Journal archives for March 2021

March 03, 2021

Observation of the Month

The Prescott Farm iNaturalist observation of the month for Februrary 2021 is this Paper Birch by @bethkel.

photo of paper birch tree trunk

Paper birch or Betula papyrifera is an early successional species. Seedlings don’t tolerate shade, so it needs open places in order to grow. Paper birch in the forest at Prescott Farm is just one of the clues that this land has been cleared for other uses and then allowed to grow back up into forest. Paper birch seedlings are unlikely to grow in the shaded understory and shade tolerant species will eventually replace it as forest succession continues.

photo of a gloved hand holding paper birch bark away from the tree so the color underneath can be seen without breaking the bark

Coming soon! Wondering how to have the best chance of someone identifying your amazing sightings? Each week through March we will post observation tips for different organisms.

Posted on March 03, 2021 15:27 by aspring aspring | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Observing Tracks

Even when animals remain out of view, we know they are around. They leave tracks in snow and mud on the ground and other signs like scat, holes, and fur. Several prints as an animal moves make a track. Here are some tips for photographing tracks that will help you and others identify your observations:

1. Get a picture of the pattern.
In general, mammals have one of four gaits or walking patterns. This can help you narrow down the possibilities to a few groups of animals. The patterns are walking (left), hopping (center), waddling (right), and bounding (not pictured).

2. Find the best print.
Especially, in snow or mud some tracks will be clearer than others. Wet snow or a very light dusting of powdery snow is more likely to preserve details of a print like toes, claws, and pads. Take a photo of the clearest print(s) that you see in the track.

3. Use something for scale.
For some animals the only difference between the tracks of different species is the size. Adding something for scale helps you figure out how big it was later from your photo. You can use many things to show scale. A ruler is the best, but anything that is a uniform size works like a coin or card (make sure your info isn't in the photo).

The Extra Mile

Follow the trail a short ways.
An animal's prints may get smooshed when jumping or going up or down a hill. This distorts the shape of the print and can confuse identification. Looking at several prints let you check that you are photographing a print that is consistent with the other prints in the track rather than the one or two smooshed ones.

Play with lighting.
The details of tracks are easiest to see when there is some shadow in the track. With natural light, the best times to observe tracks are closer to sunrise and sunset, but you can take advantage of whatever light is around by adjusting the angle of your camera.

Photo Credit: All photos are by aspring and in the public domain.
Posted on March 03, 2021 17:15 by aspring aspring | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 30, 2021

Prescott Farm Observation of the Month for March

The March Observation of the Month at Prescott Farm is this chipmunk seen by @maria_198 along the Red Trail. While chipmunks don't hibernate, they do spend much of the winter sleeping and eating food stored underground in the fall. Chipmunks appearing above ground again are a sign that spring and warmer weather is coming.

Posted on March 30, 2021 11:36 by aspring aspring | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Observing Mosses

Mosses are non-vascular plants meaning they don’t have the tissues that transport water and nutrients around in other plants. As a result, they stay small, so many of the characteristics that will help identify your observations are also small. Moss leaves can be just one cell thick!

Maginification--Taking photos through a hand lens can help make these features large enough to see in a photo. To take photos with a hand lens experiment with holding the hand lens between your phone/camera lens and the moss until it is in focus. It is also helpful to zoom in as much as possible on your device. (The center photo shows a hand lens in use. The left and right photos are taken through a hand lens.)

Whole Moss--Taking a picture that includes the whole moss and a little of the area around can show what it is growing on. Mosses grow on trees, rocks, and soils. Including something for scale in your photo of the whole moss will also show its size.

Leaves--Mosses have very tiny leaves. The different leaf shapes are a useful clue to identify which moss you are observing. The leaves of mosses can be different colors too--from a light silvery green to a very dark green.

Capsule--Mosses don't produce seeds. Instead they produce spores in capsules that often grow on long stalks sticking up from the rest of the moss. These capsules are another clue to figuring out which moss you are looking at. Like for the leaves, using a hand lens can make it easier to photograph these features.

Moisture--The appearance of mosses changes when they desiccate or dry out. The ability to desiccate is a protective adaptation for mosses. Parts of the moss below have desiccated and are shriveled up and a different shade of green. A moss guidebook is likely to describe mosses while they are wet--shriveled leaves hide some of their characteristics. So soon after a rain is a great time to observe mosses.

Really a Moss? The photos below show some other amazing organisms that are sometimes confused with moss but are really different things. Lichens (left) are symbiotic relationships between fungi and algae. They are brittle and do not have leaves. Club mosses (center) are small plants that even have moss in their name. However, they have stems and roots as well as have xylem and phloem to transport water and nutrients. Liverworts (right) are bryophytes like mosses but they have a different structure.

All photos are by aspring and in the public domain.
Posted on March 30, 2021 11:35 by aspring aspring | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 23, 2021

Observing Flowers

With Spring beginning in mid-March, wildflowers will be coming to Prescott Farm. Spring ephemerals come early in the season and many are smallish on the forest floor. Milkweed, asters, and other flowers will take their turns through the warmer months. You won't find the desert flowers pictured below at Prescott Farm, but looking for the characteristics they illustrate will help identify the plants that grow here.

