Friday, November 28, 2014

How to help winter wildlife

It takes quite a bit of preparation to really be ready for winter storms. We check our vehicles to make sure they’re full of fluids and the tires have tread. We stock warm blankets, extra water, extra food
supplies in our homes and our cars just in case we’re stuck in one place for a while due to weather. All of this preparation takes time and energy on our part, to get it all done. It makes me wonder what kind of energy it takes for wildlife to survive the cold of winter.
Some wildlife, like squirrels, will spend time stocking up and storing food sources before the cold hits. Black bears eat as much as they can in advance to store up the necessary fat they need to survive. Still others are subject to what’s available throughout the cold months, which takes a toll on their energy levels and can make surviving the winter a game of chance.
Angela Pierce, a naturalist at the Missouri Department of Conservation Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center, said we can help these animals conserve some of their energy by helping to provide their three basic needs throughout the winter months: shelter, food and water.
“Making a shelter is as easy as making a brush pile,” Pierce said.
Larger limbs and branches can be piled and then filled in with dried leaves and grass. Fallen trees can be left for the winter, also, to provide a place for wildlife to shelter in from the wind and elements. Real Christmas trees are great items to recycle for wildlife shelter, she said, by simply placing them outside after the holidays.
“These shelters provide cover for ground-foraging birds, rabbits, chipmunks, hibernating reptiles, amphibians and insects,” Pierce said.
To help provide food in the winter months, high-fat suet and sunflower seeds can be provided to winter songbirds. High-fat food sources help the birds to build up their energy sources.
Pierce also said providing warm water on a daily basis will save animals from using their energy to search for unfrozen water sources. She recommends either replenishing water daily, or purchasing a heater for bird baths or backyard ponds.
By taking a few steps to help wildlife find shelter, food and water throughout these cold months, we can help make their chances of survival much higher. To find more resources on winter wildlife, go online to

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Prairie seed harvest boosts MDC's grassland restoration

A prairie seed harvest that began in spring and continued through summer swelter, sometimes by
hand, ended recently on a cold winter day. Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) staff and volunteers mixed and bagged wildflower and grass seed at the Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie. The seed was harvested from surviving prairie remnants managed by MDC and will be used to restore natural grassland habitat on public lands.
   “I’m here because I want to see the prairie grow,” said Octavio Lorenzo, a volunteer from rural Raymore, Mo., who is a member of the Osage Trails Missouri Master Naturalist Chapter. Lorenzo helped stir the seed mixes and shovel them into bags.
   Missouri was once rich with open tallgrass prairies. Also, on vast areas grew a mix of trees, native grasses and wildflowers. Only small remnants remain. Missouri’s greater prairie chickens are now endangered and many grassland birds and insects are in decline. Prairie plants are a base of life for both. Native seed harvest is an economic and ecologically-sound step in broad efforts to help prairie species, said Matt Hill, MDC wildlife biologist. A key partner in the project is The Nature Conservancy of Missouri, which owns a large portion of the Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie and provides financial support for seed collection efforts.
   Prairie ecosystems are diverse, so a goal is to get seeds from up to 180 plant species in the bagged seed mixes for planting on upland areas. Most of the seed will be planted in converted crop fields or places where trees and brush have been removed. Some current target fields are in the Upper Osage Grasslands. For example, plans call for restoring native plant acreage at the Schell-Osage Conservation Area and the Linscomb Wildlife Area. They are within flying distance for small flocks of Missouri’s remnant prairie chickens at MDC’s Taberville Prairie Conservation Area and the Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie.
   “All this seed is collected from the Osage Plains ecoregion,” Hill said. “If we had to buy seed, it wouldn’t all have the same local ecotype.”
   MDC’s seed collection boosts species diversity in grassland restoration. Some prairie
species cannot be purchased from commercial seed dealers, he said. But also, seed for wildflowers, what biologists call forbs, can costs hundreds of dollars per pound. Seed collection reduces restoration expense. The collection effort this year netted about 6,500 pounds of seeds mixed with chaff, which will be used to plant about 300 acres of native wildflowers and grasses.
    “We start scouting in April and start collecting seed about the middle of May, starting with plants like Indian paintbrush,” said Rick Swopes, MDC seed collection crew leader. Collection ended in November with seed lingering in patches with flowers such as purple prairie coneflower.  “We’ve got seed collected from May through November.”
    Sometimes seed is collected with machinery that uses a brush and vacuum to move seed from the plant to a bin. Other seeds from plants such as American blue hearts or prairie rose grow too low for machinery to be effective, so they are collected by hand. The collections occur in patches where seed is mature and abundant. Seed production can vary greatly between species year to year. This was a good growing season for seed from American blue hearts and foxglove beard-tongue, Swopes said.
   Seed mixes bagged by MDC crews are heavily weighted toward wildflowers. That gives the forbs a better chance to get established as they compete for sunlight, nutrients and water with the native grasses.
    “We concentrate on forbs, but we get a lot of grasses in the mixes, too,” Hill said.
Native prairie is a complicated ecosystem with interactions between plants, soil microoganisms, pollinators such as insects, and wildlife. Restoring prairie fragments is a science still under development. But MDC’s seed collection and prairie plantings are a good start and will benefit all grassland birds and insects such as butterflies, Hill said.
   If visitors to MDC conservation areas find places with trees removed from fence rows or scrub brush gone, likely prairie plants will be seeded and desirable native shrubs will regrow. A goal is to reopen vistas and support prairie chickens and all native species for people to enjoy in the Upper Osage Grasslands.
     “We’re using this seed to restore to the best of our ability what a local prairie would have looked like,” Hill said.
   For more information on prairie in Missouri, visit

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

One Day, Two Deer, Three Hunters

By AJ Hendershott
Deer hunting has produced many good memories for me.  Most of those memories deal with
the circumstances of the hunt or things I was privileged to witness in nature.  This year, however, I experienced the most memorable of any of my hunts and both of my children were involved.
The 2014 youth season opened up the morning of Nov. 1, and my children and I had plans in place the day before.  Tags were in the back pack along with any necessary equipment.  The gun was clean and ready for ammunition.  Our clothing was laid out and we had a hunting schedule.   My daughter likes to sleep in so she was glad to give her younger brother the morning shift with me.  This meant she would hunt in the afternoon. 
Saturday didn’t produce any harvest, but both children were able to see deer and get their first feel for the excitement.  Sunday morning, Hunter and I got out bright and early, and took our seats in the brush blind.  I was impressed with how still he was this year.  He made few movements and he was pretty silent.  An hour into the hunt I heard a deer behind us and to the left.  If the deer followed its path, it would give my son a perfect quartering away shot at about 10 steps. 
“Get your gun up son,” I whispered. 
He obeyed not yet seeing what I did.  The doe needed to walk ahead about 20 feet and it would be in sight with an easy shot.  That deer walked about 18 feet further and stopped.  She was oblivious to our presence even at the close range. 
“Take the shot if you have it,” I instructed.
It seemed like an eternity passed before the doe twitched her tail and hurriedly scampered off. 
“What happened?” I asked trying to mask my disappointment.
“There was brush in my way.  It wasn’t a good shot,” he replied. 
I was glad to hear his reasoning and rewarded his restraint with a heartfelt, “good call son.”
Another chance presented itself a few hours later.  Three does came trotting down the ridge intent on making it to the bottom.   They made it to an open area when I whistled.  All three deer stopped and looked our direction.  Again, I encouraged him to take the shot if he had it. 
A thunderous “kaboom” erupted from the gun muzzle as the hind doe dropped.  My son’s grin was so big his orthodontist could have done a full check of his braces.  That grin stayed with him through the entire process of tagging, field dressing, dragging, checking, skinning and quartering. My son had harvested his first deer and I was there to see it happen.
Unbeknownst to me, there was more in store for me that day.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

MDC assigns new Private Lands Conservationist for Butler, Dunklin and Stoddard counties

