Monday, October 31, 2011

Autumn in the Red Hills

     The Red Hills (Gyp Hills) of Southcentral Kansas is my own special Kansas Outback.  With its rolling hills, gypsum outcrops, expansive grasslands and contrasting bottomland trees, this is the Kansas land of enchantment.  I get the chance now to spend more time there since my new job with The Nature Conservancy is as the Red Hills Project Coordinator.  I'll be dedicating my services to the nature and the ranching heritage of The Red Hills and I can't think of a better job.  While I spent one career in  a number of dream jobs with the state wildlife agency, I'll be privileged to start another career in my favorite landscape.  I'll share anecdotes about The Red Hills as well as a continuing account of other fascinating features of the Sunflower State.  Kansas is ablaze with the colors of fall.  Take any of the scenic byways in the state ( and you'll be treated to some of the most glorious eye candy nature can offer.  Do the Gyp Hills Scenic Byway in Barber County now and you'll have a very memorable trip.   Check in later for more updates.  I hope to see you sometime in the great Kansas Outback.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Honey Harvesttime

The long, hot summer has been tough on wildlife.  That includes honeybees.  Even with so little natural pollen and nectar, there's been some honey production.  Here, Lee Ann pulls out a frame of bees showing some brood as well as honey and pollen cells.  The picture shows a couple of "supers" on top of the hive bodies which are yielding some honey.   We have a very small, hobby, operation but the big operators probably had a tough year of it at least in Southern Kansas.  Keeping honey bees is almost a fulltime job nowadays with so many issues they face--mites, hive moths, foul brood, pesticides, and colony collapse which is not fully understood.  It takes nearly constant monitoring to keep a colony healthy and productive.  But, oh the payoff!  If you can get some home grown honey, its worth it all! 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ode to a Toad

Found you lurking in the ground,
hiding in your little mound,
teased you from your earthen nest,
stalking small and large insects;

It’s really great to see you here,
lurking in your garden lair,
living through such torment,
such horrid drought this summer sent;

Woodhouse’s Toad, you’re such a joy
a fun hand pet for girl and boy,
from head to toe, your warts and all,
your amazingly loud and whirring call;

Lucky are the ones who see,
you waiting very patiently,
beside the beaming yard light pole,
swallowing those ole June bugs whole;

Thanks for helping my garden plants,
by eating some of their many pests,
and by entertaining so many kids,
their parents and sometimes their pets.

Some think of you as just a toad,
some small beast to dodge on roads,
but I prefer more loftier quest,
I consider you some of nature’s best!

(To read about Woodhouse’s Toad, google Kansas Herp Atlas.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Beauty in spite of drought

A lot of southern Kansas is still in serious drought.  In spite of how bad the land looks, there is still beauty to be found.  I found some in the form of Rocky Mountain Bee Plants along a Red Hills country road.  The pretty flowers were being visited by many insects including this White-lined Sphinx moth, a moth which is also active during daylight hours.  This large moth is also called a hummingbird moth for its obvious resemblance.  Look carefully at garden flowers this time of year as it could be a hummingbird or a moth visiting your floral display.  Then, also appearing on the same plant was this Variegated Fritillary butterfly.  Look closely and you can see how worn the wings are on this insect, evidence that it is an older member of a later generation for this year.  There's a dearth of flowering plants in the hills this year because of the lack of precipitation.  But, along some of the road ditches, there was enough moisture to support some of these persistent and beautiful plants.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Curious Fawn

