2018 Coastal Bend Nature Challenge

Many years ago, in a faraway land, my kids were uninspired by nature study (?!) and I knew next to NOTHING about natural history. I was a frustrated mama, eager to embrace the idea of observation and love of all things in nature but the methods I was using just weren’t touching the hearts of this crew (it didn’t help that I didn’t have a firm grasp on how Charlotte Mason actually did nature study).

Then we signed up for the Coastal Bend Texas Nature Challenge – Texas A&M Forest Service and while it’s not CM inspired, it opened our eyes to all of the tiny details in nature around us…it was a welcome help for inspiring us! We spent a few months exploring sites we’d never known about (and that was after living in Corpus Christi for almost 20 years!) and discovering all kinds of amazing nature facts as we did scavenger hunts, learned to fish, and journaled all of our journeys (one year we participated we kept a blog instead of a paper scrapbook…you can read about that year here.)

Tomorrow is the Opening Ceremony for 2018. It’s out at Camp Aranzazu and will feature many of the vendors who will be issuing challenges. If you’re local, I urge you to attend…it’s a come and go event so you don’t have to be there for the full two hours and it’s hands-on, family centered, nature related fun! 

As for the challenge, you can read more about it here.  Basically you sign up as a team (which can just be your family or you could grab a few other families and form a team that way), then you check out all the challenges when they are posted tomorrow and choose what your team is interested in participating in. From there, you complete the challenges and keep some kind of record…a scrapbook, a journal, a blog, a nature notebook…to turn in at the end of the challenge. You must complete 2 challenges to be eligible for prizes.

And, finally, if the nature challenge just isn’t your thing (or maybe you aren’t local), then check out my Nature Study posts over on With Every Intention and join us every week as I feature nature around our area…grab your kids, your nature journals and art medium of choice (my personal favorite is watercolors) and head out to any of the beautiful trails around you!

Hope to bump into you out in nature sometime soon 

Coastal Bend Nature Challenge: John E. Connor Museum

*Joey and William will be guests here on the blog as they document our Nature Challenge journey for 2016.september-2016-021_1_1

The Challenge: Complete a bird scavenger hunt in the museum.  Go outside to sight birds and create a journal entry of the birds seen and identified.october-2016-013_7_1 october-2016-014_8_1 october-2016-015_9_1

We went out to the Texas A & M University – Kingsville on Saturday, September 10th.september-2016-031_9_1 september-2016-035_13_1 september-2016-034_12_1 september-2016-033_11_1 september-2016-032_10_1

J: I liked the part where I had to look at the different habitats that are around the Coastal Bend area and find the birds.september-2016-036_14_1 september-2016-040_4_1 september-2016-039_3_1 september-2016-038_2_1 september-2016-037_1_1

W:  My favorite was the roadrunner.

J: The Greater Roadrunner.

Me: Does anyone remember which habitat the Greater Roadrunner was in?september-2016-041_5_1 september-2016-046_9_1 september-2016-044_8_1 september-2016-043_7_1 september-2016-042_6_1

J:  Mesquite Chaparral.  It was the first habitat we visited.

Me: Are you sure?

J:  Yes!  Then after that we saw the Hollow Tree.

(We looked at the pictures to confirm) Me: Yep, you’re right Joey!september-2016-047_10_1 september-2016-048_11_1 september-2016-049_12_1 september-2016-050_13_1 september-2016-051_14_1

W:  I pushed the button that made the bird sounds.  Remember, Mommy, it drove you nuts?

Me: Oh yes, I remember.september-2016-052_1_1 september-2016-053_2_1 september-2016-054_3_1 september-2016-055_4_1 september-2016-056_5_1

J:  I wish I had known there were birds sounds I could do.  Then remember we saw some animal skins?  Alligator skins and we saw an actual starfish!september-2016-057_6_1 september-2016-058_7_1_1 september-2016-060_8_1 september-2016-062_9_1 september-2016-063_10_1

W:  I touched all of the skins, too.  I liked the fur from the fox.

J:  I liked the soft furry ones.  They were good to touch.  We saw birds at Oak Motte and the Dry Chaparral, too.  My favorite habitat was the Hollow Tree because it looked so cool to live inside the tree.  It looked nice and cozy.  I’d want to be a bat living in there where I could hang upside down without being scared.september-2016-064_11_1 september-2016-065_12_1 september-2016-066_13_1 september-2016-067_14_1 september-2016-069_1_1

W:  My favorite habitat was the Mesquite Chaparral where the roadrunner was.  The Hollow Tree looked nice, but I liked the Chaparral best.

