Discover Nature | KBIA

Discover Nature

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.  

From tiny ants to bats, birds, bees, and butterflies, we depend on pollinators to produce our food, and protect biodiversity. This week on discover nature, we celebrate national pollinator week.

 

At least 450 species of bees are native to Missouri. They’re considered the most efficient pollinators – even better than honeybees. For instance, one blueberry bee can visit 50,000 flowers in its short lifetime, resulting in the production of 6,000 blueberries. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, watch for water snakes basking near water.

 

Missouri’s semi-aquatic snakes include the most prolific, Northern water snake, the diamond-backed water snake, yellow-bellied water snake, broad-banded water snake, and graham’s crayfish snake. 

 

Western mud snakes and Mississippi green water snakes are found only in the Southeast corner of the state, and the latter is an endangered species of conservation concern. 

 

While all of these snakes may bite in defense, if cornered, they are all non-venomous.  

 

As weather warms and we spend more time outdoors, you may encounter a variety of young animals that might appear to be abandoned. This week on Discover Naturekeeping wildlife wild!

 

Young animals are rarely orphaned or abandoned, and if alone, a parent will usually return. Parent animals are often out searching for food and cannot constantly attend to their offspring. 

 

Bird nesting peaks in late spring, and paying close attention to this seasonal behavior can show us more about the birds we see around us every day.

   

 

While nesting behavior varies considerably among different birds, we can observe a typical nesting cycle in the American robin. In their case, both sexes share in building the nest, which is composed of a mixture of mud and grass. 

 

This week on Discover Nature, watch – and listen – for the northern cricket frog.

 

Commonly seen along the edges of ponds and streams, especially on mud flats and gravel bars, scientists are monitoring Missouri populations due to rapid declines in other states. 

 

The northern cricket frog can appear in a variety of colors from gray to tan to greenish-tan or brown, with a white belly. 

 

Their metallic calls resemble the sound of small pebbles being rapidly struck together. 

 

This week in Missouri’s woods, a native, thorny, locust tree displays clusters of fragrant white flowers.

 

The black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) grows in dry or rocky upland woods, along streams, and in pastures, and thickets. 

 

A pioneer tree species, black locust easily invades disturbed sites, and some consider it a nuisance species. 

 

Wildflowers and warm weather signify the arrival of spring in Missouri… and one of the state’s largest, heaviest wild mammals enjoys the season as much as we do.

This week on Discover Nature, we recognize May as National Bear Awareness Month.  

Black bears mate now through June, but reproductive development pauses for 6-to-7 months, until bears enter hibernation.  Mother bears birth litters of two to three cubs in January and February, sometimes while the mother still sleeps.  

Spring storms bring the threat of damaging wind, hail, flooding, and erosion, but they also restore life to the landscape – providing nutrients to plants and soil, habitat and drinking-water for wildlife and humans.

    

Wetlands are areas that hold these heavy rains and make the benefits of spring storms last. 

This week, on Discover Nature, we celebrate May as American Wetlands Month. 

This week on Discover Nature, a poisonous perennial wildflower shows off bright red- and yellow-blossoming spurs.

Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is in full bloom in Missouri this week. Growing about two-feet tall, often in shaded areas in woodlands and hanging from rock cliffs, this hardy native wildflower is also a favorite among landscape gardeners. 

This week on Discover Nature, listen for wild turkeys gobbling in Missouri woods and grasslands.

This popular gamebird, once a contender for our national bird, makes many other vocal sounds, as well, often described as purring, yelping, and putting.  

Adult males, called Toms, are large and dark, with a bare, red, white, and blue head, long legs, and bronzy feathers. Males and some females have a tuft of hair-like bristles, called a beard, in the middle of the breast. Females are smaller and less iridescent than males. 

Discover nature this week with a walk outdoors, and keep an eye out for blooming Eastern redbud trees (Cercis canadensis).

 

Find these small, ornamental, Missouri-native trees in woodlands, glades, and along rocky streams and bluffs, as well as in urban landscape plantings. Young trees have smooth, reddish brown to gray bark which will develop long grooves and short, thin, blocky plates as the trees grow older. 

 

As nighttime temperatures begin to climb and soil warms in Missouri’s woods, a fungal favorite of foragers begins to emerge.

   

 

This week on discover nature, keep an eye to the ground for morel mushrooms. 

 

Morels are hollow-stemmed mushrooms, with a somewhat conical cap, covered with definite pits and ridges, resembling a sponge, pinecone, or honeycomb.  

 

These choice-edibles grow in a variety of habitats including moist woodlands and river bottoms. 

 

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. 

Pages