Discover Nature | KBIA

Discover Nature

This week on Discover Nature, step outside and find small, blooming signs of spring in yards, gardens, and fallow fields.

   

 

Dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) grows in broad, carpeted colonies of clustered-purple flowers atop square, branched stems, and a massed canopy of green- to rose-purple leaves. 

 

Though non-native to Missouri and often regarded as a weed, dead nettle’s abundant roots help bind soil in early spring, and since the roots remain shallow, they rarely present a problem. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, as we all hunker down and do our best to stay home, a reminder that we’re not alone: Missouri’s Canada geese are starting to guard nests.

One of our state’s best-known waterfowl species, Canada geese are common, year-round residents in Missouri. 

In late winter, migratory populations begin returning to the area, signaling the imminent changing of seasons. By early spring, pairs begin nesting in open cups of dried grasses and other vegetation on the ground near bodies of water. 

This week on Discover Nature, Eastern bluebirds begin arriving at breeding locations in Missouri.

   

The Eastern bluebird is a small thrush with a plump body and short, straight bill. Underparts are rusty in color, with white on the belly and under the tail feathers. Its upper body is bright blue in males, and gray-blue in females. 

The famous poet Henry David Thoreau once wrote that the bluebird “carries the sky on its back.” 

A blurry whistled series of notes comprise its distinctive, pleasant song. 

The lonesome calls of Missouri mornings on the prairie – once produced by hundreds of thousands of birds across our state – now hold the haunting story of a species nearly eliminated from our landscape.

   

 

Each spring, male prairie chickens return to breeding grounds, called leks, to perform unique mating rituals. Each male defends his territory from competing cocks, inflating bright orange air sacs on his neck, and producing distinct “booming” call. 

 

This week on Discover Nature take a walk outside, and you may hear one of the first serenades of spring on the horizon.

   

 

Spring peepers have spent the winter burrowed under soil – a natural antifreeze in their blood keeping them thawed.  

 

One of the first species to begin calling in the spring, this small, slender frog can appear pink, gray, tan, or brown, with a dark ‘X’ on its back.

 

Roughly one-inch in length, they breed in fishless ponds, streams and swamps with thick undergrowth.  

 

In the heart of winter, one Missouri shrub defies the dormant season: this week on Discover Nature, keep an eye out for Ozark witch-hazel.

 

This native shrub, with tight, gray bark, and alternate, egg-shaped leaves, brings some of the first color of the year to Missouri’s wooded landscapes. 

 

Yellow to dark-red, fragrant flowers adorn its branches from January through April.  In the fall, hard, woody fruits will pop open with enough force to throw seeds up to 30-feet away. 

 

In the waning weeks of winter, keep an eye to the Missouri sky for honking flocks of snow geese (Chen caerulescens).

 

These medium-sized geese are mostly white with black wingtips. The so-called blue morph sports grayish-brown feathers with a white head, and white on the underside of its wings. 

 

Watch for their bright, V-shaped chevrons – especially in stark contrast against a clear, black night sky – and consider the journey they’ve made.  

 

As temperatures freeze and thaw in late winter, one of the sweetest harvests awaits in the Missouri woods.  This week on Discover Nature, tap a tree, and collect a treat.

    

 

Freezing and thawing temperatures cause increased sap-flow in living trees. By drilling a small hole in the side of the tree, you can harvest its sap, and cook that down to make syrup. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, watch for river otters on frozen water.

Well suited for life in water, otters have streamlined bodies, fully webbed feet, and long, tapered tails.  Dense, oily fur and heavy layers of body fat keep them insulated. 

Otters are graceful, powerful swimmers and can remain submerged for three to four minutes.  On land, they travel with a loping gait, and on snow or ice, they alternate loping with sliding. 

This week on Discover Nature, watch for an ecological engineer, and unsung steward of streams.

The American beaver is also North America’s largest rodent. 

Their webbed hind fee, with large, flattened tails, dark brown fur, and pronounced front teeth, all suit these mammals well in their streamside habitats. 

Beavers’ feeding habits vary with the seasons. During the summer, they eat corn, pond lilies, watercress, and other herbaceous plants. 

While cruising down a Missouri highway this winter, keep an eye out for a predator on the prowl.

 

Often known as “highway hawks” for their roadside perches, red-tailed hawks are “brown above, and white below,” and adults have a rust-red tail with a narrow black band near the end.  They stand nearly two feet tall with a wingspan more than double their height.  

 

These hawks usually nest in open woodlands or in trees in grasslands and crops – frequently within city limits – hunting snakes, squirrels, mice, and other small animals.  

 

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. 

 

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