Saturday, May 30, 2009

Common Snapping Turtle

The Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) is prevalent throughout Missouri as well as most of the United States, Nova Scotia and Ontario. These are a very large aquatic turtle. They will be found in Rivers, ponds, lakes and most any other permanent body of water. They can reach lengths of up to 19 inches and weigh as much as 35 pounds. A Massachusetts record still stands with a specimen weighing in at 76.5 pounds. This behemoth was captured in 1988. Females are generally larger than males. Their color varies from tan, brown or black. Often they are found with algae or mud on their shells. You will encounter these turtles on the road, generally speaking this is the female looking for a suitable sight to lay her eggs. Although sometimes the males will also travel overground if the watering hole they were residing in suddenly dries up. They are often hit by automobiles and it is common to see their carcasses on the highways. These turtles are very aggressive when out of the water. They will lunge and snap their jaws in a menacing fashion if bothered. In the first picture you can see it biting at a stick waved in its face. Once a few years back while driving in the country we noticed one in the middle of the gravel road. We stopped the car to get out and take a closer look. My son walked right up to it and this turtle jumped two feet straight at him. It scared the crud out of my son, and he jumped back, almost falling in the process. None of us expected that kind of response. Once my son recovered, he found it to be funny, and continued to approach the turtle and each time the turtle would launch himself at my son. After a few times of this harassment I told my son we should leave the poor thing alone. In the water they are rarely if ever this aggressive and will usually avoid confrontation with people. Often hiding or fleeing. It would be rare for one to bite while in the water. I remember my grandfather telling me many years ago that he had read; if you ever are bitten by a snapping turtle to stick a straw up its nose and it will let go of you. I thought that was so funny, I was trying to imagine this huge turtle clamped onto my foot and me having the ability to not only think of doing this but being able to. After all who carries a straw with him while swimming in a lake, pond or river? I suppose it would be effective, it would be hard to clamp down on something effectively if you have something stuck up your nose. I doubt that much else would encourage it to release you once it had a hold of you. Their bite is very strong. The only safe way to grab one of these snappy turtles is by the tail, taking great care to keep track of the business end, and not let those jaws get too close to legs or other body parts. From many years of misinformation and misunderstandings concerning these turtles they are often persecuted and destroyed. Many people mistakenly believe that they are harmful to fish populations and water fowl. While they will eat fish they are rarely cause for concern. There are circumstances where they may become a nuisance and may have to be controlled. Such as in the case where fish or water fowl are being over produced in a pond or lake. There is small lagoon in St. Joseph at Krug Park. This lagoon is overrun with goldfish and water fowl. I remember a few years back while eating lunch at the park I heard a commotion in the water, I went to get a closer look to see what was going on. It was then that I saw a Canada Goose being pulled under the water by some unseen force. After three tugs this goose disappeared underwater and I saw the back of the turtle. This was an extremely large turtle. I found it hard to believe it could be a common snapping turtle. Another day at the lagoon I was feeding the ducks when a snapper emerged right below me and took a full slice of bread floating on top the water. This turtle was HUGE! I fully believe that someone placed an Alligator Snapping Turtle in this lagoon. They are larger than Common Snappers. They are residents of Missouri but rarely found this far north in the state. Someone would have had to relocate one captured in another portion of the state which is highly likely. The Alligator snapper can reach weights of up to 150 pounds with a record of 316 pounds having been recorded. In Missouri because of their decline in numbers the Alligator snapping turtle is listed as a species of conservation concern. Breeding between common snapping turtles usually takes place from April to November, with most mating taking place in spring or early summer. Mating takes place in the water. Typically egg laying takes place in June. Females look for suitable sites wherethey can dig a nest about 4 to 7 inches deep and deposit their eggs. She may lay up to 30 eggs and it is possible for them to lay more than one clutch of eggs. The eggs resemble ping pong balls in size and are cream colored. After hatching, they will seeking a nearby water source. Males reach sexual maturity in about 4 to 5 years, females may take up to 7 years. Many nests are destroyed by predators such as skunks, raccoons and mink. They will overwinter by burying themselves in the mud in shallow bodies of water. Once active again in the spring they will begin eating and looking for mates. The diet of a snapping turtle is quite varied and includes , insects, crawdads, snakes, fish, small mammals, birds, snails, earthworms, frogs, and aquatic vegetation, also water fowl in certain conditions. Many people eat these turtles and report that the meat is very good, especially in soups and stews. I have not had the privilege of trying it, but I suppose one day the opportunity will present itself. I can't bring myself to loathe these turtles as many people do. I think they are a misunderstood underdog. They are important to their ecosystem and should be respected and not deliberately destroyed and left laying in the sun to rot.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Northern Water Snake

