Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Iowa's Winter "Slumber" Party

Courtesy of Scientific Beast
 In the depths of winter, we animals of the human variety tend to fall into three categories - those who anxiously strap on their boots at the first sign of a falling snowflake; those that setup shop fireside with a good book and hot coffee/cocoa in hand earnestly waiting for the sun's rays to penetrate the frosted landscape; or those who fall into that "happy medium" category.  But what do our animal counterparts do to pass the time before the days lengthen and the first green shoots emerge from the ground and trees? Animals of all kinds here in Iowa function at both ends of and along the spectrum (hey - just like us!).  Critters will migrate, adapt or hibernate during these frozen winter months.

Hit the road, Jack (or adapt!)

Well-known migratory animals that travel in search of food sources and warmer weather include various songbirds, waterfowl and butterflies.  Adapters are those who stay active in winter and adjust as a result of changing weather conditions. This may mean growing a thicker winter coat of fur. Certain birds will molt their feathers from breeding season into the more subdued and subtle colors of winter plumage. Other adaptations include diet changes. Deer and rabbit thrive on moss, twigs, bark and leaves. Red fox subsist on small rodents in place of the fruits, grasses and insects that were available during the warmer months.

But who hibernates here in Iowa?

Reptiles and amphibians sure do! These two collectively make up a group referred to as "herps", this word derived from herpetology or the study of reptiles and amphibians. Herps rely on radiant heat from the environment for body temperature regulation, making them ectothermic creatures. During the cold winter months, herps hibernate as a means to slow body functions which conserves energy needed for life. Hibernation for these critters usually occurs at the bottom of ponds and lakes, buried in mud or below the frost underground. 

What about mammals? Which ones hibernate?

Here in Iowa, we can expect raccoons, skunks, bats, and chipmunks to enter into light (elongated periods of sleep but still awaken) to true hibernation dependent upon the species. Woodchucks, or groundhogs, are a prime example of true hibernation where heart rate goes from 80 beats per minute to only about 5 beats. Their body temperature also drops to a staggering 60 degrees Fahrenheit below their normal temperature! This allows woodchucks to conserve a tremendous amount of energy until they emerge from their slumber.

Iowa Winter Wonder Birds

Bald eagles are starting to nest this month. Check along rivers where old trees stand and look for these eagle's massive nests. Below dams provide a perfect location to view bald eagles. Would you like more guidance on where to search for these birds? Join us on February 22nd at several different locations around Saylorville Lake and the Des Moines River for the Bald Eagle Watch. Stop by the Saylorville Visitors Center to learn about our national symbol. Then venture out to different areas around the lake to observe them in their natural setting. The Jester Park Lodge will be hosting a live eagle used for education. Hourly programs at 1, 2, and 3:00 p.m. will give you a close look at this amazing species.

This is also a great time to listen for owls. Great Horned Owls are nesting as well this month.  Any of our parks provide the opportunity to catch a glimpse of these creatures of the night. Best places to call and spot an owl in our parks include Jester Park, Yellow Banks Park, and Thomas Mitchell Park in the evening. 

Whether cozied up for a long winter's nap, adapting to the changing landscape, or hitting the proverbial road out of town, animals of all shapes and sizes find ways to make it through to the final spring thaw. We look forward to seeing you, our favorite local wildlife, in our parks and along our trails through every amazing season in Iowa!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Gear Up For Winter Fun

 At every twist and turn in our county parks during the snowy, blustery months of winter lies the opportunity to enjoy the season to the fullest. Turn up the heat and hit the trails during these frosty months! Join our naturalists when they host a variety of activities throughout the season. From snowshoeing to cross country skiing, from ice fishing to winter hiking, we have it all for every interest, ability and age! Our online calendar is full of opportunities to get outdoors and explore a new skill or hobby. You can also keep updated on upcoming events and more by liking us on Facebook and following on Twitter.

Already have the know-how to set out on your own but you are in need of outfitting? We have rental equipment available just for you! Call us at Jester Park, Monday-Friday, at 515-323-5339 for snowshoes and cross-country ski gear needs. Skis, boots, and poles run $8/day, and snowshoes run $7/day.

