A Day at the River Bend Sugar Bush – Part I

With unseasonably warm weather ahead of us for the next few weeks, the staff and volunteers at River Bend Nature Center are preparing for one of the most exciting times of the year—maple syrup season!

As temperatures rise above freezing during the day, but drop below freezing at night, some incredible unseen changes take place under the bark of our forest’s trees. To understand this change takes a bit of knowledge about a tree’s inner workings as well as some basic knowledge of physics. Trees are composed of several layers beneath their bark—these layers include the xylem (sapwood) and the phloem. The phloem transports nutrients down the tree, while the xylem transports nutrients up. When temperatures rise above freezing, pressure builds up inside the trunk, forcing sap out of any wounds or tapping holes (with spiles as shown below). Alternatively, at night when the temperatures fall, the pressure drops and creates suction, drawing water into the tree through the roots. This suction replenishes the sap in the tree and allows it to flow again during the next bout of warm temperatures.

 

spile.jpg
Source: http://www.rmgmaple.com/ZenCart/index.php?main_page=page_3

 

What is a sugar bush?

A sugar bush is a portion of forest that is utilized for the production of maple syrup. It is characterized by a predominance of maple trees. Other species may be present, but the majority of the canopy consists of a combination of sugar, red, black, and other maple varieties. The trees tend to be older, and the same trees may have been tapped for years. During the syrup season, there is usually a layer of snow on the ground, and light snows may still fall (referred to as sugar snows) during the season. Sap production will taper off as temperatures continue to rise, and the sap is no longer collected when the buds begin to burst. After the syrup season is over, a flush of wildflowers often appears between the trunks of the large trees, taking advantage of the sunlight coming through the empty canopy. In the full green of summer, the sugar bush will be cool and shady, followed by a colorful display of autumn leaves.

River Bend’s sugar bush can be found primarily along the south branch of the Owl trail, and very soon sap collection will be going full steam.

 

 

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Source: Stephanie Rathsack

Today at the sugar bush, the season is just getting started. With a cleaning and inventory of all the necessary supplies, we set out into the woods to visit a few of the larger trees. After sliding precariously down icy paths and heading into the cooler cover of the trees, we reached the River Bend Sugar Bush. And down, close to the river, a few tall black maples stand with distinguishable scars on their massive trunks. These trees have been tapped by River Bend staff and volunteers for years and are a reliable source of sap almost every season. The scars from past years where the holes had been drilled are faintly visible in the bark of the trees. They look a little like tree belly buttons. These old wounds need to be avoided when putting in a new spile, because any scar tissue might have redirected the flow of sap. We measure up and over from the most recent scar before drilling into the tree. The shavings spiral out as we drill deeper, and some look and feel a bit damp—a sure sign of sap beginning to flow!

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Source: Stephanie Rathsack

 

With the addition of a spile and a blue sap bag, the tree is ready for the syrup season.

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Source: Stephanie Rathsack

 

 

This process will be repeated almost eighty times, and we’ll find ourselves visiting the sugar bush every day, stomping through the snow to visit each tree to collect the sap, with a bucket in each hand, continuing a tradition that’s been going on for hundreds of years.

 

old.jpg                           new.png
Source: Collections Online                                                   Source: Stephanie Rathsack
Minnesota Historical Society

 

Want to learn more about maple syrup, its history, and the transformation from sap to syrup? River Bend will be offering several programs now through the beginning of April, many with a chance to taste some real syrup, or to tap a tree yourself!

Maple syrup workshops will be offered March 8th and March 11th, the maple syrup open house is planned for April 1st, and the Maple Syrup Fun Run is scheduled for May 6th.

Check our website and Facebook for updates on dates and times. Maple sap is temperature-dependent, so all events are subject to change.

Visitors at bird feeders: Windows on the Wild!

Saturday mornings are often the highlight of the week: whether you’re looking forward to sleeping in, watching TV, having a big family breakfast, or coming to River Bend for a hike, there’s always something exciting to look forward to! This last Saturday, February 4, we had our monthly Bagels & Birds free event, a great time to come to River Bend Nature Center for yummy bagels and cream cheese, coffee and cocoa, and a chance to watch some wildlife through our Windows on the Wild.

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Forgive the poor quality, but here’s a photo of a Cardinal and a Red-Bellied Woodpecker reluctantly sharing the feeder.

