lots of other suggestions. We have the One Small Square: Backyard book, the Usborne First Book of Nature and a variety of other relevant encyclopedias and field guides. The April edition of the Handbook of Nature Study newsletter, which can be signed up for at the blog which also hosts the Outdoor Hour Challenge. One of the articles in this newsletter was on creating a backyard habitat. This reminded me of the National Wildlife Federation’s program for certifying your backyard as a wildlife habitat. I get their catalogs a few times a year and always found this program interesting. Both articles/programs had the same suggestions – provide food, water and sheltered space/cover for raising young. One of the nice things about our yard is that we meet these criteria without having to do anything.
Both suggest a simple birdbath as a water source. We have a river bordering one side of our property, so this is not a concern.
The next need for a backyard habitat is food sources for a variety of animals. Again, both had similar suggestions but the NWF broke it down into specific suggestions – seeds, nuts, pollen, berries, fruits, foliage/twigs, nectar and sap and/or supplemental feeders for seed, suet, squirrels, butterflies, and hummingbirds (3 are required for certification). We have a lot of flowering bushes and a large variety of trees and evergreens so we have nuts (acorns), pollen, foliage/twigs, nectar and sap. We put out seed and a suet feeder. So we have that covered. We see deer, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, foxes, groundhogs, and lots of birds on our property. We used to see bears but weren’t really sorry when they stopped coming around.
The third suggestion is to provide sheltered space for nesting, or for various critters to hide or live in. The NWF requires two from the following list: wooded area, bramble patch, ground cover, rock wall/pile, cave, roosting box, dense shrubs/thickets, evergreens, brush/log pile, burrow, meadow/prairie, water garden/pond, and an additional two from the list of places to raise young: mature trees, dead trees/snags, meadow/prairie, dense shrubs/thicket, nesting box, water garden/pond, wetland, burrow, host plants for caterpillars, cave.
We have a wooded area over most of our property leading down to the river, a bramble patch which happens to be in a designated wetlands down at the river, lots of dense shrubs/thickets, evergreens, mature trees and dead trees and snags. I’m sure somewhere on our property there are burrows as well. Our “lawn” is usually a mix of ground cover, wild flowers and weeds.
We have a large deadfall of tree tops that came down due to last years Halloween snowstorm and hurricane Irene. We also have a dead tree that is a favorite place for our red-bellied woodpecker and we have seen him pop in and out of a hole in the trunk. We think he might be preparing a nest in there. We have seen male/female pairs of cardinals, blue jays, chickadees and tufted titmouse in our yard since we started putting out seed. When startled they head down the hill so we think they may be working on nests down closer to the river.
Since our property is an acceptable habitat, we got right down to our nature study.
A few weeks ago, I saw these very neat science/nature exploration kits while checking out blog posts. I love the little carriers and all the stuff that she put in them. I immediately starting working on something similar for my guys. Since most of our explorations involved at least leaving the main part of the yard for the river, and my kids are small enough to not be able to carry much on their own especially up and down our steep hill, I decided to put together our kit in a backpack. Since today’s study was going to be a fairly general one I added a variety of stuff I thought we might be able to use.
Inside I packed two magnifying glasses (my kids don’t share well), a sketch pad, a spiral notebook, large heart crayons and broken pieces to do rubbings, a small plastic container, a thermometer (I was thinking of seeing how cold the river water is but didn’t get around to it), The Usborne First Book of Nature, National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region and of course my camera and a bottle of water in one of the outside pockets.
In addition we bought crayons, colored pencils and a clipboard to lean on if needed.
Once we were outside, I grabbed three large foam mats that we used to use at the bottom of the slide and under the swing when the kids were little. I wasn’t sure how muddy it would be down at the river since we did have a rainy weekend.
Instead of heading down our steep hill, we walked down our street to our neighbor’s house and cut though her yard (she’s okay with this).
Vicki started out by taking a close-up look at the bark of one of the trees and then I showed the kids how to take a rubbing.
She used the binoculars to look across the river and to try and look into the river.
While exploring Vicki came running back “I SAW A BUMBLE BEE, I SAW A BUMBLE BEE, AHHHHH”.
She stood on a stump and said “I’m the king…uh I’m the Princess of the WORLD!”
She brought me over a handful of dirt and told me there was a worm in it but he scrammed.
Next time I have to remember to bring down a trowel so she can dig in the dirt down there. I’m sure all kinds of interesting things will be there.
Georgie went off sketching different things. He drew a bottle, a bumblebee and a butterfly. He’s not overly into realism in his drawings right now so the bee and the butterfly both had big smiles.
After they explored for a while, I had the kids come, sit down, close their eyes and listen. After a few minutes, I asked them what they heard. Georgie said he heard a “spooky sound” that I told him was a mourning dove. We also heard cars very faintly, the wind in the trees and a really loud bird chattering at us that I think was a blue jay.
We walked a little farther down our street to a marshy area at the end. I think this will be a great place to find frogs and turtles once the weather gets warmer.
There are many flowering trees in our neighborhood that are in full bloom…..
but many others look completely bare until you take a closer look and see the little buds growing on the branches.
As we walked back home, we discussed the various things we saw and how we thought it may change if we waited a month and came back.