What’s in My Naturalist Bag?

In my mind, nature journaling is the perfect hobby. It incorporates so many of my passions – a love for the outdoors, the challenge of a long walk in the wild, the joy of creating something beautiful, and an inclination to learn more about the world around me. As such, whenever I venture outdoors, my naturalist bag is never far from my side.

Image of a naturalist's bag with contents displayed around it.

I love to nature journal and have been teaching students of all ages how to begin nature journaling for many, many years. One of the questions my students always ask is, “What’s all in your naturalist bag?” “What all do you carry with you?”

My Naturalist’s Bag

Before we dive into the contents, a naturalist’s bag is simply a tote, backpack, or anything portable. Essentially it is a field kit with painting and drawing materials that you can take outside for a leisurely afternoon walk or a quiet morning on the beach.

Please don’t look at what I carry now and think that you must make yours the same!  Your naturalist’s bag is a personal reflection of your preferences. You have different needs, wants, skills, and intents than I do.  We are each on a different paths and our journals – and even our bags – reflect that journey. For example, I still erase quite a bit but my daughter does not. She prefers to see how her lines work together to tell a certain type of story. 

“Nature journaling can be a quick fifteen minute sketch or an hour of painting and color immersion.”  

Getting Started

Tools are wonderful things, but it’s not necessary to start with more than a few things: pencil, eraser, pencil sharpener, and paper. These may be any type of your choosing; the important thing is to start drawing! I find that an inexpensive .7 mm mechanical pencil is a great tool. They never need sharpening, they provide a fairly wide range of darks (depending on your paper), and they are easy to refill or replace.

In an earlier post, I share 5 tips for Getting Started Keeping a Nature Journal.

Whatever your materials, get acquainted with them. See what they can do, what types of lines they make — what darkest or lightest marks? If you’re brushing up on drawing skills and have an assortment of tools, use those that are most comfortable, at least to start. As you gain experience and get more comfortable, you can expand your kit.

Image of a naturalist's bag with contents displayed around it.

The Essentials I Carry:

Here’s an example of my naturalist’s kit. I tried to make it as portable as possible.

Travelogue Drawing Book – I love the small size of the square 5.5 x 5.5. The paper has a good tooth which makes it an excellent choice for drawing and sketching work. It works well with many mediums: pen and ink, pencil, charcoal, and markers. The paper also accepts light watercolor washes without buckling. In the inside back cover is a clear pocket envelope perfect for tucking away feathers, leaves or other flat specimens.

Prismacolor col-erase blue pencil – My new favorite item is the col-erase non-photo blue pencil. It is the perfect tool to sketch out the basic shapes and create a framework for the finished work. When the piece is finished, the blue fades into the background and is less noticeable than a standard pencil.

Black Micron Pigmas – The smaller sizes are my preferred pen for stippling and fine detail. I use the larger nibs to journaling narrative.

Prima Marketing Watercolor Pan Set – I currently have the Vintage Pastel set. I love the colors, especially the sage and dark rose. I am considering additional palettes but my daughter is encouraging me to make my own customized set.

Waterbrushes – I have recently begun to use brushes which have a hollow barrel in the handle that can be filled with water. These are great tools for field sketching and more compact.

If you are interested in the online courses I teach, follow these links for more information. I teach Junior Naturalists Classes for youth & Nature Journaling in the Classroom, a course for adult educators.

Other Favorites I Carry:

Easthill Large Capacity Pencil Case – I love the larger size of this pencil bag. It fits an assortment of mechanical pencils, artist drawing pencils, a selection of colored pencils, an eraser, and pencil sharpener. I like the white erasers as they don’t leave a colored residue behind.

Prismacolor Pencils – I love Prismacolor pencils! They lay down color and blend together so smoothly – it’s like coloring with butter. For many years this was my absolute favorite medium. It was thereby economical for me to purchase the large set. I don’t carry them all with me in my naturalist’s bag however. If you haven’t used them before, consider buying them individually at an art store or a small set of 12-24.

Extras: I also keep a small ruler, a white birthday candle for watercolor resist, a portion of a cotton sock which I have cut to serve as an arm cuff, a small magnifying glass, zip-lock bags or empty Rx containers for small samples. NOTE: the Rx containers are not totally leak-proof, so keep them empty in your kit. As a precaution I keep anything wet or damp in a zip-lock bag.

It’s worthy to note that I also carry a first aid kit, sunscreen, and drinking water.

A Guided Tide Pool Hike with a Master Naturalist

Having grown up on the Oregon coast, I have been fascinated by marine animals since I was a young girl. I spent many long summer days exploring the tide pool and estuarine habitats in my neighborhood.

A naturalist at heart, I have inundated myself in ecology and natural sciences ever since, completing the coursework to become an Oregon Coast Master Naturalist a few years ago. Today, I am delighted to take you on a guided tide pool “hike” to one of the hidden gems of the Oregon seashore.

Cape Arago State Park

The tide pools at Cape Arago are incomparable. Here, you’ll find easy access to both the North and South Coves of Cape Arago. Tucked away below the cliffs, a short walk along the steep trails will take you to a secluded cove where tide pools and fossils can be found.

The south trail leads to tide pools teaming with diverse sea life. The north trail lets visitors view offshore colonies of seals and sea lions (however, the trail is closed from March – June to protect the seal pups during birthing season). Visitors to the area can also enjoy whale watching, crabbing, fishing, and scuba diving.

Nearby, there are two additional state parks: Sunset Bay (a sandy beach protected by towering sea cliffs – perfect for sunbathing and swimming) and Shore Acres (a lushly planted garden perched on rugged sandstone cliffs high above the ocean – once the famed estate of Louis Simpson).

Let’s now begin our guided hike of the south cove at Cape Arago.

Guided Tide Pool Hike

Upon hiking down the south trail you will first come to a small sandy beach. There is often driftwood and marine debris along the high tide line, pushed up against the base of the cliff atop the rocks and small boulders.

Purple Olive Snails

image of purple olive snails buried in the sand. Text overlay reads A Guided Tide Pool Hike with a Master Naturalist @EvaVarga.netAs you walk nearer the shoreline to the waters edge, you may see tiny little bumps in the sand. Olivella biplicata, commonly known as purple dwarf olive snails, burrow themselves in sand, leaving a plowed trail behind it. The foot is wedge shaped to facilitate plowing.

While burrowing it raises its long siphon up through the sand as a snorkel. They can be found nearshore on fairly quiet, protected beaches and farther offshore on more exposed beaches. Their predators include the seastarsoctopus, moon snails, and gulls. Most active at night, often move up and down the beach with the tide. Omnivorous, they eat kelp blades and both live and dead animal material.

Take a closer look, however. Some of these snails are not like the other.

Hermit Crabs

The snail shell at the top is inhabited by a hermit crab. There are more than 1000 species of hermit crabs -decapod crustaceans that possess an asymmetrical abdomen that is concealed in a scavenged mollusc shell which it carries around. As the hermit crab grows, it will seek out a larger shell.

Young boy holding a purple shore crab with text A Guided Tide Pool Hike with a Master Naturalist @EvaVarga.netShore Crabs

Hermits are not the only crabs you’ll observe in the tide pools. Crawling about between rock crevices and amongst the blades of kelp and marine algae are a diverse number of small crabs, each with its own distinguishing characteristics.

  • Purple shore crabs – Hemigrapsis nudus (pictured above) reaches sizes of approximately 4.0–5.6 cm and is generally dark purple in color, although it may be olive green or red, with white or cream markings. The color of the legs matches the color of the carapace but the white-tipped claws are a lighter color with purple or red spots. These markings distinguish it from the similar…
  • Lined shore crabs – Pachygrapsus crassipes, whose chelipeds lack spots.
  • Oregon shore crab – Hemigrapsis oregonensis is a similar species with setae or small hairs on its legs, a distinguishing characteristic the other two lack
  • Porcelain crabs – a flat, round body (perfectly adapted to life between rocks) with two large front claws, these delicate crabs readily lose limbs when attacked, and use their large claws for maintaining territories.

Blood star - a red, five armed sea star common on the Oregon coastSea Stars

No matter the depth or the substrate, these spiny skinned invertebrates are among the most successful marine creatures inhabiting the coast. The abundance and number of stars found along the west coast of North America is without equal in the world. I highlight just one in my post today.

Henricia leviuscula, the Pacific blood star, feeds mainly on sponges. It is fairly stiff with only small papulae (skin gills) and tube feet. It seems to rely much more on seawater uptake through the madreporite (a series of seawater-filled ducts that function in locomotion, feeding, and respiration) than do other sea stars of comparable size.

Ventral view of a Gumboot Chiton Chitons

The gumboot chiton, Cryptochiton stelleri, can be found clinging to rocks, moving slowly in search of its diet of algae which it scrapes off of rocks with its rasp-like retractable radula, covered with rows of magnetite-tipped teeth.

Unlike some other chiton species, C. stelleri has well-developed ctenidia (gills) in the groove beside the foot (pictured above). A commensal polychaete worm can sometimes be found here, as can the pea crab, Opisthopus transversus.

green sea anemone with embedded image of an aggregating anemone Sea Anemones

There are many anemones in the tide pools of the Pacific Northwest. One of the most common is the green anemone, Anthopleura xanthogrammica. Anthopleura is not just one species, however. Hidden within its tissues is an algae.

In this symbiotic relationship, the algae gain protection from snails and other grazers and don’t have to compete for living space, while the anemones gain extra nourishment from the algae in their guts. Contrary to popular opinion, this anemone’s green color is produced by the animal itself, not the algae that it eats.

Another fascinating anemone is the aggregating anemone (pictured in the embedded photo above), Anthopleura elegantissima, the most abundant anemone species found on rocky shores along the Pacific coast.

Aggregating anemones can rapidly clone themselves. If buried by shifting sands, they can survive for more than three months.

Tide Pool Guidebook 

You may not have the opportunity to explore a tide pool with a naturalist when you visit the Pacific Northwest Coast. In this case, you will want to find a guidebook or two to help you identify the diverse wildlife you will encounter.

One of the books we have at the marine life center that our visitors enjoy perusing when they have questions is The Beachcomber’s Guide to Seashore Life in the Pacific Northwest by J. Duane Sept. It was revised in 2009, it is beautifully illustrated and is a great guide to identifying the most common intertidal animals and plants of British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon.

The size is perfect to toss into your day pack if you wish to look up a specimen on your trek. It is written with the beachcomber in mind so while it does not feature every species, it is an excellent starting point for the more general specimens you may encounter.

While here, you may also be interested in Oregon Coast Quests – fun, educational, and clue directed hunts specific to the Oregon Coast.

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 June

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.

5 Senses at Sunset Walk from Barbara at Handbook of Nature Study
Discovering Nature in the Garden Scavenger Hunt from Jenny at Faith & Good Works
Nature Walk Alphabet Hunt from Emily at Table Life Blog
Guided Tide Pool Hike from Eva at Eva Varga
Foraging & Feasting Unit Study & Lapbook from Tina at Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus
Fairy Gardens and Online Book Club from Dachelle at Hide The Chocolate
Decoupage Art with Nature Walk Findings from Katrina at Rule This Roost
Summer Nature Hike from Thaleia from Something 2 Offer
Leaf Shape Hunt from Karyn at Teach Beside Me

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

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!