Tag Archives: Christmas

Christmas Bird Count

The Christmas Bird Count is an annual event for both recreational bird counters and those focused on the contribution it makes to our knowledge of bird life and wellbeing. The Christmas Bird Count takes place at over two thousand “count circles” across the Western Hemisphere, each with a diameter of 15 miles. Each year, tens of thousands of participants show up to lend their binoculars to the effort. The bird count contributes to the study of birds internationally and here in the United States, and is one of the best and longest-running examples of citizen science in action. But its origins are modest and fairly local to the Northeastern U.S.

five, six... huh? Shoot! One, two....

One, two, three, four… [Image: www.calliebowdish.com/]

The Christmas Bird Count, or “census” as it was originally called, was the brainchild of Frank Chapman, an ornithologist, field guide author, and early-on member of the Audubon Society. In 1900, Chapman, along with 26 other observers at 25 sites across North America, set out on Christmas morning to make a list and tally of every bird species and specimen they encountered within a given area. The count was a response to the traditional Christmas “side hunt” where teams of hunters would compete to bring in the most trophies, but was also in conversation with the environmental changes that were apparent even 115 years ago.

This pine grosbeak knows what the holiday spirit is about. [Image: onondagaaudubon.com

This pine grosbeak knows what the holiday spirit is about. [Image: onondagaaudubon.com/]

The point of the bird count was, of course, to count and record as many unique birds as possible and get the attendees out into the fresh air just like its hunting-based counterpart. The count also bears ties to the nascent conservationist and preservationist movements.

You may be wondering why we’re even talking about this, since Christmas has already fluttered past. Good news, everyone! The official Christmas Bird Count lasts through the holidays and wraps on January 5. There’s a map of this year’s counts in addition to organizer contact information available here.

These fellows seem to be enjoying themselves! [Image: learn.eartheasy.com]

These fellows seem to be enjoying themselves! [Image: learn.eartheasy.com/]

But if the ship has sailed or there just isn’t a Christmas Bird Count near you, you can satisfy your bird counting desires or add to your “life list” by grabbing your guide and heading out for a walk in your yard or around your neighborhood. Or perhaps even to a state park, like those you can find with our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps!

State and National Park Christmas Celebrations

Are you feeling the Christmas and holiday spirit yet? Many of us are (happily) cooped up, spending our days and nights preparing for the holiday later this week. The strong aroma of Christmas cookies wafts into our noses, carols passes through our eardrums, and lights dazzle us both inside and outside our homes—is there anything more exciting than the holiday season? It’s the most wonderful time of the year, after all, and arguably the best way to spend it is at a state park. Well, maybe we’re a little biased, but partaking in Christmas celebrations at a state park is absolutely a great way to pass some time! Here are just a few parks that are spreading Christmas cheer that you might want to make an appearance at.

Celebration of Lights at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, FL

Trees lit with Christmas lights.

Image: https://abidanshahdotcom.files.wordpress.com/

Take part in Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park’s annual Celebration of Lights any day from December 19–December 24. If you happen to miss any of those days leading up to Christmas, then don’t worry—there’s an after-Christmas party on December 26! It’s a great time to connect with friends, both old and new.

For more info, call: (352) 628-5343 or (352) 628-5445 ext. 1006

Old World Christmas Events at Allaire State Park, NJ

Boy being kissed by a reindeer.

Pro tip: Look out for mistletoe. [Image: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/]

Ever wonder about old Christmas traditions and how people used to celebrate throughout history? Well New Jersey’s Allaire State Park is hosting their annual Old World Christmas, which offers a blast from the past, at their quaint Allaire Village. Enjoy performances of “A Christmas Carol” as well as the stunning Christmas Lantern Tours.

For more info, call: (609) 984-1795, (609) 292-2994, or (609) 984-1795

Polar Bear Plunge at Sandy Point State Park, MD

Polar Bear Plunge.

Looks, uh, fun? [Image: http://www.northbeachmd.org/]

It’s pretty likely that you’ve heard of the Polar Bear Plunge as it’s become a wintertime tradition for many daring individuals who don’t mind basking in frosty waters. The Special Olympics of Maryland accompanies others at Sandy Point State Park’s Polar Bear Plunge. Grab your bathing suit (and a warm, fuzzy towel for afterwards), and head to the beach this Christmas season!

For more info, call: (410) 242-1515

The Nation’s Christmas Tree at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, CA

The General Grant Tree.

We’re rubbing our necks just looking at this photo. What a tree! [Image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/]

A visit to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park in its own is magical, but is there anything more seasonally appropriate than visiting the Nation’s Christmas Tree (also known as the General Grant Tree)? Probably not. Unfortunately the annual Trek to the Tree led by the Sanger Chamber of Commerce already passed (it happens on the second Saturday of December, so mark it on your calendars for next year!), but that doesn’t mean you can’t visit the park and enjoy the sights anyway.

