Monday, April 23, 2007

Osage Prairie

When white settlers first reached Missouri, tallgrass prairie covered the northern and western portions of the State. In the northern section, the settlers found thick soil, enriched with glacial till; this proved to be ideal for crop production and most of the prairie soon became part of the American Cornbelt. On the other hand, the western section had thin, rocky, unglaciated soil and was used primarily for livestock grazing. As a result, much of this Osage Plain was spared the plow and the majority of Missouri's prairie remnants are found in this area.

One of the better places to experience the tallgrass prairie habitat is at Prairie State Park, 12 miles west of Lamar. Covering 3700 acres, this remote preserve, accessed by graveled roads and a network of trails, offers a true prairie experience. A herd of bison is used to maintain the prairie, which is home to a superb variety of grassland wildlife. Coyotes, red fox, badgers, prairie voles, ornate box turtles, glass lizards, prairie king snakes and yellow-bellied racers are but a sampling of the residents. Typical prairie birds include scissor-tailed flycatchers, upland sandpipers, greater prairie chickens, blue grosbeaks, northern bobwhites, meadowlarks, horned larks, Bell's vireos, blue-winged warblers, dickcissels and Henslow's sparrows. Northern harriers, American kestrels, prairie falcons, Swainson's hawks, Mississippi kites and great horned owls are among the grassland raptors. Prairie wildflowers can be spectacular from May through September; look for Indian paintbrush, coneflowers, rattlesnake master, shooting star, white prairie clover and beard-tongue.