10 Nature Discoveries on the Sandy Shore

The sandy shore dominates much of the open coastline of the Pacific Northwest, stretching uninterrupted for miles in many regions. These dynamic habitats represent the most physically controlled of all the nearshore marine habitats and are considered one of the hardest places to live. As such, understanding the nature of the habitat and the animals that live there is important.image of a teen walking on a sandy beach with text overlay "Nature Discoveries on the Sandy Shore: 10 Activities for Teens" @EvaVarga.net

Sandy beaches are in a constant state of change and motion. Animals on exposed sandy beaches must protect themselves from shifting, abrasive sand and heavy surf.

Hands-on Activities to Explore the Sandy Shore

My family and I have spent much time exploring the ecology of the sandy shore and immersing ourselves in nature discoveries. There are many opportunities to learn more about this environment. Here are few ideas to help you get started:

Collect samples of beach sand from different beaches and classify each into coarse, medium, and fine sand. Can you see evidence of animal life in the samples?

Send the kids on an scavenger hunt of the intertidal invertebrates – note that many of these are not residents of the shifting sands of the sandy shore but are found clinging to the rocks and along the margins shoreline.

Be ready for the unexpected; you never know what you might discover while walking along the sandy beach like these Rare, Bizarre Creatures from the Deep. Finding an animal or plant that is unfamiliar to you is a great opportunity to seek out the answer. Can you find it in a guidebook? Do others know? Consider reaching out to local experts (remember to bring a photo) for help. Resource specialists at Fish & Wildlife offices are eager to answer questions and share their knowledge with the public.

getting started in 5 exercisesBegin a nature journal and showcase your discoveries. Here’s a peak at one of my son’s earliest entries, The Elusive Brittle Star: An Hawai’ian Nature Study. Need help to get started? Check out my tutorial, Keeping a Nature Journal: Getting Started in 5 Exercises.

You may also be interested in a college level course, Nature Journaling in the Classroom. The course is offered through the Heritage Institute and optional, university credit is available.

Do a little research to learn more about the animals that live in the surf-swept coastline. How are they adapted to life in this physically demanding habitat? Compare and contrast the means of mobility of two animals commonly seen on California’s Central Coast: Ventura Beach: the Pacific Mole Crab and By-the-Wind Sailor. Make a list of the adaptations you have observed.

image of two marine invertebrates: By the Wind Sailor (jellyfish) and Pacific Mole CrabChallenge your kids to design their own plant or animal specially equipped to survive on the sandy shore. Draw a picture of the organism or build a 3D model. Tell how it is adapted to life here.

Take Action to Protect the Sandy Shore

As a life long resident of the Oregon coast, the condition of our local beaches and ecosystems is very important to me. The idea of citizen science or “public participation in scientific research,” has also always been a passion of mine. Here are a few ideas in hopes of inspiring your family to get involved:

Take part in aBioBlitz –  an event that focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time. We took part in 2014 but they happen annually.

image collage of a young girl upcycling plastics to create artOrganize a family beach clean-up and do your part to spread the word about the dangers of single-use plastics like Washed Ashore

Feeling inspired? Collect plastic bottle caps to create a colorful mural and donate it to a local non-profit.

Just for fun, create a Labyrinth on the Beach and invite others to join you. Encourage participants to make a pledge to do their part to make a difference.

Guidebooks to the Sandy Shore & Other Habitats

The Beachcomber’s Guide to Marine Life in the Pacific Northwest by Thomas M. Niesen is one of my favorite marine ecology guides.  Each page is features incredible hand illustrations (by artist David Wood) that really capture the organism with a detailed simplicity.  Additionally, black and white images (though some are a little dark) and 16 pages of color photographs in the center of the book provide  excellent coverage.

