July 2019 Archives

Alert Gazette readers will remember how I teased them with this preview of potential Independence Day bicycle decorations in preparation for our participation in the local (Horseshoe Bay) parade. The final modest result pictured below belies the hour or so of toil in the sauna-like confines of a garage in the middle of a Texas summer. It also doesn't capture the copious amounts of gaffer tape and nylon cable ties employed to ensure that decorations stayed comfortably (and safely) away from such operating mechanisms as brakes, chains, shifters, and wheels.

OTOH, it DOES show that we were appropriately patriotic (or, if you prefer, garish and gaudy), and ready to parade.

MLB and I pose with our decorated recumbent tandem
Photo courtesy of the very personable golf cart driver who had
the misfortune of following us in the parade.

This was our second year to ride in the HSB parade, and it was a lot of fun.  This year we were blessed with cool and cloudy conditions, unlike the Great Heatstroke Tour of 2018. The route is short -- less than 1 1/2 miles -- and lined with people of all ages from start to finish (plus a leashed pig wearing an Uncle Sam hat). There are scores of decorated golf carts, cars and truck both old and new, and the obligatory appearances of city dignitaries riding in convertibles and fire trucks. And, of course, one weird recumbent tandem bicycle.

With all due immodesty, I confess that our bike gets some of the most animated reactions from onlookers, and especially the kids. The procession moves slowly enough to allow some interaction with the spectators, and it's a blast to hear the comments. And one media photographer was apparently impressed.

Photo in the Horseshoe Bay Beacon of us riding our bike in the parade
They even spelled our names correctly.

This photo appeared in the July 11 edition of the weekly Horseshoe Bay Beacon, and ours was the only non-dignitary-transporting vehicle that made the paper. Granted, we appeared on page 9 (of a 12-page edition), but at least we were above the fold.

Disclaimer: I know, I know. Helmets. We do normally wear them. But our average speed in the parade was about 2 mph, and I doubt that we ever exceeded 4 mph, so give us a break this one time, how 'bout? Of course, at those speeds there is a distinct challenge of staying upright, so perhaps we were pushing the boundary. But that's how we roll. [Heh]

I had originally intended to use our new celebrity status as a soapbox to address some bicycle/motor vehicle interaction etiquette issues, but I think I'll save that for another day. The main takeaway would simply be: please don't run over us, even when we're not so obviously patriotic. Thanks very much!

Oh, yeah; I almost forgot. Thanks to the post-holiday sale at Hobby Lobby, next year's decorating scheme will be even more awesome. Stay tuned.
A couple of weeks ago I spotted something in the adjacent vacant lot that looked out of place. It was a turtle -- a Texas river cooter (Pseudemys texana) to be precise -- in the process of creating a "nest" in which to deposit eggs. Being the insensitive-and-nosy jerk I am, I immediately set up a couple of cameras on tripods to record the process. (Alert Gazette readers will recall that this isn't my first turtle-egg-laying rodeo.)

While I didn't catch the mother-to-be at the very beginning of her quest, she was early in the process and I was able to video and photograph it through the very end, and it took a couple of hours (and a few swap-outs to recharge batteries). 

The nest building process is fascinating to me. The turtle had picked out a seemingly random location about a seventy-five yards from the creek where she resided. Using only her back legs, she dug a hole at least nine inches deep. The soil was completely dry when she started, but somehow during the process she emitted enough water to create a muddy environment before laying the eggs. When the laying process started, after each egg was deposited, she pushed it down into the hole with a hind leg. That action seemed to be rude and rough, but the leathery shells weren't damaged, nor were their contents (I assume).

I didn't hang around to observe the entire two hours, but I did check back in time to watch the actual egg-laying, and I counted at least eleven eggs. 

Photo - Turtle laying egg
Turtle egg being deposited in new nest

Once all eggs were deposited, she reversed the initial process. Again, using only her hind legs, the turtle pulled dirt and plant material back over the nest, and arranged it so that it was completely unobtrusive, even to a close visual inspection.
By the way, turtles get no respect when it comes to baby animal names. "Hatchling" is about as generic as it gets. I think they deserve better, so I propose something like "turtleini." Or "turtle tot." Or "turtlette."

OK, maybe we'll just stick with "hatchling."
Photo - Camouflaged turtle nest
Would you have known there were a dozen turtle eggs hidden beneath this patch of ground?

It was gratifying to think that we might be able to observe the hatchlings in three-to-four months.

Or not.

As it turns out, Mother Nature is often cruel and capricious. A mere day later, I walked past the nest and it resembled a miniature bomb crater. What was indiscernible to the human eye was apparently easily discovered by one of the several species of predators that live around the creek. I counted at least eight eggs in various states of consumption (and one still whole but obviously damaged). The only remaining question was: which varmint was to blame?

Photo - Ravaged turtle nest
The ravaged nest, circled in blue; egg remains are circled in yellow

I theorized that whatever had attacked the nest was likely to return at least one more time, so I pointed my game camera toward that general vicinity. Sure enough, the answer appeared when I downloaded the contents of the SD card onto my computer the next morning...and that answer was a bit shocking to me. Here's a screen capture from the short video captured by the camera:

Photo - Armadillo digging in turtle nest
Yes, it's an armadillo, digging back into the remains of the nest.

If an armadillo would have been at the bottom of your list of potential turtle egg eaters, join the club. But, according to the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management (a website for which the armadillo should be the centerfold, IMHO), the species is omnivorous to an extent I never considered. I'll save you a click and give you this excerpt from the ICWDM website:

The eating habits of armadillos

(Parenthetically, [Ed. -- This is redundant since it's already enclosed by parentheses.] this behavior received additional confirmation a few days ago when I found an armadillo in a raccoon trap baited with cat food.)

