Category Archives: Ozark Hills

Walking and learning about the Ozark Hills

Butterfly Clusters

Walking along my road or around the trail at ShawneeMac Lakes Conservation Area I sometimes notice butterfly clusters. There was one yesterday of three different kinds of swallowtails.

Swallowtail butterflies in a butterfly cluster
This patch of ground is wet with a sheen of moisture over it. Several swallowtail butterflies landed to sip this mineral water. There are the regular yellow and black swallowtails. A smaller white and black swallowtail joins them. the black swallowtail may be either a Pipevine or a Spicebush swallowtail.

Butterflies are pretty and people think of them as friendly, pretty, carefree creatures. They are belligerent and constantly on the alert for predators. That doesn’t distract from their lovely wing patterns.

Gray Hairstreak Butterflies form butterfly clusters
The tiny extensions from the lower wings mark this butterfly as a hairstreak. The deep blue indicates this gray hairstreak is a male. These small butterflies often form large clusters with as many fluttering over those that are on the ground.

Butterfly clusters are good reasons to stop and admire these insects. The clusters can be on flowers such as butterfly milkweed. More often they are on manure piles or rain puddles in the road.

Pearl Crescent butterfly
Butterfly wings are delicate and soon start fraying on the edges as on this Pearl Crescent. This is another smaller butterfly. These sometimes join gray hairstreaks in a cluster around puddles.

Nectar is a great energy food and butterflies need plenty to keep flying. Nectar doesn’t supply proteins and minerals. Manure and dust do.

Although butterfly clusters are one way to see lots of these flying wonders, there are other ways. Single butterflies land here and there.

On my recent return to ShawneeMac Lakes the day was cool. I saw several butterflies sitting and sunning themselves. They spread their wings or slowly fanned them soaking up the sun’s heat.

Fritillary Butterfly
Sometimes called dead leaf butterflies, the outside of a fritillary’s wings are mottled dull browns mimicking leaf litter. The jagged edges complete the disguise. These butterflies are more solitary than others.

As long as I don’t cast a shadow on the butterfly, it will sit there ignoring me until I get within a few feet. Different kinds of butterflies have different distance triggers. The gray hairstreaks, pearl crescents and fritillaries are more tolerant. Sulfur butterflies have a trigger of about ten feet making them very difficult to photograph.

Another insect was out and about around the Lakes Clear wing dragonflies are a smaller member of the group. Dragonflies have excellent eyesight and are normally very wary. It was a surprise to get within a few feet of a couple and almost step on a few more before they zipped away.

Once the weather gets more settled and stays warm, these close encounters will become more rare. The butterflies and dragonflies won’t need to bask in the sun to warm up. But the butterfly clusters will still happen.

Find out a lot more about water in “The City Water Project“.

Exploring River Banks

The upper Meramec River is an easy walk down the gravel road. It is a popular destination for people out running the roads. On quiet mornings I enjoy exploring river banks for the many wildflowers growing there.

exploring river banks along the upper Meramec River
Most of the Meramec River current went down the far side of the channel until the last couple of floods. Then the main current shifted to the near bank taking out numerous trees and wiping out a local fishing hole. In places the gravel is high enough to attempt walking across, if rain has been scarce for a couple of months. For now the water is too deep and the current too swift so exploring the river banks is done on one side only.

Before we moved here a bridge went across the river passing an old cemetery and leading off somewhere. The center of the bridge collapsed and was never repaired. The remains have washed away over the years.

exploring river banks special flower find
Common blue violets are blue, all blue. Except for the confederate blue color variety I find down along the river bank. I’ve since seen it other places, but still look forward to finding it along the river every spring.

When the river floods, the flood plain is washed clean. The channel shifts from one side to the other. Pools form and disappear.

Trees wash out. The water carries fallen trees down the river, piles them on the bank and later washes them on down the river.

pale corydalis flowers
Pale corydalis is one of those plants that sneak in along the road or lawn edges or along the river banks. It isn’t very noticeable until the bright yellow flowers open. Even these are low key as they are small.

When the logs are piled high, it’s hard to walk down along the banks. When the logs are mostly gone, the walking is easy.

Exploring river banks is a way to find many wildflowers not very common elsewhere. And the open ground makes it easy to spot them.

ground ivy makes good ground cover
This little plant called ground ivy was first found in a friend’s yard as a ground cover. Finding it along the river was a surprise. It is a tough little plant holding dirt and shifting sand in place through floods and high water. The flowers are pretty and cover the plants.

When rain has been scarce, it’s possible to walk across the river. The far bank is much different from the one I usually walk. Crossing the river takes care as the current is strong.

The river is too high to cross so far this year. I’m hoping the cows often on the pastures on the far side won’t eat the giant cane down to nubbins before I can get across.

exploring river banks for Virginia bluebells
Virginia bluebells like moist soils so the river bank is a great place. The main patches were some distance up along the river. Now the patches are all along the distance I usually walk. The pale blue flowers look so fragile. Occasionally a plant has white flowers.

Once I found an American basswood tree while exploring river banks looking for a way across. It is washing out now so its upper branches are head high. I’m hoping to see it bloom one last time so I can complete the picture set for the tree.

This will be a great place to walk for another few months. Then exploring river banks will have to wait until the stinging nettle gets blasted by frost.

Read more about nature in the Ozarks in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Canada Geese Arrive

Plants are beginning to sprout defying the up and down temperatures of an Ozark spring. At ShawneeMac Conservation Area the main attractions are the Canada geese.

I hadn’t walked the trail there in months. The trees are still bare. The grass is thinking about growing.

The mowed area had lots of early saxifrage blooming. These plants were only four inches tall, but trying to set seed before the mowers start arriving.

Canada goose swimming
This Canada goose was curious about me as I walked along the trail around the upper lake at ShawneeMac Conservation Area. It swam toward me and then paralleled me for fifty or sixty feet until the trail turned back inland.

The honeysuckle was leafing out. The burning bush buds were swelling. These invasives are easy to spot along the trail.

The American holly was easy to spot as well. It’s the dark green plant scattered here and there off the trail. I am hoping to catch it in bloom this year which is challenging as it blooms for only a few days each spring.

group of Canada geese
Geese eat grass among other things. This group is on the edge of a picnic area mowing the grass. I guess the big one in the back is the male. The group honks quietly to each other while eating.

The honks of Canada geese kept me company during my hike. There were a couple of dozen birds in various groups around the upper lake. A couple swam by watching me watch them. Cameras are so interesting.

