Recently in Wildlife - Mammals Category

I can't remember the last time I posted something to the Random Thursday category. Fortunately, my archivist is on top of things and tells me that it's been (a) almost six months since I wrote a Random Thursday article, and (b) more than two years since I actually posted a Random Thursday thing on an actual Thursday. I trust you're sufficiently impressed with the efficiency of the Gazette's back-office staff (even if it only serves to highlight the inadequacy of its actual blogging staff).



Today is yet another dreary, drizzly, depressingly dour day...the 87th consecutive one, or so it seems. But for one brief shining (literally) moment yesterday afternoon, the clouds in the western sky lifted, and a solar-powered spotlight illuminated the oak trees across the creek. MLB was the first to notice and draw it to my attention, whereupon I snapped a photo with my phone through one of our living room windows.

I was going for a simple scenery picture, but as I took the picture I noticed a large white bird flapping its way into the frame. It was a great egret, and it landed in the creek and immediately began fishing for its supper. Its appearance add some visual interest to the photo, as shown below.

Photo of sunset, great egret, and whitetail deer

However, what I didn't notice until later was another animal in the photo. It's hard to spot in the above image, but you might be able to discern it if you look closely. Hint: Look in the open area.

By the way, while I'm pretty sure the bird is a great egret, there's enough general confusion about whether a given bird is an egret, or a heron, or a crane that someone (the National Wildlife Foundation) has gone to the trouble of creating a page to address this very important identification issue. The key takeaway from this page for me is that egrets are actually a type of heron, which I never knew.



Speaking of archives (you're still with me, right?), I've been going through some old posts - dating back to 2002, when I first fired up the Gazette - as part of a Top Secret Project which may or may not come to light in the near future.

In going through those archives, I was struck by a couple of things. First, I wrote some pretty cringeworthy things, which at the time I was sure were quite insightful and wise, but which I now realize only elicited the kind of condescending sympathy from readers that one usually reserves for kindly old dementia patients.

But, more striking was the amount of interaction that bloggers and non-blogging readers had with one another, back in the Golden Age of Blogging (which I define as the early-to-mid Oughts). As I've lamented on other occasions, Facebook and other social media outlets have supplanted those kinds of interactions, and while they're not necessarily worse, they're not the same, and some of us just can't abide change. I think there was a lot more "iron sharpening iron" in the comment sections of many blogs than I've seen nowadays in the aforementioned social media. Eh...it is what it is and there's no going back, but I reserve the right to be nostalgic about the good ol' days.

I also appreciate more than ever some of you who are reading this and who have dropped by, even if sporadically, pretty much since the beginning. You know who you are.



I had planned to close with a video of a possum that was strolling blithely past our sliding glass door yesterday, shortly after I took the photo at the top of the page. However, in my haste to get a video with my phone, I failed to notice that when I touched the "record" button, nothing happened, so when I hit the "stop" button after the possum exited the premises, I captured eight seconds of our deck and my foot. 

But, not to worry. There's plenty of possum faces to go around.

Photo - Closeup of a possum's face

Spunky Skunk vs Cowed Cougar
October 11, 2019 10:11 AM | Posted in: ,

In yesterday's post, I described my uneasy efforts to release a skunk from a trap. During that process, I kept reminding myself to not get complacent; just because I'd never been sprayed, I shouldn't think it couldn't happen. It didn't, and even though I eventually had to agitate the animal a bit to get it to leave, it never made any threatening motions.

In fact, in my experience -- admittedly limited and YMMV -- skunks are pretty chill. And when you think about it, there's good reason: their defense mechanism is probably one of the most effective on the planet, and humans aren't the only ones to recognize that fact. Case in point is the following video originating from Canada, in which a cougar (the mountain lion kind, not the older-woman-predator kind) discovers that his threat pales alongside a skunk's.



One suspects that the cougar has learned about the skunk's odoriferous emanations the hard way, although that begs the question of whether cougars are really so stupid as to think that another encounter would yield a different outcome. Or, maybe, it was just that hungry.

Anyway, the apparent lesson for us less-stinky humans is that when we need a boost in self-confidence, we simply need to picture ourselves as skunks. [insert political figure joke here]
Update (10/11/19): The events described below reminded me that skunks are probably the most confident mammals on the planet. Here's some visual evidence of that premise.
'Cause what'cha gonna do with a cowboy
When that old rooster crows at dawn
When he's lyin' there instead of getttin' out of bed
And puttin' on his boots and gettin' gone
What you gonna do when he says honey
I've got half a mind to stay
What'cha gonna do with a cowboy
When he don't saddle up and ride away
Last night was a perfect storm of terribleness from a trapping perspective. I awoke to find both armadillo traps half sprung, indicating that they either malfunctioned when an animal entered and/or a trapped armadillo managed to extricate itself (the latter has happened before, as I've grudgingly shared).

It was bad enough that one or more armadillos eluded capture and continued to ravage our lawn, but I peered over the fence and found that instead of the usual raccoon...it was one of those black-and-white-striped kitties, aka una mofeta, aka a skunk. Great. Just. Great.

Photo - Skunk inside trap

Photo - I and my defensive beach towel approach the trapOf course, this isn't my first skunk rodeo [see here and here and *sigh* here; there was actually a fourth one that I didn't even bother to disclose], but it's been almost a year and 33 raccoons since one managed to get itself incarcerated.

I was in no real hurry to deal with it, and it was curling up for a nap as is the norm for skunks around daybreak, so MLB and I went for a run and I tried to remember the correct sequence of events that yield an untrapped skunk and an unsprayed trapper.

At one point during the run, we briefly discuss the idea of calling the city animal services folks and letting them deal with it, but I decided against that since our lawn guys were due this morning and I wanted the skunk gone before they arrived.

So, upon our return I armed myself with an old beach towel and an utterly inappropriate feeling of confidence and began the methodical process of (1) covering the trap, (2) opening the trap, and (3) preparing to run like the wind (or at least a vigorous amble) when the skunk sprang from its prison. 

Steps (1) and (2) went off in a rather boring -- for you readers, at least -- fashion. Step (3)? Not so much. As it turned out, el señor mofeta was rather content in his now-darkened bedroom. And, after all, it was past his bedtime. In other word, he wasn't coming out. 

And he didn't.

And he didn't.

Photo - Skunk resting peacefully inside trap

An hour later, the trap was still open and he was still snoozing inside it. Our lawn service hadn't shown up, but I figured they would at any time, so I took a more aggressive stance against the snoozing varmint.

I have a tree limb pruner mounted on an extendable pole, and I figured I could at least uncover the cage from a [hopefully] safe distance using it. It worked very well, in fact, and now the skunk had a little window in the side of the trap from which to look before returning to its nap. Really?

I began gently rocking the cage by pushing the pole against it. That did result in the skunk getting to its feet and sleepily assessing the situation. But it still didn't seem interested in leaving.

