Unless otherwise noted, information contained in each edition of the Kansas School Naturalist reflects the knowledge of the subject as of the original date of publication.

Volume 4, Number 1 - October 1957

Along the Roadside

by Conservation Workshop Members

Front cover: Along the Roadside

PDF of Issue

COVER PICTURE - Upper right, Neosho River in flood stage during May, 1957; upper left, a conservation class stopped for a roadside observation ; lower left, a patch of prickly pear cactus in blossom along a roadside; lower right, a roadside fence literally covered with poison ivy.


Published by
The Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia

John E. King, President

Prepared and Issued by
The Department of Biology, with the cooperation of the Divisions of Education and Social Science

Acting Editor: Carl W. Prophet, Department of Biology
Editorial Committee: Ina M. Borman, Robert F. Clarke, Helen M. Douglass, Gilbert A. Leisman, Dixon Smith

The Kansas School Naturalist is sent upon request, free of charge, to any citizen of Kansas.

The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February and April of each year by The Kansas State Teachers College, Emporia, Kansas. Second-class mail privileges authorized at Emporia, Kansas.

THE EDITOR OF The Kansas School Naturalist, John Breukelman, is taking sabbatical leave during the 1957-58 school year. The acting editor for the year is Carl W. Prophet, who teaches courses in General Zoology, Field Biology, and Birds of Kansas at Emporia State. Mr. Prophet was a member of the production workshop in conservation when he was a graduate student in 1954, and directed the production of the "Life in a Pond" issue of The Kansas School Naturalist, which appeared last February.

PICTURES for this issue of The Kansas School Naturalist were taken by members of the 1957 Workshop in Conservation. The drawing on page 15 was made by Robert Clarke, science instructor at Roosevelt High School.

THIS ISSUE OF The Kansas School Naturalist was produced by members of the second, or production, section of the 1957 Workshop in Conservation at the Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia. The workshop was supported by scholarships, available through a grantin-aid from The Kansas Association for Wildlife and The National Wildlife Federation. The committee in charge consisted of Mrs. Gertrude Bacon of Emporia, Kansas; Mrs. Ethel Bertrand of Cheney, Kansas; and Mrs. Anne Yoder of Peabody, Kansas. Other members of the 1957 production workshop worked on a suggested grade-by-grade guide for conservation teaching in the elementary grades in Kansas, on lizards in Kansas, and on wildlife protection areas in Kansas. These topics will probably appear in future issues of The Kansas School Naturalist.

Along the Roadside

by Conservation Workshop Members

One of the features of modem civilization with which everyone is familiar, and which everyone uses, is the roads. What do you see along the roadsides when you are on a trip? The driver, of course, must watch the road and the other cars on it, but even he may glance at what appears along the edges of the road. If you are not driving, you may watch the speedometer, or eat, or sleep, or look at billboards-but you may also see lots of other things, such as hillsides covered with grass, flowers, shrubs, or weeds; roadside parks; rock outcrops showing layers of sandstone, limestone, and shale as they were laid down millions of years ago; fences made of barbed wire, woven wire, wooden rails, stone (or at least with stone fence posts), and ornamental materials of many kinds. These fences support ivy and other vines, bird nests, flowers, and fruits, and are often the traffic lanes along which different animals travel. As you drive along, you may note a roadside ditch full of water; if you stop the car and take a few minutes to look, you may find the ditch teeming with tadpoles and other life, according to season. Much roadside nature study can be done from the car while traveling, but a lot more can be done if you stop now and then at some interesting spot. Roadside nature study will be best of all if you avoid the main highways and the turnpike, using the side roads where traffic is light.


