Friday, February 26, 2010

Full-moon walks and owl walks

As I mentioned in my previous post, winter is the best season to watch or simply listen to owls. In some parts of the Northeast, prime owl-watching season has already passed, but you can still find full-moon walks, winter nature walks, and daytime owl programs at nature centers, parks, and AMC’s lodges through March. February 28 and March 30 are full moons, so look for full-moon walks around these dates.

A nice summary of the owls’ “night shift” from Connecticut Audubon.

Full Snow Moon Walk at Haley Farm. Groton, Conn. Sunday, February 28. The Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center in Mystic, Conn., which runs this walk, held its Owl Prowl on February 18, but it’s quite possible that owls will make an appearance at this program.

Full Crow Moon Walk at the Walden Preserve. Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, Mystic, Conn. Monday, March 29.

Full Moon Walks. Connecticut Audubon Society at Trail Wood, Hampton, Conn. Saturday, February 27, and Sunday, March 28.

Raptor Aviary and Visitor Center. Sharon Audubon Center, Sharon, Conn. Although the Sharon Audubon Center has no owl walk scheduled, the center cares for owls and other raptors in its raptor aviary, and its visitors’ center has live-animal displays and other nature discovery exhibits for children and families.

Maine Audubon has a Maine Owl Monitoring Program that begins on March 5.

Moon Rise Owl Prowl. Holly Hill Farm, Cohasset, Mass. Saturday, February 27.

Full Moon Owl Prowls. Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, Natick, Mass. Friday, February 26 and March 27.

New Hampshire
Life in the Cold: Exploring in Winter. Pinkham Notch, NH. Saturday and Sunday, March 5 and 6. AMC senior naturalist Nicky Pizzo runs a full-day program at Pinkham Notch.

New Jersey
Winter Evenings at the Meadows. Cape May Bird Observatory. The Nature Conservancy’s Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge, NJ. Friday, February 26. This “winter evening” will be looking for such signs of spring as woodcock mating displays and snipes on the move.

Animal Tracking: The Basics. New Jersey Audubon Plainsboro Preserve, Plainsboro. NJ. Saturday, February 27.

New York
Whooo said that? Orchard Beach Nature Center, Pelham Bay Park, NY. Sunday, March 14.

Owl Prowl. Peace Valley Nature Center, Doylestown, Pa. Saturday, March 6.

Owl Prowl. Bucks County Audubon Society at Honey Hollow, Solebury, Pa. Friday, February 26.

The History of Barn Owls. Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh, Pa. Saturday, March 13.

Full Moon Family Foray. VINS (Vermont Institute of Natural Science), Quechee, Vermont. Saturday, February 27 and Saturday, March 27.

This is by no means a complete list of all the ways that kids and families can learn about owls, or take full-moon walks, so I hope you'll add any I've missed.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Owl Moon

Jim saw his first owl of the season the other morning. He was turning to leave the kitchen, but a flash of movement outside the window caught his eye. Our kitchen windows look out over the backyard, from the garden and the compost bins to the apple trees and the sledding hill. He stopped and looked, just in time to see a barred owl gliding along the forested edge of the yard. Jim kept watching as the great bird flapped its large wings once, and again, then banked into the woods and disappeared from view.

Jim was struck by how big the bird was, as he is every time he glimpses one of the owls that inhabit the deep forests around here. He could make out the brown and white bars on the barred owl’s wings that give it its name, although they’re easier to recognize as wide stripes when the bird is sitting still. He’s taught Ursula and Virgil how to mimic its faintly nasal, croaking call, “who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all,” along with the call of the more voluble great horned owl, with its slightly syncopated “whoo-who who-whoooo” rhythm.

Owls are early nesters. In fact, the great horned owl has been known to lay eggs even in late January. Around here, we can tell that it’s mating season when we hear the owls calling at night. On nights like that, often when it's calm and moonlit, we go out and listen. We’ve done this with Ursula since before she could walk, ever since we read the book Owl Moon, a Caldecott Medal winner written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by John Schoenherr. In that book, a father takes his young daughter on a walk into the forest on a full-moon night, where he gives the call of a great horned owl, and where, as the daughter tells the reader, “sometimes there’s an owl and sometimes there isn’t.”

