On the Shelf: The Night Tree

December 19, 2014

carrot feeder 4

Around the world, many families will be celebrating the holidays of the season this week and next. In light of all the festivities, we thought that we would bring you a post about a favorite book of ours, one that is perfect for encouraging everyone to get into the spirit of giving and sharing during this special time of year.  Read on to find a short review of The Night Tree by Eve Bunting. And, since the review originally appeared in an issue of Alphabet Glue, it is (of course!) also accompanied by a fun project to take the story off the page and bring it to life in your backyard or local woods.



I am not always the most vocal enthusiast when it comes to holiday-themed literature. Indeed, although we have a few holiday specific titles occupying space on our shelves, it doesn’t tend to be a genre that our family seeks out. It is hard to say exactly why this is, but I suspect that it has something to do with the desire to read and enjoy a book on a year-round basis, something that feels a little bit odd when a book fits too neatly into a holiday package. That being said, The Night Tree by author Eve Bunting, with illustrations by Ted Rand, is one of my favorite books for children. Although the argument for it being a holiday specific book is strong, I think that it is equally well-enjoyed as a more general purpose winter book and quite a good one at that. The Night Tree is the story of a family making their annual trip into the woods, and from the beginning of the book the natural assumption of the reader is that the family is going to choose a Christmas tree there. But there is more to the story than that, and the reader is soon privy to the fact that the family hasn’t gone into the woods to cut a tree down: they’ve gone into the woods to decorate a tree with food as a gift for the forest animals in winter.

Although The Night Tree is about the celebration of Christmas for the family in the book, I think that even families who do not celebrate Christmas will appreciate the fact that at the heart of this narrative is a story about building traditions around generosity, thoughtfulness and the care of others. It is a story about creating unique family traditions that become a part of who you are together. Our own family background includes a remarkable mish-mash of cultural and religious traditions and as a result, The Night Trees emphasis on the joy and feeling of togetherness that comes from the creation of family traditions that are all your own truly speaks to my heart.

This simple project was inspired by our reading of The Night Tree, as well as by another winter favorite, The Stranger in the Woods. In both books, people leave surprises for their forest friends to discover and enjoy. And although it is true that the events in The Night Tree take place during December, I don’t think that any backyard bird would object to being offered one of these tasty treats just because the calendar page has been turned to January or beyond.

The project:


- medium to large carrot

- peanut butter

- birdseed

- needle and string

- tool for making a hole in the carrot

carrot feeder 1

Begin by making a hole all the way through the carrot about a half inch from the top.


carrot feeder 2

Using a strong, large needle (like an embroidery or darning needle), pull a piece of string through the carrot and tie a knot with the two ends of the string, making a large loop for hanging.


carrot feeder 3

Roll the carrot in peanut butter (or smear it on using a spoon) and once it is well coated, roll the carrot in birdseed until the entire surface is completely covered with seed.

carrot feeder 5

Now the feeder is ready to hang. You can either hike out into the woods and find a tree there to decorated with your surprise for the animals, or you can find a spot to hang it in your own yard where you can watch it get eaten up through your very own windows.  Make a whole batch and hang them in different locations for the birds to find.

Our backyard birds made their discovery of the surprise treat we made them within about five minutes of us hanging it up!


Feather-1 Text

Finding a feather in the yard or on the grassy lawn of a local park always feels a little bit like discovering a treasure left behind especially for you. This is particularly true if you are lucky enough to find a feather in good condition, or one that is very colorful or unique. Feathers are one of a birds most remarkable features, and taking a closer look at feathers is a great way to get young naturalists thinking about animal adaptations and just why it is that birds have feathers of the sorts that they do.

Read on to find out a bit more about feathers as well as to download printable sheets of useful photos and information about them. Each Wednesday, check the bottom of the “What’s That?” post to find a PDF containing a fact sheet about the day’s featured item, as well as photographs and other resources ideal for using in a nature journal, interactive notebook, or lap book.

Feather Drops-1 copy Feather White 1 copyfeathers copy Hike 22 Feather Kill-1 copy

Some Things to Know About Feathers

- Birds are the only animals with feathers.

- Feathers help birds in many ways. They help them stay warm, fly, and make themselves colorful or camouflaged so that they can blend in with their habitat.

- Birds have thousands of feathers.

- There are many types of feathers and each type has its own job:

Down feathers are small and fluffy. They help to keep the bird warm.

Contour feathers are longer than down feathers. They cover the bird’s body and keep the bird warm and waterproof.

Flight feathers are found on the wings and tail. Flight feathers are long and ridged. They help the bird fly.

