Spring 2017 Newsletter

Hello Innsbrook Nature Enthusiasts

In our Spring 2017 newsletter you will find nature news and guest articles on: tips for living in harmony with nature, Innsbrook’s growing bald eagle family, touring Innsbrook trails, nature photography workshop this June, cougars now close by in Missouri, bird feeding tips, phenology and climate change, and results from the recent dark sky survey and winter bird count. If you read or learned something of interest please share this link https://ibknature.com/newsletters/spring-2017-newsletter/ with your Innsbrook friends and neighbors who may not be on our newsletter notification list. They can sign-up by providing their email address where prompted in the top right-hand side field of any page, including this one. Don’t forget to celebrate Earth Hour (tonight) on Saturday, March 25, at 8:30 pm by turning your lights off for just one hour to enjoy rural darkness.

Living in Harmony with Nature

In our winter newsletter we asked readers how well they thought Innsbrook as a community did with practicing its motto of living in harmony with nature. We asked this question because we worry that as we grow we are starting to take for granted just how special and rare the many natural amenities are which we have to enjoy. If you didn’t participate yet but would like to, visit https://ibknature.com/newsletters/winter-2017-newsletter/. Here are the results so far:

It appears most think we do pretty good, but have some work to do better.  We would like to hear what you think our collective community of property owners, residents, visitors, developers, and trustees needs to do better to help us live in harmony with nature. Send us an email to info@ibknature.com and we will report back in the next newsletter.  Here’s one to get us started.

Tip 1 for Living in Harmony with Nature

Yum yum, perfect height for browsing by deer

Our first tip is well known to long-time property owners. Don’t plant anything in your landscaping that you don’t intentionally want to be nibbled on by wildlife! We are not in the city, we are the intruders not the wildlife, and it’s a losing battle! Here’s a photo of the salad bar stop we provide our local deer each winter.  I admit, we were rather clueless when we first moved here and planted arborvitae, but soon discovered that the winter browse line always grew back each year. For wildlife friendly native planting tips visit the Garden Club of Innsbrook’s website at http://www.gardenclubatinnsbrook.org/ or download this MDC guide at MDC Native Plant Guide

Hiking Trail Tour

It’s been inspiring to see so many more families regularly enjoying Innsbrook’s hiking trails in recent years. It’s now a rare day that we don’t see someone on a trail.  For those of you who have not ventured out to enjoy any of these natural amenities you can visit this Innsbrook Resort website page to take a virtual trail tour:   http://www.innsbrook-resort.com/blog/ibk-hiking-trail-tour. Thanks to the Innsbrook marketing team for pulling this together!

Nature Lover’s Hike

Gentle giant along Tyrolean Trail

For our third annual Valentine Nature Lover’s Winter Hike we enjoyed an unseasonably warm, sunny day, as was most of this past winter. Fifteen hikers and four dogs gathered at the log cabin for an easy hike along the Tyrolean Trail. It was a rare February that we could attempt this trail as in most years the gravel road up and down the Alpine Dam can be icy to navigate.  One highlight of this trail is a giant sycamore tree that must be over 250 years old.  It took four of us with our arms outstretched to encircle its base that we estimated to be over 20 feet diameter.  A surprise was the relative lack of wildlife along the meandering Charrette Creek, especially on a warm winter’s day. I see more mammals and birds on our lot than I often do in this valley. We don’t know why this is, but plan to explore it further.

Nature & Wildlife Photography Workshop

Our first Nature Chautauqua event for the summer will be on Saturday, June 3, from 10:30 am – noon at the Charrette Creek Commons meeting room. We are excited to host a visit by Gary Hesse who is a professional photographer that teaches nature photography classes at Meramec Community College. Gary will present a fast-paced one-hour program on tips for getting those special outdoor photographs of landscapes and wildlife.  We also invite our own Innsbrook photo enthusiasts to share what they have learned practicing their hobby in such a perfect setting. The event is free and open to all. At 1 pm there will be an optional hands-on expedition along one of Innsbrook trails for those who desire more personalized instruction directly from our guest expert.

Earth Hour / Earth Day / Earth Epoch

National events of interest coming soon include Earth Hour, sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund, on Saturday evening, March 25, from 8:30 – 9:30 pm local time. Join millions of others around the globe, including landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, and show your love of the planet by turning off lights for just one hour. More info at https://www.earthhour.org/.

