Our photographers have been busy exploring the intricacies of outdoor Missouri. See if you can guess this month’s natural wonder.
Q. What is this bird?
A. It’s an adult male eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus).
Sharp-eyed enthusiasts may notice this bird’s distinctive double kick as it vigorously rakes through leaf litter in search of insects, seeds, and berries. You are most likely to see this species at your feeders on snowy days when icy conditions make scratching for their dinner less tempting.
This “old field” bird prefers forest edges, woodland glades, and streamside thickets filled with brushy tangles and cedar groves. They spend much of their time concealed in thick underbrush, so chances are you’ll hear it before you see it.
They make a musical trill that sounds very much like “Drink your tea” (or “jink denk te-e-e-e-e-e”). To hear the eastern towhee, visit allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Towhee/id. Eastern towhees are short-distance migrants, taking advantage of good summer food supplies in the northern United States and parts of southern Canada. But they shift south again in winter to escape the cold. They are present statewide, but far fewer birds reside in northern Missouri in winter.
They are closely related to the spotted towhee (P. maculatus). The two species interbreed in a few places along rivers in the Great Plains where suitable habitat is present and their ranges overlap.
Q. Just prior to Christmas, my neighbors saw a pair of spotted fawns that looked 2 or 3 weeks old. And I saw one in early January that appeared as if it just lost its spots. Isn’t this rare?
A. Yes, it’s rare to see such young fawns in the middle of winter, but not outside the realm of possibility. Fawns typically lose their spots three to four months after birth. Thus, a fawn with spots in late December was probably born in September. Given the 200-day gestation period for white-tailed deer, the fawn was probably conceived sometime in late February or early March. It would be rare for a deer to breed during this time in Missouri, but more common in states further south.
Does that are not bred during their first estrus can continue to cycle into estrus up to six or seven times at 21- to 30-day intervals before entering a nonbreeding phase. Since most does undergo their first estrus in November, deer are actually capable of breeding into March, so it is possible for a doe to be impregnated late in the season.
Q. My 22-year-old weeping willow is dying. I had to cut a big limb off the bottom. As I pulled out the saw, water streamed out as if a hose was attached. It lasted a few minutes and made quite a stench. Is this common? What caused it?
A. Some tree species will ooze sap after cutting or wounding, especially on warm days in late winter. This is how we get maple syrup, for example. However, such trees will usually ooze slowly, and won’t have a strong odor.
It’s possible the tree has a condition known as bacterial wetwood or slime flux — essentially a fermentation of sap causing strong gases to build up under pressure, forcing out a frothy, liquid substance.
For more information, visit msucares.com/pubs/infosheets/is1664.pdf
I remember the first time I realized I wanted to be a conservation agent. I was attending a hunter education course in Mississippi, and I recall watching the game wardens teach us firearms handling and hunting skills. It was impressive seeing someone with a badge on their chest taking time out of their busy schedules to teach us, and they enjoyed every minute of it.
I worked my way through college to earn a degree that was specifically designed for becoming a conservation agent. The biggest struggle I experienced in college was continually hearing that women could not do this job. Despite the negativity, I spent many months in a long interview process to be a conservation agent with the Missouri Department of Conservation. Being an applicant from another state was difficult, but I was blessed and privileged to earn a spot as one of 10 people in the 2015 Conservation Agent Training Academy. I worried about the stigma of being a female conservation agent, but the academy and people I met along the way eased my concerns.
Now that I am a conservation agent, I am proud to say I have accomplished what some said could not be done. I am proud to be part of a select few female conservation agents, and I hope I can be a role model for others when choosing their career path.
Samantha Rhoades is the conservation agent for Osage County. If you would like to contact the agent for your county, phone your regional conservation office.
The photo on Page 1 shows paddlefish eggs, and above is a young paddlefish. Missouri’s official state aquatic animal, paddlefish live mostly in open waters of big rivers, swimming continuously near the surface. As waters rise in spring, paddlefish move upstream to gravel bars to spawn. Eggs are deposited on silt-free gravel bars where, during regular water levels, they would be exposed to air or are covered by very shallow water. The eggs hatch and the larval fish are swept downstream to deeper pools where they grow to adulthood. Paddlefish can attain a length of 10 to 14 inches their first year, and at age 17 they can be 60 inches long. Paddlefish can live to be 30 years old or more. Paddlefish swim slowly through water with their mouths wide open, collecting tiny crustaceans and insects in their elaborate, closely set gill rakers. Because it is one of the most ancestral fish species alive today, it is of considerable interest to biological research. —photograph by Jim Rathert
EEditor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Art Director - Cliff White
Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler