Wednesday, February 3, 2016

BirdSleuth School Garden Grant

School gardens provide the context for lessons across subjects and offer a wonderful opportunity to engage students in hands-on, project-based learning opportunities. Students that engage in school gardening are likely to experience academic, physical, emotional, social, and even behavioral benefits.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is seeking ten dedicated teachers within the United States who strive to bring STEM and healthy living from the garden to the classroom. These teachers will receive a $500-$2,000 grant, gardening supplies, and BirdSleuth’s Habitat Connections kit. Funds may be used to support the building or revitalization of school gardens. In addition to food gardens, preference will be given to bird, pollinator, native habitat, rain, and other natural projects.

Application Process & Eligibility
The application is open to all K-12 schools, public and private, within the United States. Application deadline is February 15, 2016. All applicants will be notified on February 22, 2016. At least half the gardens funded will be underserved, high-need, urban schools. Apply now. Email with any questions.

Grant Details & Timeline
  • All winners will be notified February 22, 2016.
  • Selected winners must first attend an online training either March 3 at 7pm ET or March 7 at 8pm ET. Upon completion, 75% of the allocated funds will be provided along with the Habitat Connections kit.
  • Between March and June, the winning schools must implement their proposed garden plan and the kit lessons.
  • A final report is required no later than July 1, 2016 from each school. This final report will consist of a brief survey and sharing the school’s progress on the BirdSleuth Action Map. Upon submission of the final report, each school will receive the remaining 25% of the funds to support continuation of the project.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Let’s Look for Tracks!

Animal footprints or tracks are one way to learn about an animal without actually seeing it. In addition to helping identify the animal, tracks can reveal a complex story about the animal. Tracks let us know that wildlife is alive and well. They also tell us about how an animal is built and how it moves.

Identifying and following a set of animal tracks is a great treasure hunt. Any season is a good time to look for tracks, but winter and spring are prime. Snow and soft ground create easy-to-find, distinctive imprints. Tips for identifying common wildlife tracks are available on the DNR website.

Try these simple ideas to help introduce animal tracks to your students.

Create a Track Mat
Materials: cloth of desired size (such as muslin or canvas), fabric paint, animal track stamps, paint brush

Instructions: Create an animal track scene. Stamp animal tracks on cloth as though animals walked across the fabric. Paint in trees, water etc. and stamp the animals tracks as you may find them in nature, i.e. duck tracks by the water, squirrel tracks by the trees. Share with your class. Have the kids tell stories about what they think the animals are doing, where they are going and what they might eat or where they might live.

Track Stories
Provide paper, animal track stencils, animal stamps, crayons and markers, etc. for your kids to create a visual story about animal tracks.

Sand Prints
Fill one tray with wet sand and other with dry sand. Provide children with a variety of objects for making imprints in the sand. Possibilities include different shoes (flip flop, tennis shoe, high-heeled shoe, etc.); plastic animals and other toys; or spoons, cookie cutters, and other kitchen utensils. Which works better: wet or dry sand? What else do children notice?

Track Art
Invite children to use their hands, feet or various objects to make impressions on paper using finger paints. See how many shapes and patterns they can make.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Easy Bird Feeders

Kids are fascinated by birds. If possible, set up a bird feeder outside your classroom window. Bird feeders can be as simple as stringing Cheerios or old pretzels onto yarn and tying the ends together. Birds love these winter treats.

Try these easy-to-make bird feeder ideas from the KinderNature website.

Pinecone Feeders
Have children pick out a pinecone, tie a string to its top end. Using spoons, children can smear either vegetable shorting or peanut butter onto the pine cone. Roll pinecone into birdseed, place into ziplock back for children to hang on a tree at home.

Drumlin Farm Fruit Bird Feeder

Cut a grapefruit or an orange in half. Core out the fruit inside the peel (kids can eat this part). Punch three holes into the peel’s sides and attach strings so you can hang the feeder. The children can mix the following ingredients together to make a bird pudding: 1 cup flower 4 cups birdseed, 1 cup hot water, 2 cups oatmeal, 1 pound lard or vegetable shortening. Help your kids spoon the bird pudding in the fruit feeder.

Biscuit Bird Feeders

Open a tube of refrigerated biscuits. Have your child poke a hole into the middle of the biscuit. Lay the biscuit into a bowl of bird seed until it’s covered in seed. Lay the biscuit on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake as directed. When it’s cool, tie a string through the hole and then hang your new bird feeder outside. Put close to a window so all can watch the birds devour every bite.

Bagel Bird Feeder

Have the children spread shortening onto one half of a bagel. Push bagel shortening side down into bird seed. Place a string though the hole in the bagel and hang outside.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Winter Fun

Bundle up the kids and head outside this winter for fresh air and exercise. Try these fun ideas to keep kids active.
  • Shovel snow into big piles. Provide child-sized snow shovels and encourage children to transform the large piles of snow into snow caves and slides.
  • Make igloos with ice cubes or larger blocks of ice (freeze water in cardboard milk cartons). Build a town of igloos.
  • Make colored ice cubes by adding a few drops of food coloring to water. Hide them around the play yard and let the children hunt for them.
  • Flood a section of the play area so that children can practice “boot” skating.
  • Supply nontoxic, water-based paint so that children can turn snow sculptures into colorful creations.
  • Place a heated water dish near your bird feeders and observe the tracks of animals that visit it.
  • Blow bubbles. Do they freeze? What happens when they land?

Helpful Websites
Winter Activities Kids Love -

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Bald Eagle Watch Events

Winter is the best time in Iowa to spot a majestic bald eagle soaring overhead. Attend a hawk watch event to take in this incredible sight. Visit the DNR website for more information about bald eagles.

2016 Bald Eagle Watch Events
* events with asterisk have a school day on Friday. For more information, contact the events directly.

Clinton Bald Eagle Watch 
Saturday, Jan. 9
This event is in its 32nd year.  In coordination with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pam Steinhaus, with contributions from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Clinton CCB, numerous conservation organizations and the Iowa DNR. Wonderful family entertainment                                             
  • Outdoor viewing: Lock & Dam 13, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • Live Bird and Nature Programs: Clinton Community College, 9:45-2
  • Exhibits: Clinton Community College from 9 – 2
  • Free bus service from college to the outdoor viewing area.
  • For more information call 815-259-3628

Saturdays and Sundays, Jan. 2 - Feb. 7, Arsenal Island, Rock Island, Ill. Hours are 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Combination Eagle Watch and Historic Clock Tower Tours
  • Reservations are recommended as group size is limited.
  • For more information contact Visitor’s Center Staff  at 309-794-5338
*Quad Cities Bald Eagle Days                                                       
Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 9-10

QCCA Expo Center, 2621 Fourth Avenue, Rock Island, Ill.  One of the largest bald eagle events in the nation with many exhibitors and wildlife artists and plenty of activities for the family. Hours: 4 – 8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday
  • Live eagle and bird of prey programs by The World Bird Sanctuary
  • Special attractions
  • Wildlife art show and sale and environmental fair
  • For more information contact the Mississippi River Visitor Center at 309-794-5338 or Arlynn Hartwig at 309-788-2543
*Dubuque Bald Eagle Watch                                                         
Saturday, Jan. 16 at the Grand River Center with environmental-themed exhibitors.
  • Outdoor viewing south of Lock and Dam 11 at A.Y. McDonald Park from 9 a.m.–4 p.m.
  • Live eagle and bird of prey programs by The World Bird Sanctuary at 9:30 a.m., 12:30 and 3 p.m.
  • Indoor exhibits from 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. at the Grand River Center - Port of Dubuque
  • Trolley rides from Grand River Center to outdoor viewing area
  • For more information call 563-556-4372 or 563-582-0881

