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!

October 2020: Spiders

Episode 66 — It Came From the Bottom of the Web: Spiders 101 

Angela and Brandon share stories of getting up close and personal with spiders. Monica Rauchwarter from Richardson Nature Center talks about spider basics and clears up common misconceptions. 

Episode 67 — It Came From the Bottom of the Web: Spider Webs and Spider Brains 

Larry Weber, author of A Guide to Webs and the Spiders that Make Them, joins us to discuss why he loves spiders, their webs and even spiders that live through winter. Dr. Anthony Aletta discusses his research on spider brains. 

Episode 68 — It Came From the Bottom of the Web: Spider Research and You 

Chad Heins, professor at Bethany Lutheran College tells us how many spiders are in Minnesota thanks to help from citizen scientists and iNaturalist. Learn how you can contribute to his research.

Uncover more spider myths and facts on the Three Rivers blog!

September 2020: Fungi

Episode 63 — Fungi are The Life of the Party: Exploring a Kingdom

Listen in as we discover what makes fungi so unique — from acting as nature's recyclers to infecting hosts to connecting trees in a wood-wide web.

Episode 64 — Fungi are The Life of the Party: Fungal Invaders

Angie Smith, Director of Natural Resources, and Dan Commerford, Forestry Supervisor, explain why we discourage harvesting wild mushrooms in Three Rivers. Learn about fungi that negatively affect our parks, and how we are fighting oak wilt and Dutch elm disease.

Episode 65 — Fungi are The Life of the Party: Grow Your Own!

Learn why Gale Woods Farm has a mushroom forest and get tips for growing your own edible mushrooms at home.

Learn more about foraging in Three Rivers on the blog.

August 2020: Monarch Migration

Episode 60 — Mexico to Minnesota: Piecing Together the Monarch Migration

Learn how and why monarchs make the long journey back and forth between Mexico and Minnesota

Episode 61 — Mexico to Minnesota: Tagging and Planting

Listen in as naturalist Jim Gilbert tells the story of how a monarch his students tagged confirmed where Minnesota's monarchs migrated. Learn what you can plant in your garden to help monarchs and other pollinators.

Episode 62 — Mexico to Minnesota: Monarchs from a Chicano Point of View

Chicana professor Karen Mary Davalos shares how Chicano, Chicana and Chicanx artists are inspired by the monarch butterfly. Jesus Ramirez explains how his Chicano culture and the monarch helped him go through a metamorphosis in life, from gang member to educator.

Learn more about the great monarch migration on the Three Rivers blog.

July 2020: Farming

Episode 57 — Minnesota’s Agriculture From the Past to the Future: Learning from Native Elders

Brandon and Angela speak with Seneca Elder Hope Flannigan about Native farming practices before Europeans reached Minnesota. Hope explains the difference between wild and domestic plants, how Dream of Wild Health is using Native farming techniques today, and what we can learn from Native farming to make a more sustainable future.

Episode 58 — Minnesota’s Agriculture From the Past to the Future: The Rise of Dairy 

Elise Bushard of Lowry Nature Center and Historical Interpretation Supervisor Bill Walker tell the story of how one man started the Midwest dairy industry. Learn how Wendelin Grimm bred the first winter-hardy alfalfa, leading to profitable commercial dairy in the region.

Episode 59 — Minnesota’s Agriculture From the Past to the Future: Sustainability

Hear from Tim Reese and Melissa Hochstetler of Gale Woods Farm about what sustainable practices they use and how you as a consumer can help farmers transition to more climate-friendly practices.

Learn more about Wendelin Grimm and how farming and environmental stewardship go together on the Three Rivers blog. 

June 2020: Fireflies

Episode 54 —  A Light in the Dark: Fireflies 101

Listen as Miranda Jones, firefly expert at Eastman Nature Center, shares facts about firefly biology, why they glow and where you can find them.

Episode 55 — A Light in the Dark: You Can't Handle the Truth!

Professor Sara Lewis shares some of her knowledge from over 30 years of studying fireflies. We discuss a female firefly nicknamed a vampire that deceives male fireflies. Hear about Professor Lewis' latest research on firefly conservation and how you can help.

