Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Prairie In Winter

It usually begins in mid- to late November. That first arctic blast of the season comes with a chill so deep that it permeates everything within reach of its icy grasp, and with it comes the killing frost. To me, this is the signal that autumn is nearly over and that we are on the brink of winter in southwest Missouri. It is at this cue that my family and I pack up and head to Prairie State Park to catch a glimpse of the first frost flowers of the year.

Frost flowers really aren't flowers at all, but are beautiful delicate ribbons of ice that form on the lower stem of certain native Missouri plants. Frost flowers occur only in the late fall and are formed when the plants' stems are ruptured by the first hard freeze yet the root system is still sending up plant sap from the warmer ground. The sap pushes through the broken stem and freezes on contact with the cold air. As more sap moves up the stem, it forces the freezing stream of white ice crystals into ornate and beautifully folded ribbons of frosted swirls. Missouri plants known to produce frost flowers are dittany, stinkweed and white crownbeard.

While many warm days may follow this first icy blast, consistently colder temperatures and snowy days are sure to occur in the not-too-distant future. As winter prepares to settle in, here at the park many changes are taking place. The prairie grasses and other prairie plants and shrubs have changed from the golden yellows, rich bronzes and fiery reds of autumn to the subtler, more muted shades of winter browns and grays. Gone are the summer resident birds. The great clouds of swallows that circled overhead all summer long, the rare and endangered Henslow’s sparrows, the cheery dickcissel, and the scissor-tailed flycatchers have all said “good-bye” to their prairie summer home. At the same time these summer residents have winged their way south to warmer and sunnier locations for the winter, Prairie State Park has become home to a whole host of newly arrived winter residents…birds such as the Northern harrier hawk, the American bald eagle and the short-eared owl. These have winged their way back from colder regions just to our north. Other changes are taking place on, and under the prairie, as well. Prairie mice, rats, voles and crayfish burrow deeper underground to make their winter homes, the white-tailed deer, coyote and bobcat prepare for leaner days ahead, and the great bison grows thicker and shaggier as he dons his warm and woolly winter coat. As the days grow colder and the snow begins to fly, don’t let the park's seemingly, barren landscape fool you. The tallgrass might look empty and lifeless but it’s not. In winter, even on the shortest and coldest of days, Prairie State Park is teeming with life.

I'd like to invite those of you with an adventurous spirit to come experience winter on the tallgrass prairie for yourself. Go for a hike and look for animal tracks in the snow. Can you guess who made them? Perhaps you’ll come across a badger's burrow or a fox’s den, or see a Northern harrier swooping close to the ground as it sails against a distant ridge, a red-tailed hawk perched atop a fence post or park sign, a coyote making his way across the prairie in search of his much-sought-after prey, a short-eared owl sitting in the middle of the trail, a white-tailed deer hidden among the leafless winter sumac, or the whole herd of bison with snow heaped high on their winter-thick, fur-covered backs. Whether it’s a long or short hike, if you take the time to look close and experience the nature around you, a trip to Prairie State Park in winter is sure to yield memories that will last you a lifetime!

(This is a reprint of an article that I wrote for Prairie State Park's Winter 2015 Tallgrass Prairie Tribune.)

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Great American Total Solar Eclipse 2017 Is Happening In Less Than A Week!

The Great American Total Solar Eclipse 2017 is happening in less than a week, on August 21, 2017, and what an amazing event it is going to be! 

People in all 50 states are going to the view the eclipse. Depending on where they're at, those that are within the path of totality will view the eclipse as a total eclipse of the sun; those who are not in totality will view the eclipse as a partial eclipse of the sun. Either way, it's going to be exciting!

Below is a list of eclipse facts that I put together for a program that I did for work back in July. I am sharing this information here for anyone who is interested in understanding more about what is going to happen during Monday's total solar eclipse.


# 1 - A solar eclipse happens when the sun, moon, and earth line up just right and the moon's shadow is cast over the earth. 

#2 – A total solar eclipse occurs on earth about once every 18 months, but most of them occur over the ocean.

#3 – There are two parts to the moon's shadow – the penumbra and theumbra.

#4 – The penumbra is the larger part of the moon's shadow that, in the case of the August 21st, 2017 eclipse, will be observed by people in all 50 states as a partial solar eclipse.

#5 – The umbra is the smaller, darker part of the moon's shadow that lies directly in line with the moon as it passes between the sun and the earth.

#6 – The umbra's path is only about 70 miles wide and that small 70-mile-wide band of shadow is what we call the path of totality.

# 7 – In the U.S. people in all 50 states will experience the Great American Eclipse to some degree, but not all states are going to be under the path of totality.

#8 – Major cities that will be within the path of totality include Salem, OR, Casper, WY, Kansas City, MO, St. Louis, MO, Nashville, TN, Columbus SC, and Charleston SC.

#9 – When the eclipse occurs, those within the path of totality are going to experience something that very few people get to see. The sun will disappear and it will become nighttime in the middle of the day.

#10 – Some of the things that will happen during this time are – temperatures will drop, birds will begin to roost, nighttime insects will begin to sing, and stars will appear in the sky.

#11 – It has been 26 years since the last total solar eclipse in the U.S. and that one was viewed only by those in Hawaii.

#12 – It has been 148 years since the last solar eclipse in Missouri (my home state).

#13 – During the Great American Total Solar Eclipse of 2017, it will take approximately 90 minutes for the moon's shadow to cross the United States from coast to coast.

#14 – The umbra will take only about 13 minutes to makes it's trip across the state of Missouri.
#15 – The longest periods of totality will occur across the center line of the eclipse path. This is because the shadow is a circle. A location near the center of the circle will get the widest part of the shadow.

Now, those are some of the basic facts about the upcoming eclipse, but it is, by far, NOT the most important thing that you need to know if you and your family plan on viewing the eclipse. The most important thing that you need to know about the upcoming eclipse is that YOUR EYES MUST BE PROTECTED!!! Sunglasses are NOT enough! Every single person that plans on viewing the eclipse must have a pair of special mylar eclipse glasses that are made to view the sun. Without them blindness can and does occur. Please, please, PLEASE make sure your eyes are protected!

Please watch the following video in which the UALR's Darrell Heath does an excellent job of further explaining explaining everything that you and your family will need to know before Monday's eclipse. 

Thanks for viewing! And safely enjoy the eclipse!

Until next time...

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Product Review - Magic Things Natural Mosquito Repellent Bracelets and Mosquito Repellent Patches

Ticks, mosquitoes, and other insects and arachnids have been out-of-control crazy this year! I think it's because we, virtually, had no winter last year and nothing got killed out. Whatever the reason, it's been terrible and the number of tick- and mosquito-born illnesses are on the rise.

As part of my job, I recently led an evening hike out on the prairie and, by the end of it, most of the participants were freaking out. Even those who had sprayed down with insect repellent that contained DEET (which I detest) were picking dozens of ticks off...some of them numbering into the 120's and 130's per visitor! NOT a very nice experience!!! 

I myself had sprayed down with the high-powered stuff that you spray on your clothes (stuff that they provide for us at work...which also contains DEET) and, even with that, I came off the prairie with 30-some ticks! I was kind of freaking out myself. I could not BELIEVE how many ticks there were! 😱, soon after this, I was supposed to lead a Saturday morning bison hike. I was thinking that I really didn't want to go through the whole tick thing again, and that there must be something out there that works. I remembered a school teacher that had gone on one of our summer-school hikes. She was the only person all summer long that I had met that hadn't had a problem out on the trail with ticks. I remembered asking her at the time what on earth she had used to be so fortunate and it was her (I wish I knew her name, because,I owe her a debt of gratitude that can never be repayed)...but, it was her...who had told me about the bracelets and stickers. 


Nothing to spray on, nothing to rub on, nothing you have to take a bath in, nothing directly on your skin or clothing, and, the best part? There's NO DEET!!! Woo-hoo! 

Too good to be true?

So...I got online and started investigating and here's what I discovered and ended up going with...
Magic Things Natural Mosquito Repellent Bracelets With Citronella

Mosquito Repellent Patches

These two products are AMAZING and, used together, they really work!!! (I say "used together" because that's how I used them. I'm sure on their own they're each phenomenal, but I used them together, so that's all I can testify to.) 

Both products are DEET-free and are safe for children.

The Magic Things bracelets provide protection for up to 240 hours...that's 10 DAYS...and come six to a package (each one is individually sealed); the Mosquito Repellent Patches provide protection for up to 72 hours per patch.

