Week 2, Day 2: Sounds and Smells of Spring

A purple crocus flower in the Los Alamos Master Gardeners’ Demonstration Garden. (Photo by Bob Walker)

Today’s Take It Outside post is all about the sounds and smells of springtime. Explore the season using your five senses today!

Upcoming Event:

Learn about Jean Dewart’s trip to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada — the Polar Bear Capital of the World — tonight! This livestreamed presentation will start at 7 PM. Learn more about this talk and how to watch it here.

Blog Post:

Eleven-year-old Aditya Viswanathan shares the wonder of discovering nature in the sensory garden that his grandmother planted for him when he was in kindergarten. Read his blog post here.

Craft:

Make a Spring Sensory Soup today! Have fun experiencing the texture and smells of spring by making spring “soup”. Start by collecting all the different signs of spring around you and then use any containers, ladles, spoons, or strainers to mix your soup. Be creative and turn yours into a magic potion!

Additional instructions here.

Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

Take a walk in your neighborhood or on a favorite trail. Describe what you see, hear, smell and feel. Try to think of adjectives to describe what you notice, or say what they remind you of. For instance, a leaf might feel “fuzzy” or “like a soft blanket.” The bird sound is “screechy” or “sounds like an angry cat.” If you can, find a quiet spot, lie on the ground, and listen for at least 10 seconds. What sounds do you hear?

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

Members of our Forest Explorers club journal in Acid Canyon. (Photo by Denise Matthews)

Find a “sit spot,” a quiet spot in a favorite natural area, and start paying attention to your senses. What do you see, hear, smell, and feel? PEEC’s Gentle Walkers report that it takes about 10 minutes for the birds to get used to your presence and start carrying out their normal behavior again.

Bring your nature journal and record your observations. The point isn’t to make a beautiful drawing, but to focus on your observations. The longer you sit, the more you notice! It’s especially worthwhile to come back to this spot once a week and observe how it changes through the season. Let us know what you noticed.

Other Resources:

  • Visit a garden in your neighborhood, like the Los Alamos Master Gardeners’ Demo Garden in downtown Los Alamos for inspiration on how to incorporate the five senses into your garden.
  • Fascinated by those bird sounds you heard outside? Check out xeno-canto, a database of bird sounds from around the world. Search by bird type or region, or try your luck with the random bird sound feature.

Share Your Experience:

Tell us what signs of spring you notice this week! 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.

Join us tomorrow to learn about early-blooming wildflowers!

Week 2, Day 1: Trees Budding

These lambs at Los Luceros Historic Site want to say “Happy spring!” Learn more about Los Luceros here.

Welcome to week two of Take It Outside! This week, we are exploring the signs of spring. We are starting off the week by taking a closer look at budding trees.

We loved hearing your stories during week one! Check out some of our favorite quotes, pictures, and drawings from the week. Please continue to share your experiences with us!

If you haven’t already, please share your feedback on week one of Take It Outside by filling out this evaluation form.

Upcoming Event:

Join Jean Dewart of the Los Alamos Mountaineers tomorrow (Tuesday, March 24) at 7 PM for a live streamed talk! She will be speaking about visiting Churchill, Manitoba, Canada — the “Polar Bear Capital of the World.” Hear about highlights from her trip, see her polar bear pictures, and more at this virtual event. Learn more and find out how to join the livestream here.

Blog Post:

Arborist Chris Michel shares what’s going on with fruit trees as winter turns to spring. Learn why fruit trees flower in today’s blog post.

Craft:

Trees are beginning to blossom at Los Luceros Historic Site! (Photo by Carly Stewart)

Make a nature journal to keep track of the changes you see throughout the spring. This is a great way to combine art, science, and written language. You can use an old or new notebook, or pieces of looseleaf paper folded in half and bound with string. Make a sturdy cover and decorate it with a collage of cut-out pictures from magazines, rubbings of leaves or other natural items, or your own drawings.

Here are some other journal ideas to experiment with:

A multimedia paper bag journal appropriate for kids who like to collect, and even for the youngest children. Instead of the four seasons, make a page for each day of this week of Take It Outside.

For adults and students, check out some pages from the nature journals of John Muir Laws. Notice how he combines sketches and notes, and includes questions and connections to extend his observations.

Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

Go outside for a Signs of Spring scavenger hunt. Here’s our version. Make your own scavenger hunt using our ideas or yours, and see how many of these signs you can find today. Draw your favorite item in your nature journal.

