Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Searching for Snow Trillium

Snow Trillium - Linda Williams

Wake Robin
As we emerge from the winter doldrums, I asked Linda Williams who transferred to our chapter from Osage Trails Chapter last fall to write on her experience in documenting an uncommon snow trillium, aka. white wake robin,
Trillium nivale. Even I can tell the difference from our common wake robin, Trillium sessile, seen on the right.


Snow Trillium - by Linda Williams

The end of March and the welcomed appearance of beloved spring ephemerals brings up some recent memories for me of helping to survey the rare-for-Missouri snow trillium, Trillium nivale.

On March 27, 2021 my good friend Susan Farrington, the MDC Natural History Biologist for the Ozark Region, asked me to accompany her to survey these special trilliums on some private property on the Jacks Fork River in Texas County. What a magnificent north-facing hillside on a bend in the river! The land partially borders the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The owner is conservation-minded and proud of the rarity.

The location for the snow trillium here was in the MO Natural Heritage Program Database but the entry had not been updated since 1954 when several hundred plants were counted. When we arrived at the gravel bar on the opposite side, I used my spotting scope and could tell we were going to find plenty of plants. I was able to start counting them with my scope and photographing them with my 500mm lens while Susan launched her kayak to go to the other side and get a closer look. She didn’t go very far above the water since the hillside was so steep and it would have been a cold swim! We could tell the population included at least as many numbers as almost seven decades ago.

                                                     Hepatica nobilis blooms in early spring - Linda Williams

Trillium nivale is generally thought of as a northern plant species. In MO it’s a glacial relict which means it’s a species adapted to colder climates, and it remained in select areas after the glaciers receded and the ice age ended. The glaciers 10,000 years ago did not extend as far south as the Lower Ozarks but the proximity of them still cooled areas in southern Missouri. Large cool, moist, north-facing bluffs are excellent places to find these types of plants. Snow trillium’s rank* in MO is listed as S3 and globally G4.

Snow trillium on a steep north-facing bluff

On March 24, 2022 I was invited again to help survey a newly discovered area with snow trillium on a north-facing bluff in Shannon County above the Current River on Pioneer Forest land. About a dozen folks from MDC, The Nature Conservancy, National Park Service, and L-A-D Foundation took part in combing the steep hillside for plants. We spent several hours counting blooming (425) and non-blooming plants (626) and could have gone a few more hours! During recent years more groups have found more sites in similar habitats racking up similar numbers.


Editors note

 * "Snow trillium’s rank* in MO is listed as S3 and globally G4."

This refers to the Missouri Species and Communities of Conservation Concern Checklist found at this link.

  • S3 is Vulnerable in the state due to a restricted range, relatively few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread declines, or other factors making it vulnerable to extirpation.
  • G4 is Apparently Secure: Uncommon but not rare; some cause for long-term concern due to declines or other factors.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Peeper Season

Find the peeper - click to enlarge - answer below   

Driving by our pond we stopped to hear the first spring peepers.  Barb could hear them faintly but I couldn't.  Later way out in the field we found the source in a water filled tire rut.  As I approached it they were almost deafening as heard here.  As I bent down to find one they all stopped singing.

The species is one of the first anurans to begin breeding after winter hibernation. The breeding period lasts from March - June, when 800 - 1000 eggs per female are laid in shallow ponds. The eggs hatch within 6 to 12 days, and tadpoles transform to adults during July (range 45 - 90 days)
"The species is one of the first anurans to begin breeding after winter hibernation. The breeding period lasts from March - June, when 800 - 1000 eggs per female are laid in shallow ponds. The eggs hatch within 6 to 12 days, and tadpoles transform to adults during July (range 45 - 90 days)." Animal Diversity Web
The species is one of the first anurans to begin breeding after winter hibernation. The breeding period lasts from March - June, when 800 - 1000 eggs per female are laid in shallow ponds. The eggs hatch within 6 to 12 days, and tadpoles transform to adults during July (range 45 - 90 days).
The species is one of the first anurans to begin breeding after winter hibernation. The breeding period lasts from March - June, when 800 - 1000 eggs per female are laid in shallow ponds. The eggs hatch within 6 to 12 days, and tadpoles transform to adults during July (range 45 - 90 days).
Most of these eggs won't survive to produce adult peepers or we would likely be deafened by the songs.  Frog eggs and tadpoles are at the bottom of the aquatic food chain, eaten by any denizen of the shallows that can get its mouth around them.  Our Master Naturalist Linda Bower* captured one of those attempts in this video of a dragonfly nymph attacking a peeper egg just before it could hatch.

Dragonfly nymph attacking peeper egg with tadpole inside - LB

This time of year is when male spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) audition for their ladies.  They have emerged from hibernation and the three year olds are now ready for mating.  (Over 21? See the x-rated details here.)

 "The spring peeper produces glucose, or sugar, and "freezes" itself for the winter. In winter, peepers' bodies freeze--but their cells don't rupture because of the concentrated sugars in them. These sugars act as a kind of natural anti-freeze.
Like many of the chorus frogs, the spring peeper is often heard, but not seen. It gets its name from its call, which consists of a single clear note or peep, occurring once a second. Only the males sing, calling from shrubs and trees standing in or overhanging water.
The faster and louder a male sings, the more likely he is to attract a mate. A male peeper may also give a lower-pitched trilled whistle, usually when another male has moved too close to its calling site. During the daytime, peepers often call during light rains or in cloudy weather."  Maryland DNR

X marks the frog - REK

Peepers are hard see, let alone to photograph, as they are watching for anything moving above them.  At less than 1.5" almost everything is higher.  They have great camouflage, with a faint "X" on the back as their distinguishing mark, the reason for the name P. crucifer (crucifer = “cross-bearer”).  Because of the cacophonous chorus, it is hard to localize an individual frog.

A few years ago I chose a pond with a six foot high dam so I could approach the water from below unseen.  The chorus was in full voice by 4:45pm while the low lying sun was still reaching the pond surface.  I crawled up the side on my belly like my Uncle Sam taught me, discovering in the process that my belly wasn't the same one I had used in 1967.

I reached the top and peered over and saw....nothing!  There was the water, dead leaves and floating sticks with even a few mushrooms, but no frogs.  The cacophony continued unabated, scattered voices from all around the pond edges.  Finally I made out a tiny bump that seemed to vibrate on a log to my left. 

Crawling six feet to the left and then peeking over the edge I was face to face with a singing peeper.  He watched me closely as I ever so slowly brought out my pocket camera.  I waited several minutes with my arms outstretched until he again joined the chorus.  The next 10 minutes I continued to film it, pausing when it became suspicious and stopped singing.  Mission accomplished with this video!

A final confession.  I broke the rule of "Take nothing but pictures leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time."  When I got home I discovered I had taken a number of ticks from the pond dam. You can guess the killing part.

Tadpole emerges left upper, intact egg with tadpole to the right - Linda Bower

Our Linda Bower produced this incredible video of spring peeper tadpoles emerging from their eggs, the end product of a mighty spring peeper choir.  You can find this and more on her Nature in Motion Youtube Channel.


Did you find the Peeper?   Here it is.

Click to enlarge

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Cedar Pollen

Male cedar cones - Drew Albert

"In the Spring, a young man's fancy, lightly turns to thoughts of Love SNEEZING!" (with apologies to Tennyson.)

This is the time of year when male eastern red cedars (Juniperus virginiana) release their clouds of love in the form of pollen which you can see in this video.  In Texas, this is referred to as "cedar fever" which is discussed in this Texas A&M link.  Their onset occurs earlier in Texas due to their warmer climate.  Our Master Naturalist Drew Albert suggests that "After a dry, warm February day yesterday with mid-70s and afternoon humidity dropping below 20% this isn't uncommon after colder weather." The video above was shot on March 12, 2020 which supports the weather theory.

