Get out to discover nature coming and going. Here are a few ideas to keep you outside in December and January.
Imagine this: You’re standing in the pitch-black woods on a cold winter’s night. Suddenly, the silence is shattered by a dog barking. You flip on your headlamp and plunge through the trees toward the sound—one of your hounds is on the trail of a raccoon! To experience this thrill firsthand, tag along with a ’coon hunter. For a rundown on raccoon hunting, visit www.xplormo.org/node/10547.
Every winter, thousands of bald eagles follow migrating flocks of waterfowl to Missouri. With binoculars and some searching, you can find eagles perched in trees along rivers, lakes and wetlands. The easiest way to see our national symbol, though, is to attend Eagle Days. There you’ll get an upclose look at captive eagles and peer through telescopes to watch wild eagles soar. For details, visit www. mdc.mo.gov/ node/3478.
Don’t stow your tent when snowflakes start to fall. With some planning and the right gear, winter camping can be really cool. Dress in layers, wear warm, waterproof boots and pack plenty of snacks to fuel your body’s furnace. If there’s snow on the ground, use a sled to haul your gear. For more tips to keep your teeth from chattering and your camp comfortable, go to www.xplormo.org/node/10545. Don’t stay inside when the snow gets to blowing.
The late portion of the youth firearms deer season is January 1–2. If you’re at least 6 but no older than 15 and have an unfilled firearms deer-hunting permit, you can participate. Head to www.mdc.mo.gov/node/3861 for details, then grab an adult and head to the woods. After all, there’s no better way to start 2011 than by sitting in a deer stand.
There’s no reason to stay indoors when school’s out for a snow day. But, when you’re tired of sledding, ice skating, snowball fights and building snowmen, put your time inside to good use: Tie somshing. Instructions for tying a woolly bugger, one of the world’s fishiest flies, can be found at www.xplormo.org/node/3560.
Hoo’s hiding out there in the dark? The longest night of the year, December 21, is the perfect time to find out. Bundle up, pack a thermos of hot chocolate and head out after sunset for an owl prowl. If you give a hoot, check out www.xplormo.org/node/10548 to learn about Missouri’s most common owls and hear their calls.
Adults often struggle to keep their New Year’s resolutions, goals they hope to achieve in the coming year. You can make a resolution that’s fun and easy to keep. Just promise to play outside more in 2011. We’ll even help. Check out Xplor’s weekly You Discover blog at www.xplormo.org for ideas and inspiration to get you off the couch and out the door.
A cut Christmas tree is a gift that keeps on giving for winter birds. After the holidays, strip your tree of ornaments and stash it under a bird feeder. It will offer birds shelter when the wind blows and a place to escape to when the neighbor’s cat comes prowling. Treat your feathered friends to some sweet eats by decorating the tree with popcorn strings or pine cones smeared with peanut butter.
Looking for more ways to have fun outside? Find out about Discover Nature programs in your area at www.xplormo.org/xplor/stuff-do/all-events.
Imagine tasting a pizza just by sitting on it. If you were a catfish you could—it’s a superduper swimming tongue. Its whole body is covered with taste buds. Even a little catfish has more than 500,000 taste buds coating its slippery skin. Your tongue only has about 10,000. This bounty of buds isn’t there to make a catfish’s dinner taste better. They help the catfish nab a tasty snack even in dark and murky water.
Your guide to all the nasty, stinky, slimy and gross stuff that nature has to offer.
Slime, stink and total darkness—to a grotto salamander, that’s home, sweet home. These cotton-candy-colored amphibians slink around in caves deep underground. They have eyes, but don’t get to use them because they live in a lifelong lights out. In total darkness, they hunt for insects on mountains of bat droppings all day long. They don’t even have lungs or gills—they “breathe” oxygen right through their skin, thanks to a healthy slathering of slime.
River otters have furry, waterproof coats that keep them warm while swimming. When otters leave the water, they shimmy and shake to dry off. Otters love to play. They dive for rocks and clamshells in the water. They wrestle with their brothers and sisters. And, if there’s snow, otters get a good run, tuck their legs up, and slide over the snow on their tummies.
These little red puffballs visit bird feeders throughout winter. Prop up your old Christmas tree nearby to shelter cardinals and other birds from the wind. Perched there in vibrant color, the birds will continue to decorate your tree all winter long.
Nichole Leclair Terrill