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) announces Kara McSpadden has been selected as
the new Private Lands Conservationist for the Dexter area effective Nov. 1. In this position at Dexter, McSpadden is assigned duties in Butler, Dunklin and Stoddard counties.
The MDC’s private lands conservationists work with landowners to improve wildlife habitat by teaching management techniques such as timber stand improvement, food plot development and invasive species control.
“Kara has shown a great deal of passion for the people of the Bootheel, their natural resources, and is very committed to them,” said Tony Jaco, the private lands regional supervisor.
McSpadden is a Dunklin County native and understands the area along with local habitat challenges, Jaco said. She has a background in production agriculture in Dunklin County, as well as education and experience in resource management. McSpadden earned a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Conservation and Management from Missouri State University.
After beginning her career with MDC trapping Gypsy moths in the Southeast Region, she then worked as a resource assistant with the New Madrid work team and then as a forestry resource technician for the same work team.  McSpadden is Level Two Fire Management Certified, Wildland Firefighter Certified and has assisted with timber stand improvement, prescribed fire, forest inventory, tree planting and marking timber on public and private land.  She has worked with several partners including more than 40 Rural Fire Departments across five counties in Southeast Missouri.
“Kara is well respected by other staff for her hard work, friendly demeanor, and professional way of interacting with people,” Jaco said.
McSpadden resides in Dexter and can be reached at or at (573)778-4983.
For information on how the MDC works with landowners to improve habitat, or to find a private lands conservationist near you, go online to

Monday, November 24, 2014

MDC: Celebrate the holidays with help from the Cape Nature Center

As the seasons change and the holidays approach, the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Cape

Girardeau Conservation Nature Center has incorporated many holiday-themed events into their program schedule.

“Many natural items accentuate traditional holiday decorations, such as Christmas trees, wreaths and popular centerpieces,” said Sara Turner, manager of the nature center. “We like to take that even further with ornaments, cards and gifts that highlight nature and are eco-friendly.”
The nature center’s popular Nature Art: Nature’s Décor program is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 13. Guests will use nature’s resources to create winter wreaths, swags and garlands. Programs are offered at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. or 3 p.m. to give multiple opportunities to attend the program. Turner said this program fills quickly, so - participants should call the nature center early to reserve a seat. Registration begins Dec. 2 for this program.
“We ask our guests to bring their own grapevine wreath, but we provide the natural items to decorate them with,” Turner said. “Our staff and volunteers are excellent guides to creativity with these decorative items, so be brave and come see what you can make to hang on your door to ring in the season.”
Smaller nature enthusiasts, ages three to six, can celebrate the holidays at Mudpuppies: Have a Green Holiday. This program will teach little ones how to be kind to nature and make eco-friendly gifts. This free program is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 13, with programs offered at 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m., and again Tuesday, Dec. 16, with programs at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Turner said this program also tends to fill up quickly, so reservations may be made beginning Dec. 2.
“Sometimes it can be difficult to come up with crafts your little ones can make for family and friends for Christmas, but this program will help with that,” Turner said. “And while they’re having fun making crafts, the kids are learning about nature, too.”
The whole family can get involved in making nature related holiday crafts Saturday, Dec. 20, from 1 to 4 p.m. at Family Craft Fun. Turner said this program is for all ages, it’s free and no registration is required. “This program is designed for the whole family to enjoy together as they continue the holiday spirit, learn about nature and make memories together,” Turner said. “We’ll have all the supplies needed, we just invite families to come enjoy the season with us.”
“This program is designed for the whole family to enjoy together as they continue the holiday spirit, learn about nature and make memories together,” Turner said. “We’ll have all the supplies needed, we just invite families to come enjoy the season with us.”
Turner said registrations may be made for Nature Art: Nature’s Décor and Mudpuppies: Have a Green Holiday by calling (573) 290-5218 beginning Dec. 2. More information about these and other programs at the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center can be found online at

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Discover nature with MDC Eagle Days

