Thursday, March 26, 2015

Bloodroot's up. It's spring wildflower time!

Just last week I canvassed a series of really nice dolomite glades looking for a blooming Draba, D. cuneifolia, to be specific. I saw the green blades of false garlic, some basal leaves of Geum in the woods, but the rest of the world was a uniform khaki of post oak leaves and rank warm season grasses. The lawn weeds and little parking lot Brassicas started blooming recently, and just today, hiking up a steep slope on a protected hillside covered in the basal leaves of a rare shooting star, I stumbled onto my first-of-year anemones. Or false rue anemones. Every March I forget which is which.

And so, I return to my wonderful Paul Nelson-illustrated Spring Wildflowers book, used in many places as a coloring book but serving as a great refresher in not only scientific nomenclature--which has probably all changed lately--but in the location of spring wildflowers. Because the book is out of print, with permission of the illustrator, I have scanned all the plates and posted them here for a quick review session before spring wildflower season really ramps up. We're expecting snow this weekend, which is typical, though cruel.

Today's hike took me through really homogeneous Ozark woods of a black oak-red oak character, Roubidoux sandstone-Gasconade dolomite bedrock community, a prized though typical and widespread landscape for timber people. In the unburned condition, these kinds of woods are not very diverse or interesting from a ground flora perspective, but such is the joy of spring wildflower season! One can visit trashed out bottomlands along streams, areas that were once corn fields, and still find spring flora. Unburned, overgrazed, logged woods with some semblance of native diversity and not socked in with bush honeysuckle? You'll still find spring flora. Spring wildflowers are ubiquitous in the Ozarks in Missouri, found even in gravel parking lots where some "rare in Missouri" but widespread in the White River region grow. So, with these longer day lengths, chipping sparrows starting to call, timberdoodles probing for insects, hit up your local woods for some wildflower walks and a dose of long awaited Vitamin D.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Hints of Spring

I heard the first-of-year spring peeper and chorus frog chorus last week, tiny little secretive frogs just cranking out their breeding calls from an abandoned farm pond--no more stocked bass or cattle here, just an amphibian breeding pool these days. Timberdoodles are back in business in that gradient between old field and woodland, or, in more intact systems, glade edges. However, the spate of warm weather we've enjoyed for a few days has left us again, boding well for fire season. It's too early in much of the northern reaches of the Ozarks for even harbinger of spring to flower, that early spring wildflower that inhabits low-lying woodlands (some of the first landscapes to see green growth). Hopefully, we'll dry out again and be able to at least burn off a glade here and there before spring green up and before the snakes come out for basking.

Henbit--that sweet non-native purple mint flower common in agricultural fields-- is flowering throughout the region in fallow fields and yards, along with all the other fun lawn weeds like Veronica comosa and the early mustards. I canvassed a wide glade landscape on the Springfield Plateau yesterday and saw no blooming Drabas, just a few early leaves of false garlic and one basal leaf of a Delphinium. This week's cool and rainy conditions will keep all the fun spring flora underground for a few days more, potentially allowing for good fire conditions.

Spring vegetation (as in aquatic springs) is beginning to green up in our streams. Last year, I missed the flowering period of water willow, that lovely Justicia whose flowers resemble a grass pink orchid, just a pretty little thing that lines the banks of our nicer streams. And I won't miss bloodroot in flower this year, either. Friends in northwest Louisiana are already seeing yellow trout lilies in flower, three days before the equinox. We still have a couple of weeks of March weather in Missouri. Did you know that March is historically the snowiest month in Missouri?

Sunday, March 08, 2015

March Fire Season

This weekend's clement temperatures and bright sunlight sent thoughts of my spring garden coursing through my head. My starter pots of kale, cilantro, and arugula are now outside under a protective cage to protect them from squirrel and robin plundering. With the snowpack melting, the flashy fuels recovering from weeks of moisture, the first hint of daffodil greenery availing itself, this week is shaping up to be ideal conditions for prescribed fire in many parts of the Ozarks.

In a preferred situation, the weather will remain on the cool side with drying days to allow for light intensity fires to course through landscapes to allow light to the woodland floor. While there are certain practitioners implementing fire in a destructive pattern, there should be much appreciation for the conscientious fire managers who burn for ecological health, to emulate a natural disturbance process that gave rise to our heterogeneous landscapes in the Ozarks. Check in with the NOAA Fire Weather Spot Forecast here to see if your favorite places are burning this March.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Great Backyard Bird Count Underway!

[Photo: Missouri resident Gary Mueller submitted this charming photo of his lego bird feeder the national project, and his photo is gaining national attention....]The annual Great Backyard Bird Count is in its third day now, and so far, Missouri birdwatchers have documented 125 species! Visit here to explore the data collected in Missouri. It's not too late to join the count and start submitting checklists. It's fun to see that my friend in Troy has documented 41 species, making him ranked #6 in species totals. A Columbia birder in my Audubon chapter has seen 36 species, so she's in the top ten for species richness, too. What better way to spend a very cold weekend than watching birds flock to your feeders to devour your seed?

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Great Backyard Bird Count: February 13-16

Backyard bird feeding in winter months in Missouri is usually really fun for birdwatchers; we generally see the whole suite of Midwestern winter birds including juncos, cardinals, blue jays, white-throated sparrows, pine siskins, all the woodpeckers and so forth. For the past few years, despite the quality and composition of the seed I buy, my backyard stations have shifted away from hosting only the charismatic winter birds to mostly house sparrows, loyal to McDonald's parking lots and Bradford pears of lawns. While I've started making my own suet, attracting Carolina wrens, black-capped chickadees and most of the woodpeckers, my seed feeders scattered all over the yard have been empty for a few weeks now. Most of the non-house sparrows and starlings have gone to greener pastures or just better food supplies than what I can afford.

