Category Archives: Ozark Hills

Walking and learning about the Ozark Hills

Special Morning Light

Six degree mornings don’t have much going for them in my opinion. They need all the help they can get. If conditions are just right, special morning light can be that help.

Winter mornings are not sunrise mornings for me. The wood stove goes out around three in the morning. Dawn brings a cold house.

Sunrises are left to themselves as the floors are swept and the fire started in the stove. Only after that are winter mornings looked at.

By this time whatever colors might have appeared for the sunrise are gone. Since winter mornings are overcast more often than not anymore, the color change is from purplish black to blue gray. I don’t find this very impressive.

special morning light sets off the trees
No picture really captures how special morning light sets off the trees along my Ozark creek when cold temperatures coat them in ice. Only some trees glow like this. I think it is a combination of the sun’s angle and where I’m standing that creates this moment. I’m glad it does.

Now and then the sun puts in an appearance which is special morning light all by itself. Such occurrences must be spotted without forecasting help. This winter seems determined to prove the forecasters wrong about cloud cover as much as possible. The clouds simply refuse to leave.

Clear mornings are a double edged sword. It’s wonderful to see the sun and have a sunny morning or, even more rarely, a sunny day. Having no cloud cover lets the temperatures drop.

So the temperature dropped to six degrees. The moisture on the trees froze encasing them in a thin coating of ice. And the sun started sliding up over the eastern hill.

special morning light sets off ice stalactites
This winter has formed magnificent ice stalactites and columns on the bluff rocks along the road. Some are only a foot long. The biggest are easily six feet. Early in the morning the ice glows in the sunlight. What I’m looking at is that great shelter under the rock overhang. The Carduans find a similar an overhang.

Ice is clear. Like water, ice has no color. The trees shimmered as light refracted through the ice turning the trees into crystal works of art.

Less than five minutes and the light show is over. The sun is up over the hill. The ice is melting in the trees.

Like sunrises and sunsets, special morning light is fleeting. Catching a glimpse of it makes even a six degree morning special.

Relax reading about the Ozark seasons in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Snow Colors at Night

January is bringing snow to the Ozarks. It is bringing colder weather with it. That means the couple of inches of snow stays through the night and I could notice some snow colors at night.

During the day snow is a bluish gray to dirty white, if the sky is clouded over. It turns a blinding white in the sun.

What about at night?

I’d assumed it would be dark as the night is dark. Perhaps it is at new moon. As the moon approaches full, snow is not dark at night. It’s not only not dark, but glows in snow colors.

snow colors during the day are mostly white
During the day elephant toe seed heads hold white snow caps. Once night falls the caps may be blue, if they are still there.

I milk at night during the winter. There is a light at the house and lights in the barn. Some of the walk is done using a flashlight.

One of the other additions to winter night milking is carrying buckets of water. It seems, no matter how many buckets I cart to the goats during the day, they are not enough. So I set buckets in the milk room for the goats to get a drink before going back in the barn.

The snow fell early in the day. The clouds moved in to stay for days. Setting up for evening milking, I grabbed my flashlight and a bucket and started out of the barn.

I put the flashlight back.

snow colors during the day are mostly white
White snow sets off the buckbrush berries during the day. By nightfall the snow will be gone although the berries will still be waiting for a bird to come by to eat them.

The snow was a blue glow across the ground. There weren’t any shadows, only this blue. It was bright enough to walk around without any additional light.

The clouds held sway for another day just to spite the forecasters. Again I enjoyed walking in that blue glow on the snow.

Finally the clouds began breaking up late the next day. This night I opened the barn door and the blue glow was gone. A whiter glow replaced it.

If we get more snow near new moon, I will have to check out the snow colors at night then.

Enjoy the views of “My Ozark Home” in my new book.

Warm Winter Brings Cement Snow

A bit of snow finally arrived this winter for the Ozarks. The thermometer sat about thirty-four degrees as the snow fell, perfect for cement snow.

Snow is interesting stuff. It forms below freezing and drifts down. The type of snow depends on the temperature.

Up north snow fell with temperatures in the teens. Tiny bits of white from thin clouds seemed to never end, piling up for inches. The bits were like grains of sugar and poured from the hand like it too. They squealed underfoot as we walked across them.

rabbit tracks in cement snow

Rabbit tracks are among the easiest to recognize as the two front feet land together and the two back feet separately giving a triangle pattern. In cement snow the feet punch straight down to the ground.

When the temperatures were in the twenties, the snow often fell as flakes. These are the patterns for children’s paper cut outs. The clouds were heavier, but still thin enough to make out where the sun was. This snow crunched underfoot.

yucca leaves in cement snow

Yucca leaves roll their edges in for cold weather. Cement snow isn’t cold enough so the leaves poke out through it.

The snow in the Ozarks is different. Temperatures are often near freezing as the snow falls. The flakes can be clumps that splat on the ground. Stepping on this snow squashes it down, making it appear wet. It is wet. This is cement snow.

Water is heavy, eight pounds to the gallon. Cement snow is heavy too, close to that eight pounds a gallon.

cement snow on rocks

Mosses, ferns and other plants like columbine depend on snow to add moisture to their perches on the rocks. This exposed piece of bluff rock is full of cracks and crevices.

Cold snows are easy to shovel. Lesser depths sweep easily off walkways with brisk swooshes of the broom. Deeper amounts push easily with a snow shovel or are light to toss out of the pathway.

Cement snow sticks to the shovel. It mounds up quickly sticking itself into those mounds. Every scoop must be pounded on the ground to remove the lumps. Some need manual shoving. It is exhausting work.

cement snow feeds Ozark creek

Cement snow means water for this Ozark creek. It is up making large languid pools, but the residents are tucked into deep places trying to keep a bit warm.

Only a few inches of this potential heart attack trigger fell. My regular pathways are mostly melted into muddy trails. The roads have long stretches bare of snow.

The biggest disappointment with cement snow is how it looks. It lacks the charm of colder snows.

The advantage with this snow is how fast it melts once the sun reappears.

Read more about snow and floods in the Ozarks in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Invasive Plants Everywhere

It’s strange how I forget to take some pictures for so many plants. My quest to fill in these blanks took me back to ShawneeMac Lakes where I also found several invasive plants.

What is an invasive plant? It’s a plant usually from some other country that is now spreading through native habitats.

How do these invasive plants get here? Some arrive by accident. Colonists brought over crop seed to plant and the invasive plants were mixed in. These are such plants as the plantains, shepherd’s purse, corn speedwell and many other common weeds.

invasive plants include Oriental bittersweet

The native bittersweet and the Oriental bittersweet are very similar in appearance and seeds. The Oriental is very aggressive and can kill the trees it climbs. I’m not sure which this is and will check the flowers this spring.

Another way such plants arrive is by invitation. Some are herbs or edible and are brought over as crops. Some are pretty and gardeners bring them over to decorate their gardens.