Though this is not a pocket guide, Dr. Niesen writes in very clear language to help you identify what you are looking at, learn about its life habits, as well as its habitat. Organized with an emphasis on habitats and arrangement by type of organism within each habitat (sandy beach, estuaries, rocky intertidal, open ocean, etc.) is extremely helpful. Niesen also goes into great detail about the different tidal zones and the particular creatures you will find in each zone.

simple graphic image of green grass on white background with text Nature Book ClubWelcome to the Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. Devoted to connecting children to nature, the monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month. We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details.

See all the great posts from The Nature Book Club’s co-hosts in July

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts. Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.

Seashore Observations Printable Activity from Barbara at Handbook of Nature Study

Seashells by the Seashore | Notebooking Pages from Jenny at Faith & Good Works

Beach Scavenger Hunt from Emily at Table Life Blog

10 Nature Discoveries on the Sandy Shore from Eva at Eva Varga

Turtle in the Sea Online Book Club from Dachelle at Hide the Chocolate

Party Rules

Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.
By linking up with us, you agree for us to share your images and give you credit of course if we feature your posts.That’s it.

Let’s party!


Develop Your Student’s Science Inquiry Skills with BirdSleuth

When we lived in California we had a tropical bird-of-paradise in our yard. While it was not a native flower, we could agree that it was extravagant. When we traveled to Peru, we enjoyed a nature walk at the Inkaterra Hotel in Machu Picchu where we observed over 100 different native orchid species in their natural habitat.

Tropical species provide an interesting point of discussion in the classroom, sparking questions such as: “Why are our local flowers different?” or “What characteristics do the wildflowers we find here in North America share with tropical species?” These questions offer a perfect springboard into science inquiry.

inquiry-skills-birdsleuthWhat is Science Inquiry?

When most people think of science class, they picture classrooms of students all engaged in the same canned activity, following a scripted set of procedures that lead to a predictable outcome. Inquiry based science education is much more. Inquiry science engages kids in inquiry-based science lessons provides them with a way to explore on their own. It removes the teacher as somebody who is providing them with information that they need to memorize. Instead, the kids are experiencing, discovering, and developing their inquiry skills as they go. That is what real scientists do.

Although inquiry based instruction has been written about for decades, it is not widely used in science classrooms. Open inquiry, in particular, is often thought to be difficult to use in the classroom. Perhaps one explanation for this is the perceived difficulty in moving students toward the development of experimental questions.

Scientific inquiry also refers to the activities through which students develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world.

Many home educators have experience in leading their children through guided nature studies and observations. Keeping a nature journal is a popular pastime amongst many.  When we take a group of kids outside, however, you will quickly observe that the majority of their questions are reference questions. Questions they can answer relatively easily with experience identifying and using reliable sources.

If your goal is for students to generate questions that inspire investigations, then you need to be able to guide learners into reframing their questions. The Integrating Inquiry for Educators: Developing Student Science Practices online course is a wonderful guide designed to help you – the educator – do just that.

integrating-science-inquiryScience Inquiry Skills for Educators

If you wish to go further with inquiry and citizen science, I strongly recommend Cornell University’s BirdSleuth online course Integrating Inquiry for Educators. They have designed this self-paced course to help educators explore the process of science inquiry and investigation, especially as inspired by outdoor observations and citizen-science participation.

I was provided free access to this course in exchange for an honest review. Having completed the course, I would gladly have paid three times the course fee of just $49. I was very happy with the design of the course as well as how the material was delivered. The course text (eBook option is FREE), videos, assigned NSTA reading materials, case studies, interactive quizzes, and the application assignments were all nicely balanced.

The online course both challenged and piqued my interest in science inquiry. I am now – more than before – looking forward to engaging my kids in a inquiry based science explorations in the years to come.

You can also elect to earn two optional Continuing Education Units (CEUs) if you successfully complete the course. All online materials will be available to you for six months following your enrollment.

Whether you choose to enroll or not, you can support student inquiry by taking the opportunity to download their free Investigating Evidence lessons which will guide you towards supporting scientific questions through citizen science. To accompany these lessons, they have also compiled an extensive list of resources including power points and videos.

