Sunday, April 27, 2014

Native Dragon

This "Outback" features one of the most fascinating creatures from the Red Hills as well as other parts of Kansas--the Eastern Collared Lizard, Crotaphytus collaris. One of the largest lizards in Kansas, this beast can reach lengths of a foot and have very strong jaw muscles; so, don't try to get bitten as they can muster more foot pounds of pressure then you'd prefer to experience.  An amazing behavior of this animal is that it will get up and run on its hind legs to escape predators (see included videos.)  

Male collared lizards sport double black bands on the back of their neck and yellow-orange throats among many other beautiful colors--a handsome animal indeed!

Female collared lizards sport reddish-orange bands while pregnant and are just as handsome as the males although not quite as large.  They also bite!

Go ahead, stick that finger right here!

A running collared lizard on two wheels at normal speed.

A  running collared lizard in slow mo.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Happy Arbor Day with a Leopold Oak

The famous Leopold Shack near Baraboo, Wisconsin.
A thing is right only when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the community, and the community includes the soil, waters, fauna, and flora, as well as people. -- Aldo Leopold

Ah yes, one of my favorite Leopold quotes.  The man who initiated the modern age of wildlife management and promoted the ever-so-appropriate land ethic spent many years restoring his piece of sand property on a bend of the Wisconsin River near Baraboo.  His hallmark work was "A Sand County Almanac."  It gives the most poetic blueprint for living in harmony with nature instead of trying to always simply dominating it.  

Today is Arbor Day.  It's so appropriate to give homage to Leopold and his writings, philosophy and personal endeavors to conserve nature.  Much of his personal efforts involved restoring pine trees to a very abused landscape.  He also planted oaks.  One of these oaks was a Black Oak planted in front of the famous "shack" which was a chicken coup when Aldo first purchased the land. 

You can have a direct connection to Aldo Leopold and his legacy through my offering of a Black Oak seedling which I grew from acorns from the tree shown below.  If you simply tell me you'd like one and are willing to donate whatever you feel you can afford to either The Nature Conservancy in Kansas or the Leopold Foundation, I'll make arrangements somehow to get a seedling to you.  I'll include information about growing conditions and preferences for this species as well as some more information about the "shack" and Aldo Leopold.  See links below for both TNC in Kansas and the Leopold Foundation.  Just leave me a comment below and a way to contact you and we'll get you a Leopold Oak.

THE Black Oak in front of the "shack" from which  this seedling originated.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Happy Herpers

     The Kansas Herpetological Society (KHS), in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy in Kansas, sponsored the regular spring field trip of KHS to the Red Hills.  Over a hundred kids of all ages enjoyed wonderful weather and an ample number of amphibians and reptiles to make the weekend very successful.
As part of the 25th Anniversary of The Nature Conservancy in Kansas, this event is just one of the several being planned around the state to help commemorate this milestone.  For more information about upcoming activities, google The Nature Conservancy (see site below) or check out the TNC in Kansas Facebook page.  For more information about this fabulous field trip last weekend, check out the Kansas Herpetological Society (see site below) or check out the facebook page (Kansas Herpetology) as well as Larry Miller's facebook site as well.  
The herp troops storm the Red Hills in search of all things creep and crawly.

A North American Racer (Blue Racer) inspects his holder by sensing with his tongue.
He's not too happy.

Landis shows off a Ground Snake.  This was the most common herp found on the trip.

Another Ground Snake.  Oh what fun!
Nothin is as fascinating to kids of all ages then a Texas Horned Lizard.  Awesome creatures.

KHS president Dan Fogell demonstrates proper rattlesnake handling.

Trip leader Travis Taggart records all observations.
The Nature Conservancy in Kansas:

Kansas Herpetological Society

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Stuttin their stuff

     It's springtime in the hills and time to strut your stuff.  Perhaps one of the most demonstrative displays of courtship, a Rio Grande gobbler spreads his tail, drags his wings, puffs up and engorges his waddle--all designed to attract the ladies.  The hens walk around, pecking at some food, mostly ignoring the pompous male.  There's nothing quite as beautiful as watching this natural exhibition on a bright, sunny morning.  This morning brought a meeting with some of the local deer who weren't quite keen on sharing their morning breakfast with this strutting stud.
This young doe seems mesmerized by this displaying tom.  "What do you think you are doing?  This is OUR feed field!"

