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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Beaver Watching

Nov 28, 2020

I had some fun up at the International Peace Garden recently.  I stopped along the road to go for a short walk.  At a spot where a culvert connects two adjacent ponds I paused to look around.  There was a thin sheet of clear ice on the lake, and I was startled to see a beaver swimming under the ice. Then upon hearing a little commotion in the nearby cattails I noticed two beavers feeding on what I assumed were cattail rhizomes or tubers at the pond margin. I bet I was not 25 feet away.  Their chewing was noisy! Comparable to being at the kitchen table with someone quickly chewing on raw carrots with their mouth open.  That was some good entertainment for a few minutes. 

Bur Oak

Nov 21, 2020

Oak trees are interesting during the summer months, but come fall when they lose their leaves, they take on a completely different character.  I was thinking about that around Halloween when I went for a walk through the Turtle Mountain forest.  As I paused to observe an old gnarled bur oak, it dawned on me that most of those trees illustrated in spooky stories and cartoons must be modeled after bur oak. 


There is a new moon on November 15! And, if the sky is clear over the next week or so, the dark sky should make for good conditions to see falling stars.     

The Northern Taurids Meteor Shower began on October 20 and runs until December 10. It is not one of the more well-known meteor showers, producing maybe 5-10 meteors per hour.  It peaked on the evening of the 11th and early morning hours of the 12th, but there is still more to see. And the Northern Taurids are known to occasionally produce some unusually showy displays.

Antler Development

Nov 7, 2020


Deer gun season started Friday.  No doubt antlers will be the topic of much conversation, some of it even true, whether it is about the one that got away, or what have you.  Most of those conversations will be on the size of the antlers or whether they were typical or atypical.  But there are other aspects to antlers that we give scant attention.  I was reminded of that recently when I ran across an online Smithsonian article about antler development from 2017.  


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.