Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Holiday Fun - Lots to Do!

No matter what holidays you celebrate, this is the season to enjoy your family, keep the kids busy on those days off, and spend time outdoors before winter reeeally hits. Looking for ideas? There is a lot going on around town these days! Or, if you'd rather cozy up around your own house or yard, there are plenty of fun activities you can do with your friends and family. Read on for ideas...

Out and About
Beyond the Edge of the Sea and Seaworthy @ the UW Ebling Library and Story Time at the UW Geology Museum. Check out this traveling exhibit featuring the magnificent watercolors of deep-sea expeditionary illustrator Karen Jacobsen (Art and Science Exhibitions on display until January 31, 2012), and stop by the Geology Museum on Thursday, 12/15 at 10:30am for their family Story Time!

Winter Solstice Celebration @ the Aldo Leopold Nature Center. Celebrate the longest night of the year with a nighttime winter hike under the stars, feed winter bird neighbors, gather around the campfire to burn a Yule log, sip cocoa and eat a seasonal solstice snack! 6:30-8pm, Friday, 12/16.

Winter Solstice Bonfire @ Glenwood Children's Park. Help shorten the longest night of the year! Bring your mug for hot cider, snack on s'mores, listen to local music and more! 6-10pm, Sunday, 12/18.

Holiday Concert @ Olbrich Garden. Enjoy festive "The Electric Orchestra"/Organ Music at 2pm on Sunday, 12/18. You can also see Olbrich's Holiday Express Flower and Model Train Show, warm up in the Bolz Conservatory and visit the outdoor gardens to see winter grasses and berries.

Exhibits Sneak Peek: Special Public Hours @ the Aldo Leopold Nature Center. Stop by for a sneak-preview of brand new interactive exhibits and programs, which won't be available to the public until next Spring! Get a one-of-a-kind view of our planet's rarely seen "frozen world," explore hands-on exhibits about weather and climate, and, see the winning entry from ALNC's snow globe art contest transformed into a giant spinning snow globe! Thursday, 12/29, noon-7pm.

Winter Wonder Week @ the Madison Children's Museum. Celebrate Wisconsin's signature season with special activities throughout the museum from January 2-7. Help build an ice sculpture, practice ice fishing, brave the Rooftop Ramble for frosted food, art and games, brush up on basic survival skills, enjoy a winter themed sing-along and a visit to the log cabin to learn what pioneers did for entertainment through the long, cold winter.

Tiki Torch Toboggan @ the Aldo Leopold Nature Center (Black Earth Campus). Discover the winter flora and fauna as you sled, snowshoe or hike along the snow covered trails and warm up around a roaring campfire with a cup of hot chocolate. Saturday, 1/14, 4-7pm.

At Home
Christmas Bird Count - National Audubon Society. From 12/14 through 1/5, tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in an adventure that has become a family tradition among generations. Families and students, birders and scientists, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists go out on an annual mission.

Winter Bird Feeders - You and your family and friends can make birdfeeders together and see what critters they attract this season! Using pinecones, pipe cleaners, milk cartons, or other household items, you can make quick and easy birdfeeders that will make the birds happy and give your family something to watch together. Keep track of what you see and enter them into the Christmas Bird Count or Earth Alive!

Decorate with Nature - Go Explore Nature has a great list of holiday ideas that will get you outside with your family. Check out these 5 Ways to Decorate with Nature or their 24 Days of Holiday-Inspired Nature Fun.

Track and Trail Blaze! - In case you missed December's Nature Net News, it was full of ideas for getting outside, seeing what tracks and trails you can trace, and making snow stories of your own. Check it out!

This time of year sure can be busy, but try out any of these great events and activities to make the most of the season. Have fun, and Happy Holidays from Nature Net!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Nature Net News December 2011 - Trails and Tracks

"Snow is a gift to the tracker: a blank page upon which nature writes its stories."
Paul Tappenden

Dear Reader,

Freshly fallen snow is the perfect blank slate on which the stories of nature can be written.

Whether it be loop-de-loops around the yard, impact craters in nearby snowbanks, or trails leading to treasure troves and food stores, kids, adults and animals alike are tempted by a layer of fresh, clean snow, just asking to be tracked upon.

So with all this in mind, we hope this issue of Nature Net News inspires you to go out and trailblaze your own set of tracks!


Kathe, Sarah & Brenna
The Folks at Nature Net

Did You Know.....
There are many different types of tracking in addition to finding footprints. For example, Large Scale Sign, used by the United States Search and Rescue Task Force, involves reading the landscape for traces of activity and habitation, such as resources an animal needs (food, water or bedding), signs of animal dens, or the presence of "indicator" animals like vole, rabbits or deer. Medium Scale Sign includes evidence of animals such as rubs, gnaws, feathers or broken twigs.

