In our Winter 2017 issue you will learn about a lunar eclipse timed perfectly for love birds, what’s to like about winter hiking, animal tracks in the snow, the next great bird count and dark sky survey, lake water quality reports, the naturalist’s bookshelf, and 2017 events being planned, including the Great American Eclipse. But first, we will start with a short poll question on….
How Important is Living in Harmony with Nature at Innsbrook?
At the December property owner’s meeting we did not hear as much about Nature – or living in harmony with it – from either the speakers or audience as in previous years. This may be great news if it means we are already doing all that we can. On the other hand, I worry if we have started to take our community’s mission and maxim of “living in harmony with nature” for granted. What do you think; how well does our community overall perform with living, playing, and growing in harmony with Nature? By community, we mean all of us including property owners, residents, visitors, the Village, and the resort development. Are we just about perfect as-is, or do we still have some aspirational work to do? Tell us what you think in this anonymous poll and we’ll share results in our Spring newsletter.
Valentine Nature Lover’s Hike on Feb. 12
For each of the past two years we organized a nature lover’s winter hike on Valentine Day weekend. On our 2015 hike the temperature that afternoon was falling from the teens into single digits, and we awarded prizes for the warmest yet worse dressed hiker! Then last year we had several inches of fresh snow that morning, but still had a few hardy spirits to join us as a test of loving Nature. This year we will try again on Sunday, Feb. 12, at 1 pm for a 1-2 hour hike. Based on the weather and road conditions, we’ll select the trail and meet-up location a few days beforehand and announce it under Nature News. (Just a reminder that this is not an Innsbrook Resort sponsored event nor are we a formal club, so the decision to participate in a winter hike is at your own risk.)
Why We Like Hiking in the Winter Too!
Winter hiking at Innsbrook can be just as enjoyable as during other seasons, but for different reasons. The views and vistas are much bigger. Wildlife tracks in the snow remind us of all the unseen critters that call Innsbrook home. The skeletons of giant trees without their leaves are awe inspiring, showing us the lungs of our planet. And of course, there are fewer people, as well as ticks! Yes, it can be dangerous with slick frozen patches hidden in the shadows that never see sunlight. That’s why when in doubt we always take hiking poles as well as snap-on ice grips, like Yak Trax, for our boots. (We found ours at the Alpine Shop in Kirkwood, and after the last ice storm I keep an extra pair in my car just in case I ever have to bail out again while driving home.) The most common mistake we have made in winter hikes is not taking water with us, thinking it was not needed when dehydration is just as important in cold weather and more often to occur because you don’t think you are perspiring.
Animal Tracks in the Snow
More foxes and coyotes have been seen or heard around Warren County in recent years, including Innsbrook. It’s been a gift of Nature to so frequently encounter a red fox along the Konstanz Trail, especially in the pine forest section which seems enchanting with or without critters. While bobcats have been reported as well, we have only seen their tracks. It’s easy to be confused by these very similar paw prints as they are all about 2 inches in size with 4 toes. Coyotes have the most pronounced claw marks and the widest toe pads. The heel pad of a red fox will be an inverted V. Contrary to what you might think for a cat, bobcats actually have less visible claw marks. More tips on tracks can be found at MDC Mammal Tracks. In this photo of one mammal being chased by the other, can you identify who they are, and which one is running faster, away from the other?
Put IBK on the Map of the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC)
Organized by Cornell University and the Audubon Society, the GBBC is a citizen-scientist project to monitor the health of bird populations all over the globe. This winter’s bird count is Feb. 17-20. Last year, over 160K people submitted checklists spotting nearly 6,000 different species for a total of over 18 million birds! Missouri had 139 species reported with over 40 from just within Innsbrook. It’s easy and fun to participate. Set up an account (either on-line or with the app), count birds for at least 15 minutes during any of the dates of the count, and then enter your results. All submitted data is mapped and you can explore what others see in our area. Here’s a link to the Great Backyard Bird Count website for more information (including teaching tools for your kids) and to download the app. If you need help with bird counting basics, be sure to visit Bird Counting 101.
Tips on Winter Bird Feeding
I’ve found that the best way to count birds is simply to go outside to fill my bird feeder then immediately come back inside and sit with a hot chocolate for 15 minutes watching the feathers and feast through the window. In fact, I think of our great room windows as a super widescreen high-definition 3D TV always turned to the nature channel with something interesting invariably going on. Experts recommend changing the type of bird feed used over the winter that accommodates the change in birds who stay behind for the season. Here’s an article from the GBBC on Winter Bird Feeding that describes the types of food birds need for winter, how to set up and maintain a feeder, and how to provide fresh water that they still need especially in a frozen world. The most recent Village Newsletter Jan 5 had a great article about all head-banging woodpeckers that are so frequently seen this time of year. Remember that by hanging suet feeders for woodpeckers you can lure them to lay off the bird feeder to make room for smaller species.
