Thursday, November 29, 2012

Faces of Nature Winter To-Do List

It's that time of year again – the sun has left and we here in the Pacific Northwest are left with a mixture of cold, rainy, slushy and snowy weather. But this is no reason to stop hanging out with nature! We've compiled a list of some of our favorite exciting, creative, adventurous, and fun outdoor winter activities to keep you exhilarated even under gray skies!

Decorate Trees for Birds
A tree decorated with edible treats for birds.
Credit: Debh2u/Flickr Creative Commons

The Fall and Winter seasons bring a number of birds to the Northwest, but sometimes finding food can be harder for birds in the winter. This winter activity is a triple whammy. Start your activity by bird watching. You can visit a National Wildlife Refuge or even view your own backyard to check out what kinds of bird species you can find. Spend some time learning about each one with a friend or family member. Once you're knowledgeable about your local birds, grab some supplies from outside, like pine cones, and gather foods that birds love (peanut butter, fruits, seeds). Choose a tree that you’ve spotted birds in, and start decorating! Use twine to hang peanut butter covered pine cones and fruits from branches. Finally, sit back and watch your neighborhood birds flock in for a sweet treat! Take notes if you see any you recognize!

Yurt Camping
A yurt cabin, great for winter time camping!
Credit: Justin Miller/Flickr Creative Commons
Camping is one of the best outdoor activities for all ages and groups, but tent camping in the winter seasons can get quite rainy and chilly in the Northwest. Instead of tents – look into yurt camping! Yurts are circular structures that are somewhat of a mixture between a tent and a cabin. They have been used for centuries and offer an insulated and weather proof shelter! They have become a popular form of camping in the Pacific Northwest. Check below to find information about yurts in your state parks!

Hawaii (you can probably just head to the beach).

Puddle Splashing
Puddle Stomping at Tualatin River NWR
Credit: Tualatin River NWR/USFWS
If it's not snowing here in the winter seasons – it's raining. Heading outdoors only to get soaked is usually no fun, but with the proper gear and planning, getting your boots wet can be a blast. The Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) hosts Puddle Stompers each year during Portland’s rainy season where kids and families can visit the refuge geared up for rain (for more information and dates on this year's events please contact the refuge at 503-625-5944). The refuge provides rain gear for the little ones and they are off to make a splash! Find similar programs in your area or get suited up in your own gear and do some splashing in your own neighborhood.

Snow Animals
A creative way to switch up the ordinary winter snowmen building!
Credit: Ryan Howley/Flickr Creative Commons
If your winter weather is full of snow, try taking that old tradition of snowman building and making it a bit more interesting! Begin by choosing or learning about an interesting animal. Find a photo (or a stuffed animal) of the animal you choose and head outside. Instead of building Frosty, try your hand at building your animal in the snow! Don't forget to also give it eyes, a nose and a mouth in whatever creative way you can think of!

Seasonal Collage
Seasonal photo collage. A great way to be creative in nature
throughout the year!
Credit: Aunt Owwee/Flickr Creative Commons
Begin a year-long photography project that, when finished, will give you a beautiful piece of art to keep for yourself or share with a friend or family member! First, find an outdoor space that you enjoy year-round. Next, gather your artistic tools (camera, pencils paints). Then, head to your chosen location and create your own snapshot of the area at its current stage. Come back again each season to the same location and take a new snapshot. At the end of the year, turn your four snapshots into a beautiful collage of the seasons!

Snow shoeing can be a great activity whether out on a trail or in your
own front yard!
Credit: Mel Issa/Flickr Creative Commons
If you love trail hiking, don't let the winter weather get you down. If your favorite trail gets covered in snow this winter, no problem! Many places during the winter will rent out snowshoes and even provide guided trails. Investigate trails near you, you're sure to find one for all different ages and experience levels! Worst case scenario, if you don't want to travel out too far, strap on some snow shoes and take a walk around the block!

If you happen to be in the Leavenworth, Washington area – check out this exciting snowshoeing event at the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery!

For the Extreme Adventurers
A fire lookout on Granite Mountain Trail, Washington and shot of
one of the great, scenic views that comes with it.
Credit: Ryan Laferty
Did you know that during the winter seasons the U.S. Forest Service rents out their fire lookouts? Many of the lookouts require a snowshoe hike to get to, and require boiling of snow for safe drinking water. If you are looking to really get away and into nature during the winter, and have a big sense of adventure, this may be your perfect winter activity! For more information on fire lookout rentals, locations and safety tips, please visit the Pacific Northwest Forest Service's site.

We hope you get a chance to try at least one of these winter activities! If you have other ideas, please share with us! And if you do get out to try these, let us know how it went!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Fishy Halloween

A small group of students gather around raceways at Eagle Creek NFH
in search of swimming fish.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
It's a rainy Halloween day. Six cars slowly approach down the windy roads just outside of Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery (NFH). As a ten year old, eager to dress up like a princess or superhero, filling pillow cases with candy, the wet pavement, rows of green roofed buildings and a few elongated pools, seemingly not suitable for swimming, may not seem like the best field trip at first glance. But it's what is going on inside of these buildings and dark mysterious concrete pools that trigger the wide-eyed gazes of amazement, a cringe here and there, and a chance to make a new friend in the shape of a tiny, squishy, orange egg.

