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Winter nature programs explore 'Portland's wilderness'

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Looking for a winter getaway? How about hiking around an ancient lava dome or taking a road trip to scope out birds of prey? A series of programs led by naturalists from the Oregon Zoo’s education division offers these adventures and more over the next several months.

“Winter is a great time to get outside and explore nature,” said Grant Spickelmier, the zoo’s education curator. “When people think of the Oregon Zoo, they usually think of one specific spot here in Washington Park, but we’d like to expand that notion. The natural areas program of our parent organization, Metro, offers amazing opportunities throughout the region to connect with animals and the natural world, and we want people to take advantage of them.”

On Sunday, Jan. 26, Stories in the Stones presents a hands-on geology lesson amid the rugged winter beauty of Mt. Talbert Nature Park. This unique lava dome — just 12 miles from downtown Portland — is part of a series of cinder cones and small shield volcanoes that began bubbling almost three million years ago.

On Saturday, Feb. 1, hikers can explore the trails, trees and waterways of Newell Creek Canyon Natural Area in Oregon City. A two-hour Winter Walk offers a sneak preview of this voter-protected land where improvements are on the way for people and wildlife.

The following week — on Saturday, Feb. 8 — bird enthusiasts will flock to Sauvie Island for the annual Raptor Road Trip, sponsored by the Audubon Society of Portland, Metro, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and HawkWatch International. Naturalists and hawk experts host activities at four locations around the island, offering up-close encounters with birds of prey and guiding visitors to raptor hotspots.

Bird lovers also won’t want to miss the Winter Birds programs at Portland’s Smith and Bybee wetlands, where each year thousands of ducks, geese and swans spend the winter. On Feb. 22 and March 8, naturalists will be on hand to point out waterfowl and water birds such as grebes, gulls, coots, cormorants and herons. It is also the best time of year to see bald eagles and other birds of prey.

A March 1 Stayin’ Alive program at Oxbow Regional Park, teaches families how to build a winter survival shelter that keeps you safe and warm without a sleeping bag or fire. And Winter Twigs — held Sunday, March 2, at Graham Oaks Nature Park — offers “tree detective” training, showing participants how to tell one evergreen from another, or identify a tree in winter by looking at its bark or buds.

To register or obtain additional information, visit www.oregonzoo.org/events/category/nature-programs.

The zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission of inspiring the community to create a better future for wildlife. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, western pond turtles and Oregon spotted frogs. Other projects include studies on Asian elephants, polar bears, orangutans and giant pandas. The zoo relies in part on community support through donations to the Oregon Zoo Foundation to undertake these and many other animal welfare, education and sustainability programs.

The zoo opens at 10 a.m. daily and is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Visitors who travel to the zoo via MAX receive $1.50 off zoo admission. Call TriMet Customer Service, 503-238-RIDE (7433), or visit www.trimet.org for fare and route information.

General zoo admission is $11.50 (ages 12-64), $10 for seniors (65 and up), $8.50 for children (ages 3-11) and free for those 2 and younger; 25 cents of the admission price helps fund regional conservation projects through the zoo’s Future for Wildlife program. A parking fee of $4 per car is also required. Additional information is available at www.oregonzoo.org or by calling 503-226-1561.

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