Light Cascading From the Sky in the Darkness of Winter

The moon playing a game of peek-a-boo during a morning ski jaunt on Riveredge trails.

For many of us, winter can be a challenge. Not just slippery surfaces or shoveling snow or driving with greater care, but the lack of sunlight can make these the most trying months. Like any of the seasons, paradoxes abound in winter. Despite being the season of the longest darknesses, snow falling from the sky reflects light, effectively brightening those very twilights.

Personally, I used to have a hard time with winter. Fall reminded me that the long darkness would soon approach, signaling me to dread the lack of light and my mood would plummet until sometime in April. But then I discovered ways to not only survive the winter, but to look forward to them and flourish. I found that getting outside is the first step.

Cross Country skiing after a morning snow in the winter-only section at Riveredge Nature Center.

A few years ago someone gave me an old pair of cross country skis. I’d grown up skiing cross country with my dad, so the movement was familiar. I went skiing and realized that, even though it was a slog the first few tries, I started feeling better afterward. It was a different, better than being on a treadmill or lifting weights. I’d wake up the next day calmer, feeling more refreshed, and with a head full of ideas.

Scientists are publishing research behind the reasons why we feel better during and after being outdoors. In a recent study by Stanford University, researchers found that spending time walking in a forested environment positively affected participants brains in ways that taking a walk around the block did not. Myriad studies abound praising the effects nature has on the developing brains of children. If children learn to seek nature for rest and relaxation, they will be better equipped to deal with the stresses of each following day.

Students of The Riveredge School learning to cross country ski.

But it doesn’t have to necessarily be about athletic activity in the outdoors (although that generally makes life more comfortable when it’s cold out). Just being outside and breathing forest air has been shown to lower blood pressure, feelings of hostility, and symptoms of depression. It’s no accident that we associate the scent of pine forests with cleanliness and renewal.

Riveredge Members preparing to head out in search of the Yule Log.

At Riveredge, we host a number of programs throughout wintertime designed to get you outside, or at least get you out of the house in the direction of being outside (You’re already dressed for the weather…might as well go for a hike). A great start your weekend by getting outdoors during our Friday Night Candle-lit Hikes. But beyond that, these 10 miles of trails are here waiting for whenever you’re able to fit a little nature into your schedule. Even though winter may be the season of long nights, it’s also the only season when the trail twinkles alongside your steps.

 

– Ed Makowski, Riveredge Marketing & Communications Manager

Christmas Bird Count Results

Near the end of each year, Riveredge coordinates a Christmas Bird Count, where volunteer counters go out into the field or even watch at their own home feeders, documenting every bird they can spot and identify. Ultimately, this data, and similar data from all around the country, is reported to the National Audubon Society, fueling the longest-running community science bird project and directly impacting Audubon and other conservation organizations’ work. We thought the Riveredge community might be interested to know the results too! Below, a recap of the results from Mary Holleback, Riveredge’s Adult Programs Manager, including some exciting news about a first-time appearance on the count! For a detailed list of every bird spotted, you can also click here. 

Want to learn more about the Christmas Bird Count and tons of other bird research efforts at Riveredge over many decades? The Noel J. Cutright Bird Club is featuring Mary, and other Riveredge staff and volunteers involved in these efforts in their monthly meeting on Tuesday, February 6th. Come enjoy this free presentation and learn more about the Bird Club at the same time!

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Hello Birders,

Light snow fell overnight making driving a little challenging, never the less the annual Riveredge/Newburg Christmas Bird Count (CBC) held on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017 was a big success. Together, 60 field counters and 36 feeder watchers saw a total of 76 species and 18,428 individual birds on the count.  Our ten year average number of species is 71 so we had an above average count. Over the 48 year history of our count we’ve broken 70 or more species nineteen times.

Data reports are still trickling in but here are a few preliminary figures. Only one of each of the following species was found:  great blue heron, wood duck, redhead, peregrine falcon, merlin (1 seen each of the past 3 yrs.), glaucous gull, Eurasian collared dove (1st since 2002), red-headed woodpecker (1st since 2012), hermit thrush, gray catbird (1st since 2008), fox sparrow and brown-headed cowbird. A single winter wren and two Carolina wrens were recorded which is the 1st time both have been seen in the same count since 2013.

Winter visitors were also somewhat sparse in comparison to other years.  Only one redpoll and northern shrike, eight snow buntings, 48 horned larks and 111 pine siskins were reported.  No longspurs or crossbills were seen.  If you do see any red crossbills researchers at Cornell are asking people to use their iPhones to record their flight calls and send them in for spectrogram analysis so that they can track the movement of the different crossbill “call types” around North American. Here’s the link – http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/crossbills-of-north-america-species-and-red-crossbill-call-types.

