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Monday, July 14, 2014
'Red on black - friend of Jack' (07/13/14)
The milk snake is a widespread North American snake. It can be confused with another snake called a coral snake in areas where their ranges cross. Remember the phrase this phrase: "Red on black is friend of Jack." As you can see in the photo the orange or red color is surrounded by black implying "red on black." This tells you the snake is non-venomous and harmless to humans. It is a beneficial snake and you should not kill it...
Not a miniature meadow lark (07/06/14)
While driving a gravel road in the low-lying countryside of southern Scott County, I spotted up ahead a small bird sitting on a top limb of a dead bush. I slowed to a stop and noticed the bird was singing. He spooked and flew into the weedy ground cover as I killed the truck engine. Knowing that birds often have favored perches from which to sit and call, I readied my camera and waited. Within 15 minutes the bird flew back to the limb and began singing again...
The American butterfly king (06/29/14)
Here I have captured the images of two male monarch butterflies visiting the bloom of a milkweed plant. The word monarch means king. It is believed that this butterfly was named long ago in honor of King William III of England. The monarch butterfly is a migrating butterfly and is sometimes seen in England...
Definitely not a house fly (06/22/14)
Up close, this fly looks as if it is wearing a white face-mask with big brown eyes. It's scientific name is archytas apicifer. It is a member of a large family of tachinid flies. There are several thousand species of tachinid flies worldwide. This fly is slightly bigger than a common housefly and, unlike the housefly, does not like being inside your house. ...
Pollinator of the foxglove beardtongue (06/15/14)
The morning of June 5, I shot this photograph of a sweat bee gathering pollen inside a flower of a foxglove beardtongue plant. The single blossom shown here is slightly more than one-inch long. It is one of a cluster of blossoms that grow at the top of the approximately 3-foot-tall wildflower. The foxglove beardtongue is native to most of the eastern half of the United States...
Odd name for a beautiful wildflower (06/08/14)
The Ohio spiderwort is a native perennial wildflower that grows in well drained areas of the eastern half of the United States. It blooms from mid-May through July, and you may be able to encourage a secondary blooming. Cutting back this plant after blooms have gone to seed can result in new plant growth and subsequent flowering in autumn. The Ohio spiderwort can grow well over 2 feet tall in rich, well-drained soil...
Kill deer! Kill deer! (06/01/14)
Named for its familiar call, this trim native North American shorebird seems to be excitedly telling you to kill a deer as it cries, "Kill deer! Kill deer!" This 10-inch bird eats insects. It is a fast runner and a graceful flier. Both male and female look alike and make the same sounds...
A tree that produces berries (05/25/14)
The red mulberry is a native tree common in Southeast Missouri. It can grow to about 50 feet tall. It generally is a "geographical fringe tree," meaning that it grows and produces fruit best in places such as the edges of fields and along fence rows...
Long, skinny and green (05/18/14)
The rough green snake is a small slender nonvenomous snake native to the southeast quarter of the United States. In Missouri it is common south of the Missouri River. The rough green snake is sometimes called "green grass snake." This snake is docile. It will gently wrap itself around your finger or hand if you pick it up. It has a very small head and will probably make no effort to bite. This snake spends most of its time off the ground in bushes and weeds, searching for insects to eat...
Lessons from the bullfrog and fly (05/04/14)
I walked slowly along the shore of a pond on a recent rainy afternoon, looking for something interesting to photograph. In the clear water I noticed a largemouth bass patrolling the pond edge. I estimated the bass to weigh about 3 pounds. The bass seemed to sense my presence, backing slowly into deeper water, but stopping where I could still see it...
A treetop conversation (04/27/14)
In this photo a barred owl seems to be whispering a secret to a small blue-gray gnatcatcher. Minutes earlier I was photographing the barred owl and spooked it from its perch. There had been no blue-gray gnatcatcher present. The owl flew only a short distance and landed on a limb. ...
Pair of blue-winged teals (04/20/14)
The blue winged teal is a common dabbling duck that measures about 15 inches long and weighs less than one pound. The adult male has a distinctive white vertical bar between the eye and beak. The female is a bit smaller and is mottled brown. Both sexes display a blue patch of feathers on the shoulders of their wings when flying...