Nature High Above Us
For those celebrating an early Valentine’s Day at Innsbrook, a full moon will occur on Friday evening, Feb. 10. Watching a full moon rising with its light reflected off a frozen Innsbrook lake is magical. A special treat this year will be a penumbral eclipse of the moon on that Friday evening, visible from moonrise at 5:30 pm to just after 8 pm. A penumbral eclipse is where the moon enters the hazy outer part of the earth’s shadow, unlike the full lunar eclipse many of us witnessed in Sept. 2015. This type of eclipse is not always easy to discern, especially if the moon rises after it already starts. More information can be found at Penumbral Lunar Eclipse. As the moon rises in the East, the planets Venus and Mars, appropriate for Valentine lovers, will be dancing in close proximity to each other while setting in the west. Venus will be so bright in February it may be visible to the naked eye during the daylight.
Dark Sky Survey
The Globe at Night project is another citizen-scientist led campaign to bring attention to the loss of our natural dark skies due to light pollution. Those of you who have had property at Innsbrook for decades can testify to the very noticeable loss of our own dark skies that started to the east toward Wentzville, then north to Wright City, and now west to Warrenton. Light pollution inside the gates has also become worse. I’ve discovered that often the most unnecessary outdoor lighting comes from a few property owners who spend the least time at Innsbrook but leave their automatic lights running while gone, thinking they are still in the city! This year between Feb. 18 and 27, when the moon is way past full, you can participate in a dark sky survey by measuring the brightness of stars visible to the naked eye in the prominent constellation Orion. Last year I recorded seeing up to magnitude 5.5 stars, not bad. To learn how to record your own report this year visit Globe at Night or send your observations to us and we will log it for you.
Great American Eclipse Planning
The rare total solar eclipse that Innsbrook will experience this summer is only seven months away, on Monday, Aug. 21. Many communities across Missouri in the narrow path of totality are working on special events for that day. Since much of St. Louis is not in the path, and will not experience darkness at mid-day like we will, we expect many families will extend their weekend to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime event at Innsbrook. We are working to find and invite a guest expert to lead our own eclipse party at the Charrette Creek Commons which should be a perfect venue. More information can be found at the following website which profiles all the activities now being planned around our region St Louis Eclipse 2017 .
Other 2017 Events
Our first Innsbrook Nature Chautauqua last year, profiled at IBK Nature Chautauqua, was a success with standing room only for us and flying room only for our guest birds of prey. This year with a little help we hope to host a series of shorter 60 minute programs once a month during the season, instead of a longer single half-day event. A few topics that have been suggested include nature photography tips, beginning birding, eclipse watching, Charrette Creek stream ecology, astronomy & telescope basics, and topics from Missouri Master Naturalist classes. Let us know of your ideas with an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Innsbrook Lake Water Quality
For eleven years Bob Goulding and his dedicated team of volunteers have been participating in the Lakes of Missouri Program (www.lmvp.org) to monitor the health of Innsbrook lakes. With the help of the Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources and the University of Missouri, they’ve measured water clarity, chlorophyll, phosphorus, nitrogen, suspended solids, and temperature of ten lakes every three weeks from April through October. This past November, the program coordinators came out to explain results of the most recent data year completed, 2015. Here’s an example extract from their report for Lake Aspen. If you’d like to see if your lake is covered, or receive a copy of the full report, email us at email@example.com. Or to volunteer, contact Bob directly.
It was especially interesting to see the maps presented of the watersheds for each of the lakes monitored. Some watersheds, such as those near the golf course or surrounding farmland, show increased nutrient pollutants like phosphorus and nitrogen which are typically from fertilizers. Years with lots of rain or new lakeside home construction often cause an increase in suspended solids as well. There was great discussion about what we can do to keep our lakes healthy for swimmers and aquatic life alike. We are fortunate to have Innsbrook POA staff members diligently working to maintain water quality, but property owners can make a difference too. If you’re building, ask that straw bales be put along the runoff crevices or shoreline as a best practice to keep sediment out. Keep yard fertilizing to a minimum – remind your lawn service this is not the city – or let part of your yard go back native. Most importantly, please don’t denude your lot by removing all the little trees and undergrowth brush between you and the water, as some property owners have started to do.
One of our favorite stops for holiday shopping this year was the Powder Valley Nature Center in Kirkwood near I-270 and I-44. The MDC operated book and gift shop offered naturalist field guides on just about any subject imaginable. Santa Nature found for our family the most authoritative book on the animals of Missouri in “The Wild Mammals of Missouri” written by conservationists Charles and Elizabeth Schwartz. In over 400 pages it covers the habits and habitats of 70 plus mammals that can be found across Missouri. We especially liked the well-illustrated tracks and sources of food shown for each species, as well as how they raise their young. Kids in your family will like that it is divided up by flying mammals, gnawing mammals, flesh-eating mammals, and more. Check out our list of other useful books and references at IBK Nature Reading List.
If you have read this far down, you must really like Nature and Innsbrook! We’d love to have your ideas and help with events and projects for 2017, so just e-mail or call to let us know of your special area of interest or expertise. We promise you will have fun doing what you love and sharing it with others in a way where you learn so much more in the process, just like we do.
Closing Nature Quote
“A true conservationist is a man (or woman we add) who knows their world is not given by his fathers but borrowed from his children” by John Audubon.
Kath and Rich for the Innsbrook Nature Group
P.S. Just a reminder that we don’t distribute our seasonal newsletter in an email anymore, but only send out a short blog notification that it is available on the website. If you have received this link from a friend, but would like to see notices of future newsletters, events, and other Nature news, just complete the “follow field” on the sidebar of this page with your email address.