- Visiting three new national wildlife refuges in Louisiana, Mississippi, and/or Arkansas.
- Visiting three new national historic parks in Louisiana, Mississippi, and/or Arkansas.
- Identifying and journaling three new birds.
- Identifying and journaling three new types of wildlife.
- Taking 12 hikes throughout the year. (I actually took 18 hikes this past year - more than I anticipated I would take.)
- Posting a nature photo each week based on the Nature Photo of the Week Prompt List.
I was able to do some part of 7 out of the 15 goals:
- Visit six new state parks in Minnesota as a family, and take the dogs with us as we explore new trails (St. Croix, Afton, Fort Snelling, Minnesota Valley, Frontenac, and Forestville/Mystery Cave). Visited 1 out of 6 new parks - or 17% of the goal.
- Visit 6 nature centers at the state parks and wildlife refuges. Visited 2 out of 6 nature centers - or 33% of the goal.
- Do nature studies at least three out of four weeks of each month (36 entries) both online and in my journal. Did 10 out of 36 entries - or 28% of the goal.
- Try 2 new outdoor sports. Did 1 out of 2 new sports - or 50% of the goal.
- Have 6 picnics when the weather is pleasant and we aren't battling with mosquitoes. Did 4 out of 6 picnics - or 67% of the goal.
- Go camping twice during the year at new state parks. Did 1 time (instead of 2) - or 50% of the goal.
- Attend 4 workshops, classes, or activities at state parks. Did 2 out of 4 activities - or 50% of the goal.
I did not do anything towards 2 out of the 15 goals:
- Visit two new national wildlife refuges in Minnesota (Sherburne and Upper Mississippi) as a family, and take the dogs with us as we explore new trails.
- Learn 3 new outdoor skills and/or hobbies.
Although it would have been nice to have accomplished all 15 goals, I'm pleased that I did something towards 13 of them. Had I not set any goals, chances are I wouldn't have done as much related to nature as I did during the past year.
Below is a final review of how I did:
1. Visit three new national wildlife refuges in Louisiana, Mississippi, and/or Arkansas. ACCOMPLISHED!
- Delta National National Wildlife Refuge in Venice, Louisiana.This NWR is near the very end of the Mississippi River.
The river is very wide at this point and has clearly picked up a lot of sediment along the way.
There is a bench and some informational placards to describe the significance of the area. This actual location did not have a lot of visible wildlife.
However, there's another nearby road that leads to the southeastern most point of Louisiana and that had significantly more birds and waterfowl that were visible from the road. I pulled over many times (as did others) to watch the wildlife - or, in the case of local people, do some fishing.
- Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge in Lacombe, Louisiana. This NWR spans a large amount of space and can best be seen by driving through it on a couple of paved roads. There is a small stop that has a wooden boardwalk/pathway that leads into the bayou.
The sounds of ducks and birds swimming in the water and hiding in the reeds is constant.
There was some vegetation that I had never seen before - like the tree pictured below with brown seed pods. The pods were dry and would rattle. I'm not sure what type of tree it is and could not find it on the internet.
Perhaps my favorite part of the walk was coming across this little tree frog that was nestled in a reed. The reed looked like bamboo, so I wanted to take a closer look. I was pleasantly surprised when I looked inside it and spotted this little green face looking back at me.
- Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge in Hollandale, Mississippi.This NWR wasn't on my list of places to see, yet it was on my way to Greenville, Mississippi where I was spending the night. I thought I'd take a brief detour to see it, and am happy that I did.
Although it was a bit early in the season, there was a monarch waystation at the NWR. It is an enclosed area with a few benches, trees, and variety of plants. The plants - or where they will be - are all marked with signs. There was a little area with water for the butterflies and other wildlife that visit the garden.
Along one of the roads, there was an area of slough. In the Little House books, Laura Ingalls Wilder mentions areas that were slough, but I had no point of reference since I had never slough before. Now, having visited Yazoo NWR, I know to what she was referring.
There is quite a diversity of landscape within the NWR. The picture above is right across from a wooded area pictured below.
2. Visit three new national historic parks in Louisiana, Mississippi, and/or Arkansas. ACCOMPLISHED!
I was able to see three historical parks, sites, or parkways while in Louisiana and Mississippi:
- Audubon State Historic Site in St. Francisville, Louisiana. This was on my must-see list and, thankfully, I arrived in time to go on a house tour and see the grounds.
The Oakley Plantation is where John James Audubon lived for four months. Yet, during that brief time he painted 32 of his bird pictures here.
The grounds had pathways that led through open and wooded areas.
There were old buildings where people were demonstrating what life was like back in the 1800s.
The displays showed items typical of that time period as well.
The main pathway leading from the interpretive center to house was once a carriage road.
Leading to and from the house, the paved road for cars goes under beautiful old trees.
- Natchez Trace Parkway in Natchez, Mississippi. I didn't take many pictures of the parkway since much of it looked like the photograph below. Although the entire parkway is 444 miles long, I was only on it for a small segment.
Nonetheless, it was a beautiful drive and I enjoyed the break from driving on the freeway.
According to the National Park Sevice, "The Natchez Trace Parkway forms an almost continuous greenway, or transect, from the southern Appalachian foothills of Tennessee to the loess soil bluffs of the lower Mississippi River.
"Over its length it crosses four ecosystem provinces, eight major watersheds, and twelve physiographic regions. Forest types range generally from oak-beech in the far south, to oak-pine mixes covering the vast middle section, to oak-hickory dominating in the north.
"Habitats represented within the park are diverse and include: streams, lakes, swamps, riparian woodlands, bottomland hardwood forests, upland hardwood forests, pine and mixed hardwood forests, prairie, fallow fields, and agricultural croplands."
If I ever have the chance, it would be interesting to drive the entire Natchez Trace Parkway.
- Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi.It was raining on the day I visited this park, but I still left the car at some spots and explored different historical points and monuments.
It is a 16-mile, self-guided car tour through the park which is quite large - much larger than I thought. The road passes by many monuments that are tributes to soldiers who fought and/or lost their lives in the battle at Vicksburg.
The land was rolling in parts and forested in others, with deep trenches in many parts.
There were beautiful, pink blossoms on trees. This picture below doesn't do justice to how vibrant the blossoms were against the dark tree bark.
I was surprised at how much diversity there was in the land in terms of hills and ravines. For some reason, I pictured battlefields more level. The images I always saw in textbooks were of flat battlefields - nothing like what is pictured below.
The visits to these historical parks provided a completely different and much more engaging view of American history. I'm so happy that I went to each one of them.
3. Visit six new state parks in Minnesota as a family, and take the dogs with us as we explore new trails (St. Croix, Afton, Fort Snelling, Minnesota Valley, Frontenac, and Forestville/Mystery Cave). VISITED 1 OUT OF 6 NEW PARKS.
We visited St. Croix State Park in Hinckley twice this year - once in June when Sophia and Olivia went camping there through 4-H; and then again in September when our 4-H Photography Club had its first meeting there.
I brought the dogs while the girls participated in the club.
It was a beautiful day with a lovely blue sky accented with fluffy white clouds. Depending on what section of the trails I walked, sometimes the trees were sparse...
and other times quite dense.
There must have been a rather strong storm some time ago because there were a lot of dead trees. Some were standing, providing great places for birds and raptors to perch.
When I came back from the walk with the dogs, they were excited to have their pictures taken by some of the 4-Hers.
I'd like to explore the remaining five state parks in 2016. By making this goal a priority, hopefully I will be able to see these new parks.
4. Visit two new national wildlife refuges in Minnesota (Sherburne and Upper Mississippi) as a family, and take the dogs with us as we explore new trails. DID NOT DO.
I did not meet this goal. I'll carry it into 2016.
5. Identify and journal three new birds. ACCOMPLISHED!
On my trip to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas I saw four birds that I have never seen before:
- Boat-tailed Grackle in Venice, Louisiana. Included two photos and wrote a few facts about the Boat-tailed Grackle on Thursday, March, 19, 2015.
- Northern Mockingbird in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Wrote about this bird on Saturday, March 21st. Found out that it likes to make its presence known by sitting high up on fences, vegetation, or wires (which the birds I saw were doing).
Also learned that a male Northern Mockingbird may learn 200 songs in his life. If you hear an endless string of 10-15 different bird songs, it might be a Northern Mockingbird.