Episode 56 — A Light in the Dark: Citizen Science and Fireflies

Climate change may lead to more species of fireflies in Minnesota as our growing season gets longer, but habitat loss, pesticide use and light pollution are all decreasing the number of fireflies. Learn how to help scientists collect data as we discuss the citizen science project Firefly Watch with one of its founders, Don Salvatore.

Learn more about the magic of fireflies on the Three Rivers blog!

May 2020: Raising Children

Episode 50 — Are You My Mother? The Parental Spectrum of Nature

Listen in as Angela and Brandon celebrate Mother's Day by discussing the variety of parental care found in nature. Some animals are hardly involved in raising their offspring while others put in as much energy humans. It all depends on the species and their life strategy.  

Episode 51 — Are You My Mother? Farm Babies

Visit Gale Woods Farm with supervisor Tim Reese to learn all about farm babies. Learn about Lamb Watch, a volunteer project, and other farm babies you may encounter while at Gale Woods. 

Episode 52 — Are you my Mother? Historical and Cultural Ojibwe Childcare

Childcare among humans has differed throughout history and within many cultures, but it has never been easy. Listen as Michelle Defoe of the Red Cliff Ojibwe talks about traditions she has reclaimed after they were lost or suppressed during the Boarding School area and how she feels they have helped her in raising her children.

Episode 53 —  Are you my Mother? Historical and Cultural European Childcare

Listen as guest Jayne Becker from The Landing explained how early European settlers managed childcare. How was the diaper invented? What games were played? Tune in to find out! 

Learn more about the good, the bad and the ugly of raising farm babies on the Three Rivers Blog!

April 2020: Trumpeter Swans

Episode 47 — Swan Song to Trumpets of Success: Trumpeter Swan Basics

Get to know North America's largest waterfowl: the trumpeter swan. Discover fun facts and basic biology, and learn how to identify them from other swan species. 

Episode 48 — Swan Song to Trumpets of Success: A Historic Timeline

John Moriarty, senior wildlife manager at Three Rivers, explains a timeline of events that starts with the disappearance of trumpeter swans from Minnesota and ends in reintroduction success. Learn more on this historic rehabilitation and how Three Rivers started it all. 

Episode 49 — Swan Song to Trumpets of Success: Current Swan Research and Rehabilitation

Trumpeter Swans are now a common sight in the metro area but we still don't know that much about their movements and habitat choice. In this episode, hear from David Wolfson, a Ph. D. student at the University of Minnesota, and Dr. Renee Schott, Medical Director and Senior Veterinarian of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota, about what we do know about their movements and how to rehabilitate them. 

Learn more about wildlife reintroduction on the Three Rivers blog!

March 2020: Urban Sprawl

Episode 44 — Under Pressure: Urban Sprawl - A Spectrum of Parks

Luke Skinner, Associate Superintendent of Three Rivers Park District, discusses how and why we have created a spectrum of parks — from parks primarily for recreation to parks with large tracts of recreated habitat.

Episode 45 — Under Pressure: Urban Sprawl - To Develop or Not to Develop?

Learn how we decide which areas of a park should be developed and which should be preserved from Associate Superintendent Jonathan Vlaming and Senior Wildlife Manager John Moriarty.

Episode 46 — Under Pressure: Urban Sprawl - 80/20

Steven Hogg explains Three Rivers' 80/20 policy, why it is so important for managing the habitat of our park reserves, and how we use GIS to track it.

February 2020: The Rivers That Shape Us

Episode 41 — The Rivers that Shape Us: The Mississippi and its Geology

Tune in as we discuss one of the rivers Three Rivers Park District is named after, the Mississippi River! Ashley Smith, interpretive naturalist at Mississippi Gateway Regional Park, teaches us how earthquakes, glaciers, volcanoes and even a tropical vacation helped shape the Mississippi River. 

Episode 42 — The Rivers that Shape Us: The Mississippi and How Geology Shaped its Use

Hear from Matt Cassady, program specialist with Minnesota Historical Society, as he explains how the geology of the Mississippi River has influenced the way humans have used the river over the past 10,000 years.

Episode 43 — The Rivers that Shape Us: The Mississippi, Dams and Birds

Why does Three Rivers operate a dam and how is it used to stop invasive species? Find out from Elm Creek Park Reserve and Mississippi Gateway Regional Park maintenance chief Nick Beaufeaux. Listen in as National Park Service Ranger Sharon Stiteler explains why the portion of the Mississippi River that runs through Minneapolis is a National River and Recreation Area and why it is important to migrating birds.

