Backyardsafari's Blog

Environmental Inspiration in Your Own Backyard

Notes from the Field November 14, 2010

“Just begin. Any day, any moment. There need be no occasion, no noteworthy event. Think of your beginning as the point where a tossed pebble hits the surface of a pond. Changes and discoveries will widen out endlessly from just such a small point. Take your life as it is, and go from there.”

-Hannah Hinchman, A Life in Hand: Creating the Illuminated Journal.


I have written a few times about nature journals (here and here), and it is something I just can’t recommend enough for people of all ages. It can be difficult to keep up with a journal of any kind, though, and you have to take inspiration where you find it. To help keep myself inspired, I recently ordered Hannah Hinchman’s A Life in Hand, now her second book about journaling that I own–the other one, A Trail through Leaves, is even more wonderful! Her drawings and words of wisdom help me remember to keep noticing, keep being curious, and keep drawing.

Thanks to the simple act of keeping a journal, today a dead brown marmorated stink bug (yes, those prehistoric looking things swarming your screens and windows) was not just a piece of refuse but something extraordinary to behold. Journaling, and especially drawing, slows you down and forces you to look at the details of things, like the tiny ridges on the insect’s abdomen, the way the wings are carefully tucked along its back, and the way the antennae bend like the crook of an elbow. It also encouraged me to look up the word marmorated–it means “veined or streaked like marble,” and is a beautiful word!



As Hannah says, just begin! Find an empty page and start to look at what is around you. What do you notice? What are you feeling?  Start with the present and go from there–you never know where it will take you!


Octopus Dines Out September 12, 2010

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My latest attempt at combining nature and stop motion video. In this edition of our “Dines Out” series, an octopus goes searching for something delicious to eat. Once sated, he moves on to look for bigger and better prey…



If you like this video, please check out the others in the series: Rattlesnake Dines Out and Raccoon Dines Out


Transition Challenge Update August 8, 2010

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A few days ago I announced Backyard Safari’s first ever Tree Transition Challenge. I mentioned briefly that the challenge didn’t just have to be documented in pictures, but could also be documented using drawing, painting, or any other creative way you can think of!

I thought I’d show a quick example of what I mean. I decided I would try to document the same tree using both photos and drawings as an experiment. It turns out that the drawings can be helpful in unexpected ways. For example, the quality of the picture I take depends a lot on the sunlight and time of day. The picture I took on August 6th is a bit gray and washed out because of the overcast skies. Because of this, the picture doesn’t show very well the 3 to 4 very bright red leaves that have turned in the middle of all the green!  With drawings, I was able to document it anyway.




I’m no professional artist, so you’ll have to take the drawing with a grain of salt, but it was a fun exercise to turn a photo into a drawing that was actually more accurate in some ways (and less accurate in others)! My plan is to put all of the photos and drawings together in the end to show the transition in a sort of fast-forward slide show. I’ve never done this kind of thing before so it will be a lot of fun to try! I really encourage everyone to take up this challenge as well in whatever capacity they feel up for! I’ve already noticed I’m more aware of the seasonal changes I see around me because of documenting what I’ve come to think of as “my” tree.

So good luck to all with the challenge! I think it will be a great experience all around!


Exploring Nature through Field Journals June 16, 2010


Back in March, I wrote a post about the wonderful benefits of keeping a field journal. I really can’t recommend them enough as a way to bring yourself closer to nature, and help you experience it in a different way. I haven’t been writing in mine as much lately, and am currently trying to get back to it again. Just to give you some more examples beyond what was in the last post, here is a drawing from my last field journal/nature journal entry.



I was sitting outside a coffee shop in a major east coast city, and I noticed some sparrows flitting about, searching the ground for crumbs and singing out from the edge of old brick window sills. I made a quick drawing of it, trying to especially capture the way the dark markings on the sparrow looked depending on the angle it was facing.

The benefit of this type of exercise, and of the field journal in general, is to stop a moment to look closer. Drawing something–no matter your skill level–forces you to look a little differently, and notice colors and patterns you didn’t see before.

Another exercise I have always liked is the idea of a “day map.” This is something I learned from this book, although it may be discussed elsewhere as well. Basically, you create a map of interesting things you saw through out your day. The idea isn’t to be able to find them again, necessarily, like you would in an actual map, but to record what you notice as you see it. For example, if I made a map of yesterday I would include seeing the holes the groundhogs have dug in the sides of the retention pond by my house, a large brown rabbit hiding in the grass near an office building, and the heavy, soaking rains and overcast skies later in the day. On the map, a dotted line might show my traveling through time and space between these points.

In addition to being a great way to connect to nature, field journals can also be a great resource to go back to later. For example, I often write questions down that I go back and try to answer once I have access to books or a computer. I also can look back on past journals and compare them to what I see now. Is that big twisted tree that fell over but was still growing still there? Am I seeing as many spotted turtles now as I did when I was a kid? What was the name of that funny looking plant again?

I will keep writing in my field journals and will continue to occasionally take pictures to show you some examples of what you can do. If you already have a nature journal/field journal and feel comfortable taking pictures or scanning some pages to send to me at, I would love to share them!

Don’t force yourself to be perfect or keep track of everything–just record whatever catches your eye or inspires you!  Field journals can be a wonderful lens to view the natural world through, and I recommend them for all ages. If you have very small children, encourage them to draw pictures of what they see while you record dictated sentences. If you are old enough to write yourself, consider keeping a small book in your backpack or back pocket. If smooth, creamy pages inspire you more, as they do for me, find a blank book you like and use it to record thoughts and sketches of what you see. The most exciting thing about keeping a book like this is finding what works for you!

So let’s all give it a try! I will try to get back to writing in my field journal more often, and if you have never kept one before consider making this week, this month, this summer the time you start!


Student Inspiration May 28, 2010

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In my office mail today I received a delightful little package–a set of thank you notes from a 5th grade class, wrapped in a ribbon!  It was so nice of the teacher to think of it and have them write to me about a day I took them to a wetland.  One of the best parts, however, was just for me to see what things had really stood out to them about our day!

I try to be really careful not to post any pictures of kids or names of kids on the internet, which is why you never see pictures of the actual groups of kids doing an activity.

I wanted to share a bit of the joy I got from their cards, however, so here are two of the pictures they drew:



Inside this last card it says: “…I never knew that you could find cadis flies around here! I mean really! I never would have guessed that!  Hope to see you around…”

A lot of the kids seem to remember the caddisfly larva we talked about and searched for under rocks near the edge of a creek. Another one said, “When you said we could go in the stream I was very excited. I thought it was interesting learning about macro invertebrates and how one of them glues rocks together.” Another wrote, ” I learned that cadis flys glue rock together and carry them like a shell.”

Here is a picture one of the kids drew of a hole that was in their wader and made their sock get all wet:


Here is a great picture another kid drew of himself wielding a fish and shouting “on guard!” I am not sure exactly which activity inspired this drawing…



One of the best things is one student wrote that she liked learning how to “check our creeks,” and that she actually checked a different creek by her house when she got home!  How great is that?

I love getting a chance to look at kids writing or drawings to see what stands out to them about a day spent outside. Hopefully they wouldn’t mind me sharing them anonymously a bit here!

In the spirit of thanks, I want to make a minute to thank YOU readers, and anyone who has ever sent me pictures, commented, or subscribed to the blog. I love sharing these pictures and stories with you and I hope you keep coming back to read more!

Have a great evening every one–stay tuned for some exciting animal pictures of creatures the kids found in the woods today!