Friday, December 30, 2011

Mining Fracking Sand

Frack Sand Mining- Ozark Waters
 By now, everyone is familiar with hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas extraction, a.k.a. "fracking."  The environmental concerns about effects of the process on our aquifers were outlined in last year's blog.  The first report of possible ground water contamination was released by the EPA on December 8, 2011.  Unfortunately, that isn't the only possible side effect of fracking.

Even areas of Missouri which are spared the concerns or potential wealth of fracking may be facing environmental side effects of mining the special sand which is used in the process.  David Casaletto has outlined the concerns in the current issue of the .

Without becoming an alarmist, there are some real potential problems that should be considered before major mining takes place in environmentally sensitive areas (meaning around water, land and wildlife).  David's article explains this fully and can't be summarized any better than he has done.  Click on Ozarks Water Watch newsletter for a quick review.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

An Irruption of Owls

This story from Charley Burwick of GOAS* and Master Naturalists fame.

Click to enlarge- Greg Swick, GOAS
“Irruption,” yech! - sounds like something you would hear from your doctor.  However, in the birder’s world that is a word that really grabs attention.  An irruption, in the avian world, specifically means some bird, or group of bird species from the tundra, or northern boreal forest moving much farther south than the norm during the winter months.  While it includes many songbird species, the one that really grabs our attention and excitement is when raptors, and more to the point owls, are the ones coming far into the lower 48 states. 

A few years ago, the Great Gray Owls, and Northern Hawk Owls came flowing south into the lower 48 northern tier of states.  Both of these species can be seen in Minnesota from time to time, but this particular year, they were down in huge numbers.  The numbers were much, much higher than ever recorded, or noted in history.  On a visit to Minnesota during this event, my friends and I saw a few of the Hawk Owls (hence my license plate HWK-OWL), and on one day spotted over 70 Great Gray Owls.  Because these birds are not typically around humans, they have no fear of us.  You can stand within just a few yards of them, and they pretty much ignore you.  We observed one, just a few feet from us, fly from a stump, and dive into the deep snow, and come up with a rodent to eat.  What an exhilarating experience.

What caused this irruption?  It is believed there had been an explosive number in the population of rodents, and consequently, a very successful fledging rate of Great Gray Owls.  The sad part of this event is that many of the Great Gray Owls, which were mostly immature birds, starved, and a significant number ended up being road kill.  Once again, not being around metal animals, they would just sit in the middle of a road, and watch a vehicle as it would run them over.  In response, special teams organized to catch and relocate the birds.  To what level of success, we don’t know.

Now, this year, we are experiencing another irruption of owls.  Only this year the species is the Snowy Owl.  It is not unusual for a Snowy Owl or two, to show up in the very northern counties of Missouri during the winter months.  One may stick around in one area long enough for one of us crazy people to make a run to the north to spot one.  I have been so fortunate twice in past years.  However, this year, we are experiencing, once again, an irruption of numbers of a historical magnitude.  At first, two, and then three Snowy Owls were hanging around Smithville Lake, just north of Kansas City.  I had to make the run to see this owl species once again.  They really are a magnificent bird to see, and it is not just the same as viewing them on TV, or a picture on a calendar.  Fortunately, my friends and I spotted three that cool morning.  Remarkable- I never, in my wildest dreams, ever expected to see three Snowy Owls in one morning within a mile of each other in our state.

The story for this year is not over yet.  Just this past week, five Snowy Owls were spotted around Smithville Lake and another one was spotted in Columbia, next to a Holiday Inn, along I 70.  On at least two Christmas Bird Counts, a Snowy Owl was noted on the counts, including one at the Squaw Creek refuge, northwest of St. Joseph.  Yet, the numbers are still going up, as at least another 6-8 have been noted across other northern counties in the state this past week.  Several have been reported in Kansas, from Topeka, to Wichita, and Hutchinson area, and as far south as Oklahoma, northwest of Tulsa.

The next chapter is already being played out.  Several Snowy Owls in the state have been reported found dead, thought to be from starvation.  And, yes, the metal monster has already harvested a few.  As we can note, the numbers are still increasing every day.  When will the numbers slow down?  Who knows?  What has caused this irruption?  Right now, who knows?  The major tool being used to track this activity is eBird (, a citizen science reporting system sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and National Audubon Society.  Take a look at the eBird web page; learn more about the Snowy Owl, and what is going on during this irruption.  eBird is an outstanding tool, not just for Snowy Owls, but all birds, even the ones in your backyard.  Watch out, you may get hooked.

*GOAS- Greater Ozarks Audubon Society

Monday, December 26, 2011

Solar Power- Green with Brown Spots?

70,000 Solar Panels- Click to enlarge
A news release from reminds us that everything has its price.  Even something as "green" as solar power has environmental costs beyond the production of the solar panels themselves.   

The pictured field shows 40 acres of unused land on Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada with 70,000 solar panels.  With hundreds of thousands of acres of solar fields being considered, we need to have an estimate of the environmental costs.  Unfortunately, we don't.

Many of these fields are planned for desert areas where species survival can be fragile.  Habitat changes would include fragmentation from power lines and roads, soil disturbance creating excessive dust and evaporation ponds for the collection of toxins.  Pollutants such as the necessary dust and rust suppressants could threaten the area.  The facilities will generate heat, electromagnetic fields, noise, and polarized light whose cumulative effects on the environment are unknown.

Environmental impact studies will need to be performed before solar fields proliferate.  Solar power is definitely renewable, but once again, everything has its environmental price.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Remote Pollution

from Lund University
There is new evidence of nitrogen pollution that began with the industrial revolution, and it is found in remote lakes.  Studies reported from Lund University in Sweden have found increased nitrogen levels occurring since the late 19th century in lakes thousands of miles from cities.

