Darke County Birders Donate Second Breeding Bird Atlas

The Darke County Birders Club recently donated a copy of the newly published book The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in Ohio to the Darke County Park District. The book documents the distribution and changes in status for over two hundred bird species in Ohio. It is based upon surveys from across the state from 2006 through 2011 with many members of the Birders Club participating.

This second atlas follows the first one published twenty five years ago, and together they paint a picture of the rise and decline of bird species here in Ohio since 1982.  The Bald Eagle notably increased in priority blocks, having only five reported during the first count and 120 during the second which makes for a 2300% increase! Sadly the second atlas also reported many notable declines, including the Northern Bobwhite which had 402 reported in priority blocks during the first atlas and only 142 during the second, a 65% decrease.

This second breeding bird atlas will help the Darke County Parks naturalists better understand trends here in Darke County and tailor educational efforts toward conservation of bird species. For more information about Darke County Parks or the Darke County Birders Club, contact the Nature Center at (937) 548-0165 or www.darkecountyparks.org

Photo Caption: Members of the Darke County Birders Club Front Row L to R: Cindy Ploch, Sandy Hoying, and President Regina Schieltz. Back Row L to R: Steve Miller, Helen Barnett, Ann Glidewell, Tina White, Chad Arment, and Bill Wantz

Winter Hiking Series: Here Comes Spring Hike!

Winter’s brisk weather is almost behind us, and spring is on the horizon. Join Darke County Parks to seek out these seasonal sights and hiking opportunities. On February 27th at 9am join a naturalist at Eidson Woods Preserve on the corner of St. Rt. 502 West and Union City-Palestine Rd. to see what sights and sounds the season change has to offer. Remember to dress for the weather. In the event of severe weather, call the Nature Center to find out about possible cancellation. For more information about this or any other park district programs, please call the Nature Center at (937) 548-0165 or check out their Facebook page.

Did you know? The Harbinger of Spring is one of the first wildflowers to bloom in this part of Ohio.

Local Maple Syrup at the Prairie

After countless hours of collecting sap and boiling it down in the Sugar Shack, the Friends of Darke County Parks’ gift shop will have a limited supply of pure maple syrup ready for you to take home by the March 4th festival. Believe it or not, maple syrup is a very healthy food. Maple sugar is 3 times as sweet as cane sugar, and it has fewer calories and a lower glycemic index. A tablespoon of maple syrup has around 40 calories where a tablespoon of cane sugar has around 55. As an added benefit, pure maple syrup is also an excellent source of the minerals manganese and zinc which are important immune system allies. Many of the commercial syrups available in the grocery store do not contain ANY maple syrup; their main ingredient is corn syrup with added maple flavoring.

All maple syrup available in the Nature Center’s Gift Shop was made from sap collected from trees here in Darke County and cooked by the staff and many volunteers of the park district in the Sugar Shack. Prices range from $8 to $10, so come out to the Nature Center gift shop on March 4th to purchase your pure maple syrup. Support the Darke County Park District and its mission of education, conservation, and preservation.

At the Maple Sugarin’ at the Prairie Festival on March 4th, The Friends of the Parks will once again be serving up a hearty breakfast of waffles, sausage, juice, coffee, and of course pure Ohio maple syrup! Breakfast will be Saturday, March 4th, from 8:00am-12:00pm. Tickets are available at the door on the day of the breakfast for only $6 for adults and $3 for kids ages 3-12, or presale is available at the Nature Center from 9am-5pm Monday through Saturday. Educational tours will also be held throughout the day.

If you have any questions about this or any other program offered by the Darke County Parks, please call the Nature Center at (937) 548-0165 or visit the website at www.darkecountyparks.org

Did you know? Raw sap is 98% water and only 2% sugar.