Best yellow legs (04/13/14)
Named for its long yellow legs, this native American bird is striking with its speckled white-on-dark back, white underparts and its skinny bright yellow legs. Its name is greater yellowlegs. A greater yellowlegs sports a slender black beak that has a slight upturn at the end and is longer than its head. A close relative, lesser yellowlegs, has a shorter beak and a stockier build and is noticeably smaller. An adult greater yellowlegs stands about 14 inches tall and is also about 14 inches long...
Got nectar? No, just bugs (04/06/14)
In this photo, which I took April 4, you see a small songbird that is native to North America. It is similar in appearance to the American goldfinch and the house finch. It also closely resembles the yellow-rumped warbler in size and coloration. This bird is a pine siskin. The pine siskin can be seen in Southeast Missouri from late fall through winter until springtime when it migrates back to its summer home in Canada and Alaska. During winter it may go as far south as southern Mexico...
An odd duck (03/30/14)
Here you see 16 chicken-sized birds resting in a dead cypress tree. A casual observer could easily mistake these birds for a flock of black vultures, crows or young turkeys. On water there is a resemblance to a loon with a long neck, a small black goose or a large coot. These birds are double-crested cormorants...
Jonquil trio in the snow (03/23/14)
March is a transitional time in Southeast Missouri with springtime close at hand. According to NOAA National Climatic Data Center, the average March snowfall for Cape Girardeau during the period from 1981 through 2010 was 1.2 inches. During this same time-frame average March temperatures ranged from a high of 58 degrees to a low of 36 degrees. Normally by March 23 we can expect highs around 60 degrees and lows around 40. Normally we can expect light snow on only two days during March...
Prescribed burn (03/09/14)
Often called a controlled burn, a prescribed burn is a natural lands management tool involving fire. The picture here shows a prescribed burn recently executed by a Missouri Department of Conservation fire crew. What appears to be a road is actually a firebreak line made by disking down to bare soil. During the burn, this line must be manned to assure fire is contained within the prescribed area...
A visitor from Quebec? (03/02/14)
This little bird is called a red fox sparrow. It is a bit larger than most other kinds of sparrows such as the song sparrow or the house sparrow. The red fox sparrow is one of a group of four kinds of fox sparrows native to North America, but is the only one to show up in Southeast Missouri...
Nature sculpts an alligator (02/23/14)
With all the ice, snow and cold weather we have endured this winter, I couldn't resist showing one more picture championing icicles. I was not expecting to come upon an alligator on this cold day while searching the edge of an area lake, but that is what it appeared I had found. Wood for a body and icicles for menacing teeth. Mother Nature had become an artistic sculptor...
Turkey vultures at their best (02/16/14)
The turkey vulture is not a graceful animal while on the ground, nor does it have a pretty face. But it is graceful in flight, and when a large congregation of them is observed soaring effortlessly in a winter sky it is difficult not to watch. Around and around they will circle, sometimes flying very high and sometimes circling low...
A tiny groundhog surprise (02/09/14)
The winter wren is one of North America's smallest and most energetic birds. Not much larger than a humming bird, the winter wren is one of Southeast Missouri's smallest wintering birds. It does not visit bird feeders. It spends its time searching the dark confines of ditch banks, undersides of rock outcrops and shadowy places such as hollow logs where it both roosts at night and hunts for insects such as millipedes and centipedes during the day...
Surviving under the ice (01/26/14)
At first glance, this picture -- which I took at the edge of a pond -- may appear as nothing more than a few leaves and a stick. Look closer, and you can see the leaves and the twig are lying upon or are partially in ice. A round brown object is beneath the ice...
A bird that drinks tree sap (01/19/14)
The yellow-bellied sapsucker is one of four species of small- to medium-sized woodpeckers known as sapsuckers to live in North America. It is the only sapsucker to show up regularly in Southeast Missouri. Most of the year, this little bird lives in northeastern parts of the U. S. and Canada, where it nests and raises its young. But this bird migrates south for winter and can at that time be found in the Southeast Missouri woods...
Making new soil during winter (01/12/14)
We usually don't associate icicles with being part of the process of soil creation, but this photo illustrates it. A long time ago, a tree fell over the edge of a small limestone bluff. Wedged in rocks below and attached to the edge of the bluff above, the main log has remained suspended above the ground for years...