I had a great time chatting with the visitors, and listening to the kids pointing out all the birds and squirrels they saw. The adults had a good time relaxing and talking while identifying the birds that came to the feeder, and there were a lot of great sightings! We saw beautiful male and female Cardinals, plenty of Chickadees, Downy, Hairy, and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers chasing each other around, several Juncos searching the ground for good seeds, Nuthatches climbing upside down on the feeders, and even a Blue Jay, who was super focused on finding the peanuts! We also saw several plump squirrels, including both the smaller Grey squirrels and the bigger reddish orange Fox squirrel!

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A very curious Downy Woodpecker.

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This Downy Woodpecker was really happy I refilled the suet feeder!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of these sightings were great, and it was fun to watch the birds come and go with their treats, and it got even more exciting about half an hour in: one of the guests noticed that the birds were coming for food less frequently, and many were perched in the trees, unmoving. He mused that maybe there was a hawk nearby, so we all started looking; soon, we spotted what looked to be a raptor off in the top of a distant tree! Within a minute of continuing to watch the shape, it suddenly took off and came straight towards the feeders! It must have realized everyone knew it was coming, because it did not catch anything and instead flew up over the building in defeat. But we all kept our eyes searching after that, and saw two distant hawk shapes to the north! They never came closer, so the rest of the birds continued to eat in peace, with a captivated audience the whole time.

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This gorgeous Blue Jay kept coming back to that specific feeder only for the large in-shell peanuts, which you can see in its mouth!

While we only hold Bagels & Birds once a month, our Windows on the Wild are open anytime the Interpretive Center is open, and there’s always something cool to see. Occasionally, the large Pileated Woodpeckers come to visit the feeders, and some of the deer who live at River Bend teach their fawns to come eat at the bird feeders, especially in the winter, so it’s great to see them up close through the windows. Even wild turkeys occasionally try to eat from the feeders, which sometimes results in breaking the feeders with their large size. Regardless of who visits, there is always something neat to watch!

Every month, Paddington’s Seed & Feed makes a generous donation of birdseed to keep the feeders full, and we are very grateful for their support! If you like watching the birds, consider donating seed too!

Finally, if you’re interested in bird watching but don’t want to wait until the next Bagels & Birds, check out Audubon & The Cornell Lab’s 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count! All you have to do is count the birds you see for at least 15 minutes on one or more of the 4 days between February 17 and 20. You can do this at a park, at River Bend, or in your own backyard! You can even take pictures and enter a photo contest! Whenever you have made your observations, simply enter your checklist online at http://gbbc.birdcount.org/. This is a great way to be a citizen scientist, and help scientists all over North America collect data for their studies!

Thank you for reading this, and we hope you and your friends and family decide to come visit us next month on Saturday, March 3rd to have a yummy breakfast, chat with a naturalist and other nature lovers, and just have a good time watching birds!

All the best,

Katie

Let Us Help With Your New Year’s Resolutions!

Such a great list!

There's No Such Thing As Bad Weather...

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With the New Year starting I am sure many of you are getting started on your New Year’s resolutions and I am excited to announce that River Bend Nature Center is here to help you achieve your goals! Maybe this year you are trying to be more active or maybe it is to spend more time with family and friends, you can do this and more at River Bend Nature Center! We have included below some common New Year’s Resolutions and ways you can work toward these goals at River Bend Nature Center. We wish you the best of luck with your resolutions and hope we can help you achieve them!

#1 Be healthy – Get Fit – Stay Active!

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River Bend Nature Center has 10 miles of trails open year round from 6 am to 10 pm for skiing, snow shoeing, hiking, and biking! Starting this spring after the…

View original post 2,144 more words

Let Us Help With Your New Year’s Resolutions!

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With the New Year starting I am sure many of you are getting started on your New Year’s resolutions and I am excited to announce that River Bend Nature Center is here to help you achieve your goals! Maybe this year you are trying to be more active or maybe it is to spend more time with family and friends, you can do this and more at River Bend Nature Center! We have included below some common New Year’s Resolutions and ways you can work toward these goals at River Bend Nature Center. We wish you the best of luck with your resolutions and hope we can help you achieve them!

 

#1 Be healthy – Get Fit – Stay Active!

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River Bend Nature Center has 10 miles of trails open year round from 6 am to 10 pm for skiing, snow shoeing, hiking, and biking! Starting this spring after the mud dries, you will be able to rent mountain bikes at River Bend Nature Center. To learn more click the following link. http://www.rbnc.org/rentals/bikes/index.htm

If skiing is what you are interested in, you may be excited to hear that we also groom some of our trails for skiing at River Bend Nature Center. Check out the link for the map to see what trails are groomed when there is enough snow! http://www.rbnc.org/pdfs/Cross%20Country%20Ski%20Trail%20Map.pdf So grab your MN Ski Pass ($20 for 1 year pass) that you can purchase at any MN State Park or location where you can buy a hunting or fishing license. For more information about the MN Ski Pass check out the DNR’s website http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/licenses/skipass/index.html  We hope to see you out skiing on the trails!

