New Courses, 10K at River Bend’s Fun Run

Zach Hudson

By Zach Hudson, Intern Naturalist

As skiers begin to mourn the vanishing snow our thoughts at River Bend turn to maple trees and the production of maple syrup. In recent years, our maple syrup season has culminated with our Maple Syrup Fun Run 5K run and 1 mile walk event. This exciting gathering has become one of our fastest growing fundraisers, with over 200 participants last year. The year 2013 brings some exciting changes for the Maple Syrup Fun Run, with a new race distance and new courses, as well as real maple syrup for every participant.

Sumac Trail

Sumac trail on River Bend’s south side is part of the 10K course.

Walnut grove's run spectators

Walnut grove’s run spectators

As a runner myself I was especially excited about the prospect of creating new courses and adding a 10k distance to our event.  We decided early on to try to make our new 5k course slightly easier than in past years to make it more appealing to casual runners.  We quickly realized that you can’t make an easy course using River Bend’s trails, but I think what we came up with will be a fun course that should be doable for anyone.  Our 5k will leave from prairie pond and cross the prairie on raccoon to a crossing of Rustad Road.  From there the course will descend to the river along Cherry and Dairy Lane before returning to the road via Rabbit and Teepee Tonka.  Runners will cross the road and complete a rolling final kilometer overlooking upper pond before returning to raccoon to head back to the start/finish line.  A full map of the course is at this link: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/188158516

Dairy Lane Bridge

Dairy Lane Bridge looking to the south side of River Bend.

Since we made our 5k course mellower we decided to use the 10k to take full advantage of all of River Bend’s challenging terrain.  Much of the 5k course is included in the 10k, but with some added bite.  The course opens with a grueling climb up Maple to the walnut grove.  After following Walnut around to the paved section of Raccoon, racers will cross Rustad Road and descend to the railroad tracks via Cherry  and continue on Teepee Tonka to Dairy Lane.  Runners will then cross over the Straight River for a challenging climb to River Bend’s south entrance and a hilly run through the south side of the Nature Center.  After crossing back over the river runners will follow Rabbit under the railroad tracks and around to Arrowhead and Deer before rejoining the 5k course at Rustad Road.  The 10k concludes the same rolling finish stretch as the 5k.  The full course map is here:  http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/188171998

One-mile walk starting line

The starting line of the one-mile walk course.

In addition to our new running courses we have also moved our 1 mile walking route. We tried to create a walk that minimized overlap with the running courses while providing walkers with great scenery and views of the running courses. As we were developing the course we realized that moving the walk to the paved trails would make it more accessible to people with mobility issues or parents wanting to push strollers. The route also takes in some River Bend favorites such as Honor Point and Turtle Pond and offers views of the 5K course as the runners climb up the final hill. A map of that route is here: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/177012142.

Maple Syrup Fun Run

Runners coming over the prairie finish line in last year’s Maple Syrup Fun Run.

One sad byproduct of the Maple Syrup Fun Run’s rapid growth is that we have outgrown our capacity for serving pancakes at our annual Pancake Brunch out of Trailside Center. As a result the brunch will take a hiatus this year while we work at finding other facilities for the future. It is possible that a separate pancake event will be held at another time this spring. Since runners won’t get to sample maple syrup on their pancakes the day of the race, we have added sample bottles of Anderson’s Pure Maple Syrup to participant gifts. We are excited to welcome Anderson’s Maple Syrup and Boston’s Restaurant & Sports Bar, RoadID as new sponsors of our event, along with returning sponsors District One Hospital and Reliance Bank. Thank you to our sponsors for helping us make our race possible!

Anderson's Pure Maple Syrup

Participants will get bottles of Anderson’s Pure Maple Syrup as part of their run gift.

Come join us at River Bend Nature Center to celebrate maple syrup and the coming of spring at our Maple Syrup Fun Run 10K/5K/1M. We are excited to see this event continue to grow and improve as River Bend moves into the future, we hope to see you there!

Zach Hudson is an intern naturalist for the River Bend Nature Center, a member supported non-profit dedicated to helping people discover, enjoy, understand and preserve the incredible natural world that surrounds us. Contact River Bend at rbncinfo@rbnc.org or 507-332-7151.

‘Til Death Do Us Part — Nature’s Five Most Romantic Couples

Sarah Shimek

By Sarah Shimek, Education Coordinator

5. Bald Eagles

Bald Eagle Pair - adults   Photo by Len Blumin

Bald Eagle Pair – adults
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   ByLen Blumin

While bald eagles are known for their fantastically acrobatic aerial mating rituals, it is actually the nest-building that cements the bond between mates, building on the same nest season after season. Bald eagles are among the estimated 95% of birds that are socially monogamous – meaning they cooperatively raise their young over the course of a mating season and in most cases, will return to the same nest and mate year after year. One nest, used by an eagle pair for over 3 decades, measured 9 feet across, almost 12 feet high, and was estimated to weigh over 2 tons.  While genetic testing shows that they may engage in a little fling on the side now & then, known as “extra-pair copulation,” only several years of unsuccessful clutches or the death of one eagle will break up these super-couples.