New year, new life: red oak seedling (01/05/14)
As we enter a new calendar year, I struggled to find an image in nature to represent new life. January in Southeast Missouri is a time when nature is in survival mode. New birth is more a thing for springtime. The acorn seedling I show here is from the seed of a red oak tree. I took this photo April 2, 2011...
Christmas star designed by Mother Nature (12/29/13)
The Christmas Star -- also known as The Star of Bethlehem -- is most often depicted in art as a star with four main points. It also is usually pictured with a shaft of light reaching toward the Earth. I found this striking image in new ice that had formed at the water's edge of a small pond. ...
A blue jay imitates Santa Claus (12/22/13)
I took this photo while it was snowing the morning after freezing rain, sleet and snow fell during the night in Southeast Missouri. From a distance I could see something amiss with the blue jay's crest. When it flew closer I noticed that some of its crest feathers had ice frozen to them. It made me think of Santa's hat. I was lucky to have this beautiful bird fly close to me and afford me the opportunity to photograph it...
An effect of freezing rain (12/15/13)
Freezing rain the night of Dec. 5 caused the icicles in this photo. The long icicle formed as rain water collected and dripped from the roof of a shed onto a gray dogwood tree limb. As the water dripped from the roof -- at a more steady rate than the rain -- at a precise point on the limb, ice built up more heavily on the upper side as well as forming a six-inch icicle below...
The bowfin: A true survivor (12/08/13)
The bowfin is a fish whose existence dates back to the Jurassic Age when dinosaurs and reptiles ruled the world. It has found a way to survive across the ages while countless changes upon Earth have brought numerous other creatures to extinction. This is no small feat for a fresh water fish. They can grow to be about 40 inches long...
An animal that likes rainy weather (12/01/13)
The spotted salamander is a native nocturnal animal that spends most of its life underground, but can sometimes be found above ground on rainy days. It is sometimes called the yellow-spotted salamander because of bright yellow spots that run the length of both sides of its body...
An unknown tenant (11/24/13)
It is hard to tell exactly what kind of animal is making this hollow sassafras tree its home. Squirrels keep tree den holes from growing shut by gnawing the live bark around the hole. This is a setback to the tree's attempt to heal itself. Pileated woodpeckers will sometimes chip away at a hole like this to gain entry...
Nature faking a fire (11/17/13)
What I have photographed here appears to be smoke rising from a log. It is not smoke. Nov. 5 was a cool, damp day that transitioned into a cold -- but not freezing -- night. The morning of Nov. 6 saw me fortunate enough to find a bright sun shining through an opening in the forest trees intently striking a wet cool log. ...
Missouri's lion eats ants! (11/10/13)
About 18 months ago I bought some sand and piled about six five-gallon buckets full in a sheltered place safe from rain. I wanted to see what, if anything, might use the sand pile. Of course, a few feral house cats occasionally used the sand as a toilet, and a few toads have dug into the sand for safety and coolness from summer heat...
Senna plant seedpods (11/03/13)
Shown here is a seedpod cluster of a plant called senna, of which there are more than 250 varieties. Most are native to tropical regions of the world, and some are found in the northern temperate zone in which Missouri lies. In Sudan, senna leaves are dried and eaten. In China, an extract of the senna seed is used in food preparation. In Nigeria, the plant is used to treat skin infections...
A wasp called Metricus (10/27/13)
Several kinds of wasps can be found in Southeast Missouri. I photographed this nest on a shed's interior wall Sept. 26. The wasps are a species of native paper wasp called Metricus paper wasps. The male of the species has a yellow face, and the female's face is red-brown. Metricus paper wasps are generally not aggressive, but will defend their nest if disturbed. You can expect a painful sting if one attacks you. These wasps often are referred to as black wasps...
An amazing rat snake (10/20/13)
Two-headed animals are probably more common -- but short-lived -- than we might think. In the wild an animal born or hatched with two heads is immediately at a great disadvantage. Survival is always in doubt. Decision-making is very difficult. Eating, drinking, walking, running and escaping danger all are severely compromised...
A chimney made of mud (10/13/13)
I found this interesting mud structure at the edge of a pond. It was made by a crayfish and is called a "chimney." Crayfish are also called crawfish and crawdads and sometimes mudbugs. The crawfish uses its pincers and legs to excavate small balls of mud as it digs through the ground making a vertical hole. ...
The eastern velvet ant (10/06/13)
This insect is not an ant, although it is always referred to as an ant. It looks like a large red and black hairy ant, but is really a wingless female wasp. It is a very nervous insect as it hurries across the ground aimlessly, never seeming to stop. This makes the eastern velvet ant a very hard subject to photograph clearly...
The secretive wood thrush (09/29/13)
This is a small migratory songbird native to the eastern half of the United States. It winters in Central America. The wood thrush gets its name from where it prefers to live -- deep in the woods. This is a seldom seen bird that spends much of its time scratching for insects among the dead leaves of the forest floor. ...
A bite that's quite painful (09/22/13)
I photographed this horsefly in a meadow surrounded by woods. There couldn't have been a horse anywhere close to where I was, but no matter. Horseflies do not bite only horses. Any mammal will do. The horsefly is a distant relative of the mosquito, and both look for an easy meal of blood...
The misunderstood dog-day cicada (09/15/13)
This insect is often mistakenly called a locust. A locust is a kind of migratory grasshopper that appears in some parts of the world in great numbers and eats farm crops. Cicadas are a different kind of insect entirely. They are not known to eat plants in their adult stage of life. In the larvae stage the cicada stays underground where it feeds upon tender roots...
A ruby-throated hummingbird (09/08/13)
The ruby-throated hummingbird is Southeast Missouri's only hummingbird. This small bird is a great pollinator of many flowering plants, especially those plants that have throated flowers. Trumpet creeper and jewelweed are two favorites of ruby-throated hummingbirds...
A young house cricket (09/01/13)
House crickets are varying shades of brown with dark eyes and a dark rugged line on the collar. They look very similar to the common field cricket, which usually is black. Shown here is a juvenile house cricket the wings of which have not yet grown out. Oddly, most crickets cannot fly even as adults because their wings are too small to carry their bulky little bodies. They travel by walking or crawling and hop like a grasshopper when startled...
A hazy August sunset (08/25/13)
Summer sunsets over water are some of nature's most inspiring offerings. Watching and waiting for a single cloud to partially obscure the sun may allow you to capture what appears to be rays of the sun being cast into the sky. In reality, as in my photo here, the darker rays are shadows against the sky caused by altitude variations of the top of the cloud...
A big Missouri mushroom (08/18/13)
This mushroom is common throughout Missouri. Growing from a single base, it appears as several small mushrooms growing on and about one another. To me it looks like a pile of discarded, misshapen pancakes. Someone years ago looked at the mushroom and was reminded of a chicken with ruffled feathers -- thus the name hen of the woods...
A plant unusual to the area (08/11/13)
According to U. S. Department of Agriculture's Plants Database, the longleaf ground-cherry [physalis longifolia Nutt] is a plant native to most of the lower 48 states. Their distribution map shows that in Missouri the longleaf ground-cherry has been reported in most of the western counties, but in none in Southeast Missouri...
A summer mushroom (08/04/13)
Bolete mushrooms grow on the ground near trees, have umbrella-like caps and have pores rather than gills on the underside of the cap. There are many different kinds of bolete mushrooms in North America. Many of them are safe to eat when prepared properly, but some are poisonous and will make you very ill if eaten. Some boletes are small with caps no bigger than a nickel. Others, like the cluster I have photographed here, can be more than six inches tall and rather bulky...
The lovely Eastern tiger swallowtail (07/28/13)
The tiger in the Missouri woods is a butterfly. My picture shows a male eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly on the flower of a buttonbush. It has four black stripes along the shoulders of its front wings. Males may or may not have a bit of orange coloration on their hind wings...
A spiritual raccoon (07/21/13)
Sometimes a wild animal may seem to mimic a human characteristic, if only for a short time. This young raccoon surprised me by stepping out of thick brush, staring at me and then folding its front paws as though it was praying. The message this image sends to you may be quite different from what I saw in this little raccoon's eyes. To me, it was as if he or she were sending a prayer, "Please care about nature. We need you to care about us."...
Web in a hollow stump (07/14/13)
Be careful when peering into dark places during summer time.  Danger may be lurking there in the form of a snake, wasp nest or wild animal that does not wish to be disturbed. In this case, strong sunlight was shining in and I could see rotting wood that resembled an eroded mesa of Monument Valley wrapped in spider webbing.  I took this photo imagining I was at the rim of the Grand Canyon, and the spider's masterful web was swirling water from a great flood...
Unmistakenly the silk tree (07/07/13)
My photo shows the flower of a small lanky tree most of us refer to as the 'mimosa tree.'  Much like the term 'buffalo' has been mistakenly applied to the American bison, in the U. S., the silk tree has been labeled 'mimosa.' ...
The unique damselfly (06/30/13)
This little insect looks very similar to a dragonfly, but it isn't. It is a damselfly. There are many different kinds and colors of damselflies in the world. Most of them are much smaller than dragonflies. The damselfly that I have photographed resting on a small twig is about 1 1/2 inch long...
Is it a mosquito? Not exactly (06/23/13)
This insect looks like a big mosquito, but it isn't. It doesn't bite like a mosquito either. In fact it will not bite you at all. This is a crane fly. A crane fly is a poor flier and is pretty easy to catch. Even a slight breeze may force it to land. Its gangly legs and lack of strength makes it an easy target for orb weaver spiders. Once a leg is snared in the web, the crane fly is doomed, seldom being able to free itself...
Baby birds vary hatch times (06/16/13)
Editor's note: The following column has been edited to include the correct photo. Last Sunday I wrote about the indigo bunting and showed an adult male.  Today I am showing the indigo bunting babies in their nest. On June 8, when I took this photo, they were 10 days old.  Or were they?  A closer look reveals that one of the little birds is much smaller than the other two.  Let me explain...
Not your typical blue bird (06/09/13)
The indigo bunting is a small migratory songbird. It winters in southern Mexico, Central America and the islands of the Gulf of Mexico. During the warm months its range extends north as far as parts of southern Canada and into the southwestern U.S. as far as Arizona. ...
How frogs and toads differ (06/02/13)
Is it a frog ... or is it a toad?  Both frogs and toads need water to survive.  Both species lay their eggs in water and their eggs hatch into tadpoles.  Tadpoles cannot survive in open air. The differences in frogs and toads become apparent when the tadpoles grow legs and leave the water. ...
Build me up, buttercup (05/26/13)
The scientific name for this flower's genus is ranunculus. There are several hundred different species of ranunculus spread across the world. Many of them are difficult to distinguish from one another. Most buttercup plants have five slick bright yellow petals on each flower. Individual flowers of the buttercup are small, but this spring blooming plant can colonize an untilled field or pasture and present a breath-taking sight...
Speckled king and buckeye (05/19/13)
The red buckeye is an inconspicuous small tree native to most of southeastern United States. It is most often found in brushy fence rows, ditches and old fields growing beneath the understory of taller trees. Going virtually unnoticed for most of the year, the red buckeye, with its distinctive scarlet clusters of blooms, is easy to see during springtime. The tubular red flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds...
Buckeyes bring good luck (05/12/13)
The flowers of the Ohio buckeye tree are yellow. It is native to parts of the eastern U.S. with a range extending in an irregular-edged comma shape from western Pennsylvania to a point in south-central Texas. The Ohio buckeye tree is widespread through most of Missouri, but it is rare to find one growing wild in Southeast Missouri. The red buckeye tree, which has red flowers, is native to the deep South and is the most common buckeye tree in Southeast Missouri...
Progression of the pawpaw (05/05/13)
The pawpaw is a small tree native to mid-west and east-central United States.  It's claim to fame is it produces the largest fruits of any tree indigenous to the US. The pawpaw tree is a slender tree whose trunk is seldom more than ten inches around.  It is an understory tree seldom growing more than 30 feet tall...
A cowbird and hardy redbud tree (04/28/13)
The cowbird gets its name from participating in a mutually beneficial partnership with cows. Small flocks of cowbirds follow cows grazing in a pasture. As the cows move, they scare up small insects such as grasshoppers and cowbirds catch and eat the insects. Many years ago, before cows were introduced into the American landscape, this bird was called "buffalo bird" because it would follow herds of American bison...
Eaglets awaiting their meal (04/21/13)
Nestling bald eagles are called eaglets. I took this photo of two eaglets the morning of April 10. Both parent birds were in the area that morning perching above the nest for short periods and then flying away into the distance in search of food for their babies...
