Natural North Dakota | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Natural North Dakota

Saturday and Sunday at 8:35 am CT
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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 was a biology professor at Dakota College at Bottineau, and published research on ecological aspects of grasslands in the northern Great Plains.

Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

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I have had a couple of interesting sightings recently. A red-bellied snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) and some immature Harris’s sparrows.

I recently managed a good look at a red-bellied snake.  They are one of our smaller snakes, growing to perhaps 8-10 inches long.  This one was gray, but they can also be various shades of brown to gray.  They have a stripe down the center of the back and sides that may be rather inconspicuous as well as some pale spots on the neck.  But the conspicuous characteristic is the red belly, which can also vary a bit in color.  We have no similar species, so identification is quite easy.  


I have been noticing some galls on some plants as I travel about this fall.  Most of what has caught my attention has been on willows and goldenrods.  


Oct 17, 2020


There is not much green on the landscape this time of year.  I have, however, noticed some small trees or large shrubs, often in dense thickets, that are still green.  They are thickets of buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica).  This native to Eurasia and northern Africa was introduced to North America back in the early 1800’s and has become quite invasive. 


When I was a kid, on Sunday afternoons, either my mom or dad would occasionally say “Let’s go for a drive.”  It was often a short drive, but usually included a drive around a marsh to see the waterfowl and other wildlife.  I suspect many among us still like to occasionally go for a drive and see a little of nature. 

And now during the fall migration there is much to see.  So grab your binoculars, a bird guide, and other appropriate items and go check things out.  It is a great way to see a little “Natural North Dakota.”  Birds and other wildlife, plants, geology, interesting scenery, it is all here.  And there is no shortage of places to go.  For some of you, it is as simple as heading down the nearest gravel road.  For others it might take a bit more planning.  


Someone recently asked me what might be digging small holes in their yard.  The holes are about the size of a dime and taper down at an angle for about an inch or so with bits of soil scattered around them.  I managed to actually see the culprit in action in our yard.   They are the work of the northern flicker, or what some of you may have learned as the yellow shafted flicker or perhaps the red shafted flicker, both now considered two subspecies of the northern flicker.  

Meandering Rivers

Sep 26, 2020
Google Earth



Look at an aerial photograph of most North Dakota rivers and you are likely to see it snake across the landscape in sinuous curves.  These are low energy rivers or meandering rivers, as opposed to the higher energy or braided rivers.  And if you look more closely, you are likely to see evidence of old channels and oxbows, evidence that these river channels have moved.

Blue Jays

Sep 19, 2020


Charles Flugum in his book Birding from a Tractor Seat had this to say about one of our feathered friends.  I wonder if you can identify the bird he is describing.    

“The flagrant rascal evidently enjoys hearing its own voice, putting forth its utmost effort to make the loudest possible noise and bowing impressively to emphasize each call.”

Smooth Green Snake

Sep 12, 2020


I can remember the first time I saw a smooth green snake.  It was sunning itself on a rock one morning many years ago on the Samuel H. Ordway Jr. Memorial Prairie west of Leola, SD.  That is 20 some miles across the state line southeast of Ashley.  


Sep 5, 2020


Have you been noticing the crickets chirping recently?  I suspect that most of us enjoy hearing them outdoors during the evening hours.  

Crickets can be found over much of the world except the higher latitudes. Worldwide there are over 2000 species.  And there are over 100 species in the United States and a dozen or so here in North Dakota, including the northern field cricket and the house cricket.


When I drive across the North Dakota landscape I often think back to what the grasslands would have looked like a couple hundred years ago.  No farmsteads and fields, oil wells, transmission lines, etc. Needless to say, the landscape has changed. But thanks to some old written records as well as more recent descriptions, we can get a sense of what that landscape looked like.