Much of the time the geese were behind lake edge vegetation and hard to spot. That changed when I got back to the parking area where I had left my truck.

pair of Canada Geese
One of these Canada geese is swimming quietly along. The other one came up beside her honking loudly and seems to be putting on a display for her. She is ignoring him.

A half dozen Canada geese had taken over a small point of land extending into the lake. Evidently it had one big male and several females. I really can’t tell the difference however another loudly honking goose started swimming over. The biggest goose in the group attacked and drove the interloper away.

Canada goose landing in lake
This Canada goose was up on shore when another goose came across the lake. It flew up and over landing in the lake to attack the approaching goose. Both were honking loudly.

Other geese swam, took baths, walked around in other areas and generally took over the lake shore. Some will be staying over the summer. Others move on to other lakes and ponds in the area or go farther north. The next Canada geese arrivals will be their goslings in late spring.

Read more about nature in the Ozarks in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Looking Over Spring Pantry

February full moon was called the Hunger or Starvation Moon. People put up food for the winter, but the pantry was close to empty by then.

Root crops and canned food is fine. Fresh food has an appeal that grows the longer it can’t be obtained.

Many years ago I spoke with a woman, Ruby Woods, about her years growing up back when the general store was a day’s wagon ride away. For her March meant time to raid nature’s pantry for fresh greens.

wild onions
Wild onions are perennials and send up their first leaves in late winter as soon as there is a warm spell. They are easy to spot as they tower over the short grass. The root bulb is edible, but the tops make good eating in eggs and stir fries.

Most of the greens she talked about are considered weeds today. For those who want to try a few, fair warning: Most of these are bitter or sour.

Plants are determined to grow and produce seeds. Getting eaten before that prevents the plant from reaching its goal. So plants often produce substances to deter insects and others from eating them.

dandelion greens
Dandelions were the bane of the garden for my father. They have deep taproots and can be challenging to dig out. The roots are edible. The flower is a mass of little flowers filled with nectar and attract lots of insects including native bees.

Domesticated plants have most of these substances bred out as these are the bitter and sour tastes we’ve learned to not like. Some of these are rich in nutrition.

As “Wicked Plants” by Amy Stewart warns: Don’t eat anything you don’t recognize. My advice is to try a few that are easy to recognize.

chicory greens from nature's pantry
In late spring chicory lines the road with light blue flowers. It’s roots were dug, dried, ground and used with or instead of coffee. The early spring greens are good eating, but become bitter once the flowering stalk appears.

Probably the easiest one is wild onion. There are several kinds and my preference is the one that sends up a clump of onion leaves. These are small, but powerful. Chewing on a leaf will heat up your mouth quickly.

Chickweed is a garden pest. It is a mild green and prolific in a cool, moist area. It’s great in stir fries. Cut or break the stems off and use the tops. You can harvest these plants many, many times.

chickweed greens from nature's pantry
Chickweed comes in several kinds. This is a good kind for eating. It comes up in the fall, overwinters and takes off in the spring. It grows in gardens, flower pots, sidewalk cracks. It puts out quarter inch across white flowers with four double petals.

Dandelions are good too. Use the younger, smaller leaves and the flowers. These leaves are a bit bitter and add a zest to salads or do well cooked down as a potherb alone or with others.

Yellow rocket is another good potherb. The leaves are easy to recognize once you know what to look for. If you are new to this one and to the chicory, watch the plants this year and know them by their flowers. Harvest the leaves next spring to add them to your pantry.

winter cress greens from nature's pantry
Yellow Rocket gets its name from the yellow flower umbels. Over the winter the plants survive as low growing units called winter cress.

Chicory or blue sailor is a perennial. Mark where a few plants bloom. That makes it easy to pick the greens the next spring. Chicory leaves are similar to several wild lettuces and wild dandelion relatives. These too are edible, but not always tasty.

Nature’s pantry is a busy place. Dock, plantains, water cress, lamb’s quarter and more are also edible. Add a bit of variety to your salads this year with some wild greens.

See more of the Ozark’s seasons in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Stalking Native Wildflowers

There are native wildflowers and there are immigrant wildflowers. Most of the immigrant wildflowers have made themselves at home and show their status mostly by blooming and leafing out earlier than the native wildflowers.

Among the naturalized wildflowers blooming now are the daffodils, dead nettle and little corn speedwell. All of these are easy to find around my yard. The bright yellow of the daffodils is cheering on dark overcast and wet days.

Corn Speedwell
Corn speedwell started in Europe and spread worldwide. It likes lawn areas with short grass and blooms as soon as there are a few warm days. I’ve seen it in January.

Blue corn speedwell hints of the blue summer skies coming in a few months. Its early flowers are small as is the plant. The plant never gets much bigger, but the flowers double in size in a few weeks.

Dead nettle resembles stinging nettle without the bite. It’s furry, triangular leaves hang down around the purple tubular flowers sticking out. Bees, both native and Italian love it and appreciate its abundant nectar after winter’s lack of fodder.

Dead Nettle
A mint, dead nettle started in Europe and spread worldwide. It’s a favorite of bees in early spring. It germinates in fall and forms a root mat in the spring.

The early native wildflowers must be hunted down. These are the harbinger of spring or salt and pepper plants. It likes wet soil like that down along the river.

Harbinger of Spring, one of the native wildflowers
Harbinger of Spring is also called the Salt and Pepper plant. This is the first wildflower listed in wildflower guides and takes searching to find due to its small size.

The river is a half mile walk down the gravel road. With all the rain lately the river is up and it has changed its banks. The first time I walked down to look for these plants, the path along the bank was almost clear of logs, branches and other debris. Nothing, not even the bitter cress, was blooming.

bitter cress one of the native wildflowers
Bitter cress is the first cress to bloom in the Ozarks. It is in the Brassicaceae family and the leaves are edible, but bitter. The plant is small, less than eight inches tall, and grows in lawns, moist areas.

After another round of flooding, the river undercut trees along the bank so they have fallen into the river. Other trees have washed up on the bank. The area where I find harbinger of spring had been scoured and landmarks were gone.

These are small plants and easy to miss. I did finally find a few and they were in full bloom. The parade of wildflowers , both the immigrant and the native wildflowers has begun.

Meet more Ozark wildflowers in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Daffodils Are Wicked Plants

On a recommendation I requested the book “Wicked Plants” by Amy Stewart. It turns out daffodils are on her list of dangerous plants.

That’s a problem around my house. Daffodils grow wild in the lawn and in the edges of the woods next to the lawn. Their numbers increase every year.

People love daffodils and have for centuries. When new places are settled, the bulbs are part of the luggage. No one knows where the original plants grew as they now grow all over the world.

wicked plant daffodil
Daffodils really aren’t wicked. The toxins in their corms are to discourage animals from eating them. They are among the earliest wildflowers, and largest early ones. Most years they begin blooming and get snowed on.