Enroll Today

Publish Student Work

In addition to the course materials and other online resources, their annual publication BirdSleuth Investigator provides students with an opportunity to share their research. You will find rich pieces of work done by students in grades K-12 throughout the country. Written by and for students, is also beautifully illustrated by youth.

The goal with BirdSleuth Investigator is to encourage students to pursue their scientific interests through inquiry and investigation by showing them that their hard work can get published. They accept bird-related submissions from all students. Submissions can take the form of artwork, poetry, or scientific reports; anything that a student has truly put effort into has the potential to get published.

To share your students’ projects with us, submit them here. Students certainly feel rewarded for their hard work when they find their work in a published journal! Read the submission guidelines for more details.

Ever Been to a Moth Night?

 

One of the summer activities we most look forward to is National Moth Week. Our First Moth Night was in 2013 and it has since become a tradition. Last year, we collaborated with the rangers at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area allowing us access to the park after hours. Such a delight to have the entire beach all to ourselves!

Several friends joined us – including a small herd of deer who roamed the area nearby for quite some time – and a park ranger and his friend. We hung a sheet between the trees in the forest area adjacent to the picnic tables on the beach and set up a few lanterns. Before night fell, we did a little nature journaling and enjoyed watching the sun set over the lake as we awaited the arrival of the moths.

moth night @EvaVarga.netWhen it was dark, we began to take note of the insects that slowly arrived.  The kids would proudly exclaim, “Here’s another one!” each time a new insect landed on the sheet. While only a few moths came to visit, we did observe many other insects – many of which were beetles.

We did our best to take photographs of each before they flew away – a task that turned out to be a little more difficult than anticipated – and tallied the numbers for each species.

We stayed until the kids began to get a little sleepy. Ranger Bill closed out the evening with a few delightful stories as his friend quietly played her Native American-style flute.

The next National Moth Week will be held July 18-26, 2015 so start planning your events now!

What is Moth Week?

National Moth Week offers everyone, everywhere a unique opportunity to become a Citizen Scientist and contribute scientific data about moths. Through partnerships with Project Noah, Bug Guide, Xerces Society, Lepidoptera Society, and others, National Moth Week participants can help map moth distribution and provide needed information on other life history aspects around the globe.

Ever Been to a Moth Night? @EvaVarga.netMothing can be done anywhere- at parks, nature centers, backyards and even in towns and cities. Events are taking place around the world – join up or host an event of your own. Learn more at National Moth Week.

This year, National Moth Week will spotlight the Sphingidae family of moths found throughout the world commonly called hawk moths, sphinx moths and hornworms.

Join Us For a Memorable Summer Evening

So invite a few friends and contribute to this awesome project by hosting a moth night of your own.  What happens at a moth night? Basically, you put up a sheet and a light with a bunch of your friends, and sit around and wait for moths.  How simple is that?  And it is so much fun!

Our NestWatch Introduction: Getting Started with Citizen Science

As has become tradition, I love taking my students outside in the spring for a variety of science activities. Our STEM Club ecology focus one year was on soil ecology and I thereby planned a couple of outings to a small lake in a residential neighborhood not far from my home. Despite the proximity to homes, I am always surprised at the diversity of wildlife we are able to observe here.

We parked on the street adjacent to the lake and immediately became aware of a Killdeer nest just a few feet from the road. The two adults loudly began to distract the kids and lure them away from their nest. Despite my efforts and those of the birds, the ever-so-inquisitive boys in my group managed to locate the nest and excitedly proclaim there were eggs! It was difficult to keep the kids away and get focused on soil. Even as class was underway, one wandered quietly back over to sit closely and watch the birds for several minutes.

Killdeer nest on open ground – often in gravel – using a slight depression to hold the eggs. They don’t line it at all and since there is no structure to stand out from its surroundings, a killdeer nest camouflages marvelously into the background. Even their speckled eggs themselves look like stones.

