Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Winter Wildflowers: Violets

This week as part of the Winter Wildflower blog-a-thon at Wildflower Morning, we were asked to come up with some literary connection to wildflowers. I remembered that I had just the thing for this entry.

I recently read a really interesting book about flowers. 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells was a quick, fun read and was packed full of interesting tidbits about how both garden and wildflowers got their names.

According to the author about the violet:
Common Names: Violet, pansy, heart's-ease, Johnny-jump-up, love in idleness
Botanical Name: Viola

She also relates the story of how violets became associated with love. Let's just say it has something to do with the Greek gods Zeus, Hera, and a heifer.

She includes literary connections to violets by referring to works that violets play a part in like Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. She also relates a story about violets that has to do with Napoleon.

"When Napoleon was banished to Elba, he said he would 'return with the violets.' When he did return, Josephine was dead, and he picked violets from her grave before being exiled again to St. Helena. They were found in a locket, along with a lock of hair, when he died."

We are going to keep this little book handy as we enter the spring term and our study of garden flowers. Each flower has a small illustration at the beginning of the chapter. I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in short accounts for many common flowers. I got my book on but you can find it used on for less than a dollar.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Some other flowers included in the book: dahlia, daffodil, daylily

Monday, January 28, 2008

Winter Wildflower Identified: California Wild Radish

Thanks to my blog reader, Shelly, I have now been able to identify my winter wildflower as California Wild radish. (see my original entry) I appreciate all her efforts to help me figure out what my find was. When I had originally observed this plant from 60 mph along the freeway, I did think it was mustard. It wasn't until I got out of the car and looked up close at it that I realized that it wasn't just yellow like mustard and that the flowers were very different and a variety of colors. The article that I linked to above explains that many times it is mistaken for mustard.

California Wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum)

More interesting reading on the California Wild Radish. This will fit in with our current study of biology very nicely. I love it when we can make connections like that.

Thanks again Shelly,
Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Snowshoe Adventure: Tahoe Snowshoe Hare

This was an outdoor weekend spent in the Sierras. We spent an afternoon taking a hike on snowshoes. It looks really cold and dreary in this photo but it was really not all that cold...above freezing by a few degrees. I could have done with a few less layers. :) I took off my gloves for awhile and that helped. Most people we saw on the trail were on cross country skis but we enjoyed the crunch, crunch , crunch of snowshoes. I was on the lookout for mammal tracks.

(as usual, click to make the photos larger)

We saw lots of canine tracks beside the trail but as we worked our way up from the lake into the conifers, we were rewarded with these tracks.

In this area there were many little "rabbit trails" giving us a clue as to what sort of mammal was in the area. I came home and discovered that they are more than likely Tahoe Snowshoe Hare tracks. (Lepus americanus tahoensis) See snowshoe hare.

We are new to identifying tracks so if anyone thinks they are from a different animal, please leave me a comment.

Not only did we see some mammal tracks but we were treated to a "new to us" bird. The red-breasted nuthatch. He was seen clinging to the side of this pine, sticking his head into little holes looking for some bark insects. He moved easily in all directions while clinging to the bark. Amazing.

Red-breasted nuthatch

I was busy taking photos when a bunch of ducks flew into view. We saw them later eating some seeds that a fellow hiker had left along the shore. They were later joined by a few Canadian geese.

So I think we had a successful outing....we did manage to find some mammal tracks in the snow and that was our aim.

From the Handbook of Nature Study, page 217,
" An interesting relative of the cottontail is the varying hare or snow-show rabbit that lives in the wooded regions of north-eastern North America. Of all animals he is one of the most defenseless; foxes, mink, and other flesh-eating inhabitants of the woods find him an easy prey. He has not even a burrow to flee to when pursued by his enemies.....He has one important advantage over his enemies: twice each year his heavy coat of fur is shed. In the summer the coat is a reddish brown that so blends with his surroundings that he is hardly noticeable; in the winter it is perfectly white so that against a background of snow he is nearly invisible."
Anna Botsford Comstock has included pages 215-219 with information on the cotton-tailed rabbit. I found these pages very useful in coming up with a way to study our snowshoe hare. Even though the information doesn't completely apply to our hare, we can adapt her activities to our study.

