Category Archives: Ozark Hills

Walking and learning about the Ozark Hills

Visiting Pickerel Frog

Gray tree frogs and American toads frequent my vegetable garden. Another visitor has moved in for a time: a pickerel frog.

I rarely see the American toads as they are nocturnal. The gray tree frogs are common on the rain barrels. The new frog shows up in various places wherever plants grow tall.

I’ve seen pickerel frogs in the garden before and assumed they were green or southern leopard frogs. They leap off and vanish into the vegetation before I get a good look at them.

side of pickerel frog
Another way to recognize a pickerel frog is to see the brown bars across the back legs. The round patch behind the eye is the ear. These frogs like to hang out in areas with thick, tall plants, especially grass better known as weeds in the garden. It moved down into the lambs quarter section.

This particular frog was in a patch of walking onion plants. I was removing weeds when it leaped out of the last patch. Unfortunately from the frog’s point of view, the weeds along the workshop wall had all disappeared leaving it in the open.

Several pictures later I left the frog to find the hollyhocks in the bottom corner. They need weeding too, but are huge and in full bloom now. The weeds will wait.

Looking over the pictures I got out my copy of “The Amphibians and Frogs of Missouri” by Tom R. Johnson from the Missouri Department of Conservation and looked up green frogs. This was definitely not a green frog.

back of pickerel frog
The folds down each side of the back with two lines of white rimmed brown patches are typical of a pickerel frog. Another identification is the orange yellow under the arms and belly. The gathered back legs are ready to launch this frog if I get too close.

Next I checked out the Southern Leopard Frog. These pictures didn’t match very well. I browsed and found the Pickerel Frog. This was a match.

These are interesting frogs and often associated with wet caves (a cave with water), one of the only frogs to stay back in caves. We have a creek, but no known caves.

The frogs do live along the creek especially the small flood ponds near the creek. When I walk along the creek I hear the frogs plop into the water and sometimes catch a glimpse of legs disappearing beneath the leaves at the bottom of the water.

Rarely I spot the frog before it leaps. They are spotted is all I have time to see as these frogs are very wary.

My best chance to observe a pickerel frog will be spotting my garden visitor.

Frogs are diurnal. Toads are nocturnal like the one in “Waiting For Fairies“.

Summer Bird Watching

There are lots of kinds of birds around here. All winter into early spring I go looking for them. Summer bird watching is not the same.

From late fall all the way into early spring the trees are bare. Birds hop along and sit on the branches. With a little patience a birdwatcher can spot and watch them.

The problem with this is migration. Many kinds of birds fly south for the winter. That leaves the winter birds: cardinals; red bellied, pileated and Downy woodpeckers; various hawks and owls; and morning doves. Some winter visitors arrive: the juncos, fox sparrows, chickadees and nuthatches.

morning doves
Before the black walnut leafs out, the lines of morning doves waiting for seeds to appear on the bird feeder are easy to see.

Starting in February the migrants return. Turkey vultures soar across the sky. Blue jays hog the bird feeder. Several finches show up.

So many kinds of birds move back bird watching becomes interesting. Bird songs come from every direction.

Then the trees leaf out.

Bird songs still sound from all around. Birds flit from tree to tree. They disappear into the leaves.

Summer bird watching is frustrating.

A bird calls from a tree. I stand scanning every branch or where I assume a branch is. And the bird remains invisible or flicks a tail into view only to vanish again.

Seeing a bird in summer takes luck. Getting a picture of a bird in summer is even harder.

summer bird watching of a kingbird
Kingbirds eat flying insects. They perch watching for one going by and swoop down to catch it. The white bar at the end of the tail makes identification easy.

There are a few exceptions. Flycatchers and king birds sit on the pasture fence wires diving off after insects flying by. Barn swallows swoop over the pastures.

The best place to do summer bird watching is the bird feeder. First come the morning doves. Blue jays, titmice, cardinals and goldfinches follow. Brown headed cowbirds take the place over for a time.

Woodpeckers work on the suet cake. Red bellied ones swoop in and plop onto the cake cage. Downey woodpeckers land on the posts and climb up until they see the cake is available.

If it weren’t for the bird feeder, summer bird watching would not happen.

More about feeding wild birds is in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Grass Seed Bounty

Late spring with lots of rain equals lots of grass seeds. The seed stalks shoot up tall enough to hide the goats, the turkeys, most animals as many of them harvest this grass seed bounty.