Once growing, plants flower and produce seeds. The seeds scatter growing into new plants. Consider the dandelion and how many seeds one plant produces.

Walking around the trail at ShawneeMac I was not concerned with invasive plants. I had a list of plants I needed winter bud pictures for. Even though I knew about where to find these plants, I’m always on the lookout for new ones.

invasive plants include Japanese honeysuckle

Japanese honeysuckle flowers have a wonderful scent that hangs in the air around the vines. It blooms for months. It covers fences, other plants and buildings.

Japanese honeysuckle is an invasive plant. It can be a terrible problem piling up over native plants, smothering them under thick vines and leaves that stay green through the winter. There is a lot of this at ShawneeMac Lakes.

The little vine climbing up the side of a tree was a bit similar with opposite green leaves. It wasn’t Japanese honeysuckle. Those leaves have smooth edges. These had teeth. The winter bud is different too. I took pictures to look it up later.

invasive plants include wintergreen vines

Gardeners like wintergreen as a ground cover in shady areas. It spreads into wild areas and climbs trees and shrubs burying them under foliage.

The American holly plants are pretty this time of year. The hawthorn had nice buds on it. One of the hazelnuts still had a few nuts on it.

When I first saw this plant, I noticed the red seeds with wings over them. There are a number of plants with such seeds including the wahoo tree. But this wasn’t that plant. I took some pictures of bark, bud, twig and seed to look up later.

invasive plants include burning bush

Burning bush is easily recognized by the wings on its twigs. It makes a nice hedge when trimmed. In wild areas it spreads by seed crowding out native shrubs.

I knew about the bittersweet vines. There are two similar ones. One is a native plant. The other is an invasive Oriental vine. I tend to think the ones at ShawneeMac lakes are the invasive one, but won’t be sure until spring when the vines flower.

Once home I took out “Shrubs and Woody Vines” from the Missouri Department of Conservation. That vine seems to be wintergreen, as invasive species. The bush is burning bush, also an invasive plant.

Invasive plants grow wherever they can find a place. More than these few find a place at ShawneeMac Lakes.

Winter Hiking Weather

So far winter in the Ozarks is following the new pattern. Cold moves in for a few days. Warmer temperatures move in for a few days. The latter are good winter hiking weather.

All spring and summer I take plant pictures. I do download and file them in a file for that year. Winter is the time to go over the pictures and try to complete plant picture sets for the botany project.

winter hiking weather good for seeing American Holly

American Holly is a holiday plant with its green leaves and red berries. Winter is a good time to see it.

The other day I set off for ShawneeMac Lakes Conservation Area. American Holly grows there. It isn’t supposed to grow in Dent County, but it didn’t read the book.

Holly is an evergreen shrub. I took a picture of it last summer. Green holly against green trees defeats the purpose of the picture: to show what the plant looks like.

In winter holly is still green. The other trees, shrubs etc. are not green, don’t have leaves to hide the holly. Winter is the time to get the plant picture. Winter hiking weather is the time to go walking.

geese on ShawneeeMac Lakes during winter hiking weather

Canada geese do make themselves known by honking loudly from near shore. They are silent as the flock glides across the lake.

The lakes were full of water after a wet fall. The short leaf pines looked lovely. The sunny day had brought other hikers out on the trail.

The trails around the lakes are easy walking. The lake views from the various bridges showed the extent of the lakes much more than when trees block them. A flock of Canadian geese were enjoying the lakes.

watching Canada geese during winter hiking weather

Canada geese can become nuisances. They seem to visit ShawneeMac Lakes on a short term basis.

Several of the holly plants were decked out with red berries. Holly has two plants. The male produces the pollen. The females produce the berries. A number of plants including American persimmons have that arrangement.

Now I have the American Holly plant picture. The next time winter hiking weather arrives, I will be back out on the trail to take winter bud pictures of various trees, shrubs and woody vines.

Enjoy nature for all seasons in Exploring the Ozark Hills, a book of nature essays and photographs.

Finding Goats in Woods

Winter is a dull time for botany. The plants are hunkered down or dormant. Finding my goats in woods makes a walk interesting.

The strange thing about goats foraging in the woods is how they vanish. I wanted to check on the new kids. I knew where the goats had gone up into the woods. I followed the trail.

And I found no goats.

The trail winds across the hill, crosses a couple of ravines and continues back across another hill. Four deer bounded off as I approached the first ravine. No goats.

The leaves were scuffed. There were hoof prints. I saw no goats in woods.

The trail disappeared. I could look down into the big ravine. The herd probably went down and crossed to the south pasture hill. I turned around to start back.

The bare, brown trees were silhouetted against the deep blue winter sky. Dry leaves scattered or crunched under foot. A few green plants hid under the leaves. A sedge with frost yellowed blade tips stuck up.

I remember walking this trail when wildflowers scattered themselves across the hill. This is where I took the shooting star picture on the “My Ozark Home” cover.

But no goats in woods rewarded my walk. I decided to take a side hike up to some big rocks and turned.

goats in woods

Someone is coming, say the goats. They are on alert, ready to run.

The herd stood there looking at me. On the way out I scoured the hills as I walked and saw no goats. Now they stood poised to bolt toward home.

I called and started up the hill. They went back to foraging. Acorns are still thick on the ground here.

Rose, Agate, Pamela and Spring came over for petting. Drucilla warned her kids to stay away from me. She was ignored.

The herd moved on. I trailed behind amused at how goat in woods appear and disappear.

New Year’s First Flowers

No flowers are blooming now. Even the dandelions are dormant. As I go through my pictures from this year, I wonder which will be the first flowers to bloom in the new year.

Several flowers come to mind. Little corn speedwell with its sky blue flowers has bloomed during warm spells in January before.

corn speedwell flower

Corn speedwell came from Europe, but is wide spread in areas of short grass. These little flowers look like bits of summer sky scattered on the ground during warm spells over the winter.

Dandelions always seem poised to open their yellow flowers as soon as warm weather arrives. Their dark green rosettes dot the yard ready and waiting.

daffodil flower

Planted world wide, daffodils are a symbol of spring yet bloom, not as soon as spring hints appear in winter, but after spring is moving in.

Daffodils are thought of as early spring flowers. As far as I’ve seen, their leaves come up early. The flowers don’t show until spring is battling its way through the dregs of winter.

Shepard Purse flower first flowers

This wild green tries to stay green all winter. It doesn’t take much of a warm spell to encourage Shepard’s Purse to put up a flower stalk. The young leaves make a good addition to salads or stir fries.

Shepard’s purse is a surprise contender. It has rosettes here and there around the yard, mostly in the driveway or near the road. It was blooming late into November until the hard frosts were too frequent.

dandelion first flowers

Another wild green, dandelions put up their flower heads even in late winter, if it gets warm enough. The plants stay green all winter and make good additions to salads and stir fries.