One warning in the book is very important: Never eat any part of a plant you are unfamiliar with. Those lovely red berries may be your last meal.

I ignore another suggestion: Wear gloves when handling plants. I rarely wear gloves as even the small ones hang a half inch over the ends of my fingers. And I don’t normally handle plants I am unfamiliar with.

The book “Wicked Plants” is an interesting book. It isn’t the easiest book to read as it is like reading an encyclopedia or a dictionary as it is page after page of plants. A few entries at a time works the best for me.

The plants are labeled as deadly, dangerous, intoxicating, illegal, destructive, painful, offensive, etc. Each is labeled with the family, place of origin, habitat and common names. The stories about them can be interesting along with the information about the plants.

daffodil plant group
Naturalized daffodils also called jonquils are smaller than the big garden bulbs. They do produce seeds and spread that way. They also produce more corms so each plant becomes a little community.

The author has a similar book called “Wicked Bugs” I will look for next. I doubt I am as familiar with the bugs as I am with the plants.

As to the daffodils being dangerous, the bulbs contain several toxins that can cause drooling, depression and heart problem if consumed. It’s doubtful anyone other than a young child would deliberately chew on a daffodil or tulip bulb. The main problem is with dogs.

And for those of us who keep cats: Lilies are deadly to them.

Are plants really wicked? Many can be dangerous, but wicked is a human concept. The plants are simply trying to survive.

Daffodils are found in both “Exploring the Ozark Hills” and “My Ozark Home“.

Elusive American Crows

American crows live on the property south of us. Over the winter they parade around in the pasture. If I stop to take pictures, they fly.

Over the winter some crows come up to visit in the north and south pastures. They parade around in the grass and call to each other. They stay out of camera range.

Crows like this one are wary
Crows are large birds, nearly a foot tall. It is still not big enough to photograph when the closest a person can get is almost a thousand feet away. This crow was probing between the grass clumps for grubs and other creatures to eat. They also check out the black walnuts from last fall to see if they have split open making it easy to eat the nut inside.

When we first moved here, we met a man driving by who saw us and stopped to talk. He was out for an afternoon drive to shoot crows. He didn’t want them for any purpose, only to shoot them.

This made no sense to us. The crows weren’t a bother as we didn’t have corn growing. That got cancelled by the raccoons.

One year some of my half grown chicks disappeared from their pen. I watched and spotted a crow. It flew into the black walnut over the pen, then dropped down to kill and carry off a chick.

I headed for the barn for some baling twine and a stepstool. An hour later the top of the chick pen had a loose netting of baling twine. The crow went elsewhere.

crows eat chicks
Crows stay in family groups to go foraging. This one landed in the chickenyard looking for anything edible. I think the adult hens were too big to tempt the crow, but I’m glad I came by just in case.

This is an old method of discouraging predacious birds I found in a Countryside Journal about thirty years ago. It relies on their fear of being trapped.

The birds don’t know what the twine is. What they see is something over the space that may make it impossible for them to fly off. I’ve used it successfully for hawks and crows.

Walking out in the north pasture a couple of birds were off toward the fence. The pasture has some rises in it so I was hidden from them. I got my camera ready.

The crows came into view. I got a couple of pictures before they flew off. They will hang around for another month so I might get another chance.

Hazel Whitmore raises chicks in “Old Promises“.

Sneaking Up On Armadillos

Nine banded armadillos have lived around this area of the Ozarks for years now. Some people hate them. I find them interesting and sneaking up on armadillos is challenging.

Lots of different kinds of armadillos live from Mexico southward. Only the nine banded moved north and may have had help. People seem to love moving animals and plants from one place to another.

Temperature limits where the armadillos can survive as they don’t put on body fat and can’t hibernate. They have to forage for grubs, earthworms and other soil creatures almost daily. In warm seasons they are out at night. Winter finds them out during the day.

Several armadillos live near the pastures. I spot one in the south pasture fairly often and begin my game of sneaking up on armadillos.

nine banded armadillo in pasture
Getting up close to an armadillo makes it possible to see how the thick, pebbly skin hangs down over the back legs. Tufts of hair stick out under the layers. The ears are always alert, but don’t seem very sensitive.

The wind must be right as armadillos have a good sense of smell. My scent must be blowing any other direction, but toward the armadillo.

Armadillos don’t see well and spend most of their time with their faces buried in leaf litter or grass. It’s still better to sneak up from behind. Standing still if they look for me sometimes works.

sneaking up on armadillos is challenging
Even though I am in front of this armadillo about 25 feet away, it continues to dig down under the grass seeking grubs and earthworms. This is just before the snow arrived and the armadillo looks well fed as the winter has been mild to this point.

Hearing is a toss up. Armadillos have prominent ears that swivel to catch any sounds. Still, I find I can make a fair bit of noise and not be noticed. I’m not very good at sneaking up quietly.

These creatures look like some prehistoric tank with their sheets of pebbly skin. The bands allow them to curl up when frightened and trapped. Otherwise they run and they are fast.

Sneaking up on armadillos sometimes backfires. I had one so busy looking for food it blundered into my feet. They do have long, strong claws and can do a lot of damage if grabbed. We both froze a moment. It took off for the woods.

sneaking up on armadillos is hard in dry leaves
Armadillos prefer the pastures as the grubs prefer them. During the winter grubs are harder to find and the armadillos come up into the woods to forage under the leaves for pupae, spiders and other insects hiding there. The leaves make a lot of noise both from the armadillo and from me.

That was the closest I’ve gotten. The best distance for taking pictures is five to ten feet.

Sneaking up on armadillos is fun for me. In late winter scaring them is cruel as they are gaunt and close to starving. I give them plenty of space and leave before they notice me.

Read and see some Ozark creatures in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Ice Waterfalls On Bluff Rocks

When my gravel road was first cut through the Ozark hills, small bluff rocks were left along it. In wet, cold winters ice waterfalls form on the rocks.

Freezing rain and a little snow fell a week or so ago. It started to melt. Water seeped into the bluff rocks.

line of ice waterfalls
Abundant water and very cold temperatures have created many massive ice waterfalls hanging from the rocks.

Then the polar vortex arrived bringing frigid temperatures. The water seeping out of the bluff rocks froze into icicles. More layers built up and lengthened the icicles.

Walking down the gravel road enjoying the bit of sunshine and balmy twenty degrees, I found the ice waterfalls lining the road. They are massive this winter.

ice waterfalls
Along the gravel road is a line of bluff rocks. In freezing weather water dripping down freezes into great ice waterfalls.

