One of the great joys of being in New England during fall is the chance to see the leaves change color! Not only do the leaves transform right in front of our eyes, but they also make their way to the ground as the trees prepare for winter dormancy. This yearly accumulation of excess of leaves on the ground provides the perfect opportunity to make detailed leaf observations in our nature journals!
Trees that shed their leaves in preparation for a winter, hibernation-like state are called deciduous. Each fall the trees shut off the nutrient source to their leaves resulting in dramatic color change as the chlorophyll, which gives them their green color, drains out of them. Although these leaves will eventually fade to brown, by recording them in our journals, we can appreciate their unique colors, shapes, and patterns for years to come.
Below are some tips and tricks on how to sketch and record fall leaves in your journals taken from Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth’s Keeping a Nature Journal and Clare Walker Leslie’s The Nature Connection.
Create A Collection
The first thing to do before recording observations is to find some leaves! Take a walk and pick up any leaves that speak to you. Try to find a variety of colors, shapes and sizes. The more eclectic your collection, the more you have to work with! You can organize your leaves however you’d like: size, shape, color, texture, etc. Find a website, or a tree guide to help you identify some of your leaves. Take some time to appreciate your collection and then grab your journal to start recording your observations and your findings.
Starting With Shapes
Next Comes Colors
(The Fun Part)
The way you choose to color your leaves is completely up to you. You can play with different mediums: paint, pencils, water colors, pens, pencils, or whatever! With whichever utensil you choose, practice different strokes and styles to get the effect you are looking for. Adding color with changing weights will help to add depth to your observations. You can even use multiple utensils to show different textures and shadows!
It may help to pick your color palette ahead of time. You can experiment with mixing your colors to create gradients and seamless transitions between different hues.
Tuesday, September 24 marked the first day of fall, meaning that all of us New Englanders, and anyone in the New England area, can now officially embrace the “it’s fall y’all” attitude. I’ve already seen pumpkins decorating neighborhood steps, fall flavors showing up on menus, and apple picking photos in full swing. One of the many delights of the fall season is the changing of the leaves! It’s something we see every year here in the Northeast, but it never seems to get old. The transition from different hues of green to firey landscapes of oranges, yellows and reds is truly mesmerizing, but what causes this change to happen? Are the trees dying? Why don’t they need their leaves in the Winter and why don’t the leaves stay green?
The first step of answering these questions is understanding why trees even have leaves because not all of them do! Trees with leaves that change color and are shed annually are called deciduous trees. That is what we will be focusing on today.
The reason that most of the leaves we see on trees are green in the spring and summer is because there is a very special chemical called chlorophyll that helps the leaves capture the energy from the sun. Without their leaves, trees are not able to complete the process of photosynthesis.
The draining of all the extra energy and nutrients is what brings us to the changing of the leaf color! In order to get the most out of each leaf, the tree will cut off the supply of water and anything else that goes into the leaves, but it will continue to take nutrients out of the leaves. One of the molecules that gets broken down for its nutrients during the process is the chlorophyll. If you recall, chlorophyll is also responsible for giving leaves their green color. As the chlorophyll is drained from the leaves, other chemicals, many of which that have been present in the leaf for the entire spring and summer, are able to be seen more clearly! Scientists are able to pinpoint exactly what chemicals are responsible for what colors we see in the leaves throughout the fall:
Once a tree has gotten all the nutrients it needs from a leaf, it will drop it to the ground and patch up the spot the leaf used to be with a self-made band aid. After all the leaves have been drained, the tree will go into dormancy for the winter. During this time, growth, energy use, and metabolism will dramatically slow down (just like hibernation) until the weather warms up again in the spring! The leaves on the ground will stay colorful for some time, but without being connected to their main source of nutrients and moisture, they will eventually dry up and turn brown.
Fall Leaf Activity:
Head outside and see how many different colored and shaped leaves you can find! Once you’ve collected a good amount, try to sort them. You can sort them however you want: by shape, by color, by size, etc. Explore the similarities and differences between the leaves. You can see if similar shaped leaves have similar colors and see if you notice any patterns among your findings.
After you’ve spent time examining and sorting your collection, make some art! You can organize leaves outside in a temporary installation much like artist/sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, or you can tape or glue your leaves to a piece of paper for something you can display inside your home!
The mornings and afternoons seem to have gotten dramatically cooler over the past couple of weeks and, if you can believe it, today is the first day of Fall! One of the great benefits of keeping a nature journal is the ability to track seasonal changes over time by looking at plant and animal life in a specific location. The branch of science that studies these changes is called phenology.
