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.