Nature in the Natural State

Various times, daily

These educational spots are brought to you by the Central Arkansas Master Naturalists and KUAR. The Central Arkansas Master Naturalists' mission is to develop a corps of well-informed volunteers to provide education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities.

Ways to Connect

As spring gathers momentum, as deciduous trees leaf out, as summer birds come back to join their cousins who stayed year-round, and as the warm breezes carry on them a singing, buzzing symphony of birds and insects, don’t be deceived. Nature needs our help.

Development, pollution, and invasive species are destroying and degrading habitat. It’s easy to think that the animals who live in a tree will just go somewhere else if that tree is cut down, but there is no “somewhere else” anymore.

In April, the parsley hawthorn blooms and we see its delicate white flowers with scarlet anthers. They attract bees and small flies, the hawthorn’s primary pollinators, resulting in bright red fruit, or haws.

Nature contains millions of specialized relationships between different species. One such relationship exists between two Arkansas natives - the eastern box turtle, and the mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum.

This winter pine siskins are visiting Arkansas.

They spend their summers in Canada and the far northern United States, where they nest and breed. But their winters are unpredictable. They may stay up north or “irrupt,” move in an irregular way, to the south when there’s a food shortage in their home range.

Looking for a tree to plant? How about a tree that hosts over 150 moth and butterfly species. It hosts sawflies, whose larvae are food for baby bluebirds and chickadees.

Its seeds are eaten by squirrels, chipmunks, voles, turkeys, bobwhite, mourning doves, red-bellied woodpeckers, pine grosbeaks, pine warblers, and wrens, and many other bird species. Warblers, crows, hawks, and bald eagles nest in it, as do others.

It tolerates poor, dry soil. It has a deep taproot and is essential for the existence of many species. It’s the state tree of Arkansas.

Do you know Arkansas’s native woodpecker species? Have you seen them? Here’s an introduction to four of them.

The red cockaded woodpecker is the scarcest, because of the destruction of its pine savanna habitats. It has a conservation status of “near threatened.”

The pileated woodpecker is the largest, a strikingly colored black, white, and red bird with a call you won’t forget.

Here in Arkansas, we’re lucky to have native blooms almost year round, if we know what to plant. The brilliant red flowers of late blooming Turk’s Cap go strong into early December or the first hard frost.

One of the first native spring bloomers, if not the first, is Ozark witch hazel (hamamelis vernalis). Flowering begins in January. Its fragrant orange-yellow blooms with their ribbon-like petals are bright spots in the winter landscape.

Do you live near shortleaf pine trees? If so, you may have seen Brown-headed Nuthatches.

The Brown-headed Nuthatch is a tiny, friendly songbird that sounds like a rubber ducky. They nest and roost in snags--dead standing trees—in forests with shortleaf pines.

My yard has a winter visitor. For the last several days, I’ve watched a yellow bellied sapsucker outside my window.

Nature In The Natural State: A Tale Of Two Yards

Apr 29, 2021

Consider two yards. In the first, non-native turf grass is the only life. Fossil fuel is used to mow it. Poisonous pesticides and herbicides are sprayed on it. Almost nothing in this yard supports wildlife, save for an earthworm or two living underground and not killed off by the poisons—it may be food for a robin.

Nature needs our help! If you have a bird feeder, consider participating in Project FeederWatch, a citizen science project begun by Canadian and U.S. scientists in the mid-1980s to track the migration of birds on a continent-wide scale.

All you need to participate is a feeder and a small payment that finances the data collection.

December, named by the Romans, literally means the tenth month, because the Roman year began in March. For us, it marks the end of the year and the official beginning of winter.

During December, the sun rises and sets over the shortest day of the year, while Orion roams across the night sky with his dog Sirius. Our winter birds include the Hermit Thrush, who sings his flute-like melody in the forest, and the loons who cry on Lake Maumelle.

Nandina domestica is a beautiful shrub with dark green leaves and bright red berries. It’s native to China and Japan and is sold at many garden stores. But did you know that its berries are poisonous?

Just a few of the bird species that depend on winter berries to survive are robins, mockingbirds, bluebirds, and cedar waxwings. In 2009, a flock of dead cedar waxwings in Georgia was autopsied and it was found that nandina berries had killed them.

We’re depleting the earth at a faster rate than it can sustain itself. This means we’re headed for a disaster, unless we can slow our rate of consumption.

Have you ever taken a minute to think about how if at all you help to sustain the earth’s biosystems? Here are some suggestions.

In the spring, tent caterpillars build tents around the nodes of young leaves and feed on these leaves, particularly on wild cherry trees. But at this time of year, fall webworms build their tents around mature leaves.

You’ll find lots of information on the internet about how to kill them. But they’re a valuable part of the ecosystem. Almost always, trees whose spring leaves are eaten bounce back. And in the autumn, the leaves will soon fall anyway. Their decay process is accelerated by being eaten.

This month, hummingbirds will depart our yards for their long migration to Mexico and Central America. Male birds leave first, followed by females.

In preparation for their journey, they feed voraciously and develop fat deposits that almost double their weight. While over land they travel about 20 miles a day, but over the Gulf they fly 500 miles in less than a day.

Hummingbirds are solitary, and migrate alone. They do not ride on the backs of larger birds, but fly under their own power.

