“In a Brandwein Minute,” is a series of minute-long video explorations into the natural world led by interpretive naturalist Sara Mayes. These vignettes are designed to spur additional investigations and provide inspiration through images of the wonders of nature. Most of the videos were taken at the Brandwein Nature Learning Preserve, but their subject matter can be found in backyards and parklands throughout the country.


Spring Wildflowers

A springtime walk along the woodland trails at the Brandwein Nature Learning Preserve will reward the observer with the welcome sight of spring ephemerals. These early and often inconspicuous wildflowers decorate the forest floor while sunshine can still penetrate the tree canopy above them. Soon the tree leaves will emerge casting the forest floor in shade and these wildflowers will have completed their annual appearance between the snow-melt and leaf-out. The wildflowers featured in this video include Bloodroot, Yellow Trout Lily, Rue Anemone, Red Trillium, Common Blue Violet, Downy Yellow Violet, Long-spurred Violet, and Wood Anemone. (Photos and narration by Sara Mayes)

For curricula on wild flowers for pre-K through grade 6, check out https://www.wildflower.org/learn/teacher-resources.



Know a Tree

Most of us see trees every day, but have you ever looked closely at a tree? … at its winter buds or summer leaves, and the creatures great and small that may hide in, or eat them? …at its bark where soft mosses, colorful fungi and lichens find a place to grow?… or for the insects that burrow beneath its bark, later to be found by hungry woodpeckers?

Look for the tree‘s flowers in the spring and its fruits in summer or fall. There’s wildlife that depends on the tree for food, for a cozy home within its woody trunk, or safe shelter among its branches. For hundreds of years, season after season, a tree can support an entire natural community. Get to know a tree and discover its true story.

As a follow-up, check out the Brandwein Nature Learning Preserve Outdoor Learning Activity “To Know a Tree,” designed for middle school teachers and students at https://brandwein.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/To_Know_a_Tree.pdf.




An Old Friend

ancient tree

Well, old friend, you are still here — guiding my eyes and letting thoughts scramble among a million rays seeking pieces of the stories you have spun into our galaxy. Once brave and hearty, thrusting up branches and clothing them annually with soft greens against the blue skies. Once overseeing the conversion of forests to pasture and acknowledging the herds of Holsteins and the wandering of the deer. Once a bulwark against the ferociousness of wayward hurricanes — twisting, trembling, as they left erratic paths of wanton destruction. Once a citadel offering haven to the flustered — to those desperate for a refuge from the fear of attack. Even in your passage to death you provide fungal respite, temporary shelter, a snag or two of firewood. Old friend, rest easy and rest assured that you did not exist in vain.

Richard (Dick) Arnold, original Brandwein Fellow and Brandwein Medal awardee

An Old Friend

Written by Richard Arnold; read by Keith Wheeler



Observing Birds

The Brandwein Nature Learning Preserve is alive with an assortment of native wild bird species that occupy a variety of niches. These wild birds look and behave differently depending on where they live, what they eat, and what role they play as members of their natural communities. Birds can be found almost everywhere: in the air, on the water, in the tree canopy, or on the forest floor. Listen for the sounds of birds such as woodpeckers tapping or hammering, and birds singing or calling. Watch for birds in motion: hopping from branch to branch, swimming or wading in the pond, walking through the grass in search of food, soaring overhead, or flying to safety. Observe bird behaviors such as, bathing, preening, food-gathering, hiding, and flocking. Look for clues of bird activity such as nests, feathers, woodpecker holes in a tree’s bark, footprints in sand, snow, or mud. Whether you’re at a city park or in the countryside, on the beach or in your own backyard, go in search of birds. Their beauty and diversity will amaze you! (Production and narration by Sara Mayes; photos thanks to contributors at https://pixabay.com)

As a follow-up, check out the Brandwein Nature Learning Preserve Outdoor Learning Activity “Interpreting Bird Behavior,” designed for middle school teachers and students at https://brandwein.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Interpreting_Bird_Behavior.pdf.