Earth Day is one month later on Saturday, April 22. For those of us old enough to remember the first Earth Day in 1970, we can’t believe that in 2020 we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary! While there is no official Earth Day celebration at Innsbrook – other than getting out and honoring the environment by enjoying it – the St. Louis region hosts a 2-day Earth festival at Forest Park that weekend with more info at http://www.stlouisearthday.org/events/festival/.

One week later on April 29 a series of events and marches will occur across the country to raise awareness of how climate change threatens our economy, security, health, and planet. Info at https://350.org/april-29-2017-lets-march/.

Cougars in Missouri

Yes, there are mountain lions (puma concolor) in Missouri, but we prefer to call them cougars or pumas which is equally correct but not as alarming as some media outlets and hunting organizations like to make them sound. This past January we were sad to see that a rare young male cougar was killed while crossing traffic on I-70 in Warren County.  This was widely reported in the regional news including the following at Warren County Record Cougar Article and Fox 2 Cougar News.

MDC informational display at Powder Valley Nature Center

According to experts at the Missouri Dept. of Conservation (MDC), cougars are shy, secretive, and solitary carnivores that avoid human contact. They are rarely seen even at night when they come out to hunt for small mammals, and yes, deer. However, they like other large predators can be dangerous. The MDC offers excellent guidance on what to do on the very rare chance you may encounter a cougar in the wild at MDC Cougar Advice. We recently attended an MDC program at the Powder Valley Nature Center on mammals new to Missouri, such as the cougar and bear, which we hope to have presented at Innsbrook this summer. Until then, we have learned much about the role of cougars in our environment from an organization that Jane Goodall helped to create, The Cougar Fund, at About The Cougar Fund.

Bird Feeding Tips for Innsbrook

This guest expert article comes from Innsbrook resident Steve Taylor who is owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Saint Charles. I asked Steve to educate us on what type of bird seed is best for use at Innsbrook, especially in the Spring.  Steve responded:

“Because of its fat content, black oil sunflower is the single most energy efficient seed you can offer your feathered friends. However, many feeder birds cannot crack a sunflower shell and prefer to look for pieces of the seed meats left by other birds. Therefore, a good quality blend containing the different forms of black oil sunflower can feed as many as 30-40% more feeder-bird species than just black oil sunflower alone. Feeder birds obtain only about 20% of their caloric intake from food offered in feeders, so the type of seed offered is critical to your enjoyment of the hobby. The higher the fat/calorie content of the seed, the better return to the bird for their energy investment, and that means more visits to the feeder!”

“Mmm, Choice Plus seed from Wild Birds” – Photo R. McFall

I went on to ask Steve whether we need to be worried about the quality, origination, and freshness of seeds we use in our feeders. “About 90-95% of all birdseed grown in the US is grown for human consumption products, and the bird seed portion of this is either by-product from processing or excess acreage of certain crops.  Therefore, the seed offered to birds is grown under the same regulations (for fertilizers, pesticides, non-GMO, etc.) as human food with some corn being the exception due to non-GMO. In some cases, certain crops must be imported because of crop shortage, draught, or it’s simply not grown in this country.  This amounts to a very small percentage and again, these imported seeds must meet stringent customs regulations. Nyjer seed fed to finches is a perfect example, as it is 100% imported. As far as freshness is concerned, purchase from a reputable dealer that specializes in bird feeding, as they will receive multiple shipments weekly to avoid the issues of warehousing for long periods of time.”

“Just starting to feed the birds here at Innsbrook? Try feeding from a suspended tray or simply on the ground. As birds visit your feeding area, you can figure out what birds you prefer to feed and tailor your choices of feeders and seed. Your bird feeding store and their specialists can answer all your questions and help you enjoy the hobby. A great resource for more information is: https://www.wbu.com/get-started.”

Next time I will ask Steve how we can avoid feeding so many non-flying critters unintentionally at our bird feeders!

Our Beloved Innsbrook Eagles

This update comes from Innsbrook property owner and master naturalist Allison Volk who writes:

“I am so excited to report that a pair of Innsbrook eagles is currently raising two apparently healthy chicks. The off-white 3 inch eggs hatched right around the first of March. This photo of mom feeding both chicks was taken when they were about 15 days old. The parents can begin leaving the chicks after their bodies are able to thermo-regulate their temperatures, but the parents are never far away and guard the chicks and nest aggressively.

