Category Archives: photo

Art and Photo Contests

Calling all shutterbugs and artists!

Parks are one of the best places to capture the natural beauty of the world around us. There really is no better source of inspiration to bring out the photographer and artist in all of us, which is why we’ve compiled this handy list of art and photo contests to make it easy to share that creativity with the rest of the world. There are plenty of opportunities to have your work proudly displayed in a gallery, stamp, magazine, calendar or online album. Don’t worry about your skill level as many of the these events are catered towards novices and non-professionals. Plus, there are several open to children so even your kids can get in on the fun!

Some of these art and photo contests are hosted by state agencies and some by non-profit organizations. However, all of them are directly related to state parks so expect to take a trip to the park to participate. Along with your camera, don’t forget to download one of our Pocket Ranger® apps on your mobile device to help you navigate through the park grounds and trails. Before you begin, take time to read through the rules and guidelines as eligibility conditions will vary.

Now it’s time to get out there and join in on the fun! Capture in a photograph or piece of art the striking beauty of wildlife, the awe-inspiring majesty of landscapes, or the simple joy of people enjoying nature.

Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest

2015 Birds Category 1st Place Winner in a photo contest  [Image:]

2015 Birds Category 1st Place Winner [Image:]

Deadline: October 31, 2015
Eligibility: Open to amateurs only, separate adult and youth divisions
Sponsor: Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

California State Parks Foundation Photo Contest

Deadline: Monthly & yearly winners, ongoing
Eligibility: Open to all
Sponsor: California State Parks Foundation

Cheyenne Mountain State Park Photo Contest (Colorado)

Deadline: August 10, 2015
Eligibility: Open to all, separate adult and youth divisions
Sponsor: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Connecticut Junior Duck Stamp Competition

Deadline: March 15, 2016
Eligibility: Open to youth only
Sponsor: Connecticut Waterfowlers Association

Florida State Parks Photo Contest

May 2015 Winner [Image:]

May 2015 Winner [Image:]

Deadline: Monthly & yearly winners, ongoing
Eligibility: Open to all 13 years or older
Sponsor: Florida Department of Environmental Protection / Friends of Florida State Parks, Inc.

Cloudland Canyon State Park Annual Photo Contest (Georgia)

Deadline: December 2015
Eligibility: Open to all
Sponsor: Georgia Department of Natural Resources

Georgia State Parks Instagram Contest

Deadline: Weekly winners, from June 8, 2015 to August 17, 2015
Eligibility: Open to all
Sponsor: Georgia Department of Natural Resources

Wild About Kansas Photo Contest

Deadline: October 23, 2015
Eligibility: Open to all, separate adult and youth divisions
Sponsor: Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism

Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park Photography Weekend (Kentucky)

Deadline: October 16 – 18, 2015
Eligibility: Open to all
Sponsor: Kentucky State Parks

Minnesota Fish & Wildlife Habitat Stamp Contest

2015 Trout & Salmon Stamp Winner []

2015 Trout & Salmon Stamp Winner []

Deadline: Varies from August 14, 2015 to December 18, 2015
Eligibility: Open to Minnesota residents only
Sponsor: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

MissouriDNR Photo Contest

Deadline: August 1, 2015
Eligibility: Open to amateurs only
Sponsor: Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Missouri Snapshots Photo Contest

Deadline: October 31, 2015
Eligibility: Open to amateurs only, separate adult and youth divisions
Sponsor: Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives / Missouri Department of Natural Resources

NEBRASKAland Magazine Photo Contest

Deadline: July 31, 2015
Eligibility: Open to all, separate adult and youth divisions
Sponsor: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

50th Anniversary Photo Challenge (North Dakota)

Deadline: September 7, 2015
Eligibility: Open to all
Sponsor: North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department

50th Anniversary Roscoe’s Coloring Contest (North Dakota)

Roscoe's Coloring Contest [Image:]

Roscoe’s Coloring Contest [Image:]

Deadline: September 30, 2015
Eligibility: Open to youth only
Sponsor: North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department

Pennsylvania Waterfowl Management Stamp Design Contest

Deadline: August 31, 2015
Eligibility: Open to Pennsylvania residents only
Sponsor: Pennsylvania Game Commission (PDF)

Washington State Parks Foundation Photo Contest

Deadline: Monthly & yearly winners, ongoing
Eligibility: Open to all
Sponsor: Washington State Parks Foundation

Friends of Wisconsin State Parks Calendar Annual Photo Contest

2014 Calendar Winner [Image:]

2014 Calendar Winner [Image:]

Deadline: August 31, 2015
Eligibility: Open to all
Sponsor: Friends of Wisconsin State Parks

Buckhorn & Roche-A-Cri State Parks Annual Photo Contest (Wisconsin)

Deadline: September 30 , 2015
Eligibility: Open to all
Sponsor: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources / Friends of Buckhorn State Park / Friends of Roche-A-Cri State Park

Trevor Simington: Adventure Photographer

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 9.44.27 AM

Trevor Simington isn’t the type of photographer to get attached to a particular image, instead he focuses on the genuine experiences connected to the photos. He travels whenever there’s time to spare, documenting his adventures through Instagram—from giant national parks, such as Yellowstone, to the smaller, Mount Rushmore National Memorial. In case you missed it, this California native is our National Parks Photo Contest winner over on Instagram!

California may be his go-to-area for wild explorations, but he’s travelled to Wyoming, South Dakota, Colorado, Utah, among other states. When capturing landscape and wildlife, Simington seeks to convey the beauty he sees and feels in nature. He’s taken photos of tarantulas, owls, prairie dogs, lizards, as well as catching amazing landscapes, wildlife, and portraits, even dabbling with stars and lunar eclipses. “[It’s] rewarding after keeping a standard day job and finding the time to explore the beauty of our parks and everything in between,” he said on winning.

Take a look at some of his images, as he recounts his adventures and the lessons on nature and traveling.

PBN: According to Instagram, you’re a city slicker by day, and adventure photographer by night. What’s your occupation?

Trevor Simington: Haha well I suppose. I work the usual weekday 9 to 5 as a Data Processor in a startup company in Glendale, California. But I find myself routinely seeking opportunities to explore nature and my environment in the least amount of time I can find or make available.     

Cypress Tree Tunnel, Point Reyes National Seashore, California [Image: Trevor Simington]

Cypress Tree Tunnel, Point Reyes National Seashore, California [Image Credit: Trevor Simington]

PBN: How did you get started with photography? Is it something you always wanted to do?

TS: It’s kind of funny. An old friend coerced me into buying a Nikon SLR years ago. [Prior to that I] never had any interest in photography. I took a couple of pictures I liked, but had trouble figuring out how to use the thing, so I ended up selling [the camera].

Only as of 2012 I decided to take up hiking. I found myself in so many beautiful places, mostly in California—that I had no idea existed— only then did I buy another camera, and never left home without it.  When I began taking a ton of photos, I started to take it more seriously. I wanted a record of the epic beauty in these places I was experiencing.

PBN: There’s a colorful vividness to your photos. How would you describe your style?

TS: As I got the adventure bug, I tried to turn my photos into an art that communicated the feeling of visiting these locations. When I became more familiar with photography, I forced myself to only shoot in Manual and RAW to gain proficiency in the use of exposure, film speed and aperture in order to bring out the colors.

Prairie Dog ready to attack? Devils Tower National Monument [Image: Trevor Simington]

Prairie Dog ready to attack? Devils Tower National Monument [Image Credit: Trevor Simington]

PBN: Is there a preferred camera or lens to achieve that style?

TS: After having several quality point & shoots and DSLRs, I realized that these images needed to be recorded on a full format sensor with quality lenses, so I made the leap to purchase a Nikon D610 and the Nikon 24-70 2.8. Although I’m in need of more lenses and looking to broaden my equipment, I’m surprised by how many wonderful shots you can take with just one lens.

PBN: What’s your favorite image to date?

TS: Well it’s very hard to say as I’m usually attached to an image based off the experience, and the franticness of being at a certain spot at the right time! It seems, I can never arrive at a location I want to photograph with ample time to set up. Although these locations are shot by many, I still believe these are my favorite photographs; I shot it the best I could! (Some of his favorites are on this page.)

El Capitan, Yosemite National Park [Image: Trevor Simington]

El Capitan, Yosemite National Park [Image Credit: Trevor Simington]

PBN: We know you love visiting National Parks. What are some of your favorite parks and why? 

