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20 Highlights from the Backyard in 2020

Written by Danny Pirtle
    Wednesday, 16 December 2020
20 Highlights from the Backyard in 2020

As another year comes to a close, it is common to look back on the year that was and revisit highlights, memories, and lessons learned. I imagine that whenever we look back, 2020 will always have a giant asterisk next to it. So much about this year was different, thanks largely in part to the pandemic that continues to keep us socially distancing and working virtually as much as possible. It's easy to think of this as an entirely negative experience, and in many cases, correct to do so. But one silver lining that came from this new virtual lifestyle at the UEC was the Urban Ecology Center in my Backyard portal. As the coordinator of this effort, I feel so grateful to have spent my year seeing the many new talents on display from our hard working staff.

To celebrate a year of adaptation and exploration of new ways of connecting people to the outdoors, I wanted to reflect on all the amazing work our staff has put into the Backyard. It would be impossible to highlight everything - after all, there are more than 200 unique videos, blog posts, and activities in the Backyard to date with educational content for all ages. But to showcase the diversity of work and the incredible display of talent, here are 20 highlights from the Backyard in 2020!

Patterns and Shapes Scavenger Hunt

Exploring outside is always fun, but sometimes you need some guidance for what to look for. Well, look no further! We've made tons of new scavenger hunts for you to print out and take with you on your next adventure. Check out the Patterns and Shapes scavenger hunt created by Environmental Educator Brynne Drohan.

Shapes and Patterns Scavenger Hunt

A Nature Hike in Kirsten's Neighborhood

Environmental Educator Kirsten Maier took us all for a nature hike in her neighborhood. This video is a great reminder that there is nature all around us, even if you just explore your own city block!

My Backyard Square

In a similar vein, Environmental Educator Regina Miller decided to observe the changes in nature in just a small square in her neighborhood. Over the course of three videos, she shared how to pick out a spot for your square and how to make observations about the changes in your square over time.

Make Your Own Nature Frame

Another thing you can do while exploring outside is collecting materials for crafts. There are a ton of great nature craft activities on the Backyard, including this step-by-step guide for making a nature frame, created by Environmental Educator Annie Ela.

Make your own Nature Frame cover

How To Make a Firefly String Lights Craft

Here's another great craft you can do on a rainy day. It may be cold and wintry outside now, but this firefly string lights craft is sure to light up your home and remind you of the warmer months ahead. This video was created by Science Communication intern Elizabeth Gamillo as part of the summer yardversity event.

How To Make an Oozing Pumpkin

Not so much a craft as a super spooky experiment, this video by community program educators Madeline Karian and Olivia Raasch explains the process for creating this fun, seasonal experience. Be warned: it's about to get spooooooooky!

Naturalmente! The Rock Cycle Recipe

This video from environmental educator Miguel Santos (one of many, I should add), is a great introduction to the rock cycle. Follow along with this fun activity to learn how rocks change over time! Warning: results not necessarily edible!

The UEC Puppet Pack: Storms with Thizo

Have you met this delightful band of puppets? Thanks to the creativity of the community programs team, we have a brand new batch of educators on our staff - the Puppet Pack! This year they've taught us about wetlands, metamorphosis, squirrels, and more. For an introduction to the puppet pack, check out Thizo's Guide to Storms, as transcribed by Community Programs Educator José Basaldua.

Puppet Pack Storms with Thizo

Story with Tory: The Night Gardener

Environmental Educator Tory Bahe has been reading stories all year. Beautiful narrations combined with beautiful illustrations make these videos perfect for story time any time of year! Check out this video where Tory reads The Night Gardener by Terry and Eric Fan.

Monarch Butterfly Coloring Page

Coloring is a great way for kids and adults to calm their minds. Why not learn about nature while doing so? Check out this color page, designed by Graphic Designer Markie Schmidt, which shows the lifecycle of a monarch butterfly.