Studies in the USA, Canada, Greenland and Svalbard, Norway show the nitrogen pollution levels started in 1895 and have accelerated in the last sixty years.  This correlates with the rise in combustible fuels and increasing artificial fertilizer use across the developed world.
 “I have studied lakes on Svalbard, where the effects of the increased nitrogen deposition are clearly visible in the algal flora”, says Sofia Holmgren.  She explains that both the species composition and production of diatoms – microscopic siliceous algae – have changed dramatically in the lakes on Svalbard since the start of the 20th century, with the most significant changes over the past decades.
Like acid rain in the past, these remote changes demonstrate the continued planet-wide impact of humans.  We act at the local level by educating our neighbors about preserving our clean water supplies.  One way is to start with our 5th graders at the Watershed Festivals held by JRBP.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Belly Button Biodiversity

Bob Ranney
Fellow Master Naturalist Bob Ranney sent me this offering, so I will let him take over from here.

Master Naturalists like to think that we have a pretty good understanding of the environment and the interrelationships of natural life, but you probably have no idea of the complexity of life in your own belly button.

Are you aware? REALLY aware?? Do you want to be?!?!?  For those bold enough to go where bacteria have gone before, go to

Editor's Note
 In the words of the authors of the Belly Button Biodiversity Project, "Lady Gaga may live the wild life, but she also hosts it." For a head to toe assessment of what's growing on your body (or your spouse/friends/kids/grandparents) go to The top 10 life-forms living on Lady Gaga (and you).

...and remember, this was Bob Ranney's idea!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Caterpillar Mimicry

Monarch Caterpillar- Wikimedia
New research has found that some caterpillar's coloration mimics the appearance of other toxic caterpillars.  Studies done in the Caribbean and the upper Amazon and reported by found that some caterpillars of the Danaini group (which includes Monarch butterflies) have taken on the pattern of their toxic cousins as a defense against predators.  This is a well known defense in butterflies but not commonly recognized in their larval stage.

Many species of butterflies have caterpillars that can ingest toxic chemicals from their larval food plants without harm.  These chemicals are incorporated into their bodies and remain in the adult butterflies.  A predator that eats one and gets sick won't want to eat another one or anything that looks like it.  Many of these butterfly species have distinct bright warning patterns, called aposematic coloration, which advertises their toxicity.

Some butterflies have evolved similar patterns even though they lack the toxicity, and are therefore avoided by predators.  This is called Batesian mimicry.  Examples include the viceroy butterfly which resembles the toxic monarch.  The toxic pipevine swallowtail has several mimics including spicebush and black swallowtails.  You can see these examples again when the Friends of the Garden Butterfly House opens this May at the Botanical Center.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Atlatl- MDC
This year Missouri became the second state to allow deer hunting by atlatl.  In a return to the past, the first successful deer kill by atlatl in Missouri has just been reported. While  not performed by a hunter dressed as the one on the right, the principle was the same.

Tim Smith writes about the atlatl in the MDC Fresh Afield blog.  This was the standard weapon used by Missouri hunters from the days of the mastodon until at least 1,000 BC when the bow and arrow first came into use.  This new technology became the standard with time, but in truth, the atlatl still had some advantages.

Modern bows using advanced materials and technology have greatly increased the force of the arrow.  Modern arrow heads have blades you could shave with, able to penetrate all the way through the deer's chest.  Not so with the early bow and arrow.

An atlatl on the other hand can be thrown by one hand.  It provides more force by extending the effective length of the hunter's arm.  The heavier projectile, called the dart, traveling with greater velocity creates deeper penetration of the point.

You can find the history of the atlatl and its reintroduction to deer hunting in Missouri in the Missourian article and see an atlatl in action in a video from Missourian.
For the atlatl obsessed, see the resources at AtlatlNewsletter.html.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Butterfly Range

Clouded Sulfur
December 12th, fifteen degrees the night before but in mid-afternoon it was a sunny forty degrees.  To my surprise there were clouded sulfur butterflies flitting around in the short brown grass, landing on the green spots of chickweed and other winter annuals.  The books say that they fly until November but obviously these specimens lack either the books or a calendar.  Perhaps they are just glad to be flying without the threat of my net.

Like other animals, butterflies have a temperature range in which they can survive.  Having laid their eggs on members of the pea/bean family such as clover, their eggs have hatched by now and their over wintering caterpillars are under cover for the winter.  These butterflies are apparently following their biological imperative out of habit, perhaps for one last fling.

Research described by EurekaAlert describes the double jeopardy facing some butterfly species with tolerance to a very narrow range of temperatures.  They are threatened by climate change in their native range as well as changes in their habitat.  Fragmentation of habitat limits their ability to seek new territory and constricts their gene pool.

Fortunately, our ubiquitous clouded sulfurs are oblivious to both threats and the calendar.  With more hard freezes ahead, I just hope their kids are safely tucked in bed for the winter.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bad Day for Eared Grebes

Alex Chamberlain, Blue Desert Digital
A news story from describes a crash landing of tens of thousands of Eared Grebes in Cedar City, Utah during a winter snow storm.  They escaped a cold sky through the clouds and apparently mistook snow covered surfaces with lights on them, such as parking lots, for lakes and tried to make a water landing.

Thousands were injured or killed on the solid landing and others were stranded in the cold as they require a large water surface to get airborne again.

Apparently, the birds can not survive the cold or land on frozen water and came down en masse to find shelter from the storm that hit Cedar City.  An estimated 15,000 grebes died but the community was able to save 3,500 by transporting them to nearby open water.

We can do little to prevent these situations but as we move into nature and remove some natural food sources, it serves as a reminder that it is time to refill the bird feeders.

