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Sourgrass Natural Dye Video Tutorial

There’s more to sourgrass than its lip-puckering powers. Dig a little deeper with this natural dye video tutorial.

Sourgrass (Oxalis sp.) is a plant of extremes: children love its strong flavor, pollinators gorge on its abundant nectar, many adore its ability to overwhelm a field when in bloom, and many still detest the invasive qualities of some of its species. Oxalis pes-caprae, native to South Africa, has made itself comfortably at home in California, forming dense mats that outcompete native plant species for light and space.

Whether you love it or can’t stand it, sourgrass has an interesting hidden quality that is both useful and exciting: it dyes fabric a vibrant, neon, highlighter-yellow color. Watch our video tutorial to learn how to play with its pigment and explore more resources below:

Post by Marisa

Science Illustration Prompt: Sequential Observations

Explore science illustration with artists featured in our annual exhibit, The Art of Nature, and get tips for how to make your own science illustrations at home. This post is from Megan Gnekow, recipient of the Museum’s 2019 Laura Hecox Naturalist Award.

A watercolor of a bird of prey feeding a chick

I make scientific illustrations because I want to inspire folks to look closely at the world around them. I want to make complexities and relationships more clear, helping people understand that all organisms are connected to each other. — Megan Gnekow

Prompt: Sequential Observations

There are so many great ways to use a nature journaling project to connect to your local habitat(s). One of my favorites is sequential observations — making notes and sketches about an organism you observe over time. Spring is a great time to do this because there are so many visible changes happening in our environments.

Choose an organism that you can observe regularly over a period of time (the period of shelter-in-place is a good place to start!). Observe the organism you have chosen as frequently as you are able to and make notes and sketches about what you observe. Note date, time, location (macro-habitat and micro-habitat). Use as many of your senses as you can and record what you learn!

Recording your observations over time gives you insights into an organism and the environment in which it lives. Hopefully this plants a seed for further observations and exploration. Don’t worry about making beautiful drawings. Just sketch and/or note what you observe! 

If you can’t get outside or have other limitations to observing organisms, there are plenty of webcams available to inspire you — I would suggest a bird camera hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology or the falcon cam at UC Berkeley.

Read more about Megan Gnekow here and visit her website here. Explore all of her illustrations from this peregrine falcon series here.

Cultivating Nature Awareness

Sketch of a chickadee

So much can be revealed to us when we immerse ourselves in our surroundings and give our undivided attention to nature! When we slow down and focus our senses, our awareness deepens and we begin to notice more. Noticing, in turn, leads to connection, familiarity, a desire for stewardship, a sense of place, and so much more. By familiarizing ourselves with nature in this way we can also learn to recognize patterns and relationships that exist all around us.

The intention for this guide is to help you build your sensory awareness skills through nature journaling, games, stories, and exercises in mindfulness. So grab a journal, head outside, and let’s begin!

Explore:
Nature Awareness Guide

This Nature Awareness Guide by our Education Assistant Ellen Stone was written as a capstone project for the California Naturalist Program, 2019.

Related Activities:

Exploring Neary Lagoon

Neary Lagoon Wildlife Refuge is a beloved park nestled at the heart of Santa Cruz. Once a true lagoon (with an open connection to the ocean), Neary Lagoon is now a freshwater marsh. It is an important part of an 850 acre watershed that drains into the lagoon via Laurel Creek and Bay Creek before draining into the ocean through a controlled flood gate.

This is a 44-acre park with roughly 14 acres of freshwater lagoon, and is an important habitat for many animals. CLICK HERE to download a guided hike for a 1-mile loop through this beautiful wildlife refuge. As you observe wildlife, refer to this guide of commonly-spotted animals.

Post by: Chris

Gettin’ Birdy: Why Birdwatch?

The central coast of California is a biodiversity hotspot, and a perfect place to learn more about wildlife. Santa Cruz is fortunate to have a number of city parks and open spaces that attract many different species of birds – all told, 450 different species have been recorded in the county. That’s over a third of all species seen in the entire country! So, if you are interested in getting outside and exploring over the coming days, weeks, and beyond, try birdwatching! It can be fun for all ages, birds are widespread and common across urban and open spaces, and there are a number of effective resources to help those unfamiliar with identifying birds. Birdwatching is a window into lives quite different from our own, but the world of birds, and even their interactions with humans are fascinating and clearly visible once you know how to look for them. All it takes is practice! 