These ice sculptures look a lot like the stalactites and columns found in caves. They form in much the same way, but from water freezing so they form much faster.

One piece of ice was like a thin drapery. Some were hanging from rock far back under the overhang.

ice waterfall from a hole in the rock
Water seeped down into the bluff rock and flowed out like a small spring. The water froze into another ice waterfall.

As long as temperatures stay below freezing, these ice structures will hang from the rocks. Sun shining on them melts the surface layer, but the water refreezes hanging further down.

Once the sun takes temperatures above freezing, the rocks warm up. The ice against the rocks melts. The ice waterfalls lean away from the rock and topple onto the ground.

The ice waterfalls will be gone until the next round of winter weather lets them form once again.

See other pictures of these ice structures in “My Ozark Home“.

Ice Storm Brings In New Year

Rain begins to fall after temperatures drop to freezing or a degree lower. Each drop freezes onto whatever it hits. This is an ice storm.

Ice deceives us as we don’t really realize how dangerous it is. Ice coating branches adds weight and rigidity. A quarter inch of ice breaks small branches. A half inch can shatter a tree.

ice coating on a tree after an ice storm
A thin coating of ice turns trees into crystal sculptures after an Ozark ice storm. This coating was barely a quarter inch. Ice is heavy. A thick coating will break the branches.

A quarter inch of ice on the ground turns everything into a skating rink. Feet fly out from under you.

These things are used in “The Carduan Chronicles” as the ship accumulates ice creating drag and increasing weight and bringing the ship down. The slipperiness of ice shows up in several other adventures.

ice and snow on a twig
An ice storm is a rain storm when the temperatures are freezing or a degree below. The rain freezes onto whatever it hits. It forms frozen drops below the twigs.

The ice does look pretty. Trees and bushes look made of glass. A breath of wind makes the ice tinkle. The hills are covered with light gray trees. If the clouds break letting sunlight through, the gray turns to gleaming white.

It takes a lot of heat to melt ice. One of the investigations in “The City Water Project” looks at this. The air temperature can climb to a few degrees above freezing and the ice stays on the trees, fences and other objects, but melts on the road making walks safe.

fox sparrow on icy branch
Birds like this fox sparrow puff up to keep warmer. The air trapped under their feathers acts like insulation. This sparrow is watching for a chance to join the crowd at the bird feeder to get some calories to burn for body heat.

Another aspect of an ice storm is the quiet. It’s like the hush in a snowy landscape. Unless a breeze moves the branches, sound is swallowed up. All I heard walking out across the pastures was the creek rushing over its gravel bed.

Once the temperature stays up in the mid thirties for a few hours, the ice begins to fall. It becomes dangerous to stand under electric lines or trees as chunks slip off and fall. Being hit with a piece is being hit with a rock.

Ozark road after an ice storm
The clouds have thinned so the ice turns into white crystal on the trees lining an Ozark gravel road.

One advantage to this ice storm bringing in the new year, is being able to stay at home. Looking out the windows at the ice coated landscape lets me admire the beauty until the ice finally melts escorting the ice storm into the past.

I am offering a free pdf copy of “Goat Games” to 4-H leaders. Contact me about it.

Spooky Sounds In Ozark Woods

For some people standing out in the woods alone with wind swaying the branches and spooky sounds shivering through the air might be scary. Don’t think such things happen only for Halloween. They happen any time of the year.

Before the fall kids were born, when Juliette and Drucilla looked like they were due any day, I went out walking. I walked down to the end of the south pasture and back up into the hill pasture to the persimmon trees to gather a few persimmons for Augustus.

The sound of a newborn goat kid froze me in my tracks. The call came again.

baby Nubian source of spooky sounds
Baby Nubian goat kids are vocal. When lost or upset, they are loud and insistent. Their cries are distinctive, or so I thought until the Ozark woods taught me otherwise.

I put down the persimmons and tackled the hill. That kid had to be up on the side of that hill, the worst hill to climb as loose gravel blankets its sixty degree slopes.

There was no kid. There were no goats.

The next day I was again gathering persimmons and heard the cry again. This time I walked to the base of the hill and waited. The call came again and I spotted the source. It was not a goat kid. It was not alive.

Groans, creaks and screams are some of the spooky sounds I’ve heard out in the Ozark woods. This was the first time I’d heard the sounds of a goat kid. All come from the same source.

Trees die in the woods for various reasons. Branches fall off leaving the trunks standing sometimes for years.

Ozark woods spooky sounds
Trees fall in the Ozark woods for many reasons. Other trees are often close neighbors and the one falling lands in a branch crotch. It can sit there for years before the dead wood decays enough for the truck to fall to the forest floor.

The roots rot. A wind comes by. The trunk falls and lodges in a neighboring tree.

Every time a stiff wind blows the live tree, it sways. The dead trunk rubs against branch and trunk and makes spooky sounds.

Sometimes two branches on neighboring trees rub against each other. These can produce spooky sounds too.

Even knowing what causes these noises doesn’t stop shivers going up the spine when the wind blows and spooky sounds start filling the Ozark woods.

Find out more about the Ozark woods in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Delicate Ice Beauty Frost Flowers

Morning temperatures in the upper teens to low twenties make the temptation to huddle in by the wood stove almost insurmountable. Delicate ice beauty waits out on the hills.

Frost flowers only appear a few mornings in the late fall. Huddle up by the wood stove those mornings and you will miss them. Bundle up and walk out to the woods to savor one of winter’s beauties.

dittany
The dittany plant sends out several thin stems with paired leaves. In late summer sprays of flowers are at each leaf pair.

Only a few plants create frost flowers. Dittany is an easy to find reliable one for me. It is a small plant so the frost flowers are only one to five inches tall.

pair of delicate ice beauty
The ribbons of ice in a frost flower vary in thickness creating a textured look. The thickness is barely that of a sheet of paper.

Dittany is a mint family member and grows in open wooded hillsides. The plant is about a foot tall with thin stems and opposite triangular leaves. It puts out sprays of light lavender tube flowers in late August. When frost comes, the stems and leaves turn brown and stand up through the drifts of fallen leaves.

Hillsides tend to stay warmer than valleys so the first few cold mornings generally don’t affect the hillsides. It takes several cool days and temperatures dropping down into the low twenties to upper teens to trigger frost flowers.

ribbons of delicate ice beauty frost flower
The dittany stem is less than an eighth of an inch in diameter. The amount of ice ribbon that comes out of such a small stem is amazing.