Yes, definitely! I don’t have a favorite National Park since there is always plenty to discover everywhere. It’s surprising how much variety one finds in just one National Park. I can never get enough of Yosemite of course, but equally Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Canyonlands, Arches, and Zion. I also had an incredible time in Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef, Sequoias and Lake Powell. But Yosemite is probably my “home” park.

PBN: What’s your next outdoor adventure?

TS: I’m excited to explore the canyons of Lake Powell with a paddle board this upcoming May.  It’s one of the most amazing recreational places to visit.

he night sky was at the Trona Pinnacles, California [Image: Trevor Simington]

The night sky at Trona Pinnacles, California [Image Credit: Trevor Simington]

PBN: What’s the strangest thing, person or place you’ve encountered while being in nature?

TS: Probably the time I was hiking the Devils Backbone Trail to Mt. Baldy in Los Angeles.  It wasn’t exactly strange, but I was definitely spooked. I was hiking solo late at night, with the eeriness of the forest trees under a half moon.  As I walked along, I paused when I noticed the silhouette of a dog and its eyes reflecting back at me from my headlamp.  As I looked around I counted eight pairs of eyes hidden in the bushes in all directions around me, then realized it was a pack of coyotes. I’ve never been afraid of coyotes, but no one wants to be ambushed by a pack of coyotes.

My first thought was to yell and turn up the music on my phone, and slowly proceed without showing fear. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t proceed without fear, but they also didn’t seem to care about my presence, so I carried on seeking a good place to campout for the night.

PBN: Lastly, what’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned while traveling?

TS: There are probably better lessons to be learned, but I try not to over-plan. Instead I see where the adventure takes me. I think one should be willing to experience anything and appreciate nature as it is. Often people don’t appreciate nature in its entirety. And of course while some areas are considered more beautiful than others, I am easily pleased regardless if desert or pine forest.

[Image: Trevor Simington]

Northern prairies of the Black Hills, South Dakota [Image Credit: Trevor Simington]

See his photos and other submissions featured in the new Pocket Ranger® National Park Passport Guide!


Winter Biking: Tips for Cycling through the Chilly Months

Winter biking is a whole different world from biking in the warmer months of the year. There’s a lot to take into consideration when jumping on your bike and heading out for the trail or onto the road, but freezing temperatures and slippery surroundings shouldn’t be deterrents. A new challenge is an exciting challenge, and biking during winter isn’t actually as bad as one might assume. Properly preparing the bike, and more importantly its rider, are key to enjoying winter cycling.

Benefits of Winter Cycling

man winter biking in the snow

Mountain biking in snow [Image:]

First things first: Determine the perks of winter biking. Not only will you avoid any car traffic, but it also gets the blood coursing and heart thumping. Not always the easiest task in the winter! If you’re still feeling hesitant, try setting up a schedule to ease yourself into it before making it a part of your routine.


Man showing specific gear for winter biking

Winter bike touring clothing [Image:]

Before heading out, you’re going to want to make sure you dress the right way. The key is to layer but not overdo it, similar to when cross-country skiing. Since you’ll be exercising, you’re going to end up sweating—especially depending on the amount of hills you’ll be tackling during the ride. The best way to go about it is to wear an outfit where you feel a bit chilly in at first. As your ride progresses, you’ll notice that you don’t actually miss throwing on that extra winter coat after all.

There are a few items that are particularly important to have. It’s essential to keep your head and ears warm because even though the rest of your body is warming up, your head will have a harder time doing the same. A scarf or balaclava is great for keeping your neck and face comfortable during the ride.

Since the fingertips and toes lose a lot of heat, ensuring that they are warm will make the difference between a positive biking experience and one that you can’t wait to end. Gloves that keep your fingers warm but don’t inhibit you from grabbing your brakes at a moment’s notice will make your ride infinitely more enjoyable. Hand warmers may just become the most valuable investment you make. Depending on how much icy rain/snow you encounter, waterproof shoes will probably become your new best friend during winter cycling outings. For the same reason you don’t want to over-bundle, having wet shoes can lead to problems with hypothermia when you finally slow down and the cold catches up with you. Even if you don’t notice, the sweat and water will turn to ice soon enough and will be quite the unwelcome riding companion.

