The Stars

calwaen-liew-343557Calwaen Liew

With daylight savings ending at the beginning of this month it gets darker earlier in the evenings which is great for stargazing. There have been a couple nights which were not too cold and we were able to get out for a little bit and have a look at the stars.

The formation that everyone seems to know is the “Big Dipper” which is one of the easiest star groupings to find in the night sky. It is part of the Ursa Major constellation – the Great Bear, and above it the little dipper or Ursa Minor which has the North Star at the tip of its handle. But there are many others to discover.

We found Orion with the bright stars red Betelgeuse and blue Rigel, and the hazy star beneath the belt which is the Orion Nebula, where new stars are born.

There are stories about all these constellations that people made up down through time. Sometimes it can be hard to see the stars if you live where there is a lot of light pollution, but in more remote areas, the sky becomes alive and one can imagine why people looking up at them would have created stories.

Here is a list of constellations to find and begin learning about:

Auriga, the Charioteer
Canis Major, the Big Dog
Canis Minor, the Little Dog
Cassiopeia, the Queen in Her Chair
Cygnus, the Swan
Leo, the Lion
Orion, the Hunter
Perseus, the Hero
Taurus, the Bull
Ursa Major, the Great Bear
Ursa Minor, the Little Bear

Here is a printable guide to finding the constellations in the sky: How to Make a Star Wheel.

And here is an interesting book all about stars if you want to learn more: The Friendly Stars.

Nature Journal: Choose a constellation to find in the sky and then draw in your nature journal. Find some books at your library about constellations, and read about the stories behind its name. Write a summary in your journal.

Land Art: For fun, make some stars out of sticks: Stick Stars



texturesSpend some time outside in your backyard looking for textures. How many of these can you find? You could bring a long a few small pieces of paper and crayons and do rubbings if you like (label them as you go so you do not forget what they were).

Take a few of the textures you found and draw them into your nature journal. Glue in the rubbings you did as well.

Have fun!

Looking for Lichen

We went on a walk today to a little church graveyard not far from us. It was a good place to find examples of lichen that grows on rocks.


It is hard not to miss sunburst lichen (xanthoria parietina). It is quite common to see it on rocks and sometimes on trees in this area. It is a “foliose” lichen and can be used to make a yellow dye by boiling it in water. It can also be fermented in ammonia which makes a pink dye that turns blue in the sun.


Many of the gravestones and boulders had a grey or light green lichen – probably some sort of rock shield lichen.

It was interesting that some of the gravestones, although very old, had no lichen on them at all. Perhaps it was the type of rock or the colour – I do not know. Sadly, there are a lot of gravestones for children in this cemetery, often multiple ones in the same family.


We went looking for some lichen in the forest as well on the way home. We found Old Man’s Beard, which hangs from many of the trees in this area, and some Lungwort decorating the trunk of a tree. The lungwort gets dry-looking and brown when it is dry, but then seems to come back to life when it is damp.

Nature Walk:

What kind of lichen can you find when you go walking? What colours can you find for the month of November? What do the trees look like now that the leaves have fallen off?

novemberartNature Journal:

For our poem this month, we made the shapes of leafless trees. Get some runny paint (water it down a bit if you need to) and put a blob near the bottom of your page. Use a straw to blow it up to make a trunk with branches, adding more blobs of paint as necessary. When you are done and it has dried, print out the poem and cut it out and glue it on top.

Find out about Lichen


Have you ever seen this stuff hanging from a tree? Maybe you have found some crusty stuff on a rock and wondered what it was. Probably it was lichen. When you go for your nature walks this month, keep a lookout for all kinds of lichen. First of all, let’s learn a little bit about it so you know what to look for.

Here is a little video about lichen:

Here are a couple questions to find answers to:

  1. What is the difference between moss and lichen?
  2. What are a three different types of lichen?

It is interesting to get a field-guide type book about lichen from your library and have a look at all the different kinds. Draw an example of each kind in your nature journal and include any other information you find interesting.

We used this field-guide and read this fun book about a turtle who is growing all sorts of things on her shell.


Track the Moon


Moon calendar November 2017


Look for the moon each night and keep track of how it changes. It may not be possible to see it every night due to clouds or forgetting, but try to do it as often as possible. You can just draw a series of circles in your nature journal, or here is a printable page to help you keep track: Moon Journal. Note the date and time for each moon picture. Perhaps you may want to draw one big moon picture on the date of the full moon and note the craters and shapes you can see.