Note from Charley Burwick:
We hear about this type of wet surface crash landing at night during ran storms fairly often.  A few years ago we had shorebirds that crashed on several Springfield streets at night during a rain storm.  One of the birds was a species we typically only spot at our large waterfowl refuges.  Interesting stuff. 

Pictures are at
Thanks to Katie Gerecht for the lead.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Long-tongued bee- Wikime
Linda Ellis sent me an interesting article on Gaura (Gaura longifolia), also known as bee-blossom.  It is a native member of the evening primrose family and grows on prairies, glades, fallow fields and disturbed soil.  Its pollinators are particularly interesting, including a few hawk moths as well as long-tongued bees which I didn't know existed.

Long-tongued bees include bumblebees and some species have tongues over a half an inch long.  National Geographic described some species that even collect different fragrances from flowers, concocting their own fragrance which stimulates any males within sniffing distance.

by Linda Ellis
Some flowers have their pollen and nectar deep inside where it can't be reached by the typical butterfly.  Hummingbirds and hawk moths that are capable of hovering flight take advantage of this food source without having to stand in line with the usual pollinators.

Linda's article with some of her beautiful photography as seen on the right can be found at this link.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hellbender on Survival

Bouncing Baby Hellbender- St. Louis Zoo
For those who don't have access to this Springfield News-Leader article, here is some good news about a threatened Ozark species.  The St. Louis Zoo, in cooperation with the Missouri Department of Conservation, has successfully bred an Ozark Hellbender in captivity for the first time.  The event occurred on November 15 and since then there have been 62 more births and there are 120 eggs to go.  National Geographic has more information on the breeding facility.

This endangered species occurs in only these few counties in Missouri and Arkansas.  Ozark Hellbenders have a long lifespan but a very low reproductive rate.  Currently less than 590 individuals are estimated to be living in the wild.

Ozark Hellbender- Jeff Briggler
According to a report by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the reasons for extinction concerns are multiple.  They require clear water in fast moving streams and have suffered from pollution and silting in of their native streams and the increased damming of rivers in recent decades. 

Their biggest threat is a chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which has been found in all the wild Missouri populations.  Probably brought here from the importation of African clawed frogs, it is causing disease in many amphibian populations.  It can be spread by the feathers of birds and by bullfrogs which carry it but are relatively immune to its effects.  It has been the cause of 75% of deaths in the St. Louis Zoo’s captive population of Ozark Hellbenders.

More information on the endangered Ozark Hellbender and its more common Eastern Hellbender cousin is at Wikipedia.
Update: January 2012 on NPR.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Fall is Falling

Snow Geese with 2 blue morphs-Wikimedia
With the falling temperatures and overcast weather of late, it is hard to remember that it is still officially fall until December 21.  The bare trees and a light snow add to the winter illusion.  Leave it to the birds to keep the seasons straight.

This past week there were faint sounds* over Bull Creek.  Looking up into the cold grey skies there were tiny spots almost too small to see initially,  large V and U formations of geese headed in a east-southeast direction.

Greg Swick from Audubon (GOAS)*** tells me that these were snow geese and there have been flights of 7,000 to 40,000 per day for nearly the whole week.  "They have intensely overpopulated and have taken over and destroyed nesting habitat for many species of concern in the tundra.  Still there is something strikingly beautiful about seeing them."

The snow goose, also known as blue goose**, declined in numbers until hunting was stopped in 1916.  Hunting was allowed again in 1975 and the populations have increased dramatically in spite of it.  They now have created habitat destruction at both ends of their range.  According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service:
"In the northern breeding grounds, snow geese are 'grubbing' the soil to dig up high-energy roots and tubers.  Plant regrowth is extremely slow in the tundra climate.  Without plants to cover the soil, salts in the subsoil begin to accumulate on the surface, creating a saline environment hostile to desirable plants.
Within the Rainwater Basin, snow geese are aggressively competing for limited water available and waste grain in crop fields. Snow geese are known carriers of avian cholera.  This fatal disease occurs annually in the Rainwater Basin when birds become concentrated on areas with poor water quality and quantity."
This damage not only affects the tundra but harms the snow geese and other bird species that live there in season.  After returning south, snow geese feeding on natural vegetation create more damage.  Like human excesses, nature can suffer from too much of a good thing.

*  This sound can be heard by turning your speakers way down and clicking on this sound.
**  There is a snow goose genetic variant called the blue goose.  It occurs from the mating of a goose with a single dominant gene and one with a homozygous recessive gene.  Offspring may be either color.  See Wikipedia
***Greater Ozarks Audubon Society (GOAS) has an informative website above and meets at 6:30 PM the third Thursday each month at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bison Purity

Bison at Prairie State Park, MDC
When humans first arrived in North America, bison roamed much of what is now the United States, upwards of sixty million of them by some estimates.  By the end of the nineteenth century there were only around 400.  This was a result of hunting pressures to feed settlers and the building of the railroads and the value attached to their hides and eventually even their bones.

Conservation efforts since the turn of the century have restored herds into some of their native range as well as some bison being raised on farms and ranches.  DNA studies now show that few of the restored bison herds are "pure." Over the last 200 years, most bison mated with a cow along the way.  Bison have their needs, you know, and cattle were much more available.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal* (of all places!) called attention to the fact that the herds of bison are being culled of members which show the contamination of their genes with cattle genes.  Those impure bison are sold to become steaks and burgers in an attempt to promulgate pure bison. With improving DNA techniques however, we may well find that there is a little bit of cow in every bison.

The quest for pure bison stock has led to a great deal of tail pulling.  After a calf is put in a restraining pen, special pliers are used to grab a bunch of tail hairs to study its DNA.  Since their hairs are firmly attached, this startles (to put it mildly) the 300 pound calf and puts the puller at risk from the pullee.  Rapid extraction and retreating is the preferred technique as "the bison will start pooping and their tail acts as a manure spreader."

