A Feast for the Ears

By Rick Thom | April 2, 1999
From Missouri Conservationist: Apr 1999

Spring brings us choruses of birds at dawn. In summer, we are lulled to sleep by katydids and crickets. During a fall walk in the woods, we may hear the clash of deer antlers during the rut. The whinny of screech owls and the wail of coyotes break the stillness of winter nights.

Reading about these natural events can be rewarding, but sometimes hearing them is even better. That is why the Conservation Department developed the Nature Notes radio program-because nature is a feast for the ears as well as for the eyes.

Over the years, we have combined lively scripts and authentic sounds from nature to answer questions about our natural world, including "Why do birds sing?" "What should I do with orphaned baby animals?" "How long do animals live?" "Where do insects go in winter?" and "When will the purple martins return?"

One of the most rewarding jobs as a Conservation Department employee is helping people to understand and appreciate our outdoor heritage. Conservation Department naturalists and biologists know that certain topics become hot seasonally when something unusual or conspicuous is happening "out there." Through the seasons we get hundreds of requests for information about mushroom hunting, wildflower blooming dates, hummingbird feeding, poison ivy, bird migration, urban deer and animal hibernation.

For every caller or walk-in visitor, we suspect there are hundreds of people with similar questions who do not contact us. We decided that an entertaining and informative radio program-a kind of natural events calendar on the air-could answer these frequently asked questions.

The first Nature Notes radio programs were aired in 1992. Since then we produced 260 90-second programs for radio stations. In support of the programs, we recorded many natural sounds in the field and obtained others from our sound library and from the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology sound collection.

We developed program material with the help of nature centers, field biologists, land managers and clerical staff, who usually were the first people fielding questions from the public. Over 50 Conservation Department employees have been involved in researching material and writing, reviewing and editing scripts.

Today, Nature Notes has grown beyond our early concept. Not only have Nature Notes aired on about 50 radio stations throughout the state and in several neighboring states, the programs are used by Conservation Department education consultants, conservation nature centers, Director Conley's "Conservation on Call" radio program and by conservation agents.

"I receive a lot of positive comments on the Nature Notes material I use," says Conservation Agent Richard Sperber. To prepare for his regular radio program on WHB radio in Carrollton and for his newspaper articles, Sperber says he uses Nature Notes topics for inspiration. "Along with the hunting safety information I broadcast," he says, "I like to let people know about things happening in nature they might see or hear while hunting."

Nature Notes has been recognized by the national Association for Conservation Information, which named Nature Notes programs the best radio program in 1992 ("Bird Song," written by Jim D. Wilson), 1994 ("Roadside Hawks," written by Jim D. Wilson), 1995 ("Dawn Chorus," written by Jim D. Wilson) and 1996 ("Seeds that Stick," written by Tim Smith).

Nature Notes strives to provide accurate, informative and seasonally appropriate information that is also interesting and fun. The programs appeal to urban, suburban and rural residents.

These 90-second capsules of information about dandelions growing in the lawn, June bugs buzzing at the window, soil formation or creatures living in sidewalk cracks help bring the wonders of nature into our everyday lives.

You can listen to Nature Notes at Burr Oak Woods, Powder Valley, Springfield and Runge conservation nature centers or on many radio stations throughout the state. If you can't find them on your favorite stations, ask the program director to contact us about airing Nature Notes as a public service.

The Frog Chorus

by Tom R. Johnson

You may look for your first robin as a sign of spring, but the voices of frogs rise through the air and speak clearly of warmer days.

Spring peepers and chorus frogs call from shallow breeding pools on rainy and warm spring nights. Only the males call. They are luring females to the breeding ponds for mating.

Spring peepers are small frogs about the size of a quarter. Their pinkish tan bodies have a brown, X-shaped marking on the back. Peepers live throughout much of the eastern United States. Chances are you've heard their high-pitched peeping calls even as early as February.

Another widespread spring singer is the western chorus frog, a small, gray frog with dark brown stripes. You can imitate the chorus frog's call by running your thumbnail along the small teeth of a pocket comb. Chorus frogs call on rainy nights now through April. By late March, other kinds of frogs and toads join the nightly chorus, telling us that spring has truly arrived.

This Nature Note is provided by the Missouri Department of Conservation.


This Issue's Staff

Editor - Tom Cwynar
Assistant Editor - Charlotte Overby
Managing Editor - Jim Auckley
Art Editor - Dickson Stauffer
Designer - Tracy Ritter
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Composition - Libby Bode Block
Circulation - Bertha Bainer