Helping Bees

From large carpenter bees, to fuzzy bumble bees, to tiny solitary bees, there are over 4000 different bee species in North America! But habitat loss, pesticide use, and the monoculture of turf-grass lawns have put bees in danger. They need our help! Grow a bee-friendly garden with a variety of nectar-rich flowers, blooming trees and shrubs. Set your mower blade to its highest setting and mow less often. Embrace biodiversity and leave patches of lawn to grow wild. Those dandelions and clover are vital nectar sources for bees. Avoid using pesticides. Why help bees? A large portion of our food supply depends on pollination by bees. We need bees, and bees need us.

For further study, check out the USDA curriculum on bees at https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcs142p2_031316.pdf and the curriculum from Pollinator Partnership at https://www.pollinator.org/pollinator.org/assets/generalFiles/curriculum.pdf.



Search for Eagles

Whether they’re soaring on the updrafts or perched in trees along the river, Bald Eagles are truly magnificent to watch. During the winter, when many lakes and rivers freeze, eagles from the northern portions of the U.S. and Canada move southward to areas like the Upper Delaware where clean open water, abundant fish, and undisturbed stands of large trees for roosting, perching and nesting provide ideal habitat for them. Jack Padalino, President Emeritus of the Brandwein Institute, has been searching for and observing bald eagles since 1957. For more than four decades, he has led winter eagle-watching field trips along the Upper Delaware. You can join the Brandwein Institute in a future “Search for Eagles” led by Jack, to learn about these majestic birds and experience the thrill of eagle watching.

To see results of previous “Search for Eagles,” check out the summaries of the Brandwein Institute eagle-watching field trips at https://brandwein.org/searchforeagles/



Small Streams

It may only be a small creek running through your backyard, or a temporary stream that only appears when it rains. It may not appear on any maps or even have a name, but small streams are where all of our nation’s mighty rivers begin.

The health of these small streams is critical to the health of our rivers. Stream corridors bordered by plants and trees help prevent erosion, filter out pollutants and provide vital habitat for wildlife. But, how do you recognize a healthy stream?

Look deeper than the clarity of the water and discover what lives beneath its surface. A community of creatures that require plenty of oxygen will not be found in polluted streams. Protecting small streams results in cleaner rivers and that’s good for everyone.

As a follow-up, check out the Brandwein Nature Learning Preserve Outdoor Learning Activity on water designed for middle school teachers and students at https://brandwein.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Water-Is_It_Clean_Enough_to_Drink.pdf



Butterflies and moths belong to the same insect order called Lepidoptera. While butterflies are one of the most widely recognized and loved insects in the world, moths often go unnoticed. Moth species far outnumber butterfly species, but since butterflies are primarily diurnal and often beautifully adorned in bright colors, they get the most attention and admiration. Most moths are nocturnal, making them go largely unnoticed as they live their lives under the cover of darkness, cloaked in clever camouflage patterns. They can be equally as beautiful and interesting, though — and the day-flying moth species are often mistaken for butterflies. Moth or butterfly? Take a closer look at lepidopterans.

Explore the “Butterfly Mission,” part of National Geographic’s The Great Nature Project at https://media.nationalgeographic.org/assets/file/Great_Nature_Project_Butterflies.pdf

See “Life Cycle—Butterflies and Moths on The Magic of Life website at http://magicoflife.org/Life_Cycles.pdf

Find Butterfly Activities for pre-K through grade 8 on the Butterfly website at https://butterflywebsite.com/educate/

See Cornell University’s publication Some Butterflies and Moths at https://cpb-us-e1.wpmucdn.com/blogs.cornell.edu/dist/2/3467/files/2013/09/Butterflies-Moths-280e982.pdf


Silken Threads

Spider webs are truly one of nature’s most amazing creations. The wheel-shaped webs of orb weavers are crafted of silken threads, each precisely placed to create a beautifully engineered aerial net. The architecture of orb webs allows them to effectively capture prey yet maintain their structural integrity while the geometric arrangement of the threads communicates the precise position of the captured prey. Seemingly fragile and delicate, spider silk is actually stronger than steel and tougher than Kevlar. It’s flexible and sturdy, sticky and strong, able to withstand wind and rain, insect impacts, and the struggles of attempted escapes. Orb webs are elegant, geometric masterpieces.

Check out “Spider Exploration”  http://beetlesproject.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Spider-Exploration-1.pdf © 2015 by The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.


