# 8 Take a woodland wildflower walk

Our woodland wildflowers are ephemeral, providing a seasonally unique magical experience of bright colors in the woodlands. Diminutive blues, whites and pinks pop up throughout the brown leaves of winter like candy sprinkles on a donut (but don’t eat them). In another month, the leaves will unfurl on the oaks and the maples, creating too much shade for the spring ephemerals to continue to flourish. They will store their nutrients underground and disappear from our view until next spring. But for now, they add a rich layer of color, and are providing an early valuable food source for our native pollinators.

For a truly immersive experience, I recommend starting on the west side of Amazing Space and heading north (uphill) along the Cedar Overlook trail. For something a bit less hilly, I recommend parking at the wetland parking lot and walk east along Wood Duck Way, paying attention to the oak ridge that will be on your north.

Beekeeping: Navigating a New Path

After helping my dad with his honeybees as a child, and keeping honeybees myself for twenty years, I am done with that chapter of my life. But once a beekeeper, always a beekeeper. The time that I once spent in the apiary I am now devoting to our native bees.

The good: Native bees tend to be non-stinging and are excellent pollinators.

The bad: Native bees don’t produce honey.

The ugly: Native bees are becoming endangered at an alarming rate.

Native bees evolved with native flowers, and do an excellent job pollinating both wildflowers and garden plants. The vast expanse of corn fields and lawns that dominate the landscape provide no place for native bees to live, raise young, or feed. Caring for native bees isn’t as intensive as keeping honeybees, but it still involves a bit of thought and time.

Native wildflowers, including bergamot and grey-headed coneflowers, provide beauty for people and nectar for wildlife.

Tidy gardens can yield nectar and pollen, but lack the crevices and hollow stems native bees need for refuge and rearing their young. If you also want to be a native beekeeper, and already have a native prairie patch planted, consider adding a native pollinator nest box. Depending on your crafting skills and your scrap wood pile, they can be handmade.

There are now also a variety of native bee boxes for sale, as well as removable nest tubes that provide a few key benefits. After the queens fill the tubes during the growing season, you can put them in your freezer until the following spring. This 1) protects the larvae from being eaten by woodpeckers and parasitic wasps; 2) can be timed to release the larvae in the spring to match when you need pollination and 3) prevents bacteria, viruses, and mold from building up in the tubes, as you can inspect and replace them as they need to be replaced.

The tubes that appear filled, above, have young bee larvae developing in them.

Pollinator nest tubes for mason bees should be 5/16″ diameter. Pollinator nest tubes for leaf cutter bees should be 1/4″ diameter. If you are drilling your own holes, drill them 6″ long. Native bees already in your area will move in right away, and as the population expands, you can add more homes in future years.

Bee nest tubes can be made from anything, if you have a drill. Stems can be hollowed out or wooden blocks can be drilled.
Nest boxes can be as unique as your yard, and will support a wide diversity of native bees in your area.

#6 Get involved with Maple Syrup Production

I know, you have been wondering why “volunteering” hasn’t been part of every post, haven’t you? But this is a very special volunteer opportunity. It only happens this time of year. We hike into the woods with our drills and our spiles and our sap sacks, and we hope with a good set of maple-identification-skills.

Fossils in the bottom of the ravine where we tap the sugar maples. Sometimes, looking this closely at something on the ground is an accident. I did not get hurt when I slipped! It was a fantastic and unexpected find.
This year, the trees have been flowing more than average. They have been flowing on cloudy days and flowing on days when it hasn’t been freezing the night before, both unusual circumstances.
It takes a lot of wood and a lot of time to boil the sap into syrup.
Maple sap is boiling hard in the evaporator. The water rises as steam, leaving an increasingly sweet and increasingly caramelized liquid behind. When it is still boiling at just over 219 degrees Fahrenheit it has transitioned to syrup.

How do you fit into this picture, you may ask? You could help tap the trees, collect the sap, boil the sap, split the wood for the fire to boil the sap, cut the trees for the fire wood, or even bottle the syrup. You could come out and keep us company or bring us snacks while we do all of that. It’s a great way to meet interesting people, get a bit of a workout in, and enjoy the fresh air.

Despite some initial concerns about the warm first half of February causing the trees to bud out early and end the season before it had even started, this is shaping up to be one of our most productive seasons ever. It isn’t over yet and we have already collected 1,810 gallons of sap and bottled 30 gallons of syrup. That ranks it currently third behind 2005 (2554 gallons of sap) and 2006 (2042 gallons of sap).

#5 at Indian Creek Nature Center

Go for a walk in the woods. Leave the trail. Explore a nook you haven’t found before. Take your shoes off and let the cold spring mud squish between your toes. For the adventure below, we ventured up Bena Brook.