For the first time ever two snowy owls were observed in our circle – one near the Cedarburg Bog (in the AM) and another near the West Bend Airport (in the PM). Since neither bird was all white they were most likely juveniles or females.  Snowy owls are irruptive predatory wanderers that breed in the Arctic and migrate south periodically. In irruption years most of the owls that are reported are juveniles which suggests that unusually successful breeding (large brood sizes) combined with declining food supplies (mostly lemmings) may have prompted them to push south in search of better hunting grounds. Thanks to sponsorship from numerous Wisconsin environmental organizations, six snowy owls will be outfitted with radio transmitters so their movements can be tracked this winter.  Check out the Project SNOWstorm (https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/) website for tracking information.

We saw the highest number in 10 years of Canada geese (5503) & ruffed grouse (3) and highest number ever of northern goshawks (5) & rough-legged hawks (28).  Bald eagles (6) also made a good showing.  Two species whose population sizes should be on our “watch list” for next year are the great horned owl (lowest # in 10 yrs.) and bufflehead (1st time not seen in 10 years).

Thanks again for participating.  Please join us again for the 2018 Christmas Bird Count on Sat. December 15, 2018.  Start recruiting your friends and neighbors to help you now!

Happy New Year & happy birding,

Mary Holleback
Adult Programs Manager

50th Flashback

It’s a little hard to believe, but Riveredge, the little dream that could, is celebrating 50 years of changing lives through environmental education in 2018! As we enter a big year of 50th anniversary celebrations, we wanted to include a photo spread in our most recent print newsletter of the early history of Riveredge some members may not know about. Of course, limited space meant we had to cut a lot of info on those photos, so here they are in their full glory with even more details. 🙂 

1935

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although the land that would become the foundation of Riveredge was long inhabited by Native American tribes, including the Sauk and Potawatomi, the area was opened to settlers in the early 1830’s after these tribes were (often forcefully) resettled. The parcel that would become Riveredge was first bought in 1835, but it doesn’t appear any of the successive owners actually lived here until Oscar Grady, a reclusive man some in the area took to calling “the hermit”, bought the land in 1929 and moved here permanently in 1935. Grady fell in love with the natural wonder of the area and wanted to share his enjoyment with others, especially young people. He began building recreational facilities on the site out of stone along with an observation tower, several concession stands, and a round platform for dancing and bingo with dreams of throwing year-round festivals and shows, a sort of amusement park of fun. Although this fantasy never materialized in his lifetime, you can still find the remnants of these “Riveredge Ruins” on hikes through the sugar bush standing as testaments to an eccentric dreamer.  

1968

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The seeds for what were to become Riveredge were formed at a spring 1965 meeting of the Whitefish Bay Garden Club. This group of 25 forward thinking women, led by their President Isabel Lillie, had a big dream of creating an environmental education facility for the children of Whitefish Bay. As they studied the needs and possible solutions, their big dream kept on growing until it encompassed a place where all residents of metropolitan Milwaukee could experience and be transformed by the natural world and where such a preserve could be established for generations to come. In November of 1968, the “Riveredge Foundation” that formed out of the Garden Club’s initial planning was presented with 72 acres of land along the Milwaukee River by  Dr. Edwin Grady, who now held the land after his brother died in 1965. The Foundation saw its promise, and in November of 1968 gave a $15,000 down payment. Riveredge was born. The audacious and forward thinking dream of the Whitefish Bay Garden Club had become a reality and, fittingly, Oscar Grady’s dream of his land serving as a location for young people to discover nature was realized, too.

1970

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that the land was secured, more funding and buy-in from the community was needed. Amazingly, it appears Wisconsin Senator and environmental legend, Gaylord Nelson, was a part of these efforts, recording videos to promote a Riveredge membership drive. Senator Nelson would lead the efforts to create the very first Earth Day held just one month after this thank you note was sent. If any long-time Riveredge supporters know more about these tapes or have copies, we’d love to learn more!

1975

 

After Andy Larsen was hired in 1970 as the first educator at Riveredge, his passion and talent soon became apparent. As Lorrie Otto, one of the most involved early founders, said in a 1991 letter honoring Andy, “The Riveredge Board realized they had hired “one Hell-of-a-teacher” and then “stood aside and allowed Andy Larsen to pioneer teaching methods at this first nature center in southeastern Wisconsin”. As Andy trained the very first group of dedicated volunteer teacher naturalists, the environmental education efforts bloomed. By 1974, over 10,000 students a year were participating in hands-on learning at efforts. As Riveredge grew, so too did the need for more teaching space, and this need grew ever more urgent when a fire destroyed the service building and educational equipment Riveredge had been using. A stroke of luck came in 1975 when the owners of Sugarline Farm offered to sell their ten acres adjoining Riveredge’s land. This sale would allow the barn’s conversion into classrooms and offices and this new land expansion would eventually be the site of the permanent nature center we have today, built in 1991. Above, a view of the new property in 1975 and what the same area looks like today.

