Posts tagged #ECOSYSTEM

EVENING ON THE PRAIRIE By Ann Butts

It is impossible to walk a prairie and not use some time for reflection.  Sometimes rolling hills of grass, other times colors blazing, and still others mother nature’s fury on the plains.  You can experience all of this on a prairie walk.  Comfort in the tall swishing grass.  Wonder at the color available in the wildflowers.  Contrast between the wet boggy areas and dry mima mounds. The rich heritage of Missouri’s prairies includes the Osage Indians’ love and respect for this land.  In the book by Robert Liebert,Osage Life and Legends, he discusses their love of the prairies that helped sustain life for them.

The home of the Osage was a lush and nurturing land, which they loved with an almost patriotic fervor, and praised it often in their songs, stories and prayers.

Members of the Chert Glades chapter of Missouri Master Naturalists bonded with our Osage forefathers on a recent evening walk at Coyne and Welsch prairies in southwest Missouri. Prairie walks among naturalists are full of discussion, discovery, and decompression.

We typically fan out into small groups each with a different objective.  This is not planned, it occurs naturally.  Some will discuss and photograph the sighting of certain plants, some will search for an endangered species, and others will simply walk with thoughtful gracefulness and observation. It is a site to behold, with the love of prairies so obvious in each person’s fervor.

Jeff Cantrell (MDC) offered this summary of the evening’s events: “Our first evening was a lengthy walk (for I was short on time to scout), hindered by some standing water while we raced the twilight.  But now that I (we) know of some highway pull-offs the “valley of the blazing star” is very easy to reach.  However all of the site produces wonderful discoveries every time we go out. 

 Some of our discoveries include lots of Wild Petunia (Ruellia), Rattlesnake Master, various forms of Rudbeckia, and sunflower species ready to take control of the grassland.  My favorite was the seedbox clinging to the eroded banks.

 A handful of endangered regal fritillary butterflies, monarchs, pearl crescents, red-spotted purple, wood nymph, golden byssus (a skipper species), sooty wing skipper, silver spotted skipper, cloudless sulphurs, clouded sulphur, giant swallowtail, black swallowtail, tiger swallowtail, silvery checkerspots, variegated fritillary,  and several other Lepidopterans were along the walk.”

Blazing star was the hit of the evening.  Many naturalists could not believe the “sea of purple” they saw, and some could not wait to get to another prairie location to see if the purple was evident there.  It is this unique character of prairies, ever changing – ever the same, that draws us to them. You never know what you will find, each location seeming to have its own agenda on when certain plants will bloom.

The Osage Indians attempted to reflect the natural order of the earth in every part of their lives, with total respect for the natural world. Today’s master naturalists must have inherited that conviction from them.  Our view is to respect the peace, harmony and order of nature while continually learning how to preserve and protect it. There is no better way to accomplish this than to get out there and “be present” on prairies and other natural areas to observe firsthand the amazing glory that surrounds us.

Please enjoy photos from several of our talented photographers from our evening on the prairie.


GREEN GRASS BENEATH YOUR FEET! By Ann Butts

Diamond Grove Prairie

Diamond Grove Prairie

Local prairies are full of amazing color right now so it is fitting to spend some time during the week of the summer solstice observing a local prairie. I always find time during this week to visit some prairies because they are at their peak of blooming.

“I was raised on county sunshine, green grass beneath my feet.

Running through fields of daisies, wading through the creek.”
— Country Sunshine by Dottie West

 I was not raised in the country; I grew up in suburban St. Louis.  But that did not stop me from seeking out any tiny patch of green grass, fields of flowers, or a creek to wade in when I was young.  Summer was an endless time of staying outdoors hours at a time, exploring natural places, and searching for anything wild; turtles, snakes, bugs, and lots of dirt.

At a young age I was fascinated with wildflowers.  Not yet acquiring my “naturalist mentality” I picked some every day and had vases of flowers all over the house.  Today, I find it more satisfying to leave the flowers there for everyone to enjoy, and assure they can reseed for the next season.

Coreopsis

Coreopsis


 

My favorite prairie, Diamond Grove, dressed itself in my favorite color, yellow, for the first day of summer.  Purple headed sneeze-weed, cownbeard, black eyed susans, and coreopsis created a yellow carpet wonderland for butterflies,  dragonflies and birds.

 

Indian Paint Brush

Indian Paint Brush

Poppy Mallow

Poppy Mallow

Contrasting colors came from bright red-orange Indian paint brush, blue spider-wort, and pink sensitive brier.  Hard to find milkwort, wild petunia, and Deptford pinks shyly hid in the under-story of the tall grasses.

My second favorite prairie, Linden Prairie, was ablaze with color.  Dark pink poppy mallow waved above the tall grasses, gray-headed cone flowers delicately shifted their heads in the wind, and bright yellow ox-eye sunflowers beamed in the sunlight.

At Linden Prairie, I recorded eight species of butterflies and two types of dragonflies while listening to dickcissels and many other birds call from one end of the prairie to the other.  I had the whole prairie to myself, which was both wonderful and sad at the same time.  Sad because others were missing what I got to enjoy.

Wood nymph butterfly

Wood nymph butterfly

Many cultures observe the summer solstice as a turning point in the year.  On the prairie, it is also a turning point.  It is the beginning of the end as wildflowers are at their peak and we begin to observe the seeds of summer’s end. So get out there and absorb some country sunshine and get some green grass beneath your feet on a local prairie.  You will be better for it!

Ann Butts has been a member of Chert Glades Master Naturalists since 2005. Preserving wildflowers and prairies are high on her list of worthwhile Missouri projects.   “My goal, through my photography, writing, and volunteerism is to help people think about nature, learn about nature, and respect nature.” 

