Take a Closer Look...
Nearby my local pond, in a slightly wooded area still covered with leaves from the previous fall, I decided to flip over a few damp logs to see what other amphibians were lurking around. I was excited that two salamanders, one blue-spotted and one red-backed, were resting underneath!
The recent weather has been ideal for searching for frogs and salamanders. If you have access to a small body of water, chances are you’ll be able to find some kind of amphibian life nearby. Damp days are great for searching, amphibians need at least some moisture in the ground or air in order to survive. This is why it must be raining on the “big night.” Underneath logs is a great place to find salamanders. If you are adventurous enough to start flipping over logs, be sure to put them back gently as to not smoosh anything underneath. Another key thing to remember about amphibians is that their skin is very permeable. This means that liquids, gases, and contaminants can pass through it very easily. It is important that you do not pick up or hold any of the amphibians that you find. You may risk getting the oils from your skin or lotion that you used earlier in the day inside of their bodies, which could be potentially deadly.
We are often bombarded by Spring Peepers and it seems that the only salamanders that are crawling around are the Red-Backed Salamanders, but below are some other local amphibians you can keep an eye out for this Spring!
Wow! I can’t believe we are almost one month into our nature journaling journey! We have explored how to take in our surroundings on both the small and large scales, as well as how to keep our eyes peeled for the little bits of nature that are all around us. Nature journaling is an opportunity for continuous growth and each time we sit down to contemplate our surroundings and look a little closer, we learn something new and hone in our skills. The more we get outside to journal, the better our entries will be and the more improvement we will be able to see overtime as both artists and observers.
Last week, we were challenged to take in our surroundings through landscapes! I was so delighted to see the different examples of landscapes that were brought to the attention of the NRT. Below, we have two amazing entries of two very different scenes. The top entry is a local canal, and the one below is the night sky!
As we journal more and more, it can sometimes be helpful to follow unique prompts to keep us on our toes and engaging with our surroundings in new ways. Even as we become avid nature journalers, it can be easy to overlook some aspects of the natural world. Now that we've got the basics down, and you are all exploring different mediums and tools that work best for you, I think we can start making some more specific observations.
Drawing birds may seem daunting at first, but there are a few helpful hints from our favorite nature journaling guru Clare Walker Leslie that I would like to share. The first being that it becomes much easier to draw a bird when you explore their basic anatomy. What is even going on underneath all those feathers!? Below is a wonderful depiction from Keeping a Nature Journal that shows the internal bone structure of a bird and how it relates to what we are able to see! Figuring out the internal anatomy of a bird is as easy as a google search, and although birds come in many shapes and sizes, their general bone structure stays pretty consistent. If you are really interested in learning what's underneath all those feathers, you can also look up bird muscle structure and investigate what makes them such strong fliers!
A great way to begin exploring the method of sketching that works best for you is to start with a photograph! This will allow you to spend time observing the different characteristics of the bird and the relative size of certain attributes before it is fluttering about in front of you. Things to take note of on birds are beak shape and length, eye size and color, any distinct markings or coloration, and leg length and color. I challenge you to identify three local birds in your area, and draw a sketch of each of them. These sketches can be from and image, or from a bird you are seeing in the wild! Have a great time, and as always, if you would like to share your work with the NRT and the community, feel free to send photos to firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next week!
I hope you are not all suffering too hard from the post-Earth Day blues! If you didn’t know, yesterday, April 22, was Earth Day. Some of us may have missed it – as it is usually brought to our attention by the cute crafts and activities facilitated by the schools. Despite schools being closed and Earth Day sneaking up on us (it’s almost May!), there seems to be a lot of appreciation going around these days for our green spaces and the natural beauty of our beloved planet. Although things seem a little confusing on the planet right now and it may be difficult to see an end in sight, I am constantly reminding myself that something beautiful often comes from times of distress. A phoenix rising from the ashes, if you will.
It is that mentality got me wondering about the first Earth Day and what the circumstances were that caused us to dedicate a day to loving our planet, rather than appreciating it every waking moment of our lives. Was there some major event? Were we abusing resources? What was going on and who declared Earth Day?! How have things changed since?
Senator Gaylord Nelson, who is the founder of Earth Day, took it upon himself to share his concerns about a lack of regulations for large industrial corporations. By providing a platform for the global community to share their concerns for the planet through Earth Day, groups that had once been fighting for environmental initiatives separately, were able to join forces to create a much larger impact on the people that needed to hear them.