Winter nature study at its best.
Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Winter Wildflowers: I Can't Believe It

(You can click on any photo to make it larger.)

Wildflower Morning is sponsoring a winter wildflower blog-a-thon and this week we were challenged to find a wildflower that blooms in winter. I thought this was a pretty daunting task considering it has been snowing off and on for a few weeks here in our area of northern California.

But I was so surprised on Monday when my husband and I were driving down the mountain and I actually saw some areas with wildflowers blooming right along the road. I had to go back with my camera and take some photos for you all to see. It actually started hailing on me while I was shooting these photos and my husband thought I was a little crazy for sticking it out.

I think I was a little wildflower starved because I took a lot of photos. I want to thank Elizabeth Joy for sponsoring this event. If I hadn't had the challenge on my mind, I might have missed noticing these beautiful wildflowers. I had my eyes open and alert the last few days searching for something to photograph. I was rewarded for my diligence. Scroll down after the wildflower photos, you will see the added gift I was given while I was photographing the flowers.

I have yet to identify the flowers so I will come back and edit if I come up with something. I tried for about an hour with my field guide and the internet and didn't come up with a name. I am sure someone knows what they are.....pretty much the same, just different colors.

As I got out of the car, my husband motioned for me to look up. There was a hawk circling around right above us! He performed just for us as I scrambled back into the car to grab my new Flip Video camera. This little camera is so awesome and this was just what I purchased it for...all those little impromptu moments you want to capture on video. Here is a treat for you to watch. Our own personal performance from a very happy hawk. It is only about two minutes of video but you will get the idea of how he was soaring on the air just before the big hail and snow. If you wait until about 1:45 into the video, you will see a good view of the hawk.

Make video montages at

I look forward to seeing everyone's winter wildflowers.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Winter Photo Walk: Insects, Trees, and Sky

(click to make photos larger)
Today was such a sunny day in our area and I needed a little "photo therapy". I went out in the garden and took about 50 photos. This little winged insect was sitting so still on the lavender blossom. There were actually a few blossoms with such beautiful colors in the brilliant sunshine.

I don't know what kind of insect this is but I will keep on trying to identify who he is. I think it is okay to not actually identify each and every insect we find but keep it as a work in progress.

How about this sky?

From page 624 in the Handbook of Nature Study regarding tree study, winter work:
"1. Make a sketch of the tree in your notebook, showing its shape as it stands bare." or "3. Take a twig of a tree in February and look carefully at the buds. What is their color? Are they shiny, rough, sticky, or downy?" or "4. What birds do you find visiting your tree during winter."

Check out all the ideas in your copy of the book.

Look at this silhouette!

One last photo.
Could that be my bulbs sprouting already?

Have a great afternoon,
Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Bird's Nests in Winter: We Found One!

(click to make the photos larger)

Here is the whole nest that we found under a tree in our front yard. It is amazingly made with small little twigs and hair. Here is a close-up.

I have no idea what kind of bird made this nest. We do know we have a scrub jay that nests in this tree but this is so small it can't possibly be the jay's.

On page 46 of the Handbook of Nature Study under the sub-heading:The Study of Birds' Nests in Winter:
"But after the birds have gone to sunnier climes and the empty nests are the only mementos we have of them, then we may study these habitations carefully and learn how to appreciate properly the small architects which made them. I think that every one of us who carefully examines the way that a nest is made must have a feeling of respect for its clever little builder."

I couldn't agree more.
Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Morning at the Birdfeeder

(house finch)
Just a few photos from this morning at the birdfeeders. It is a bright sunny day, at least at the moment.

(lesser goldfinches)
We have had house finches, dark-eyed juncos, scrub jays, lesser goldfinches, house sparrows, and a few titmouses visiting so far.

Have a great weekend.
Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Handbook of Nature Study: Friend or Foe?

There it is, Handbook of Nature Study, sitting on your bookshelf. Now what?

My copy of the
Handbook of Nature Study sat on my shelf for a couple of years and I finally sold it on ebay. Yes, you heard me right. I got tired of dusting it and feeling as if I should be doing something with it when I couldn't figure it out at all. So now you are wondering what happened to bring me around to where I am now. Simply put, I stopped fighting it.

