Monday, January 30, 2012

Who Hoots for You?

A barred owl in winter
What's that sound coming from your moonlit backyard on these winter nights? This time of year, normally-elusive owls are making themselves known as they try to attract a mate in time for their winter nesting season. Unlike many birds, who breed in the spring and summer, owls (along with animals like wolves, beavers, lynx and squirrels) are looking for love during these long, cold nights - accompanied by hoots and howls galore. Many owls begin their courtships in late January, and if you listen carefully after sundown, you might hear their mating calls from a nearby tree or telephone pole.

Five owl species regularly breed in Wisconsin, and a few others have been spotted around the state, yet their nocturnal habits, sparse distributions, and early (and chilly!) nesting periods combine to make sightings awfully scanty. From screech owls to the great horned owl, now is the time to hear or spot these cloaked crooners.

One common owl that has been making quite a racket around town is the barred owl. Learn about these raucous raptors and their jumble of cackles, hoots, caws, and gurgles - especially their distinctive "who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all" hooting. See one in action and listen to their calls. Sound familiar?
This snowy owl was spotted in Racine, WI on Dec 22, 2011.
Gregory Shaver  /  The Racine Journal Times via AP

Snowy owls, which are rarely seen south of Canada, have been reported across the northern U.S. this winter, likely being driven further south due to food scarcity in their native Arctic tundra habitat. Keep your eyes and ears out - several have been reported around the area, and a snowy owl with an injured wing was rescued from a barn near Monroe and is being nursed back to health at the Dane County Human Society. [Update: Check out this cool interactive map showing snowy owl sitings around Wisconsin!]

Pass the time until nightfall with these fun links, events and activities:

Have a hoot out there, and let us know if you hear or spot anything!

    Tuesday, January 24, 2012

    Crystals and Flakes

    Humid air rising from a warm river
    on a cold, still morning can form
    hoar frost on nearby trees and grasses
    From fog to flakes to frigid frosts, we have been seeing all kinds of winter weather lately. While this freezing and thawing may be frustrating for ski hills, icefishermen, and winter drivers, it does set the stage for spotting some interesting frosty phenomena with some funny names.

    Most people know that water condenses during cool nights to create dew, and frost is its winter companion. Shimmering ice crystals form when water vapor in the air attaches to cold solid surfaces, crusting up your lawn and drawing delicate designs on window panes. Have you ever woken up on a cold, clear morning to find the whole world covered in a beautiful white coating of hoar frost? These especially large and beautiful crystals form when water vapor in humid air settles on objects that are well below freezing, turning directly into a solid (a process called "deposition"), or becoming "supercooled" dew droplets that freeze on contact into a lacy silver or white frost.
    A close-up of hoar frost crystals.

    What happens when it's too windy for these fragile crystals to form? You might see hard rime, a milky white ice that forms when fog freezes to objects when it's cold and windy. These crystals build on each other and become shaped by high velocity wind. Glaze ice forms from freezing rain into thicker, more continuous layers, rather than individual frozen droplets. This heavy, dense, clearer ice can be particularly dangerous when it forms on roads, power lines or airplanes.

    When snow crystals in the air collide with
    water droplets in fog or clouds, they can
    yield especially interesting rime formations.
    For some frosty fun this winter, see if you can grow your own freezing formations! Put a branch or other solid object over a pan of water on a hot plate over low heat in various chilly locations. Find a still, cold spot to form hoar frost, or a high, windy spot to form rime. Adjust the height depending on the temperature and experiment with objects of different size, shape and texture to see which forms the best crystals. Check on them over the course of the next day or two and see what kind of crusty creations you have made. Be sure to snap a photo!

    Tuesday, January 17, 2012

    Intern with Nature Net!

    Are you passionate about environmental education in Wisconsin? Would you like to develop and promote resources to teachers, families and other organizations in order to enhance the education of children and expose more kids to nature? Interning with Nature Net is a great way to gain experience and get involved. Hear more from one of our past interns!

    Time Commitment:
    • Assist Nature Net staff with regular administrative duties, including management of Nature Express (fieldtrip transportation assistance program), Earth Day Bouquet, Family Nature Clubs, mailings, correspondence, word processing, database entry, preparation of reports, meeting preparation and follow-up, filing, deliveries, etc.
    • Assist with communications and activities for Nature Net’s 16-member consortium.
    • Assist Nature Net staff in preparing and staffing outreach events, including developing and running educational activities for diverse audiences.
    • Develop and coordinate Summer Nature Passport program (multi-site family activity guide).
    • Research, produce and edit monthly and seasonal electronic newsletters.
    • Write blog posts and other promotional items as needed.
    • Update and maintain web-based products and communications, including website, Facebook, blog, and others.
    • Other duties and special projects (intern-directed projects are encouraged upon approval).
    • At least 18 years of age
    • Commitment and reliability
    • Cheerful, positive and open attitude and ability to work with public of all ages
    • Flexibility and creativity
    • Interest in environmental and outdoor education
    • Excellent organization and administration skills; ability to multi-task
    • General computer skills, including social networking, html, Microsoft Office, publishing design, etc.
    • Communication skills, both oral and written
    • Reliable transportation to Aldo Leopold Nature Center and for outreach events
    • Gain experience in a highly successful, well-established network of formal and non-formal educators in South-Central Wisconsin.
    • Learn about and help to promote environmental and outdoor education throughout Wisconsin and beyond.
    • Gain valuable experience in writing, editing/publishing, program development, communications and outreach.
    • Develop and disseminate educational activities and resources for kids, families, teachers, etc.
    About Us:
    Nature Net: The Environmental Learning Network is a not-for-profit initiative that provides "one-stop shopping" for environmental education resources for teachers and families of South-Central Wisconsin and beyond. Based at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center, an independent, nonprofit dedicated to outdoor education and environmental awareness, Nature Net is supported solely to share environmental education resources and opportunities with teachers, families and other organizations in order to enhance the education of children and promote “leaving no child inside.”

    How to Apply:
    Individuals interested in this position are required to send a cover letter, resume and three references to:
    Brenna Holzhauer, Special Assistant to Nature Net and Climate Education Center
    Nature Net c/o Aldo Leopold Nature Center
    330 Femrite Drive, Monona, WI 53716
    info [at] / (608) 216-9375

    Friday, January 6, 2012

    January Nature Net News - Fossil Frenzy

    "When out fossil hunting, it is very easy to forget that rather than telling you how the creatures lived, the remains you find indicate only where they became fossilized."
    Richard E. Leakey

    Dear Reader,

    I was raised by a duo consisting of a rockhound and a naturalist. My parents went rock collecting for their honeymoon, and the old museum case in the living room is full of many of their souvenirs.

    I remember countless hours examining minerals and fossils with my father, enthralled as he would highlight the delicate bones of a skeletal fish, trace the veins of a fossilized fern, or rub our fingers over the bumpy shell of trilobite. It was a highlight of my childhood. 

    Fossils help us learn about conditions of the past and the path that ancestral creatures took to evolve to the animals we know and love today. For example, fossil records helped scientists determine that the Tyrannosaurus Rex is likely related to today's living chickens. So we're eating the descendants of T-Rexes every time we have chicken strips - pretty cool, huh?

    In this issue of Nature Net News, you'll learn about various types of fossils that can be found in Wisconsin and worldwide, including my personal favorite, the trilobite. 


    and the Folks at Nature Net

    Did You Know.....
    The trilobite is Wisconsin's State Fossil. It is the remains of an extinct marine animal that flourished when Wisconsin was covered by an ancient tropical sea.

    In addition to bones and shells, wood, plants, footprints, and scat can become fossilized.

    The oldest fossil bed in the world is the Chengjian Deposits in China. It has fossils over 555 million years old!

    We weren't kidding about those T-Rex chickens - learn how scientists are trying to use chicken DNA to reverse-engineer a "chickenosaurus"!

    What To Do This Month:
    Interested in learning more about fossils? Visit the UW Geology Museum, especially for Storytime on first and third Thursday mornings (Jan 5 and 19) - learn more below. Or click here for other family events this month.

    Looking for more fun fossil facts? Peruse the Virtual Fossil Museum!

    Want to find real fossils? Consider checking out the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey's Fossil Guide for Wisconsin for an in-depth guide on the types of creatures throughout Wisconsin's past and where to find them!

    Wisconsin can be a great spot for fossil-hunting because of its unique geological history, especially the unglaciated "driftless area" in the Southwestern part of the state. You can see this area for yourself at Bethel Horizons in Dodgeville and the Aldo Leopold Nature Center's Black Earth campus - be sure to visit on January 14 for the annual Tiki Torch Toboggan event!

