Spring Nature Study Ideas
- Examine buds, twigs, catkins and blossoms
- Get to know local birds, their nests and their nest building behaviour
- Observe flower structure, seed and seedling growth
- Enjoy the growth and development of baby birds, insects and animals
Let’s have a look at how to use these ideas…
Start a tree nature journal
Trees are a great starting point for nature journaling and spring is the perfect time to begin observing and documenting their seasonal changes and cycles. Some of the things to look out for, are:
Tree buds – Buds are a great way to identify trees in the winter and early spring before they have come into leaf. Examine different trees and look for differences and similarities in their leaves. See if you can work out which trees they are. Then, observe how the buds grow, swell and burst into leaf over time and see if your identification was correct.
Twigs – Twigs are another way to identify winter and early spring trees and they can tell you a lot about the age, health and growth of a tree. Look for leaf scars, bud scars, direction of growth and general orientation. Take a look and decide if they slender or stubby, straight or zig-zaggy, curving upwards or pointing down or if they have spikes or thorns.
Catkins – One of our earliest visual clues to the arrival of spring, are the welcome sight of catkins. Pay attention and watch how they grow from short, stubby stumps into long, soft, dangly lambs-tail catkins. Take on in your hand and examine it. Notice its tiny details – its colours, patterns and texture and its tiny, individual flowers and dusty yellow pollen.
Blossom – Who can resist stopping to admire a dainty, puffy blossom? Notice the number and arrangement of the stamens, the shape and colours of the petals, and the colour of the anthers. See if you can identify a tree by examining its blossom.
Explore seeds, seedlings and flowers
I don’t know about you, but as spring arrives, I can’t wait to go out into the garden, find the first flowers and get my hands into the earth. I love handling and preparing the soil, getting to know my seeds and watching them as they grow.
Spring flowers – Take the time to notice all the wild and cultivated spring flowers in the woods, parks, lanes and gardens. How do the flowers unfurl and open? Do they open and close in bad weather or follow circadian rhythms? Are the flowers and leaves both growing at the same time or are there only flowers?
Seeds – Plan, prepare and sow your new year’s vegetables, herbs and flowers. Get to know each species’ seed and observe how it puts out its roots and shoots. Notice the size, shape and number or its cotolydons or first leaves. Examine its root growth, roothairs and rootlets and see how each plant matures, blossoms and fruits over the year.
Soil – As you prepare the earth and sow your seeds, take time to really get to know the soil you are working with. Notice its content, colours, smells and textures. Get to know the creatures living in and dependent upon it.
(You can check out this nice video on spring flower identification.)
Get to know your local birds
As spring approaches, I think the songs of the dawn chorus seem louder and more melodious as your neighbourhood birds begin declaring their territoties and searching for a mate. This makes spring a great time to start listening in and getting to know your common species.
Birds – While the trees remain leafless, it is easier to spot birds nesting, roosting and singing in the trees. Listen for their songs and try to spot them, then try to work out what they are. You can do this by taking a closer look with some binoculars, or try your hand at identifying them by their songs.
Nests – Try to spot nests in the trees, too. Do different species prefer different trees? And, where abouts in the trees do they prefer to build – the top of the tree, hidden amongst the twigs or near the forks of larger branches. See if you can spot them gathering nesting material too – what are they collecting?
Birdsong – As mentioned above, spring is a great time for getting to know the orchestra that is the dawn chorus. See if you can listen in and focus in on individual songsters. Outside of the dawn chorus, listen for territorial songs – can you hear two or more birds answering and sparring with each other? See if you can spot who’s singing.
Bird flight – Another aspect of birds that we often forget, is getting to know them by their flight. Because, all birds have their own characteristic flight pattern. Some flap and glide, some flap, flap, flap. Others fly on a more or less straight line, while others dip and bounce in a wave-like up-and-down motion. Next time you spot a bird flying, stop and take a look.
Look out for baby animals
Baby animals can be spotted in the distance while driving alongside fields, observed if you’re quiet on nature walks, or found on our ponds and rivers. And don’t forget, this includes wild animals like foxcubs and fawns, as well as domestic animals.
Tadpoles – Keep your eyes open for frogspawn if you live near a lake or pond and watch how the grow, metamorphose and develop from frogspawn to tadpoles to froglets, to frogs. If you have the facilities, you could even hatch some frogspawn at home and watch them grow before returning them to their original location.
Caterpillars – Watch out for caterpillars too, because, while we might associate them more with the summertime, there are some species which overwinter as pupae before emerging in the spring. See which plants they are seeking out and try to find out what butterfly or moth it will eventually turn into.
Ducklings, cygnets and goslings – While on the look out for frogspawn, keep your eyes and ears open to spot baby water birds hiding among the reeds and rushes. Ducklings, cygnets and goslings may be obvious, trailing behind their mothers, but other species such as moorhens and coots are a little more shy and secretive.
Lambs, calves or foals – Finally, look out for lambs, calves and foals capering in the fields and fox cubs, leverets and fawns frolicking in the meadows. See how they interact with their mothers, with each other and with their environment. You can even observe them over time, learning about their stages of development from newborn to fully mature.
Well, there we go! A quick overview of some of my favourite spring nature study ideas. I hope you enjoyed this article and would love to hear your thoughts.
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