For more info, call: (559) 875-4575

These are just a few of the many ways that you can get involved at a state park this holiday season. So pack your Christmas cheer, download our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps, and get ready for some serious celebrating!

The Most Extreme Arctic Animals

Arctic Fox

Image: www.img3.wikia.nocookie.net

Temperatures across the country are starting to dip dramatically now that winter has officially begun. We’re talking snow, ice, sleet and big coat type of weather. There are animals around the world that live in a constant state of winter. Animals in the arctic have evolved to withstand below freezing temperatures all their lives. But how? How can fish swim alongside icebergs but not freeze? We’re unveiling the most extreme arctic animals.

Polar Bears

Arctic Animals

www. www.pixgood.com

You can’t discuss arctic animals without mentioning polar bears. These white, fluffy mammals are well-equipped to thrive in subzero temperatures. Their trademark white fur consists of two layers – underfur and guard hairs. As with other arctic animals, including arctic foxes, polar bears shed their fur in the warmer months, but unlike those mammals, the polar bear’s coat doesn’t get darker. Contrary to what lots of people believe, polar bears have black skin with white fur. That’s because the color black absorbs heat and the color white reflects it.

Arctic Fox

Arctic Fox

Image: www.animalhdwallpapers.com

Arctic foxes lives in one of the coldest regions in the world – arctic tundras in North America, northern Europe and northern Asia. In the winter, the fox’s greyish-brown fur turns white in order to blend in with the snow-covered landscape. This is just one of many of the fox’s adaptations to the cold.

This arctic animal’s coat allows the fox to withstand temperatures as low as −94 °F. You’ll also never catch them slipping. They have hair on the pads of their feet, which helps them walk on ice. The fox’s low surface area to volume ratio also helps it retain heat; since less surface area is exposed to the cold, less heat escapes. The fox is relatively small (about the size of a house cat), and has a good amount of body fat.


Arctic Ocean

Image: www.asoc.org

We’re including all fish that live in the arctic region in this section. We turned to Science Daily to explain how fish are able to survive in freezing water without ever freezing. You see, fish have a natural anti-freeze in the form of specialized proteins. The glcyoproteins work not by inhibiting ice crystal formation, but by inhibiting ice crystal growth. Scientists are still in the process of figuring out how this anti-freeze works, but it’s a cool evolutionary adaption for sure.

How to Choose a Real Christmas Tree

It’s that time of year again! Bring everyone together by picking and cutting down a real Christmas tree. But first, read this simple guide before heading out, so you and your family can pick out the perfect tree for your home.

Step 1: Measuring

Father and daughters measuring xmas tree in snow

Image: nh-vtchristmastree.blogspot.com

The most important step in purchasing a Christmas tree is to know what size tree can fit in your house. Measure the height of your ceiling, but remember to subtract the height of your stand and the tree topper so you get the maximum tree height that can fit. Also, clear the space where the tree will be placed. Species of trees vary, so you want to be sure you won’t be crushing the branches against the wall. The next thing you want to measure is the size of your stand to make sure it’s big enough to keep the tree upright.

Step 2: Smelling and Touching

Tree farm worker taking the tree to be wrapped

Found the perfect tree! [Image: Lisa Narine]

Choose a great tree farm that you have researched. Once you have arrived at the farm, it is now time to pick out your Christmas tree! Through this process you should use two important senses, which we all possess: smelling and touching. Grab any branch on the tree between your thumb and forefinger, gently clamp down and pull towards yourself. If you end up with a handful of needles, the tree is already past its prime.

Crush the needles in your hand and check the scent. If the tree doesn’t have a smell, don’t buy it!

Bounce the tree by holding it a few inches above the ground and dropping it. If the exterior needles fall off, it’s not good. Make sure the tree’s trunk fits your stand. Trimming the diameter of the tree by cutting away the bark will strip the tree of its layer that absorbs water. If this happens, the tree is damaged.

Step 3: Shaker & Wrapping

Men wrapping a xmas tree

Image: www.oregonlive.com

Once you have found your perfect tree, have the worker put it through a shaker, if they have one. This will remove any dead, interior needles. If needles fall off, don’t worry. It is normal for an evergreen tree to have dead needles. After this, have the tree sent through the machine to wrap it in netting for easy transport.

Step 4: Cutting the End

Man getting end of tree

Image: www.casualchicmom.com

Cutting the end of the trunk opens up the veins, which will deliver water to the branches. Use a saw and take at least an inch off, or you can have the worker do this for you before leaving the farm. If your drive is more than four hours, you should skip this step and do it when you are home because the end will glaze over and the tree will not take up water.

