Category Archives: Ozark Hills

Walking and learning about the Ozark Hills

Velvet Ants and Snakes

It must be the continued summery weather here in the Ozarks. Animals are trying to get ready for winter, yet are still in summer mode. Velvet ants and snakes are among them.

My first snake encounter was at the laundromat. A woman was pulling her laundry out of a washing machine and backed up.

“There’s a snake in my laundry!”

I thought some poor black snake had been pummeled and drowned. Still, I went over to check it out.

Midland Brown snake
This Midland Brown snake is full grown yet doesn’t even fill my hand. After such an eventful day, it was very anxious to find a quiet place to rest up. Under a flake of mulch hay was the perfect place in the snake’s opinion.

Delight! The snake in question was a Midland Brown. And it was still very much alive.

For those unfamiliar with this wonderful garden snake: Midland Browns only get about seven or eight inches long. They eat slugs, insects and other small creatures that eat vegetables. They are not poisonous.

The snake moved to my garden.

That evening I almost stepped on a copperhead. It was on the road at the foot of the driveway and fled into the vegetation.

The next day I opened the shed to get my potato fork out to do some garden weeding. Another copperhead was coiled in the shed.

coiled copperhead snake
Vivid color indicates this snake molted recently. It was a bit of a surprise to open the shed door and see it. The snake seemed as startled as I was. That is typical of a copperhead. They seem to prefer leaving the area to being aggressive. This one never even turned its head toward me.

The snake remained motionless for a couple of pictures. Then it went into full panic mode getting tangled in the tools as it tried to disappear down a knothole to under the shed.

Yes, copperheads are poisonous. I do not kill them. It is rare to see them and they eat mice and voles.

On a walk that afternoon I came across another resident very rarely seen: a velvet ant.

Velvet ants are not really ants. They are wingless wasps. They can sting.

This one was very busy looking for unwary insects to dine on. Velvet ants are speedy, rivaling tiger beetles.

Velvet ants are rarely seen
Velvet ants are small, a half inch long. They race across and under leaf litter as the camera tries to anticipate where it will show up next.

Velvet ants are solitary and race through the leaf litter and other debris on the ground. In all the time we’ve lived here, this was only the second time I’d seen one.

Frost isn’t due until next month. Autumn officially gets here next week. Unofficially it is already here with cool nights and hot days. The animals and birds are on the move. What other surprises await me?

The Ozark Hills hold many surprises for those who walk them. Join me on the hills in “My Ozark Home.”

Impressive Bull Thistles

Surrounded by wild land, the house yards regularly sprout various wildflowers. This year was the year of the bull thistles.

I feel people recoiling in horror. Thistles are weeds! They have thorns.

There are a number of invasive thistles such as musk thistle. These are not allowed to grow here. Tall and bull thistles are native plants.

Even the native thistles can become weeds. One of the things about them is the tremendous number of seeds they produce. The lawn mower keeps the hordes at bay allowing only a few thistles to grow to maturity.

bumblebee on bull thistles
Every hair like pistil in a bull thistle flower head comes from its own tube flower. The bumblebee works its way around the blooms checking each flower for nectar before moving to the next cluster.

Thistles are a kind of aster. Those pink flower heads are masses of tube flowers, each a well of nectar. That makes thistles popular with insects such as bumblebees.

Hummingbirds like thistles too. They hover near a flower head and sip nectar from each flower before moving to the next breakfast buffet.

This year we had a couple of impressive bull thistles. Most of the plants fall over and send numerous branches skyward to bloom. Or they send up handfuls of stems each trying to be the main stem, but ending up making a thorny bush.

bull thistles can be impressive
The branches on this plant start about waist high on me. The top is a foot or more over my head. New flower heads open as older ones wither to begin forming seeds.

This year two of the thistles sent up single stalks that began branching three feet off the ground. One topped off at five feet. The other was over six feet tall!

As the flowers become seeds, thistles are still popular. This time the warblers and goldfinches hang off the flower heads eating the seeds. Many of the fluffy comas drift away minus their seed burdens. Plenty still have seeds to scatter across the yard.

We had a few years with moth mullein plants occupying the front yard with their short spires of delicate white flowers with purple centers. Then a couple of years hosted regular mullein towering up over their rosettes of huge hairy leaves. This was the year of the bull thistles. What will next year bring?

Enjoy essays about plants and animals from an Ozark year in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Fall Spider Watching

Spiders have been quietly spinning their webs since spring. They are big enough for spider watching in the fall.

Most of the orb web spiders die in the fall leaving behind egg cases from which the spring generation of spiders will hatch. Remember “Charlotte’s Web”?

double spider webs in morning dew
Double webs are common in summer and fall. One spider spins both. The spider has a look out spot between the two webs, but is difficult to spot and has an escape spot for quick getaways.

The baby spiders are tiny dots with legs. They spin tiny webs to catch pollen for food.

As the spiders get bigger, food means insects. Mosquitoes, flies and other insects we don’t want around. It takes a lot of insects for a spider to get big.

By fall orb spiders are big. Their webs are big. Grasshoppers are on the menu.

Spider watching begins early in the morning for garden spiders. That is when the spider spins her web. If you’ve never watched a spider weave a big orb web, you should.

garden spider great for spider watching
Garden spiders get big and their bright color makes them easy to spot. Each one seems to stake out an area and build a new web there each day. You have to get up early to see the whole process as the spider begins at first light.

As you watch realize that spider is essentially blind. Orb web spiders see little more than light and dark in spite of their many eyes (six or eight). A web is spun by instinct and touch.

The big black and yellow garden spider finishes up with a zipper in the center of the web. A marble spider (red with a blotchy yellow abdomen) spins in the evening and has no center decoration. Neither do the various carapace spiders with the large spiky abdomens.

All of these large spiders are females. The males are much smaller. They spend much of their time looking for female spiders.

carapace spiders have an other worldly look
This spider group is different. The spiky carapace is strange. There are several kinds. I’ve seen two around my hills. This one seems more common.

If you are lucky, your spider watching might spot a male courting. Remember these spiders can’t see. Theirs is a world of touch and vibrations. The courting is done by playing tunes on the web.

Spiders have many enemies besides people. Morning may find an empty web with a hole in the center. A bat came by. Birds eat spiders. Mud dauber wasps paralyze spiders for their young to eat as they develop in those mud nests.

Hopefully there will be plenty of egg cases hidden in protected places. We need spiders, not just for spider watching, but for non-chemical, ecologically friendly insect control.

Meet more Ozark residents in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Visiting Montauk State Park

Strange how it’s so easy to not visit interesting places close by. People do it all the time. I kept putting off visiting Montauk State Park.

