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.
Keeping a bird feeder provides easy meals for birds and hours of entertainment for bird-watchers. It also can help scientists learn where birds spend winter and how different bird species are faring. All you have to do is count the birds in your yard a few times each month and send your tallies to Project FeederWatch. For details, flock to birds.cornell.edu/pfw.
Think you know your backyard or favorite park like the back of your hand? Then draw a map of it. Show every tree, garden, fence and building. When you have finished, hide a box of trinkets somewhere in your yard, and mark the box’s location with an “X” on your map. Then, gather a boatload of pirates—or your friends—and send them on a treasure hunt.
Owls throw up the hard, undigestible parts of their prey in a hairy, bonefilled lump called a pellet. Picking apart a puked-out pellet provides a fun and disgusting way to learn what the owl’s been eating. Look for pellets below trees and fence posts, especially those splattered white with owl droppings. Wear plastic gloves to pick up pellets and wrap them in aluminum foil. Bake the wrapped pellets in a 325 F oven for 40 minutes. This will kill any germs in the pellets, making them safe to examine. Whooo knew barf could be so fascinating?
Now’s the perfect time for a romp through the swamp at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge near Puxico. Fall turns the swamp’s cypress trees fiery red, river otters become active and easily seen, and swarms of waterfowl, warblers and other birds refuel at Mingo during migration. Hike the Swampwalk Nature Trail, drive one of the auto routes, or slip a canoe into a ditch or river (be sure to check at the visitor center to see which ones allow canoeing). For info, visit fws.gov/refuge/mingo.
If your sharpshooting needs sharpening, head to one of the Conservation Department’s shooting ranges. Five shooting ranges are staffed with Department employees and volunteers. These experts can give you the lowdown on how to sight in your deer rifle. If you have that process down, there are dozens of unstaffed ranges scattered throughout the state where you can fire several rounds before deer season. For details, aim your browser at mdc.mo.gov/node/6209.
Leaf litter—fallen leaves on the forest floor—is literally crawling with bugs, and it’s easy to get a good look at them. Just cut the bottom from a plastic milk jug and place it, spout down, atop a jar filled with water. Tape a stick to the jug and jar to keep them from tipping. Pack leaves loosely into the jug, then set the contraption in a sunny place. As the leaves warm, insects inside will crawl downward where it’s cooler and eventually fall into the jar.
Don't miss the chance to Discover Nature at these fun events.
Mallards belong to a group of ducks known as dabblers. Dabblers feed by dipping their heads underwater, leaving their bottoms high and dry. Like most dabblers, mallards suck water in through their bills, let it squirt out the sides, and strain out seeds, snails and insects. Yum! Dabblers are also called puddle ducks
Aw, nuts! During fall, blue jays gather acorns for winter. A jay can carry three acorns in its throat, one in its mouth and another in the tip of its beak. It flies to a hiding spot, buries the acorns and covers them with leaves. The busy birds even out-squirrel the squirrels. A single jay can stash 5,000 acorns each fall!
Nichole LeClair Terrill