So, in the end, the river cooter's diligent efforts will likely come to naught, although it may be possible that a couple of the first eggs were deep enough to escape the marauding mammal. Such is life in the wild kingdom we call our neighborhood.

The following video is a condensed compilation of the footage I gathered over the duration of the events described above. If you have 8 1/2 minutes to burn and find moving pictures more interesting than my rambling text, feel free to check it out.


Rocket Raccoon beating up grass
Actual game camera footage from our front yard

The weather isn't the only thing heating up around Casa de Fire Ant. As I've previously documented -- feel free to scroll through past entries; I'm too lazy to find the links -- our newly sodded front lawn has been an irresistible siren call to armadillos and raccoons bent on destruction. The situation devolved to the point where I purchased an additional trap for each species, with mixed results. More on that later.

Education can be painful, particularly at my age, but it's still worthwhile, and what we've learned lately is that the worst of the damage that I've attributed to armadillos is actually more likely being caused by raccoons. We've found several reports of newly-laid sod being rolled up like a rug, and the culprits are NOT the bulldozing armadillos that I've been blaming. That doesn't absolve the armored raiders from all blame; they just tend to create shell craters instead of scorching the earth.

But not all the "education" has been effective. Desperation can lead to trying some weird-sounding tactics. For example, one of the anti-critter tips that MLB ran across was that raccoons and armadillos disliked the smell/taste of (1) cayenne powder and (b) garlic powder. She followed that advice and for several days our front yard smelled like an Italian restaurant. Seriously...you could detect the aroma from a block away.

This tactic actually seemed to work for a while, although I worried about the effects on the lawn of the spice dumping. And, of course, we had to start over after every rainfall or bi-weekly watering. And, eventually, it seemed that the garlic just made the turf more like a tasty salad for the varmints.

So, we moved onto the next tip, which alleged that raccoons don't like to walk on weird surfaces (my interpretation). There was a recommendation for putting down bird netting in the areas frequented by the animals. I was skeptical, but we were desperate, so off to Home Depot went MLB and she returned with a hundred dollars worth of netting and garden staples. We spent a few hours yesterday putting down almost 2,000 square feet of netting around the perimeter of our front lawn (which has four sections subdivided by sidewalks and driveways, so the perimeter of the grass is larger than you might think). 


I had visions of waking up this morning to find animals hopelessly entangled, like dolphins in ghost nets, and actually lost some sleep wondering how I would go about freeing an angry raccoon from such a snare. I thought about searching Amazon for "suit of armor." (Of course they have one.)

The good news is that I didn't have to unwrap a mammal. The bad news is that armadillos don't give a whit about bird netting. They managed to cross no-man's land, as it were, and continue to divotize the lawn.

Photo - bird netting covering a section of lawn
Bird netting is apparently not the threat nor hindrance we were led to believe.

There was a silver lining. As I mentioned above, I now have two raccoon traps, and both of them were filled with raccoons this morning. This represents significant and heartening progress in our quest for a lawn that doesn't resemble a battleground. And, interestingly, the double trapping occurred by yet another tip that actually worked.

I had always known that raccoons had a fondness for cat and dog food, but since I had had good success with the sardines, I continued with the smelly, messy baiting. But it had been more than a few nights since I'd trapped a raccoon, and I had game cam footage showing them ignoring a baited trap. I have no idea why they'd apparently lost interest in sardines, but I decided to buy a small cheap bag of cat food at the store on Monday, and that's what I used as bait in both traps last night (I used my last can of sardines -- again, in vain -- on Monday night).

My hope is that getting rid of this pair of raccoons will at least give our lawn some time to recover, and allow me to concentrate on the wily armadillos. I'm not naive enough to believe I've solved our problems, but as you can see by the following tallies, the past month hasn't been unproductive. So, unless I'm trapping animals that someone else has trapped elsewhere and dumped into our neighborhood (sadly, not an impossible situation), I have to think I'm making a dent in the natural population of varmints.

Graphic showing tally of trapped animals as of 5 June 2019
Trapped animal tally as of 6 June 2019

Graphic showing tally of trapped animals as of 5 June 2019
Trapped animal tally as of 9 July 2019

I'll save you some math: in just over a month, that's 7 raccoons, 5 armadillos, 2 possums, and 1 slow-learning feral cat which I caught multiple times but counted only once. Actually, I may have caught the same possum twice, but they all look the same to me. I hope that doesn't sound speciest.

Raptor in Flight
July 2, 2019 8:14 PM | Posted in: ,

Alert Gazette readers will recall that we have a[t least one] (possibly murderous) red-shouldered hawk living abiding in the trees adjacent to our house. He or she (or they) frequently fly around the vicinity and since we're not small mammals, it's a treat to see them and to listen to their plaintive cries.

I'm hardly ever (read: never) able to video the hawks in flight because they're fast and I'm not, but one recently flew into the frame of my game camera and triggered a short video. I find the flight of raptors somewhat fascinating, and I pulled a few frames of that video into a short gif.

Animated gif of a flying red-shouldered hawk

Pretty cool, huh?

This animated gif is eight frames of still photos, six of which actually show the hawk in flight. Following are those six frames in their uncropped splendor. The contraption in the foreground is one of my armadillo traps (sadly ineffective on this particular day).

Photo - flying red-shouldered hawk
Photo - flying red-shouldered hawk
Photo - flying red-shouldered hawk
Photo - flying red-shouldered hawk
Photo - flying red-shouldered hawk
Photo - flying red-shouldered hawk

The only thing that could have improved this sequence of photos is if the hawk was carrying a raccoon in its talons.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from July 2019 listed from newest to oldest.

June 2019 is the previous archive.

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