- Black Vulture in between Vicksburg and Greenville, Mississippi. I didn't get a picture of this type of bird because I was driving. There were about a half dozen of the black vultures in the median.
I also saw a vulture on the side of the road driving from Vicksburg back to New Orleans. Since there were no cars behind me, I stopped on the side of the road. The vulture just looked at me - much like the bird pictured below - and didn't move from the carrion. It was not going to give up its meal.
I wrote about the Black Vulture on March 23rd. It has a weaker sense of small than turkey vultures (which we see in Minnesota) so they fly higher in the sky than turkey vultures and watch what they do.
They lack a voice box, sro they can only make raspy hisses and grunts.
- Double-crested Cormorant at Lake Chicot, Arkansas as well as in northeastern Louisiana. I wrote in my journal about this type of bird on March 22nd. Found out that they look like a combination of a goose and loon. They are solid, heavy-boned birds that are experts at diving to catch small fish.
They float low on the surface of water. After fishing, they stand on tree limbs to spread their wings and dry out (which is what I saw them do - see photo above for example of two with their wings outstretched).
Another interesting fact: the mouth of these birds is bright blue on the inside.
6. Identify and journal three new types of wildlife. ACCOMPLISHED!
On my trip to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas I saw three new types of wildlife that I have never seen before and one that I have seen before. I wrote in my nature journal about two of the new types of wildlife and one that I had seen before.
- Nine-banded Armadillo in Greenville, Mississippi. (Unfortunately, the armadillo was road kill, but I was able to it up close.) Rather than show what I saw, I found a picture of a living armadillo to show below. I didn't journal about the armadillo.
- Eastern Carpenter Bee in St. Francisville, Mississippi. The bees that were visiting these flowers were huge - way beyond anything I have ever seen. They were focused on flying from flower to flower and didn't seem aggressive or bothered that I was so close to them. It gave me plenty of time to enjoy seeing a bee that does not live in Minnesota.
When I was journaling about the Eastern Carpenter Bee, I found out that the dominant females are responsible for reproduction (rather than just one queen), foraging, and nest construction.
Newly-emerged bees have white wings. They later transition to brown and then to a bluish-black. females can sting and males cannot.
Alligator - I took a picture of an alligator that was, unfortunately, in captivity in an aquarium at a state park in Arkansas (see below under #8). This picture, along with some facts, is in my nature journal that I wrote in on March 22nd.
Found out that alligators were native to Arkansas for thousands of years. Their numbers were heavily depleted by unregulated hunting (for purses, shoes, belts, etc.) from 1860-1960 combined with draining of wetlands.
An alligator's gender is determined by the temperature of the nest. Another interesting fact I learned was that alligators in Arkansas don't eat in the winter months. They bask in the sun, but aren't warm enough to digest food.
7. Take 12 hikes throughout the year. ACCOMPLISHED!
I was able to take 18 hikes this year - more than what I thought I could do. I definitely enjoy hiking, and want to continue to do this throughout the year in 2016.
During 2015, I:
- Hiked briefly at Leroy Percy State Park on Saturday, March 21st. The rutted, muddy road that is pictured below was next to the sign for the state park.
As I drove for probably a good mile on it, sure the car would get stuck the mud, I turned around when I came to a gate to the right hand side indicating this road was not the road to the park, but rather would be the next road over.
No one was at the welcome gate or at the visitors center, so I drove around a bit to see if there were any trails. I didn't see any which is quite different from state parks in Minnesota.
I ended up driving to a section where there were cabins and parking at one where no one was staying. The cabins all were along this river that was clearly flooded.
The ground around the river was very saturated.
Many of the trees were submerged in a couple of feet of water. Since it was raining, I didn't spend too much time outside. It was, nonetheless, nice to get out of the car and walk around a bit.
- Took an extraordinarily brief walk through Winterville Mounds State Park on Sunday, March 22nd. Due to the torrential rain and super-saturated grounds, it was not conducive to a pleasurable hike. Yet, I wanted to go to this park because of its historical significance.
The mounds were build by prehistoric Native Americans and the mounds range in height from between 1-2 stories tall.
There were no large animals used for work at the time, so the mounds were all built by hand. The Native Americans took buckets of soil, brought them to the mound, stomped it down, and then repeated the process.
