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! 🙂

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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.

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.