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Watching wildlife is a great winter pastime


This news story was published on December 12, 2012.
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By Molly Skadsen, Naturalist Intern at Lime Creek Nature Center –

Wildlife watching is an excellent way to get outdoors and enjoy the beauty of nature. Seeing wildlife in their natural habitat can be an enjoyable and exciting experience. Wildlife watching is an activity that you can partake in any time of the year, even winter. In the fall, most plants lose their leaves and we are left with bare trees, shrubs, and other plants. With this decrease in vegetation, the forest opens up, making winter a great time for viewing birds and mammals. Knowing where to look, what to look for, and how to act can help maximize your wildlife watching success.

Bird watching can take place while hiking through the woods, visiting a local park, or even in you own backyard. Bird feeders offer an excellent location for bird watching. Putting up bird feeders is a great way to view wildlife at home. Numerous bird species are attracted to bird feeders, especially during the winter months when food elsewhere is scarce. Different bird feeders and bird seeds will attract different bird species. Having a variety of seed and feeder types will maximize the amount of bird species that you will see. If you do not have any bird feeders in your own yard, there are many other places in the area that offer great bird watching opportunities. Here at the Lime Creek Nature Center, a wide variety of birds can be seen daily at our bird feeding station. On cold days, you can watch birds at our feeders from our warm indoor viewing area. These feeders can also be viewed from the comforts of your own home through our new webcam, which enables you to view several of our feeders up close. To view our webcam, visit the outdoors tab on our website, http://www.co.cerro-gordo.ia.us/. If you feel like doing a little hiking, birds can also be seen from the trails traversing a variety of habitats around the nature center.

For a successful bird watching experience, there are a few things to remember. Dressing for the weather is important, especially in the cold winter months, and it is better to wear earth tones rather than bright colors. Having a good pair of binoculars and a field guide will help you identify the birds that you see. Also, learning to identify “field marks,” such as the shape, size, and type of bill and markings on the eyes, wings, crown, rump, tail, and breast, will help in distinguishing bird species. Learning bird songs will also help you differentiate the different bird species. Learning to identify individual bird species is not required for bird watching. Simply enjoying the beauty of the birds you see is also a rewarding experience.

Wildlife watching for mammals can also be a fun and rewarding experience. Many different species of mammals can be seen at the Lime Creek Nature Center. The nine miles of trails that surround the nature center take you through several different types of habitat that attract mammals. Habitats of upland timbers, floodplain forests, open fields, restored prairies, and wetlands offer the habitat diversity that is essential for wildlife. Squirrels, deer, raccoons, opossums, coyotes, red fox, grey fox, and many other mammals live around the nature center. Several of these species can also be seen alongside the birds at our bird feeding station.

Viewing mammals can be a little more challenging than viewing birds, but there are some things you can do to increase your success. Mammals have very keen senses and can be spooked easily. Wearing camouflage and earth tones as well as keeping movement to a minimum will decrease your chances of being seen. Since mammals have an excellent sense of smell, staying downwind of the area you are viewing will help make your experience more successful. Also, when viewing any type of wildlife, it is important to stay quiet. Making excessive noise will likely spook any mammals in the area. Many mammals are nocturnal. The best time to view these animals is in the early morning and late evening. As with bird watching, having binoculars and a field guide will help you identify the mammals that you see. The best way to know if a mammal has been in the area is to look for mammal signs such as tracks, scat, antler rubs, nests, or dens. Field guides can also be used to help you identify the tracks and scat that you see.

With practice and patience, wildlife watching can be a fun and rewarding experience for people of all ages. There are many different places in the area that are great for viewing wildlife. For more information on where to go to view wildlife please visit the Outdoors portion of our website; http://www.co.cerro-gordo.ia.us/, and click on Recreational Experiences Close to Home. There you will find multiple files on wildlife viewing. To enhance your viewing experience, field guides and binoculars are available for check-out at the Lime Creek Nature Center office. If you have any questions about wildlife watching feel free to stop by the Lime Creek Nature Center or call us at (641) 423-5309.

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