Indiana Master Naturalist Winter 2024 Newsletter

Master Naturalist

The Newsletter for IMN Hosts and certified graduates
2024 Winter Edition

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I have been fascinated with raptors since I was 11 years old after seeing an American kestrel perched on top of one of our family’s birdfeeders. My family had moved to a new house overlooking a lake with open fields and woods across the road in the other direction. My dad hung a couple of bird feeders, easily visible from our house, and we began actively watching the birds, using Peterson’s Field Guide (remember that one?) to identify what we saw. Perhaps my fascination for raptors grew because of their secretive nature; we rarely saw any. The kestrel didn’t return very often, and occasionally I’d see a red-tailed hawk making lazy circles above the field across or perched alongside a road.

Whatever the reason, I began collecting and reading books (I probably have about 30 now), about raptors. For several years, I was on the fringes of falconry but never could commit to undertaking the demands needed for that endeavor. Twice I’ve made plans to visit Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania, only to have to cancel them at the last minute. (That trip is still on my bucket list.)  In addition to the kestrel and red-tailed hawk, my “lifetime list” includes sharpie, Cooper’s, red-shouldered, and Harris’s hawk, harrier, osprey, peregrine falcon, and golden and bald Eagles, not counting owls and vultures.


Ironically, the raptor I tend to see most often these days is the Cooper’s hawk—a solitary, confident hunter, so stealthy and mysterious we can hardly ever get a good look at them. My first experience with a Cooper’s was the crying call and glimpse of one gliding through the trees while I was hiking a trail in the Kettle Moraine State Forest in southeast Wisconsin some 30 years ago. Cooper’s hawks are mostly forest and woodland birds, although our leafy suburbs seem to have become nearly as good once they discovered cities—and bird feeders.

The Cooper’s hawk is a medium-sized bird with the classic accipiter shape: broad, rounded wings and a very long tail. Adults are steely blue-gray above with warm reddish bars on the underparts and thick dark bands on the tail. Females are 40% heavier than the males. Their main diet is birds. Studies list European starlings, mourning doves, and rock pigeons as common targets along with American robins, several kinds of jays, quail, grouse, and chickens. They also eat chipmunks, mice, squirrels, and bats.

Short to medium-distance migrants, Cooper’s hawks can be found wintering over most of the continental United States. Some birds migrate as far south as southern Mexico and Honduras. Few people kept track of Cooper’s hawk populations, most likely because the species has such a secretive nature. Numbers declined in the mid-20th century, possibly owing to the effects of pesticides. Since then, there has been some recovery and numbers are stable in most areas. Today, collisions with human-made objects (windows, cars) cause 70% of deaths in urban areas.

I’ve had several brief but enjoyable encounters with Cooper’s hawks lately. This summer, I watched as four (presumably juveniles) Cooper’s hawks “terrorized” several squirrels by swooping in and around them as the squirrels ran up, and around the trunks of trees. Despite not catching anything, it was an amazing and entertaining display of flying. More recently, I’ve seen one perched in a coniferous tree on the side of the house waiting for an opportunity to swoop around the corner of the house to catch an unsuspecting bird visiting one of my birdfeeders. A few years ago, I began to notice whitewash on the ground under the tree. I’ve started to watch the tree and on occasion will see a hawk briefly; it would take off as soon as it saw me. Usually, it would fly; however, on that day, it took a couple of quick wing beats, landed on a tree at the edge of the lot, shook its tail, and began to look around. I had my dog with me, so I returned inside, headed downstairs, grabbed my binoculars, and went over to a window facing where I last saw it. It was still there so I zoomed in on it. I consider Cooper’s hawks to be fiercely beautiful birds. Based on the size and coloration, I guessed it was a female. After a few minutes of looking around, she flew away, not realizing how much I had enjoyed watching her.

On other occasions, I’ve noticed one perched on a woodpile just outside my glassed-in porch either looking at its reflection in the glass or checking out what was inside. I also enjoyed one hopping around on the ground looking for a bird or chipmunk that had evidently disappeared into a small bush. In both cases, the hawk seemed oblivious to me, just inside the glass, watching it.

This past weekend, as I went around the side of the house, I saw the telltale evidence of a Cooper’s hawk. On the ground, under the conifer tree, was a scattering of light brown feathers. There were too many to be anything but the result of a recent meal. While I have no figures to confirm it, it seems to me that this hawk catches more mourning doves than any other bird species. At least, I find dove feathers more often than any other. I know that once they get going, doves are fast flyers, but I’m guessing that maybe they don’t get airborne quickly enough to avoid the surprise of the hawk swooping in, or, perhaps their size makes them an easier target than the smaller birds. Despite the loss, there were still mourning doves feeding on the ground later in the day.