For more information on Killdeer and their unusual behaviors, I encourage you to read The Precocious Killdeer on Birdwatching.com

NestWatch: How to Get Started with Citizen Science @EvaVarga.netNestWatch

Upon sharing this discovery with a friend of mine, she introduced us to NestWatch. NestWatch is a nationwide monitoring program designed to track status and trends in the reproductive biology of birds, including when nesting occurs, number of eggs laid, how many eggs hatch, and how many hatchlings survive.

By finding and monitoring bird nests, NestWatch participants help scientists track the breeding success of birds across North America. Participants witness fascinating behaviors of birds at the nest and collect information on the location, habitat, bird species, number of eggs, and number of young.

Participating in NestWatch is easy and just about anyone can do it, although children should always be accompanied by an adult when observing bird nests. Cornell Lab provides a wealth of tutorials and resources to guide you along the way. It is rewarding to know that your observations will be added to those of thousands of other NestWatchers in a continually growing database used by researchers to understand and study birds.

I quickly signed up and recorded our observations. We returned two days later to check on the status of the nest, but were unable to find any sign of the birds. There were no shell fragments or signs of young precocial birds. Despite the uncertainty of our Killdeer nest, we are now excited to find more nests and to share our observations with the scientists at Cornell Lab.

watercolor image of kildeer eggs in nest

Citizen Science with Cornell Lab

More than 200,000 people contribute to the Cornell Lab’s citizen-science projects each year, gathering data on a vast scale once unimaginable. Scientists use these data to determine how birds are affected by habitat loss, pollution, and disease. They trace bird migration and document long-term changes in bird numbers continentwide. The results have been used to create management guidelines for birds, investigate the effects of acid rain and climate change, and advocate for the protection of declining species.

Using the same login name and password that you create for NestWatch, you can also participate in any of the following citizen-science projects:

Get Started Today

Involvement in citizen science projects enables students to make connections with relevant, meaningful, and real experiences with science.  In turn, their experiences help facilitate their own investigations as they gain confidence.

There are many citizen science projects today and more become available each year. I encourage you to take time to explore some of the opportunities. I am confidant you will find projects that match your interests.

simple graphic image of tree with text The Nature Book Club

Welcome to the The Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. Devoted to connecting children to nature, the monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month.

We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details and for a giveaway!

See all the great posts from The Nature Book Club’s co-hosts in April:

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts. Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.

Bird Nest/Eggs nature study pages from Barb at Handbook of Nature Study

Eggs: Nature’s Perfect Package from Erin Dean at the Usual Mayhem

Getting Started with Citizen Science – Nest Watch from Eva Varga

From Egg to Sea Turtle Unit Study & Lapbook from Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus

Eggs Nature Study Free Printable Word Search from Faith and Good Works

Egg Scavenger Hunt with Egg Carton from Katrina at Rule This Roost

Felt Bag Handicraft from Melanie at Wind in a Letterbox

Clay Eggs Project from Emily at Table Life Blog

Online Book Club from Dachelle at Hide the Chocolate

Egg Identification Nature Bingo {Free Printable} from Cassidy at Freshly Planted

image of a stack of books in the grass with text overlay listing monthly themeParty Rules

  • Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
  • The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
  • You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.
  • By linking up with us, you agree for us to share your images and give you credit of course if we feature your posts.That’s it!
  • Let’s party.


Our Annual Ladybug Hike

Some species of native ladybugs in North America are disappearing. In just the last 20 years these beneficial predators of farm and garden pests have become extremely rare. This rapid decline is of great concern. Recognizing the need to take action, a number of schools in New York State began the Lost Ladybug Project in 2004.