I checked it out from the library and took some time to page through it. I read blogs where families actually used the book, encouraging me to give it a real try this time. We already had a love of nature in our family but we really wanted to have a better way of studying things in nature in a little more systematic way.

Maybe it was not the book that was the problem for us.

Since I trusted
Ambleside Online's ideas for many subjects already, it was a natural fit to try their system for nature study. I went to their nature study page and read the whole thing. I then read the information in the Charlotte Mason volumes about outdoor time and nature study. I read other blogs that used the
Handbook of Nature Study. In other words, I did a little bit of homework and came up with a plan for our family.

Tips from our experiences:
  • Pick three sections of the book to cover in your school year....four if you want to cover one over the summer too. Try to think of things you will actually be able to observe in your course of everyday life. Do you have a birdfeeder? Do you have a pet cat or dog? Do you have a place to grow a few vegetables? Do you enjoy keeping track of the weather or looking at the clouds?
  • Start with something you will enjoy.
  • As the parent/guide, read the introduction to the section you are going to study a few times over. I have found that just reading these few pages opens your eyes to a lot of ideas for further study on the topic chosen. Use the information and suggested activities as a place to start your study of a particular animal or aspect of nature.
  • Make notes in the book or in a notebook with ideas for your study.
  • Go through your personal library and check for any reference items you may have on the subject of your study. I was surprised when I did this to find that I already owned quite a few books to go along with our fall study of insects. Check your library for books and field guides too.
  • Our family enjoys identifying things we find on our nature outings. This means we need to have a basic field guide to go along with our study since the Handbook of Nature Study is NOT a field guide.
Yes, I finally purchased the Handbook of Nature Study for the second time and this time around it is getting used weekly. I had tried to use the online version by printing out only the pages I needed but that was too much work. Having my own copy at my fingertips has been a blessing this past term. Our nature study has taken on a new level of interest. Hope this helps someone get started with this valuable book.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Looking for Mammal Prints and A New Bird

We have had our eye out for critter prints but the only one we have seen that has been clear enough to really recognize is this dog print along our walking trail. We are not giving up though, the winter is still young.

From the
Handbook of Nature Study, page 254:
"The dog's feet are much more heavily padded than those of the cat, because in running he must not stop to save his feet. Hounds often return from a chase with bleeding feet, despite the heavy pads, but the wounds are usually cuts between the toes. The claws are heavy and are not retractile; thus, they afford a protection to the feet when running, and they are also used for digging out game which burrows into the ground. They are not used for grasping prey like those of the cat and are used only incidentally in fighting, while the cat's claws are the most important weapons in her armory."

Handbook of Nature Study has many suggestions for observations of dogs. The section starts on page 254 and ends on page 260.

The most exciting news is that our birdfeeders have been very busy. We even identified a new bird. It was the Cassin's finch. It looks very much like the purple finch but the coloring on the head is much more pronounced. I also found a great new bird identification site that not only is an online field guide, it also has a button to hear the bird songs online. Eureka! I have wanted to start to learn to identify birds by their songs so this is perfect.

Click on the image to make it larger!

Have you ever seen a guard llama? We were out on a new section of our local walking trail and this is the scene that we observed. My son told me that he had seen on a nature show that a llama will actually guard a herd of sheep. I had never heard of this before so I had to come home and research it. He was right! Here is an article that I found on this subject.
Guard Llamas
You learn something new every day.

There is no information in the Handbook of Nature Study on llamas...not surprised at that. There is a section starting on page 270 that talks about sheep.

From page 273:
"The dog is the ancient enemy of sheep: and even now, after hundreds of years of domestication, some of our dogs will revert to savagery and chase and kill sheep.....The collie, or sheep dog, has been bred so many years as the special caretaker of sheep, that a beautiful relationship has been established between these dogs and their flocks."

Well, that sort of catches you up with our nature study for the past week or two. We are still busy catching up on our drawings in our nature journals for animals we have seen. It is a really good activity for these long, cold afternoons.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom