Winter Trees and Poetry

Winter is Coming. At least in our part of the world. As a child, rain was the constant companion of winter on the Oregon Coast. Though it is still yet a constant, we do now see more sunshine and snow is as infrequent as ever.

a trail through along the river in late winter, coniferous trees border the trail and the trail has been cut through a fallen logWhat I love about this time of year is the opportunity to really see the trees. In winter, the bare branches stand like skeletons against the sky. While I have grown accustomed to identifying trees by their cones and leaves, I am now challenged to identify them solely by their branches and buds.

Trees that once had leaves are bare.
They’re dressed instead in lacy white.
Snow dusts their trunks and coats their limbs
with flakes that outline them with light.

Winter Trees 

One of the books I most enjoyed sharing with my children when they were younger was Winter Trees by Carole Gerber. In this story, a boy and his dog use their senses of sight and touch to identify seven common trees in the snow covered forest.

Providing clues about how to identify trees in the winter, the text invites readers to explore the outdoors on a more intimate level. Intricate yet simple illustrations and lyrical text make distinguishing different types of trees easy, even in the middle of winter.

It’s a sweet little book. The verse is uncluttered and reverent. Leslie’s brightly-colored block prints, decorated with watercolor and collage (with some digital enhancement, as well), are striking. It is a beautiful blend of play, science, poetry, and art.

Do You Know That Tree?

Close your eyes and picture a tree. How big is it? What kind of geometric shape is it? How are the branches arranged? Does it have leaves or needles?  Does it have any kind of fruit. Now open your eyes and draw what you pictured in your mind.

Now grab your coat, your nature journal materials, and head outside. Walk around your neighborhood or along a favorite woodland trail. Find a tree of interest to you – perhaps one you have taken notice in the past. Note the trunks.  Is there one main trunk or does it split into multiple trunks? Are they straight or bent?

Look at the overall shape of the tree.  What geometric shape is its leaf/needle crown? Look at the bark.  What color is it? Is it smooth or rough.  Does it peel?  Feel it. Describe how it feels.

Tall yellow poplar’s furrowed bark
surrounds a trunk that’s straight and neat.

yellow poplar leaf on the trunk of a treeDoes it have many large branches, or branches that have lots of twigs? What colors are the leaves or needles? How are they shaped? Do they have any distinguishing characteristics? Are there any seeds, flowers, fruits, nuts, or cones on the tree? There may be some on the ground.

If the weather is conducive, sit down and draw a few sketches of your tree. If it’s raining, take a few photographs and do the journaling when you get back inside.

Record words, ideas, and impressions that enter your mind. Use your sense of touch, smell, sight, and sound to generate more words.

Poet-Tree

Now, compare and contrast your two drawings. Finally, challenge your children (or yourself) to convert their (your) thoughts into a poem. There are several forms to choose from: Haiku, Diamante, Fluxus, or a Shape Poem. Download the free Poet-Tree guide from Project Learning Tree.

simple graphic image of green grass on white background with text Nature Book Club

Welcome 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.

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.

Here are the co-hosts, their choices of books, and activities for this month:

Sky Tree Art Project by Emily at Table Life Blog

Winter Trees & Poetry by Eva at Eva Varga

The House at Pooh Corner Online Book Club by Dachelle at Hide The Chocolate

The Busy Tree Flap Book Activity Activity by Katrina at Rule This Roost

Plant a Tree, Nature Study Printable and Candle Holder by Sharla at Minnesota Country Girl

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!
Welcome to the Nature Book Club!
*November theme: Trees & Twigs*


Ravens in Winter: Nature Study Activities and Lessons for Teens

My father has a pair of ravens that sit perched a top the branches of a snag on his property. They will often squawk upon our arrival and swoop down quickly to snatch up the tasty morsels we toss out to them periodically. Watching their antics is a highlight of our visit and provides a great nature study segue for our teens.

I’ve always been fascinated by ravens. When I was a young girl, my mother introduced me to her favorite author, Edgar Allan Poe. Chills ran up my spine as she read, The Raven. I now enjoy reading it each autumn when the leaves begin to fall from the trees and the cold winds begin to blow.  Teens may wish to memorize this poem.Ravens in Winter

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.” Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

~ Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven

Corvus Identification

Common ravens (Corvus corax) and American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), overlap widely throughout North America and they look very similar. Rest assured, however, that with a little practice, you can tell them apart.

You probably know that ravens are larger. They are actually the same size as a Red-tailed Hawk and will often travel in pairs. Crows, on the other hand, are seen in larger groups.

As they fly overhead, the crow’s tail feathers are basically the same length, so when the bird spreads its tail, it opens like a fan. Ravens, however, have longer middle feathers in their tails, so their tail appears wedge-shaped when open. Ravens ride the thermals and soar, whereas crows do more flapping.

Another key difference is their call. Crows give a cawing sound whereas ravens produce a lower croaking sound.

The Tower of London

The photo featured at the top of this post was taken at the Tower of London while on family holiday a few months ago. “Should the ravens leave the Tower of London, it will crumble into dust and great harm befall the kingdom,” proclaimed the official Ravenmaster we spoke to as we wandered about the grounds.