Three small wafer ash trees grew in a yard, planted to be host plants for butterflies. This year, in mid-August, a giant swallowtail butterfly mother laid eggs on the leaves over a period of days. Caterpillars soon hatched and began munching on the leaves.

One sign of autumn is the leaves of our native Virginia creeper vine, which turn beautiful colors ranging from pink orange to maroon.

Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, is often mistaken for poison ivy. But they’re easy to tell apart. Virginia creeper has five leaflets, and poison ivy only three.

Do you have Virginia Creeper in your yard? It makes a great ground cover. It grows well in sun or shade and does not need fertilizer, herbicide or pesticide.

The Bigleaf Magnolia has the largest flowers—more than a foot across—and the largest entire leaves—up to three feet long—of any Arkansas native tree. It is listed as endangered in Arkansas.

Bigleaf Magnolias are understory trees that do well in part shade and in locations sheltered from wind. They are host plants for 15 species of Lepidoptera, including the Tuliptree Silkmoth and the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly.

Their flowers are pollinated by beetles, and not by bees. This is because magnolias evolved twenty or thirty million years before bees.

If you’re walking in Arkansas nature this month, be sure to watch out for the webs of orbweaver spiders. It’s not pleasant to walk into an orbweaver’s web at face height, but you probably won’t see its creator, because most orbweavers hide during the day time.

In the evening, many will eat the old web and then spin a new one, with both sticky and non-sticky silk. Orbweavers use their third claw to travel over the nonsticky part of the web. They stun their prey, which includes flies, mosquitoes, and ants, with venom and wrap it in silk.

Have you ever found a feather and wondered what kind of bird it belonged to?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains the Feather Atlas, an image database on the Internet dedicated to the identification and study of the feathers of North American birds. The Atlas contains images of the three types of flight feathers—primaries, or outer wing feathers—secondaries, or inner wing feathers—and rectrices, or tail feathers.

Birds need our help. Research has shown that billions of birds have disappeared from the U.S. in the last few decades.

The most important factor in attracting a bird is not a feeder in your yard, but instead is the habitat you provide. Consider eastern bluebirds. Males have deep blue backs and wings and rusty or brick-red throats and breasts.

Bluebirds like open areas with mature, spaced out trees. Put up a nesting box—bluebirds are cavity nesters and will use them.

Bumblebees are those bees that belong to the genus Bombus. They are generalist feeders, meaning that they feed from a variety of flowers.

One of the first bees seen in the spring and the last in the fall, the bumblebee can tolerate colder weather than most bees. Like honeybees, bumblebees are social, with a queen and workers, but they don’t make honey. A bumblebee colony lasts for only a year, after which the new queens leave to form new colonies elsewhere and the worker bees and old queen die. Most bumblebee colonies are underground.

Nature needs our help; most species of wildlife are rapidly declining in numbers because we are destroying their habitat. Native perennials can be food for wildlife.

Are you wondering what kind of native perennial to plant? Try goldenrod. The Goldenrod or Solidago genus supports more caterpillars—that birds eat—than any other flowering plant genus in Pulaski County.

Contrary to popular opinion, goldenrod pollen does not cause hay fever, because it doesn’t travel far from the plant.

This month, we are sharing our own personal experiences in nature.

On 40 acres of open meadow near Ward, Ark. on a temperate May evening just at nightfall, it begins. Gradually, here and there, then seemingly everywhere at once, the high grass of the field lights up with an absolute storm of insect paparazzi-flashes as tens of thousands of fireflies take to the air in their own version of a massive date night extravaganza.

This month, we are sharing our own personal experiences in nature.

I witnessed the following in April. A female hummingbird perched on the small feeder above my deck. Suddenly a male sporting his glittering ruby gorget or throat swooped in and hovered in front of her. Instead of chasing him away, she remained motionless. He began to make U-shaped dives in front of her, flying down then up, in a wide arc at top speed.

This month, we are sharing our own personal experiences in nature.

I’ve again this year had two pair of Carolina wrens display their great energy in the dense and undisturbed bushes of my house. They feed on insects, caterpillars and spiders on the grounds and are particular at the feeders. The monogamous pairs have created nests using discovered materials positioned into unique and unintended nesting places such as upturned bicycle helmets, or gardening shoes on a shelf.

In late March and early April ruby-throated hummingbirds returned to Arkansas.

Do you feed hummingbirds? They are attracted to the color red, but dying their sugar water can harm them, so instead provide a feeder with a red cap or base.

Their food should be one part sugar to four parts water. Less sugar, and it will not be as nutritious and won’t attract them. More sugar, and the birds will have problems drinking it because it will be too thick.

The opossum is the only marsupial, or pouched mammal, native to the United States.

The name opossum comes from the Algonquin language, and means “white animal.” In 1608, John Smith wrote in Map of Virginia that “an opassom hath an head like a Swine, and a taile like a Rat, and is of the bignes of a Cat. Under her belly she hath a bagge, wherein she lodgeth, carrieth, and sucketh her young.”

The opossum is the only marsupial, or pouched mammal, native to the United States.

The name opossum comes from the Algonquin language, and means “white animal.” In 1608, John Smith wrote in Map of Virginia that “an opassom hath an head like a Swine, and a taile like a Rat, and is of the bignes of a Cat. Under her belly she hath a bagge, wherein she lodgeth, carrieth, and sucketh her young.”