I finally jiggled the cage a bit more aggressively, and after almost three hours the skunk warily exited the trap and wandered slowly toward the creek (and away from me, so I didn't have to put my own escape plan into action).

Photo - Skunk exiting trap

After a lengthy consultation with myself, I think I'll put the trapping endeavors on hold for a while. Lawns are overrated anyway.

For purposes of maintaining the Very Important Accurate Historical Record, here's the scorecard as of today. Please study carefully; there will be a quiz later.

Graphic - Critter Trapping Scorecard

"So," I'm sure you're thinking, "what's with the 'poetry' at the top of the page?" Well, I'm glad you asked. Those are the lyrics of the chorus from a song entitled Whatcha Gonna Do With A Cowboy, performed [YouTube it if you wish] by the late Chris LeDoux and the very much still with us Garth Brooks. I thought the lyrics were appropriate for this topic if you substitute "skunk" for "cowboy" and ignore all the other cowboy references and, you know, it all sounded a lot better in my head. But, then, so do most of my posts.
It's that time of the year when the pecan trees in our back yard begin to earn their keep by producing, well, pecans. We certainly look forward to a great harvest of that nutty goodness, with visions of pies and ice cream toppings and pecan-crusted tilapia dancing in our heads...which is where those visions will stay because since we bought this house three years ago, we have yet to taste a single homegrown pecan thanks to the ever-increasing population of squirrels.

It's bad enough that they chow down on our pecan crop before it even matures, but they add insult to injury because they drop the discarded pieces of nut onto our deck. This creates a real mess as well as a good approximation of a lego-strewn floor for the unwary barefooted resident (i.e. us). We actually can't sit on our deck during the day because of the continuous deluge.

You're probably thinking, "well, how bad could that really be?" I'm glad you asked. Just drag the yellow bar on the photo below to the left to see a before-and-after comparison to show the effects of the pecan bits raining down.

Back yard deck after 3 hours 'Clean back yard deck

I'm not sure these photos do justice to the actual situation. It's important to understand that this mess was created in a space of three hours, and is repeated every three hours during the day until ALL. THE. PECANS. ARE. GONE. In fact, the annoyance factor is so high that I actually went to the trouble of setting up a GoPro camera to film a time lapse of the phenomenon:

Time lapse sequence of pecan pieces dropped by squirrels onto our deck
This will be Exhibit A in my self-defense strategy if I'm ever hauled in for shooting up our trees with a 12-gauge.

This is, of course, a fairly short-lived problem, given that over the course of a week or so, the squirrels will completely decimate the pecan crop and go back to simply chewing our chair cushions. And, frankly, because our trees are a native variety (rather than one of those PED-amped hybrids), the nuts aren't really very good. But it's the principle of the thing, you know?

If you've followed this blog long enough, you know that I've always been partial to mammals of the Sciuridae persuasion, but I've just about reached the limit of my tolerance. (Plus, they dug up my DIY pecan pie!) I've even started to think about a solution.

Bass Pro Shop online listing for a Ruger air rifle
Firing shotguns within the city limits is frowned upon. This is not a shotgun.

Four-footed Follies
August 14, 2019 3:07 PM | Posted in: ,

Update (8/14/19): I guess I should complain about the weather more often. Shortly after posting this, we had a brief rain shower...almost two tenths of an inch. That won't break the drought, but it certainly was enjoyable.

We've gone more than a month without measurable rainfall and the creek will likely cease flowing within the next week or so if the depressing 10-day weather forecast is accurate. The city is in a catch-22 position of banning vacant lot and pasture mowing because of the danger of wildfires resulting from sparks...but that leaves a LOT of combustible material in the fields. 

Most of the hummingbirds have deserted us, and even the cicadas seem to have given up (as has our lawn). But the heat hasn't seemed to slow down the parade of animals past Casa de Fire Ant and into our traps. 

Here's the latest tally, as of this morning (this is a cumulative total dating back to August, 2017, when we moved into the house):

Critter trapping scorecard

I updated the totals to account for the possum that wandered into the cat food-baited trap. The possum count is a bit misleading. Since I don't relocate possums, it's likely (probable) I'm trapping the same one over and over. They don't seem to be the sharpest knives in the critter drawer, although MLB has a different take. As she puts it, "they get a free meal inside a safe enclosure, and get released after a few hours so they can do it again that night; what's not to like?" I can't really argue with that logic.

But, they're still stupid. Even after I open the trap, it takes an average of an hour before they figure out they're free to leave.

Possum in cage
This morning's possum awaiting his MENSA invitation

However, in an overabundance of fairness, I'll give it the benefit of a doubt and assume that it's being cautious, given one of its fellow mammals that's continued to lurk in our neighborhood. 

Animated gif: bobcat

Yep, the bobcat is back. The above series of photos was taken a couple of nights ago, and this marks the third appearance -- that I've been able to capture on camera -- in about a month. These frames give a little better idea of the size of the cat. The cage in the foreground is 32" long and 13" tall.

Of course, possums and bobcats aren't the only visitors. Up until a couple of days ago, I was catching a raccoon every night. That action is no longer newsworthy...until something unexpected shows up. Take a look at this 30-second video:


The raccoon had been in the trap a while before the fox wandered up and took notice of the caged critter. If you watch closely, you'll see the fox bark at the raccoon (who doesn't seem to be the least bit exercised by the fox's presence, or apparent threats). 

I can't help wondering if the fox has tangled with a raccoon in the past, given its unwillingness to get too close. My guess is that a raccoon can more than hold its own in a battle with a fox. They're smart and probably fight dirty.

As far as the fox's bark goes, while the game camera doesn't capture audio, I was able to find an accurate rendering of the animal's vocalizations. Based on this, it's easy to come to the conclusion that carrying rabies isn't the worst characteristic of the fox.



Please accept my apologies for resurrecting this...music. I blame the heat.
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.
It's been an interesting week or so here at Casa de Fire Ant, thanks to the endless parade of wildlife traipsing past our abode, occasionally stopping to destroy our lawn on their way to whatever other endeavors attract them. 

Last week, we went out of town for a couple of days but I left my game camera activated to see what went on in our absence. That turned out to be a wise decision, from this amateur naturalist's perspective. I've stitched together something like a "best of" compilation from the several hundred photos and short videos recorded by the camera.



While the buzzards provided a bit of comic relief, the obvious star of the show is the bobcat that appears around the one minute mark of the video. We had recently heard reports of a bobcat in the neighborhood but this was the first time since we moved here two years ago that I've actually captured an image of one. Here are another couple of looks at the big cat:

Photo - Bobcat at night
Note the distinctive black bands on the front legs, a distinguishing mark of the species.

Photo - Bobcat at night
The bobcat's name derives from its stubby tail; the spots on the fur are another distinction.

The bobcat appeared on camera again, a couple of nights later, at almost the same early morning time. It walked so close to the camera that this is the only image that was captured.

