As someone who worked for many years as a naturalist in state park systems, the national park service and a contract naturalist in the mountains of Arkansas for that state’s Natural Heritage Commission, I think surely I could be pardoned for having a little fun with a group of people who refer to themselves as master naturalists after attending classes for a week. I have met many of them, and most are nice people who are hungry to learn about nature.
A few years ago they paid about $40 to attend a series of conservation department night classes and if they passed the test they got a certificate for that, saying they were “master naturalists.” I don’t think anyone ever failed to pass it. So for a month or two I added a nature question to each of my outdoor columns and lots of folks seemed to enjoy that.
I myself am not a master at anything, though I was once darn near a master johnboat paddler, and in my youth, almost a master snooker player. I sure learned a lot in receiving a degree in wildlife management and working all those years as a paid naturalist. I think I would recommend those two efforts if you really want to be a naturalist: Go to college and then get a job in that field.
Back when I was a boy, there were lots of young people who were natural naturalists — kids who grew up on Ozark farms and spent hours out exploring the woods, and the creeks, and learning the difference in a hawk and a hoot owl, and a bass and a bluegill by the time they were 8 years old.
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So since readers seem to enjoy answering those questions, I thought I would just do a whole column of natural history questions. If you are indeed a master naturalist you should be able to answer ALL these 15 questions without looking at any books or cheating with internet searches. These things you should know without much thinking.
• Two hawks in the Ozarks that are hard for people to tell apart are the red-tailed hawk and the red-shouldered hawk. Which of the two have a one-note call, and which has a two-note call.
• What bird of prey cannot build or prepare a nest but still may attempt to raise young in the dead of winter.
• What bird other than the hummingbird will often visit your hummingbird feeder in the spring to drink nectar?
• What bird may find a songbird nest, kick out the eggs and lay its own eggs for the nesting birds to hatch and raise?
• A shrew can go for up to three days without eating! True or False?
• What common Ozarks furbearer has insufficient salivary glands?
• A dog of the same size can hybridize with both coyotes and foxes?
• True or False… The hair of a white-tailed deer is hollow!
• A shell-cracker is also known as… a. rock bass b. drum c. red-ear sunfish.
• A flathead catfish will sometimes eat a channel catfish and vice-versa… True or false?
• Eels are sometimes found in unimpounded Ozark rivers, but they cannot reproduce there! True or false.
• What is the common name most often used in the Ozarks for the plentiful Green Sunfish?
• Commonly eaten and canned like spinach in the spring old time Ozarks, it was known as “cow pasley.” What is the other common name? a. hillbilly spinach b. crows foot c. poke d. wild dock
• What tea was said to thin the blood in the spring?
• What is the fastest growing, and arguably the prettiest, of the large trees found in the Ozarks?
Here are the answers. I hope you didn’t peek. If you have, you are disqualified from being a master naturalist and true Ozarkian.
The two-note hawk is the red-shouldered, and the non-nest-builder that hatches young in the dead of winter is the great-horned owl. Number three is the oriole and number four is the brown-headed cowbird.
Five is false. Shrews have to eat every few hours or they die. The raccoon washes his food so much because he doesn’t have enough saliva.
Coyotes often cross with dogs, but foxes do not.
The hair of the whitetail is indeed hollow. The answer to the shell-cracker question is c.
Both catfish will indeed try to eat the other when the size is right, and Ozark river eels migrate back into the ocean hundreds of miles away to reproduce.
The sunfish question is easy: black perch.
Cow parsley was also called is crow’s foot, and sassafras is the tea that was said to thin blood.
A sycamore outgrows all Ozark trees and is also the prettiest of them all. You may think another tree is prettier, and if you would argue that, you belong on the front bench of the pool hall, where I once saw four or five old men debate that for much of an hour.