Thursday, December 30, 2010

Birds of a Feather...

This year was the 27th year for the annual Christmas bird count here in the Amana Colonies. Every year a group of about 10 people go out on a day between Christmas and New Year to count how many species of birds they see that day. They do this as part of the national Audubon Christmas bird count which has been ongoing for 111 years.
            This year the Amana bird counters were in luck and had a beautiful day to explore the land that encompasses the Amana Colonies. They had glistening white hoarfrost in the morning and a mild sunny 20 degree afternoon to enjoy the Iowa landscape. Good weather makes the outing just that more enjoyable. The Annual bird count is a great excuse to get out in nature and explore on a day where you probably would be just sitting around eating left over Christmas cookies before they get stale.
The morning of the bird count, the adventurous few get up before the sun and go “owling”. Playing owl calls in hope for a response, those owls that do get counted. This is a social activity for the birders. They regularly meet up during the count and compare notes, see what bird have not been counted and discuss a game plan to find the missing birds. Turkey sometimes must be looked for in the afternoon, when they like to feed. The Brown Headed Cow Bird was elusive this year and was not to be found at a feeder or a cow pasture. This is strange, since it has been seen 22 out of the 27 year history of the bird count. There were two new, never seen birds on this years count, the Snow Bunting and the Carolina Wren.  
The Amana Colonies are a great place for bird watching. Its diverse habitat attracts such birds as rare Warblers who like to hang out in the woods to Sandpipers and shorebirds that make the Lily Lake their temporary home. Lanny Haldy, who is the director at the Amana Heritage Society, has been keeping a count of birds that he has seen in the Amana Colonies year round. Since 1975 he has seen 260 different bird species here. There have been 87 different species seen on the Christmas bird count over the 27 years. This year 43 species were seen, which is about normal.
Iowa isn’t really known for its outdoor activities, but the Amana Colonies are a really great place to get out there and explore nature. With a nature trail, a bike trail, wet lands, and a small lake there is plenty of space for bird watching, walking, hiking, snow shoeing, cross country skiing or what ever kind of out door adventure you seek. You will not only see a diverse bird population, but depending on the time of year you can see otters, minks, muskrats, turtles, mountain lions and coyotes along with a lot of deer.
Off to explore nature in my town: Amana Colonies

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Season

Can you believe Christmas is this Saturday? Are you all ready? I am. Around here we begin celebrating the season the day after Thanksgiving. That is when the Tannenbaum Forest officially opens. For me that always seems like the beginning of Christmas the season around here. Then there is the first weekend of December, which is always Prelude to Christmas. Prelude always puts me in a festive mood and it seems like the whole month of December is a celebration. The Friday night of Prelude the streets are lined with luminaries and there are all sorts of hustle and bustle. This year I had friends from Kansas City visit and they attended the festivities with me. So I was able to see my town through their eyes, and with three kids along, not only eyes but, stomachs.  This is a great festival for kids and for families. It seems like every shop we visited there were cookies and cider to be had. They were all so good too, and very hard to resist.

Because we couldn’t get enough cookies, on Saturday morning we participated in the Amana Church Society’s cookie walk. For $20 you get a large box that you fill with cookies. After tasting our loot, we were lamenting that we didn’t get more of certain cookies. Like the little mint chocolate ones and the raspberry filled ones. I hope I can find out who made those ones and get the recipe.

After everyone got a cookie and we put the box in the car, we went to the Tannenbaum forest. This is a huge barn filled with decorated Christmas trees. All it cost to get in is a good will donation that goes to Make-A-Wish, to help a child’s wish come true. I love this part every year. Everyone is so creative and the trees get better every year. There is a tunnel of love, a pine forest that displays the nativity, a giant German pyramid and trees decked to the nines. One tree even had a suit of armor, and one a fire place; all very creative. And of course Santa was there, the kids were able to get their picture taken.

Then it was off to the Amana Heritage Museum to watch the “Glimpse of the Amana Christmas Past”. The Glimpse is a little Christmas play about what it was like in Communal Amana. It is a funny and sweet little play, with lots of singing. After that we visited the Amana General Store to see the gingerbread house. My favorite was the light house. I can’t even imagine how many hours it took to put that together! Next the Chocolate Haus where the kids made chocolate dipped candy canes.

 By this time the kids had had plenty of sugar. So we stopped at the Amana Meat Market to buy some landjager sausages for a snack. There were cookies there too!
Really we could have spent more time out and about with all the activities going on, but we were getting tired and decided to go home for dinner. The thing I love about my town is there is always something to do here. When ever out of town visitors come they are always amazed at the cozy atmosphere and all the activities there are for a small town. If you think Iowa is just full of snow filled corn fields this time of year, you’re wrong! There is always something happening in my town: Amana Colonies.

Loving my small town