I fully realize that the Cooper’s hawk is an opportunistic hunter that frequents bird feeders, causing dismay to many bird watchers/lovers. And although one of my older books describes the Cooper’s hawk as “the most destructive demon of the air”, and a “menace to game and domestic fowl”, to me, they are a really cool bird that seems to have successfully adapted to changes in habitat. I still delight in seeing them.



Have you joined the new Indiana Master Naturalist platform yet? 3D Nature Connect is a tool that you can use by computer or phone to search for volunteer activities, create projects to recruit volunteers, log hours, and more. Using the platform gives IMN state coordinator Jody Heaston and the DNR much better reporting options about the impact of the Indiana Master Naturalist Program when it comes to volunteerism around the state. It also simplifies year-end reporting as Jody can run a report and immediately see everyone who has qualified to be an IMN or an AIMN. IMNs can also run year end reports to easily see their impacts. There are frequent trainings available either by Zoom or in-person in different regions. If you are not on the platform yet, all you have to do is reach out to to get signed up. It's free to IMN members. You can learn more by visiting or watching a video here or here


3D Nature Connect In-Person Training in February

We will be holding an in-person training on Saturday, Feb. 17 in Warsaw. More locations to come.

Location: KCC (Kosciusko County Community) Foundation, 102 East Market St., Warsaw 46580

Time: 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. ET

RSVP: Please RSVP to if you plan to attend.

What to bring with you: laptop, tablet, or at least your phone so that you can log in to the platform.

If you need help with any aspect of using the platform, we are there to walk you through anything. Need to join or create a project and not sure how to do that, or add hours? We can help. Join us! Refreshments will be served. 

Late Bloomer

My earliest memories, aside from one, are of being outdoors. Sitting under lilac trees with our German shepherd, lying on a blanket under a tree while my mom read books to me, playing in the cornfield, discovering the sticky wonder of milkweed plants, the sense of awe while passing a sunflower field on a sunny afternoon.

By the time I reached elementary age, I played outside nearly all day, every day, like most kids did back then. I remember the feeling of euphoria I would get while sitting high up in our backyard oak tree. I often found myself drawn to the little patch of woods in our neighborhood. One day I filled an entire red wagon with acorns. I’ve often looked back on that and thought it a bit absurd but the older I get, the more I realize that the activity was very natural to me.

As a teenager, things pretty much fell apart for me. Most of my time was spent figuring out how to navigate life on my own. Oh, how different my young life would have been had there been daily nurturing forces to help me find my way. So many amazing paths were there but I didn’t know how to take them. I didn’t even know they existed. But I certainly won’t waste time dwelling on this.

Fast forward to the life of a grown-up. I’m in my 20s, married with children, working to make a living as people do. There were years when I barely did any gardening, even though I loved it and felt amazing when I made time for it.

When my children were elementary age, we used to ride the mountain bike trails at Winona Lake. We had some of the best times there! Watching them with big smiles of accomplishment and excitement made it memorable. Endorphins from exercise contributed to the overall good feeling. In later reflections, I realized that much of that feeling great came from being among the trees.

My husband is a hunter. On occasion, I would accompany him, even though I have no desire to hunt animals. But the wonder of being in the woods! Are you starting to notice a pattern?

In my 30s I became passionate about the environment. I was painfully aware of so much waste all around me. I began taking action to bring change. Aside from changes in my own space, I took the initiative to bring a recycling program to the building where I worked, and I helped start a farmers’ market in the small town where I lived. It felt great to contribute to something outside of caring for my own family. As time went by, I felt like something was missing. I wanted to do more but just didn’t know how to go about it.

For a few years in my 40s, we lived on 20 acres of woods. I found my head whirling in every direction but in the most peaceful way. I would spend all my spare time in the woods trying to learn about the trees and flowers. And then there was fungi! We had morels to our heart’s content. On my own, I took a pretty deep dive into foraging. I found a Facebook group called Eat Wild. The admins of the group live in the South Bend area. A couple of times they organized carry-in dinners of foraged and hunted foods. This was right up my alley! It felt amazing to interact with others who shared this interest. The group shared things that were pertinent to the here and now. Things that I could use, things that I could relate to. I learned so much from their posts. There was a community of like-minded people that I could learn from, and I couldn’t get enough of it.

In the latter half of my 40s, I came across an advertisement in our local newspaper for the Indiana Master Naturalist program. I could hardly contain my excitement! When I told my husband about it, he encouraged me to sign up for the class.

