If you haven’t been in the Missouri outdoors recently, I can tell you that natural events are happening at a frenzied pace. Turtles are laying their eggs in holes in the ground, especially in sandy areas where digging is easy. Young coyotes and woodchucks are leaving their dens. Bald eagle young are fledging. Tarantulas are on the move in southwest Missouri and may be seen crossing the roads. Gray squirrels are beginning their second breeding and spending lots of time in mulberry trees, harvesting the ripening fruits. Catfish fry are leaving the nest. Carpenter bees are laying their eggs in tunnels they’ve excavated in wood. Red fox kits are hunting with their parents.
Plants are also making that transition from spring towards summer. The spring woodland wildflowers have mostly faded as the leafed-out tree canopy has brought shade to the forest floor. Open areas with native vegetation, such as glades and prairies, remain rich with color. The earliest blooming violets, yellow star grass, blue-eyed grass, lousewort, Indian paintbrush and shooting stars have faded and now are maturing their fruits. Now butterfly weed is coming into flower to join the coneflowers, coreopsis, beardtongue, roses, spiderwort, sensitive brier, Missouri primrose and many others.
Wild strawberries already have ripe fruits, providing sweet treats for box turtles on the move. Quail, turkey and prairie chicken eggs are hatching and young chicks are feeding on the great variety of insects found in areas where plant diversity is high. Those areas with some bare ground as well as woody escape cover are best meeting the needs of all ground nesting birds.
Hummingbirds are becoming less common at feeders as they disperse to nest and tend their young. They should return to feeders later in the summer, along with this year’s production of young birds.
Late June and July should bring drier and hotter weather that will greatly reduce the lush growth and rapid succession of flowering plant species. Before the dog days of summer arrive, consider taking a hike at a nearby conservation area or a state park. Unfortunately, the chiggers are joining the ticks and mosquitoes to the discomfort of unprotected explorers, so dress appropriately and use bug spray as needed.