You can find out when the moon is, and when the moon will rise and set in your part of the world here: Moonrise and Moonset.

Visit a Farm

This is harvest time for many kinds of produce. The area where we live is not particularly great for growing crops – it is very rocky and the soil is thin. However, not too far away lies the Annapolis Valley which is good land for agriculture.


We took a trip up to Noggins Farm which has a large apple u-pick. Apples are one of the main crops in Nova Scotia. They also have a large corn maze, a pumpkin patch and various other kinds of fruit and vegetables for sale.


We picked several different types of apples so that we could compare them (as well as a couple leaves to add to our journal). We drew our favourite apple and cut it open crosswise to see where the seeds grow, and drew that too.

Then we made some yummy Apple Cake:

  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 3 cups diced, peeled apple (about 3 large apples)

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Combine dry ingredients and stir into the creamed mixture. It will be somewhat stiff. Stir in the apples well. Put into a greased 8″ square pan. Bake at 350 F for 45-50 minutes.


Visit a farm that grows food or a Farmer’s Market in your area. Bring something that is grown locally home and explore it. Sketch it in your journal. Find out how it grows – on a tree, a vine, a bush, under the ground? (if you can see how it grows at a farm, that is even better),  Does it come in different shapes, colours or sizes? Does it have seeds in it? What does it taste like? What kinds of things is it used for? Note all these things in your journal, including the date and location.

Five Broadleaf Trees

There are lots of lovely trees in Canada, and many of them are of the broadleaf variety (as opposed to the needle variety). This is a challenge to get to know five broad leaf or deciduous (meaning they lose their leaves every year) trees in your neighbourhood. The easiest way to tell trees apart is by their leaves, but the bark, the flowers, the seeds, the leaf buds and twigs are also helpful.


If you are new to tree identification, you may find it easiest to collect leaves that are noticeably different and identify them by their “genus” rather than their “species”. Some of the common trees by genus you might find in Canada are: Maple (Acer), Oak (Quercus), Birch (Betula), Poplar or Aspen (Popula), and Beech (Fagus).

We decided to find out how many different species of Maple trees lived near us. All maples have leaves with three main lobes which are set opposite on the twigs. All maples have similar-looking seeds called samaras with a set of thin wings which allow them to be carried a little ways by the wind.

The first one was in our backyard. It is a Red Maple, but the interesting thing about Red Maples is that they can be male or female or both. Ours is male. It is covered in the small male, pollen-producing flowers in the spring, but it never produces seeds. Its buds are red, its flowers are red, and in the fall, it turns a lovely dark red. These trees are native to Canada, and are very common in the forests of Nova Scotia. Their leaves are not very large, although they are bigger on younger trees. The seeds are shed in the early summer. The bark is smooth and light grey at first and becomes a darker grey with long, narrow ridges as it matures.

We also have a Norway Maple in our yard. These trees were imported from Europe as shade trees. Their leaves are quite large and they stay on the tree very late into the fall, finally turning yellow before they fall off. They have beautiful yellow-green flower clusters in the spring. These become large samaras with wings that stretch out to each side, and that drop off late in the fall.

We found a Sugar Maple during a walk in an older area of town. These are the trees most often tapped for maple syrup. They are a long-lived tree, but very slow growing which means their wood is harder and more valuable. Their seeds are not very large, and the wing parts are almost parallel. They drop in the fall. The leaves turn gorgeous yellows, oranges, and reds in the fall.

There was a Mountain Maple growing on the side of the road not far from us. The leaves are three-lobed and a bit wrinkly. They are more like large, multi stem shrubs. Their flower clusters stand erect on the twig in the spring. The seeds are quite small and hang on late into the winter.

The Striped Maple we found in the forest, growing by a little fast flowing stream. It has beautiful green bark when young, and as it grows, the outside breaks into furrows and lets the white underbark show through which makes it look striped. Its leaves are three-lobed, and large for its size.  They turn a lovely bright yellow in the fall. The flowers are loose, drooping clusters of little yellow bell-like flowers.

