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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North Dakota Toads

Oct 5, 2019

I received an inquiry a few weeks ago concerning the abundance of toads near Kramer, ND in southern Bottineau County. It seems that the toad population was experiencing some sort of an irruption, with the toads seemingly everywhere, including area highways. These toads were quite small, and had a long extension (like a very long toe) on the hind leg. That is indicative of the plains spadefoot toad.

Harvesting Hazelnuts

Sep 28, 2019
Chuck Lura

Do you like hazelnuts? If so, you may be surprised to learn that regardless of where you are in North Dakota, there probably are some hazels growing near you.

There are two species of hazels native to North Dakota, the American hazelnut (Corylus americana) and beaked hazel (Corylus cornuta). Both species produce edible and tasty hazelnuts. The two species are quite similar vegetatively. Both are shrubs that grow to six feet or so, with the American hazelnut being generally a little shorter. The leaves are similar, alternate, simple, with doubly serrate (toothed) margins.

Carrion Flower

Sep 21, 2019

It is about this time of year that I occasionally get a question about a plant with a tight cluster of dark blue berries in Turtle Mountain. Although there are a few options, it is often carrion flower or Smilax herbacea. The plant is in the Smilacaceae or Catbrier Family.

It has been a while since I last visited the Burning Coal Vein and columnar junipers, but I recently had the opportunity to get reacquainted with them. They didn’t disappoint!

Bands of lignite coal occasionally catch fire and burn for a time, but this burning coal vein, located some 15 miles north and west of Amidon, or around 30 miles south of Medora on East River Road is a landmark. Ignited by lightning or perhaps a prairie fire, this burning coal vein, several feet below the ground, was first observed by white settlers to the area back in the 1880’s. It continued to burn and smolder until the late 1970’s or perhaps early 1980’s. Even in the summer visitors could feel the heat emanating from cracks in the ground below which the fire burned.

Have you ever noticed a trunk of a tree with several horizontal rows of rather small and shallow oval shaped holes in the bark? I suspect that many among us have, but probably do not know the cause. It’s the work of yellow-bellied sapsuckers, a type of woodpecker.

Johnny Darters

Aug 31, 2019

Most everyone is familiar with the larger fish in our lakes and rivers. Northern pike, walleye, perch, bluegill, to name a few. But what about the smaller fish? Our lakes, rivers, and streams have an abundance of smaller fish such as chubs, shiners, and my favorite the johnny darter.

Pembina Escarpment

Aug 24, 2019

The Pembina Escarpment came up in a conversation recently. Most people have heard of the Pembina River, Pembina Gorge, and Pembina Hills, but I doubt many among us have heard much about the Pembina Escarpment.

Red-tailed Hawk

Aug 17, 2019

I have been seeing a red-tailed hawk quite frequently this summer. They are certainly one of the most commonly observed hawks across the state. Their broad wings and rounded tail easily identifies them as a type of hawk called a buteo. Then of course the red tail (actually more of a rusty color) and light-colored underbelly with a dark band, seals the identification as a red-tailed hawk.

I have been noticing a lot of water parsnip and poison hemlock flowering in wetlands over the past few weeks. These large clusters of small white flowers in a candelabra-like arrangement are easily identified as members of the Apiaceae or carrot family, sometimes also known as the parsley family.

Giant Floater Clam

Aug 3, 2019
Chuck Lura

I recently received a call about a clam at Lake Metigoshe. The caller had found one in the sediment along his shoreline and was wondering about it. I have never seen any clam shells around the lake, much less a live one. But with a little help from a colleague at Valley City State University I have tentatively identified it as a Giant floater (Pygandon grandis).