Our photographers have been busy exploring the intricacies of outdoor Missouri. See if you can guess this month’s natural wonder.
Q. What is eating the bark off of these trees? Whatever it is must climb the tree because I have seen the damage anywhere from 3 to 20 feet off the ground. Also, there is only a small amount of bark under the trees, so it must be eating it and not just tearing it off.
A. It looks like squirrels are to blame. Squirrels strip bark from thin-barked and smooth-barked trees and use it to line their nests. The bark removal also exposes the tree’s cambium layer, which holds nutrients and sugars that provide vital food for hungry squirrels, especially in winter and early spring when other food sources are less readily available. Chewing on bark and wood also keeps squirrels’ ever-growing teeth in good shape. The effect on a tree depends on the extent of the damage and the health of the tree. Learn more about dealing with problem squirrels at mdc.mo.gov/node/4659.
Q. I want to go morel hunting this spring. Have any tips? What are the regulations?
A. There are at least three species of edible morels in Missouri, and all are hollow-stemmed mushrooms that emerge from the ground in the spring from early March through April. They have a honeycombed cap and can be found in a variety of habitats, including moist woodlands and river bottoms. They are often associated with ash trees, dying elms, and apple trees, although they are found elsewhere as well, under both hardwoods and conifers. Don’t confuse true morels with false morels, which are poisonous and have caused deaths. Don’t eat any wild mushroom unless you’ve identified it as a safe edible and have cooked it thoroughly. The experts at the Missouri Mycological Society can help with mushroom identification at momyco.org. The Department also has guidance on safe mushroom hunting at mdc.mo.gov/node/3397. Mushroom hunting for personal consumption is allowed on most conservation areas without a permit. Check area regulations. For more information on morels, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/991. Check regulations for other public property before collecting morels and get permission from private landowners.
Q. What are these things? I found them in a seed dish I leave out for birds. The dish also contains black oil sunflower seeds, which provide scale for the size of the mystery items. The balls are very light in weight, and my guess is that they are some kind of owl pellets.
A. According to our wildlife ecologist, the mystery items are not owl pellets — they’re opossum pellets. An opossum munched the sunflower seeds until the nutmeats were consumed and only the hulls remained in a well-formed mass, which it then spit out. The balls do resemble owl pellets in shape, but owl pellets have a shiny coating from being swallowed and coughed up and would contain parts of the skeleton from the prey the owl ate, such as a mouse. Owl pellets are made when the raptors cough up indigestible parts of prey animals such as bones, fur, and feathers. They can often be found under the bird’s favorite perch or its nest.
Spring Turkey Season is popular with many hunters. However, vocal gobblers present special challenges to hunters trying to harvest a turkey while maintaining a safe and enjoyable hunting experience. Here are a few tips to help keep you safe during your hunt.
Hunt defensively, and always prepare for the unexpected. Avoid other hunters whenever possible, and never assume you are the only hunter out there. If you find a turkey that another hunter is already working, back out and try to find another bird. Always try to sit with your back against a large tree where you can see other hunters approaching, and use your voice to alert them of your presence. Before pulling the trigger, positively identify your target, which in the spring includes seeing a visible beard. If you choose to wear camouflage, do so in such a way that you are completely concealed. Avoid wearing anything blue, black, red, or white so as not to be mistaken for game by another hunter. The best color to wear while moving afield is hunter orange to alert other hunters of your presence. Bring a hunter orange-colored bag to safely transport the bird out of the woods.
Find other tips, as well as information on hunting locations, programs, recipes, and more on our Turkey Hunting page at mdc.mo.gov/node/72.
John Pratt is the conservation agent for Butler County. If you would like to contact the agent for your county, phone your regional conservation office.
Chrysemys picta bellii
The western painted turtle can be found statewide, except for southeastern counties. This species may occur in slow-moving rivers, sloughs, oxbow lakes, ponds, and drainage ditches, and it spends much time basking on logs. This brightly colored, small, semiaquatic turtle has a smooth upper shell, which normally has yellow, irregular lines and a reddish-orange outer edge. Head and legs may be dark brown or black and strongly patterned with yellow lines. The lower shell is red-orange with a prominent pattern of brown markings. It eats aquatic plants, snails, crayfish, insects, and some fish. —photograph by Noppadol Paothong
Editor In Chief - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer/Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler