Naturalist’s Choice

Way back in 2011, these PEEC summer campers learned how to use binoculars while out in the field! Binoculars are one of the tools that naturalists use to make close observations of nature. (Photo by Michele Altherr)

We have reached the end of our Take It Outside summer challenge! By now, we hope you have found some favorite nature topics or favorite activities to do outside. This week, we challenge you to explore one of your favorite topics in more depth, revisit something you tried earlier to see how it has changed with the season, or pick a new topic you’ve been curious about!

We’re also kicking off a new blog series focusing on New Mexico Naturalists. Below, read our profile of our first New Mexico Naturalist, Mariana Rivera Freeman.

Summer Nature Challenge – Due September 1!:

You can earn this binoculars sticker by completing our Naturalist’s Choice challenge!

Finish your summer nature challenge sheet by September 1 to get your stickers! We plan to offer a curbside sticker pickup and passport prize pickup the weekend of September 4 – 6. Keep your eye on our events page for more details soon. You can also mail your completed challenge form to us at 2600 Canyon Rd, Los Alamos, NM 87544, or contact us to arrange a pickup at another time.

If you don’t have a printer or prefer to work online, you can tell us about your experiences in the Google Form below or email us your stories and pictures to


Blog Post & Upcoming Event:

We interviewed PEEC’s Field Science Specialist, Mariana Rivera Freeman, on today’s inaugural New Mexico Naturalist profile. Find out what brought Mariana to nature, and learn about some of her hopes and concerns for us and the place we call home. Come back next month to meet another New Mexico Naturalist!

Join Mariana to hear her discuss her field experiences studying Gunnison’s prairie dogs at Valles Caldera National Preserve this Tuesday, August 4 at 7 PM. Find out more and register for the talk here.

Outdoor Challenges:

This week, you choose the challenges! Here are some of our favorite challenges from the past 20 weeks, along with something new.

Tell us about your favorite outdoor topic or activity! You can do this in the Google Form below, by writing or drawing about them on our summer challenge sheet, or by sending an email to


Challenge #1 – Go Birdwatching

Way back on the very first day of the pandemic closure (seems like 100 years ago!) we challenged you to find as many of the 20 most common birds of Los Alamos as you could. Then, people noticed lots of Spotted Towhees and Dark-eyed Juncos, and nary a hummingbird. That was in March. Try it again in early August, and notice how the birds have changed with the seasons.


Challenge #2 – Fish for Aquatic Creatures

Looking for aquatic creatures is a great way to explore the less-noticed critters that live around you!

In March, most of our surface water came from snowmelt. Then we went through a long dry period, and now we can see water in our canyon bottoms again, due to our monsoon rains. Find a stream or other body of water, and look for aquatic creatures! One of the best ways to find aquatic macroinvertebrates is to pick up rocks, hold them upside down, and look for anything that wiggles. Bring a light-colored tub or container, fill it halfway with water, and carefully transfer your critters to the container to see them better. Try to identify some of your finds using this easy-to-use key.

This time of year, in addition to macroinvertebrates, we can sometimes find vertebrates like tadpoles and adult frogs in still water. See if you can find any of these! Always return your creatures to the wild after you have looked at them.


Challenge #3 – Get a New Perspective

So you think you know your favorite spot? Get a new perspective on it by trying a micro-hike: explore it from the eyes of an ant. Use a piece of string to outline an area of about a square foot or so, and notice everything you can about that microworld. What textures, smells, sights, or even sounds do you notice? What would it be like to wander around as a tiny inhabitant of this spot?


Want to Learn More?

  • Check out the National Phenology Network, which tracks data about seasonal changes around the United States and how these are shifting with global climate change. You can participate as a citizen scientist through their Nature’s Notebook program.
  • Take your observations to the next level and contribute to citizen science! Check out our citizen science activities from back in June for some ideas.
  • Check out this YouTube video for some inspiration on challenge #3. It was filmed with a GoPro to capture life from an ant’s perspective! We also like this photo, which was a part of Smithsonian Magazine’s photo contest, of a tree from an ant’s point of view! Can you capture any photos or videos from a different point of view? If so, we’d love to see them!

Share Your Experience:

Tell us about your outdoor experiences! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside. If you’d like this to count for the Summer Nature Challenge, be sure to include your name and email address.

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