Winterizing Your Bike

Studded mountain bike tires for use in icy con...

Studded mountain bike tires for use in icy conditions [Image:]

Prepping your bike is as important as prepping your body. Similar to how car tires need to be prepped to handle intense snowfall, bike tires need to be adjusted so that they can get a good grip on the wet surface. Some prefer thicker tires while others add studs to their tires to handle the snow better. It’s best to start off with at least lowering the pressure in the tires.

Monitoring your bike (especially the gears if they’re exposed) and keeping it clean is equally important in the winter. Your bike is flying through tons of snow, sand, salt, and whatever else is buried, and all that stuff is likely to get stuck in your gears and wheels. A well-maintained bike is a happy bike, so clean it as often as possible.

Since winter means that it gets darker earlier, bike lights are more important than ever. Being visible to other vehicles is key to making sure you have a safe winter biking experience. A pair of strong, bright front and rear lights will ensure that others can take proper precautions around you.

Stay Hydrated and Fueled

Man drinking water while biking

Drink water to stay hydrated during a ride. [Image:]

It’s easy to become dehydrated and not take in enough food or water without even realizing it. Your body might not feel thirsty or hungry, but you’re releasing a lot of moisture into the air and sweating more than you may in the summer. Without proper nourishment, your body will have a lot of trouble keeping warm. Make sure to drink enough water and pack some food to keep your body satisfied.

With all these handy tips, you’re ready to have a safe and fun winter cycling session in any environment. Check out our Gear Store for anything you might need to make your rides easier and safer. Be alert and enjoy the cold!

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The How and Why of Bird Migration

The sound of hawks spreads through the sky as they travel in their V-shaped formation. For nature observers, this beautiful movement represents bird migration. In North America, there are more than 650 bird species. Though some are permanent residents, the majority of species are migratory. Bird migration has many underlying reasons such as climate, food scarcity, breeding, and genetic disposition. Our own nomadic ancestors, who were hunters and gatherers, migrated for thousands of years to escape drought and food scarcity, so the idea of large-scale migration is not so uncommon.

Insight on the how and why of bird migration helps us figure out why migration is a vital trait. Scientists today continue to study bird migration and its origins to uncover the mysteries of how evolution has crafted birds into astute navigational creatures, and how to protect ecosystems important to bird survival.

Understanding bird migration is also another way to combat stubborn creationists, who claim that evolution is not real. Recently, scientists discovered fossils from Mesozoic-aged rocks that point to a direct link between a group of dinosaurs, known as maniraptoran theropods, and the birds of today. With no hesitance, they announced that birds evolved from dinosaurs.

The articl tern flies…[Image:]

The Arctic Tern flies from its Arctic breeding grounds to Antarctica, covering 25,000 miles. [Image:]

Migration is a movement of birds between their breeding or summer homes and their non-breeding or winter grounds. Birds tend to migrate from one area to another in search of resource—moving from a place of scarcity to one with an abundance of food and nesting locations. Birds of the northern hemisphere migrate northward in the spring to benefit from the insect population, plant life, and nesting locations. Once winter begins and there’s a reduction of insects and other food sources, the birds move south again.

Not all birds travel the same distance. Short-distance migrants cover ranges such as high to low elevations, medium-distance migrants covers a range of several states, and long-distance migrants cover ranges that can extend from the US. to Mexico, and even farther south.

Bird species tend to follow numerous routes called flyway systems. In North America there are four major flyways: Atlantic Flyway, Mississippi Flyway, Central Flyway, and Pacific Flyway. Though migration is at its peak during spring and fall, there are birds migrating throughout the year. Several weeks or days before migration, birds enter hyperphagia, a state where hormone levels force them to increase their body weight to store fat for later use as energy while they travel.