Photo - Bobcat at night

A day or so later, I noticed a flurry of activity on the ground in the vacant lot on the west side of our house. It was a gathering of buzzards, and even from a distance I could see that they were intent on devouring something.

Photo - Four buzzards in a live oak tree
Four buzzards in a live oak tree

I walked over and the scavengers flew into nearby trees, unwilling to completely abandon their meal, which, to my dismay, was a whitetail fawn. The carcass was significantly damaged, but I couldn't discern whether that was due to the work of the buzzards or evidence of the fatal attack by...something.

Of course, my immediate thought was that the bobcat was responsible; its repeated appearance in conjunction with the dead fawn seemed like more than coincidence. Bobcats are known to take young deer, even though the latter are often larger than the cat.

However, the more I learned about both the bobcat and the other predators that prey on fawns, the less sure I became about the identity of the perpetrator. It seems that bobcats don't usually leave their prey after a kill. It's also entirely possible that a raptor such as a hawk or an eagle could kill a very young fawn, and there are red-shouldered hawks nesting in the trees (see photos below) near where I found the carcass. (I was also told that caracaras have been known to prey upon fawns -- yeah, I had to look them up, too. I've never seen one but that doesn't mean they're not around. The Audubon link shows that they're "uncommon" in this part of Texas; their common Texas habitat is in the far southern part of the state.)

Photo - Red-shouldered hawk sunning itself next to our driveway
Red-shouldered hawk sunning itself next to our driveway

Photo - Red-shouldered hawk nest
This hawk nest is about fifty feet above the ground, in a tree in the same vacant lot where the fawn carcass was found.

At the end of the day, the mystery of the deceased fawn is still just that: a mystery. I still lean toward the bobcat as the prime suspect, but we haven't even considered that a copperhead or rattlesnake dispatched the little guy. It's a tough world out there, sometimes, and the story doesn't always have a happy ending.
Note: The following contains critical armadillo trapping advice. Ignore it at your own peril. You've been warned. There's also a walking stick gif.

Alert Gazette readers will recall the account of my armadillo trapping woes, wherein the creatures were zooming in and out of the malfunctioning trap as if it were a port-a-potty next to a Tijuana taco stand*. 

This situation quickly escalated from a frustrating inconvenience into a costly debacle as the armadillo(s) began to cause significant damage to the several thousand dollars worth of new zoysia sod installed in our yard. I'm not talking about a few holes here and there. The animals were actually burrowing under entire sections of sod and rolling them up like rugs. I was desperate for a solution.

I went so far as to use a Dremel tool to smooth any rough edges on the trap doors and the side channel guides to reduce the possibility of binding when they dropped down. I tested the trap and it seemed to work perfectly, but the next morning (and the morning after that), I found one door dropped and the other one halfway down and in a bind, indicating (or so I thought) another in-and-out armadillo escape. And our lawn continued to look like a used-up minefield. I finally gave up and ordered a new trap.

Photo showing bottom door groove in the trapThe new trap arrived yesterday and as I unpacked and assembled it, I took the unprecedented step of reading the instructions and tips that came with it. This caught my eye: Armadillos are messy. When they are caught, they will cause dirt to fill the bottom door grooves. Clean them from time to time, or the doors will not close properly.

"Whoa!" I thought, "what if the problem is not that the doors aren't falling shut, but that they're being forced open again by a trapped armadillo?" I had never considered this possibility, but when I inspected the trap I found that the bottom door grooves were indeed packed with dirt so that the doors dropped down level with the floor...and the armadillos were able to either nose one of them up, or reach under with a claw. The purpose of that groove was obviously to prevent the animal from lifting up the door from the bottom. And what I assumed was a trap door that stuck on the way down was actually one that had been put in a bind when it was lifted by the escaping animal.

It was a simple matter to test this theory. I cleaned out the grooves and placed the trap along the path where they normally ambled before diving into our lawn (they are definitely creatures of habit). And this morning when I looked outside, both doors were down and there was a snoozing-and-securely-trapped armadillo inside.

The irony is that while my enlightenment came as a result of reading the material that accompanied the new trap, the new trap trapped nothing last night, while the old trap did the work. Anyway, I'm not naive enough to think there's only one armadillo in our neck of the neighborhood, and now I've got both sides of the yard armed and ready for additional action.

Oh, and here's the updated headcount, in case you're wondering:

Graphic showing number of trapped animals, including 25 armadillos and 21 raccoons

And here's a walking stick gif, because not everything is about mammals:

Animated gif of a walking stick


*I have no idea what this means, but I'm told it's always a good idea to add a simile or metaphor or something to otherwise boring narrative.

Mors Ab Alto*
April 17, 2019 10:32 AM | Posted in: ,

*With apologies to the 7th Bomb Wing, USAF

We returned home last Sunday afternoon after a whirlwind** 750-mile weekend trip to our old stamping grounds*** in West Texas, and as we drove over the low water crossing to pick up our mail, we saw that a squirrel had recently been hit by a car and lay dead in the street. Given that we have approximately forty thousand squirrels in our neighborhood, this wouldn't seem like much of a loss, but in this case it was a rock squirrel, and they are relatively rare. Alert Gazette readers may recall that we were involuntary hosts to a gaggle**** of young rock squirrels about this time last year. It was a little sad to think that perhaps a new batch of squirrelings were now missing a parent.

Anyway, the buzzards (aka "the biohazard remediation team in the sky") had begun to circle, and would eventually descend to their inevitable feast. We don't give them enough credit for the nasty-but-important work they do, but that's another story and we're all about staying on point here at the Gazette.

Later that evening, as I was firing up the grill to cook cedar plank tuna (the salmon at the grocery store not looking particularly appetizing on that day, none of which is really germane to the story), I heard a *plop* followed immediately by thrashing sounds in the vicinity of the pecan tree in our back yard. I looked up in time to see two buzzards land awkwardly in the tree -- they're quite graceful in flight, but their tree landings are about as smooth as a Trump tweet -- and another one aborting a landing and pulling back up into the sky.

The two big birds stayed in the tree for a few seconds, and then followed the third one into the air. That was rather odd behavior; I had never before seen a buzzard perched in any of our trees. But it was the *plop* that intrigued me. 

I wasn't mystified for long as I immediately spotted the source of the sound. I thought about posting a photo, but out of respect for the delicate sensibilities of the typical Gazette reader, I've chosen this artist's rendering as an accurate representation of the scene:



Using my massive investigatory skills, honed by years of watching CSI Miami (I've also mastered the technique of standing sideways as I address the always-guilty suspect, but that's also off-topic), I determined that the buzzards were quarreling over the now partially-eviscerated carcass (I've spared you that visual detail), and one of them attempted to abscond with the corpse. The others followed and in the dogfight****** that ensued, the cadaver was dropped onto the lawn next to our porch. I'm sure the buzzards would have continued their dinner dispute had I not been present, but instead they continued to circle overhead for a while until they peeled off, one by one, in search of other roadkill.

