Natural North Dakota | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Natural North Dakota

Saturday and Sunday at 8:35 am CT
  • Hosted by Prairie Public

Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of "Natural North Dakota" and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005, Chuck has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for the Lake Metigoshe Mirror, and his “The Naturalist” columns appear in several other weekly North Dakota newspapers. Lura has been a biology professor at Dakota College at Bottineau since 1984, and he publishes research on ecological aspects of grasslands in the northern Great Plains.

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Dakota College at Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

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If you haven’t already noticed some small sparrow-sized birds flitting through the brush in your area, you should soon.  And if you take a closer look, you are likely to see these birds are quite colorful.  That is because the warblers are or will be passing through our area during their spring migration.  Some, for example the American redstart, will even stay and nest in our state. 

Aging Fish

Mar 30, 2019

I happened to see a picture of a scale of a fish recently, illustrating the age of the fish. Being able to age a fish could help fisheries managers with a variety of aspects of fisheries management, such as estimating growth rates, survival, and longevity. It could also help better understand aspects of habitat, food abundance and availability, and a myriad of other factors. But how could you age a fish?


Mar 16, 2019

Have you ever heard of chaga?  I recently saw a television spot about harvesting this fungus in northern Minnesota and selling it as a medicinal.        

Chaga is the common name for a bracket fungus (Inonotus obliquus) that parasitizes birch trees.  A sterile conk grows just under the bark of the tree trunk, and as it grows it pushes outward, turns black, and looks as if the tree has been charred or burned.  Some describe it as looking like burned charcoal.  Eventually a fruiting structure will be produced that looks similar to the conks on aspen trees with pores on the underside for spore dispersal. 

Prairie Fire!

Mar 9, 2019

Picture this. It is early October, 1803. You are in what we now know as northeast North Dakota, near where the Park River flows into the Red River. You are keeping a journal, and part of the day’s entry is that “fire is raging at every point of the compass, thick clouds of smoke nearly deprive us of the sight of the sun, and at night the view from the top of my house is awful indeed.” Those are the observations of Alexander Henry.

The Red River Valley, glacial Lake Agassiz. For many among us, that probably brings to mind rich farmland and perhaps a finger shaped lake from the end of the last ice age that covered the area along North Dakota/Minnesota border. It would have been fifty miles wide or so, with the southern end in bit south of where North and South Dakota meet Minnesota. The northern end would have been, well, not sure. At the margin of the glacier, somewhere up by Winnipeg, maybe.


Feb 23, 2019
T.L. Esslinger

“Manitoba has official bird, tree and flower so why not lichen?” that title of a recent article on the website of the CBC caught my attention. A group of lichenologists in Canada are orchestrating an effort to establish a National Lichen, as well as Provincial Lichens. They do admit, however, that the effort is really to draw attention to these interesting but often overlooked and unappreciated organisms.

We have had a red-breasted nuthatch coming to our bird feeders regularly this winter. I have not seen more than one at a time, so I am guessing it is a loner. At any rate, this bird always provides some good entertainment while is seemingly goes about its mission.

Today, February 2, is Groundhog Day. Good luck finding a groundhog that is confused enough to come out of hibernation and stick its head out of its hole. And of course, whether it sees its shadow or not has no bearing on when spring arrives.

It might surprise you, but the origins of Groundhog Day can be traced back to before Christ when February 2 was the “Feast of Lights,” because it was considered the midpoint of winter. That morphed into a Christian celebration called Candlemas (“Candle Mass”). “For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, so far will the snow swirl in May.”

Bull Elk

Jan 26, 2019

I recently had the good fortune of getting a good look at four bull elk in the Turtle Mountains while cross country skiing. When one thinks of elk in North Dakota the badlands and Theodore Roosevelt National Park may come to mind. I suspect that few among us are unaware that the Turtle Mountains supports a sizeable elk population. 

Snowy Owls

Jan 12, 2019

I recently traveled west from Bottineau on Highway 5 around mid-morning. By the time I got to the Highway 14 turnoff to Kramer, I had seen four snowy owls. Most of them in the first half of the 11-mile stretch. I have not kept records of my snowy owl observations per mile, but that has to be some kind of record.