The pavement part of a concrete or blacktop road, or the graveled part of a graveled! road, has most of the characteristics of a desert. Sometin1es hard packed earth may resemble a pavement because it has been beaten down by traffic or by other use, as for example, a path across a lawn, a road across a plowed field, or a bare spot on a football field. A pavement, like a desert, is often hot, dry, open, exposed to direct sunshine, and relatively free from living things. The paved surface is warmer than the adjacent grassy earth during the day and colder during the night. Along the edges of the pavement you can often find cracked and crumbled places where the rain and the alternate freezing and thawing of water and other forces of nature have begun to break down the "rock" of the pavement into "soil."

You must, of course, be extremely careful in any kind of nature study that involves the pavement itself; after all, the road is intended for automobiles and other vehicles not for a nature study laboratory.

limestone fencepost

A limestone fence post beside a Lyon County road


roadside vegetation

Vegetation invading the hot, dry, packed surface of a road



Sometimes nature seems to play tricks on your eyes, making them see images of things that are not really there. These reflected images are called mirages.

Most mirages are caused by the way in which light acts in hot, dry places such as deserts and pavements or in cold, damp places such as oceans. On a pavement the air is much hotter on the surface than above it; the sunlight reflected by this blanket of warm air gives one the impression of a body of water.

You probably have seen these "pools" of water on the highway when you have been riding in a car on a hot summer day. Sometimes trees and other objects several miles away are reflected in these "pools" in the same way they would be reflected in real water.



As you travel over the state, you may want to stop and rest or perhaps eat a picnic lunch. Along the major highways, you will find roadside parks, built for your convenience by the State Highway Commission of Kansas. All of these parks have tables and fireplaces; and, in addition, some have water, toilets, and shelter houses.

When space permits, these parks are built on the right-of-way or on additional land purchased by the State. However, land for several of these parks has been donated.

Although most of the parks were developed by the State Highway Commission, many have been sponsored by local garden clubs or service clubs. In general, roadside parks are being constructed 30 to 40 miles apart at the rate of approximately 10 per year.

The locations of the 12.5 roadside parks which have been constructed thus far are given on the latest official state highway maps. These maps may be obtained by writing the State Highway Commission, Topeka, Kansas. A partial list of the roadside parks is given in The Kansas School Naturalist, Vol. 1, No.4.

Roadside parks serve to remind us
Beauty should be there to stay.
We should leave clean spots behind us,
All the refuse cleared away;
So when the next group starts to picnic
Or watch the moon glow through the dark,
They will not need to ask this question:
"Here's the litter-where's the park?"


picnic table

The "Roadside" committee at work in a park-left to right: Bertrand, Bacon, Yoder


looking for life in a ditch

Roadside naturalists looking for aquatic roadside life in a roadside ditch



Roadside ditches provide collecting places for many kinds of plant and animal life. Water willows, cattails, sedges, rush-grass, cord-grass, smartweed, arrowhead, buttonbush, and many other plants grow in or near the edge of the water in ditches. Algae of many kinds flourish, both the filamentous or "scum" types and the free one-celled types. Animals ranging from aquatic birds, muskrats, reptiles, frogs, and other vertebrates to microscopic one-celled forms may be seen. The birds and some of the other larger animals maybe seen from the car while traveling; but in order to see most of what a roadside ditch has to offer, one finds it necessary to stop.

The ditches themselves may be of many different kinds; they may have muddy, sandy, rocky, or grassy shorelines; the bottom of the ditch may consist of mud, sand, gravel, or rock; the ditch may be a few inches to several feet deep and a few feet to many yards wide; the water may be clear or muddy or variously colored depending on the type of adjacent soil; the water may be alkaline or acid, hard or soft.

Ditch water usually has plenty of oxygen, partly because plants are growing in it and partly because the water is shallow and exposed to the air. However, the ditch sometimes contains much decaying matter, and then the oxygen content of the water may be reduced almost to zero. If the ditch is exposed directly to the sun, the temperature goes up and down to extremes; if there is shade, such as might be provided by a row of cottonwoods along the ditch, the temperatures will be more nearly uniform.