This is the Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon). This species is non-venomous, but very aggressive. They are commonly found in lakes, ponds and other waterways. They are native to the United States and can grow to be quite large at around 5 feet in length with females generally larger than males. They are a thick bodied snake and have a large head that is somewhat arrow shaped. This snake is often mistaken for the venomous Cottonmouth or Water Moccasin as it is also known by. Many of these snakes meet an untimely demise because of this mistaken identity. You will find these snakes resting in trees near water, along the bank or perhaps on a log floating in the water. They feed on crawfish, frogs, weak or sickly fish, small mammals (that wonder to close to shore), leeches, worms etc. Sometimes though the predator becomes the prey and these snakes are fed on by raccoons, opossums, skunks, fox, snapping turtles or perhaps other snakes. They will fight aggressively if disturbed, they will bite without hesitation and excrete a musky fluid that smells terrible. They have an anticoagulant which can cause the wound from the bite to bleed profusely. These snakes, while being beneficial are better off left alone. These snakes begin looking for mates in April and will breed through June. They bear live young and up to 30 may be born. They are on their own from birth, the mother does not care for them. These snakes are active during the day and night. During the night they will be found in the shallows feeding on minnows and small fish. They will use beaver huts and muskrat dens to hide out in. In the winter they will hibernate with copperhead and other snakes. The first picture was sent to me by a good friend named Chris Coffer, he told me while he was out fishing it slithered across his foot and went into the water. He wasn't sure what kind of snake it was. The second picture I took 2 years ago at our pond in Fillmore. There were many of these snakes all around our pond. Many of them hanging in the trees like the one pictured. I've heard stories where people have even been chased by these snakes or had their fishing poles attacked by them. It can be intimidating to have them rushing at you. Especially if you are under the mistaken belief it is a cottonmouth. In north western Missouri where I live you will not find Cottonmouths. They reside in the southern portion of the state, and are now even found south of St. Louis in the Mermac River. Identifying this snake can be somewhat difficult as their patterns vary highly. They are usually tan or brown with broad darker colored bands. These dark bands will be wider than the lighter colored spaces between the bands. Look for them next time you are fishing, and try not to run when they come after you...hehehe

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Baltimore Oriole

These gorgeous Baltimore Orioles (Icterus galbula) have been in our yard since the first of May. At first it was only the male we noticed at the feeders, about a week later the female began coming around.
I put several liquid feeders out with oriole food in them, but they seem to prefer the orange halves and apple jelly as you can see from the photos. I normally put out grape jelly for them, but I was out and decided to try apple instead. They seem to love it. In fact when the dish is empty they sit in the top of the tree and scold me. After refilling it, they will fly directly to it.
Orioles are one of the most vibrantly colored birds in the avian world. They brighten up any landscape and I look forward to their return each spring. Birders all over the country eagerly await their return during spring migration and for good reason. Their bright orange and black plumage is stunning, their song is cheerful and beautiful to listen to.
These birds were given the name of Baltimore Oriole in honor of Lord Baltimore, as their coloring resembled the Coat-Of-Arms of his lordship. The Major league baseball team the Baltimore Orioles were named after this bird and this bird is also the State bird of Maryland.
This species will be found throughout Eastern North America. while there are several orioles, the Baltimore Oriole is the only one with an entirely black head. This species will breed with Bullock's Oriole where their numbers overlap. This earns the offspring the name of Northern Oriole and they are fertile hybrids, able to breed. After building a "cup-like" nest in a thicket hanging from a high branch on a tree, the female will incubate 3 to 5 grayish, or bluish-white eggs. Both males and females will feed the young, and they will be ready to leave the nest and fly for the first time in about 15 days. In the wild these beauties will feed on insects, caterpillars, berries, blossoms, and fruit. They readily come to backyard feeders and are often seen feeding from hummingbird feeders. They seem to have a sweet tooth. Before these gorgeous birds leave the area and head south try putting out assorted jellies, oriole food, orange or grapefruit halves. Provide plenty of fresh water and you most assuredly will have orioles brighten your landscape as well. In the late summer or early fall they will begin their fall migration and fly to Mexico, Central American and South America. Returning again to our area in May.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Common Grackle

