Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Missouri Snow

Living in Missouri gives you one guarantee, if you do not like the weather wait a day and it will change. This year we have had unseasonably wet conditions and that seems to be continuing into the winter as well. December 23rd the snow began to fall and it didn't stop until December 26th. We ended up with 12 inches of beautiful white snow before the blizzard moved out of the area. I say blizzard, because that is what it turned into. It was bad enough that the snow fell without ceasing for 3 days, but with it came ferocious winds that drifted the snow in piles. Many county roads were closed entirely, and untold amounts of people were drifted in and could not leave their driveways. The highway where we live was down to one lane on Christmas day and we weren't sure we would make it out to visit relatives. Fortunately my husband was able to plow the driveway with the tractor and blade and I have a 4x4 Chevy Tracker that got us where we needed to go safe and sound. I couldn't help but feel bad for those families that were unable to leave and have Christmas with loved ones. Mother Nature simply had other plans for everyone. This is without a doubt the most snow we have seen in many  many years. Another inch fell last night, but it melted by this afternoon when the temperatures reached 35 degrees. That felt like a heatwave in comparison to the single digit lows we'd been having.

The icicles were photographed at my work. The first one was easily over 10 feet long and a very impressive sight. The second picture shows numerous icicles hanging from the eave of our building. The longest was nearly 3 feet in length and sharply pointed.  Very dangerous if it should happen to decide to break loose and fall at the precise moment you walked under it. Nevertheless it is still beautiful, especially glistening in the sunshine.

I can hardly wait to see what Mother Nature has in store for us in January and February, which are notoriously our worst weather months. We better hold onto our hats!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Striped Skunk

This creature needs no introduction, who among us can look at those tell-tale stripes and black and white coloring and not know this is the Striped Skunk? I've long been an advocate for the animals nobody seems to love, this includes our lovely little skunk here as well as many other creatures like Armadillos, Bats and Bugs.

The skunk pictured here was photographed a couple of summers ago on our farm in Fillmore, Missouri. My husband and I had made a trip up there to look at the crops and take a drive in the country. It was a beautiful late spring day in May. We drove across the pond dam and off to one side I spotted something black and white in the corn field. I told my husband to "STOP!" I jumped out of the truck and ran down the hillside. I was so excited at being this close to one of my favorite animals. Lucky for me I had my camera with me. I inched closer and closer, being very careful to not spook this little darling. For quite some time she seemed to not notice me (which I know was impossible). When I was within about 20 feet of her she became nervous and looked at me. For one long minute in time I was looking into the eyes of this sweet little creature. She cocked her head at me and decided I was close enough. She reared up on her back legs and stomped her front legs at me. What did I do... you may ask? I laughed of course, how absolutely adorable was that! I inched closer. Oh yes. Once more she stomped at me. This was simply too much, and I fell irrevocably in love with this creature. Suddenly I hear from the top of the pond dam...."If you get sprayed you are walking home!" Drat! I had completely forgotten my dear husband. I just smiled, I was very confident this skunk loved me as much as I loved her. I inched closer. This time she entertained me by changing her repertoire from foot stomps to dance moves. She literally did a head-stand and tapped out some fancy footwork on her front legs. I nearly cried at how cute this was. Now keep in mind this whole time I've been inching ever closer to this little stink bomb on legs, and was now well within firing distance. This whole time my  husband is shouting from the pond dam to get back to the truck before I get sprayed. While I was taking time to assure him everything would be okay, this lovely creature picked that precise moment to turn the tables on me. She charged me! She came at me at full speed....let me tell you what....having a skunk, no matter how adorable, chasing you, will make you move...FAST! I turned tail and ran as if my life depended on it. She chased me all the way up that pond dam. I was laughing so hard I could barely run. My husband dove into the truck ( the brave man he is). When I reached the truck the skunk stopped and turned to run across the pond dam. She stopped and looked around, making sure it was safe and she began digging in some dry grasses (pictured). In short ordered she disappeared under ground. It was at this point I figured out she was a momma with babies. Skunks have long had a nasty reputation for being a quick draw with the "Stink cannon". I found this little female to be very patient with a meddlesome human (namely me). There were many opportunities for her to spray me, and she chose not to. Perhaps she knew I was not a serious threat, that I was merely a goofy human with not much sense. I will forever remember my first close-up encounter with this lovely creature.... How sweet it was to be able to ride home in the "front" of the pickup!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Nature Brings Serenity