The emerging mayapple (04/14/13)
Shown here is a newly emerging mayapple as it looks a day or so before its leaves fully open.  I found this one in early April at night.  It is growing against the base of a tulip tree where wind had blown away dead leaf litter revealing the mayapple's rhizome...
Melting snow in a spider web (03/31/13)
Spring officially began March 20th. The following morning, light snow was falling in Southeast Missouri. Temperatures hovered near freezing and snow that collected only on grass and weeds was melting quickly. As I searched the forest floor for a photo opportunity, I noticed several small spider webs had collected snowflakes in them. ...
Does he migrate or not? (03/24/13)
The debate about the American Robin resurfaces each spring. Is this bird a migratory bird, or is it not? Truth is, some are and some are not. The American robin's summer range extends far into northern Canada and Alaska. The robins that migrate there in spring do not remain there for winter. These robins are truly migratory birds...
The origin of 'corn' in the U.S. (03/17/13)
In most countries of the world the word "corn" refers to any plant that produces grain, and corn is called "maize." It seems the words "grain" and "corn" are tangled, but this is America and corn is corn. Corn was domesticated in North America. Archeological digs have shown that a primitive kind of corn was grown in South-central Mexico at least 8,000 years ago. ...
The deceptive beauty of English ivy (03/10/13)
Introduced into the United States about 200 years ago, English ivy is a vigorous winter hardy vine in Southeast Missouri where it thrives and spreads on its own. English ivy was once believed to be a beautiful addition to the American landscape. It has been used to hide or "cover" unsightly areas such as ditch banks and trash dumps. ...
An effect of freezing rain on plants (03/03/13)
The effects of freezing rain can be very destructive, taking down big trees and causing traffic accidents. But freezing rain also can sculpt mundane things, such as the weed I have photographed here, into surprising little short-lived works of wonder...
A shed antler makes a lovely perch (02/24/13)
Pictured here is an antler that has dropped from the head of a whitetail deer buck. After finding this antler I placed it conspicuously on some rocks in order to get a good photo. Waiting several minutes before moving on proved beneficial as an inquisitive titmouse flew down to investigate, thus giving a sense of perspective as to the size of the antler...
Black vultures are graceful fliers (02/17/13)
The two birds shown here are black vultures that I photographed on Feb. 2 in Stoddard County.  In Southeast Missouri two kinds of vultures grace our skies: turkey vultures and black vultures. Black vultures are a bit smaller and stockier than turkey vultures, and have shorter wingspans and shorter legs. ...
The elusive, brown recluse spider (02/10/13)
The brown recluse spider is a spider worth knowing. Its bite often is painless but venomous, and medical attention is advised as soon as a spider bite is suspected. At the location of the bite a red area may develop and wasting of tissue can ensue. The brown recluse is not an aggressive spider. It does not like to venture out into daylight, preferring to retreat to dark shadowy places. If harassed it can run quickly, but most often it will move slowly and cautiously...
The ever-curious river otter (02/03/13)
The cute face you see here looking out of the water is a North American river otter. The other photo shows the remains of a large mouth bass that an otter left on a log after eating the meat of the fish. An adult river otter can weigh nearly 30 pounds and is a fast underwater swimmer. It has large webbed hind feet that can vigorously stir the water when it breaks surface as this one did. It grunted and huffed at me before quickly swimming away...
Raccoons quarreling in a treetop (01/20/13)
These raccoons are having a faceoff high up in a tree. Raccoon mating season begins in mid-January and extends through February in Southeast Missouri. If you go hiking in the woods on a warm winter day you may hear what sounds like an animal fight. It could be raccoons, and the growling could get pretty loud. Two or more males may be battling for the right to claim a female, or it could be a female raccoon trying to discourage an unwanted suitor...
Towhee eating snow (01/13/13)
All animals need to drink water in order to survive. During winter when temperatures drop below freezing for extended periods of time ponds, puddles, and small streams can freeze over. Most often in Southeast Missouri there will be places along streams where running water will keep trickling, even when temperatures drop and stay below 32 degrees Fahrenheit for several days...
Purposes of a solitary tree (01/06/13)
Have you ever wondered why a solitary tree is left standing in a field? There may be several reasons. I will list a few, but surely no one leaves a tree standing alone in a field so a photographer can be enamored with its beauty during or just after a snowstorm...