Shortly after my bracelets and patches arrived, I got to try them out when conducting the Saturday morning bison hike and, let me tell you...I couldn't have been more pleased! Our group went out on the prairie and, in order to get close enough to view the bison, we had to get off trail. This means that we got off the mowed trail and was hiking through tall grasses waist-deep and higher. When we got done I had ONE tick! ONE!!! And it WASN'T ATTACHED! 😲 

I was sold!!! These products really work and I HIGHLY recommend them to anyone who has to be (or chooses to be) outside whether for work or play. 

The way I used them was...I put one bracelet on my right ankle and used four of the patches placed in various places on my on my left pant leg, one near the waistband on the front of my pants, one near the waistband on the back of my pants, and one under my front collar flap. I'm telling worked!

I continued to wear this same bracelet and those same four patches for several days and was outside at night during part of that time and I never got one insect bite. It was amazing! Super, super amazing!!! 😊

Until next time...

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Passionate About Pollinators

These purple coneflowers grow in our front yard and play host to a whole slew of wonderful pollinators. Here are some of the ones that I found working there today. 

What kind of pollinators does your yard host? 

Until next time...

Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Tallgrass Prairie Wildflower Garden

The wildflower garden in front of the nature center at Prairie State Park is decked
out in splashes of summer splendor amidst rapidly growing prairie grasses.
The garden provides visitors with a taste of what might be blooming out on the prairie in any given season. This is particularly appealing to handicapped visitors who are unable to hike the prairie and experience it for themselves.

Some of the plants that are blooming there now are...

Gray-headed Coneflower
Wild Bergamot

Butterfly Weed

Prairie Clover
Until next time...

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

It's All In A Day's Work

I will soon be celebrating my third year anniversary as a naturalist at Prairie State Park in southwest Missouri. I didn't start off as a naturalist there, but have been in that position now for the past two years.

One of the things that I do as a naturalist at Prairie State Park is to teach children and adults about life on the tallgrass prairie. With spring, comes school groups...lots and lots of school groups...public, private, homeschool, and preschool.

Here are a few of the classes that I have taught, or took part in teaching during the month of April at Prairie State Park...

We had several public school groups visit in April. Every one of them had their own dynamic. The teachers and children were a lot of fun to be with and we shared some great learning moments together.

Our preschool program in April was about life cycles. We talked about many animals, but our focus was on the life cycle of the monarch butterfly.

With the help of myself, parents, and siblings, and using a variety of craft materials, each preschooler created their very own butterfly life cycle wheel. 

The theme for April's homeschool class was nature photography. For this one, I sought the help of someone a little more knowledgeable on the subject than myself. Homeschool graduate and our youngest son, James Anthony! He came as our guest speaker and taught the class the basics of photography. I sat in on this class as a class participant! 

After class we got to go out and practice some of what we learned. It was a  very wet and rainy day, so we couldn't go outside. This is my attempt at a panoramic shot in the auditorium.

Here's a crazy shot that I took of one of the stuffed bison in the nature center. I think he looks rather handsome...don't you?

James answered lots of questions and guided each of us in use of our own personal and specific devices. Some of us had digital cameras, others had an Ipod, Ipad, or a phone. I don't know that any two of us had the same type of device, but James was pretty knowledgeable in the workings of every one of them.

The diorama made a great place to search out tiny plant and animal life and capture them in photos.

After being involved at Prairie State Park for over 20 years, and working there for three, it was like I was seeing some of this stuff for the first time. Here is a coyote that is in the mural on the wall. 

And here is a meadowlark that is in the same mural. I mean...I've seen this stuff before...but I had never really looked at it until this class. It was awesome!

This was a great bunch of children from a private school. We had a lot of fun together and I so enjoyed having them! They were a real joy to work with! 

And, last, but not least, nature bingo! Playing nature bingo is a monthly occurrence at Prairie State Park. It's a fun game that teaches children and adults alike about many of Missouri's unique plant and animal life and, the best part is, everyone wins a prize! 

Well, that's it for this time! I hope to visit with you again soon.

Until next time...

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Tallgrass Prairie Tribune - Spring 2017

Come check out Prairie State Park's quarterly newsletter The Tallgrass Tribune. The Spring 2017 issue came out today.