Tag Archives: hiking

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“.

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“.

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.

Walking My Ozark Hills

Walking my Ozark hills has been a real joy for many years now. They provide inspiration for some of my posts, comfort when things go awry, relaxation on lazy afternoons.

Watching the goats out in the pasture the other day reminded me of some people who wanted to buy some goats one year. I warn people to set up a day when they will come by so I can keep the goats in.

walking my Ozark hills can be challenging
This Ozark hill is very steep. All those leaves hide gravel, holes, fallen branches and other hazards. Only an emergency will get me to go straight up this hill.

These people were expected in the morning. Instead a vehicle pulls up the afternoon before. They were out driving and thought they would drop by to see the goats.

using a goat and deer path for walking my Ozark hills
Goat paths are often easy to follow. They angle along most of the way up then fan out leaving me scrambling the last third of the way. One hazard of following a goat path is being taller than they are. There are times I must detour around fallen trees they walk under or over.

I knew where the goats were. They were on top of the hill. Walking my Ozark hills had long since taught me to respect them. I warned these people about how steep they were. They insisted they were in shape and would enjoy a little hiking.

hillside gravel
Loose gravel is an accident waiting to happen. My Ozark hill is covered with the stuff. It shifts underfoot. It slides down taking my foot with it. Hill climbing shoes must have good tread.

We set off across the bridge and out along the side of the hill. I knew from previous times the far end was an easier way up. They kept pace until we started up the hill.

This hill is steep, stair steep without the stairs. It is covered with loose gravel that rolls under foot. It is a steady climb of a couple hundred feet or more.

lichen and moss on rock
Larger rocks are covered with folious lichen and moss. This is interesting to look at. It is dangerous to assume such rocks are securely embedded in the hill. The bigger ones are. The smaller ones often aren’t.

We got to the top of the hill. The goats looked us over and decided to move over to the next hill. A cascade went past down the hill and up the next hill.

The people watched the goats go by. I asked if they wanted to follow the herd. They declined. They would be back in the morning as previously arranged. I heard panting as we went down the hill.

looking at the creek walking my Ozark hills
Steep as the hill is going up, don’t look down. The creek flows along much of this particular hill. The path can run on the edge of the slope down. There are places where one slip on the gravel will land me in the creek. So far I’ve only slid down five or six feet before stopping. It does get scary at times.

Walking my Ozark hills never seemed that bad to me, at least not going up. I tend to follow the goat trails and set a steady pace. It’s good aerobic exercise.

The hard part is coming back down. Some parts are done tree to tree or sitting down and sliding. Who needs a roller coaster when I have my hills?

Enjoy my Ozark hills in My Ozark Home.

Invasive Plants Everywhere

It’s strange how I forget to take some pictures for so many plants. My quest to fill in these blanks took me back to ShawneeMac Lakes where I also found several invasive plants.

What is an invasive plant? It’s a plant usually from some other country that is now spreading through native habitats.

How do these invasive plants get here? Some arrive by accident. Colonists brought over crop seed to plant and the invasive plants were mixed in. These are such plants as the plantains, shepherd’s purse, corn speedwell and many other common weeds.

invasive plants include Oriental bittersweet

The native bittersweet and the Oriental bittersweet are very similar in appearance and seeds. The Oriental is very aggressive and can kill the trees it climbs. I’m not sure which this is and will check the flowers this spring.

Another way such plants arrive is by invitation. Some are herbs or edible and are brought over as crops. Some are pretty and gardeners bring them over to decorate their gardens.

Once growing, plants flower and produce seeds. The seeds scatter growing into new plants. Consider the dandelion and how many seeds one plant produces.

Walking around the trail at ShawneeMac I was not concerned with invasive plants. I had a list of plants I needed winter bud pictures for. Even though I knew about where to find these plants, I’m always on the lookout for new ones.

invasive plants include Japanese honeysuckle

Japanese honeysuckle flowers have a wonderful scent that hangs in the air around the vines. It blooms for months. It covers fences, other plants and buildings.

Japanese honeysuckle is an invasive plant. It can be a terrible problem piling up over native plants, smothering them under thick vines and leaves that stay green through the winter. There is a lot of this at ShawneeMac Lakes.

The little vine climbing up the side of a tree was a bit similar with opposite green leaves. It wasn’t Japanese honeysuckle. Those leaves have smooth edges. These had teeth. The winter bud is different too. I took pictures to look it up later.

invasive plants include wintergreen vines

Gardeners like wintergreen as a ground cover in shady areas. It spreads into wild areas and climbs trees and shrubs burying them under foliage.

The American holly plants are pretty this time of year. The hawthorn had nice buds on it. One of the hazelnuts still had a few nuts on it.

When I first saw this plant, I noticed the red seeds with wings over them. There are a number of plants with such seeds including the wahoo tree. But this wasn’t that plant. I took some pictures of bark, bud, twig and seed to look up later.

invasive plants include burning bush

Burning bush is easily recognized by the wings on its twigs. It makes a nice hedge when trimmed. In wild areas it spreads by seed crowding out native shrubs.