And, of course, I was left with the wholesome task of disposing of the now-defunct Otospermophilus variegatus. I accomplished that by scooping it up with a shovel and flinging it into the adjoining vacant lot, where the scavengers eventually finished the task.

As a footnote to this story, as if we don't already have enough footnotes to this story, the next day a hummingbird committed suicide on our back porch by ramming headfirst into one of our windows. I expect Stephen King to show up any day on a research visit for his next novel.

**I'm not sure why a quick trip is often referred to as a "whirlwind," but if you're ever traveling in West Texas during the spring, you'll see (and feel) its relevance. [back]

***So, you're judging me, aren't you, for using the term "stamping" instead of "stomping"? For your penance, read this, then go forth and sin no more. [back]

****A group of squirrels is actually referred to as a "scurry." That explains how Scurry county, in West Texas, got its name, following a mass invasion of squirrels, not unlike the cricket invasion of Mormons in Utah.***** [back]

*****One of the sentences in the preceding paragraph is not 100% accurate.

******Oh, never mind. [back]

Wildlife Update
July 6, 2018 3:58 PM | Posted in: ,

It's been awhile since I provided a wildlife update. But, first, here's a squirrel (turn up the sound to get the full effect):


That's the noise a squirrel makes when its annoyed or angry. I couldn't discern what caused this one's panties to get in a wad, but it was obviously too lazy to do anything but gripe about it. I'll remind you that the Gazette is an apolitical publication so don't try to anthropomorphize this phenomenon.

Back to the subject at hand. It's been a slow summer for wildlife in the neighborhood. It's been weeks since we've sighted any raccoons, skunks, foxes, or possums (and that includes not catching them on the game camera at night), much less trapped them. In fact, I've retired the raccoon trap to the attic until we find new evidence that they're around and up to no good.

I'm not naive enough to think that I've trapped out the area, but the aforementioned critters have apparently found more desirable habitats. One neighbor across the creek recently reported that his dog came out on the losing end of a tangle with a skunk in their back yard, so perhaps the crew has migrated north for the summer.

However, alert Gazette readers have no doubt noted the absence of one species from the aforementioned list. That's right...the State Small Mammal of Texas, the armadillo, has not abandoned our neck of the woods. I did have a few consecutive 'dillo-less weeks, but they're now back and making up for lost time. In fact, armadillo captures have caught up with and surpassed the raccoon count.

I've actually had to rework the Official Critter Capture Scorecard©, for reasons that should be obvious. Here's the original (and up-to-date) version:

Critter Capture Scorecard

And here's the new improved version:

Critter Capture Scorecard - New Version

The first version is perhaps more visually impressive, but the new version has the distinct advantage of not requiring any counting. By the way, I've done some ciphering and determined that the next catch will make an even 50 animals that we've trapped and released in less than a year.

That's not to say that we're completely bereft of living creatures around the house. I'm contemplating doing a spider-centric post as our flowerbeds are practically overrun with orb weavers, but I'll have to undergo some arachnophobia therapy before I can do that. In the meantime, fixate on this more benign invertebrate as a visual amuse-bouche.

Photo of a bug

Oh, by the way...MLB and I have often remarked on one unusual aspect of wildlife in our vicinity, and that is the complete absence of rabbits. We had not seen a jackrabbit or a cottontail since moving here last summer...until this morning. As we were on the way to release the latest armadillo in an undisclosed location, MLB spotted movement along the road. I backed the truck up a half block and, sure enough, a jackrabbit was loping through the brush. I guess coyotes are next on the agenda.

Rock Squirrels on Spring Break?
April 24, 2018 10:26 PM | Posted in:

Last weekend, we discovered we were hosting unanticipated visitors in the form of a herd of juvenile rock squirrels. At one point, I counted six (6!) of them cavorting on and around our back yard deck. When they detected our presence, they would quickly dive under the deck, but just as quickly reappear.

We had seen adult rock squirrels living among the rocks (duh) lining the bank of the creek, but never considered that they might move from that environment to our back yard. I didn't particularly relish the thought of having a dray (look it up) living under the deck -- and I have no idea what the resident possum family thought about the new neighbors -- but grudgingly admitted that the young ones were fun to watch.

I put a GoPro camera on a stake and captured some of the following photos of the children at play. Other photos were taken from inside the house using a zoom lens. Click on each small photo to see a larger version.

Juvenile rock squirrels Juvenile rock squirrels Juvenile rock squirrels Juvenile rock squirrels Juvenile rock squirrels Juvenile rock squirrels Juvenile rock squirrels Juvenile rock squirrels This tree squirrel seems to be pretty disgusted by this turn of events Juvenile rock squirrels Juvenile rock squirrels

We watched them on and off through the weekend. An adult squirrel -- presumably either the mother or father -- would occasionally venture into the yard, but oddly enough it would generally retreat over the retaining wall to the creek bank rather than joining the kits under the deck.

But that changed on Sunday afternoon. With friends visiting, we were watching the squirrels go about their now-familiar busyness when we saw the adult (let's call it the mother) run across the lawn with something...furry...in her mouth. She was too fast to get a good look, but there seemed to be fewer kits playing than before. After we watched a repeat of that behavior, it was obvious that she was grabbing the youngsters one-by-one and taking them back to the creek bank. I grabbed my camera, as one does. I wasn't able to get any really clear photos, but I think you can discern the process of evacuating the pups.

Rock squirrel mother putting kit on notice Rock squirrel kit: 'aww, ma...do I hafta?' Rock squirrel mother carrying juvenile Rock squirrel mother carrying juvenile Rock squirrel mother carrying juvenile

I'm sure there's a logical explanation for temporary appearance and subsequent relocation to the more usual habitat, but here's my theory. I think this was the rock squirrel equivalent of a spring break trip for the kids to Disneyworld. All good things must come to an end, though, and the parents had to get back to work on Monday, so home they went. I'll be happy to entertain a better explanation.

In any event, the youngsters had no trouble readjusting to their creekside home. At almost any point during the day, we can peer over the fence and watch them busily engaged in their squirrely activities. 

Adult rock squirrel in its more normal habitat Juvenile rock squirrel in its more normal habitat Juvenile rock squirrel in its more normal habitat Juvenile rock squirrel in its more normal habitat Juvenile rock squirrel in its more normal habitat

Hate to end on a down note, but I suspect the snakes that live in and along the creek may be pretty happy about the return of this family, as well. But, so far, all six of the young ones are still up and around.
It's probably common knowledge that beavers slap the water with their tails as a warning about - or an attempt to startle - potential predators. They also tend to swim with their heads slightly above water but with their bodies slightly submerged.

So, you may be ask, why are you - a native Texan living in the heart of a beaver-impoverished state - giving this random lecture about the creature's behavior? Simply this: I watched a beaver swim in the creek behind our house last night. I have never heard of a beaver sighting in this area, much less seen one myself, and I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that they are indeed living in our neighborhood.

