Roadside Raptor Rescue

Nutty About Acorns


Carpenter Nature Center has six different varieties of Oak trees dispersed throughout the 425 acre Minnesota campus.  Did you know that the acorns oak trees produce are edible? One species, the White Oak, is a common tree you will see here. Its acorns are the most palatable of the six varieties at CNC and are often abundant in the fall. To identify a White Oak acorn from a different species, the biggest thing to remember is size and shape. The White Oak produces acorns that are egg shaped with cups that cover only a small fraction of the nut itself. The Red Oak, by contrast, produces a stubbier acorn and a cap that covers almost half of the nut. They look like the smooshed version of the White Oak.

Oak trees take a long time to reach reproductive maturity; up to 20 years! Once they are old enough, a single tree can produce up to 10,000 acorns in a mast year. A mast year is when the oak tree overproduces nuts so that it can grow bigger the next year without nuts. That means that an oak tree won’t always produce nuts every season. Sometimes it has to rest and conserve its energy for growth.

These somewhat annoying trees that drop acorns on your car and hurt your feet when you walk barefoot are actually an ancient hidden food source. Acorns have been eaten for thousands of years, much longer than people have been eating wheat. All over the world, people have been using the acorn to make bread, noodles, chips, and much more. During times of hardship such as war or famine, acorns were used as a supplement food source to keep families alive when there wasn’t enough wheat or grain to go around. Today, the acorn is making a comeback in American households. The acorn is packed with protein, good fats, and vitamins that keep our bodies strong. Do you have a lot of acorns around where you live? Here is a fast and easy recipe for you and your family to try that will leave you full and more knowledgeable about the hidden foods around you!

Candied Acorns

Credit: Wayne Askew


  • Acorns
  • Butter
  • Brown sugar


  1. Harvest acorns in the fall and put in water to remove any floaters.
  2. Remove shell and quarter acorn meat.
  3. Boil acorns for 5 min. to remove tannins (bitter taste).
  4. Sauté in skillet with butter.
  5. Add brown sugar to taste and coat acorn slivers.
  6. Cook until brown sugar and butter start to thicken around acorn pieces.
  7. Cool and eat as dessert or snack.

Want to know how to make acorn flour as a gluten free alternative when cooking? Follow this link for the best information on how to process your acorns into flour for any paleo/ gluten free recipe you may want to try.  Acorn Flour Recipe

-Hannah Haselden, Environmental Education Intern


March Maple Madness

For many, the transition from winter to spring marks the beginning of mapleIMG_2069 syrup season.  Maple syrup can be made by collecting and boiling down the sap from maple trees.  The Native Americans discovered this process hundreds of years ago, likely by accident. Legend tells of a chief, who after removing his tomahawk from a maple tree, set out for a day of deer hunting. When his wife needed to collect water for the evening’s venison stew, she found a birch-bark bucket full of “water” under the maple tree.  She cooked the venison from the day’s hunt with the “water”, and produced the sweetest stew the chief had ever tasted. His wife had unknowingly used maple sap, which is as clear as water, and boiled it down into sweet syrup. This was the beginning of maple syrup.

When Europeans arrived in North America, they learned from the natives about maple sap and syruping. The settlers set up sugar camps in the woods where the maple trees were most plentiful, and the trees were slashed with an ax to allow the sap to drip out and be collected. They eventually experimented with collection methods, drilling holes and using wooden spiles (spouts) and buckets. In the late 1800’s children were given a holiday from school to celebrate the sap run and to allow kids to help with the laborious process.

Maplesyrup08The tradition of March maple syrup season is still alive. Collection and processing methods have evolved, although the fundamentals prevail.  Sap starts flowing in maple trees when nights are below freezing and days are above freezing temperatures (ideally around 40° F).  All Maples, including Boxelders, will make fine syrup. The difference lies in the sugar content of the sap. Sugar Maples have a much higher concentration of   sugar in the sap, while box elders have the lowest sugar content. It takes roughly 86 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup from Boxelder sap!

Maple syruping is a fun process that is not difficult and can be very rewarding.  With a little research, patience, and planning you could have jars of syrup on your shelves for a fraction of the price you would pay at the store.  This month, CNC has a wide variety of maple syrup programs open to the public.  We invite you to join us in this fun, educational experience as we celebrate our heritage and the bounty of the natural world.  Be sure to also check out the links below if you are interested in starting Maple syruping on your own.