Sandhill Crane Parents with baby By Matthew Paulson

Sandhill Crane Parents with baby
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  By Photomatt28

4. Sandhill Cranes

Another bird renowned for their elaborate mating dances, the sandhill crane is also known as a symbol of long-term fidelity.  Bonded pairs call in unison, spreading the word that they are in a committed relationship.  During the massive breeding-ground migrations in the spring, their synchronized “kar-roo” is thought to be a bonding activity, kind of like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire dancing and singing their way across the stage. Unlike Fred & Ginger, crane pairs will stay together until one of them dies, even if they have a couple nests that flop.  Philandering among crane pairs is so rare that when a single extra-pair copulation event was witnessed in 2006 it was big news; in fact it was the first one ever documented.

3. Black Vultures

Black Vulture - Coragyps atratus   By Martha de Jong-Lantink

Black Vulture – Coragyps atratus
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  By Martha de Jong-Lantink

For black vultures, enforcing monogamy is a community affair. These ominous birds seem to be deeply serious about their commitment to a chosen partner. The pair will hang out together year-round and share parenting duties.  Individuals caught engaging in extra-pair copulation will not only be attacked by their mate but by neighboring vultures as well. Genetic study of 17 different vulture families found no evidence of extra-pair fooling around, giving new meaning to the phrase “It takes a village…”

Prairie Vole

Prairie Vole

2. Prairie Voles

Mammals – rodents in particular, are not necessarily known for their fidelity.  But the little prairie vole is a notable exception. Once they have lost their virginity, males will prefer to mate exclusively with that female, even going so far as to attack other females.  Scientists have traced this behavior to a hormone in the brain, which triggers lasting bond formations and aggression towards potential home-wreckers.  Once mated, these “high school sweethearts” share parental duties, groom one another, and appear quite affectionate. When presented with “unfamiliar, virgin females” in the wild, less than 10% of male voles succumbed to the temptation. Even more unusual, less than 20% of committed voles sought out a new mate if their partner died.

1. Diplozoon paradoxum (parasitic worm)

As unattractive as it sounds, this worm takes the prize for most committed among Nature’s couples. I’ve spared you pictures of this particularly homely couple. This fish parasite practices an extreme form of monogamy. Individuals meet as virgin adolescent larvae and literally fuse together at their midsections. Sexual maturity is not reached until the worm fuses with a mate. Once fused, they remain together until they die sometimes several years later, when even then they are not parted.  As Dr. Barash, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle noted in an article in the New York Times, “That’s the only species I know of in which there seems to be 100 percent monogamy.” The only heartache here is in the unfortunate fish that hosts this epic romance.

Sarah Shimek is the education coordinator for the River Bend Nature Center, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in Faribault, Minnesota that specializes in nature and environmental education.  The Nature Center property includes 743 acres of original and restored natural lands with over ten miles of trails that are open to the public 365 days per year. River Bend Nature Center relies on donations and memberships to fund its operations, please join and give today. Contact us at rbncinfo@rbnc.org or 507-332-7151.

Sources:

Dreaming of a Green Christmas

By Caitlin Savage, Intern Naturalist

As the winter season draws near, many people are hoping for a white Christmas, especially due to the lack of snow last year. This year, however, I want to encourage you to have a “green” Christmas! There are many simple steps you can take to make your holiday season more environmentally friendly. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Make your own gifts

Many people struggle to pick out the perfect gifts for their loved ones during the holiday season. What better way to express your appreciation than to put the time and effort into making a gift for someone? Come to River Bend’s “DIY Up-cycled Winter Crafts” event on December 15th from 10am—noon to learn how to make your own winter crafts to give out as Christmas presents (materials are provided). This program is open to all ages and costs $3 per River Bend member, $5 per nonmember, or $10 per nonmember family. Exercise your creative muscles this holiday season! If you’re feeling uninspired, don’t worry – a multitude of ideas are just a “Google” search away. You can find great ideas for homemade holiday gifts on the web.

Food is another great gift idea. Although college students are particularly appreciative of homemade goodies, people of all ages will enjoy this thoughtful present. If you’re not much of a cook, you could consider offering out another service. Give the gift of a free babysitting session to busy family members, or offer to walk someone’s dog for a couple weeks during the cold winter. Remember that many people would appreciate your help in an area you excel in. For example, if you’re good with cars, give someone a “coupon” for you to change their oil. If you’re talented at pottery-making, piano, juggling, or any other skill, offer someone a free lesson.

2. Use more sustainable Christmas trees

Christmas Tree Pick-Up & Recycling

River Bend’s Christmas tree pick-up and recycling program starts in January.

It is a common misconception that a reusable artificial tree is more sustainable than a real tree. In reality, artificial trees use unsustainable resources such as petroleum to manufacture, and additional resources are used to package and ship them. Since they are made of non-recyclable materials, the trees eventually wind up in a landfill, where they will remain for a long time, perhaps indefinitely.

Instead, buy a real tree from a local tree farm. Picking out a tree together is a great opportunity to spend time with family or friends! After the holiday season ends, you can mulch or recycle it. One way to recycle a tree is to bring it into River Bend so we can use them on our trails! For a $10 donation ($15 for nonmembers) we will pick up your tree for recycling, or for $5 you can drop your tree off at River Bend for recycling.

Another option is to buy a potted or balled tree to use. After the holidays are over, you can plant it in your own backyard or donate it to an organization that will plant it.

3. Use alternative wrapping paper

Gift packaging is one of the main contributors of excess waste during the holidays. Consider using alternative wrapping paper this year. Newspaper and magazine pages make excellent wrapping paper. Look for articles that your loved ones might find interesting to decorate their gifts. Brown paper bags can also be used as wrapping paper and decorated to your liking. Fabric scraps are useful to wrap gifts or to make bows and ribbons.

If you would prefer to use actual wrapping paper, purchase paper made from recycled materials. After the holidays end, recycle the used wrapping paper (keep in mind that shiny or metallic paper is non-recyclable, and remove tape from the paper if possible). If you use gift boxes or ribbons and bows, keep them to reuse the following year. You can also save wrapping paper to reuse (although when excited kids are involved, there may not be anything salvageable left!)

4. Decrease energy used by holiday lights

One way to decrease your energy usage for the holidays is by using LED lights instead of incandescent. LED lights use less energy and are cooler to the touch than incandescent lights. However, they are typically more expensive, and some people aren’t as fond of the aesthetics of the LED.  If you would prefer not to use LED lights, try reducing the amount of time that you keep your Christmas lights plugged in. Make sure that you only have them on during the dark hours, when they are most easily visible. Also, consider keeping them off while you are asleep. If you have Christmas lights indoors, make sure to turn them off when other lights in the room are on.

5. Avoid making too much food

Excess food makes up a large portion of the waste created during the holiday season. This can be tackled a few different ways. One option is to make less food. If you always find yourselves with leftovers, cut down the number of servings per dish you prepare, or remove a few of the usual items off your menu.

Many food dishes spark a rich sense of tradition during the holidays, so you may be reluctant to remove any of them from your usual menu. Good can still come out of excess food. Instead of throwing away leftovers, save them to eat throughout the next week. If you aren’t a huge fan of leftovers (you can only have turkey so many times in a week before it loses its appeal), look into donating them to a local food pantry or charity.

Couple snowshowing

Snowshoeing is one of many great ways to spend time with family and friends.

6. Spend quality time with family and friends

Go outside and embrace the winter weather! Get a group of friends and family together to experience the enjoyable and environmentally-friendly activities winter has to offer. Go sledding, build a snow fort, or start a giant snowball fight. Skiing, ice-skating, and snow-shoeing are popular, “green” winter activities. Snowshoes are available for rental at River Bend throughout the winter ($5/member, $10/nonmember; there must be at least 6 in. of snow to rent snowshoes). Or just take a walk and marvel in the beautiful winter landscapes your community has to offer.If you prefer to spend time indoors away from the cold, invite some friends or family over to enjoy some hot chocolate and remind yourself of what the holidays are truly about.

I hope you find that some of these suggestions will help you have a greener holiday season. I’m not advocating that you try all of these things, just choose the ones that work best for you. Even a small change can make a big impact. Happy Holidays!

Caitlin Savage is an intern naturalist for the River Bend Nature Center, a member supported non-profit dedicated to helping people discover, enjoy, understand and preserve the incredible natural world that surrounds us. Contact us at rbncinfo@rbnc.org or 507-332-7151.

Five Questions and Answers About Snow

By Zach Hudson, Intern Naturalist

Freshly groomed ski trails

Freshly groomed ski trails

Winter is my favorite season of all, and my favorite part of winter is the snow. Snow can be quite interesting for a naturalist or anyone interested in nature. There are many things about snow that can help us understand how nature works in the winter, including when, where and how much of the white stuff we can expect to get. So without further ado here are five facts about the stuff that makes winter so great!

1. When does it snow first in Faribault?
River Bend founder Orwin Rustad kept a detailed journal for over 50 years recording the timing of a variety of events in the natural world, including the first measurable snowfall of each winter. According to his journals the earliest snow has fallen here was on September 30 all the way back in 1961. On average though, we can expect to see our first snowfall sometime in early November. Once that first snow falls Faribault receives about 40 inches of snow total over the course of the winter concentrated in the months of December and January.

2. What are some of the historic snowstorms that have hit Faribault?
In addition to recording the start of the snowy season each year Orwin Rustad also kept records of major storm events that occurred in Faribault and other locations in Minnesota. Many people remember the 1991 Halloween Blizzard but, this is far from the only significant blizzard to strike Faribault. Bishop Whipple has accounts from the 1800’s of riding his horse through a horrific snow to reach some of the mission outposts he visited. In addition Faribault saw a single storm that dropped 20 inches of snow in 1982, one of three large storms that year in Rustad’s journal.

3. Where are the snowiest places in the U.S.?
While Faribault and Minnesota in general do receive their fair share of snow we are far from the snowiest places in the USA. Valdez, Alaska averages over 300 inches per year which is about the equivalent of the height of a football goalpost. Excluding Alaska, cities near mountains or large bodies of water have a tendency to get pounded with the white stuff. My hometown of Lander, Wyoming gets over 100 inches of snow every year and Ironwood in Michigan’s upper peninsula receives an average of 180 inches of lake effect snow.

Hoar Frost

Hoar frost on tree branches in 2010.

4. How do snow crystals get their amazing structures?
The structure of individual snow crystals is quite fascinating, and arises from various properties of water. All snow crystals have six-fold symmetry or something close to it. The six-fold symmetry arises from the molecular nature of ice as it freezes. The uniqueness of snowflakes has to do with the varied paths they take to earth from the time they begin to form up in the clouds. Every snowflake starts its life as a simple hexagon and grows branches of various shapes as its external conditions change. No two snowflakes experience the exact same conditions as they fall resulting in unique structures for each flake. You can find more information including some amazing images at this website run by physicists at Cal Tech.

5. What is a true blizzard?
We often think of any major snowfall event as a blizzard, but is that really correct? The answer is no, a true blizzard combines heavy snowfall with strong winds. According to the National Weather Service for a storm to receive blizzard designation it must meet the following criteria: for a time period of at least 3 hours there must be wind to 35 mph or greater and considerable falling or blowing snow, such that visibility is reduced to a 1/4 mile or less. According to these requirements true blizzards are rare; however blizzard-like conditions can be relatively common for shorter time periods.

Zach Hudson is an intern naturalist for the River Bend Nature Center, a member supported non-profit dedicated to helping people discover, enjoy, understand and preserve the incredible natural world that surrounds us. Contact us at rbncinfo@rbnc.org or 507-332-7151.

Fall Programs Recap & Wrap-up — From the Rookie’s Point of View

By Dahna Kreger, Intern Naturalist

For the River Bend naturalist staff, early November can bring either a much welcome break from long hours of wall-to-wall programming; or it can signal the beginning of a lengthy period of down-time that for some may elicit an uprising of pending doom from the gut.  I feel that this primarily applies to me, because of my complete and total inability to sit still for any length of time.  Nonetheless, I am excited to see what projects we will create to keep occupied when not entrenched in the few programs that we’ll be working on during the winter months…

In light of the recent change in our office atmosphere, moving from cyclical chaos and relative calm to one of more consistent calm and placidity, I have luckily been able to complete a blog post during the latter period.  And perhaps because I mourn the end of fall programming, that is the subject to which it is dedicated.

Recap – here is a run-down of the programs we have completed in the last two months:

  • Kindergarten:  Seasons and Senses
  • First Grade:  Homes and Habitats
  • Second Grade:  Seeds of Life
  • Third Grade:  Nature Pyramid
  • Fourth Grade:  Prairie Biome
  • Fifth Grade (Owatonna):  Soils and Erosion
  • Fifth Grade (Faribault):  Aquatic and Ecosystem Research
  • Sixth Grade:  Decomposition

Each brought its own set of challenges, and more frequently, rewards!  As a total greenhorn, I found myself plunged face-first into the fast-paced flow of fall programming at River Bend.  Nervous and stressed at the onset, I quickly built my confidence as a public speaker and group manager.  At least, I think I successfully managed to grow in these areas… my greatest joy of all however- other than the breadth of content and material I learned, in addition to having a fantastic opportunity to work with some wonderfully knowledgeable and exceptionally bright people- was being able to hang out with kids every day, and once again be able to see life through the fresh and curious eyes of a child.  Although I don’t think I had much of a problem doing that anyway, some might argue.

I like to start with favorites, so I’ll begin with my favorite of the fall programs.  I found that I had the most fun with younger kids, and I had a blast working with the kindergarteners during their “Seasons and Senses” program.  For this one, the kids come to River Bend with their class during the fall, winter, and spring; each time visiting their special “kinderspots” which are small areas of either forest or prairie that the groups will track changes with over time using their senses of sight, sound, touch, hearing, and even taste (within reason!).  Each group had an opportunity to visit Turtle Pond.  The clever names always got the kids extremely excited, and it was so fun to see their reactions during the introduction.  The spots were called:  Fuzzy Bunny Boulevard, Raccoon Hollow, Spiderweb Square, and Butterfly AlleyI can’t wait for them to come back in late January!

Another program I found very enjoyable was the Fifth Grade Aquatic and Ecosystem Research.  For this program, students learned how to identify and analyze the different factors that impact the health of an aquatic ecosystem and how to test for them.  The students got to perform some very legitimate tests – including dissolved oxygen, turbidity, pH, and even building filters that might help clean up dirtied water.  A collective favorite though was critter catching, where the students would use dip nets to capture insects and other small animals inhabiting each of the ponds where we conducted the testing.  It was always a highlight to find exceptionally large water beetles in Turtle Pond, or tiny fish swimming around in the hidden ponds tucked away in Owl Valley.   That one really shocked us, since no one really thought that fish could grow in such a small space with very few resources.  We naturalists did encounter a rather intimidating water beetle with one of the groups – it must have had a length of about 3.5 inches, including its pincers.  We kept it in a small container to show the classes coming later that afternoon, but it had escaped into the building at Trailside while we were away at lunch!  I still wonder where it might be lurking…

At this point it becomes very difficult for me to choose favorites, so perhaps continuing in chronological order might be best…

Fourth grade marked the beginning of our fall programming in early September with their study of the prairie biome.  The students were split up into pairs within small groups, and each pair was assigned to a square-shaped plot out in our prairie to conduct some basic scientific tests; such as temperature of soil and plant mass (both in the actual prairie and in the mowed trails), identifying plants and determining how common they are at River Bend, and finally catching insects in nets and jars to see what kinds of critters thrive in our mixed-grass prairie.  Again the students tended to most enjoy the critter-catching.  Sometimes, though, complete and total pandemonium would ensue whenever a bee was found and even caught in a jar… it would often become difficult to restore order after this happened, but we always managed to get everyone back on track.  To achieve this, one of the naturalist staff would “dispose” of the offending bee far off into the woods, or just release it back into the air when no one was looking.

Prairie

The River Bend prairie that the fourth graders surveyed.

Nature Pyramid

The nature pyramid helps us organize the different levels of the food chain. In this program students learned how to categorize the animals they found.