So the decision of what to do with the impure herds remains.  A purist would eliminate any "genetically tainted" members of the herd.  Another school of thought voiced by ecologist Rurik List is that "If they look like a bison, behave like a bison and live in the historical range, let's keep them."

The problem with this search for purity is that the gene pool is being drastically diminished by killing and eating bison with miniscule amounts of cattle DNA.  The smaller the pool of animals left to interbreed, the less protection there is from disease and genetic errors along the way.

What if advanced DNA techniques show that there are no "pure" strains left?  Somewhere we have to draw a line between the ideal and the practical.  Sometimes perfect becomes the enemy of good.

* Wondering If That's A Genuine Bison?  Try Pulling Its Tail, Wall Street Journal, November 26, 2011.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Mighty Opossum

Opossum- MDC Photograph
Opossums seem to me to be the Rodney Dangerfields of Missouri mammals- they don't get no respect.  When I read this story at they went up in my opinion.  Would you believe that this hissing marsupial, whose main defense is to play dead, eats venomous snakes and has some immunity to their toxins?  Snake venom contains multiple toxins including proteins that block blood coagulation, causing their victims to bleed to death internally.

According to MDC, our common opossum, Didelphis virginiana, is an omnivore which eats insects, reptiles, frogs, crayfish, bird eggs and earthworms as well as browsing garbage cans.  Oh, and apparently, the odd rattlesnake and copperhead.  They have co-evolved with these pit vipers and thus developed a defense against their venom. It has previously been thought that snake venom evolved just as a tool to capture prey, but it also seems to be a defensive mechanism against predators. 

A key clotting factor is called von Willebrand's factor and our opossum is one of a few related species that has a gene that has rapidly evolved to affect it, further blocking the effect of the toxin.  Studies indicate that it is undergoing much more rapid selection than usual.  To quote Robert Voss, Curator of Mammalogy at the American Museum of Natural History, "We've known for years that the venom genes evolve rapidly in snakes, but the partner in this arms race was unknown until now.  Opossums eat snakes because they can."  This means that the snakes are prey rather than predator in this circumstance.

 The full study with further details is at and information on the opossum antivenom is at this site.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fragile Earth

Earth is alive- full of change minute by minute.  We tend to think of this globe as ours to use, and in truth we are becoming more responsible for its changes every year.  Ten thousand years ago humans had little impact on this sphere floating around in an infinite universe.  Not so any more.

I would suggest that you watch this beautiful video and think about the next thousand years, .... or even the next ten.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When Wild Comes Home

Lonely Fawn
Does the Call of the Wild get a little too close to your urban home at times?  Maybe a skunk under the porch or a spindly-legged fawn in your back yard.  Here is a new service which you may want to jot down for future reference.

From the Missouri Department of Conservation
 The Bi-State Wildlife Hotline is now officially available for callers in Missouri and Illinois. This free service is available for police, animal control, conservation centers, nature centers, animal rescues, public health departments, etc. to refer wildlife conflict calls to, effective October 1, 2011. Citizens calling in regards to any species of wild animal in need can call the hotline to get information, assistance, and local contact information to address their specific concern and circumstances. Citizens can reach the hotline via telephone at (636) 492–1610 or online at The hotline is available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

The Wildlife Hotline was put together by a group of wildlife rehabilitators in the Missouri and Illinois area to offer citizens free advice and assistance with wildlife conflicts. When citizens call the hotline they will be connected with a wildlife specialist who is available to answer their questions, or refer the citizen to someone who can. Our specialists are volunteers who either are working for a wildlife rehabilitation center currently, or have in the past, and have been educated and certified by the NWRA or IWRC as rehabilitators. We have specialists that are located in Missouri and Illinois, from many different counties, and who are knowledgeable with mammals, birds of prey, songbirds, reptiles, waterfowl and all domestic animals vs. wildlife conflicts.

The Bi-State Wildlife Hotline (636) 492–1610 was created to address a variety of wildlife issues:
· Wildlife Conflicts – property damage, evicting wildlife, nuisance wildlife, coexistence issues.
· Orphan Wildlife – breeding seasons, reproductive educational information, reunite strategies to get babies back to mom.
· Rehabilitation Referrals – referring ‘finders’ to the proper, licensed rehabilitator for truly injured or orphaned animals, dispatch services for true wildlife emergencies.
· Educational support to inform callers of the legalities of keeping wildlife as ‘pets’ and improper rehabilitation, legalities of trapping, releasing, and controlling nuisance wildlife, and offering humane alternatives.
· Sick animal reporting – Distemper raccoons, possible rabid reports, down deer in road, etc.
· Rapid Response Services – skunk stuck in dumpster drain pipe, bird stuck in storefront ceiling, fox stuck in culvert grate, rescuing distressed wildlife in emergent need of help

Currently, the majority of wildlife calls are referred to conservation departments, animal control, humane societies, and sometimes even police and fire departments. These entities are often times undermanned, or unable to field such calls in the peak seasons. Many animal rescue organizations feel frustrated that they cannot assist callers with wildlife issues, especially when an animal is suffering and the caller is desperately trying to find help. Our hope is to offload these calls from these places and offer a knowledgeable wildlife specialist to assist in these matters. Over time, citizens will learn that it is inappropriate to call places like 911 or the fire department for an issue with a wildlife issue. Please feel free to refer those callers to the Wildlife Hotline at (636) 492-1610 or our website at 

As rehabilitators, past and present, we know all too well that many wildlife orphans can be avoided if ‘finders’ attempt to reunite babies with their natural mothers quickly and correctly. Often times, wildlife rehabilitation centers are closed in the early morning or late evening and cannot offer citizens assistance with this at the time that it is needed. The hotline’s purpose is to fill that needed gap, and in turn cut down on the numbers of orphans that need to be rehabilitated each year.