We came home around dusk after eating out with friends, and there were some significant thunderheads building up in the north, so I walking into the back yard to observe them. Our weather was calm and there was still enough light to see the creek, so I stood at the back fence and looked down at the water, about twenty feet away.

I saw a shape moving in the water and my first thought was "that's the biggest catfish I've ever seen in the creek!" My second thought was, "wait...what? We don't have catfish in the creek." The shape appeared to be 2-3' long, trailing something wide. I mentally cycled through some possibilities, trying to place it in a logical context. I knew there were nutria around the lake, but those are basically big rats with long skinny tails, and that didn't fit the profile of what I was watching.

The shape continued to swim slowly down the middle of the stream, and I figured I should attempt to get a photo or video to prove my sanity, even though the fading light made it doubtful that my aging phone's camera would capture anything recognizable. And fail it did, although perhaps not entirely of its own fault. What I managed to record was approximately five seconds of the ground.*

My view of the animal was blocked by a tree on the creek bank, but I expected it to come into sight in a clearing a few feet down the stream. It didn't, so I decided it had doubled back. I moved back down the fence line and sure enough, it was swimming the other direction. But my movement apparently caught its attention and its reaction confirmed that what I was watching was indeed a beaver. With a loud slap of the water's surface with its tail, it disappeared and I did not spot it again.

I described the encounter to MLB and she was initially skeptical, but after an extended conversation with Mr. Google, she confirmed that beavers are present pretty much throughout Texas, with the exception of the western part of the state. We also learned that they prefer still water, but Pecan Creek is very slow-moving with limpid pools forming at various bends, so it would not necessarily be a beaver-unfriendly environment. And, finally, they are most active right around dusk and dawn.

I realize that some of you live in areas where beavers are plentiful, but for me, this was akin to spotting a cheetah in our back yard. The variety of local wildlife continues to be a constant source of amazement and pleasure.

Have you ever encountered unexpected wildlife in your neighborhood? Tell us about it in the comments!

*Some of the fotografic failure was the fone's fault. You may have heard about the battery-related slowdowns in old iPhone models, and my 6s is dealing with that now. The camera is so slow to respond that when I tapped the record button and nothing happened, I hit it again. That resulted in my turning off the video instead of turning it on. Rinse and repeat, and the result is intriguing moving images of...dirt.
Raccoons are enjoying new celebrity, thanks to Rocket Raccoon and the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Rocket even has his own Wikipedia page (and there you'll learn that he's actually more than forty years old). But raccoons are really better in theory (and movies) than in reality. Many of you already know this.

We thought that after we trapped four armadillos in five nights, our back yard would no longer look like a herd of drunken golfers (OK, perhaps that's redundant) with pitching wedges had descended on it. Boy, were we wrong.

As it turned out, the Armadillo Mafia was good at two things: digging up grubs, and keeping the raccoons at bay. And once the 'dillos were gone, the 'coons were free to muscle into their territory.

I had applied grub control to the lawn with no apparent effect, so my last resort was to buy a trap and use the same strategy that had been successful with the armadillos. My first try using canned cat food and marshmallows was a flop (thanks a bunch, Internet!). Even the flies weren't impressed.

My brother and his wife said that they'd heard that the best bait for raccoons was a slightly opened can of sardines. Apparently, they're smart enough to discern that a fully opened can meant it was a trap. I was skeptical, but also desperate, so that's what I tried.

I placed the trap in the middle of the back yard, and slid a can of sardines (in oil, of course; I'm not a barbarian) into the back of the trap. I left it with a silent prayer that skunks don't like sardines.

Here's what showed up the next morning.

Raccoon in cage

Cute little guy, isn't he? Unlike the armadillos who, once they determined they were trapped, immediately went to sleep, the raccoon was alert and...well...a bit agitated. He'd apparently spent a restless night trying to dig through the bottom of the cage, which was now layered with shredded St. Augustine. The lawn under the cage looked like a new grave:

Damaged lawn under cage

I was happy to (1) see a raccoon and (b) not see a skunk. But I was puzzled: there was no sign of the sardine can. It wasn't in the cage; it wasn't in the yard. It wasn't anywhere in view over the fence. I'm pretty sure the raccoon didn't swallow it.

Here's my theory. We actually had TWO raccoons in the cage, and the door wouldn't close completely because of the close quarters. One of them was able to back out of the trap with the sardines, and the door slammed shut behind him, leaving the other trapped and sad and sardine-less.

In any event, as with the armadillos, my plan was catch-and-release, with the release part occurring far, far away. As I have absolutely no experience with raccoons, I wasn't sure how miffed and adversarial this one might be once uncaged, so I rigged up a remote trap door release, consisting of a long rope hooked onto the release handle.

I loaded the trap into the pickup bed (the caged occupant wasn't amused by the trip from the back yard to the truck) and strapped it down. MLB agreed to act as videographer and EMT. We drove to an undisclosed location, close to live water where the little guy might have a chance to thrive, and put my release plan into action.

The results were...umm...sub-optimal. Well, see for yourself.


Obviously, I had nothing to fear from this particular raccoon, as he disappeared faster than Sean Spicer's acting career. I still think my remote-release theory is sound; I just need to work on the application part.

Of course, if my other theory is correct -- the one about the double raccoon appearance -- we still have at least one more to trap. I've rebaited the trap with a fresh can of sardines, and this time it's zipped-tied to the bottom of the cage. I let you know how it turns out.

In the meantime, I hope I don't dream about a certain weapondized and vindictive raccoon.

Rocket Raccoon

Update: After composing the preceding account last night, I set the trap again, hoping to catch the companion raccoon that had managed to abscond with the sardines while abandoning his unfortunate partner. I didn't want a repeat of the mangled lawn under the cage so I placed it in the vacant lot next door.

I went out with a flashlight before daylight this morning to check the trap, and sure enough, another one had succumbed to the siren song of the sardine; his eyes were glowing accusingly in the glare of the flashlight. I returned to my cup of coffee.

After daybreak, here's what I found.

Photo - the second victim

This time, the victim occupant had practically filled the cage with debris, including a fairly large twig that baffled me as to how he had possibly dragged it inside. The trap was also on its side, evidencing a spirited attempt at an escape.

More impressive was the fact that while I had tightly secured the can of sardines to the bottom of the cage with nylon zip ties threaded through the ring tab, the raccoon had still managed to break the can free, peel the lid completely away from the can, and in the process snap off the ring tab. And, of course, the sardine can was clean as a whistle (however clean that may be). Never underestimate the ingenuity and commitment of a trapped raccoon.

Photo - The trap and remnants of the sardine can

The release went smoothly, as again the freed captive gave us not a second glance as it scurried into the woods. I do wonder if it will meet up with its partner, and what the ensuing conversation might entail.


