Nature Viewing Guide

Who needs television? In Missouri, the natural world can keep you entertained all year long. With nearly 400 species of birds, 209 species of fish, 82 types of reptiles, 70 species of mammals, 42 amphibians, 129 mussels, about 5,000 species of plants, around 15,000 insects, 303 spiders and 1,000 types of scorpions, mites and ticks, you shouldn't have any trouble finding something to interest you.

All you need is a little time and a little patience. And don't forget to take your camera, a picnic lunch and your binoculars, but don't take any of the animals or plants home with you - especially any of the ticks, if you can help it.

Nature viewing can be as easy as looking out your window or stepping out your back door. But it may take some traveling to get to some of the species that inhabit Missouri's diverse landscape. If you don't already have favorite spots to visit or if you want to try something new, here are seven Conservation Department lands that are sure to please. Look for the brown and white binocular signs that indicate prime wildlife viewing areas.

Osage Prairie Conservation Area

Six miles south of Nevada on Highway 71, then 1.5 miles west on an unnamed gravel road (watch for the area sign), then one-half mile south on another unnamed road.

The Osage Prairie Conservation Area has something to see and hear in every season. Listen for the booming calls of male prairie chickens as they compete for mates in March and April. Songbirds and scissor-tailed flycatchers flit through the sky in the spring. In the winter, migrating short-eared owls use the prairie for a hunting ground. In the summer, thousands of regal fritillary butterflies search out the purple coneflower and butterfly weed. In the fall, the big and little bluestem grasses, Indian grass, switch grass and wild rye turn the prairie into a sea of gold.

Woodson K. Woods Memorial Conservation Area

Southeast of St. James on Highway 8 in Crawford County.

The Meramec River flows through the Woodson K. Woods Memorial Conservation Area. Canoeing is a good way to sneak up on the many species of toads, frogs, turtles, snakes, fish and aquatic insects. Muskrat, mink and raccoon share the water with wood ducks, great blue and green herons and belted kingfishers. Songbirds use the river valley as a resting and feeding area during their spring and fall migrations.