Nature wakes up in April and May. Birds sing, wildflowers bloom, and fish finally find their appetites. With so much going on, it’s hard to decide what to do. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Sunflowers are bird magnets. Plant a few rows of these happy yellow flowers in spring, and you’ll keep every cardinal, goldfinch, and chickadee in your yard fat and happy all autumn long. Sunflowers aren’t picky plants. All you need is a sunny patch of well-drained soil that is sheltered from the wind. For growing tips, sow this in your web browser: xplormo.org/node/27241.
There are probably more animals living in your yard than you think. To find out, sketch your yard on a piece of paper. Then, go outside and look for animal homes. Search trees for robin nests, woodpecker holes, and squirrel dens. Check your lawn for mole tunnels. Explore grassy areas for rodent burrows, spider webs, and rabbit nests. Whenever you find an animal’s home, mark its location on your map. But don’t wear out your welcome with these newfound neighbors. Animals may move away if you visit too long.
Whip-poor-wills are so well-camouflaged they’re nearly impossible to see. But the big-mouthed birds are easy to hear. Just pitch a tent in the woods on a fullmoon night in April or May. Shortly after sunset, whip-poor-wills will begin calling — and won’t shut up for quite some time. On nights when the moon is bright, whip-poor-wills hunt for moths, beetles, and other flying insects all night long, so you’d better pack your earplugs!
If fish don’t bite fast enough for your patience, give bluegills a go in late May. This is when male bluegills fan out saucer-shaped nests in the shallow water along the edges of lakes and ponds. Males guard their nests fiercely. All you need to do is cast a small jig or worm-baited hook just beyond the nests and reel it in slowly. In no time, you’ll feel the sharp tug of an angry bluegill. Bluegills nest in colonies, so if you hook one, cast to the same spot to hook more.
If birds could win Oscars, the killdeer would be a shoo-in for best actor. To lure predators away from their nests, these tan-andwhite shorebirds act like they have broken wings. To see this performance, search for killdeer in mowed pastures, gravel parking lots, and athletic fields. Listen for a shrill kill-dee-deedee call to help pinpoint one of the birds. Then, slowly approach. You’ll know you’re near a nest when the mama or papa killdeer begins to drag its wing dramatically.
By April, the sounds of spring are in full swing, and each puddle and pool overflows with a chorus of amphibian calls. Cricket frogs, chorus frogs, toads, treefrogs, and spring peepers seem to compete to see who can sing loudest to attract a mate. To hear these crooning croakers serenade their sweethearts, head outside at sunset and explore shallow puddles, wet fields, and flooded ditches. For help identifying who’s singing, hop over to xplormo.org/node/2915.
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.
Mid-spring, Missouri’s woods are dotted with the shiny green, umbrella-shaped leaves of mayapples. Where you find one mayapple, you’ll likely find dozens. That’s because mayapples sprout from rhizomes (rie-zomes), stems that grow horizontally underground. Although mayapples flower in May, their fruits, or “apples,” don’t ripen until summer. You can eat the “apple” when it’s ripe, but the rest of the plant is poisonous.
Stick ’em up. The black fur surrounding a raccoon’s eyes looks a bit like a robber’s mask. But the only thing this bushy-tailed bandit wants to steal is food. In wild places, raccoons use their nimble paws to swipe things like frogs, crayfish, mice, eggs, and berries. In cities, the masked mammals aren’t above helping themselves to pet food or tipping over trash cans.
Nichole LeClair Terrill