It's a zoo around here...
September 21, 2017 6:26 PM | Posted in: ,

Note: I realize that what follows is pretty much business as usual for some of you who live in regions where these encounters are commonplace, but for West Texas folks like us, it's a brand new day, full of wondrous natural delights...and some things that are not quite so delightful.

The Hill Country weather has been abnormally hot and humid lately. This seems to have made the wildlife around our house more active, given the nearby creek's attraction as a water and food source.

Tuesday provided some interesting (and disturbing) interactions with that wildlife. My wife commented that if there had been two of each of the animals we encountered, she would have started looking for an ark.

It began around 8:30 a.m. as MLB and I walked to the mailbox to drop off a couple of letters. As we rounded the corner, I saw what I thought was a tree branch lying in the street a few yards before the creek crossing. I joked to her that there was a snake in the road...but instantly realized that, well, yes...it IS a snake. As we got closer, I realized that it wasn't just any snake. It was a water moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus, for you herp experts).

Photo - Water moccasin

Growing up and living in West Texas, I have never seen a cottonmouth in real life. We had heard stories that they had been spotted in our new neighborhood in the past (one of our neighbors across the creek said they had killed one in their back yard), but I assumed those were very isolated cases. And perhaps they were, but as with stocks, past performance doesn't necessarily predict future results.

We cautiously approached the snake and my initial identification was confirmed as it opened its mouth and I could see the fangs as well as the coloring that gives it its nickname. My usual initial reaction kicked in and I grabbed my phone and began videoing the encounter (see below). You can hear me instruct my wife to go back to the house and retrieve a hoe so that I could deal with the moccasin in a safe manner.

By the way, all of the videos here were taken with my 3-year-old iPhone, hence the weird layout and sub-optimal resolution. I wish they were better quality, but the best camera is the one you have with you when you need it.


It wasn't until a pickup drove past that the snake began to move away, about the same time MLB arrived with the hoe. I took a couple of futile swings at it as it slithered into the grass heading back toward the creek, and finally connected. That slowed it down enough for me to eventually shorten its length by a head.

As alert Gazette readers may recall, this isn't our first encounter with a poisonous snake in Horseshoe Bay, and as I said then, I take no pleasure in killing an animal. But as with that rattler, this creature posed an immediate danger to people and pets and letting it go was simply not a wise option.

Here's an interesting (to me, anyway) side note. I never realized that water moccasins are in the same genus as copperheads. I knew they were both pit vipers (as are rattlesnakes), but I had no idea they are that closely related. I suppose it's only a matter of time before we encounter a copperhead.

This was just the beginning of our wildlife encounters on Tuesday.

Later, around dusk, I spied something sniffing around the armadillo trap in the back yard. It was a skunk! Without getting too close, I was able to observe him over the course of ten or fifteen minutes. I'd never gotten that close to one, and it was interesting to watch the unconscious lifting of the tail in response to unusual sounds or movement, while the animal never stopped sniffing and digging for food.

Photo - Skunk

If the skunk was ever aware of my presence, it gave no indication.


I set out our raccoon trap shortly after dusk, and a couple of hours later, we looked out the back window and spotted something moving around it. We couldn't tell if it was inside or outside the trap, so I grabbed a flashlight (and, of course, my phone) to investigate. Here's what I found: 


While I'm not crazy about the idea of possums roaming through our yard, I much prefer the live roaming kind to the dead stinking kind.

That was the last of our wildlife encounters for the day...but not for the week. Remember the raccoon trap I mentioned above? Check back...
[Part 1

Now, where were we? Oh, yes...I had completed a successful repair of a shredded coax cable that restored our satellite TV access, and life was good.

Except...something was slightly amiss in the air. There was a lingering odor, a smell that seemed to grow stronger depending on which way the breeze was blowing, and where one stood in the back yard.

As the afternoon went on and the temperature rose, the smell got stronger and became the unmistakable odor of something dead and putrefying. And, as far as I could tell, it was coming from beneath our deck.

I had feared this ever since we bought the house last fall and witnessed an armadillo crawling out from under the deck one night. What was the likelihood that an animal would expire under the deck, and how would we deal with it?

I wanted to seal all the possible entry points, but it was a Catch-22 situation: what if I locked in a nocturnal critter, causing its death by starvation, and thus birthing the exact scenario I was working to avoid?

But now, we had to confront the reality head-on. There was a bit of urgency to the task, apart from the increasingly offensive aroma in our back yard. We were expecting the arrival of guests that evening, and they were bringing their dog who would undoubtedly freak out at the possibility of rolling around in something dead. Hey, that's what dogs do, right?

*sigh*

The first order of business was to locate the exact source of the odor, because that would help me understand what would be needed to deal with it. There were no large openings in the deck, and I was fresh out of remote-controlled robotic nano-cameras to send in a search-and-recovery mission. So, I did the next best thing: I watched where the flies were swarming, grabbed my industrial strength flashlight, and began shining it into the small seams between the deck planks. My fly-directed instinct was accurate, and I quickly spotlighted a tail. As I moved across the next several seams, a clear picture emerged of an expired possum, and a fairly large one at that.

So, I knew what I was dealing with, and where it was located. I now had to figure out how to get to it. I first tried taking up the decking directly above the malodorous marsupial, but the wood screws had become inextricably merged with the decking and this approach was a non-starter.

Plan B was to remove a section of the deck siding directly adjacent to the stinking stiff. This was significantly easier than removing the decking, but still not without its challenges. I won't go into the minutiae of the process; suffice it to say that it required another trip to Ace Hardware, and I'm now the proud owner of a 4-foot crowbar, a mini-hacksaw, and a new garden rake. [Aside: This is a problem with having a second home...many of your tools reside somewhere else.]

Removing the siding was a relatively quick job - apart from the run to the hardware store - and it led to the most unpleasant part of the task: retrieving the reeking remains. That's where the rake came in, if you were wondering. We [by then, MLB was at my side, offering spiritual solace and a second pair of hands] put a heavy duty trash bag on the ground, and I endeavored to rake the offensive opossum out from under the deck and into the bag.

Normally, at this point in a task, I would take a photograph to document the proceedings. But the thought of having a picture of a squishy, maggot-infested carcass on my phone trumped my documentarian tendencies. Feel free to thank me, dear reader. However, that doesn't mean that we don't have visual proof of the episode, courtesy of our game camera. I hope the following isn't too shocking.

Photographic proof: possums wear shirts!

[Note: I realize that some of you are thinking, "what a noob!" because this type of thing is old hat to you - the dead animal, not discovering it's actually Pogo - because you've lived in the country long enough to have encountered it many times over, and then some. But it's brand new territory for us city folks.]

With many exclamations along the lines of "ewww" and "ick" and "yuck" (and it's not easy to emit such exclamations whilst holding your breath) we managed to roll the corroded corpse into the bag, which I quickly sealed and hauled downwind for safekeeping until I could permanently dispose of it. MLB scattered some odor-absorbing pellets under the deck, and I then reattached the siding with a single wood screw on each end, in case we ever had to repeat this process.