After the first Earth Day in the Spring of 1970, where 20 million Americans demonstrated across the country, changes started to happen! In December of the very same year, congress authorized the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency! The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA for short), is an executive agency of the United States government dedicated to helping businesses make sound environmental choices in order to protect our green spaces and our planet! The EPA is responsible for what we know as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, which directly address toxic waste emissions from large industrial complexes and even small businesses – exactly what the 20 million Americans gathered to change on the first Earth Day in 1970.
For its 50th anniversary, Earth Day Network has shifted the focus to a global crisis – climate action. It is not surprise that we are starting to see the effects of a changing global climate in our everyday lives, but what actions can we take to encourage a thriving environment for future generations and even for our future selves? With the many hurtles that face climate change initiatives, come infinite opportunities to shape a world dedicated to its environment and that respects the planet that gives us everything. Although this year's Earth Day was slightly different, as many people are being encouraged to stay home and not gather in large crowds, there are still a number of ways to show your support for Earth and the issues being addressed by the Earth Day Network.
For a list of ways to support the Earth Day Network initiatives, and for more information on the history and future of Earth Day, check out: https://www.earthday.org/earth-day-50th-anniversary/
To explore more about the EPA and history of Earth Day on them, check out:
One of the best and extremely satisfying things you can do to help planet Earth is to take a pledge to change something about your life that has a positive environmental impact. This can be adding something to your life, or even eliminating something. It can even be changing something about your routine (i.e. shorter showers). Although it may seem minuscule, if each of us takes action, no matter how small, there is hope for a prosperous future of appreciating our planet and helping it thrive. I have my pledge to reduce my use of plastic straws right next to my door along with a reminder of where I keep my metal straws. It’s just the nudge I need as I head out for the day to keep me thinking about my impact on the planet. I love going out for coffee and it’s not something I am willing to give up at this point, but being at home all day has definitely shown me that I don’t actually NEED that much coffee in my life.
Even though Earth Day has passed for this year, don’t feel like it is too late to make a positive environmental impact. It’s something that we can all strive to be better at each and every day.
I hope everyone was able to spend some time either drawing, documenting, or at least taking note of the types of clouds they were seeing over the past week. It was quite a display! We had rain, snow and sunshine in the short seven days, classic New England. Here is an example of some of the weather observations I was able over that past week, which I will admit, are not extremely detailed. They will at least help me to see patterns when I look back at some of my other observations from this time.
Now that we have taken the time to observe cloud coverage and investigate what that means for the weather, and we’ve gotten familiar with drawing different types of nature found around us, let’s move on to landscapes! Landscape observations are another great tool to help set the scene for some of our more detailed observations and they can be great indicators of season and time of year. There are many different ways to observe a landscape, and remember in true nature journaling fashion, there is no wrong or right way to do it. I’m just going to go through some techniques that will help you figure out how you would like to approach capturing the scene.
The first thing to think about is the season in which you are making your observations. This can be helpful because it lets you know what to expect. Of course, things in nature can always change and it is always exciting to find something new and interesting, but knowing what to expect can help you prepare as far as what you are going to wear, what you will bring with you, the colors you will choose to bring outside with you, and guide you as far as what to be looking for and why things look the way that they do.
You can also think about other animals that may be living in the landscape you are observing and consider whether it would be a suitable home for birds, mammals, insects, reptiles, or even fish! Knowing what kinds of animals to find in your landscape will help you to interpret the meaning of the overall picture as you are taking it in.
A general observation to keep in mind when taking in landscape is the moisture around you. That can either be what the air feels like, or if it is raining, snowing, sleeting, etc. Also be sure to note any changes in warm in cool weather, especially here in New England, where every day seems to be a surprise.
Knowing what to expect when taking in a scene can be a really helpful guide and it will allow you to notice the unexpected much more easily. Once you know what to look for when drawing a landscape – noting any animal behavior, what the trees and plants look like, and what the weather looks like – drawing the landscape is easy!
It helps to start with simple shapes and to draw the more obvious landmarks first. Once you have some landmark points, you can start to fill in the details. This drawing is taken from another one of Clare Walker-Leslie’s books, The Nature Connection. You can see that the actual drawings aren’t super detailed, but that there are lots of great notes to enhance the observations. Clare has even noted what part of the scene is the background, middleground and foreground.
