Discover Nature | KBIA

Discover Nature

Missouri’s resident and migratory bald eagle populations peak in the winter, and now is a great time to look for these iconic American raptors.

 

Mature bald eagles are easily identifiable by their black bodies with white head- and tail feathers. However, for their first four to five years of life, juveniles sport all-brown feathers with white speckles. 

 

Fire plays an important role in all our lives. To some, memories of campfires bring warm and pleasant feelings, while others remember the horrors of wildfires.

 

This week on Discover Nature, we look at how fire is used as a land management tool. 

 

In nature, fire can be both beneficial and destructive. Most of America’s landscape has burned at least once in the past few hundred years, and many animals and plants have adapted to live with fire. 

 

The holiday season continues, but as we enter the new year and Christmas trees come down, consider giving one more gift – to nature.

   

 

Re-using cut Christmas trees can provide great habitat for fish, birds and other wildlife.  

 

Strip your tree of ornaments and consider placing it in a pond. By attaching a rock or other anchor to your tree you can help fish populations by creating natural cover for them… and possibly a new fishing spot for you.  

 

This week on discover nature, voles (also called meadow mice) are busily working under snow and soil.

This week on Discover Nature, watch for wild fungal fruits growing in the woods.

   

Oyster mushrooms grow in overlapping, shelf-like clusters on stumps, logs, and trunks of deciduous trees especially during damp weather. 

Broad, fleshy, shell-shaped caps are whitish to grayish to tan in color, protecting narrow membranes below, called gills. 

Over the river and through the woods… whether out for a hike, or on the hunt for your next Christmas tree, Discover Nature this week, and watch for Missouri’s Eastern red-cedars.

Eastern red-cedar trees are not true cedars – they actually belong to the juniper genus of the cypress family. True cedars belong to the cedrus genus in the pine family. 

Nonetheless, these aromatic evergreens offer food and cover for birds and wildlife, often providing windbreaks and wildlife corridors in cemeteries, farmyards, and neighborhoods. 

This week on Discover Nature, take a moment to admire and appreciate Missouri’s many gifts from nature.

Picture the vast geography of our state, as avian migrations pass over our prairies and plains, Ozark forests, big river systems, and marshy lowlands. 

Each ecoregion supporting its own array of animal and plant species that have constituted our state’s natural heritage from long before settlers set foot on Missouri soil. 

Discover Nature in the Missouri woods this week and scan leafless trees for the gray nests of bald-faced hornets.

These wasps chew wood, mix it with starches in their saliva, and use this substance to make their nests, which consist of layered, horizontal comb, enclosed by an outer envelope. 

Each colony of these social wasps lasts only one year, with new nests built annually. 

This week on Discover Nature, watch for white-tailed deer in rut, and celebrate 75 years of modern deer hunting in Missouri.

In the fall, fawns lose their white spots, adults’ coats take on a grayish-brown color, and bucks boast antlers to fight for territory and mating rights.  

Deer were essential to American Indians and early settlers, providing food, hides, sinews for bowstrings, and bones for tools. 

By the 1930s, habitat loss and unregulated hunting decimated Missouri’s deer numbers – mostly limited to small herds in the Ozarks. 

This week on Discover Nature, set up bird-feeding stations to help keep feathered friends fed through the cold season.

To keep warm in frigid weather, birds must feed almost constantly. A drop of twenty degrees can double their metabolic rate. So, keeping food available can be especially important, and rewarding for birdwatchers when the weather turns cold. 

This week on Discover Nature, get outside and enjoy a show of fall foliage, fruits, fungi, and flowers. 

 

Fall color in Missouri’s trees has been off to a slow start, with much green remaining on the landscape. But, with cooler temperatures and waning daylight hours, chlorophyll – the compound that makes leaves green – is breaking down, revealing pigments that have been hidden all summer.

   

 

This week on Discover Nature, listen for the clear, loud calls of ground-dwelling birds just before dawn.

