Trail Cam – Introduction

Last fall I finally invested in a Trail Camera. They aren’t cheap. They are touted by outdoor catalogues as being great for helping hunters figure out the movement of the deer, the when, how big, all of that. But I didn’t really want it for hunting. I wanted it just because. I thought it would be fun to find out the movement of a variety of animals, not just deer. Around here we have some of the more common mammals, deer, raccoon, opossum, groundhogs, coyotes and  fox. There used to be a number of skunk back in the ’50s and ’60s,, but people have pretty much killed them off. Haven’t seen any around here for almost 20 years. If there are some, and I just haven’t seen them or smelled them, perhaps the Trail Cam will.

I am particularly interested in keeping track of fox. You see, we have chickens. I don’t mind if fox hang around in the woods, but it is not good if they lurk around the chickens. Being a smart animal, fox will do what all predators do, go for the easy meal first. Chickens are very easy prey for fox. First, they can’t fly. Second, they don’t run very fast. Third, they are rather stupid compared to a fox. Since we believe a fresh egg is one you eat within a day or so of it being laid, we have chickens.  We also  have a responsibility to take good care of them. That includes protecting them, as best we can, from predators.  So I like to know what those fox are up to, in the spring especially. Are they checking out the coop, the fencing, are they lurking about the stable? When a female has a bunch of pups to feed and later train to hunt, it is a very dangerous time for chickens or any other bird that can’t fly. And that is a great excuse for having a Trail Cam.

This is the beginning of a new Category, Trail Cam.  Periodically I will post more.




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Ebony Spleenwort – What’s in a Name

I’ve always been curious about things with the word “spleen” in its name since I don’t have one. Spleen that is. For those not up on human anatomy, the spleen is a sort of soft, spongy organ, usually located on the left side, just below the last rib. It used to be thought that people couldn’t live without it, but advances in surgical  medicine during WWII and Korea proved that wrong. The word “wort” in Old English, merely means “plant.”  So, Ebony Spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron) a black spleen plant? How could that be. Well, in this case, the word “spleen” appears to refer to the shape of the pinna. The pinna on the fern are those leaf like structures along the rachis, the stiff, stem-like part the pinna are attached to.  By the way, the word pinna is singular. If  you refer to all of the pinna attached to the rachis, you use the plural word,  pinnae. In this case the rachis is very dark, in most cases black, hence the descriptive, Ebony, in the common name. In real life, Ebony is the name of  a type of wood which happens to be black.

I really like this little fern. It is not a show-off, in fact it can be easily overlooked among all the moss and lichen this time of year.  Unlike the Christmas fern which can form large colonies in the winter, the Ebony Spleenwort  tucks itself in little rock crevices here and there.  It is a tough one, almost indestructible, an underdog that perseveres. Reference books on my shelf say the spores ripen in the sori in the spring. These appear to be almost ripe now. Perhaps the groundhog is not the one we should look to in forecasting Spring’s arrival. Somehow the image of TV camera and crowds of people surrounding someone holding up a small Ebony Spleenwort isn’t as dramatic as holding up a groundhog that’ll bite you if you are careless.

The tips of the Ebony Spleenwort are pinnatifid, that is the pinna are not completely separated from each other.

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“Non-Flowering Plants”

Non-Flowering Plants Ferns, Mosses, Lichens, Mushrooms and other Fungi  by Floyd S. Shuttleworth and Herbert S. Zim, is a Golden Nature Guide published in 1967. While it may seem that a 43 year-old book might not be a good reference guide, guess again. Certainly some of the information is dated, particularly taxonomy but the basic information is very sound. There are no photographs, but there is an abundance of color illustrations. In this age of digital photography that might seem to be a minus. However, the quality of the drawings is excellent and because of the way they are presented, actually do a better job of explaining than a photo ever could. The text is concise and clearly written. It is a small book, 4X6 inches, making it easy to pack on the trail. It is also a very good book for kids, 5th grade and above because the illustrations fill in for vocabulary gaps, providing good talking points. 

160 pages – out of print but available  via the Internet, cost $1 new in 1967, my used copy cost me $1 plus shipping.