The Paradoxa Chapter of the Missouri Native Plant Society gave me the opportunity when they went down to look for some rare plants. The weather forecast looked great. The forecast was wrong.

Current River in Montauk State Park
Current River begins in Montauk State Park where a cold spring pours water into Pigeon Creek. Much of the park is forested. There are some hiking trails. Members of the Native Plant Society were checking out the plants along the river.

Rain had moved into the Ozarks. Six inches over three days had fallen at my home during the week. The day for visiting the Park dawned overcast and was light drizzle by noon.

The drive to the Park was lovely. Usually August is hot and dry. This August has been hot and wet. Everything not kept trimmed back is green and lush.

Montauk State Park is at the headwaters of the Current River. A large cold water spring joins Pigeon Creek to form the river. The cold water is perfect for rainbow trout.

fishermen in Montauk State Park
Most people come to Montauk State Park to go rainbow trout fishing. The cold waters from the spring are right for the hatchery and the river.

A hatchery at the Park supplies fish for the droves of fishermen and women who descend on the Park beginning March 1 Opening Day and continuing until winter. There are hiking trails, but almost everyone is dressed in fishing garb carrying poles and gear. They line many areas along the river.

Members of the Society gathered to talk with the Naturalist. He is excited with the population of butternut trees in the Park as most of the trees were killed off by a disease. Those in the Park seem resistant and may offer a chance to spread these trees back into their original range.

small bluff along the Current River
Montauk State Park is filled with Ozark hills formed of thick layers of limestone and dolomite. When these are cut by the river, bluffs like this one form.

Butternuts are similar to black walnuts with compound leaves that look the same. The trunks are lighter in color and have a different bark pattern. The nuts are more egg shaped and have a better flavor.

We went down along the river in search of the two seeded mercury. The drizzle got worse. The mercury plants weren’t where we were searching. Lots of other plants were.

The scenery was lovely. Visiting Montauk State Park was worth the drive even though we had to leave early. I plan to go back and do some more plant searching when the weather is better.

Ozark hills are beautiful. Enjoy more of it in “My Ozark Home,” a book of photographs and haikus.

Misty Meadows

Thunder showers ran by in the late afternoon dropping a half inch of rain. The temperature dropped. A silver haze hung in the air low to the ground making misty meadows as sunset approached.

Mist usually shows up in the morning. It hangs heavy over the meadows and obscures the hills. It shimmers in white as the sun rises and dissipates when the sun’s rays light up the meadows.

morning misty meadows
The sun is still behind the hills barely visible shining through the gaps between the trunks of the trees on the hilltop. In the meadow white mist blankets the ground coating the grass with moisture, hiding tree trunks for the first five feet. The air is cool, still and wet.

This mist is predictable. First there is a lot of moisture on the meadows and in the air over them. Second the air temperature drops. Water vapor in the air becomes minute water droplets that reflect the light making haze over the meadows.

Going out walking through the misty meadows as the sun rises is peaceful and quiet. The night insects go silent. The birds start to call.

Morning mists
Morning mists didn’t always form layers. This one went up into the trees. As the sun rose, the mist formed white curtains hanging between the trees on the hills.

Increasing light whitens the mist. Spider webs and plants are hung with water droplets shining brightly.

When the mist is heavy, trees and other objects take shape slowly as I approach. Standing close to the trees there is the sound of light rain as the drops fall from the leaves and branches. Standing too close nets a shower.

Looking back a dark path marks my passage. On both sides the dew still shines on the plants. The dew from my path now soaks my pants legs.

Rubber boots help keep the feet dry longer unless the plants are taller than the boots. The dampness seeps down my pants legs into my socks and leaves my feet cold and wet by the end of a walk.

old stumps in misty meadows
When the meadow was cleared, the tree stumps were shoved into a pile. Over the decades the bottom stumps slowly decayed and the others settled. Out walking through the mist, the stump pile loomed suddenly in a clear pocket yet in sharp relief from the moisture on the wood.

Cold, wet feet are the signal to go back to the house. The way back is slow as the sun is up enough now to make the mist bright white even as it fades away.

Evening misty meadows seem blurry hidden below the hint of mist over them. The light is too dim for photographs and fades away as the clouds overhead turn salmon pink over meadows turning purple then black for the night.

Two of these pictures are from “My Ozark Home.” Check it out.

Fall Monarch Butterfly Migration

During the spring Monarch Butterfly migration the butterflies are big with bright colors. For the fall Monarch butterfly migration they somehow seem a little smaller and duller. They are still beautiful.

We have grown several kinds of milkweeds for years. Each year the Monarchs arrive in the spring and fall.

Ozark springs have been cool and wet the last couple years. Milkweeds don’t grow well in cool weather. The Monarchs arrive to find small plants struggling to survive.

In the fall the milkweeds have bloomed and some have set seed. Others still have their seed pods ripening. The plants are shutting down for the year.

Fall Monarch butterfly migration brings butterflies
Monarch butterflies, all butterflies really, never stay put long. I followed this one for some time trying to photograph it as it tried to elude me as a possible predator. It finally settled on a Butterfly Weed flower umbel to eat a snack.

Still, the plants have plenty of leaves for several caterpillars to munch on. Monarch butterflies keep producing more as they move south. Not all of them will beat the cold weather.

It’s a good thing some people grow milkweeds for the fall Monarch butterfly migration. The road crew has cut them down along the road ditches. The city crews have cut them down along electric rights of way. The Conservation Department has cut them down trying to control uncontrollable lespedeza.

I find it ironic that the Conservation Department urges private land owners to plant milkweeds for the Monarchs and cuts their own down.

Today a half dozen Monarch butterflies wafted through stopping to visit the wildflowers for nectar and the milkweeds to lay eggs. Only the Butterfly milkweed is still blooming.

The butterflies seem to move in erratic paths. This must be to elude would be predators. It works for photographers too.

If the fall Monarch butterfly migration continues as in past years, we will see several of them a day for a week or so. Then they will be gone along with the hummingbirds and the warblers.

Even now the trees are getting ready to show off their fall colors. I’m not ready for summer to end.

Find out about more natural happenings in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Pokeweed Thickets

When spring warms up, pokeweed sticks up its first shoots. This is considered a wild green.

The shoots should be gathered when six to eight inches tall. They are bitter in taste so parboiling them is a good idea.

Parboiling is putting the shoots in water, bringing it to a boil, then draining the water. The half cooked shoots can then be used in other ways.

Frying the shoots is popular. I prefer to boil them. That way they end up with a taste and feel similar to asparagus.

pokeweed plant
Pokeweed has a big tap root with multiple stems growing up. The stems are red, up to 2 inches wide and hollow. They branch at the top with these covered with large leaves and streamers first of flowers, then with berries.

The time for gathering pokeweed shoots is long past in August. The plant is now a tall, leggy plant with thick red stems. The stems branch giving the tops a wide spread.

Flower streamers hung down for a short time. The flowers are small, white and waxy in appearance. Berries have replaced the flowers.

The berries start out green, but mature to red purple. They are juicy. The juice was used as ink in pioneer days. The berries are poisonous to us.

Pokeweed was an unfamiliar plant when I moved to the Ozarks. That first year I saw my goats urinating this red stream and panicked. The panic passed and I found them happily eating pokeberries.

pokeweed berries hang in clusters
A pokeweed berry begins to grow almost before the flower is done blooming. The top flowers bloom first so the berries form and ripen from the top of the cluster down. They are full of a red juice that stains the hands.

One thing about this plant: it seeds prolifically. Birds spread the seeds all over including lawns and gardens. The lawn mower takes care of those seedlings.

I was teaching and my garden was very neglected. Pokeweed takes advantage of such opportunities. It moved in.

My garden sprouted a pokeweed thicket. It survived two or three years getting bigger each year.

I wanted to reclaim my garden and attacked the thicket making an unwelcome discovery as I snapped a spade handle trying to pry one plant out. This plant puts down a big – really big – taproot. A couple were close to a foot across and two feet long with several large side roots going off.

Each plant required time consuming excavation. New plants are now pulled as soon as they are spotted.

Pokeweed is on the march here again. A thicket has sprung up near the composting manure pile. Several plants are scattered around the workshop and garden areas.

I am out with my loppers for large plants. My garden is checked often. And the birds are feasting out in the pasture.

Brush Cutter Attacks Roadside

The brush cutter came by the other day. I will admit the road was overgrown and needed trimming.

Plants love light and grow out toward it. An open road is inviting as it lets lots of light in. So the bushes and tall wildflowers had grown tall and wide. Branches reached out nearly touching a single vehicle going down the road.

road before the brush cutter came
Plants do tend to spread out to gather more light in the road. This does make the road seem narrower than it is. The feel is more of wilderness, of a green and leafy tunnel surrounding the road. Wildflowers add touches of color.

That wasn’t a problem to me. There are so few houses along the road and traffic should be slim. Of course that wasn’t the case.

Hundreds of vehicles drive by the house in a month. Almost all of them are ones that have never driven by before and never come back again. Still they complained about the brush.

The brown-eyed Susans were coming into bloom. The blackberry lilies were blooming madly. The curly top ironweed was spreading purple in places. Downy skullcap added blue to the mix. The elderberries and blackberries were getting ripe.

cutter went to bare dirt
Parts of the roadside were cut down into the dirt. Some plants were chipped off in their roots and tossed out onto the road. The objective seems to be to leave only grass yet the bees and other creatures need the native plants.

No one notices. They see only the reaching branches. And the brush cutter came by.

I do understand the need to trim back the exuberant growth, but this was a massacre.

The bushes are more than cut back, they are gone. Shattered stems an inch or two high mark where they once stood.

Six inch diameter trees are shattered into kindling scattered along the road.

tree limbs were shattered
The brush cutter is a huge, movable rotary cutter. The blade is quickly dulled by rocks and dirt. Thicker stems and branches aren’t cut, but shattered by the cutting blade.

Wildflowers vanished. Sometimes even the dirt was churned up leaving roots pulled up and shattered.

Bigger trees have their branches broken off from near the ground to ten feet up. These were eight feet off the road and weren’t growing out over the road.

People say how open and nice it is now to drive down the road. The brush cutter did a wonderful job. The plants will grow back.

road after the brush cutter went by
The road is bare. Lots more light shines in. Nothing is there to appreciate it now. The birds have moved elsewhere. The ground squirrels are staying up on the hill. Even the cats stay near the barn now.

Some plants will grow back. Some will come up as seedlings. The roadside will turn green again providing nesting spots and food for the birds along the road.

Then the brush cutter will return in the quest to make the roadside a golf green once again.

See the beauty of the Ozarks in “My Ozark Home.”

Tree Frogs As Visitors

This year every time summer settles into the Ozarks, a storm rolls through to laugh at it. The frogs love this.

Normally the tree frogs occupy the rain barrels until June. Then they are off to try to keep cool and damp elsewhere. Behind them are batches of tadpoles growing up, becoming little frogs and hopping away.

Hot, dry weather arrived on schedule. The frogs were silent.

A storm arrived bringing cooler temperatures. The frog chorus began again with renewed vigor. Even as July begins to end the tree frogs are calling from the rain barrels. New batches of tadpoles are hatching out.

tree frogs like it cool and wet
This tree frog found a small, private pool to rest in for the day. Notice the big pads on the toe tips used for climbing.

All these tree frogs need places to stay during the day. One discovered my houseplants. Several of the plants are in self watering pots with water reservoirs at the bottom and a half circle opening to pour water into.

This opening goes into a fist sized pool. Every rain storm fills it. When rain is scarce, I fill it. A tree frog moved in.

One autumn I brought my houseplants inside for the winter. They have a shelf in the bathroom with a grow light and a window. It isn’t really warm, but never freezes either.

Killing frost hit. Several more rolled by. Winter was moving in.

In the bathroom a tree frog began calling every evening.

This was a big problem. Frogs change their physiology to hibernate for the winter. This frog thought winter was over.

tree frogs are grey with brownish stripes.
Grey tree frogs are small. This one is about 3 inches long without the legs. The plant is in the sun so the water got too hot and the frog moved to somewhere else.

Frogs eat live food like insects. I’ll admit my house is popular with insects over the summer, but not enough to feed a frog. Perhaps I could convince this frog to eat purchased meal worms for the winter. Perhaps not.

Winter moves in for a week or so, then retreats for a week or so. When the temperatures eased, I put the frog outside near good winter hibernating places.

This new tree frog is welcome to enjoy my houseplants over the summer. However, I will check carefully before bringing my houseplants in for the winter.

Admiring Beautiful Rainbows

Ozark summers are a time of scattered showers. Sunset was close, clouds were drifting over. The light turned yellow turning the pastures in glowing gold. The perfect time for beautiful rainbows.

Rainbows happen when the sun is low in the sky shining toward a light shower. There was no shower, only hot and humid weather.

As the last goats finished eating, I watched the pastures glow under the yellow sky. The goats got done and went in. I headed to the chicken house to close them up for the night.

There it was: a rainbow.

A double rainbow
The main arc of color was vivid in this rainbow. The second arc was barely visible. Double rainbows are not unusual here.

This valley is a great place for beautiful rainbows. The valley runs north to south. The side valley runs west giving a break for the setting sun to stream through.

The east side in summer is tree leaf paved hillsides. These darken as the sun sinks behind the western hill.