J: After the habitats, we walked over to the Wild West room.  I walked in and at first I thought we were just going to pass through it, but it turned out we were actually going to play in it.  The Wild West room was made up of things to do in the wild west: ride a horse, take care of a calf, cook, pump water.september-2016-071_2_1 september-2016-073_3_1 september-2016-074_4_1 september-2016-075_5_1 september-2016-077_6_1 september-2016-078_7_1 september-2016-079_8_1

W: My favorite part was riding the horse with Katie.  She was a cowgirl and she sat on the back.september-2016-081_9_1 september-2016-082_10_1 september-2016-083_11_1 september-2016-091_1_1 september-2016-092_2_1 september-2016-093_3_1 september-2016-094_4_1

J:  There were also exhibits that showed how the pioneers lived.  For example, they had an exhibit that showed a bedroom.september-2016-095_5_1 september-2016-096_6_1 september-2016-098_7_1 september-2016-099_8_1 september-2016-101_9_1 september-2016-102_10_1 september-2016-103_11_1 september-2016-104_12_1

W:  It was a really neat room.september-2016-105_13_1 september-2016-107_14_1 september-2016-108_1_1 september-2016-109_2_1 september-2016-110_3_1 september-2016-111_4_1 september-2016-112_5_1 september-2016-113_6_1

J:  Yeah, it really was. {sigh}september-2016-117_7_1 september-2016-118_8_1 september-2016-119_9_1 september-2016-120_10_1 september-2016-121_11_1 september-2016-122_12_1 september-2016-124_13_1

W:  After we played for awhile, we went out of the museum, crossed the street and looked for birds on the campus.september-2016-020_1_1 september-2016-133_2_1

J:  We had to be very quiet.  First we had to pick a spot, wait 30 seconds and then for 2 minutes we watched.  Then after that we walked 120 steps and did the same thing.  We repeated that five times.  We saw a total of 5 birds and heard 3 birds, but we saw a lot of dragonflies and butterflies and we heard a lot of cicadas.september-2016-134_3_1 september-2016-136_4_1

W:  Some of the birds we saw were mourning doves.   We always see mourning doves at our house.september-2016-138_5_1 september-2016-139_6_1

J:  We only got to see new places for three of them and then we walked back for the other two.  I got to use my binoculars, which is always fun.

W:  Okay, until next time!

Coastal Bend Outdoor Challenge: Create Your Own

*Joey will be a guest here on the blog as he documents our Nature Challenge journey for 2016.

The Challenge:  Select your favorite nature spot in the Coastal Bend and create an activity that can be done by other teams in the area.

Joey:  I attended a Nature Journaling Class with Ms. Nicki Sohn at the Oso Preserve and I am going to tell you everything I learned.  Then you’ll be able to go in your own backyard and make your very own nature journal.

First you are going to need a journal.  It could be a blank book, a sketch book, a scrapbook, a notebook.  Basically you need something filled with blank paper.  I received a fancy bamboo journal at the class but I also have other nature journals.  Some are blank notebooks and some are sketch books.october-2016-086_2_1october-2016-020_6_1 october-2016-025_1_1

You’ll also need a pencil or a pen (I recommend a pencil because you can erase if you need to), some crayons or colored pencils, an eraser, a pencil sharpener and a bag to carry it all in.  You might need to bring some water with you if you’re going out far from your house.  If you’re really far and you’re hungry, bring a snack bag with you.july-2016-024_1_1

One kind of journaling you can do in nature is looking for evidence.  You pick a spot.  A place with trees is a good place to choose, but you really can choose any nature spot.  Then you sit very quietly and look for animals.  Then find out why they are there in that spot.  You could also look for animal tracks and scat and journal about who you think has been there and why.  You could also look for an interaction between animals.  Whatever evidence you look for, record what you find and show it to your parents.  Make sure you explain, in your journal, what you think the evidence means.october-2016-087_3_1 october-2016-088_4_1 october-2016-090_5_1 october-2016-092_6_1 october-2016-096_10_1october-2016-022_4_1 october-2016-024_2_1

