Archive for the 'Animals' Category

What a venue!

It’s sucker season on Bull Creek. This means that between 7:00 and 8:00 A.M., we see even more pick-up trucks than usual in the tiny dirt parking area by the bridge. Most of those pick-ups sport step-ladders and contain one to four males ranging in age 6 to 66, with 23-38 being the most common range. These males debark their vehicles and press through the brush on the near side, walking upstream along the bank while carefully studying the water for any subsurface stirrings caused by schools of suckers.

I think the suckers usually live in Lake Taneycomo, but (with apologies Tennyson), in the spring a young sucker’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, and he – along with all his near and distant kin  – come up the creek to spawn. Googling “when do suckers spawn in missouri?” yields the following from the Missouri Department of conservation website:

“The majority of suckers harvested in Missouri are taken by snagging (or grabbing) and gigging. Both methods are time-honored Ozarks traditions. Sucker grabbing is at its best in the spring when these fish move into shallow gravel areas to spawn. It is not uncommon for hundreds of suckers to congregate in a relatively small area. White suckers migrate up Roark and Bull creeks from Lake Taneycomo each spring. Because of their affinity for cold water, they make these runs earlier than other sucker species. Local residents take advantage of the early white sucker spawning run to harvest these fish prior to the later spawning migrations of the redhorse sucker species.”

And local residents are not the only ones to take advantage of this sucker run. It is the nature of the males mentioned above to “clean” their catch and leave the fish carcasses in heaps either on the bank or in the water. These multiplied hundreds of fish skins and heads remain (and smell) until either we get some really heavy rain to wash them away and/or other critters carry them off.

I was walking on the creek road the other day, and about 4/10 of a mile up, I spied a great number of turkey vultures enjoying their Thanksgiving dinner of sucker remains that had been dropped in a pooled area of the creek. The feast must’ve been tasty, because they let me get quite close before flying off. I tried to count them; there were more than 25. That’s a lot of vultures at one party! I was only doing a short walk down and back, and after I had turned around and walked only maybe 30 paces back toward home, I looked over my shoulder, and the whole gang was already back at the table. I clearly didn’t intimidate them for very long. And since I love to learn, I wondered if you call a group of vultures something other than a flock. Turns out you do. I had seen a venue of vultures! Isn’t that just a wonderful, alliterative, and memorable term? A venue of vultures; I can surely say I learned something fun today.

In lieu of snow

I’m still waiting for snow. We haven’t had any yet, just one very minor less-than-even-a-dusting, back in. . . maybe it was December? Anyway, I do feel cheated in that regard, but I had a wonderful surprise this morning when I leaned over the bridge while stretching my calves. It looked like a very small leaf lazily drifting toward the bridge, but no! It was actually the teeniest, tiny, adorable TURTLE! He couldn’t have been any bigger than a silver dollar, and while I watched his miniature little legs slowly steering him along, another turtle came into sight, this one brown and of a nice respectable medium size. Now, I am definitely NOT ready for the warm weather that usually brings the turtles back, but if it’s not going to snow, there’s just no reason at all for it to be cold, cloudy, and dreary. We might as well enjoy spring! (Although who ever heard of sunny 70s day after day in February?!?)

Stay tuned. Next week, I plan to plant tomato seeds in Jessica’s room.

Hooded Mergansers. . . times four!!!

On this morning’s walk at 8:30, later than usual because I treated myself to a refreshing Saturday morning sleep-in, two pairs of hooded mergansers were swimming around just upstream of the bridge! What a treat! They stayed in the area, although sometimes quite a distance away, for a full forty minutes. Here’s a picture from the Missouri Department of Conservation’s website, and yes, they looked just like this:

hooded_merganser_pair_crest_raised_2-24-15 That website also gave the following information:

“Hooded Merganser, Lophodytes cucullatus

“Family: Anatidae (ducks, geese, swans) in the order Anseriformes

“Adult male has black head, neck, and back; the black-margined white crest and chestnut flanks of the male are very distinct. Female is brown with a rust-colored crest. The bill is slim, serrated, with a hooked tip; bill is dark in male and bicolored in female. Male gives a low, froglike sound; female a hoarse “gak.” Mergansers are divers, and the legs are far back on the body; on land, the posture is upright. The head crest may be raised to a nearly circular shape or lowered so that it trails behind the head. Hooded mergansers can leap straight out of the water and is our only merganser that can do so. Hooded mergansers have crests that trail behind the head or can be raised to create a circular shape.”

Here’s another picture from that website, but the two males I saw both had their crests raised the whole time. Very impressive and just ducky!

hooded_merganser_pair_2-24-15

I saw a raft

Our pastor was talking last night about Jesus’ habits and how the Bible says, “as was his custom.” I have habits, too. Nearly every morning, I walk along the shoulder of the highway from our house, three-tenths of a mile and back. I do four such laps to make 2.4 miles total. The highway bridge over the creek is in the middle of my jaunt, so I end up crossing the creek eight times every morning. That is a delightful thing because the creek is beautiful and it makes me smile. As I head back to the house on my final pass, I always stop in the middle of the bridge on the upstream side and spend a few moments stretching my calves and praying for a certain friend while I examine the creek; well, as closely as one can examine it from twenty feet up. I note the depth (which I compare to my Sharpie marker-lined rock and mentally describe as “superb floating,” “tolerable floating,” or “absolutely not at all floatable, Scott”), look for turtles (I’m always thrilled to see one; we have at least three different kinds), listen for interesting birds (especially my favorite belted kingfisher) and frogs (there’s a bullfrog that likes to hang out near the Walker’s dock), observe whatever fish are around (and wish I knew how to identify them), and rejoice when I see any of our less common wildlife specimens (like a great blue heron, snake, or beaver).

A couple mornings ago, when I stopped on the bridge during my final lap, I saw something long and dark swimming out from under the middle of the bridge, headed upstream. At first I thought it might be a beaver. I am for good reason partial to those guys, but no, this was too sleek to be a beaver, and its tail was tapering, not broad and flat. Could it be. . . ? Why, it WAS!!! It was an otter!!! And glory to God, right behind it were three more otters!!! I was so excited I was squealing! They swam upstream in a rectangle group, with pairs of them diving underwater and re-surfacing about every twenty feet. You know, they kind of roll through the water like whales do: head goes down while tail comes up, tail goes down and the whole otter is underwater, head comes up somewhere else and looks around a bit. . . rinse and repeat endlessly. They were stunning to watch.

Google has informed me that a group of river otters can be called a lodge or a bevy, but that when they are out in the water swimming together, they’re called a raft.

So I saw a raft.  = )

Can’t refund your damage deposit

Occasionally, but thankfully only rarely, the guests in one of our vacation rental homes will damage something, and we have to charge them for the cost of repairing or replacing whatever it was. Some of you may remember the horrific goat fiasco of Easter 2015, and just last week, a guest ripped and stained (black speckles all over it?!?) a king sheet. Then when we attempted to charge her the $60 to replace the sheet set, the credit card number she had given us was invalid. Oh, well, that is part of the cost of doing business.

But today we had another case in which a “guest” damaged something and failed to pay.

It’s spring here, and our grass weed collection is getting longer and needs to be mowed. And as we all know, it is the nature of riding mowers to either not start or not cut when first pulled out after sitting through the winter. Our rider was true to its nature, so Scott took it to our neighbor, Austin, a young man who did repairs on it for us last year. He does a great job, his rates are reasonable, and as mentioned, we only have to haul it 1/4 mile down the dirt road next to our house.

Today Austin contacted Scott with the news that one of the residents of our lawn building – I’d like to say a squirrel or maybe our friend, “Chuck,” but probably the rat that the guys saw jump out of the mower when they tried to start it – must’ve decided that a certain wire in the mower was positioned so as to make his bed somewhat less than comfortable. . . or maybe it was just that access to his bed was somewhat less than convenient. In any case, he took authority over that obnoxious wire and used his dental skills to cut it. The replacement of that wire is forcing a slight delay in our mower’s repair, and unfortunately, I think we’ll have about as much success collecting for Mr. R’s damage as we did for that damaged sheet.

Suckers running

Every year in mid to late March, the suckers (a kind of fish) come up Bull Creek from Lake Taneycomo en masse, I suppose to spawn, and this year has been a bumper year for suckers. On a recent morning, the water just up from the bridge was BOILING with fish!

It’s been fun to watch the fishermen do their thing. Normally, the way to catch suckers is to put on your waders, set up your six-foot stepladder out in the middle of the creek, hang a 5-gallon bucket from a hook on the ladder, climb up, and gig (spear) ’em. I’ve seen some of that this year, but the other day I watched two good old boys standing on the bank in their cammo gear, line fishing for suckers. I kid you not, they would throw out their lines, wait no more than ten seconds, reel the fish in, take it off the hook, drop it in the bucket, and cast again. Those two guys were each steadily catching fish in under a minute apiece. Amazing!

The thing I don’t like about sucker season is that the anglers peel the skins off the fish and leave the skins in piles on the bank, or in the water right at the bank, hundreds of them. I think they should haul their trash off and bury it somewhere, rather than littering “my” creek and creek bank with it.

Samurai squirrels

One day last week, I was looking out the window while washing dishes (Note: every kitchen sink should have a window above it.), and I saw something very funny. A squirrel was dancing on the upside-down lid of the bird seed can! I kid you not. We keep our bird seed, all 100 pounds of it, in a metal trash can with a metal lid. The lid has a metal handle, and we keep a big rock on the lid right next to the handle so that the squirrels can’t get it off. But the lid was off. It was upended on the floor of the smokehouse, right in the doorway, and since the handle kept it from lying flat, the squirrel was hopping around in it, dancing back and forth as the lid rocked. And each time it moved under him, he had a startled look on his face.

The sight was terribly humorous, and since it had clearly been caused by my main bird feeder filler having inadvertently left the lid off the can the last time he filled it, I went up to our Llama’s room, woke him, and told he simply had to come see something in the smokehouse.

Well, by the time he got to the window, the squirrel had completed his pirouettes and moved on, but Josiah claimed he had NOT left the lid off. And I seemed to remember watching him replace it a day or two earlier. . . To humor me, he did go out and refill the bird feeder (or “re-feed the bird filler,” as he and I like to say), and when he replaced the lid I watched him put the rock back on. This was midday on a given day.

Late the next morning, I found myself again in the kitchen and looking out the window. Imagine my surprise to see the lid off the can!!! There was a squirrel in the smokehouse, but he was not dancing on the lid. Jo went out again, replaced the lid, and put not one, but two large, very heavy rocks on it. He then told me that Andrew had told him that the around 11:00 the previous night, while watching a movie, he (Andrew) heard a loud metallic crash out back, in the vicinity of the smokehouse. We figure that crash was the work of our samurai squirrels. They must be serious body-builders. Either alone or in tandem, they are evidently strong enough to push one heavy rock off the lid, and then, while standing on the lid, pull it up and off. (It’s been a long time ago, but I did at one time see one squirrel standing on the lid and pulling up with all his might.)

So far, the heavily laden lid has not been removed. We shall see.