People have eaten grass seeds for millennia. We call these seeds wheat, barley, rye, oats and rice. All are grasses.

pasture expanse of grass seed bounty
My pastures are green expanses of waving grass stalks topped with seeds. Hidden under the grass seed heads are clover blooming in white and red, English plantain, summer grasses and other plants. Snakes, turtles, birds, squirrels and so many other creatures are hidden down below the thigh high grass.

Grass is at its nutritious peak when it blooms, before it sets seed. Books say this is when to cut the grass for hay. Spring Ozark weather laughs at these city people and sweeps the pastures with rain and wind.

Many years ago I read a book called “A Lantern In Her Hand” about a pioneer family crossing the prairie grass. The breeze ripples through it making it bend in a giant wave. The grass stands up again after the wave passes by only to repeat as the wind blows by.

The tall grass seed stalks in my pastures do the same. This wave pattern turns the pastures into green seas almost hypnotic to watch.

goats savor grass seed bounty
The goats love eating grass seeds. They hate not being able to see around them. It makes the herd hard to spot as only backs and ears show over the grass. Kids call all day trying to stay with the herd as they see little more than grass stalks.

My goats are paranoid about going out into these grass seas. They rustle and whisper. They might hide monsters.

Wild turkeys are not so worried. This grass seed bounty comes at a good time for turkey poults. Older tom turkeys get fat on the seeds.

wild turkeys feasting on grass seed bounty
This pair of wild tom turkeys was near the edge of the hill pasture. Even so, they were hard to spot in the tall grass. As they walked up into the pasture, the grass closed in behind them making them seem to vanish except for an occasional head poking up.

I put my chickens into their yard in the afternoon before going to the house. I don’t care much about the deadly game foxes and chickens. A periodic yelp made me stop and listen wondering if I was missing a hen.

A lonely tom turkey was walking along the edge of the hill pasture calling. Another came to join him eating the grass seed bounty as they walked toward the hill to roost high up in one of the trees for the night.

Tomorrow these turkeys and the goats will again go out into the pasture seas to harvest more of the grass seed bounty, a gift of a wet Ozark spring.

Read more about wild turkeys here.

Plant Common Names

People name things. Scientists devise a single name for each animal and plant. Plant common names aren’t that way.

A scientific name can describe some trait of a plant. More commonly they are from a person’s name or the place the plant was found.

There are mistakes. Our common milkweed has the name syriaca and is not found in Syria. The origin of this mistake goes back a few hundred years and is traced in “The Syrian Milkweed”.

Plant common names tend to describe some aspect of a plant. There is the purple milkweed called that because of its purple flowers. The swamp milkweed grows in swampy areas. Butterfly Weed is a milkweed that attracts butterflies.

A good plant to never taste is poison hemlock. Other plants to avoid are poison oak, ivy and sumac. However aromatic sumac is well worth a moment to take a whiff.

plant common names include bloodroot
Bloodroot is a poppy and a spring ephemeral wildflower. As soon as the weather warms, the plant sends up its single flower stalk. The flowers last for one day. A single leaf is wrapped around the flower stalk and unfurls. Once the seeds are made, the plant vanishes until the next spring.

In my garden chickweed tries to take the place over every spring. Chickens love it.

Back in the ravines the bloodroot is an early spring wildflower. Its root is blood red.

Another spring wildflower is dead nettle. The leaves are similar to those of stinging nettle, but without the sting.

plant common names include dead nettles
A member of the mint family, dead nettle seeds sprout in the fall, but grow fast and bloom in the spring. It is one of the earliest wildflowers to bloom and are favorites of bumblebees. The plant is an annual and produces lots of seeds.

Presently one of the cranebills is blooming along the road and in the lawn. This common name is from the seed pod with its round top and long ‘bill’ hanging down resembling the head and bill of a crane.

Some plant common names are confusing as more than one refers to the same plant. The calloway pear can be called the Bradford pear and a couple of other names. The Rose of Sharon is also the Althea bush.

Just as there are books giving the meanings and origins of people’s names, there are books about the origins and meaning of common plant names. I have one called “Who Named the Daisy? Who Named the Rose?” by Mary Durant on my shelf. It is interesting to browse through a few names now and then.

Knowing a name for a plant does make the plant more interesting.