If I wander down along the river, harbinger of spring blooms early. It grows tucked beside trees that warm and protect the roots through the winter.

There are many spring ephemerals. I doubt these are contenders for the year’s first flowers. They tend to wait until spring is trouncing winter before appearing.

Harbinger of Spring first flowers

Harbinger of Spring or Salt and Pepper is one of very few native plants to bloom early, before spring settles in.

Some things must be true for such early bloomers. They must be tough to withstand hard frosts and stand back up in the morning. They must shiver through cold days that bracket the few early spring days and endure.

Most of the flower pictures I am working with are from flowers blooming in the warmth of late spring and all of summer. They are often bigger and showier than those first flowers of the year. Their beauty will be welcome and enjoyed.

The one thing lacking for these later blooms is the sheer joy those first flowers bring. Winter is ending is what these flowers herald. That makes them special, no matter which ones they are.

Find out more about the Ozark seasons in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

How Do You Count?

Nature doesn’t count the way we do. When you look at a flower, some flowers are in sets of three, some fours and others fives.

Purple trillium is an easy one to see the sets of three in. It has three leaves, three sepals and three petals. False garlic is another one.

Bluets come with four petals. The early small bluet so hard to photograph as the camera always tries to lose focus has four distinct petals in some shade of lavender, blue or white. The later long leaf bluet has a trumpet that breaks into the four petal lobes at the top.

count three with purple trillium

A spring ephemeral purple trillium sends up a single stalk with three leaves. On them open three sepals exposing three purple petals hiding three yellow anthers.

The rose family has a set of fives. Tame roses have been bred to have so many petals, it’s hard to see the underlying fives. Wild roses, crabapples, wild plums and swamp agrimony have five petals.

People count in sets of ten. We have five fingers, all right, four fingers and a thumb, on each hand. Children use each one to stand for a number and end up making ten.

Our number system is set up on tens. We keep adding one number at a time until we get to that tenth one. It goes in the next column as one complete set of ten plus no ones (10). The ones add up again until we get to that tenth one again. It becomes a two in the tens column plus no ones (20).

count four on a bluet

A common bluet flower has four petals. They are often blue but range from white to lavender. All have the dots of color at the base. I find them very difficult to photograph. They seem to stay out of focus.

As I began to look over my rough – very rough – draft of The Carduan Chronicles, I hit this fundamental fact. I was counting in sets of ten. The Carduans would not count in tens as they do not have five fingers on each hand.

Now, as the Carduans are imaginary, I could change that. Yet I had good reasons for not giving them five fingers. Size is the most important factor.

I am roughly fifteen times bigger than the average Carduan. My hand is about six inches long from palm base to finger tip and half that wide. That would give the average Carduan a hand four tenths of an inch long and two tenths wide, roughly half an inch by a quarter inch. Their fingers would be a sixteenth of an inch in diameter, ridiculously small to have any strength in them.

count five on prairie roses

Prairie roses have this wonderful scent. It’s a bit sweet and spreads for five feet and more around a bush. These simple roses show the typical five petals.

So the Carduans have two fingers and an opposable thumb, three digits on each hand. They will count in sixes. Theoretical math calls this base 6. I’ve heard of it, but know little about how to use it.

This means I have to recalculate things in the draft and correct these counts before I can do a proper rewrite. This changes the number of ration packs in a crate. It changes the time frame altering the time line I need to construct to correct another set of problems.

The one thing I don’t need to change is the number of degrees in a circle. That was invented by the Sumerians long ago and they used a base of sixty giving 360 degrees in a circle. We still use this for navigation, for longitude and for compass readings. And sixty is divisible by six.

I still prefer using the normal way to count.

Wildflowers are one topic of photographs and haikus in “My Ozark Home.”

Finding Proper Viewpoints

Describing how to explore an Ozark ravine isn’t hard, or is it? I’ve explored ravines many times and now have the Carduans exploring theirs. But I need to find the proper viewpoints.

As I ramble down the ravine, I see far up the way. The streambed shifts from one side to the other. Side ravines enter, some folds in a hill, others coming between two hills.

Proper viewpoints of a ravine from my height

From my vantage point, my Ozark ravine is easy walking. Most fallen trees are small and easy to step over. I can see far ahead of myself.

Is this what a Carduan would see? No. Why not?

The Carduans are a little smaller than a blue jay. Finding the proper viewpoints for these explorers entails sitting and lying down. I settle for putting the camera down near the ground and taking pictures.

proper viewpoints for a small animal or a Carduan

From the viewpoint of my imaginary Carduan or any small animal, that easy to step over log is a major obstacle. The leaves mire progress down. An Ozark ravine walk becomes a struggle.

As I walk along, I step over fallen trees and branches. The Carduans will have to climb over these. If they are lucky, the trunk is crooked or lies on a soil hump leaving room to walk underneath.

When I cross over the stream bed, I look up the way and find a sloping way down and up. Most of these do have a foot drop on both sides. No Carduan will risk falling three times their height onto rocks.

proper viewpoints to see how a Carduan would spot a honey locust

The Carduans discovered the honey locust and its thorns. These thorns vary in length. The longest I’ve found was 16 inches. They are tough enough to stab through a tractor or truck tire. That distant tree is a honey locust. What would tip a Carduan off that this is the tree they seek?

Luckily for the Carduans trees fall across the streambed. Some are giants a foot or more in diameter. Others are six inches in diameter.

For me, I’d choose the big trunks. The smaller ones are adequate, but I’m not much of a tightrope walker.

The Carduans would prefer the smaller trunks. These would be wide roads to them and much easier to get onto.

Adam and Eve Orchid leaf

An Adam and Eve or Putty Root Orchid puts up a leaf in the fall. it lasts until late spring when the orchid blooms.

I may be interested in the proper viewpoints to use on my ravine exploration, however I have other things to see. One is an orchid. I’m sure there are more growing in the ravine, but I’ve only found the one.

Called Adam-and-Eve or Putty Root, this orchid puts up a leaf in the fall. It stays green through the winter, then withers away. This is when the flower stalk rises up a foot or more lined with half inch flowers.

Adam and Eve Orchid seed pods

The seed pods of an Adam and Eve Orchid are still hanging on last year’s flower stalk.

I found the leaf last winter. I couldn’t find the place to see the flowers. Now I’ve found this fall’s leaves and marked the place well for next spring.

Interestingly, the proper viewpoints to use when photographing smaller plants near the ground are the same as the ones I need for the Carduans.

Find more views of my Ozark hills and ravines in “My Ozark Home.”

