A young naturalist is someone who loves exploring and learning about nature. Sound like you? Then read on!
Whether you are in the woodlands or the urban environment, wildlife can always be found. To be a young naturalist means that you desire to know more about your surroundings and the plants and creatures that share them. In fact, you are never too young or too old to explore the natural world. All you need to be a young naturalist is a keen interest in nature, and perhaps, for the very young naturalist, someone to guide you in the beginning. Below are a few activities to help you get started, from keeping a nature journal to helping animals have a safe habitat.
1. Keep a Nature Journal
A nature journal is a wonderful tool for beginning your young naturalist career. All you need is a notebook, a pen, and some pencil crayons if you like to colour. In your notebook, record interesting sightings and interactions you have with plants and animals. When you go for a walk in the park, the beach, the mountains, or the forest, observe and sketch plant or animal life. Jot down rough notes or interesting facts you learn from signs or gathered from trusted sources like wildlife experts or books. Later, beneath your sketches, write captions or journal entries listing observed details and your own impressions.
Nature Journal Activity: Wild Neighbors
What kind of animals live in your neighborhood? Do you see these animals in the spring, in the fall, or all year round? Do they migrate? How do these animals find shelter, what do they eat, and where do they have their babies?
2. Identify Nature
Deepen your connection to nature by becoming inspired to learn more. If you find an animal, plant, or fossil that you’d like to identify, write down a description, take a photo, or make a sketch in your notebook, and then do some further research. If you bring it to the Natural History Centre, we’ll do our best to help you identify it. Get help from our identification guides or email us a description and photograph of your item for feedback from an expert. While exploring, tread lightly on the Earth by practicing the three L’s: look, learn, and leave is the best policy to protect our environment for future generations. You may wish to check out these Nature Identification Resources: Biodiversity of the Central Coast, Bird ID, Insect ID, Plant ID, Vancouver Island Frogs ID Guide, Vancouver Island Snake ID Guide, Vancouver Island Salamander ID Guide.
3. Become a Fossil Hunter
Fossils are clues to life in the past. Fossils are like a photograph of an animal at a particular point in the history of the Earth. They also help us understand what kinds of environments existed millions of year ago. When fossil hunting, look for concretions–rounded rocks embedded in layers of stone in sedimentary rocks. These nodules often house fossils. (Concretions with horizontal cracks are the most promising.) They can be found on the beach, especially at low tide along the water line or trapped in tide pools. Remember, it is important not to hammer into rock faces or cliffs for fossils.
A night when the moon isn’t bright and the sky isn’t cloudy is a perfect time for stargazing. Lay down a blanket or set up some comfortable chairs, and look up at the giant puzzle that is the night sky. Amidst the countless stars, you can look for constellations like the Big Dipper, individual stars like the North Star, or planets like Venus or Jupiter. Remember to bring some stargazing tools such as a good star map, binoculars or a telescope, a notebook to sketch and record your sightings, and a light to help you see everything!
To see what planets are currently visible in the night sky, go to: Timeanddate.com’s Interactive Night Sky Map.
To see what constellations are in the sky for the current month, check out NASA’s Printable Star Maps Activity.
For your own personal planetarium, use an astronomy App such as Night Sky.
5. Harvest Wild Edibles
Get excited about plants as herbal medicine and food. Having a day of edible harvest is a great way to become curious about the wild plants in your environment. Find a plant expert or refer to a book such as Pacific Northwest Medicinal Plants to help you examine plants closely and learn more about them. Pay attention to different types of leaves, as well as flowers and branch patterns. It may also be interesting to compare the different habitats of the plants. Which plants grow in open fields, and which grow under the forest canopy? After you have collected some wild edibles, enjoy the fruits of your labour with a foraged feast! Remember to wear gloves and be careful not to touch the plants if you plan on collecting stinging nettles. The Natural History Centre offers forest walks–you may want to check and see when the next one on native plants is being offered.
6. Wander and Explore
With an accessible landscape and some curiosity, you can enjoy nature but setting out on a wandering adventure. Dedicate a day to allowing yourself to follow your curiosity and explore the landscape. Be prepared to discover and follow new paths that are still a mystery to you. Once you return home, you may want to record the highlights of your journey in your nature journal. Draw a map using landmarks such as big trees, boulders, or creeks that you discovered.
7. Go Birdwatching
Birding at a young age might spark a lifelong hobby. There is something awe-inspiring about watching birds. It allows you to explore your surrounding environment while being attuned and respectful of the creatures that life there. Get up early and go for a walk in your neighborhood or local park. You may wish to start by closing your eyes and listening: what birdsong can you hear, and where is it coming from? Learn some mnemonics for common birdsong here. Staying close to the water is a good practice to spot many species of birds, whether herons, ducks, geese, oystercatchers, loons, surf scoters, buffleheads, kingfisher . . . and bald eagles! You may wish to bring a birding book and some binoculars. Conservancy Hornby Island offers a nice outline of what animals you can spot during the four seasons on and around Hornby Island.
8. Plant a Wildlife Garden
Due to global warming, deforestation, and extinction, many animals today can use a hand with creating or maintaining a safe habitat. You can help with animals’ habitats by creating a wildlife garden. One of the greatest pleasures of a wildlife garden is getting to observe the various species that are drawn to it. Leaving out a pile of logs will make a hideaway for insects which in turn attract birds and other animals. Include trees, hedgerows, long grass, and a range of shrubs to improve nesting spaces, provide essential cover, and invite a diversity of various critters in your garden. When you leave parts of your garden untouched, you create a safe area for wildlife to visit or make their home. Plus, digging in the dirt is fun!
9. Keep the Environment Clean
To help wildlife of all kinds, be sure to clean up after picnics and recycle your newspapers, aluminum cans, glass, and plastic. Beware of Plastic! Sea mammals can swallow plastic bags, but they cannot digest them, so this could cause animals to die. Dispose properly of plastic six-pack holders so that animals like ducks don’t get their necks caught in them and be careful of items like balloons. Don’t let them go. Some animals might think the balloon is food and try to eat it. You can also gather a few friends or family members and comb the beaches for debris, collecting and disposing of it safely. Once you start looking, it’s amazing how much garbage ends up on the shorelines. Remember to use eco-friendly alternatives such as stainless steel, glass, bamboo, natural fiber cloth and ceramic as much as possible.
10. Install a Bat House or Build a Bee Home
Bat houses offer a safe home for bats and are a fun, educational project. Building a bat house is also one of the most effective and environmentally friendly ways to reduce the mosquito population near your home. In fact, little brown bats are voracious consumers of insects eating up to 50% of their body weight a night. Since many of their preferred meals are insects with an aquatic life stage, they prefer to roost near water. This plan to build a bat “rocket house” suitable to our area is certified by Bat Conservation International. Download Home for Bats.
A “bee house” provides an important shelter for young bees. They are simple and fun to make. Since many native bee species are wood dwelling, yet unable to make their own nesting holes, caring humans can provide bee boxes for our neighbourhood pollinators to lay their eggs. We can also ensure that our yards offer nesting materials: dead wood, leaves, and undisturbed soil. The Lifecycles Bee Project offers detailed instructions and pictures on helping bees and making a bee home. Download Home for Bees.
Pictured above: Dunlins by barb biagi.