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If attaching your feet to skis is not your activity, you can snowshoe, hike, run, bike, or walk your dog (always on a leash) on any trail at RBNC with no entrance fee. River Bend offers some beautiful views to accompany you on your run or bike ride check out some of our favorite loops on our post about running at River Bend! https://rbnc.wordpress.com/2012/08/11/running-at-river-bend/

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If you need some additional encouragement to get out running, watch for details and sign up for our Maple Syrup 5K/10K/1 mile walk fun run on May 6th! These are just some of the most common ways people are being active at River Bend Nature Center so keep your eyes open for more outdoor recreation opportunities in the future!

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#2 Spend More Time with Friends, Family & Your Significant Other

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River Bend Nature Center also offers a great place and lots of options for getting together with friends, family, and significant others. If you are looking to come and do an activity as a family or be active come and rent some snowshoes, cross country skis, or mountain bikes.

If you are looking for something a little less active or that is free to do come out and walk on our trails and take the kids to the wild play area where kids and the kid in all of us can build forts, bridges and dams on the small stream that runs through the area, and play to your heart’s content!

We also have more relaxed programs like Bagels and Birds on the first Saturday of the month at 9:30 am where you can come and have a bagel and watch the birds have their breakfast while hanging out with family and friends in the interpretive center. The next birds and bagels is February 4th, 2017! Check out more at the included link https://riverbend.z2systems.com/np/clients/riverbend/event.jsp?event=643

If you are looking to get the family together for a birthday party you can have it at our Nature Center for 2 hours with 1 hour for your party and an hour for a naturalist led activities of your choice! Learn more at http://www.rbnc.org/birthdays/ .

Are you looking to get together family and friends for a reunion, graduation party, or some other get together? River Bend offers different rental spaces that range in fees. To learn more about renting spaces at River Bend click here  http://www.rbnc.org/rentals/facilities/index.htm !

Looking for more ways to hang out with friends and family or for date ideas for you and your significant other? River Bend has a lot of great picnic spots in the summer and for those who are prepared with a thermos of hot cocoa and a blanket, some great winter spots as well. We will also be having a Candle Light Hike from 6:30 to 8:00 on Saturday, February 11th great for you and your significant other, friends, and families to come and attend! To register click the link! https://riverbend.z2systems.com/np/clients/riverbend/event.jsp?event=952 There are always great events happening at River Bend Nature Center for you to get out and be social with the people you care about!

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#3 Learn Something New

Another great thing about River Bend Nature Center is since its focus is Environmental Education there are always new things to learn about! In addition to learning something new from one of our interpretive displays or brochures we also have different public programs offered throughout the month that you can attend and learn something new!

We offer a monthly lunch and learn program call Older Wiser Livelier Seniors (OWLS) with the next topic on Astronomy happening on Wednesday, February 15th from noon to 2 pm. Pre-register here! https://riverbend.z2systems.com/np/clients/riverbend/event.jsp?event=951

We also offer a monthly home school class the next one happening on February 22nd is called Coping with the Cold! Please pre-register at the included link! https://riverbend.z2systems.com/np/clients/riverbend/event.jsp?event=608

Another monthly program we have where you can come and learn something new and meet our interpretive animals is our Animal Ambassadors program and the next one is on Saturday, February 18th!

Check our website’s events page with more awesome public programs coming in the future for you to learn about new topics or learn a new skill! https://riverbend.z2systems.com/np/clients/riverbend/eventList.jsp

There are also lot of apps you can use on your phone to learn new things while out hiking the trails. Here are a few apps that the naturalists use here at River Bend Nature Center including: iNaturalist, E-Bird, Sky Map, or a different science/nature app.

#4 Volunteer & Other Ways to Make the World a Better Place!

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River Bend Nature Center is a 501(c)3 nonprofit which means there are always plenty of volunteer opportunities and ways to help! In fact we even have a whole webpage devoted to volunteering to help you find the right volunteer opportunity for you at River Bend Nature Center. We have 8 on-going volunteer positions at River Bend Nature Center including: Volunteer Naturalists, Office Volunteers, Weekend Building Volunteers, Restoration Club Volunteers, River Bend Rangers, Cross Country Ski Groomers, River Bend Mowers, and Maple Syruping volunteers! You can learn more about these positions at our website page for volunteering at River Bend Nature Center at the following link! http://www.rbnc.org/volunteer/

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Restoration Club meets every Wednesday afternoon and is always looking for new people interested in helping us work on the land doing activities like invasive species removal, trail repair and more. Come learn new restoration techniques to take home to implement on your own property. You can learn more by emailing Emily Greger, our Public Program Coordinator at greger@rbnc.org and to be added to an email alert list.