The students observe coho spawning.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Salmon Watch
This field trip was a part of the newly restored Salmon Watch program, which aims to connect students and teachers with salmon, and other wild fish, in efforts to spark their interest and love for these important species. On this day, coho spawning was taking place at Eagle Creek, surely something these students had never before witnessed.

Some initial reactions to the spawning process from two students who
would later rush to touch one of the adult cohos.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Scary, Exciting Spawning
The tour began with a live viewing of the coho salmon spawning, a process that brings adult fish into the hatchery where eggs are manually collected from the female fish and fertilized by the male fish. Each year, this process allows Eagle Creek to produce 1.4 million coho smolt for the Columbia River Basin. While this process may cause those unfamiliar with it to find themselves a bit squeamish, even the group of girls who at first crinkled up their faces in disgust, were later the first eagerly outreached hands to "pet" one of the coho.

Fascinated by their tiny, unfertilized coho
Credit: Meghan Kearney
Bonding with Coho
Before leaving the spawning area, the students were all given an unfertilized egg to examine (meaning it, unfortunately for the students, wouldn’t hatch into a coho). Bonds were quickly formed with these "baby fish" and before we knew it, names like "Mr. Squishy" were being thrown around. It was obvious these eggs would go nowhere but home into twenty-five different bowls of tap water. The next stop on the tour took the group into the hatchery building where fertilized eggs are held until hatching and then released into those mysterious concrete raceways. Here, the group learned more about the tiny orange eggs, discovering that soon the eggs in the building would become "eyed," meaning a fish was starting to develop. From the looks on their faces and dedication to observing their eggs, these kids were ready for a fish to sprout up inside of their ziplock bags at any second.

Students excitedly gather around the hatchery's fish
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
No Ordinary Ladder
Next, it was time for the group to make their way to the fish ladder, a term that kept everyone excited all morning. This was definitely their finale. "Can we climb it?!" asked one of the students. After giggles subsided, the group learned how a fish ladder differed from a human's ladder, and why these ladders were so important to fish. The time finally came for the children to head back to school. A day spent at the seemingly unexciting fish hatchery would now more likely be remembered as nature's Disneyland. Twenty-five children left the hatchery that day, understanding the nature of fish conservation and undoubtedly taking that with them into their future. But more importantly, I knew twenty-five coho eggs that were about to spend their evening Trick-or-Treating.

Check out more photos from this Halloween field trip!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Cutest Faces of Nature

Because there is nothing better than a cute little animal to brighten everyone's week! Check out these cute baby species, most of which are endangered. Learn more about each one and what is being done to preserve these poster children for the undeniable cuteness of nature! When you’re finished – let us know which ones were your favorites, or if you think you've got a species that is even cuter – share it! Tweet the hashtag #CuteSpecies!

American Pika
Credit: Steve Torbit/USFWS

The American pika's big round ears and chubby cheeks make them one of the cutest species ever! They are extremely sensitive to heat and need to live in temperatures under 77.9 °F
Scientist Says: Though the American pika appears to have no tail, it actually has one of the longest tails of any lagomorph (member of the rabbit family) buried in its fur.

Black-footed Ferret
Credit: Kimberly Tamkun/USFWS

These baby black-footed ferrets (called "kits") can brighten anyone's day. They are definitely one of the cutest species but they are also one of the most endangered species. Over the past years, these cute critters have been reintroduced to 17 different sites across the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Scientist Says: The black-footed ferret was once considered extinct until 1964 when a small group was found in South Dakota.

Pacific Lamprey
Credit: Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife

Can you find the cute baby species in this handful of dirt? This cute baby might look like a worm, but it is actually a fish. What you see here is a baby Pacific lamprey – or an ammocoete. These little creatures are the cutest babies you will ever find in Pacific Northwest rivers!
Scientist Says: Pacific lamprey can remain in the ammocoete stage for up to seven years, during which they are deaf and blind!
Learn more via our friend Luna the Lamprey!
More photos

Red Panda
Credit: Jessica Kordell/Smithsonian

The red panda has one of the cutest faces and especially cutest tails out there! Due to deforestation within their natural habitats, these loveable critters are also considered endangered.
Scientist Says: The red panda only grows to the size of a housecat, but their bushy tails grow up to 18 inches and help keep them warm in winter conditions.

Northern Spotted Owl
Credit: Tom Kogutus/USFWS

Two cute and fluffy Northern spotted owl chicks. These adorable babies are threatened on the Endangered Species list and a top priority for U.S. Fish & Wildlife. They can be found in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California.
Scientist Says: Spotted owls have an opaque third eyelid called the nictitating membrane which helps clean and moisten their eyes; this is especially helpful during flight and to protect their eyes from broad daylight.

Credit: Ken Mayer/Flickr CC

The happiest species on Earth, this baby sloth might never stop smiling at you. What a treat it must be to get to "hang out" with a sloth!
Scientist Says: International Sloth Day is on October 20th (did you celebrate this year?)

...And Just for Kicks

And because this was far too cute not to share for Halloween! One World One Ocean’s “sealiest costume ever!”