Kathy: I am very excited to have my friend, Cindy West of Our Journey Westward on the show today. She is the author of Nature Explorers and No Sweat Nature Study Live, and an expert in all things nature study. As such, we are going to be discussing 5 things to study in nature this spring. Welcome Cindy! I’m so glad to have you on the Homeschool 5 in 10.
Cindy: I am so glad to be here. Thanks for asking me!
Kathy: I am so glad to have you. Before we get started…for the rest of you, in case you haven’t noticed, we are actually recording video today as well as audio so if you like watching on YouTube, click on over to check us out and let me know what you think. I would like to know if you like this new format, and if so, we might repeat it again.
That being said, let’s get started. Cindy, what are some things we should be looking for in nature this spring, and where might we look to find them all?
Cindy: That is a great question. So you can look almost anywhere. You do not have to go any specific place to see signs of spring. If you’ve got a view out a window, you will begin to see those. If you can get outside, all the better.
But some things you can look for…trees…some of them are already beginning to bud out; some of them are very early. So you can watch for things budding on trees. You can watch for new growth in flowers and grasses, believe it or not. Those are pretty interesting. There are lots of varieties of grasses to see grow and to watch for their differences and things.
Bugs–they began to emerge in the spring, and so you will begin to see flies, and really you can watch for caterpillars and things. There are all kinds of different bugs in various stages of their life cycles in the spring.
Let’s see what else…migrating birds. Birds are fantastic! Pretty much wherever you live you will find birds migrating in or out depending on where you are in the spring time. And then where I live in Kentucky, rain and things that go with rain like puddles and mushrooms and just a significant new growth in green colors and length on trees and length in grass–all of those things are just happening big time in the spring.
Kathy: Okay, so you’ve got a whole lot there. Let’s break it down a little bit, and let’s talk about bugs first. What kind of things are we looking for with bugs?
Cindy: All right so you’re looking for the bugs are flying around and crawling. You are looking for caterpillars. You’re looking for egg sacks. So where I live, we find eggs…we don’t actually find the eggs. We see the proof that there are eggs in things like web sacks, typically in trees, the nooks and crannies of trees. That’s an easy place to find signs of eggs. Now I don’t tear into those and find the eggs or find the larva as they come out because I just don’t want to do that. I don’t want to disturb their life cycle.
We also have this really cool type of egg sack. It looks likes spit. It’s called a spittle bug. And it looks like a little sacks of spit that you can find. I am not particularly sure the plant (there may be more than one plant that it’s found on), but it’s typically found on one type of plant here in Kentucky, in where the leaves and the stem go together. You can find it right in there, sometimes just sitting on the stem. They’re pretty easy to see.
Now depending on where you live I don’t know that you will have those but in the spring you can find eggs and larva in and, just all the things, from crawly caterpillars all the way to adult bugs that are crawling and flying.
Bugs to Study This Spring
Kathy: Okay, so whenever we’re looking at these bugs, what do we do? Do we classified them, or do we draw? What‘s a good recommendation for us to do when we actually see something?
Cindy: Okay, well you get to do whatever you want. That’s what I always like to say. Whenever you think about nature study, it is very often thought that you go outside, you check your nature journal, and you draw what you see. Maybe you label some parts. Maybe you tell what you’ve seen. You can certainly do that. That’s a fantastic thing to do!
But, you can also do simple observations of “let’s watch this bug move.” If we have something as slow as an ant, for instance, we can watch. Just sit for 10 minutes and watch the ant(s) move. What are they doing? You can sketch that movement. You can sketch the entire scene of what’s happening and how this ant is over there grabbing a piece of a morsel of something. And then there’s a whole line of them going in and out of their anthill.
You can measure things. So if you find a bug that is still (the ones that fly–they’re not only difficult to observe but certainly to do things like measure or even keep up with where they’re going…I’m thinking in particular of like a butterfly. They’re sometimes hard to keep your eyes on). But if you’ve got a slow critter you can certainly bring along a little ruler to measure some things. You could sketch that in your nature journal, write the measurements.
You can bring along field guides or picture books and just learn a little bit. Writing something in the nature journal is a great idea, but it does not always have to happen that way. Sometimes a simple reading or discussion works perfectly.
Birds to Study This Spring
Kathy: Perfect. Okay so we’ve talked about bugs. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the birds, which is my favorite thing about spring by the way. I love the birds coming out and the flowers…oh wait…we’re talking about birds. Let’s talk about birds.
Cindy: Okay so birds–you’re watching for a lot of movement in the spring. You’re also listening for a lot of sounds because bird calls are very specific to activities that they’re doing. So you’ll hear sounds that are mating. You’ll hear sounds that are mom’s calling to babies or babies calling to moms. You will hear squawks of alarm, and sometimes you can’t necessarily tell what you’re hearing unless you look it up online. So if you can figure out that you’re seeing a certain type of bird, you can say “what are the bird calls of a blue jay?” for instance. And then you can listen and say, “oh, what we were just hearing was an alarm call.” That must mean there was a predator in the area or something like that. So listen for sounds even if you can’t identify them. It’s incredible to try to hear different sounds among different bird species. And, if you’ve only got one in the area, what different sounds is that particular bird making.
And then, of course, there’s all the observation. Can you see their flight patterns, their colors, where are they nesting, what do their nests look like…. We don’t want to touch eggs. We don’t want to get too near to a nest whether their eggs or babies in there, because that’s detrimental to the babies. But you can observe from a distance if they haven’t hidden their nests too much. Nests sometimes are easier to find in the fall when the leaves have fallen off a trees though, because they do camouflage those nests well.
Kathy: Well, and I’ve learned the hard way–we have blue jays come to our backyard every year and the blue jays kick the babies out. And so they are on the ground, and I didn’t know this the first year, and so we actually try to rescue a baby blue jay and learned the wrong way–that’s not what you’re supposed to do. So anyway, yes, I got that!
Let’s go on to flowers. Tell me a few things. I love the flowers that come out in spring. They’re so beautiful! But what are a few things we can observe about flowers?
Flowers to Study This Spring
Cindy: Well there are a million things to observe about flowers. Let me give you my most favorite thing to do. That is to invest in a field guide. It can be any field guide that floats your fancy. I like the ones particularly that have to do with your own state if there is such a thing.
Kathy: We have one—It’s Birds in Oklahoma.
Cindy: Yes, so you could do this with honestly any topic. This is not just a wild flower topic, but this is where we started with this idea, and it’s one of my favorites ever! You essentially have this field guide, and you go on multiple walks through a season, and you have a little tiny sheet of those small stickers (you know, like little tiny smiley faces or flowers…whatever…just little tiny stickers), and when you happen upon a flower that you haven’t seen before, you try to identify it in your field guide. And when you find it, you stick a little sticker on that page, on that picture, and that reminds you that you actually have seen that flower before in your area. You can carry that on through all seasons. You can even carry it through to other areas that you visit as well.
But that’s one of my favorite things to do because it gets us doing a few things. First, learning to identify something. Flowers are much easier to identify because they stand still. So we can look at them for long periods of time. But it also helps our observation skills, because we really have to determine–are we seeing this shade of pink this shade of pink, how many petals are we seeing, where the leaves located on the stems. So it really helps our identification processes to do that very simple activity.
Kathy: I have a daughter that particularly likes our field guides, and I haven’t done the sticker thing. She will love that! That’s a great idea.