Sunday, December 7, 2014

Beep beep!

"Cory" began visiting our yard in the winter of 2010-11.  I trained Cory (as named by granddaughter Teilee after Corythosaurus) to start coming to ground deer scraps.  Cory spent two subsequent winters coming to "deerburger" handouts, and in short order coming to lap, feeding out of hand.  
        By popular demand, here is an update about our local Greater Roadrunners. Roadrunners have always been observed in the Red Hills of Kansas and further south.  In recent decades, they have moved further north, certainly in response to some milder winter conditions associated with climate change which is also implicated in northward movements of other species including the Nine-banded Armadillo, Woodchucks and a number of other smaller mammals.  So what do you do when Roadrunners invade?  Well you have some fun with them!
     Follow the short pictures' caption saga for background on our "pet" roadrunners.  Our first roadrunner, Cory, was originally thought to be a male.  There is very little difference in sexes--mostly in size (the male is slightly larger.)  And in our pair, Gerry, the male, had slightly more contrast in breast feathers and the colors on the side of the head were somewhat brighter.  That could be due to breeding condition as well.  Cory and Gerry and their partners have produced young every year since 2010.  Since we also love the lizards and snakes in our area as well as songbirds and kangaroo rats, I am very conflicted about having these voracious little dinosaur predators around.  So we make the best of the situation by having fun with them in the winter and also by providing ample escape habitat for all the other animals we want around.  Its part of our co-existence policy with due respect for predator/prey relationships. 

As typically happens, birds take partners.  In this case, Cory brought "Gerry" (after Geococcyx the genus name for roadrunners) to our attention in the winter of 2011-12.  Gerry, in the background, was shown how to "beg" for food.  Notice the injured left foot on Cory.  She did just fine limping along but finally disappeared in January, 2013.   

Gerry quickly became a lap bird as well.  This is a most recent pic taken this December.  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Sun City Sunset

In memory of Lance Hedges

There’s a rock-sloped hill just north of town
Upon which to observe the sun go down
And watch the sullen cloud bank show
Some various hues of purplish glow.

This joyous eve gives thoughts of those
Who have passed before this country road
And perhaps as mesmerized as I
This joyous sight in western sky.

The moment is mindful of
The simple things of life we love
Of fascinating natural gifts
Of life itself, each moment lived.

Our earthly stay so certainly short
Starkly remindful of times’ retort
To cherish each day this natural world

To appreciate nature’s best unfurled.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Red Hills Reds

A panoramic of the beauty seen on top of Belvidere Hill overlooking this small hamlet and the Medicine River valley in Kiowa County.

The Red Hills are awash in beautiful colors this fall, especially the red hues.  How fitting too!  With a raucous appreciation for rains of summer, the grasses and wildflowers responded in glorious growth and display.  The tans of side-oats and reddish-orange blades of bluestems contrast on the prairie canvas like a great artist painting a mosaic masterpiece.  

Prairie and some Gyp Hills in the Red Hills region--from Red Rock Road looking west.

The crimson of smooth sumac sets off the green of cedars and the splash of yellow cottonwood leaves.

Crimson leaves of sumac accent a beautiful morning sky in the Red Hills.
The old red barn adds even more red to a very rosey landscape.  Brought to you totally by evening sunset.
Even the milo fields shout red with an evening sun.  These are actual colors--not a bit of monkeying with any hues or saturation.  Deluxe eye candy!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Magical Monarchs

     The magic of fall has arrived in the Red Hills--a fabulous Monarch butterfly migration. The late summer final generational hatch of Monarchs are the ones which make as long as a 3,000 mile journey to overwintering sites in Oyamel fir forests in a very small area of mountain tops in central Mexico.  Come next spring, they will start returning northward.  They produce several generations on their way north with each new hatch going through metamorphosis from egg to larvae to adult and continuing to summer destinations throughout the mid-west and into Canada.  Populations are on an alarming downward trend with affects from GMO crops, pesticides and destruction of some of their over-wintering grounds in Mexico.  How sad would it be to someday realize there might no longer be such a fascinating and beautiful butterfly migration?   
A male Monarch rests with a friend on a catalpa leaf.  (The slightly enlarged spots on the interior rear veins on the hind wings say this is a male.)  They have a long journey in front of them.

Lisa and people throughout the southern plains get to enjoy the fascinating and beautiful fall Monarch migrations.
Hundreds and perhaps thousands of Monarchs spent a night at this roost site in a grove of catalpas in the Red Hills recently.

