Archive for the ‘Flora & Fauna’ Category

Counting Birds with the Pros

December 20, 2008

I spent this morning counting birds for Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count. This annual event occurs throughout the Americas and its purpose is to assess the status of bird populations.

This was a new experience for me, as I haven’t done much bird watching. Four men and I drove around a specified territory and we counted all the birds we saw. We went through cemeteries, trails, wooded areas, busy streets, and residential neighborhoods. We got out and walked at times. I appreciated the opportunity to learn from long-time birders.

What I discovered:

  • I can be much more observant than usual if I try.
  • I can now identify the dark-eyed junco.
  • There are several nearby trails that I didn’t know existed.
  • When birders drive a car they don’t keep their eyes on the road!

It was a very snowy day, so the birding supposedly wasn’t very good, but I was impressed with our numbers. We saw (or heard) 17 different species and a total of 369 birds.

Master Naturalist

December 14, 2008
Field trip to Interstate Park

Field trip to Interstate Park

I started the year looking for an opportunity to learn more about nature. Signing up for a college-level class was a possibility, but I couldn’t imagine enduring freshman biology. Then I stumbled across the Minnesota Master Naturalist website. Perfect!

For 11 weeks in the spring I learned about Minnesota’s natural history. The idea behind this program is that graduates will volunteer 40 hours per year toward environmental causes (education, stewardship, science, and/or administration). The official slogan is “Explore. Teach. Conserve.” Right up my alley and just the impetus I needed!

There is an article about my class in Mankato’s weekly for farmers, The Land.

Ten fun activities from the Minnesota Master Naturalist course:

  1. Searching for delicate spring ephemerals at Interstate Park.
  2. Searching for scat at Fort Snelling State Park and learning that rabbits eat their scat.
  3. Watching a classmate get dressed up like a beaver to discuss adaptation.
  4. Watching a fish dissection and learning that fish have a swim bladder to control buoyancy.
  5. Tasting sap straight out of the sugar maple, and then having homemade maple syrup on top of ice cream, thanks to a classmate.
  6. Learning to identify trees by their branches and bark before the leaves bud out.
  7. Learning about the oak savanna and prescribed burning at William O’Brien State Park.
  8. Discovering, by digging through the sludge in Snelling Lake, that lots of tiny creatures live in our wetlands.
  9. Collaborating with classmates to create a tree identification guide for a small park.
  10. Having that AHA! moment. Why wait until summer to visit our parks? Each season has something unique to offer.

The master naturalist course was a great experience which will evolve with my pledge of volunteer service.

Tekiela’s Field Guides

December 11, 2008

With the gift-giving season upon us, Stan Tekiela’s field guides are a good choice for budding naturalists. I personally own the Minnesota versions of Birds of Prey, Mammals, Trees, and Wildflowers. I also have the Birds field guide and its companion CD of bird songs. Matching the song to the plumage is a good time, and requisite if you want to get into birding.

These field guides are great because they have just the right amount of information without overwhelming you, and the photography is stunning! Some of the reviews on amazon.com are negative, saying Tekiela’s guides are too basic. But if you’re a novice like myself, basic is what you want!

Nature Documentary Junkies

November 30, 2008

H and I are fans of nature documentaries. Apparently we’re not the only ones. In the Nature Stories Podcast, armchair naturalists are featured in an episode called Nature Junkies (MP3).

We’re currently working our way through the Planet Earth series, which I recorded on DVR. We are so fortunate to have the Animal Planet, Discovery and National Geographic channels.

My all-time favorite nature documentary is MicroCosmos, by Jacques Perrin. The amazing videography gives you a close-up look at the life of insects, without making you feel queasy. I don’t want to give away any of the surprises, so I will just describe this video as fascinating, beautiful, and hilarious. I highly recommend you purchase this video because adults and kids alike will enjoy watching it over and over again. It is a real hoot to watch MicroCosmos with a group of people.

Black & White in the Everglades

November 24, 2008

We were surrounded by dozens of prehistoric creatures. I was struck by their color—black. They were well camouflaged, swimming through the dark waters of the canal. Then the boat sped forward and an enormous white creature appeared from nowhere. It spread its wings and took to the air in front of us. The most beautiful creature in the Everglades—the Great White Heron—shares its home with the alligator.

