You Discover

By | February 1, 2012
From Xplor: February/March 2012

With winter almost gone and spring just around the corner, there’s plenty for you to discover outside in February and March. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Train a chickadee

Chickadees are itty-bitty and hang it outside on a tree. birds, but they’re also fearless. With patience, you can coax these gutsy fluff balls to eat from your hand. Fill a bird feeder with seed, walk 10 big steps away, and wait quietly for chickadees to arrive. Each day, take a step closer. When you can stand beside the feeder without scaring the birds, grab a handful of seed and hold really still. Don’t be surprised if a chickadee lands on your hand for a quick bite to eat.

Send a squirrel a Valentine

This Valentine’s Day, send some love to the critters in your backyard. Place a heart-shaped cookie cutter in a baking pan and line the inside of the cutter with plastic wrap. Drop in some birdseed and place a loop of red ribbon at the top. Pour water to just below the cookie cutter’s edge and put everything in your freezer. When your birdseed Valentine has frozen, pop it out of the cutter, remove the plastic wrap, and hang it outside on a tree.

Get Your Goose

Standing beneath a swirling swarm of yelping snow geese is thrilling. But with 5 million snows migrating north every spring, the geese are literally eating themselves out of house and home. The overabundant geese strip huge swaths of Arctic tundra bare when they feed, destroying habitat for birds and other animals. To help bring their numbers back to normal, a special hunting season runs from February 1 to April 30. If you’d like to participate—and help save the tundra— visit

Set a Record

Missouri’s tallest tree, a pumpkin ash in the Bootheel, stretches higher than four school buses stacked end to end. A cottonwood north of Kansas City is so wide, six kids holding hands barely encircle its trunk. Both are “champion trees,” the largest of their kind in Missouri. Even bigger trees might lurk afield, and you can join the hunt to find them. Discover a record breaker, and you’ll get a certificate for your wall—and bragging rights. Learn to measure enormous trees at

Let The Stars Guide Your Way

Ancient sailors used stars to guide their boats across the oceans. You, too, can navigate by the stars. First, find the Big Dipper. It’s a group of seven stars that form the shape of a soup ladle. Trace a straight line from the last two stars in the ladle’s lip until you run into a star as bright as those in the Big Dipper. This is the North Star. If you face it, east will be to your right, west will be to your left, and south will be directly behind you.

Survey a Snag.

Biologists call a dead tree still standing a snag. Animals call it home. Next time you’re in the woods, look closely at any snag you find. Do you see holes in its trunk? Those are made by insects tunneling through the wood—snug as a bug in a snag— or by woodpeckers searching for tasty insects. Knock on the snag to see if anyone’s home. Holes in snags provide cozy places for squirrels, raccoons and bats to rest, and nests for screech owls, chickadees and other birds. A snag is no drag!

Discover Nature at these fun events.

  • Visit the “Road-Kill Cafe” at the Vulture venture Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery near Branson February 18, noon–5 p.m. Call 417-334-4865, ext. 0
  • Get the scoop on critter poop at Nature Center at night—Scat! Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center February 9, 5–8 p.m. Call 573-290-5218
  • See signs of nature awakening during a guided Spring Evening Walk Runge Conservation Nature Center, Jefferson City February 23, 6–8 p.m. Call 573-526-5544
  • Learn to use your GPS for Treasure hunting Missouri Department of Conservation’s Kirksville office March 17, 2–3 p.m. Make reservations at 660-785-2420
  • Tap a tree and make your own syrup at the Maple Sugar Festival Rockwoods Reservation, St. Louis February 4, 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Call 636-458-2236

Looking for more ways to have fun outside? Find out about Discover Nature programs in your area at

What is it?

  • When you hear me sing, it’s time to ring in spring.
  • I can't hit a note until I inflate my throat.
  • It isn’t too deep where I leap and peep.
  • “X” marks the space where my concert takes place.

In late February, male spring peepers begin singing to attract mates. Their loud, ringing calls are a sign spring is near. Peepers raise a ruckus by inflating their throats like balloons. To find these frogs, explore puddles and shallow ponds near woods. You must look closely, though. Peepers aren’t much longer than a paperclip and range in color from tan to gray with an X-shaped mark on their backs.

Critter Corner


Who you calling chubby? Despite their potbellied appearance, muskrats are perfectly suited for life in water. Equipped with waterproof fur, paddle-like hind feet and lungs that would impress an Olympic swimmer, muskrats can stay underwater for 17 minutes at a stretch.

And More...

This Issue's Staff

David Besenger
Bonnie Chasteen
Chris Cloyd
Peg Craft
Brett Dufur
Les Fortenberry
Chris Haefke
Karen Hudson
Regina Knauer
Kevin Lanahan
Kevin Muenks
Noppadol Paothong
Marci Porter
Mark Raithel
Laura Scheuler
Matt Seek
Tim Smith
David Stonner
Nichole LeClair Terrill
Stephanie Thurber
Cliff White
Kipp Woods