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

Find a tree or bush in your neighborhood and monitor how it changes every day this week. Take photos or sketch its branches or leaves every day, and note what wildlife visits it. Start a nature journal to record your observations, and share your journaling tips with us.

Other Resources:

  • John Muir Laws has made his book, How to Teach Nature Journaling, available as a free download to support teachers and parents during the COVID-19 closures.
  • Are you starting to think about your garden as spring begins? Check out the Los Alamos Cooperative Extension Service page for lots of helpful hints about gardening in our climate. Their office is still answering questions by phone at (505) 662-2656 or by email at valdez@nmsu.edu.

Share Your Experience:

Tell us what signs of spring you notice this week! 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.

Join us tomorrow to explore the sounds and smells of spring!

Day 5: Birds and the Food Chain

This Sharp-shinned Hawk has some uncomfortable news to share with you. (Photo by Bob Walker)

On the final day of bird week, we are learning about how birds fit into our local food chain. Join us next week to explore signs of spring with Take It Outside!

Help us improve this program! We want to hear what you have enjoyed about the first week of Take It Outside and learn what we can do better in the coming weeks. Please, do us a favor and fill out this evaluation form.

Upcoming Event:

We’ll be hosting a virtual astronomy talk tonight (Friday, March 20) instead of our regular planetarium show at the nature center. Join Rick Wallace via livestream at 7 PM to hear about some of the brighter objects that you can currently find in the night sky. Then, explore the spring equinox and the presence of water on various planets and moons in our solar system. Learn more and register here. This talk is free, but registration is required to receive the link to the livestream.

Blog Post:

The song of the American Robin is often considered a sign of spring, so we thought learning more about this bird would be a perfect segue between this week’s bird theme and next week’s look at signs of spring. Learn more about the robin, and how it fits into our food chain, in today’s blog post.

Activity:

The diversity of life just outside your doorstep can surprise you! Start this activity with a nature observation outside. List the animals and plants you can see in your yard. Are there any signs of birds or other animals? Trees and grasses? Then change your perspective! Pick up rocks to see critters underneath, move around fallen branches or logs, lie on the ground and look up. From your list, think about what might eat what. Maybe the robin eats the worm he found, or the junco has been eating the old seeds from the sunflower, and a hawk is trying to catch the junco. Try to put together a food chain including at least four different species.

Using paper cups, draw an animal or plant on each cup and label it with its name. Now you can stack them in the order of who eats whom. To extend this activity, make cups for more of the species you found in your yard or neighborhood. Try stacking them in new or different ways! Look for pictures of the different plants and animals in old magazines and glue them to your cups.

Find further instructions here.

Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

A Spotted Towhee eating a worm in a local backyard. (Photo by Bob Walker)

All animals need to eat! Go outside and look for evidence of birds eating the following things.

  • Seeds
  • Fruit or berries
  • Insects
  • Worms
  • Other birds

What seemed to be the most common foods? Would you like to eat like a bird? Share your thoughts with us!

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

See if you can spot some of our local birds of prey. Common ones of our area include:

Look for the Cooper’s Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk hunting from trees near bird feeders or other congregations of small birds. The Red-tailed Hawk can often be seen soaring in the air, sometimes being badgered by other birds. Look for the Great Horned Owl at dusk or dawn, hunting from high perches. Typical locations include the Mitchell Trail in Los Alamos or White Rock Canyon. Find a Northern Goshawk and make our birders jealous!

Other Resources:

  • Do you want to continue your birding journey? Here are some of our favorite birding apps to help you identify birds. Merlin Bird ID (free), the Audubon Bird Guide app (free), iBird Ultimate (paid), and the Sibley eGuide to Birds (paid). The Merlin Bird ID app is great because it asks you three simple questions about the bird you saw and then brings up a list of likely birds! We also recommend checking out eBird, so you can track what birds you see! Check out this Introduction to eBird video on YouTube.
  • Join our PEEC Birders interest group to discuss birds over email with a group of other enthusiasts. When the Los Alamos Nature Center is open and hosting programs again, keep an eye on our events page for our free monthly bird walks hosted by a local expert.
  • We enjoyed this article from the Cornell Lab about how birds can make life better, especially during these uncertain times. The article also provides some great resources if you want to learn more about birds.

Share Your Experience:

Submit at least three outdoor challenge reports this week for a chance to win a set of PEEC’s custom bird stickers! This is our last post of bird week, but you can catch up on our challenges through the weekend. We’d love to see your Take It Outside photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside.

That wraps up bird week! Next week’s Take It Outside theme will be Signs of Spring. Join us on Monday, March 23 for the kick off of week two!

Day 4: Bird Behaviors

Common Ravens are regularly seen engaging in acrobat rolls, chasing each other, and play fighting while flying! (Photo by Bob Walker)

On day four of Take It Outside, we are learning about bird behavior. Explore the unique traits of our smallest birds, discover the many shapes and sizes of bird beaks, and try to observe the behaviors of birds in the snow.

Upcoming Event:

We’ll be hosting a virtual astronomy talk this Friday, March 20 instead of our regular planetarium show at the nature center. Join Rick Wallace via livestream at 7 PM to hear about some of the brighter objects that you can currently find in the night sky. Then, explore presence of water on various planets and moons in our solar system. Learn more and register here. This talk is free, but registration is required to receive the link to the livestream.

Blog Post:

Hummingbirds are fascinating little creatures, and two of Northern New Mexico’s hummingbirds should be returning from their winter homes within the next few weeks. Today’s blog post, by birder Bob Loy, explores some of the traits that make hummingbirds unique.

Activity:

Get your bird beaks on! If you look closely at bird beaks, you’ll find there are many different shapes and sizes, each adapted to eat different types of food.

Find a variety of tools in your kitchen and around your house that could act like bird beaks. Some ideas are clothespins, tongs, tweezers, chopsticks, spoons, and strainers. Now, fill a tray with “bird food.” You can use finger snacks like cereal, small pieces of fruit and cheese, nuts, and seeds, or try craft supplies like small twigs, bits of yarn, beads, and pieces of play-dough.

Practice picking up the food with your beaks. Do different beaks work better for different foods? Show us how you did this at home! Find more detailed instructions here.

Next time you see a bird, check out its beak! Can you use this chart to tell what it eats from its beak shape?

Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

Has it been snowing at your house? Did you know that people aren’t the only ones who like to play in the snow? Check out this short video of ravens playing in the snow from Nature and PBS, and then go out and play in the snow yourself! Can you see any animals playing in the snow? Keep an eye out for three-toed bird footprints.

Is it raining where you live? Most birds will hunker down during really bad weather, but they come out to feed when it’s only drizzling. Make a note of when you see birds out today, and the weather at the time. Do you notice any patterns?

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

Count the number and kinds of birds that you see braving the weather today. Are different birds or kinds of behavior dominating compared to a nicer day? Note what you see and let us know!

Speaking of bird behavior, mating season is beginning! To all of you eBirders reading, use this snowy day to brush up on your familiarity with breeding codes so you can create more complete checklists in the coming months.

Other Resources:

Share Your Experience:

Submit at least three outdoor challenge reports this week for a chance to win a set of PEEC’s custom bird stickers! 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.

Join us tomorrow to for the last day of bird week!

Day 3: Bird Habitats

A female Broad-tailed Hummingbird sitting on her nest in Los Alamos. This nest was mostly made out of lichen and spider webs! (Photo by Mouser Williams)

On day three of Take It Outside, we are learning about bird habitats, including what birds need to survive in the wild, and how we can create bird-friendly habitats in our yards and outdoor spaces.

Upcoming Event:

At 10 AM today, join PEEC volunteer Bob Walker for live commentary from PEEC’s wildlife observation garden. The nature center is closed to people, but birds are still visiting! Bob will point out birds that visit the garden, we’ll discuss how PEEC created a bird-friendly habitat, and talk about what you can do at your own home to encourage birds to visit.

Ask your bird feeding and birding questions in the live chat!

View the wildlife camera livestream here.

Blog Post:

PEEC member Branden Willman-Kozimor and her son Ezra certified their backyard as a wildlife habitat during the summer of 2018. When they started the process, they were surprised to learn that their yard already provided many resources for wildlife! Learn more about their experience certifying their backyard — and how you can too — in today’s blog post.

Craft:

One of our Nature Playtime nests. (Photo by Denise Matthews)

Build your own nest! Get outside, collect materials, and be creative. Challenge your kids to test out their problem-solving skills by getting the nest to stick together without using glue or tape.

Once you’ve assembled a nest, test it out. Will it stay together in the wind? How strong can you make it?