These raucous birds are common throughout Missouri as well as most all of the Eastern United States. These are the Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula). Often mistakenly called Starlings, these are not starlings. The main way to tell the difference is; grackles have white eyes and long tails, starlings have short tails and dark eyes. Starlings are speckled with yellow spots in the winter, and during the spring/summer breeding season they are iridescent much like the grackles. The Common Grackle from a distance resembles blackbirds, upon closer inspection you will notice the beautiful purplish-blue colored head and iridescent feathers. They are a rather long and lanky bird with long legs. They are often seen walking across lawns. This picture was taken at Krug Park in St. Joseph, Missouri. This park features a lagoon that is commonly visited by Canada Geese, plus the city keeps a flock of tame geese and ducks. The public will usually show up in large numbers during nice weather to feed the fowl. The grackles have gotten in on the action and learned where an easy meal is to be found. There were probably 20 or 30 of these birds all fighting for a piece of bread or an errant cheerio thrown out by some small child. These birds are omnivores, they will feed on seeds, insects, minnows, frogs, berries, dog food or cat food left out for our pets, as well as bread and cheerios like these enterprising grackles. These birds will build nests that are well hidden in dense trees or shrubs like conifers. They will also use man-made structures like birdhouses. It is common for them to nest in large colonies, with many nests in the same tree or nearby area. These birds are usually monogamous. Females will usually choose the nesting site and construct the nest. The bottom of the nest is lined with mud then horsehair or grasses. It is not uncommon for males to help in the rearing of not only their own offspring but the offspring of others nesting nearby. One documented case showed two males attending to the young in one nest, with no quarrelling between the two birds, it is assumed one of the males was the father. This behavior would be unusual but certainly not unheard of, typically it is the females who are responsible for the feeding of the young. These birds also practice "Anting" whereby they take ants and rub them through their feathers using the formic acid that the ants naturally produce as a form of pest control. You will find them in most any habitat, from parks, cemeteries, backyards, agricultural fields, and many other open areas.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Painted Turtle

This is the Western Painted Turtle. They are a brightly colored turtle, that is very commonly seen in Missouri. They grow to around 6 to 8 inches. Most individuals are found when they are quite small usually around 2 to 4 inches. Their shell is olive-brown or may sometimes be nearly black. The underside or plastron portion of the shell is orange-yellow; orange; or red. The exposed skin will be olive green with varying patterns of yellow streaked throughout. This vibrant coloration is where they get their common name of painted turtle. Adult males will have longer thicker tails than females, and will also have longer foreclaws. These turtles are active during the day and will seek small bodies of water such as ponds in which to sleep during the night. During the day they are often spotted basking in the sun on top of logs in the water or along the shoreline. They will hunt for aquatic crayfish, snails, insects, small fish and plants on which to feed. Mating occurs in the spring usually from April - June. After breeding, the female will dig out shallow nests in the ground near water and lay her eggs. After hatching in about 8 to 9 weeks the tiny (approximately 1 1/4 inches) young painted turtles will head to water. These turtles have a lot of obstacles in the wild, not only are they commonly sought after in the pet trade for their relatively easy care and beautiful colors. They are also preyed upon by a wide variety of wild animals, including skunks, raccoons, crows, mink, muskrat, badger, fox, snakes, and other turtles to name but a few of the known predators. It is always a pleasure while out walking to come across these pretty little turtles, basking in the sun, or floating on top the water.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Too Funny for Words.....The hunter becomes the Hunted

Yesterday I was sitting near our goldfish pond in the backyard. We have numerous bullfrogs and a lot of snakes that like to enjoy the pond as much as we do. A fairly large crane fly landed on a leaf (Just left of the bullfrog), the bullfrog seen it in an instant and turned towards it, and absolutely froze to the spot. He stared very intently at that crane fly planning to make it his next meal. While I was waiting patiently with the camera to capture this in action I noticed a movement to the right of the frog and a large garter snake slithered out from under a rock and headed straight for the frog. I couldn't believe this was playing out in front of me. The tables had suddenly turned on the poor frog and it appeared as if he was to be dinner. I watched to see what would occur as the snake inched closer to the frog. The frog was so intent on the fly he was completely unaware of the tailgater at his backside. Once the snake got to within about 4 or 5 inches from the frog it seemed he decided his eyes were bigger than his mouth and the frog was too big because he retreated back under the rock from whence he came. It was at this time that the fly dared to twitch a wing, which was all it took set the frog in motion. That frog literally launched himself at the fly and gobbled him up in one bite, then peeked over the rocks with a very satisfied look on his face. Little did he know this whole thing could have turned out a lot different had he not been such fat little frog.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Late Spring Time Visitor