*Keokuk Bald Eagle Days
Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 16 - 17 Midwest’s largest concentration of bald eagles.  World class environmental exhibitors. Native drum and dance continue a legacy of honor for our national symbol.                                              
  • Indoor programs and environmental fair at the River City Mall, Keokuk
  • Live eagle programs Saturday 9-3 and Sunday 10-3
  • Outdoor viewing along the riverfront 
  • For more information call 1-800-383-1219
Muscatine Bald Eagle Watch
Saturday, Jan. 23 - A chance to enjoy eagles fishing in open water provided by Dam 16.  Fantastic urban viewing.
·         Outdoor viewing from 9 - 3 at Pearl City Station and Lock & Dam 16
·         Live eagle programs at 9:30 and 11 a.m. at the Pearl City Station in Riverside Park
·         Environmental exhibits inside the Pearl City Station office
·         For more information call the Muscatine Ranger office at 563-263-7913

Coralville Bald Eagle Watch
Saturday, Feb. 6

Indoor Expo: Join the Iowa City Bird Club with Karen Disbrow, at North Central Junior High.
  • Outdoor viewing at Tailwater West Picnic Shelter downstream from the dam at Coralville Lake
  • Indoor programs 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. at North Central Junior High, 180 Forevergreen Road, North Liberty
  • For more information call 319-338-3543 ext. 6308 or 319-430-0315

Des Moines Bald Eagle Days                                                         
Friday and Saturday, Feb. 12 - 13 

Friday, Feb. 13: Iowa DNR will be hosting a lunch with eagles at Grays Lake, 2100 Fleur Drive in Des Moines.  Outdoor viewing and replica nest 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 14: Des Moines Parks and Rec Outdoor viewing with indoor live eagle at Fellowship Baptist Church 1503 SE Sixth Street, in Des Moines.  Ty Smedes, Urbandale author and photographer, will give a slide presentation on bald eagles at 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. SOAR - Saving Our Avian Resources - will be present at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. with a live education ambassador bald eagle and another guest education ambassador. SOAR will also be discussing the current hazards that bald eagles face in today’s environment and the steps taken when eagles are brought into wildlife rehabilitation.  All ages are welcome,

  • Saturday outdoor eagle viewing, replica nest, live eagle indoors 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Sixth Avenue Bridge, Fellowship Baptist Church 1503 SE Sixth Street in Des Moines.
  • There will be children’s activities and the event is free and open to the public. 
  • For more information call 515-248 6369.

Saylorville Bald Eagle Watch

Sunday, Feb. 28 A driving tour of Saylorville Lake with eagles at every stop.  Special live eagle program at Jester Park Lodge.

  • Outdoor viewing at selected sites around reservoir, start at Visitor’s Center 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • For more information call 515-276-4656
Effigy Mounds Bald Eagle Watch                                                  
Friday and Saturday, Feb. 26 - 27 Hoffman Hall exhibit area is extensive, packed with great exhibitors and exceptional live bird presentations.

  • Friday 7 p.m. - free birding programs at Country Inn & Suites and the AmericInn, in Prairie Du Chien, Wis.    
  • Outdoor viewing at Prairie Du Chien Visitor’s Center on the river
  • Indoor Program at Hoffman Hall, 1600 S Wacouta Avenue, in Prairie Du Chien, Wis.
  • For more information call 563-873-3491 or 608-326-8555 ext 11  

O’Brien County Bald Eagle Watch
Saturday, March 6 Prairie Heritage Center with elevated viewing deck.  Experienced birders on hand provide educational opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages.
  • Prairie Heritage Center, 4931 Yellow Avenue, in Peterson
  • At 2 p.m., Christina Roelofs from SOAR (Saving Our Avian Resources) will have a live bald eagle.  She will talk about the bird’s special adaptations and give other information about their current population status. Bring your camera and take advantage of this amazing opportunity to see a majestic bald eagle from an arm’s length! 
  • For more information call Charlene Elyea at 712-295-7200.