The trail that they had at this state park was partially submerged in areas due to all the rain that this area of the state has been receiving.
Eventually, I came to a path that someone made using logs. The first and middle parts were rather secure in the mud. However, the last few logs still had some movement in them, thus the intention of keeping one's shoes dry did not work.
My fourth hike was to Franconia Sculpture Park near Taylors Falls on April 30th. The prairie areas (between the grass pathways) were burned or mowed, so there wasn't too much to see in terms of nature.
However, we enjoyed walking around taking a look at the sculptures and spending time on them.
The sky was a beautiful shade of blue.
The next hike I did was on May 9th at William O'Brien State Park. Again, we were with the 4-H Club, except this time it was a smaller group.
It seems like whenever we go, the kids always gravitate to the large rock to sit on.
I like this path because it is level and winds through beautiful trees that provide a canopy over one's head.
At the end of the walk along the St. Croix River, there's a section that you can climb down and explore the water, beach, and little waterfall that tumbles over a creek bed.
It was starting to get dark by the times the kids were done playing in the water and on the beach.
The next walk I took was only a few days later - on May 14th - when our 4-H club went on a short hike around Koi Acres. Because it was raining, we didn't spend too much time outdoors.
We did have plenty of time, though, to enjoy the waterfalls leading to the pond.
The walkways were made from stone and stood high enough out of the water so our feet didn't get wet.
The koi were swimming around the pond - their beautiful colors so breath-taking in the water.
The colors were so bright compared to the overcast day.
The fish were so inquisitive - wanting to get as close as possible to us as we stood by the edge of the pond.
I'm starting to think that the only time I take hikes is with our 4-H club because the next one that I did was a 5K race at Wild River State Park.
I had no interest in running the race. Rather, we took our time enjoying the natural scenery.
We saw woods and open prairie.
In the afternoon, there was a rainbow. The unusual thing about it was that it horizontally rather than in an arch-shape. Nonetheless, it was beautiful and I was so happy that we were outdoors to see it.
For the eighth walk, I went back to William O'Brien State Park with my friend, Chris, who was visiting from Arizona. We took a Nordic Walking class on June 13th.
We went on trails that I had never been on before at the state park, so that was a fun experience.
I'm not sure if I would do Nordic Walking again - although it was a great workout. Since I like to take pictures, having the poles attached to my wrists made it more cumbersome to take photos than I would have preferred.
The ninth walk was at Natura Farms in Marine on St. Croix on Thursday, June 26th. We took a tour around the organic farm that was near a lake.
We saw a variety of berries and fruit growing - many kinds I had never heard of or seen growing before.
We saw natural ways of pest control which made me wonder if we would have similar success with the fruit trees at our farm.
I took a very short hike at Big Marine Park (which is a county-owned and operated park) in Marine on St. Croix. It was eerily quiet near the water since there was some sort of sickness that could be spread by the algae on lakes.
The park was treating the lake, but it was still not one that you wanted to go into. Of course, even with a warning, Sophia and Olivia as well as some of the other 4-Hers we were with had reached the dock before the adults arrived and had already put their feet in the water. With a lake as beautiful as Big Marine, I can see why it was tempting to do that.
The 11th hike I took was in Osceola at the Ridgeview Trail - Chisago Loop on July 3rd. I've done the Osceola Loop and wanted to see what this one was like. It started out beautifully with winding paths.
However, the deeper I got into the woods, the worse the mosquitoes were as they would fly in droves - literally - to any exposed skin. Trying to get photos was difficult because the minute I took my hands out of my jacket pocket, they were covered with mosquitoes.
I continued walking through the woods and came to an open area which had slightly fewer bugs. The trail description said that there would be spectacular views of the St. Croix River. I never saw them.
Perhaps I had to go further on the trail...who knows. What I did know was that I didn't have a water bottle, no one knew where I was, and phone service on my cell phone was non-existent. It was clearly time to turn around.
On the way back, I saw some things I didn't see before - like a partially-moss-covered rock.
The 12th hike was at St. Croix State Park in Hinckley on Satuday, September 13th. Sophia and Olivia were doing the 4-H Photo Club and I took the dogs for a walk. There were nice, paved trails.
Along the trails there were many fall-blooming flowers. It was a great day for a hike.