There’s a full moon this weekend. If the storms that have swung our way this week depart in time, we’ll walk out into the woods, quietly, and call to the owls. If we’re lucky, they’ll call back.

In my next post, I’ll list places that host “owl walks” around New England.

Learn more
Read about Owl Moon on Jane Yoder's website.
Listen to the call of the great horned owl.
Listen to the call of the barred owl.
Watch a video of Owl Moon.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Best winter walks (and more) with children: Delaware Valley

For the past several weeks, AMC volunteers and staff have shared some of their favorite winter walks, hikes, and other outings for families throughout the Northeast. We started in the White Mountains, inscribed a suburban semi-circle around Boston, and traversed Connecticut from eastern shore to western slope. For the last post in this series, we explore the Delaware Valley and its winter offerings for families.

Two AMC Delaware Valley Chapter members are our guides. John Urick, Delaware chapter trip leader, took his son on many hiking trips and now goes hiking with his granddaughters, ages 13 and 9. Not surprisingly, Urick takes the long view on hiking with children. If you want kids to grow up as hikers, he believes, you want them to enjoy their hikes as children. And that is especially important for winter hikes — where one cold, miserable day can ruin a kid for a whole season or more.

Delaware Valley Chapter member Linda Dallas has moved to two different towns in eastern Pennsylvania in recent years with her young family. Both times, she’s found herself in an unlikely role for a newcomer, that of an outdoors ambassador, encouraging other families to come hiking with her and her children.

Both Dallas and Urick place a great deal of importance on proper clothing for winter hiking with children. “The key to winter hiking is adjusting layers,” Urick says. “It’s harder with young kids, because they don’t really know how to keep from over-heating or getting cold.” Dallas, who has introduced many of her children’s friends to the pleasures of winter hiking, keeps a collection of kid-sized outdoor gear and hand-warmer packs on hand, and makes sure to bring hot chocolate along on outings.

Here are some of their favorite winter outings with children, all of them in east-central Pennsylvania.

Hawk Mountain, Kempton. Urick recommends Hawk Mountain as a hike in any season. The raptor sanctuary and nature center maintains 8 miles of trails and a visitor center that often offers programs geared to young naturalists. “The trails are well-maintained and not too tough on children,” Urick says, and the mountain’s spectacular 360-degree views of the Delaware Valley make it a prime spot to watch spring and fall raptor migrations.

Tekening Trail, Martin’s Creek. “My husband loves to hike on this trail in the winter,” Dallas says, “because we don’t have to worry about ticks on us or our dogs.” It’s also easy to create point-to-point trails that suit the weather and the family’s schedule, whether they plan to hike one mile or one of the longer loops. The trail follows the Delaware River along one side, and the family often sees ducks bobbing on the water, even in the winter.

Ricketts Glen State Park, Benton. The park, which is especially known for its many waterfalls, closes some of its 26 miles of trails during the winter months. But Dallas has learned that many of the falls are only a short distance in from the road (as little as 50 feet) and make for easy winter walks. The icicle-laden falls never fail to delight. The Bear Walk and Old Beaver Dam Road trails, both about 1 mile roundtrip, also offer fairly level trails for hiking or cross-country skiing.

Promised Land State Park, Canadensis. The higher elevation on the Pocono Plateau means that the Promised Land is often snow-covered. The park contains a number of glacial ponds, which are shallow and freeze solid in a good winter. The Dallas family sometimes hikes in to one of the ponds carrying ice skates. “If you hit it right, it’s like skating on glass, and all around you is forest,” Dallas says. “It’s magical.” The last time Dallas took her children to the park, she pointed out the cross-country skiers and promised, in keeping with its name, “That’s where we’re going to go next year.”

This post ends our “winter walk” series, but we hope you’ll tell us how your family spends time outside during the winter, regardless of where your outings take place.

Learn more

- Read 5 tips from AMC family trip leaders for winter outings.
- 3 “Best Winter Walks” in the White Mountains
- 5 “Best Winter Walks” in Boston’s western suburbs
- 4 "Best Winter Walks" in Connecticut

Image: Iced waterfall at Ricketts Glen State Park.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Best winter walks (and more) with children: Connecticut

We’ve been hearing from AMC volunteers and staff about their favorite winter walks, hikes, and other outings for families throughout the Northeast. We started in the White Mountains, then inscribed a suburban semi-circle around Boston. Continuing south, we explore winter outings in Connecticut, where Debra Rich organizes family trips for AMC’s Connecticut Chapter.

Jump Hill Preserve, Easton. Rich and her family like to walk the forested trails of this 117-acre preserve (2.6 miles). The preserve is dotted with reminders of Ice Age glaciers — and those boulders make for great exploring in all seasons. Another Connecticut Chapter family trip leader, Eric Stones, is leading a walk around Jump Hill on Sunday, February 21.

Sleeping Giant State Park, Hamden. Rich and her 8-year-old son, Zachary, visit this park several times a month, year-round. “It’s one of our favorite places to go,” Rich says, and the castle at the top of the Tower Trail is a “great motivator” for kids. The trail can be icy in winter, so Rich bought traction devices for Zachary to put on his boots. Watching her son explore familiar ground again and again, Rich has learned that kids don’t necessarily need new places all the time. In fact, some of the pleasure for both of them comes in noticing what’s changed.

Brooksvale Park, Hamden. This park occupies a corner of Naugatuck State Park. Rich is leading a “Sugar Maple Hike” for the Connecticut Chapter on Saturday, February 27. She's planned a 45-minute hike that starts and ends near an operating sugar shack — and there’s a barnyard zoo, too!

Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, Mystic. The nature center offers a number of winter programs for families and children, including nature discovery for young children and wildlife programs for older children.

For the final post in this series, we will explore winter walks with children in the Delaware Valley. We’d love to hear how your family spends time outside during the winter, regardless of where your outings take place.

Learn more
- Read 5 tips from AMC family trip leaders for winter outings.
- 3 “Best Winter Walks” in the White Mountains
- 5 “Best Winter Walks” in Boston’s western suburbs
- 6 "Best Winter Walks" in Boston's southern metro area

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Great Backyard Bird Count

The 13th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, a joint project of Audubon and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, starts this year on Friday, February 12, and runs through Monday, February 15. I know this because Ursula and Virgil have both brought home information this week about how to participate.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that enlists anyone and everyone around North American to count birds. The effort creates a real-time snapshot of where birds are across the continent. It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day — or people can count for as long as they like each day of the event. As the project’s website says, “It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds.”

In 2009, volunteers submitted more than 94,000 checklists, observed more than 620 species, and counted 11,558,638 birds. Looking at the Great Backyard Bird Count website, I learned that bird watchers in New Hampshire spotted 99 species, and that American Goldfinches were reported most often, at 3,643 birds seen — just barely edging out Pine Siskins, at 3,631.

Our kids are happy to have an excuse to use their binoculars. Ursula was surprised to learn that birds stay here throughout the northern New England winter. She’s already started scanning the skies and the bushes for them, and yesterday when we came home from school, she stood outside, just listening. Virgil has asked to be our data guy, inputting our bird list on the computer — and although I know it’s so he can sit in front of that mesmerizing screen, I’m happy to say yes, because he’ll be adding to our knowledge of wildlife and even aiding the cause of science.

Click on the links below if you want to join in.

