Get outside this winter and explore nature

By Jon Copsey

Winter is the perfect time to be outside. The plants have all gone dormant and reveal amazing hidden secrets behind them. What does winter divulge?

One thing you can see is plenty of nests and the animals that live in them. Squirrels bound along the ground and birds fly through the air. Just like people, animals bundle up in the winter; they have fur and feathers that help them get through the cold nights.
Kathryn Dudeck, wildlife director at the Chattahoochee Nature Center, said birds of prey—called “raptors”—can deal with cold by puffing themselves up.

“Raptor feathers weigh more than the entire bird skeleton, so you will often see the birds fluffy in cold weather,” Dudeck said. “They can control each feather individually so they raise their feathers to trap the warm body heat, creating an insulated ‘parka’ for them. This is why down jackets are so popular with people.”

But what else can be seen in the winter woods? Fairy houses and gnome homes. At CNC, the wooded trails have dozens of secretive tiny homes dotted throughout, made by the tiny fairies and gnomes (with some human help).

Children can explore nature while they search for the houses made by the fairies, there’s even a small book shop and a fairy hospital. In the free play area, children can make their own fairy houses.
If the weather is steering you indoors, CNC’s Nature Exchange is a great place to start. As the only one of its kind in the Southeast, it is filled with kid-friendly storybooks, field guides, and activities. Parent and child can be engaged with one another for quite a long time as they learn indoors. Parents may also want to encourage their child to begin exploring the outdoors with a bit more freedom. At home or on a nature hike (not at CNC), encourage them to find one object they really like. Together, you can discover what it is,
perhaps help your child learn what colors are on their object, what shapes they see, or perhaps where it came from. Sharing this information and their object with the Nature Exchange Naturalist can help them earn points to start their own trading account. Nature Exchange encourages nature study and builds math, science, language skills, and much more.

Nature Exchange also offers scavenger hunts, usually most are suitable for young children with parent assistance. The more things you find, the more points you can earn.

The Chattahoochee Nature Center connects people with nature. Daily indoor and outdoor activities encourage exploration and a connection with the plants and wildlife that call the Chattahoochee River home. From now until the end of February, see the Enchanted Woodland Trail, full of fairy houses and gnome homes in the woods. For more information on this program and others, visit