Evening Shadows
On the Autumn Trail ...

Our Nature Study Club

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We've been nature nuts enthusiasts as long as I can remember, and our backyard will always be our favorite place to observe nature - as you can tell from my nature notes it provides a steady stream of interest! - but there's something to be said about getting out in "the wild," and observing nature in larger, less civilized places. And when you get a whole bunch of kids together for just such an expedition, why the enthusiasm is downright contagious!

So, this idea had been rattling around in my brain for well over a year: an organized monthly nature study club for homeschooling families. I happen to belong to a terrific support group, with many active and enthusiastic members. I wondered, though, how many people would be interested in nature study? My April support group meeting on this theme drew only a very small crowd. Well, I put the idea out in our group's summer newsletter and arranged an initial meeting to discuss ideas. I was so excited when I had many responses (25 in all) from old friends and new faces alike!

Our first meeting was just for parents - we met at a local coffeeshop one evening to discuss how the group might be organized. We decided once a month was a good starting place. We narrowed it down to a convenient day and time, then set about planning our themes.

Our first meeting in September (the pictures from which are below) was organized by yours truly: a fall scavenger hunt held at a nearby forested reservation. Now, as much as I'd love to organize every month's meeting, I don't have the time, nor should I have all the fun! So future months will be organized by other members. So far our themes include:

  • October: Autumn Birds
  • November: Late Autumn Nature (Squirrels and Hibernation)
  • December: Winter Solstice
  • January: Animal Tracks in the Snow
  • February: TBA
  • March: Maple Sugaring
  • April: Tidepools
  • May: Water Ecology
  • June: Insects

I'm so excited for each and every month's meeting! It's great to know we will be doing a nature walk at least once a month! An added bonus - the themes give us a framework for our own nature study at home.

Below are pictures from last month's gathering. It was a perfect day - sunny, warm but not hot. Glorious early fall.

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Working with our scavenger hunt lists, we found something to check off right away - a flower still blooming:

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Jewelweed! One of the moms showed the chidlren how the pods will pop open to reveal a tiny jewel inside. I remember this plant from my childhood, it grows wild all over New England.

There were interesting examples of fungi all over the place, especially on trees:

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Way up high ...

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And way down low ...

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It was everywhere we looked!

One of the clues on our list was a three-colored leaf. On this one we counted four shades!

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Animal signs included large nests in the trees (possibly squirrel dreys):

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And we also found two kinds of fur, the first being identified as skunk by its appearance and odor ...

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While the second was harder to identify. It was light yellow in color, but did not appear to be dog fur. A mystery!

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We also found some scat, but I won't post a picture of that (yes I took pictures!). It too was hard to identify, though one boy had brought an excellent field guide that showed many kinds of mammal scat.

At the end of the walk we gathered under a gazebo to do some leaf and fern rubbings. Then most of the kids ran off to play a neat game about the food chain.

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Someone found an interesting yellow caterpillar:

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Someone else found a cocoon that had burst open - there were tiny dead caterpillars all over it. Wonder what caused them to die?

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This was very neat: a salamander! Look closely and you can see him inside this observation jar:

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We capped the day off with a little rock climbing ...

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... and, I think, a good time was had by all. Look at those shiny faces!

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At our September meeting we had 15 families participate, and at today's October meeting we will have 15 again! Fifteen homeschooling famlies translates into a lot of kids! But they were so well-behaved and enthusiastic. We can't wait to see everyone again later today.

You can be sure I'll be taking lots of pictures. :) The weather is quite Octobery here. ... a dense morning fog is just moving off and the sun seems to want to make an appearance. It's actually quite mild, and as far as I can tell (from multiple sources) the rain should hold off until tonight. Well, I'm off to pack up our birding paraphernalia, and will be back later to report in ...

Have a great day, everyone!

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