The American Golden Plovers make a round trip of 20,000 miles covering areas in Canada, Central America, South America, and down to Patagonia. [Image:]

The origins of long-distant migration involve complex scientific studies and experiments, not always resulting in a full revelation of the inner-workings of migrations. So far, scientists know that temperature, variations in food supplies, and genetic predisposition affect migratory patterns. Birds can also face unpredictable forces, such as storms, physical weakness, or predators during their journey, causing a change in flying patterns. For example, some birds migrate during the night, since the cooler weather makes it easier. Songbirds migrate at night, to avoid feisty predators lurking during the day, while hawks, swifts, swallows, and waterfowl find it more suitable to migrate during the day. Usually birds will fly down to unexpected locations where they can rest and feed before arriving at their destination. This type of behavior causes migrant traps, usually advantageous for bird-watchers.

The Rufous Hummingbird travels 4,000 miles from Alaska and northwest Canada to wintering sites in Mexico.  [Image:]

The Rufous Hummingbird travels 4,000 miles from Alaska and northwest Canada to sunny Mexico. [Image:]

Migratory patterns have evolved over thousands of years, making the necessity to migrate integral to a bird’s genetic makeup. Scientists attribute the learning process to the first bird communities which flew in different directions, and later learned what direction was more beneficial. The memory of later birds kept pointing to a southern direction during winter. Birds inherited the knowledge of directional flying in order to find warmer weather and food, so it’s possible that their genetic memory is triggered by external conditions. Scientists present the evidence that young birds already know to fly toward the north in the spring without help from adult birds.

Northern Wheatear travels… [Image:]

The tiny and regal Northern Wheatear travels about 18,000 miles from sub-Saharan Africa to its Arctic breeding grounds. [Image:]

Birds cover thousands of miles in their annual travels, making the same course year after year. At their disposal is a set of navigational skills, including navigation by the stars, sensing changes in the earth’s magnetic field, and even smell. Scientists are consistently experimenting to see what internal maps birds follow. So far there are a couple of theories.

Birds decide which direction to approach based on smell, creating a map of odors that provide directional guides. Evidence suggests that olfactory navigation extends to 310 miles. Another theory suggests that birds can sense tiny changes in the magnetic field as they approach the poles and fly away from the equator, which tells them the latitude. The third theory says that birds use a sun compass, indicated by the position of the sun, and a star compass for songbird species that migrate at night, who recognize star patterns and the tilt and rotation of the night sky as navigational clues.

The next time you see a V-shaped flock, you can begin to ponder the many generations it took to make that flight possible.

For more on birds, check out  the Pocket Ranger® Fish and Wildlife Apps  available in New York, Alabama, Wisconsin, Georgia, Nebraska, and New Jersey. The apps provide bird descriptions, distribution areas, and habitat information, along with features like GPS mapping, a built-in compass, and distance indicator to help plan your next birding adventure.


7 Awesome Photos to Get You Psyched for Summer

The first day of summer is this Saturday, June 21st, and we can’t think of a better way to celebrate than by hanging out in the great outdoors! But since we’re sitting at our desks right now, we’ll do the next best thing: show you photos of people hanging out in the great outdoors!

Without further ado, here are 7 awesome photos to get you psyched for summer!



Up for some tubing, anyone? Relaxing in the water, surrounded by huge, gorgeous, green trees, and floating around with all your friends sounds like a perfect summer plan.

roasting marshmallows


Summer=camping in our minds, and what’s camping without s’mores? The fire, the logs, the mallows roasting; well, it just makes us more excited than ever for this season.

guy surfing a blue wave


Yes; waves really are that blue in nature. Being active is our main jam, so you know we’re planning some surfing trips to catch some killer waves.

picnic at the beach


At this point, we feel like we’re planning your perfect summer day, so after you’re done surfing, you might as well have a lovely picnic on the beach.



After looking at this photo, who wouldn’t want to canoe down this beautifully scenic river?

fire on the beach


This fire on the sand is just waiting for a season full of camping, s’mores, and bonfires galore!

girl in the water


If you aren’t excited for summer by now (seriously, who are you?), just look at this amazingly stunning photo. You’re bound to want to get wading in the water.

Don’t forget your Pocket Ranger® app! It’ll help turn these photos into your real-live excursions.


Colorful and Exciting State Birds

The U.S. is one of the few countries to use a wide variety of flags, seals, floral emblems, trees,  and birds, among other objects, as official state and national symbols actually written into law. Symbols are mostly used to give a state its identity, often drawing on cultural heritage and natural treasures as inspiration. The bald eagle is a native bird, recognized by many as a metaphor for all that is “American.” Since 1893, when the first floral emblems were adopted, the creation of state symbols has continued, even reaching the cookie level. In 1997, Massachusetts adopted the chocolate chip cookie as their state cookie after a third grader proposed the idea.