Fall Liverworts Flourish

Wanting to reacquaint myself with the ravines as I get ready to work on “The Carduan Chronicles”, even though this is November, not February, I walk back into the first one after the rain stopped. Water is flowing over the rock shelves and making small waterfalls. Dead leaves cover everything. And the liverworts flourish on the rocks along the water.

liverworts flourish in ravine

Last winter this pond was frozen over and a white ice river extended up the ravine above it. The white ice river moved into “The Carduan Chronicles” for one adventure and a bit of exploration. The ravine itself has influenced the imaginary ravine the spaceship lands in. for now the ravine is a lovely walk looking up the slopes at the fall colors and admiring the mosses and liverworts on the rocks near the water.

November is National Novel Writing Month, that annual challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. And I am attempting to return to Cardua and finish my draft long neglected as I finished two books, “My Ozark Home” and “Mistaken Promises,” over the year.

I do remember the premise: Spaceship Nineteen from a convoy ferrying colonists and supplies to a new Arkosan colony is dropped out of a disintegrating worm tunnel into a February ice storm and lands in an Ozark ravine where the three crew members and six young Arkosans are stranded leaving them to learn how to survive in an alien environment. Reading through the draft has helped me remember the incidents and interplay between the Arkosans now Carduans as they name their new home Cardua.

Walking through the ravines is to help move me back into the story. My walk was working until the liverworts distracted me.

Liverworts flourish in a pile on a rock

These liverworts pile exuberantly over this rock and each other. This would be a Carduan point of view as I put the camera on the ground looking at the rock.

Liverworts are one of those primitive plants mentioned in biology texts that teachers have probably never seen. There is a picture of a liverwort. The class yawns and forgets all about them.

Much of the year the liverworts around the creek and up some of the ravines merit only that yawn. These plants like lots of moisture and cool temperatures. Summer may have the moisture, but not the temperatures. Winter freezes them. Spring and fall are the best times to see liverworts.

new liverworts flourish

Evidently this is a new liverwort colony. The tongues are growing outwardly, branching and creating a pretty pattern across the rock.

Last spring lasted about three days.

This fall the liverworts flourish. Long green tongues stretch out over the rocks. They branch, pile over each other and almost glow in the dim light under the clouds.

Even being distracted I noted several things I may use in “The Carduan Chronicles” over the course of the month. And I have an added reason to visit other ravines: to see if the liverworts flourish in them as well.

Leaves Change Into Fall Colors

Leaves have a color for every season of the year. With the coming of killing frost the leaves change into fall colors.

Spring brings a delicate light green. The green darkens over the summer. About mid August yellow creeps into the green.

green hills

Fall has limped along with many warm days. The trees stayed green, waiting.

Over the week after killing frost, especially if there is another one or two frosts, that yellow spreads. Reds begin to appear. Length of day may trigger the changes, but frost makes the leaves change into fall colors.

One interesting experiment in my science classes was the chromatography of leaf pigments. It isn’t hard to do.

Take an eight inch or more long strip about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide from a filter. A finer grained one is best and some coffee filters are like that.

leaves change into fall colors

A week after killing frost the change is dramatic. The green hill is now shades of orange.

Have a tall jar so the strip barely touches the bottom and folds a little over the top. Tape the fold onto a pencil so the strip will dangle down from the pencil into the jar.

Draw a line in pencil (it must be pencil) across the strip 1 1/2 inches above the end.

Gather a couple of leaves. These can’t be dried out These can be spring, summer or fall leaves.

Place the leaf over the line and rub it with the side of a penny. You may have to move the leaf and repeat the rubbing to get a dark spot on or barely over the line.

Pour isopropyl or rubbing alcohol in the jar an inch deep. Hang the strip into the jar and wait. You will see the alcohol move up the strip. When the alcohol reaches the top of the strip, take it out and look what happened to the leaf spot.

The alcohol pulls the spot up the strip with it. But not all of the spot moves the same. There should be darker spots of slightly to very different colors in a line over the spot. These spots will fade as the strip dries so look quickly.

leaves change into fall colors

Approaching sunset turns the oranges into fire. The color will peak in about another week, but lose depth as many leaves begin to fall. Soon the hills will be bare for winter.

Using acetone or ethanol works too and can give slightly different spot arrangements. Each likes different parts of the leaf pigments better than others and carries them farther.

The striking thing for many students was that green leaves could have more than one green and colors other than green in them. The colors weren’t always the colors they saw. In class we discussed what the different chlorophylls and anthocyanins were and did.

Now I stand and watch as the leaves change into fall colors.

Leaves Falling Like Rain

Black walnuts are interesting trees. They are among the last trees to leaf out in the spring and the first to drop their leaves in the fall. Frost brings leaves falling like rain.

Walnuts begin falling in early September, a few at a time. By October many trees are bare of both walnuts and leaves. Other trees still have many walnuts hanging high overhead and lots of green leaves.

Killing frost arrives.

Standing in the barn door during milking I listen to the walnuts hitting the metal roof on the workshop. Whump! Pow, pow pow. Thump! It is a continuous drumroll.

leaves falling like rain cover the ground

Many of the black walnuts are still hard and green when they fall. The bigger ones will crush underfoot. The smaller ones roll and can make walking dangerous. Killing frost is a trigger for the walnuts to fall along with the leaves.

Black walnut leaves are compound so there is a foot long stalk with nine leaflets on it. Each leaflet is close to two inches long and half as wide.

Given time walnut leaves turn yellow in late August. This year was warm and moist so the most leaves stayed green

Each puff of wind brought leaves swirling down from the trees. Sunlight highlighted these as they twisted and spun and fell looking like great green raindrops.

Walnut leaves falling like rain covered the walnuts and ground as a green carpet. Walking is again hazardous.

leaves falling like rain leave bare trees

Black walnut trees don’t leaf out until the middle of spring. Their leaves begin to yellow and fall in the middle of August. The trees still grow big.

I was done picking up walnuts. Two loads were plenty and took most of my work time for two weeks. Then killing frost paved the ground with more walnuts.

There will be another load of walnuts. Not as big as the other two. It could easily be bigger.

Walking out to find the goats in the evening the ground under every walnut tree was paved with walnuts and leaves. Out on the hills too there were leaves falling like rain.

By noon the green rain was over. The black walnut trees are bare. It will be another year before I can again watch the leaves falling like rain.

Early Morning Walk

Last night rain poured down for a few hours leaving four inches behind before the clouds moved on. An early morning walk is important to see what damage the water has done.

Surprisingly the water stayed where it was supposed to. The road didn’t wash onto the fence.

pasture in early morning

A layer of mist still shrouds the north pasture and glows white as the sun rises. Behind the pasture the trees on the hill are beginning to turn color.

Up in the north pasture the sun is starting to light up the mist hanging over the grass. Wisps of mist are high enough to obscure the hill behind now turning colors for the fall.

creek in early morning

At the beginning of the north pasture, Whitaker Creek makes a big bend as it heads toward the upper Meramec River. It’s a peaceful place. Fish, frogs and crayfish inhabit the area. Great Blue Herons stop by, but fly off at any disturbance.

