Keeping a Field Journal

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

– Albert Einstein

 

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You’ve got your tent pitched and your fire pit set up-you’re finally at home in the wilderness. But one of the best parts of being in nature is exploring it,  and discovering the plants and animals that call your campsite home, sweet home. Keeping a field journal is a fun way to record what you see or hear while in the great outdoors. In it you can make drawings, describe in detail the plants and animals you come across, and collect leaves and flowers to press and tape right into your book. When you get home, you can gather more information at the library, local wildlife center, botanic garden, or online.

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What you need:

  • Sketchbook
  • Pencil
  • Colored pencils or markers
  • Watercolor set with brushes (optional)
  • Camera (optional)
  • Envelopes for holding any leaf, flower, feather, or other natural treasures that you may find along the trail.

You may find a pair of binoculars to come in handy. They will help you scope out wildlife from a safe distance!

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What You Do:

Get Organized

Before you begin, think about how you want to organize your journal. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Organize by environment. If you camp in areas that have different climates and types of plant and animal life-say the woods one weekend, the desert another- you might want to make sections in your journal for every kind of place you go!
  • Organize by topic. Have an animal section, a plant section, bug section, and rock section. Add new entries to each part according to what you see.
  • Organize by camping trip. Keep a running journal of your trips. Gather your information, make sketches, and record your thoughts by journey.
  • Keep two journals. Make one a free-forum for notes, sketches, and collages of leaves, bark, and feathers. Then keep a second, more polished book where you can categorize the random info from the other book.

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Gather the Essentials

Before each entry, write down the date, time, name of your location, and other information that will provide the what, where, and when.

  • Date. Time of year can play a big part in what you see in the wild. In the autumn, many animals migrate and others are busy gathering food for the winter. Leaves begin to turn colors and fall. This season is great for watching foragers-animals that gather their food and hide it for safe-keeping-such as squirrels and chipmunks. In the spring, many animals search for mates, graze for food, and have babies. Trees begin to bud and flowers bloom. Spring is a great time to look and listen for songbirds. Winter is sort of quiet for some animals, but you’ll see lots of activity in the summertime.
  • Time of day.  Most critters are more active at dawn and dusk (though some, like owls and snakes, are more lively at night). So if you want to spot these animals or insects, plan to get up early or stay up late. Some plants are more active at different times of day as well, like the morning glory,a flowering vine that usually blooms in the morning and closes during the day.
  • Notes on the environment.  Are you exploring a pine forest? Wading in a brook? Sitting on a rock at the oceans edge? Describe where you are and what it looks, sounds, and smells like.
  • What’s the weather?  Is it sunny, snowy, or somewhere in between?

 

Gather Information:

A field journal can document more than just animals-it can include bugs and plant life, too. Here’s a general list of questions to ask yourself.

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Animals

  • Describe the animal. What did it look like? What was its behavior? Did it make a sound? Where did you see it? Was it alone?
  • Did it leave behind any tracks? How many toes were on each foot? Are there claws? What is the shape and size of the toe pads and the heel? What kind of pattern do the tracks make as a group? Sketch the track(s) in your journal, then try to identify them.
  • Identify the animal. Is it a mammal, bird, reptile, or amphibian? When you get home, you may want to research the animal further. Leave space to write your findings. Some questions to consider: Does the male look any different from the female? What kind of home does it live in? What are its feeding habits? How does its body develop or change over its lifetime?

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Insects

  • Carefully collect an insect (for observation only) and describe it. What color is it? Does it have wings? How many legs does it have? How many antennae? Any weird behavior?
  • Identify the insect. Leave room in your journal for answers to these questions (you may need to do some research). Where does the bug live? Does the male look different from the female? Is the insect part of a colony? What is its life cycle?

 

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Plants

  • Choose a plant. Draw it, and if there are any leaves, flowers, branches, or bark  on the ground nearby, paste them in. We love pressing the plants into our journals to make them last longer.
  • Describe the plant. What kind of leaves does it have? How tall is the plant or tree? What is its overall shape? Are there any flowers? If so, what do they look and feel like? What color and texture are the bark or stems? Where does the plant live? Is the soil wet, or dry, dirt or sand? Can you tell how the seeds move around?
  • Identify the plant. Using information you gathered, do some research at home to figure out what kind of plant it is. If you like, leave room in your journal to answer the following questions: What is the life cycle? Does the plant serve as food or shelter for any animal? Does the plant lose its leaves in the fall?

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Keeping a field journal is a little like writing in a diary, except instead of writing about yourself, you write about what you observe all around you. It’s great fun, and provides a wonderful keepsake to remember your trips by! If you aren’t able to get outdoors much this summer, be sure to check out Nature Anatomy! It’s one of our favorite completed nature journals!

 

Great Games for the Car- Part 2

Continuing from yesterday’s post, here are some more of our favorite road trip games!

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The Minister’s Cat:

This is an oldie but goodies. Players take turns coming up with adjectives to describe the minister’s cat, starting with A. “The minister’s cat is an (angry) cat.” The next player repeats the sentence with a B word, and the play progresses through the alphabet.

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A, My Name Is Annie:

Starting with A, players describe a person, that person’s friend, where they are both from, and what they’re selling. For example: A, my name is Annie, my friend’s name is Alex, we come from Alaska, and we’re here to sell you apples. The next player starts with B. If you can’t come up with a sentence, you’re out.

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License Plate Bingo:

You’ll need paper and pencils for this game. Make a bingo card by drawing a grid of five boxes across and five boxes down. Fill the boxes with letters from the alphabet-either in order or at random. Put the Z in the center box along with whatever letter is already there (there are only 25 boxes, so you have to double up in one in order to fit all 26 letters). Now look at the license plates around you and check off the letters that you see. When you get a straight line up, down, across, or diagonal, you win!

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Guess the Number:

One player thinks of a number (between 1 and 1,000) The other players must guess what number it is. The person who is thinking of a number can only say “higher” or “lower”, narrowing  down the choices until one of the player gets it right. The winner gets to think of the next number.

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Bizz, Buzz:

This is a counting game. Each player takes turns counting-player one says, “1”; player two says “2,” etc. But every time a player gets to a number with a 3 in it, they must shout “Bizz!” instead of “3.” (That’s 3,13,23, etc). Want to make it harder? Every 3 is a bizz, and every 7 is a buzz. If you mess up, you’re out. (This is one of our favorites. It is tons of fun with a large group!)

 

What’s your favorite road trip game!? 🙂

Great Games for the Car!

You’re in the backseat, on the way to the campsite, but the ride goes on and on and on. Mile after mile, the minutes drag. You twitch. You fidget. You ask, “How much longer?”, and still only five minutes pass. Well, fidget no more!! 🙂 These games will make even the longest car trips zip along. They are designed with everyone in mind. You can involve the whole car (though you might want to leave the driver alone), or  just enlist your backseat pal. With some minor tweaks, you can even play the games on your own. Keep score if you want, and eliminate players or assign penalties. Set time limits, or check the odometer to use distance-a number of miles-to signal the end of a game.

 

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The ABC Game:

Look for something that begins with he letter A. You can look at the scenery, or use signs, billboards, and even license plates. Once you get something with the letter A (such as automobile, antenna or apple tree) move on to B, and so forth-until you make your way through the alphabet. You can all play at the same time or take turns.

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Going on a Safari:

In this game, a player starts with the letter A and says: “I’m going on a safari and I’m taking an…” The player says something that starts with the letter A (let’s say apple). The next player repeats the line with the first player’s objects and then adds one beginning with B. “I’m going on a safari and I’m taking an apple and a bench.” The third player then continues with the letter C, and so on! Anyone who makes a mistake or can’t come up with the name of a new object is out. The surviving player wins! (This is one of our favorites)! 🙂

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Destination:

This game is a bit harder. Players start with the letter A and then make up sentences that have a destination, a mode of transportation, and an activity that all begin with that letter. For example: “I’m going to Alabama on an alligator to anchor a boat.” The next player has B-“I’m going to Bavaria on a bus to buy a hat”-and it goes on from there! Tons of fun! 🙂

 

Those are just a few of the fun car games you can play! We’ll add more on our next post!! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Camping 101

Campcraft- “While camping you are at the mercy of natural forces, and your activities will be dominated by the times of sunrise and sunset, changes in the weather, the lie of the land, the nearest water and supply of fuel. Your comfort will depend on your skills in choosing a suitable site, erecting a shelter, building a fire and establishing a smooth routine. When you leave there should be no trace of your stay.”

There are very few perfect campsites, so when choosing a site you will probably have to compromise to some extent. Obviously your priorities will vary depending on how long you are going to stay there, and how large your camp will be, but it is a good idea to have some general principles in mind during the selection process so that you know what to look out for! 🙂

 

 

When to look for your campsiteIf your campsite is to be an overnight stop on the trail you should start to look for a suitable place at least two to three hours before it gets dark. By that time you will need to have settled in and pitched your tents and your food preparations should be well under way. Be prepared to stop short of your intended destination for that day if you find a spot that looks ideal. You may even want to backtrack a little if you do go on but the terrain ahead fails to offer further viable sites.

what to look for

Try to avoid extreme conditions of any kind. In hot countries you will find it a great advantage to have some natural shade on your campsites. In colder areas your priority is likely to be natural shelter from wind. Always try to find a site that is well drained; this usually means looking for a reasonably high site. Not only will you avoid marshy, damp ground, but you will also not find yourself in a pocket of cold air during the night. If it is windy, you will need space to pitch your tents with doors facing away from the wind.

It will be an advantage if the site has it’s own water supply but you should always check to see where the water comes from. Just because local people drink it, it does not mean that it is safe for you to drink. Unless you have a good evidence to the contrary, you should always regard water as contaminated and treat it accordingly. Don’t be tempted to camp too near a water source, such as a stream, as it may attract clouds of biting insects in the evening, and may be a place where animals come to drink.

camp layout

The layout of your camp will be dictated by the site you have chosen, the climate conditions, the size of the camp and personal preferences. There are, however, some golden rules to follow for the sake of the safety and well-being of the campers! 🙂

Positioning Tents: Try to pitch tents with their back into the prevailing wind. If possible, use either a belt of trees or bushes to form a natural windbreak. If hot weather conditions make shade important then choose a place under some trees, but remember that falling twigs and branches will be likely. Make sure your sleeping area is well away from the cooking area and toilet area, and upwind of them if there is prevailing wind. 😉

Toilets: if there are no permanent toilets on the site,construct a toilet downwind of the tents and away from sleeping and cooking areas, with natural screening or  bivvy bag or groundsheet for privacy. You can dig a hole in the ground with a trowel or knife for solid waste, covering it with soil after use and burning toilet paper.

Washing Areas: If you are going to have an area dedicated to washing clothes, keep this area away from cooking and sleeping areas. Site any clothes lines well away from where people will be walking, especially at night.

Where To Site A Fire: If you are going to have a fire, light it well away from the tents, as sparks can fly out and burn holes in the material. Also make sure it is a downwind of the tents, on a flat area well away from trees and bushes.

Kitchen: Site the food preparation area some distance from where you will be sleeping, so that if an animal is attracted by the smells of food during the night, you will not be disturbed. Also, any flies attracted to your cooking will be well away from your sleeping area. If you can, have an extra tent near the cooking area for the storage of food. Do not keep food inside a tent where anyone is sleeping.

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Lastly: Have FUN!!! There is no other activity that we have done that creates so many lasting memories! 🙂