Winter Mission Possible

Great Backyard Bird Count Asks for Your Help.
Count Birds February 18-21 

The 14th annual Great Backyard Bird Count will be this weekend~ February 18–21, 2011. People of all ages and skill levels are needed to count birds in their yards, neighborhoods, or other locations across the United States and Canada. Simply tally birds for at least 15 minutes on any day of the count, then enter the highest number of each species seen at any one time at the Bird Count website.

Bird watching is great fun for kids.  The Bird Count is a great way to increase a child’s observation, counting and record keeping skills in a fun way.   

The count provides an instantaneous snapshot of birdlife across the continent for all to see. Watch as the more than 100,000 tallies come in.

For more information, including bird-ID tips, instructions, and past results, visit The count also includes a photo contest and a prize drawing for participants who enter their bird checklists online.


Your mission should you choose to accept it is to go stargazing.  Stargazing can be an inexpensive hobby and a great way to appreciate the beauty of the night sky.  You should be able to see about 8,000 stars without a telescope!

  1. Dress for the weather – layers of clothing are the best.
  2. Take a flashlight to see where you are going as well as to read any star maps you may have. 
  3. Take a star chart with you or do some research on the Internet to find out which constellations are most visible during this month.
  4. The best places to view stars are out of the city and away from any artificial light. 
  5. A reclining lawn chair or blanket to put on the ground will help so you do not get a sore neck from looking up.

First, find the big dipper.  The tip of the cup of the big dipper points to the North Star.  The North Star is the beginning of the handle of the little dipper.  These constellations will help you to locate many others in the sky.

Mission Report: Stargazing

How can knowing where the North Star is help you if you are lost in the wilderness?

What is the name of the constellation of your birthday month?  Hint: some people also call it your horoscope. Can you find it in the night sky?  Why or why not?

Your mission should you choose to accept it, is to play outside in the snow!

Today is an absolutely beautiful day for outdoor snow fun! Throw on your boots, snowpants, jacket, mittens, and hats, and head out!

The snow is nice and fluffy. Unfortunately, fluffy snow is not great for making snowmen or forts or for having snowball fights.  But, the fluffy snow is perfect for exploring your neighborhood covered in snow, it’s a whole new world out there. 

You can also make snow angels, gp sledding, and play one of Rebecca’s favorite childhood snow games – Fox & Geese! She and her friends would play while waiting for the bus in northern Wisconsin.

Find a large backyard, open field, unused parking lot, anyplace no one is walking or driving on. The back parking lot here at the Extension office is one such place! That is the key for a good game of Fox & Geese – a blank slate! Next, everyone playing the game lines up behind the leader, and they blaze a trail around a big circle. Then, still following, they cut the circle into four pie pieces. At this point, everyone goes off on their own to make trails in one section of the pie. Trails can connect up to other trails or be dead ends.

Make sure you go over each trail 2 or 3 times to get a nice clear path marked. Making the trails is almost the best part of the game! After all the trails are made, one person becomes the fox, and everyone else are geese. Then, it’s a huge game of tag, just restricted to the trails. Between making the trails and running around, this game will keep the kids outside for the better part of an hour!

Mission Report:  1)  What fun games did you play in the snow that you could not play without the snow?  2) Draw or take a picture of your snow games. 

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to take a family field trip to the Lake Afton Observatory

Winter is the perfect time to star gaze.  This week will be prime for sky watchers since Wednesday is the New Moon, which means that the moon will be dark (because the earth is between the moon and sun so there’s no light shining on the moon to illuminate it).  A dark moon will mean brighter stars!  The colder weather also helps us see the stars more clearly.  But, don’t forget to check the weather before you leave the house to make sure it’s a clear night with few clouds.

Get up close and personal with the night sky, at the Lake Afton Observatory with their HUGE telescope.  The Observatory is at 39th St South and 247th St West in Lake Afton County Park.  Just off MacArthur Road.  There are also hands-on exhibits and a gift shop.

The Observatory is open on Friday and Saturday evenings.  Admission is $4/adult and $3 for kids 6-12.  There is also a Family Rate of $12 for 2 adults and all immediate children or grandchildren.  (They do not accept credit or debit cards.) 

Check out the program schedule here.  This week the program is the “Wonders of the Winter Sky” from 7:30-10pm.  Next week is the “Luna and the Starry Skies” from 7:30-10pm.  For parents or kids into photography there’s a photography program where you can take pics of the Orion Nebula through the telescope on Saturday, Feb 5 at 10pm.  See this link to find out camera details if you’d like to participate.

Dress warm!  When they open the ceiling of the telescope room to see the stars, it gets chilly!  Wear your coat, gloves and hat.  You’ll love the observatory and learn about the stars so that when you go home and look up you’ll see more than you ever have before.

Mission Report:  1)  What stars or celestial objects did you see through the telescope?  2)  Draw a picture of what you saw through the telescope.  3)  Can you name any new stars or constellations that you can see from your backyard?

Join g2g Outside at the Sedgwick County Zoo this Saturday, Jan 29, from 9am to 5pm to Celebrate Kansas’ 150th B-day. 

In1861 Kansas became the 34th state in the United States. Join us for a fun-filled day Celebrating the 150th “birthday” of Kansas. All activities will take place in the Cargill Learning Center and this free event is open to the public. Zoo admission is not included with this event, however, members always get in free with a membership card and a photo ID. Fun activities will take place from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Special guest speakers from, WSU, Kansas Wildlife and Park, US Fish and Wildlife Service and others will join us to do special activities and lectures from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. (g2g Outside’s session is at 10am) 

This is a family friendly event and all ages are welcome. Jan 29 Sat 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Cargill Learning Center.  For all our Winter Mission participants, attendance at this event will count towards one of your 8 missions!

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to identify at least 3 of the birds in your backyard or neighborhood.

Winter is a great time to look for birds because they will be out looking for food. If you provide some bird seed in a birdfeeder that you can observe from the window, you will see lots of beautiful birds! But what kind of birds are they?

When you get ready to try to identify a bird that you see in your yard, you should get a good look at it first, before you start using a book or the internet to figure out what it is.

Here are some important things you should look for:

  • Size of the bird
  • Size and shape of the beak
  • Size and shape of the head
  • Body and tail shape of the bird
  • Color: overall color, any stripes or spots, color of beaks or legs, any other color you notice
  • Behavior of the bird (how it walks, flies, sings, or eats)

Sometimes it is easy to identify a bird just using the color, but it isn’t always possible. Practice looking very closely at the birds in your backyard to notice small details. Once you have several things you know about the bird, it is time to look at a guide book. You can find field guides for birds at the public library. There are also some good websites.

Visual Key for Bird ID

All About Birds

Mission Report:

1. What are the 3 different birds you identified in your backyard? Did you see both male and female birds of each type?

2. What features of the birds helped you identify them?

3. Take a picture of your favorite bird and share it with us!

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It:
Observe the nests in the trees in your yard (or nearby where you live).

Winter is the perfect time to look up into the tree branches and discover what hides behind the leaves during the rest of the year.

Although most of the small twig and mud-constructed nests will be empty during the cold months, larger nests and tree cavities may hold winter-hardy creatures.  Some visible winter nest users include squirrels and owls (Great Horned owls have even begin to incubate their eggs in the winter!).

Mission Report:

1.  How many nests or nesting cavities (holes in trees) did you find?

2. How many nests were constructed out of leaves and about the size of a basketball (squirrel-made nest)?

3. How many nests were constructed from grass, twigs or mud?

Up for more of a challenge?  Visit a nearby Wichita Wild Habitat Area to see a greater diversity of nests and winter creatures.

Next Page »