Third graders came next with their study of the Nature Pyramid.  This one was very enjoyable for the children, since it too involved a lot of log and rock rolling to search for insects.  The goal of this unit was to help students better understand each living thing’s place in nature, how abundant they are, and comprehension of the idea that nature is sustained through food chains such as the Nature Pyramid.  My personal favorite was looking for insects in the forest – since we frequently found very large millipedes that children interpreted as freaky and cool.  While they are completely safe to handle, some children opted out of that since it does feel a little funny to have a thing crawling on you that has a hundred tiny little legs, and will likely poo on your hand since it’s scared.  Overall the children did very well at categorizing where each animal belonged on the pyramid, and they especially got a kick when they realized that they too belonged on there – we’re the top dog at the highest tier!

Second graders came to us next for their Seeds of Life Program.  This one was always enjoyable to do – especially early on when we had lots of “poppers” and “hitchhikers” for the kids!  In this unit, we introduce the kids to the idea of adaptations.  That is, things that help a plant or animal survive in its habitat.  We use seeds as examples of different adaptations.  There are four different types of seeds:  hitch-hikers stick to fur, feathers, or clothing to later fall off at a new place; droppers simply fall to the ground, however animals usually carry them to other places; poppers burst from their seed container to spread away from the plant; and flyers are carried through the air by the wind by their wings or feathery parachutes.  Pretty much across the board everyone loved milkweed pods the best – finding the downy fluff scattered across the ground or still encased within the pod.  Of course, there were always those few children who would pluck a whole pod right off the plant and pocket it, and maybe one of the group leaders would discover it later on, or parents much later on at home… but I never really minded this because they loved it so much; how soft and feathery they felt, and how easily they blew away in the wind!  I remember loving that as a child, and even still today it brings me irrational amounts of joy.

Milkweed

Milkweed – flyer
*This is a tricky one; many believe that it is a popper, and while the pod does pop open, the seeds themselves fly out of the pod to distribute themselves.

This brings us to the concluding weeks of our fall programs, in which we had sixth graders and first graders coming to visit us!  The two programs did end up overlapping just a bit, however I always appreciate a little variety in the workweek, so I didn’t mind this at all and I am sure that none of the other naturalists did either.   At this point though I think we were all beginning to get a little tired, and were more or less looking forward to having a break coming up…

Beginning with sixth grade — this unit was all about decomposition, and introducing/reinforcing the concept behind and importance of using the scientific method.  In this unit, the goal was to have students be able to distinguish between producers, consumers, and decomposers; identify the non-living parts of cycles in natures (air, water, sunlight, rocks), and to review a food chain/web — either theoretical or observed that incorporates all the components of a nutrient cycle.  I had a total blast with this program!  I had been anticipating grumpy cantankerous pre-adolescent children giving me attitude and spewing out negativity about whatever I’d try to say to them.  And, I ended up with slightly cantankerous pre-adolescent children who got surprisingly excited about things like moss, lichen, and fungi.  For the program, the students were split up into pairs and groups — of which we had a total of four.  These included fungi, moss, lichen, middens and arthropods.  Of course being the leader of the midden/arthropod group often proved to be a significant advantage when it came to keeping everyone engaged and interested in what you were doing, I found.  On the first day of this unit, my group found a wolf spider and a unique species of millipede that still had a predominantly black body, but yellow and orange legs!

Nerstrand First Graders

Nerstrand first graders – showing off their pretend “squirrel” food caches of hickory nuts and basswood seeds!

Finally this leaves the first graders and their homes and habitats unit.  I know that I’ve said this about pretty much every program so far, but this one was really a lot of fun!  For this unit, the goal was to get the children to understand that a habitat is more than just where an animal can build its home. It is also a certain area where an animal prefers to live, and can find everything that it needs to survive.  An integral part of this program was reinforcing the four things that animals need to survive in their habitats – food, water, shelter, and space.  We went out in groups to investigate “evidence” of an animal’s presence – we asked them, “What would the animals have left behind in their homes or habitats?”  We were looking for things like tracks, scat, fur, feathers, scratch marks from claws, hollows in trees, and even bones.  We did have a couple of places where  we had intentionally hid animal bones – everyone really got a kick out of that!  And just because the kids are so adorable, I am including a few snapshots of some of the groups who came for this program.

Caitlin & first graders

Naturalist Caitlin Savage leading a group of first graders from Lincoln through our prairie!

As I finish this write-up, I have to say that thinking about all these programs that have passed us by has made me a little sentimental… but at least the naturalist staff gets to see everyone again in the spring!  And, after already halfway through the first week of no programming, I am doing well with the decreased activity levels of hectic-ness, and I have to say I think everyone else is too.

Dahna Kreger is an intern naturalist for the River Bend Nature Center, a member supported non-profit dedicated to helping people discover, enjoy, understand and preserve the incredible natural world that surrounds us. Contact us at rbncinfo@rbnc.org or 507-332-7151.

Give to the Max For River Bend

It’s just hours away: Give to the Max Day in Minnesota! Give to the Max Day is one day dedicated just to giving, to making monetary donations to your favorite nonprofit organizations. We hope that River Bend makes it on that list of your favorite nonprofits and that you are making plans to donate on Thursday.  We think River Bend Nature Centeris a tremendous asset to our community but maybe you’d like to know a bit more about us before you make a financial commitment to our organization? Then, read on and we’ll tell you a bit about ourselves and how your support makes our work possible.