Within an hour or so, only the keenest of noses could detect that anything was ever amiss in the back yard. Of course, that keen nose did eventually show up on the end of a curious German shepherd, but after much earnest sniffing, she lost interest and began to focus on the more important task of stick chasing.

However, there's one nagging thought: what was the cause of death? Silly me; I failed to perform an autopsy, so now I'm left with only speculation. As a wise coworker reminded me, "everything dies," so it could have been natural causes. But what if it was something more sinister, like a hit by the local squirrel mafia? We've also had some suspicious characters roaming our back yard when all law-abiding mammals should be snuggled in bed. Perhaps there's a reason they always wear masks.

Raccoons: Nature's little felons

Anyway, to recap: two crises dealt with, and we could now relax for the rest of the weekend.

OK, there was just ONE. MORE. THING. 


MLB and I spent last week at Horseshoe Bay, and it turned into quite a busy time. (Important Note: The following is the equivalent of showing blurry vacation slides from that trip with your parents to Knott's Berry Farm to captive friends who reciprocate by never coming back to your house, even when tempted by a Pecan Log from Stuckey's. If it will help, try to imagine me narrating this in Samuel L. Jackson's voice.)

Horseshoe Bay is a little different than many places this time of year...it's less crowded and quieter because a lot of folks with lake houses aren't particularly interested in boating or skiing in winter weather (although the typical Hill Country winter isn't what you'd call brutal). Nevertheless, we managed to fill our schedule with some memorable events. Here are some of the highlights:

Saturday

We were invited by friends to attend a Celtic music concert in nearby Marble Falls. None of us knew what to expect from the event, which was a fundraiser for The Phoenix Center, a local nonprofit that provides mental health services to children and their parents. The concert, billed as "A Celtic Christmas," was held in the Uptown Theater, a renovated 40s-era movie theater which, despite its name, is located smack dab in the middle of downtown Marble Falls. It's a funky little place, very cool in its own way, and provided an intimate setting for what turned out to be a surprisingly delightful three hours of music.

The evening featured two musical groups. First to perform was The Here & Now, a quartet of Austin- and Dallas-based musicians. The fiddle player, Niamh Fahy, is an Irish lass who serves as a music therapist for The Phoenix Center. She was also the driving force behind organizing the event.

The Here & Now perform what I'd call traditional Irish music, although I'm hardly an expert in the genre. It's contemplative and lively by turns, and always lyrical.

The Here & Now
The Here & Now

It's worth mentioning that we were seated next to the stage, so we had a great view of the proceedings, which included some impressive dancing by Emily and Gavin, a couple of youngsters with extremely quick feet.

Emily and Gavin
Irish dancers Emily and Gavin

Gavin did step dancing (usually associated with productions like Riverdance), while Emily's specialty was old-style. I know this only because I visited with her during intermission where I succumbed to her atomic-powered dimple and bought one of the group's CDs.

Following that intermission, the trio known as Celjun took the stage. Celjun is a band based in Lafayette, Louisiana, and they specialize in a music amalgam of Celtic and Cajun genres (hence their name, right?). Their music is a bit more raucous...probably something you'd expect to hear around midnight in an Irish pub (not that I'm personally knowledgeable about that). I was most impressed with the skills of Pete Dawson, the flautist/whistle player (whistleist?) who hails from Baton Rouge. If you want a sample of his music, check out this video beginning at the 3 minute mark.

Celjun
Ireland + Cajun Country = Celjun

Sunday

We took a day of rest from social activities and enjoyed some beautiful weather and a nice afternoon bike ride. And, as usual, Mother Nature provided some entertainment.

The Hill Country isn't really known for its fall foliage, but you can run across some spectacular, if isolated, examples.

Fall colors
Beautiful fall color

Beauty in nature comes in different shapes and sizes. MLB spotted this amazing fungus during one of our bike rides, and I later returned to photograph it.

Tree fungus
It Came From Beyond: fungus growing on tree stump

There's an owl who (get it..."who...who..." OK, never mind.) hangs around our house. He (or she) is elusive, and I generally spot her (him) only as a shadow gliding through the trees...until now:

Owl in tree
The Watched watches the Watcher

There's one more encounter with the animal kingdom I want to share, but in the interest of building suspense, it will come at the end. Please try to stay awake.

Monday

One of the primary purposes of this trip was to attend the annual Horseshoe Bay Members Christmas Party, a free dinner and dance held at the resort. It occurs on a Monday to reduce attendance (my theory, anyway), but if that's an effective strategy, it was difficult to discern based on the turnout. Anyway, we enjoyed the company of close friends as well as acquaintances old and new, and even got to do a little dancing.

Music was provided by the David Young Band, an Austin-based group featuring musicians who can play basically anything in any genre (we got everything from At Last to Uptown Funk).

This was our third time to attend this event, and we learned early on that a 20' x 20' dance floor doesn't accommodate the 500 or so people who want to dance, so our best bet was to get in some steps early on, while most people were still in the buffet lines. But the evening had an inauspicious start, because some sound system problems seemed to have the keyboard player doing a different song than the rest of the band, and we were all confused.

They finally got that sorted out and we were treated to a song we could actually dance to. But...it was a tango. Nobody outside of the movies plays a tango at a party...primarily because nobody actually knows how to do a tango. OK, that's an exaggeration, because, well...WE do. And so we did, alone on the floor (until mid-way through the song, an(other) older couple joined us). It was actually pretty great, and someone claimed that one table gave us a standing ovation at the end, although I'm pretty sure they were just heading for the open bar for vodka shots.

David Young Band
The David Young Band - Don't be fooled by the suits; they can boogie.

Later in the evening, the dance floor resembled a mosh pit, if mosh pits are ever populated by over-50 affluent wine-infused white folks in sparkly clothes. But I admit when the band led the crowd in doing The Stroll during an extended version of Uptown Funk, it was magically surreal.

Oh, did I mention that the whole thing was free?

Tuesday (hang in there; we're almost halfway finished)

Tuesday's plans centered around Christmas lights. But we first had a significant civic event to attend.

Today was the ribbon cutting for the new Horseshoe Creek Hiking Trail, and a pretty good crowd turned out in beautiful sunny weather for the event.

The trail begins near the Horseshoe Bay Mausoleum ("New niches coming soon!"), located on one of the highest spots overlooking Lake LBJ, and meanders along the Creek for just over two miles, down to Highway 2147. It's not a treacherous trek, but it is strenuous...hiking boots and a sturdy stick are recommended. We haven't yet done the hike, but it's on our "definite to-do" list.

The land for the trail was donated by Wayne and Eileen Hurd, who have donated untold amounts of acreage for civic use in the area. Mr. Hurd passed away in 2011, but Mrs. Hurd was present for the ribbon cutting.

