Nebraska Project WILD


Project Feeder Watch January 10, 2018

Are you looking for nature-based science investigations for you, your family or classroom this winter?  Project Feeder Watch may be just what you are looking for.

First, if you don’t already know, allow me to introduce you to citizen science.  Citizen science carves out a path for us normal every day folks to participate in real scientific investigation.  Not just participate but actually contribute to the scientific understanding of the world around us.  There is just not enough resources for scientist or researchers to gather the vital information needed to answer the questions they have.  This is where YOU step in.

Citizen Science projects are created by scientists, researchers or academics.  They create an easy to follow protocol, the resources and training needed and a place, usually a website, for information to be sent once gathered.  Then volunteer citizen scientists do the ground work collecting or even analyzing data.  Many projects provide the collective results on their websites by way of maps or graphs.

Project Feeder Watch, out of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is one such citizen science project.   Essentially this project is a winter long, November through early April, survey of backyard feeder birds. People of all ages and skill levels are invited to participate.   The data collected provides information about the weekly changes of bird distribution and abundance across the U.S. and Canada.

The protocol consists of selecting two consecutive count days per week and observing your feeder site, which can be right out your favorite window, as much or as little as you want during those two days.  You will be recording the maximum number of each species at your site at any one time.  This is the number the project leaders want from your counts days.  If you see two blue jays at 8:15 am on Saturday while sipping your morning coffee and but then you see seven blue jays on Sunday at 2:00 pm then you report seven blue jays on your data sheet.  If you miss a week or only monitor one week this season, Project Feeder Watch still wants that data.

The website is full of information and I assure you they cover any question you may have.  There are detailed instructions from selecting your count site and choosing count days to tricky bird ID and submitting your counts.

Many citizen science projects are free to participate but Project Feeder Watch requires an annual registration fee of $18.  The money goes to materials, web design, support staff and other such things.  At the end of the year they compile results and publish a ‘Winter Bird Highlights’ report.  Find the last seasons report here.  When you register you will also receive a research kit containing some really great goodies for bird lovers.

Last season marked the 30 year anniversary of Project Feeder Watch.  To celebrate Cornell Lab published three decades of Project Feeder Watch data!  Find the article highlights here.

If you want to participate this season it is not too late, go to  If you would like to contact me about questions or facilitating a Feeder Watch training or other citizen science training in the northeast Nebraska area, email me at  Or join me Feb 3rd from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm at the Plainview Public Library for a Project Feeder Watch community event.

As they say, “Embrace Winter!  Count Birds for Science!”


Snow Light January 3, 2018

I woke up the other morning to an actual temperature of -21 degrees.  That wasn’t with wind chill! As I stood romanticizing the snow swept landscape from my front window…next to my wood stove…in my pajamas…with a hot cup of coffee…I pondered how I could possibly extend to you readers the luxuries of our extended night and using it to our advantage for dark-day outdoor adventures.   I do believe this is one of those ‘walk the walk’ moments. 892257_10202737935274929_706561194_oSo that evening I geared up to check on my chicken survival rate, to gather food in the style of split mulberry wood for my stove and to report back on my dark-day outdoor adventure.

Here are a few things that stuck with me that I hope can be used for dark-day outdoor adventure inspiration for grown-ups and kiddos alike:

  1. The winding down of 2017 brought with it a moon rise occurring in late afternoon, just a couple of days off from the full moon that would occur on New Year’s Day. With that celestial bulb dominating the night sky by 6:00 pm there was practically no need for a head lamp or flashlight.  The blanket of snow reflected moonlight all around allowing me to easily find my way.
  2. Silence can be loud. It was truly a lack of sensory experience. Like actually being on the moon, or Hoth for those Star Wars fans out there.  No wind, no sound but the crunch under my boots.  Almost sneaking along as not to disturb the perfect stillness.
  3. My tiny little solar lights that I stuck in the ground this summer were now illuminating a glow of snow light. Inspiration hit in the form of a glow-stick scavenger hunt.  Just chuck them about in the snow and have the kiddos hunt for them.

Due to the temperatures in the negative double digits I was only out for 20 to 30 minutes, but it was worth it.  My fingers and toes eventually got cold but moving around in my gear kept the bulk of my body warm.  These quick but mighty adventures can help stave off cabin fever and restless kiddos while making memories that last a life time.