I knew about the bittersweet vines. There are two similar ones. One is a native plant. The other is an invasive Oriental vine. I tend to think the ones at ShawneeMac lakes are the invasive one, but won’t be sure until spring when the vines flower.

Once home I took out “Shrubs and Woody Vines” from the Missouri Department of Conservation. That vine seems to be wintergreen, as invasive species. The bush is burning bush, also an invasive plant.

Invasive plants grow wherever they can find a place. More than these few find a place at ShawneeMac Lakes.

Going Mushroom Hunting

Wild mushrooms showed up at the Farmers Market last weekend. The three plus inch rain has brought up all the summer varieties. I decided to go mushroom hunting.

There are lots of edible mushrooms in the Ozarks. There are lots of poisonous ones too. The only summer mushrooms I know for sure are puffballs and chanterelles.

A man brought in a box with several mushrooms I’d never seen before. One was a rich blue inside and out. Another was white and shaggy. I knew it from a picture as a lion’s mane. Others were coral mushrooms which are a bit iffy as edible for some people.

Mushroom hunting is not usually productive for me. It is mostly an excuse to go out walking. Still, I packed a couple of bags just in case. And I remembered to spray up as the seed ticks are out in force.

There is a loop across the base of the hill above the south pasture, up a deep ravine, across the top of the hill and down into the big ravine leading back to the south pasture and the house. It’s not a bad hike, steep in places.

There were lots of mushrooms scattered through the woods. They came in many sizes and colors. I took some pictures, but picked none.

The goats were somewhere up the hill. I heard a snort now and then. I found an area with scraped off spots where the herd had rested. The goats were no where to be seen.

The reasons for the goats being on the hill were scattered around. No, they were not mushroom hunting. They were acorn hunting. Acorns do not make goats sick and they love them.

My mushroom hunting yielded some pictures, no mushrooms for dinner and a few hundred seed ticks. The goats did much better, coming in full of acorns.

Hiking ShawneeMac Lakes Conservation Area

Much as I enjoy hiking my own Ozark hills, Missouri has many lovely places to enjoy. ShawneeMac Lakes Conservation Area is one.

This area once belonged to a family named Ziske. They put up two earthen dams creating two fishing lakes. Old timers still call them Ziske Lakes.

upper lake at ShawneeMac Lakes Conservation Area

The upper lake at ShawneeMac Lakes Conservation Area stretches back into the woods where several streams feed the lakes.

Now the lakes are a Missouri conservation area. Fisherman come to fish from the banks or drift along in boats. Only electric motors are allowed.

I find many plants along the lake shores such as flax, swamp milkweed, common alder and Meadow Beauty. Water shield grows in the upper lake. Ducks and geese come by for a time, then move on.

lower lake at ShawneeMac Lakes Conservation Area

Looking across the lower lake at ShawneeMac Lakes Conservation Area from the trail, a bench and boat ramp access are visible on the far shore.

The lake shores are mowed. Picnic tables and benches are scattered around. A floating gazebo is a popular place for larger groups. ShawneeMac Lakes Conservation Area is only open during the day.

A nature trail goes around the lakes. Tall shortleaf pines shade the trail. It is a yard wide and graveled. It winds along the edge of the both lakes.

ShawneeMac Lakes Conservation Area trail

Sturdy wooden bridges span the streams and end of the lake as part of the trail going around the lakes. The trail is shaded all the way around.

Wooden bridges span incoming creeks. Monkey flowers bloom below some. Gayflower blooms near the lake. False Solomon Seal, American holly, Carolina buckthorn and more grow along the trail.

When time or energy is limited, a trail branches off crossing the first dam. It goes back to the second parking area near the gazebo.

The main trail continues on. A branch loop takes off onto higher ground. The trees are mostly hickories and oaks – white, black, post and blackjack.

picnic area at ShawneeMac Lakes Conservation Area

Two picnic areas with tables and grills overlook the upper lake at ShawneeMac Lakes Conservation Area. When no one is around, the view is relaxing with the breeze sifting through the shortleaf pines and calls from the ducks and geese that visit the lakes.

The loop comes back into the main trail just before it crosses the second dam. The lake side is covered with large rocks. Alder, hop tree, swamp milkweed, bittersweet and bent pod milkweed hide the rocks.

The other side is a long, dirt slope. Asters, grasses, common and butterfly weed milkweeds and sunflowers cover the slope.

ducks at ShawneeMac Lakes Conservation Area

A new flock of ducks on the lakes at ShawneeMac are real moochers. They swim ove to check out any visitor in hopes of tidbits tossed their ways.

The trail climbs a hill to an archery range and back down to the lake shore. This side of the lake shore is thick with multiflora and pasture rose bushes. Passion vine drapes itself over the bushes.