Like most nature journaling, there is no wrong or right way to draw a landscape and the point isn’t to get everything perfect. You just want to take a moment to take in the landscape with a little more detail than you have in the past and make connections with what you are seeing. This week, challenge yourself by finding somewhere new or familiar that you can really spend some time drawing the landscape. Be aware of the plants and animals you are hearing and seeing and use those nature clues to enhance your observations! Your landscape can be a big outdoor space, but it can also be your street or your backyard. Remember, there is nature everywhere!
As usual, if you want to share your observations and sketches, or if you have any questions, feel free to email us at email@example.com. Until next week!
One of my favorite feelings is going outside and knowing that in the absolute worst case scenario, I could find something to eat. A few years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about all the different things you can do with some of our local plants! A lot of edible plants can be found right in your backyard! If you are inspired to head outside and start looking for your own wild edibles, I want to remind everybody that not all plants are safe to eat. If you are unsure, it is best not to eat it. As with any food, there is also the risk of allergies associated with eating new things, so please use caution!
Here are some local plants that you can prepare as food, and as an added bonus, they are great sources of our vitamins A, B, and C!
I hope you all had some time to explore your homes and the areas around your homes to do some nature journaling! Last week we talked about different ways to experiment with color and technique while observing natural material close-by. We saw some wonderful examples of color and playing with using more than one tool to create some really impressive journal entries – thank you!
Now that you’ve all had time to figure out what tools work best for you, let’s focus on something a little more specific. There are many environmental observations you can be making to help properly document your nature scene. Accurately documenting your environment when creating a nature journal is essential. When you look back at your work, you want to be able to have an understanding of the context of your findings. If you nature journal frequently, environmental observations alongside your entries can be a very helpful tool in understanding patterns and change over time.
The essential things to note in any nature journal are the date, time, and temperature. These are to help keep you organized as well as provide some kind of context for your observations.
Some other types of observations that are good to make are cloud coverage, rainfall, humidity, and pretty much any type of general weather patterns you are noticing. Not only is this helpful for enhancing your entry, but we can learn a lot from knowing what types of clouds we are seeing, if there has been any moisture in the air, etc. It is not necessary to illustrate these observations, but it can be fun and a new type of challenge if you are up to the task!
Clouds not only indicate what the current weather is, but they can also be key in helping to determine what the weather is going to be and even what kind of weather there was leading up to the moment of observation. In The Nature Connection an Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families and Classrooms by Clare Walker Leslie, Clare does a wonderful job talking about different cloud types and how they can be documented and identified. You can draw the clouds that you are seeing, or even describe them in writing to help you better understand what is going on around you.
Here is a very helpful flow chart taken from the World Meteorological Association to help with cloud identification.
For next week, I plant to keep a chart on one page of my nature journal that notes the time I am journaling, where the sun is in the sky, if there is any type of moisture or humidity, the current temperature, any cloud coverage and type (if I know) and any additional weather notes I would like to make. If you are feeling especially organized, you can reference the pages of journaling that correspond with these environmental conditions.
Because of the changing weather and all the rain we have been having, April is a great month to challenge yourself to observe cloud coverage and weather patterns. For this week, I encourage all of you to start tracking the weather and environmental conditions that are happening alongside your journal entries. You can do this through sketches or written observations but keep in mind that you want to be able to look back at it and understand what was going on. Being able to look up at the sky and notice environmental cues is a wonderful skill to have and will certainly serve you well outside of nature journaling.
Try to make environmental observations at least three times before next Wednesday. If we have enough people tracking the weather, we can compare what different community members were observing at different times and even in slightly different areas. Until next time!
What a beautiful day to share with you all that we will be posting a weekly blog dedicated to nature journaling! Most weeks this will come out on Wednesdays, but we are too excited to wait until next week to post our first one, so you’re getting it on Friday. These blogs will include weekly prompts to help you think about nature in a slightly different way, or shift your focus for more specific observations. We will share tips and tricks that we have found helpful as well as suggestions from some of our favorite nature journaling resources!
As we start this nature journaling journey, we want to remind community members that we would love to see what you create! If you would like to share your nature pages, or if you have any advice to share with fellow naturalists, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can share your art and observations in our blog.
For the past couple of weeks we have included nature journal prompts as part of our regularly scheduled blog posts, and it has been really fun to see what some of our community members are sharing!