The clouds had moved in from the west. They scudded over the valley laughing at my thirsty garden. Over the eastern hills the clouds stalled and dropped a steady, misty rain.

Sunlight hit those water drops reflecting and refracting inside them as inside a prism. The light split into colors and the rainbow arc wavered into being.

The rainbow strengthened until it was clear and strong arching over the hills. A second arc tried to appear above it but never quite showed more than a hint of color.

This rainbow set off the dark green hills and blue grey sky for five to ten minutes. Then the sun sank below the lip of the hill. The rainbow was gone as quickly as it appeared.

beautiful rainbows at sunset
This rainbow was a surprise. The small pasture is across from the porch and makes a great place to admire the rainbows.

Over the years we’ve seen many beautiful rainbows in this valley. Each has been special and held us in awe watching as they strengthened then vanished. Many have been doubles. One seemed to end in the north pasture.

Knowing something of how rainbows form is interesting. It doesn’t reduce the awe seeing a rainbow brings.

Find more about rainbows in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Garden Variety Monarda

I’ve seen Monarda out in the fields and pastures for years. Two kinds, beebalm and horsemint, grow here. They are similar. they are not the garden variety Monarda.

The flowers are long downwardly curving tubes of light lavender with lavender spots. These come from a spherical base and hang out looking like a loose mop head.

Horsemint blooms first. It likes to grow in the woods and has leaves that sit down on the stem.

Horsemint flower
In wild beebalm the bottom ring of a Monarda flower head opens first followed by succeeding higher rings until all have bloomed. In the garden variety, most of the flowers open at the same time.

Beebalm likes the sunny pastures. Its leaves have petioles. That’s the easy way to tell them apart.

The garden variety of Monarda is different.

The flower arrangement is similar. The long tubes hang from a central sphere. The mop heads top every stem.

Color is the big difference. The garden variety Monarda is deep red. The leaves are more triangular and deeper green.

red garden variety Monarda
Typical of the mint family, red Monarda has a square stem. The leaves are opposite. The flowers are a deep maroon red. It makes a lovely, if pushy garden plant.

In another way the so-called tame Monarda is typical of the family. This is the mint family.

I obtained this red Monarada as a tiny plant, innocent looking. The fact that it is a mint never crossed my mind. I set it out in the flower section of my garden and ignored it.

That was several years ago. It is no longer ignored.

butterflies like garden variety Monarda
Monarda is a clump of tall, single stems from a single fibrous root system. At first the stems were a modest two feet tall. This year they are four feet tall and fill 2 square feet of space. Insects love them.

In typical mint fashion, this tiny plant has expanded into a large clump. It is not a short, pretty flower. It is four feet tall. At least it doesn’t have long runners.

I stopped to admire it late the other day. Bumblebees hummed tumbling from one flower to the next. A pipevine swallowtail butterfly hovered feeding on the different flowers. This was close to sunset so I’m sure other insects visit earlier in the day.

I do like having a flower corner in my garden as I have no time to do a regular one. Unfortunately it seems filled with tall, leggy plants now. Chicory, evening primrose and now garden variety Monarda hide my lilies and irises. They are nice. They are too numerous. The Monarda clump is getting too big. I guess I will have to work in the garden flower spot for a time this fall.

Swim In the Water

Summer temperatures make the creek and nearby river seem very inviting. Lots of people drive by on their way to swim in the water.

We watch them drive by with their children and dogs going there and back again. We stay home.

There is a creek running the length of our place. With all the rain the level is up a bit making some nice deep pools. When we first moved here, there were some pools deep enough to swim in the water.

The creek in summer
Shade, green and gravel, softly noisy water make sitting by the creek a nice pastime in the summer.

We were still close to being city people back then and found the resident fish and snakes intimidating. We did fill our solar shower to take daily baths. We had no house that first summer.

Although I do occasionally walk through the creek now, I don’t relax in it. Snapping turtles visit in early summer. They are hard to spot, cranky, with a mean bite.

Just because I don’t choose to swim in the water doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it. Sitting in the shade over the creek usually includes a gentle, cool updraft. The bubbling, gurgling, rippling sounds of the creek are relaxing.

So many creatures live in the creek. Stepping on the stones will crush many of them. There may be an alternative.

This pool is deep enough to swim in the water
In the picture the creek doesn’t look very deep. The main channel is 18″ to 24″ deep for about twenty feet here. I plan to come back with some old sneakers and go wading in the water. Barefoot won’t work for me on slimy, snail covered rocks with crayfish and fish darting about.

No, it doesn’t include going to the river. Noise is part of going to the river for most people. Many of the people going down there are responsible. Others go down to party leaving shattered beer bottles scattered on the river bed. Other trash is left along the shore. As this area is private land, no one bothers to clean it up.

Instead I will walk along the creek. I seem to remember a few places with an overhanging bank and deep pools made for dangling feet. But I still don’t plan to swim in the water.

Relax by an Ozark creek in “My Ozark Home.”

Watching Wildlife

Since no dogs live here, watching wildlife is a fun pastime. Wildlife can be a problem, but seeing it is still a treat.

Raccoons and opossums generally come after dark. When they become a nuisance, the livetrap is set out and we see them in the trap before taking them elsewhere.

ground squirrel watching me
This ground squirrel might be looking for a new place to live, but the yard is definitely not a good choice. Foxes would find it a delicious morsel. These squirrels are cute creatures. I hope this one found its way to a safer territory.

Ground squirrels seem to be everywhere lately. These are belligerent characters when challenged. Mostly they are a blur crossing the road with their tails held straight up.

Watching wildlife on the road is important. Many dither or panic as the vehicle comes up. Snakes and turtles tend to stay put and need persuasion to get off the road.

copperhead snake on road
Copperheads are poisonous, true. Most are not aggressive and will take off given the chance. Their bites make my goats swell up, usually a leg, and hurt for a day or two. Then the swelling goes down and all is fine. In cooler weather snakes bask on the gravel road for the warmth. This includes green grass, black rat, hognose, ring and middlin brown as well as copperheads. It’s a great opportunity for looking at them as they lie still unless disturbed. I make sure they get off the road before driving on as so many people deliberately run over them.

The local coyotes have given us some special opportunities for watching wildlife. The coyotes tend to stay back on the hills and in the ravines away from the pastures and buildings making the areas safer.

Deer bed their fawns down in the tall grass in the pastures. One was next to the pasture gate and discovered when the goats went traipsing out.

watching wildlife as a fawn takes luck
A motionless fawn curled up in tall grass is a brown hump easily overlooked. Normally I see them as a small, white tail disappearing in the distance. This one stayed put as the goats and I tromped out past it, never seeing it. I saw it on my way in from the bridge.

