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

What’s In a Naturalist’s Backpack?

Who is a naturalist?
It doesn’t take much to be a naturalist – anyone can be one! A naturalist is someone who enjoys spending time in nature, exploring aspects of the natural world, and making observations about the things that they see. Does that sound like you? If so, you are a naturalist! A naturalist is CURIOUS, EXCITED about learning and discovering, and RESPECTFUL towards all living and non-living beings in the world.

What do you need to be a naturalist?
Your most important tools are the senses you have available to you. Those senses may include: SIGHT, HEARING, TOUCH, SMELL, and TASTE. You can use these “tools” in so many ways to observe your surroundings and to discover patterns in nature!There are some other tools that naturalists bring with them to investigate nature more closely. Many of these tools can fit right inside a backpack, meaning that you can take them anywhere! 

Safety first!
Before we talk about WHAT you can bring on your adventure in nature, it’s important that we go over a few things to help keep you and the environment safe.

  • During Corona Virus Shelter-in-place orders: maintain a safe distance of 6 feet and explore the outdoors close to home rather than traveling far away.
  • Some essentials to pack: appropriate layers depending on the weather where you live, water to stay hydrated, a snack to fuel you through your day, and a first aid kit. If you’re going for an adventure further from your house, these things are very important!
  • Kids – make sure to take a trusted adult on your nature exploration. 
  • Avoid touching, picking, or eating plants that you are not familiar with. Even if you think you know what something is, it’s important to ask an adult and get an I.D. confirmation first. Never attempt to touch or approach a wild animal. 

Journal and Art Supplies 
A great place to start is with paper and pen or pencil. An important part of being a naturalist is taking notes and recording the things you see! 

A page full of notes and sketches of plants from a naturalist's journal

Why do you think it’s important to record observations in this way?

If you like to draw, you can take your favorite art supplies with you to make sketches of the things you see. There is no wrong way to nature journal! Ask questions in your journal, get creative, make graphs – it’s up to you! 

If you’re stuck on what to write about, you can try “I Notice, I Wonder, and It Reminds Me Of”. All you have to do is choose something you  see in nature and finish those sentences based off of the observations that you’re making with your senses! 

Some good resources to help you with nature journaling:

A page of notes relating to the definition and functions of a field guide

What’s That?
Have you ever been on a walk in nature, saw something AMAZING , and wondered, “What IS that?”. This is where field guides come in handy! A field guide is a book or handout that helps you identify things that you can find in the natural world. There are so many field guides out there in the world – whatever you are interested in, there is definitely a field guide for it! 

Field guides are great to use after you have spent time with your organism, making observations about what you notice about it. They can tell you the name of the organism as well as any other cool information about it! 

There are a lot of helpful books to get you started on your identification. Field guides can be foldable pamphlets, too – easy to carry around in a backpack! There are also so many field guides online that you can download to either print or view. You can even create your own field guide!

A pair of binoculars resting on a log

Look Closer!
Up close or far away – there are a lot of tools we can use to help us focus our eyes on the things we see in nature! Here are just a few.

Binoculars
Look! There’s a bird perched high up in that tree. One way to look at it a little more closely is by using a pair of binoculars. Binoculars are tools that have two lenses for your eyes that help magnify your vision.

How to Use Binoculars 

  • First, focus on the object you want to see more closely with just your eyes. Then, slowly raise the binoculars to your eyes. 
  • Adjust your binoculars. If it is blurry when you look through the lenses, you can adjust your binoculars to make them more clear. Your binoculars should come with a set of instructions on how to do this – often there is a knob at the top or around the lenses you can rotate.
  • Use binoculars only when standing still, not walking – you could trip and fall! Make sure to never look at the sun through your binoculars – this could cause permanent damage to your eyes.
A naturalist magnifier

Magnifying Glass or Hand Lens
These tools help us see details up close- like the scales on a butterfly wing, tiny hairs on a fuzzy plant, or tiny organisms swimming around in the water! Peer into a magnifying glass or hand lens and see what you can find.

 Good places to find these tools:

A bug net being held outdoors

Gettin’ Buggy!
Watch a spider spinning its web, follow a butterfly from flower to flower, or watch a worm wriggle in the dirt! There is so much to learn about these tiny creatures – they are not to be overlooked! 

There are ways we can safely look more closely at insects. An insect net is a tool that helps you safely capture insects so that you can make observations. You can carry some small jars with holes in the lid or sides to create a temporary home for the insect while you take a closer look. It is always better to just look with our eyes when we find insects, but if we are careful, we can use these tools to get a better understanding of our six-legged friends.

Remember! Never pick up or touch an insect you are not familiar with. Make sure to be gentle when using your net to observe living creatures. Always release insects in the same place you found them after you are done making observations! 

Now your bag is all packed and you’re ready to explore! 

