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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Feb 29, 2020

I have observed some large shrubs or small trees this winter with masses of what looks like hard black poop on the branches. That growth is black knot of Prunus. It is a fungus, and as the name implies, grows on plants in the genus Prunus. I see this fungal growth mostly on chokecherry. That is no surprise because it is our most abundant and widely distributed Prunus.

Highbush Cranberry

Feb 22, 2020
Chuck Lura

With the big white blanket of snow covering the ground and the trees bare, except for the conifers, the landscape is lacking in color. But there are still a few fruits from last summer persisting on some plants. And the fruits I have been noticing most frequently in the Turtle Mountains are highbush cranberry.

We had a reddish sparrow sized bird at the feeder the other day. Once again I had to look closely to determine if it was a purple finch or a house finch. It had a reddish breast and forehead with brown wings, and a light underside with noticeable brown stripes. Those are the markings of a house finch.

It is that time again. The Great Backyard Bird Count is coming up next weekend, Friday February 14 through Monday the 17. It is a joint project of the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. As many of you know, it is an effort in which amateur birders can help scientists better understand the population dynamics and movements of birds.

Have you been hearing the occasional hoot of a great horned owl during the night? They have vocalizations in association with territoriality and courtship. And be ready to hear it more frequently. Territories are being announced and contested, and the males are calling to the females. Great horned owls are known for their early mating season which will start soon, with egg laying starting in late February.

Red Squirrels

Jan 25, 2020

We have had a red squirrel gobbling up the sunflower seeds in our platform feeder for much of the winter so far. But it has been providing us with some great entertainment, so we just have to put out some extra sunflower seeds to make sure the birds are also well fed.

Porcupine Subspecies

Jan 18, 2020

I was perusing Vernon Bailey’s Mammals of North Dakota from 1926 recently. He recognized two species of porcupines in the state. He went on to note that the yellow-haired, or Rocky Mountain porcupine was mainly found west of the Missouri River and that a specimen collected in 1914 in the Turtle Mountains was the easternmost documentation of the species. The black-haired or Canada porcupine was an eastern species with a couple records in the eastern part of the state along the Red River and in Pembina County.

“Bright clear sky over a plain so wide that the rim of the heavens cut down on it around the entire horizon…. Bright, clear sky, to-day, to-morrow, and for all time to come.”

Ole Rolvaag’s Giants in the Earth is a classic novel about pioneer life on the prairies of Dakota Territory. The book opens with that description of the prairie. Perhaps like me, you often attempt to visualize the Dakota landscape of a couple hundred years ago. I think about that more now during the winter months when the trees are bare, and the big white blanket covers the landscape. And it really comes to mind for me when I drive down out of the Turtle Mountains to Bottineau when the landscape ahead for several miles is largely unobstructed.

We have been seeing chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, both the downy and hairy woodpeckers, and blue jays at our bird feeders this winter. But even though the feeders have been busy, I haven’t seen anything unusual or any of the birds from up north yet this winter.

World Soil Day

Dec 28, 2019

Unfortunately, I suspect that it went largely unnoticed by the general public, but December 5 was World Soil Day. Soils may not make many people’s heart go pitter-patter, but in North Dakota and elsewhere where agriculture is so important, the importance of healthy soil cannot be overestimated.