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

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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

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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

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     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

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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.