Hidden Signs of Spring by Kevin Mouser

The spring colors are on the way! Trees are showing signs of life with buds getting green, birds are returning from vacations in the Southern Hemisphere, and the peepers are keeping us up at night with their mating calls from any little wet area near our houses. These are all clear signs of spring. Many of us spend the better part of February and March repeating a mantra of “spring is just around the corner.” When we gather with our friends, neighbors, loved ones and fellow employees the conversation often turns to signs of spring. There is one sign of spring that many of us don’t even know about even though we drive past it, or over it, every day.

Every spring, as the cycles of light change, and the water begins to flow a little more regularly; the streams of the Ozarks begin to color up. The color comes in the forms of red, blue, and green scales on small, unknown fishes. Not unlike the migration of the birds back to our forests, the fish regain their color for spring breeding on their own time schedule. Some of them like to breed early, when only the most die-hard fish-head would consider going into a stream to look for them. Some, not unlike most of us, enjoy the warmth of a late spring day to strut our stuff. With the exception of a few of the dry or hot months of the late summer or fall, there is almost always a fish in breeding colors in Missouri.

Here in the deepest of Southwest Missouri we have several species of darter, a bottom dwelling, small fish that loves to dress to impress in the early spring. The male orange throat darter sports a beautiful combination of red and blue in his fins. These guys can be so colorful that is possible to see their colors from the shore. If you want to see one though you will have to look in the cool spring fed waters that they prefer. Greenside and banded darters both sport a coat of emerald green when they are trying to attract the attention of the ladies. You will find both of these in bigger streams like Shoal Creek, and around vegetation where their brilliant green isn’t quite so obvious. Stippled darters are a less common, but beautiful species of our small creeks. Like the orang throat darters they prefer the small springs and cool waters. They spend much of their time around vegetation. When they are trying to attract a mate they sport a bright orange belly, while the rest of the body turns very dark. They are quite the little gem to pull out of a mass of submerged weeds. These are just a few of the colorful darters of Southwest Missouri.

Spring is on the way. The darters know it, the robins know it and judging by the number of times I have glanced out the window longingly as I write this, I know it too. Brave the cold and rain a bit and get outside and welcome it. If bravery is calling your name, maybe you will even put on a pair of rubber boots and go look for some hidden signs of spring in your local streams. However you want to greet spring, please take the time to leave it a little better than you found it.

Kevin Mouser is a member of the Chert Glades Master Naturalist Chapter.  He is the Special Education Science teacher, Ecology teacher and Science Club sponsor at East Newton High School. When he is not teaching, driving a school bus or sleeping, he really enjoys spending time with his wonderful wife Cristal and getting into the great waters of the Missouri Ozarks.

Photography by Kevin Mouser and Becky Wylie

- See more at: http://chertglades.org/?p=2165#sthash.yyaCUYwK.dpuf

Trees in Winter by Katharine Spigarelli

I love trees. Call me a “tree hugger” and I’ll take it as a compliment. It’s a label I wear proudly. So, tree watching is a pastime that occupies my time as I walk, drive, or just sit in the backyard. What might be surprising to many people is that one of my favorite times of year to “watch” trees is winter. I know, you’re thinking “What?!!!” When most people think of trees in winter, they think of drab, gray, and unpleasing.

When asked which season has the most beautiful trees, most people would probably respond that autumn trees are their favorite. It’s hard not to love trees in autumn. Their colors are beautiful and warm and are the subject of artwork and photography. I love trees in autumn. In springtime, seeing the buds emerge on trees and the freshness of the newly formed leaves is always exciting. We all love the beautiful greens of spring trees and the blossoms on dogwoods, redbuds, and other flowering trees that come with the warming temperatures of spring. I love trees in spring.

In summer, we are thankful for the shade of trees that provides us relief from the heat and reprieve from the blazing sun. The coolness of a tree lined hiking path or a shady backyard are wonderful gifts in summertime. I love trees in summer.

But, what, you ask, do winter trees have to offer? Winter trees allow you to see their potential. For me, one of the things I enjoy most when driving is looking at trees. You can see their trunks and limbs. It’s interesting to see the forms they have. I sometimes look at them and think of how they are like people. Some are long and slender. You can imagine them modeling hiking clothes. They look like they must always be on the go, never sitting around being lazy. Some are full and squatty and seem to be vertically challenged. They offer great protection for our friends, the birds.

 

When you look more closely, you can often find nests that are not visible in the other seasons. Some trees appear to be perfect, just like some people. They spread their limbs both vertically and horizontally and seem to have everything you could want for a tree in your yard. Their strong limbs look ready for the treehouse or the swing and their perfect shape makes you visualize them in the front yard of any home. Some trees seem to have had a tough life, but aren’t quite ready to give it up. Some of their limbs may be gone, some are barely hanging on. Other trees seem to have let themselves go and their branches kind of stick out randomly. They show the effects of age with sagging and straggling limbs. They make me smile as I enter that stage of life.

Trees in winter allow us to better enjoy the beauty of a sunrise or sunset. Seeing the colors of the sky through leafless branches enhances our enjoyment of the experience. There are few things more beautiful than a winter sunset glowing through a group of trees.

I love trees in winter because they reveal hidden treasures. Have you ever passed by a place in winter and all of a sudden you notice an old barn, homestead, tree stand, or some other mystery that you’ve never before noticed? It’s pretty exciting to find something that’s been hidden by the leaves of trees and is now revealed.

I love trees in all the seasons. But, as much as I love them all, I think I most love trees in winter. They offer a certain peacefulness and welcome contemplation and meditation. So, as you take your next long drive, put down your phone, look around, and notice the shapes, the strength, and the groupings. Enjoy