Time is sliding by on the crests of ripples on the creek. I turn back to check the south pasture.

The creek is up, but not flooding or even up to high water stage. I saunter across the bridge.

yellow jelly mushrooms

Dead wood as this older plank on the creek bridge is a good place to find jelly mushrooms after a rain. They come in several colors. The brown and white ones seem almost translucent. The yellow doesn’t and is smaller.

Crunching gravel underfoot masks the occasional plop of walnuts hitting the ground. The rushing of the creek keeps me company. It’s so easy to let my rushed feelings tumble downstream with the water.

The gravel is still on the culvert. No trees toppled. There is no real storm damage.

south creek in early morning

Near the south pasture the creek spreads out into a broad moving pond. The creek is split above the area by a small gravel bar.

This is now an early morning walk to simply enjoy the time away from tasks. Shadows still darken the south pasture. The mist is thin and white.

Still, morning chores are calling. For now the calls of the goats are quiet. There is no noise from traffic or whatever projects the neighbors are up to on top of the hill behind the house.

fantasy dragon

The remains of fallen trees can take on interesting shapes that change from different vantage points. I looked up from the creek and saw a dragon heading for the hill pasture across a sea of leaves.

The air is crisp, washed clean by the storm. Early morning walks are special times. I stand and linger looking up across the hill pasture.

Warblers are greeting the day with their songs. Some are quarreling in the trees along the creek.

The sun is peeking over the hills. Reluctantly I turn back to retrace my steps back to the house.

road in early morning

The road goes a tenth of a mile and dips down to a wet weather creek. On the east is the north pasture. Only in the fall does the rising sun stream out across the pasture and light up the road past the dip.

The sunlight is streaming across the north pasture as I walk up past the barn. I stop on the road to look down between the trees. It is tempting to continue my early morning walk.

A rooster calls. My cats Tyke and Cloudy call me. It’s time to serve breakfast.

There are so many special times at “My Ozark Home.” This is one of them.

Persimmons and Black Walnuts

Every breeze brings the plop of falling persimmons and black walnuts. Both crops are large this year.

My stash of black walnuts is growing slowly. Part of this is my fault. It takes time to go out picking them up.

The trees are another part of the problem. I gaze up and see branches laden with black walnuts.

The trees are too large for me to shake. The nuts are too high for me to hit or pick. I am a slave to the wind.

Persimmons are getting ripe now. They fall when ripe. It is not a good idea to pick persimmons. Even raccoons do not pick persimmons early.

a persimmon fron persimmons and black walnuts

This American persimmon is ripe and ready to pick. The wrinkles hide a sugar packed burst almost like a piece of candy. Early in the season, ripe persimmons drop to the ground. Late in the season they must be shaken down or they dry up on the tree. Birds do snack on them.

For the uninitiated, green persimmons make your mouth draw up into a pucker. It leaves the inside dry and mealy. And the bitter taste is added on top.

This result does not wash out easily. Eating a ripe persimmon definitely helps get that green persimmon residue out.

A great way of using persimmons and black walnuts is in persimmon bread. The rich taste of the persimmons is offset by the sharp acid tang of the black walnuts. “Exploring the Ozark Hills” has a recipe.

Since the two are both ripe now, it is tempting to go out and gather the two up and head into the kitchen. There are a couple of reasons not to.

Black walnuts must be hulled and dried or cured for a month before being hammered out of the shells. This lets the oils settle.

American persimmons have thick skins and numerous, big seeds. Both must be removed before using the persimmon pulp in any recipe.

Separating that pulp is not easy. I’ve tried several methods. Boiling is a disaster. Rubbing through a sieve is not much better. Perhaps a ricer would work, but I don’t have one.

What I do have is a freezer. After cleaning, the persimmons are dried off, dumped in a freezer bag and frozen for a week or so. They are so full of sugar, it takes time to completely freeze them.

Then thaw the persimmons. The skins slide off. The seeds pop out with little effort.

squirrels like persimmons and black walnuts

This young gray squirrel is out on the road eating black walnuts. The road is neutral territory for squirrels, but dangerous because of traffic. The squirrels will spend hours grabbing nuts and carrying them off.

Persimmons and black walnuts have other fans. The goats inhale any persimmons they find. And they do search, snuffling through the grass. They know every persimmon tree in their pasture and visit daily. From the trails elsewhere, deer do the same.

Black walnuts are a favorite of squirrels. They depend on walnuts for winter stores. I tend to be a sloppy picker and leave many behind for the bushy tailed crowd.

When the persimmons and black walnuts fall, the leaves are turning, the nights are cooling off and autumn has begun.

My Oak Tree Identification Problem

Any book on oak tree identification will list many oak hybrids. My older copy of “Trees of Missouri” lists fifteen. Yatskievych’s “Flora of Missouri” lists forty.

This is an identification nightmare. But it’s not my primary problem.

oak tree identification from a leaf

Many oak leaves have lobes. The white oak family have no prickles on the tips of the lobes and are rounded. The black oak family has the sharp tips with prickles. This leaf is from a Shumard oak.

Fall is a great time to go out looking at oak trees. Their leaves are still there to aid in identification. They are starting to make their winter buds. They have acorns on them.

One way to do oak tree identification is to lug the “Trees of Missouri” around through the woods. Each oak leaf is checked against the pictures. Each bud is compared. Each acorn is compared. And the tree is hopefully identified.

oak tree identification by acorn

Acorns have tannic acid in them. Those in the black oak family tend to have more and be more bitter. Indians would wash the acorn meal to wash the acid away. These acorns are from a Shumard oak. Each kind of oak acorn has its own size, shape and cup.

I hate to do my oak tree identification this way. I set the book down to grab a branch. It gets scuffed and dirty.

My favorite way is to take the camera out. I take the tree set of pictures: tree (if possible, those in the woods aren’t), bark, top and bottom of leaf, bud and acorn. Back at the house I bring up my pictures and go through my books.

oak tree identification by bark

Oak trees in the black oak family tend to have darker bark. Each kind of oak tree has its own bark pattern. this is a young Shumard oak.

Once I have an oak identified, I can go out again and label it.

This is supposed to be the way it works. I have a problem.

I am five feet tall. I have a walking staff eight feet tall with a hook on the tip. That means I can reach a branch ten feet up and pull it within reach, maybe.

In the woods the oaks have their first branches over ten feet up. The trees tower over me. At most I can see the leaves well enough to tell an oak from a hickory.

my oak tree identification problem

The trees reach up into the sky high overhead. It takes binoculars to really see the leaves. The bark may help identify the tree, but there are no other clues within reach.

Acorns are no help. When an acorn falls on the hillside, it bounces and rolls. Which tree did it come from?

My oak tree identification problem is getting to the leaves, buds and acorns. My only hope is to find young trees still within my reach.