The Board of Directors and its committees are always looking for people who are interested in joining them. Current committees that are looking for volunteer committee members include Membership, Development, Ramble, Land/Facilities, Programs/Events, and 40th Anniversary. Watch our website for committee applications or contact Breanna, our Executive Director at 332-7151 or wheeler@rbnc.org to express your interest.

We are always looking for special event volunteers for our larger events like Winterfest, Maple Syrup Fun Run/Pancake Breakfast, and Bats, Bones, & Bonfires! Currently we are looking for special project volunteers to help paint the Prairie Mural at our Nature Center! If you are interested in volunteering please email Elsa Litecky, our Environmental Educator in charge of this project at litecky@rbnc.org .

If you do not have the time to come out and volunteer there are still plenty of other ways to help support River Bend Nature Center and make the world a better place! Become a member – see www.rbnc.org/membership or make a financial contribution – see www.rbnc.org/donate. You can make a general donation or for something more specific like having a loved one’s name engraved on a brick and installed at Honor Point. Another specific donation you can make is to the Partners Scholarship Fund http://www.rbnc.org/scholarship/ to help offer reduced enrollment fees for kids to attend summer camps whose families have financial hardships.

You can help by donating things that we need for programs like cardboard toilet paper rolls or item for special events and projects. You can also donate plastic gallon size milk containers to help build a plastic reusable igloo. Stephanie Rathsack one of our environmental educators is leading this awesome project! If you are excited about the prairie mural but don’t want to paint, another way you can help is by donating old interior house paint or acrylic paint in greens, yellows, browns, blues, blacks, and whites to River Bend from now until February 15th!

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#5 Spend Less Money

There is no parking permit or entry fee required to visit River Bend Nature Center! Additionally, River Bend offers many affordable programs and rentals. You can rent a Nordic ski package (boots, poles, skis) or snowshoes for $10 a person for 24 hours on site at River Bend Nature Center. If you are a River Bend Member you can spend $5 per a ski package or snowshoe rental. Check out more information on renting gear here! http://www.rbnc.org/rentals/winter/index.htm

Becoming a member and making donations to River Bend Nature Center is tax deductible, which helps save money on your taxes. See #4. And, members receive discounts on summer camps, equipment rentals, public programs, and special events.

#6 Read More

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If your resolution is to read more stop by River Bend Nature Center and check out our bird watching and reading nook. It’s a quiet place to sit and enjoy a book you brought and maybe some of the tea we offer, we provide hot water, mugs, and a selection of teas but you are welcome to bring your own hot cocoa. You can also borrow one of the books off of the bookshelves that were once a part of the River Bend library that some of you may remember. The books and bookshelves were donated by members and founders in some cases honoring loved ones, and there is even a collection of Orwin Rustad’s books. We also still allow people to check out some of these books from River Bend Nature Center so we welcome you to come check it out!

If you are also looking for a group to join so you can read and enjoy books with another group of people check out the Nature Book Club that meets from 7 to 8 pm the last Tuesday of the month with the next meeting happening February 28th reading “The end of the night: Searching for natural darkness in an age of artificial light” by Paul Bogard.

 

#7 Improve Your Mental & Emotional Health

As you may know from different studies being outside in nature is great for your mental health. It can help you relax and improve your mood. There are plenty of benches and spots around River Bend that you can walk to and spend some time alone doing whatever helps your mental & emotional health. So we invite you to come to River Bend Nature Center and walk out to one of our many quiet places to meditate, write, pray, read, draw, paint, do yoga, walk or whatever helps you destress and focus on your well-being. Stay tuned for a future article from me on finding the best quiet spots at River Bend and how to get to them but for now I invite you to my favorite quiet spot a bench on a hill overlooking some of the prairie.

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#8 Get Off Your Electronics

If you are looking for a place to come and unplug, this is a great place for you! Spending time outside is a great way to recharge and reconnect with what is happening off-screen. There are lots of fun activities for you to do out here at River Bend Nature Center that don’t require a phone. Unless you want to use it to take pictures then your secret is safe with us.

Some of my favorite things to do here are River Bend in the winter is to search for animal tracks, mimic bird whistles, and go exploring. Having snow and little vegetation makes it easier to see things you wouldn’t normally be able to see in the summer months like where two coyotes played off the trail or where a mouse was suddenly snatched up by a hawk. There are plenty of other fun things to do at River Bend that don’t require a phone so if you are looking for ideas take a peek at our attached list below!

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#9 Live Life to the Fullest

There is plenty to do at River Bend Nature Center and always something new to learn or do. If your goal is to live life to the fullest, I challenge you to turn this list into a kind of River Bend Nature Center Bucket List and come back and see how many of these things and others that you can check off over the next year! The link to our River Bend Nature Center Bucket list is below. I hope this helps you with your New Year’s Resolutions and that I see you some time out at River Bend Nature Center!

River Bend Nature Center Bucket List

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Winterfest!

What is your favorite winter activity? There are so many to choose from: snowshoeing, animal tracking, kicksledding, skiing, star gazing, making S’mores over the bonfire, and so many more.  Luckily, I know just the right place to do all of those activities: Winterfest at River Bend Nature Center!

We have been busy here at River Bend getting ready for our winter fun day, Winterfest.  Come join us this Saturday, January 21 from 1-4pm. Winterfest is a great opportunity to get outside, explore River Bend, and learn about or do something new and fun.  There will be three “Snakes and Lizards” live animal shows and three “Stars in the Sky” shows which will be packed full with fun facts about animals and constellations.  Grab a pair of snowshoes and learn how Native Americans were able to effectively walk in the snow without exhausting themselves, and give it a try yourself.  Then grab a kicksled and experience how Scandinavians made traveling easier and more fun.  You can even put your game face on, pretend you are in the Nordic Games, and have a kicksled race with your friends and family.  

We will also be removing some of the invasive buckthorn found around the interpretive center to make walking sticks for you to bring home. Then, take your walking stick to the trails and explore two self-guided hikes; one about animal tracks and one about the history before the nature center was established. Start or end your hike at the amphitheater, where you can warm up by the fire, eat some S’mores, and drink some hot chocolate. One of the St. Olaf choirs will also be joining us and providing some wonderful winter themed melodies. In addition to all of that, there will be crafts, goats, games, popcorn, and more.

This is truly an extraordinary event. What makes it extraordinary? You! Your family! Your friends! So come out and join us. Challenge us to a kicksled race. Learn something new. Experience something amazing.  Eat some delicious s’mores.  Most importantly…have great winter fun at Winterfest!

 

“Hopping”Into Astronomy

Winter is in full-swing this week, with fresh snowfalls (not to mention temperature falls). And though this snowy wonderland brings a flurry of activity during the daytime, with school groups coming in almost every day, I’d like to instead dedicate this post to the less-frequently seen beauty of River Bend—that is, what we can only see after dusk. And even though we’ve passed the Winter Solstice, the sun is still setting relatively early, around 5:00 pm, which is good news for those of us who look forward each evening to having the opportunity to be astronomers. I find my own eyes wandering skyward as well, as the light starts to vanish at the end of the day, because no matter how many times I see it, I never get tired of a sky full of stars. But to the amateur astronomer, learning where to start can be a daunting task. With countless telescopes on the market, weighty textbooks filled with complicated diagrams and star charts, not to mention the sheer number of celestial objects to be viewed, it’s enough to make anyone want to quit before they’ve even started. This blog post is meant to serve as a beginner’s guide to astronomy. Whether you’ve taken a few courses in school, or whether you’re just starting to wonder about the night sky, this guide will be a simple tool to take away some of the complications and confusion of amateur astronomy.

The first step to learning about the stars is to not buy a telescope. This is so important and so misunderstood, that it’s worth saying again: do not begin your interest in astronomy with buying a telescope. This is perhaps the fastest way to kill the hobby, as telescopes can be expensive, and are not simple tools to use, even with experience. Even the ones advertised for beginners which promise easy-use, can’t be used for much more than to look at the moon. If you still want to be able to have a “close up” of celestial objects, instead purchase or borrow a pair of binoculars, which are far less expensive, and far easier to use. Truly though, the only tool you need to study and enjoy the night sky are your eyes and a willingness to observe. Couple this with a little bit of study, and you’re well on your way to opening up the entire cosmos. But for the purpose of this blog, we’ll start small, or rather, we’ll start close.