- Flight feathers are flexible and have the ability to twist in response to wind currents.

- Birds can change the color of their feathers (often this is done during mating season) by either molting and growing new ones, or by rubbing the feathers in such as way that the pigment in them begins to wear and lighten.

Look at the photos above and see if you can guess which type of feather each one is.

Feathers make amazing solar prints and the project is a great way to learn more about feathers and how they are designed. Click on over to our feather solar print project to learn more.

Click here to download the feather nature journal resource pages to use with your own family.


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Today we are welcoming Paul, an Environmental Biologist who currently works in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to the blog. Paul was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about what he does and how he came to be an Environmental Biologist. He has had the chance to work in some amazingly diverse habitats, doing a wide variety of studies. Read on to learn more about his work and some of his fantastic experiences out in the field.


Could you give us a brief description of your job and the type of work you preform most often?

I am an Environmental Biologist and Project Manager focusing on environmental impact assessments related to new development and construction projects. Much of this work entails fish and wildlife surveys, wetland delineation and characterization, restoration of ecosystems, natural heritage and resource management planning, and species at risk studies. I provide advice to clients on how to develop their projects in a sustainable and environmentally sensitive manner, following all required government regulations.

What inspired you to work in an environmental field?

 My love of nature, along with my desire to have career that helped protect the environment, make a positive difference, and allow me to work outdoors at times.

1233402_10151540853276364_924330983_nBird nest identification and protection work for pipeline project in southwestern Quebec

 What type of educational background is necessary to work in your field?

Wide range of educational paths, but the most important skill sets and training include: biology, chemistry, natural sciences, and public policy. There are in increasing number of college and university programs being offered today that aim to combine these skills sets and apply them to environment-related issues.

Can you tell us about the most amazing, or crazy, nature moment you have had on the job?

In 2012, I spent a week in rural Newfoundland conducting owl and nocturnal species studies at a remote satellite and radar station owned by the federal government. Guided only by flashlight, a GPS unit, and our hearing (which was significantly compromised by frog calls), we traversed the study area and identified animal species in huge open bogs, wetlands and dense forests in rubber boots and rain suits. At dawn one morning, while silently sitting down and taking a break at the edge of a forest, a large female moose appeared within 6-7 metres of us, stared at us for approximately 10 seconds (although it seemed like several minutes), and turned and disappeared into the thick forest.


Red Fox – 250 km north of Yellowknife, NWT during water quality monitoring study

When we return from a hike we often come home with pockets full of treasures. Have you found anything in particular while out in the field that you would consider a prize nature find?

I love classic cars, and have found many old hub caps that I’ve taken home. The best treasure I found was a rotted out late 1940’s Ford Sportsman car that I was able to salvage the steering wheel from. I am always amazed by how often I find old cars buried under vegetation, deep in the forest, as if they had fallen out of the sky.

What do you like best about your work?

 The natural world is dynamic and ever changing, with incredible beauty and variety, making almost every work day different and challenging. Ultimately, I love knowing that my day to day efforts at work are, at the very least, making a small and positive difference in the world.

1185353_10151540853066364_1135743168_nFrog population study during wildlife surveys in northeastern Alberta

If a young person were thinking of going into your field what advice would you have for them?

As mentioned previously, there are a wide range of opportunities and options in the environmental field, and many career paths to take. I would recommend taking a generalist approach to your studies initially, and as your knowledge and experience base develops, and individual strengths and interests begin to refine themselves, narrow down and specialize in at least one area. Given the dynamic, complex and broad scope of environmental work, the generalist background compliments a specialist or expert skill area very well.

Do you have any childhood experiences in nature that made a lasting impression?

Growing up in a rural setting with much of my time spent with friends and family fishing, hiking, and playing in the woods. At a very young age, I was also exposed to outdoor farm work, primarily on fruit farms, and understood the enjoyment and value of working outside and in all types of weather and conditions. Family camping trips every summer throughout the Maritimes and northeastern United States were also very formative experiences.

1655073_10151823516566364_1947816875_oMt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania trek in 2013

Thanks so much for sharing with us, Paul.

It sounds like you have had some amazing experiences out in the field. We really appreciate your sharing and giving insight to others interested in your work and learning more about it as a possible career path.


If you or someone you know works in a nature related field and would like to be interviewed please send us an email at kidsandnature (at) gmail (dot) com.


Hitting the Trail is a weekly feature here at Mud Puddles to Meteors. In each post we will share trails, parks, beaches, and museums from around the country (and sometimes even beyond). If you would like to join in and share a special nature location please send us an email at kidsandnature@gmail.com with the details listed at the bottom of the post and links to the photos. We would love to share your nature adventure!