Join wildlife watchers around the state to view our nation’s symbol in action.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- From December through February, Missouri's winter eagle watching is spectacular. Discover nature with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) through Eagle Days events around the state, or enjoy eagle-viewing on your own.
Because of its big rivers, many lakes and expansive wetlands, Missouri is one of the leading lower 48 states for bald eagle viewing. Each fall, thousands of these great birds migrate south from their nesting range in Canada and the Great Lakes states to hunt in the Show-Me State. Eagles take up residence wherever they find open water and plentiful food. More than 2,000 bald eagles are typically reported in Missouri during winter.
MDC offers Eagle Days events on the dates and locations listed. The events include live captive-eagle programs, exhibits, activities, videos, and guides with spotting scopes. Watch for eagles perched in large trees along the water’s edge. View them early in the morning to see eagles flying and fishing. Be sure to dress for winter weather and don’t forget cameras and binoculars.
  • Dec. 6 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Dec. 7 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge south of Mound City. Call 816-271-3100 for more information.
  • Jan. 10 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Jan. 11 from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Smithville Lake Paradise Pointe Golf Course Clubhouse north of Kansas City. Call 816-532-0174 for more information.
  • Jan. 17 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Jan. 18 from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the MDC Springfield Conservation Nature Center. Call 417-888-4237 for more information.
  • Jan. 17-18 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge south of I-270 off Riverview Drive in St. Louis. Call 314-877-1309 for more information.
  • Jan. 24 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Jan. 25 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Lock and Dam 24 and Apple Shed Theater in Clarksville. Call 660-785-2420 for more information.
  • Feb. 7 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Mingo National Wildlife Refuge off State Highway 51 near Puxico. Call 573-222-3589 for more information.
Can’t make an Eagle Days event? Other hot spots for winter eagle viewing include:
  • Lake of the Ozarks at Bagnell Dam Access east of Bagnell
  • Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area on Route K southwest of Columbia
  • Lock & Dam 24 at Clarksville
  • Lock & Dam 25 east of Winfield
  • Mingo National Wildlife Refuge northwest of Puxico
  • Moses Eagle Park at Stella
  • Old Chain of Rocks Bridge south of I-270, off of Riverview Drive in St. Louis
  • Riverlands Environmental Demonstration Area east of West Alton
  • Schell-Osage Conservation Area north of El Dorado Spring
  • Smithville Lake north of Kansas City
  • Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge south of Mound City
  • Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge south of Sumner
  • Table Rock Lake and Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery southwest of Branson
  • Truman Reservoir west of Warsaw
For more information, visit

Sunday, November 16, 2014

MDC measures new champion tree in Kansas City park

Eastern cottonwood tops them all

Kansas City, Mo. – A stately tree in Kansas City’s historic Kessler Park now holds the
honor of being Missouri’s largest eastern cottonwood tree, and under the formula used by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) for measuring record trees it’s the state’s largest known living tree of any kind.
   The new champ topped the state’s former biggest cottonwood that grows in the St. Louis area, said Chuck Conner, the MDC urban forester who measured the tree. Kansas City’s latest champion rises from a swale on a bluff near Lookout Point overlooking the Missouri River. The tree is on the Cliff Drive/Kessler Park Disc Golf Course, just west of the old hilltop reservoir.
   “It’s an honor for us,” said Kevin Lapointe, city forester for Kansas City. “We’re glad it’s in the park system where everybody can come up and enjoy it.”
   The tree has a 344-inch circumference and is more than nine feet wide through the middle of the trunk. It is 125-feet tall with a crown spread of 120 feet. The cottonwood scored 499 points under the formula utilizing measurements that MDC uses to score state champion trees. Conner said the towering cottonwood is likely more than 70 years old.
Cottonwoods are a very fast growing tree and can attain large sizes in decades. The new state champion is growing without competition from other trees, other than another large cottonwood growing some distance away. The location in the swale helps with moisture and its roots are likely in good soil, Conner said. But, the tree has also been a hardy survivor of ice storms and wind. Lower branches are large and wide spreading.
   Steve Aduddell of Grandview nominated the tree.
   More information about Missouri State Champion Trees is available at Learn about healthy trees and their role in conservation at

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Order native trees, shrubs, and woody vines from MDC State Nursery