Going Mushroom Hunting

Wild mushrooms showed up at the Farmers Market last weekend. The three plus inch rain has brought up all the summer varieties. I decided to go mushroom hunting.

There are lots of edible mushrooms in the Ozarks. There are lots of poisonous ones too. The only summer mushrooms I know for sure are puffballs and chanterelles.

A man brought in a box with several mushrooms I’d never seen before. One was a rich blue inside and out. Another was white and shaggy. I knew it from a picture as a lion’s mane. Others were coral mushrooms which are a bit iffy as edible for some people.

Mushroom hunting is not usually productive for me. It is mostly an excuse to go out walking. Still, I packed a couple of bags just in case. And I remembered to spray up as the seed ticks are out in force.

There is a loop across the base of the hill above the south pasture, up a deep ravine, across the top of the hill and down into the big ravine leading back to the south pasture and the house. It’s not a bad hike, steep in places.

There were lots of mushrooms scattered through the woods. They came in many sizes and colors. I took some pictures, but picked none.

The goats were somewhere up the hill. I heard a snort now and then. I found an area with scraped off spots where the herd had rested. The goats were no where to be seen.

The reasons for the goats being on the hill were scattered around. No, they were not mushroom hunting. They were acorn hunting. Acorns do not make goats sick and they love them.

My mushroom hunting yielded some pictures, no mushrooms for dinner and a few hundred seed ticks. The goats did much better, coming in full of acorns.

Summer Turns Into Fall

As summer turns into fall, the cars start drifting by looking out at the fields and hills. Some come admiring the colors. Others come to gather walnuts. Others are scouting out the deer.

Few cars stop to let the people out. That’s a shame. Summer turns into fall in small ways. Those riding by catch only glimpses as one smear of yellow seems like another.

Along my Ozark road summer turns into fall gradually or seems to. Walking along the road lets me see the changes.

Jerusalem artichokes bloom as summer turns into fall

Jerusalem artichokes are among the last sunflower to bloom in the Ozarks. Their stems can reach eight feet high, but are blown over by the wind. Even the wild ones can have artichokes on their roots, if they grow in rich soil.

Throughout the summer sunflowers blaze from early Black Eyed Susans into Brown Eyed Susans into a half dozen other sunflowers. White daisy fleabanes cast their small white heads around the yellows.

Finally the Jerusalem artichokes open their orange yellow flowers. Yet they are already competing with goldenrod and Drummond asters; both are fall flowers.

Summer turns into fall with yellow goldenrods, blue asters, white heath asters and pink tall thistles. The sunflowers disappear leaving fall flowers controlling the road.

Overhead poison ivy and Virginia creeper are wreathing the tree limbs with red. The dogwoods are turning dark reddish purple on the hillsides.

summer turns into fall when the dogwoods turn color

Dogwoods are one of the earliest trees to turn color in the Ozarks. Those in the woods stay purple. Trees in the sun are a rich reddish purple. Close up the leaves set off the scarlet berries.

Squirrels are busy now. Black walnuts are their prizes. They snag these and carry them away.

Hickories are dropping their nuts. Acorns are ripening on the oaks.

Several grasses are seeding bringing wild turkeys out into the pastures. Although the river oats line parts of the road, the turkeys stay away. They are much too wary to risk the cars.

Deer are different. They graze along the road leaping over fences and bounding off when cars come by. Fawns are known now only by their small size and staying with their mothers.

tom turkeys forage as summer turns into fall

Tom turkeys group together in the fall. They spend lots of time feeding on bugs and grass seeds in the pastures.

This year the road has huge stretches of giant ragweed. Birds are delighted with the seed bounty. They hang on the stouter stems picking the seeds, flitting away with flashes of color when approached.

My Ozark Home by Karen GoatKeeper

For 25 years I’ve watched summer turning into fall here in the Ozarks. “My Ozark Home” is a look at what I’ve seen.

Summer turns into fall here in the Ozarks in much the same way every year. Yet each year is unique. Walking the road is how I see this.

My Ozark Home” is available as a pdf now. The print book will be available by the end of September.

Feeding Creek Fish

Creek fish survive somehow in the creek. The water sinks into the copious amounts of gravel during dry times leaving isolated pools. Recent rains have started the creek flowing again.

Last spring’s floods dug out one bank around one bridge pillar. It will take many very large rocks to fill the hole and encourage a flooded creek to go under the bridge instead of around it.

In the meantime a pool surrounds the pillar. Creek fist are crowded into this pool. Some of the bleeding shiners are six inches long. All of the fish are hungry.

Minnows usually scavenge insects and insect larvae for food. Being cold blooded, they don’t need a lot of food. Lucky for them. Still, they do like to eat.

creek fish

Minnows abound in this creek pool that extends under the bridge. Most are bleeding shiners. They stay down in the water. Broad head minnows stay at the surface. All of the fish find ticks delicious.

This is where the goats come into the picture. They crisscross the pastures and hills devouring whatever seems good that particular day. As they walk by, ticks leap on. In August these are mostly seed ticks (newly hatched) and the first instar ticks (seed ticks after one feeding).

I check my goats for ticks every day. Looking for these small ticks is a waste of time until they have gorged themselves. That is in the mornings.

The goats gladly follow me out the pasture gate and onto the makeshift bridge. I stop. they mill around.

goats waiting to feed creek fish

The pastures are overgrown. Downed trees and left over branches made bush hogging a task for next year. The smaller herd seems to have trouble deciding on where to go. There is no one lead goat, one of those under rated, but very important herd members. This is great for the fish. The goats stand around while I pull ticks. The goats like the attention and vie for more.

In spite of being checked for ticks during milking, the goats still have ticks on them. I pull these off and drop them into the pool. The creek fish go crazy as each tries to get as many of these delectable morsels as possible.

The goats are not impressed. They get impatient and begin shoving. Each goat’s ears and nose have been gone over. So the goats now follow me down the overgrown tractor road toward the south pasture. Soon they pass me by.

I turn back collecting a few fallen sycamore leaves to feed the bucks when I let them out for the day. The creek fish are still hungry, but will wait until the next morning for more ticks.

Baby Lizards Rustling Leaves

Lots of times I get so engrossed in taking pictures or scanning plants for flowers, the sudden rustle of a creature darting off startles me. Late summer brings lots of baby lizards rustling the leaves.

Both smaller snakes and several kinds of lizards like resting on the sides of the road. The sun warms them. Insects are abundant for snacking. Dangers are at a minimum as passing vehicles frighten larger predators away.

lizard eggs

I came across this unfortunate mother skink with her eggs while building fence across the creek. I carefully replaced the large stone over her, but the creek flooded about 10 days later washing the nest away.

Most reptiles lay eggs leaving them to be warmed by the sun until they hatch. The lizard eggs have recently hatched. Baby lizards seem to be everywhere.