For instance, eastern cottontail rabbits are very small and very young when their mother leaves them and moves on to have another litter. Citizens often feel the need to intervene with these small, adorable juvenile rabbits. In reality, these animals need to be left alone in order to develop the skills they will need later in life to survive. Sometimes callers find a nest of rabbits in their yard and they move the nest to another location so they can do yard work or let their pets out in the yard, etc. Mother rabbits will never find that nest of babies again, as they have no scent, and no tracking abilities to return to their nest. The Wildlife Hotline would instruct those callers to use an upside down wheelbarrow on top of the nest so that family pets cannot get to it, but mother rabbits can. When callers realize the fate of those rabbits if the nest is moved, oftentimes they are very willing to accommodate however they can especially when they find out that the babies will only be there two weeks at maximum.

We also take calls regarding conflicts with wildlife; e.g. skunks/moles/groundhogs digging up gardens and yards, opossums living under porches, raccoons living in the attic and chimney, squirrels destroying property and nesting in gutters and eaves. We have different solutions for each of these issues, and we offer humane solutions as an alternative to pest control. Often, citizens cannot afford pest control services, or they do not wish to harm the animals. If necessary, as a last resort, we can refer the caller to the proper wildlife rehabilitation center to get assistance for the animal, if injured or truly orphaned. The hotline can assist callers in reaching the proper people to pick up and dispose of sick animals, as is the case with distemper raccoons and foxes, and possibly rabid animals. Animal Control agencies usually will not take these calls, or assist in these cases, so it has fallen on the rehabilitation people in many areas to handle these calls, though it depends on the county involved. Bite cases still must be reported to the proper animal control departments, which we can assist callers in finding contact information for. Note: The hotline will be instructing callers to seek medical attention for bite incidents, and file a bite report with their county’s animal control department regardless of the risk category.

In addition, we offer referral contact information for callers to get in touch with the right center for their needs. For instance, many rehabilitation centers do not take in deer, so if a caller is truly in need of fawn rehabilitation, we can refer them to the proper place with the correct permit to accept the species in question. Many times, the caller is not in need of rehabilitation services, they simply need to be educated to understand why there is a fawn under their porch all day. Our joy comes from having the caller wait and watch as Mom comes back to get their fawn at the end of day, knowing that without our assistance, that fawn may have been transported to a rehab center and essentially stolen from her mother.

Our hope is that through this free, public service, citizens will learn how to peacefully coexist with the nature that surrounds us all. We can only achieve this through education, and this service intends to reach that goal, while providing the public with a one-stop solution for all wildlife issues, big and small.

If you would like more information on this topic, or need to contact Angel Wintrode, please call (636) 233–0289 or email

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Timeline from The Economist-Click to enlarge
The daily news provides lots of stories highlighting the changes that we humans are making on the planet we inherited.  Many of our actions are having adverse impacts on other species, our water resources, and the fertility of the soil.

Some ecologists have proposed a new name for our age, the Anthropocene, which highlights the dramatic changes we have made in the ecology of the planet in our short time of dominance.  There is a lot of discussion about whether this era began with the Industrial Revolution's dramatic increase in the use of carbon based fuels or even earlier with the hunting pressures and increasing use of fire over the last 10,000 years.  Certainly this relates to the Sixth Extinction which we are experiencing.

There are opposing opinions regarding whether these changes warrant naming of a formal unit of geological time to follow or replace the Holocene (meaning "entirely recent") which labels the last 10,000 years.  Anthropocene (Greek,  anthropo- meaning "human" and -cene meaning "new.") moves the emphasis to an era of human influence.

Earlier this year, the reproduced an excellent article from their magazine which reviews some of the evidence.  Why should we care about this pedantic topic?  Because we need to weigh the changes we are making in our environment and the potential risks to future generations.  Whether you accept it or not, it pays to understand the ramifications of the "new human" era.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Early Pollution

Rio Tinto- "Wine-colored River"
Faced with a constant barrage of stories about EPA, fracking, oil pipelines and salmon swimming upstream against human impact, it is easy to think that pollution is a modern phenomenon.  There is strong evidence of worldwide "industrial" pollution with sulfide and heavy metals extending back 4,800 years.

Barry Yeoman's article The Mines that Built Empires* is a fascinating look at the history of the Rio Tinto mines in Spain.  Mining began in the copper age, dated by a 5,000 year old hammer head, used to extract copper ores such as malichite and azurite.  Subsequently the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Romans maintained massive mining operations for lead, silver and copper which peaked between 70 and 160 A.D.
Hammer Head 3000 BCE- Archeology Magazine

Back to the global pollution, ice core studies from Greenland in the 1990's show massive lead pollution during the peak Roman mining period.  The cores found that 70% of the lead had the "chemical signature" of Rio Tinto lead.  Smelting the ore in large furnaces released its heavy sulfide content in the form of sulfur dioxide, a residue which remains with us to this day.  Much like oil, when these ancient deposits are brought to the surface, their chemical components don't sink back from whence they came.

The name Rio Tinto came from the wine colored acidic river which runs through the area.  Originally thought to be due to extensive run off of mining contamination, we now know that the colors are natural and existed long before mining began around 3,000 BCE. reports that the average pH of the river is 2.0 and it carries naturally high concentrations iron, copper, and zinc.  It has even been studied by NASA, exploring the  unique organisms which eat its iron and sulfide which have implications for studies on Mars.

