Springing into warm weather!

Hello again, River Bend friends! As you have probably noticed, Spring has sprung and we are really enjoying all the changes that are happening here. Many snakes and frogs are waking from their winter naps – if you walk by Prairie Pond or Upper Pond, you can hear the frogs croaking!  There are so many new birds out and about, and they are all singing at the top of their lungs and hurrying to make nests in the forest, prairie, and pond alike. We have even seen Turkey Vultures, and though they neglect to sing, they are another sign that the warm weather is back.

Spring is a wonderful time to look up and take notes of the phenology of our area. Phenology is the study of the timing of natural events from year to year, and is really cool to discover – here at River Bend, we have a monthly Phenology board, where our visitors can come and write what they saw while out on the trails, and then this gets recorded and we can compare to several previous years. We also have a great book written by our founder, Orwin Rustad, which is a recording of 50 years of natural events!

phenology book

Orwin Rustad’s A Journal of Natural Events in Southeastern Minnesota, a fantastic phenology read.

To give you an example of phenology, I’ll tell you what his book says about the timing of Turkey Vulture spring arrivals: over 12 years of recording their comings and goings, the earliest they arrived was March 12th, and the latest was May 30th! Their average though is April 14th-17th, so they are a bit early this year.

turkey_vulture_2

Turkey Vultures are a fun bird to spot during the spring and summer; they spend their time soaring high, looking like they are rocking back and forth in the wind on their  V-shaped wings.

One of the reasons phenology is important is that it helps us note changes through time. The reason I chose to look up the Turkey Vulture (other than the fact that they are amazing birds!) was that they were not very common birds in this area 50 and 60 years ago. Most of their sightings started in the 80’s and 90’s, perhaps indicating that Turkey Vultures were expanding their ranges in that time frame to include this area! If you are ever in the interpretive center and want to know more about the natural history of this area, check out this interesting book.

You can also take advantage of the gorgeous weather forecast and come for a hike and see the spring changes for yourself. Just today, school groups spotted Garter Snakes over by Honor Point, a Bald Eagle over the Strait River, and saw the turtles that have come out at Turtle Pond too! There are also tons of frogs and birds to see and listen to, so come to River Bend, explore, and then come contribute to our Phenology board.

phenology board

As you can see, River Bend visitors have already seen some amazing sights, and we’re only a week in to April! Come add your own observations!

After hearing the frogs start up around town or here at River Bend, are you curious to learn more? Then come to our awesome program on Saturday, April 15th: Fabulous Frogs! Hop on over to learn about what’s jumping around River Bend’s ponds – We’ll be learning about what makes Frogs so unique, creating our own frog chorus, as well as meeting our two froggy Animal Ambassadors! The program fee is just $5/person, $15/family ($3/member, $10/member family), and it runs from 10-1130, so come make a day of it here at River Bend – see the program and then go for your own hike!

Hope to see you soon!

~Katie

northernLeopardFrog

Come learn all about Leopard Frogs and others at our Fabulous Frogs Program on Saturday April 15th from 10-11:30!

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Wait, what month is it??

This week was a little bit disappointing…. IT WAS TOO WARM! With an average temperature of 29⁰ it was practically tropical outside. Just to give you a little comparison, last year the average temperature for the 2nd week of December was 10⁰. Regardless of the yucky warm weather I still saw some pretty amazing things and those things were owls!

Now if you’re familiar with River Bend’s programming you know that we have an OWLS (Older Wiser Livelier Seniors) program once a month and although I would also consider them full of wisdom I am talking about the feathered, silent, nocturnal type of creature.

One of our extremely amazing River Bend volunteers also happens to be an amazing birder and he took us out for an owl search and we had really good luck! We found a barred owl and a great horned owl! We accidentally scared both of them from their perches but it was still pretty awesome!

One of the coolest things about discovering where an owl perches is what the owls leave behind…their pellets!

These are two owl pellets found at River Bend. The one on the left came from a barred owl and the one on the right is a long-eared owl. Long-eared owls have a much darker, dense, and elongated pellet

So keep looking for that winter wildlife! You might find something surprising! And remember, there is no such thing as bad weather only bad clothing and bad attitudes! 🙂

Weight Gain

On Monday December 1st if you had exposed skin for more than 12 minutes outside you were susceptible to frostbite! Luckily, I had very minimal skin exposed and just got a little frosty!!

Seasonal staff member Emily’s frosty eyelashes after her bike ride at River Bend

What a wonderful and perfectly Minnesotan week! Our average temperature was 17 ° but the beginning of the week had a -20° wind-chill! Gotta love Minnesota!

I got to experience the balmy -20° weather for the first time in a long time and with that cold snap I was forced to adapt! The first adaptation I made was weight gain. This was the first week that I wore ALL of my winter clothing. Which means wool socks, heavy snow boots, snow pants, winter jacket, neck gator, mittens (with hand warmers), and my rabbit fur-“can’t hear a thing” hat. I was not prepared for the amount of mass I put on when I am fully geared up for the winter. By the time I had made it to the Interpretive Center, I was tired! This got me thinking about the creatures living at River Bend that aren’t able to take off their heavy winter coats until spring.

