What Is It?
Our photographers have been busy exploring the intricacies of the Missouri outdoors. See if you can guess this month's natural wonder.
Ask The Ombudsman
Q. Could you please identify the creator of the “nest” depicted in the attached photo? It was about 75 feet off the ground in a pine tree and is apparently constructed primarily of pine needles. It measures 3–5 feet in diameter.
A. It’s not a nest but rather a deformed growth of the tree, consisting of a dense mass of small branches originating from a single point. Called witches’ brooms, these growths occur sporadically in pines and other trees, such as hackberry, maple, willow, and spruce. Witches’ brooms can result from environmental stresses, from the activities of living organisms (such as fungi, mites, viruses, and aphids), or from genetic mutation in tissues of the tree. The dense growth of small branches in pines tends to trap the pine needles that would otherwise fall to the ground, creating a large, conspicuous mass of living and dead needles. Although not constructed by animals, they can be used for shelter or nesting by such animals as flying squirrels.
Q. I am planning to apply for a fall elk hunt out west. Will my Missouri hunter-education training be accepted in another state?
A. Yes. Most states do accept the hunter-education training from other states. There are a couple of instances where you may get into trouble, though. When states established their hunter-ed requirements, they typically “grandfathered in” persons born before a certain date. In Missouri, hunters born before Jan. 1, 1967, are exempt from the hunter-ed requirement. Some other states have used an earlier date, so you may be exempt in Missouri but not exempt in another state. Another issue is bowhunter education. In Missouri, that is not required of archery hunters unless they are hunting in certain municipalities where city ordinances require it. Some western states do require bowhunter education for persons archery hunting in their states. I advise you to check the hunter-education requirements in the state where you wish to hunt well in advance of planning your trip. It could save you a lot of time and frustration later, when you’d rather be hunting.
Q. I recently saw a squirrel with most of its tail missing. What may have caused that and how will it affect the squirrel?
A. The tail may have been lost due to the squirrel running under a moving vehicle. It could have been lost in a confrontation with a natural predator, such as a dog, bobcat, coyote, fox, hawk, or owl. Having a tail that is easily broken can be an advantage to a squirrel if, by the tail breaking, the animal is able to escape with its life. The tail is used for balance and for social interaction with other squirrels. As long as the break does not lead to a serious infection, the squirrel will probably lead a relatively normal life.
Ombudsman Tim Smith will respond to your questions, suggestions, or complaints concerning the Conservation Department.
Address: PO Box 180, Jefferson City, 65102-0180
Phone: 573-522-4115, ext. 3848
Trout Fishing Tradition
March 1 marks the opening of the catch-and-keep trout season at Missouri’s four trout parks — Roaring River State Park, Bennett Spring State Park, Montauk State Park, and Maramec Spring Park. On the morning of opening day at Roaring River, anglers line both sides of the river with poles in the air waiting for the siren to sound. The view can be magical when the sun hits all the fishing lines at once. Suddenly, with the blast of the siren, the battle begins, each person in the crowd hoping to be the first one to catch a prize trout.
I have seen many of these anglers catch a large lunker trout and enjoy seeing their name put up on the Lunker Board for all to see. I have had the privilege of witnessing four generations of a family fishing around the same hole. Many families and friends return each year to fish their favorite spots, camp in their favorite campsite, and spend time together on what they refer to as “fish-mas eve.”
Whether a novice, trying to catch their very first fish, or a veteran, upholding a long-held tradition, they all have the privilege of being surrounded by the beautiful natural landscapes provided by Missouri trout parks. To learn more about trout fishing in Missouri, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/5603.
Daniel Shores is the conservation agent in Barry County. If you would like to contact the agent for your county, phone your regional conservation office.
What Is It?
Great Blue Heron
Great blue herons are top predators in their aquatic environments. Other predators frequently prey upon the herons’ eggs and chicks, but not many animals hunt the adults. From the tip of its bill to the tip of its tail, the great blue heron can reach lengths of up to 46 inches. Herons are found statewide and gather in large nesting colonies near water and food. Each pair of great blue herons typically lays 3–6 eggs, which are incubated for nearly a month. The chicks hatch one at a time, with the first to hatch growing more quickly than the others. They wade and forage in shallow pools, edges of lakes, and similar areas for aquatic prey, including frogs, small fish, and many other animals that can be swallowed.
— photograph by Noppadol Paothong