Students explore the river

River Bend students hike down to the Straight River to discover what happens when the ice breaks up in spring.

The dream of a nature center in Rice County started with Orwin Rustad, a Faribault native, St. Olaf College grad, and long-time field biology teacher at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School. Orwin spent his youth exploring the lands that then belonged to the Faribault Regional Center and his explorations taught him a deep love of the natural world. When the state made plans to close the Regional Center, Orwin wanted to preserve the land he loved and so he enlisted the help of other Faribault citizen-leaders to help him bring his dream to fruition. Orwin believed strongly in connecting students to nature, in getting them outdoors to make first person observations of the plants and animals that live there, and didn’t feel that a true appreciation of nature could be cultivated in a classroom.  From Orwin Rustad’s vision for a nature interpretive center to the nature center that exists today, River Bend has at its core a mission to teach people of all ages an appreciation of the natural world so that they can enjoy it and preserve it.

Students discover wildlife

These preschool students at summer camp observe a small toad discovered in the prairie.

One major way that River Bend Nature Center fulfills its educational mission is through partnerships with area schools. Thousands of students visit River Bend every year including kindergarten through sixth grade students from Faribault schools who each visit us two to three times during the year as part of their science curriculum. Students get hands on field experience learning about a diverse array of topics. Kindergarten students explore nature with their senses and watch how nature changes throughout the school year. First graders learn what an animal needs to survive in its habitat and they look for signs of the animals that live at River Bend.  Second graders learn about adaptations by discovering seeds and their different methods of dispersal, whether it’s hitching a ride to a passing animal or catching a breeze and sailing away.  These are just three examples of the topics students learn about at River Bend. Many other schools visit River Bend each school year and our talented program coordinators tailor programs to meet each groups’ educational needs. There is so much to find out about nature that the possibilities for learning are endless!

Recreation at River Bend

River Bend offers everyone the chance to discover nature by being open to the public free of charge every day of the year. We have trails for hiking, walking, running, biking, skiing, and snowshoeing.

Another way that River Bend helps people discover the natural world is by providing public access to our lands. We have miles of trails that are multi-use, we want people to enjoy nature in whatever way appeals to them most, so we encourage walking, hiking, running, biking, and (leashed) dog walking on our trails. In the winter many of our trails are available for cross-country skiers and we rent snowshoes so people can go off-trail to make new nature discoveries. Our Windows on the Wild backyard feeding area is an area accessible to anyone who wants to watch wildlife up close in the comfort of our Interpretive Center.  There is something about being active in nature or just being observant in nature that appeals to something in the human soul, it reminds us we are part of something so much bigger than any individual, and allows us to learn about and appreciate the natural world in new ways.

River Bend Nature Center was intentionally configured to be an independent nonprofit, supported by donations and memberships and not dependent on the whims of city or state financing to support itself. What this means is that to accomplish our educational mission we need your support.  Please contribute whatever amount you are able to help us continue to provide educational opportunities for area school children allowing them to make first-hand scientific discoveries in our forest, prairies, and wetlands.  If you enjoy the recreational opportunities that River Bend offers free of charge every day of the year through access to our trails and lands, please make a donation.  If you can help us fund the upkeep and maintenance of our important but aging buildings, please make a donation.  If you or your children have enjoyed an educational program or special event at River Bend, please make a donation and tell your children why you’re donating so they have your example to follow when the next generation is entrusted with supporting our nature center.  River Bend will continue to be a vital asset to our community if you give your support on Give to the Max Day and every day!

To schedule or make a Give to the Max Day donation, please visit: http://givemn.razoo.com/riverbendmn.  To find out more about River Bend Nature Center, visit us on the web: http://www.rbnc.org, on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/riverbendMN, and on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/riverbendmn.

Five Fun Fall Things to do at River Bend

By Jill Engle, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

Broad-winged hawk

A broad-winged hawk is easier to spot once the trees drop their leaves.

Now that the temperatures have started to get frosty and the landscape’s palette has turned to shades of brown and tan and is no longer orange, red, yellow, and green, it must be time for me to admit that the fall season is here. While some of us may start to have that animal instinct to hide away in our homes hibernating until the warm weather returns (me!), we should resist our instincts by zipping up our polar fleeces, reminding ourselves that in spring this will be shorts and flip-flop weather, and heading out to enjoy some of the autumn activities that nature and River Bend have to offer.  So here it is, my top five list of fun fall things to do at River Bend Nature Center.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed juncos are “snow birds” that overwinter in Minnesota.

5.  Wildlife Walk: The majority of River Bend’s trees have dropped their leaves and that makes this a perfect time of year to take a wildlife-spotting walk in the woods. Owls, hawks, and other birds of prey are easier to spy high in the barren tree branches than when they were camouflaged in summer leaves. Salamanders are a common sight this time of year as they move away from their summer habitats in search of safe spots to hibernate this

Salamander

Salamanders are a common sight this time of year as they search for safe spots to hibernate.

winter. Keep an eye out for flocks of smaller birds who are preparing to migrate; groups of robins are around and many sparrow species are stopping by feeders on their way south. Just so we don’t feel abandoned, the dark-eyed juncos have returned to our area for the winter, we’re “south” for them! Go figure.