Additional Resources:

Backyard Maple Syruping Handout

Minnesota Maple Series: Identifying Maples Trees for Syrup Production

A Lesson that Comes Naturally

On certain Saturdays, my wife works an overnight shift. That means the girls and I strike out on our own to give Mom a quiet house during the day. These Saturdays turn into mini adventures for me and my two inquisitive, precocious little girls; Evelyn (7) and Audrey (4).

Our adventures require full on parenting — navigating the emotional rollercoaster of playground dynamics, negotiating how much ice cream they can earn by helping Dad, and debating the exact minutes of screen time allotted. But they are also precious days spent in father-daughter bonding.

So, when Jennifer Vieth, Executive Director of the Carpenter Nature Center, invited me to their raptor release, I was all in. After all, I thought causally, it sounded like a great way to kill some time. Girls standing outdoors

As we ascended St. Croix Trail, I knew immediately that this was a special place. We drove only a little over 30 minutes from our familiar sidewalks and storefronts in South Minneapolis. Once atop the river valley we found an elegant vista, where lush green fields roll down to the St. Croix River’s shoreline and soaring oaks and maples stretch over the tidy, stone buildings.

The aesthetics of Carpenter Nature Center welcome visitors immediately and, along with incredibly friendly staff and volunteers, invite them to learn and explore. The interpretive center heldmyriad natural treasures; animals, birds and reptiles that we could meet and even adopt in our bid to be closer to nature. Then, of course,there was the main event.

The raptor release (in partnership with the University of Minnesota Raptor Center) was truly inspiring. A couple hundred people descended on a gentle slope to encourage these majestic birds as they spread their wings and leapt into the sky for the first time since suffering injuries. My girls saw them up close, watched them fly, heard their wings beat the air and saw them perch in a treetop for one last grateful look at their rescuers.

Woman Releasing BirdEvelyn, long obsessed with owls, bubbled over with questions and scarcely took her eyes off the numerous birds-turned-teachers. It was an emotional encounter; not only because these beautiful birds returned home but also because so many people showed up to say they cared. About the birds, the environment and our natural community.Carpenter Nature Center lefts its mark with me, as I’m sure it does all of its visitors.

My daughters experienced nature that day. Not just saw it but felt it, smelled it and heard it. No screens, no squabbling over which shoes to wear, no “what can I do now?” The transformational energy that only a natural space can bring to bear surrounded them.

Weeks later, they still talk about their adventure. Their world is small but their minds are great and, with open hearts, they discovered something special simply by being there. It opened a window to a new world — not a bad way to “kill some time” on a Saturday.

Where are the monarchs?

Butterfly IllustrationThis summer has been a very quiet year for monarch observations in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The reasons for this drop in Monarch numbers are two-fold. Last winter the number of Monarchs over-wintering in Mexico was 80 percent below average due to the high heat and drought last summer. The late and cold spring this year also delayed the Monarch’s northward movements, meaning that fewer Monarchs will complete the season’s fourth breeding cycle. What does that mean for the future of Monarchs? These amazing insects have high breeding potential and a widespread range so their population may recover. However, multiple years with low breeding success could signal a big problem for these amazing migrants. To read more about Monarch migration and population studies please visit Journey North .

Pollinators in trouble!

As a teaching orchard we have a special fondness for pollinators. The population declines encountered by Honey Bees and bat species are frightening. These small creatures are responsible for a huge proportion of global pollination. Bats also play key roles in seed dispersal and pest control. Read on for the latest news on their struggles.

Little Brown Bat with White Nose Syndrome

The primary cause of decline in bats is White Nose Syndrome. Healthy forests need healthy bats. Sadly millions of bats in the Northeast have already been killed by White Nose Syndrome. The fungus is moving southward and westward towards Wisconsin and Minnesota. Today there is some good news. In some of the caves struck by the syndrome there are small populations of survivors. You can help bats through Citizen Science efforts and by providing shelter in the form of bat houses. This fall the USDA Forest Service produced a short video about the difficulties faced by bats in North America and the work to save bats.

Those following the search for a cause of Colony Collapse Disorder and a solution to the problem which causes a 30% die-off of bees annually will enjoy this video. University of Minnesota’s bee researcher Marla Spivak presented a TED talk on some of the factors that contribute to the problems that Honey Bees are facing. She also presents some simple things we can do to help bees, which are as easy as planting native flowers. For more on our bees watch her fascinating presentation here.