This cute little bird is the Pine Siskin, which is a type of finch. They are a winter visitor to Missouri, having migrated from up north in Canada and the Northern United States. When I first noticed this bird and took its picture I thought it was a sparrow. It wasn't until I pulled the photos off the camera that I noticed the yellow on the wing tips and the dark streaking on its belly and wings. This told me it definitely wasn't a sparrow and I was sure it wasn't a goldfinch as I was quite familiar with them. I ended up sending these pictures to a bird expert I know name Larry Lade. He is a master birder and identified my little visitor as the Pine Siskin and also told me I was fortunate to still be seeing one this late in the season as most have already headed back north to their breeding grounds. This picture was taken May 17, and today on the 22nd I still have 2 in my yard visiting the feeders. I am beginning to wonder if they will stay all season. This was also the first time for me to ever see this species so I was pretty excited. I know in the winter they will mix with flocks of goldfinches and come to feeders in large numbers. I get hundreds of goldfinches but had not ever noticed this species among them. Appears I will have to look closer next winter. These are a gregarious species and often stay together even during breeding season. It is not uncommon for them to even visit each others nests. Occassionally if there is steady food source nearby they will nest far south of their normal range, which is what I hope my two little visitors will eventually do. They feed on small seeds, or black oil sunflower seeds from backyard feeders, tree buds, insects and spiders. Their population seems to be steady, but it may be falling in some areas. I hope to see more of these in the future.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Missouri Sunset

It was such a beautiful evening, after fixing supper I decided to take our dog (Lila) for a walk back through our fields. My husband was planting soybeans trying to get the last of the planting done before the impending rain moves in this weekend. Lila was enjoying her romp through the fields and exploring sights and smells she had never encountered before. As we were heading back to the house this gorgeous sunset called an end to our little outing.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Patience pays off. I tried for several days to capture a picture of one of these fast little fliers, sitting quietly near a feeder we have in our backyard. Finally Sunday afternoon I succeeded in capturing a nice image of a female. We have two Ruby-Throated hummingbirds in our yard, each fighting for dominance over the feeders. It seems to make no difference to them that there is plenty to go around. Between the three feeders and numerous plants there is no shortage of food for them. They simply do not want to share. The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is the only breeding resident hummingbird in the eastern portion of the United States. They are bright iridescent emerald green on their back and buffy white on the underside,the male has a distinctive ruby colored throat from whence they get their name. They are rapid fliers as anyone can attest to that have seen them. They hover over flowers and feeders with wings beating so fast as to almost be invisible. They can stop on a dime, fly backwards, upwards, forwards or any which way they want. They are true acrobats of the avian world. Many hummingbirds tend to be territorial such as the two females present in my yard right now. Putting feeders out of sight of one another usually ends the squabbling. If you would like to attract hummingbirds to your yard, plant a variety of sweet blooming plants, such as Columbine, Weigeila, Cardinal flower, trumpet Vine, or most any other red colored flower. Placing sugar water feeders out is a good idea too. You can buy commercial grade powder to mix with water, or make your own. It is one part sugar to 4 parts water, brings to boil and let cool, then fill the feeders. There is no need for food coloring as most feeders have red on them. These little beauties will appreciate your efforts to provide food for them. Many of them travel well over 1000 miles on their migratory journey. They are sure to build up a healthy appetite.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Indigo Bunting

Many of us don't realize how many different birds there are in Missouri with blue feathers. One of my favorites is the one pictured here, the Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea). This little male has been visiting my feeders all week eating black oil sunflower seeds. He seems quite friendly and will land on the feeders to eat while only a few feet from me. These birds are migratory like most songbirds in our area, they head south to Florida and South America during the winter, then when warm weather returns to the Northern regions it will be found as far north as Canada. These birds are small, about sparrow size at 4.5 inches. The species name of "cyanea" means dark or sea blue which is a vary apt name for this lovely little bird. The breeding male is a startling shade of bright blue with dark wings and a somewhat darker crown that can sometimes look purple depending upon the light. The female is not as colorfully marked, she is dark brown on top and lighter brown below with distinct wing bars. Sometimes there will be dark streaking below. These birds will be found near forest edges, along roadsides in fence rows, deciduous woods, and second growth timber. These birds are very vocal and use a series of sounds to communicate with each other, both sexes will call out a loud "chip, chip" when threatened or alarmed. They use a longer more buzzing sound of "zweet" while in flight to locate each other. Their song is a sweet melody of "sweet-sweet chew-chew sweet-sweet". Their main diet is insects, including grasshoppers, spiders, and caterpillars. They will also eat many types of grain seeds that are foraged from the ground. as well as berries. While it is not common for them to do so, they will come to backyard feeders and eat seed, typically millet, but the one pictured here seems to love the black oil sunflower seeds. While driving in the country these are often seen along the roadsides, fluttering in and out of fence rows. Their status is secure, and thankfully so, these are such a beautiful bird and a joy to watch and I feel blessed to have one that is making himself at home in my backyard.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Chipping Sparrow

Normally the only sparrows I see in my yard are the common House Sparrow variety. Once in awhile in the winter a Harris Sparrow will show up. Yesterday that changed with the appearance of the "Chipping Sparrow"(Spizella passerina). This adorable little sparrow landed in the birdbath right in front of me, my presence scared him witless, as you can see in the second photo where he looks like a ghost. He gathered himself and perched on the side of the bird bath for a photo. These little birds are similar to other sparrows, they are about 4.75 inches in length and have a rusty colored crown and black eyeline. Males and females are very similarly marked. True to their name this little guy kept yelling "chip chip chip" at me. I assume he wanted me removed from the area so he could go about drinking some water.