The 13th hike was at Pleasant Valley Orchard on Thursday, September 17th. After taking a tour of the orchard and the behind-the-scenes operation, we headed out on a nature hike.
We walked past the rows of apples and onto the trail.
Because of the amount of rain that we had been receiving, creeks were swollen and flowing quite rapidly.
The pond was filled and was already showing the change of seasons.
There were beautiful, bright red berries and the sumac was also in full color.
The 14th-17th hikes were all at William O'Brien State Park on Thursday and Friday, September 24-25th. The first hike was just Sophia, Olivia, and me exploring an unmarked trail that high a steep incline and then followed the perimeter of Lake Alice (pictured below).
Lake Alice was full of weeds like we've never seen before. Not sure why it was like this and if it is indicating some type of issue with the lake.
We were fortunate to see over 30 geese fly in and land in Lake Alice. This is one of the flocks that came in - two more smaller groups joined it.
After we ate lunch, we were joined by another family and we walked along the river. We saw some unusual plant life.
The rocks - as usual - are always so eye-catching to me.
Because we were walking with young children, it seemed like I was noticing smaller things that were closer to the ground - like mushrooms. Never realized how many different types there were along the trail.
We stopped at the end of the trail and spent time tossing rocks into the river.
It was a serene afternoon - despite the light rain.
In the late afternoon, we went on another hike with a different family. We explored another trail and I went on one section that I had never been on before. So - two new trails in one day!
We saw unusual-looking berries. Later found out they are poisonous.
On Friday morning, we went along the St. Croix River again. It's interesting how when hiking with different people you see different things. Today we were more focused on the rocks.
I enjoyed seeing the clouds reflected in the water around the rocks as well as the seeing the kids stand on the rocks. Moments before this photo was taken, it was a bit chaotic as they each tried to find a rock to stand upon.
On the way back from the hike, I spotted this beautiful red and white mushroom. How did I miss this the day before?
The kids also had fun sliding down the rock. It is a very smooth rock - and unless you are sitting on the top, you are prone to slide down.
The 18th hike I took was to Franconia Sculpture Park on Saturday, October 10th. Five months ago, I was here with the 4-H Club, and here I am visiting again with them (although a different group of people).
As the youth were taking photos as part of the Photo Club, I walked around with them. There were tiny pine cones on some of the trees.
Milkweed seeds were scattered on the grass.
The prairie areas that were mowed or burned back in April were now filled with beautiful flowers and grasses.
There were new sculptures to see.
There always seems to be something new to see that I didn't see on a previous visit.
With this goal, I am doing well. I didn't realize how much hiking I do throughout the year. I like the combination of visiting new places as well as seeing the same places within the year and noting the changes in the landscape.
None of the wildlife refuges that I visited in Louisiana and Mississippi had nature centers. Rather, they had outdoors displays with information about wildlife typical to the area.
Lake Chicot State Park in Arkansas had a nature center that I visited and learned quite a bit at about the largest lake in Arkansas, some of the wildlife in the area, and the historical significance of the area.
Saw an alligator, though it made me sad that it was in such a small aquarium.
There was a display on the wall with different patches of fur. You could touch the fur and then try to figure out which animal it belonged to using the images on the wall to help.
There was information a bout the Mississippi Flyway - something that the 4-H Wildlife Project Bowl team I am coaching has been learning about over the past few months.
On May 9th, I visited the nature center at William O'Brien State Park.
What was fun about seeing this nature center again was that some of the things that we had studied about during the Wildlife Project Bowl were on display there. I kept thinking, "Hey! I know that!" So, the Wildlife Project Bowl - however overwhelming at times - was well worth the time.
I am so happy to have completed this goal. As I look back on the photos that I took that aligned with the prompts, they definitely captured how the natural world changed throughout the year. I'd like to do some version of this in 2016 and will look for a challenge that has new prompts.
10. Do nature studies at least three out of four weeks of each month (36 entries) both online and in my journal. DID 10 OUT OF 36 ENTRIES.
I started out well - doing two entries on January 4th and 11th. The entries had facts, drawings, photos, a poem, and lots of colors. I spent a lot of time with these two-page spreads (per day).
On January 18th, I did a bird count. It was a simple entry. Planned to do the same thing for January 25th, but never did it.