This year's flowers make next year's seeds. As you observe flowers, please help everyone see them by staying on the trails and leaving them where they grow.

Keep the flower in focus. With any automatically focusing camera, close small things and things that move with even small breezes--like flowers--can be hard to focus on. You can use your hand or a blank paper directly behind a flower to help your camera's autofocus recognize it as the subject. To reduce the effect of wind moving a flower, you can gently hold the stem to keep it still.

Take a picture into the flower. These pictures can show the parts of the flower which can help with identification. For example, flowers in the mustard family (brassicaceae) have four petals (center) while lilies (liliaceae) have three (right). The Desert Mallow (left) has five petals.

Take a picture from the side of the flower. These pictures can show how the flower is attached to the stem and if there are any sepals. Sepals are the leaf-like parts around the outside bottom of the flower.

Take a picture of the leaves. Some flowers have one kind of leaves, while others have both leaves along the stem and basal leaves at the bottom of the plant.

Include a picture of the whole plant. This helps show the growth pattern and how all the parts fit together. For example, if you took pictures of different leaves, a photo of the whole plant would help someone figure out which were on the stem and at the base. This is a great time to include something for scale too.

Photo Credit: All photos by aspring and in the public domain.

Posted on March 23, 2021 19:45 by aspring aspring | 1 comment | Leave a comment

March 10, 2021

Observing Winter Trees

In warmer months trees have leaves, flowers, and catkins that help with identification. In the winter, bark, buds, and branches are the most helpful. Here are some suggestions for observing trees in winter:

Deciduous Trees--Buds

Tree buds are where leaves will grow as the weather warms in the spring. Buds can be found along twigs. When photographing buds, it is helpful to include the end of the twig and some of the buds along the twig. This will show whether or not the twig has a terminal bud and if the tree's branching pattern is opposite or alternate. The shape and color of twigs are also useful clues.


Conifers like fir, pine, and spruce keep their needles in winter, so photographing the needles is helpful for making identifications. The shape of the needles, way needles attach to the branch, and number of needles in a bunch are all helpful.

All Trees

Bark-- Bark is also helpful to photograph. The color and texture of tree bark can provide clues that help identify the tree. On some trees, like sugar maples, bark texture changes with the tree's age.

Shape--Including a picture of the whole tree shows its overall shape and growth pattern. These pictures are most helpful when it is easy to tell which tree is being observed (left). It is less helpful when the tree and its branches blend in with all the other trees in the forest around it (right).

Other--Other characteristics of trees can also be photographed if present. These could include cones, nuts, or leaves.

Getting Close Enough

Since trees grow to be so tall, it is sometimes difficult to get close enough to see distinguishing characteristics. Sometimes trees will have one or two lower branches that are easier to see and photograph. Using binoculars can be helpful too. It is challenging to take a picture through binoculars, but characteristics observed this way can be included as a written comment. Another way of getting close enough to take a picture is finding branches that have blown to the ground. However, it is important to remember that once a twig, needle, branch, or leaf is detached from the tree it doesn't necessarily land next to the same kind of tree that it fell from.

Photo Credit: All photos by aspring and in the public domain.
Posted on March 10, 2021 12:09 by aspring aspring | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 16, 2021

Observing Insects and Other Arthropods

Arthropods are animals that have an exoskeleton of chitin, segmented bodies, and segmented legs. Insects(left), arachnids (spiders-right and ticks), millipedes, centipedes(center), and crustaceans (like crayfish) are all arthropods. Different types of arthropods have different characteristics that can be used for identification. If you are using a book, the "how to use this book" chapter will help you know what to look for. Either way, including as many of the characteristics below in your photos is likely to help with identifying what you find as the weather warms and we begin to see more of them.

Many arthropods move often. If you can get only one photo, a side or top view will include a lot of information about the animal you are observing.

Legs. The number of legs is a defining characteristics for different types of arthropods. Arachnids (left) have eight legs. Insects have six (center). Millipedes have two pairs of legs per segment, and centipedes have one pair of legs per segment. Sometimes arthropods lose legs during their adventures in survival (spider on right).

Body segments. The number and arrangement of body segments is an important clue in identifying arthropods. Insects (left, center) have three segments: head, thorax (to which the legs are attached), and abdomen. Spiders (right) have two body parts called the cephalothorax and abdomen, while millipedes and centipedes have many segments.

Wings. Some winged insects have their wings out all of the time--like butterflies and dragonflies. Other winged insects, like beetles, hide their wings underneath the elytra which is a hard covering that is actually their forewings. A few insects don't have wings.

Life Stages. Many arthropods have life stages where the animals look different from adults. Butterflies begin life as eggs, hatch into caterpillars, pupate in cocoons, and then emerge as adult butterflies. Dragonfly eggs are laid in water and hatch into nymphs that swim through the water eating and growing. Eventually they crawl out of the water to molt into adults. Other arthropods, may spend time in egg sacs or make galls (growths that sometimes resemble bubbles of plant material) when they lay their eggs in plants. The life stage you observe is the most useful one to photograph.

Photo Credit: All photos by aspring and in the public domain.
Posted on March 16, 2021 20:35 by aspring aspring | 0 comments | Leave a comment