Funding Available for Darke County Parks Field Trips

Through the generous support of the Harry D. Stephens Memorial Fund, the Friends of Darke County Parks have created a repository of field trip funding for the schools and teachers who need it. Many times teachers would like to schedule field trips to the park but are unable to find the funding for transportation costs. This program hopes to alleviate that problem, so more students can benefit from the wide variety of natural and cultural history programs offered by the naturalists at Darke County Parks.

Interested teachers need only set up a potential field trip date with the naturalist staff, complete an application, and submit it to the Friends of the Darke County Parks prior to their regularly scheduled meeting (first Tuesday of the month) at least a month before the potential field trip date. The application includes a proposed budget for the field trip including transportation cost, material fees, any other costs associated with the trip, and a description of the school’s financial need. The Friends will review the applications at their monthly meetings, and the teachers awarded funding will then be notified. In order to be eligible for future funding, after the funds have been distributed and the field trip taken, the Friends ask teachers to complete a follow up evaluation about their field trip and the use of funding. The evaluation form asks about the actual budget, how the funding directly benefited the students, and how the field trip content will be incorporated into the regular classroom lesson plans, among other things.

Applications can be found and submitted at the Nature Center at 4267 St. Rt. 502 just west of Greenville or by emailing info@darkecountyparks.org.

The park district serves not only Darke County schools but also schools from the surrounding area. The entire staff strives to provide the best possible experience to the constituents who have placed their trust in the education of our stewards of tomorrow, and the Friends of Darke County Parks endeavors to support that objective in any way possible. Questions about the funding application or the Friends’ mission can be directed to the Nature Center at (937) 548-0165.  

Maple Sugarin' at the Prairie

The sap is flowing and the fire is roaring in the Sugar Shack; that means it’s time to enjoy nature’s sweet treat. Saturday, March 4th from 8:00am-3:00pm is Maple Sugarin’ at the Prairie!

The Friends of the Parks will once again be serving up a hearty breakfast of waffles, sausage, juice, coffee, and of course pure Ohio maple syrup! Breakfast will be Saturday, March 4th, from 8:00am-12:00pm, and carry out is available. Tickets are available at the door on the day of the breakfast for only $6 for adults and $3 for kids ages 3-12, or presale is available at the Nature Center from 9am-5pm Monday through Saturday.

This festival at Shawnee Prairie offers guided tours through history and science to learn the process of turning sap into syrup. After the tour through the woods, visit the sugar shack and warm up in the steam-filled evaporator room as the sap spends countless hours on a boil to reduce it down to syrup. Then head out to the log house and blacksmith shop to visit with the pioneers from two-hundred years ago and learn historical maple sugar uses. Finally, complete the day at the Nature Center where the gift shop and bake sale will be full of maple goodies for anyone’s sweet tooth!

If you have any questions about this or any other program offered by the Darke County Parks, please call the Nature Center at (937) 548-0165 or visit the website at www.darkecountyparks.org

Photo Caption: The sugar shack is a great place to warm up this time of year at Shawnee Prairie.

Darke County Parks' Nature Notes Newsletter

Nineteen years ago the very first Nature Notes, Darke County Parks’ quarterly newsletter, went to print. It not only promoted the parks’ upcoming programs, it provided yet another creative outlet for the staff. One naturalist described the spring warbler migration, one explained spring medicinal plants, and another drew the beautiful trillium gracing the front cover.

Almost two decades later, the Nature Notes is still one of the best ways for the park district to communicate with its regular visitors. Whether it’s Prairie Days in autumn or Maple Sugarin’ at the Prairie in spring, the main event for the quarter always graces the front page. Inside teachers can find descriptions of field trips and naturalist in the classroom programs. Parents can learn about monthly programs tailored to children in age groups from preschool through sixth grade. Families can even discover programs for all ages about learning new outdoor skills, natural history topics, or cultural and history programs. The “3 Months at a Glance” calendar really helps put all the programs into perspective and keep everyone (including the naturalist staff) organized. Though it doesn’t include as many articles as in years past, the “Naturalist Corner” still appears with a new and exciting topic each quarter, like this quarter’s article on amazing salamanders.