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“Walk Softly Upon the Earth”

Walk Softly Upon the Earth, subtitled A pictorial Field Guide to Missouri Mosses, Liverworts and Lichens is a one of the better books for those who want to know a great deal more about its subject. Technical, yes, but not so much as to be boring. Authors Lisa Potter Thomas and James R. Jackson, Ph.D did an excellent job with understandable and interesting writing. In addition to their photographs, there are some very good technical line drawings by Andy Thomas (as well as some whimsey). Editor/Designer LuAnne Larsen organized and laid out the material making information easy to locate and follow.

129 pages      May be out of print.

Copyright 1985 by the Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri

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The Color of Winter



From a distance, the rocky hillside leading to the wildlife pond appears to be sprinkled with green. Up close, it’s another story, giving some credence to the idea of tiny people, fairies perhaps, living in the forest of moss.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    


They cling to rocks, thin soil, tree trunks and decaying wood. In the summer moss and their buddies, lichen and liverworts keep a low profile. All three need almost continuous moisture to thrive. And moisture is usually hard to come by in July, August and sometimes September. They often look sort of dead, but like the opossum, they are just temporarily shutting down until conditions are again right to grow.       

I’m just beginning to learn about the different types of moss and so don’t feel real comfortable giving definitive identifications for most of those pictured. While they appear large, they are actually tiny individuals clumped together. Even the experts say they often have to use microscopes to really figure out what is what. That certainly makes me feel a little better.       

One of the ways moss multiplies is by the development of spores. Those spores are developed in a tiny capsule that is at the top of a thin stalk which holds the capsule above the moss. Those capsules only appear at certain times of the year and are often different for each type of moss. That increases the degree of difficulty in identification for those where the main differences are in those stalks and capsules.       


 I have learned  there are two main types of moss, Pleurocarpous moss and Acrocarpous moss. Remembering the names of things has always been a challenge  for me. These two names will be no exception. However, in this case, I may stand a better chance. Here is why. Pleurocarpous moss creeps, has numerous side branches and the stalks for the capsules come up from those branches. The beginning of the word, Pleuro, reminds me of the word plural. Acrocarpous don’t really creep and their stalks come out of the tips of regular branches, not a bunch of side ones. Acrocarpous begins with the first letter of the alphabet, number 1. So, we’ll see if this really helps the memory. Writing all this probably doesn’t hurt either.       

 These pictures are the result of a little walk around our house which overlooks a wildlife pond built by my Dad in the 1950s. Back then there were many more quail in this area than there are now, many less turkey and deer. Dad hunted birds. So we had Germ;an Short-haired Pointers to seek out and retrieve quail along with Black Labrador retrievers to collect the ducks and geese. The drainage along the slopes down to the pond is great, just what  moss and lichen like.       

Probably Atrichum spp. since the spores are ripe and being released when the capsule is disturbed.

Chunks of  soil and rock still hanging on to the exposed roots of fallen trees are often a great place for moss to take hold. Those tiny spores drifting through the air can easily lodge in the small crevices. Clay is a common dominant component of the soil around here and it holds water the moss needs, the multitude of small rocks provide the crevices, help  aerate and allow for some drainage.Certain moss, from a distance seem to have deep red highlights. Up close, it is revealed that the red is from dozens of capsules on their stalks. It seems to be easy for them to survive the snow and other awful weather.  Atrichum  spp. are noted for their propensity for such places.   There is certainly more to come with the continued examination of the many different types of moss found here in the Ozarks.  

Closer view of capsules growing up the side of soil clump.













Taken February 3, these capsules are releasing spores.