See a crazy K-shaped birdtrack? Owls and woodpeckers have a unique foot structure, known as a "zygodactyl," which means two toes point forward and two point backward. In owls, the "K" points
outward, and in woodpeckers, the "K" points in.

Following tracks can also lead you to piles of "scat," which are the droppings of animals. Scat can give you a lot of clues about what an animal eats! 

What To Do This Month:
Go track spotting! What can you tell about an animal from its prints?

See a cool trail in the snow? Make up snow stories! Use the clues you see and a little imagination... What are the animal tracks telling you? What kind of critters made them? Which way did they go? What were they doing? Tell some tales along the trail! What did the animals see on their journey? Did their adventure end in a cozy den? Continue the story inside while you warm up with cocoa, crayons and pencils! Collect some souvenirs along the way and paste or sketch them in your storybook. Enter your snow story drawings in ALNC's Snow Globe Contest, and your design might be featured on the giant animated snow globe on December 29!

Celebrate the snowy season with a Christmas Supper and woodland stroll at Bethel Horizons on Sunday, 12/4, and a nighttime snow walk at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center's Winter Solstice Celebration, on Friday, 12/16. And on Thursday, 12/29, see other kinds of snow stories during the sneak peek public hours featuring ALNC's new exhibits, family activities and the Snow Globe Contest winning design.

Other fun events this month include Tea and Trains at the Madison Children's Museum on Saturday, 12/3, Holiday Bazaar at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center on Sunday, 12/4, Holiday Concerts on Sundays at Olbrich Garden and a 12/11 Holiday Tree Lighting at Dane County's Schumacher Farm Park.

Tricks of the Trail for Parents:
Making Tracks and Keeping Warm
While out exploring, it's fun to make some tracks of your own! But when tunneling through the snow, make sure your kids are nice and bundled up with snowboots, pants, coat, mittens/gloves, and even scarves to prevent a tot-cicle! If you're out and about, be prepared with extra layers and dry socks for the ride home. Snacks are good too!

Instant Outdoor Expert:
Snow Tracking
Measuring the distance between tracks can be a great clue to how big the animal is. But also remember
that some smaller animals can stretch, hop or leap further than you might think!

The Wisconsin DNR's EEK! site for tracking has some excellent advice for any tiny trackers. While you're there, be sure to test your tracking prowess with their online tracking game! More great tracking resources here and here.

Featured Nature Net Site
MacKenzie Environmental Education Center

The MacKenzie Environmental Education Center (MEEC) is one of the most diverse environmental education centers in Wisconsin. Encompassing 250 acres, the center has a variety of habitat types including prairie and forestland. MEEC is an excellent place to visit and learn more about the natural world through hands-on outdoor experiences, family outings, hiking and picnics. Located just 25 miles north of Madison, MEEC is readily accessible to people of all ages across Wisconsin.

There are many different types of animals living at the MacKenzie Center, so trek on up and try and find as many prints as you can!

Learn About Other Nature Net Sites

Nature Craft
Trail Blazer

What you need: boots, coat, snowsuit, coloring materials, paper.

1. Go outside and look for animal tracks. Point out features like size, shape, paws or hooves and talk about what kind of animals made them.

2. Find a clear patch of snow.

3. Using your own boots, hands and a little imagination, create your own type of tracks. Can you integrate other props like a pinecone or treebranch to make toes or claws? What kind of imaginary animal would make these? What's it called? What does it act like? What does it eat? Where is it going?

4. When you're done with the tracks, go inside and draw the creature you made tracks for. Write a story about it!
Nature Craft Archives

Suggested Reading:
"Tracks in the Snow" by Wong Herbert Yee (baby-preschool)
"In the Snow: Who's Been Here?" by Lindsay Barrett George (baby-5)
"Animals in Winter" by Henrietta Bancroft (preschool)
"Animal Tracks and Signs: Track Over 400 Animals from Big Cats to Backyard Birds" by Jinny Johnson (4+)
"Whose Tracks are These? A Clue Book of Familiar Forest Animals" by James Neil (4-8)
"Tracks in the Wild" by Betsy Bowen (4-8)
"Who's Been Here? A Tale in Tracks" by Fran Hodgekins (4-8)
"Big Tracks, Little Tracks: Following Animal Prints" by Millicent E. Selsam (4-8)
"Wild Tracks! A Guide to Nature's Footprints" by Jim Arnosky (4-8)
"Tracks, Scat and Signs" by Leslie Dendy (4-12)
"Stories in Tracks & Signs: Reading the Clues That Animals Leave Behind" by Diane Gibbons (young adult+)
"National Audubon Society Pocket Guide to Familiar Animal Tracks" by The National Audubon Society (beginner guide)
"Mammal Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species" by Mark Elbroch (beginner guide)
"Scats and Tracks of the Midwest" by James Halfpenny (medium guide)
"Tracks and Trailcraft" by Ellsworth Jaeger (expansive guide)

Browse Past Nature Net News

Find Family Events on the Nature Net Calendar