Learn how the Mississippi helped build the Twin Cities on the Three Rivers blog!

January 2020: Life Under the Ice

Episode 38 — Ice, Ice, Nature: Life Under the Ice

Join us for the start of season two as Brandon and Angela dive into to a listener-requested topic: Life Under the Ice. Explore the murky depths of a lake in the winter, and learn which creatures stay active all winter and which go dormant. 

Episode 39 — Ice, Ice, Nature: Invasion of the Oxygen Snatchers

Learn how aquatic invasive species impact life under the ice and what you can do to help. Hear from Amy Timm, Three Rivers' Natural Resources Supervisor for Water Quality.

Episode 40 — Ice, Ice, Nature: From Ice Harvesting to Ice Fishing, How Humans Use Ice

Listen as park volunteer and ice harvest historian Tim Graff explains how and why people harvested ice in the 1800s and how you can experience ice harvesting today. Learn how to ice fish from Brent Hennen, Recreation Program Specialist at our Outdoor Recreation School,  and learn some tips for how to add as little stress to our winter fish as possible.

Learn more about the history of ice harvesting on the Three Rivers blog!

December 2019: Winter Strategies

Episode 35: Winter Strategies — Should I Stay or Should I Go (Getting MADD)

Angela and Brandon investigate three strategies that animals use to survive the winter: migrating, adapting, and going dormant. Learn how these strategies work as we dig into the winter habits of beavers, coyotes, birds, butterflies and ground squirrels.

Episode 36: Winter Strategies — Bird Banding and Winter Migration

Did you know that Minnesota birds have five types of migration habits? Hear from Ron Refsneider, retired biologist for the Minnesota DNR and Master Bird Bander, as he shares what his bird banding data indicates about Minnesota birds' winter habits.

Episode 37: Winter Strategies — Turtle Habits and Human Clothes

John Moriarty shares new research about what turtles do in the winter; it turns out it's a lot more complicated than just sleeping in the mud! Hear tips from Heather Gordon from the Outdoor Recreation School on how to dress for the cold.

Learn more about winter strategies on the Three Rivers blog, including how bats survive winter, what we learned from the Medicine Lake turtle study, and how to brave the cold and embrace winter.

November 2019: Deer Management

Episode 32: Buck-ing the Trend — Deer 101

Hear about the history of deer management, why it's necessary, and how Disney has impacted deer populations. Learn about deer habits and why controlled hunts in our parks are important.

Episode 33: Buck-ing the Trend — Managing Our Deer

Listen as Wildlife Supervisor Steven Hogg and Nursery Supervisor Shawn Howard discuss what steps we take to keep our parks healthy with a large deer population. Learn about the ups and downs of deer-management techniques, including hunting, exclusion fences and smells. 

Episode 34: Buck-ing the Trend — Hunters, The Next Generation

Ryan Barth, Outdoor Education Supervisor at Baker Near Wilderness Settlement, and Bill Vollbrecht, Golf Maintenance Supervisor at Eagle Lake Golf Course, discuss how they are mentoring children by teaching them about deer hunting. We discuss why it is important, the ethics of hunting amidst a growing human population, and youth-mentored deer hunts help promote a new generation of environmental stewards.

Learn more about deer management on the Three Rivers blog!

October 2019: Zombies


Zombies are all around us! In fact, you may have even encountered zombies in your life, right in nature. Join Angela and Brandon to explore the creepy world of zombies in nature, including horse hair worms, fungi and cat parasites. 


Our guests, students Evie and AJ and Three Rivers Forestry Supervisor Dan Comerford, join us to investigate other real-life zombies. Learn about Evie and AJ's award-winning project, Zombees, and hear from Dan about how plants can become zombies.


Zach Molis from The Landing provides a historical perspective on how the idea of human zombies came to be. Why are we so fascinated with apocalyptic scenarios?

Want to learn about more creepy crawlies? Check out the Three Rivers blog for a look at the spiders of Minnesota.

September 2019: 50 Years of Stewardship


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. 

Learn how prairie restoration in Three Rivers began and how it has evolved since 1969 on the blog.

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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