Learn more
- Sign up to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count and learn more about it.
- Especially for kids: how to keep a bird list, pictures of common birds, and Did You Know questions to answer.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Best winter walks (and more) with children: Boston South

We continue our series of posts on favorite winter outings for families with children, featuring recommendations from AMC chapter trip leaders and staff. We started in the White Mountains and moved south to Boston’s western suburbs. Now we hear from Boston Chapter family trips leader Heather Hodgson DePaola with suggestions for winter outings in Boston’s southern metro area.

Several of DePaola’s favorite walks — the first three listed here — are in land protected by The Trustees of Reservations. In 1890, Boston architect Charles Eliot, who would become an originating force behind Acadia National Park, proposed that a volunteer conservation organization be created to hold land free of taxes for the public to enjoy “just as a Public Library holds books and an Art Museum holds pictures.” The Trustees of Reservations conserve and care for more than 25,000 acres of forest, wetland, and open space around Massachusetts.

Noanet Woodlands, Dover. DePaola and her daughter, Mckinlee consider this nearly 600-acre Trustees of Reservations preserve “home” territory and visit it in all four seasons. It’s a short drive from their home in Dover. DePaola used to bring Mckinlee in a baby backpack to the top of the hill with its spectacular views of the Boston skyline. Now that Mckinlee is walking on her own, they are just as likely to explore the little ponds around the preserve.

Noon Hill, Medfield. The short trail of another Trustees of Reservations preserve, Noon Hill, leads to a gentle summit and sweeping views. The DePaolas especially like the loop trail around Holt Pond.

Rocky Woods, Medfield. Two brooks, many ponds, and wetlands in nearly 500 acres means there’s always something new at Rocky Woods. In the winter, that can mean exploring the many varieties of ice — the lacy edges of frozen ponds, panes of ice on the trail that are fun to stomp, ice pockets tucked away — and then sharing a winter snack at a picnic table.

Blue Hills Ski Area, Canton. This small downhill ski and snowboard area is still very much in operation and makes for a great winter outing all by itself. DePaola also likes the trails maintained by the ski area and nearby Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory, a one-mile uphill walk from the ski area parking lot. Check ahead for tours of the weather station. The observatory is offering kite-flying lessons on President’s Day, February 22.

Elm Bank, Wellesley. The Massachusetts Horticultural Society, fondly known as “Mass Hort,” is the oldest horticultural institution in the United States. The 36-acre hands-on horticulture center offers adults and children the opportunity to experience, enjoy, and learn about plants and the environment. “Weezie’s Winter Story Hour” is held every Friday in February from 10 to 11 a.m. in the Education Building. The Charles River runs along one side of the center, and DePaola and Mckinlee often take “great strolls” along the river, where there are always ducks and other waterfowl, even in winter, and dogs along the trail for Mckinlee to enjoy.

Children’s Museum, Boston. On some days, the best winter outing for DePaola mother and daughter is to walk to the commuter rail stop near their house, take the train in to Boston, and walk to the Children’s Museum. Sometimes, that’s all the weather lets you do — whether it’s raining or snowing outside or whether it’s a tired child who’s having a stormy day...

Next, we will explore winter outings for families in Connecticut, then winter walks with children in the Delaware Valley end this series. I hope you’ll share your best winter walks with us, too.

Learn more

- Read 5 tips from AMC family trip leaders for winter outings.
- 3 “Best Winter Walks” in the White Mountains
- 5 “Best Winter Walks” in Boston’s western suburbs

Photo credits: Heather DePaola

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Best winter walks (and more) with children: Boston West

This is the second in a series on best winter walks with children. AMC chapter trip leaders and staff have compiled lists of their favorite winter outings for families. We started in the White Mountains, with suggestions from AMC senior interpretive naturalist Nancy Ritger. Now we move to exploring winter with children in the suburbs around Boston.

Eddy Luttmer “retired” from leading family trips for AMC’s Boston Chapter on the last day of 2009. Now that his children are older — his daughter is 22, his son is 18 — he’s looking forward to following their lead in the outdoors. He drew on his own parenting experience, as well as 14 years of leading family trips, for the following list of winter outings in and around Boston’s western suburbs.