A blue tailed skink was curled up in the gate latch hole the other day. The blue tail was bright. It fled when the protecting latch was pulled out as I opened the gate.

baby lizards

Common baby lizards in the Ozarks have bright blue tails. As the lizards become adults, the blue tail turns tan.

The blue tails mark these as a baby lizards. They get several inches long still sporting the blue tails so many people get the impression the adults have blue tails, are long and lean with bright stripes down their backs.

Adult skinks are very different. They are a glistening tan with light brick orange on their heads. Their bodies are thick They do not have blue tails. I rarely see them.

adult skink lizard

This adult skink is very different from the trim, blue tailed baby it once was.

Fence lizard babies look much like small adults. They are the same color and shape, only smaller. And faster.

A couple adult fence lizards live in my garden. They have territories and favorite basking spots. One lets me work quite close by without darting off.

baby lizards become adult lizards

Adult fence lizards are twice as long, thicker bodied and more brown than baby lizards.

Several times I’ve come across adult fence lizards out along the creek. They stay still watching me set up the camera and take their picture. I must get within a couple of feet before they dart away.

Baby lizards are different. About all I see of most of them is a blur of movement. The sound of rustling leaves is often the only clue they were ever there.

Northern Fence baby lizards

Baby fence lizards are a couple of inches long and have sharp markings. In August these baby lizards seem to be all along the creek and road.

I can’t blame them. The world is a dangerous place for baby lizards. Few will escape becoming dinner and make it to adulthood. That makes spotting one staying still long enough for a quick picture a special treat.

Grasshoppers, Katydids Play Summer Music

There is this myth of the quiet country life. The only quiet is the absence of traffic and other city noises. Summer music fills the air around the clock.

grasshopper summer music maker

Grasshoppers have short antennae and fat, round bodies. They make a clicking sound as they flee anyone’s approach.

The usual daytime music makers are the cicadas. They haven’t been as loud as usual as though the weather changes have hurt their population. Not to worry, others fill the void.

green grasshopper summer music maker

All grasshoppers and katydids have two pair of shorter legs and a rear pair of long jumping legs. Young ones only hop away. Adults use the hop to help them fly off using the thin under wings hidden beneath the thick outer wings.

Grasshoppers scrape away. Long ago I thought a grasshopper was a grasshopper. Back then there were only Holstein, Guernsey and Jersey dairy cows too. City kids don’t know much about the country.

There are lots of different grasshoppers. It’s hard to get pictures as grasshoppers are favorite meals for lots of creatures, especially birds. Usually I see large and small winged ones half flying, half gliding away. Some wings are clear. Others are yellow or black or both or with broad stripes. There are even some with only nubbins of wings.

Male grasshoppers find a secluded bit of grass and scrape a wing against a leg. These have special hard bits on them to make noises as they rub together. Female grasshoppers come to the summer music concerts.

Grasshoppers have short antennae. Katydids have long antennae. They give night concerts.

baby katydid

Baby grasshoppers and katydids look like adults in miniature, but without wings. This baby katydid is on an Equisetum cone less than an inch tall.

Most of the katydids around here are green. They are narrow at their heads, get broad, then taper down again. From the top, they are thin. Grasshoppers are round the entire length of their bodies.

katydid summer music maker

Katydids are similar to grasshoppers, but have very long antennae. Their wings are tents over their bodies and make them look very thin.

I did find a pink katydid once. I’m sure there are more around. Katydids are more secretive than grasshoppers or seem so as they stay behind the leaves on bushes.

pink katydid summer music maker

Some katydids are totally pink. This one has pinkish red legs and highlights. Notice the hook on the end of the abdomen. It is common on katydids, but not grasshoppers.

As the sun goes down, the male katydids settle on bushes. They scrape their wings together. Scrape doesn’t really describe this. The wings move so fast, they seem to vibrate. These have thick edges to rub together. Female katydids come to their summer music concerts.

fat katydid summer music maker

Green katydids can be hard to spot. They are usually the same color as the leaves they sit on.

City visitors find country summer music annoying. It keeps them awake all night. For me it’s a country lullaby I would miss visiting the city.

Find more thoughts and impressions of Ozark country living in “My Ozark Home.”

Exploring Wetlands

For years I’ve gone exploring wetlands in the same area. I always took my rubber boots as it was often covered with water four to six inches deep.

My favorite time to go was when the rose mallow bloomed. Of course many other plants were there too: fringed loosestrife, sneezeweed, seedbox, wild bean, swamp milkweed, American bugleweed among others. Monarch, swallowtail, sulfur, pearl crescent butterflies fluttered from one milkweed to another. Bumblebees and wasps were checking out every flower.

Rose Mallow is reason for exploring wetlands

One of the largest, showiest flowers in the Ozarks is Rose Mallow. It likes sunny wetland areas that flood often and doesn’t mind standing water for periods of time.

This year my wetland is gone. It was the victim of a greedy rancher and his herbicide. Grass does not grow in a wetland. Sedges do. Cattle do not like sedges. And liver flukes and lung worm larvae are common in wetlands.

Exploring wetlands finds Monarch Butterflies

Declining populations of Monarch Butterflies have started a push to conserve wetlands as the three milkweeds most used for their caterpillars, common, purple and swamp, prefer to grow in wetland areas. I saw several of these impressive butterflies exploring this wetland.

A friend told me about another place to go. So I went exploring wetlands in this new location. It’s nice enough. It has a different community of plants and insects.

tall green milkweed found while exploring wetlands

Tall Green Milkweed is more popular with beetles than butterflies. Monarch caterpillars will eat this milkweed but the leaves are smaller and further apart than the more popular swamp or common milkweeds.

The swamp milkweed was there with its attendant Monarch butterflies. Tall green milkweed was blooming too. Common milkweed had seed pods on it.

A lot of fog fruit grows in this area. I had seen only one other plant before and a flood carried it away. Now I have incentive to go back as the plants were in bloom, but had no seeds yet.

exploring wetlands found fog fruit

Finding Fog Fruit was a pleasant surprise when exploring this new wetland area. This member of the Verbena family has quarter inch flowers and makes itself showy by having rings of them. There were no fruits yet so I must go back. Maybe then I will see why this is a fog fruit.

The fringed loosestrife sneezeweed and many other plants aren’t here. This area is a drier place than the other one. It may be safer than the other wetland as this one is in a powerline right of way. Part of it had been mowed, but the electric companies don’t use much herbicide anymore.

clear wing hawkmoth found while exploring wetlands

Some people call clear wing hawkmoths by hummingbird moths because they hover around flowers sipping nectar. The moths are active during the day and find swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, a great food source.

A single rose mallow plant is blooming in my old wetland area. I think I will pack my boots and go exploring wetlands there to see if any of the other plants have survived. I still need seed pictures of several of the plants.

Finding Tiny Flowers

Most of the plants people are familiar with have flowers of one kind or another. Gardeners love to plant those with big, showy flowers. Tiny flowers are overlooked.