1995

 

Riveredge goes international! Partnering with the the Milwaukee Public Museum, funds were raised to purchase and protect a 750 acre tract of the Costa Rican Rain Forest and to build an educational center there called the Tirimbina Rainforest Center. What were these Southeastern Wisconsin institutions doing in Costa Rica? Both organizations realized nature knows no boundaries and that by creating an incredible new environmental education destination for students, teachers, and eco-tourists around the world while also protecting a virgin tract of rainforest that is home to innumerable species, including many migrating birds from Wisconsin, they could both expand their missions of education, research, and conservation. Although Riveredge gave up its sponsorship stake in 2000, Tirimbina continues strong as a nonprofit educational, scientific and ecotourism destination.


 

 

We can’t wait to celebrate 50 years of education, conservation, preservation, and research in 2018. We’ll have lots more features on Riveredge’s history, and we hope you’ll mark your calendars and plan on joining us for the 50th Anniversary Gala on Saturday, September 8. Watch for more special events throughout the year!

Balancing Technology and Nature

With our first post on Riveredge Nature Center’s philosophy behind the balance between technology and nature shared with the world (see Curiosity as the App), it’s time to give some practical examples for parents, grandparents, educators, or even child-care providers to put into practice purposeful use of technology that aims to enhance children’s connection to nature this summer.

While I’d like to jump right into the fun app-tivities (yes, that’s what I am calling them), I want to be sure we are on the same page regarding the very important differentiation between how we consume technology today. Understanding this is crucial because it begins to answer the “why” of the importance of using technology as a catalyst to spending more time outside in nature, especially for young people. I mean, you’ve heard the depressing statistics about children’s health and screentime, right? No matter what study you reference, the findings are clear- nationwide, children (and, adults for that matter) are spending less time outdoors and more time on screens than ever before, and as time goes on it’s happening younger and younger.

But, fear not, techies-on-the-fence! While technology is not going extinct anytime in the near future, we are becoming wisen to the long-term effects of various forms of digital consumption. The two main approaches: active and passive use of technology.

Anne-Marie Fiore writes in her blog:

“Some practitioners refer to passive and active learning with technology as the new digital divide. There is a difference between students who use technology to create, design, build, explore, and collaborate and those who simply use technology to consume media.”

(“Digital Use Divide” graphic borrowed from the 2016 National Education Technology Plan published by the U.S. Department of Education).

So, to avoid more zombie-faced passive consumers we all know and maybe have experienced personally, active use of technology helps us more deeply explore the topics we wish to know more about. In other words, we are the drivers of our learning. With our own brains as guides, active use of technology like the app-tivities I am including here can help us become more curious, more creative, and perhaps even more connected to nature. With that, I do solemnly declare the following nature-based activities, with a fresh hint of summer.

App-Tivity #1: Try a DIY Lake Science Experiment!

Are summer showers keeping your kiddos inside? No problem. The app, created by the Lawrence Hall of Science, includes a dozen easy to use, hands-on activities to learn about freshwater ecosystems (indoor and out!). Each activity includes step-by-step instructions that have been tested by educators, kids, and families.

Our Riveredge Staff Picks: Dip, Dip Hooray (Free download, iOs compatible)   

 

 

 

App-Tivity #2:  Set out sand traps and see who crawls in using iTrack Wildlife

Or, maybe it’s a sunny day, and you want to know more about what animals visit your backyard while you aren’t home or asleep. Read these short instructions, create the trap(s) using household items, and wait! While you’re waiting, download iTrack Wildlife (lite version is free) or any of the several others available on the app store and make a prediction about what you’ll find. (iOs and Google Play compatible).

 

 

App-Tivity #3: Play hide-and-seek in Space with Ready Jet Go!

Grab a blanket and head outside on a nice clear night to stargaze and explore all around the galaxy with this PBS app for young kids. Operate in hide-and-seek mode to challenge yourself to locate different constellations. If this app is too kid-like, “upgrade” to Go Sky Watch instead. It’s the same idea, but for older kids and adults (Free, iOs compatibile).

Let me know how it goes! You can reach me at cjhintz@riveredge.us or 262-375-2715.

Carly Hintz is the Educational Technology & Evaluation Specialist at Riveredge.

