Nature happens regardless of the weather, and so does Family Day at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve. Despite the clouds, the rain held off long enough on May 19 to allow an estimated 75 nature lovers of all ages to hike through the area, observe, and learn from experts.
The most intrepid walked the squishy trail in flip flops and sandals while others came in wellingtons and hiking boots. As Zac Wedemeyer from Taproot led us through the property, he quoted some favorite words from a Taproot summer camp participant: “The wet kid fears no water.”
Heavy spring rains made the creek too high for wading – which is a favorite of Family Day attendees, but there were plenty of other things to see and talk about. One of the young hikers asked about a plant that Zac identified as wood nettle. He explained those itchy, stinging welts that develop when you brush against it with bare skin—something many hikers know about first hand.
May apples were plentiful and in bloom along the way, as were woodland phlox. (For those who don’t know, woodland phlox and invasive dame’s rocket bloom at about the same time and are almost the same color. But phlox has five petals and dame’s rocket has four – easy to identify to pull dame’s rocket and leave the desired phlox.) Not far from the nettles, someone pointed out mats of bedstraw, or Galium aparine. Fond of damp woods and areas along streams, these plants had found the perfect place to flourish.
During a pause in the hike, Mark Vitosh, DNR District Forester and a Bur Oak Land Trust volunteer property steward, quizzed kids on how they could identify trees. Leaves, bark, size, shape, and even smell were some of the kids’ responses. He identified a nearby hackberry tree and clipped a twig from it to show the group a gall that had formed. Galls, although unattractive, do not harm the tree in most cases. Galls can be formed by fungi or insects like wasps and aphids. The gall protects the insect larvae as it takes nourishment from the tree.
Attendees were able to see that clearing of timbered areas has made way for new shrubs. The shrubs are especially attractive to the endangered rusty patched bumble bee, now found on five of Bur Oak Land Trust’s properties. This important pollinator is present in only a few Iowa counties.
No Family Day at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve would be complete without visitors from Raptology. Sarah the screech owl was there along with Rachel, the peregrine falcon. Sarah came to Raptology two years ago after she and her nest mates were rescued from a fallen tree. Rachel was shot and has been rehabilitated, but she will never be able to live in the wild again. They are beautiful and fascinating birds and now they help educate us about their unique abilities and, at close range, allow us to see their striking features.
A new Family Day activity, led by the Turkeyfoot Folk School, that kids experienced was making casts of paw prints and learning about local animals through their tracks. The director of this new nonprofit is Carolyn Buckingham. She and her board members have given workshops on Dutch oven cooking and cooking on a camp stove. Watch for workshops and sessions on outdoor skills, arts, and crafts such as fly tying, canning, and knitting. Their programs are for all ages.
Bur Oak Land Trust also welcomed Hope Family Chiropractic, a first-time event sponsor of Family Days.
Another favorite Family Day activity is to catch butterflies with butterfly nets provided by the Trust. A young visitor was heard to say, “We don’t want to hurt you. We just want to look at you.” Even though the clouds kept the butterflies away on Sunday, those are words to live by when exploring natural areas. Don’t hurt, just look and appreciate so that others may do the same. Bur Oak Land Trust’s Family Days are held at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve in May and at Belgum Grove in September. The upcoming Fall Family Day at Belgum Grove is September 15 – and all Family Days are rain or shine!
Thank you to Bruce Drummond for these Family Day photos!