 

Missouri’s native quail – Northern bobwhite live in groups of 5-30 birds, called coveys, from autumn to spring. 

 

Northern bobwhite are streaked or mottled reddish-brown and white, with a gray tail. Males have a distinctive dark brown cap and face. Their camouflaged colors help protect them from their many predators including foxes, coyotes, racoons, hawks, owls, and snakes. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, watch for American white pelicans flying south for the winter.

 

The white pelican is a large waterbird – often growing to more than five feet long, with a wingspan of up to nine feet.  

 

White pelicans migrate through Missouri in spring and fall between their summer breeding grounds in the northwest, and their winter territories to the south. Many more of them migrate through western Missouri than the eastern half of the state. 

 

As autumn begins in Missouri, one of the state’s most fragile and unique species is active beneath the surface of some streams.

   

Hellbenders are large aquatic salamanders, reaching lengths of more than a foot. Ozark and Eastern Hellbenders have a wide, flat head with tiny eyes and a broad, rudder-like tail. They breathe through their sensitive skin – usually grayish-brown in color, and covered in prominent folds. 

In late summer and early autumn, females lay as many as 200 – 700 eggs, which males fertilize and guard until they hatch. 

This week on discover nature keep your eyes peeled around dusk for groups of little brown bats.

 

Little brown myotises, or mouse-eared bats are only about three to four inches long, and weigh only a quarter of an ounce. They have yellowish- to olive-brown fur with a glossy sheen. 

 

In the fall, these bats gather at cave and mine entrances to mate before hibernation. However, fertilization of the ovum will not take place until spring, and mothers will bear a single offspring by mid-June. 

 

Celebrate the arrival of autumn this week, and watch for a variety of ripening tree nuts falling to the ground.

   

 

Many Missouri native trees produce this protein-rich food for wildlife and people, and aid in the trees’ reproductive process. 

 

Watch for walnuts, hickory nuts, hazelnuts, horse chestnuts (buckeyes), acorns, and pecans, falling from above, and scattered on the ground. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, take a moment to enjoy the last golden blooms of summer. 

 

On roadsides, streambanks, pastures, prairies, and planted flower beds, Missouri’s many goldenrod species are putting on a show. 

 

23 species of goldenrod (Solidago spp.) are native to Missouri with slender stems, usually about 3-4 feet tall, and golden clusters of flowers spiraling or alternating along upper branchlets. Each yellow flower is actually a tiny composite flowerhead, structurally similar to a daisy or a sunflower. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, watch for a swift-flying migratory duck traveling through Missouri from the north.

   

 

Blue-winged teal breed all across North America, and they leave their summer homes early, from as far north as Alaska, to overwinter along the Gulf of Mexico, and as far south as Argentina. 

 

Adult males – called drakes – are small, each with a dark gray head and a white crescent between the eye and bill. A light blue patch adorns the forewing just above a greenish patch of feathers called a speculum. 

 

This week in the woods, or backyard garden, you’ll likely cross paths with the monarch butterfly.

 

In fact, you’ll find monarchs in a wide variety of habitats, including fields, roadsides, and landscape plantings. 

 

This large butterfly starts out as a white caterpillar with yellow and black bands, but transforms into a striking, flying insect, with distinct orange wings and black veins. 

 

This week along Missouri’s streams, ponds, swamps, wetlands, and ditches, watch for salamanders undergoing a life-changing transformation… 

 

Nearly 50-species and subspecies of salamanders live in Missouri.  With bodies that look like lizards, but skin like frogs, salamanders rely on clean, fresh water for the first stage of their lives as gilled, aquatic larvae. 

 

Discover nature this week, and watch for baby snapping turtles, hatching from eggs near Missouri’s streams, ponds, and wetlands.

 

Snapping turtles occur statewide – anywhere there’s permanent water. They prefer bodies of water with mud bottoms, abundant aquatic vegetation, and submerged logs. 

 

Females travel overland during egg-laying season – mostly in late spring and early summer – and are often killed by cars. 