Phenology uses seasonal indicators such as when plants are in bloom, if certain colors are present in a landscape, what animals are most active, and many other indicators to track long term changes. Often, these changes are looked at through the lens of how climate change is affecting an area. As many of us know, climate change is a significant consideration when thinking about the future of our planet and learning how we can better serve the natural world around us by reducing our carbon footprints.
One of the great ways to keep a record of the phenology of an area is to track seasonal changes in our nature journals! Below are some prompts taken from Clare Walker Leslie’s The Nature Connection and Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth. All activities can be done throughout the year, not only in September!
It can be helpful to divide your journal page into sections to encourage you to focus on one thing at a time. What colors are you seeing? What sounds are you hearing? What are you observing that indicates it may be September?
2. Create a Nature Quest!
Based on what you know about the Fall and September, create your very own scavenger hunt to guide you through a walk! You can create a checklist, add observations and make notes about what you are seeing. Try to go on a Nature Quest a couple of times throughout the month to see if any of your observations change.
3. Start People Watching!
All of these prompts can be done during any month or any season. Keeping track of changes throughout year helps us to become better naturalists and hone in our observation skills. Knowing what to expect during different times of the year can help us be more tuned in to anything unusual or out of the ordinary happening during the seasons. As always, nature journals are for our thoughts, questions and observations and it is completely up to you to decide how you would like to format and record information. Until next week, happy journaling!
Whether heading outdoors for a weekend adventure, midday stroll, or unplanned backyard break, many people make the choice to leave their phones off or behind to fully immerse themselves in their natural surroundings. It makes sense, having the temptation of checking the newest Instagram post, knowing whether your boss finally got back to you, or figuring out who’s around for dinner next Saturday night can certainly take away from being present, but what about all the ways our phones can help facilitate our relationship with the natural world around us?
I know, it sounds counterintuitive, go grab your phone so that you can connect more with nature. To be perfectly honest, I was skeptical about taking my phone with me on walks but the more I began to think of my phone less as a phone and more like an extremely convenient pocket guide, the more comfortable I became using it while I was hiking. Now, it helps me with identifying new plants and animals, finding cool new trails to explore, and keeping an eye out for unusual sightings. Not everyone will enjoy having their phones with them while they are out exploring, and not everyone will love the same apps, but if you are someone who finds yourself wanting to keep track of the things you are seeing, explore new areas, and know what you can find nearby, here are some pretty cool apps to consider downloading for your next outdoor adventure.
Merlin Bird ID and eBird
Merlin Bird ID is an app designed to help with all things related to bird identification. Developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, this app will help you determine the bird you are trying to identify based on the sounds it makes, its physical features, and the area where you are seeing it! You can download specific bird lists depending on what part of the country you are in, which means that the list is accessible even while you are disconnected from other features on your phone. Recently, there has been an update to the app that allows you to take a photo of the bird you are trying to identify so that Merlin can suggest possible species that your image could be by using a database of other bird photos and birds found in your area. Merlin is able to make such specific suggestions by tapping into another program called eBird.
I like to think of eBird as the iNaturalist for birds. It’s a tool that allows you to record observations and see what birds other eBird community members have been seeing near you. You can share your lists with friends through the app and keep track of who is seeing what, where. You can upload photos if you want, but the majority of bird sightings do not require photos. Sometimes the app requires photos if you make an unusual sighting. If you are planning a birding trip ahead of time, there is an option to print out checklists based on observations from people who have already been birding at the location you are visiting.
eBird is a great way to keep track of the birds that you’ve seen throughout your life and helps keep scientist on top of tracking bird populations at different times throughout the year!
All of the trails offered via this app are uploaded by community members and often have suggestions on routes to take and how strenuous the walk or hike is. There are also options for application members to rate the walks on a scale from 0 to 5 stars and leave comments to help others determine whether or not these hikes are a good match for them. Similarly to eBird and iNaturalist, All Trails allows you to document the places you visit and keep a running list of your walks. Not only can you keep a list, but you can even record your walks to keep track of the miles you traveled and what pace. You can also create lists of walks that you would like to do and check them off as you explore them!
Between learning about the flora and fauna of an area through iNaturalist, Merlin Bird ID, and eBird and keeping track of your hikes with All Trails, your phone can be a valuable resource to connect you with the natural world and help you to record your findings. There is certainly a benefit from completely cutting off, but if you are wanting to learn more and explore new areas, these apps can be really helpful. Not only are you learning more about the natural world, but with each observation, you add to a pool of data that can be used by community members, scientists and researchers to learn more about our planet and all that it has to offer!
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