Visit to check out a park or wildlife area you might want to explore managed by one of Iowa's 99 county conservation boards!

Developmentally-appropriate activities for early childhood learners to explore the natural world can be found at KinderNature!

One touch of nature...
Marla Mertz, Marion County Conservation, and Bailey Anderson, Central College, Nature Writing and Environmental Literature service-learning student

“One touch of Nature makes the whole world kin” ~William Shakespeare

Some of us are so active in the spring, summer, and fall. When we get a breath of fresh air, discovery and excitement are all around.

Fall Hike

Then winter appears. Winter can be a season of hardships for those who live where the cold makes annual visits, like Iowa. Some escape hard times by migrating to warmer states, but most of us stay put, adding wood to the stove or pushing up the thermostat. When we venture outside we pile on an extra layer or two of clothing to conserve our body heat.

We can feel an overwhelming amount of dread beginning in the fall. With less light and sunshine to perk us up, hibernation mode can affect a lot of us and we feel more tired and lethargic. As mammals, we have learned to adapt, just as some of our wildlife that did not migrate or hibernate. Animals have been preparing their winter strategies for the last few months.

The beauty of fall invites vibrant color to us as the plants begin to store their food. During summer days, leaves make more glucose than the plant needs for energy and growth. The excess is turned into starch and stored until needed. As the daylight gets shorter in the autumn, plants begin to shut down their food production. Check out the KidZone link for a great description, graphics, and fall leaf activities. 

The first day of winter in the northern hemisphere is around December 21. The given day marking the season occurs when the sun appears at its most southerly position in the sky.

  • On this day the sun appears to be directly overhead at the position on earth called the Tropic of Capricorn, an imaginary line that goes around the southern hemisphere.
  • The phrase ‘winter solstice’ brings new meaning to the thought of December 21 being the shortest day of the year. The word solstice comes from two Latin words: sol, meaning “sun,” and stice, meaning “still” or “static.”
Nolan heading for a day in the snow.
What a great time to consider a family plan of daily outdoor outings through the winter months. Fifteen minutes of Vitamin N (nature) can be exciting, refreshing or bring about new perspectives. Young and old alike, need a bit of winter’s breath.

Here are a couple of ideas to do outside that may allow us to focus on mind and body.

Besides layering and keeping your feet, hands, and head dry, create a basic backpack of items that may help in some discoveries:

  • a notebook
  • pencils
  • a ruler
  • a magnifier
  •  a clear box
  • maybe an few extra pair of dry gloves and whatever else might help you

Keep it simple, don’t weigh yourself down with too many supplies.

Book review from Bailey:
Stranger in the Woods: A Photographic Fantasy by Carl R. Sams and Jean Stoick was one of my favorite books growing up, because I grew up immersed in nature. The book uses photographs taken in nature to tell a story of a snowman built by children, featuring animals like deer and chickadees. The animals in the book have personalities, appealing to my childhood tendency to personify everything around me. For a kid like me, who grew up with deer as my neighbors, it helped me to see the beauty in everything around me. I never realized how far removed the city can be from nature until I moved to the city myself, and for a child growing up in the city, this book would expose them to a world they may not easily access. It encourages kids to go outside and look around them at the wonders of nature.

Winter Hike

It is fun to journal your findings outside. Did you see tracks? Were they big or small? Can you draw a picture of what the track looked like? Did you find some winter bugs to take a closer look? Can you find some trees or plants that may provide winter foods for animals and birds? How many different sounds did you hear... was it natural or man-made? How about making a scavenger hunt list and taking a photo of your findings with your phone, tablet, or camera? Can you write a poem or story about something that you found? The winter night sky... who doesn’t like to find the big and little dipper, Betelgeuse, and others. Is there an interesting natural feature near you? Why not take a photo, from the same location, every day for one year! Wouldn’t it be cool to look back and see the changes.
November 17 each year is National Take a Hike Day. It may be a little late to enjoy some of the autumn colors in Iowa, but there are many trails close to your home that await your footsteps. Don’t let this day be the last day you take a hike for the season.

Here are a few links of some public areas that may be of interest. 

Also learn more from past topics:

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Raptor Viewing Etiquette

We should all observe good raptor  viewing etiquette, not only during the nesting season, but also during this time of migration. 

Remember that raptors are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and bald and golden eagles have additional protections under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Upcoming Programs and Opportunities

Look here  for upcoming bald eagle events in January and February!

Mystery Critter for the week of 23 November

So, let’s get down to it. Put on those thinking caps, grab your friends and family, and let’s play Mystery Critter! And remember — no cheating!

    • I am tall,
    • I am shaggy,
    • I am surprisingly quick on my feet,
    • My pregnancy lasts as long as a humansand
    • I have a long history on the American landscape!
What am I? Make your guess, and then go here for the answer and more interesting facts. Did you get it right?! If not, no worries — you’ll have another chance next week!

Thanks to The Grass Stain Guru for giving us permission to re-post past "mystery critter" posts here on this site! As a hint, we'll only pick out the "mysteries" that can be found in Iowa. 

In the news...

To learn more about EAB and other pests that are threatening Iowa’s tree population, please visit

Please contact any of the following members of the Iowa EAB Team for further information:

Check these out!

Iowa Young Birders - Check out this group formed in 2011 to help young people experience the joy and wonder of finding, seeing, and identifying birds!  The Iowa Ornithologists Union is helping to sponsor birding field trips for young people age 8-18 in conjunction with their spring and fall meetings. Check out the details and the Iowa Young Birders website for other field trip opportunities! <jealous!>

Healthy and Happy Outdoors - Learn more about this new Iowa Department of Natural Resources initiative here. Register with the program and record your outdoor activities in Iowa parks and recreation areas with each recorded activity a chance to win outdoor gear in a drawing.  The site also has a search feature for finding outdoor activities in Iowa.

Visit to check out a park or wildlife area you might want to explore managed by one of Iowa's 99 county conservation boards! Look here for events and activities, too!