 

Females dig nests in deep sand or loose soil and deposit up to two clutches of 20-30 eggs per season. 

 

Take a quiet float trip, or wade around a bend in a Missouri stream this week, and you’ll likely encounter a feathered fishing friend.

 

Green herons typically stand motionless or stalk intently for prey along the banks of streams and ponds.  These intelligent birds are known to use tools – dropping small objects such as twigs, feathers, or insects on to the water’s surface to lure curious fish within snatching distance. 

 

Green herons are sometimes confused with least bitterns, though their vocalizations are distinctly different. 

 

Discover nature this week, and keep an eye out for one of Missouri’s showiest native wildflowers blooming along roadsides and in tallgrass prairies.

 

Prairie blazing star (Liatris pycnostachya) is a purple perennial wildflower.  Its tall, unbranched, hairy stalks blossom with spikes of dense purple floret clusters from July to October. 

 

If you’ve stepped out to enjoy the night air lately, you’ve likely noticed a loud newcomer to the chorus of night sounds.  This week on Discover Nature, listen for the nocturnal chorus of katydids.

 

Close relatives of grasshoppers, many species of katydids call Missouri home – each with very different characteristics. 

 

The northern, or common true katydid has long, slender legs, and large veined wings resembling green leaves, although a genetic mutation causes some specimens to appear pink. 

 

Discover nature this week along Missouri streams and bottomland woods, and listen for the low, harsh vocalizations of great blue herons.

    

 

Herons nest in colonies – or rookeries – near water. These rookeries can contain hundreds of bulky stick nests which may be used over multiple years. 

 

Herons are mostly monogamous during a season, and each pair incubates 3-to-6 eggs.  In mid-July, fledgling herons begin to leave the nest, learning to fly and feed themselves. 

 

As summer heat settles into Missouri, forage the forest floor for a culinary treat.

 

This week on Discover Nature, search for chantrelle mushrooms fruiting in the woods. 

 

Chantrelles are funnel- or trumpet-shaped and have wavy cap edges.  Usually orange or yellow in color, with a fruity fragrance when fresh. 

 

Chantrelles do not have true gills under the caps, such as those found on the poisonous, but similar-looking jack-o’-lantern mushrooms, which are sharp-edged and knifelike. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, take a trip to a stream or pond near you, and observe the colorful dance of mating dragonflies across the surface of the water.

    

 

Adult dragonflies have long, slender, often colorful abdomens with robust bodies, large compound eyes, and sometimes spotted patterns on horizontally-outstretched wings.  

 

They don’t start out this way, though.  In mid-summer, watch courting dragonflies fly low over water – often attached to their mates.  In-flight, females deposit eggs along the surface of the water.  

 

This week on Discover Nature, female coyotes wean their pups.

   

Keep an eye and an ear out, especially at dawn and dusk, for these canine scavengers. 

Coyotes are nocturnal but are also seen in daylight.  They live singly, in male-female pairs, or in family groups and use complex expressions and postures to communicate. 

They mate in early spring and birth litters of 5 to 7 pups in late April or May. 

By late June both parents begin teaching their young to hunt and behave as adults. 

Listen at the water’s edge this week, and you’ll likely hear Missouri’s largest frog, and official state amphibian.

Growing up to eight-inches long, the American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) ranges from green to olive to brown, with small, dark blotches on its back, a large, round external eardrum (or tympanum) behind the eye, and distinct brown bars on its hind legs. 

Bullfrogs are ambush-style predators that will eat any live prey they can fit in their mouths, including insects, fish, mice, birds, and snakes.  

This week on Discover Nature, watch for an aerial hunter in Missouri, perched on fences, phone wires, and trees; flitting to catch insects and fend off avian intruders.

Eastern kingbirds have black on the head and dark gray on the back, with white underparts, a distinctive white band on the end of the tail, and a bright reddish-orange crown on its head – though this small patch can be hard to glimpse in the field. 

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