Monarch Coloring Page

Nature in My Neighborhood

We've created a ton of activities for kids, but we've also got adults in mind too. Not sure how to make nature engaging for your little ones? Check out this fun activity that staff member Roger Coleman put together for his son Auden when they went exploring last spring.

Erin's Fall Garden

Gardening is a great way to spend time outside while also having a goal or project in mind. We've provided lots of resources for gardeners to learn how to utilize their garden. One highlight from the Gardening Corner is this video by Community Programs Educator Erin Whiteny, in which she explains the ins and outs of creating a fall garden.

How To Can Tomatoes

Not only have we assisted with the creation of gardens, but we've been thinking about the tasty part that comes after the harvest! We shared some recipes utilizing the bounty of your garden, as well as this great video from Environmental Educator Alex LaBonte that introduces how to preserve your abundance of tomatoes by canning them.

Five Facts about the Virginia Opossum

I love trivia and learning as many random facts about the natural world around me as possible, which is why I've had so much fun putting together the Five Facts series of videos. Check out this recent creation, which also includes my canine child Ruthie as my co-star.

Chad the Nature Dad: Flooded Woods

Environmental Educator Chad Thomack and his daughter Kendall have been going on all sorts of nature adventures this year, and sharing them in the Chad the Nature Dad video series. I asked Chad if he could pick a favorite video and he chose the Flooded Woods video. Chad said this was his favorite because "we were outside at a time when most people don't usually get out there."

Virtual Botany Walk: Goldenrod

Land steward Jeff Veglahn has been introducing us to all the native vegetation at the Menomonee Valley branch in his virtual botany walks. In this video, he shares five common species of goldenrod you can see in southeastern Wisconsin.

Spectacular Wildflowers of Summer Self-Guided Hike

In a series of incredible multimedia SWAY presentation, Early Childhood Specialist Matt Flower has put together unforgettable self-guided hikes that anyone can do on their own time. In this selection, follow along through the Milwaukee Centennial Arboretum and discover the beautiful diversity of summer wildflowers.

2020 07 31 13 17 14 Window

Backyard Naturalist Series: Smellin' in the Rain

Easily the highest minute-count of any Backyard contributor, Tim Vargo, Manager of Research and Community Science, has been doing weekly Friday morning lectures since March about common plants, animals, and fungi you might find right in your own backyard. These Backyard Naturalist lectures are great to attend live or watch after-the-fact. Here's his favorite, which explores the many smells that come with a rainstorm and the culprits behind them.

Introduction to iNaturalist

While Tim has been teaching us about the natural history of the plants and animals, GIS and Field Data Coordinator Ethan Bott has been making the process of identifying and recording observations of them more accessible with a series of lectures on how to use eBird and iNaturalist. For an introduction to doing community science on your own time, there's no better starting point than this lecture on iNaturalist.

Swarms of Dragonflies Blog Post

Maggie Steinhauer, Research and Community Science Coordinator, uses the art of writing to explore the natural world she's seeing around her in a way that is uniquely introspective and educational. In this blog post, she ponders the meaning of the swarms of dragonflies she was seeing during the waning days of the summer.

Swarms of Dragonflies Blog

Again, these are just 20 of the over 200 great educational materials that have been created for UEC in My Backyard since March. As we head into 2021, one thing is for certain: we will continue to find unique ways to connect you with nature, even if we can't do so together in person.

Danny Pirtle

Danny Pirtle

Danny grew up on the shore of Lake Michigan in Racine, Wisconsin. After spending time studying the natural world (and seeing a whole lot of birds) in Minnesota, California, Indiana, and Australia, Danny returned to Milwaukee and is now the Animal Care Coordinator at the Urban Ecology Center. Danny’s favorite bird is the Pigeon Guillemot and their favorite nature sound is the trill of the American Toad. When away from UEC, Danny can be found walking with Sara (their partner) and Reydog (their dog) on the Oak Leaf Trail, hosting trivia downtown, or curled up with the latest Star Wars novel.

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