When you look up into the night sky, what you are viewing is a portion of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. On average, without the aid of a telescope or binoculars, you may see up to 2000 stars, although the galaxy is believed to have over 100 billion stars. We are limited on what we can see because of several reasons: Many stars are on the other side of the Earth, some stars are too dim or too far away to be visible, and some may be blocked from sight by other planets or other stars. In fact, some of the difficulty lies in the fact that Earth is positioned within the Milky Way galaxy. If we were outside it, we could view the entirety of the galaxy and all of its stars, but being within it means that we can only ever see portions of it at a time. For those same reasons, the stars that we see with the unaided eye, are only stars within the Milky Way, and they are generally the closest ones as well.

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Photo credit: google images

For the amateur astronomer however, 2000 stars is a great place to start—It’s where our ancestors began and all civilizations before us began as well. These are the stars that make up constellations, and are the easiest and most fun to explore.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the easiest constellations to spot are known as “circumpolar constellations”. These groupings of stars are situated above Earth’s northern axis, and therefore can be seen in the night sky year round, unlike other constellations which appear to rise above and set below the horizon.  Probably the most famous of the circumpolar constellations is the constellation known as Ursa Major, the Big Bear—which includes the Big Dipper.

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Above: throughout the year, the Big Dipper is always visible, but just appears to move in a circle.
Photo credit: google images

The Big Dipper is also the most famous example of an exercise known as “star hopping”. In star hopping, the viewer takes stars that he or she is familiar with, and uses them to find stars and constellations they are less familiar with. In this way, your knowledge can easily be expanded across the sky! To locate the Big Dipper, start by looking North. If you are not sure which direction North is, start by picking the darkest section of sky. At the time of this post, the Big Dipper is located relatively low near the horizon, so begin your search there, turning in a slow circle and search for a bright grouping of stars. In the winter, the Big Dipper appears to be standing on the end of its handle, with the bucket pointing straight up. To begin star hopping, once you find the Big Dipper, locate the two end stars of the bucket (known as pointer stars) and follow them towards the next brightest star, as shown in the above image. In this way, you have successfully “hopped” to the North Star, Polaris, and also the constellation Ursa Minor (Little Dipper).  Polaris is the last star in the “handle” of the Little Dipper. After acquainting yourself with which direction is North, this will allow you to locate even more constellations.

Another easy circumpolar constellation to spot is Cassiopeia the Queen. To star hop to this constellation, continue following the path of the pointer stars from the Big Dipper, past Polaris the North Star, and the next brightest star along that curve is Cih, the central star in the w-shaped constellation Cassiopeia.

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Above: Starting with the Big Dipper, follow the pointer stars up to Polaris, and finally up to the W of Cassiopeia.
Photo credit: Stellarium

In addition to the Circumpolar constellations, there are easy to spot groupings of stars that are most prominent in certain seasons. In the Winter, this includes the constellations Orion, Canis Major, Canis Minor, Taurus, and Gemini. The easiest of these constellations to find, is the constellation of Orion, the hunter. It is also from this constellation that you may star hop to several others listed previously. To find Orion in the night sky, look to the Southeast, midway between the horizon and directly overhead. The most prominent section of Orion is the three stars that make up his belt. These stars are grouped closely together in a straight line, while the remainder of the constellation forms something similar to an hourglass around them.

To star hop to two other prominent winter constellations, follow the line of Orion’s belt up towards the red star Aldebran, which is the left eye in the constellation Taurus the Bull. In Mythology, Orion is often depicted as fighting the Bull. Similarly, follow the line of Orion’s belt down towards the bright star Sirius, also known as the Dog Star. Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky, and is also therefore the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (in mythology often depicted as one of Orion’s hunting dogs).

aldebranPhoto credit: Stellarium

siriusPhoto credit: Stellarium

By following these guidelines, and expanding on knowledge you already have, it soon becomes easy to begin tracing many well-known constellations. After you are familiar with the easier constellations, consider getting some simple star charts (planispheres) in order to find more difficult stars and constellations.

Winter is a great time to view the night sky, and River Bend offers a wonderful view from the prairie loop trail and the overlook trail. And if star gazing is something you’d like to learn more about, attend River Bend’s upcoming Winter Fest ( http://www.rbnc.org/winterfest/ )—new this year will be presentations on star gazing, with a chance to put your skills to the test! Also coming up will be a traveling celestial show to be hosted at River Bend on January 27th (http://www.southernminn.com/faribault_daily_news/community/article_6535d35f-d6b3-5a89-919b-a981a67de6bf.html ).

 

Have other tips and tricks for finding stars and constellations? Please share them in a comment!

Happy 2017!

Happy 2017, nature lovers and River Bend friends! My name is Katie, and I am one of the four School Year Environmental Educators at your awesome local nature center. We have decided to become more active in the blog, and that means bringing you wonderful people cool information and facts about River Bend and nature in general! We will cover topics from trees and fungus to stars and survival, and much more, so keep an eye on this blog and our Facebook page for posts throughout the winter and spring!