The Lost Ladybug Project is a citizen science project that people of all ages to look for any ladybugs they can find, and then send in pictures of each one. One of the first major discoveries came in 2006 when Jilene (age 11) and Jonathan (age 10) Penhale found a rare ninespotted ladybug near their Virginia home. This was the first ninespotted ladybug seen in the eastern U.S. in 14 years. Their finding confirmed that the species was not extinct and that with enough people working together we can find even these rare species.

With recent funding from the National Science Foundation the Lost Ladybug Project has expanded and now anyone in North America can participate. Both common and rare ladybugs, whether native or introduced, are important to find. They all contribute to understanding where different species of ladybugs can be found and how rare they really are. Once we know where the rare ladybugs can be found, we can try to protect their habitat and save them!

ladybughikeWe have been participating since 2012 when we first learned of the project. You can read about our earlier discoveries here:

 All About Ladybugs

What do ladybugs eat? A single ladybug larva will eat about 400 medium-size aphids during its development to the pupal stage. Males may eat less but an adult female will eat about 300 medium-size aphids before she lays eggs. She can eat about 75 aphids in a day and may consume more than 5,000 aphids in her lifetime!

Did you know that ladybugs use their antennae to touch, smell, and taste?

What would happen if all the ladybugs were gone? Both adult and larval ladybugs are known primarily as predators of aphids but they also prey on many other soft-bodied insects and insect eggs. Many of these are agricultural pest such as scale insects, mealybugs, spider mites and eggs of the Colorado Potato Beetle and European Corn Borer. A few ladybugs feed on plant and pollen mildews and many ladybugs supplement their meat diet with pollen.

Beetles chew from side to side, not up and down, like people do.

How did ladybugs get their name? The most common legend is that during the middle ages in Europe, swarms of aphids were destroying crops. The farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary for help – and help came in the form of beetles that devoured the plant-destroying pests and saved the crops! The grateful farmers named these insects “Our Lady’s beetles,” a name which had endured to present day.

How long do they live? After a female lays her eggs, they will hatch in between three and ten days, depending on ambient temperature. The larva will live and grow for about a month before it enters the pupal stage, which lasts about 15 days. After the pupal stage, the adult lady beetle will live up to one year.

ladybughike2Why are they so brightly colored? Why do they have spots?  The bright colors serve as a warning to indicate to any potential predators of the distasteful repellents the beetle will release if attacked. The spots are part of the bright warning pattern and vary depending upon species.

What eats ladybugs? Lady beetles are not commonly eaten by birds or other vertebrates, who avoid them because they exude a distasteful fluid and commonly play dead to avoid being preyed upon. However, several insects, such as assassin bugs and stink bugs, as well as spiders may commonly kill ladybugs.

How many different species are there in the US? In the world? There have been over 500 species of ladybugs identified in the United States, and over 4500 in the entire world. Only about 70 of these are the cute red, yellow, and black ones we think of most.

Ladybugs can be found all over the world and can move between continents. Introductions of new species can affect natives. What you will be doing as part of the Lost Ladybug Project is sampling the ladybugs in your habitats.

Inquiry Challenge

The degree to which specific ladybug species are associated with particular plant hosts (or their prey) is still an unsolved mystery. This would make a wonderful science fair project for advanced students.

You may also be interested in my Ultimate Guide to Studying Insects. Here you will find links to curriculum and resources for the major insect orders.

If you are interested in participating in the Lost Ladybug Project, visit the website to learn more. There is also an app to enable you a fast way to upload and share images on the go!
ladybugs journal

We’ve always enjoyed taking part in the monthly challenges at Handbook of Nature Study. This month, our selected challenge was Incorporate a Photo. Later in the week, we utilized one of our photos to create a nature journal entry to commemorate our outing.

The Ultimate Guide to Studying Insects

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by insects. I have curated an insect collection of my own for years and I love sketching them in my nature journal.

