Virtual Field Trip: Animal Tracks

We’ve collaborated with the Winter Wildlands Alliance to bring you this virtual field trip all about animal tracks! Watch the video below to learn more about looking for tracks this winter and enjoy the accompanying activities put together by Winter Wildlands for their virtual SnowSchool.

Thanks to Nathan Chavarria and Danielle Martinez for helping us make this video!

Follow these steps to take this virtual field trip!

1) Watch this video:

Texto del video en español

2) Try this outdoor activity put together by the Winter Wildlands Alliance’s HomeSchool SnowSchool program. (Versión en español)

For more videos and outdoor, snow-focused activities for grades K-12, visit the Winter Wildlands Alliance’s SnowSchool at Home page.

Virtual Field Trip: Spectacularly Spooky Animal Senses

This jumping spider has excellent vision and uses its eyes to hunt prey. (Photo by Beth Cortright)

Find out all about animal senses, and use your senses to explore your world, in this virtual field trip for young children. If you’re a teacher, please contact us at educator@peecnature.org to let us know if you’re using this content in your classroom. Enhanced content may be available for teachers.

Click the links below for a spectacularly spooky animal senses adventure!

1) Watch this video:

Find out how skulls can give us clues to how animals use their senses in this video featuring PEEC Field Science Specialist Mariana Rivera Freeman.

Texto del video en español.

2) Outdoor activity: Animal Senses Scavenger Hunt (Versión en español)

3) Meet PEEC’s Spectacularly Spooky Critters: Meet some of the critters that call the Los Alamos Nature Center home! Watch the recording of our tour here.

Share your experience with us! Email us at educator@peecnature.org to share your pictures and stories. You can rate our field trip using our evaluation form.

Nature Art

Liv Niklasson created this piece of land art in early April and it was still intact in mid-May when she checked up on it! What art can you make with the natural materials around you? (Photo by Siobhan Niklasson)

This week on Take It Outside, learn how local artists have been inspired by the natural world around them, and spend some time making nature art yourself.

This week, we’re also celebrating Los Alamos ScienceFest virtually! See what PEEC has in store for this virtual festival.

Summer Nature Challenge:

Participate in our Summer Nature Challenge! Every week, participants who complete the challenge can earn a sticker. If you finish all nine weeks, you’ll earn a bonus sticker! Find our archive containing all of our past Take It Outside activities here.

Download the challenge sheet here to print out and complete at home. At the end of the challenge, you can either bring it to the nature center or mail it to us at 2600 Canyon Rd, Los Alamos, NM 87544.

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 your stories and pictures to takeitoutside@peecnature.org.

Blog Post:

Patricia Galagan reflects on photographing our forests with her husband Philip Metcalf in the aftermath of the Las Conchas fire. Their book, Fire Ghosts, was published in late 2019 and features their photography portfolios from this project. Learn more about what they learned from this process in this week’s blog post.

Outdoor Challenges:

We’re posting three outdoor challenges today that you can enjoy throughout the week!

Tell us about your experiences with one, two, or all three of them! 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 takeitoutside@peecnature.org.

 

Challenge #1 – Land Art:

Go outside and spend some time getting a feel for the area, then gather natural materials that speak to you. Use them to create land art, ideally using the materials in the area where you found them. If you like, take a picture of your artwork, and share it with us! Leave the art for others to discover, and to break down naturally over time.

See some additional tips here.

 

Challenge #2 – Wildlife Photography:

A male Calliope Hummingbird photographed at a hummingbird feeder. They are the smallest birds in the United States! (Photo by Aditya Viswanathan)

This challenge is from Aditya Viswanathan, a rising sixth-grader from Los Alamos and wildlife photographer.

July is a great time to learn wildlife photography as the hummingbirds are coming to Los Alamos in large quantities. Here are a few activities that you can try to get started or fine-tune your skills. If you have a hummingbird feeder, you can wait for a while and see which hummingbirds come and try to photograph them. Hummingbirds like to visit feeders and you’re more likely to see them at one rather than on a flower. If you don’t have a feeder, try making a simple one from recycled materials! Make sure to get the camera crosshairs on the hummingbird, or else the photo will be blurry. Phones work okay, but cameras (especially ones with zoom lenses) are better if you have one. It will take a bit of practice and patience, but if you stick with it, you should have some very good photos.

