Fall 2014 Newsletter

Innsbrook Living in Harmony with Nature & Wildlife – Fall 2014

Welcome to our Fall 2014 newsletter, even though it feels far more like winter already!  For many, winter means the end of their time at IBK for the year.  But for others, winter is a magical season with just as many natural wonders that can’t be fully experienced “in town”. This newsletter is dedicated to a few of the truly unique splendors that late fall and early winter bring.

But first a thank you to the over two dozen neighbors who joined us for our first group meeting that featured a discussion on Missouri’s forest ecology followed by a hike along the Lake Konstanz Nature trail. Mushrooms were aplenty on our hike, as well as box turtles searching them out.  We still have copies of our handouts that included guides to fall leaf identification and to the flora and fauna of our forest ecosystem.  The MDC also has a great reference on how trees and forests benefit us all at Benefits of Forests.  If you’re interested in meeting up for a winter walk of the Tyrolean Trail below the Alpine Dam please let us know, especially if you receive snow shoes or cross-country skis as a holiday gift this year!

The Dark Side of Innsbrook….

Going off of daylight savings time in the fall can be a bummer in that it’s dark by 5pm. However, it also means that you can enjoy star gazing without being a night owl. We have read about the Dark Sky Initiative which encourages people to reduce their outdoor lighting to preserve the beauty of the night skies that makes IBK special.  Seeing the Milky Way is thankfully still quite common at IBK, but many have never seen it spilling across the night sky with so much brightness that it looks like a cloud.

Light pollution effects our night skies as well as impacts wildlife, energy consumption, and even our own health. Please consider turning off your outdoor lights when away from IBK, and point landscaping lights downward. GLOBE AT NIGHT is an international citizen-scientist campaign to raise public awareness of the impact of light pollution by inviting people worldwide to measure their sky brightness and submit their observations.  There are three reporting dates this winter when the moon will be new and the stars should be most visible:  Jan 11-20, Feb 9-18, Mar 11-20.  The constellation Orion is an excellent winter sky test.  All you need to do is look at Orion sometime between 8-10pm, count the number of stars you see in that sky section and compare that to the “magnitude guides” on the website after selecting Orion as the constellation.  Magnitude 1 stars are what you’d be able to see in St. Louis at the Galleria parking lot.  Magnitude 7 is what you’d see with the naked eye on top of a isolated mountain in a desert.  We are somewhere in between.  Make your observation then report your findings.  As reports come in, you’ll be able to compare your observations at IBK to thousands around the world and we will be able to track the health of our dark skies over the years.

So, how do you find Orion the hunter?  Orion rises in the east lying on his back and looks very much like the mythical hunter carrying a club. First, you should spot Orion’s belt, which is made of three bright stars in a straight line. One of Orion’s legs is represented by the bright star Rigel, one of the brightest stars in the night sky. His two shoulders are made of the stars Bellatrix (not Bellatrix LaStrange!) and Betelgeuse. You can see Betelgeuse’s reddish color without a telescope.  Our favorite place for stargazing is on the Alpine Dam with a huge expansive southern sky horizon.  It’s very dark with only minimal glow from Marthasville to the south and Truesdale/Warrenton to the east that sadly has deteriorated in recent years.

A Once-in-our-lifetime Stellar Event…

We at IBK have a very rare treat, one of nature’s greatest spectacles, coming on Monday, August 21, 2017.  IBK will be almost dead center at mid-day in the narrow path of a total solar eclipse!  Eclipse chasers from all over the world will likely be descending upon the St. Louis region, which will be the largest metropolitan area near the centerline and maximum duration with many highways to allow quick relocation if the weather closes in. Visit this NASA ECLIPSE webpage for details and plan to make your summer of ‘17 a special family memory.

Fall is for Deer Falling in Love, Kind of…

Deer have been very active in recent weeks for many reasons. According to those great old wives’ tales, the annual rut starts on the 2nd full moon after equinox.  That moon is sometimes called the “Rutting Moon”.  This year, that was November 6th.  During the rut, white-tailed deer, especially bucks, are more active and less cautious than usual so be especially careful when driving.  The buck has one thing on his mind at this time of the year, to find as many does as he can.  He will chase them for weeks at a time, barely eating. He also has to spar with rival bucks.  The rut can take its toll on the bucks.  They are usually quite worn out by the end of the breeding season and may lose a third of their weight.

There are several rut signs that you can often see at IBK as you walk the trails.  To mark his territory and proclaim his dominance for other bucks to see, a buck will rub his antlers on a tree.  This removes some bark and makes smooth patches on trees about shoulder high.  He’ll also make scrapes on the ground with his hooves.  On a trail covered with leaves or pine needles you can see the resulting circles of bare ground.    After all this activity, in the late Spring will come spotted fawns barely able to stand and slow enough to delight photographers.

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Bowers.

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Bowers.

The Woolly Bear Caterpillar Weather Channel…

Quoting those old wives again, these caterpillars can be used to forecast winter weather.  They have 13 segments of brown and black fur, black on the ends and brown in the middle.   It’s said that the wider the middle brown section is the milder the coming winter will be.  Conversely, a narrow brown band is said to predict a harsh winter.  Who knows?  The woolly bear caterpillar is the larval form of the Isabella Tiger Moth.  They hatch from eggs during late summer and winter under tree bark or in the cavities of rocks or logs.  During the third week of September this year they started appearing  en masse crossing our roads looking for that winter habitat.  In the spring, they will spin cocoons and emerge as a moths again.  The Isabella is a medium sized moth with yellowish-orange and cream colored wings with black spots. We saw a rare albino woolly bear caterpillar earlier this fall.  According to the farmer’s almanac, this magical worm could mean a LOT of snow.

Caring for Birds in the Winter…

The approaching winter is tough on our feathered friends.  Birds that usually eat berries or insects are starting to look for alternative foods.  They need more “high energy” food to deal with the colder temperatures.  In addition to keeping our feeders well stocked, we can enlist the kids to help create bird friendly ornaments for outdoor trees all along the IBK nature trails.  Find a stand of tall pine trees and collect a number of pine cones that have already fallen to the ground.  Fill the spaces with peanut butter or suet then roll them in seeds.  Using jute or some other biodegradable string, hang these treats on the trees as you walk an IBK trail.  The birds will thank you for it!

Unlike small birds, eagles seem to thrive during the winter at IBK.  We are truly blessed that IBK is another great place for eagle watching as we have many pristine lakes that are clear enough to see fish.  The eagles will also go after migrating birds like ducks and coots that use IBK as a rest stop.  It’s breathtaking to see a huge bald eagle swoop down on an unsuspecting coot.  Let us know when you see your first eagles of the winter!  Hint:  Look high up in trees on the south side of our lakes as it seems they like to perch with the sun behind them which helps to see the water and a meal more clearly.

Closing Nature Quote

“The color of springtime is in the flowers; the color of winter is in the imagination”  – by Terri Guillemets.

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