2017 Prairie Plant Sale

Looking to take a little slice of Riveredge home with you? We have just the thing you’re looking for, our annual Native Plant Sale! All of the plants were grown here at Riveredge using herbaceous and woody seeds collected from our sanctuary. These plants are made possible thanks to the hard work and dedication of Bob Foss, and a dedicated group of volunteers (called the Habitat Healers) who collect seeds in the fall and tend to the seedlings throughout the winter and spring months. Because of this dedication, Riveredge is able to provide you with an opportunity to create your own little patch of Wild Wisconsin.

All of the proceeds go towards the conservation and land stewardship of Riveredge’s 379 acre wildlife sanctuary and allows us to keep the invasive species out and the native species flourishing.

To view the current list of species available for purchase go to the 2017 Native Plant Sale List.

*Plants range in price from $2.50-$7.00 per plant.

Grass Pernassus

Grass Pernassus

Bergamot

Bergamot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you are interested in learning more about native vegetation, land stewardship, or helping care for our seedlings consider joining our Habitat Healers. They meet from 9:00am-Noon every Tuesday at Riveredge. This volunteer group not only helps to preserve and improve the health and biodiversity of the sanctuary, the program also recognizes several other important individual and community educational goals as well. These include:

  • Providing a group learning environment that fosters Habitat Healers individual growth and the sharing of interests among its members
  • Helping others, through sanctuary preservation, research, and stewardship, to understand the interconnectedness of all living things
  • Serving as a regional resource for teaching effective stewardship methods by integrating elements of experimental design and analysis into Habitat Healer activities.

If you are interested in becoming a Habitat Healer, please contact volunteers@riveredge.us.

Adventure Awaits

You don’t have to go far to find adventure! In fact, exploring the natural areas around you is one of the easiest ways to stay healthy, to connect as a family, and to discover incredible new things!

Don’t forget, Riveredge has ten miles of trails that are open every single day from dawn to dusk and are absolutely free to access for members, or a small trail fee for non-members. The opportunities for exploration are endless:

  • Hunt for some of the hidden treasures around Riveredge’s ten miles of trails, like the Riveredge Ruins, Labyrinth, the Larsen Climbing Rocks, the Tipi, and more! Check out our trail map for the location of some of these gems.
  • Go on a treasure hunt to find our hidden geocaches. Stop by the front desk to find out how you can rent a GPS that has the coordinates of the geocaches around the sanctuary!
  • Check out one of our brand new “Take It With You”adventure bags, themed backpacks that can be taken out to the Riveredge sanctuary with you, chock full of tools and ideas for you to explore Riveredge at your own pace. These packs will be coming in the next few weeks!
  • Download some apps that will help enhance your visit, like Leafsnap, iBird, and iNaturalist. Check out our new blog post on how Riveredge is working to incorporate technology and the outdoors in a balanced way, and stay tuned for a new set of programs and blogs designed to share how technology can be incorporated into your own family’s nature experiences.

Don’t forget the easiest opportunity for exploration: pick a trail, start walking, and see what amazing natural wonders show themselves to you! Adventure awaits, and it’s calling your name!

Tap tap- is this thing on?

Maple sugarin’ season is in full swing! Thanks to the many community members who came out this past weekend to learn more about maple sugarin’ and to help us tap the sugarbush, we are already up to over 360 trees tapped for the year!

Couldn’t make the program, but still curious about how tapping works or what you might need to do to make delicious maple syrup in your own backyard?

You’re in luck! Our education team has been hard at work making brand new “Trip Hack” videos as an easy way for teachers to help prepare their students for what they’ll be learning on their Riveredge field trip long before they even get on the bus.

The most recent Trip Hack is all about the tapping process, and since we’re all students in the end, we thought you might enjoy Pam’s great advice on picking the right trees to tap, what conditions make for great sap runs, and what the heck a spile is.

The season is just getting started! There’s still lots of great maple sugarin’ events coming up! Learn all about the season, the Maple Sugarin’ Festival, the Pancake Breakfast, and more!

Holiday Building Hours

The trails at Riveredge will continue to be open from dawn to dusk every day.

Please use the self check-in envelopes on the front door of the nature center to provide your trail fees if you are a non-member.  Trail fees are used to help continue the upkeep of the trails and land for your enjoyment and continued high quality wildlife habitat.

 

To allow our staff time with their families and friends during the holidays, the building hours will be adjusted on the following days:

  • Friday, December 23: 9 am – 4 pm (Come get your last minute Christmas presents from the Nature Store!)
  • Saturday, December 24 & Sunday, December 25: Building CLOSED
  • Monday, December 26: 9 am – 4 pm
  • Friday, December 30: 8 am – 12 noon
  • Saturday, December 31 – Monday, January 2: Building CLOSED

Year-end gifts:

You may make a year-end gift by calling Riveredge during building hours (262-375-2715) or at any time through our secure website.  Donate today; bring the great outdoors to families, schools & communities!

 

Happy Holidays from all of us @ Riveredge!