In the latest edition of the National Wildlife Federation magazine, an article discusses the northern shift in winter birds, changes in bird ranges due to climate change and other factors. It's an engaging and depressing article, but the information sources for all the data collection are citizen science events including the Christmas Bird Count, Project Feederwatch, and the Great Backyard Bird Count. I've participated in all of these projects, submitted checklists and so forth, and I'm really pleased that someone has synthesized all of that data and discovered such trends. To be expected, yes, but these three primary citizen scientist projects serve as a goldmine of data.

So, this weekend brings an opportunity to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. "Backyard" in this sense isn't restricted to one's personal backyard property, but encompasses natural places, feeder stations, and anywhere else birds may visit during the four day holiday weekend.

From the Great Backyard Bird Count website:

Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time. Since then, more than 100,000 people of all ages and walks of life have joined the four-day count each February to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds. We invite you to participate! Simply tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, February 13-16, 2015. You can count from any location, anywhere in the world!

If you live near Columbia, join the Columbia Audubon Society for the 2nd annual "feeder crawl" where we visit designated homes with feeders to count their birds, eat cookies, and submit checklists. The event will start at Songbird Station where we'll count birds at their feeders; from there we'll 'crawl' to various backyard bird feeders in and around the Columbia area and count birds for at least 15 minutes at each backyard, then submit each checklist to eBird. The trip will last 3-4 hours and return to Songbird Station for coffee and donuts. Saturday, Feb 14, 2015 • Depart: 8am, Songbird Station 2010 Chapel Plaza Ct #C, Columbia, MO. The event is free and open to the public.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Winter woods and a January Fakeout

It's tempting, it really is, to break ground on my garden to set out lettuce and kale seeds during these warm days in January. We have yet to see the brunt of winter, but we're experiencing what is, in some states with highly regular patterns like this one, called a January Fakeout. Winter has only just begun, but this week is proving to be ideal for hauling all of my tropical houseplants to the porch for a good, thorough soaking. And the short spate of warmer temperatures and sunshine has made for ideal hiking weather.

Winter hiking in the Ozarks tends to allow for the viewing of all of the incredible geologic formations: Gasconade dolomite boulders perched on a ledge, limestone cliffs covered in ice forming veritable swords, sandstone benches that wrap around a contour line, invisible during leaf on.

Winter botany is also fun, seeing all the desiccated flower heads and the Echinaceas with all the seeds picked clean by goldfinches throughout the season. We may have come across a wood rat midden that day, seeds and twigs and debris all packed under a dolomite shelf on the glade. There are plenty of seeds in fire-mediated landscapes, a forb-dominant world with suites of flowering plants for pollinators and birds alike. The cedar waxwings and Eastern bluebirds were thick that day, mobbing the stray cedars and picking them clean of bright blue berries. But it was the red-headed woodpecker population-- every sunny slope, every post oak and white oak and black oak filled with the chattering calls of this charismatic woodpecker. Hooray for acorns on the landscape, and for the brilliant sunshine that makes the male bluebird feathers look almost neon.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

January is Norton Month

Among the stars of my wine collection are multiple examples of the finest Nortons that Missouri offers. I began collecting Nortons in 2005 when I lived close to my favorite Missouri winery, River Ridge, located on the wooded hillside of Crowley's Ridge. River Ridge Nortons are inky, beautiful, heavily oaked expressions of this sumptuous grape. Since 2005, I've traipsed all over our fair state tasting and collecting Nortons. To date, Missouri harbors over 200 acres of Norton grapevines, and our winemakers are making terrific wines from them ranging from dessert wines to light bodied blends and single varietal bottles.

In the past ten years, Norton has come a long way in the wine world, garnering the attention of wine writers and securing its own Reidel stemware (a must-have if you really want to learn Nortons and the subtleties of the wine). Todd Kliman's book A Wild Vine is a fun read that traces the history of the varietal and takes on the tone of a travelogue through Norton territory in America. Kliman conducted significant research in Missouri and sets the stage for a local author to expand on this lead to cover the grape's rich history in Missouri.

The Missouri Wine Passport program inspired thousands of Missourians to visit wineries all over the state in a terrific incentive program. Wineries popped up all over the place, cashing in on what came to be a continuous flow of visitors. The program ended a couple of years ago, and while visiting Missouri wineries remains a pastime for interstate and intrastate traffic, I've talked to winemakers from several of the lesser known, smaller, and off-the-beaten-path wineries who have felt the direct result of this lost guaranteed audience. I've met some very earnest folks trying to make ends meet while producing a wide range of quality wine, from dry fruit wines to sugary grape wines to Nortons and other dry varietals, winemakers who have noted ratcheting back production of the dry wines to increase their bread-winning sweet wines which serve as gateway wines for many Missourians. But convince the sweet wine lovers to taste the dry wines and often they'll make the switch, slowly, slowly phasing out their ordering of Concord-based wines and opting instead for a Chambourcin...which can lead to an appreciation of Norton.

As president of the International Norton Wine Society (because we have a member from England), I have great hopes this year for more well-deserved acclaim for Missouri Nortons. While there exist a couple of websites that are promoting the Norton grape, I will be working on developing a site for the society which will include a notes section for members to post their comments on new discoveries, on the ageability of Nortons, and all things Norton. In the meantime, especially with Oregon pinot noir now virtually out of my price range, I have hopes of bolstering my dwindling Norton collection. What better time to start than Norton Month!