Put On Your Owl Eyes

Open Your Senses & Discover Nature’s Secrets; Mapping, Tracking & Journaling Activities


By Devin Franklin

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around May 28, 2019. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Children will see the natural world around them with brand new eyes, as they learn to follow its signs, hear its language, and understand its secrets. With this unique and compelling book written by expert environmental educator Devin Franklin, kids aged 8 to 13 will build their own relationship with nature through finding a “Sit Spot” — an outdoor space in the backyard, in a field or in the woods, in a vacant lot or a city park — where they can stop, observe, and become familiar with the flora and fauna that live there.
From the Six Arts of Tracking (Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How) and making a habitat map to walking in smooth silence like a fox and learning the basics of bird language, exploration exercises lead young readers on a fascinating journey of discovery as they watch, listen, map, interpret, and write about the sounds, sights, scents, and patterns they encounter. With prompts and write-in spaces for journaling, map-making activities, and observational tracking throughout, Put On Your Owl Eyes is an interactive and thought-provoking guidebook.


To my parents, who have offered their unwavering support to me and my work throught the years:

Jay Denny Franklin, whose exciting childhood stories about his backyard exploration beckoned me outside to create my own stories,

and Patricia Farrell Franklin, who taught me to "waste not" — whether it be through recycling bottles, appreciating spring peeper symphonies, or using the gifts hidden inside my own heart.


Introduction: Your Wild Backyard

1. Discovering a New Backyard

Exploration 1: Sit Spot

Exploration 2: Wandering

Exploration 3: Mapping

2. Your Backyard Trees

Exploration 4: Expanding the Senses

Exploration 5: Exploring Field Guides

Exploration 6: Mind's Eye Imagining

3. Your Backyard Mammals

Exploration 7: Fox Feet

Exploration 8: Questioning

Exploration 9: Tracking

4. Your Backyard Birds

Exploration 10: Owl Eyes

Exploration 11: Deer Ears

Exploration 12: Bird Language

5. Your Backyard Community

Exploration 13: Journaling

Exploration 14: Story of the Day

Exploration 15: Giving Thanks

Epilogue: Your Backyard Journey Continues

Owl Eyes Certification

Speaking Metric



Explore Further into the Natural World with More Books from Storey


Share Your Experience!

IntroductionYour Wild Backyard

In this book I use the word backyard to describe a place in nature that you or I come to know very well — maybe better than any other human being! This can be the woods, a city park, a suburban backyard, or an empty lot.

We learn about it by sitting quietly, watching and hearing what goes on, noticing what birds and animals are doing, wandering around its different mini-areas, and observing its changes. Every day my own backyard grows more and more interesting as I learn its secrets.

I'll share my ways with you so you can discover a new backyard, too — and I'll begin by introducing my own teacher, Lenny Brown.

It's Time for an Adventure!

As a boy living in the countryside, Lenny simply couldn't be kept indoors. He loved squishing barefoot through the beaver swamps in his backyard. When he grew up, Lenny and his wife, Deborah, founded Flying Deer Nature Center — a place where kids come to dig their toes into grassy fields, watch wiggling caterpillars, sneak through the forest, and spy on fuzzy fox kits as they play near their den.

Kids always come home from Flying Deer with an exciting tale to tell. The book you're holding brings this kind of fun right to your doorstep, and gets you adventuring outdoors and creating some of your own exciting nature stories to share.

Put On Your Owl Eyes is sprinkled with fascinating backyard stories written by Flying Deer staff, all of whom have spent years closely observing and investigating the natural world. You'll notice that each story's author has a "nature nickname" — something you, too, can have as you take this journey with us!

Find Your Nature Nickname

Nature nicknames link us in a fun way with our wilder backyard relatives. Mine is Green Frog. Green frogs and I both prefer to dress in green, enjoy sitting still, and love jumping into water! Here's how to find your own nickname:

  1. 1. Have someone pick a name for you, since a given nickname is better than a chosen one. Or ask them to write a few names on slips of paper and let you pick one from a hat.
  2. 2. Keep it local. Choose only wildlife that lives in your part of the country.
  3. 3. Trust the magic. Be open to what your name has to teach you. Do some research and keep your name at least until you reach the end of this book.

Safety Tips

Make sure your chosen backyard is safe! Get permission from the landowner, as well as permission from your supervising adult. Then research with an adult any possible natural hazards, which may include:

  • Venomous snakes
  • Ticks, venomous spiders, and dangerous insects
  • Poisonous-to-touch plants
  • Protective or ill mammals
  • Severe weather
  • Getting lost
  • Widow-makers (dead trees that are ready to fall)

You'll most likely find that these hazards are less common than we think!