     Its a baby deer, a fawn, coming up to inspect us hiding in the darkness of the living room.  Is it abandoned?  Should we take it and try to take care of it?  Take it to someone who can?  The answer to all of these questions is NO NO NO.  But most people cannot stand to hear "NO."  The nurturing instinct is so strong that even usually rational people will do silly things.  In this case, it would be the worst thing for this young deer.  The truth is, this deer is obviously in good health.  It has a couple small bumps on its head, the sites for emergence of the small, first year antler knobs for this "button" buck.  And, its mother, the doe, is about 50 yards away watching from the cover of plum bushes.  But most people feel they have to "save" this fawn.  This is another manifestation of people becoming urbanized and losing any semblance of nature's reality.  Unfortunately, most people get their "reality" from unreal portrayals by TV, movies and other sources.  This fawn, our "pet" yard fawn, will be best raised by its own mother.  To take it in and "help" it survive would mean that it would habituate to humans.  When it grows up with really sharp, pointy antlers, it would someday turn on some human, of which it is unafraid because of its upbringing by a human, and will try to gore that human because its hormones are raging.  Or it will succumb to disease more easily because of some kind of confinement.  Or it could possibly convey some disease from one area to where ever it is delivered for "saving."  
     The truth is the hardest thing for people to accept and it is never truer when it comes to the insatiable "need" to save some child of nature--a nature which is indifferent to compassion.  Nature simply is what it is, the natural order of animals to implement their genetic code and behavior--one which includes birth, life and death.  Our interference in this process many times leads to misplaced passion and sad results.  So, we leave our own "pet" fawn to its own mother and will hopefully watch it grow up as a wild part of the Kansas Outback.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Cowkiller

     This is one intriguing insect.  Usually called a "velvet ant" this is actually a wingless wasp.  In fact it is the wingless female and it can pack a powerful sting.  The sting is so painful, it has earned this insect the name of "cowkiller."  Supposedly it hurts so badly it could kill a cow.  Well I don't want to find out.  But as you can see in the video, they are usually running away from you.  They aren't aggressive so aren't a threat unless you try to step on one barefooted or pick one up.  The close up was of one I had frozen for preservation.  
     These wasps are parasites on other wasps--especially the giant cicada killers.  The cicada killer stings a cicada and takes it to a hole where an egg is laid on the cicada and the young cicada killer then will feed on the cicada.  But, just when the young cicada killer is in a pupae stage, the cowkiller (velvet ant female) comes into the hole and doubles down on the parasite plan by laying an egg on the pupae.  The cowkiller larvae feeds on the cicada killer pupae which had fed on the cicada.  Now isn't that special?!  Oh, one other cool thing about these animals is that if you pin it down with a twig, it makes a squeeking sound.  Nature is so incredibly fascinating in the Kansas Outback.  

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Armadillo Antics

   Been seeing any armadillos around?  Chances are that you have, particularly if you live in the southern half of Kansas.  The Nine-banded Armadillo has been steadily expanding its range northward in recent years. Out in the southern Kansas Outback, the armadillo has been commonly seen, but even here, this critter has become more prevalent.   According to the Kansas Mammals Atlas (google it), the furthest northern record in Kansas is in Rooks County near Zurich.  Many animals have been demonstrating climate change even before some of the sophisticated science behind such evidence of the Antarctica ice coring.  The northward expansion of this species is another harbinger of this phenomenon.  
   This is a very interesting animal in that it uniquely produces quadruplets, always.  While often a nuisance for well-manicured lawns, the animal does eat grubs so is a natural insect control--and provides some unwanted aeration for the yard.  As seen in the video, they are approachable and have poor eyesight.  However, they have a good sense of smell and often raise up on their hind legs to get a sniff of any intruders.  Then they are likely to jump up a couple of feet before running off.  The Nine-banded Armadillo--another interesting feature of the Kansas Outback.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Killer Snake

