Janeen R. Adil - Writer

To pay attention, this
is our endless and
proper work.

Mary Oliver
White Pine: Poems and
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A naturalist is a person who studies nature. Like all professionals, from carpenters to rocket scientists, naturalists use a special vocabulary. You wouldn't hear a carpenter refer to a hammer as a "hitting thingy," right? In the same way, a naturalist isn't going to talk about a "feather thingy" on a bird.

Here are a few words, then, that a naturalist might use when talking or writing about a forest. You've heard almost all of them before, but these definitions may be new to you. See if you can match them up, and then check back often - I have lots more to share!

Matching Forest Words


1. duff ____ A. a deer's raised white tail (This flash of white warns other deer: Look out! Danger!)
2. scat ____ B. a squirrel's large nest of leaves and twigs (The eastern gray squirrel starts nest building in late December or early January.)
3. flag ____ C. new shoot on a white pine tree (In spring, these shoots are covered with yellow pollen.)
4. snag ____ D. acorns, nuts, and pine seeds (These are fall and winter foods for wild turkeys and many others.)
5. mast ____ E. decaying layer of pine needles and leaves on the forest floor (Look closely: this layer is full of tiny living creatures.)
6. candle ____ F. animal droppings (Like footprints, droppings are clues to identifying wildlife.)
7. drey ____ G. a standing dead tree (A woodpecker will carve out a nesting hole in a dead tree.)

Answers: 1. e. 2. f. 3. a. 4. g. 5. d. 6. c. 7. b.
A Nature Journal

Like a diary, a journal is a written record of what's happening in your life. People who keep journals write in them regularly, often every day.

In a nature journal, you record your outdoor experiences, with one difference. You might doodle in a diary, but in a nature journal, you write and draw, sketching what you see.

Keeping a journal is a lot of fun and no, you do NOT have to be an artist! It's a wonderful way to sharpen your senses and help you tune in to the nature around you. If you'd like to learn more about nature journaling, check out this excellent book by Clare Walker Leslie: Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You, 2nd ed.

A nature journal is also a great place to record almanac-type information. This includes weather observations, and what's happening in the night sky.

Probably the best thing about a nature journal is that you can keep one wherever you are. You don't have to be in some extra-fascinating environment - like the rainforest or Antarctica - to observe nature. Whether you live in the city, a town, or out in the country, there's always something to experience in the natural world. And you can even see surprising things simply by watching out your window!

It all comes from paying attention…

I'll be picking something from my own nature journal to share here, so check back for lots of updates.


If it's spring, it's nest-building time! Birds are busy selecting sites, picking up materials, and constructing a place to raise their young. These nests range all the way from the mourning doves' fragile-looking platform to an oriole's intricate swinging basket.

For most nests, the three basic building materials are sticks or twigs, feathers, and fibers (plant, cloth, etc.). You can help the birds by offering nest items. Just drape them on branches or lay them on the ground. You can also fill a plastic berry basket or mesh bag with items and hang it from a tree.

Look around your house and yard and see if you can find some of these nest materials: long blades of dry grass, grass clippings, lint from the dryer, string and yarn (no longer than 10 inches, so the birds don't get caught in them), feathers from an old pillow, dog and cat hair, short, narrow strips of cloth, dried moss and lichens, Spanish moss, small dead twigs, pine needles, bits of fur, dry leaves, and even hair from your hairbrush! And if you have robins, they'd love some mud for nest building. Maybe you can make a small mud puddle in your yard for them to use (get permission, first!).

We have many birds nesting in our small yard, so I see them gathering all sorts of nest materials. One sunny spring afternoon, I stretched out on a lounge chair, near a feeder where a tufted titmouse had been eating. Out of the corner of my eye I saw it fly to the back of my chair. I stayed quite still, and the next thing I knew, it had taken a little tug on my hair! As I quickly turned around, the titmouse flew a few feet away and gave me a brief but sincere scolding. I trust it found other things to use for its nest, instead!

Late February:

About half a mile from my house is a branch of the Unami Creek. The Lenape (or Delaware) peoples are native to this area, and Unami is the name of their language. The Unami joins the larger Perkiomen Creek, which then becomes part of the Schuylkill River, flowing through Philadelphia and on into the Atlantic Ocean.

While Mandy the dog was splashing around in the water, I discovered something special growing along the Unami's banks. It's an early sign that winter is on its way out, and here in the East, it's just about the first thing to flower. Are you thinking maybe some pretty little violets? Those will come later. Right now, the sign of spring is... skunk cabbage!

Symplocarpus foetidus (this is its Latin name) is one interesting plant. First off, skunk cabbage is hot! It can produce enough heat to melt the snow around it. Second, it really does stink. If the leaves are damaged, you'll smell an odor like rotting, dead things. Whew! But the skunky smell actually attracts some insects, which in turn pollinate the plant.

Skunk cabbage looks odd, too. Popping up first-often right through the snow-is a smooth purple hood with streaks, called a spathe. It protects the spadix, a small knob with tiny flowers inside the spathe. Later on, very large bright green leaves will appear, too.

Look for skunk cabbage in wet places in the woods or near swamps. One of its relatives grows in the woods, too: jack-in-the-pulpit. Another relative, the calla lily, is sold at florist shops. And another, the philodendron, may be a houseplant right in your home!

© 2006 Tanya Dewey
© 2006 Tanya Dewey

Courtesy Ohio Dept of Natural Resources
Courtesy Ohio Dept of Natural Resources

Courtesy Ohio Dept of Natural Resources
Courtesy Ohio Dept of Natural Resources
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