With winter almost gone and spring right around the corner, there’s plenty for you to discover outside in February and March. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
March offers prime-time hiking weather. Before you hit the trail, find yourself a hiking stick. Choose a straight, sturdy branch that reaches from your nose to the ground. Hickory, oak and cedar branches work well, but don’t cut them off living trees.
From February through March, chubby brown birds called woodcocks perform amazing dances to attract mates—and they do them in midair! To see a sky dance, head to a wet pasture, woodland or cemetery at sundown and listen for a male woodcock’s call: peent. When the peenting stops, scan the sky. You might see the lovestruck male spiraling high into the air. This is just the start of his dance.
Butterfly bombs are little balls made of soil, clay and wildflower seeds. You toss the bombs wherever you want a butterfly garden to grow. Rain will melt the clay and wash the seeds into the ground. In a few months, you’ll have an explosion of wildflowers perfect for any butterflies that flutter by.
Flying squirrels are fairly common throughout Missouri, but no one ever sees them. Why? Because these furry gliders only come out at night. To see flying squirrels, place a bird feeder filled with seed on a tree so that the light from your porch will reach it. After dark, wait quietly by the window and listen carefully. When you hear a soft whump or some musical squeaks, flip on the light to reveal your visitor.
Warm March days are perfect for climbing trees. Since leaves haven’t popped out yet, you’ll have clear, squirrel’s-eye views of the world below. To stay safe as you shinny up, follow the three-point rule: Move only one of your hands or feet at a time. Leave the other three anchored on branches to maintain balance.
Deer season may be over, but you still have time to bag a nice rack of antlers. There’s just one hitch: They won’t be attached to a deer. In Missouri, most white-tailed bucks drop their antlers from late December through February. A buck’s loss can be your gain. Search for shed antlers on south-facing hillsides, crop fields and brushy stream banks.
Youth turkey season, which runs April 9–10, will be here before you know it. Make sure you’re ready by taking time to pattern your shotgun. Patterning, or shooting at paper targets, will reveal whether you’re really shooting where you think you are. It also will help you learn how far you can shoot at a turkey to pull off a quick, clean kill. Get patterning instructions and download a turkey target.
Early spring makes a trout angler’s taste buds turn cartwheels. Through winter, Missouri’s trout parks and most city lakes require you to return any trout you catch to the water unharmed—you can’t take them home to eat. Beginning February 1, however, city lakes allow you to keep your yummy catch, and trout parks follow suit on March 1. Find trout-filled waters and learn the rules of trout fishing.
Looking for more ways to have fun outside? Find out about Discover Nature programs in your area at https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/events.
Your guide to all the nasty, stinky, slimy and gross stuff that nature has to offer.
Mosquitoes start life as tiny, football-shaped eggs laid in water. The eggs hatch into baby mosquitoes called larvae or wigglers. Wigglers breathe through their behinds, sucking air from the water’s surface with a snorkel-like tube. When wigglers grow up, air isn’t the only thing they’ll suck. Both male and female mosquitoes suck plant juices for food, and females must suck blood before they can lay eggs.
If you see a tangle of branches the size of a small car up in a tree, it’s likely a bald eagle nest. Eagles stick with the same mate throughout life. The first nest an eagle couple builds is relatively small. Each year, however, the eagles add more sticks to their old nest. After several years, the nest can become ginormous. Biologists found a nest in Florida that measured 10 feet across, 20 feet tall and weighed more than 4,000 pounds!
From March to April, male prairiechickens make low-pitched cooing noises to attract mates. The sound, called booming, can be heard a mile away. Males also strut their stuff by inflating bright orange air sacs on their necks, lifting long feathers behind their heads, and stamping their feet. For the record, prairie-chickens aren’t chicken. Males often fight each other to get a girl.
Not another peep from you, mister! Male spring peepers sing to attract females by filling and deflating balloon-like pouches on
their throats. Although the pouches can swell bigger than their heads, no peeper has ever popped. The loud, chirping chorus of these thumb-sized frogs is among the first signs of spring.
Nichole Leclair Terrill