Didn't do any entries between January 19th-March 18th. On March 19th, I went on a trip to three states. The nature journal entries from March 19th-23rd were filled with photos, memories, and facts. As I look at the pages, I am instantly transported back to the trip and the experiences there. I'm very happy that I documented this 5-day trip.
Took another break until June 12th when I included two photos of the peonies which were in full bloom. The photos showed all the beautiful layers of petals.
Next, on July 7th, I wrote about a hike I took on Ridgeview Trail in Osceola. I included a photo of a rock which caught my eye because part of it was covered with moss. When the photo was developed, it looked like the rock was pink in parts.
So, out of 36 entries, I did 10 entries. I love going back and looking at my nature journal. It brings me back immediately to the time and place I wanted to remember. Maybe setting a more realistic goal would make this seem less intimidating. Either that or I simply need to make a regular time to commit to nature journaling.
11. Try 2 new outdoor sports. DID 1 OUT OF 2 NEW SPORTS
I tried Nordic Walking in June when my friend, Chris, was visiting from Arizona. There are pictures above of the experience.
12. Have 6 picnics when the weather is pleasant and we aren't battling with mosquitoes. DID 4 OUT OF 6 PICNICS
April 30th marked the first picnic of the season with our 4-H club at Franconia Sculpture Park.
It was a beautiful day - sunny and clear...and we didn't need to wear jackets which was nice. Quite a change from the previous year when we had snow well into May.
The next time we intended to have a picnic was on May 9th. When we arrived at William O'Brien State Park it was a little too chilly for the kids to be outside, so we ended up eating in the visitors' center.
We were able to go on a walk along the river, though, which we all enjoyed.
About a month later, on Thursday, June 26th, we went with some families from our 4-H club to Big Marine Park for a picnic. It was a gorgeous day for a picnic in the shade.
After lunch, the kids played on the playground. It was a bit hot in the sun, so we headed out within an hour so they wouldn't all get overheated.
On Thursday, September 24th, we had a potluck picnic when we went camping at William O'Brien State Park with another family from our 4-H club. We had a great dinner - and I introduced them to the way that my dad used to roast marshmallows.
He would roast one until it was golden brown and then ever-so-gently remove the toasted "shell." Then he would re-roast the inner portion of the marshmallow for another treat.
We had a prolonged fall with mild weather (in the 40s) well into December. There was plenty o time to have two more picnics, but I never did.
We have the picnic table from my parents' home in our backyard now. My mom used to love picnics...even if it was in the backyard. Of course, having a view of the lake made it seem like a vacation spot in many ways. I'll miss being able to see the lake.
Although we don't live on a lake, we do have the picnic table as well as pretty parts at our farm. I think it's a matter of making the time to do things that build a connection to nature and to my daughters. These are things/people I value. I need to arrange my life to make them all a priority (not that I don't in other ways...this is just one more way to foster a deeper connection).
13. Go camping twice during the year at new state parks. DID ONE TIME (INSTEAD OF 2).
We went camping, but it was at William O'Brien State Park - a park where we have camped before. Nonetheless, we had a great time and introduced another family to camping and camper cabins.
The camper cabin is one out of three that are in a circle at William O'Brien. There's another camper cabin in the adjacent campground. This section is a bit more quiet and private.
We made a fire in the fire pit which is always a highlight of camping.
This time we didn't monkey around with food. Hot dogs it was. Simple. Easy. No-fail. Not like some of the other disasters we've tried to make on an open fire.
We hot a potluck picnic followed by s'mores and roasted marshmallows for dessert.
After dinner, the girls played Wild Animalopoly.
The camper cabin is such a good fit for what I enjoy about camping - without all the hassle of setting up a tent. I also feel so much safer in a camper cabin versus a tent...especially after the bear incident in Grand Marais.
Next year, we need to plan to go camping earlier in the spring (perhaps right after the water is turned on in the campgrounds) and summer; and then again in the fall.
Nothing new learned here yet. Other activities have taken my time.
15. Attend 4 workshops, classes, or activities at state parks. DID 2 OUT OF 4 ACTIVITIES.
I did a 5K walk at Wild River State Park in June (photos are above) and a Nordic Walking class at William O'Brien State Park in June (photos also are above).