In this 2016 file photo, Winter Shyrigh of Columbus, Ohio, shows off a skimmer dragonfly she netted in the Whitewater Valley.

Take your summer outside with the Zumbro Valley Audubon Society. Offering three hands-on events specially made for families, programming kicks off in June with Damsels & Dragons.

“We’ll be at Chester Woods. It’s a great spot, as there’s a fair number of dragonflies and damselflies, and a fair amount of diversity — eastern forktail, widow skimmers, eastern pondhawk,” said Joel Dunnette, ZVAS president and event organizer. “Damselflies feed by picking insects off vegetation, while dragonflies are aerial predators that you’ll find flying over open water.”

In July, families are invited to get into nature at ZVAS’s Bug Out program. Also held at Chester Woods, kids of all ages will learn about the variety of Minnesota bugs and how and where to catch them.

“We’ll talk about and hunt for the big stuff like butterflies, but there’s a lot of little bugs that are fun and interesting, too,” said Dunnette. “One year, a kid caught a lacewing. We put it in a condiment cup to hold it and an hour and a half later it had laid eggs. The summer before last, someone caught a butterfly I’d never seen in the county.”

Wrapping up the summertime programming is the August event, All About Monarch Butterflies, held at Quarry Hill Nature Center and facilitated in conjunction with MN Master Naturalist volunteers. With more than 200 Minnesota-native butterflies, this ZVAS event will focus on the monarchs of Minnesota and their annual migration to overwinter in Mexico.

“We offer this program in conjunction with the staff at Quarry Hill,” said Dunnette. “Kids will get to see butterflies in all their stages — egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, adult. There will be butterfly art. I’ll have a butterfly tent set up. Kids go inside and have butterflies flying around them. And of course, there’s an opportunity to tag and release a monarch before it makes its way south.”

All three ZVAS programs are free and open to families with children of all ages. No pre-registration is required. Programs held at Chester Woods do require a pass ($5 per day, $25 for the year).

“With these programs, I’m hoping to spark an interest in nature that goes beyond just watching things. It inspires kids and adults to get involved, get hands on,” said Dunnette. “At the beginning of every program, you’ll find some kids who aren’t sure. They will see other kids hunting for bugs, catching them, and they’ll say, ‘I’ll come, but I’ll only watch.’ Then, pretty soon, they are doing. Then it’s, ‘Hey, look what I found!’”

Lindy Lange is a licensed school social worker. Family Time appears every Wednesday. Up next: Summer is here. That means it’s time for nine days of family-friendly fun. It’s time for Rochesterfest.

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