Mom feeding chicks – Photo by Allison Volk

After 25 days or so the next set of feathers will begin to emerge on the chicks, which will be dark brown in color. These will eventually grow into the very long flight feathers that give the juvenile eagle the appearance of being larger than their parents. These extra long feathers help the young eagle while learning to fly.  The young birds of prey will fledge from the nest some 75-80 days after birth but may still be fed by the parents for another 6 weeks.

Perhaps due to the very unique situation of Innsbrook, the eagles are not very afraid to be around humans, so please be extremely considerate of the eagle family and always give them the space they need. Do not ever help a young (or mature) eagle with food. Their parents have a process of helping eaglets become independent and we should not interfere as it could risk the survival of the eaglet as it leaves home for good. The eaglets are very fast to grow but slow in learning to catch food for themselves.  Eagles are extremely opportunistic hunters and it is best that we do not train them to think we can provide for them.

It’s possible that we will be seeing another nesting pair within Innsbrook.  Keep reporting your eagle sightings, especially if you see more than two adults or ANY juvenile. The youngsters will appear to be very large with a flat wing span in flight and a marbled or flecked brown/gold underwing belly and wing in flight. Eagles are larger than a turkey vulture and do not fly with their wings looking like a “V” in the sky, though they often soar in the wind thermals just like vultures. As a master naturalist I would very much like to hear of your sightings or photos so send me a note to avolk@mac.com.”

Thanks Allison for that great update which reminds us again how special and rare Innsbrook is, along with our responsibilities to maintain a healthy ecosystem and habitat for wildlife on the ground and in the air. You can see learn more about our Innsbrook Bald Eagles, including recent photographs of the growing chicks, at https://ibknature.com/gallery/innsbrook_eagles/.

Great Backyard Winter Bird Count Results

Thanks to all those who participated in the winter bird count this year.  Warren County, including Innsbrook, reported 30 species, including 7 types of woodpeckers and 5 types of raptors.  The state of Missouri showed great diversity with over 140 species reported.  You can explore the data at http://gbbc.birdcount.org/.

Dark Sky Results

We find the winter night skies just as spectacular for star-gazing as the summer months, and the Orion constellation always impressive. This past month we participated in an international citizen scientist survey https://www.globeatnight.org/  that measures the erosion of our rural night skies due to light pollution. This year we reported seeing stars down to a magnitude of 5.5, a bit worse than last year. If you have neighbors that leave Innsbrook for weeks or months at a time, please ask them to turn off their outdoor lights. Remind them that this is not the city and many of us moved out here for clear skies in the day and dark skies at night.

Will Climate Change Affect Innsbrook?

Don’t get close to any snake with “racer” in its name!

We had another record warm winter with very little precipitation. For several years on a Phenology Log page at https://ibknature.com/phenology-log/ we have recorded how shifts in our local weather may be impacting the seasonal cycles of the flora and fauna at Innsbrook. As example, those of you on a lake already know how dry seasons or flash floods, which we seem to have more frequently, adversely impact water levels and water quality. This February, in the middle of winter when we rarely think about encountering snakes, we witnessed a Yellow-bellied Racer snake sunning itself along a trail. And ticks are appearing earlier each year it seems.

This summer we will be collecting more information about climate change in the Midwest and across the globe for a new page at  https://ibknature.com/climate-change/. For now, the only content we have is a simple poll question asking if you believe what the vast majority of the world’s scientists do, that man-made climate (and ocean) change is real and happening now due to the burning of fossil fuels that puts carbon into the atmosphere. Visit our climate change page now to vote and we will report back the results in our summer newsletter. Until then, view this map to see just how early spring came across the US, including Missouri at https://nyti.ms/2m36XjG

Closing Nature Quote

Innsbrook property owner Shawn Pohlman shared this comment with us in response to a question we had about what our readers love the most about living so close to nature at Innsbrook.

“Nature is what called me to Innsbrook from the beginning, and nature is what continues to nourish my soul. Nature reminds me to focus on the now. Nature reminds me to pay attention to the little things, like a lizard scampering on a rock or a single leaf floating down to the ground or a fish plunging back into the lake after a high jump. The steady presence of Mother Nature calms me by reminding me of my place – I am just a tiny dot on a page that we refer to as “the universe.” Last but not least, changes in Nature, like our four seasons at Innsbrook, nudge me to continue to adapt – and that is a good thing – as flexibility is an important ingredient to a happy life.”

Thanks Shawn for expressing so well what many of us surely also feel.

Rich & Kath for the Innsbrook Nature Group

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