About The Wandering Naturalist

The Wandering Naturalist podcast explores the natural and cultural history of the 27,000-acre Three Rivers Park District and the surrounding Twin Cities area. Hosted by Brandon Baker, an interpretive naturalist at Eastman Nature Center, and Wildlife Biologist Angela Grill, the podcast covers a new topic each month. Baker and Grill discuss the basic science and biology of each month’s topic and interview expert guests for a lively and in-depth conversation on how natural and cultural history shapes and impacts the parks of today and their surrounding communities.

Join us as we wander from park to park and discuss the stories of the past, the nature in our present, and how they have shaped our parks. Come explore with us!

September 2019:


To celebrate the past 50 years, Brandon and Angela are talking to special guest Bill Walker, Cultural Resources Manager of Three Rivers Park District, to discuss the how and why Three Rivers was created. 2019 marks the 50th Anniversary of Minnesota's first public nature center, the Lowry Nature Center at Carver Park Reserve. It also marks the 50th anniversary of the first planted prairie at Crow-Hassan Park Reserve. Join them on a journey to discover this rich history and how the two are connected. 


The first nature center, Lowry Nature Center, was built in 1969. Tag along as hosts Brandon and Angela interview Tom McDowell, retired park employee of 40 years, to explore the story of how outdoor education molded our mission of promoting environmental stewardship through recreation and education in a natural-resource based park system for the past 50 years. 


Listen in as Brandon and Angela journey to 1969 to explore Crow-Hassan Park Reserve and the first planting of the restored prairie. Joined by Senior Wildlife Manager John Moriarty, they dig deeper to discover the challenges that  seeded the way for large-scale restoration with what is now the largest, first restored prairie in the metro area. Now home to unique wildlife and a high diversity of plant life, you will want to hear this origin story. 


Three Rivers has worked to make our parks home for surrounding communities and wildlife over the past 50-plus years. Building a foundation on educating others for a chance to nurture an interest in natural happenings in the outdoors led to many great things, including prairie restoration. Kirk Mona, interpretive naturalist, joins to discuss the present and future of Three Rivers' mission. 

August 2019: Bees

Episode 22: Bees, Cows, and your Lunch — To Bumblebee be or to Honeybee?

Wander with us as Angela and Brandon investigate the differences between bumblebees and honeybees. While unique, they both face many of the same challenges, and both are important pollinators for our food.

Episode 23: Bees, Cows, and your Lunch — Farmer Tim and the Bees

Tim Reese, supervisor of Gale Woods Farm, tells us about his experience raising bees, how bee keeping has changed in recent years, and how Gale Woods Farm manages to be a working farm while still using bee-friendly practices.

Episode 24: Bees, Cows, and your Lunch — Native Bee Atlas

Britt Forsberg from the University of Minnesota Native Bee Atlas discusses how the university is discovering which bees live in Minnesota. Learn how to make your yard bee friendly and get tips on planting for native bees. 

Want to learn more about bees? Read Honeybees, Bumblebees and the Case of the Collapsing Hive on the Three Rivers blog.

July 2019: Dragonflies

Episode 19: Here there be Dragon(flies)—The Transformational Journey

If you have spent time near water this summer, you have likely witnessed dragonflies buzzing by. But did you know that dragonflies live two lives? Wander with us and discover their unique life cycle that spans across land and water.  

Episode 20: Here there be Dragon(flies)—Creatures of Aquatic Habitats

Listen as we talk with Mitch Haag, a Wildlife Operations Specialist at Three Rivers Park District and founding board member of Minnesota Dragonfly Society to learn more on the importance of aquatic habitats and where you can find dragonflies.

Episode 21:  Here there be Dragon(flies)—Cultural Fascination to Research Subjects   

Hear dragonfly scientist Ami Thompson talk about her study subject, the fascinating, migrating, Common Green Darner.

Love dragonflies? Discover more fun facts on the Three Rivers blog!

June 2019: Water Quality

Episode 16: A Day on the Water—Too Many Vitamins

Wander with us as we dive into water and the issues it faces. How are phosphates and nitrates like vitamins? How are our lakes impacted? Are polar bear livers really connected to this? How is the Three Rivers' maintenance staff changing salt use in the winter to help our water? 

Episode 17: A Day on the Water—Testing Our Watersheds

Listen as John Hess, a a member of our Water Quality department, shares some of the challenges our waterways face, how he monitors them, and what you can do at home to help keep our lakes and rivers healthy.

Episode 18: A Day on the Water—1800s and Today

Zach Mohlis from The Landing-Minnesota River Heritage Park shares with us how people used the Minnesota River when Europeans first settled the area. Learn how farming practices have changed and their impact on the river. Nick Sacco from the Outdoor Recreation School talks to us about the water-based activities you do can in Three Rivers, and we debate whether log rolling is a paddle sport.

Learn more about water quality and why swimming beaches close on the Three Rivers blog.

May 2019: Wildflowers

Episode 13: April Showers, May Flowers—Growing While It's Snowing

Can plants really grow when there's snow on the ground? Tune in to find out as Angela and Brandon explain how tiny plants can grow and flower at a time when other plants dare not even show their leaves.