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Ozark Ice Sculptures


It was a beautiful day, last Monday, when after days of clouds, the sun shone. Snow still covered the frozen ground, up to six inches in some places. I had been waiting for a really good, lasting, deep, snow. There were places, I was told, where a combination of snow and terrain were especially spectacular. One place in particular I wanted to visit – Ozark Caverns. Now owned by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR), I first knew it as the cave in my school friend’s back yard.  In the 1950s, her parents, the Olsons, owned the land. The area was just beginning to attract a significant numbers of tourists, so they spent considerable time and money putting in concrete walkways and lights through the cave so they could have commercial tours. The cave had been known to the locals forever and the remnants of their forays inside were obvious with the scrawling of their names on the walls. That combined with this commercialization almost killed the cave – but not quite. The DNR acquired the cave just in time and has done a great deal of work  restoring the cave to its natural state. Of course it will never be as it was before it was altered, but now at least, cave life is encouraged, not destroyed. The strings of lights were removed along with some of the other modifications. If bats could jump for joy, they probably would have. Now, without the lights and with a gate stopping visitors from going inside during hibernation time, they can sleep the winter away in peace, emerging in the spring when there are plenty of insects to feast on during the night.

On this day, it is the outside I’m interested in.

The road down to the cave was closed, so parking my truck outside the gate, I walked. So different from last spring. The wild flowers, no longer green topped with color, stood as dark silhouettes against the snow. It was quiet, only the sounds of occasional birds and fluttering of leaves still hanging on some tree branches. Rounding the final curve, it can be seen, just a dark slit in the hillside. The Ozark fen in front of the cave entrance that was so green during my last visit, appears to have disappeared but is really just hiding under the snow. For those unfamiliar with fens, they are  permanent water saturated areas with the vegetation varying depending on where the fen is located. Ozark fens are fed by clear-running streams, and this cave just happened to have one of those streams keeping this fen healthy. Knowing where the fen was located helped me avoid it. There was a reason a wooden walkway was built over it leading to the cave entrance.   

 Closer to the entrance, the sight of the ice stalagmites and stalactite was spectacular. They had begun to melt and would soon be gone until next time. What takes hundreds of years to make out of minerals inside the cave, takes only hours when its made of water. The ice emphasized how much water actually flows through the rocks and  soil. Even deeper inside the entrance there are ice formations. 

To the side of the cave entrance is a small creek, one that is larger or smaller depending on precipitation. While it looks totally frozen, don’t be fooled. Water continues to run under the ice.

After exploring around the cave entrance, taking pictures of some of the plants and mosses, I took a walk along the stream that the cave and the runoff next to it helped form. There is a great deal of green around, easily overlooked because of the bright nature of the snow. Found some animal tracks and photographed them as well. Then it was time to hike back up the road to the truck. On the way, took a side trip along the Mill Spring trail to the spring. More on the Mill Spring and animal tracks later.

Meanwhile, the snow has melted leaving behind saturated muddy, mucky ground on top of the still frozen soil base. It seems spring is just around the corner.

First published 1/17/2010 © SJ Nelson

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Keeping Warm Insect Style

Went tromping about Saturday, thinking it would be great if I could find some clear tracks of deer in the snow or any other animals. It actually doesn’t snow that much around here anymore and I wanted to get pictures of different tracks while I could. This was  nice deep snow. But there weren’t many tracks. There were some very small ones just outside the front door, probably a field mouse. Did find some deer tracks, but they were vague, filled in with snow, thus probably made the previous night when it was still snowing. Not clear enough for a good photo. Tracks would have to wait.

c 2010 SJ Nelson

 So I went to check on the cream false indigo (Baptisia bracteata). When the foliage died and dried in September, there were a large number of seed pods. I was wondering how many might have lasted intact or whether the birds or ground had claimed them all. But when I got to it, there were only a few branches sticking up through the snow. Bending over to scoop away the snow, I noticed a couple of odd shapes on the stems of a nearby bramble. Taking a closer look, they seemed similar to oak galls, but bigger. And I wondered, “What is inside of that?”  There were two of them, so I clipped one of them, deciding to use it as an excuse to go inside and warm my feet.


c 2010 SJ Nelson

After warming cold fingers as well as toes, I gather supplies: card stock, sharp hobby knife, 10x magnifier. With those all together on the kitchen table, underneath good light, I went about the task of looking inside. The first step was to remove it from the stem. Easy. Held the stem in one hand avoiding thorns, grasped top of capsule with the other and pulled it away from stem. It peeled off with just a little effort.