*Archeology Magazine, October, 2010.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Whooping Cranes

Adult and juvenile- Click to enlarge
Jeff Cantrell sent us these pictures of Whooping Cranes, taken by Becky Wylie along Shoal Creek in Neosho.  The youngster is banded and even has an antennae and transmitter.  In Jeff's words:
"Two whooping cranes took a “lay-over” less than a mile north of Neosho this early morning with Canada geese for traveling companions.  An adult and its young foraged along the crop field north of Neosho with little care to truck traffic on the highway or geese and crows sharing the field."
As usual, Bob Korpella of our latest Master Naturalist class has beaten me to this story.  Read more at his
For a story on efforts to raise and breed whooping cranes, see

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Killing Borers with a Girdle

Emerald Ash Borer- USFS
By now you probably have heard of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), an insect that is spreading across the US from Michigan where it was accidentally introduced, probably from packing material on a shipment from China.  It is killing ash trees and threatens to wipe them completely out.  As ash trees are a common urban planting as well as a source of wood for baseball bats, this news is disturbing.

Ash borers attack the tree by laying their eggs under the bark.  The larvae then tunnel around under the bark, effectively cutting off the tree's circulation.  As they arrived in the US without the predators that keep them under control in China, they are thriving.

Researchers in the Hudson Valley of New York are now experimentally releasing three types of Chinese wasps known to attack the borer's larvae or their eggs.  This approach has to be monitored carefully to be sure that they don't have a similar effect on our beneficial native insects.

They also are trying a unique approach to reduce the EAB numbers.  They are girdling selected trees, removing 18" bands of bark to weaken the tree.  EAB tends to proliferate in damaged trees and they hope to concentrate the larvae in these trees and then destroy the trees with their larval nursery.

While these experiments go on, our only protection in Missouri is the distance the EAB requires to move from tree to tree.  The biggest risk is in accidentally importing diseased wood, allowing the beetle to migrate through several states.  This is the reason we urge everyone to not transport firewood from other areas.

Story derived from an article in the the Wall Street Journal, available to subscribers.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Slime Beneath Our Feet

Slime Mold - New York Times
My fungal friend, Dr. Mark Bower, was kind enough to sent me this article on slime mold from the New York Times.   Reading that sentence probably fills you with envy.  Stay with me as it does get better.

The words slime mold* produce an immediate "Yuck" response but they are actually incredible amoebas that live in the soil.  Some are individual while others collect into masses that are able to communicate and spread in an organized fashion.  A few species can actually develop a slug-like body.

Japanese researchers put slime mold in a maze with food sources at the ends.  The molds extended tentacles down dead ends only to retreat and try another path (video example).  Within four hours they were feasting on the food.

Researcher Andrew Adamatzky has a hobby of challenging them to create highways.  He placed pieces of their food on the largest cities on a map of Spain and Portugal.  The mold spread out, then withdrew, leaving tentacles to these cities which matched the actual existing highways. (video of Tokyo subway example)

"Dog vomit" slime mold- Wikimedia
A species called Dictyostelium form a slug-like society of amoebas which can respond to starvation by crawling out of the soil and sticking to the foot of an animal for transportation.  Some of their component amoeba will even devour pathogenic bacteria that threaten the colony, transporting them outside where they die with the attacker.  This suicidal behavior benefits the colony but not the individual.  The details of these and other stories are in the New York Times article.

You probably wonder how you could find a friend who would send you an article like this.  If you want to find others who find these nature subjects fascinating, look into the Missouri Mycological Society (MOMS)** or other like organizations around the world.  You will find your views of nature extending like...well, you know.... a slime mold.

*   The basics on slime mold are covered in Wikipedia
**  Missouri Mycological Society  or MOMS Springfield Chapter
 2012 research update.  

Extreme Makeover Creates Extreme Burden

Editors Note:
 It is not uncommon to find plants in the garden section of big box stores that are inappropriate to plant because of invasive characteristics or their inability to survive in our climate.  Local garden stores and professional landscaper designers consider the local zone and soil in making planting decisions.  Matt Boehner, one of our Master Naturalists, volunteered in Joplin on the Extreme Makeover project and shares his experience below.

Extreme Makeover creates Extreme Burden

Sago Palm- Wikimedia
First, I will state that fully comprehending the physical and emotional loss that the families in Joplin and Duquesne have been dealt is beyond imaginable and I send my sincerest prayers and best wishes of good fortune on to each and every person and all others adversely affected by the May 22nd tornado.

As a landscape architect, we take an oath of integrity to protect the health, safety and welfare of our built and natural environments. I maintain this oath through a dedicated practice with clients through responsible planning and design, details, specifications, and a strong passion for education within the community through various volunteer activities. As a volunteer on site with the recent “7 Homes in 7 Days” with Extreme Makeover Home Edition in Joplin, I was personally enriched to witness the miraculous efforts of thousands of people from all over the world joining together to help complete strangers take a few steps farther in that healing process. I was also, slighted, at least professionally, for a complete lack of erosion control or sediment fence, sod being placed on slopes greater than 3:1, and inappropriate plant material being installed to complete the “themes” of each home. During a break, I wandered through the makeshift staging area for the landscape material; Desert Marigold, Red Fox Sedge, Mexican Petunia were just a few of the identification tags that caused my stomach to churn, but none more than that of Cycus revoluta, or Sago Palm.*

I am not sure where to begin with how much this plant does not belong in Southwest Missouri. I spent several years in Arizona and Southern California and am very familiar with the Sago Palm, in fact, I used it quite often in commercial and industrial applications. Although common in some residential applications, its use is limited due to the well publicized information on the toxicity and the dangers it poses to pets and children. Luckily in this case, the sago palms will brown out and die shortly after the first frost, which should be in a few weeks, so that threat may never be an issue. But, the majority of other inappropriate plant material and misuse of landscape materials not surviving to be around for the airing of the 2-hour special in January may even create a larger public relations issue between the families and the community.