A majestic, American legend (12/30/12)
The American bison is North America's largest native hooved land animal. Records indicate that this animal was first called "buffalo" during the mid 1600s. More than 100 years later, about the time of the founding of the United States of America, biologists of the day realized that the American buffalo was more closely related to the European bison than buffalos such as the Asian water buffalo. ...
Mississippi Flyway a route for migrating birds (12/23/12)
The wild mallard drakes and hens pictured here are members of one of the most abundant birds on Earth. They makeup a large portion of the migratory birds that travel the Mississippi Flyway. Mississippi Flyway is a term used to describe a migration route taken twice each year by millions of migrating birds. ...
A friendly, polite winter visitor (12/16/12)
This is a small songbird called a red-breasted nuthatch. It is about the size of a Carolina chickadee. There are four different kinds of nuthatches found in North America. The red-breasted nuthatch is the only one to have a distinctive black line running from its beak, through its eye to the back of its head. Other nuthatches do not have this line...
Sharp-shinned hawk keeps eagle eye on birdfeeders (12/09/12)
If you feed songbirds, you may eventually see a hawk scaring them away from your bird feeder. A sharp-shinned hawk will likely be the culprit. This hawk will often fly up and land in a nearby tree, on top of a fencepost or some other lofty perch and watch small birds at a feeder...
Lamenting autumn (12/02/12)
As lightning racing among raindrops Autumn flashed through my hand, Brilliant in its moment Now taking a seat in my stand. A week ago I absorbed her balms. I fell in with the maple's alms, Grand before old oaks and elms. Oranges, yellows, reds and browns...
Pine siskin, a goldfinch relative (11/25/12)
This bird is an adult male pine siskin. The pine siskin is a close relative to the American goldfinch with which it is easily confused. The slender pointed beak of the pine siskin is perfect for retrieving the seeds out of the protective seed ball of the sweet gum tree. As its name implies, the pine siskin also can dig the seeds out of the cones of conifer (pine) trees. Insects are also a major food item...
Whitetail deer roam the continent (11/18/12)
The whitetail deer is one of North America's largest animals. There are more than a dozen subspecies of whitetail deer. The largest occur in the northern U.S. into parts of Canada. These often reach weights of more than 300 pounds. The smallest is the Key deer, which lives only in the Florida Keys and generally does not reach 100 pounds...
Mutated black-eyed Susan (11/11/12)
A mutation is an accidental change in an organism's heredity genetics. Mutations occur in plants as well as animals. Mutations are often difficult to discover and verify. Sometimes they are easy to see. I discovered the black-eyed Susan flowers pictured here on Oct. ...
Gulf fritillary is a familiar fall sight in our area (11/04/12)
At first glance this mid-sized butterfly may appear to be a monarch butterfly, but it isn't. It is a gulf fritillary. Although bright orange like the monarch butterfly, the gulf fritillary has fewer white spots and its wings are shaped differently. Gulf fritillaries migrate in autumn and sometimes large groupings are seen as far south as the Gulf of Mexico. This is where the gulf fritillary gets its name...
Exploring the autumn woods (10/28/12)
Usually peaking in brilliant color during mid to late October in Southeast Missouri, our autumn woods are beautiful in any direction. The woodlands in this region of the U.S. are part of a larger forest known as the Central Hardwood Forest. A North American hardwood forest will consist mainly of tall deciduous trees such as oaks, hickories and sweet gum that form the forest canopy. ...
Up close with differential grasshopper (10/21/12)
There are many kinds of grasshoppers native to North America. This photo shows an adult grasshopper called a differential grasshopper, which I found at the edge of a soybean field. It is sitting on a soybean stalk that holds two ripe, hairy soybean pods...
Say meow to the gray catbird (10/14/12)
The gray catbird is native to North America. Its range extends across most of the U.S. except for several far western states. Adults are about the size of a cowbird. The gray catbird is a migratory bird that will spend most of the year in Southeast Missouri, but by the end of November it will have left for the warmer confines of land in and around the Gulf of Mexico...
Dodder vines are leafless parasites (10/07/12)
Dodder is a fairly common native leafless parasitic vine. This fast-growing slender vine sprouts from a small seed and must quickly climb into or onto a host plant. If it does not reach into a host plant within a week or so, the dodder vine will die because it does not form a viable root system in the earth...