Dittany holds moisture in its stems. When the temperatures drop, the water freezes, splits the stem and oozes out as a delicate ice beauty. These ribbons of ice swirl around forming coats around the stems or spread out along the ground. Some form ice rings.

Each frost flower is unique. Each delicate ice beauty is fleeting. One touch crumbles it. A ray of sun melts it.

swirls of delicate ice beauty frost flower
Many of the frost flowers have this general shape as the ribbons ooze out of the stems and curl around it. Yet each frost flower is unique.

This year had a wet fall so the dittany loaded up on moisture. Then the temperatures plunged to the upper teens for two mornings. I knew the frost flowers had to be out on the hill.

The goats wanted breakfast. The wood stove beckoned. I went walking on the hills for a time. The frost flowers were magnificent.

Find more frost flower photographs in “My Ozark Home”.

Taking Bird Pictures

All summer the best place to see birds is on the bird feeder. Trying to get bird pictures out on the hills is almost impossible because the birds vanish into thickets of leaves.

When winter arrives, the leaves fall onto the ground leaving the birds sitting on bare branches. It’s easy to see them. It’s easy for them to see the camera.

bird pictures of Downy Woodpecker
The peach tree is old and rarely ripens any fruit. The birds love it as they sit waiting for time at the bird feeder. The downy woodpeckers find it a good place to hunt insects and it is probably riddled with hidden sunflower seeds.

The first thing to remember when taking bird pictures is that birds are camera shy. They are also people shy.

Walking down the road in the morning the birds move down the road in front of me. Even with bare branches birds hide well. By the time I get to where I can see the bird clearly, it flies further down the road.

The sun presents problems too. Cameras like well lit subjects to focus on. They do not take good pictures looking directly toward the sun.

chickadee bird pictures
Black-capped chickadees are winter visitors here. They have such sharp coloring. They descend on the sunflower seeds, grab one and flee. Sometimes they move in on the suet cake, if the woodpeckers aren’t there.

Birds must know to stay on the side of the road with the sun shining straight through the trees at the camera. If they don’t, they still do it.

I like the zoom on my camera. I can be a hundred feet from a large bird like a crow or fifty feet from a smaller bird like a cardinal and still get good bird pictures.

The disadvantage of using the zoom is how it magnifies any quiver in the hand holding the camera. It takes many shots to get a couple in focus.

There are fewer species around in winter. Those that are around make good picture subjects.

careful Red Cardinal
For months few cardinals visited the bird feeder. The birds were busy on the hills and now on the giant ragweed stalks gathering seeds. This one was checking for fallen seeds out away from the barn. It is wary because my cat Cloudy is sitting at my feet watching it.

Woodpeckers are busy establishing nesting sites. They fly onto a tree and drum staying in the same place for several minutes.

Nuthatches are fun subjects. They are colorful blue and white. They go up and down tree trunks.

Juncos and sparrows hop over the ground or sit on the fences. Blue jays and cardinals hang on the brown giant ragweed stalks. Morning doves sit on the black walnut branches watching the bird feeder.

The key to getting good bird pictures is to keep the camera handy and leave the cats at home.

Find out more about Ozarks winters in “Exploring the Ozark Hills”.

An Ozark Foggy Morning

Big rainstorms dropping three inches or more leave everything soaked including the air. In late fall into winter the clouds clear and the temperatures drop giving the Ozarks a foggy morning.

This morning was white with frost as the temperature had dropped below freezing before rising back to forty. The frost vanished into dew and moisture. This made the fog much thicker than usual.

I walk to the barn. The moisture in the air is cold and damp. It seems to seep through my jacket and moistens my face.

This dense fog erases the hills. Even the trees along the creek vanish into ghostly shadows.

bluebird on a foggy morning
It is November. I saw the bird in a tree across from the barn and zoomed in for a picture. I was very surprised to see a bluebird as I thought they had moved south for the winter.

I spend time standing in the barn door looking out at the swirls of fog. As the sun rises, the fog changes from blue gray to white gray. The sycamores at the bend of the creek take shape. A sudden break in the fog lights them up for a moment.

A deep breath is full of sharp dampness. I long to be out walking across the pastures. This morning chores must come first as there are two more new November kids to tend to.

This morning becomes a race between the goats and the sun. Since most of them are dry and expecting spring kids, I have time to look out at the fog impatient with the goats picking their ways daintily through their oats. I sprint to the house to grab the camera.

old stumps on a foggy morning
These stumps were old when we moved here. Twenty-five years later they are finally disappearing into the ground. They look so interesting with their shapes touched by mist. This picture is used in “My Ozark Home”.

An Ozark foggy morning doesn’t last long. Walking out across the pastures in the fog, seeing the trees loom up against it, listening to the quiet is a morning treasure.

This morning the sun won. The fog was suddenly gone leaving blue sky studded with clouds.

An Ozark foggy morning can come any season although the fog is usually thicker in late fall. Perhaps next time I can make it out to the fields and hills before the fog vanishes.

See the Ozarks in different seasons and weather in “My Ozark Home“.

Beautiful Country “Hillerman Country”

Lately I have been reading through the Navajo mysteries by Tony and Anne Hillerman. What I wish I had done first was opened the cover to “Hillerman Country” by Tony and Barney Hillerman, a look at some beautiful country.

Hillerman Country by Tony and Barney Hillerman
Sized as a coffee table book, the photographs by Barney Hillerman in the book are magnificent. The commentary by Tony Hillerman is interesting. Navajo country is awesome in color, vistas, shapes and making a person face how insignificant a human being is in this natural setting.

The book has commentaries about various places around the area. There are excerpts from the mystery series. All of it is trying to help others see what the Navajos have known for centuries: Desert the area may be, but it is truly beautiful in its colors, its immensity, its shapes.

I have been in Navajo country. It was long ago and some of the memories of this beautiful country are dim now. And, beautiful as they are, the photographs in “Hillerman Country” don’t really convey what it is like to be there.

beautiful country in Glacier National Park
Taken in July,1972 this view of the Rockies in Glacier National Park is stunning. It’s hard for a picture, no matter how good, to convey the sense of size when the landscape is so big.

That is true for anywhere. The United States has many spectacular places and more people should take the time to visit them. To fully find their beauty, turn the smart phone off.

My Ozark hills are not spectacular in the way the redwoods or Navajo country or Yosemite are. Yet I can find some of the beauty on them I found in those places.

beautiful country in the Ozarks
I used this long view of the south pasture in “My Ozark Home” as it shows how lovely the Ozarks can be in the summer time.

You have to stand there and let the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feelings seep inside of you. If you are thinking about how to tell someone else about the place, you can’t do that.

The experience is unique to you. Even if someone is standing next to you, it is still unique to each of you. Beautiful country speaks to each of us differently because we are different.