Summer Rain

The summer rain has traveled the sky in storm clouds and drifted in morning fog. It may have spent decades in an underground aquifer, centuries encased in a glacier, or thousands of years in the ocean. The rainfall pattering the trees’ leaves, splashing into puddles, and silently soaking the forest soil, contains a very small fraction of our planet’s available fresh water which is so precious and essential to life on Earth. For billions of years, Earth’s water has been moving, changing forms, and being recycled over and over again. And every time it rains, you can witness part of this incredible planet-wide process.

Links for further investigation:




Autumn Asters

The flower name, Aster, comes from the ancient Greek word for star. Scattered like stardust along roadsides, in wild meadows, wetlands, and woodland edges, Asters are autumn’s final floral show. Look for flowers with yellow, rose, or brown centers surrounded by delicate petals of white, pink, blue or purple. What at first appears to be a single flower is actually a bundle of tiny florets. Look closely at the center to find the little disk blossoms which are surrounded by slender single-petaled ray blossoms. These bundled bouquets are arranged on a multi-branched stem, creating a floral constellation that is a magnet for insects. Asters offer a stellar late-season feast for nectar sippers and pollen gatherers. Enjoy these blooming stars of autumn on your next fall walk.

For further investigation check out Wildflower Life Cycle Activity at


And Flower Power from BudBurst



Fabulous Feathers

Have you ever found a feather? Entirely unique to birds, with the perfect combination of stiffness, strength, and flexibility, feathers are multi-functional wonders! A hummingbird may have under 1000. A swan may wear as many as 25,000! Lightweight, aerodynamically shaped wing feathers enable birds to fly, soaring effortlessly on air currents or migrating for thousands of miles. Form-fitting body feathers create a sleek waterproof jacket designed with colors and patterns that can help attract attention or carefully conceal. Fluffy down feathers provide superior insulation for warmth, and stiff, sensitive bristle feathers protect a bird’s eyes and face. Seemingly simple in form, feathers are actually complex, specialized structures. Feathers are fabulous!

Links for further learning: https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/features/all-about-feathers/#what-is-unique-to-birds.php  and



Cloud Watching

Wherever you are in the world, clouds offer an opportunity to explore the sky by simply looking up. Quietly drifting overhead, clouds are free for you to appreciate with an artist’s eye or to study with a scientist’s mind. By definition, a cloud is a visible mass of condensed droplets or frozen crystals suspended in the atmosphere. They have an enormous influence on Earth’s energy balance, climate, and weather. As expressions of the atmosphere’s moods, clouds provide valuable information to scientists while putting on their slow-motion, shape-shifting show. Enjoy some cloud watching, and be inspired by these beautiful ephemeral formations in the sky.

An activity, The Art of Clouds, can be found at https://scied.ucar.edu/activity/art-clouds


Incredible Insects

Wonderfully weird, bizarre yet beautiful, insects are the world’s most successful creatures, occupying nearly every habitat on the planet. More species of insects exist than all other animal species combined! They are vital members of Earth’s ecosystems. They pollinate plants, recycle nutrients, disperse seeds, and are a major food source for other animals. All insects have six legs and three body parts encased in a hard exoskeleton, yet they come in a tremendous variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. Despite their incredible diversity, outlandish appearances, and strange behaviors, most people know little about them. Whether they bug you or fascinate you, you can spend a lifetime learning about insects!

For a lesson plan for learning about insects, go to https://www.calacademy.org/educators/lesson-plans/invent-an-insect


Hidden Colors

Some rocks hold a secret. They fluoresce, revealing bright and beautiful hidden colors normally not visible to the human eye. These rocks were illuminated by a shortwave ultraviolet lamp. The minerals they contain have the unique ability to absorb a small amount of its light, then instantly emit that light energy at a longer wavelength causing a temporary change in color now visible to us. This surprising transformation seems utterly magical, but is actually due to the somewhat complicated, yet fascinating, geochemistry of these rocks. Of all the minerals known to science, only about 15% of them will fluoresce when exposed to ultraviolet light, turning the seemingly ordinary into something quite extraordinary.

For further learning: go to https://mestarocks.org/resources/Documents/Lessons/MESTA_Fluorescent_Minerals.pdf