Backyard Wildlife

family exploring at the edge of a river with their dog

Week 2

Welcome back, campers! This week we are going to get to know the wildlife just outside our doors. Activate all of your senses and tune in to the smells, sounds, and sights that surround you. After this week, you will have trained yourself to be a keen observer of all wildlife activity, even in the most unexpected settings and moments.

We need a place to record and reflect on our observations. Ready-made or handmade, a nature journal is a wonderful way for kids and adults of all ages to learn about their environment and themselves.

A nature journal is very personal. It will be filled with words, art, observations, and sometimes leaves and pressed flowers. Find or make a journal that is easy to carry around on your summer adventures and that works best for you. (If you love to paint, get a journal with watercolor paper; if you want to take field notes in all weather conditions, purchase a waterproof notebook.) Take notes, write reflections, sketch pictures—record your observations in whatever way makes sense to you. A consistent practice of quiet observation and journaling will help you discover the fascinating wildlife diversity right at home.

Please share your adventures by emailing photos and reflections to And follow us on social media to stay updated on special Facebook Live events for campers and more!


little girl looking at flowers in the grass

Backyard Ecology

Little(r)-Kid Approved!

This week, we will use backyard ecology to help us develop the routine of keeping a nature journal.

Discover the diversity of your own backyard. Designate your field site—your yard, a nearby park, the rooftop, your patio, the front stoop. Any outdoor location will work, as long as you can easily get to it every day this week. As often as possible (at a minimum, daily) sit quietly in your field site location and observe any and all wildlife activity.

Use your journals to record observations within your personal field site. Start each field observation with the date, time, location, and weather details. Then take notes and create illustrations of the trees, shrubs, moss, and other native plants. Observe animals that visit your field site and record your observations in great detail. Look out for any evidence of animal activity (tracks, scat, prints, sounds, spiderwebs, nests). Note the wildlife activity. What are the animals doing? What are they eating? What noises are they making? What animals do you hear but never see? Where are the animal’s tracks leading? If you observe birds, what wing beat patterns and call patterns do you witness? Set aside field observation times at different times throughout the day (sunrise, high noon, dusk) and at least once or twice at night.

While in the field, or once you are back at home, deepen your knowledge by using printed or online field guides (see our recommended resources below!) to identify the species you observed and to learn more about each species.

group of people and their dogs exploring waters edge

Discover Your Watershed

Indoor (or Outdoor) Creative Activity

A watershed is the area drained by a river and its tributaries. It is also called a drainage basin. All water that flows over and through the land encompassed in the watershed ultimately ends up in the same body of water. Drainage basins vary greatly in size and shape—think about a small stream’s watershed versus the Mississippi River watershed, which includes more than 1 million square miles. And all watersheds connect communities and ecosystems that can otherwise seem disconnected. A watershed captures, stores, and releases water, and the geology, vegetation, human uses, etc. all affect the quantity and quality of the water that flows through it. Protecting our rivers demands that we protect their watersheds, which is no small task.

Pick a local river and find a map of the river’s watershed (or draw the lines of a watershed onto a state/region map). Identify the many different land uses that take place in the watershed— farming, urban sprawl, highways, and roads—and think about the challenges these uses may present to the wildlife that survive in and around the river. What pollution (from development, agriculture, roads, etc.) may enter the river? What wildlife live in the watershed, and how may human activity affect their health and safety? What could be done to protect the watershed and the wildlife that live and hunt there?

Next, create your own 3D model of a watershed at home using objects from around the house and butcher paper (indoors) or a large tarp (outdoors). This guide from PBS kids can be adapted for all ages, and you can adjust the scale to be compatible with your space.

Download PDF
person working with their hands in the dirt

Create a Wildlife Habitat

Conservation in Action

When you design and plant your own wildlife garden at home or in a community garden, you help reclaim wildlife habitat for important species. You can even get your garden certified as a Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. By simply providing essential habitat components (food, water, cover, and space), you can design a safe habitat for wildlife to flourish and raise their young.

Before you start designing your wildlife garden, carefully observe your location. Is it sunny or shady? Wet or dry? Get to know your space and do research on local wildlife to determine what animal habitat you want to create. (We recommend habitat for birds, butterflies, or bees.) Discover native plants in your area and determine what type of garden you can maintain in a sustainable way.

We got this great idea from the National Wildlife Federation. Visit their website for guidance, education and resources, and for information on how to get your garden certified.

Visit National Wildlife Federation
person walking through ferns in the forest

More Wildlife Resources

a group of people in multiple canoes on a lake

Connect with Other Campers!

Please share your camp adventures on social media using #orvissummercamp

Send in photos of your maps and photos or reflections of your adventures to If you email us by the end of the day on Thursday, we will share some on our blog on Friday!