If you are ready for a bigger challenge, research which flowers different hummingbirds like. Hint: hummingbirds like red, tubular flowers. If you don’t have any of them, other flowers work too. Wait at a flower of your choice for about half an hour and see if any hummingbirds come. Photographing them at a flower will create a more natural-looking picture. Butterflies and bees may come too, which are also good photo targets.

Another advanced challenge that you can do is try to freeze a hummingbird’s wing while in flight. To do this, adjust the shutter speed in the menus. I recommend 1/1000 seconds for the shutter speed. Please note that some cameras don’t have this feature. I hope you find these activities fun and helpful. Send a picture you snap to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or post it on social media and tag @peecnature!

Challenge #3 – Nature Sketching:

Practice nature sketching this week by drawing the details of different leaves! (Photo by Terry Foxx)

This challenge comes from Teralene Foxx, co-author and illustrator of Plants of the Jemez Mountains, which can be ordered from PEEC’s online shop.

Sketching is a good way of learning and remembering the different shapes and sizes you observe in nature. Wander around your backyard or go on a hike and collect five leaves from five different plants (make sure to stay away from shiny, 3-leaved poison ivy!). Note what plant the leaf comes from: a flower, a shrub, or a tree. Are the leaves positioned opposite each other or do they alternate along the stem? Write down what you see. Look at the top of the leaf and the underside and see any differences.

With a paper and pencil, lay the leaf on the paper and trace around the outside of the leaf. Now you have the outside dimensions of the leaf. Observe the leaf carefully and draw anything you see about the leaf and put the detail into your drawing (e.g. the edge of the leaf, the veins, the color, hairs, texture). Ask yourself: Is the top of the leaf the same color as the bottom of the leaf? Record this information. If you have colored pencils or crayons, you might want to color the leaf. If you have a ruler, you might want to measure the different sizes of leaves and make a note. 

After you practice shapes and sizes of leaves, try drawing a leaf without tracing the outside of the leaf. You will be amazed at the different shapes and sizes of leaves!

 

Want to Learn More?

Share Your Experience:

Tell us about your outdoor experiences! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org 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.

Animals

Mule deer are a common large mammal here in Northern New Mexico. These deer are named for their large, donkey-like ears! (Photo by Mouser Williams)

This week on Take It Outside, explore the world of our local animals. In past Take It Outside posts, we’ve explored reptiles and amphibians, mammals, birds, and insects. Find information and activities about these topics and more on our archive page. This week, we’re exploring aquatic animals, animal signs, and animal behavior in our outdoor challenges. Plus, take a special look at New Mexico’s fish in this week’s blog post!

Summer Nature Challenge:

Participate in our Summer Nature Challenge! Every week, participants who complete the challenge can earn a sticker. If you finish all nine weeks, you’ll earn a bonus sticker! Find our archive containing all of our past Take It Outside activities here.

Download the challenge sheet here to print out and complete at home. At the end of the challenge, you can either bring it to the nature center or mail it to us at 2600 Canyon Rd, Los Alamos, NM 87544.

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 your stories and pictures to takeitoutside@peecnature.org.

Blog Post:

Do you like to fish? Have you ever wondered how native and introduced fish in our ecosystem differ? Casey Harthorn of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish discusses fish in New Mexico, with a special look at our state’s native and introduced trout species. Read his blog post here.

Outdoor Challenges:

We’re posting three outdoor challenges today that you can enjoy throughout the week!

Tell us about your experiences with one, two, or all three of them! 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 takeitoutside@peecnature.org.

 

PEEC campers were able to find frog eggs, tadpoles, and adult frogs in this pool in Acid Canyon. (Photo by Siobhan Niklasson)

Challenge #1 – Aquatic Animals:

Northern New Mexico doesn’t have a lot of water, but aquatic animals are able to find and take advantage of even very small bodies of water to grow and reproduce.

Seek out water in your area, like rivers, lakes or reservoirs, stock ponds, springs, or pools in canyon bottoms, and look for signs of aquatic animals. Here are some things to look for:

  • Adults and larvae of aquatic invertebrates (insects and other small critters)
  • Frog or salamander eggs, tadpoles or nymphs, and adults
  • Fish
  • Birds, reptiles, and mammals visiting water sources

 

Challenge #2 – Animal Scat:

Scat can tell us who was in an area and also what they ate. Go on a hike and look for scat! How many of these can you find? Based on what you find, what types of food are animals eating in your area?

