There hasn’t been much time this winter to enjoy usual outdoor winter activities such as cross country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, snowmobiling or sledding yet this year.

But, Anne Riordan, who works at Springbrook State Park with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, has plenty of suggestions on how you can enjoy the outdoors this winter. 

Her suggestions include:

BIRDWATCHING

Riordan said winter birding is a neat thing to do because there are some birds that can only be spotted in the winter.

“You might see six different species of woodpeckers here,” Riordan said. “And birds you might not think about in the winter – you still have a pretty good chance of seeing a Blue jay or a Robin.”

Riordan was hiking with one group last week and they saw two wild turkeys. 

She also suggests trying to call owls at night. You could easily have three different kinds of owls answer you, she said.

NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY

“It’s a great time to take photos when there’s snow, or even just frost on the trees,” Riordan said. “It’s absolutely beautiful.”

She said it’s the perfect time of year to take pictures or just sit and sketch at the park.

When the sun is out and it’s a warm day, she said, animals that don’t truly hibernate – like squirrels and raccoons and other little critters – will be out. 

STARGAZING

One of the best places in the county to go stargaze is at Springbrook State Park.

“You get such a good view of the stars here,” Riordan said. “The winter sky really is beautiful.” 

Anyone who’s not afraid of the cold is welcome to camp at the park all winter as well.

Riordan said few people take her up on the offer, but local scout troops do frequent the park in the winter to get their polar bear points and to complete winter survival tasks.

HIKING

With more than 12 miles of trails at Springbrook State Park, there are plenty of opportunities to go for a hike.

There are trails around the lake, old fire trails and trails pretty much anywhere you want to go.

“This time of year if you kind of like to get away from it all there’s usually not much traffic on the trails – human traffic anyway,” Riordan said. “There’s probably a better chance to see some critters too because there haven’t been people around a whole lot.”

ANIMAL TRACKING

While you’re out on a hike, Riordan said a fun way to pass the time is by examining animal tracks.

The best time to follow tracks is when there’s snow on the ground, Riordan said, because you can sometimes see a tail track along with foot tracks.

Sometimes, she said, the smaller critters even dive into the snow and you can see where they went underground.

Looking for tracks when it’s 40 to 50 degrees is also fun, she said, because you can see their feet in the mud.

“You can also go out on your hike and try to see the story that’s unfolding there,” Riordan said. “Sometimes you’ll see tracks going in all kinds of crazy directions or there may be some feathers laying there. You can use your observation skills and your imagination to flush out the story.”