Friday, August 23, 2013

Pollinator Party

    Ever seen a swarm of bees?  Its a pretty exciting natural phenomenon.  When a hive gets to a certain large population, the queen decides its time to split (literally) and take about half the worker bees (all female) with her to a new place.  So when you see a huge bunch of bees as shown in the first pic below, somewhere in the middle of all that buzzing is a queen bee who is intent on finding a new home with her "split" of bees.   

As is typical for swarms of honey bees, this mass of bees is only temporary, usually less than a day.

The bee keeper will climb the ladder and clip the limb with the swarm.  Then gently place the swarm with the queen in a hive body.  Hopefully, the queen will like the new surroundings and stay there.
Swarming bees are actually quite docile and take handling very well.  While their attending their queen, they don't get too upset being placed in a hive body with frames to make their new digs attractive.

When bees first swarm, thousands will be seen in a giant swirling mass.  This is just before they congregate where the queen landed as seen in the first picture.  If you ever have the opportunity to see this natural spectacle, watch and enjoy it.  See where the mass of bees end up.  Then call your area bee keeper as they will likely want to get the bees for a new hive.  Keeping bees is becoming even more important as pollinators such as honey bees are experiencing serious declines.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Fun Fungi

Its been a quite unusual August in the Kansas Outback for sure.  Record rainfall after over two years of sweltering drought has the prairie celebrating.  And some of the first to celebrate the welcome precipitation are the fungi.  All kinds of mushrooms are popping up in the grassland as well as woodland.  Most notable are the giant puffballs of the genus Calvatia.  Very noticeable by their large appearance, what you see is actually the fruiting body, the part that produces spores.  If you can find these fresh when they are pure white, they are very edible and quite good (an excellent recipe can be found below.)  

Clavatia species can be quite large, often appearing skull-like.  They are popping up all over with all the wet weather.
These giant puffballs can get even larger than this impressive one!

These giant puffballs prefer a shelterbelt to spew their spores.
Several species of mushrooms create "fairy rings."  These rings expand over years because of the underground parts of the mushroom moving from a central location to outward areas of new food sources.   Some can be quite large.  This is a fairly small one of only about 3 ft. diameter.

  The Meadow Mushroom, Agaricus campestris, is a very common "room" during this current wet late summer.  These are also very edible and quite good but one should be very careful on identification.  The very poisonous Amanitas (Destroying Angel) can destroy your liver.  They also have the evident collar on the stem but have some very evident differences in the cap and gills.  

A close-up of this handsome specimen of Meadow Mushroom.

So what to do when mushrooms attack?  You EAT THEM.  Well, once you are sure of what you have, wild mushrooms are quite tasty.  Below, cooked up with an accompanying dish of garden vegetables, the Giant Puffballs can be sliced and fried in olive oil with garlic, onions and tomatoes.  Ummmmmmmmm, its soooooo gooooood!

Friday, August 9, 2013

A Day in the Red Hills

     I call the Red Hills the "Kansas Outback" for a good reason.  Its features have that wildness factor which can be associated with such interesting natural areas as the very recognizable and known outback of Australia.  Of course, North America has all of its incredible natural areas, parks and badlands, many of which might be characterized as having an "outback" flavor.  But for here, the Red Hills region seems to lend itself to this special appropriate moniker.  Here's a sampling of the special features one can experience in this special Kansas landscape--a day's adventure a week ago.

The gypsum formation of the Red Hills is soluble and therefore allows for many caves to develop.  Fun to explore!

The Ground Snake is a very pretty resident.

A few hundred Cave Myotis bats welcomed the spelunkers.  Several Red Hills caves offer habitats for maternity colonies and roosting.  This is one reason The Nature Conservancy of Kansas has targeted the Red Hills for conservation efforts.

The Giant Desert Centepede was guarding the entrance to the cave.  It was 8 inches long!