A Bald Eagle begins his journey. [Image:]

A bald eagle begins his journey. [Image:]

In the case of state birds, there’s no better idea then putting a bird as a symbol; not only does it draw on a natural treasure, but it draws attention to these sometimes neglected birds. To have the status of a state bird is a pretty high achievement for our small friends. Still, not all states put great thought into choosing, often mimicking other states. The cardinal is used six times and the mocking Bird four times–and yet not an owl or hummingbird in sight. With over 800 species in the U.S. and possibly new species, where’s the originality? Despite the current dullness, some state birds are actually exciting and colorful. Here’s a list of our picks.

Maine’s Black-capped Chickadee


Adopted as state bird in 1927, the tiny and outgoing black-capped chickadee is curious and energetic, even with humans. It likes to investigate its surroundings, often quickly finding home areas and bird feeders. This bird is beyond cute, with a round head, small frame, and its fee-bee chirp. When alarmed they have a slight sound variation adding more ee-ee notes  They are found in forests, woodlots and residential areas. As omnivores, they eat caterpillars, spiders, and seeds and berries, sometimes hiding them in tree bark crevices, and surprisingly remembering where they hid them. The most amazing behavior trait occurs between males and females: when a pair bonds they remain together for life. Male chickadees are also of the helpful type, feeding their mate when she’s building the nest or when she is brooding. If only humans couples could be more likes this.

New York’s Eastern Bluebird



How lovely would it be to find you? Designated state bird of New York in 1970, the eastern bluebird is known for its wonderful royal blue hue. This plump, medium-sized songbird has a short tail, round head, and a short black bill. Females display a slightly duller hue. Still, it shouldn’t be too hard to spot. If you hear a Tu-wheet-tudu warbling whistle or dry chatter, you’ve got yourself a tiny blue friend. Their diet consists mostly of insects and small fruits. And when it comes to mating, these birds practice the opposite of reciprocity. The males use a nest demonstration to attract females by  bringing materials for nest-buildinggoing in and out of the nest, then flying above waving their wings, making it the only time they contribute. Clever male bluebirds.

Louisiana’s Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican


This gentle brown bird was a favorite of early European settlers in Louisiana for its kindness and nurturing quality towards kids, and since then it has remained a state symbol. Not only was it adopted in 1966, but it appears in the state’s flag, and the official nickname of Louisiana is the pelican state. The brown pelican is rare among the world’s seven pelican species; it’s the only dark pelican and the only one to dive down from the air to catch its food, which it scoops up with its oversized bill. It disappeared in 1961 due to use of pesticide, but was later repopulated by Louisiana, and recovered in 1995. The brown pelican prefers seafood cuisinemunching on anchovies, herring, and sailfin mollies in coastal areas.

Florida’s Northern Mockingbird



The northern mockingbird, made state bird in 1927, is known for its unique vocal abilities, singing up to 200 songs. They can even mimic other bird sounds, as well as insects, amphibians, and mechanical noises. So, if you think you’re hearing distinct birdsnope, it’s just the mockingbird playing tricks on you (hence the name). These birds can sing through the night. And if the name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve read the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, and are aware of its symbol for innocence.  

 New Mexico’s Greater Roadrunner



When the Greater Roadrunner is not busy trying to escape from the evil grips of a coyote, it’s enjoying life in the deserts and shrubby areas of the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico. The greater roadrunner, often called the chaparral bird, was adopted as state bird of New Mexico in 1949. Though it has the ability to fly, it loves hanging out in the ground, where it can run at a speed of 15 miles per hour or more when it’s running after insects, small reptiles, scary scorpions, and small birds, among others. This bird is a true renegade, distinguished by its quickness and ability to kill rattlesnakes. Hopi and Pueblo Indian tribes believed that the roadrunner protected against malignant spirits. The Greater Roadrunner’s X-shaped footprints were used as sacred symbols to keep evil spirits at bay.