In Tuesday's blog, we asked people to try to sketch animals that they had seen around their homes or yards. We encouraged people to start simple, just taking in the general shape of the creature they are observing and then connecting those shapes with textured lines that were more true to the animal's form.
This week, we are going to ask people to find any sign of nature - this can be in your home, in your yard, or at a local green space or park - and sketch it. One of the great things about nature is that even in the most urban environments, it is everywhere! Sky color, cloud coverage, sun position, plants and animal signs are all good examples of things to keep an eye out for and note when you are first starting your observations. Remember when journaling, it can be helpful to document temperature, date and time, and general weather. When you want to look back at your recordings, these observations will help you to paint a picture of the scene and give your observations context.
Speaking of painting a picture, another thing you can focus on this week is the colors that you use in your illustrations. While you are looking for signs of nature, start to experiment with new colors and sketching techniques! Recommended supplies for adding color to journals, taken right from Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie & Charles E. Roth, are:
If you don't have any of these supplies easily at hand, don't despair! One of the great things about creating a nature journal is that there is no right way to do it. We can offer tips and tricks, but however you choose to move forward is entirely up to you. This week be sure to take some time looking for anything nature-related around you and start to experiment with different colors and textures. Until next week!
After spending Tuesday searching my garden for various flowers, I started thinking about why these flowers need to be so colorful in the first place. It reminded me that although flowers scattered across a landscape are the picture of serenity for us, for plants it is a war zone. Each blossom trying to outshine one another for the attention of nearby pollinators. It is a matter of success or failure of future generations. So who are the flowers in our gardens trying to attract? And why is pollination so essential for survival?
The first two animals I think of when I hear the word pollinator are bees and butterflies, but I have to remember that flies, moths, beetles, wasps, birds, bats, and even small mammals all contribute to pollination. For this post, I am going to focus on butterflies and bees because those are the two that I notice the most, but let us remember that there are other key players involved in global pollination.
In a very brief summary, pollination is essential for the survival of many of earth's species - both plant an animal. Pollination is the way that flowers and most plants reproduce. Without this process, we would not have much of the basic food that we need to continue thriving as a society. Things like fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts would be essentially non-existent. Many of the pollinators on the planet are declining due to a changing climate, lack of resources, and even disease. To learn more about how pollinators help us and how we can help them please check out https://www.pollinator.org/bigger-than-bees.
Some dates to keep in mind to show your support for the world's pollinators are World Bee Day on May 20th and Pollinator Week starting June 22 through June 28! Although, lets be honest, the hardy workers that are the world's pollinators should be in our thoughts at least once a day.
THE BEES KNEES
For many of us, the first thing we want to do when we see a bee is scream and run away. In reality, we should be appreciating them and taking a moment to thank them for everything to do for us. Without bees, our world would look like an entirely different place, and possibly one that wouldn't be able to sustain human life. If we take a minute and examine the different parts of a bee to see how they do their jobs, they actually become quite cute!
There are many reasons to be thankful for bees collecting pollen, but one that is very specific to bees is the production of honey. This delicious, syrupy sweetener is a direct byproduct of bee pollen collection. They take the pollen back to their hives, which gets moved through the bee hierarchy and eventually becomes food for the entire colony in the form of honey! Beekeepers are then able to safely and respectfully harvest honey so that humans can also enjoy the delicious product. Thank you bees for honey!
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
Another notable pollinator is the butterfly! Perhaps the most recognizable of them is the Monarch, but there are over 500 different species of butterflies within the U.S. and over 15,000 species worldwide. These creatures are most well known for their vibrant colors as they effortlessly glide through the sky on hot summer days.
Just like bees, butterflies are built for pollination, but slightly differently than bees, butterflies are actually after the nectar of the flower, not the pollen. This is why they have a proboscis. A proboscis is a straw like tube that unwinds from the front of a butterfly's head, where their mouth would be. This allows butterflies to suck up pools of nectar even from the deepest of flowers. Nectar is a food source for butterflies and provides them with the sugars and energy they need to fly long distances without tiring out. Not only do butterflies enjoy the nectar of flowers, but they have also been known to get energy from rotting fruits and even animal dung!