Highlights from the upcoming spring issue include Maple Sugarin’ at the Prairie Festival on March 4th which includes the Friends of Darke County Parks Waffle Breakfast, Take Flight: A Celebration of Our Feathered Friends on Earth Day, and the annual Darke County Parks’ Native Plant Sale held near Mother’s Day this year. The Nature Notes are “one of the primary ways we reach our constituents,” said Roger Van Frank, Director of the Darke County Park District. He also went on to mention their facebook page www.facebook.com/darkecountyparks/, their new Instagram presence at “darkecoparks,” and their beautiful new website www.darkecountyparks.org where color copies of the Nature Notes are available for download in pdf format.

After weeks of staff preparation, nearly 2,000 copies of this quarter’s Nature Notes will go to print, and about 1,400 will arrive in mailboxes all across the region very shortly. To receive your very own copy either by email or postal mail or if you would like to reduce paper usage and switch your postal mail subscription to email, call the Nature Center at (937) 548-0165 or email info@darkecountyparks.org

In Their Footsteps... February Jr. Naturalist

Darke County Parks invites students in grades 3-6 to join them for the Jr. Naturalists program on Saturday, February 25th from 9:30am to 12pm at Shawnee Prairie Preserve on St. Rt. 502 west of Greenville.  This month will focus on animals and their tracks. Animal tracking is as old as the human race. Students will follow our ancestor’s footsteps by following the animals’ footsteps. They’ll learn to identify basic tracks and signs, then head outside to check out the snow (or more likely mud) and see where the footsteps lead them.

The Jr. Naturalists is a series of monthly programs designed to give 3rd-6th grade students hands-on interaction with the natural world and a look at our current and historical place within it. Hikes, games, crafts, and service projects are all a part of this exciting integrated study group. A fee of $3 is charged for the program, and registration is required. For questions about the Jr. Naturalists program or any other park district programs or to register for the February class, please call the park office at (937) 548-0165 or email info@darkecountyparks.org.

Did you know? A domestic dog’s track (left) is usually much more round in shape while a coyote’s track (right) is a much more oval shape.  

Antler Amble at Worth Family Nature Preserve

Late winter and early spring mean one thing for whitetail deer enthusiasts: sheds! Join a naturalist at Worth Family Preserve on Spring Hill Rd. just north of St. Rt. 502 West on Saturday, February 25th at 2pm to look for shed antlers. During the late winter, when the amount of daylight is very low, the bucks’ bodies will break down the connective tissue, and the antlers will fall off. Not all antlers fall off in pairs though. Matched sets have been found miles apart. Participants will see if they can find any sheds or at least signs of these large mammals in the area. Remember to dress for the weather and for walking off-trail and to meet at Worth Family Nature Preserve. Call the Nature Center at (937) 548-0165 for more information about this free and exciting program by your Darke County Parks.

Did you know? Shed antlers are a great source of protein, fat, fiber, calcium, and phosphorus for rodents like squirrels.

Naturally Fit

Darke County Parks is hosting a fitness program called Naturally Fit. Everyone wants to lead healthier lives and spend more time outdoors. However, workout machines aren’t always environmentally friendly, gyms aren’t very exciting, and the cold winter weather makes it even less appealing. Besides, sometimes life just gets in the way! Use this program as an “excuse” to schedule time outside and get moving. It will focus more on fitness than nature, with everyone moving at their own pace, whether that’s one loop or ten. The February program will take place February 20th at 4pm at Donna May Campbell Preserve outside of Beamsville. This short walking path explores five acres of riparian habitat along the State Scenic Stillwater River, and it will make the last 1,000 steps of the day easy to finish. The park is located on Greenville-St. Marys Rd just off of US. RT. 127 near Beamsville. Meet there, and don’t forget to bring a water bottle. The brisk winter air will do your lungs (and the rest of your body) some good. For questions or weather updates, call the Nature Center at 548-0165