The Core Routines of Nature Connection

Have you ever played a game of hide-and-seek that lasted for hours, or even days? When my teacher, Jon Young, was about ten years old, he played one game that lasted for years! Jon was the seeker, and the hider was a sneaky red fox that lived in his backyard.

Again and again, Jon tried to catch a glimpse of this beautiful wild animal with its fluffy orange coat, golden eyes, and glistening black nose, but that red fox always slipped away unseen. In the end, early one morning at sunrise, Jon won the game. But it took many backyard visits and some help from his neighborhood mentor, Tom Brown, Jr.

Tom, a master tracker, had spent his whole life exploring, studying, and even living in the woods. Over ten years he taught Jon useful tricks, called Core Routines of Nature Connection, to help him find that wily backyard fox, and in time Jon became a master tracker, too.

These Core Routines included Fox Walking — a stealthy way of moving through the landscape; listening for Bird Language — a way of studying birds to find hidden predators; and Owl Eyes — a way of seeing that can detect tiny movements, such as a fox's eye blinking in the bushes!

The fifteen Core Routines presented in this book will help you to discover the secretive wild residents (maybe even a wily fox!) of your own backyard.

Using This Book

You'll write notes, draw maps, and make sketches as you use this book. Find a notebook you like and keep it ready! And look for field guides in your public library. They are awesome resources stuffed with cool facts about our neighbors in nature.

Take the Backyard Quiz before you start this book and again when you finish!

A "backyard" might be your own yard, a forest, a desert, a public green space, or a single tree growing on a street corner.

1.Discovering a New Backyard

This chapter introduces three Core Routines that will help you slow down and open your awareness to your backyard.

In Exploration 1, you will choose a Sit Spot, a special place you can visit each day to make observations.

In Exploration 2, you will be Wandering to explore part of your backyard in an entirely new way.

In Exploration 3, you will use Mapping to identify the habitats in your backyard and study them. Together, these Core Routines will open your eyes to a bigger backyard.

Call of the Wild

Tree Stinger

The sounds of afternoon traffic filled the air as I walked through a busy maze of city streets. Taking my usual route home, I cut through a small park with its grassy areas and a few old trees.

Suddenly I felt an urge to sit under one of the trees. Soon I was leaning against the gray, wrinkled trunk of a box elder, letting out a deep sigh, and beginning to take in my surroundings.

Immediately I spotted something glittering in the air before me. My eyes focused on a huge wasp with a body as long as my smallest finger, flying right at me. Behind it draped a thin black stinger so long it could have jabbed into my forearm and poked out the other side.

My heart pounded as this enormous insect landed on the very tree I was leaning against! It crawled over the tree's thickly furrowed bark, probing the crevices with its jittery antennae.

Then it stopped, sensing something I couldn't see. To my astonishment, it perched delicately on its six long, jointed legs, arched its brown and yellow hind parts, and began moving its three-inch-long, needle-like stinger as if about to sting the tree!

I lost all fear as I studied this creature that was more interested in the tree's bark than in me. It placed the tip of its stinger on the bark like a drill bit and then drove it deep into the trunk. A few minutes later, it withdrew its stinger and flew away.

Completely amazed, I hurried home and pulled my field guide off the shelf. Flipping through the pages, I found it: a drawing of a large wasp stinging a tree's bark. It was an ichneumon wasp, and what I thought was its stinger was actually an egg-laying apparatus!

I learned that I had just watched a female wasp use her antennae to detect a single grub deep inside the box elder tree. She then used her long, needle-like egg-laying apparatus to pierce the bark and lay a single parasitic egg on the grub's soft body.

Reading this I realized that if I had hurried through the park as usual that day, I would have completely missed the ichneumon and her egg-laying ritual. How many other creatures were quietly living their lives, unnoticed, within plain sight of the path I walked every day?

From then on, whenever I passed through the city park, I paid a visit to the box elder tree, which I renamed the Ichneumon Tree. Leaning against its trunk, I would take a deep breath, relax, and try to notice something I had never noticed before. Sometimes I wandered around, discovering unexpected surprises. Soon, a place that had once seemed tame and empty had become a wild habitat where animals of countless forms slinked, slithered, and soared.

The park became a place where I could endlessly make discoveries and connect with our great, wild earth. My eyes were now opened to a bigger backyard.

— Devin (Green Frog)

Exploration 1 Sit Spot

A Furry Hello

My first time finding a Sit Spot, I chose a small hemlock tree at the edge of a clearing in the woods. I sat down and said to myself, "Okay, for one hour I am going to sit still and observe my surroundings."