Over the next few months, as redevelopment really begins on a larger scale, the rest of Joplin will look at these “Hollywood” homes as icons of recovery. However, if the majority of this new landscape is dead or dying within the next few months due to inappropriate selection and application, these seven families may be scrutinized as ungrateful and irresponsible. Are they expected to cover these costs or are they given an annual/monthly allowance for replacement and maintenance? Turf grass and irrigation repairs alone could easily surpass four-figures for each property. Will neighboring homeowners and businesses take more or less responsible steps in redevelopment? Will the city governments be able to step in and provide the necessary oversight to ensure quality, or simply approve the minimum that code allows to just get rebuilt? Will another reality television show come in to “Make it Right”?

Ignoring the landscape as an integral component of development and redevelopment is fairly common in our region, but that attitude is changing as communities are becoming more conscious of their neighbors, both man-made and natural. The practice of sustainable site development has vastly grown throughout SW Missouri over the past few years as information and availability of sustainable site planning, design, and construction techniques become more available. There may not be, nor should there be an easy solution, but as anyone that has experienced any loss knows that the healing process cannot come overnight by simply waving a wand or moving a bus. Physically, it will take Joplin and Duquesne years to recover; emotionally, it may never truly heal. Hopefully, with the help from the surrounding area, both will become better communities defined by a heartened resiliency and a sense of place that forever remembers what happened on May 22nd, 2011 at 5:34pm.

Matt Boehner, RLA, ASLA, CSI
Landscape Architect

* Sago Palm can occasionally grow in an area as cool as Hardiness Zone 7b.  Joplin is in Zone 6a, further north and too cold for its survival.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rodent Whiskers

University of Sheffield
Ever notice the whiskers on a rat in the cartoons?  Unlike those of men, they aren't just a fashion statement but serve as their primary tactile organ.  By "whisking" them back and forth they explore objects, lightly touching them, generally without bending the hairs.  The closer they are to the object, the less they move their whiskers.  High-speed video studies from the University of Sheffield have shown they move them over a surface in the same way we use our fingers.*

A new study by the same group has now shown that a South American marsupial which is thought to be related to some of the earliest mammals shows a similar behavior.  It suggests that whisking by these early evolving mammals, which were primarily nocturnal, gave them an important advantage over the more common reptiles of that period.

The team is now developing robots with whiskers that can navigate without vision.  They would have potential in search and rescue operations where smoke and dust precludes vision.  An interesting idea as long as they don't teach them to chew our electrical cords.

How do rats sneak through small spaces?  These and other answers are at
Science Daily 2007

Friday, November 18, 2011

Snow Birds

The Dark-eyed Junco featured in today's Springfield News-Leader was my mother's favorite bird.  It shows up in late fall and hangs around the bird feeders until spring.  Although not particularly dramatic in appearance, its feisty little hops and struts make for outdoor entertainment through the window on a blustery winter day.

The article states that "The bird is common throughout its range, although some studies show it could be experiencing a slight decline because of habitat changes in its nesting range."  How do they determine that there is a slight decline in a common bird species population?  This was a good question to ask Charley Burwick, the Springfield Master Naturalist bird brain in residence.

He tells me that in addition to biologists that study specific species, much of the data comes from citizen scientists like you and I.  Country wide counts conducted yearly can compare the numbers of all species seen.  If there is a trend of declining numbers of a species compared to other common birds, this provides good information on the population in general.

Here are the major surveys which involve birders.
The sites above also show past results which can be used to determine regional and national trends.  While some bird species are in decline, the birders numbers are trending upward.  They can be spotted by their binoculars, their posture with their necks thrown back, their constant movement and the characteristic excited cry, "There is another (fill in the blank)!!"

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pygmy Rattlesnake

Pygmy Rattlesnake- Click to enlarge
Connie Johnson shared these remarks when she brought pictures of a Pygmy Rattlesnake to the last MN Chapter meeting:
 "Western Pygmy’s are small pretty rattlesnakes with a tiny rattle. Our personal observations show that they are most apt to be seen from the first of September to the middle of October.   This may be due to the temperature and light changes that encourage them to move toward their winter dens.
 This photos were taken on my farm road on a cool morning in the middle of September 2011.  Usually these snakes are pretty docile and don’t crawl away unless they are disturbed with direct contact.   This snake allowed me to get quite close for these photos and did not move his body although he carefully followed  me with slight head movements.  I was very respectful of his “space”.

Tom Johnson’s book, Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri, tells us that this snake ranges in length from 15-20 inches long and is the smallest species of rattlesnake in North America.The color is described as brownish gray with small dark brown and black blotches.  The head has a distinct black stripe which angles from the eye to the corner of the mouth and the belly is dusky cream with irregularly spaced transverse bars."
The Western Pygmy Rattlesnake, Sistrurus miliarius, is found in the southern counties of Missouri.  It has an orange to almost pink stripe along its spine.  These slender snakes seldom reach 24 inches so their markings and the tiny rattle require close inspection.  Don't depend on hearing their faint high frequency rattle which sounds like a grasshopper.  

Although usual shy, they can occasionally be more aggressive.  Their bite can cause lots of pain but isn't likely to be fatal.  I know of one man who received multiple bites when he picked several of them barehanded out of a wood pile.  He ended up on dialysis from the accumulated toxin.  Bad decisions can produce bad results.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Human Community

"What are little boys made of? Frogs and snails and puppy-dogs' tails..."

Mitochondria- Wikimedia
Not quite true but substitute bacteria and you are on the right track.   These thoughts were stimulated by an interesting article we came across in the NAMA newsletter*.  Not Just Kingdoms But Communities by Susan Goldhor**  is a thoughtful brief essay on our relationship to the biological world.  I have posted a copy at Google Docs.

It is now generally accepted that the mitochondria in our cells are of bacterial origin, specifically proteobacteria.  Without plunging deeply into the biology, the current endosymbiotic hypothesis suggests that bacteria were taken up by a cell (endocytosis- a common phenomona) and subsequently not only survived but reproduced within the cells as they divided.

