Thursday, May 30, 2013

Touring the Red Hills

     If you go on a Nature Conservancy of Kansas tour of the Red Hills you will see lots of cool wildlife, sounds and scenery.  But you will also participate.  On our most recent trip, the group got to experience a Western (Black) Rat Snake up close and personal.  Here, Ron, who is an experienced herpetologist and a tour participant, helps wrangle this beautiful animal.  

Ruth Palmer, our excellent group leader and special assistant for our Kansas chapter, even takes her turn at demonstrating proper snake handling technique. 

And here is our beautiful animal, found sunning on the red sand road on the Scenic Drive of The Red Hills just southwest of Medicine Lodge.  

There are so many things about the Red Hills to show but today the subject is our special serpentine friend who indulged us on a day he was just trying to soak up some rays.  I'm sure he's still quite warm and happy in the special place I call The Kansas Outback. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Spring Collage in the Red Hills

Spring collage in the Kansas Outback.  

An Ornate Box Turtle male, with the red eyes and red marks on the front legs, welcomes a Red Hills morning in company of Stemless Hymenoxis.

A Virginia Rail emerges from hiding in the bulrushes to pose for a patient photographer.  This little secretive bird makes one of the strangest calls of all birds.  Here's a youtube site to hear and see this unusual bird: 

Buckley's Penstamon and the Western Rat Snake are companions in the Red Hills.  They may be oblivious to each other but are fascinating elements of the incredible diversity of the Kansas Outback.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

High Drama on the High Plains

     Severe thunderstorms are the biggest drama on the prairie.  They cause incredible damage, loss of property and life.  They also provide fascination and awe.  Thunderstorms don't always produce tornadoes, damaging winds, and suffering or grief.  It depends on which side of the storm you may be experiencing.  There's little can compare with the light and thunder show these climatic monsters can offer.  Here's a taste of the majestic cloud visiting us this evening.

     We do take these storms seriously.  But when it seems apparent we will not be sucked up into any swirling mass of cumulonimbus bluster, we simply enjoy some of nature's finest theater.  We sit on our porch eating homemade bread with butter and honey and drink wine.  Hooray for mother nature and her tempestuous tantrums --with due caution given for unfortunate loss and destruction of course.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Bully Bullsnake ---- NOT

     Driving down the road you see it sprawled on the road.  Snake! your passenger yells.  As you skid to a halt,  this serpent appears to be a full six feet long.  As you approach, it coils and starts to hiss and strike at you as if its going to kill you right there.  This Bullsnake is even rattling its tail to try to trick you into thinking its a rattlesnake.  Pretty ingenious!  But you are a herpetologist and have seen these antics many times.  Its a bluff, a ruse.  In Kansas, excepting real rattlesnakes and copperheads, no other snakes are any threat to humans. But these guys really put on a good show.  For herpers, this is classic entertainment at its best.  By far, most Bullsnakes which supply such dramatic performances almost immediately calm down and let you pick them up once they realize their huffy, belligerent attitude isn't scaring you away.  Oh what fun!

   Now this video has some audio problems for sure but I just wanted to share some of the behavior you'll see from this fascinating reptile.  Hissing, striking, rattling their tail, and huffing are all part of the act.  Oh yeah, they might actually get you with their tiny sharp teeth once in a while but just wash and you'll be absolutely fine.  These animals are quite entertaining and are one of the most common reptiles of the Kansas Outback.  (Going to invest in a good microphone honest.)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Spring Beauty in the Hills

     The Red Hills are rejoicing spring once again.  While the wildflowers are behind their normal blooming progression because of such a cool early spring, they are starting to express their beauty.  Still considered in drought, much of Kansas rangelands have received some much-needed rains this spring which certainly encouraged wildflowers to get to their business.  The natural floral displays of the Red Hills are of the most spectacular in Kansas particularly because of the red soil backgrounds which set the natural bouquets against a brilliant earthly canvas.  

     Stemless Hymenoxis and Missouri Locoweed are currently greeting visitors to the Red Hills of South-central Kansas.   Now is the time to get to this enchanting part of Kansas to enjoy this natural phenomenon.