Our Nature Playtime participants often make eggs for their nests out of clay and then paint them with watercolors. You can also use play-dough or find some round rocks to stand in for eggs!

For younger kids, try using a bowl rather than a plate to build your nest. This can help provide some stability.

Find instructions for today’s craft here.

Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

Go outdoors to a favorite spot — your yard, a balcony, a trail, or an open area in your neighborhood. What does it already have that could support birds or other wildlife?

☐ Food (plants with seeds, berries, pinecones, flowers)

☐ Water (it doesn’t need to be available all the time!)

☐ Cover (places for wildlife to hide from predators or bad weather)

☐ Places to raise young (mature trees, snags, dense shrubs)

If your spot doesn’t have everything animals need, what could you add? Show us what you could do to make your spot more welcoming to birds and other wildlife!

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

Female Western Bluebird feeding her young in a backyard nesting box. (Photo by Rozelle Wright)

Already have a wildlife garden? Spend some time maintaining it today! Haven’t started gardening for wildlife? Make a few easy changes in your space that will help attract wildlife. Some suggestions:

☐ Put out a birdbath

☐ Make a plan to increase the number of native plants in your space

☐ Remove invasive plants

☐ Build a small brush pile, away from your house, for shelter and to allow birds to hunt insects

☐ Install bird feeders or a nesting box

Share a picture of your wildlife habitat and any tips that could help others garden successfully for wildlife!

Other Resources:

Share Your Experience:

Submit at least three outdoor challenge reports this week for a chance to win a set of PEEC’s custom bird stickers! 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.

Join us tomorrow to explore more about birds!

Day 2: Bird Migration

This Say’s Phoebe wants you to Take It Outside this week. These birds are common summer residents and are beginning to return to the County now! (Photo by Bob Walker)

On day two of Take It Outside, we are learning about bird migration! It’s the beginning of the spring migration, when birds are heading north for the summer. This means we’ll soon be welcoming back our summer friends, like the hummingbirds, and saying goodbye to winter birds like the Dark-eyed Juncos, who will be heading higher up in the mountains.

Upcoming Event:

Join PEEC volunteer Bob Walker for live commentary from PEEC’s wildlife observation garden (technology permitting!) tomorrow, Wednesday, March 18, at 10 AM. The nature center is closed to people, but birds are still visiting! Bob will point out birds that visit the garden, and we’ll discuss how PEEC created a bird-friendly habitat, and what you can do at your own home to encourage birds to visit. Viewers can ask Bob their birding and bird feeding questions in the live chat!

View the wildlife camera livestream here.

Blog Post:

Did you know that the Turkey Vulture is a migratory bird? This bird is found throughout North America and is one of the easiest birds to find on the Pajarito Plateau. Every year around St. Patrick’s Day, the first Turkey Vulture of spring is spotted in Los Alamos County. Learn some fascinating facts about this scavenger in today’s blog post by PEEC volunteer Bob Loy.

Craft:

Male Black-chinned Hummingbird perched at a feeder. (Photo by Bob Walker)

Make your own hummingbird feeder, and be one of the first people in town to see hummingbirds returning from their winter homes. Make your feeder unique with your own decorations using red Sharpie or red paint. Hummingbirds should be making their appearance in late March or April. Mark on your calendar when you first see them! Find instructions for today’s craft here.

Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

Soaring Turkey Vulture. (Photo by Bob Walker)

Birds have different habits! Some, like the Turkey Vulture, are often seen soaring in the air. Other birds are more often found in trees, or on the ground. Keep an eye out for a soaring Turkey Vulture!

While you’re looking, see if you can find birds in the following places:

☐ Soaring in the air

☐ On a tree

☐ In a bush

☐ On the ground

☐ Perched on something tall

Do you notice certain types of birds in certain places? Let us know what patterns you noticed!

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

Our earliest migrators have been reported in the County. Look for the Turkey Vulture in the canyon by the Los Alamos Ice Rink and the White-throated Swift at Kimberly Point in White Rock, or at the 6th Street Pond near Smith’s in Los Alamos. Say’s Phoebes and Black Phoebes have also been recently reported in Los Alamos! Share where you like to look for birds in the form below and let us know if you find any of these recent arrivals today.

Other Resources:

Share Your Experience:

Submit at least three outdoor challenge reports this week for a chance to win a set of PEEC’s custom bird stickers! 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.

Join us tomorrow to explore more about birds!