Monday, December 23, 2013

What Do Animals Do in the Winter? Grin and Bear It

Post contributed by David from Conservation Corps Youth Outdoor Crew 2:

 This week we'll continue not only with our winter weather theme, but with mammals as well. Last week's blog was about the adaptations deer have to brave the cold. But simply trading out summer fur for a much warmer winter coat or huddling together in a group is not always enough to keep an animal alive during the winter months. Some animals use these methods along with hibernation.

 Bears are a classic example of an animal that hibernates throughout the winter. They start the season by finding a place to make a den, such as a cave, rock crevice, or hollowed out tree. They will then spend the winter sleeping. Surprisingly, their dens do not provide much protection from the cold, but bears are able to keep their body temperature at about 88°F throughout the winter nonetheless. During this time, their metabolism drops by more than 50%. Bears will sleep for at least three whole months. Female bears sometimes wake up in January to give birth to a cub, which they will nurse and care for while continuing to sleep for most of the winter. 

Keep reading next week to see how our next animal stays alive during the winter. It may surprise you...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What Do Animals Do in the Winter? Oh Deer...

Post contributed by David from Conservation Corps Youth Outdoors Crew2:

Winter is here and won’t be going away anytime soon. As humans, we have adapted a variety of ways to get us through these harsh winter months. We often put on more weight by consuming fatty comfort foods and plenty of holiday cookies. We sleep much more, because who would want to leave their nice warm bed when its 15 below outside. Some fly south to warmer climates, while many layer up and brave the cold (some even relish in it).  There are many ways that we handle the cold, and it might surprise you to learn that we share many adaptations for surviving the winter with animals.

Look at how thick their winter coats are!
Let's begin with the animals that we are more closely related too. Mammals have two main choices when preparing for winter: will they spend it huddled up somewhere safe asleep, or will they endure the cold and be active throughout the winter months? Deer are one example of mammals that stay active during the winter, and they have many adaptations to help them out. Like most animals, they began preparing long before the winter starts by eating protein and fat dense foods, bulking up to create an insulating fat layer and to provide an energy reserve to get them through when food is much more scarce. They will also trade their thinner summer coat for a much thicker layer of fur to keep them warm. A behavior strategy that they adopt is to form large social groups, which creates the advantage of being able to huddle together for warmth, and makes it easier for them to move around in the snow. 

Today's post kicks off a four-part blog about the many ways animals deal with the harsh Minnesota winters, so stay tuned for more!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Not Just Ordinary Stairs

Post contributed by Anna Hersh, Saint Paul's Seasonal Natural Resources Technician: 

Adding the finishing touches to the stairs at Highwood.
 The Saint Paul Natural Resources Environmental Staff and the Conservation Corps crews were part of a very exciting project at the beginning of November: building a staircase out of wooden timbers at Highwood Nature Preserve. The stairs are part of a restoration project that is taking place at the park and are funded by grants from REI and the Xcel Energy Foundation. The entire project took a little over two weeks to complete and required a lot of digging, chainsawing, and sledge-hammering! We took pictures throughout the entire process so we could compile the photos into a timelapse video to really showcase the work that went into these stairs. You can see the finished video here.

Working hard to dig holes for the timbers at Como.
Several days after the Highwood stairs were completed, the Environmental Staff and Conservation Corps were joined by some dedicated volunteers to build another timber staircase at the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom in Como Regional Park. The staircase, which was also funded by a grant from REI, connects the classroom to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Fireplace. With snow looming in the forecast, this staircase was completed in just six days! We created a second timelapse video using still photos taken during the building process, which you can watch here.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Seeding for Spring

 Post contributed by Anna Hersh, Saint Paul's Seasonal Natural Resources Technician:

Shannon seeding at the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom.
As winter weather sets in (we're seeing snow now, not just cold temperatures), the Natural Resources Team of the Saint Paul Parks & Recreation Department is scurrying around trying to get those last few outdoor projects crossed of their lists. One such project this week was frost seeding, which involves sowing seeds after a frost or before a big snow. The continual freezing and thawing of the ground throughout the winter allows the seeds to work their way into the soil. Once the snow settles on top of them, they are protected from hungry birds and other animals. Then, when spring arrives, the seeds will already be in the ground and ready to sprout.
Seeding at Eastside Heritage Park.

We set out yesterday morning with a truck load of native grass and forb seeds that were collected by volunteers and the Minnesota Conservation Corps earlier in the year. We had a long list to accomplish and a wide variety of seeds to sow, including Little Bluestem, Canada Wild Rye, and Blue Gramma. With the forecast showing a large winter storm coming that night, we wanted to get as much seeding done as possible. We spent the whole day outside and completed our entire list! Indian Mounds Park, the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom, Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, Upper Landing Park, Eastside Heritage Park, and Ames Lake all were seeded with a variety of native plants to help restore the local plant community. We finished up with a sense of accomplishment and snow in our hair. Can you really think of a better way to spend the day?