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Enjoy the season’s silence and reconnect with the outdoors at the Nature Center

A huge cottonwood tree bears up against the cold and snow at Albuquerque’s Rio Grande Nature Center. Visitors can enjoy bird and nature walks, presentations, exhibits and special activities for children during the Nature in Winter Festival from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, at the Nature Center. (Courtesy Karen Herzenberg)

Heather MacCurdy, superintendent at Albuquerque’s Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, believes any time of the year is the best time to visit the center.

“It is always good having a place to connect with nature right in the middle of the city,” she said.

But each season at the center offers something different, something special.

“It’s a little quieter (in winter) when it comes to people, so you can really enjoy the silence of nature,” MacCurdy said. “The sandhill cranes are here now, but they are not around other times of the year. There are all the different species of ducks, and you might see a bald eagle down by the river occasionally. It’s a great time to see porcupines because they sleep in the trees during the day and there are not as many leaves on the trees now.

“And the roadrunners are always a big hit. They like to get out in the sun and fluff up to get warm. A lot of times they do it while perched on our signs.”

Walks and talks

The Nature in Winter Festival from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, offers a splendid opportunity to explore this time of year at the nature center, 2901 Candelaria NW.

Hosted by the Friends of the Rio Grande Nature Center, the festival features bird walks and nature walks guided by the center’s trained volunteers, live bird exhibits by Wildlife Rescue, Inc., of New Mexico and bird identification courtesy of the Central New Mexico Audubon Society.

“The bird walks go around the back side of the (center) pond to an area of limited access and are dedicated to seeing birds,” MacCurdy said. “The nature walks go down to the river and back and are great for families because they are all encompassing. If they see porcupines, they will stop and talk about that. If they see tracks in the mud, they will stop and talk about that.

“Wildlife Rescue will bring birds and other wildlife that have been injured and cannot return to the wild. They usually have one kind of owl and a raven that has been with them for a time and is unusually loud. And the Audubon Society will be in the observation room. They will set up scopes to identify birds, and we also have binoculars people can borrow.”

Justin Stevenson, owner of RD Wildlife Management in Los Lunas, will give a presentation about bat conservation in New Mexico.

“RD Wildlife Management is a critter rescue company,” MacCurdy said. “If the city finds a bunch of bats living under a bridge it is renovating, the company can remove them. Or they can help if a homeowner has a raccoon living in a chimney. Justin will talk about bats, but I don’t think he will have any bats with him. They are hibernating now.”

Kids and critters

MacCurdy grew up in Los Alamos, earned a degree in conservation biology, specializing in reptiles, at the University of New Mexico and has lived in Albuquerque for 25 years. She said her three children grew up attending summer camps and festivals at the Nature Center. There will be plenty for kids to see and do at Saturday’s winter festival.

“We are re-dedicating the children’s Discovery Room in the Visitor Center ,” MacCurdy said. “We have put in an art table and will have an artist volunteer to help kids with nature drawings. We have a bunch of new wildlife puppets. There will be nature puzzles, and specimens kids can look at under magnifying glasses – snake skin, cottonwood tree seeds, cicada casts (shells). Nothing alive but evide nce of critters that live in and around the Nature Center.”

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