The stinging nettles are up.
The skunk cabbage is flowering. Thank you, Gabe Anderson, for being my photographer.

#4 at Indian Creek Nature Center

Whether you love or hate the biannual clock changes, this is a good time to visit the analemmatic sundial. All you need is yourself and the sun. It is a fun reminder that time is a measurement of ourselves on our planet rotating around the sun. With the analemmatic sundial, you become the gnomon, and your shadow tells you the time. No watch or cell phone needed.

I am standing on the center stone, on the “March” spot, and it is indeed 9:45 on a bright but chilly morning.
Laying out the sundial requires aligning with true north, which is the fixed end of the axis on which the planet rotates. Our compasses indicate magnetic north, which fluctuates a fair bit in its precise.
Setting the stones in the right location involved the help of dedicated volunteers.

This sundial was created in honor of long-time volunteer Tom Cleveland. Tom loved sharing his passion for people and for nature, and time often slipped away when you were talking with him. Creating this nature-based interactive element that is both fun and educational is a fitting tribute to a great person.

#3 at Indian Creek Nature Center

Watch a sunrise. Each one is unique. Some are dynamic, some are subtle. You might hear the driving rain and thunder, or you might hear the geese and swans waking up along the river. Right now, the red winged black birds have returned to the Lynch wetland and are calling. If you get out of your car and go further into nature, you will find that you are surrounded by songbirds, and you will feel the tiny air currents their wings make as they fly past you in the predawn darkness. You will see the frost form on the prairie grasses. You will wake up with Nature. It is a transformative way to start the day.

#2 at Indian Creek Nature Center

Curl up with a good book and a cup of tea or hot chocolate in the bird room. The chairs are comfy, the bird feeders are full, and you can listen to the birds while you read. If you have already read Katie Mills Giorgio’s 100 Things to Do in Cedar Rapids Before You Die, I recommend reading Connie Mutel’s book Tending Iowa’s Land: Pathways to a Sustainable Future.

Connie shares a collection of essays from thought leaders in the convergence of agriculture, people, and nature. Iowa is one of the top agriculture states. Along with the money that sustains our economy from the corn, soybeans, pigs and chickens comes eroding soil, contaminated water, and habitat loss. Connie recognizes the real agriculture challenges that brought us to the place we are now and explores how we build a future that sustains the land and the people.

#1. Explore how others live in the snow

We play in the snow and plow the snow and watch the snow fall, but we don’t actually live in the snow. This is the perfect and ephemeral opportunity to check out the lifestyles of those who call the subnivean zone home. The zone is the band of snow that lies on top of the ground, creating just enough space to provide warmth and safety to a surprising variety of wildlife.

The subnivean landscape. The etymology of the word comes from the Latin roots for “under” and “snow”

Throughout the year, we frequently see the larger mammals, such as rabbits, squirrels and opossums. The littler critters, such as mice, typically scurry beneath our notice unless they enter our houses. This time of year, we can see exactly where the voles, shrews, moles and mice are going. They tunnel just above the surface of the ground and beneath the snow, leaving evidence of their routes and habits. A special thank you to Indian Creek Nature Center Executive Director John Myers for sharing this adventure. 100 Things to do at Indian Creek Nature Center

100 Things to do at Indian Creek Nature Center

Late last year I attended a party to celebrate the launch of my friend Katie Mills Giorgio’s new book, 100 Things to Do in Cedar Rapids Before you Die. I asked her if the whole thing took place at Indian Creek Nature Center. Spoiler alerts: Katie shares more than 100 cool things to do in Cedar Rapids, and the Nature Center is only featured on one page in the book.

The conversation made me wonder, just how many cool things are there for guests to do at Indian Creek Nature Center? We are going to find out. Because this is a blog written in brief snippets of time and not a well-organized book, cool nature experiences will be in absolute random order. They will probably be tied to the seasons, because, well, seasons are the basic themes of nature. Feel free to share your own ideas, and if you don’t live close by, there is probably a natural area near you at which you could do cool things.

Pagodas in Iowa

The pagoda dogwood is a shrub with an exquisite form, if given the space to grow freely in the sunlight.

Its Latin name Cornus alternifolia describes its leaf patterns. Almost all dogwoods have opposite leaves. The pagoda dogwood has alternate leaves, though the leaf shape and texture maintains a strong resemblance to other dogwoods.

If you want to see some of the wide variety and beauty dogwoods can come in, visit: https://vovazinger.wordpress.com/2022/05/21/cherokee-brave-flowering-dogwood/

Just make sure the dogwood you are planting and encouraging is native to your area.