Quoddy Head State Park (Maine)

Quoddy Head 1-1Quoddy Head 2-1Quoddy Head 3-1Quoddy Head 4-1Quoddy Head 6-1 Quoddy Head 8-1 Quoddy Head 9-1Quoddy Head 10-1 Quoddy Head 11-1

Some Things to Know

Location: Quoddy Head State Park in Maine

Habitat: Rugged coastline and forest

Favorite Plant and Animal Life: Our visit in late fall did not offer many glimpses of wildlife but we were buzzed by a bald eagle while standing on the cliffside by the lighthouse. That was a thrill for all.

Special Features: The lighthouse greets you as you walk down the drive from the parking area. It is a classic white and red beacon with all of the storybook wonder you can imagine.

Best Time of Year to Visit: We visited on a somewhat warm late fall day and instantly made plans to come back in the summer. With camping, exploring at low tide and many trails to trek summer and early fall seem like an ideal times to visit.


Happy Thanksgiving

November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Text

All the best to you and yours this holiday!


wild turkey 4

Last year we shared about the wild turkey for Thanksgiving week and it seems so completely appropriate that we could not think of anything that quite matched it.

So, click on over to our wild turkey post to learn a little more about a bird that plays a big role in our Thanksgiving feasts!


Hitting the Trail is a weekly feature here at Mud Puddles to Meteors. In each post we will share trails, parks, beaches, and museums from around the country (and sometimes even beyond). If you would like to join in and share a special nature location please send us an email at kidsandnature@gmail.com with the details listed at the bottom of the post and links to the photos. We would love to share your nature adventure!


Today Amanda is sharing a trip she took with her family to Hunting Island State Park. It looks like a beautiful and diverse spot that should be high on any nature lover’s list of places to go when visiting the gorgeous state of South Carolina.

From Amanda:

Hunting Island State Park (South Carolina)

Hunting Island State Park encompasses over 5,000 acres of a barrier island along the coast of South Carolina, not far from the town of Beaufort.  There is a large wooded campground located right along the beach, and that is where we decided to head for our annual fall beach trip this year.  It is a beautiful and well-protected area, a bit more ‘wild’ than many beaches, and quite lovely, I think, because of that.  There is a nice, easy pace to things on the island, and it is well worth exploring if you find yourself along the SC coast.


Some Things to Know:

Location: Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina.

Habitat: barrier island/coastal plain/saltwater marsh

Favorite Plants and Animals: Our personal favorites were the nesting ospreys, brown pelicans, dolphins (seen from afar), deer, horseshoe crabs, and live sand dollars.  There were also many (very friendly) raccoon visitors around the campsite at night, so be sure to secure your coolers and food very well if you visit the park.  Alligators and bald eagles call the island home as well, but we did not catch a glimpse of either.   As for the flora, the saw palmetto, palms, loblolly and longleaf pines, and spanish moss were all a fun change of pace from our local plants at home.

*Endangered loggerhead sea turtles use this barrier island as a nesting place and the state maintains the beaches here as a hatchery.  The season officially ended the last day of October, with a  reported number of nests this year of 39.

Special Features: State Park campground, interpretive programs, fishing piers, lighthouse and nature trails.  The historic lighthouse is the only one in the state open to the public for climbing.  Additionally, there is a fantastic nature center with many wonderful exhibits ranging from pelts and skeletons and taxidermied native wildlife to hands-on ecology exhibits and even a preserved shark(!)

Best Time of Year to Visit: We prefer to visit the beach in the fall, when insect populations are lower but the water is still warm enough to play in, though there are surely advantages to visiting in every season.


Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful trip, Amanda!

More about Amanda:

Amanda Riley lives in a small town in Western North Carolina with her husband, their young daughter, a cat, a small flock of chickens, and many thousands of honeybees. They have spent the last few years making their house a home and cramming as much homestead-like goodness as possible onto their relatively small lot.  Depending on the season, you’re likely to find her in the garden, out exploring local trails, watching the bees, pressing cider on a homemade press, or tapping Sugar Maples around the neighborhood and boiling down the sap in the backyard.  Amanda likes thunderstorms and strong coffee, salty ocean air and the lonesome sound of train whistles at night, the smell of horses and the color grey.  You can find more of her photography and ramblings at Sweet Potato Claire.


Please let us know if you have a trail, nature center, or natural history museum you would like to share here on Mud Puddles. You can contact us at kidsandnature (at) gmail (dot) com.