     To avid herpetologists who find so much to admire with such fascinating animals as snakes, it seems silly that so many people are afraid of them.  I found this young bullsnake in the driveway this morning.  Since it seemed quite lively, I decided to "play" with it a while.  Better yet, I thought the encounter might yield a good teaching opportunity.  Often, finding a bullsnake on the road results in the snake putting on quite a display of hissing, striking and even rattling its tail as if it were a rattlesnake.  I usually find that after a few seconds of these aggressive attempts, the snake can be easily picked up and calms down immediately.  All of the dramatic aggression is just a bluff--most of the time.  But this young bullsnake was up for a fight.  I wouldn't normally just let a snake bite me but I thought this might be a good demonstration that non-venomous snakes are really quite harmless, even if they do bite.  As you can see in this short clip, I let this one at me but its really not a big deal.  But, they do have very sharp but small teeth and can easily make little cuts and make you bleed.  The biggest threat is possible infection so washing thoroughly is always a good idea when handling any wild animals, especially if they've happened to take a little bite out of you.  
After having some fun with this youngster, I simply picked it up to admire and take some more pictures.  Yeah sure, they cause a stir with some folks.  But, I think they are the most graceful and beautiful of animals--one of the masterpieces of natural selection.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Liz and Julie check a mist net over a small stream for bats.
Big Brown Bat

     Julie (in red) and Liz (in green) were up from Texas Tech University to collect some bats in the Red Hills and I was fortunate to be an assistant.  Both are in their doctorate programs at the university.  Bats are under significant threats from White Nose Syndrome and continued habitat modifications and misinformation about them.  Of the Kansas 15 species, over half of them occur in the Red Hills.  They come out to feed along streams and over ponds at night with peak activities from dusk until about midnight and then again just before dawn.  They live in caves, barns, abandoned houses and outbuildings along with old cellars and cracks in canyon walls.  This Big Brown Bat was among three species caught a few nights ago in these mist nets which are also used to catch birds in daytime by ornithologists.  Night is not a bad time to work in this searing heat but its always a good time to see all the nocturnal creatures.  Armadillos, raccoons, Barred Owls and an interesting assortment of moths, dragonflies, spiders and coyotes also kept company.  You can't ask for more in an interesting night in the Kansas Outback.  

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Roadside Companions

     A few posts ago, I brought up the issue of what seems to be unnecessary roadside mowing.  A friend and colleague classes such over-ambitious activity as "recreational mowing."  On our morning bike ride today, we were favored with American Goldfinches as they picked through the seeds of prairie sunflowers.  This is the prize we can have if we leave the country and highway roadsides to their capability to flower and attract wildlife.  The goldfinches fly along with us as we roll along, intermittently perching and pecking out the seeds.  Stopping to take better closeups, I was allowed to watch within a few feet of this goldfinch as it picked through the morning groceries. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Thirsty Deer

     This summer is one which may pose some serious problems for wildlife.  Just as a severe winter may impose harsh setbacks for some species, drought also will impact populations.  There are fewer flowers, therefore fewer insects to feed hungry chicks.  There's less cover to provide nesting success and forage--less browse, less water for sustaining critters.  But, these conditions also may make it easier to observe wildlife.  This doe and fawn have become regular morning visitors to our small frog/bird pond.  There's not a lot of water around here so about anything supplied attracts thirsty visitors.  Supplying just a pan of water will attract songbirds and other small animals.  Put a rock in the bottom of the pan to give birds something to stand on while bathing.  If you have a way to provide a little bit of dripping water into a small pool or pan, birds are really attracted.  If you have a small frog/bird pond, you could attract a doe and fawn.  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Martin Mania

Yes, it could be out of a Hitchcock movie.  But, some of the coolest wildlife spectacles don't always happen in the outback.  Sometimes they are in the middle of the city.  In this case Wichita.  For several years now, Purple Martins, gathering from points far and wide, have been congregating at the Via Christi parking lot, along with local birders, at dusk this time of year.  They are staging, gathering in large groups for the start of their long journey south for the winter.  (These birds give us hope that this summer will be over someday!)  I happened to catch this impressive show last night and hoped to give you a feel for the numbers and noise of the event. Typically, to see such large flocks of songbirds, one would have to wait until winter when the millions of Red-winged Blackbirds concentrate in places such as Cheyenne Bottoms as they have in the past.  European Starlings can also demonstrate in some pretty impressive numbers and often in consort with blackbirds.  But, to see tens of thousands of Purple Martins as they circle to roost in the tree row on the east edge of that parking lot is truly fascinating---and quite noisy.  Its heartening to see so many since the species had been dealt crushing blows several years ago from a very cool spring after they had arrived from winter migration.  Looks like they are rebounding in fine shape at least for this population.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Magic of Streams

I believe there is no better solution to Nature Deficit Disorder, coined by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, then a small stream.  Its also the best solution to beating the heat in this weather oven we are in.  Get yourself to the nearest creek and jump in.  Explore.  Find treasures in the sand and gravel.  Look up the creatures you see and find.  With proper adult supervision, a small stream offers heaven on Earth to a kid of any age.  

