Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ice Crystals

Last week the cold temperatures brought with them a gorgeous display of ice crystals. They were hanging from every available surface. Photographing them proved challenging for no other reason except the very windy conditions. Flapping leaves, sticks and other vegetation are difficult to bring into focus. I really wanted to capture at the very least some passable images of this wonder of nature, before it disappeared. All too often things like this are fleeting.

The bright blue behind this image is an illusion. The sky was actually dark and gray and very uninviting the day I took these images. By using the macro lens and the automatic flash, it blue out the background and created this lovely shade of blue. Reminds me of a Colorado sky.

Our snowy world is changing right now. Almost all of the snow has melted, which caused localized flooding of the rivers. Ice jams were butted against the bridges which created other problems. The back flow of water contained so much trash, I even spotted a refrigerator. I am constantly amazed at the stuff people will dump near Rivers; for it to carry away later when the waters rise. Then it becomes some poor individuals problem down stream. I know we are far from out of the woods when it comes to additional snow fall. From the predictions I've heard, we could see as much 25 inches in February. UGH!!! This is going to be a long winter, especially for a self proclaimed lover of hot weather. I need sunshine, and temperatures above 70 before I even feel human. I roam through winter and grumbling, growling beast of a former person I once recognized as myself. 

Please Summer, return to me!

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Meadowlarks in the winter? I've lived in NW Missouri my entire life and until last winter had never spotted an Eastern or Western Meadowlark in the coldest months of winter. Once again this winter they are here, foraging in the fields for whatever food they can find.

Eastern and Western Meadowlarks (Sturnella magna & Sturnella neglecta) are found throughout the Eastern portion of the United States. All guides that I consulted said they are present in Missouri year-around, which is evident by their presence in January, scavenging in the snow. It does not say much for my observation skills that I just now this past year figured out that they were here at other times besides spring and summer. The Eastern Meadowlark is very closely related to the Western Meadowlark. The only accurate way to distinguish them from one another is by song and location. Although they will occasionally interbreed and create hybrids where their populations cross. There are up to 17 subspecies of Eastern Meadowlark that are recognized. I sent these images to a bird expert and even he is having some difficulty in accurately telling me which species they are. He feels pretty certain they are of the Western variety.

In the spring these birds become very vocal and their call herald's in the spring. There is something so very beautiful about their song. Eastern Meadowlark Vocals and Western Meadowlark Vocals Within a mile from our farm they sit on the phone wires looking down over their territory, very much like sentries overseeing their vast kingdom.

 Despite their common name of Meadowlark, they are not related to Larks at all, in fact they are more closely related to Orioles and Blackbirds. They can be a medium to large sized bird measuring up to 9 or 10 inches with a 17 inch wingspan. They have a distinctive yellow patch on their chest with a black "V" shaped marking. They are associated with open grasslands, roadsides, agricultural areas, and prairies. They are ground foragers and feed on weed seeds, insects and other grains found within their habitat. In much of their range they are declining in population, most likely this if from habitat loss. In our area they are plentiful and we are blessed to see them frequently.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dogwood Canyon

Dogwood Canyon is a little gem found in the southern most regions of Missouri. In fact portions of the property cross into Arkansas. A couple of years ago I had the privilege of visiting this beautiful place with a group of volunteers. Each year the Missouri Department of Conservation show their appreciation to their volunteers by treating them to a weekend getaway somewhere in the state. Dogwood Canyon stands out as one of my favorite places thus far that we've seen. It is privately owned by the same person who owns Bass Pro Shop. The property is well maintained and a definite must see if you are in the area.

There is a crystal clear stream that meanders throughout the park. Trout are plentiful and fishing is allowed for a fee. They also rent bicycles , for those of you inclined in that direction. Periodically throughout the day they have guided tram tours. We were able to take one of these guided tours, and it is truly a great way to view the park.

Waterfalls abound, each one more beautiful than the next. The smell of the forest, and the water as it flows and splashes is a sensory experience you won't soon forget. 