Seabird runs in the surf with the sun low on the horizon
Photo by Jacqueline Deely, www.jacquelinedeely.com 

Getting Started

So, you want to see birds. One of the first decisions to make when it comes to birdwatching is where to go. There are certainly places that are more “birdy” than others, but have no fear – you will see birds almost anywhere you go! Bird hot-spots can be found at your local park, creek, or beach, and especially places with water such as wetlands, ponds, and rivers.

Go outside. Do you see birds? You are now a birdwatcher! Armed with nothing but your senses and curiosity, you are now primed to look more closely at the world around you. And if going outside is challenging, you can always birdwatch right from your window. As you begin to identify species and witness interesting behavior, try to record what you’re seeing. Creating a record of your observations is an invaluable skill for naturalists and scientists, and as you continue to birdwatch, you may notice interesting patterns begin to emerge. Below is a list of optional tools to aid with observation, ID, and data recording to get you started. Following posts will explore particular hotspots more in depth and provide tips and tricks to aid with ID, as well as further resources for those interested in flying into the world of birds. 

A group watches through binoculars from an observation platform

Tools & Resources

  • Binoculars can be very helpful, but aren’t always necessary. Many birds are large enough or have distinct enough markings and colors that they can be identified without the use of tools. 
  • Field guides. These come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and popular ones include the Sibley, Peterson, and National Geographic guides to birds. There are even app-based guides!
  • A journal or notebook to write down observations, sketch what you see, or otherwise record your experiences. 
  • eBird – a great resource for exploring regions, hotspots, and individual species. You can also upload the species you saw to a database, the largest of its kind on the planet. 
  • Merlin is an app for smartphones that aids with ID in the field. Just select the date, location, size, colors, and behavior (in trees, swimming, soaring) of the bird you’re looking at to generate a list of possible species. 

Now get out there and start birding! 
They’re not gonna watch themselves.

Post by: Spencer

Create Your Own Field Guide

Creating a field guide is a great way to become an expert on a location. It is also a great way to share information with others. Choose a location to become an expert on! It can be your backyard, neighborhood, or any other outdoor spot that interests you. Once you have chosen your spot you may choose to focus on plants, animals, or both! Depending on how much time you have and what makes you most excited about learning. 

Recording data in an observation journal
Record your observations with writing, drawing, or by taking pictures.

Step 1: Bioblitz!

  1. Before you can make a field guide, you have to know what lives in your spot–start with a bioblitz! A bioblitz is when you try to find and identify all the species in a certain area over a short period of time. Bring with you a camera or journal to record what you find. You may also bring along field guides, or a smartphone to look up things on the go. Another option is to take pictures or sketch organisms you find outside to look up later. 
  2. On your bioblitz it is important to pay close attention to everything. Taking pictures or drawing what you find will be a helpful resource to look back on. 
  3. After the bioblitz you can do research using the online resources listed below to identify species that you don’t know. Once you have identified all the species you can start creating your field guide!

Making your field guide

  1. Choose your materials. Your field guide can be handmade with pen and paper or it can be typed on the computer. If you make it on the computer, it will be easier to share with others via email or posting on social media.
  2. Organize your field guide to make it user friendly.
    1. Make a table of contents and include page numbers 
    2. If you chose to include both plants and animals you should group those accordingly (plants in one section and animals in the other)
    3. Having images or a detailed description of what the species looks like
    4. Information or facts about the species such as where it is found, what it does, and what seasons it is around.
  3. When you finish your field guide, share it with your community! Then others can use your field guide to learn about creatures and plants in Santa Cruz. “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught”- Baba Dioum

Post by: Elise

Geology of West Cliff Drive

Use this handout as a guide for your walk along West Cliff Drive.

Stop at a few geologically significant locations and see if you can notice where Purisima Formation sandstone meets the Santa Cruz Mudstone, learn to identify concretions, and ponder how erosion might impact the future of the Santa Cruz Lighthouse.

Handout for exploring geologic landmarks while walking West Cliff Drive
Learn more about local geology with our Rockin' Pop Up video series.
Explore all things geology and fossils in our Online Museum Store.

Post by: Marisa