Thursday, January 29, 2015

Nature Photography is Another Form of Journaling

Hello Nature Journalers,

It's sure been a while since I posted last, I've been pretty busy with work and other things! I have been keeping up with nature study. Last summer, I took a photography class at my local community college and learned how to use a digital SLR camera. Since then, I've been visiting local parks and taking photos of wildlife and nature.

I'm beginning to realize that photography is just another style of nature journaling. Instead of expressing ideas and information through words and drawing, I've been journaling my experiences through pictures. I've found that my best pictures are the ones that have a clear subject, and tell a story. I hope that my gallery of images inspires you. Take a look at it by clicking here.

I also have created a personal website for professional purposes. Feel free to check it out by clicking here.

Happy Journaling!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Finding the Rhythm - Identifying Bird Calls

Hey Nature Journalers!,

It's been a while since I last updated, but I'm still here! I've been keeping busy interning for a local non-profit that fundraises for local parks/recreation/education programs and learning some new things along the way like basic web design and e-mail marketing skills. Transitioning to life outside of school and trying to find a job in the difficult economy has been challenging, but I've been constantly reminded that keeping a connection with nature is essential for well-being.

A few days ago I was listening to robin calls for a half-hour or so, but there was one song I was hearing that I didn't recognize right away and it drove me crazy trying to figure it out. I knew that it couldn't possibly be a robin call, but it didn't sound quite like a wren call. The weather was overcast and rainy, but there were a surprising amount of birds active despite the weather.

I did some internet searching to try and figure it out using some free search engines (like and eventually figured that it sounded exactly like a Wilson's Warbler call. I grabbed my binoculars and went outside trying to and confirm my idea, but instead I saw a male American Goldfinch (which has an even more complex-sounding set of calls!). It seems that many species of birds were all singing at the same time and perching in the same area.

It's a birder's task to separate the layers of sound to make the correct identification. It's somewhat easy to visually memorize birds from a field guide (but even more difficult using those skills to identify in the field), but learning to identify birds by sound is even more difficult.

Some birds species have many different calls depending on the situation - alarm calls, songs, etc. What I've noticed is that certain bird species have a similar sort of "rhythm" - like the bubbly chatter of wrens. Also, it's sometimes easier to imagine bird calls as words, like the "cheerily, cheeriup, cheerio, cheeriup" American Robin song, or the "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" Black-Capped Chickadee alarm call.

I'm going to try and update my blog more often from now on - so until next time!

Happy Journaling!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Future of Nature Journaling for Kids

Hello Nature Journalers,

Lately I've been wondering about future options for my Nature Journaling for Kids booklet. I have gotten quite a few (2,000+ total) steady pageviews for this website, but I'm not sure how to keep track of how many times the booklet has been downloaded from Google Docs. To be straightforward, I'm not sure if people are using the booklet or how their experience was when using it.

I honestly believe that providing the booklet for free is the ideal way to provide the most benefit to the public, but I've been worried about copyright issues when having my work out in the public domain (like people downloading/modifying the booklet and claiming it as their own).

I've been considering monetizing the booklet. Examples could include only allowing a free preview then paying for the full download, allowing ads on the website, and/or adding a suggested donation button on the sidebar.

Also, there is the issue that my booklet is a bit outdated, and I ideally would want to make a lot of improvements to it if I wanted to monetize it. The original file I created the booklet in has many missing images in it, and I would have to put a bit of work into it to restore it to how it looked before.

Thank you so much for your patience and understanding. Please feel free to leave a comment with any thoughts that you might have.

Happy Journaling!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sustainability and Ecological Succession

Whew, it had sure been a long time since I last updated. Working on final projects, graduation, and doing another summer internship has been a lot of work, but definitely worth it. Graduating has been daunting and exciting all at the same time, but I'm now a college graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree!
I admit that during this recent period I haven't been updating my nature journal or taking as many nature walks as I would like, but I have still tried to watch birds as much as I can. I've noticed that moving back home just 30 miles away from my college has really shown me how the type of habitat affects the bird species that lives in the area. My college was in a semi-rural area with a massave temperate forest surrounding campus, and a rocky beach facing an inlet just a 15 minute walk away. The bird species I would notice the most on campus was the Oregon Dark-Eyed Junco, Spotted Towhee, American Crow, Song Sparrow, American Robin Black-Capped Chickadee and the occassional Varied Thrush, and even more rarely a Pileated Woodpecker. At the beach, I would see various diving duck, Gull species, and the occassional Cormorant.

Now, living at home in a suburban area, the larger birds dissapear, and instead I see a farly dense population of smaller birds in my backyard like finches, sparrows, chickadees, flickers, and wrens. I've even noticed a (robin?) nest built in a maple tree in the yard just above my reach. Perhaps suburban birds are more comfortable living among human populations. Or maybe the birds would need to live closer together because there is a smaller area of "wild" habitat for them to live in, and therefore have less places to hide. I also wonder if a surburban area would have more food than a large forested area.
I also have to take into account that my backyard has different plant species than a large forest. My backyard has more planted non-native flowers, invasive wild blackberry brambles, and only deciduous (leafy) trees. My college has more native foliage, large established decidious trees like Big-Leafed Maple, and Red Alder, and also many coniferious (having needles) trees like Western Red Cedar, Western Hemlock, and Douglas Fir.

The difference in bird populations I'm noticing when I compare my backyard in the developed suburban area, and my college's forested area all has to do with ecological sucession. Wikipedia defines this term as "the phenomenon or process by which an ecological community undergoes more or less orderly and predictable changes following disturbance or initial colonization of new habitat," but in simpler terms, it's the order in which plants and animals colonize an area. For example, when a forest fire destroys a section of forest, certian plants will grow first because the structure of the forest has changed. Fire clears away undergrowth and lets more sunlight in, so sun-loving plants that don't need lots of nutrients in the soil grow first, like small bushes and Douglas fir/Alder trees. Eventually this new growth will become dense enough to allow shade-loving plants like Western Hemlock/Cedar trees to grow, and the older plants eventually die and become food (nurse logs for example) to decomposers like fungi, which then enriches the soil. And someday another fire or another disturbance will cause the cycle to repeat itself.

Humans can also be the cause of ecological disturbances in a negative and positive way. The most common example is logging, or clearing forest for housing and other developments. Sometimes logging can be so destructive that it changes wildlife migration patterns and the area never quite recovers. However there are new methods of sustainable logging where workers can "prune" an area by selecting the trees they want and still leaving the forest standing. But human impact on an area can also be positive, like controlled burning to increase growth, and getting rid of invasive species to encourage species diversity.

So the difference between my house and my college is that they are in different stages of ecological succession. My college is nestled in a large forest that has been growing for 100+ years, while my suburb I live in is a developed area where the forest was cut down to make room for housing developments. However, not all human impact is negative. Some plant and animal species thrive in areas of disturbance and human devlopment, and life will continually adapt to change. The main goal would be to create an area where human development does not destroy an area, but instead in a way where plant and wildlife also have an equal chance of survival. And that, is sustainability in a nutshell! : ) 

So some questions to think about are: What type of habitat do I live in? What stage of ecological succession is this area, and how does this change what animal and plant species I'm seeing? How/Why is this habitat different compared to other areas? What ways does the area where I live help plants and animals to grow? How can I make it even better?

For example, since I like watching birds, I could make my backyard a better place for birds by planting more shrubs for birds to hide in, putting up bird houses, and keeping my birdbath clean. Here's some tips here on living with wildlife on the WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife's website.

Happy Journaling!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Quick Update

Hi all,

Sorry it's been such a long time since I last posted; I've been busy with my last quarter of college. Here's a quick update.

I have some good news: I found the original InDesign file I used to create the Nature Journaling for Kids booklet, it had been missing for about a year. The file has a lot of missing links so it would take some time to update it back to it's original condition, but it's possible.

Happy Journaling!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Nature Study is About Staying Curious

Hello all,

I greatly appreciate those who have commented recently. I'm glad that my work can be enjoyed by people around the world!

It's been an exciting journey into the world of birdwatching, art, and nature study. I initially became interested in birds almost two years ago during a environmental education internship at a local nature center. For part of my internship I participated in the Washington State Nature Mapping program, where ordinary people count and record local wildlife so scientists can track populations. I partnered up with one of the volunteers, who then took me out on the trail to show me how to identify bird calls. Her vast knowledge of birding blew me away! By the end of my summer internship I was hooked on birdwatching.

One thing I have noticed from my internship (and subsequent experiences, which I won't go into right now), is that once you start birding, it becomes a habit, almost a state of mind. Even when walking to class in the morning, I'm always looking into the trees or up at the sky and making an approximate mental list of what bird species I'm seeing.
Watching birds doesn't have to be a complicated endeavor with high-tech spotting scopes in remote regions of the world (although that can be really fun). All you really need are your eyes and ears. Birding is just about being curious.

Being a busy student entering my last quarter of college, I find that I just don't have the time to sit and write/draw my observations on a regular basis. Also, living in Washington State with cold, rainy, overcast weather for the majority of the year, it can be sometimes hard to be motivated to go outdoors! I think that a good technique for those in similar situations is to keep a sort of mental journal. If I see an unusual bird on a walk and don't have anything to record it with I try and remember all the details I can, then look it up later. I find that I go on my own nature study walks during the spring/summer when the weather is better, or when I get bursts of creative inspiration.

On a side note: after browsing through my bird field guide (I mostly use the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America) about a week ago I realized that the last picture under "Megan's Bird Behavior Field Journal" actually shows a male and a female Common Mergansernot Red-Breasted Mergansers.
The Common Merganser male is mostly white on the underside, while the Red-Breasted would have a speckled breast and grey markings on the underside.
*edit: ok, so it does have a dark marking on its chest. Maybe it is a Red-Breasted after all? I wish I could go see them and look again, but they're already starting to migrate to breeding grounds at this time of year.

I guess my overall message for this post is: it's okay if you're busy or find it hard to get outside. Being engaged with your community and with nature can be as simple as just keeping your eyes and ears open, staying curious, and by asking questions. Keep those questions in your head until you get the time to research, write, and/or draw about it later. And it's okay to make mistakes, learning from them is all a part of the process.

Happy Journaling! Hope you liked my first real blog post!

~ I've been getting e-mails about getting permission to share the nature journal. I'm currently in the process of figuring out the sharing and privacy settings.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Author's Nature Journal

Under the "Pages" tab to the left, I have posted a new page called Megan's Bird Behavior Field Journal. This is part of my college final project for this quarter, part of which I created my own nature journal. Check it out!