Nature Around the Net

November 22, 2014

Fall Snow-1

Here is a little inspiration for outdoor exploration, creating and shopping (yes, shopping)!

- These flip books are stunning. The flip book concept would make the most amazing little mini nature journals cataloging a nature hike or experience. (Imagine making on of a dragonfly or butterfly emerging. Oh, fun!)

- Need “5 quick tips to help you achieve some outdoor time every day?”

- This is a great holiday gift guide for mini outdoor adventures  (and a great giveaway too)!

- Not that we love to shop (we don’t), but here is one more holiday gift guide with links to lots more!

- A cosmic alignment we can’t see this morning (but is still amazingly cool to know about)!


If you have come across any great nature related links please do share in the comments! Thanks!



Today we are very excited to welcome Natalie to the blog. She is here to share about her process for making gift wrap from plants she has scanned with her printer!

From Natalie:

In spring I made some papier mâché bowls with dry flowers and grass. I wondered how the flowers would look copied? It turns out, really nice! It was a busy time then for me and the flower paper never made it to the blog. This autumn Dawn showed some direct-copies made from leaves on her Instagram account. I wrote about my spring paper and this guest post is the result!

Make your own nature motif gift wrap paper:

The key? Get some nice leaves and flowers from the garden and use the copy-mode from your All-In-One-Printer, that’s all.

1_what you need from the garden

What You Need

• Plants from the November-Garden: fern, grass, daisy, hawkweed, barberry
• All-In-One-Printer
• Copy Paper A4, white
• Optional: Picture-Software

Note: Branches with small leaves, long grass, fern and flowers work well. If you use them fresh, like i did, you may tape a paper to the lid for protection. Don’t use berries. Don’t forget to clean the glass afterwards!

2_scan 1

Sprinkle the barberry, or other leaves you have collected, on the glass from your printer, put down the lid and press the copy-button.
You’ve got your first gift-wrap paper! If you like it, best to make a scan from it and store it on your hard-drive for an other occasion.

2_scan 2 mix fern grass daisy hawkweed

For the wrap it’s best to have an interesting bit in the middle of the paper. If you’re not sure how much you should put together, use the preview-function on your computer and have a look. If necessary remove or add more plants.

2_scan 3 barberry split

You can also use photo editing software to help clean up the result. In the photo above I used bright and bark-correction in the upper part.

The original copy is good, but if you’ve got photo software, you can make the print even better.

2_scan 4barberry gray

Another option is to copy the branch only with black and white.


You can start to wrap your smaller parcels with your paper. From these november plants I made 6 different papers in half an hour.

4_gift wrap (1)

You can also fold an easy origami box, called masu, with the paper (left, in the picture). Use the plant-print for the top and a white or colored one for the bottom. Find video-tutorials by searching for it on the internet: origami, box, masu.

Thank you for inviting me to write this guestpost here on Mud Puddles to Meteors. I am looking forward to see all your paper prints! Please share them with us on Instagram by tagging #mudtometeors or in the Facebook group!

Zürich, Natalie Kramer, 14.11.14


Natalie blogs at schaeresteipapier. Her blog is filled with cool stuff to do with your kids. She lives and works in Zürich, Switzerland with her husband and 9 year-old son.
You can find her on Instagram here: @schaeresteipapier


Xenolith Granite Text 2

We spend a lot of time rock hopping along shores filled with granite rocks. As we make our way, we often come across rocks within a rock. These are called xenoliths!

While they don’t just occur in granite, they are more commonly found within this common igneous rock.

Read on to find out a bit more about xenoliths as well as to download printable sheets of useful photos and information about them. Each Wednesday, check the bottom of the “What’s That?” post to find a PDF containing a fact sheet about the day’s featured item, as well as photographs and other resources ideal for using in a nature journal, interactive notebook, or lap book.


Some Things to Know About Xenoliths:

- A xenolith is a rock found within a rock.

- When the larger rock is being created it can pick up smaller rocks and make them a part of the whole new rock.

- This usually occurs in igneous rocks, rocks that are created when molten material such as lava or magma cools.

- While it is still hot this molten material can come into contact with rocks that have already been formed, either on the side of the magma chamber or on the earth’s surface. These preexisting rocks then get picked up by the molten rock material so that when it cools they become a part of the rock.

- While most commonly found in igneous rock they can also occur in sedimentary rocks, rocks that are formed when layers of earth undergo pressure, or even meteorites, which are very hot when they impact earth.

- Xenolith means “foreign rock” in ancient Greek.

The PDF department had trouble getting toddlers to sleep last night. The PDF should be up later today or this evening, so check back!