This map from Monarch Watch shows how far Monarchs migrate.  Discover a lot more fascinating information about Monarchs by googling Monarch Watch.  

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Legends of the Fall .... Wildflowers

     About 80 members of the Kansas Native Plant Society (KNPS) and others met in Pratt this weekend and enjoyed the fall bloom in the Red Hills along with the local sand prairies.  A membership of over 800 native plant enthusiasts, the KNPS gets high on wildflowers as well as the native grasses.  No, not like the kind of experiment being practiced in our neighboring state to the west.  These folks are true aficionados of nature.  The KNPS promotes sound conservation to promote native plants.  As part of the festivities, there were educational presentations at Pratt Community College where they met, and excursions to five prairie sites in Barber, Kiowa and Pratt counties.  There was also a special recognition of the Pratt County Master Gardeners at the native plant garden at the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism Wildlife Education Exhibit and Museum.  All-in-all it was a fine weekend.  Here are some of the special sights and rewards of the weekend:

Members of the KNPS and other attendees spread out in the Red Hills to identify and enjoy native plants and wildflower legends of the fall.
Sand Lily is the showiest fall flower of the Red Hills.  This flower opens late in the day and was a particularly special treat for the KNPS prairie enthusiasts.

Craig Freeman, Senior Scientist with the Ks. Biological Survey, (left) was on hand to share expertise with participants.

Jeff Hansen admires a whole hillside of White-flower Ipomopsis, a rare sight. 

A Carpenter Bee enjoys nectar from a White Flower Ipomopsis bloom.

Lee Ann stands among very healthy Little Bluestem, the official state grass of Kansas.  Because of excellent summer rains, the Red Hills prairies are as robust as ever and rebounding from three years of drought conditions.

Demonstrating that fall beauty in Kansas prairies can be found even beyond the late-blooming flowers, Prickly Pear Cactus fruits stand out as beautiful adornments. 

Dotted Gayfeather is one of the prettiest of the fall bloomers in the Red Hills and other prairies and roadsides in Kansas.  It was very prevalent at the field trip sites.  
What did you say that plant was?!  Phyllis Scherich is the next President of the KNPS and was the primary leader and organizer for this event.  Thanks Phyllis!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Creatures of the Night

     The Red Hills harbor many kinds of  animals.  Bats are among the most fascinating.  Over a half dozen of Kansas's 16 species can be found in or near some of the gypsum caves in these parts.  As far as size of colonies, no species equals that of the Brazilian Free-tailed Bat.  In one cave (featured here), upwards of a million of these bats call it their home.  The Brazilian Free-tailed females migrate here every year to give birth to their young.  Every dusk roughly from May to September, they fly out of the cave, chasing flying beetles, moths and other insects on wing.  They are a valuable asset to humans and an integral part of the Red Hills ecosystem; bats are also fascinating to watch.  Many can be seen away from their roosts, feeding above small streams and ponds and many times around light sources.  There are many misconceptions about bats.  To learn factual information about these interesting flying mammals, google Bat Conservation International.  To obtain an excellent booklet called "Bats of Kansas" by Sparks, Schmidt and Choate, check with Sternberg Museum of Hays, Kansas or the Great Plains Nature Center in Wichita.

With a wing-spread of up to 10 inches, the Brazilian Free-tailed Bat is a large and nimble flying machine.
Staging in the cave before exiting, these bats use their echolocation (sonar) to help prevent collisions with other things and to locate food on the wing outside.

Thousands of bats circle, waiting for more darkness to exit for long feeding excursions.

Mariam and Andrew came all the way from Manhattan, New York to get some video of these flying mammals.
Brazilian Free-tailed Bats exited this cave for over an hour.  

Happy videographers!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Native Plant Celebration in the Red Hills

     The Kansas Native Plant Society is coming to the Red Hills!  The regular fall meeting and field trips of the KNPS is meeting in Pratt from Sept. 19-21.  There are several field trips planned as well as a very interesting program as part of the proceedings.  Google Kansas Native Plant Society or go to for more information. Here are a few of the cool plants which were observed and photographed very recently at a couple of the stops.

Stout Scorpion Weed is one of the most iconic representatives of the flora of the Red Hills.  Called "Ugly Weed" by some locals, this plant is a late bloomer and offers a unique flower head.  
Also called "Fiddle Head" for obvious reasons, this plant has small but very pretty flowers.  Here, a Digger Bee enjoys its nectar.

One of several species of gayfeather, this is Liatris glabra.

Phyllis captures Cadence taking shelter in one of the many very interesting rock formations at one of the stops on the KNPS upcoming field trips.