Ray Hancock

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Meet Rascal, an absolutely ornery raccoon that lived as part of our family for 5 months in 2004. She was part of a litter of five that was born in a chimney. Well meaning humans removed their mother, completely unaware that they were essentially leaving her babies behind as orphans. 24 hours later these delightful babies made their presence known with loud squeals and cries that only a raccoon can make. A rescue by the MDC in St. Joseph resulted in all 5 of these very tiny, very hungry and none too happy  babies ending up in my care. Within 3 days it became apparent that I was going to need help. Five raccoon babies all demanding to be fed every two hours around the clock, meant no sleep for me or anyone else within ear shot of these supremely loud youngsters. I found some friends willing to share this responsibility and I was left with two babies affectionately named Rascal, and Ringo. This was manageable but still a handful. If they had been the only thing that required my attention it would have been easy-breezy. Living on an 86 acre farm brings a lot of work along with it, mowing a 5 acre yard each week, two children, a home, meals, plus my job were all screaming at me as well as these adorable abandoned babies.
Even with their eyes shut they would still manage to crawl up the sides of their cage and I would find them crying pitifully as they scooted across the floor trying to find Mom, or some sort of warmth. I would scoop them up and put them back in the cage under the heat lamp. After about 3 jail breaks I finally rigged a top for the cage which kept them contained for the time being. They grew fast, as did their appetite. I did a lot of research, trying to learn everything I could about the proper care of these wild babies entrusted to my care. I met many people, all with horror stories to tell of raising raccoons. I admit to having many trepidations about the long term commitment that this obviously was going to be. You see, raccoons are not able to fully fend for themselves until they are 5 or 6 months of age. Now that may  not sound like a very long time, but let me assure you it is. Many wild animals are ready to be released at 2 to 3 months. This was going to be double that amount of time. These are animals that seem to have a special gift for finding and getting into trouble. At 3 months of age we placed them outside, they had full run of the yard and took up refuge in a hollow tree in our front yard. Each morning I would yell for them and they would very drowsily drag themselves up and out of the safety of their new found home to see what all the commotion was about. They would crawl down the tree, stretching in a very exaggerated fashion as if to tell me "this better be worth waking me up" A few treats in the form of marshmallows or grapes and all was forgiven.
Raccoons and water seem to go hand-in-hand, and it didn't take them long to find our goldfish pond, try and try as they might they could not figure out how to catch those obnoxiously tempting orange fish. You could almost see the frustration on their faces! I lost count of how many times they went head first into the pond, only to come racing out with their tail tucked between their legs looking all bedraggled from their experience. It almost seemed cruel to taunt them with those tasty fish that were inaccessible to them. I finally took pity  on them and bought a kiddy wading pool and stocked it with crawfish, minnows and tadpoles. should have seen them. They were like kids at Christmas, not knowing what gift to try first. In no time at all each of the treats swimming around in the water were stomped on, crushed or otherwise devoured. Oh what fun!
As each week went by they became braver and braver and began venturing out on exploratory missions that would have them gone sometimes for days. As any mother would I worried, concerned that some unfortunate accident had injured them or worse.....
They would return, heads held high looking quite proud of themselves for their grown-up behavior. I would just shake my head and smile...congratulating them on being big kids now. Nothing was safe around these mischief makers, if it struck their curiosity they found a way to get into it, or out of it. I walked on the back porch one day to find one of these "teenagers" laying on his back with a Mountain Dew can in his paws drinking his fill of the bubbly, caffeine laden beverage. Oh great!....just what I needed on my hands a caffeinated raccoon! As if they weren't energetic enough. I scooted him back outside sans drink. He pouted for a bit, but soon found something else to occupy his time.
Once they reached 5 months of age, in September, Ringo was showing all the signs of being an aggressive, independent male raccoon. His sister Rascal, was still sweet natured and liked people. So we had a puzzle on our hands, do we turn Ringo loose on his own and hope he makes it, or do we turn them loose together and hope Rascal stays away from people? The decision was made for me one evening when Ringo made his way into our duck enclosure and was trying have Duck Ala Orange' for supper. I entered the cage and grabbed for him and he turned on me. That was all I needed to see to know he was ready to be on his own. We took both of them 2 miles away to a stocked pond and beautiful pasture with nearby trees. Some friends of ours owned the property and were thrilled to have us release these raccoons on their property. They seemed so happy in their new home and I felt good about leaving them. Until......three days later Rascal showed up on a neighbors porch looking a little worse for wear. She had been in a fight with something, and was begging for help. We took her back in, gave her penicillin and fed her. Two days later my son drove her on his four wheeler back to the pond, only to have her return to our house the very next day. We were sitting in the kitchen and heard a racket, I pulled open the curtain to discover Rascal laying in a bird feeder on our kitchen window. Ok this wasn't going to do at all! My friend who owned the property suggested that she was probably just not ready to be on her own. She offered to take Rascal in for the winter and see what the spring would bring. It was amazing the difference a few more months made in Rascal demeanor. She became much more aggressive and raccoon-like. In March we released her again......or so we thought! She made her way back to our house again and tore into our greenhouse looking for food. We live trapped her and drove her 10 miles away to a conservation area, far away from people. It was high time she learned to be a raccoon. As far as we know she survived and caused no more problems.
This was one of the best experiences I never want to repeat that I've had in my life. Raccoons are charming, ornery, mischief makers that will win your heart, make you laugh, and drive you absolutely crazy!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