c 2010 SJ Nelson

c 2010 SJ Nelson

Then came cutting it open. Looked easy, looked to just be a series of air bubbles, similar to foam, but stiff. Boy, did I underestimate its strength. This was not easy. It was a new blade in the knife, but it had a real problem cutting through this material. It was very tough. I had to use considerable force to gradually cut through it. Also I didn’t know if I would come to a single chamber with an egg or larvae or what, so I didn’t want to go too fast. Finally reaching the center, I discovered a mass of eggs. It was good I had only taken one capsule for their was no way to avoid cutting through the egg mass. That revealed however, that the  larvae had not yet begun to form and despite the below freezing temperatures, the eggs had not frozen. All those air bubbles in the capsule combined with tough walls, made the perfect insulation.

c 2010 SJ Nelson

Looking closely, the shape of the egg chambers appeared similar to a honeycomb, not round, but with five sides. There appeared to be two layers, but there was no way to get an accurate count of the eggs. The question now was, “what insect laid these eggs.” Knowing what other insects do, which is to usually lay their eggs on a plant or location near the larvae’s food source,  it is most likely an insect that loves brambles. But what part of the brambles, the leaves, roots, stems, flowers or fruit. A quick search of information about the insects that love either blackberries or dew berries, didn’t reveal any that laid eggs in this manner. There were some insects where the information about how and where they laid their eggs was not mentioned. So the search for that information continues. Then, there is that remaining egg capsule.  I will have to set up a schedule of regular monitoring to see what if anything hatches this spring.

First posted 1/13/2010  ©2010 SJ Nelson

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The Well Dressed Naturalist – Winter

The Best Dressed Naturalist - Winter

Some city folk friends of mine are whining about the cold and snow. Now it is okay with me if they dislike it. Can’t say winter is my favorite weather either. But if a person’s going to be comfortable out in this, they have to forget about fashion, forget about being sexy and just get plain practical.
I’ve never had any desire to be a fashion model, but that aside, I can at least show people how I keep warm.

Over my regular jeans I wear zip up the side of the legs insulated camo pants. On my wool sock covered feet, underneath those pants, are Pac Boots thanks to a Southern California relative’s Christmas present  many years ago. These boots are heavy-duty with a thick wool felt inserts. The jacket is down-filled, the best insulation of all, even if a bit bulky. To give room around the bottom of the jacket, there is an up zipper for adjustment.  Around my neck is a red, hand-crocheted scarf from cousin Bonnie who lives in Wisconsin. The relatives from sunny Southern California came through again this year with sort of a sweat band but not, of soft fleece that keeps my ears warm. I top that off with my favorite knit hat. On my hands are the warmest gloves I can find. It sounds simple. But it takes me about a half-hour to get all of that on. And once encased, there better not be an emergency needing a quick response. It won’t happen. Not with me anyway. Taking this photo was a challenge in movement. Push the button and sort of run to what might be the right spot. Fourth time was the charm in this case.

Curious about what all this weighed, I fired up the digital scale in the kitchen. The left Pac boot weighed 3 pounds, the right 2.95. Figure I must have scuffed that right one. So there is almost six pounds. The insulated pants weighed 2.63 pounds. Would probably been only two and a half if I had washed them first. The down filled coat, including the miscellaneous items in the pockets, was 3.55 pounds. The ear warmer, scarf, hat and gloves combined to weigh .87 pound. That all adds up to a lucky 13 pounds. But it’s not just the weight, that really isn’t very much – it’s the bulk. My bare feet are 4 inches wide at the widest and 10 inches long at the longest. But my Pac boots, now, that is something else. They are 5 inches wide and 13 inches long. Easier to clunk into things and easier trip. I wouldn’t dare drive my truck with those on.

But I can walk about, rather slowly. So while it takes me longer to get places and get things done, it also gives me time to think about  how other animals deal with the change in seasons. Bears hibernate, some birds fly south, some like the pair of mourning doves living in a cedar tree down the way, keep me company with their own brand of down coat. So it is. We choose to  live where we live.  We can adapt. It’s nice when we have company, like the mourning doves.

Originally posted 1/9/2010 © 2010 SJ Nelson

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