Don’t stay inside when the snow gets to blowing. Go out. You’ll discover nature coming and going. Here are some fun things to do in December and January.
Take advantage of the longest night of the year, December 21, and hike a trail after dark. You’re not likely to see much, but that’s okay. On this hike, you’re trying to collect sounds, not sights. See if you can hear coyotes howling, owls hooting, geese honking, and raccoons chattering. For a checklist of noisy nocturnal critters and a sampling of their sounds, check out xplormo.org/node/19485.
Need a cure for cabin fever? Then bundle up, head outside, gather some friends, and build an obstacle course in the woods. Use a fallen log for a balance beam. Zigzag between small trees or run circles around big ones. Do pull-ups on sturdy branches or limbo under low-hanging limbs. Chart a course, mark the start and finish lines, then use a stopwatch to see who can complete the course the fastest.
We can’t promise a partridge in a pear tree, but if you want chickadees, blue jays, and woodpeckers, decorate an evergreen with edible ornaments. Get some suet (look for it in stores that sell birdseed) and leave it in a warm, sunny spot. Once the suet’s soft, use cookie cutters to trim it into holiday-themed shapes, such as stars, bells, or gingerbread people. Unfold paperclips to make hooks, and push one into each piece of suet. Chill the suet in the freezer until it’s hard, then hang your bird baubles on a tree.
January 21 is National Squirrel Appreciation Day. Here’s how to show some love to all your nut-munching, tree-hugging, furry-tailed friends: Loop wire through an eye-screw, tie the wire around the branch of a tree, and twist an ear of dried corn onto the screw. Squirrels will appreciate the free meal, and you’ll love watching their corny hijinks.
Some seeds can survive being buried for decades, and others can live underground even longer. Lambs quarter will sprout after being buried for 1,600 years! To learn what mysteries lurk in your backyard, dig up some soil and put it in a cup. Bring the cup inside, set it on a sunny, south-facing windowsill, and keep the soil moist but not soaking wet. If you’re lucky, in a week or two, plants will sprout.
Forget turkey. Go wild and serve goose at your holiday dinner. You can hunt white-fronted, snow, Ross’s, and Canada geese throughout December and January at Conservation Department wetland areas across the state. If you’re new to goose hunting, the best way to harvest a honker is to ask an experienced hunter to take you under his or her wing. For places to hunt and rules to follow, flock to mdc.mo.gov/node/303.
Don't miss the chance to Discover Nature at these fun events.
Looking for more ways to have fun outside? Find out about Discover Nature programs in your area at xplormo.org/node/2616.
American bison are North America’s largest land animal. Although some weigh 2,000 pounds or more, bison can run 40 mph. To get big, bison eat 25 pounds of grass a day. Shaggy coats keep bison warm in winter, and humps of muscle hold up their massive heads. More than 30 million bison once grazed the Great Plains. Today, fewer than 20,000 wild bison exist. A small herd roams Prairie State Park near Lamar.
Waste not, want not. As food moves through a cottontail, helpful bacteria living in its intestines turn tough plant fibers into nutrients. Unfortunately, the rabbit can’t use some of these nutrients unless the food makes a return trip to its tummy. To hop this biological hurdle, cottontails eat their own droppings. Remember this the next time you start to complain about having leftovers for supper.
Nichole LeClair Terrill