Bald Eagle Watching
The winter months in Iowa are a great time to get outside and try to spot America’s national bird. It is an easy activity that requires very little (a mode of transportation and a pair of binoculars) to take part in. Bald eagles migrate south through Iowa in the winter in search of unfrozen water that can be used as hunting ground for a staple of their diet-fish. These majestic birds can be found locally anywhere along the Iowa River. Specific, easy to access local hotspots for the activity include: below the Coralville Lake Dam, near Mahaffey Bridge and at the roller dam in Iowa City. The bald eagle resurgence is a local example of a successful conservation effort. Many members of the older population in the area state that bald eagles were few and far between years ago. However, the banning of the chemical DDT and the passage of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 were main catalysts of the comeback of the eagle population. It is now estimated that somewhere around 400 bald eagles nest in Iowa now. For more specific information on the bald eagle in Iowa please visit this site. Also provided is a link to the Decorah Eagle camera. You can click on this link in order to watch a mating pair of bald eagles live!
Winter Animal movement – Print Castings and Cameras
Winter is a good time to get out and see what kinds of critters are wandering around your neck of the woods. Whether it be in your backyard or at a local nature area, many more animals than you realize are on the move in search of food sources during the winter months. A fresh snow is the best time to go out and try to identify some of the creatures who have been afoot in your area. Use this link to help find common animal footprints that can be identified in Iowa. If there are muddy patches where snow has melted, you can also try your hand at plaster casting. Follow this link in order to find out how to do this. Another fun way to observe animal movement even at night is to install a trail camera. These can be purchased at any local sporting stores and some big box stores as well. You can spend as little or as much as you like. Some cameras require a SD card and other more expensive models will send pictures directly to your phone! There is nothing like waking up and checking to see what showed up in your neighborhood throughout the day and even the night! You should be able to conduct a simple Amazon search for “trail cameras” in order to get an idea what is out there.
Do-It Yourself Bird Feeders
You can easily provide much needed food to our avian friends during the winter while creating a good opportunity to view them as well with very minimal amounts of materials that can be found in or around your house. Click on the following links in order to see what you can find and get started! A bird book is also handy if identifying the different kinds of birds at your feeder interests you.
Tree identification can be difficult. The winter months provide a unique opportunity to get out and learn some of the evergreen species that we have in and around North Liberty. They are the only trees that do not lose their foliage during the winter. These trees often provide much needed shelter for animals and protection from the cold winter wind. You could go on a hike around town or in a nearby nature area such as part of the Hawkeye Wildlife Management Area or Lake MacBride State Park and see how many different trees you can identify and collect needles from. It will be helpful to snap pictures of the individual tree branches close up in order to help with identification later. Below is a link to a guide that may be helpful for this activity. When you return home, examine the needles that you have collected or taken pictures of and answer the series of questions asked. By answering these questions, the site will identify the tree for you! How many different species can you collect and ID?
Hand Feed Chickadees
Believe it or not Chickadees can be trained to eat right out of your hand! They love black-oil sunflower seeds. In order to get started with this, first fill a bird feeder with this type of seed. Every day for a series of days stand about ten feet away from the feeder so that the birds can see and get used to you. If you feel like it, you can gradually get closer to the feeder each day. After this, take the feeder away and fill a bowl with the seeds. Hold the bowl in your hands and stand VERY still. The birds should begin to land on your bowl and start eating out of it! After doing this for a while, get rid of the bowl and fill your hands with the seeds. Still stay as still as possible and hopefully the chickadees will be eating right out of your hands!
Beautiful art can be created in the winter by utilizing some simple materials and the freezing temperatures outside with water! Take an empty plastic 2 liter bottle or smaller and fill it with water. You can then do this repeatedly with different size bottles. Fill each bottle with a food coloring of your choice. You can hand these bottles up and poke small holes in them where the water can slowly drip out. Attach long pieces of yarn to the bottles from the holes and even tie the pieces of yarn from different bottles together. The colored water should slowly drip out of the bottles and freeze along the yarn creating colorful icicles!
Go on a Night Hike
The winter snow cover on the ground provides us with a great opportunity to go out and observe the night activity in nature. This works best when there is a full or close to full moon out and little to no cloud cover. The moonlight will reflect off of the white snow creating a close to daylight environment that is not possible other times of the year. This is a great time to go on a hike and observe the stars, listen for various owl or coyote calls, or just to hopefully spot an animal or two on the snow. Below are some links to a winter night constellation guide and also audio files of some different owls found in Iowa. The Barred, Barn, Great Horned and Eastern Screech owl can all be found here. The Burrowing Owl cannot.
Collect Antler Sheds
Each winter after mating season the testosterone levels of male deer begin to drop. This occurs in the winter months. When this happens, the bucks lose their antlers. Since they can be difficult to find especially when there is a significant amount of snow on the ground, why not try to make them fall off where you want them to? You can do this by simply feeding the deer in your area. The easiest thing to feed deer in the winter that will provide them with the energy they need to keep warm is corn. This can be on either the cob or loose pellets found in a store. Deer also love to eat bird seed, so this can be an option as well. The feed can simply be spread out on the ground in an area that is easily accessible. Don’t put it in an area of deep snow. Be careful though, because this activity could attract large herds of deer to your area. Make sure your neighbors are ok with this. After the deer have fed, go out and examine the area for any antlers that may have been dropped. If you put up a trail camera, maybe you could get lucky and even collect the antlers from a deer you spotted earlier!