As you can imagine, the ravens who reside at the Tower of London are an attraction to travelers around the world. You can learn more about them and the role the Ravenmaster plays in their care here, At the Tower of London, a Ravenmaster for the Digital Age.

Living Books

Ravens in Winter by Bernd Heinrich is a wonderfully written narrative compiled from the author’s field notes and studies all aimed at understanding raven behavior. In 1984 he was determined to find out why ravens call to each other when they discover food, a rare example of sharing in the wild. For the next four years he spent winter weekends observing these birds at a remote site in Maine, braving fierce weather, lugging enormous amounts of bait to lure ravens to his study area and sleeping in a cabin where temperatures often plunged below zero at night.

A Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of Vermont, Henrich is the author of numerous books, including Bumblebee EconomicsMind of the Raven (which we also enjoyed), and TheHoming Instinct. He has received the John Burrough’s Medal for Nature Writing and has been nominated for a National Book Award for Science.Ravens in Winter provides an in-depth look at raven ethology – particularly their intelligence and playfulness. It is a great living science book for teens, providing a visual picture of the scientific method.

To expand on your Corvid nature study, you may consider extending with Native American and Norse mythology.

Corvus Study in the Wild

Ravens and crows have the keenest intelligence of all our common birds. Taking inspiration from Heinrich’s study, winter is the perfect time to get outdoors and study the behavior of the Corvus genus ourselves. Their nests are often easier to see in the winter when the foliage is absent from the trees. However, most do build their nests in evergreens. Here are few questions or things to ponder as you observe them – be sure to record your observations in your nature journal:

  • Describe its colors when seen in the sunlight.
  • Describe the general shape of the crow or raven.
  • Are its wings long and slender or short and stout?
  • Is the tail long or short? Is it notched or straight across the end?
  • Describe its feet. Are they large and strong or slender? How many toes does it have? How many are directed forward and how many backward?
  • What is it doing? Describe its behavior or activity.
  • Describe its call.
  • Describe its beak.
  • Where and of what material did it build its nest?
  • If they are feeding in a feed, is there a sentinel or guard posted?
  • What do they feed upon?

Sit down with your sketch book and illustrate a few. Try to capture its movement and different poses with quick, light sketches. Take photographs if the weather is not conducive to sketching outdoors.

Build a Feeder

There are two beneficiaries to setting up a bird feeder in you backyard … birds and people. In regards to the first beneficiary, you should consider:

  1. accessibility to the birds;
  2. shelter from the wind, snow, and rain;
  3. vulnerability to window strikes; and
  4. safety from predators, especially cats.

In regards to the latter, ponder the following:

  1. ready visibility from a window;
  2. ease of filling and maintaining; and
  3. capacity, which determines refilling frequency.

With these thoughts in mind, you can begin to research what type of feeder you would like to build and the potential placement. There are many options to choose from and building plans are easily found at your local library, online, or from local bird watching groups like the Audubon Society.

There are also many opportunities to engage in real science – collecting data on bird migration patterns and nesting behaviors for a variety of citizen science projects. Two that come to mind immediately are Project FeederWatch and the Great Backyard Bird Count.

The Nature Book Club

Welcome to the first The Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. The monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month.

The monthly book club is devoted to connecting children to nature. There is a theme for each month in 2018. The theme this month is winter birds and nests.

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

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

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these 15 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.

Here are the co-hosts, their choices of books, and activities for the month.

Something 2 Offer
Birds, Nests, and Eggs Nest Scavenger Hunt

The Usual Mayhem
The Boy Who Drew Birds Free artist study set (John James Audobon)

Preschool Naturally
Whose Nest Is This? Nest Building Activity

Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus
(Backyard Bird Series) CardinalsFree Northern Cardinal Unit Study & Lapbook.

Rule This Roost
Fine Feathered Friends: All About BirdsDIY Bird Feeders

Hide The Chocolate
Those Darn Squirrels Fly SouthFree online book club.

The Homeschool Scientist
Birds, Nests, and EggsMake a Suet Feeder

Forgetful Momma
Snowy Owls Snowy Owl Craft

Table Life Blog
A Nest is NoisyArt Project.

Eva Varga
Ravens in Winter: Nature Study Activities and Lessons for TeensWinter Bird ID

Wind in a Letterbox
Birds for Beginners in Southern AfricaNature Journal Entry

Rainy Day Mum
Coming HomeNeedle Felted Robin

Handbook of Nature Study
Backyard Birds Field Guide for Young NaturalistBackyard Bird Nature Study

The Playful Scholar
TBD – How to Make Hanging Suet Ornaments

Freshly Planted
NestsNest weaving

WHOOP! – The Nature Book Club Giveaway!

We’re so excited about this month’s freebie. It is an ebook, Backyard Science – Easy Activities for All Ages, by The Homeschool Scientist.
A huge Thank You to The Homeschool Scientist!

Backyard Science Giveaway
Click on the link above. It’s free until February 4, 2018. No coupon code required.

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.