Archive for the 'Animals' Category

Seeing double

I’m sure I’ve said this many times before, but I walk along the highway in the mornings, and my walk takes me over the creek and back four times, which means crossing the bridge eight times. On my final pass heading back to the house, my treat to myself is to stop on the bridge and take a couple minutes to just stand there, stretch my calves, survey the scenery, look for turtles in the creek, and pray for a certain out-of-state friend of mine.

I nearly always see something alive. If not turtles (and it’s not quite turtle-seeing season yet), then fish of several varieties, or my noisy belted kingfisher friend, or maybe a great blue heron standing like a statue, or very, very, very rarely a beaver, mink, otter, or muskrat. Last week, all the turkey vultures in western Taney County held a conference in three big trees right around the bridge. I actually counted 61! They were all eyeing the many dozens of sucker carcasses the previous week’s fishermen had abandoned in and on the banks of the creek. Now to me, just sitting around in treetops looking at those heaps seemed an awful lot like going to Golden Corral and just sitting around plate-less at a table next to the buffet, but I guess the turkey vultures knew what they were doing.

That conference was something to see, but this morning was made that pale in comparison. I stopped on the bridge as usual, and as I looked upstream, a large bird came flying toward me. What was it? As it got closer, I could see that its head was white, and… yes… yes, it was indeed a mature bald eagle! God had timed his flight perfectly, to cross the bridge at the exact moment out of 45 minutes that I would be standing there. WOW! I turned to watch, grinning, as it flew on downstream. Then when it was nearly out of sight, I turned my gaze back upstream to begin scanning for turtles, and Sweet Georgia Peaches! Here came ANOTHER bald eagle, this one very slightly smaller than the first, flying toward me on the exact same path. It was almost unbelievable. TWO bald eagles on Easter Sunday morning!!! What a wonderful gift! (Not to mention the infinitely more wonderful fact that Christ is risen indeed.)

Glorious Resurrection Day!

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Behold, by now she liveth

Yes.

I really am alive and kicking, and I am determined to post blogs, even if they are only a few sentences long,  because doing so is one of the things that most brings me joy and makes me feel alive.

Turkeys are figuring prominently in my life these days. For one thing, I just ten minutes ago pulled out of the crockpot what I intend to turn into something delicious sometime while Scott’s home. At a youth group function back the week before Thanksgiving, the sport du jour was Turkey Bowling. Andrew explained that they took frozen (packaged, net-wrapped) turkey breasts and hurled them across the floor at targets of some kind, and that it was a lot of fun. I don’t know if Turkey Bowling employs traditional scoring, but I suppose Andrew won, because he brought home a rock-hard turkey breast! Which I stuck in the freezer and pulled out last week. After thawing in the fridge for several days, the bird really needed to be cooked, and since I didn’t plan to serve a nice meal to more than three people this week, I decided to plop the bird in the crockpot overnight. Now the house smells wonderful, and my to-do is to debone the critter and package the meat for future use.

And in other news, local readers may be aware that over the past couple of years, some rich somebody bought a large parcel of land along Bull Creek just east of here, including what used to be a cow pasture running along the outside of the horseshoe bend. They did extensive excavation, raised and lowered certain areas, put in a long, winding driveway, dug out a pond, and built an absolute mansion of a house that’s set way back from the road close to the creek. They also cleared many, many acres of land between the house and the road, which means that now, for the first time in well over twenty years, that plot of land is no longer trees and brush right up to the highway, and abiding in that recently-opened piece of real estate are two flocks of wild turkeys. Sometimes the two groups congregate, for a total of some two dozen birds. I rather doubt they are recent additions to the neighborhood. They’ve probably always lived there; it’s just that now I can see them. In fact, I see them 78.8% of the time I drive that road, which I do every time I go to church (read: approximately four times a week). Once I even saw about five of them with their tail feathers spread out, a truly impressive presentation! As Tennyson said, “In the Spring a young [turkey’s] fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love[ly young hens?]”

Anyway, I’m enjoying seeing those wild turkeys across the way on a fairly regular basis, but one day last week I looked out our very own back window to see – as I live and breathe – twelve turkeys ambling across our yard. They bee-bopped from Coffee Road, between the propane tank and the smokehouse, across the driveway, and up into the woods. WOWZA! A couple of them were even on this side of the peony bed, only about ten feet from the dining room window.

Prominent figures, those turkeys.

 

 

To the tune of “Three Coins in the Fountain”

The other day, I was resting on our bed when Andrew came into the room and said, “Look outside, Mom.” I twisted around and looked, and there was a raccoon under the smaller plum tree! He was a youngster, grubbing around, I suppose, for any underripe plums that may have fallen. But wait, there’s more! Another young coon was up IN the big plum tree! Oh, Wow. We watched them for a couple minutes, sometimes on the ground, sometimes up the tree, till something startled them and they scampered off. I know our neighbor is trapping them because they (or their kin) have been killing her chickens. In fact, the coons have been so problematic that I think her husband shot one a few mornings ago. But these two in our yard were just so stinkin’ cute!

Sing it with me, boys and girls:

“Two coons in a plum tree

Each one seeking something sweet

Oh, how fun to behold them

Striped tails, masks, and dainty feet.”

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 to 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  – comes 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 above-mentioned males 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.  = )


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