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Roadrunner Predictor

     It's hot--a bit abnormally hot but then again we are still generally warming from the last ice age.  The real question is if this longer term warming is being accelerated by human activities.  I leave it at that but our local roadrunners tell us two things about climate change.  First, the immediate climate (weather) is that it is hot and "Roadie," named by my grandson, demonstrates how he dissipates heat--by panting in the shade and fluffing his back feathers in the same manner in which he will try to collect heat in the winter.  In the long term, Greater Roadrunners have been expanding their range northward over the past couple of decades, an indication of milder winters since they are typically a more southern US species.  The recent addition of regular roadrunners to our yard over the past three years has permitted opportunity for ample pictures, videos and study.  I'll try to get on to other subjects but sometimes its hard when these clowns of the bird world keep showing up and showing off.   

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Growing Roadrunners

Yes, we are growing roadrunners at our place.  While we had one failed nest a couple months ago which I believe was depredated by crows, we had this apparently new Greater Roadrunner show up in recent weeks.  This one is not Cory, our regular who has been around for three years.  Nor is it Gerry, the male which showed up last winter to be Cory's mate.  These are interesting and fun to have around to observe.  Our grandson named this one "Roadie."  We really don't name all our wildlife but made exceptions for these nearly "pet" wild animals. They are voracious grasshopper eaters.  Unfortunately, our lizard population has suffered from the roadrunners but it's been enjoyable watching these goofy birds.  

Monday, July 4, 2011

Wild Hand Pets

We finally received a nice rain.  So with some grandkids here, we went herping.  Finding a nice-sized slider was a treat on this 4th of July for Paxon (5) and Adaira (almost 3).  They illustrate why herps (amphibians, reptiles and turtles) are so popular with kids.  Most are relatively safe to handle with a little bit of knowledge and supervision from adults.  Herps provide an excellent way to introduce children to nature--live wildlife they can hold and learn about.  Kansas children can learn easily about herps through various sources but one excellent one is the Kansas Herpetofaunal Atlas.  Just help them google it to look under various groups of herps and see the amazing diversity of life we have here.  Much of it is easily accessible for small hands and young minds.  In today's culture of nature-starved children, herps offer an excellent portal to discovery and knowledge about the Kansas Outback.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Everhart's plesiosaur femur

One of the most fascinating things about the Kansas Outback is the ancient wildlife.  I was recently fortunate to spend a day with Mike Everhart, author of Oceans of Kansas, and Adjunct Curator of Paleontology at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays.  Mike and I explored the Kiowa shale of south-central Kansas.  This part of the shale is in what is known as the lower Cretaceous.  Back then, waaaaaaaay back then about 100 million years ago, Kansas was covered by a sea.  And in that sea was a wealth of animal life.  This part of the sea was shallow and, therefore, had lots of clams, oysters, snails and many other invertebrates common to shallower waters.  But, occasionally, a shark or plesiosaur swam into the shallows.  We were on the hunt for these vertebrates as well as some ammonites, spiral-shaped shells which looked similar to the modern day Nautilus in our current oceans.  We scored on a plesiosaur femur and two vertebrae.   Mike explained this is probably a rear flipper femur from a short-necked plesiosaur. The wildlife of the Kansas Outback is fascinating, both current day and of the pre-historic past!  Learn more about the ancient wildlife of Kansas by googling Oceans of Kansas.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Roadrunner Summer