Cedar pollen is distributed by the wind and doesn't seem to care if it lands on a receptive female cone or a human nostril.  When it hits our noses, the reaction is rapid and can produce symptoms over several days.  Not everyone is affected every time.  When I demonstrated in the video the pollen clouds drifting downwind of the WOLF students, I had no reaction in spite of my usual seasonal allergies.

They have been accused of worse.  "Among the many things old-time Ozarkers used to believe brought bad luck was the transplanting of cedar trees. Folklore collector Vance Randolph described several examples of people refusing to move cedar trees because they thought it would bring an early death to them or someone in their family. It was also considered "very bad luck" to bring cedar boughs into the home — except during Christmas, and then, they had to be removed completely before 12 a.m. on January 6 (Epiphany)."  MDC Discover Nature

Our red cedars are native but aggressive growers, early colonizers of bare ground. After the cedar cone on the female tree is pollinated it turns a waxy blue and contains one to three seeds.  The seed cones fall from the trees and are also dispersed by many birds.  Cedars are especially sensitive to fire and the end of burning the glades in the past has turned our historic "balds" into hirsute hilltops.  Some "wind breaks" along fence lines are actually cedars, planted by perching birds, that escaped the blades of a mower.  Abandoned fields and glades now are covered with cedars, creating the expense of clearing them to the landowner.  

Glade restoration - 2000

There is a market for cedar, but a large number of mature trees are needed to make the harvest worthwhile.  When we cut our first glade restoration around 2000, loggers were happy to cut and haul large cedar logs for free.  Our second glade restoration had smaller timber and we had to pay for extra help.  

There was a time around 1908 when the pencil industry developed an appetite for cedar as told in a News-Leader article.

"Ozarkers had other uses for their timber, though. In 1908 the American Pencil Company of New York built a pencil factory in Branson. The pencils were made from cedar logs. Cedar was another locally abundant tree. Thousands of cedar logs were cut into rectangular slats measuring 3" x 3" x 8". The slats were then shipped across the country to factories to be made into pencils. Eventually, the supply of cedar trees was exhausted and the American Pencil Company Factory was moved to California."    ProjectTaney.org

Juniper Hairstreak
So is the spread of cedars good or bad?  As we tell our 5th grade WOLF students, the answer to that question is usually "it depends" and even mosquitoes have a place in the food chain.  In this case, cedar cones (often called berries) are nutritious and feed robins, cedar waxwings, and a wide variety of other birds feasting on their dense carbohydrate and fat load.  Many insects also feed on them including caterpillars of our favorite Juniper Hairstreak.  Meanwhile the branches and evergreen leaves provide shelter for a variety of birds as well as nesting sites for Cooper's Hawks, Blue Jays, Northern Mockingbirds, as well as many other smaller species.

Red cedar spittlebug - REK
Cedars also host other species such as cedar apple rust galls, and cute tiny red cedar spittlebugs.  Perhaps the strangest example is an invasive Callery pear that we have growing out of the trunk of a neighbor's cedar shown in this prior blog.

Another strange thing I have photographed in a cedar tree is this one below, found inside a living but hollowed out cedar on our neighbor's land.  I have tentatively identified it as a new invasive species, Barbaria kipferiae.*

Newly reported "invasive species"
*Special thanks to our editor for her skills with words and as a model.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Lichen or Not?

By Mark Bower
Recently, while walking behind Bob and Barbara Kipfer’s Bull Creek abode, I (almost literally) stumbled across a log which was partially covered by what looked like green slime with little fungi growing from it:
Interestingly, the fungi were only located on the green areas. It turns out that these little white fungi are Multiclavula mucida, with the unwieldy common name White Green-Algae Coral Mushroom. It has an obligate association with a green algae of the Coccomyxa genus. The algae are encapsulated by the fungal hyphae. While the algae aren’t incorporated into the body of the fungus, the association is not unlike that of more typical lichens. For that matter, this fungus-photobiont relationship is very similar in function to the mycorrhizal relationship between plants and fungi. So is this a lichen? Functionally, it is. Structurally, it is not.
A lichen represents an association of a mycobiont (fungus) and a photobiont (algae and/or cyanobacteria). In combination, these organisms form a unique structure. Separately, they usually are incapable of surviving. 
Typically, the fungal component of a lichen will incorporate one or more photobionts into its body. The photobiont provides photosynthetic products along with some vitamins to the fungus. In return, the algae receive a moist, protected place to live.