Monday, May 18, 2009

American Goldfinch

The American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) is a backyard bird feeder favorite. What is not to love? The males are gorgeous with their bright yellow( which comes from the carotenoid pigments from its diet) and black plumage. The females are a bit more subtle in their coloring, but pretty nonetheless. This coloring has also earned them another common name of wild canary. It will be the spring and summer mature males that have this coloring; immature males , females and winter mature males will all be the drabber more olive tone. I commonly have these at my feeders all year. Goldfinches are present in Missouri all year. In some areas of their range they will migrate, during the breeding season they will be found from Southern Canada to North Carolina, during the winter they will be found from just south of Canada to Mexico. They love nyger seed and black oil sunflower seeds. I've seen as many as 100-150 of these at feeders during the winter, especially when there are impending snow storms. It seems they sense the approaching bad weather and will gather at the feeders in large numbers as if it is their last meal. During the spring and summer I typically have 4 or 5 pairs. The males are often territorial and will chase other males away. The fights are rarely serious, and usually if you put out a couple of feeders it will resolve the issue. During nest building the males are aggressive towards any males in the area, females will also be aggressive towards other females. Once nest building is complete they will usually calm down. Goldfinches nest later than most other species, this is in part to the food they eat. In the wild thistles and other small seed bearing plants that the goldfinch loves are finally blooming. They will also use the the thistle down to line their nests. The female incubates the eggs, but she will call continually to the male. She will lay 5 to 6 bluish-white eggs approximately peanut size. The eggs hatch in 12-15 days. The young are fed regurgitated seeds by the female. They grow rapidly and in approximately 15 days they will start taking experimental flights away from the nest. If you would like to attract these gorgeous birds to your backyard, plant flowers that produce seeds they like, such as zinnia, coneflower, bee balm, and globe thistle. Also place thistle seed and black sunflower seeds in feeders, and provide fresh water.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Bird in the Hand

A few years ago I was given the privilege to assist in banding wild caught birds. A nice gentleman by the name of Jack is a bird bander in St. Joseph. He has a special permit allowing him to do this. His love of birds is apparent as soon as you meet him. He has a great passion for these feathered creatures. He spends much time bird watching and teaching classes at a local university. Each spring and fall during the migration he sets up a mist net near the NW regional office of the Missouri Department of Conservation. He documents each species captured and banded, including their weight, and the band number. This particular morning we met about 7 AM and set up the net. Every half hour or so we checked the net. In the two hours we were there we caught a Black-Capped Chick-a-dee and an Eastern Towhee. A few other species escaped our efforts. This was the first time I had ever seen a towhee, so it was quite exciting for me. To be able to hold one of these delicate birds in your hand and place an impossibly tiny band on their legs was an experience I won't soon forget. They are light as a feather (no pun intended). Weighing no more than a few ounces. I've often mentioned how chick-a-dees are my favorite bird, so to be lucky enough that we just happened to catch one was good fortune for me. I never dreamed in a million years I'd get the honor of holding one. The first picture is of another assistant we had with us that day named Ryan holding the towhee. The second and third pictures are of me holding the towhee and the chick-a-dee right before they were released. I hope to one day go back and assist again with such a wonderful worthwhile venture.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A trip to the farm always brings with it something to see. Sometimes it is a wild animal or an interesting insect. Often times it is just the beautiful sky or the landscape. These two pictures were taken a few days ago in Fillmore, MO. My in-laws own farms there and I often visit them to hike and take pictures. Sometimes I go hunting, or at least I sit and pretend since I've never actually shot anything. The clouds this particular day were so pretty, they were very dark gray against a beautiful blue sky. A few drops of rain fell from them, but you could have counted them there were so few of them. The other picture is just the view from the gateway to the family farm. I have no idea who owns the silos off in the distance, but they looked so neat against the horizon.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rascal in the Tree

"An Animals eyes have the power to speak a great language"

A few years back I was given the privilege to care for two very young raccoons. A litter of 5 were found in a chimney after the mother had been removed and relocated. The homeowners were completely unaware that by moving her they had orphaned her 5 offspring. Once I ended up with them they were severely dehydrated and crying pitifully for their momma. Believe me when I say when a baby raccoon wants something, he will voice it LOUDLY! No one sleeps when a raccoon can't sleep. They did not have their eyes open yet and I estimated their age to be about 4 weeks. They were hand size and already trying to crawl out of the cage they were in. Being blind didn't seem to stop them from getting into trouble even at that young of an age. After a few days it became apparent that 5 was about 3 too many for me to care for properly with everything else I had going on in my life at the time. I had averaged about 3 hours sleep per night for those three days. I was exhausted and I knew I had a long road ahead. I managed to find suitable homes for the other 3, with the assurance from the foster parents that as soon as they were ready and big enough they would be released. I had recently completed wildlife rehabilitation care classes at Lakeside Nature Center in KC, so this was a perfect opportunity for me to practice everything I had learned. Nothing can prepare you for the 24/7 care that these little sweethearts require. After a few weeks they opened their eyes and took their first look at the world around them. I wondered at the time what they thought when they caught a peek at their "mommy". When they reached the age of about 13 weeks and we were able to get them weaned off milk their diet turned to cat food and much more interesting things. We caught crawdads, small fish, and frogs. We placed these little creatures in a baby wading pool and put the young raccoons in the pool. We stood back and watched the fun begin. Those little raccoons knew instinctively what to do. It was amazing to watch them as they devoured every single creature in the water. We commonly hid food for them to find and they had full run of our yard and farm. As they got older, about 4 months of age they would disappear for days at a time, off exploring I assume. They always came back and begged for food and attention. We tried not to hold them, or pet them. Beyond their physical needs we tried to offer as little attention as possible. A tame raccoon is a dead raccoon. At the age of 5 months I discovered the larger male inside an enclosure we had that held some baby ducks. He was making no secret of his interest in having duck for dinner. I proceeded to try and remove him from the duck pen only to have him bite at me and growl viciously. IT WAS TIME TO GO! We took both raccoons to a friend of ours pond about 2 miles away. Only to have the female end up on a neighbors front porch injured. We took her in and doctored her, after two days we took her back to the pond. My son drove her on the front of the 4 wheeler. This crafty raccoon memorized the ride and came back to our house the very next day. She was in a bird feeder on the kitchen window looking in at us. We came to the conclusion she just wasn't ready to be on her own like her big brother. A friend of mine agreed to keep her through the winter. Once March arrived she began to get testy and it was time to release her. They released her at the same pond, and this seemed to work. Or so we thought, until a couple weeks later our greenhouse had a hole torn in it. We couldn't figure out what caused it for the longest time. I told my husband to set a live trap inside and we would know for sure who the culprit was. It turned out our little villain was the raccoon. She was sitting in the live trap munching on the marshmallows we baited it with and looking at us with a mischievous look on her face, as if to say "Okay you can open the door now". She had been coming into the greenhouse to eat the birdseed and cat food that was being stored in there. I just smiled, I couldn't help but think she was cute and smart for figuring out how to get an easy meal. My husband had a different opinion, especially since he had to fix the greenhouse roof. It is absolutely unbelievable how mush trouble a raccoon can get into. If it can be torn up they will do it. Locks aren't even much of a deterrent. So we took the little thief to Happy Holler Conservation area approximately 10 miles away and released her. We learned the hard way, they need to be at least 5 to 6 miles away or they can find their way back. Hopefully she stayed out of trouble there. As a wildlife rehabber you walk a fine line. Taking in the animals that have been orphaned is a challenge, not only to give them proper care but to not humanize them. Animals that are to acclimated to humans face all sorts of problems. mostly from humans and their pets.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Modes of Transportation=Excitement

I remember as a little girl how excited I felt whenever Hot Air Balloons would float over our house. These were anything but a common site, making it that much more wonderful. The vast and wonderful colors and the impossibly tiny basket attached to this enormous balloon seemed to defy the logic of gravity. Sometimes we were fortunate to see a couple together, but generally it was a lone balloon so far up in the blue sky that you could barely tell if there were people aboard. This balloon pictured was barely topping the trees a couple of summers ago. Look at the lower right corner of the picture and you will see the tree top. The tree was probably 60 feet tall, so this gives you an idea of how close to the ground this balloon really was. Fortunately for me I had my camera and was able to get a picture. Another fascinating sight for me is trains. Even today as a full grown adult (at least my age says so) I am still in awe of them. The rumbling sound as they lumber along on the tract makes my chest feel heavy and my heart beat faster. I never feel frustrated by a delay waiting for a train at a crossing. Instead I sit patiently and count cars or read the ever present graffiti. I do however miss the days of the caboose and the joy of being waved at by the man residing there. I thought that there could be no better job when I was a kid. Riding the rails in a caboose waving at all the kids and getting to see the country to boot. The caboose is a thing of the past like so many wonderful things I can recall from my memory as a little girl growing up in Missouri. In our strive for technology and advancement I can't help but wonder what we are sacrificing in the process.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Vulture Adventure

