Sunday, December 9, 2012

Calling All Gobblers

Quite a wake-up call in the deer blind this morning!  Seems we set up beneath a huge flock of gobblers.  

Deer(Turkey) Woods

Whose woods these are I think I know,
a quiet place Robert Frost would go,
but here we sit in quiet peace,
disturbed by noisy turkey show;

My wife must think it very queer,
I chose to set our deer blind here,
when all we’ve heard and seen this morn,
are many gobblers all quite near;

I give my frozen hands a shake,
to try to warm for shooting sake,
but the only permits yet  to fill,
are for some deer not here this date;

These woods are certainly dark and deep,
we seek venison not feathered meat,
but escapes us now as we retreat,
escapes us now as we retreat.

And of course, later on, they all come right to us.  Number of deer tags to fill--4.  Number of turkey tags to fill--ZERO!

Monday, November 19, 2012

More Gifts of Fall

Ode to Sandhill Cranes
Harken to the skies above
To calling cries of birds I love
Carols of  ancient songs they sing
Lift my spirit both fall and spring;

They glide along invisible seas
In  wistful undulating V’s
Homeward bound to southern shores
To spend winter there once more;

To hear the warbler tweet its tune
Or listen to the woeful loon
Or so many other feathered refrains
Cannot match that of cranes;

Oh dream I do of lofty flights
With gangly groups of such delight
To float on graceful wings of hope
Such inner peace which they evoke.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Crash Cardinal

Meet "Crash."  

     He came to our place a couple of weeks ago and has spent several hours a day crashing into our windows--particularly one on the backside of the house. He never injures himself, only hitting the glass hard enough to make a little sound and scare his mirror image.  In my past job as a nongame biologist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, I often talked to folks who had similar issues with over-aggressive birds at their homes.  Birds are territorial, even in winter.  They come to your house, especially if you have feed for them, they see other competitors and want to chase them off.  The competitor in the mirror just won't leave though.  Every day he's still there, vying for the same space at the same place.  

     Crash is driven to keep trying to drive his false competitor away.  Is it a problem?  It can get old hearing and watching him continually crashing into a window.  It does provide some entertainment and certainly some opportunity for close photography.  But, feeling sorry for him, we closed a rag in the window and that seemed to put a stop to his silly, mis-directed behavior.  Crash seemed to have gone on to other Don Quixote windows to fight.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Fall Collage

     Summer's brutal heat is over and yields to fall beauty.  Life prepares for procreation and hibernation.  Flowers expend their final energies attracting insects which attract other insects which attract birds.  Wildlife is enduring drought just as it has for eons--the fittest gaining advantage over the weakest and carrying on at least some offspring.  Beauty is mostly irrelevant to wildlife.  The most beautiful aspect of a nonchalant fauna is only in the attractive attributes of a mate which prompts the reproduction necessary for sustaining species.  Humans retain the unique quality of appreciating beauty for beauty's sake.  We find intrinsic qualities in plants and animals for the features, colors, and behavior they display to our eyes and other senses.  Aren't you glad for that?! 

Monarch butterfly on dotted gayfeather.

Egg-laden praying mantis on prairie sunflower.

Red-breasted nuthatch visits on the way south.

White-tails appreciate a late summer drink at a small watering hole.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hissy Fit

     I know.  I know.  This is freaking some people out.  But this post is for those who not only appreciate snakes but also for those who just haven't had that much experience with them.  The Bullsnake (a.k.a.  Gopher Snake) is one of those wild animals with...personality.  You'll see these on the road and if you are a kind and intelligent person, you will avoid running them over.  They are harmless to humans and eat tons of mice.  When approached, they put on an amazing show.  From just lying on the road soaking up some rays, they will coil up, hiss, rattle their tail to try to make you think they are something they are not, and will try to appear as mean as possible so you will just LEAVE THEM ALONE.  As is so typical with Bullsnakes, once they've went through their repertoire of scare tactics and realize that they aren't working, they will simple give up.  They then let you pick them up.  Oh, one more trick...they will poop on you as a last little defensive gimmick.  But after all the antics, after all the fake "I'm gonna kill you" behavior, they can end up being the best pet a kid ever had.  After their brief taming down, they can be easily held and admired.  They don't bark or scratch the furniture and only eat once a week or so in the summer.  Mice can be easily caught and be provided as food, yielding yet another incredibly interesting opportunity for feeding observations.   But this day, on this sandy road, with temperatures climbing to the 80's, this personable Bullsnake gave a good show.  I named this one "Hissy" and then let it go on its way.  Go get those rodents Hissy!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Walking Sticks

      One of the coolest wild hand pets is the walking stick.  Kansas is favored with a couple of species.  By looking like a stick, they are able to easily conceal themselves from predators, earning them their name.  While they can be found on various grasses and broad-leaf plants, they really like multi-flowered scurfpea (wild alfalfa).  

     Scout the countryside.  Find a pasture with some taller grass and forbs (broadleaf plants) and search for this leggy insect.  Sweeping the vegetation with an insect net is an easy way to collect walking sticks.  These are great amusements for kids of all ages.  Harmless, they are fun to allow them to explore their temporary human habitat.  These are just another of the very interesting wild creatures of the Kansas prairie which are very easy for handling--another simple cure for nature deficit disorder.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Traveling Tarantulas

Its nearly September and time for the Texas Brown Tarantulas to begin their annual fall dispersal.  Typically, the males are seen crossing roads in the Red Hills and other parts of southern Kansas this time of year.  Stan Roth was kind enough to correct my mistake (thank you) on description of the sex originally as female in my first posting.  It is, indeed, the males that do the roaming.  

These large spiders can raise up on their hind legs and act very menacing but it's generally just a big show.  Not totally harmless, they do have fangs although it takes a lot of harassment to get them to fang you.  Its not a strong venom though and cannot kill you.  They do have hairs on their abdomen which can be somewhat irritating to skin.  They do have enemies though.

The Tarantula Hawk is actually a wasp.  They were also hunting this blacktop road this evening, looking for a tarantula to sting and then carry off to a hole.  It will bury the tarantula in the hole with an egg so that the young wasp will have a first meal as it emerges.  Its always an entertwining and exciting drama in the Kansas Outback.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Look What I Caught!

      It's really hard to match the excitement of actually holding a Texas Horned Lizard you caught yourself.  These are some of the coolest live hand pets a kid can experience.  Totally harmless, the misnamed "horny toad" is an incredibly interesting lizard.  While their populations are under threats in other states and on special lists of concern, the horny toad is still quite numerous in the Kansas Outback.  Preferring sandy or rocky soils with sparse cover, they  eat mainly ants.  They flatten and spread their bodies when approached by predators and humans.  Their cryptic camouflage makes them hard to see unless they move, which they don't very much.  Hawks will eat them as well as the Greater Roadrunner which is quite common in the Red Hills and other parts of southern Kansas.  

     Named for the sharp spikes around their head, the Texas Horned Lizard, will try to twist its head and neck to discourage holding.  They are fun to temporarily play with but are very hard to keep in captivity.  They will play dead when turned over and twitch to make it seem they are dying.  On rare occasions, they may squirt a drop of blood from their eyes.  This is not known to occur in the wild but has been observed by handling them.  In hand and flattened, their sides can be pushed up and down where they will "hold the pose."  Nothing in the cyber world can come close to matching the joy and amazement a kid can experience through a real life encounter with a horny toad!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Grasshopper Wrangling

     Give your kids some Vitamin N (Nature).  Its so easy.  Catch some grasshoppers and look in the Insects of Kansas insect guide to find the most common insects.  Whether in your back yard or a wilder landscape in the Kansas Outback, catching grasshoppers is a time-tested by kids activity.  An insect net makes it easier but hand catching makes for a fun sport and plenty of exercise.  With nature deficit disorder at epidemic levels, its so easy to prescribe some simple grasshopper chasing as a perfect remedy.  With a wide variety of grasshoppers available, there is ample opportunity to challenge children with fairly easy identification games.  Here, it was easy to find the Carolina grasshopper in the guide.  Even in the summer heat, some fun can be found along with a great learning the awesome Kansas Outback

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

It's so hot...

It's so hot, I think I'll lay on this branch a while.  Whew.  Well that's not going to do it.

Maybe I'll try this.  The dog had dug this hole and was lying there.  Oh yeah, that's better--a little cooler.  This better help or I'm going to look at that bird bath very seriously!

Friday, June 22, 2012

TNC is going Underground in the Outback

     Lance Hedges, Conservation Director of The Nature Conservancy of Kansas, expresses a happy face in a cave in the Red Hills of South-central Kansas.  Most of the caves of Kansas are located in the gypsum formations of Barber and Comanche counties.  The uniqueness of these features and the wildlife they harbor add to the importance of the area to the conservancy as well as the ranchers of the Red Hills.  In a recent trip, several TNC members along with local landowners experienced the thrill of going underground.    This is a special privilege as nearly all the caves in Kansas are on private land and have been kept in relatively good and safe condition because of being protected from having too much human use.  
     Among the half dozen or so bat species which frequent the Red Hills cave areas the Pallid Bat I'm holding is among the most fascinating.  It has a particularly interesting feeding habit of alighting on the ground at night to chase down scorpions, centipedes and ground beetles.  Occasionally using a cave or two, these light colored bats prefer to squeeze into cracks in canyon walls.  There are 17 known species of bats in Kansas and several are known only from the Red Hills region.  Bats are important indicators of a healthy environment and are nature's natural insect control agents.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tumble Bug

Tumble Bug Boogie
(Sung to “Old Time Rock and Roll”)

Just give me poo that I can shape and roll
Fresh manure that really sooths the soul
The kind that I can put into a hole
Just give me poo that I can shape and roll;

Don’t try to steal it, you’ll be sad to know
I’ll fight you for it, better let it go
My mate is helping me with the load
Just give me poo that I can shape and roll;

I’m takin it too a really special place
A few inches down, a darkened space
A male and female coordinate rolling of the ball.
Where our young will have that special taste
Of their first meal a sphere of bovine waste;

Call me a tumble bug or what you will
Say I’m disgusting say my stink could kill
There’s only one thing I desire to fill
And that’s a hole with this poo ball I built.

Just give me poo that I can shape and roll
Fresh manure that really sooths the soul
The kind that I can put into a hole
Just give me poo that I can shape and roll.

     Ok, that was taking a little liberty with a Bob Seeger tune but these little guys are truly fascinating.  Sure, they roll balls of manure around but that's just their gig.  That's how they live.  These dung beetles are in a family called Scarab Beetles.  Their scientific name is Canthon pilularius.  They relatively quickly find fresh dung (mostly cow dung in Kansas) and carve out a circular portion.  Then they fashion it into a sphere which they will roll off for a distance of several feet and bury it for food.  If they are a mated pair, the female helps, laying eggs with the buried ball.  The eggs hatch and, walla, a free ball of fresh food is right there for the hatchlings.  Yummy.  In pastures, you can find abandoned balls of dried cow dunk resulting from abandonment by a frustrated male or for some other unknown reason.  Look more closely for activity and you might be able to enjoy several minutes of dung beetle watching--it will be a natural show you will find very entertaining!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Taming Tarantulas

     As the video explains, this is a Texas brown tarantula.  This is probably the most common of two to three species found in Kansas and is prevalent along the southern third tier of counties.  I found this one in my favorite place, the Red Hills.  The males, as this one is, will be found starting usually in June moving around looking for females.  A more major movement occurs in September when numerous Tarantulas can be seen crossing roads at certain times.  They are typically quite docile and can make interesting pets although the males usually don't live past a year.  They have fangs and can bite.  I've not experienced that and hope not to but these animals are quite harmless.  They, however, can eject hairs on their abdomen which can be irritating to skin and eyes although I've not had that issue with them yet.  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Snakes are So Cool!

     Even though it was a bit windy this weekend, herps were active. We found several snakes and lots of lizards in our own little Kansas Outback.  The longnose snake was reported the post prior by grand-daughter Teilee.  I re-reported it with this assortment because of the nice mix of species.  The lizard is a six-lined racerunner (I misreported as a prairie racerunner in the video, sorry.)  Snakes always evoke interest and responses, sometimes positive, sometimes negative.  I simply exhibit them here to convey how cool they can be.  Herps are a natural magnet for kids' attention, as well as for most adults.  Experiencing nature is so easy in Kansas and most other places.  Few wild things evoke so much interest as herps.  Learning about them is so easy too.  Google Kansas Herp Atlas for all things cool and scientific about turtles, snakes, salamaders, lizards, toads and frogs in the state.  The book you will want to buy or reference is Amphibians, Reptiles, and Turtles in Kansas by Joseph T. Collins, Suzanne L. Collins and Travis Taggart.  Discover the cure for Nature Deficit Disorder--befriend a herp!  (Videography by Andi Brunson-Williams)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Longnose Snake for Nature Deficit Disorder

Today was a great herp day in the Kansas Outback.  Here, Teilee talks about the Longnose Snake she found.  Its only the second record in Pratt County.  This is a Threatened Species on the Kansas listings so its not very common and certainly less common north of the Red Hills and Southwest Kansas.  This is a harmless and beautiful snake of Kansas--one of the 38 species known for the state.  If Nature Deficit Disorder is the huge issue for children's education, herps are perhaps the best answer.  Once kids are taught about the five venomous snakes, there's virtually no herps which are very dangerous.  Small snakes in particular are always interesting to kids and lead to an endless series of questions and inquiry.  Its relatively easy to get near nature in Kansas.  The nearest park, backyard, public lake or wildlife area or your own special place in the Kansas Outback can yield incredible learning and entertainment for the whole family.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Red Hills Regalia

Rayless gailardia leads this roadside procession of Norton's and stiff flaxes along Sandy Creek Road in
 Barber County
       The Red Hills region is ablaze with wildflowers.  Suffering through 18 months of drought, the Red Hills as well as all of southwest Kansas has been brought to life again with recent rains.  Grasses and wildflowers survived in a mostly dormant condition last year.  But spring rains have awakened the prairie.  Nature's bouquet is in one of the most impressive presentations in many years.  This is an instance of when pictures alone help convey the beauty.  But, if you want to see some of the best palette of colors the Kansas prairie has to offer, this year is the year and now is the time.  From the earliest blooming Easter daisies, through the current profusion of various flaxes, evening primroses, penstemons, spiderwort and Indian blanket, the Red Hills floral display is dazzling.  Experience some of nature's finest natural exhibit which is now showing and will continue on through the year, contingent on the chance for more rains.  
Some more prairie eye candy:
Cobea penstamon
Echinacea (black sampson or snakeroot)

 Stiff flax

Monday, April 30, 2012

Happy Herpers

     The Kansas Herpetological Society held its spring field trip at Bourbon State Fishing Lake in Bourbon county and over a hundred people attended, mostly kids.  If you want to stir some excitement in the outdoors with kids, nothing beats a pile of herps.  Snakes, lizards, salamaders, turtles--you know, nature's hand pets.  (Excepting any rattlesnakes and copperheads of course.)   Those were captured as well and observed at a distance.  The crew of herpers spanned across a rocky prairie hillside looking under rocks for a chance to catch something lurking below.  A centipede, scorpion, beetles, ants and eventually a really cool snake or lizard.  This is nature's natural treasure hunt.  And the excitement doesn't end at the discovery.  The education lesson only starts then.  In the video, a young herper explains the virtures of a beautiful western rat snake to even younger herpers.  In another picture, Jesse admires his milksnake he just caught.  Having fun in the Kansas Outback is as easy as looking under rocks.  And watching these kids explore their world and developing a life-long love of these animals is pure joy for the adults as well.  In fact, its hard to tell the adults from the kids when the excitment level is practically the same.  Take your kid herping.  If you need help, check out the Kansas Herpetological Society on the web for all kinds of information and assistance.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

It's Miller Time

Like stars in the sky, an army of army cutworm moths flock from a favored honey locust tree roost.

What flitting flier thumps my window,
drawn to lights contained within now,
thousands want to enter in,
despite we’ve no desire of them.

Most consider them unwanted,
but yet they prosper quite undaunted,
in spite of large attempts to kill
army cutworms of fields they fill.

They come in waves to hide away
in any crevice they can stay,
protected from a cool night’s chill,
coming here to enter still.

While chasing down unwelcome guests,
I try to do my very best,
to attempt to be quite respectful,
of the massive numbers of this wildlife spectacle.

A closer look of a moth nectaring in a locust tree:

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Two Turtles

     Spring in the Kansas Outback is magical in so many ways.  Crappie are biting.  Morels are popping up.  Turkeys are gobbling.  And the early garden is really taking off.  Its also a time for the first wildflowers of the season and for the many amphibians, reptiles and turtles to begin activity.  As cold blooded animals, herps are dormant through the cold winter and with the first warm days of spring, begin to stir.  So it is with the state's turtles.  I came across these two turtles on the same road yesterday and decided to make them stars.  It was a good opportunity to compare as both of these species have hinged lower shells, the plastron.  The Ornate Box Turtle is the more colorful with black and yellow lines on its shell.  The Yellow Mud Turtle, although with a hinged lower shell, is not considered a box turtle--a turtle which can completely withdraw its head and legs and enclosed itself in its shell.  It has a rather plain, brownish-green carapace (upper shell.)  Another feature not evident in the video is that the Yellow Mud Turtle can emit a very strong musk which is a defense used to ward off predators--and humans who wish to play with them.  Another fascinating day in the Kansas Outback with some of nature's slowest but still very interesting animals.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Springtime in the Red Hills

     Its been a long, mild winter.  I've been away from my blog.  I'm ready for rebirth, for myself and the Red Hills I adore.  With an early spring and the rainfall we've had in the hills so far, the wildflowers are waiting to explode in glorious profusion.  Its been a tough 12 months.  Still officially in drought, the region begs for more precipitation.  But for now, there's enough to stimulate the season's first blossoms.  On a Permian road cut, on the Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway west of Medicine Lodge, the Bladderpods display their showy pride against the backdrop of the iron-rich red soils of the Permian formation.  If the rains continue, the grass, the wildflowers, the amphibians, the cattle, and the people of the Red Hills will rejoice.  If?  Otherwise, the residents of this enchanted land will tough it out until the drought is truly broken.