Today’s blog post is all about backyard birds! Many of our favorite nature spaces are becoming restricted, which means a lot of our outside time is spent walking around neighborhoods or being in our yards. Just like anything, if we don’t find new ways to explore and appreciate these spaces, they can start to feel old. One way to explore a new space is to focus on a single part of it. Today I will talk about how you can focus on the bird activity that is going on around you and an easy craft to help attract birds to your yard!
Birds and Blooms magazine put together a wonderful list of five applications you can download onto your phone to help identify different bird species by their calls:
Another great tool for helping us identify birds before we are able to get a clear visual of them is the habitat we are observing them in. Just like other animals, different species of birds prefer to feed and nest in different habitats. Sometimes this is a very broad difference, such as shore birds vs. woodland birds, but other times this can be the difference between a bird observed in a conifer vs. a neighboring deciduous tree.
The different plants that are in our backyards and neighborhoods will greatly influence the species that we find. As long as your yard has or is near good sources of food, water, and shelter, it can be a suitable home for local bird species! Another great resource from Birds and Blooms is this article outlining different habitats and cues from habitats that can help in bird identification:
Here is an article from New York Audubon highlighting different plants and the birds that are attracted to them:
Pinecone Bird Feeders
Pinecone bird feeders are easy and fun for everyone in your family to attract birds to your yard. Spring is here and with that, comes many bird species who have been spending the Winter in warmer climates! Hanging a pinecone bird feeder will encourage birds to stop-over in your yard for a quick snack, and it could even result in them making a nest somewhere nearby! During migration, you might even see some fly throughs that aren’t usually common in the area.
The first step of making a great pinecone feeder is scoping out a great place to hang it. When thinking about the feeder location, you’ll want to consider if it’s an easy spot for squirrels to get to, the number one bird feeder robbers. To avoid squirrels, try to find somewhere high off the ground that doesn’t have anything that a squirrel can climb onto or around. It’s also really fun to hang the feeder outside a window; this way when you’re indoors, you can see who is snacking outside. Once you’ve found the perfect location, you are ready to make your feeder!
What you will need:
First things first, measure how long you will need your string to be so you can easily hang it from the spot you chose. Once you’ve done this, cut your string and tie it to the top of your pinecone. You can go ahead and wrap it in the notches of the pinecone to keep it nice and secure. To avoid making a mess, you’ll want to put about half a cup of peanut butter in a bowl (you can also substitute a quarter cup of peanut butter with shortening to conserve resources). The peanut butter will act as the glue for our seeds and Cheerios. You’ll also want to have another bowl prepared with either seeds or Cheerios (any sugar-free cooked cereal will work, i.e. cornflakes).
Once your bowls are ready, the rest is easy! Slather on your peanut butter mixture all around your pinecone. You can roll the pinecone in the PB, or you can use a knife to spread it across the top. Make sure you get enough on there so that your seeds (or whatever you use) will stick to the sides with ease. After you’ve gotten your peanut butter caked onto your pinecone, you can begin to press the seeds onto the sides of the pinecone. They should easily stick to the peanut butter. The seeds will cover all sides of the pinecone and once they do, you will know you are done!
If your peanut butter seems a bit runny and you’re afraid of your seeds sliding off, you can always stick your feeder in the fridge for a little while to firm it up. Once you are happy with your final product, go ahead and hang it outside. Soon enough you will start to see happy birds exploring the new food source!
Please be sure to keep an eye on your pinecone feeder and properly dispose of the pinecone and string when all the seeds have been eaten (or reseed it)!
taking it all in
The past few weeks have been very confusing and overwhelming for many of us as our daily routines have shifted and we are finding new ways to occupy our time. Here at NRT’s Sheep Pasture, it has brought our employees such joy to see community members embrace the property and take advantage of the trails and farm animals in these uncertain times. Whether you are out and about or enjoying the comfort of your own backyard, it is great to see people taking in the natural world around them.
As more and more community members take time away from work and gain an opportunity to spend a few extra moments in nature, many of you will begin to feel something happening to your body. It may start small for some of you, or perhaps some of you will become overwhelmed by it immediately, but the research shows that most everyone will feel some sense of calmness after spending even just a little bit of time in a green space.
Although many of you may be experiencing this for the first time, as there has been added necessity to find moments of peace in lieu of current events, people have been embracing the mental health benefits of spending time in nature for centuries. And it’s not just a sense of calmness that we have to gain! Spending time in nature can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression and has even been observed to help people with mood disorders feel less overwhelmed.
According to a 2017 TIME magazine article, the benefits gained from taking time in nature come with pretty much any healthy green space. This means that you don’t need to drive two hours to the ocean, or hike a difficult trail to feel as though you’ve cleared your mind. Green spaces can be coastlines or dense wooded areas, but soccer fields, local parks, and even your own backyard can work as well! In a 2015 study, researchers found that people who participated in a nature walk for 90 minutes, rather than an urban walk, had lower activity in their prefrontal cortex, which is an area of the brain that is used when having repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions. It is quite satisfying to know that there is a substantial pool of scientific evidence to support that feeling of calmness and reduced anxiety after being outside.
One great way to reconnect with the natural world is by creating a nature journal, or having a personal space to enhance your relationship with the outdoors. Much like a regular journal, you record your thoughts, feelings, ideas, activities and observations with the focus being on the natural world around you. These recordings can be guided with prompts, or simply what comes to mind at any given moment. Because of the flexibility of a nature journal, it is a great way for individuals and families to get outside and look at the world around them through a slightly different lens.
