With summer winding down and autumn gearing up, there’s plenty to discover outside in August and September. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Gar—skinny fish with beak-like jaws— have survived, generation by generation, since before dinosaurs ruled Earth. It’s easy to catch these hard-fighting, prehistoric fish, but don’t bother with a hook. A gar’s bony jaw is too tough. What you need is a piece of frayed rope. The rope gets tangled in the gar’s teeth, and the fish can’t shake free. All you have to do is reel in the monster. To make a gar lure, swim over to xplormo.org/node/15519.
If icy weather, frozen toes and snotsicles hanging from your nose have turned you off to winter duck hunting, give September’s teal season a try. Teal are the buzz bombs of the waterfowl world. They fly fast and dart unpredictably over the marsh, and they’re a lot of fun to hunt. For season dates, bag limits and other rules, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/3641.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. If you’re lemonless, find some sumac. Sumac is a shrub that forms thickets along roadsides and fencerows. In September it produces cone-shaped clusters of rusty red berries. Collect a dozen sumac clusters and shake out all the bugs. Submerge the clusters in a large bowl filled with water, and rub them until the powder that coats the berries turns the water pink. Strain the water through an old (but clean) tea towel into a pitcher. Add sugar and ice, then toast the end of summer with a refreshing glass of sumacade.
If summer’s heat has you beat, seek a creek. It’s fun to just splash in the water, but there’s tons more to do. Flip rocks to see what lives underneath. Have a stone-skipping contest or stick-raft race. Bring a mask, snorkel and dip net to catch minnows and crayfish. Or, for a real thrill, ask a parent to tie up a rope so you can swing out and plunge into a cool, deep pool.
For a fun way to learn about critters living in your backyard, make a field guide. Snap photos or draw pictures of every animal or plant you find, then use keen observation skills to write a description for each. What does the pattern on that butterfly’s wings look like? Where do robins nest? How does a treefrog sound? Don’t forget to include the animal’s name, when and where you found it, and any neat facts you learn through research.
Have you ever found yellow slime on a dead log or in the mulch around your house? It may look like dog vomit, but it’s likely a strange, harmless creature called a slime mold. Want to grow some at home? Cut off a chunk and put it in a container lined with a moist paper towel. Drop in a flake of old-fashioned oatmeal (not instant), snap on a lid, and put the container in a dark place. Keep feeding the slime mold oats, and it will grow to blob-like size.
Everyone needs a secret hideout. You can build one in the woods (or your backyard) without using a single nail. Just gather dead branches and lay them over a fallen log to build a lean-to. Or, weave limbs through upright trees to form walls. Your new hideout will offer peace from pesky little brothers, and animals will soon get used to the structure, allowing you to sit quietly inside and watch them up close.
Hummingbirds are so fearless, you can train them to perch on your finger. Here’s how: Keep a hummingbird feeder stocked with nectar. (Head to xplormo.org/ node/9026 for a nectar recipe.) Once hummers are frequenting the feeder, begin sitting quietly beside it. When the birds are no longer bothered by your presence, hold a finger close to the feeder as if it were a perch. With patience— and a steady hand—one of the energetic little gems will buzz in and sit on your finger to sip nectar.
Looking for more ways to have fun outside? Find out about Discover Nature programs in your area at xplormo.org/node/2616.
Your guide to all the nasty, stinky, slimy and gross stuff that nature has to offer
If you’re a soft, yummy caterpillar, how do you keep pesky predators from picking you apart? Fall webworms spin tangly, silky webs around the tips of tree branches. The caterpillars live inside the webs and munch leaves nonstop. Webworms aren’t tidy, though. Their homes soon become littered with chewed leaves, shrunken skins the caterpillars shed as they grow, and frass—a polite term for caterpillar poop.
Some snakes hunt for food. Baby copperheads wait for dinner to come to them. These sneaky snakes coil quietly on the forest floor doing their best to look like dead leaves. When a frog or other small animal comes by, the copperhead wiggles its greenish-yellow tail, trying to make it look like a tasty caterpillar. If the frog takes the bait, the snake strikes, and the frog becomes a meal instead of eating one.
In September, monarch butterflies flutter south to spend winter in Mexico. Nectar from flowers provides energy for their incredible 3,000-mile migration—one of the longest of any insect. As caterpillars, monarchs eat poisonous plants called milkweeds. This makes the adult butterflies taste yucky. A monarch’s tough orange-and-black scales tell birds and other predators, “If you eat me, you’ll be sorry!”
Hey, chubby cheeks! In early fall, chipmunks have just one thought in their furry little heads: storing seeds and nuts for winter. They stuff their cheeks like grocery sacks and scurry to their nests, cramming in enough food to fill nine 2-liter soda bottles.
Nichole LeClair Terrill