If time would have allowed I would have loved to hike this park. There is even a chapel onsite for those who would like to get married in such a gorgeous setting. As you take the tram ride and wind your way into Arkansas you are greeted by the sight of a herd of Elk and Buffalo. Occasionally white tail deer will come down from the hills to mingle with the elk.

They offer an old fashioned chuck wagon breakfast that is to die for. We were served eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy, home fried potatoes, fresh fruit, toast, juice and milk. The tables were decorated so invitingly that it even made breakfast more enjoyable.

Wildlife thrives throughout the park. Everything from butterflies, to deer. The turtles bask in the sun on the logs and rocks partially submerged in the water. Quick to dive under when you wonder to close.

I was there in September and the places was intoxicatingly beautiful. I can only imagine what it would be like to visit in the spring when the dogwoods are in bloom. It is these gorgeous native trees that the park was named after, and the hills are filled with these trees. One day we will make a trip there to see this place in the spring.

 Keep in mind this little hidden gem of the Ozarks when paying your next visit to Southern Missouri.

Monday, January 4, 2010

My Snowy World

Thought I would share a few images of the snow that blankets my world right now.
The first is a dock located at Happy Holler Conservation Area Lake in Savannah, MO

This is a large snag of trees located at HHCA lake. In the spring and summer this is an excellent place to kayak and fish for bass.

A snowy cornfield

A snow covered Hedgeball. In the summer these oddities are lime green in color. The freezing temperatures soon turn them a chocolate brown color. Many people place these odd balls in their basements as natural insect control. Not sure if it works, but would be great if it does. Certainly better than pesticides.

While driving along the gravel roads in the country we spotted numerous nests in the dormant branches of the trees. So well hidden in the foliage of summer, they become exposed with the absence of leaves.

Nest #2

This darling little red fox squirrel was making the snow fly as he dug around for nuts and corn in this snow covered field. He had excavated about a 5 foot round circle out of the snow and was consumed with looking for food.

I am a self-proclaimed hater of cold, but even I have to admit getting out on such a blustery, cold, sunshine filled day was fun, and we were blessed to see many wonderful things. Even getting stuck in the snow in a ditch didn't dampen my mood.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Bobwhite Quail

Bobwhite Quail are one of the most endearing of all wild birds. Who hasn't heard the distinct call of the male (bob-white bob-white) as he seeks a mate or a covey to join. A few years back we had a female who came into our yard to eat the cracked corn I threw out for the doves. She stayed around for a week or so then we didn't see her again. Once in awhile we are fortunate enough to find a small covey of these lovely birds on our farm. We hear them each spring and summer calling from the back fields and it always makes me smile, they just sound so endearing.

This year the numbers of these birds were down. Most people in the area are blaming our extremely wet year. The early spring floods destroyed nests. Those that managed to survive, had to fight wet conditions and many did not make it. The ever persistent birds tried again for a second clutch, only to have those hit hard by late summer rains and more flooding. The ones pictured here were photographed near Happy Holler Conservation Area in a corn field. They were scratching around through the snow to reveal the ground beneath and were busy dining on the corn they uncovered. This covey held nine birds, each as beautiful as the next. I felt very fortunate to have seen them and to be able to capture a picture, These birds normally stay close to the timber lines when the weather is as ferocious as it has been. It pleased me to a great degree to know that they were making it through these difficult times. It is estimated that as much as 80% of the quail population will die over the winter months. Lack of food and shelter being the primary culprits. Harsh temperatures are hard on them as well. These birds face many difficulties besides the weather. Turkey populations have grown to such a huge number in Missouri that they have all but destroyed natural quail habitat. They compete for seeds, berries and other tidbits. Many landowners have allowed their property to become overgrown. This lack of management creates ideal habitats for Turkey, but lousy habitat for quail. There are many good government funded programs out there to aid landowners in creating better habitats for these great little birds. Our family works diligently to encourage these birds and to provide proper areas for them to feed, nest and to hide. It would be a sad state of affairs should these birds reach low enough numbers to warrant state or federal protection. Quails Unlimited, as well as our very own Missouri Department of Conservation are working hard in conjunction with farmers and landowners to create working relationships that not only benefit the quail, but the landowners as well.