4.  Fossil Hunt: With recent lack of rain now is a great time to take your family down to the Straight River to explore its banks. A nice place to start your exploration is just below the Honor Point overlook. Discoveries along the river include interesting rocks, shells, bones, driftwood, and fossils.  You’re not likely to find a T-Rex bone

River bank shell finds

Shells found along the banks of the Straight River.

but River Bend was once located on a very different part of the planet and was covered by oceans so you are likely to find the fossils of ocean creatures like gastropods, brachiopods, corals, and more. We have a helpful brochure available that describes the different types of fossils you may find on your river search.  Please remember everything found at River Bend needs to stay at River Bend and cannot be taken home for your collection so be sure to bring your camera to take pictures of your finds.

3.  Go to a Public Program: River Bend public programs happen all year, cover a range of topics, and often have a seasonal theme. If you love birds, our free Bagels & Birds program is held on the first Saturday of each month. Beginning November 3rd and continuing into

Milkweed seeds

Milkweed seed pods open to spread their fluffy seeds across the prairie.

winter is a three-part cross-country ski series taught by Zach Hudson, intern naturalist and assistant coach for the St. Olaf ski team. Program coordinator Elaine Loranz will lead adults in a hike to learn to identify and arrange “Winter Weeds” on November 17th.  Crafty types will enjoy “DIY Up-cycled Winter Crafts” with program coordinator Sarah Shimek on December 15th.  Finally, to celebrate (or mourn) the end of fall and beginning of winter you are invited to attend the “Winter Solstice Celebration” on December 21st.  Details about all of these programs can be found on our web site.

2. Glowing Prairie Stroll: Our prairies are a little bit past their prime in terms of blooms and new growth but many prairie plants are fulfilling their biological imperative and are spreading their seeds. Take a stroll

Glowing grass on the prairie

Prairie grass lights up in the low afternoon sunshine across the prairie.

through the prairie and you’ll notice the fluffy white seeds of quite a few different plants like milkweed, thistle, and goldenrod. When I walk along Prairie Loop trail, I love to grab a milkweed seed pod, pull out some seeds, hold my hand high in the air, and then watch the seeds fly away imagining the plants they will become next summer. The prairie grasses are also worth stopping to see in the late afternoon hours as the low sun shines

Horse-drawn wagon rides

Horse-drawn wagon rides at Bats, Bones & Bonfires.

across the prairie because the grass seed heads light up like thousands of tiny little chandeliers glowing on beautiful red and brown stems.

1.  Bats, Bones & Bonfires – October 27th, 4-8pm: The top spot on my fun fall things list has to be reserved for our annual Halloween festival Bats, Bones & Bonfires. This event is designed to be fun (not scary) for all ages of Halloween aficionados.  Attractions include horse-drawn wagon rides, a yucky nature

Jack O' Lantern Contest

Help us fill our Jack O’ Lantern trail with pumpkins by entering your Jack O’ Lanterns in our contest.

haunted house, a bouncy house, and much more. New this year will be belly dancers,  fire spinners, and costume portraits by Katie Brien Photography. Enter your pumpkin in our Jack O’ Lantern contest for a chance to win a prize. Buy hot dogs and s’mores to cook over our campfires (or buy pre-cooked). Other yummy food and drinks will also be available. Before you head home be sure to stop and pick up free goody bags for your kids!  Admission is $4 per person with kids 2 and under free. River Bend members get in free with their member card. This enjoyable, budget-friendly event should be on every family’s “must-do” list this fall.

Jill Engle is the marketing & communications coordinator for the River Bend Nature Center, a member supported non-profit dedicated to helping people discover, enjoy, understand and preserve the incredible natural world that surrounds us. Contact her at engle@rbnc.org or 507-332-7151.

Are You Ready to Ramble?

By Barbara Caldwell, Executive Director

31st Annual Ramble 2012Hey all you River Bend fans – I hope you have marked September 29th on your calendars.  Why?  Because that is the date for River Bend Nature Center’s annual fundraising gala – the River Bend Ramble, and you don’t want to miss it!  This is our 31st annual event, and all of the proceeds go to help River Bend continue providing Southeastern Minnesota with great educational programming, great recreation and beautiful habitats.  But to continue our mission to “help people discover, enjoy, understand and preserve the incredible natural world that surrounds us” – we need your help.  River Bend is a private non-profit organization and we depend on memberships and donations; because we get no regular funding from the City of Faribault, Rice County, or the State of Minnesota.  The Ramble is our largest fundraiser of the year and provides River Bend with over 10% of our total annual budget.

Example auction item

This beautiful grill was one of the items that was donated by a generous River Bend supporter and then auctioned off at Ramble 2011.

Now, I am sure you want to know more about what happens at Ramble – well the answer is – a lot!  This year we are holding the event at the new National Guard Armory in Faribault (it’s near the airport –  3000 West Airport Drive) and we will be having a wonderful dinner provided by Marlene Gustafson Catering, Boxer’s Bar & Grill will be providing our beverage service, and Hy-Vee is providing the dessert.  As for entertainment, we will have Porchlight with Doug Madow on keyboard and Lucinda Wells on vocals.  During the evening you will have a chance to bid on many, many fantastic silent auction items.  We have something for everyone –sports tickets, home décor, gift certificates, baby items, jewelry, baskets with wine, artwork, and even a rocking moose!  We also have a live auction that is always a lot of fun.  This year we have items such as one facial per month for a year, one massage per month for a year, a bike valued at over $600, a waterscape for indoors or outdoors including installation, a backyard camping family package, and a backyard party package.  We are still adding more items to our auction list, so if you would like to donate an auction item please visit our Ramble donation web page to find out how.  We will also be selling special butterfly suncatchers made from recycled glass to commemorate the event.