Recommended Trails

Cross Country Ski Trails (trails will be groomed after a snowfall over six inches):

At Jester Park (ski trail map), over 5 miles of trails will lead skiers through the woods, near Saylorville Lake, and along the edge of the golf course. Shelter #2 serves at the trailhead.

Following the oxbows of the old Skunk River channel and winding through the woodlands, Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt (ski trail map - blue routes) is perfect for those preferring a flatter terrain. Many different loops will be groomed, all beginning from the campground.

Snowshoe Trails:

Brown’s Woods, All trails are great for snowshoeing in this preserve
Yellow Banks Park, Savanna Trail
Easter Lake Park, Wymore Trail
Fort Des Moines Park, Aspen and Bur Oak Trails
Jester Park, Hickory Ridge Trail

 Winter Recreation Tips

Start Warm, Stay Warm: Layers are a winter-enthusiast's friend! Bundle up your looser outerwear with snug-fitting base layers such as long underwear or synthetic wicking material that still allow for plenty of movement while retaining heat. Designer tags are not needed - stick to wool, fleece and synthetic materials (polyester, polyproplene, etc.) to keep you warm. Avoid cotton as sweat does not wick away as easily causing this material to lose its insulation properties when wet. Nothing puts a damper on a great winter hike than the quick chill that sets in under a damp cotton layer!
And don't forget your waterproof/windproof/breathable outer gear - this layer allows moisture to escape the body while preventing wind and any precipitation from reaching your skin.
Hot Hands and Feet: Make sure fingers and toes stay warm with proper gloves and socks. Pack along a set of handwarmers to slide into boots or mitts for an extra kick of heat if needed along the trail. 

Fuel Up: Preparing for a fun-filled winter day requires more than just gearing up with the right equipment and clothing. Start the day right by energizing your body for the adventure ahead by properly fueling and hydrating. Consuming a proper mix of carbohydrates and proteins will make certain your tank remains full throughout your venture out into the cold. Starting and staying well-hydrated will ensure an enjoyable day by keeping you focused and energized. Pack a water bottle and snacks to keep you going.

Avoid the Burn: Snow is highly reflective. Be sure to apply sunscreen even on a cloudy day. You may not be aware of a burn until you're greeted by a red-faced reflection in the mirror the next day. 


Friday, November 21, 2014

New Energy and Experience Boosts Operations and Programming at the Jester Park Equestrian Center

If you have not visited the Jester Park Equestrian Center recently, you should! New leadership has revamped operations and programming and they are ready for your family to come be part of the excitement.

Guiding many of these improvements and enhanced certifications are high standards set forth by the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA). The purpose of CHA is to promote excellence in safety and education for the benefit of the horse industry. CHA certifies instructors and trail guides, accredits equestrian facilities, publishes educational manuals and hosts regional and international conferences. The Jester Park Equestrian Center is on track to receive a comprehensive CHA facility accreditation in 2015. 

Two Equestrian Center staff have completed the necessary training to become CHA-certified Instructors of Riders with Disabilities. Equestrian Program Specialist, Shellie Carmoney, was recently awarded first place in the CHA Instructor Challenge competition at the International Conference. Shellie's Master Level Instructor talents are well known throughout the industry and a valuable resource to our other instructors and the public.

Despite the cold and snowy winter weather conditions, programs and events at the Center are plentiful. Winter camps, holiday programs, sleigh rides, birthday parties, clinics, an extensive selection of riding lessons, and a new Tiny Tots riding lesson program for riders 5-8 years of age are just some of the public opportunities that you can take part in this season.

Great programs and projects at the Jester Park Equestrian Center are only enhanced by the dedicated and passionate volunteers that unselfishly lend their time and talents. From leading pony rides to cleaning stalls to assisting with therapy riding lessons, there are opportunities for people of all ages to discover their love for horses and be part of a series of programs and special events that make a profound impact on many people in the community. Participate in a Volunteer Training Workshop on Thursday, December 4th, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Don't worry if this date doesn't work into your schedule because there are many other trainings that you can attend to learn more about how you can help. For more information or to register for the training, email or call 515-999-2818.