Oklahoma’s Scissor-Tailed Fly Catcher



The scissor-tailed fly catcher was adopted in 1951, and is protected by law. Its diet consists of insect species such as grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles. These songbirds sing sharp notes with rising, speedy pitches. Their tails are twice as long as their bodies and they catch prey by aerial hawking, but they will also grab insects off plants. These birds are the type to hang out on tree tops and utility wires, exhibiting their striking tails. They typically have a late summer flock, with 1000 birds gathering before migration to southern Mexico and central America for the winter. The scissor-tailed fly catcher practices reusing, which we humans find so difficult. They use human materials to create nests: strings, cloth, paper, wool, carpet fuzz, and even cigarette filters.

Maryland’s Baltimore Oriole



With its vibrant orange color, the Baltimore oriole can easily be distinguished. Adopted in 1947, it lives in deciduous trees, though not deep in the forest but in woodland and forest edges. Females are typically brownish olive and dull orange, while the male’s plumage is a brighter golden orange, with a black tail and white edges. A provision was made to protect them in 1882, along with the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1975. It has experienced decline since the destruction of breeding habitat and tropical winter habitat. Toxic pesticide ingested by insects, which is a main component of their diet, has also lessened their numbers. The baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles, is named after this bird.

Iowa’s American Goldfinch



Also called the wild canary, the American goldfinch was adopted in 1933 and is found throughout Iowa, usually staying around for winter months. Its diet consists of dandelions, sunflowers, ragweed, and evening primrose. The American goldfinch is considered a  strict vegetarian in the bird world, mostly eating vegetables and rarely munching on insects. Males have a bright yellow color with black wings, tails, and top of the head. The females’ colors are a muted olive yellow for the body, and dark brown tails and wings. Lovebirds of this species make the same flight call, and can differentiate between other couples’.

Nature Lovers: State Parks for Popping the Question

Romantic love has long been inspired by nature. In the early 19th century, the artistic movement known as Romanticism sought to locate truth and beauty in the wonders of the natural world. It’s no coincidence that so many of the metaphors and images of romantic love – flowers, sunsets, sparkling diamonds, and stars – are from the observation of nature. For nature lovers who also happen to be in love, what better location than a sublime mountain vista or pacific sunset to finally pop that question? Without further ado, we give you the five most romantic proposal spots in North America:



Niagara Falls State Park, New York

Your heart is overflowing with love and Niagara Falls is overflowing with water – some 80,000 cubic feet of it every second. Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest and one of the most iconic state parks in the United States. It also appears to have been made for popping the question: one of the main falls is even called Bridal Veil Falls. If you’re going to propose at Niagara Falls, we suggest you do it now because in 50,000 years the Falls will cease to exist when erosion causes it to retreat into Lake Erie. Love fades. So do waterfalls.



Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Humboldt Redwoods State Park is a storybook land populated by age-old giants known as coastal redwoods. The huge old-growth forest contains numerous 1,000 year old trees measuring upwards of 300 feet. The canopy of the redwood forest is so dense that it blots out the sun, leaving a dark and lush undergrowth of mosses and ferns. If your idea of a romantic spot is Narnia or Middle Earth then Humboldt is for you. What says everlasting commitment better than a 1,000 year old tree?



Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

Smith Rock is believed to be the birth place of modern rock climbing. The centerpiece of the park, Smith Rock, features outstanding views of the Meandering River and surrounding Cascade Mountains. Imagine you and your beaux are rock climbers and decide to do a tandem climb up world-famous Morning Glory Wall. You’re 200 feet up a vertical rock face when suddenly your sweetheart turns to you and pops the question. Depending on the answer, the remaining climb to the top is either the most exhilarating or worst of all time.



John Pennekamp State Park, Florida

John Pennekamp was the first of its kind: 70 nautical miles of crystal clear water, coral reefs, and tropical marine life. You can probably guess where we’re going with this: underwater proposal time! It would be like the Little Mermaid minus the part where Ursula tries to crash the wedding by drowning everybody. Imagine swimming along, admiring the sea life, and all of a sudden your significant other hands you some beautiful tropical seashell. You open it up – yes, it just happens to be hinged -and there’s a sparking wedding ring inside. Watch out for barracudas, because they’re attracted to bling – seriously.