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Nature Journaling Part 2: Sounds and Perceptions

Nature Journal
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Welcome to Part Two of our month-long nature journaling experience! Through July 31st, you can reserve a kit with some basic journaling materials through our Events Calendar (while supplies last). You can also find Part One of the blog for this activity here.

Remember to record the date on each page of your journal. Here are some less straightforward journaling prompts that engage other senses and ways of thinking.

Creating a Sound Map

1. Visit an uninhabited nature area, such as Mill Creek Park, or other area with few human-built structures and distractions, and find a place where you can sit and observe in the woods without disturbing the wildlife. Sketch or write a brief description of the scene. Note the date, weather, time of day, and location.

2. Create a sound map template by using a ruler or other straight edge to make a large X. Mark a large dot at its center to represent where you are sitting.

3. In each quadrant, note what sounds you hear around you and how loud they are. Click on the thumbnail below to see an example.

4. Which sounds did you recognize or not? If there are birdsongs or other animal calls you aren’t familiar with, try to describe their sounds in your map. If you can see the creature, briefly describe it so you can look it up in a field guide.

  • Example: chk-chk-chk sound –small grayish bird
  • Most bird guides have a written description of birds’ songs and calls. For example, Audubon’s Guide to North American Birds has both sound recordings and written descriptions.
  • Similarly, bugs can be identified through sounds. It is a cicada year –do you hear them?
  • Technology can also be helpful. Smartphone app stores have sound meters you can use to record more accurate data. How many decibels is that robin’s song?

5. Documenting sounds throughout different times and spaces.

  • Visit a different ecosystem, such as a field, meadow, wetlands, creek-side, riverbed, or lakeshore. Do you hear different sounds?
  • How do sounds maps differ when you are in more human-developed spaces? Document human sounds and noise pollution.
  • Revisit a location, but on a day with different weather conditions, such as after a major rainfall, or when it is overcast instead of brightly sunny.
  • Revisit a location at a different time of day and note differences.
  • Compare your different sound maps. Do you hear different noises under different weather conditions, at different times of day, or in different habitats? Journaling helps you to keep track of changes through time, as well as being a log of the different things you’ve seen and heard.

New Perspectives

Consider other ways to document your experiences. Math and science, in addition to art, can be a big part of your nature journal.

6. Draw a “slice” of the environment divided into thirds to note what is above you, what is at eye level, and what is below eye level. Write about or color each “third” you divided your view into. Looking at these “levels” can be a quicker and more accessible way to journal.

7. Use silhouettes to record shape. If detail seems intimidating, there are some basic shapes of birds and plants that you can express using only a dark-colored pencil or pen.

8. Phenology wheels simply use a “spoked wheel” template to trace cyclical phenomena in one setting across time. You can track individual specimens or a broader phenomenon. For example, creating 12 segments and drawing the leaves of a specific plant each month for a year, or creating 28-31 segments to draw the moon phase each day. Here is a helpful YouTube tutorial.

9. Graphing is another way to use your dot-grid journal to track data in nature. For example, graphing plant’s growth using a line graph where the x-axis is time (days or months) and the y-axis is height (units).

Additional Tips

Other items you may want to add to your nature journaling kit include: a black felt- or brush-tip pen to fill in silhouettes or make your writing or outlines stand out more clearly; charcoal to take rubbings; magnifying glass to better observe details on insects, plants, and minerals; binoculars to better see birds in trees and other animals at a distance. Many nature journalists also incorporate watercolor paints.

Try to incorporate mindfulness in your nature journaling activities. Sitting alone, quietly in nature and allowing yourself to observe nature can help to alleviate stress. Taking a few moments to mediate, practice breathing exercises, or stretch your limbs as you get started will allow you to go into your journaling sessions with a clear mind.

Here are some resources for incorporating mindfulness:

Journaling Resources