MDC’s State Nursery offers a variety of native seedlings for reforestation,
Eastern redbud is a native shrub or small tree
that is distinctly ornamental in spring with small,
 clustered, rose-purple flowers covering the bare
 branches before the leaves. MDC’s State Nursery
 offers a variety of native seedlings for sale,
 such as redbud, for reforestation, windbreaks,
 erosion control, and wildlife food and cover.
windbreaks, erosion control, and wildlife food and cover.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Native trees, shrubs, and woody vines can help improve wildlife habitat and soil and water conservation while also improving the appearance and value of private property.
The Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) George O. White State Nursery near Licking offers Missouri residents a variety of native seedlings for reforestation, windbreaks, erosion control, as well as for wildlife food and cover.
The State Nursery provides mainly one-year-old bare-root seedlings with sizes varying by species. Seedlings are available in quantities of 10, 25, or 100 per species.
Prices for seedling quantities range from $6-32 per bundle. Receive a 15-percent discount up to $20 off seedling orders with a Heritage Card.
Orders can be placed until April 15, 2015. Orders will be shipped or can be picked up at the State Nursery from February through May. Quantities are limited so order early.
Seedlings varieties include pine, pecan, oak, dogwood, tulip poplar, cottonwood, sweetgum, cypress, birch, hickory, willow, persimmon, pawpaw, deciduous holly, redbud, wild plum, ninebark, witch hazel, serviceberry, mulberry, elderberry, and many others.
Images and information on available items, and ordering information, can be found in the Department’s 2014-2015 Seedling Order Form catalogue. The catalogue is available in the November issue of the Missouri Conservationist, at MDC regional offices and nature centers, online at, or by calling the State Nursery at 573-674-3229.

Friday, November 14, 2014

MDC reminds hunters to be wary of sinkholes

Advance scouting can help hunters identify sinkholes and other topopgraphical hazards
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - Because of the Ozarks’ karst topography, this area is riddled with caves and sinkholes. Some sinkholes are hidden by heavy vegetation and, as evidenced by numerous incidents reported in the news in recent years; they can appear suddenly on a landscape.
As a safety precaution, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) reminds hunters to be mindful of sinkholes as they travel through areas, particular during low-light times of day or in spots where vision is obstructed. Last year, a hunter in Pulaski County died when he fell into a 70-foot sinkhole while tracking a deer.
Further evidence of hazards sinkholes pose occurred recently when, acting upon calls received from the public, MDC conservation agents found a deer in a sinkhole in Greene County. It was unclear whether the ground had given way or the deer stumbled into an existing hole. After exploring possible rescue options, it was determined regrettably there was no safe way to remove the deer from the sinkhole so the animal had to be put down. Due to safety concerns, the carcass was unable to be retrieved.
MDC would like to remind hunters that these incidents point out the importance of scouting an area in advance of a hunt. In addition to finding animal signs, a pre-hunt scouting trip can give individuals knowledge about the type of topography they’ll encounter during a hunt at that area. If you’re hunting on someone else’s land, conversations with the landowner in advance of a hunting trip can also provide information about areas that need to be avoided.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

MDC’s Runge Nature Center hosts family event on black Friday

The free event provides a fun alternative to shopping on the busiest shopping day of the
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. —Escape the holiday hustle and bustle and come relax and discover nature at the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) Runge Nature Center’s annual shopping alternative event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 28.
“This has become a tradition for many families in the Jefferson City area and surrounding communities,” said MDC Naturalist Trana Madsen. “Each year we choose a different conservation topic and create a theme to connect people to the Missouri outdoors. This year our theme is elk.”
The free public event will host activities for children, teens and adults. Make an elk clay track, learn how elk communicate through calls, browse an interactive table that will include touchable elk pelts and antlers, learn about elk in Missouri, and much more.   
Once common throughout most of Missouri, elk disappeared from our state about 150 years ago due to over-hunting and habitat loss. MDC has reintroduced an elk herd to a large restoration zone in a portion of three counties in southeast Missouri near the Current River. While elk will never roam the entire state as in pre-settlement times, wildlife watchers are able to see free-ranging elk in the 346-square-mile elk restoration zone, which includes Peck Ranch Conservation Area (CA) and Current River CA.   
Runge Nature Center is located on Hwy 179 in Jefferson City approximately .5  mile north of Hwy 50. Building hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday with extended hours until 8 p.m. on Thursdays. The building is closed on Sunday and Monday. The outdoor trails are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
For more information on this or other programs, call 573-526-5544 or visit