I sat as still as I could — watching and waiting. Wasn't I supposed to see some birds or something? Or maybe a fox? At least some bugs?!

I sat and sat for what seemed like an eternity. I figured that thirty minutes must have passed by. I peeked at my watch and saw that it was only three minutes. Three minutes !

"Oh boy," I thought. "I don't know if I can do this." But I practiced Sit Spot, day after day, and soon grew to love sitting very still and watching things happen in the landscape around me.

One day, I'd been sitting still for many minutes at my Sit Spot when a rabbit hopped out of the forest into the clearing. It watched me carefully for a while. Then it seemed to sense that I was not a threat and hopped toward me.

I sat stock still as it crept closer and closer. I felt its soft fur brush against the back of my hand. I could hardly breathe. Then it must have realized that I was a warm being — not a tree or a rock — and it hurried on its way.

My encounter with the rabbit made me feel I was part of the woods too, like I belonged there. It was a beautiful feeling. I decided to make my Sit Spot an important part of my life.

Michelle Apland (Dandelion)

Choose a Sit Spot

A Sit Spot is a special area that you choose outdoors. Have a seat, settle in, and watch the world around you. It is a place all your own.

Your Sit Spot area can be under an old tree in the forest, at a bend in a stream, on a park bench, or on your own front stoop. Choose a place . . .

  • that is easy to visit
  • with a view of something wild
  • with an appealing place to sit
  • where you will enjoy spending time.

What You need

  • A watch or other timepiece

What to Do

  1. 1. Explore your backyard. Take a leisurely walk around the area. Enjoy your surroundings, and notice any areas that might feel good to make your Sit Spot.
  2. 2. Choose one spot to be your Sit Spot area for your observations and explorations.
  3. 3. Observe your backyard quietly for at least ten minutes. What do you notice? Use all of your senses to observe your surroundings.

When you go indoors, write in your journal any observations you remember about your backyard — what you saw, heard, smelled, or felt while enjoying your Sit Spot area. Be sure to include the date.

Game of the Day

Sit Spot On-the-Go

Sometime today, make time for a Sit Spot On-the-Go. Pick a familiar place or one that's new. Wherever you are, take a moment to settle in and tune in to your surroundings, just as you did earlier at your Sit Spot. What do you notice at your Sit Spot On-the-Go?


In this Exploration you practiced sitting still and noticing your surroundings. How did that feel? Each time you visit, you will notice more and see more deeply into the world around you. If you noticed new things today, write a bit in your journal about how it felt different from your normal everyday activities.

Exploration 2 Wandering

Spruce Grove

One December morning I grabbed a jacket, laced up my boots, and stepped outside. Leaving a trail of boot prints behind me in the snow, I was soon in the hickory forest that bordered my backyard. Before me an old spruce grove rose up like a great green palace, holding the rest of the world out and a hushed silence in.

Hoo-OO-oo-OOoo! A barred owl called, breaking the silent spell. Now I sensed sound and movement everywhere : the wind sighing and rocking the treetops ; red squirrels dancing like flames along tree limbs; and black-capped chickadees tapping on dry twigs to find hibernating insects.


  • “Devin Franklin’s wonderful book helps young folks to better understand what the natural world is all about. Easy and fun to navigate, it is an excellent way to encourage our youth to put down those screens and engage with the great outdoors.” — Chuck Leavell, musician, environmentalist, and cofounder of Mother Nature Network www.mnn.com

    “A refreshing approach to getting kids outdoors observing, listening, interacting with nature through fun yet informative activities that stoke even my curiosity.” — Clare Walker Leslie, wildlife artist, author, and educator

    Put On Your Owl Eyes is an invaluable resource for using the outdoors to transform and inspire. Mr. Franklin provides young readers with questions and insights that help them sharpen their senses and encourage them to explore their surroundings, opening their eyes to the beauty around them and providing positive exposure to the outdoors.” — David Hartness, director of FLOC Outdoor Education Center

    Put On Your Owl Eyes is a great resource for helping children connect with nature! Devin presents outdoor activities that will inspire kids to discover deeper connections with the plants and animals of their backyard and local parks.” — Jason Knight, director, Alderleaf Wilderness College

On Sale
May 28, 2019
Page Count
160 pages

Devin Franklin

About the Author

Devin Franklin is the author of Put On Your Owl Eyes. He holds a degree in environmental education and has studied survival, tracking, and awareness skills at Wilderness School in Maine and the Tracker School in New Jersey. He is director of programing at Flying Deer Nature Center in Chatham, New York, which he joined with his wife in 1998.

Learn more about this author