Those differences don’t make one person’s experience better or worse, more or less valid than another’s. Recognizing that we are each unique helps us create a better society.

There is another very valuable resource in “Hillerman Country.” A map spreads across two pages.

In “Song of the Lion” Bernie says the morning prayer to the dawn. It asks to be allowed to walk in beauty. That is a prayer all of us, no matter where we live, should relate to. Perhaps if we aspired to walk in beauty in how we see our world, ourselves and each other, we can find the peace so many of us search for.

See some of why I find my Ozark hills beautiful country in “My Ozark Home”.

Eastern Chipmunks Love Acorns

Driving down my road I occasionally see these little creatures shoot across with tails held straight up. These are Eastern Chipmunks.

Both chipmunks and ground squirrels live in Missouri. The ground squirrels are bigger with different coloring and don’t seem to live in my valley.

Except for an occasional sighting chipmunks aren’t noticed much either. My cats catch those that move into the yard. Their favorite routine is to bring the chipmunk into the house and let it go.

Cats do have a sense of humor and must enjoy watching me try to corner a terrified little rodent, scoot it into a container kept ready for such emergencies and slam the lid on. The chipmunk is then carried off down the road beyond where the cats normally go and turned loose.

eastern chipmunk
Eastern chipmunks give another meaning to cheeky. This one stashed an acorn in a cheek pouch for a secure carry back across the road. The swelling might give the impression of a big tumor, but it’s easily removed.

For some reason I had believed eastern chipmunks, like woodchucks, hibernated during the winter. So I was surprised to see several of them busy gathering acorns on a walk down the road.

Chipmunks do not hibernate. They do stay home in their burrows in cold weather. This means they must gather up a supply of food to snack on. Acorns are popular snacks.

That is exactly what these busy creatures were doing when I noticed them. It was hard to not notice one of them.

Most wildlife wants to avoid people. The birds keep flying off to a tree further down the road. Deer bound off white tails waving. Squirrels streak up the trees.

eastern chipmunk eating acorn
Being a rodent, the front gnawing teeth have enamel only on the front which grows continuously. Gnawing on things like acorns wears it away and keeps it razor sharp. The fingers are long on all four paws and have good nails for digging burrows. What most people see is how cute they are.

Eastern chipmunks often do take off and are only rustling in the leaves. One was determined to get another acorn. It darted across the road about ten feet in front of me, stuffed two acorns in its cheek pouches, sat on a fallen branch to assess what I was up to and darted back across the road.

The little rodent didn’t go far. It raced up a fallen tree and across to a perch on another fallen branch to eat an acorn. I assume it was the same one. I saw two or three others in the area.

The next morning was twenty-five degrees. It warmed up quickly and I went walking. The chipmunks had all stayed in their burrows.

Examining Leaf Litter

So many leaves fall each autumn from oaks, hickories, elms, redbuds and more. Mushrooms appear. Examining leaf litter doesn’t seem worth the time and effort.

This year I happened to look down and see something interesting. This oak leaf had rose patterns on it.

Examining leaf litter became interesting.

leaf litter roses
This pattern is only found on chinkapin also called chestnut oaks. Some trees have lots of leaves with this. Others have few or none. Looking for more of them got me examining the leaf litter and finding other things too.

The rose pattern is only found on chinkapin or chestnut oak leaves. Not all of these leaves have the patterns. The leaves that do can have one to a dozen of them.

The fresh patterns have a dark green edge to them. At first we thought a fungus caused them. Now a bacterium seems more likely.

Other oaks shed leaves peppered with little black spots. Galls were on other leaves.

There is a large gall on oak leaves in the spring and summer. The autumn galls were small and covered with tiny spikes.

Then I came across a leaf covered with smooth balls bursting open. When I looked at these under a stereoscope, the insides were lined with tiny particles probably spores for this fungus.

found by examining leaf litter
Usually little spheres on a leaf are caused by larval insects. These weren’t. They seem to be caused by a fungus that forms these spheres which burst to spread the spores so new fungi can grow on other leaves.

My writing at the moment has a creature in it based on the tribbles from Star Trek, the original series. These were bigger than a hand and covered with soft fur. I turned a leaf over and found numerous tiny versions of these tribbles on the leaf.

examining leaf litter for fungal spheres
This is another chinkapin leaf. This one has numerous soft furry spheres on the underside.

A recent Explor magazine from the Missouri Department of Missouri had a recipe for preserving autumn leaves for the color. (It’s free for Missouri residents from their website.) Growing up we put special leaves between sheets of wax paper and ironed them together. I’ve even used clear plastic shelf paper.

Admiring the many colors is a favorite pastime in autumn. High winds pulled the leaves down onto the leaf letter layer on the ground cutting our time short.

Examining the leaf litter has extended the time for admiring autumn leaves this year.

Find out more interesting things about the Ozarks in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Fleeting Fall Colors

Fleeting fall colors seem to be the new normal here. When I chose the pictures for “My Ozark Home”, I went back through ten to fifteen years of pictures for all of the seasons and fall has changed.

When we moved here, a cold spell moved in around Labor Day. It rarely brought more than a touch of frost, but the cold nights triggered the leaves. Day by day the yellows and oranges overtook the greens on the hills.

fleeting fall colors not so past years
This is one of the pictures used in “My Ozark Home” from a time when the hills turned color and held it for a week or more. This same hill this year didn’t turn until killing frost when many of the leaves fell leaving the trees half bare even as color began to peak.

By the time the temperatures warmed up for the rest of September, the hills were a riot of color. The fields were still emerald green which set off the colors. Clear blue skies and sunshine did the rest.

I’m not a big fan of fall as it means winter is coming soon. But those glowing colors were spectacular.

The weather changed. It has changed a lot in the five or six years.

That early September cold spell waits until late in the month. The trees stay green. Then frost hits and the wind roars through.

fleeting fall colors missed the oaks
Some years the oaks would turn a dusky red. Now they turn brown. Many of the leaves are covered by black spots from fungus. This particular kind of oak and I need to look it up had some leaves with this interesting rose pattern on them. No other kind of oak seemed to have this pattern and only a few leaves had it.

This year the temperatures stayed in the seventies and eighties until a cold spell brought killing frost. Suddenly the trees were dropping their leaves, still green. Those leaves left on the trees tried to turn color.

Wind and a second real killing frost stripped half the leaves off the trees. Fleeting fall colors are trying to hang on and mask the bare branches on the hills. Most of the leaves turned brown from the frost and fell mixed with still green leaves.