Today I decided to make a trip to our farm in Fillmore,MO. My husband wanted to finish planting corn. When we got to the farm my father-in-law and my brother-in-law, Tony were there. Tony told me he had just discovered a vulture inside a tree right before we got there.
I asked him to show me where, we walked a few hundred feet into the timber to a hollow tree (pictured). I was able to look inside the hollow tree, the opening is only about 5 feet off the ground. Inside the first thing I spotted was a raccoon carcass (picture 2). We knew this past winter several raccoons in the area had died of distemper. We assume this was one of those raccoons. After noticing the raccoon, further back in the tree you could see the vulture sitting there. I presumed she (or he) was sitting on eggs. I took a few pictures of her, the quality wasn't very good. The light was poor and her position was not conducive to a good photo. I was thrilled to see a vulture this close though. Vultures have long been one of my favorite birds. Many people find them repulsive, I guess this comes from their eating habits. I know carrion is no ones favorite food choice. Fortunately for us these large birds not only love it, but seem to exist almost completely on this stinky diet. Turkey Vultures were named after their resemblance to the Wild Turkey. Both birds are large, have red heads and dark feathers. The word Vulture comes from the Latin word vulturus which means tearer--this refers to their eating habits. They tear the flesh off the meat they consume. Vultures have keen eyesight and an excellent sense of smell. They can detect the gases coming from dead flesh from great distances. They prefer to eat "fresh carrion". Meaning they will turn their noses (or beaks) up at putrid flesh. Turkey Vultures are the most common vulture in their range. They can be found throughout North and South America. They are very gregarious birds and will congregate in huge communal roosts. Sometimes numbering over 100 birds. In the morning they will disperse and find areas to feed. Breeding for these birds starts in March and usually ends in May. We went back to the tree about 2 hours later and discovered the adult had left and two eggs were there (pictured). The eggs are large, about the size of a goose egg. They are cream colored and covered in spots. You will notice in the photo there is a pile of vomit. The adult regurgitated at some point within the nest cavity. Probably while I was taking it's picture. This is their only form of defense. They have very few enemies, but should someone or something disturb them or their nest they will vomit their last meal towards them. If they happen to hit you with it, the smell will probably make you vomit your own socks up, plus it is reported to sting the skin. It takes about 30 to 40 days for the eggs to hatch and the young are fed by both parents. They regurgitate food into their gaping mouths. The young are also capable of vomiting on you, should you happen to disturb them. These birds are quite large with a 6 foot wingspan and weighing at around 4-6 pounds. They are a common sight soaring high in the sky, using the thermals to reach great heights. They rarely need to flap their wings. These birds are very awkward on the ground, they find it difficult to take flight. Sometimes they must regurgitate part of their meal to leave the ground. Often they are seen on fence posts or trees with their wings outstretched. This is done presumably to 1.)warm themselves 2.) bake bacteria off their bodies or 3.) dry the wings. Turkey Vultures are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act from 1918. I can't imagine anyone wanting to harm these wonderful birds. Ranchers and farmers have long believed that these birds transmit Hog Cholera or anthrax to their livestock. This is not true. The virus is rendered impotent by the time is goes through the vultures system. Vultures are amazing in their ability to digest disease ridden flesh. The diseases are destroyed by the vultures stomach acids and digestive tract. Some ranchers also falsely believe that these birds kill newborn calves. They do not, instead it is their close relative the Black Vulture who is responsible for this. Turkey Vultures will hang with Black Vultures and feed on the leftovers. They do not kill calves or anything else. Occasionally they will feed on vegetation; such as pumpkins, plant matter, and invertebrates. Rarely, if ever would they kill for their meal. Some people say they have a face only a mother could love, hideously ugly is a common phrase uttered when talking about these birds. Their heads are featherless for a reason. Can you imagine if they had feathers on their head, and stuck their head inside a rotting roadkill? Their feathers would become impacted with blood and flesh and bacteria. The lack of feathers helps them stay cleaner and healthier. Another gross habit these birds have is to urinate on their legs. This urine is high in acids and aids in killing any bacteria that may remain on their legs from feeding. It also aids in cooling them in hot weather. It works as a form of perspiration. I look forward each year to the return of these large birds. The site of them soaring high in the sky so effortlessly and gracefully brings a smile to my face. For me it means spring has finally arrived. If you would like to learn more about these amazing birds visit Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery in Branson, Missouri. Each February they host a special event called "Vulture Venture" This event showcases a live vulture, games, and information about these birds. Each year the Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures congregate at the hatchery during their northward migration. There will be hundreds of them there for a short few weeks. It is worth the trip to see this phenomena. We went a few years ago and could not believe how many vultures were there. Hundreds of them roosting in the trees. While they may not have the stature of the Bald Eagle or the cuteness of the Chick-a-dee or the beauty of any number of other birds, they are glorious in their own way. If nothing else they should be respected for the garbage disposal they provide.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Eastern American Toad