Hard Working Father

June is coming up with a holiday honoring fathers. There is one hard working father living at my place who will not be honored because he is a gray fox.

This poor male has a family to feed. His mate and five pups depend entirely on him for their food.

hard working father gray fox going off to hunt
The female fox is hungry again. The male gray fox is off to see what he can catch. These predators don’t live very long. Perhaps all the hard work wears them out.

The fox family has been living under one end of my barn. They tend to sleep in until mid morning. Then the male goes off to hunt.

The gray fox pups are now big enough to come out following him. They don’t come very far, only out in front of the barn to play in the grass for a few minutes.

These pups aren’t old enough to eat much meat yet. This takes some of the pressure off this hard working father as he is mostly feeding only himself and his mate who is feeding the pups milk.

gray fox pup
The male gray fox is off to hunt. This is the signal for the pups to go out to play. They mostly explore. A couple are starting to tussle. This is a young family. The pups are not very wary and stay out while being watched for several minutes.

I see the fox go out the gate and trot off down the road a short distance before going up on the hill. Once I saw him come back down carrying a ground squirrel. These rodents reproduce prodigiously as do the mice and voles. The foxes will also hunt moles.

Gray foxes are small predators. The male is about twice the size of my cats. This makes them easy prey for the local coyotes and bobcats.

Fox enemies stay away from my house and barn making it a safer place to raise those pups. Doe deer often keep their fawns near the yard for the same reason.

hard working father gray fox
The gray fox male stops to look back on its way down the road to go hunting. These small predators can climb trees, something red foxes can’t. The foxes are normally very shy, but are getting used to my comings and goings.

The fox did grab a couple of my chickens and I am not happy about it. But he seems to leave the chickens alone now as I am out in the area when they are out.

Many people would get out their guns and shoot this hard working father. It does take some adjustments to coexist. But we both live here and he may have the greater claim to belonging here. And the various gray foxes who have lived near the house for a time have earned my respect.

Deer, squirrels and other Ozark creatures are featured in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Tom Turkeys Are Calling

Spring turkey season is almost over. Early in the morning the tom turkeys are calling on the hills.

Flocks of turkeys call these hills home. I’ve spooked them from their night tree roosts now and then when I’ve been out hunting lost kids. If I’m really lucky, I spot a hen turkey escorting her poults in a pasture. Over the summer and fall the tom turkeys gather in loose groups to eat grass seeds.

tom turkeys are calling
Wild tom turkey are big, but low key until they start displaying. They erect their feathers and fan their tails and wings making themselves look two or three times larger than normal. The dark feathers hanging down are the tom turkey’s beard.

Walking out to milk shortly after dawn I hear them. Tom turkeys are calling from the hill beside the house, the hill hanging over the creek, another hill over the hill pasture and the hill over the south pasture.

In past years the tom turkeys would strut and display in the hill pasture. Lately they don’t leave the safety of the trees.

By midmorning the hills are quiet now. The tom turkeys are resting up for their next big effort to attract those hens not yet sitting on clutches of eggs.

tom turkey out in pasture
After a tough morning calling hens, this tom turkey is out eating insects and grass seed.

Food is an important part of this routine. The insects are busy in the grass. The grass is starting to put up seed heads.

One of the tom turkeys, probably the one from the hill overhanging the creek, was out eating in the hill pasture. He was wary. Wild turkeys have excellent eyesight.

Anyone curious about wild turkeys, and don’t confuse them with the domestic varieties, might read the book “Illuminations In the Flatwoods” or watch the movie. It’s about a man who raises a clutch of wild turkey poults to adulthood as though he were a wild turkey hen.

tom turkey spots camera
This tom turkey is over half way up the hill pasture, across the creek bed and some pasture before the tractor gate (about 200 yards) where I am standing using 50 zoom to take some pictures. He still sees me. He wasn’t too worried, but did start wandering over into the woods on the hill.

I find raising my goats and chickens challenging and would never tackle raising a wild flock. I’m glad he had the time and dedication to do so and the information about the turkeys made me respect them greatly.

For my part I will enjoy the times when the tom turkeys are calling in the spring and watch for them the rest of the year.

Read about more Ozark wildlife in “Exploring the Ozark Hills

Rose Breasted Grosbeaks

We keep a calendar with large writing spaces up on the wall to record the daily temperatures – low and high – and anything special that happens. Spring bird arrivals are that. The rose breasted grosbeaks were a day earlier than last year and the hummingbirds were a five days late.

female hummingbird on feeder
A favorite bird to feed is the Ruby Throat Hummingbird. Our first birds arrive in April. We put out quart sized feeders filled with sugar water from then until the last of them fly south in late October.