Nubian goats in woods
My Nubian goats shuffle through the woods noses searching for acorns. A tasty leaf is also eaten. The herd works its way across a long hill, crosses the ravine to start up the next hill and a third one until they finally go down in the pasture for dessert and to wait until I open the gate so they can loaf in the barn waiting for dinner.

The goats are gorging on the leaves and acorns. They pick out the succulent green leaves and turn their noses up at the brown ones. Even so, the pastures are still green and growing and better eating than the leaves.

Much as I hate the approach of winter weather, I miss those spectacular color displays. Fleeting fall colors can’t mask or distract from the end of warm weather.

Visit the seasons in “My Ozark Home“.

Three Toed Box Turtle Determination

In the spring the box turtles move from the west side of the road to the east side. In the fall they go the other way. Both ways the turtle determination to get across is remarkable.

People don’t think about wildlife movements when they put in roads. This is true all over. My road is a good example.

turtle determination to climb
Having passed the first hurdle of crossing the road safely, this three toed box turtle climbed down into the ditch and now faces the climb up the slope. If a turtle falls and lands on its back, it is doomed.

The road is cut into the sides of hills leaving it lined with steep slopes and deep ditches. Some of these have close to vertical sides. Brush cutting keeps the vegetation down leaving bare dirt in many places.

Coming home the other day I spotted a turtle heading across the road. I stopped and watched as it was walking briskly.

Three toed box turtles aren’t really turtles. They are tortoises and have stout legs. They don’t live in water. They are vegetarians.

turtle determination put to the test
A bulldozer came by and dug into the side of the hill many years ago to construct the road. Rain runoff has created small gullies down the slope. But much of the slope remains an almost vertical climb. After dry weather, the dirt is crumbly and slips out from under scrabbling feet. The box turtle slips down 2 steps for every 3 it takes.

Then I realized it was headed for one of those almost vertical bare dirt slopes. With true turtle determination this turtle tackled the slope.

Dirt slid down under its feet. It kept on climbing. The next dirt avalanche took it back to the base of the slope.

Turtle determination took the turtle back to the attack. This time it angled across the slope and ended up under exposed tree roots.

I went over and picked up the turtle. It promptly retired into its shell. I placed it at the top of the slope and waited.

Several minutes went by. The shell rocked as the turtle peeked out. Then it slid down the slope.

Copying turtle determination I picked it up again and placed it more securely at the top of the slope. And waited.

success with help for box turtle
Box turtles are cautious creatures. After slipping back down the slope and being air-lifted back up, this one is warily looking around, feet safely inside its shell. It will stay this way for a long time as turtles are very patient, unlike me. They never have immediate deadlines unless it is to fold up for safety.

The clock ticked. I had to get home soon as sunset was approaching. Chores needed doing before dark.

A head came out. The turtle looked around and saw me still standing there. It watched me as I watched it.

Finally I had to leave. Since I didn’t find the turtle at the base of the slope the next day, its turtle determination had taken it further up the hill to its winter quarters.

More wildlife essays are in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Ozark Quiet Country Road

It’s amazing how fast the trees turn color after a single frost. Walking down a quiet country road is a good time to enjoy the changes.

Black walnuts leaf out late and drop their leaves early. The frost hurried them along. Swirls of yellow leaves blew down looking like a yellow snow storm.

looking down a quiet country road
Fall colors peek through the green. Leaves drift down to pave the road. They blow about with the wind. Birds are quietly eating so the only sounds are the rustling of the leaves and rushing of the wind on a walk down a quiet country road in the Ozarks.

After weeks of calm weather, the winds have returned. Standing on a quiet country road is a time to hear the wind rustling through the drying leaves. The sound is a slow rush punctuated by dropping leaves plopping onto the road.

Black walnuts thud into the grass. On the road the walnuts smash down, muddy rocks hitting a brick wall.

tree turning red
Different kinds of trees turn different colors. Sassafras turns a salmon red. The pasture remains emerald green for now.

A few lizards still dart off. The leaves make it impossible for their speedy flight to be silent.

So many adventure books about Indians mention moving silently through the forest. The Ozarks people get a good laugh at that. Nothing moves quietly through the falling leaves.

mushrooms along a quiet country road
A fallen tree along the road provides a home for salmon shelf mushrooms.

People love noise or it seems so. Their vehicles are loud. The quieter ones have radios blaring.

Having time to enjoy the quiet country road is special. Fall leaves pave the road. Trees range from green to bronze with yellow popular now. The reds are getting a good start.

The creek swishes now as it washes leaf blankets along. Many of the leaves sink down to create warmer places for the fish over the winter.

mushrooms along a quiet country road
A fallen tree along the road provides a home for salmon shelf mushrooms.

Squirrels crash through the leaves as they leap along carrying walnuts up to hiding places in the trees. Other times the squirrel stops to eat and teeth skritch on the hard hull.

Walking down a quiet country road listening to the wind in the trees, watching the leaves swirl down, scattering birds out of the giant ragweed where they are eating seeds, admiring the color in the trees almost makes fall a special time of year. If only winter wasn’t hiding in the wings.

Enjoy the Ozarks through photographs and haikus in “My Ozark Home“.

Kettle of Vultures

Walking along the road I came across a small kettle of vultures. They had spent the night in an old dead tree and were getting ready to sail off.

All spring and summer the turkey vultures have soared in lazy circles in the sky. They need warm air to soar and it is moving south. They are moving with it.

vulture basking in the sun
On cool mornings vultures spread their wings and tails in the sun to warm up. In a large kettle of vultures there may be half a dozen birds standing with their feathers spread out.

When the vultures arrive in the spring, they seem to appear in ones and twos. They are easy to recognize even as tiny specks from how they drift across the sky.

These carrion eaters do keep a look out for dinner. Eating dead animals is messy as the meat may be spoiled. No feathers on heads and necks helps keep them clean. Some does get onto feathers.

Preening gets bits and pieces off. Smears remain. Vultures spread their wings in the sunlight early in the morning to bake the rest off. It’s a good way to warm up on a frosty morning as well.

individual bird in kettle of vultures
Vultures seem to prefer dead trees to roost in. These older snags have dropped many of their small branches leaving larger ones to accommodate a vulture’s large feet.

Vultures seem to spend most of the day soaring on warm air currents rising up to become clouds. They swoop and circle alone or with other birds. They seem to do some of their soaring for the fun of it.

People describe vultures as black. They are mostly black. The underside of their wings is gray.

Few warm air currents are available over the winter. The vultures gather in groups. The groups drift south to warmer climes so they can continue to soar.

birds in a kettle of vultures
The light color on the underside of a vulture’s wings is not a trick of lighting. The underside of a turkey vulture’s wings are a light gray.