Episode 14: April Showers, May Flowers—Earthworms, Buckthorn, and Flowers, Oh My

Are earthworms good for forest flowers? How do invasive species like buckthorn affect them? Join us as we talk to Missy Anderson, the Invasive Species Coordinator for Three Rivers Park District, and Alex Roth from Friends of the Mississippi. Learn what you can do to help native flowers.

Episode 15: April Showers, May Flowers—Flower Medicine and Taking Photos

Pauline Bold from The Landing shares how people historically used early spring wildflowers, including as medicine and food. Disclaimer: Do not try to use these as food or medicine yourself. Listen to learn why. Photographer Laura Jarriel shares tips for taking photos of spring wildflowers with our phones.

Learn how to identify six spring wildflowers and where to find them on the Three Rivers blog.

April 2019: Frogs

Episode 10: Calls of Spring — The Racket of Frogs

The frogs are fresh out of hibernation, a sure sign of spring. Have you heard them yet? Join Brandon and Angela as they discuss the biology of frogs and toads to explain all that racket they make. 

Episode 11: Calls of Spring — Start of a Journey

John Moriarty, Senior Manager of Wildlife for Three Rivers, talks about the creation of Minnesota's frog survey. With 14 species of frogs and toads in the state, there is much to learn about their calls, how to identify them and why we monitor them.

Episode 12: Calls of Spring — Monitoring Frogs in the Dark

Citizen scientists help conduct frog surveys by listening for and recording frog calls. The data they collect helps determine status, distribution and population trends of frogs. Hear from volunteer Dianne Rowse about this experience.

One of a frog's most well-known features is its tongue. Learn all about the myths and realities of frog tongues on the Three Rivers blog!

March 2019: Maple Syrup

Episode 7: Wandering the Sugar Bush — A Native Perspective on Maple Syrup

Join us as we talk with Ojibwe students about their experience with maple syrup. We discuss how they maple syrup today both on a reservation and in the middle of the cities; how today's techniques differ from their ancestors; and what maple syruping means to them. 

Episode 8: Wandering the Sugar Bush — The Science of Syruping

We talk with our Forestry Supervisor Dan Comerford about the unique structure of maple trees that allow us to turn its sap into syrup. Explore with us as we discover the science behind maple syruping and learn how climate change will impact our maple trees.

Episode 9: Wandering the Sugar Bush — Cooking with Maple Syrup

Discover the secrets to cooking with maple syrup as Andi Anderson from Gale Woods Farm joins us to help us in the kitchen. We discuss how to substitute syrup for sugar in recipes. We also help you decode the meaning of Grade A and Grade B syrup.

Sugar maples make maple syruping possible. Learn all about these iconic trees on the Three Rivers blog!

February 2019: Owls

Episode 4: Strange Calls in the Night—Super Ears and Keen Eyes

Join Brandon and Angela as they explore how owls can not only survive the winter, but raise their young when the rest of us are hunkered inside waiting for spring. Find out if owls have super-hearing like superman, how their eyes help them see at night, and what makes owl feathers special. Discover the adaptations that help these owls thrive in the cold.

Episode 5: Strange Calls in the Night—Tracking Owl Nests

Do you know where owls nest? Hear how volunteer Paul Schlick coordinates a group of volunteers to track and document owl and other raptor nests in Elm Creek Park Reserve. Paul explains why this project is important, some of the challenges they have faced, and the opportunities for partnership with the Raptor Center that his data has created.

Episode 6: Strange Calls in the Night—Owl Ambassadors

Join us as Interpretive Naturalist Adam Barnett explains why nature centers keep owls as ambassadors for their wild kin. He recounts his time working with the Raptor Center, shares some of the joys and challenges of working with captive owls, and shares with us what to do if an injured owl is found.

Get a hoot out of owls? Read more about them on the Three Rivers blog!

January 2019: Snow

Episode 1: Snow (and its relationship to animals)

In this first episode of The Wandering Naturalist, hosts Brandon and Angela provide some insight on the science of snow and how it impacts the animals who depend on the subnivean layer.

Episode 2: Snow (and its relationship with plants)

In the second part of this series on snow, Angela and Brandon talk about the advantages and challenges snow brings to plant life.

Episode 3: Snow (and its history with Minnesota) 

How did humans interact with snow before the advent of modern heating and insulation amenities? Learn all about it as hosts Brandon and Angela talk with an expert from The Landing.

Interested in learning even more about snow? Find out how snowmaking helps support winter activities on the Three Rivers blog!

Your Hosts


a naturalist in a blue shirt and tan hat

Brandon Baker is an interpretive naturalist at Eastman Nature Center and has degrees in biology and environmental studies from St. John’s University. Brandon's passion is connecting people to the great outdoors. Each year he introduces thousands of children and adults to the natural world through innovative and informative interpretive programming. He enjoys learning how human history and the natural environment have combined to shape the world we live in.


a woman in a white shirt and pink ball cap smiling while holding a dragonfly.

Angela Grill graduated from Minnesota State University—Mankato with degrees in ecology and geography. She has a passion for being outdoors and ensuring conservation of the natural heritage of our lands. As a wildlife biologist at Three Rivers Park District, she enjoys working on a wide range of projects from restoring prairies to pollinator surveys. Outside of work she can be found in the garden where she is in the good company of wonder dog, Sid, and two rented chickens, Cersi Henister and Princess Leialot.

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