Summary ꙳ Objectives
▹ Here in the North, the days are finally getting longer and the sun is a bit warmer! Let's get outside and observe together how Nature is slowly awakening.
In temperate climates, early bloomers including snowdrops, crocuses, and daffodils, come into focus. We love getting some hyacinth in pots that we let bloom in our house: for us, the powerful smell of these delicate flowers rings the bell of Spring. Once they're gone we make it a ritual to replant the bulb somewhere in our yard, hoping that it will survive the next winter and bring its wonderful fragrance the next Spring over. Peepers and redwing blackbirds are returning to our wetlands. Later in the season, deciduous trees explode in tender greens and bright colors, their leaf buds unfurling, their flowers blossoming. There's so much to witness and relish!
Spring is also the perfect time to start or resume Nature Journaling. Get your pens & pencils out, and join us out there in our gardens, yards, parks, and forests. Go alone or with friends and enjoy! ツ
Type » Activity
Level » Naturalist + Sketching
When? » Spring
Where? » Outdoors
Time » 1 hr+ & Often
Themes & Skills
Focus ⋆ Observing ⋆ Recording ⋆ Sketching ⋆ Phenology ⋆ Systems Thinking ⋆ Natural processes/cycles
Nature guides about the local fauna and flora ⋆ Your nature journal and sketching supplies
"In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt." —Margaret Atwood
What to look for? Check if your local nature conservation organizations publish a nature almanac. Follow one online, or get one that you can carry around. They are fun to follow. If you go to the beach, look for your local migrants.
In the Northeast, piping plovers arrive from southern wintering grounds. In April, look up and watch the Sprouting Grass Moon, that the Native Americans associated with the appearance of the moss pink, or wild ground phlox—one of the first spring flowers. This moon is also known as the Egg Moon and the Fish Moon. Search in woodlands for early wildflowers, such as trout lily, trillium, and bloodroot... Then in May, Baltimore Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and the stunning Scarlet Tanager arrive from the South. Look up for slashes of colors high in the trees. Pay attention to painted turtles crossing roads. In June, watch for bats in the skies. Look for the garter snakes (remembering that they are inoffensive)...
All are fascinating subjects to observe and record in our journal.
For a start, take a stroll around your neighborhood. Choose a quiet spot that you like and with a mix of trees and shrubs. Does it have a bench? Even better! You'll then be able to return regularly and just sit, watch and sketch the changes throughout the seasons. Give yourself a moment to find your peace and breath. Make a note in your journal of how the season or that particular day makes you feel.
Look around and move your gaze from one related group to another: plants, flowers, trees, bushes, animals including birds and insects. Then in no specific order focus on something: a tree, or a group of birds, or some flowers. Switch regularly between focusing and a large overlook. Let your eyes travel around.
Trees. They are prime signs that there's wildlife around you. They provide food, shelter and building material, clean our air, and cool our activities down. Look at the ones that you see around. Can you name them? If not, it's okay: call them the way you want. Note their general characteristics. Start with their shape (round, oval, spreading, pyramidal, canonical, weeping...). Look at the trunk, check the pattern of the bark. Differentiate the deciduous from the evergreen.
At this time of the year, the deciduous trees up north are regaining their color, flowering for some, all ready to pop their leaves out and start fulfilling their many functions including photosynthesis, transpiration, and storing food for the tree...
Note the colors, color the colors. Pick few differently colored & shaped leaves, draw and color them. What are the dominant colors that you are using?
In wetlands, listen for spring peepers. The persistent high-pitch whistle of large groups is truly overpowering after dusk sets. At midday, watch for garter snakes basking in the Sun in grassy meadows and clearings.
Plants. Which flowers and plants are blooming around at this time? Which ones are early bloomers? Draw a few flowers and grass. Follow a flower for a few days or weeks during the season, note and draw the changes. Check your Nature guide(s) and write down the names of the ones that are listed. For those you can't identify, take a snapshot to investigate later or check what iNaturalist suggests that you saw.
Birds & Mammals. What are your local birds? Check your Nature guides. Which are the ones who are migrating here for the summer, or are in transit for some other place? It's mating season, check their rituals (never intruding). Draw a couple of birds or more from Life, but also from photos and videos to get familiar with them. Draw them in various settings (flying, foraging, preening, singing...).
How about squirrels? Look at them chasing each other, dancing in the trees. Check for their nests up in the tree branches, nests made of a mix of leaves and twigs. Check at the bottom of trees for food scraps that they might have left behind.
What other mammals do you have in the area? In cities, rabbits, possums, raccoons, and skunks wander around. But you'd be surprised to know that deer, coyotes, foxes also roam the areas quietly when you're not looking. Outside the cities, there is expectedly a greater diversity including bobcats, fisher cats and bears (in our region). What's in your region? Look on the web for a local animal tracks chart, make a copy and go investigate in your own backyard or local park. If you find some, sketch and record them. Where we live in the Boston area, we once found coyote tracks.
Fungi. For those of us living in cities, it seems harder to find funguses. You might simply have less gilled mushrooms and polypores that need humidity, decaying wood, and are sensitive to pollution. But they're 'here' in hiding and growing under the right conditions... Go on a 'shroom' hunt, check the trees up to see if shelf fungi are present, look in more humid areas. And if you find some, record them: they're truly precious...
Insects. Check for the bugs! They're very active too, munching, feeding, pollinating, weaving webs in all shapes. By May, Bumblebee queens have emerged and are looking for good nest sites. Their flying patterns are zigzags close to the ground in scrubby areas and field edges. Check for small blue butterflies (spring azure) patrolling their territories late afternoon, at the edge of woodland and in forest clearings. In June, you might catch the sight of fireflies, flickering in the grass, and among trees. Green darner dragonflies have returned and can be seen patrolling near ponds...Naturalist Notes
We never miss an opportunity to get out at this great time of the year. Life is busy for all, but we make sure we set an hour aside every week to get out with our journal. Every time that we get out for doing chores and such, we collect leaves, corns and other 'Fall'en objects. Once home, we take few minutes here and there to detail and sketch them. Doing so we imprint their shapes and colors in our mind, getting more familiar with our surrounding each time.
▹ If you're new to nature journaling and sketching, don't be afraid. Everybody can sketch, it is about seeing before anything else. As soon as you learn 'to see', and a few sketching tricks, you're all set. Remember that nature journaling is about recording information in words and lines. It's all about the observation, not the drawing per say. You'll be surprised to see how fast actually one can learn how to set lines and shapes on a page, and then how quickly one improves!
▹ Don't forget to be correctly equipped. Nothing is more annoying than realizing that you forgot your special pen or brush!
▹ Here are a few books from Nature sketchers and observers to inspire you, and to set you up on your own personal journal journey.
Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of the Natural World by Julia Rothman
How to Keep a Naturalist's Notebook by Susan Leigh Tomlinson
Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth
Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, The 1st Edition by John Muir Laws