If the ditch is shallow, the water may freeze solid in winter; if fairly deep, there may be considerable water under the ice. Many kinds of animals which can survive in the latter type could not survive in a ditch that freezes solid. If the bottom of the ditch is made of mud so that animals can burrow into it, such animals can survive whereas they could not in a ditch with a rock bottom.

roadside litter

Litter is costly and an all too common sight along the highway


roadside erosion

An early stage of erosion in a steep, exposed road cut



Anyone who has traveled along the highways of our nation knows that litter thrown into roadside ditches creates an undesirable sight
for those who wish to view the natural beauty of the countryside.

Too many people evidently do not realize that there is much more involved in this litter problem than the mere creation of an eyesore.
Indeed, litter is expensive as well as dangerous.

From the standpoint of the direct expense of removing litter strewn along the nation's highways, the $30,000,000 allocated yearly for this
purpose is staggering. This direct expense is, however, only a small part of the total bill which Americans charge themselves each time
they toss something from a car window.

Litter of all kinds is too often a cause of auto accidents, as anyone knows who has swerved his car in order to miss a pop bottle resting in the middle of the road. Perhaps even more dangerous, because it is not so evident, is the trash which is thrown into roadside ditches and later obscured by weeds. Such piles of trash may easily be the cause of overturning road maintenance tractors.

Litter in roadside ditches is also a definite health menace because of the excellent breeding places it affords various insect pests.

In Massachusetts a combination of "education" and "enforcement" has proved effective in reducing maintenance costs by $60,000 during an 8 week period following the initiation of a highway litter prevention program. Under Massachusetts law a motorist convicted of throwing trash from his car may have his driver's license and!or vehicle registration suspended for 30 days and, in addition, may be fined $50.

This kind of regimentation may be necessary in order to keep our highways clean, but possibly by placing more emphasis on the "education" phase of the program, we can help others realize the importance at disposing of trash in suitable places or containers.


Gullies increasing in size and number along the newly constructed Kansas Turnpike



Weeds protecting a steep slope from some erosion



The results of both wind and water erosion can be seen along the highway in all stages and to nearly all degrees. They can be seen not only in the fields and pastures along the road, but often much better on the highway. When a new road grade has been constructed, the processes of erosion start almost immediately. To counteract this, the State Highway Commission follows all new grading with seeding contracts. A year or so later, gullies of various sizes, mud flats, silted basins, and other features of erosion are quite evident In another year, some of these will be even more evident; but meanwhile weeds, grasses, and other plants have gotten started. These slow the erosion, and thus protect the grade for the future. Sometimes highway-department employees may be seen planting trees and shrubs and seeding grasses on right-of-ways almost as soon as grade construction is finished. These procedures not only improve the appearance of the roadway, but also protect the soil against erosion.

In many places where a roadside ditch is on a steep slope, you may see small dams made of concrete, rocks, or even wood and wire at intervals along the ditch. These slow the water flowing down the hill and provide places for silt and sediment to accumulate, thus saving soil that was wearing away.

There must be some highway ditches near your home or school. You can use; ditch as a laboratory to study erosion processes, during and shortly after rain, or when there is any water from melting snow. You can see how a patch of grass or weeds, a pile of straw, a board, a rock, or anything else that interferes with fast-flowing water protects the underlying soil against erosion.

car on road

Use of a car as a "blind," observer staying in car


bird watching

Hedge rows-excellent places for roadside study of birds



In the central and the western parts of Kansas, trees planted in shelter belts or windbreaks are often seen beside the road. Such planted woodlands offer excellent opportunities for automobile nature study. In them, wind erosion is reduced, snow is held, the soil is protected, and wildlife is provided food and shelter. Trees such as the Osage-orange (hedge tree), Russian olive, mulberry, and black locust flanked by cedar, willows, sumac, and wild plum provide a variety of food, cover, and nesting places for birds and other wildlife. The "forest floor," formed by falling leaves and consequent development of humus, shelters a variety of animals, such as worms, insect larva, millipedes, and spiders. Wildflowers which could not survive elsewhere thrive in the protection of the shelterbelt. To see the wealth of birds that make use of the shelterbelt, you need only sit qUietly in your car, using the car itself as a blind. Birds are often less excited by a car along the edge of a shelterbelt than they are by people walking about. If you want to study the creatures of the woodland s~il, you must of course go into the shelterbelt; be sure to have the owner's permission.

