Exploring the Natural World in Winter … Indoors

An understanding of the natural world and what’s in it is a source of not only a great curiosity but great fulfilment – David Attenborough

ORNC bldg

An American toad peeks out from under his current home, a hollow curve of bark. A copperhead snake, the only venomous snake found at Oregon Ridge, peers at a visitor through the glass of a display case. A red-spotted newt lounges on grasses. And a tiny deer mouse snuggles in wood chips, underneath a protective awning of fungi growing on a piece of tree branch.

Winter outdoors at the park can be serene, silent, special. But if you prefer a warmer, more sheltered environment, you can still immerse yourself in the nature of Oregon Ridge Park.  Just follow the paved road from the parking lot, up the hill, to the Nature Center – a jewelry box of nature treasures.

A black bear (taxidermy version) greets you in the lobby, along with mounts of a mountain lion, coyote, and other mammals. You’ll find the University of Maryland mascot, a terrapin, swimming in an aquarium. Observe and become familiar with other turtles, frogs, and toads, along with several species of snakes native to Maryland, thriving in displays that simulate natural habitats.

An active hive, enclosed in glass, allows you to safely watch the fascinating lives of honeybees. Display material chronicles the lifecycle and roles of the Queen bee, the Drone, and the hundreds of Worker bees.

Birds nests are fun to find in the winter woods, easily seen with the trees and shrubs now bare of leaves. The Nature Center has a collection. See how a phoebe nest is different than a bluebird’s and others – then go looking for them on your next trek in the forest.

A section of oak tree takes center court in the Nature Center, where the life of the forest is featured. The trees in the forest are like a tall apartment building. Each level has a role and its own special inhabitants of birds, insects, and other critters. Learn who lives in the “basement” (roots), the “lobby” (leaf litter), on the mid-floors (the forest understory), and the penthouse (forest canopy).

Bulletin boards feature seasonal topics. Today, you can learn how to identify animal tracks. If you go outdoors exploring, see how many of the same tracks you can find. When there’s snow on the ground, tracks are easier see.

The Nature Center also holds hands-on discovery activities tailored to children to explore animal fur, skulls and beaks.

Archaeology lovers can explore findings from when Oregon Ridge was an active mining operation in the mid 1800s. About 225 people lived on this site and you can admire artifacts from their daily life as well as the mining operation.

This is just a sampling of the natural history featured at the Nature Center.

Winter days, even if spent indoors, can still be enriching. You can gain a greater understanding and increase your awareness, knowledge, and enjoyment of what you see during your next outdoor visit.

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