Coyotes kill foxes making them rather rare in the area. One pair has moved by the house to raise their four kits.

This is the second year this pair has been here. Last year half of my hens disappeared. I am more careful this year and keep them up most of the time.

The fox family is very shy. Any hint we are around sends them into the brush. Luckily the house has lots of windows.

watching wildlife from inside the house keeps shy foxes in view
Grey foxes are like small dogs in size, about double a big house cat. They are pretty and fun to watch. The kits are growing up and mother fox is taking them out into the brush. She is very attentive to them, but demands immediate obedience.

The male fox sometimes curls up out in the back yard. His favorite spot is a ways out from the bathroom window making taking pictures easy. He does know I’m there, but doesn’t find me a threat as I am in the house.

One day the kits were out in the same area. Mother fox let them play a few minutes before leading them off across the yard and into the woods.

Watching wildlife is fascinating. It is also a matter or luck: being in the right place at the right time, camera in hand.

Looking At Caterpillars

This seems a summer destined to keep me from doing much walking due to an injured foot. Nature is all around me and I found myself looking at caterpillars. Lush vegetation invites these herbivores to gorge.

The cabbage worms and loopers on my cabbage along with cutworms made good meals for my pullets. They have begun clucking.

Most caterpillars are on wild plants. They can take careful searching to find. Usually I don’t search for them, but suddenly find myself looking at caterpillars right in front of me.

looking at caterpillars can find surprises
The Abbot’s Sphinx Moth caterpillar looks like someone was working on a mosaic with its light green tiles in a dark brown background.

That happened the other day. I was moving mulch hay from the barn to the garden. Since it was only a couple of armloads, I carried it. A strange looking object was lying on the ground.

Around here anything that doesn’t sound or look right bears investigation. I stopped to take a closer look. It turned out to be a very strange looking caterpillar.

Shape wise the caterpillar looked like a tomato horn worm without a tail. It had the same soft, bulbous body and a big shield on the rear end with an eye spot instead of a tail.

back end of the Abbot's Sphinx Moth caterpillar
Spinx moth caterpillars have this round thickened area on their rear end. It looks a little like an eye. On horn worms the tail spike sticks out of the center. On the Abbot’s Spinx Moth caterpillar only the eye is there.

The resemblance stopped there.

This caterpillar had a dull brown body covered with light green shields. It looked like it was tiled. These tiles covered the entire body.

I do have a Peterson Guide for caterpillars. It’s identification selection is limited. I don’t use it often finding looking at caterpillars is diverting only. This one was worth looking up.

Surprisingly the caterpillar was in the guide. It is the larva of the Abbot’s Sphinx Moth. There are two color forms of caterpillars for this moth. I’ve seen the brown form before, but didn’t look it up.

looking at caterpillars from the side
Pulling the Abbot’s Sphinx Moth caterpillar onto its side exposes the green patches there. this must be done carefully to avoid hurting the caterpillar.

This particular caterpillar will spend the summer eating and growing. It’s favorite foods include Virginia Creeper and Wild Grapes. Both grow abundantly around here and it is welcome to feast on them.

In the fall the caterpillar will burrow into soft dirt to form a brown pupa. Next spring the Abbot’s Sphinx Moth will crawl out of the pupa case, spread it’s wings and fly away.

Flowers Are Busy Places

In wildflower guidebooks the flowers are featured looking beautiful. Out in the wilds flowers are busy places.

Sometimes I take pictures of flowers and don’t discover the residents in them until later. Often the visitors are obvious. Either way I think they make the picture more interesting.

flowers are busy places for bees
Spring cress is a pretty flower and clumps grow down near the creek. This metallic green native bee was resting on a flower and warming up in the sun.

Insects are the creatures thought of first, especially bees. No one sprays our fields so there are lots of different kinds of bees and bumblebees. The green metallic ones are eye catchers.

Clear Wing Hawk Moth sips nectar from swamp milkweed flowers
Swamp milkweeds have lots of nectar. Clear Wing Hawk Moths visit each flower for a sip.

Flowers are busy places for many insects. Milkweeds make it easy to spot lots of butterflies, wasps and clear wing moths. Beetles lurk as they prefer plant sap to nectar. Flower spiders and assassin bugs lie in wait for an insect meal.

katydid nymphs are common visitors on flowers
Flowers have lots of delicious parts. The nectar is refreshing and sweet. The pollen and seed ovules are protein rich. Petals taste good too. At least katydid nymphs think so. This one is on a rough-fruited cinquefoil flower.

Tiny katydid nymphs like flowers too. They seem to like the pollen and nectar, but aren’t shy about nibbling on the petals. There are times when no flower has all its petals intact for a picture as lots of insects enjoy eating them.

tussock moth caterpillar on milkweed leaf
Some caterpillars are smooth. Then there are those like this milkweed tussock moth caterpillar decorated with white, red and black hair tufts. this one is busy devouring – what else? – a milkweed leaf.

The plants are busy places too. Ants tend aphid herds. Caterpillars devour leaves. Ticks stand poised to leap onto any animal passing by.

Plant stems have suds on them now. These suds surround the stem and are wet and slimy. Walking through tall pastures can leave pant legs liberally smeared with the stuff.

The suds are created by spittle bugs. Wiping the foam away reveals a homely creature busily dining on plant sap. These nymphs will grow up into frog hoppers.

Spittle bug with the foam wiped away
Frog Hopper nymphs are called spittle bugs because of the foam they cover themselves with to hide from predators. Their large heads and eyes which remain as the nymphs become adults give them their name.

Frog hoppers are like leaf hoppers and stab plant stems for the sap. The common leaf hoppers are thin. Frog hoppers have a wide head and thorax giving them a frog like appearance.

flowers are busy places for insects gathering nectar
Swamp milkweed flowers attract many insects including Monarch butterflies and bumblebees.

I’m glad flowers are busy places. An injured foot keeps me from going very far. Instead I can find a nice patch of flowers, sit down and enjoy the fragrances and the show.

Find out more about the natural Ozarks in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Special Sensitive Fern Find

When we first moved here, I came across a fern I didn’t recognize growing along the creek. It turned out I’d come across sensitive ferns.

There ferns got their name because they wither away at even the lightest frost. They like it warm and wet.

High water destroyed the ferns. Searching along the creek turned up no more sensitive ferns. There were other ferns to look at and admire.

On a walk up the road to a spring I came across another sensitive fern. Even though I’d not seen one for several years, it was unmistakable.

sensitive fern plant
Buried in grass and sedge, surrounded by blooming water cress, the unique color of a sensitive fern makes it easy to spot. This plant was on a hump next to the fence so it wasn’t growing in the water, but the soil was wet.