Mt. Misery, Lincoln. This close-in peak off Route 117 jumped immediately to Luttmer’s mind. “It has a nice network of trails,” he says, with great views of the Sudbury River.

Walden State Park, Concord. “Obviously,” Luttmer says, Walden pond and the surrounding woods are a great natural retreat in any season, but for locals, some of the appeal of a winter visit is the absence of crowds. Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “Every winter the liquid and trembling surface of the pond, which was so sensitive to every breath, and reflected every light and shadow, becomes solid to the depth of a foot or a foot and a half, ... and it is not to be distinguished from any level field. Like the marmots in the surrounding hills, it closes its eyelids and becomes dormant for three months or more.” Trails are open for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, and also for simple rambling.

Cat Rock Park, Weston. The downhill ski area that ran here for two decades starting in the 1950s left open slopes that make for accessible “back-country” skiing and snowshoeing only a few miles from downtown Boston. In spite of the name, the park has become known as a leash-free area for dogs.

Cutler Park, Newton Highlands. In the summer, Luttmer and his children ride fat-tire bikes along the trails of this well-known green space right next to Interstate 95 (take the Kendrick Street exit). When there’s snow in the winter, those same trails make for great cross-country skiing.

Auburndale Park, Newton. Luttmer recommends this park for families with younger children because of its combination of playground, walking paths along the Charles River, and small-scale nature walks.

The next post explores southern Boston. After that, we learn about great places for families to go in the winter in the Delaware Valley and Connecticut. I hope you’ll share your own thoughts and ideas, too.

Learn more
- Read 5 tips from AMC family trip leaders for winter outings.
- 3 "Best Winter Walks” in the White Mountains

Photo credit: Pick-up hockey at Auburndale Park. Newton Conservators.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Winter's Children: 5 tips from AMC family trip leaders

Ever hear these words? I'm cold. Why are we doing this? I lost my mittens!

If you have, you know the special challenges of being outdoors with children in the winter. How do we encourage hesitant children — and perhaps ourselves — to enjoy the cold air, snow, and even the freezing rain? AMC family trip leaders have lots of experience with this question, and some tips to help answer it. (See below for links to specific recommendations for child-friendly winter outings.)

Explore close to home. "We stay a little more local in the winter," says AMC Boston Chapter family trips leader Heather DePaola, who is mother of Mckinlee, age 3. Last winter, DePaola carried her daughter in a backpack, but discovered that she kept taking off her mittens. Instead of the longer hikes that DePaola had imagined, mother and daughter took advantage of trails near their home in Dover, MA, maintained by The Trustees of Reservations. One of their favorite walks goes through the Noanet Woodlands, a 600-acre preserve dotted with little ponds, to the top of a hill with an expansive view of Boston's skyline. "She's a little better about wearing mittens this year," DePaola says, but they will continue exploring local places.

Be flexible. Pick walks or hikes that give options for bailing out or changing course along the way. "We look for short, point-to-point hikes," says Linda Dallas, a member of the Delaware Valley Chapter, "and hikes that we can shorten" by taking different routes back to the car.

Make it an outing. Debra Rich looks for ways to motivate children on the trips she leads for AMC's Connecticut Chapter. "If I just lead them through the woods, they're going to be asking, 'What's the point? Why are we doing this?'" The castle that looks as if it belongs on a Harry Potter movie set in Sleeping Giant State Park in Easton, CT, is a favorite destination of Rich's 8-year-old son, Zachary. John Urick, Delaware Valley Chapter trip leader, notes, "It's always good to stop for ice cream" — even in winter.

Dress for success. "The key to winter hiking is adjusting layers," says Urick. It's hard enough for adults to dress so that they don't overheat or get cold, he notes, and even harder with young kids. "You don't want them to have a miserable experience and not want to do it anymore."