Insects are all around us and their abundance makes them the perfect introduction to the world of zoology. Studying insects is a wonderful experience for upper grades to begin using the taxonomic binomial naming system for the first time.

ultimate guide insects

An Introduction to Insects or Basic Entomology

Insects belong to the phylum Arthropoda. As such, they have a hard exoskeleton which they molt several times as they grow, bilateral symmetry, and jointed appendages (legs and antennae).  The arthropod phylum is the largest in the animal kingdom – more arthropods than any other animal.

The phylum can be further divided into four classes:  Insects – 3 pairs of legs, Arachnids (spiders & mites) – 4 pairs of legs, Crustaceans (crabs & lobsters) – 5 pairs of legs, and Millipedes & Centipedes.

If you are looking for a fun, hands-on curriculum for upper elementary or middle school students, I have compiled a number of my favorite lesson plans in a unit study approach, Introductory Entomology. Through hands-on activities, real life simulations, and multi-media presentations this six-week unit incorporates more than 10 entomology lessons and suggested extension activities.

I have also gathered a number of great resources and lesson plan ideas from across the web to provide you with the ultimate guide to studying insects.  You’ll most assuredly find inspiration and activities galore – many of which include free notebooking printables. The following list should get you started on your insect studies:

  • Bug Collecting – A step-by-step guide to collecting bugs and insects
  • Adventures with Insects & Critters – All about collecting and keeping insects and other small critters
  • Conduct an Insect Survey – Collect data to calculate the diversity of insects; includes a free notebooking printable
  • Aquatic Science: Spring Pond Study – Get the kids outside equipped with a small wash tub, an ice-cube tray, and this free download to investigate aquatic critters
  • BugScope – Provides free interactive access to a scanning electron microscope so that students can explore the world of insects
  • Integrated Pest Management – One of the lessons in my Introductory Entomology unit engages kids in a cooperative learning, simulated experience
  • Keep a journal of your observations – See Cicada for a spectacular example
  • The Xerces Society – A nonprofit that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. Find a wealth of insect resources on their website.

When teaching about insects in middle school, I feel it is important to introduce them to the use of a dichotomous key and to provide ample opportunity to practice classification skills. I put together a PowerPoint presentation to introduce kids to the differences between insect orders. You can download the presentation here:  Insect Classification.

damselflyIn addition to the broad resources I have shared above, I have also compiled a number of hands-on activities specific to insect orders.  You may wish to study insects one order at a time or perhaps you have a budding coleopterists (an entomologist who specializes in the study of beetles) in your family.  The links provided here are grouped according to the most common insect orders:

Lepidoptera:

Hymenoptera:

Odonata:

Orthoptera:

Hemiptera:

  •  Links coming soon

Other:

june beetle noseLiterature Connections & Lapbooks


There are numerous non-fiction books about insects.  One of my favorite books is a book of poems by Paul Fleishman, Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. Written to be read aloud by two voices – sometimes alternating, sometimes simultaneous – this collection of 14 poems celebrates the insect world, from the short life of the mayfly to the love song of the book louse.

While I highly recommend the print version for the gorgeous illustrations by Eric Beddows, I also recommend the audio version – particularly if poems written for two voices is unfamiliar to you. Upon listening to this book, my kids delighted in creating insect poems of their own.

In my quest to share with you the best of the best, I came across a few wonderful posts that are perfect for younger siblings:

Citizen Science

There are numerous opportunities for people of all ages to explore insects and contribute to real, ongoing research.

caterpillar

Field Trips & Excursions

Many zoos and aquariums have special exhibits that feature insects.  I’ve highlighted a few here but be sure to contact natural history museums and zoos in your local area.  While smaller venues may not have a permanent exhibit, they may feature insect exhibits periodically in their rotation.

Career Opportunities

Students in upper grades may already have an idea that a career in biology or zoology is in their future.  Some may be interested in collecting insects and not realize that their hobby can actually be a possible career.  If you are interested in learning more about the possible career options in entomology, read my post Science Career Options: Entomology Careers.