You might be thinking, this all sounds great, but how do I even start a nature journal? It’s simple! All you need is a piece of paper and a writing utensil. Each time you journal, you can document your findings on a new sheet of paper, or you can dedicate an entire notebook to nature journaling. Whatever works best for you! As far as deciding what to put in your journal, there are many wonderful resources online that provide prompts and encourage us to look at the things we are seeing in nature from a different perspective.
Some of our favorite online resources for nature journaling are:
Attached to this blog post is a starter nature journal to guide you if you or a family member are just beginning your nature journaling journey. The wonderful thing about nature journaling is that it can be done inside or outside depending on the weather and how you are feeling. Before venturing outdoors, you may want to start your journal by looking out a window of your house, or observing an indoor plant that’s been sitting in your living room for years. Wherever you choose to begin, you will soon find yourself looking at the world around you with a whole new appreciation!
En PLEIN AIR
Are all the Instagram posts of your backyard starting to look the same? Finding it difficult to photograph the afternoon light just perfectly? Perhaps it’s time to take a page from some of the world’s first outdoor influencers, who were able to capture the essence of a landscape in just a few thoughtful strokes. Well.. maybe more than a few. I’m, of course, talking about renowned artists such as Claude Monet, Winslow Homer, or Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
A number of landscape artists have dabbled in, or even mastered, what is known as En Plein Air art, and although it may sound fancy, it simply means outside. It is the concept of painting, drawing, or creating any work of art fully outdoors. As weather conditions change, so does light, shade, and color within a scene. En Plein Air artists do their best to capture these dramatic differences in their ever-changing outdoor paint sessions.
The practice became a popular style in the 1830s when artists, more specifically French artists, wanted to accurately depict landscapes in different weather conditions. From France, the En Plein Air movement crossed to the U.S., starting in California and spreading further east as time went on. The movement really took off in the 1840s when more suitable supplies for painting outside became widely available. Paints in tubes meant that artists didn’t need to grind and mix their own pigments while outside. Luckily for us, the tools for painting and creating art outside have only gotten more and more portable over the years.
If you’ve ever seen someone painting on an easel outdoors, you’ve seen an En Plein Air artist! Although it may seem like something that takes a lot of effort and planning, becoming an En Plein Air artist is not out of reach for any of us. If you or your family members are looking for something new to do, I challenge you to create some En Plein Air art. This can be done in the comfort of your own backyard, or you can bring your tools to a favorite nature spot to capture its beauty.
Before heading out to create your piece of art, there are a few important things to remember. The first being your tools. For an En Plein Air artist, the tools are VERY important. The right set of equipment and preparedness can make or break the day. Nobody likes to get to their worksite and find out they’ve forgotten to bring their set of colored pencils, or aren’t dressed appropriately for the weather.
The first question to ask yourself when getting ready is, what type of art are you going to create? A painting? A sketch? A crayon landscape? Once you’ve decided here are a few things to think about:
After addressing all of these questions, you can start putting together a supply bag, or even a supply suitcase, with everything you will need for the day. Keep in mind that once you are outside, depending on where you go, it may be difficult to get any needed supplies that are forgotten. Finally, you are ready to create your En Plein Air art! Head outdoors and start capturing. Be sure to keep in mind the light, shade, and color that you are seeing, as those are the three aspects of a landscape that En Plein Air artists feel truly grasp the essence of a specific scene.
Although it is a little different than the normal Instagram post, we would love to see what you create! If you feel that you’d like to share your work, be sure to tag us on Instagram (@SheepPasture) and Facebook (NRT’s Sheep Pasture) so we can enjoy the wonderful scenes our community members depict!
A change of pace
Wow, what a hectic few weeks it has been! As people are doing their best to stay safe and healthy, it is becoming more and more difficult to stick to daily routines and keep up with extracurricular activities. It feels like new information on how to best proceed in times of uncertainty is being published daily, and it can be overwhelming to navigate how to responsibly spend time with family and friends. With this influx of information, some good and some not-so good, there is one suggestion for how to move forward that seems constant among all news sources - get outside!
Here at the NRT, we would like to remind folks that despite a massive change in routine, there are some things that we can still look to as pillars of familiarity and consistency. The first of these being that it is officially Spring and the many wonderful changes that come with the transition from Winter to Summer are still happening all around us! We encourage families to walk our trails and explore the ever-changing scenes that come with the new season over the next few weeks.
As weather begins to warm and rainfall increases, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for new signs of life with each visit to the property. Contrary to the notions of uncertainty many of us are feeling, it is guaranteed that a stroll through Sheep Pasture, a moment sitting in the yard, or a neighborhood jaunt will shed light on the unaffected natural world around us. Flowers are beginning to shoot up, as crocuses and daffodils speckle our drab, dehydrated lawns in random bursts of yellows, purples, and whites. We are greeted daily at dawn and dusk by a cacophony of birds and frogs trying to out-sing each other at any available opportunity. Even the branches that once seemed too fragile and weak to support much of anything are beginning to pop with fresh green buds and curled leaves. Animals are becoming restless with the longer days, regaining consciousness as the ground around them soaks up warm rays and smells of fresh food fill the air. Despite the chaos, there is a continued peacefulness waiting to be embraced if we, even just for a moment, shift our focus to the outdoors.
In the coming weeks, we will be upping our blog game by posting twice weekly, and providing resources for families and individuals to get outside and enjoy some fresh air! Whether it be at Sheep Pasture, or in the comfort of your own favorite green spaces, we are looking forward to seeing how people embrace the natural world this Spring. Attached to this post, you will find a Springtime Scavenger Hunt to help guide and encourage you to look at nature through a new lens. Each upcoming post will come with new activities to try with your family, or on your own! Enjoy!
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