Step 5: Putting Up the Tree

Christmas tree stand with tree inside

Image: uncommonhousewife.wordpress.com

Now that you have your Christmas tree home, fit the tree into the stand. Most stands have small prongs in the bottom to hold the center of the tree. Place the tree into the stand and drive the stand’s prongs into the trunk and tighten up the thumbscrews that hold the tree into the stand. Before tilting the tree vertical, set down some newspaper or an old rug under where the stand will be to catch any spilled water. After you succeed putting up the tree, add clean water into the stand. For the next two days, the tree will consume up to two gallons of water, so make sure you are refilling the water frequently.

Step 6: Spread out the Branches

Decorated xmas tree in a house

Image: christmas.lovetoknow.com

Cut off the mesh and spread out the branches. Now, it’s finally time to decorate! If you have small children in the house or as guests, make sure to keep glass ornaments at the top of the tree. Dispose of the tree responsibly when Christmas is over.

Download your state’s Pocket Ranger® app to find tree farms in your area by using the Nearest Me map feature. Using the Events Calendar feature, you can even search for Christmas state park events.

Christmas in State Parks

2014 has flown by and Christmas is just around the corner. For the next couple of weeks, attend a Christmas state park event with your family to appreciate this time of year and each other!


Christmas lighted trees outdoors

Image: www.punchbowl.com

Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park
Friday, December 5th, 2014 – December 31st, 2014 (Except Christmas Day)
Open – 9:00 P.M.

The Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center is hosting the 20th Annual Festival of Lights, which displays more than five million lights. This event was categorized in the top twenty in the southeastern United States. Visitors can enjoy holiday sights and sounds throughout the park, including majestic oak trees decorated with many lights, an antebellum museum dressed in full holiday splendor, a gingerbread village, a candy cane forest, Santa’s runway and so much more. Be sure not to miss the event of the year!

New York

Santa and Mrs. Claus in front a xmas tree

Image: www.santa-wallpapers.com

Bayard Cutting Arboretum State Park
Friday, December 5th, 2014
5:30 P.M. – 7:30 P.M.

It’s the 18th Annual Holiday Tree Lighting! Join in a sing-a-long of traditional holiday carols awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus. Santa will light the Christmas tree and hot beverages will be served. Activities will take place outdoors, so it is recommended to dress accordingly. Bring canned goods or a new unwrapped toy for donation. Admission is free! For more information, visit NY State Park Events.


The Grinch dressed up as santa next to a Christmas tree

Image: www.barrenriverblog.com

Pine Mountain State Resort Park
Saturday, December 13th, 2014
10:00 A.M. – Noon

Ever consider having Breakfast with the Grinch? Now you and your family can experience this fun-filled event! The mean, green one will be on site, entertaining you while you enjoy a Who-inspired breakfast. Later, DJ Brian O’Brien will do an animated reading of Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Visit Kentucky State Park Events for fee information and to make reservations.


Christmas event with lights on trees and santa

Image: www.rentcafe.com

Pickwick Landing State Park
Friday, December 13th, 2014
All Day

Enjoy the festival of lights at the 10th Annual Christmas in the Park. There will be beautiful luminaries and lighted displays as well as trolleys and a horse-drawn carriage ride throughout the park. Santa and his elves make a visit with a holiday train ride, and there will be bedtime stories for all the children. For more information or to make inn reservations, call 1-800-250-8615.


Santa with two deers outdoors

Image: easyasone.wordpress.com

Heritage Hill State Park
Saturday, December 20th, 2014                           
12:00 P.M. – 6:00 P.M

Travel back in time and celebrate The Spirit of Christmas Past. Enjoy a Christmas shadow play, music from local performers, historical dancing, holiday baking, horse-drawn wagon rides and much more. This event partners with the Salvation Army to help citizens during the holidays. Donations are appreciated. Call 920-448-5150 for more information.

Download the Pocket Ranger® app to set an event reminder on the Events Calendar, and to search for more outdoor winter activities! Happy Holidays!