Nature Journal:

Choose five different leaves from your nature walk, press them and then attach them to a page in your nature journal (or you can draw them, or trace them and colour them in, or use photographs if you prefer). You can use modge podge to attach them. This will keep them from drying out and disintegrating. Paint the back of the leaf, put it where you want it on your page and smooth it down, then paint over the whole leaf and a little beyond the edges, and let it dry. Take care not to put two leaves facing each other on your journal pages, as they will stick to each other when you close the book. Add any details you can find about the trees such as tree shape, flower, fruit or seed, bark and anything else you find interesting.

Fall Land Art

Fall in Nova Scotia has been gorgeous this year. There haven’t been any rainstorms for awhile, and no heavy frosts yet, and so the colours seem to be lasting for a long time. It feels a bit like living in a fire – everywhere you look there are trees in flame colours.

The leaves are excellent possibilities for land art. What is land art? It is an art movement in which nature is used as the means of creating art where it is. This website offers some ideas based on the British land artist Andy Goldsworthy: Playing with leaves and sticks.


Another option is to do what everyone else is doing and carve a pumpkin.


You can buy pumpkins everywhere it seems. Choose one that is shaped nicely so that it will sit properly and make something out of it. If you want to put a candle in it, cut the hole in the pumpkin in the bottom to scoop out all its guts. Then you can use a tealight or put the candle in a small candle holder, light it easily, and place the pumpkin on top.


Or you could try something a little different…


Save all those slimy seeds you scoop out, wash them, coat them with a bit of olive oil and salt and roast them in the oven until they are golden.

Remember to take pictures of your creation for your nature journal!

Have fun!



How often have you just stood still for fifteen minutes or so in your backyard or in a park nearby and just noticed what was going on? Most of the time we are going somewhere, or performing a task, and the little things go unnoticed.


Find a place outdoors where you can sit comfortably for fifteen minutes and just pay attention to what is happening around you. This place should be close to you so that it is easy to do (your back yard or a quick trip down the road), and it should have some possibility of nature exposure but it doesn’t have to be perfect.

Try to go there every day or so for several days and take your journal along. Notice the weather (temperature, wind, sky), the sounds (birds, water, trees), physical things (plants, creatures), and anything else that stands out to you. Record them in your journal as you notice them.

Autumn this year in Nova Scotia has been beautiful for this kind of activity (mostly warm and sunny) but it is interesting to do it in any kind of weather.

What else can you do outside this time of year?

  • Rake leaves to jump in and throw around (take some pictures for your journal).
  • Plant bulbs in the ground for flowers next spring (draw them first).
  • Clean up the dead plants in the garden if you have one (look out for seed pods and squirmy creatures in the soil).

October Nature Walk

Today we went for a walk in the forest behind our house. The forest here on the east coast of Nova Scotia is mostly second growth due to heavy logging in the past. It is mostly spruce, fir and the occasional pine, with maple, oak, birch and alder sprinkled in.

Our goal was to gather some pretty coloured leaves and see what else we could see in the forest at this time of year.

The ferns are dying back and were glowing a lovely golden colour.


It is always fun to spot the fungi along the trail. Sometimes they are beautiful colours.

We also found a few different kinds of lichen. The little pixie cup lichen, lungwort and caribou lichen. The good thing is that the presence of lichen often indicates good air quality.

It’s always fun to find the wintergreen patches. The leaves smell so good when you scrunch them up with your fingers.


We didn’t come across much in the way of wildlife, but we saw evidence of a squirrel in a mound of deconstructed pinecones at the base of a spruce tree, and saw a turkey vulture in an old pine tree.


The forest trail leads into a clear cut that was logged several years ago. It has filled in with various shrubs and trees.


October Nature Walk Challenge:

Go somewhere where you can walk for at least half and hour in the forest. Bring a bag to collect some coloured leaves or other things you might find. Take photos if you want to try to identify what you found. Press any leaves you found between newspaper with a couple of heavy books on top.

octpoemartWhile you are out, notice the colours of October. When you get back, take some of the leaves you have collected and create some leaf prints in your journal. Paint the backs of the leaves in the colours of fall (use acrylic paint) and then press them onto a page in your nature journal. Print out the poem (Poem for October) and when your lovely painting has dried, cut the poem out and paste it on top of your painting.

Have fun!