Silktop Dalea is in its glory right now in the Red Hills.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Drama in the Garden

     The Wheel Bug is a great asset to any organic garden. Here I try to give some photographic justice to the intriguing nature of these insect beasts.  Up close, they appear as a dinosaur-like throwback in some old-timey horror movie--a creature you definitely would not want to meet on their turf.  That has to be the feeling of some of these other insects who met their fate at the "beak" of these fierce looking bug-suckers.

This Wheel Bug is doing great service by attacking damaging squash bugs. The next dinner waits nearby as its cohort gets eaten.
Not necessarily an animal you wish to run in to, this Black Widow spider makes short work of an unlucky grasshopper.

This White-lined Sphinx Moth curiously visits the drama at this sunflower while feeding on its nectar.  
A giant sunflower attracts much attention from a variety of insects and creates a battleground for garden dramas of life and death.

Up close, this Wheel Bug has captured a Digger Bee for supper.  I do wish they wouldn't get my wild, native pollinators but they aren't too discriminating when it comes to their food.  They eat a lot of squash bugs so they earn their keep.

Wheel Bugs battle each other for territorial rights.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Black Beauty

     Black swallowtails bring beauty and joy wherever encountered.  This is a photo essay of one of nature's most attractive insects on a variety of nectar sources taken in a span of just a few minutes.  This is a fantastic year for butterflies in the Kansas Outback as its been a great year for many flowering plants providing both host plants for caterpillars and food for the adults.  Enjoy!

A male black swallowtail on Baldwin's ironweed.

This male swallowtail is enjoying some canna nectar.

This swallowtail shows the attractive undersides while on a prairie sunflower.

The male black swallowtail exhibits larger yellow spots on its upper wings than the female.

A Wheel bug is one of the Assassin bugs and is stalking a Black swallowtail caterpillar.  Poised to strike for several minutes, it decided not to attack, proving the value of the key defensive feature of the foul-tasting Black swallowtail larvae.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Why I Hate Kansas

A recent tour of our country roads reminded me of why I hate Kansas so much.  See captions below for my explanations of my misery.  

The countryside is so ugly.

Life is just way too fast-paced.

The wildlife is menacing.

There's nothing to eat.

Mmmmm mulberries are horrible.
The roads are sooooo crowded!

Happy 4th where ever you are!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Stalking a Red Hills Rattlesnake

     Am I really crazy?  I don't think so.  I find two things particularly fascinating.  One is a group of what I consider to be the most graceful animals, snakes.  The other is the reaction of people towards snakes.  Here I present a simple photo study of one of our fascinating Kansas reptiles, the Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis.)
     On a recent trip to the Red Hills with friends, Lee Ann and a couple of grandkids in tow, we came across this rattlesnake sunning in the road.  Abruptly sliding to a ditch-side stop, we corralled the wily beast in a mid-way slither across the sandy road.  Grabbing my snake stick, I gently teased the venomous serpent into a classic "coiled and ready to strike" pose.  The video crew with me took video, Jeff Rumans (below) and I took stills and grandson Paxon helped keep an eye on the snake.  Through explanation below, I present the photo event.  To me, it was quite a normal thing to do.  This rattlesnake was very, very docile.  It hardly rattled although it had every reason to be pissed at me.  For several minutes, the video tape rolled and Jeff shot pics.  Then leaving the snake under Paxon's watchful and serious stare (from a very safe distance), I grabbed my cam and went to work at ground level.  A couple of these shots were posted on The Nature Conservancy's facebook page and the reactions of the FB community was quite interesting.  Its always clear that snakes get attention.  That's why I used them for years in educational programs.  But I'm still fascinated by people's reactions to snakes, nearly as much as I am by the incredible creatures themselves.  Here's the story:

     Jeff Rumans stalks the venomous reptile.  Actually Jeff was just getting up from taking a picture of me on the other side of the snake who was obviously taking pics too.

     The rest of the gang videos and watches from the sidelines.  Adaira is kept well back by g-ma.

Paxon keeps a serious and watchful eye on the snake as I grab my camera.

      Shooting the snake with a 35-135 zoom at a safe distance although Jeff's telephoto looks like it's right in front of my nose.
Photo by Jeff Rumens

     Jeff's side shot shows I was well enough back for safety.  Rattlesnake--3ft long.  Distance to my nose--over 4ft.  That's ample buffer for this guy.
Photo by Jeff Rumens

     My shot at eyeball-to-eyeball level.  Isn't he/she beautiful?!