One of the most common sights and sounds of spring and summer are the Toads. This one was photographed in our goldfish/ koi pond. I often see them swimming in the pond and resting along its edge. I believe this one to be the Eastern American Toad (Bufo americanus americanus). They are common state wide. My yard is home to several of these warty little guys. They are hugely beneficial to have in your yard. They consume earthworms and numerous other insects. They are fun to watch, and delight children of all ages. I remember as a child I could not wait until the toads appeared. I still catch them when I see them, I just can't resist. There is something so darn cute about them. I remember my husband saying to not pick them up that they will give you warts. That is simply not true. While it is true they often urinate when you pick them up. Who can blame them, I imagine if some giant picked me up I might just pee myself out of fright too! I will say, that if you have very sensitive skin, you may get water blisters on your skin from the excretion. I recall while camping on the Nodaway River one weekend many many summers ago. I came across a small toad in our campsite. I decided (In my infinite teenage wisdom) to drop this poor toad down my husbands( then boyfriends) shirt. It proceeded to urinate on his back and left blisters. While the blisters did not hurt, they were a bit unsightly. He was less than thrilled at my little practical joke (and he still married me). During March, April and May these little amphibians are looking for mates. I am serenaded each evening by their mating calls around our pond. They are a joy to listen to, and summer would not be the same without them.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Blue Grosbeak

This picture was taken last August near Happy Holler Conservation Area. I drove out there taking the country roads. It was a beautiful evening for a drive. Just as the sun was beginning to set I spotted a blue bird fly in front of the car and land on a fence. I stopped and backed the car up to try and get a closer look. I discovered that is was a"Blue Grosbeak", they were given this name for obvious reasons. They are gorgeous. Very bright blue with dark chestnut colored wings. He sat on the barbed wire fence for several minutes. They are not commonly seen and I felt very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to not only see this lovely bird but to capture an image of it. Look for them near Forest edge, fields, power-line cuts, riparian areas, hedgerows, and other areas with medium-sized trees and low shrub density. They feed on insects, other small invertebrates, and seeds. During migration they will gather in fairly large numbers and feed on rice in rice paddies. Studies show that they are expanding their range and their numbers may be on the increase. So, if you have never seen one of these lovely birds, perhaps this year will be your lucky year.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Woodsy beauty

Each romp in the woods brings with it new things to see. Pictured here is a type of "Shelf Mushroom" These fungi grow on the sides of dead or decaying trees, looking very much like little shelves extending from the bark. There are many different types, but most are inedible. The second picture is another common sight in Missouri woods during the spring, and that is the wildflower "Wild Sweet William". They bloom a gorgeous lavender color. These were blooming all over the creek banks on our property. The butterflies like them for nectaring, as well as bees and flies. The third picture is a bumble bee, performing acrobatics as he tries to extract the nectar from the gooseberry blooms. The gooseberries are loaded with blooms this year. Seems we will have a lot of berries for pie.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Giant Morel

This picture says it all. That is my husbands hand picking this beautiful morel. This is the biggest one of the season so far. The funny thing is, where we are finding these large ones is in a place that seems out of character to where you normally find them. There are no elm trees, cottonwoods, sycamores or any other significant trees. All there is are a few Honey locust and some scrub. Cows are left to roam this area and there is a lot of dung around. Perhaps that is fertilizing the area and creating these monster mushrooms. This one was easily 8 inches tall.

Spring Flowers=Happy Smiles

After a long, cold, dreary winter there is nothing that will lift the spirits more effectively than a flower in bloom. They are like Sunshine to soul. The flowers are sure to put a smile on your face and lighten your burdens. I've featured many spring blooms in previous blogs, and I will continue to do so as they bloom throughout the season.
The ones pictured here were photographed yesterday in my backyard gardens.
1.) Lavender Azalea
2.) Wild Violets
3.)Bleeding Heart
4.) Mystery yellow flower with black ants
5.) Black Tulip (It looks more purple than black, but it really is as dark as it appears in the photo.)