     Man it's hot today--109 degrees.  Our "pet" duck, Mallory enjoys a short swim in the dog's water bowl.  And, there were THREE roadrunners around--all adults.  We've had the two around (see earlier postings), but another one showed up today.  I fed one a somewhat smelly, dead mouse which was in a live trap in the shed.  Found the mouse, tossed it, saw the roadrunner, refound the dead mouse and then tossed it by the roadrunner.  It looked it over, walked around it and finally picked it up and dashed to the backyard with it.  I've found roadrunners absolutely crave mice in the winter so was interested to see if this one would even look at this slightly stale rodent.  Ummmm, sure did!       A while later, one of the roadrunners was out back.  I took some pictures of it "panting" as a normal behavior to dissipate heat.  Then I watched as it approached Mallory bathing in the water pan.  Wondering what scene was about to be presented, I started the video.  The behavior I captured is one I've seen before and wondered if it was part of mating display behavior or feeding behavior.  I found out today.  The roadrunner rips around in short circles displaying its wings and tail feathers, showing a lot of white.  The grasshoppers scatter and the roadrunner chases them down.  One mystery solved.  More to come in this hot, hot summer.  Mallory has another friend.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Biking The Red Hills

Ahhhhh the Kansas Outback.  My favorite place on Earth is my own Kansas Outback, the Kansas Red Hills.  Last weekend was one of those soul inspiring experiences with this special place.  We often take bike rides in the Red Hills of south-central Kansas.  Its a magical country, a best kept secret of absolute natural splendor.  Bicycling in Kansas is sometimes challenging because of weather, unsafe roads, and limited trails in some areas.  But, in places such as the Red Hills, one can find county roads and some blacktops for pleasure riding.  Even in the heat of summer, very early morning rides treat you to splendid sunrises over a picturesque landscape with plenty of wildlife to enjoy along with the cooler morning temperatures.  And, in beautiful places such as the Red Hills, peace and solitude can revive your spirits and make you feel glad you live in such a wonderfully natural state.  You can find a number of bicycling trails in Kansas by going to or just by discovering your own special outback of Kansas.  Good riding!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Ball of Bees

Lee Ann inspects the "ball of bees" we had loaded into the hive body (see couple posts ago.)  This was from a swarm which showed up near our other bee hives and which may have originated from one of them.  Inspections of the hives later showed they all seemed full of bees but apparently one of them had split and produced this swarm.   Its swarming season as we've had three in the yard over the past few days.  Bees in a swarm are typically easy going and fairly easy to handle.  For this swarm, I simply cut down a cedar tree which I've been planning to cut anyway.  Then I cut the small branch all the bees were on along with their queen and we shook the bees into the hive body.  They like their new home and will soon be making more worker bees, drones and, hopefully, honey for the future.  This clip shows a transfer of the "ball of bees" from a temporary hive body to their permanent new home.  Sugar water is sprayed on them which calms them.  But, you can see how relatively easy they are to move around at this stage.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

In recent years, Deb Miller, Secretary of Kansas Department of Transportation, made a bold move.  She supported a plan to reduce mowing along Kansas highways.  As you drive your highways this summer, notice which ones have strips of wildlife habitat remaining beyond the adjacent 15 feet or so of right-of-way.  With over 150,000 miles of highways in the state, this translates into a whole lot of blooming wildflowers, impressive tall grasses allowed to their full height and seed heads, and significantly more wildlife habitat along some stretches of road otherwise barren of cover.  Now is the time to see such progressive policies extended to county roads.  Besides beautifying roadsides and providing wildlife habitat, this saves taxpayer money.  Spot spraying for identified noxious weeds and mowing at intersections for traffic safety reasons certainly make sense.  For the most part, the typical carpet bombing approach towards county roadsides does not make sense.  Look at the picture of very beautiful plains sunflowers.  It makes no sense to mow them down or spray them simply because of a handful of musk thistle or bindweed in the next mile of road.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Swarming Bees

