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.
Those fuzzy yellow flowers your parents hate to find in their lawn—you can eat ’em. Nearly every part of a dandelion is edible. Dandelion leaves can be used to make a salad or cooked with pasta. Dandelion flowers can be fried to make fritters or stirred into pancake batter. Before you dine on dandelions, make sure no one has sprayed chemicals on your lawn.
On warm nights in February and March, spring peepers and chorus frogs sing to attract a mate. Neither amphibian is much bigger than the end of your thumb, but when a bunch sing together, it gets loud. To hear this symphony, head outside just before sunset and explore shallow puddles, pools, wet fields or flooded ditches. Get help identifying what’s singing and learn more about Missouri’s frogs and toads.
To see tons of critters moving from one spot to another, visit one of Missouri’s wetlands this spring. There you’ll see thousands of migrating ducks, geese and shorebirds resting and refueling for their long journey north. To find a wetland, visit https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/places.
Animals aren’t the only ones waking up from winter. In March, many wildflowers and trees begin to bloom in woodlands throughout the state. Pack a field guide and hit the trail to look for early bloomers, such as harbinger of spring, spring beauty and bird’s-foot violets. Later in the month look for flowering trees, such as serviceberry, wild plum and redbud.
When the weather warms up, skunks leave their underground dens to search for food and mates. Around this time, dead skunks—and stinky smells—start turning up on roads. Skunks are slowmoving and nearsighted. When they waddle across roadways, they’re no match for fastmoving cars. You can save a hungry, lovesick skunk by helping your parents keep an eye out for them on car trips— especially at night.
A rainbow trout, that is. These colorful fish are fun to catch and tasty to eat. You don’t have to travel far to find them, either—many city lakes are stocked with pan-sized trout. Beginning Feb. 1, you can take home four trout, but you’ll need a trout permit and—if you’re 16 years old or older—a fishing permit. Find a trout-stocked lake.
A singing robin is a sure sign that spring is just around the corner. Many robins spend the winter in Missouri, while others head south when berries and other foods disappear. Look for large flocks returning to the Show-Me State around the third week of February. You can help scientists track their migration by taking part in Journey North’s Robin Roundup. For details, visit www.learner.org/jnorth/robin.
On calm, clear nights just after sunset, you’ll hear it: a lonesome howl ending in a bunch of yaps and barks. It sounds eerily like laughter. This is the call of the coyote. Although it sounds spooky, there’s nothing to fear. Howling is how coyotes talk to each other. A coyote might howl to say “I’m lonely,” “Stay away” or “Let’s go find some rabbits to eat.” Scientists have recorded 11 different kinds of howls. They think each one means something different. How many can you hear?
Looking for more ways to have fun outside? Find out about Discover Nature programs in your area at mdc.mo.gov/events.
Not much bigger than a squirrel, American mink are small but deadly. Webbed feet help these all-terrain meat-eaters catch fish and frogs in water. With their feisty nature and astounding speed, on land they can attack larger prey such as rabbits.
Your guide to all the nasty, stinky, slimy and gross stuff that nature has to offer
Owls don’t have teeth. So what’s a hungry bird to do with the tasty mouse it just caught? Swallow it whole. As the unlucky rodent passes through the owl’s gut, the mouse’s soft meaty parts are digested. Hard parts, such as teeth, bones and fur, get stuck in the owl’s stomach and form a pellet. How do owls get rid of these undigestible leftovers? They barf! Although gross, puked-out pellets provide a snapshot of an owl's past meal.
Muskrats are nature’s scuba divers. Their dense, waterproof fur acts like a wetsuit to keep them warm and dry. Their webbed hind feet propel them through the water better than a pair of swim fins. And, though you would need an air tank to stay underwater for 17 minutes, these furry divers can do it just by holding their breath.
In winter, high-flying gaggles of snow geese head south in large, noisy groups. As they land on wetlands to feed, they look like swirling white snow. Not all snow geese are white. The darker ones are called blues
Nichole LeClair Terrill