The full moon was just two days ago. The moon rise this evening, January 3rd, is around 7:00 pm.  By that time we will have full-on dark and a just waning moon.  Gear up with friends or family to watch, then head into the warm for a hot drink.  Winter weather just began folks.  We still have a way to go until the birth and light of spring.

Embrace the winter.



The Sun Stands Still: Part Three December 27, 2017

It has finally happened.  The winter weather was just waiting for its official start, the winter solstice.  If you haven’t been following the ‘The Sun Stands Still’ posts, we have been tracking celestial events, contemplating darkness and revving the motivation engines to get outside and use these dark Nebraska winters to our advantage.  Check out the other posts here and here.  The last post we went over a basic layer technique to keep our adventures safe, comfortable and most importantly fun.  I’d like to offer a few other techniques my mom skills have afforded me over the years.DSCN2145

  • Get out of the wind.
    • Nothing ruins an outdoor adventure more than wind. Track down places out of the wind for your dark day adventures.  The south side of your house or the protected side of shelter belt.  There is no better sense of accomplishment and adventure as marching into a gale while having to mime what direction you want to go because the wind is so loud and finally reaching that protected area.  All of the sudden it’s a calm different outdoor experience. It builds resiliency in those kiddos. Trust me its worth.
  • Fingers, ears and toes, ear and toes.
    • Wind has no place in your ears and hats sometimes just don’t cut it. I prefer to wear a head band to keep out the wind as well as a hat. I then have the option of ditching my hat if I get to warm but my ears are still protected.
    • A good pair of insulated boots are amazing for those little toes. Make sure you leave enough space for warm air to move around in there.  Three extra pairs of socks and tight boots are not going to do what you think they will do.
    • In my experience, my fingers just always get cold. I have yet to find a pair of gloves or mittens that work for me.  When my fingers inevitably get cold, I stick’em in my arm pits.  I recommend teaching any children this technique.  I especially recommend this when you have a kiddo crying inconsolably with bright red fingers.  But have them stick their fingers in YOUR arm pits.  It will not only warm up those tiny little digits, it will distract them from the pain they are in.  “You want me to put my fingers where?”
    • Last but not least… If I know I’m going to be out for a while or I just plain ole want to be out for a while, I will use some sort of Hot Hands. Those little miracles have saved an outdoor adventure a time or two.



The Sun Stands Still: Part Two December 21, 2017


Happy Winter Solstice! Yesterday I posted part one of ‘The Sun Stands Still”. Hmm I am just realizing this would make a great title for a soap opera…are there still soap operas… yeah okay I got off track.  What the title refers to is the celestial event marking the time in our planets journey around the sun when we earth dwellers, in the northern hemisphere, experience days with increasingly less light.  Check out the post here if you like.

Less daylight means more dark.  Leaving for work in the dark and coming home to actual complete night can wear a person down.  Not enough sunlight can affect us physically and emotionally. Check out a past post about that here.

Spring and summer seem to be the times of year we most associate with outdoor adventure.  To indulge in any nighttime fun though, one must achieve the status of staying up past ones bedtime. Right now however,  we have the ‘luxury’ of almost 15 hours a day without sunlight to indulge in nighttime adventures.  I suppose we do have that whole prairie winter thing to consider though.

LAYERS!  Absolutely the most basic and important thing to keep yourself and your loved ones in relative comfort for those cold weather outdoor adventures.

Let’s go over the three layer concept:

DSCN2069Base layer, insulating layer and shell layer.

  1. Base layer– This is the layer against your skin. Don’t forget when you are moving around on those cold dark days you are gonna warm up. So ideally you would want your base layer to be made of material that will wick moisture, helping to regulate body temperature. Cotton is not the best fiber for this but sometimes you gotta use what you have.
  2. Insulating layer– This layer maintains body heat. Wool and down are great fibers for this. Wool is best for wet conditions and down is miraculous in dry conditions. There are many synthetic materials that will keep you well insulated whatever the conditions.
  3. Shell layer– This layer is your force field against the whipping prairie winter wind. Waterproof but breathable is my suggestion. You want sweat to evaporate.

The best thing about layers is you can just shed or add to adjust your comfort level.

Dark days don’t have to be spent solely indoors.  Check back for more winter weather tips and dark day adventure inspiration.


The Sun Stands Still December 20, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — projectwild @ 4:33 PM

The Sun Stands Still

Part 1

Good day to you folks.  How fair thee with thy lack of light?   Really though, have you been clocking the actual amount of daylight we have been graced with of late. We currently experience around nine hours and 15 minutes of sunlight a day.  Maybe you have missed it with the hustle and bustle of the holidays.  If I may, those of us in the northern hemisphere have slowing been orbiting our way to days increasingly filled with more dark than light. Tomorrow, December 21st, marks the tipping point at which daylight hours begin to gratefully extend.  This shortest day of the year is known to many as the true beginning of winter, the winter solstice *1.  Let’s brush off some of that dusty knowledge in our brains as to how these changes in daylight occur.

Due to the 23.5 degree tilt of the earth on its axis the sun appears to move north and south in our sky as the earth makes its orbit around the sun, which we earthlings down here experience as the passage of one year and the change of seasons. Over the course of this annual trip there are four “major way stations”.


Two of these “major way stations”are the spring and autumnal equinox. They occur around the 21st of March and September respectively.  Equinox in Latin refers to ‘equal night’ as these are the days within our year that light and dark are most equally shared within a 24 hour period

The remaining two “major way stations” occur around the 21st of December and June.  We call them the winter and summer solstice.  Solstice, again pulled from Latin, means ‘sun stands still’ or ‘sun turns around’.   After that summer solstice we are on a continued celestial path to darkness which culminates around the winter solstice.  As we see it from earth, the sun’s passage across the sky continues lower and lower south as the winter solstice approaches.  The winter solstice marks the sun’s lowest point in the sky after which it will begin its perceived ascension north as the hours of daylight continue to increase until around the summer solstice.

What I’m trying to tell you is… we are on our way out of the dark days my friends.  Someday very soon you will suddenly notice the daylight hours getting longer and with that, the hope of growth and new life.



*1 Not entirely scientifically accurate.



A Mid-Winters Nature Challenge January 25, 2017

Happy New Year from Nebraska Project WILD!  How has everyone been feeling?  Have the winter blues gotten ahold of you?  Is cabin fever making you twitchy?   Well folks, even though our days are slowly filling with more light we still have eight weeks till the first day of spring.

I’m not gonna lie.  Neither I nor my children have been getting outside and reaping the benefits nature has to offer as much as I know is necessary for the emotional stability of my family.  I am an outdoor educator for crying out loud.  I know better and I wholly and completely subscribe to the theory, and mounting supportive research, that spending time in nature has a profound positive effect on emotional health.  As we all know emotional health is a key ingredient to happiness and contentment, therefore I pay close attention to the emotional health of myself and those I love.

Ah, but the allure of technological illumination can be a sneaky temptress.  Although my family does go entire days without staring at a screen, compared to the average American who spends about 9 hours a day, we tend to indulge during the cold months.  Between work and school, I have been finding the precious hours I have with my kids slowly eaten up by screen time.  I can see the tell-tale symptoms of what some call, direct attention fatigue.  What’s that?  Direct attention fatigue you ask?  Well let’s take a moment:

“Directed attention fatigue (DAF) is a neurological symptom which occurs when the inhibitory attention system, that part of the brain which allows us to concentrate in the face of distractions, becomes fatigued. Signs of directed attention fatigue include temporarily feeling unusually distractible, impatient, forgetful, or cranky when there is no associated illness. In more severe forms, it can lead to bad judgment, apathy, or accidents, and can contribute to increased stress levels. DAF is caused by concentrating too much in the midst of external or internal distractions. Inhibitory attention chemicals are replenished during sleep, so lack of sleep can increase the likelihood of directed attention fatigue.”

Furthermore, studies have linked television watching to ADHD. Researchers at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle determined, ”…that each hour of TV watched per day by preschoolers increases by 10 percent the likelihood that they will develop concentration problems and other symptoms of attention-deficit disorders (ADDs) by age 7.”   Although our understanding of the links between overuse of screen time and ADD/ADHD symptoms is not entirely clear having any of the associated symptoms does not sound like a recipe for family bliss.

The point is, I can feel it.  I can see these symptoms creeping up on me during these dark winter months and I can see them in my children as well.  If I don’t get my act together I could be in for a full-blown winter meltdown before it’s all over which may not be the best example to set for my kids.  Not to mention I have a fully fledged, in the midst of all things hormonal, teenager.  Aren’t they prone to meltdowns every other day? Since I share their time with their father, I will also have to employ some time management skills as well.

