Sunday, October 13, 2013

Exploring River Bend Nature Center

Recently I joined the board of River Bend Nature Center in Faribault, Minnesota. Faribault is our county seat, roughly 20 minutes' drive south of Northfield. River Bend offers miles of trails on more than 700 acres of restored prairie, deciduous woods, wetlands and riparian habitat adjacent to the biggest bend in the otherwise relatively straight Straight River. The Straight River flows from Owatonna, Minnesota, and joins the Cannon River at Faribault; the Cannon flows through Northfield and Cannon Falls on its way to meet the Mississippi River at Red Wing.

My children have spent more time at River Bend than I have (so far), as it's one of the key field trip destinations for Rice County schoolchildren, offering experiential environmental learning programs. They also offer summer day camps and an Outdoor Adventures Program that gives both youth and adults the opportunity to learn skills like rock climbing, archery, fly fishing, geocaching and slacklining (which is kind of like low-altitude tightrope walking -- it looks fun). I'd been aware that Minnesota State Parks & Trails has a program like this (the "I Can Camp/Fish/Climb/etc." series) at sites around the state, but I only recently discovered that River Bend also offers this kind of skills-based education.

Since joining the board I've been making a point to explore the grounds more. Admission is free every day (but memberships are a great way to support RBNC). Today was a glorious fall day -- sunny, pleasantly cool and free of the brisk winds that have been with us for the last several days. With my camera in hand I walked the Overlook / Walnut / Racoon trails at the north end of the grounds. This was the first time I'd been on any of these trails. Here are a few of the sights. I'll start with my favorite shot of the day, though it's out of sequence.

A perfect hill and sky

I think this is the edible Chicken of the Woods mushroom. Impressive!

I need to learn trees better - I think these are aspens turning gold

Wild grapes

Brilliant sumac amid prairie grasses

Layers of autumn hues

Goldenrod gone to seed

Closeup of the fluffy goldenrod seed clusters

Fall color -- and a paper wasp nest high in the tree on the left
Paper wasp nest seen closer

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Transitional Goldfinch

It's the time of year when the male American goldfinch loses his lemon-yellow breeding plumage and takes on his drab winter colors. Here are a couple of photos of a transitional goldfinch at one of our feeders this past week. Kind of a mess, isn't he?

For comparison, here is what a male goldfinch looks like during the breeding season (spring and summer):

And here is a winter goldfinch (this may be a female, as a winter male may have more yellow on his head, but they are not terribly different from each other):

I've written about goldfinches several times: see other posts here.