When a honey bee hive gets large enough, the queen will leave the hive and draw thousands of worker bees with her.  This is how they expand populations.  They end up as a "ball of bees" hanging in some tree or building and causing alarm and excitement for a day or so until they find a more suitable cavity for their new hive. Being a bee keeper's helper.  I just assisted my wife in gathering this swarm.  In the video, you can see perhaps as many as 20,000 worker bees (all non-reproducing females) concentrating around a queen bee in a cedar tree.   Later in the evening, I cut down that tree,which was an intention anyway, and we were able to shake the ball of bees into a hive body.  The old hive will develop a new queen and new drones and worker bees and this new hive will hopefully be a strong one as well and we'll have lots of honey this fall!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bluebirds Doing Their Thing

I was sayin, you just can't beat the Eastern Bluebird as a personable species.  Having them in the yard while they raise young is a special treat.  Both parents catch worms and insects while raising their clutch--in this case three.  Typically they will have 5 mouths to feed.  Ours will soon be fledging and will then hang with their parents for a period of time and expect further handouts.  Bluebirds--fun to watch, pleasant to hear, rewarding to raise.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Baby blues!

The bluebird eggs have hatched after two weeks and these nestlings are coming along great.  They will be fledging in just a few days.  The mother bluebird still broods the young nestlings for several days after hatching.  Both parents forage for worms, moths and other insects.  In the picture, you can see the primaries developing, meaning flight is not all that far off.  Next, a close look at the bluebirds in the yard. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Raising bluebirds

I think there is not a more personable bird than an Eastern Bluebird.  I have a couple of nests in boxes I put up near my home and have been raising bluebirds for quite a few years now.   The interaction we've had helping many bluebirds raise dozens of fledglings is shere joy.  Eastern bluebirds are pretty, have a pleasant thrush-like song and are easy to get close to.  Although some hang around all winter, the spring brings new ones from the southern US and they begin nesting activities relatively early, by March.  With once-depressed populations, this species is obviously helped by direct human intervention.  The cause and positive effect of placing bluebird boxes is incredibly satisfying.   If you have a bit of Kansas outback, with sparse trees and open country, you could have a good chance of raising your own bluebirds.  I would urge you to think about it no matter what your outdoor interest is.  Sure, its one of those warm/fuzzy/feel good things to do for wildlife but it is very fulfilling and fun.  Its an excellent way to feel like you are having a direct, positive impact on a very desirable species to have around.  The mother bluebird will be on these eggs about 14 days before hatching.  Next time on the blog--baby bluebirds!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Laughing Chicken

The prairie chickens are still booming but I'm moving on to other obsessions.  But, I must share one last glimpse of a special Greater Prairie Chicken near Claflin which put on quite a show for us at the recent Wings n' Wetland Festival at Great Bend.  This fella seemed to be laughing at the strange box (our blind) with the little rectangular holes with some weird things inside.  I took three groups of 8-9 people out for two mornings and one afternoon.  Many of these people were not accustomed to such crude outside accommodations but did just fine.  Having to stay put for a couple of hours without much comfort is normal for wildlife photographers and hunters but quite a new experience for most.  However, the thrill of watching prairie chickens doing their performance on the grassland dance floor makes inconveniences such minor issues.  Can't wait for next March now!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Alien Egg

Spring is such an incredible time of year with the resurgence of life, the greening of the land, the flowering of plants, and...gobbling turkeys. So much of what we enjoy during spring turkey season deals with other cool things in nature such as towhees shuffling through duff under a cedar tree in front of our pop-up blind. There are tufted titmice flitting about, pairs of Canada geese and Mallards coursing just above the riparian woodland of which we lurk, waiting for that lust-filled Tom to be fooled. This is kind of like virtual life. Heck, it is real life. Nature really cannot be matched. Even though I've been a biologist all my life, I'm always amazed at how much I don't know about nature. There's such a diversity of life and I love discovering new mysteries. I present one here and ask you to tell me what you think I found on our last turkey hunt. Is it an egg case from the "Alien" monsters?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spooky mornings.