The hen ignores the grandiose display of this blustery fella as he walks through a gauntlet of deer to keep up with her.

     The hen ambles along ahead of the lusty tom ignoring his amorous display.  She may have already bred and is headed to a well-hidden nest where she will lay another egg.  Once she has a dozen or so eggs, she will begin incubating.  After 26 days or so, the eggs hatch and another cycle of life begins for this fascinating species.
     The Red Hills was one of the first areas for re-introductions of wild turkeys in Kansas.  The Kansas Forestry, Fish and Game Commission brought birds in during the early 1960's.  Flocks in the Red Hills were favored for trap and transplant operations eventually leading to the first modern-day Kansas hunting season in 1974.  As we enjoy watching or hunting these beautiful birds, its good to remember the dedication of folks 50 years ago to make it all happen.     

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A feather-weight fight

Several fights broke out this morning on the Lesser Prairie-chicken booming ground. 
There was a lot of egotistical parading around and posing... 

There was a lot of  fluttering, jumping, and challenging...

The guys were squaring off against each other...

While the cows grazed peacefully in the background...

Some dive-bombing even happened in the maylay...

Enough to scare some likely suitors away...

Males strutted, posed, chased, and fought, drawing feathers in trying to show off to very un-interested hens who stood by enjoying the show.  Life at the lek is sure full of life right now!  The hens will typically breed one time at a lek with their lucky mate and then start the egg-laying process over a period of a couple of weeks.  Once there are about a dozen eggs in a nest, which will likely be within a mile of that lek where they bred, the hen will start incubating.  Chickens at the lek are very tolerant of some disturbance, such as curious humans staring through holes in blinds.  The real issue with disturbance of prairie chickens is the occurrence of tall structure where the hens nest.  They won't nest near tall structures such as wind turbines as seen way in the background of the "cow and chicken" picture.  The more transmission lines, oil field operations, roads, trees, wind towers, homesteads and other things that fragment the grasslands, the fewer hens will be nesting there.  That's just a factor of eons of time with chickens developing habits favoring survival of young from predators who like to perch on tall structures such as trees.  The most significant rule of evolution is natural selection and it is so evident in the behavior of these prairie birds who demonstrate the principle so well in their nesting preference and subsequent success. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Oh give me a home...

     Bison bison, aka American Buffalo, can be found in the Red Hills as well as many other places in Kansas.  The largest herd in these parts is on Ted Turner's Zbar Ranch in southwestern Barber County.  From 1,500 to 3,000 animals are kept on this 43,000 acre ranch depending on time of year and other factors.  We should be thankful for all the ranchers who have chosen to keep herds of Bison and willing to share the excitement of having them around with others.  These majestic beasts remind us of more wild times, a fascinating past, an intact prairie once pounded by millions of hooves.  Hearing Bison grunt their way across the grassland in herbivorous wanderings stimulates a wild spirit, an anachronistic connection with the land.  My imagination wanders to days gone by when chasing bison meant trying to survive the vagaries of nature and  witnessing skilled Comanches and Kiowas felling these huge beasts with bow and arrow on horseback.  Today, I am armed only with a camera and a fabulous morning to devote to these ponderous animals in an enchanted land.

Bison enjoying a pre-dawn drink on the Zbar.

The iconic symbol of the prairie.

A lone Bison crosses the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River on the Zbar.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Red Hills Soul Candy

A quiet, solemn morning--until the boys showed up on the lek with high hopes of attracting a mate.

Look, one leg.

Do you see me yet?

Jumping for joy.

The joy of spring is prairie chickens on their booming ground.  A revival of spirits.  Soul candy!