Osage-orange hedges provide many of the same conditions as shelterbelts, though they are usually planted in Single rows so that the area covered is too narrow to have a forest floor. Many miles of Osage-orange hedge have been removed in recent years because the trees are undesirable in modern farming.

Multiflora rose hedges have been planted in many parts of Kansas, sometimes to replace the Osage orange. This rose, a native of Asia, has long, arching branches and twigs that provide good wildlife shelter. A mature multiflora hedge is about 8 feet high and also about 8 feet wide. The small red fruits are available as winter food for many different kinds of wildlife. Multiflora hedges provide food, cover, and nesting sites for rabbits, quail, pheasants, and a variety of songbirds.

stone fence

A stone fence, home for lizards, insects, cottontails, and many other animals


KS prairie

A common type of roadside scene in Kansas, the home of prairie chickens, rabbits, coyotes, and many other animals



Many kinds of animals make their homes along the roads. Phoebes and cliff swallows build nests under bridges where no natural cliffs are available. Birds of many kinds nest in hedges, shelterbelts, and weed patches along the road. Even fences may provide animal homes, especially the old stone fences found in so many parts of Kansas. Snakes, lizards, crickets, centipedes, spiders, and many other animals may be found under flat rocks. Frogs, tadpoles, minnows, crayfish, birds, and other animals are found in and near roadside ditches. Some of these minnows and tadpoles, for example-are true aquatic animals and actually live in the water. Others, such as birds, frequent the ditches to find food, although their nests may be at some distance.

roadside snakes

A roadside rock and the blue racer found under it



A raccoon, one of the many animals that may be seen on the road

For those interested in insects or spiders, the roadside is a good collecting place. Sweeping an insect net across weed patches or grass will yield a variety of insects throughout the growing season. Others are found on the ground, under rocks, in the grooves in the bark of roadside trees, and, in season, among blossoms. Larva and pupa stages of insects are common in the ground, under leaves and other surface cover, and in the water of roadside ditches. A large variety of almost unknown insects live in galls, which are plant growths produced as a result of chemical or mechanical irritation. Galls may be almost microscopic to several inches across; they vary in shape and in position. Most often they are smooth and round and located on leaves or twigs, but they may be cylindrical or conical, spindle-shaped or irregular, spiny or hairy, and located on almost any part of a plant. When a green gall is opened, insects are usually found inside, although some galls are inhabited by spiders, mites, and even parasitic lower plants.

Animals regularly rest or feed along the roads. One may wonder what swallows used for resting places before man put up telephone wires. Hawks find telephone poles good vantage points from which to survey the surrounding pastures or fields for likely prey. Crows may be seen eating rabbits and other animals killed by cars on the highways. Indeed, crows perform a useful purpose here-if it were not for the~, the dead animals would be left to decay on the roads.

It may be noted that avoiding reactions differ among different kinds of animals. Some birds leave their fence-post or telephone-pole perches long before your car arrives there, while others stay right there, seeming not to notice your car at all. Only when you stop the car and get out will some of the hawks fly away.