My ongoing botany project finds and looks at those tiny flowers. They are proving a great challenge.

Spotting these miniscule flowers is difficult. I have to stop and search the plant to find them.

grasses have tiny flowers

Grasses do have tiny flowers. The noticeable ones have rectangular anthers hanging down from the spike of female flowers.

Some of these flowers are little more than a pistil and stamens. Those of grasses and sedges are wind pollinated and need no petals. The amaranths are wind pollinated too.

Others have petals or sepals or both. These are tiny, usually white. The entire flower is barely a sixteenth of an inch across. Gnats pollinate these.

white verbena tiny flowers

White verbena flowers are tiny flowers. These appear a few at a time on a tall spike. That made this plant with tiny flowers easier to identify. One of the biggest difficulties with tiny flowers is finding out what their name is. Guide books rarely have tiny flowers in them as most people never notice them. Finding the name is often a matter of luck.

Size matters to a camera.

For my botany project I take several pictures of each plant. One is of the plant itself. No size problem.

The tops and bottoms of the leaves are normally not a problem. These are an inch or more long. Some are thread like so both sides look the same requiring a single picture.

decumbent euphorb flower

This member of the Euphorb family spreads its red stems and opposite green leaves across the ground. The seed pod is the typical one for this family. There are two flowers. The top one has white petals and stamens in it. Just below this one is another with a pistil and no petals. this one will become a fruit with seeds.

Stems can be a problem. Some are thin. Others are short. Many are decumbent or flat on the ground. Auto focus prefers gravel, dirt, dead leaves to stems.

Tiny flowers are another matter. I need a high resolution, in focus, two inch tall picture of a flower less than an eighth of an inch across. My camera considers this impossible.

I am determined.

more tiny flowers on an euphorb

Notice the seed pod. That tags this erect plant as another Euphorb. Both of these flowers are staminate. When it ripens, the seed pod turns brown and stands up straight to shoot out its seeds.

Since I want both the front and side to back views of the flower, I have leeway, if I can find two flowers close together and arranged to give both views. This requires careful searching and evaluating of all the flowers on the plant.

When such an arrangement is not found, I steady the camera on the ground as close to the flower as I can. Tripods won’t help with this. Then I begin focusing for this picture. Apply a little zoom for a closer picture. Apply a little more for another picture. Repeat this until the camera refuses to focus anymore. Checking the play back for focus is imperative.

The final test of success or failure comes on the computer. If one of the pictures meets the criteria, I celebrate. Otherwise I grab the camera and go out to try again.

The real success is seeing how pretty these tiny flowers often are.

Gray Fox Moves In

I’ll admit it. I’ve been very lax with my chickens. I would finish milking and open their gate to let them forage for the day. They went all over. Then the gray fox moved in.

When I first moved here, a gray fox lived up on the hills behind the house. How did I know it was a gray and not a red? I saw it climb a tree, something only grays do.

gray fox hunting

Shortly after dawn the gray fox was out in an unmowed section of lawn looking for mice or voles. It is welcome to all of those and any moles it catches.

Foxes love chicken dinner. The resident fox caught one of the chickens one day. It was stupid enough to come across the street to the house which puts a big sign over it: Eat Me.

The fox wanted to oblige. I disagreed. I ran the fox down and rescued my chicken unharmed. The chicken went back to the coop, flew out, got caught again and rescued again. This time it got the idea.

The present fox won’t run down the road with a chicken. It runs across the road and up into the brambles. I’m also older and slower.

gray fox alert

The gray fox knew I was out taking pictures. It didn’t run off. It took time to watch the cats. It looked me over. It sauntered off.

Evidently I’m becoming a slow learner too as ten hens disappeared before I kept the chickens locked up. They are disgusted. The fox is disappointed. I am glad to stop losing hens.

The usual method for dealing with a gray fox is to trap or shoot it. Since no fox has called the place home for over fifteen years, I don’t want to kill the fox.

Another method is to get a dog. We don’t want a dog here for many reasons, wildlife being one of them. We enjoy seeing buck deer, turkeys, all sorts of birds in the backyard.

gray fox walking

The gray fox seems to show up at any time of the day. I had thought they would be nocturnal, but this one definitely isn’t. That makes protecting the chickens more difficult.

That leaves both the chickens and me adjusting to our new resident gray fox. The chickens stay in their coop except for an hour before their bedtime when I am back and forth to keep an eye on them. They tend to stay around their coop then instead of roaming to the house or the creek.

The fox is determined to have chicken dinner. We played the game of “Fox sneaks after chickens, I chase fox” several times one afternoon.

The hen house doors are locked at dusk every night. The people door has an extra hook on it down low. This keeps raccoons out too.

So far this is working. And it lets us enjoy both the chickens and the gray fox.

Watching Praying Mantises

Watching praying mantises is boring after the first few minutes. They sit still or gently sway hanging on a twig or leaf for hours waiting.

If an insect happens by, instant action too fast to see occurs. The mantis has a meal. After dining and cleaning up, the mantis resumes waiting.

watching praying mantises lets them watch you

Praying mantises are carnivorous insects. Their heads are triangles with large eyes on two points and a mouth on the low point. They have good eyesight watching you watching them.

There are times watching praying mantises is interesting. One time is when the big female lays her eggs in the fall.

The most obvious mantises around the place are Chinese mantises imported by gardeners for insect control. The females get six or seven inches long.

All mantises die in the fall. The next generation is encased in what looks like a piece of tan foam attached to a branch or stalk. The favored ones here are the bamboo and the sumac. Blackberry canes will do.

A female praying mantis shoots out her eggs encased in foam layer by layer. She moves slowly down the stalk for each succeeding layer.

The female faces the ground and starts shooting out liquid that bubbles up and hardens into foam. Eggs are hidden in the foam.

Spring brings the next interesting time for watching praying mantises. The eggs hatch once spring warms up.

The half inch long miniature mantises emerge one by one moving quickly away from the case. Each has a bit of yolk left from the egg. It doesn’t last long and baby mantises are not picky eaters, even eating siblings.

watching praying mantises hatch

Dozens of baby praying mantises crawl out of the egg case once spring warms up. They quickly scatter.

As the baby mantises grow, they molt. Each time they get bigger. On their final molt they emerge with wings.

People make a big deal out of female mantises eating their mates. It isn’t really. The male mantis who survives mating will die within a week. If eaten, his protein helps make his eggs more numerous and able to produce stronger babies in the spring.

watching praying mantises is boring

Within a month a praying mantis doubles or triples in size. This one is hiding on a potted fig tree waiting for dinner to happen by.

Smaller mantises are the same green as the plants they sit on. Spotting them is a lucky chance.

I enjoy seeing them, glad they are busy munching on bugs I would rather not have around. Watching praying mantises is still boring over the summer.