Sensitive ferns are larger than most reaching two feet high. Their fronds have a typical fern arrangement except for all the webbing or wings. The color is a spring green.

Unfortunately this fern was next to a culvert which the road department replaced. It got buried or dug up or both. Again the sensitive fern became only a memory.

The spring is cold water and flows year round feeding a small wetland area. Cattails, willows, spearmint and more live in the area. I pull on my boots and wade through from time to time.

sensitive fern frond
The winged effect is strongest toward the tip of a sensitive fern frond. A frond is one to two feet long and a foot wide toward the base.

This land is now part of a land trust. The family lives in the city. They come out to hunt turkeys and deer. And this spring they came out for a fun weekend. Fun for them.

The group ran their four wheelers and pickups up and down the creek and across the edges of the wetland. From the depth of the ruts, the four wheeler must have sunk almost too far to get out again.

My normal path was in ruins. I tried to make a new one and came close to leaving a boot in the mud. Finally I approached the fence where the water came in from the culvert. It’s easy to slip through between the barbs there.

The color was first to make me look. A line of sensitive ferns was growing strung along the fence. Maybe this time the ferns will survive for years.

Meet more Ozark wild plants in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Tadpole Time

Spring peeper frogs are one of the earliest sounds of spring in the Ozarks. Their calls indicate the beginning of tadpole time.

Frogs definitely disprove the quiet country myth. Spring peepers are only the beginning of the frog chorus that extends into early summer.

As different frogs and toads join the chorus, others drop out. The chorus changes song mostly in pitch.

This year a new voice joined the chorus for a few nights. We debated whether we heard a bird or a frog or ? It was a constant loud trill.

American Toad tadpoles provide tadpole time in a rain barrel
I think this an American Toad tadpole. It’s living in a rain barrel with lots of its siblings. These tadpoles don’t quietly eat or sun around the edges of the barrel. These tadpoles swim around and across the barrel.

Our road crew had seen a need for a shallow pond in the road across from the barn. In the morning I noticed some long strings in this muddy, ephemeral (We hope.) pond. On closer inspection these turned out to be eggs encased in clear slime, a hallmark of frog and toad eggs.

The trilling was from American toads. These are common here, but rarely seen. They like moist, shady places and are nocturnal.

Cars regularly drive by splashing through this pond tossing up fine clay mud which was coating the slime over the eggs. The slime protects the eggs and must let oxygen through. Mud defeats both purposes. I moved the eggs to some rain barrels.

Most of the eggs didn’t survive the mud. One barrel now hosts toad tadpoles. They are lively things speeding around and across the barrel.

grey treefrog tadpole
Grey treefrogs love some of the rain barrels around the house. They sit on the edges calling. A week later small tadpoles appear. By midsummer the tadpoles become tiny treefrogs and hop away.

Tree frogs now make up the chorus around the house. They like the rain barrels. Every year one or more discovers sitting in the end of the drain pipe amplifies their sound.

Tadpole time now includes three rain barrels full of tree frog tadpoles. This complicates mosquito control. I go by with an aquarium fish net and sweep mosquito larvae up. Dumped on the ground the larvae dry up and die. It doesn’t make much of a dent in mosquito populations in a wet year like this one, but I have to try. I don’t want to sweep up the tadpoles.

The tree frogs are selective about the barrels. There are nine scattered around the house. They choose three or four evidently based on temperature. They avoid those shaded most of the time or standing in the sun most of the time.

tadpole time includes bullfrogs in the creek
A jumble of rocks, cement and broken cement blocks give these bullfrog tadpoles good places to hide or sit out sunning. These hatched last year and are getting big, four to six inches long. They may become bullfrogs this year.

Down by the creek bridge I found evidence of more tadpole time. We hear the bullfrogs and the green frogs down along the creek. This year I came across some bullfrog tadpoles. They were from last year judging by their size.

Frog calling time becomes tadpole time. This summer tadpole time will become baby frog time. There will be plenty of mosquitoes for them to eat this year.

Frog and toad tadpoles aren’t the only ones in the ponds. Meet the spotted salamander tadpoles in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Finding Edible Mushrooms

There are several jelly mushrooms on dead branches after rain. I’ve looked at them for years never suspecting I was looking at some edible mushrooms.

Around the Ozarks morels rule. Chanterelles may have more recipes in the wild mushroom book. The one most sought after is chicken of the woods. No one mentions jelly mushrooms.

Jelly mushrooms are different. They look like colored pieces of gelatin with a strong skin. I see them in white, yellow and brown.

Brown jelly mushrooms are edible mushrooms
Brown jelly mushrooms are very different from what people picture when they think of mushrooms. Clusters of these appear on dead hardwood branches and trees after rain all summer. Their edges dry quickly as the air dries. They range from a half inch to several inches across.

In researching possible sources of wild food for the Carduans I looked up these mushrooms. The white and yellow ones are not edible. The brown ear variety are edible mushrooms.

A related species that looks like the brown ear ones here is popular in China as an ingredient for hot and sour soup. I was willing to give them a try.

When I’m not looking for these mushrooms, I see them here and there. When I am looking for them, they seem no where around. Where should I look?

Fallen trees and branches are a good place. The mushrooms are picky. They avoid sycamore. They seem to like oak and black walnut, I think.

A few were growing on a branch. I taste tested one. Bland. Chewy. Not bad, but definitely an ingredient, not on its own.

Rain is a common visitor here. Since it falls in small amounts, up to two inches, there are no floods. Instead the days are cool, moist to wet and perfect for many plants.

different edible mushrooms
Another name for a brown jelly mushroom is ear mushroom. Backlighting makes these mushrooms glow inside. They are firm to the touch. Their surface feels like soft cloth. Sliced open the inside is like firm gelatin.

I found a fallen tree, probably black walnut. It was covered with these edible mushrooms. I gathered a big handful to mix with greens and onions to stir fry for dinner.

Morels and chanterelles stir fry and sauté well. Button mushrooms from the market do as well.

I rinsed off the mushrooms, chopped the greens and onions. Once the pan and oil were hot, I tossed in the mushrooms and onions.

Jelly mushrooms are different. They hissed. They popped. They exploded into the air. Every time I stirred the pan, a new round began.

The mushrooms darkened and I tossed in the greens. The onions were done. The greens were done. How do I know if the mushrooms are done? Other than darkening, they didn’t change much.

The dish was edible, even tasty. The jelly mushrooms stayed chewy. Next time I’ll try soup.

More about Ozark mushrooms is found in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Watching Pawpaws Develop

Ozark springs are beautiful. They set the stage for summer bounty. I’m watching pawpaws in anticipation of late summer bounty.