Sioux Rapids
Saturday, Mar. 12 The event includes live eagles with interesting environmental presentations. It is hosted by Marian McNabb. American Legion Building, 200 Main Street, Sioux Rapids.   
  • 10 a.m.. - 2 p.m. Registration from 8:30 - 10 a.m., Lunch served at 12:15, free will offering
  • Speakers from 10 a.m. to Noon. Presentations include live birds.
  • Outdoor viewing at selected sites. For more information call 712-296-4920 or 712-295-7200

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Iowa State Parks Celebrates the New Year with First Day Hikes

Iowa State Parks will sponsor free, guided hikes in 17 state parks on New Year’s Day as part of America's State Parks First Day Hikes initiative in all 50 states. 

America’s State Parks First Day Hikes offer individuals and families an opportunity to begin the New Year rejuvenating and connecting with the outdoors by taking a healthy hike on January 1 at a state park close to home. First Day Hikes offer a great way to get outside, exercise, enjoy nature and welcome the New Year with friends and family. 

“We are excited to host First Day Hikes as part of this national effort to get people outdoors and into our parks.  First Day Hikes are a great way to cure cabin fever and burn off those extra holiday calories by starting off the New Year with an invigorating walk or hike in one of our beautiful state parks,” said Todd Coffelt, chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources State Parks Bureau.

“Last year, we hosted a record-breaking 41,000 people who hiked 72,442 miles in our state parks across the country when we launched America’s State Parks First Day Hikes,” said Priscilla Geigis, President of the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD).  “Think of it as the start of a new and healthy lifestyle, for the whole family. Whether you’re staying close to home or traveling, join us at one of America’s State Parks on New Year’s Day.”  

Iowa’s state parks boast a variety of beautiful settings for year-round outdoor recreation, and each First Day Hike will offer an opportunity to explore the unique natural and cultural treasures close to home. 

“Studies have proven that getting outdoors is one good way to relax and recharge the body, mind and spirit,” stated Lewis Ledford, NASPD’s executive director.  “We hope that hiking along a trail in a state park will become part of an individual’s or family’s regular exercise routine.”

Staff and volunteers will lead First Day Hikes in Iowa’s 17 participating state parks. Hikes will average one to two miles or longer depending on the location.  Details about the hikes can be found at  and to see a comprehensive map of First Day Hikes across the country, visit

Iowa First Day Hikes will take place at the following 17 state parks:

NORTHWESTGitchie Manitou State Preserve
Stone State Park
Dolliver Memorial State Park
Brushy Creek State Recreation Area
Ledges State Park
Springbrook State Park

Wilson Island State Recreation Area
Green Valley State Park
Waubonsie State Park

Walnut Woods State Park
Honey Creek State Park
Honey Creek Resort
Lake Darling State Park

Backbone State Park
Mines of Spain State Recreation Area
Pikes Peak State Park
Yellow River State Forest

America's State Parks is committed to promoting outdoor recreation in state parks as a way to address obesity, especially among children.  Getting kids outside and unplugged from video games and other electronic media creates a unique connection with nature that promotes physical and mental well-being and encourages creativity and stewardship of our shared resources.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Class Guide for Winter Fun

Create a class how-to guide for enjoying winter outdoor time. Include sections on what to wear, how to stay safe, and various fun activities your class can do (see below for ideas). Let your students help design the pages.

  • Build animals out of snow.
  • Use child-sizes shovels to clear sidewalks or play areas. Haul away snow using sleds.
  • Make colored ice cubes by adding a few drops of food coloring to water. Hide them around the play yard and let the children hunt for them.
  • Look for animal tracks in the snow.
  • Make a snow shelter.
  • Use diluted food coloring in spray bottles to color the snow.
  • Leave birdseed on ground at night. Inspect the snow the next morning to see who came to lunch last night!
  • Have a scavenger hunt in the snow. Use sticks to mark the hidden locations with an “X.”