"An Animals Eyes have the Power to Speak a Great Language"

Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are one of the most common wild cats in North America, there are an estimated 1,000,000 roaming from Southern Canada to Northern Mexico. They can be found in almost every state within the continental United States. This wasn't always the case though, in the early 1900's these cats were almost non-existent in the Midwestern States. Over hunting and trapping had severely declined their numbers. A bobcats fur was highly prized and contributed to its near extinction in many parts of its range. Laws were put into effect that protected these gorgeous cats and allowed their numbers to rebound. They are now plentiful and common in almost all their range. While trapping and hunting are common practices today, there are laws and seasons in place to prevent their numbers from severe decline.
Bobcats can be found in a wide variety of habitats, including woodlands, and nearby edges, semi arid deserts, swamplands and they have adapted quite well to urban areas. They are commonly seen within the city limits of many large towns and cities. They feed on rabbits and hares predominantly; but they are opportunistic and will feed on whatever food is plentiful in their area, including turkey, quail, pheasant, mice, songbirds, fawns and any other small creatures that they are able to capture. Bobcats are one of the smallest wild cats in North America and typically grow to be about double the size of the average house cat. Males may reach up to 28 or 30 pounds, but that would be on the large size. Typically 23-25 pounds would be more in a normal range for them. Their color may be brown or gray with black tufted ears. They have a speckled underbelly and a short black-tipped stubbed tail (from whence they get their name). Bobcats like most wild cats are solitary and generally only come together to mate. Males and females will locate each other by scent markings and mating generally occurs in winter or early spring. Females carry their litter approximately 8 weeks. The female will secret herself away to give birth and care for her young kittens entirely on her own. She typically will have several dens located in a given area. She will move her kits from den to den as necessary. In about 11-12 months these young kits will be ready to venture out on their own and establish their own territories.

The one pictured here was rescued by animal control in Kansas City and turned over to a wildlife rehabber who specializes in raising these creatures. Bobcats will humanize quite easily, that is to say they will readily adapt to being around humans, making it near to impossible to release them back to the wild. They will have no fear of humans and will recognize them as friends instead of foes. A tame bobcat is a dead bobcat. The one pictured was found in an apartment being raised with a pet boxer by humans. After being turned over to the rehab specialist he was "taught" how to be wild again. I was asked if I could release it, along with two others. I drove to Kansas City with my son and after tranquilizing the cats, we loaded them in separate carriers and I headed north near where I live. We took them to a secluded place near the river at Happy Holler Conservation Area. By the time we arrived they were waking up from their naps. We placed all three carriers on the ground and opened the doors, two of the cats (males) wasted no time in sprinting from the cages. The smallest male ran and darted in and out of trees affirming that this is where he belonged. You could almost hear his heart singing in happiness. The larger male, was much more dignified and simply walked off with his held high in a very regal fashion and none to gracefully slid down the river bank onto the frozen river and disappeared from view. The sweet little female had to be coaxed from her confinement. She was very timid and shy. We finally had no choice but to dump the cage on end and none to delicately force her out. She got the hint and sprinted away. There is no way to describe in words that are adequate the feeling it gives you to return such a majestic creature back to their intended home. Well meaning people try to tame what Mother Nature never intended to be. Remember: it is ok to observe and learn from these creatures,to take photographs and appreciate them in all their glory, but it is NEVER ok to remove them from their natural home and try to make pets out of a creature that is meant to remain free and wild.

A recommended read is "Bobcat Year" by: Hope Ryden. This is a wonderful book written in a fact based fictional content. It is a must read for any animal lover. It can be purchased off or