Another kind of nature journaling that is fun is called Stop and Jot.  You find a place and set a time limit.  Then you walk around it and every few seconds you jot down anything you hear, see, or smell in nature.  When you are done observing then you can draw a map of what you observed.  Include any plants or tracks that you might have seen!  Later you can write about your observations.  It could be a narrative or a story.  I like to pretend I’m an animal in that habitat and I use my observations to make a story or a narration.october-2016-016_10_1 october-2016-017_9_1 october-2016-018_8_1 october-2016-093_7_1

Another kind of journaling I like to do is where I read about and observe a plant and then I use pictures (if the real thing isn’t available) and I draw it and write down some fun facts about it.  I like to do this when I study herbs.  I also include a “Time to Be a Scientist” sidebar where I describe ways you can use the herb for medicine.april-2016-007_1_1october-2016-021_5_1

When we do nature study during our school day, I take my journal and go outside wherever we are and a choose a spot.  I sit there for ten minutes and I draw whatever I see in my area.  Then I label it, if I can.  I don’t write much about it when I do this type of journaling, but you could if you wanted to.  It’s really more about drawing though.october-2016-026_1_1 september-2016-023_1_1 september-2016-032_1_1 september-2016-045_3_1october-2016-019_7_1

It is fun to get out in nature and to write and draw about what I see.  You should get your own nature journal and get started!  I hope you will come back here and share with me some pictures of your journals.

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Coastal Bend Nature Challenge: Urban Xeriscape Garden

*Joey and William will be guests here on the blog as they document our Nature Challenge journey for 2016.

The Challenge:  Visit the Urban Xeriscape Garden near downtown Kingsville.  Walk through the garden and find as many different types of plant leaf shapes as possible, while marking off the leaf types we find.october-2016-012_6_1

J:  We took a walk through the city park.  I had a clipboard with a sheet of leaf types.  We identified each leaf we saw not by its name (we knew their names by their signs) but instead by their leaf type.september-2016-001_1_1 september-2016-002_2_1 september-2016-003_3_1 september-2016-004_4_1 september-2016-005_5_1 september-2016-006_6_1

W:  I had to ride in the stroller because I was still recovering from my surgery.  I helped Joey identify leaf types.september-2016-007_7_1 september-2016-008_8_1 september-2016-009_9_1 september-2016-010_10_1

J:  We sat on a bench and we saw A LOT of bird poop.  Then we looked up and saw why.  There were a ton of mourning doves.  Mystery of bird poop solved.september-2016-011_11_1 september-2016-012_12_1 september-2016-013_13_1 september-2016-014_14_1

W:  My favorite plant we saw was the Firecracker plant.september-2016-015_15_1 september-2016-017_16_1 september-2016-018_17_1 september-2016-019_18_1

J:  I liked the wishing weed we found and wished on.  It was neat to see plants that grow in this area easily.  Now we know what we can plant.  Okay, until next time!

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Coastal Bend Nature Challenge: Celebration of Flight

*Joey and William will be guests here on the blog as they document our Nature Challenge journey for 2016.october-2016-006_1_1 october-2016-008_2_1 october-2016-009_3_1september-2016-002_1_1

The Challenge: Attend the Celebration of Flight (we were not able to make it on September 24th for the kids’ day so we joined in the celebration on the 25th).september-2016-003_2_1 september-2016-005_3_1 september-2016-008_4_1 september-2016-100_14_1

W:  We went to the Celebration of Flight.  We saw hawks migrating.september-2016-009_5_1 september-2016-010_6_1 september-2016-013_7_1

J:  I saw hummingbirds before I even saw a hawk.  They were very cute and they were next to the hummingbird feeders.  I knew what attracted them at that moment.september-2016-014_8_1 september-2016-015_9_1 september-2016-016_10_1 september-2016-017_1_1

W:  I saw them first and I pointed them out to Joey.september-2016-020_2_1 september-2016-025_3_1 september-2016-027_4_1

J:  No, you didn’t.  Daddy pointed them out to me.september-2016-031_5_1 september-2016-036_6_1

W:  Well let’s just assume that I did.september-2016-040_7_1 september-2016-042_8_1 september-2016-043_1_1

Me:  Boys, focus please.september-2016-044_2_1 september-2016-049_3_1 september-2016-052_4_1 september-2016-053_5_1

