MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Whether you're huffing down a wooded trail on a brisk hike or sitting quietly in a forest glade watching Ruby- and Golden-Crowned Kinglets flitting from tree to tree, when you're visiting the Kreher Preserve and Nature Center it's hard to imagine you are only five minutes from the bustle of the Auburn University campus.
The center is a gem of a nature preserve only three miles north of downtown Auburn that offers the public the opportunity for birding, hiking, learning about nature, or just sitting quietly on a bench by a beautiful pond in the middle of the woods. (See photos.)
The 120-acre nature preserve is operated by the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. It was donated to Auburn in 1993 by the late Louise Kreher Turner. Officially it is the Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve, but "nature center" was added to the shortened unofficial name in recent years to reflect its outreach to the public.
Margaret Holler, a current board member and former coordinator for the center, worked as a volunteer at the center during its early years. She said that in the preserve's early years Mrs. Turner was a hands-on donor.
"She would ride around in her golf cart, directing volunteers to do this or that," she said.
The center offers a range of environmental education programs (more about that later) and provides hands-on opportunities to Auburn natural research management students for research. But for me, its real attraction is that it provides a haven of quiet that is easily accessible to the public.
On recent visit walk, birder and outstanding nature photographer Lew Scharpf and I saw spotted kinglets, Pine and Yellow-Rumped Warblers, a Red-Tailed Hawk and a pair of Downy Woodpeckers chasing one another from tree to tree.
On an earlier visit I also saw a distant Pileated Woodpecker, as well as a variety of sparrows, including Song and Fox Sparrows. While I have not seen nor heard them on my two brief visits, I expect that the preserve is home to both Great Horned and Barred Owls. (See photos.) Scharpf, a member of the preserve's board, has heard a Great Horned Owl there.
The preserve is open seven days a week during daylight hours at no cost to hikers and birders. The trails are well-maintained and have excellent signage describing flora and fauna.
In addition, it offers guided nature hikes each month at no cost to the public. On the second Thursday of each month from 8:30-9:30, a knowledgeable staff member leads a nature walk. On the second Tuesday from 3:30-4:30, a naturalist leads a family-oriented "Discovery Hike."
The center also offers a wide range of ecology-oriented programs to school children at modest costs.
Daisy Griffin, education director for the center, says that more than 5,000 students attended one of the center's education programs this past year.
"Programs include our 'Radical Reptiles' and 'Buzz about Bees' as well as 'Creatures of the Night,'" she said. The center also hosts birthday parties and has summer camps for elementary-aged children in June and for pre-schoolers in July, she said.
Another attraction for nature lovers in the spring and summer is a butterfly garden. Margaret Holler said one visitor to the garden in recent summers has been a rare and threatened Diana Fritillary, a butterfly that has seen its habitat drastically decline so that it is usually now only found in the Ozark and southern Appalachian Mountains. (See photos for a picture of the Diana taken at the center by Holler's late husband.)
For more information on the Kreher Preserve and Nature Center, go to: wp.auburn.edu/preserve/
-- The Alabama Ornithological Society will hold its winter meeting at the Guntersville State Park Lodge Jan. 27-29. Field trips will visit Guntersville State Park, the Guntersville waterfront, Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, and the Guntersville Dam area. The Friday workshop leader and Saturday night keynote speaker will be Marshall Iliff , a Cornell Lab of Ornithology eBird project leader. Details at: http://www.aosbirds.org/documents/WinterMeeting2017.pdf
-- The Birmingham Audubon Society has a wide-ranging slate of programs and field trips on tap, including its 81st Annual Birmingham Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count on Friday, Dec. 23.
In addition, the new schedule has been announced for the 2016-2017 Audubon Teaches Nature programs at Oak Mountain State Park. These are wonderful educational programs on a variety of nature issues, from birds of prey to alligators and other reptiles to geology and paleontology. The next scheduled program will be Birds of Prey: Masters of the Skies on Sunday, Jan. 22, at the Alabama Wildlife Center. There are showings at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. The programs are free, but there is the usual fee for entering the park.
For details, go to: birminghamaudubon.org
-- Fins, Feathers and Flowers, a weekend waterfowl and wildlife program, will be Feb. 24-26 at Lakepoint Lodge at Lakepoint State Park near Eufaula. There will be field trips each day to the state park and to Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge, including pontoon boat trips on Lake Eufaula. Speakers will include Carrie Threadgill, nongame wildlife biologist with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, who will discuss colonial wading birds in Alabama, and the Alabama Wildlife Center will present its live raptor program.
For details, go to: www.alapark.com/Lakepoint-Fins-Feathers-Flowers
Ken Hare is a retired newspaper editor and writer who now writes for wsfa.com. Feedback appreciated at firstname.lastname@example.org.