Related articles

5 Great Nonfiction Books for Hunters and Anglers

Now that you’ve got those Christmas giftcards, it’s time to treat yourself or that uncle you forgot about to a great read. Here at ParksByNature, not only do we love nature, we also love good prose. Whether it’s hunting, angling, or general nature writing that interests you, these five essential nonfiction books for hunters and anglers will dazzle readers with their style, wit, and insight into the mysterious realm of nature.

image: www.dogeardiary.blogspot.com

Image: www.dogeardiary.blogspot.com

1. The Hidden Life of Deer by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

Whenever we recommend this book to serious deer hunter friends of ours, the usual response is: “you mean that tree hugger?” If a tree hugger is somebody who spends more time in the woods than shopping at Cabelas, then count us in. Instead of telling you how deer should behave, this book records how deer actually behave. In The Hidden Life of Deer, Thomas weaves personal memoir, anthropological perspective, and a certain observational grace into a beautiful and revealing portrait of deer in the woods of New Hampshire. We’re not ashamed to say that a lot of what we know about deer hunting and behavior comes from this unique book.

image: www.goodreads.com

Image: www.goodreads.com

2. The Founding Fish by John McPhee

John McPhee is master stylist who has chronicled everything from basketball to the history of the Florida orange. He also happens to be a lifelong shad fisherman. The Founding Fish is a cultural history of American shad fishing that seamlessly blends meticulous scholarship with the ease and locality of travel writing. The book follows McPhee as he travels up and down the Eastern seaboard fishing for the mercurial shad and meditating on the fish’s importance to America’s dietary past. Did you know that George Washington’s Continental Army might have starved if it wasn’t for the spring shad run of 1778?

image: www.3riversarchery.com

Image: www.3riversarchery.com

3. A Man Made of Elk by David Petersen

This is an unusual and still obscure entry into the annals of hunting literature. One of the reasons for its slow reception is that Petersen is a dedicated traditionalist who only hunts one animal, elk, and does so with longbow, a form of technology unchanged since the 1300’s. Since longbow hunting requires getting up close and personal with the animal, Petersen has learned to act and think like an elk. This is probably the closest thing we have to a book on elk hunting written by an elk.

image: www.azstateparks.com

Image: www.azstateparks.com

4. A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

Leopold was a rare combination of philosopher, naturalist, conservationist, and hunter. A Sand County Almanac (1949) is a collection of personal essays about the wilderness of Wisconsin in which Leopold developed the modern philosophy of land conservation or “land ethic”. The book describes that era of conservation history when it was believed that the eradication of certain predatory species would increase the overall abundance of game. Leopold, as a hunter, was one of the first to see that an ecosystem was a far more complex matter.

image: www.biographile.com

Image: www.biographile.com

5. The Longest Silence by Thomas McGuane

You don’t have to be a trout fisherman to appreciate the tension and tug of McGuane’s prose. The Longest Silence is composed of 33 essays written over an equal number of years that take you everywhere from trout ponds in Michigan to fly fishing for bone fish in Florida. But the real subject of McGuane’s book is that mysterious and infinite silence between bites that every fisherman knows.

Meet the Nation’s Christmas Tree


Nation's Christmas Tree

Image: www.thelittlelens.blogspot.com

Have you ever heard of the Nation’s Christmas Tree? (Not to be confused with the National Christmas Tree.) Also known as the General Grant Tree, (it was named after President Ulysses S. Grant in 1867), the tree was designated in 1926 by President Calvin Coolidge with the urging of Charles E. Lee, secretary of the Sanger Chamber of Commerce.

The Nation’s Christmas Tree is located in the 461,901-acred Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, which is well known for its natural skyscrapers.

The story goes that Lee visited the tree in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks in California in 1924 with a little girl who said the massive 267.4 ft. tree would make a “wonderful” Christmas tree, and the nickname has stuck. The tree is estimated to be between 2,000 and 4,000 years old and is currently the world’s second largest tree (in terms of mass), according to REI.

The Nation’s Christmas Tree is a giant sequoia (Sequoiandendron giganteum).  Even though sequoias don’t hold the record of being the tallest species of trees on Earth (that record belongs to the Redwood trees), a sequoia’s size is still quite impressive. For instance, the bark of giant sequoia trees can typically grow to be 4 feet thick and as long as 50 feet.

Nation's Christmas Tree

Image: www.newt.com

Fun facts about Giant Sequoias and the Nation’s Christmas Tree:

  • On October 1, 1949, Sanger, California
 was recognized by the Post Office Department as the Nation’s Christmas Tree
  • The first Christmas service at 
the base of the tree was inspired by R.J. Senior (then President of the Sanger
 Chamber of Commerce) and Charles E. Lee (then Secretary of the Sanger Chamber of
 Commerce), in 1925.
  • The massive giant is large enough
 to produce enough lumber to construct thirty-five, five bedroom homes.
  • The tree stands at 267 feet high, its lowest
 branch is 130 feet above the ground, and the circumference of its trunk is 107
  • Sequoias are only found in the state of California.
  • The Christmas Tree Service is always held on the second Sunday in December.

Information from this article came from ThinkQuest.org and information from the Sanger Chamber of Commerce.