PIONEER RIDGE — Liam Rainey was happy to see one of his favorite creatures in a photo at the Pioneer Ridge Nature Center when he arrived Monday afternoon. He didn’t have much chance of seeing one in person during the Winter Day Out event, but the photo was a good substitute.
“I like, um, the bison. I watched a movie about them,” he said enthusiastically. “They have horns.”
They do indeed, as a nearby bison skull proved. The shaggy giants still live in some parts of Iowa, but aren’t nearly as common as they once were. While they’re not known for wandering Pioneer Ridge, the area does play host to other creatures that hunker down and wait out the Iowa winter. It was those that the group hoped to spot.
Winter Day Out focuses on smaller critters. It’s tempting to think there are fewer animals in Iowa during the winter months. For some migratory species, that’s true. But most Iowa creatures hang around during the cold months. They just approach it differently than humans do.
Finding out how nature adapts is the focus for the event. Naturalist Annette Wittrock watched as a half-dozen young children explored the center before heading out to see what they could find.
“We’ll start outside and try to find out how animals survive the winter,” she said. That hike would be followed by popcorn, hot cocoa and a movie back in the center. “Then tomorrow we’re doing the Last Day Hike.”
That event is at the Garrison Rock Wildlife Area on Cliffland Road. It draws people, but a bit different crowd than what turned up on Monday.
The center’s taxidermied animals and displays gave the young visitors plenty to do as they waited to head outside. Joey Roop perched near a window, watching to see what birds flapped by outside.
His favorite? It’s a bit different than what many might say. While winter brings bald eagles to Ottumwa, Roop kept his eyes open for a different bird.
“My favorite is we have a woodpecker,” he said. “It’s very, very, very pretty.”
There are definitely woodpeckers around Pioneer Ridge. Like lots of animals this time of year, they’re out there. You just have to know how to look.