Nature lovers know winter is a great time to get outside and explore, and they want others to enjoy the season, too.
People suffering from cabin fever don’t always know what to do or where to go, says Forest Preserves of Winnebago County Marketing and Community Relations Manager Jamie Johannsen.
For that reason, the forest preserve works in partnership with nature centers and organizations, as well as local businesses, to plan and promote activities which are publicized on individual websites and on 815Outside.com.
“Winter offers some of the best opportunities for wildlife observation,” says Johannsen. “The lack of leaves and the die-back in vegetation reveal many signs of life that exist all around.”
Upcoming events include A Family Snowfari from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 25 at Severson Dells Nature Center, 8786 Montague Road, and a Guided Snowshoe Hike on Sunday, Feb. 2, at Kieselburg Forest Preserve, 5801 Swanson Road, Roscoe, Ill.
A Honeysuckle Hiking Stick workshop will take place from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, at Severson Dells. Honeysuckle, an invasive plant, takes on a new and useful purpose when transformed into walking sticks. Nature Educator Ellen Rathbone will provide the tools and training needed to transform the plants into walking sticks. Register by calling (815) 335-2915 by Feb. 17 or go online at seversondells.com. Register online for Family Snowfari by Jan. 22.
Kevin Versino, general manager of Rocktown Adventures, 313 N. Madison St., organized the guided snowshoe hike. Recently retired Rocktown Adventures employee Rick Barton will be the guide.
Versino says the event, which can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities, will include instruction on snowshoes and how to use them.
“If you can put one foot in front of the other, you can snowshoe and you don’t even need a lot of snow,” he says. “Snowshoeing is the fastest-growing winter sport. You can access trails and other places you couldn’t get to otherwise.”
Poles will be provided.
“Just do it to take on the challenge, make friends, and feel a part of a community,” he says.
Rocktown Adventures sells and rents outdoor equipment and apparel and provides lessons, guided trips and private trips. Call (815) 636-9066, stop in at the store or go to rocktownadventures.com.
Forest preserves are open all winter long, says Johannsen. Some hard paths are kept cleared. Visit winnebagoforest.org to see a list of areas accessible to vehicles and pedestrians in winter.
Whether walking, hiking, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing or bird watching, nature’s playgrounds always have a lot on display.
For example, without foliage on trees, people can identify them by their shape and bark. They also can see various animal homes more easily in winter and can learn about the shape, location and materials of bird nests. More than 30 bird species live in this area in winter, and many are actively looking for seeds.
Animal tracks indicate where animals have been, how large they are and if they’re hunting or not. Droppings tell us about an animal’s health, diet, and how recently it was at a location. River otters leave slide marks along the river’s edge. Look for signs of deer and beaver where they have gnawed on bark.
Where there’s open water on our region’s four rivers, find Canada geese as well as Mergansers, Goldeneyes and other diving ducks. Bald Eagles can be seen fishing in open waters.
Great Horned Owls begin calling for mates from November through January and may be heard at dusk or early dawn. Short-Eared Owls, Rough-Legged Hawks, Saw Whet Owls, Snowy Owls and Long-Eared Owls are all species found here in winter, too.
Severson Dells Naturalist/Educator Andrea Wallace Noble says many animals are especially active during mild winters, like the one we’ve had so far.
“Every species has a different way of handling winter, but most mammals stay active unless they have to protect themselves from the harshest weather conditions,” she says.
Not as many bird species are using feeders this winter because they can still find food on the ground. Also, some birds who normally leave the area during the winter have stayed because it’s been relatively warm, says Wallace Noble.
“The unseasonably warm weather affects the migration patterns and activities of the birds,” she says.
“I appreciate this time of year because you can see so much. Our mission is to connect people to nature and to help them discover the wonderful treasures we have in our own backyard. Dress right, and you can enjoy nature at any time.” ❚