Pumpkin-themed Basket

This pumpkin-themed gift basket was one of the many fun baskets available in our silent auction in 2011.

Can’t join us for the event?  You can still help.  This year’s Ramble also features a cash raffle.  The minimum prize is $1,000, and could go as high as $5,000!  The raffle tickets are available now and only cost $10.00 a chance.  The winning ticket will be drawn during the evening of Ramble and you don’t have to be present to win.

Now that you have all the info – I bet you want to know how to get your tickets to this great evening of fun?  Tickets are only $40 each and all you have to do is call us at 507-332-7151 to order your tickets or you can check out our website and order your event tickets online – or – stop by and see us here at River Bend!

Thank you to our great event sponsors: KGP Logistics, Faribault Foods, Harry Brown’s Family Automotive, & 1st United Bank of Faribault.

Barbara Caldwell is the executive director of the River Bend Nature Center, a member supported non-profit dedicated to helping people discover, enjoy, understand and preserve the incredible natural world that surrounds us. Contact her at caldwell@rbnc.org or 507-332-7151.

Summer Camp Highlights

Puddle Jumpers campers

Puddle Jumpers campers pose in the forest with their leaders for their official camp photo.

By Miriam Turnbull, Intern Naturalist

The summer at River Bend is flying by!  We are halfway through our camp season, and looking forward to more fun as the summer continues.  Here are some highlights from camps so far:

June 19-22

Goslings (ages 3-4) – Peekin’ and Sneakin’

Some of our youngest campers used special tools to find plants and animals in various habitats around the Nature Center. One camper caught a HUGE tadpole at Turtle Pond – almost 5 inches long!  First thought to be a bullfrog, it was later identified as a green frog tadpole.  The week ended with an exciting safari on the golf cart.

Puddle Jumpers (ages 5-6) – Scales, Feathers, and Fur

This week, campers learned about different types of animals, such as mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.  We looked around River Bend to find different examples of these animals and learn about their behaviors and habitats. At the end of the week, campers had lots of fun building their own animal habitats in Kids in the Wild natural play area.

Water Tigers (ages 7-9) – Wetland Explorers

Clues and treasure maps were used to find and explore River Bend’s wetlands.  Campers visited Turtle Pond, Prairie Pond, and Hidden Ponds, and had the chance to net and observe various wetland plants and animals.

Teen Camp

Teen Camp campers celebrate the sunset over Lake Superior.

June 25-30

Teen Camp (ages 13-16) – Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Campers this week were able to enjoy a campsite right across the road from Lake Superior.  Other highlights were seeing waterfalls, Lake of the Clouds, and going on a mine tour.

July 10-13

Tadpoles (ages 1-2)

Toddlers and their adults explored different locations, including the prairie and the forest.  Tadpoles had lots of fun getting muddy at Kids in the Wild.

Nature Explorers 1

Nature Explorers work together to dam up the stream flowing into the river.

Nature Explorers 1: On the Prowl (ages 6-9)

Nature Explorers had the chance to plan their own adventures for this week.  Much time was spent making dams and digging in the mud at Kids in the Wild, digging in the sandstone, and exploring side pools and streams of the river.

Junior Naturalists

Campers work on their birch bark boats that they sailed in the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Itasca State Park.

Junior Naturalists – Itasca State Park (ages 10-12)

Junior naturalists journeyed up to northern Minnesota and set up camp near the headwaters of the Mississippi.  One highlight of the week was building natural boats and launching them at the headwaters.

July 17-20

Goslings (ages 3-4) – Animal Adventures

This week, Goslings learned about different kinds of animals at River Bend.  Exciting activities included seeing deer, scattering birdseed, and looking at tiny tadpoles in Turtle Pond.

Puddle Jumpers (ages 5-6) – Creepers and Crawlers

Puddle jumpers learned about different kinds of bugs that live in the forest, prairie, and pond.  Campers had lots of fun looking under logs, netting insects in the prairie, and dipping in Turtle Pond and the river.

Water Tigers (ages 7-9) – Mammal Mysteries

Campers learned about the special characteristics of mammals, and solved clues to learn more about the mammal of the day.  The Mammal detectives were also lucky enough to see lots of mammals while they were exploring, including a doe and two fawns.

Summer Camp

Campers use nets to scoop out plants and animals from the pond and use the bins to view their catch.

This week at River Bend is Nature Explorers 2: Animals Now and Then.  Campers will be learning about animals that lived many, many years ago at River Bend, along with their present-day descendents.

River Bend has more camps coming up soon, and many still have space available! There is a second session of each of the Goslings, Puddle Jumpers, and Water Tigers camps.  Also available are Nature Explorers 3: Park Puzzles (ages 8-10) and Nature Explorers 4: Wild About Water (ages 8-12).  For more information about upcoming camps, check out our website- www.rbnc.org/summercamp, or give us a call at 507-332-7151.

Miriam Turnbull is an intern naturalist for the River Bend Nature Center, a member supported non-profit dedicated to helping people discover, enjoy, understand and preserve the incredible natural world that surrounds us. Contact us at rbncinfo@rbnc.org or 507-332-7151.