I am searching for a prescription for that which ails me.  So I have enlisted the help of Richard Louv. In his book “Last Child in the Woods” he coined the phrase Nature Deficit Disorder or, to add another acronym, NDD.  Nature Deficit Disorder describes, “…the human costs of our detachment from the natural world which symptoms include, diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.”   His most recent book “Vitamin N: 500 Ways to Enrich the Health and Happiness of Your Family and Community and Combat Nature Deficit Disorder” stirred up a host of Vitamin N nature challenges amongst outdoor families across the country. Louv has described the ailment and prescribed an antidote.


Time Outdoors is Time Well Spent



Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do: Risk Assessment August 15, 2016

The words ‘risk’ and ‘children’ rarely seem to fit comfortably in the same sentence.  Well-meaning parents, myself included, do all we can to protect the most innocent from what we perceive as risk.  We bandage every scrape.  We make them aware of every potential danger they can’t possibly see. We careful, careful, careful, careful them to death.  We remove every possible hazard within a two-mile radius. We shelter our children from all risk.   What happens then, when those children inevitably go out into the world and have not developed the skills to asses and evaluate risk?  Are we doing an entire generation of children a disservice?

I would like to stake a claim…to be faced with risky situations allows for the development of risk assessment.  Huh? What’s this risk assessment thing you’re talking about lady? Don’t worry it’s very simple.

  1. “Hey risk, there you are.”
  2. “Hmmm, what’s at stake here, what are the dangers and what are the consequences?”
  3. “Do I want to avoid this risk, or can I figure out an appropriate way to take this risk?”

Taking risks may have a bad rap but risk taking doesn’t have to equate with recklessness.  We all took risks when learning how to walk. We take risks when applying for jobs, when choosing who to love, when trying a new topping on our pizza or reading a book from an author we’ve not read before. Taking risks is a leap into the unknown where we continually gather information and data on our successes and failures based on our goals.

Childhood is the time when risk assessment begins its development and within that time-frame, play is where children do most of their learning.  Outdoor play specifically provides those risky challenges that nurture healthy judgement of success. I’m talking about the kind of play that can fill a parent with anxiety and make them prone to redirecting play to something ‘safer’.  Tree climbing, poking at the campfire, playing by or (oh my word) in water, jumping from high places, running through tall grass all pose relative risk.  It is within this play when children are challenged and learn to assess potential negatives or dangers , cuz mom, you aren’t always gonna be there to point those things out.

Tree climbing, for example, can test a child’s strengths, their limits and provide learning about injury.  Injury doesn’t need to be traumatic brain injury.  Exposure to small injuries such as scrapes from tree bark or jabs from tree branches or even broken arms,  are a collection of experiential learning that can actually lead to the prevention of a fall that could be more serious.  Children will want to climb that tree and someday we may not be there to tell them ‘NO it’s not safe’.  Children engaged in risk during childhood play cultivate their understanding of cause and effect while nurturing their development of risk assessment. Should allow them the space to learn or shelter them?

Ironically, children have a natural curiosity and connection to ‘risky’ outdoor play.  Outdoor play is not a structured, sterilized plastic playground regulated by safety standards.  These types of play spaces do not ‘reflect the developmental needs of children, but rather the goal is to prevent or reduce risk’.   How many of you have seen children playing on a piece of equipment in a way that was not its intended use?  These kiddos are bored and seeking out experiences that create elated emotional states, test their boundaries and challenge their minds and bodies.

When a child climbs to the very top of a dirt mound with every intention of jumping, the outcome is uncertain. Childhood experiences with uncertainty create familiarity with the associated emotions, potentially anxiety and fear.  If one is to face uncertainty then one is prepared to be wrong and learn from that experience.  It takes persistence and courage to learn from our mistakes and try again until we achieve the desired outcomes in spite of our fears.

As that same child is deciding if this jump is gonna hurt, or maybe checking out  different places from which to launch that may be more appropriate to meet her goals, that child may also be experiencing fear.  Fear is nothing to fear.  Studies support repeated exposure to ‘fear-inducing’ situations during play, develop within a child, the ability to cope.  One study reported, “…rats deprived of play during critical development periods resulted in excessive fear, inappropriate aggression and exaggerated emotional reactions to stressful situations.”  I would like to point out here; the leading mental disorder among children and adolescents is anxiety. Would it not be wonderful if outdoor play could be part of a remedy to this epidemic?