Going into that first class I was nervous. What would it be like? Would I fit in? I floated my way home that evening on cloud nine. The material covered in that first class lit a fire for me that was such a long time in the making. While the program was teaching historical naturalists, I was discovering my own personal superheroes. I devoured the book that we were sent home with, A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. I could hardly wait for the next class! It did not disappoint. The speaker at our birds class had a truly contagious enthusiasm. As we progressed through the classes I was delighted to be in the company of others that were just as excited as I was. Spending time volunteering with others gave me a real sense of belonging and well-being.

There are many retired schoolteachers involved in the IMN program. These amazing individuals have followed their passion for nature and learning their entire lives. Then there are the young college graduates. They knew what they wanted, and they went after it! They chose meaningful and rewarding career paths. I am truly happy for them. To be so young and knowledgeable. Theirs will be a life well spent.

I just celebrated my 50th birthday. I have nine grandchildren. They are also my passion. I feel as if the stars have aligned for me. As I spend time with them, I realize that they don’t need me to show them the way; their love for nature is already part of who they are. But I do get to help put them in situations that will foster their love of nature and learning. I relish being with them while they experience the wonders of nature for the first time. I get to share in their excitement. Because of IMN, I know about so many amazing places that I get to introduce to them. Connections made through IMN have led to many wonderful events that I can bring my family to. I get to help connect them with nature in a world that is often so disconnected. In a world riddled with consumerism, I get to help show them the beauty of thinking about something besides themselves.

I am delighted to be on this path of continual learning. I’m grateful to be connected to others that share the same interests. I have finally found the sense of community that was missing for me for so many years. I find myself unapologetically excited. Maybe that’s because I’m making up for lost time. But you know what they say, “better late than never”!

Carrie Owsley,
IMN Late Bloomer
Nov. 18, 2023

first saturday

Volunteer with the Nature Conservancy in Indiana

Read on for the first monthly call-out for workdays and events. We’re getting things on the calendar for spring, so there will be plenty more available soon if winter isn’t your jam. Remember, the Volunteer & Events Calendar has lots available and includes all the details, so keep checking it for more!

Start Planning Your DNR Challenge

Did you know that several state parks offer a hiking or boating challenge you can do while you visit?   The challenges allow you to explore the park in a unique way. Once done you will earn a prize depending on the challenge you complete. Check out the list to plan your 2024 challenge at

Armchair History and Nature Lessons

Learn about Indiana’s natural and cultural history while sitting in your favorite chair this winter!   Indiana State Parks has a web page full of interesting articles and videos about its many unique properties. Take some time to explore at

Also, check out the Indiana Department of Natural Resources YouTube page where there are many short and long videos to help get you excited for warmer weather.

The Ohio DNR also has a great YouTube page.


September 27-28, 2024, in Fort Wayne. More details to come soon!

The 2025 Gathering will be at Brown County State Park, April 4-5, 2025.

News from the Indiana DNR

A new year to volunteer for Division of Fish & Wildlife

If this year’s resolutions include spending time with family and friends, sharing and learning new skills, or caring for natural resources, DFW can help. Interested in an ongoing volunteer role, a short-term project, or supporting a one-time event? Becoming a DFW volunteer is a great way for individuals, families, and groups to connect with others who share their commitment and support for outdoor activities like angling, hunting, hiking, and wildlife viewing and monitoring.

The steps are easy, and the benefits are great. Create a volunteer profile, speak with staff, and become a part of our team. Looking for a great time to start? How about today? Become a volunteer to connect with an opportunity that supports healthy natural resources for your community and all Hoosiers. Thank you for all the ways you contribute to DNR and happy new year! For more information on volunteering see or email

DNR dedicates new public land in Noble County

In November, Gov. Eric J. Holcomb joined the DNR and partners to celebrate the addition of 158 acres of upland prairie and wetland to Mallard Roost Wetland Conservation Area (WCA) in Noble County. The new property, named the Buchanan Unit of Mallard Roost WCA, was made possible by a partnership between the DNR and the Indiana Natural Resources Foundation with significant support from donors and the Next Level Conservation Trust.

This property conserves prime wildlife habitat near the south branch of the Elkhart River and provides additional public land for hunting, trapping, and fishing in northeast Indiana. The property will open to the public in the spring of 2024. Tri-County Fish & Wildlife Area, which manages Mallard Roost WCA, is currently restoring upland bird habitat on the Buchanan Unit and plans to add a parking area before opening the property.

more information


The Indiana Master Naturalist program is sponsored by the Resource Conservation & Development Councils, Indiana Soil & Water Conservation Districts, Purdue Cooperative Extension Service, and Indiana Department of Natural Resources.