After two and a half miles, the trail climbs up a hill past a field of common milkweed and a second field scattered with rattlesnake master. It comes back to the second parking area.

Hiking the trail at ShawneeMac Lakes Conservation Area is relaxing. The trail is often empty of people leaving the forest fairly quiet even though people live close around the area. Missouri is lucky to have so many wonderful conservation areas.

Ozark Winter Hiking

It snowed. There’s only an inch of the white stuff. And it’s January, not February. Still, I need to see what my ravine setting is like in the snow. Winter hiking is the plan.

The problems with winter hiking are the cold and wet. Both are very discouraging to me. A warm stove and a good book are so inviting.

Enough of that. I have to go out exploring before the Arctic front moves in. Both cold and wet can be dealt with.

winter hiking trail

The tractor road weaves between the trees. All is covered with snow giving the trail a lonely, bare look. It has a stark beauty as I hike into the ravine.

Clothing layers are a first line of defense. Long johns. Flannel shirt and jeans. Vest. Hoodie. Snow suit.

I see people walking in the cold without hats on. A tremendous amount of body heat is lost through your head. Hats are a must for winter hiking.

Cold feet are sure defeat. When feet get cold, they start hurting. The cold spreads up the ankles to the legs. The toes are ice cubes.

Snow calls for pack boots. Plus wool socks.

Carduan rocks

The landing rock ledge for The Carduan Chronicles stands hard and cold under a layer of white fluff. Apt as the crew is presently watching their first snow storm.

Next are the gloves. My hands are small so gloves are difficult to find. Those sized for women’s hands aren’t made for rugged use. Men’s sizes are too large. A double layer of jersey gloves works, if the air isn’t too cold.

Gloves have another aspect for me. I take a camera with me and intend to take pictures. Gloves are clumsy. Jersey gloves are easy to take off and put back on.

Digital cameras are another problem for winter hiking. They do not like being cold. If the temperature drops into the teens, the camera moves inside the snow suit.

Finally I am suited up. It only took fifteen minutes. I am stiff. The pack boots are heavy and clumsy.

I open the door and set off. The going is slow. Through the gate, across the bridge and out to the pastures.

winter hiking trees

Winter trees are dark, bare skeletons of branches. A dressing of snow resting on the branches adds contrast and eases the starkness.

Snow blankets the ground. Snow highlights tree limbs. Most creatures are tucked away trying to keep warm so the world is quiet.

A pileated woodpecker hammers on a tree. A large hawk swooshes by overhead. A barred owl flees from under a rock ledge.

The air is crisp. Bits of snow drop to the ground. I walk through a winter landscape straight from a picture on a card.

Winter hiking takes lots of preparation. It’s worth it.

Stickers Attack Fall Hikers

Fall is closing in here in the Ozarks. The leaves are starting to change. Stickers are everywhere.

Dogwoods, Virginia creeper, sumac and poison ivy are among the first plants to change. Reds predominate although the dogwoods are more purple.

Elephant’s Foot, Spanish needle and ragweeds have finished blooming. Now they are covered with seeds all needing to hitch a ride to somewhere else to grow next year.

These seeds aren’t like the beggar lice and ticks with their short hairs that stick and tangle in fur and hair. They aren’t like burdock covered with tiny hooks that catch passing pants legs.

These seeds are stickers. They have long points that stab into fur, socks and pants. Once stuck in, they stay in.

Seed stickers have similar shapes

Sticker seeds are usually long, thin and sharp at the ends. The point sticks into fur or fabric. The short hairs or flared tip hold on pulling the seed loose to be carried off.

Little by little these seeds work their way through the fur or socks until they stab flesh. This can be painful as the seeds have sharp points.

Once the points start poking into an ankle, the nearest stump or large rock becomes a welcome refuge to sit on. The offending stickers are invariably down below the edge of the shoe requiring removal of the shoe.

A quick scrape of the sock is not sufficient. Complete removal of the stickers takes care or a point will break off and be left behind. It will make its presence known as soon as the shoe is put back on.

After removing these sources of stabbing pains, the shoe is pulled on again. The walk continues until the next round works its way in.

Ozark mushroom

Gilled mushrooms are difficult to identify but easy to admire. The gold top and patterns on the stalk make this one pretty.

Is such a walk enjoyable? Certainly the stabbing is not. But the forced sitting gives time to look around, listen to the leaves and breeze interact, relax in the quiet of the woods.

Most flowers are done blooming leaving the woods looking blank. The green still spreading across the forest floor is changing to yellow green.

Now and then a surprise is there to stop the walker for a spell. Mushrooms are out. Corals, gilled, jelly, shelf mushrooms poke up through the leaf litter, coat fallen and upright dead trees.

pinesap flower stalks

These pinesap flowers have finished blooming and are setting seed. Pinesap is a saprophyte living underground on wooded Ozark hills sending up flowers in the fall.

Another treat is spotting Indian Pipe or Pinesap. The stickers are a nuisance but worth the annoyance for a walk in the fall woods.