Cross section of a layer of algae just under the surface (cortex) of the fungus.

Editors note:

In most relationships including lichens, there is a fine line between a parasitic and symbiotic relationship. 

Symbiosis is defined as an "interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both."  As described above, the fungus provides the structure (home?) where the algae lives, paying the fungus "rent" in the form of photosynthetic energy.

In our home, the kitchen provides the energy for maintenance of the home.  While the balance varies from day to day, the photobiont is in the kitchen for several hours while the mycobiont is in the family room writing this blog.  She will soon be in here editing my writing.  Am I a parasite?  Don't answer that!


Wanting more information on lichens?  Here is a good place to start from the US Forest Service.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Lightning Strikes an Oak

Our friend Judy Freeman told us about a lightning strike that destroyed a large red oak on the land she and her husband Steve own near Seymour.  I contacted our new friend Dr. James Guldin* (a forest ecologist) and we drove out to see it. It was even more impressive than Judy had described.  Before going further, review Jim's report on the site at this link.

It was roughly estimated to be 34 inches in diameter.  Any estimation would make it well over 120 years old.  Standing by the cemetery and the site of historic New Grove School, since then rebuilt, I can only imagine all the stories it could tell.

The tree literally exploded, spreading debris in all directions, covering approximately 8 acres.  The section of the base of the trunk above was blown 70 feet from the base.  You can see the charred area in the root junction.

Click to enlarge

The other most impressive debris was this piece impaled 16" into the ground, 345 feet from the tree site!  The angle gives some idea of its direction and altitude.  The dark area was underground.

Judy and Jim








This led me into a deep dive into lightning effects on a tree, and the results were truly shocking!  (Sorry)  First take a look at my video compilation of some strikes available on the web.

A lightning strike can carry 100 million volts and reach 5 miles long.  It can produce instantaneous temperatures in excess of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  The science behind the various types of lightning and its effects is complex and beyond the limits of this blog (and its blogger).  This Wikipedia link summarizes a lot of the lightning science

The effect lightning has on a tree has a lot to do with the conditions. If the bark is wet from rain, the strike may travel over the bark, not producing visible damage. In the first example in the video above the current passed down through the xylem and phloem, the vascular system under the bark.  Since the sap is a poor conductor, it rapidly boils, producing the explosion of bark.  I suspect that in Judy's case, the tree had moisture in the trunk. This would allow the instantly boiling liquids to expand dramatically, exploding the tree.

My parents told me 70+ years ago to never stand under or around a tree in a thunderstorm but apparently this isn't common knowledge.  Lightning spreading through the soil around the tree base can pass through the a person's legs, up one and down the other causing collapse or worse.  If you are preparing to be struck by lightning, hold your legs together  Who knew!  This dramatic video demonstrates what happens if you violate these rules.

Finally, if you haven't seen enough, here is video of dramatic strikes captured by a lightning aficionado.   Lightning struck a tree on the ridge above Bull Creek last fall which you can see here.

*Dr. James Guldin is retired as Research Forest Ecologist and Center Director with the Southern Research Station of the US Forest Service. He had a 38-year career in Arkansas, first in academia with the Monticello Forestry School at the University of Arkansas (10 years) and then with US Forest Service.  Jim now lives in Springfield, and is becoming active in the forestry and conservation communities in SW Missouri.

Thanks to Judy Freeman for sharing this amazing story with us.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

 A Bird Eat Bird World


Becky Swearingen

In our last blog we discussed the virtues of native plants in an urban yard which attract a large variety of birds during winter. This apparently came to the notice of a Cooper's hawk that appeared soon after the blog was published. Here is where it flew off to a neighbor's tree above our yard to keep an eye on the feeders.