Spring weather is tricky here. One year spring ushered in its warmth enticing the pawpaws into bloom. The temperature dropped into the twenties for a week and killed the crop.

watching pawpaws begins with flowers
Pawpaw flowers point down looking like dark red purple bells with green tops. They are pollinated by beetles and flies, not bees.

Summer thunder storms drop hit and miss rains around the Ozarks. Enough is spread around so most places get some. One summer had no storms, no rain, only heat. There was no crop.

Farmers are familiar with the watching game. Watching pawpaws isn’t a big deal as I don’t depend on the crop.

This spring has been cool and wet. The pawpaws are now in bloom. The watching and waiting game begins.

looking inside a pawpaw flower
From underneath a pawpaw flower the pistil with its surrounding blanket of stamens is visible. The pistil is ready for pollen before the stamens release their pollen to prevent self fertilization. The pistil is large enough to make using a paintbrush to scatter pollen easy as beetles and flies are not as reliable as bees.

It is May, after the frost date. There shouldn’t be frost. It could happen. The forecasts don’t hint at such a catastrophe.

There’s a lot of rain. Pawpaws like that. The trees grow in ravines above the creeks. Enough moisture assures large pawpaws.

Summer is coming. It could be hot and dry. Heat isn’t a big problem for pawpaws as the trees grow in shade cast by other, taller trees.

Drought is a problem for all plants and creek residents. The creek sinks into the gravel leaving pools along its length forcing fish into concentrated areas good for predation, bad for survival. Leaves hang wilted. They may turn color and fall.

watching pawpaws ends with fruits
The petals drop away and tiny pawpaw fruits begin to grow. This will be a cluster of three fruits. Another cluster had seven which seems to be the maximum. Singles do occur. The fruits increase in size over the summer and ripen the end of August into September.

Pawpaws stay small. They are barely edible when they ripen. This disappoints lots of consumers: foxes, raccoons, opossums, squirrels and me.

So far the crop looks promising. The future crop is only half an inch long now. When ripe the pawpaws will be four to six inches long. The best ones will have deep yellow flesh full of pineapple banana custard goodness. The ravines are full of trees known to produce such premium pawpaws.

Pawpaws ripen about September. For the next three plus months I will be watching pawpaws.

Find out more about pawpaws in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Wild Cresses Are Blooming

Older people around this area remember gathering wild greens. Some of those were the wild cresses.

The popular one today is watercress. It even shows up in gardening catalogs with instructions how to grow it.

Watercress is an alien species brought here long ago. It has spread both by seeds and by cuttings. Yes, nature can do cuttings.

wild cresses include watercress
Watercress sometimes seems to be a pest. It forms large mats in quiet areas of six to eight inches of cool water. The taste is always tangy, but gets very bitter and sharp once the plant blooms.

The stems of watercress are brittle and root at every leaf node. Floods break off stems, carry them downstream and these root to form new colonies.

Look for watercress in flowing cold water. I find it in spring fed streams and a wetland across from a spring. It forms large mats sometimes towering a foot over the water.

The most colorful one blooming now is yellow rocket or winter cress. The rosette of leaves persist through much of the winter and are edible. In spring stems shoot up lined and topped with bright yellow flowers.

wild cresses include yellow rocket
Yellow rocket or winter cress sends up numerous stems topped with vivid yellow flowers. This makes a good potherb before it flowers.

These grow in lawns and along roads. One stretch of my road is lined with yellow rocket and is lovely filled with the bright color.

Near and in shallow cold water is the spring cress. Like watercress, spring cress has white flowers.

These are smaller plants, often single stems with an array of flowers at the top. The stem keeps growing so more flowers appear leaving the older ones to make seeds. This plant seems to set seeds and almost disappear like the spring ephemerals.

wild cresses include spring cress
Spring cress usually has only one stalk. The white is brilliant against the green background. The plant likes its feet wet and grows in boggy areas or shallow water.

Several things are similar about these cresses. The flowers all have four petals. The leaves are deep green with ruffled edges. The seed pods are long capsules with many seeds in them. All of them are edible.

Wild cresses, there are many more than three, are among many plants found in the mustard family. We grow some members in our gardens: cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, kale and mustards among them.

Wild cresses are best eaten before they bloom. All of them are peppery any time but add a bit of bitterness when they bloom. All are nutritious.

Finding New Plant Names

New plants turn up in well traveled places. Some are brand new to plant lists. I find ones I’ve never seen before. Either way, new plant names are needed.

A couple of weeks ago I had to walk around in town. Out of habit, I watched for plants in bloom and saw several. Spring beauty, grape hyacinths, chickweed, dead nettle and henbit were among them.

One I didn’t recognize was covered with red purple blooms. It was a small plant, a few inches tall. It had lacy leaves and hairy stems.

finding plant names uses leaf arrangments
The plant is low, only six inches tall. It’s numerous stems sprawl across the ground. Flowers bloom from along and at the tips of the stems. This fits lots of plants as do the lacy leaves.

Lots of plants fit this description. Finding new plant names is difficult when sorting through a pile of them with no idea how to narrow the search.

There were no seed pods on the plants. I made a note of where to find one patch so I could come back to see the seed pods.

finding plant names uses the flower arrangements
The flowers are a half inch across. They have five petals and five sepals. The center is a conical mound topped with the anthers and styles. Lots of flowers have five petals and five sepals. Lots of flowers are the purple these are. Finding the name can be difficult. Once the group is determined, the similarities to others in the group become obvious.

In the meantime I planned to check out the flowers on http://www.missouriplants.com, my go to place for new plant names. All you really need to know is the color of the flower and whether the leaves are alternate or opposite. Then you scroll through the thumbnail pictures until you find the flower.

Like so many good intentions in the spring, this one got shoved aside by more pressing matters.

An opportunity presented itself for me to race out and check this plant for seed pods. I found the patch and sat down to check the plant and stared.

finding plant names became easy after seeing the seed pod
The seed pod was the clincher for me. The somewhat bulbous base and long stalk is typical of the various crane’s bill group in the geranium family. It is the source of the common names for the plant as well.

It couldn’t be! These distinctive seed pods couldn’t belong to this plant, or could they? They did and I knew the group this plant belonged with: crane’s bills.

Another crane’s bill, the Carolina Crane’s Bill, grows near the driveway on my road and in nearby areas. The seed pod is a definite identification of the group, no other group has anything like it.

Carolina crane's bill flower
Carolina Crane’s Bill has lovely pink flowers a half inch across topping a scraggly plant that can reach a foot tall. It is a typical geranium flower, but much smaller than the commercial ones.

Finding new plant names can be much easier if the group is known, the geranium family in this case. This little plant has the common name Stork’s Bill. It is the introduced one originally from Europe.