In this introductory post, I am just going to give you some quick details about us 4 Naturalists, our passions, and fun facts!

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From Left to Right: Kara, Stephanie, Elsa, and Katie!

Kara, our Education Program Specialist, loves turtles, ants, and skiing. She coordinates the Creciendo Juntos program and Waste Education programs for all 3rd and 4th graders in Rice County! She is always smiling and loves to chat about all things nature, especially turtles.

Stephanie is a STEM School Specialist, which also includes coordinating the many amazing field trips that local schools get to take to River Bend. Stephanie skis to work almost every day, and loves talking about the stars, geology, and just about anything about animals.

Elsa is our other STEM School Specialist, and half of her week is spent at the Cannon River STEM School, helping students and teachers alike incorporate nature into their daily studies. Elsa loves all kinds of bugs, and especially enjoys teaching about edible plants and how to survive in the woods!

And lastly, I am the Community Outreach Specialist, and my coordinating focus is on our Homeschool programs, Birthday Parties, our Animal Ambassadors, and Science Club. I love talking about animal behavior and habitats, growing plants, and citizen science!

Thank you so much for reading this blog, and we’ll see you next week!

~Katie

Spring is Springing!

Spring is Springing!
One of my favorite things about living in Minnesota is that we get to have seasons. I like all the seasons for different reasons – fall for the colors of course, winter for snowshoeing, skiing across the snow and snow in general, summer for being able to just walk outside without a jacket on…I could keep going. But one of my favorite seasons (they’re all my favorite seasons) is spring. Every year I get excited by all that happens in the spring time! Here are just a few of my favorites:


Timberdoodle Dance Parties!
One of the earlier migratory birds that returns to Minnesota also knows some sweet dance moves! Timberdoodles, also known as American Woodcocks, return to the prairies and fields of River Bend and Minnesota in the spring to breed. Male timberdoodles put on an elaborate courtship display to attract females starting at dusk and continuing until the morning. The male starts out on the ground and walks in a circle, all while making a “peenting” call that can be heard across the prairie. After a sufficient number of turns around his dance floor, he suddenly takes off high into the sky and performs some complicated aerial acrobatics and flight maneuvers, ending with a steep dive back to the ground. Then the dance begins again!


Maple Syrup
One of my favorite smells of the whole year is maple sap boiling down into syrup! Maple sap in the spring is a mostly watery substance with a little tiny bit of sugar – around 98% water and 2% sugar. Usually, temperatures below freezing at night followed by above freezing temperatures during the day cause maple sap to flow through the sapwood of trees in the maple family. The sap flowing through the tree helps the trees get ready for spring. On trees that are large enough, we can collect some of that sap by tapping into the sapwood of the tree. This year at River Bend we had just over 60 trees tapped during the month of March. We had some days of great sap flowing weather, and others of not so good sap flowing weather. But we still collected hundreds of gallons of sap that we spent multiple weeks boiling in our evaporator. As the sap boils, the water leaves as sweet smelling steam, and the sugars stay behind, concentrating the solution eventually into delicious maple syrup!

Making maple syrup

Evaporating maple sap into delicious maple syrup!


Woodland Wildflowers
Once the snow melts, small green leaves begin to appear on the forest floor, hinting at the show that will come later. After awhile and lots of hunting and scanning the ground, a small flower or two may appear. The next day, maybe another flower or two appears, and then all of a sudden one day, flowers are everywhere! This flower show has many players that take turns blooming throughout the season. Already at River Bend, we have been seeing False Rue Anemone, Sharp Lobed Hepatica and Spring Beauty blooming, and lots and lots of baby trout lily leaves, and some trout lilies blooming too! Many woodland wildflowers take advantage of the full sunlight reaching the forest floor at the beginning of spring and bloom before the deciduous trees grow their leaves. Some flowers bloom for a week or two, others for a month or more, but by summer most woodland flowers have had their turn. Enjoy them while they’re here!

White Trout Lily

White Trout Lily blooming at River Bend (Erythronium albidum)

A long history of crazy cold adventures…

Throughout the most recent cold snap, I have watched as countless cross country skiers have braved the winter chill. I strapped on my first pair of skis about one year ago while living on the North Shore. I instantly took a liking to it despite some undignified crash landings. I hadn’t really paid much attention to skiing before last year, and only now have I begun to recognize how much it means to people across Minnesota. Of course, I knew that our passion for skiing can be attributed to our strong Scandinavian heritage, but what role has skiing played beyond recreation? The answers are remarkable.