This fun and physically engaging activity can be done at all times of the year! It can be really exciting to go on a local treasure hunt and figure out the hiding place of a small treasure. This activity can be done with several different types of devices including your phone. Click on the links below in order to learn more about it and get started and out walking in your neck of the woods this winter season.
Winter Themed Board Games
On days when the temperature drops below freezing and you still want to have a fund time learning about nature, look no further than your kitchen table! Board games are a great idea to have quality engaging family time while also learning about the natural world. The world of board gaming has come a very long ways in the past ten or so years and there are many more options out there than you may realize. Below are some ideas of games that can be purchased online or possibly at a local shop that will be fun for variety of ages and adults as well as kids. Also included is a link to a more detailed and in-depth description to each game via board game geek.
1.Ecologies – In Ecologies, you build and maintain food webs in diverse biomes around the world. Each biome has a different ecology, and gives unique rewards when it is healthy and balanced. But watch out, your opponents may decide it’s easier to disturb and degrade your ecosystems than nurture their own. In this hectic environment, you must choose how best to protect and care for your ecologies.
Ages: 12 +
Time: 60-90 minutes
This game can be purchased online from Etsy or The Game Crafter
2.Photosynthesis – The sun shines brightly on the canopy of the forest, and the trees use this wonderful energy to grow and develop their beautiful foliage. Sow your crops wisely and the shadows of your growing trees could slow your opponents down, but don’t forget that the sun revolves around the forest. Welcome to the world of Photosynthesis, the green strategy board game!
Ages: 10 +
Time: 30-60 minutes
- Ecosystem – Ecology board game – learn about ecology from a science game! Players build ecosystems of wild animals (such as bears, rabbits, foxes, and Eagles) and are rewarded for sustainability and diversity!
Ages: 14 +
Time: 15-20 minutes
- The White’s Tale – The White’s Tale board game makes players “become” a white-tailed deer and thrive by taking advantage of their environment and avoiding perils unique to nature’s four seasons.
Ages: 8 +
Time: 30 – 60 minutes
- Wingspan – Wingspan is a competitive, medium-weight, card-driven, engine-building board game from Stonemaier Games. It’s designed by Elizabeth Hargrave and features over 170 birds illustrated by Natalia Rojas and Ana Maria Martinez.
You are bird enthusiasts—researchers, bird watchers, ornithologists, and collectors—seeking to discover and attract the best birds to your network of wildlife preserves. Each bird extends a chain of powerful combinations in one of your habitats (actions). These habitats focus on several key aspects of growth:
- Gain food tokens via custom dice in a birdfeeder dice tower
- Lay eggs using egg miniatures in a variety of colors
- Draw from hundreds of unique bird cards and play them
The winner is the player with the most points after 4 rounds.
Ages: 10 +
Time: 40 – 70 minutes
- Mariposas – Every spring, millions of monarch butterflies leave Mexico to spread out across eastern North America. Every fall, millions fly back to Mexico. However, no single butterfly ever makes the round trip.
Mariposas is a game of movement and set collection that lets players be part of this amazing journey.
Mariposas is played in three seasons. In general, your butterflies try to head north in spring, spread out in summer, and return south in fall. The end of each season brings a scoring round, and at the end of fall, the player with the most successful family of butterflies — i.e., the most victory points — wins the game.
Ages: 14 +
Time: 45 -75 minues
- Into the Forest – The cards in this game represent animals and plants that are found in a temperate zone forest. Each card lists what the animal eats and what it is eaten by.
The game works just like the natural food relationships in the forest with players “eating” and being “eaten” just as they would in the wild.
Ages: 7 +
Time: 45 minutes
8. Camp – With this fun and educational game, families can learn facts about the great outdoors. For two to eight players, it includes 200 game cards and is designed to grow with the player, starting with level one questions (primarily animal identification) and progressing to higher level questions. “A vibrant earth tone color palette, full-color photos, interesting playing characters and a cute Camp card decoder” were incorporated to make this family game appealing to both children and adults
Time: 20 – 40 minutes
- Morels and Morels Foray – Morels, a strategic card game for two players, uses two decks: a Day Deck (84 cards) that includes ten different types of mushrooms as well as baskets, cider, butter, pans, and moons; and a smaller Night Deck (8 cards) of mushrooms to be foraged by moonlight. Each mushroom card has two values: one for selling and one for cooking. Selling two or more like mushrooms grants foraging sticks that expand your options in the forest (that is, the running tableau of eight face-up cards on the table), enabling offensive or defensive plays that change with every game played. Cooking sets of three or more like mushrooms – sizzling in butter or cider if the set is large enough – earns points toward winning the game. With poisonous mushrooms wielding their wrath and a hand-size limit to manage, card selection is a tricky proposition at every turn.
Following each turn, one card from the forest moves into a decay pile that is available for only a short time. The Day Deck then refills the forest from the back, creating the effect of a walk in the woods in which some strategic morsels are collected, some are passed by, and others lay ahead.
Ages: 10 +
Time: 30 minutes
- The Wild Seed Game – Play the Wild Seed Game for fun, fast-paced action, and strategy! Learn about wild seeds and what helps them grow. Find out why some seeds make it and others don’t.
Pick a card and move your playing piece ahead or back and be the first to move your seeds through the seasons to home.
This game can be found on Etsy
Ages: 4 +