Don't watch this video. Just listen. Listen to those strange, ghost-like and spooky hoots and cackles. Just as first twilight breaks the blackness of night, strange sounds haunt the morning. Imagine if this was your first experience at a prairie chicken booming ground. What if someone blindfolded you and brought you out to this prairie chicken lek without you knowing where you were? Its as if some little gremlins are out there mocking you, laughing at you. There is a plethora of outstanding videos and photographs of prairie chickens doing their amazing booming ground displays. But I wanted to try to share the amazing experience of hearing the strange noises of the lek in almost total darkness when the birds first arrive. You have to get up pretty early to beat the prairie chickens to their dance floor. They fly and walk in and almost immediately start cooing, cackling, whistling, and fighting. They hope for a chance to attract a hen and mate. Its a ritual played out in the prairie for eons. Few people get the chance to experience this fantastic phenomenon--a magic that starts way before dawn for a full two spring months. If you get a chance to experience any of the magic, don't pass it up. You'll never regret the fantastic experience of some of nature's best prairie drama.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The "Late" Bird

This is my kind of bird. Not an early bird at all. Doesn't get up as early as our noisy robins. Hangs in Kansas into early May--not in a hurry. The Harris's Sparrow migrates waaaaaaay up into the Canadian Northwest Territories, into the sub-artic boreal forest, to begin nesting. I wouldn't be in a hurry to go up there either until nearly summer! The Harris's Sparrow was named by John James Audubon in honor of his 1834 traveling companion, Edward Harris. These birds, along with their wintering companion, the White-crowned Sparrow, grace our yard all winter with their soul-comforting whistling. Kansas is in the heart of their winter range--a somewhat limited range. Folks on each coast flock to Kansas to help "tic" this beautiful sparrow off their life list. The Harris's Sparrow, just one more natural aspect of our prairie state that makes it so special. This male greeted our Easter morning along with a horde of his hungry companions.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Fire--friend of the grasslands

A neighbor’s burn on a beautiful evening today was a backdrop to the wonderful reclamation of the prairie. Fire goes with prairie like an old blues song, red beans and rice. The crackling of a prescribed burn is as comforting to a grassland man as chocolate syrup to vanilla ice cream---or red beans to rice. To those who appreciate the prairie, and it would be a magical dream if all Kansans appreciated this fairly unique state heritage, fire is a rebirth--that is if it is a controlled burn. There is a strong distinction. The two are juxtaposed between total disaster and total reclamation—the first regretted, the second celebrated. This short video represents the latter.

Publish Post

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cory, Hoppy, Him, Her

My first blogging was your introduction to Cory our "pet" roadrunner. He actually turned into a she as I was able to discern subtle differences in the calls and appearance with a mate which showed up this winter. Cory first appeared in our yard three winters ago at which time I started tossing pieces of deer meat to "him." Eventually, I'd coaxed "him" up on the deck and ultimately to my lap, eating ground trimmings of venison. The near domestication of roadrunners is well known in the southwest states where they've thrived historically. We have more showing up in Pratt County every winter. (I think roadrunners are telling us more about climate change then science perhaps.) Last summer, Cory was spotted by myself and neighbors limping. I renamed Cory "Hoppy" temporarily. However, as you can see in the picture, Cory exhibits a lame left foot which he carries like a club foot. I don't know what got to this bird but he escaped obviously--perhaps barely. How do I know this is the same bird which showed up three winters ago the first time? Cory responded to my whistle of which I had her trained to the first winter. I whistle, she comes running for a free handout. And she still does, even this week as I was using up the last of my winter's supply of deerburger. I'm still hoping for a nest. Next...the failed first nesting attempt.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cory the pet roadrunner

The Kansas Outback blog will be a celebration of life on the prairie, an exhibition of fascinating interactions between humans and wildlife. There will be stories, anecdotes and education from the wilds of country living to the urban backyard. Starting off will be a personal friendship I've developed with our "pet" roadrunner. Cory, named by my granddaughter, started showing up three winters ago. Just coming off his third winter visit, he's become habituated (by me) to coming up on my lap to feed on scrap deer meat ground into "deerburger."