Although butterflies do not collect pollen on purpose, as they fly from flower to flower they inadvertently collect and spread pollen resulting in pollination! Next time you see a butterfly fluttering around your garden, or in a park, see if you can watch it land on a flower. When it does, keep an eye out for its unwinding proboscis!
Here are photos of some pollinators NRT staff have seen around Sheep Pasture and other green spaces! See if you can identify them as being bees, butterflies, or something else!
WOW, It is finally starting to feel more and more like Spring each day and today is no exception! With blue skies overhead and warm sunspots on the ground, I felt immediately invited to get outside and start exploring. As I stepped into the yard, the first thing I noticed was the variety of new colors scattered throughout the lawn! It seems like overnight, all the flowers around me decided to blossom. As I wandered around the yard enjoying the many new colors and the sounds of pollinators buzzing around, I began to wonder if I had enough variety to create a rainbow! So, I decided to collect specimens, by way of photography, and see if I could capture every color of the rainbow right in my own backyard.
This would have been more challenging if I were looking for green flowers (thank you modification #1).
I had a lot of fun looking for flowers and areas of color in my yard today, and I hope that this inspires some you to do the same! I see the same flowers come up every year and still had a difficult time identifying a lot of them. It felt really great to get out my flower guide and learn a little more about what is growing right outside my window! Looking for and identifying flowers also gave me an opportunity to chat with some of my family members in a new way, which was a welcome change after weeks of being at home with them :)
Notes on Nature
A couple of weeks ago we encouraged our blog readers to start nature journaling as a way to connect more with nature and find moments of peace during these uncertain times. It has brought the NRT staff so much joy to see how friends and community members have started and kept up with their journals!
Above is an example of how one person focused on a specific section of tree to practice capturing light and multiple layers of branches. Drawing a tree from straight below is a great example of looking at something we see everyday from a new perspective. The use of shading and different hues to show texture and depth really make the different branches stand out from one another. Thank you for reminding us to look up!
As you are creating your nature journal, we encourage you to share your illustrations and discoveries with us here at the NRT. In each blog post, we will include a new prompt as well as examples of nature journal pages from community members. If you would like your nature journaling efforts to be part of our NatureTalk blog, be sure to send photos of your work as well as any additional information to email@example.com. We can't wait to see what you create!
Today’s nature focus will be all about the unsung heroes of the world’s ecosystems. These fungi, bacteria and invertebrates (FBI), can be found in the rainforest, in the ocean, in the desert, and even in your own backyard. I am of course talking about the much overlooked decomposers!
Decomposers are nature’s clean-up crew. Without them, all the natural waste of the world would never break down! They are what keep energy flowing through our ecosystems, recycling nutrients back into the ground so that producers and consumers can thrive.
The three main players of the decomposition community are fungi, bacteria and invertebrates. Because decomposers are so essential to a functioning ecosystem, they can be found almost anywhere. Each group of organisms (fungi, bacteria, invertebrates) have special signs that you can look for to see that they are doing their jobs. I explored my backyard to find examples of decomposition to give you an idea of what to look for in your own yard and find the FBI in action!
Fungi are living organisms that can be found in an amazing amount of forms throughout the planet. One of the most common fungi we see all the time are mushrooms. I was a little disappointed when searching my backyard because I wasn’t able to find any mushrooms, but after lifting up a few damp logs I did find something just as exciting. I found these white, string-like structures hanging onto the damp wood, and I knew immediately I had found some mycelium! This is the part of the fungus that is responsible for breaking down decaying matter. You will always find a network of mycelium on anything being decomposed by a fungus. Mushrooms are very exciting to find, but they aren’t the part of the fungus that is responsible for recycling nutrients back into the soil - I was delighted to find a network of mycelium letting me know that there was fungal decomposition happening!
Invertebrates are the most fun of the FBI to find (in my opinion). I feel like I am always surprised by the amount of invertebrate decomposition going on when I flip over a log, or shuffle around some leaf litter. There are many signs of invertebrate decomposition to look for in an ecosystem, and usually you can find the invertebrate responsible!
Decomposers rarely ever work alone. Chances are if you find one member of the FBI, there will be other sources of decomposition nearby! I had a great time exploring my yard for signs of fungi, bacteria and invertebrate decomposition and I hope that you'll take some time to explore your own yard or neighborhood for signs of nature's clean-up crew!
NRT's dedicated staff are responsible for the content of the NatureTalk blog. Questions? For more information on any blog post, please contact us at any time.