J:  We got up to the hawk watch platform and pulled out our binoculars.  There was a lady there who knew a lot about the hawks and she helped us find and identify some.  I also knew that the lady we met last year must be there somewhere.  She was!  I was happy to see her again.september-2016-054_6_1 september-2016-058_7_1 september-2016-059_8_1 september-2016-060_9_1

W:  We saw both ladies?september-2016-061_10_1 september-2016-062_11_1 september-2016-063_12_1 september-2016-065_13_1

J:  Well, we saw a lady from this year and a lady from last year.  So…if you’re talking about a different lady from last year, I don’t think so, but the lady that taught us about thermals last year was there.  We talked to her.  Don’t you remember?  She told us about the tree that has leaves like sandpaper.september-2016-061_10_1 september-2016-062_11_1

W:  What?  Ooohhh, yeah, I do remember that.  And I remember her.september-2016-063_12_1 september-2016-065_13_1

J: After we did some hawk watching and drawing, we went for a walk.september-2016-066_1_1 september-2016-067_2_1

W:  We went exploring and Daddy said, “Look!” and we went down a secret passage.september-2016-069_3_1 september-2016-070_4_1 september-2016-072_5_1

J:  It was very fun except I didn’t like the part with the very tall grass.  On our way back from the walk, we smelled smoke.september-2016-073_6_1 september-2016-074_7_1 september-2016-076_8_1

W:  It was the beginning of a Native American blessing.  First we got blessed.september-2016-098_12_1 september-2016-099_13_1

J:  They were burning sage and they used the smoke to give us each a blessing.  It was like incense.  Then the Native Americans did some singing.  Then they did some dancing.  They were blessing the hawks’ migration and also sending our prayers up to be carried to Heaven with the hawks.  It took almost forever for the ceremony to end.september-2016-077_9_1 september-2016-080_10_1 september-2016-081_11_1 september-2016-085_13_1

W: It was very fun to watch them sing and dance.september-2016-086_1_1 september-2016-087_2_1 september-2016-088_3_1 september-2016-089_4_1

J:  There was a Sun and a Moon represented in the dance.september-2016-091_5_1 september-2016-092_6_1 september-2016-093_7_1 september-2016-094_8_1

W:  After the ceremony we went to hold snakes.  There was a Mexican Milk snake, a Rat snake and a Western Garter snake.  They were fantastic.  I love holding snakes.  There was a lady there who said she was gardening and she stuck her hand in the garden and suddenly heard a rattle.  It was a rattlesnake!  She told us never to stick our hands into a place where we can’t see what we’re touching because there could be snakes.  I think that was good advice.  Okay, until next time!september-2016-095_9_1 september-2016-096_10_1 september-2016-097_11_1 september-2016-103_15_1 september-2016-107_18_1

Coastal Bend Nature Challenge: Fulton Mansion

*Joey and William will be guests here on the blog as they document our Nature Challenge journey for 2016.

The Challenge: Explore Harriet’s Garden and the yard behind the mansion.  Use the plant markers to locate the plants in your mission.  Complete the worksheet.  Observe the plants and flowers.  Sketch your favorite.  september-2016-006_1_1

After Goose Island State Park, we headed over to Fulton Mansion although we ended up on a very scenic tour because somehow we drove right past it the first time!september-2016-005_3_1

J:  After a loooong mosquitoey morning at Goose Island State Park, I was glad to go somewhere that we could go inside.  First we all ate lunch outside the museum.  We all remembered a funny tale from last year’s nature challenge when Andrew accidentally cut up the direction page for a craft inside the museum (Mommy fixed it, so all was well).  He just got so carried away with his scissors that he didn’t realize what he was cutting!

W:  I ate peanut butter and jelly with some grapes.

J:  I ate beef jerky.

W:  Then we went into the museum where they told us to head over to the mansion before it closed.  I decided to skip the stroller and walk up the stairs by myself.

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J:  No, silly, we went down the stairs to the basement first!

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W:  Oh, yeah, remember how neat the the basement was.  Remember the dumb waiter?

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J:  What dumb waiter?

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W:  The one where you put the food on it and pull it up and it goes upstairs.

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J:  Oh the dumb waiter.  Not the dumb waiter!  It must have been nice for the servants to have a whole basement all to themselves.

