Nature hustles and bustles in autumn. Birds fly south, leaves change color and mammals scurry about, fattening up for winter. There’s lots to discover in October and November. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Fall mushrooms are popping up across Missouri, and each has a single goal: to release millions of tiny, dustlike “seeds” called spores. Wind carries the spores away, and if they land in the right place, they’ll form new mushrooms. To see mushroom spores— and create some cool art in the process— make a spore print. It’s easy, just follow the pictures to the right or go to xplormo. org/node/16070 for detailed instructions.
The Show-Me State’s forests are showiest in mid-October when maples, oaks and hickories reach peak fall color. This dazzling display lasts only a few weeks, but you can capture the spectacle. Just grab a camera and head out to hunt for fall color photos. If you’re no Ansel Adams— Google him—don’t worry. Xplor’s photography guru, Dave Stonner, has tips at xplormo.org/node/9750 to make your photos shine.
With Halloween right around the corner, why not whip up some treats for your feathered friends? Suet—animal fat mixed with seeds, nuts and berries—is like candy for insect-eating birds. Fill a feeder with the stuff, and birds of every color and costume—from brightly colored blue jays to boldly patterned woodpeckers to understated but animated chickadees—will trick or treat your backyard. For a super-simple suet recipe, visit xplormo.org/node/16068.
If you’re the crafty type, nature offers tons of free art supplies every fall—you just have to rake them up. Grab a bottle of glue, gather an assortment of brightly colored leaves, odd-shaped twigs and interesting seeds, then go crazy creating leaf creatures. See if you can build a butterfly or fashion a fish. Check out xplormo.org/node/16069 for a gallery of leafy critters to jumpstart your creativity.
October’s full moon is called the Hunter’s Moon. Native Americans used its light to hunt through the night to stockpile meat for winter. You can use it to light your way on a spooky and fun hike. Night hikes are a great way to see and hear nature’s night shift—nocturnal animals such as raccoons, opossums and owls. Hoo knows what you’ll encounter? For a list of possibilities plus tips to make your hike fun and safe, check out xplormo.org/node/16072.
For hare-raising excitement, try rabbit hunting. Cottontail rabbits live in every county of Missouri, and hunting them doesn’t require fancy gear—a shotgun and a pair of pants sturdy enough to resist brush and thorns are about it. Ask an adult hunter to show you the ropes, and in no time you’ll be chasing barking beagles as they boogie through the briars, hot on the trail of some cottontails. Rabbit season begins October 1. Hop over to xplormo.org/node/16071 for rules, gear suggestions, places to hunt, hunting tips and rabbit recipes.
Some of nature’s coolest plants and animals are also its tiniest. To find out what’s creeping and crawling just underfoot, bust out your magnifying glass and hit the trail for a microhike. Stretch a three-foot piece of string along the ground and work your way slowly and carefully, inch by inch, along its length. You’ll be amazed how much life you’ll find when you truly take the time to look!
Road trip packing list: Snacks, check. Good book, check. MP3 player, check. Binoculars—wait, what? Highways are a great place to spot raptors— birds of prey. Grassy right-of-ways offer the birds ideal hunting grounds, and utility poles provide perfect perches. About a dozen kinds of raptors turn up in Missouri every fall. If you can’t tell a red-tailed from a red-shouldered hawk, don’t despair. Flap over to xplormo.org/node/16073 for a printable guide.
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.
Watching a peregrine falcon rip apart a pigeon is yucky. But how a peregrine captures its prey is deadly beautiful. When a flying falcon spots a bird below, the falcon folds its wings and dives. WHOOSH! Like a feathered missile, the peregrine streaks toward its target at 200 miles per hour, slamming into the unlucky bird with spine-shattering force. As the victim tumbles from the sky, the falcon circles back to pluck it up for lunch.
Question: Why do leaves turn orange and yellow?
Answer: They don’t. Those colors are always in leaves, you just can’t see them. Green-colored stuff called chlorophyll (klor-o-fill) covers up other colors most of the time. Chlorophyll has an important job. It uses sunlight to make food for the tree. But when days get shorter in the fall, leaves stop making chlorophyll. The green fades away, and orange and yellow finally shine through.
Beep, beep ? No. Coo, coo. Greater roadrunners are large, leggy birds in the cuckoo family. They run better than they fly, hoofing it across southern Missouri’s glades and woodlands at nearly 20 miles per hour. Roadrunners need speed to chase down prey such as lizards, snakes and scorpions. Once they catch a critter, roadrunners bash it brainless against a rock or stick. When they get cold, sun-loving roadrunners fluff up feathers on their backs to expose black skin underneath that’s perfect for soaking up rays.
Nichole LeClair Terrill