Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Birds Name Our New Year

At our house we name each new year for the first bird we see on January 1.  But this year I forgot to wait for Ron before I inadvertently looked out the window and saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker at the birdbath.  Then Ron came to the window and saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  

We could combine both birds and call it just "The Year of the Woodpecker."   But a compound name will better convey the richness of the ecosystem we are part of here on McDowell Creek/Tall Grass Prairie/Planet Earth!    So okay--it's the Year of the Red-bellied Woodpecker and the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Maybe that long & complex title can remind us that environmental blessings can be doubled if we will only look.  

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Crow World, Hawk World

A trail cam allowed us to see crow behavior up close as the crows gathered to feed on the carcass of a deer.

Some of the crows with larger bills big-belly around--but they make themselves scarce when the hawk arrives!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Mice Run In, Mice Run Out

After filling our freezers with venison, our hunter-friends left deer carcasses where scavengers could get to them.  

We expected hawks and crows.

We didn't expect mice! 

The mice puzzle me.  They spend so much time running around.  What is the point of all that energy-expenditure?

What are they up to?

I am reminded of the gross humor of my childhood, as we kids started on the long journey of coming to grips with mortality.  We'd hoot at each other:  You'll be in a grave!    Then we'd all join in, chanting:
The worms crawl in
The worms crawl out
The worms play pinochle
On your snout...
Over sixty years later, I still don't have mortality figured out.  
But these mice seem perfectly willing to play pinochle!
However, they seem that way to me because I have so much to learn about mice.  I asked Mammalogist Drew Ricketts at KSU to help me understand what we see in this clip.  He replied:  
Mice have pretty high metabolisms relative to ours, and they also have small stomachs, so they spend a lot of time zipping from place to place in search of something to eat.  Mice also have to move relatively quickly when they are in the open, so that they can try to avoid becoming a snack for a predator.  A slow, lingering mouse would quickly become a dead mouse.  They also could be grabbing a bite so quickly that it is hard to see in the video.  Animals also tend to check on large resources, because they are important to them.  Finally, carcasses attract predators and would be a dangerous place for a mouse to be.  It is possible that the mice smell evidence of predators that have visited the carcasses, and have a hard time feeling comfortable.

Some mice are very omnivorous, and some mice have very specific diets.  The mice in the video are white-footed mice, and they eat a lot of different things.  They probably don’t spend a lot of time looking for carrion, but, when it is placed in their home range, it is probably a resource that they can’t resist.  

Thank you, Drew!  Experts who are willing to share their expertise with us lay people are the best!!!  You help open doors that would otherwise remain closed to us.  

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Monday, December 18, 2017

Hawks Give Wings to Deer

Our hunter-friends filled our freezer with venison and then left the deer carcasses in the Road Field where the scavengers could get to them.  

Our trail cam caught these two hawks feeding on the deer.  The first one (the smaller of the two) is a Rough-legged Hawk (feathers down to the toes).  The second one is considerably larger.  At first I thought she might be a female Rough-legged Hawk, but then I noticed how her feathers stop above her wrists.  And her bill is so large!    So I went to an expert.  He told me that the first hawk is indeed a Rough-legged, but that the second one is more likely an immature dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk.   

Check out that kick she delivers at the end of the clip!  What's that all about?

Many thanks to the Bur Oaks for producing fat acorns this year so that the deer could be numerous and well fed.    And endless thanks to these three deer who gave their wild lives to nourish  hawks and other wildlife and provide food for us.   We owe a debt of gratitude to the Bur Oak Family and the Tribe of Deer!

Monday, November 13, 2017


Perfumed Bounce dryer sheets keep pack rats away.  At least that's what we believed until this week, when we got a lesson in biodiversity.  

For years we've scattered these odoriferous sheets--with their sickly sweet aroma--under the hoods of machines and vehicles.  

During that time, they have appeared to keep the pack rats away.

But are all pack rats (aka Eastern Woodrats, Neotoma floridana) repelled by Bounce dryer sheets?  

Apparently not!

While cleaning out an old shed, I found several pack rat nests festively adorned with Bounce dryer sheets.    

I removed the nests but saved the sheets that were still in good condition, placing about 50 of them in a pail on a shelf.

I returned the next day and found all 50 sheets in a space between wall and roof--the beginnings of a new nest. 

I removed the sheets altogether and Mr. and/or Mrs. Pack Rat haven't returned.  

If they do, there are two live traps waiting for them.

Most pack rats use a generic scaffolding of leaves and sticks, but some are great specialists when it comes to toppings. We have found nests that were topped with nothing but soybeans; nothing but corn cobs--dog food--cat food--and toys.   My friend Mary McCoy, while doing field work, found a nest of nothing but rabbits' feet!  

The shed rats love Bounce.

If we find them in the live traps, there is transport awaiting them to the far reaches of the pasture.  

The last thing we need close to home, where our engines and electrical wires are protected by dryer sheets, are pack rats that specialize in dryer sheets!