Over the years we’ve had a number of new birds move in and a few disappear. There is still a single whip-o-will that returns every April instead of the many who called all around us when we moved here. Mourning doves and blue jays are among the new ones.

Since the bird feeder is up year round and has been for almost thirty years, migrating birds seem to know about it. Last year a rusty blackbird stopped by one day. It is much larger than the other blackbirds and cowbirds who stay in the area. It was back again this year.

Indigo Bunting male on bird feeder
One of the summer visitors in the Ozarks is the Indigo Bunting. This seed eating bird likes open fields with lots of insects. They have moved into my area in the last few years and found the bird feeder to their liking. They enjoy the sunflower seeds and the suet cakes.

The red wing blackbirds live next door over the summer because of the cold water fen and cattails. One has discovered the feeder and comes by to snack.

Baltimore orioles stopped by one year to enjoy the hummingbird feeders. Cedar waxwings visit the various red cedars for a day or two.

A few years ago a single grosbeak stopped a day or two and flew on. he came back the next year. This year there are four males with several females stopping over for several days.

The mourning doves and blue jays began similarly. Then a few pairs stayed over the summer. The doves stay most of the year now.

Rose Breasted Grosbeaks on bird feeder
Rose Breasted Grosbeaks are large birds easily recognized. The males are black with a gray breast with a rose colored spot. Females are colored a lot like sparrows. Both have large beaks for crunching seeds. They show up for a few days on our feeder eating sunflower seeds and resting up before flying further north.

We are hoping the rose breasted grosbeaks will move in too. They are lovely birds and would be welcome additions to the cardinals, mourning doves, blue jays, titmice, Downey and red bellied woodpeckers and others we enjoy seeing daily.

If not, we will enjoy their visits each spring and fall.

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

Downey Woodpecker Hole

With acres of woods on our property, we burn wood for winter heat. Mostly we cut newly dead or blown over trees. One of them had a woodpecker hole in it.

There are several kinds of woodpeckers living around the property. We regularly see Downey and Red Bellied woodpeckers at the suet cake on the bird feeder. An occasional Hairy woodpecker drops by.

woodpecker hole entrance
Spotting a small hole like this is really hard when it is thirty feet up in a tree. The hole is neatly chiseled out and big enough for a Downey woodpecker to disappear into quickly. The woodpecker hole piece has a new bottom and is again up in a tree in case anyone wants to move in.

Pileated woodpeckers stay back on the hills. We mostly hear them calling, but see them flying across the pastures now and then.

Red Headed woodpeckers nested here several years ago. At least one is still in the area. They seem to like going up and down the creek banks.

Woodpeckers drill holes into trees and build their nests down in the holes. I spotted one pileated woodpecker hole many years ago when one of them swooped over and disappeared into it.

woodpecker hole tunnel
Light shines into the entrance hole. Any woodpecker sitting in the bottom of the hole would be in the dark. The walls of the tunnel are rough to the touch, but smoothly chiseled out. Creating the hole was a lot of work for a small bird like a Downey woodpecker.

This year we’ve been clearing out dead trees along the creek. They fall over, break up and tear out the banks and bridge when high water carries them down to the river.

This old sycamore was still standing and solid. The wood burns hot and fast making it good for starting a fire early in the morning to take the chill out of the house.

When cutting it up, we found a round hole about an inch and a half across up near the top. At that point the trunk was only about six inches in diameter.

bottom of woodpecker hole
The base of the woodpecker hole may be wider than the tunnel down to it, but it isn’t very big. A Downey woodpecker would have room in this 4 inches wide spot.

The hole led into an eighteen inch vertical tunnel down into the trunk. It was a bit less than three inches across and widened a little at the base. The size indicates this woodpecker hole was for a Downey woodpecker. None of the others would have room to turn around.

A lot of work went into chipping out this hole. It hadn’t been used for a nest which we are glad of. Perhaps it wasn’t up to standards and was abandoned in favor of some other hole in another tree.

Finding a woodpecker hole is a reminder that not all dead trees should be cut down. Some of them may have residents inside.

Read about other Ozark birds in “Exploring 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.