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W:  We went upstairs to the main two floors and got to play an I Spy game as we toured the house.

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J:  My favorite room was probably the bedroom although it would have been fun to go lie on the bed.  I played the I Spy downstairs first then I went up the stairs and I was not scared one tiny bit.  I played I Spy upstairs and when it was time to come down the stairs, I threw a fit because I was scared.  I am scared to go down the stairs because I’m scared of heights.

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W:  Good thing we don’t have stairs in our house!

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J:  That’s true, but Daddy didn’t let me sit on the Fulton Mansion’s stairs like I do when I go to Granny and Pappy’s house.  Daddy kept urging me down and then I held my hand and he promised not to let me fall so I was able to go down the stairs.

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W:  Next we headed over to the museum.

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J:  I definitely loved building that bridge with Andrew!

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W:  I helped Granny dress the mannequin and I got to dress up as a cowboy!  Then we took Granny’s picture with her head on top of the mannequin.  It was funny!

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J:  It was a good thing I brought my Ironman Lego into the museum with me because then I got to help Ironman cross the bridge after I finished building it.  I kind of liked watching Granny dress the mannequin even though I don’t get all excited about that kind of girl stuff.  I dressed up as a cowboy which was really fun.

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W:  Then we finally went outside to the grounds to do the Nature Challenge.

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J:  We had to find the plants and write their scientific name in the garden.  My favorite plants were the firecracker plant and Turk’s Cap.september-2016-264_6_1 september-2016-265_7_1 september-2016-266_8_1 september-2016-267_9_1 september-2016-269_10_1

W:  Mommy made us all get together at the end so we could have our picture taken.  I loved having our picture taken but I did get a little annoyed because Mommy kept saying one more!  One more!september-2016-272_11_1 september-2016-275_12_1 september-2016-276_13_1 september-2016-277_14_1 september-2016-286_15_1

J:  I really liked going to the Fulton Mansion.  The day at Rockport was full of fun!  I’m already looking forward to next year’s nature challenge!september-2016-288_16_1 september-2016-293_18_1 september-2016-294_19_1 september-2016-289_17_1

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Coastal Bend Nature Challenge: Goose Island State Park

*Joey and William will be guests here on the blog as they document our Nature Challenge journey for 2016.

The Challenge:  We chose Challenges #2 and #3:

#2:  Complete a Scavenger Hunt. september-2016-003_2_1

#3:  Become a nature detective to find out who lives at Goose Island State Park by walking along the trail and looking for clues the animals leave behind.  Draw the clues and write down what it was.  september-2016-002_1_1

On September 4th, we headed to Rockport, TX to complete our next Nature Challenge.  Granny was in town and William had just had surgery 3 days before (that’s why you’ll see him cruising along in the stroller).

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We arrived at Goose Island and checked into the Ranger Station.  We picked up our scavenger hunts and headed for Turk’s Cap Trail.

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J:  As soon as I entered the trail, I saw Daddy pushing the stroller as fast as he could and running at top speed back to the trail head.  I thought there was a rattlesnake at first but then Daddy said it was so mosquitoey, we’d need bug spray.  Daddy whipped out the bug spray and sprayed us all but it didn’t help because there were so many mosquitoes.  It seemed like every time we stopped, they started biting again.  I got at least a thousand bites on my leg (well, maybe that’s a little bit of an exaggeration!).  Near the end of the trail, I got the bright idea to run as fast as I could to the end of the trail.  I barely survived those mosquitoes.  As for the scavenger hunt, I noticed things as I was zooming by. I did pretty good on it.

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W:  I was covered in mosquitoes and I complained about it a lot!  I pulled up the cover on the stroller so I could observe nature from behind the screen.  I saw a gopher hole where I think he was digging for grubs.  I haven’t been in a stroller on a nature trail in a long time!

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J:  William, to the gopher those grubs were “buried” treasure!

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W:  Ha, ha, ha!

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J:  Once I got off the trail, I was able to fill in my scavenger hunt.  Last year when we got off the same exact trail, we got lost and we did not know anyway back although somehow we stumbled on the car.  This year we got lost again but I already knew from last year how fun it was going to be to find the car.

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W:  On the way back to the car we saw a red Cardinal (a male and a female).  There was a bird watching spot and we stopped there to listen and watch quietly.  Joey, is the male the big one and female is the cute small one?