Ozarks Spring Finery

As soon as spring temperatures start shoving winter out of the Ozarks spring finery begins to pop up. People driving by think this means the redbuds and dogwoods are in bloom. They should get out of their vehicles and go walking.

white violet blooming
The old song may say violets are blue and some are, but may are other colors like this white or striated violet. Unlike the common blue violet, white violets have short stems and grow almost a foot tall. The plants bloom profusely all summer along damp, shaded roadsides and in ravines or along creeks.

All the spring wildflowers are rushing their flowers out. White, yellow, blue, Johnny Jump Up and bird’s foot violets are among them. The blue and white ones will bloom much of the spring into summer. The Johnny Jump Up, yellow and bird’s foot will bloom for a few weeks and vanish until next year.

Bloodroot was scarce when we moved here. It’s popular with herb diggers. Now I see it back in the ravines, even along the road. They show for the morning and fade away by noon.

Pale Corydalis flowers
The first year I noticed these feathery plants with their yellow flowers, I saw only a few. Now Pale Corydalis plants show up in the lawn and along the road. They could be considered weeds, but bloom for a short time and vanish. It makes more sense to enjoy their yellow trumpets.

Pale corydalis is one of those bits of spring finery that get overlooked easily. The plants are small and feathery. The flowers are half inch long tubes. Walking along the bright yellow catches the eye.

I like the deep color of rose verbena. It’s common along parts of the road and near the creek and easily spotted. It’s rose purple sets off the nearby orange puccoon.

yellow spring finery orange puccoon
Like the daffodils the orange puccoon is a bright flower. The color ranges from yellow to orange. The plants are normally six or seven inches tall and less than a foot across. I find them on a road cut where the soil is poor and prone to erosion. They grace the area for a month or so then vanish.

These named flowers are only a taste of what is blooming and coming into bloom. There are a couple of dozen out now. The flowers are serious business for the plants that want to set seed to begin another generation of plants. They flaunt their colors and shapes and scents for the insects.

redbuds are pink spring finery
The redbud is a small tree and prefers to grow under cover of oaks and hickories. It does grow out by itself. The flowers emerge from the twigs, branches and trunks in thick clumps surrounding the wood with color. The flowers are edible with a nutty, bit of sweet taste.

All these colors are missed by the people driving by. They can admire the redbuds. These interesting trees put out their pink slippers from their branches and trunks.

They should notice the many wild plums filled with white blossoms. Sassafras is harder to spot as their yellow flowers are much smaller in smaller clusters.

In another week the dogwoods will begin blooming. Then the Ozark woods will be dressed in pink and white spring finery to celebrate the season.

Admire more photographs of Ozark wildflowers in “My Ozark Home.”

Watching Speckled King Snakes

Spring has mostly arrived in the Ozarks. The snakes are out including the speckled king snakes.

People usually think of black rat snakes when they think about rat and mouse control. Many decide to leave these alone as they will eat other snakes such as copperheads.

Speckled king snakes are similar to black rat snakes. Both eat rats and mice. Both are constrictors, squeezing their prey. Both live in similar places. Black rat snakes get bigger.

two speckled king snakes entwined
These two speckled king snakes rolled over and over wrapped around each other. A pair last year did this for over an hour.

In spring these snakes come out during the day. Speckled kings are shy and flee before being spotted much of the time. I see their tails disappearing into the grass.

I’ve heard speckled kings don’t make good pets. I don’t think any snakes make good pets, but a cousin did. He had a black rat snake. It was used to being handled and was the first snake I ever touched.

Snake scales are cool, dry and smooth to the touch. They seem waxed.

Once summer weather arrives the snakes stay in cool places during the day. Evening and night are the times they come out looking for food. Except in my hen house.

The black rat snakes stay under the wood floor of the barn. They have plenty of mice to snack on. Still, they find eggs irresistible. I’m slowly remodeling to discourage their visits.

speckled king snakes in grass
These two speckled king snakes had been entwined, possibly mating as this is the right time. Moments later the smaller male took off followed by the larger female.

Speckled king snakes never seem to be in the barn. They do come through my garden. Most commonly they are out in the pastures.

Regardless of where the snakes are found around the house or barn, they are rarely killed. A couple showed up in my pantry and were moved outside. Snakes are far too valuable as mouse and rat control to harm.

The big problem with the snakes is that they maintain their body temperature by sunning so they don’t need a lot of food. They don’t eat enough mice.

The wildflowers are blooming in the Ozarks. Enjoy pictures and commentary about some of them in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

My Ozark Creek Talking

Spring is attempting to invade the Ozarks. Walking along an Ozark creek is relaxing. Unlike in poems, my Ozark creek does not babble, not all the time.

During the height of the growing season walking along an Ozark creek is a difficult feat. Vegetation is thick and tall. Vines tie it together. Now only the bushes and trees are still there. They can impede progress a little.

Ozark creek rushing by
Water races down the runway with a rushing sound as though it were highway traffic flowing by. Ozark creeks with gravel beds often have sharp drops in elevation and these sluices go from a pool above to the swiftly flowing creek below.

Walking along the creek I could see its many character changes. Some places are placid moving sheets of water. Other places race down sluices. Fallen logs and rocks can narrow the channel. Part of the channel is deep. Most of it is shallow.

Each character change brings a different sound.

Ozark creek glugs and foams
Not tall enough to be a waterfall, water still drops over an obstruction into a hole with glug, glug, glug. The water below the hole foams up and over sounding like a small ocean wave foaming its way up the sand.

Placid areas are quiet. The sheet of water flows quickly by almost silently. It has a soft slipping sound. Rocks sticking up create tiny gurgles. In warm weather the minnows will jump creating plops. The wind ripples the surface into tiny moving eddies.

These quiet areas often end in gravel sluices. Water races down creating a rushing sound almost like highway traffic. If the gravel is large, the creek babbles as it races down the slope.

Ozark creek babbles over rocks
Where an Ozark creek flows over and around rocks of various sizes, it does babble. This is a combination of rushing, gurgling and glugging sounds that ebb and flow as the water moves from one to the next obstruction.

Stretches of fast moving water with large rocks scattered around gurgles. Smaller rocks cause high, soft gurgles. Large rocks cause deep gurgles.

Some places have obstructions. Water leaps over and into a deeper place beyond. The water there foams over the water arriving. There is a deep sound like water making a whirlpool in an emptying bathtub with a rushing sound over it.

Ozark creek pool
Broad pools are great places to sit near and relax. The water slips by almost silently. The sun plays on the ripples. The constant movement of the water with its ripples and eddies quiets the mind.

Walking along my Ozark creek is not boring. The creek is talking all the time. The conversation shifts as I walk by.

These conversations are as varied as the creek bed the water is flowing down on its mad rush to the river a half mile away.

Meet my creek and its denizens in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”