Unfortunately, there is no direct evidence about the exact origin of Nordic skiing, although current research shows that the first skis may have been developed as far back as 10,000 years ago in the Lake Baikal region of Central Asia. The oldest Scandinavian ski remains date back approximately 4,500 years. For reference, that means skis were being used in Scandinavia before the development of alphabetic writing (1800 B.C.) the domestication of the horse (2000 B.C.), and the completion of Stonehenge (2200 B.C.).

SÁM_66,_76v,_Ullr

Depiction of the Norse god Ullr from an 18th century Icelandic manuscript

Skis were originally used as a mode of transportation, especially when hunting. They did not look anything like the composite skis we see today. In fact, they weren’t even the same length! One ski was short and acted as the “kick” ski, while the other longer ski (up to 15 feet long) was used to glide over the snow. Early skiers also used a single pole. Why you ask? To carry their bow! Early Norwegian hunters were incredibly skilled at hunting moose and elk while on skis. In 1274, the practice of hunting on skis had to be limited to prevent the elk herds from being totally wiped out.

This is only the tip of the pole on skiing’s long history. What lessons can we learn from all of this? For one, we humans are hardy creatures! We may no longer be in the depths of negative high temperatures for now, but rest assured, they will return yet again. Next time, we will be ready with skis on our feet and poles in hand. See you on the trails!

Stubbornly Optimistic

Having spent two years on the North Shore, surrounded by mostly aspens, birches, and evergreens, I was delighted to find that River Bend was full of oak trees. I love all trees, but oaks are among my favorite. One reason I enjoy them is that they stubbornly cling onto their leaves throughout the winter, providing a little splash of color (even if it is mostly brown) in an otherwise drab and naked winter canopy.

But why do oak trees hang onto their leaves? Don’t they know that they’re deciduous trees, and are supposed to lose leaves in the fall? I set out to investigate this mystery.

I discovered that oak trees, along with beech, ironwood, musclewood, and witch hazel trees, have adapted to be somewhere in between evergreen and deciduous trees on the evolutionary scale . Evergreens, like pines and spruces, are the oldest type of tree. They retain green needles all year long so that they can photosynthesize year-round. However, it’s a lot of work to maintain needles, which are subject to frost damage and water loss, and so deciduous trees evolved to combat these issues. They also gained the advantage of having broad leaves to increase their photosynthetic ability in the summer, when the most sunlight is available. In the fall, they remove the green chlorophyll out of the leaves (hence the color change) and drop them when there isn’t enough light to make photosynthesis worth the energy expense.

Most broadleaf deciduous trees drop their leaves in the fall voluntarily. When the weather shifts and the trees deem it a proper time (I’m not privy to the trees’ exact process, but it involves having less daylight), they release enzymes into their twigs, and an abscission layer forms between the leaf petiole and the twig, severing the leaf.

Oak trees and their counterparts tried for the best of both strategies. They don’t photosynthesize year-round like evergreens (except for the live oak and tan oak in the south, which are unique broadleaf evergreens), but they don’t drop their leaves either. This leaf retention is called marcescence.

Scientists have multiple theories as to why oak tree marcescence occurs. For one, marcescence is more common on younger trees or on the lower branches of an old tree. It is possible that the leaves protect the twigs and buds from snow and frost. They may also provide protection from browsing because the buds are hidden from deer. However, a study in Denmark discovered that, when offered a marcescent oak twig compared to a marcescent beech twig, deer preferred the oak, probably due to the leaves’ low lignin content, which is hard to digest. So perhaps oaks don’t rely on their leaves to deter animals as much as other marcescent trees.

DSC_0033

Marcescent leaves may protect oak buds from frost.

Another thought is that oaks are preparing for spring. The leaves may help trap more snow in their branches, and when it melts in the spring, all the melt water will end up directly under the tree, giving it a boost of moisture. In addition, when the oaks finally do drop their leaves in the spring, the decomposition of those leaves may provide nutrients at a key time, allowing the tree to outcompete others even in poor soil.

Whatever their reason, oaks and other marcescent trees are a symbol of determination in the face of howling winter winds. They remind us that if we optimistically hold on through the winter, spring will come again.

DSC_0191Sources:

Northern Woodlands Magazine:

http://northernwoodlands.org/articles/article/why-do-some-leaves-persist-on-beech-and-oak-trees-well-into-winter

Penn State Extension:

http://extension.psu.edu/natural-resources/forests/news/2012/winter-leaves-that-hang-on

Remember, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing and bad attitudes! 🙂