  • Your senses, curiosity, and excitement will help you make observations and discoveries on your way.
  • Your field guides will help you go deeper and learn more about plants and animals that you find.
  • Your insect nets will encourage you to notice the similarities and differences between the insects you may see.
  • Your binoculars, hand lens, or magnifying glass will give you an up close view of nature.
  • Your journal will help you record your findings, take notes, draw pictures, and ask questions about the things you find along the way!

Who knows what wonderful surprises you’ll find out in nature?

Post by: Ellen

Pollinator Matching Activity | 2nd grade

Bee carrying deposits of pollen as it visits a new flower

As we enjoy the blooms of spring, we have many creatures to thank. Show us what you already know about pollinators by playing a matching game! Then go on a scavenger hunt to continue learning about pollinators around your home.

Preparation: 

  • Print out Pollinator and Flower Sheets. Cut out cards. Fold each card at the middle line so one side shows the image and the other side shows the information. (you can tape, glue or staple so that it stays together). 
  • Print out Pollinator Scavenger Hunt Data Sheet to use after the matching game

Questions to think about:
Have you heard of a pollinator? What do they do?
What are some pollinators that you have seen before?

Matching Game:
Show off what you know and match the picture of a pollinator with the picture of a flower you think they would be most attracted to. Check your answers using the information on the back of each image.

After the matching game:

  • Go on a pollinator scavenger hunt! Look out your window or go outside into your backyard or neighborhood. Use your data sheet to record what you find. 
  • There are many more pollinators in the world than are included in the pollinator matching game. What new pollinators do you notice? Take the time to look inside flowers and smell them too!
  •  Choose one of the new pollinators you saw to learn more about. Then make your own pollinator card to add to the game!
    • You can use the pollinator and flower cards as a guide to make your own card. 
    • Cut a piece of paper to match the size of the cards. Draw a picture of the pollinator one one side and then flip over to write facts from the links below on the opposite side.

More Information 
Click here to learn more about pollination and pollinators
Click here to learn how to help protect pollinators 

Post by Elise

Gettin’ Birdy: Seabright Neighborhood Walk

There are quite a few habitats to be found around the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. Today we will go on a short walk starting at the Museum, and ending at Arana Gulch Open Space Park. The Museum is located in Tyrrell Park. Let’s start there, where a number of interesting neighborhood birds live. House finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) and golden-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia atricapilla) can be found flying through the bushes while the occasional red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) can be seen in the big eucalyptus tree. Bushtits (Psaltriparus minimus) can be seen flitting through the shrubs, making their “plinking” calls as they look for insects, sounding like tiny little tambourines.

As you walk out toward Seabright Beach you will probably see a wide variety of gulls and the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) poking around looking for something to eat. In the water you might see the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentails) flying around or the double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) swimming around chasing fish. As you walk towards the Santa Cruz Harbor and lighthouse keep your eyes peeled for the snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus) hiding in the sand dunes. Please keep your distance from these adorable and threatened birds as they nest on the same beaches that we play on, so we need to respect their space and their home. 

While you’re walking through the Santa Cruz Harbor, be on the lookout for some of the marine mammals that occasionally cruise through including California sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis), the Pacific harbor seal (Phoca vitulina richardii), and the California sea lion (Zalophus californianus). Perched on the masts of the boats you might see the black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) or even a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) with its wingspan of over 6 feet. 

If you head north through the Harbor you will come to Arana Gulch Open Space Park. This 67 acre park has open meadows surrounded by wetlands and beautiful oak forest. There have been many amazing wildlife sightings at Arana Gulch, including coyotes (Canis latrans) and golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos). The wetland on the east side is home to the belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon), a small and vocal bird which can be seen diving into the water to catch fish. The oak forests surrounding the edges provide habitats for the downy woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) and the California scrub jay (Aphelocoma californica). In the meadows you can see the western bluebird (Sialia mexicana) and the western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) perched along the fences while you can often find the red-tailed hawk soaring overhead.

This short, hour-long walk takes you through some beautiful habitats and shows how nature is your neighbor and not something far away or hard to find.

Post by: Chris

Gettin’ Birdy: Where are the Birds?

Birds are, quite literally, all around us. They are a constant presence in our cities, parks, and open spaces. The previous post provided an introduction to the “why” of birdwatching, and some basic tools and tips to get started. This post will introduce a selection of species that are common across nearly all habitat types in Santa Cruz – “the regulars”. Following “Gettin’ Birdy” posts will take deeper dives into particular birding hotspots, as well as bird biology and behavior. 

One of the great benefits of birdwatching is that birds are present in our cities and urban spaces. You don’t have to get far out into nature to see interesting species or witness unusual behavior. In fact, there are many interesting behaviors that are exhibited by birds that thrive alongside our city streets and buildings. Look for nests under the eaves of buildings or in brushy areas of backyards, and even in planters and garden boxes – certain ground-nesting birds often hide beneath ornamental shrubs and flowers! As you begin to explore your neighborhood and local area for birds, it can be nice to have an idea of what you might be seeing. The species list and images below can serve as a nice primer for “the regulars” that you may be able to see from your own window, front porch, or yard.

Post by: Spencer

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.

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