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J:  The bright red one is the male and the reddish brown one is the female.

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W:  The ugly reddish brown one?  And is the female bigger than the male?

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J:  Well the male has a crest and the female doesn’t.  I don’t know if she’s bigger than the male or not, but I know how to tell the difference.

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W:  Well I know that one is bigger than the other and I think it’s the female.

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J:  I just looked it up and the male is slightly larger than the female.

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W:  Oh thanks.

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J:  Even though we’d already completed our challenge, we went to visit the Big Tree.  It’s more than 1,000 years old!

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W:  No, I think it’s almost 1,000 years old.

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J:  Don’t make this into an argument!

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W: Let’s look at the picture and see if it says…

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J:  Neither of us were right!  It says exactly 1,000 years old on the By the Numbers sign, but on the timeline, it says the acorn was planted around the year 1,000 AD, so that would make the tree actually 1,016 years old.  I was right!

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W:  Wow!  That is one impressive tree!

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J:  It really is awesome!  And by the big tree there are a lot of other big trees that are good for climbing.  At first I thought another one of the big trees there was THE BIG TREE but then I realized that the one enclosed by a fence was the real Big Tree and although it wasn’t taller than some trees I’ve seen, it was sure big and fat and it had a lot of branches.  But don’t climb over the fence to climb it!  We wouldn’t want anything to happen to a tree that old.

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See you next time to tell you about Fulton Mansion’s Nature Challenge!

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Coastal Bend Nature Challenge: Port Aransas Nature Preserves

*Joey and William will be guests here on the blog as they document our Nature Challenge journey for 2016.

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The Challenge:  Visit one of the Nature Preserves in Port Aransas.  Choose a topic from the list of ideas and present our experience in a creative way.  Share it online.

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J:  We went to Port Aransas with Walker and Gavin.  We saw a lot of plants on the first trail.  We saw a lot of Duckweed.  We also saw Sesbania.

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W:  We saw Chinese Tallow, which I can identify by its leaves.

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J:  We each had a camera to use.  We were shocked that there wasn’t any water in the pond and we thought it was because there was a drought.

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W:  But we found a sign called Freshwater Pond Hydrology and we learned that…

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J:  There wasn’t supposed to be much water!

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W:  There wasn’t much water because the pond was at the point of its evaporation cycle.  It evaporates during winter and summer and then when it rains in the fall and spring, it fills back up.

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J:  It’s important because it gives plants like duckweed time for their seeds to grow without the seeds being washed away.  I think it’s very exciting.

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W:  We found a chalkboard at the end of the trail and I think people are supposed to write the names of the birds they see on the trail except we didn’t see any birds so we added one of the plants we saw…Chinese Tallow.

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J:  I raced to the car ready for our next adventure.

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After we finished at that trail, we headed over to the Nature Preserve at Charlie’s Pasture.  We had lunch and found a nice spot for some nature sketching.

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J:  I had a cup of mangoes.

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W:  Me too!  I ate everything that he had.

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Mom:  Enough about lunch!  Tell us about your nature sketching…

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J:  I sat on one of the Gazebo rails and pulled out my colored pencils.  I drew me looking out at the pasture.

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W:  I did the same thing.

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J:  After we finished drawing we saw a freighter and some dolphins.  We followed the ship around the bend and started on the trail.

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W:  Me too!  I saw the ship first.

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J:  That’s because I was busy drawing.

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W:  Oh!  Remember how the birds were flying and then stopping and going straight down?

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J:  Yeah, they were diving for fish!  We went to three gazebos on the trail and I wanted to keep going because there were 18 gazebos but Mommy and Daddy wouldn’t let us.  On our way back we saw a gopher.

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W:  I saw lots of different birds, maybe even a pelican.

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Katie: I saw butterflies!

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Andrew:  I saw rocks!

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J:  Nature Challenges are tons of fun and they make us more like the Wild Kratts.  The next day, while it was still fresh in our minds, we completed the challenge.  I chose to pretend I was a gopher on the trail.

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W:  I pretended like I was stuck on the trail for a week and I had to pack for it. (Mommy says not to worry, she’ll be sure to check any future packing lists before I head out into the wild!)

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J:  Andrew wrote a narrative (which is a story about what actually happened while we were there).

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J:  Well, until our next adventure…

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