This hawk isn't here for the veggies. As a strict carnivore, it is looking for meat with feathers. Although they are commonly thought of as a bird specialist, they will also feast on rodents and other small mammals. Many other birds of prey dispatch their prey with their beaks. For example falcons tend to kill their prey by biting it. This hawk has a different method.  A Cooper's hawk captures a bird with its feet, holding it in front of its body and kills it by repeated squeezing.  They’ve even been known to drown their prey, holding a bird underwater until it stopped moving.

Jen Goellnitz CC-Becky  

This video discusses their feeding techniques and the dangers faced when flying in among branches of trees. "In a study of more than 300 Cooper’s hawk skeletons, 23 percent showed old, healed-over fractures in the bones of the chest, especially of the furcula, or wishbone." Cornell Lab's All About Birds

Initially Cooper's were birds in the wild but like we humans, they have become urbanized, likely giving up rural life for good hunting. In our open back yard, birds can see for a hundred feet in all directions so a hawk has clear sailing but a challenge to sneak up on a bird. They would be welcome to a few of the 30-40 starlings that descend on our feeders frequently, but they tend to flush in a confusing mass that even startles our guard dog Duke when I send him out after them.

You can watch a Cooper's in action at feeders in a closed yard at this Youtube link.
Cornell Lab's All About Birds has a lot more details on the subject. Thanks also to Lisa Berger and Becky Swearingen.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Winter for the Birds

Hermit Thrush

Looking out on our backyard I could watch robins, cardinals, bluejays, wrens, doves, house finches and sparrows taking turns at the heated birdbath. Barb has created an island of 100 native plant species in a neighborhood sea of sterile mowed yards. While the plants are barren except dried seed heads which the finches feast on, they still provide a degree of shelter while waiting their turn at the feeder

As we tell the WOLF students, "Everything has to survive winter.....or else..." Whether by hibernation, migration or adaptation, every living thing has to survive winter or go extinct.  Our migrants have already left for their southern vacation and the only bird that hibernates is the Common Poorwill which doesn't live in Missouri. That leaves the hearty adapters that we see around our feeders.

Although several sources say the Poorwill hibernates, it actually goes into torpor.  Three things differentiate hibernation from torpor. Hibernation is voluntary, is driven by shorter daylight hours, and waking up can take hours and use a lot of energy. Torpor is involuntary, and results from falling temperatures (regardless of daylight hours), and the animal wakes rapidly by shivering, which expends energy, but conserves a lot more than hibernators use.

There are things that we advanced bipeds can do to increase their odds, improving their quality of life and benefiting from watching them in winter. You can keep water sources open, provide higher energy feeds (suet, black oil sunflower, shelled peanuts, etc.), and maybe leave a little extra on the ground for squirrels if using squirrel “proof” feeders.

Photo - Steve Martin

Teeth marks- click to enlarge









Down on Bull Creek it is time to hang up the feeders again. A bear on our deck reminded us this year that we hung up our feeders a little too early. It tore down a feeder hanging on a wire five feet above the deck, leaving its tooth prints as dents in the hard plastic. Now that Bruno is hibernating, or at least doing the intermittent Missouri version, it is time to hang them out again.

On our deck above the creek a lot of other critters don't understand the "bird" part of bird feeder. We have a special squirrel feeder with a spring bar that closes the feeder when any weight is on it. The squirrels have learned to put a paw in first to keep it open while they gorge. For a while we had a battery operated feeder that was supposed to give a little shock to a squirrel. I took it down before these smart little rodents could run a wire out to an nearby drey for lighting.



My favorite visitor was this opossum.  I was able to walk out on the deck and get within two feet of it for closeup photos before it turned around and got back to business licking the suet feeder.

Bill Bryson says: "Life just wants to be."  Lets help it all the way up and down the food chain.