That is enough science for now.   I suggest you read Not Just Kingdoms But Communities. Just one page long, it is rich in insights.   Part bacteria, part virus, you may be what your cells ate- billions of years ago.

* North American Mycological Association
** NOT JUST KINGDOMS BUT COMMUNITIES Condensed from Musings by Susan Goldhor Boston Mycoloical Club ,Bulletin, Vol 66 #2, 2011 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mormon Fritillary

One of the joys of our organization is getting to play "Stump the Master Naturalist" with friends.  The odds are with them usually, but today was a rare exception.  I am posting this to show the power of some of our online resources.

An old friend and amateur nature photographer, Joe Motto, sent me this picture with the message, "Shot this image in British Columbia. Can you ID him for me?"  Since most butterflies can't fly across the continental divide, I knew it wasn't going to be anything I had ever seen. 

His picture looked somewhat similar to the Great Spangled Fritillary,  Speyeria cybele, but that is an eastern species.  With my half-vast knowledge of lepidoptera (and a high-speed internet connection) I identified this western species as what I think is a Mormon Fritillary, Speyeria mormonia

Great Spangled Fritillary
Knowing that it was so close to our fritillaries in appearance and form, I went to  Using their "Regional Checklist" feature on the top banner, you can find all the listed species for "Canada-British Columbia".   Selecting the genus Speyeria brought up the picture to the right.

Mormon Fritillary - BoMoNA

It isn't usually this easy, but it does serve to illustrate that there are a lot of tools available to us amateur naturalists, even of those of us who lack Joe's gift for photography.

You can see some of his remarkable pictures at  We had the pleasure of traveling to Africa and Borneo with Joe and his wife, Joy, and I can attest to the saying, "It takes a village to carry all his camera equipment." 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tractor Repair 101

John Deere pack rat nest- Click to enlarge
I had to have my tractor repaired because it was rapidly leaking diesel (3 gallons over night!).  As I called today to see if it was repaired, my loving wife said, "They probably found a packrat nest under the hood and it had chewed up the hoses."  I smiled tolerantly at her wifely simplistic diagnosis.  A man knows that there are any number of reasons for a leak, including plugged filters, defective valves and a loosened thingy under the motor. 

While I pondered the complicated fuel system of a tractor based on my half-vast experience, the mechanic then answered the phone.   He reported excitedly, "You should have seen the packrat nest under the hood!  It was so big that we took a picture of it.  The rat had chewed the line out of the fuel tank."

The term packrat commonly refers to our wood rats in the genus Neotoma.  There are eight different Neotoma species in North America.   Although they are the size of the Norway rat, model for many cartoons and comic strips, they lack the sharply pointed nose and scaly tail.  They have lovable big eyes, soft, fine fur, and large ears with whitish feet and bellies.

Although they enjoy building nests under our deck, in our barn, or even our tractor), they usually eat outside unless food is available in the structure.  In our case, it had been chewing into bags of corn we were using to trap feral hogs.  Linda Ellis has had her car rewired multiple times due to her rats taste for wiring insulation.

They are also known as trade rats as they not only bring colored or bright shiny objects to their nest, but they will at times drop one object to substitute it for another found along the way, effectively trading them.  Ours seem particularly enamored of orange electric cords, small screw drivers, alligator battery clips and anything attached to a piece of equipment valued at over $30.  The good news is when I lose something, the rat gets the blame.

This wasn't the first visit rats have made to our tractor.  Some years back, I put bright red rectangles of bar bait out in the back corners of the barn to kill the rats.  A few weeks later my neighbor borrowed the tractor and kindly checked the oil.  He found four strips of bar bait neatly lined up on the top of the radiator where a rat had deposited them, leaving tiny foot prints in the dust.

When we bought our creek house it needed some repairs.  The carpenter found a packrat nest in the eves which included 12 stick ball point pens, a girl's school picture and a plastic handled paring knife.  I don't know what it had in mind but felt we should report it to the sheriff as some kind of pervert.  Ever since, Barb sleeps with a gun. shows range maps and discusses control measures.
Thanks to Larson Farm and Lawn for the picture.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

An Ah Haw Moment

Recently I had an "ah haw!" moment.  Actually it was more of an "Ah- a haw!" moment.  It was when I discovered that the "flowering dogwood" in front of the cabin is a rusty black haw, Viburnum rufidulum.  Unfortunately I had pointed it out to a group of teachers studying forestry at Bull Creek and the instructor Robert DeMoss* very politely corrected me.

Rusty black haw bud **
My problem in identification you might say stems from the stem and the trunk.  The bark at first glance looks like the very distinctive flowering dogwood bark.  Dogwood leaves are currently a bright crimson color, while this tree's leaves were a little less intense red.

The branches were opposite, just like a dogwood.  You may recall "MAD Buck" as a mnemonic reminder for opposite branching trees (Maple, Ash, Dogwood and Buckeye).   I was taught "MAD Cap Buck" which includes Caprifoliaceae family, its viburnum genus including shrubs and small trees like the black haws.  Just when the "Cap" started to pay off, some %$#&amp// botanists have decided to move viburnums into the Adoxaceae family.  Try using that word in a sentence!

The really distinguishing characteristic is the tree buds.  The flowering dogwood bud is onion shaped while the black haw has a flame shaped bud, rusty in color with a tiny white band around the base, reminiscent of a ring-necked snake.  The nice thing about trying to identify understory trees is that the buds and stems are available, unlike mature oaks and hickories.  In addition to avoiding snap judgements, I need to start paying more attention to those budding thoughts.

There is a good description of the rusty black haw at

*Robert DeMoss is a forester with the NRCS out of Ozark.