  • Scat containing berries or fruit
  • Scat containing grass or other plants
  • Scat containing fur or bones
  • Scat containing insect parts

Remember that all scat contains bacteria, so don’t touch it with your fingers (use a stick!) and wash your hands when you get home. Stay away from dog poop, which is often very uniform in texture and lacks recognizable food items, since most domestic dogs eat processed dog food. Remember to always clean up your own dog’s poop when out on the trail!

Test your knowledge of animal scat in this poop quiz, too!

Challenge #3 – Animal Behavior:

This squirrel was photographed with a mouth full of nesting materials! (Photo by Mouser Williams)

It’s fascinating to watch animals go about their daily lives. Go outside and find an animal: a bird, insect or other invertebrate, mammal, reptile, amphibian, or fish. Be as still as you can to let it get used to you, and watch what it does. Can you see how it does any of the following things?

  • Gathering food and eating
  • Moving around
  • Regulating its temperature
  • Feeding and caring for young
  • Nesting
  • Taking shelter
  • Interacting with others of the same or another species
  • Communicating with others
  • Defending itself or its young
  • Playing

If you have a nature journal, record some of your observations. Let us know what you notice!

 

Want to Learn More?

Share Your Experience:

Tell us about your outdoor experiences! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org 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.

Sharing Your Space With Wildlife

Never approach wildlife of any size, no matter how big or small. Appreciate critters from inside your home or from a distance outside. The wildlife observation room at the nature center is a great way to see wildlife up close without disturbing it! (Photo by Bob Walker)

By Mariana Rivera Freeman

We’ve all heard the phrase “survival of the fittest,” which has evolved into something apart from its original meaning. But regardless of its Darwinian definition, I actually want you to forget the phrase entirely.

Instead, I want you to think of life on Earth as “survival of the sharers.” A healthy ecosystem is one in which not a single species dominates, but rather many species coexist and share resources. Humans are one of those species. So, in the spirit of “survival of the sharers,” let’s look at a couple of best practices for sharing our backyards with wildlife.

First, Keep Your Distance

It really is special when a wild animal walks through your yard or lands on your balcony, but wildlife is best admired from a respectful distance. Watch from your window, pull out your binoculars, or use a wildlife camera (especially handy at night), but do not approach wildlife.

Personally, I like the peeking-behind-a-curtain method. I’ve been witness to some surprising, even comical, behaviors while hiding my presence. My favorite was a gangly fawn attempting to spar with an antlered buck, who gently pushed the fawn away four or five patient times until the little guy dared to kick him, which you can imagine was not well-received.

Provide Some Resources

Providing water, shelter, and food sources in your yard will attract and provide necessary resources for wildlife, like this Great Horned Owl. (Photo by Hari Viswanathan)

Back in March, we featured an article on certified wildlife habitats. I plan on working on one myself this spring. However, if you aren’t able to certify your space, don’t you worry — you can still provide resources for your wild friends.

If you have trees, cones and acorns, berries, flowers, shade, or water in your yard, you have a resource for wildlife, at no cost or extra effort. The same goes for downed logs, overgrown bushes, and tall grass. Gladly, you needn’t provide for every element of habitat (good news for apartment dwellers!). If you don’t have a yard but you have a bird feeder on a balcony, you’ve got extra sustenance for the birds and they will find habitat somewhere nearby. You can offer other small resources on a balcony like nectar, little fountains, potted plants, and bird or bat houses. You can share your space no matter how large or small.

Set Friendly Boundaries

Of course, all’s well that ends without animals inside the house. Wildlife has a default attitude when it comes to resources: “If no one else is using it, I can use it.” This is the ecology behind survival of the sharers, and how biodiverse life forms can thrive in one ecosystem. 

But it also means that if a gopher can reach your tomatoes, those roots are hers. If a mouse can get into your walls, your house is hers (and so are your wires and insulation!). It takes a bit of extra work, but you can avoid conflict with your animal friends by simply setting some restrictions. Install wiring under and around your garden, erect fencing to protect your landscaping, fix little (or big) holes and crevices in your walls, close your garage at night, and so on. Wildlife can cause considerable damage to your property if you allow it to, even inadvertently, and misunderstandings can be hazardous for you and the animal. So keep everybody safe and happy.

With both caution and admiration, coexisting with wildlife can be as easy as it is natural. As Homo sapiens, our species has the advantage over resources on Earth, and we take up a lot of space. It’s our responsibility, then, to share what we can when we can so that the rest of the animal kingdom can satisfy their hunger, slake their thirst, and move where they need to move — even in our own backyards.