    Find Family Events on the Nature Net Calendar of Events

    Tricks of the Trail for Parents:
    Freaky Fossils
    Due to their skeletal nature, some children may be afraid of fossils, so be sure to point out that they're actually quite cool! Explain that these fossils are millions of years old, but still around today, and while they don't have fur or skin, they give us an amazing glimpse at ancient creatures. Speculate what might still be around millions of years in the future. What kind of creatures will be around then to discover the fossils from today?

    Instant Outdoor Expert:
    Fossil Formation
    Fossils were once living things that went through a process that turned them into the imprinted rocks they are today. The most common form of fossilization is called permineralization--this process occurs when minerals harden in the shape of an organism and create rock-like structures.

    First off, the body of the pre-fossil must become covered in water. The water protects the pre-fossil, be it animal, plant, or bone, from many deteriorating elements such as oxygen, scavenging, or sediment erosion. The flesh of the pre-fossil is eaten away by bacteria, leaving the hard parts (such as the skeleton or the exoskeleton) behind.

    Being underwater also helps with sediment deposition, or the covering up of the pre-fossil with different layers of dirt and minerals. The faster sedimentation occurs, the more likely the pre-fossil will become a fossil.

    The weight of the many layers of sediments on top of each other eventually seals off the fossil and squeezes the lower layers together into stone, a process called lithification. As this occurs, minerals in the water and sediment slowly replace the original skeleton of the pre-fossil, eventually leaving a rock copy behind.

    But how do we find these ancient buried treasures? Continental uplift is the process of the tectonic plates crashing into each other and rearranging sedimentary layers through creation of mountains, earthquakes, and the like. Erosion also removes layers of stone. Both continental uplift and erosion increase the likelihood of the fossil being unearthed by a budding paleontologist.

    Interested in how people find and unearth fossils? Check out this informative site!

    Featured Nature Net Site
    UW Geology Museum
    Explore the Geology Museum and take a peek into Wisconsin's deep history!

    On your visit, you can touch rocks from a time when there were volcanoes in Wisconsin, see corals, jellyfish and other sea creatures that used to live and swim where we now walk, and stand under the tusks of a mastodon while imagining yourself in the Ice Age. Also on display at the Geology Museum are rocks and minerals that glow, a model of a Wisconsin cave, dinosaurs and meteorites. The mineral, rock and fossil collections have the power to educate and inspire visitors of all ages - see for yourself!

    If possible, visit at 10:30am on the first and third Thursdays of the month (the 5th and 19th of January) and you can be included in the museum's Storytime, featuring a book, specimens from the museum, and a fun take-home craft!

    Learn About Other Nature Net Sites
    Nature Craft
    Coffee Ground Fossils

    What you need: 1 cup used coffee grounds, 1/2 cup cold coffee, 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup salt, wax paper, mixing bowl, items to make fossil indentations, empty can or butter knife, toothpicks (optional), string (optional).

    1. Mix together the coffee, coffee grounds, flour, and salt in the mixing bowl.

    2. Knead the dough together and then flatten it out on the wax paper. 

    3. Use the can or butter knife to cut out slabs for your fossil. 

    4. Place your object on your slab in order to make an indentation. When you remove it, the fossil indentation remains. Or you can draw an indentation with a toothpick. Poke a hole in the slab with a toothpick if you wish to hang your fossil. 

    5. Let dry overnight or up to two days. If you wish, use string to hang your fossil.

    (Nature Craft adapted from Kaboose)

    Suggested Reading:
    "The Great Dinosaur Mystery: A Musical Fossil Fantasy" by DinoRock (all ages)
    "If You Are a Hunter of Fossils" by Byrd Baylor (baby-preschool)
    "Fossils Tell of Long Ago" by Aliki (4-8)
    "Fossils, Rocks and Minerals" by Chris Perrault (4-8)
    "Digging Up Dinosaurs" by Aliki (4-8)
    "Fossil Fever" by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld (4-8)
    "Monster Bones: The Story of a Dinosaur Fossil" by Jacqui Bailey (4-8)
    "The Fossil Book" by Gary Parker (4-8)
    "The Best Book of Fossils, Rocks, and Minerals" by Chris Pellant (4-12)
    "Bones Rock!: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Paleontologist" by Peter Larson (9-12)
    "Rocks, Fossils, and Arrowheads" by Laura Evert and Linda Garrow (9-12)
    "The Fossil Factory" by Niles, Douglas, and Gregory Elderidge (9-12)
    "Fossils" by Ann O. Squire (9-12)
    "Fossil" by Paul Taylor (9-12)