Great blue heron with a fish (09/30/12)
The great blue heron in this photo has just made a strike on a fish called a drum. The great blue heron is widespread and common in most of North America. It is one of the world's tallest shore birds. Looking gangly and clumsy while walking, it is a most graceful bird while in flight. It can glide long distances often low over water without making a wing beat. This photo attests to this bird's great eyesight, for it has caught a fish in muddy waters...
Many wild mushrooms are poisonous (09/23/12)
One of Southeast Missouri's largest mushrooms is the purple-spored puffball. It is a native wild mushroom that may appear in your lawn in late summer through autumn. It is commonly found this time of year in pastures and sometimes in woodlots. The purple-spored puffball is bulky in appearance. ...
Hummingbird spends winter in Mexico (09/16/12)
Sometimes referred to as a "hummer," the ruby-throated hummingbird is one of the world's smallest birds. It is the most widespread hummingbird in North America, found throughout most of the eastern half of the United States. It is a migratory bird that spends cold months in Mexico and warm months in the U.S. It normally arrives back in Southeast Missouri in mid-March each spring...
Hairs distinguish tachinid flies (09/09/12)
I photographed this fly as it sat on my finger. It is a member of a species of flies called tachinid flies. There are countless numbers of tachinid flies throughout most of the world. In North America alone there are well more than 1,000 different variations of tachinid flies...
A rare sighting of an albino groundhog (09/02/12)
This is the only albino groundhog I have ever seen. I watched as it ate vegetation on the opposite side of a woven metal fence about 100 yards away. As I contemplated how to approach the fence and animal for a decent photo, the groundhog suddenly decided to make a hasty escape. It slid under the fence and surprised me by running toward me. I photographed it as it ran across a well-mowed pasture going into trees nearby. I had unwittingly stopped close to this animal's den or place of safety...
Eastern wood pewee waits patiently (08/26/12)
This little bird is a member of a large family of songbirds called flycatchers. It is an eastern wood pewee. Although flycatchers of various kinds and colors are found across much of the world, the eastern wood pewee makes its summer home only in the southeastern quarter of North America. It is a migratory bird and winters in northern South America...
Monopoly Lake levels are low (08/19/12)
This is a view of a portion of Monopoly Marsh at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge. It is also referred to as Monopoly Lake. This photo, shot Aug. 13, shows the dramatic loss of water due to this year's drought. Normally the cypress trees in a row at the middle of this scene would have water two or three feet up on their broad trunks. The edge of the lake of water should be at the transitional area in the far distance where the forest begins...
Seed head of a jack-in-the-pulpit (08/12/12)
The jack-in-the-pulpit is a native North American woodland flower that blooms in early spring in Southeast Missouri. This spring and summer I have seen many jack-in-the-pulpit plants dry up and die before going to seed. I suspect that many of them will not come back next spring, but since the plant grows from a corm it is possible that many will survive...
White-eyed vireo's songs are erratic (08/05/12)
Pictured here is a white-eyed vireo I have captured with an assassin bug in its beak. This is a common small songbird of the southeastern quarter of North America. The white-eyed vireo is only about 4 1/2 inches long from tip of beak to tip of tail. It is a vocal little bird whose song is rather erratic. This amplifies the difficulty of identifying it even when seen in the field...
Velvet ants are wingless, female wasp (07/29/12)
Commonly called "velvet ant," this insect is really a female wingless wasp. It can deliver a painful sting. The male velvet ant is winged and is hard to identify even if found. The bright red and black colors of the female make her highly visible during summer as she runs around seemingly aimlessly on the ground...
Drought affects plants and animals (07/22/12)
In times of excessive heat and drought like we are currently experiencing, many wild animals and plants come under exceptional stress. In this photo I've captured a male American goldfinch sitting on a drooping sunflower. The yellow petals of the flower have prematurely wilted because of lack of rain...
Raccoon pillaged this turtle's nest (07/15/12)
The day I took this photo I happened upon a red-eared slider laying eggs in a hole it had made in the ground. I did not disturb the turtle or even stop to photograph her knowing that her task should continue undisturbed. Her eggs would need to be laid and immediately covered with dirt before she went back to the safety of the pond nearby. The nest would be left unguarded by the female turtle from that point on...
Aaron Horrell
Through the Woods