That makes fall a great time to get pictures of vultures. A kettle of vultures roosts on a big, dead tree overnight.

In the morning the vultures wait until the air warms before flying off. They spend the early hours with their wings spread or sitting in the tree. One by one they launch swooping down, then up and around circling and drifting off into the distance.

Read more about turkey vultures in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Fall Into Winter Begins

Nature really has only two seasons in the Ozarks. One is growing season. The other is winter. Now the Ozarks is waiting to fall into winter.

Most plants still look green. Looking carefully there is a yellow cast hiding under that green. The few cold nights have turned some plants like the dogwoods to fall colors.

fall into winter foliage and color
Leaves are turning red as sunflowers and asters bloom. The growing season will continue until killing frost turns the plants black one morning.

Wait a minute. Isn’t fall another season? It is for people. For plants it is still part of the growing season as they busily make seeds and store sugars and starches down in their roots for the coming winter.

Green chlorophyll doesn’t photosynthesize well in cooler temperatures so the anthocyanins take over. These come in colors other than green.

For turkeys, deer, squirrels and other such creatures the fall into winter means an abundance of seeds and nuts to gather. They don’t care about colors in the leaves, only in eating and hiding enough of this bounty to survive the winter.

deer waiting to fall into winter coat
Still in the golden brown summer coat this young white tailed deer stands in a patch of sunlight along the road debating whether to flee. The notched ear indicates this one has had a close call in the past. She needs to learn to flee from people fast as hunting season opens soon.

The deer are putting on their dark brown winter coats. The raccoons are retiring up into the hills.

Birds are more mobile. Many of them are following the warmth south. One by one the hummingbird feeders are being cleaned and stored. Migrants are stopping by to stock up on sunflower seeds for extra energy giving us a chance to see some new birds.

The usual residents are ignoring the feeder as they load up on other delectables. This excepts the morning doves who leave standing room only on the feeder in the morning.

The turkey vultures are gathering and soaring in lazy circles as they drift south. The goldfinches have shed their gold feathers and are dull green now.

River oats
One of the easiest grasses to identify, the flat seed clumps are unique. At the end of the growing season they dangle glowing gold in the sun and tremble in the breeze.

The winter visitors haven’t arrived yet. These are the juncos, various sparrows and titmice.

The days are getting short. The temperatures are warm all day and cool at night. All it will take is a good rain and the Ozarks will fall into winter.

Meander through the seasons in photographs in “My Ozark Home.”

Spreading Aster Bonanza

The brush cutter now devastates the roadside every early summer. This has changed the plant communities along the road. One of the beneficiaries is the spreading aster.

spreading aster plant
I find spreading asters along the road. The stalks start growing up straight, but often fall over except for the tips which point up and are lined with flowers. They seem to favor the east and south facing roadsides in drier areas.

One reason these asters defy the brush cutter is being able to regrow after being sheared off. The far showier New England asters are a much taller plant with royal purple rays, but they do not recover as well after the brush cutter goes by as they are beginning to grow.

Another advantage spreading aster has is growing in drier areas. This summer has had long hot, dry spells.

spreading aster flower
Like all members of the aster family, spreading aster flowers are really a group of flowers. The petals are ray flowers The disk is packed with tube flowers.

There are lots of asters in this part of the Ozarks, New England, woodland, silky, sky blue and spreading among them. Their blue to purple blooms appear in late summer.

Many of these asters look similar. Their flowers have similar blue rays, yellow disks and spreading growth.

Spreading aster has the blue rays, but they often have a lighter section close to the disk. The green cup below the flower has numerous bracts with dark green tips. these bracts are layered, but lie flat as though shingling the cup.

spreading aster leaf
A spreading aster leaf clasps or surrounds the stem and has no petiole or stalk. Short hairs line the edges and cover the upper and lower surfaces of the leaf.

Another feature is the leaf shape. It’s long and the same width much of its length. The stem end wraps around the stem with no petiole. Both the stem and leaves are covered with short, stiff hairs.

These asters do get about eighteen inches tall, when they grow upright. More often their stems sprawl over the ground with the tips growing upwards to hold their flowers several inches off the ground.

spreading aster side flower
The cup below the flower is where the seeds will develop. In the aster family this cup is important for identification as many flowers are similar. This one has many bracts lying smoothly on the cup.

The plants prefer sunny spots with few competitors towering over them. They bloom from mid August to frost. Their flowers are about an inch and a half across, which is smaller than many garden flowers. There are lots of flowers opening a few each day giving a continuous bloom now dressing up the roadside.

Asters are featured flowers in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Carolina Praying Mantis Hunting

Usually we find Chinese praying mantises. Their eight inch length is impressive. The Carolina praying mantis is a mere four inches long.

The Chinese mantis is green with brown wings. The Carolina is either all mottled brown or green, not mixed.

A Carolina praying mantis has moved onto a potted plant. She spends the day poised below the flower umbels or munching on unlucky insects she captures.

Carolina praying mantis eating insect
The mantis captured this insect when it came to the flowers. It might be a bee fly or a kind of bee. It’s hard to tell. The mantis starts eating while the insect is still attempting to escape.

Gardeners like mantises as they eat lots of pest bugs. Garden supply houses found they could ship Chinese mantis egg cases easily. These large mantises quickly adopted their new surroundings and spread from gardens to yards to wild areas.

Native Carolina mantises slipped into the background. Their smaller size meant they ate less. Their egg cases were harder to ship as they are wrapped around twigs.

Mantis cleaning arms
After eating, the Carolina praying mantis carefully cleans up her forearms so they are ready to catch the next meal.

Our resident mantis is one of the mottled brown ones. I went out to take her picture. She turned her head to look at the camera.

Mantises have no poison. They do have front legs lined with sharp spines. Once an insect is trapped between them, there is no escape.

This mantis caught what seemed to be a wild bee. It was struggling as she started munching. She eats it all, cleans her front legs and moves back into position.

Carolina praying mantis looking at camera
Praying mantises have good eyesight for motion. This one was focused on the flower umbel above it until the camera showed up. She immediately looked over in case she was in danger.

Although the mantis stays on the plant, she isn’t above going sightseeing. The telephone repair man arrived and found she had hitched a ride on his arm. He was understanding, didn’t stomp on her and we chased her back to the potted plant.

Later a board was carried by and she hitched a ride into the garage. She was coaxed onto a small board and returned to the potted plant.

Her abdomen is swelling with eggs. She will lay them soon. She will die with the summer.

Next spring the eggs will hatch. Perhaps another Carolina praying mantis will hang out on the potted plants.