Simple Pleasures

November 23, 2008
  • Walking around the neighborhood with my dog
  • Lying in a hammock in the backyard looking up at the leaves
  • Seeing how the garden goes from nothing to something during the season
  • Enjoying a drink in the porch while watching the snow fall
  • Waking to birds singing in the springtime

Mixing Science, Nature, and Art

November 20, 2008

I love the Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota because it mixes science, nature, and art to teach us about the flora and fauna of Minnesota. The museum does a fabulous job of entertaining both adults and children. I recently took my niece to the Bell.

Highlights of Our Visit

  • In the Touch & See Room my bug-loving niece was happy to correctly identify the live centipedes and cockroaches.
  • We were both stumped on identifying most of the fur pelts, except the beaver (because its tail was still attached).
  • Looking at the large habitat dioramas, my niece would focus in on the smallest of details, such as a snail on the ground.
  • She was very curious about what was real and what was fake in the dioramas.
  • When we got to the room of framed artwork, a kind employee asked whether my niece would like to do a puzzle, allowing me to look at the paintings and photographs.
  • The squishy, lumpy carpet that represents a peat bog served as a trampoline for my niece, while providing a comfy catnap for me.

Tidbits of Minnesota State Parks

November 16, 2008

Some of the best things about each of the Minnesota State Parks that I have visited…

Afton

Get a workout hiking the rolling hills of this nearby state park.

Banning

Seeing remnants of the sandstone quarries makes hiking through this park especially interesting, as if the wild and crazy Kettle River wasn’t enough.

Beaver Creek Valley

This lush, green park in bluff country has fly fishing opportunities.

Picnic area at Cascade River State Park

Picnic area at Cascade River State Park

Cascade River

I love the isolated picnic area nestled among the cedar trees on the shores of Lake Superior. It’s a great place to relax for hours, gazing at this ocean-like lake.

Fort Snelling

The Mississippi and Minnesota rivers meet in this metro area nature retreat.

Bird blind at Glendalough State Park

Observation blind at Glendalough

Glendalough

Although I didn’t spot any wildlife, I think it’s cool that the park has observation blinds.

Gooseberry Falls

Walking amidst the waterfalls is great fun!

Interstate

This is the place to see potholes galore and learn about glaciers. It’s worth a trip over to the Wisconsin side too.

Lake Itasca

Lake Itasca

Itasca

I love canoeing with the loons on peaceful Lake Itasca. My favorite kind of lake is long and narrow, so Lake Itasca fits the bill with three separate “arms”. The giant red and white pines are the signature of this park.

The massive, rugged rocks of the St. Louis River in Jay Cooke State Park

Jay Cooke State Park

Jay Cooke

The massive, rugged rocks in the St. Louis River are a memorable site from the swinging bridge.

Minneopa

The double waterfall is the draw to this park, but I really enjoyed walking through the oak savanna littered with big boulders.

St. Croix

This is an all-around great park with 2 rivers and lots of trails.

Sakatah Singing Trail

Sakatah Singing Hills Trail

Sakatah Lake

Biking or walking the tunnel of trees of the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail is very pleasant. We also saw wild turkeys in the park.

Red pines at Scenic State Park

Red pines at Scenic State Park

Scenic

This park has the beauty of Itasca without the crowds. Hiking the Chase Point Trail along the high narrow peninsula is awesome if you love red pine and cedar, like me.

Split Rock Lighthouse

The lighthouse in the distance with birch trees in the foreground is a picture-perfect scene.

Temperance River

If you’re visiting the North Shore it’s worth stopping to hike along the river gorge and enjoy the many waterfalls.

Tettagouche State Park

Tettegouche State Park

Tettegouche

This park offers beautiful trails high on the rocky cliffs overlooking Lake Superior. I can’t imagine any better vistas of Lake Superior.

Whitewater

Believe it or not, there are no mosquitoes here in the middle of summer!

Wild River

Cross-country skiing is lots of fun here.

William O’Brien

On a hot summer day there’s nothing better than canoeing the St. Croix and stopping at a sandbar on or near Greenberg Island. My dog thought that running and jumping through the ankle-deep, warm water was pure joy, and I would have to agree!

Haiku for You

November 2, 2008

Nestled in needles
A gust of wind blew it down
Green and purple cone