roadside nature study

A small roadside pool surrounded by a weed patch-unlimited opportunity for nature study


roadside plants

New Jersey tea in bloom beside a Chase County road



Common along Kansas roadsides is the sight of weed patches which furnish food and cover, as well as nesting places, for wildlife. They also provide many interesting things to do. If you will stop and get out of your car, you may find many kinds of flowers, seeds, insects, galls, bird nests, tracks, burrows, and other evidences of the work of plants and animals. If you are interested in wildflowers, a weed patch will supply you with different types the year around. For those interested in seed collecting, the varieties to be found are plentiful. Or if you are a camera fan, a series of pictures taken at intervals of 2 weeks will give you a record of the natural history throughout the year. To see how important a weed patch really is to wildlife, visit it on a clear winter day when there is considerable snow on the ground. Note the animal tracks in and around the patch. Watch the juncos and other sparrows feed on parts of the weeds that stick out above the snow. The seeds are usually located at or near the topmost parts of the weeds.

roadside plants

A western evening primrose along rocky roadside


roadside plants

Fawn lilies (dogtooth violets) beside a Lyon County road

THE GREAT BLUE HERON, the largest, most widely distributed and best known of American herons, is found throughout much of Kansas. A total of 57 colonies of Great Blue Herons are located in 26 different counties. Of this total, only 7 colonies are known to exist west of highway K14. These colonies range in size from 2 to 210 nests with the majority of nests occurring in sycamore trees.

WRITE TO THE FORESTRY, FISH, AND GAME COMMISSION, PRATT, KANSAS, for a copy of What Have I Caught. The fourth printing of this booklet is now available.

example of erosion

Many layers exposed by erosion beside a Geary County road


limestone bridge

    Native limestone used in the construction of a Morris County bridge



Kansas is a wonderful state for the amateur geologist. The layers of rock have been practically undisturbed by nature. Since the surface of the state slopes about 3000 feet from the western border towards the east and the underlying layers of rock slope about the same amount to the opposite direction, many rock outcrops are available to the "rock hound." The sloping of these rock layers towards the west makes it possible for a layer which is exposed at Kansas City to be nearly a mile underground at Syracuse. In addition to these outcrops of rock, scattered throughout all parts of the state are hundreds of highway and railroad cuts which often expose many layers of rock.

Fossils can he found in nearly all parts of Kansas. These records of the past exist in the form of preserved remains of plants or animals, prints, molds, or petrified remains of these prehistoric organisms. They can often be found with no more trouble than pulling the car off the road, stepping out to the edge of the right-of-way, and picking up the specimens.

Where fossils are absent there may be a variety of rocks, crystals, minerals, and other items of geological interest to be found. Sometimes these are in the outcrops themselves, but often they may be found in the sediment and debris accumulated at the bottom of an outcrop after a rain.



For roadside study, a set of county maps is a special convenience. The State Highway Commission of Kansas has available maps of each county. These come in 2 sizes, with 2 different scales one-fourth inch to the mile and one-half inch to the mile. The smaller maps are a convenient size to punch and carry in a standard 8.5 by 11 inch three-ring notebook. Notations of all kinds can be made directly on these maps. Routes can be marked, collecting places indicated, and good places for class or group observations marked. The maps show the range, township, and section numbers, as well as many kinds of artificial and natural landmarks. They show highways, railroads, towns, cemeteries, airfields, oil wells, tanks, stockyards, radio stations, and many other kinds of structures. They also show rivers and major tributaries, intermittent streams, reservoirs, darns, lakes, and other landscape features.

The small maps cost 5 cents each, or $5.00 for the entire set of 105 maps; the large ones cost 15c each, or $15.00 for the entire set.

portion of county map

A portion of a county map - an invaluable aid to cross-country nature trips



1. Keep records-do not depend on your memory; after two or three different trips you will forget what was associated with each trip. Get a small notebook and jot down dates, times of day, places, mileage at the beginning and at the end of each trip, mileage at specific points of interest, highways traveled, places where you stopped, and anything else you can think of.

2. Keep general nature study notes-this will be a sort of nature diary, including what you saw and under what conditions you saw it. Sometimes you may want to use sketches in order to help record something more clearly.