Dallas sometimes "borrows kids" to encourage her 6-year-old daughter, Sadie, on their winter treks. Some of those young friends show up without the basics, like warm boots. She keeps a stash of extra winter clothing for such situations. "I've learned that plastic bread wrappers work almost as well as wool" in keeping cotton-clad feet warm.

Gear — hiking poles, hand warmers, traction devices — can make winter hikes safer, more fun, and motivating, too. And one piece of "gear" that never fails: a thermos of hot chocolate.

Take advantage of the season. The Dallas family prefers to hike the Tekening Trail in Martin's Creek, PA, during the winter months because "all the ticks are dead then." At the same time, they can watch for ducks and other migratory waterfowl on the Delaware River, which winds along one side of the trail. They also make regular winter pilgrimages to Ricketts Glen State Park, in Benton, PA, which is known for its many waterfalls. The park often closes longer trails during the winter, but Dallas has discovered that her family can reach one of the falls by hiking only about 100 yards in from the road. They've taken to calling that special place "Icicle Heaven."

Toward the end of winter, visit maple sugaring operations. Such outings reassure children and parents alike that winter won't last forever — and sugar on snow is a treat that kids will remember long after. Later this month, Rich will lead a "Sugar Maple Hike" in Naugatuck State Park for the Connecticut Chapter. She's planned a 45-minute hike that starts and ends near an operating sugar shack. There will even be an outdoor petting zoo. And of course she'll bring hot chocolate — and maybe marshmallows, too.

Read more "Best Winter Walks with Children" lists from AMC trip leaders over the next week on the "Great Kids, Great Outdoors" blog.

Learn more
- Noanet Woodlands, Dover, MA
- Tekening Trail, Martin's Creek, PA
- Ricketts Glen State Park, Benton, PA
- Sugar Maple Hike, Naugatuck State Park
- You can also view a complete Family Outdoor Resource Guide on AMC's website.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Best winter walks (and more) with children: White Mountains

You’ve packed the warm clothes, the thermos of hot chocolate and snacks, maybe the snowshoes or cross-country skis, and yourselves. You want a winter outing that doesn’t involve lift tickets or the mall. What to do?

AMC chapter trip leaders and staff have compiled lists of their favorite winter outings for families with children. Suggestions range from short walks for children in backpacks or still finding their cold-weather legs to short-but-steep challenges. Some of the outings include activities, too.

We’ll start with the North Country, explore the suburbs around Boston, and discover winter’s beauty in the Delaware Valley and in Connecticut. I hope you’ll share your own favorite winter walks in these and other areas as we go along.

In this first post of the series, Nancy Ritger, senior interpretive naturalist at AMC’s White Mountains headquarters in Gorham, NH, offers a local’s trio of suggestions at three levels of difficulty.

Diana’s Baths in North Conway. An easy walk on level ground brings you to what could be the winter baths of the goddess of the hunt, complete with crystal and ornate designs, all formed from ice. One mile roundtrip. Take the Moat Mountain Trail off West Side Road about 0.3 mile south of the Conway-Bartlett town line.

Saco River Ski Loop, Bartlett. Ritger suggests that novice skiers explore scenic cross-country ski trails along the Saco River maintained by Bear Notch Ski Touring Center in Bartlett. Some of the touring center trails go right into the Village of Bartlett and by the Bear Notch Deli, where hot chocolate is sure to be on the menu.

Square Ledge, Gorham. Families searching for a more challenging outing that doesn’t take all day need only look across the road from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. Square Ledge Trail begins at the same trailhead as the Lost Pond Trail. A steep (500-foot elevation gain) but short (one-mile round trip) walk, snowshoe, or ski offers breathtaking views of Pinkham Notch and Mount Washington, especially the dramatic headwall of Huntington Ravine.

Next: Winter outings in the Boston metro area.

Learn more

- Directions to Diana’s Baths.
- Information about Bear Notch Ski Touring Center.
- Directions and trail information for Square Ledge on the AMC website.
- Read 5 tips from AMC family trip leaders for winter outings.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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