Spring 2014

It’s springtime again in Highlands and our Backyard Naturalists are getting some great photos! We’ve been broadening our horizons and taking field trips to some pretty amazing places. Week one we explored the botanical gardens here at the station, taking samples from pitcher plants and looking at them under a microscope. Our second week we ventured up Satulah Mountain to learn about rocky outcrop communities. Week three we hiked up the Coker Rhododendron trail to explore a rich cove forest, we also got to stop at a bog ecosystem along the way. Week four we went to Dry Falls, an incredibly cool spray cliff, where we saw salamanders, a snake, and got a little wet. Our last field trip we explored Granite City with Alyssa, a WCU grad student studying a species of cave spider. We saw two different kinds of cave spiders and some other critters, and the Naturalists got to do some spelunking! All in all, it was an educational and fun Spring Session! We learned about different ecosystems and the components of ecosystems, while learning about flora and fauna and working on our photography skills. We’ll be back next fall for more Backyard fun!!!


Week One

Week One - Spring 2014

Week Two

Week Two - Spring 2014

Week Three

Week Three - Spring 2014


Week Four

Week Four - Spring 2014

Week Five

Week Five - Spring 2014

Week Six


Week Six - Spring 2014


Fall 2013 Session

Photography is an important component of the Backyard Naturalists after school program.  You can track the progress of each child in the Fall 2013 session by viewing the galleries below, organized by week.  Each gallery contains a slideshow with each naturalist’s best photograph from that week.

Week One

Day One of Fall 2013 Session

Week Two

Day Two of Fall 2013 Session

Week Three

Day Three of fall 2013 Session

Week Four

Day 4 Fall 2013

Week Five

Day Five of Fall 2013 Session

Week Six

Day Six of Fall 2013 Session

Why should you consider enrolling your child in the Backyard Naturalists afterschool program? Studies show that spending more time outdoors is linked to fewer incidences of behavioral problems in children and leads to a healthier lifestyle. The program will include eight weeks of lessons structured to promote a better appreciation of the natural world by nurturing creativity and independent observation skills. Study topics will include learning about plants and animals, community interactions between species, nature journaling, illustration and a nature photography workshop.

The program will be held at the Highlands Nature Center on Thursdays for 5th – 8th graders. All classes run from 3-5 pm. Transportation will be provided from Highlands School and scholarships are available! The program is limited to 12 students so please download the registration form by clicking here or call 828-526-2221 today for more information!



Today we were focusing on learning about plants and forest ecology. Even though we lost most of our deciduous leaves in the heavy winds over the last week, there are still a lot of evergreen plants and other plants to learn about in the forest.



I like how the leaf in the background looks like it’s glowing but the other leaves don’t. –Ryan


This picture was an accident. I was moving the camera and accidentally pressed the button. –Riley


I like how the background is blue and you can really see the detail. –Maddie

There’s even been occasional snow at this elevation, which makes for some beautiful pictures.

I like how the snow is kind of a bluish color. –Julia/Winnie


I like how the picture shows the little veins on the leaf. –Jessica


When I took this picture I didn’t mean to take it but I had my camera face up and took the picture. I like how the sky is really blue and the branches are bare. –Jeslyn


I like how you can see the reflection of the sun on the camera lens. –Emily


My plant died, and this is all that is left. –Carson


I liked how there was a reflection on the lake and there was some snow left on the logs. –Camren


I liked how the leaves looked twisted and it looked deformed. –Brenna

The landscape is beautiful at this time of year, and we are lucky to have some great young photographers that are eager to capture its beauty!

We were walking pretty fast so I tried to get a good picture of the lake. It looks really pretty because all the sun was shining on the water and you could see through it. –Alley


Today we were out exploring nature, specifically focusing on the pond ecosystems. Our botanical garden contains a small lake that is home to many plants and animals, including fish, snapping turtles, ducks, and lots of macroinvertebrates!

I like taking photos in black and white because it looks old. –Carson


–Madison D.

Even though it is starting to be consistently chilly weather, there are still a lot of green plants and a lot of life in the forest and at the pond!

This mallard duck was just standing there across the pond. –Jessica

The vivid colors of the trees add to the breathtaking nature of fall landscapes.

I like the colors of the trees and the reflection of the clouds in the water. –Jeslyn

To investigate the pond ecosystem, we used D-nets and small aquatic nets to get into the mud and dead leaves near the shore, which houses lots of the life that lives in the pond. These shallow areas warm quickly in the sun and have a lot of detritus (decaying organic matter) that can serve as food for a lot of macroinvertebrates.

This is a dragonfly nymph and two tadpoles. It was a hard picture because they were swimming in opposite ways but luckily I got it when they were all together. –Alley


I took the picture of the tadpole because I really like tadpoles. When I grow up I want to learn about tadpoles and what they eat. –Ryan


This tadpole is the one I caught in the mud. –Julia/Winnie

It’s always fun to get out and explore ecosystems that we don’t always see! Lots of cool stuff lives in ponds, streams, under leaf litter, or under dead logs! See what you can find!





Fall is upon us and things are changing rapidly in the forest! We spent the day looking for interesting fall changes in the botanical gardens and learning about reptiles and amphibians.

Witch Hazel is a tree where the flowers bloom in winter. –Julia

I like how the sun reflects off the leaf and makes the leaf look shiny. –Ryan

We went searching for salamanders in a stream in the botanical gardens. Chilly weather can make it more difficult to find amphibians, but we were successful finding a variety of salamanders including Black-bellied Salamanders, Ocoee Salamanders, and Two-lined Salamanders. Salamanders tend to be very photographic so we practiced taking good macro photographs with our slimy subjects.

When I was taking this picture, the salamander was trying to run away! –Tiffany


I liked getting wet looking for salamanders. –Riley


The salamander was trying to run away but then he just sat on the tips of my fingers for two minutes. –Maddie


The salamander was moving a lot so it was hard to take a good photo. –Jess

I like how the picture shows the reflection of the leaves. –Jeslyn




The salamander was trying to hide under leaves when I took this picture. –Madison D.


I luckily got to take a quick picture before the salamander climbed out! –Alley


It was easy to take this picture of a salamander because I didn’t catch it. –Carson


This was the biggest salamander that we found and he kept trying to run away when we put him on the plate. –Camren

Getting out and exploring nature in fall is always fun! We are excited to see what has changed next week!






Backyard Naturalists in Highlands, NC is back for a second session! We have a wonderful mix of new students and returning students. The returning students, who participated in the first session, are taking their skills to the next level while helping to mentor and teach the new students.

A Meet Your Neighbours- style photograph by one of our returning students, Brenna.

We spent the day exploring the gardens and practicing multiple ways to express ourselves through nature journaling.

I like the shape and the color of these flowers. –Ryan

I like how there are so many different kinds of plants, mosses, and leaves in this picture. –Madison D


There are so many small details that can be observed in the natural world! We try to heighten our powers of observation by taking time to focus on the small details and documenting them through the written word, drawings, and photographs.

This is “Desmond”, my tree. He’s kinda tall. –Riley

I like this picture because there are a lot of different kinds of plants in a small area. –Jeslyn


The students also experimented with storytelling through pictures. A millipede, a snail, and a salamander served as our first subjects, and we followed them as they moved around the forest.

This millipede was migrating across the leaf and then headed down the stem. — Maddie

I like how the leaves are greener than everything else around it. The millipede was trying to get off the leaf. –Julia

Over the next seven weeks, we will learn about a variety of topics including aquatic biology, birds, mammals, and trees. Meanwhile, nature journaling, photography, and video will help  us to observe small differences and explore the wonderful natural world around us!

I was falling when I took this picture which is what makes it look like it’s moving. –Carson

Fall is a great time to get out and observe nature! Enjoy!

I like how on each leaf there were lots of little leaves. The white background makes the leaves really pop out. –Camren


Our First Graduating Class!

The inaugural Backyard Naturalists class came to a close on May 16, 2012. The 8-week pilot program, which was held at Highlands Biological Station in Highlands, North Carolina was a great success. It was a learning experience for everyone who was involved and thanks to a wonderful group of children and hardworking staff we are now able to refine our curriculum and approach in order to improve upon our offering for the next group of students later this year. We conducted video interviews with each student at the beginning and end of the session. In addition, we also asked a series of questions at the end of each class to determine what was and wasn’t working each week, which the student followed up with in their journals. The feedback that we’ve received from the children and their parents has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve also heard reports of student science grades improving and perhaps more importantly, most of our young naturalists now feel more comfortable playing in the forest.

Many came to the program with reservations about what they might find out in nature or if it was safe to play there. Now many of these same students have gained the courage needed to explore on their own and have attained a better understanding of how to use science, photography and journaling to record and understand their discoveries.In the coming days we will be sharing videos, student feedback and other findings from the pilot program so that those of you who aren’t able to get involved with a course right now might be able to put some of the techniques into practice at your home with your own children.

Most of all, I would like to thank our wonderful, very first graduating class of Backyard Naturalists! You will always be special to us the first group and we’re so glad to have had the opportunity to be a part of your journey. Thank you for all that you’ve taught us.

Kind Regards,
Clay Bolt
Program Coordinator & Creative Director

Want to know how to find the wildlife in your own backyard? Watch this short video to learn easy ways that you can discover all of the amazing animals living in your neighborhood.

Wildscreen has launched this creative communications competition to raise awareness amongst young people in particular about the animals and plants affected by climate change. Entrants are asked to choose a climate change mascot, whether it be the polar bear, koala or emperor penguin, and let their creativity run wild! They can paint, draw, sing, knit or even rap, embracing their creativity to come up with an innovative and exciting way of engaging others with climate change, with the very best entries being showcased on the ARKive website.

Visit the Create Climate Change Challenge page today for more information!


Our Mission

The mission of Backyard Naturalists is to inspire a lifelong appreciation of the natural world in children through educational programming that integrates science, art, and technology. The program has been developed through a partnership between The Highlands Biological Foundation and Meet Your Neighbours, an international nature photography project designed to help people to learn more about the wildlife in their own community. Backyard Naturalists is made possible through the generous support of The Eckerd Family Foundation, which provides leadership and support for innovative educational, preventative, therapeutic and rehabilitative programs for children, youth and their families.