3. Make lists-record kinds of flowers seen along the road, birds seen from the car, dead animals seen on the highway, or anything else that interests you and can be listed. You can make trip lists, seasonal lists, county lists, or any other kind you wish. You will find it interesting to compare this year's list with last year's, or one county list with that of another county.

4. Make collections-if you do this, limit the collections to things which have a real interest for you, things which you can take without violating your sense of fair play or your duty to conservation. and to things you have permission to take. Do not collect just for the sake of collecting; if you do, you will probably end up throwing the collection away after you get home.

5. Take pictures-you do not need an expensive camera, and you can learn to develop your own film and make your own prints. Photography itself is a fine hobby; combined with nature study, it is a hobby that is hard to beat.

6. Wildflower gardens-plant the seeds of some of the interesting wild plants you find along the roadside. These may be planted in Flower pots or other containers in the schoolroom. The soil used should be similar to that in which the plants are found growing.

7. Keep records of the dead animals seen on the road. What species are most common? How does the number seen per mile or 10-mile unit vary from season to season? How does it vary during the different parts of the day? Are the number and species different along highways that pass through different environments -e.g., pastures, wheat fields, cornfields, woods, shelterbelts?

8. Make litterbags-No tools are required to make the simple litterbag holder pictured below. All that is needed is a wire coat hanger which will fit into any size bag ... No. 12 seems about right. Fold bag evenly across bottom; measure and mark each side from top to stem and from center of bottom bar. Start bend from top, then bottom, alternating until shape shown in Fig. 2 is achieved. Bend as shown in Fig. 3. Twist hook at right angles. Place hanger in bag, Fig. 4. Fold top of bag over holder and fasten with paper clips or masking tape. Holder can be hooked in the front seat on right side of car, under cowling; or to robe rack, window frame, or other places in the back of the car.

Instructions for making litterbags

Instructions for making litterbags



The Biology Department of the Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia is sponsoring an Audubon Screen Tour Series during the coming school year. This series will consist of 5 all-color motion pictures of wildlife, scenics, plant science, and conservation personally
narrated by leading naturalists. These pictures will be presented in Albert Taylor Hall at 8:00 P.M. on the dates listed below. Plan to attend with some of your students. Family season tickets, adult single season tickets, and single admission tickets are available. For additional information write to Carl Prophet, Biology Department, KSTC, Emporia.

Monday, October 14 - Fran William Hall, Hawaii, U.S.A.

Monday, November 25 - Alexander Sprunt Jr., Cypress Kingdom

Friday, January 31 - Howard Cleaves, Animals at Night in Color

Thursday, March 6 - Bert Harwell, Forgotten Country

Friday, April 11 - G. Harrison Orions, Great Smoky Skyland


Comstock, Anna Botsford, Handbook of Nature-Study, Comstock Publishing Company, Ithaca, New York, 1921.

Hall, E. Raymond, Handbook of Mammals of Kansas, University of Kansas Museum of Natural History, Misc. Publ. No.7, Lawrence, Kansas, 1955.

Palmer, E. Lawrence, Fieldbook of Natural History, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York 36, New York, 1949.

Smith, Hobart M., Handbook of Amphibians and Reptiles of Kansas, University of Kansas Museum of Natural History, Misc. Publ. No.9, Lawrence, Kansas, 1956.

Stevens, William Chase, Kansas Wild Flowers, University of Kansas Press, Lawrence, Kansas, 1948.

Tiemeier, Otto W., The Multiflora Rose in Farming and for Wildlife, Forestry, Fish, and Game Commission, Bulletin No. 8, Pratt, Kansas, 1951.

Williams, Samuel H., The Living World, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1937.

Insects In Kansas, Birds in Kansas, etc., Kansas State Board of Agriculture, Topeka, Kansas.

The "Tourist" series of To the Stars Kansas Industrial Development Commission, 903 Harrison Street, Topeka, Kansas.

Goebel, Anne M., et al., Kansas Geography, State Printing Office, Topeka, Kansas, 1952.


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