Most humans are pretty good about knowing when to put on their winter coats (with the exception of middle schoolers who would rather be cold than “uncool”) but what triggers an animal to start growing its winter coat?? The answer is sunlight. Animals living in cold winter climates have evolved to grow thicker coats as the amount of daylight decreases. Many people would think that they are developing a thinker coat as a result from the dropping temperatures but as Minnesotans are well aware, our weather is very unpredictable. The development of a winter coat is based on sunlight rather than temperature so that the animals will be ready for any winter weather that gets thrown at us!

So put on some layers, head outside, and get to know Minnesota in all its snowy, cold glory! And remember, there is no such thing as bad weather only bad clothing and bad attitudes! 🙂

Amber Brossard is the Education Coordinator for 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.

Snow Stories

November 15, 2014

One of the views exclusive to winter mornings

Another view of the prairie and woods in the distance. Notice the sparking snow 🙂

Spending time outside is an essential part to most people’s well-being. I am lucky in the fact that my job consists of daily outside time but I wanted more so I started walking to work. My 25 minute walk is not only a great way to start the day but it also provides me with the opportunity to see nature at its most incredible moments. I have been contemplating starting a blog to share my experiences with the community for several months but for me facing the elements on a daily basis is much less intimidating than committing myself to sitting at a computer indoors once a week.

This week’s walk contained several new experiences.  With an average weekly low of 10⁰ the biggest change from last week is the snow and single digits temperatures.  IT WAS GREAT!! Snow is something we really take advantage of and tend to complain about but for the handful of us that have grown to appreciate and accept Minnesota for its longest season we know that winter is something to be treasured. Besides the breathtaking beauty (and cold) that comes with winter, there is also what I like to call snow stories.

Animals aren’t able to communicate in the way humans can but their tracks easily tell stories.  Snow stories tell you a little bit about what the animals are up to when we are spending our time drinking hot cocoa and sitting under blankets. This week I saw one of my favorite snow stories: The bird and the mouse.

A little rodent highway right into their hole

Another well traveled mouse path into a hole. Mice and other small rodents will spend a lot of their time digging tunnels under the snow. This protects them and also helps keep them warm.

Tunnels under the snow can’t always protect the mice. Many predatory birds (such as owls) have an excellent sense of hearing and can detect their next meal from under the snow! That is exactly what happened here. You can see the marks from the bird’s wings and the area that the mouse was grabbed from. My favorite type of snow story 🙂

Please take some time to admire this underappreciated season! Bundle up, bring a warm drink and take a little time to discover (or make) your own snow stories! And remember, there is no such thing as bad weather only bad clothing and bad attitudes! 🙂

Amber Brossard is the Education Program Specialist for 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.

The NEW Outdoor Adventures Program

By Garrett IMG_6382Genereux, Outdoor Adventures Coordinator

Summer is getting closer and closer every day, and this means that we are getting closer and closer to the start of Outdoor Adventures programming here at River Bend. The Outdoor Adventures Program (OAP) is a new and exciting area of programming that seeks to engage people in the outdoors through outdoor recreation activities. The OAP is a resource for beginners and experts alike. We will be offering programs in camping, climbing, slacklining, archery, fly fishing, and canoeing. The OAP will also be renting out gear related to those activities.

Our programs are designed for participants with a range of experience. If you or your family has never tried a specific activity then we will do our best to make sure that you have an exciting and enjoyable first experience. Even if you have some understanding of an activity, you are still going to have an awesome time with us.camping

Our camping program takes place here at the nature center. Learn how to set up a tent and talk about some basic camp craft. After setting up camp, cook a delicious meal that is easy to make while camping. Of course we’ll roast s’mores over a relaxing campfire before we hit the sack. In the morning we will have an awesome breakfast before we break camp. The food, tents, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads are provided.

Our climbing program is the perfect opportunity for you and your family to try outdoor rock climbing in a safe and fun environment. Staff will provide basic climbing instruction and will belay you as you reach for the top! Our climbing programs take place at Barn Bluff Park in Red Wing, MN. The climbs are typically about 40 feet in length and on a top-rope setup. Participants will mYoung Man Rock Climbingeet us there in the parking lot and we will get you on the rock! Climbing shoes, harness, and helmet will be provided. We will also be offering climbing programs that are for adults only.

Slacklining is a relatively new sport that involves walking on a length of webbing that is stretched between two fixed objects. For our programs experience does not matter! Come join us and we’ll give you tips and tricks of how to walk on a slackline. It is a great way to work on balance and core strength. There will be plenty of time to practice and have a blast on the lines.

Come try the challenge of shooting a bow and arrow with the archery program. Staff will give instruction on shooting technique and safety. The bows we will be usarcherying are compound bows suitable for all sizes and strengths of archers. We will leave plenty of time to practice! Who knows, maybe you will become the next Legolas or Katniss! All necessary equipment is provided.

First the beautiful casting motion, then the effortless landing of the fly perfectly on the water. Ever wonder how people do it? Come to our fly fishing programs! We will start by going over some fly casting techniques and practice on dry land. If time allowsfly-fishing, we will head down to the river and see if we can lure any fish into biting. Fly rods, reels, and flies, are provided.

This is going to be an awesome, action-packed summer! I hope to see you out for one of our programs. We are going to have a great time!

For program dates, times, registration and more information, please check out the Outdoor Adventures Program website at www.rbnc.org/outdooradventures.

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.

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.