Is buckthorn killing frogs?

In recent years more than 160 species of amphibians are reported to have gone extinct worldwide. Scientists are searching for answers and recent evidence from Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo and Northern Illinois University points to buckthorn as one of the problems. Invasive European Buckthorn emits a toxin called Emodin from its leaves, bark, roots and fruit. Emodin is toxic to developing amphibian embryos. The highest level of Emodin in the environment is during leaf-out, which coincides with the peak early-breeding activity of Midwestern amphibians.


What can YOU do? November is a great time to spot buckthorn growing on your property as they are one of the only trees that will retain green leaves at this time of year. To read more about buckthorn, how to recognize and eradicate it please see the resources available at the Washington Conservation District and the Minnesota DNR .

Christmas Bird Count

For over 113 years, tens of thousands of birdwatchers of all skill levels spend one day recording all the birds they see and hear.

The Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running citizen-science wildlife census and it has provided valuable insight into changes in bird populations over the past century. The study documented nationwide declines in bird species such as American Kestrels and Northern Bobwhite Quail. The survey has also recorded the incredible expansion of House Finches across the continent and more recently the expanding range of Eurasian-collared Doves.


The methodology is that the observers must be within a 15 mile diameter circle and the count date must take place between December 14 and January 5. There are over 2,300 established count circles across the United States and Canada. Carpenter Nature Center is part of the Hastings-Etter count circle and our count date is December 28th.

If you are interested in taking part in this year’s Hastings-Etter Christmas Bird Count, please contact Jen Vieth.

Sun Dogs, Halos and Diamond Dust

Early winter mornings often are blessed with three suns; the true sun and two false suns located on the sun’s left and right. The bright spots are referred to as Sun Dogs or Phantom Suns. The scientific word for this natural phenomenon is parahelion (plural – parhelia) which originates from Greek and means “beside the sun”.

Sun Dogs are created when sunlight refracts off thousands of plate-like, hexagonal ice crystals floating in high, cold cirrus or cirrostratus clouds. Thinking back to science class you may recall how light ‘bends’ after passing through a prism. Sun Dogs are commonly observed when the sun is low in the sky on a chilly morning, but in perfect conditions the Sun Dogs will follow the real sun up into the sky, like a dog following its master. The orientation of the ice crystals determines whether or not a Sun Dog will appear. When the ice crystals are aligned randomly in the air, the refracted light forms a glowing ring around the sun called a Halo. As the ice crystals fall downwards through the air they align horizontally and the refracted light forms Sun Dogs.

During very cold weather, such as we’re feeling lately, the ice crystals drift through low level air creating Diamond Dust which also refracts the sun’s light. Believe it or not, even a bright moon will have a similar effect, forming false moons called Moon Dogs or paraselenae.

Surviving Winter – an irruption of owls for the record books

Hundreds of bird species call the Midwest home at some point in the year. Each species has its own system to survive the winter. Ospreys leave the area and head to Central or South America. Great Horned Owls are well-equipped to endure our cold temperatures and stay on their territories. Did you know that the Midwest is the southern destination for some birds? Snow Buntings, Lapland Longspurs and American Tree Sparrows all head south to Minnesota and Wisconsin for the winter. This winter we are playing host to large visitors from the far north…Snowy Owls. These huge white owls are ‘irrupting’ into southern Canada and the northern United States. The irruption is most extreme in Eastern North America with a report of 150 different Snowy Owls seen in one day in Newfoundland. There was even a Snowy Owl reported in Bermuda.

Snowy Owl

What is an irruption? It is an irregular movement of a large number of birds, or animals, to an area where they aren’t typically found in such high numbers. Snowy owls and other northern, non-migratory, owls often move southwards to find prey when the food sources in their home range decline. This winter the Snowy Owls that are arriving in Eastern U.S. appear to be well fed and in good health, so they may not be leaving due to low food supplies as reported in this live science article. There have been a few Snowy Owl reports from our area, with one reported south of Hastings on December 28th. If you do go out to look for Snowy Owls, make note of the amount of black barring on the bird. Older owls have less barring than younger birds. Males have less barring then females. A pure white owl should be an older male while a heavily marked Snowy Owl is most likely to be a young female. Observe the owl from a distance and report any Snowy Owl sightings to so that scientists can track this magnificent species to learn more about Snowy Owl conservation.