Horseshoe Creek ribbon cutting
Eileen Hurd (center) cuts the ribbon to open the Horseshoe Creek Trail

I didn't even know that Horseshoe Creek existed, and it was a revelation to see (and hear) the live water coursing down and through the hills. I'm not sure it's always so energetic, but recent heavy rainfall had a wondrous effect.

Horseshoe Creek
Horseshoe Creek - a view from the new trail

That evening, we headed 20 minutes south to Johnson City with friends to take in the vaunted downtown square display. Each year, the courthouse and surrounding businesses go all out with lighted displays; the courthouse alone is draped with more than 100,00 lights.

We ate dinner at the Pecan Street Brewery (I heartily recommend the Pecan Sweet Fried Chicken), located directly across from the courthouse. After dinner, we braved the chill wind to walk around the square before heading back to HSB.

Christmas lights on the Johnson City square
A Christmas display on the Johnson City square

Christmas lights on the Johnson City courthouse
The lighted courthouse

The display was impressive enough to make the trip worthwhile. But wait! There's more!

On the way out of town, we pulled onto Highway 290 and something caught our eyes a couple of blocks away. Well, it would have been difficult to miss it, as it resembled nothing less than a premature sunrise, or perhaps a nuclear plant meltdown. Intrigued, we drove to the display on the grounds of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative headquarters, where we were greeted by a score of huge oak trees adorned with what we would later learn are 1.2 MILLION LED lights. Holy cow...I earlier described something as surreal, but this took the concept to a whole new level.

Lights on the PEC trees
Our electric bill payments at work

PEC has been doing this display for more than a quarter century; the blue lights were added in celebration of the organization's 75th anniversary a few years ago, and they apparently were popular enough (or difficult enough to remove) that they've remained.

Once our retinas recovered enough to drive safely back home, we resolved to drive into Mable Falls to view that community's annual Christmas display. In retrospect, we should have done that first, because pretty much anything will pale in comparison (both figuratively and literally) to the PEC installation. 

The town's "Walkway of Lights" has a gorgeous setting on the bank of Marble Falls Lake, and it's laid out as an out-and-back route of perhaps a quarter mile through hundreds of random holiday displays. It's a pretty impressive installation for a small town. It boasts of more than 2 million lights and 400 displays, but frankly, spread out over such a wide area, it's not as dramatic as some others (*cough* PEC *cough*).

Marble Falls Walkway of Lights
The entrance to the Walkway of Lights

On the other hand, it probably is more kid-friendly (not quite as overwhelming to the senses), and there were quite a few families exploring the trail.

We were a bit disappointed at how many "sculptures" had non-functioning lights; I guess it's hard to stay on top of 2 million of them. And the displays became a little repetitive. You can have only so many Santa-and-reindeer tableaus before they start to run together. There were some imaginative ones, though: Santa riding a jet ski; Santa in a helicopter; Santa gutting a reindeer to make jerky. OK, I made that last one up. But this is hunting country, so...

Wednesday

Nothing happened on Wednesday. Well, other than...

We made a day trip to San Antonio to do some Christmas shopping at La Cantera and The Rim. Despite the proximity to Christmas, both areas were remarkably calm, which was a pleasant surprise. 

By the way, if you're driving in from the north on Highway 281 and that area is your general destination, I strongly recommend exiting onto FM 473 a few miles south of Blanco and driving through Kendalia, then on to I-10, where you'll enter the interstate just a couple of miles from the Fiesta Texas exit. Believe me, even with the winding road and lower speed limit, you'll come out ahead by avoiding 281 as it enters San Antonio. Plus it's a much more scenic drive. Just try to come back before dark, as the deer encounters might be a bit intense.

On the way home, shortly before 5:00, MLB was noodling around on her phone and discovered that Andy Armendariz and 8 From the Gate were playing that evening at Pardner's in Lake Buchanan. Pardner's is an old-fashioned honky-tonk that features a decent dance floor, a live band every Wednesday night, and a crowd demographic that skews AARP-wardly. (The live music begins at 6:30 and ends at 9:30, so that should give you a clue.)

If you've never heard of 8 From the Gate (Quick...can you identify the source of the band's name? The answer is helpfully provided below.), don't feel bad; neither had we. But the music that MLB streamed sounded danceable, and we decided to forego dinner to get in some two-stepping before heading over to some friends' home to drop off a gift.

We arrived around 6:45 and the dance was in full swing. We recognized several of the folks in attendance, either from other dance venues, or from previous trips to Pardner's. It's a place for regulars, and you can count on most of the same people showing up every Wednesday.

Andy Armendariz and 8 From the Gate at Pardner's
Can't see it in the photo, but it was almost a cliche that
the steel guitarist played with a lit cigarette in his hand


It's a great place for people watching (we were particularly intrigued this night by the man pushing 80 years and 300 pounds, sporting a straw hat and denim overalls tucked inside cowboy boots, whose dance style was primarily limited to walking around the floor with much younger women...that is, until the band played Dwight Yoakam's Fast As You, and then he absolutely rocked out), and everyone is pretty friendly. As you might expect, the crowd isn't rowdy; the biggest downside is that it's not a non-smoking venue, and despite having a good ventilation system, we always leave feeling a little smoky.

The music was good, and we got in more than an hour of dancing before heading back to our appointment in HSB.

I mentioned that we had skipped dinner; dancing always trumps eating, but we were a bit peckish and intended to go to Marble Falls for a Whataburger or something equally...fast...after a quick visit with our friends.

However, it's good to have a gourmet cook for a friend, because they also had not eaten and were laying out a spread of leftovers that rivaled anything we had consumed thus far on the trip (up to and including chorizo-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates and homemade chocolate-and-coconut truffles). Maybe next time, Whataburger.

Thursday (at last)


We spent the day at home taking care of some chores. The high point of the day (and perhaps the week) was when I discovered - following several frustrating nights of lukewarm-to-cold showers - that the hot and cold water connections on the shower were actually reversed, and all the work I had done to recalibrate the scald preventer in an attempt to get more hot water was actually just providing more cold. Sometimes, the best solutions are the easiest; I'm just glad I didn't give in to the impulse to call out a plumber, who would no doubt be blogging now about yet another idiot customer. 

And, incidentally, those of you who are more deeply steeped in the arcane plumbing arts are probably wondering what good a scald preventer does in a case like that. I can answer that with an assertive "none." In my defense, the mere presence of that device kept me from trying the ultimate solution until I simply ran out of options.

Following a wonderfully steaming shower, we headed for nearby Spicewood with our dear friends to observe a long-standing Christmas tradition of buying each others' dinners instead of exchanging gifts. They had recommended Apis as a good place for a special dinner, and it was.

Apis is one of those farm-to-table eateries that are all the rage nowadays; it's also an apiary, in case you're into bees (and who isn't?). Their menus are prix fixe, which is French for "you're gonna need a bigger wallet," so it's probably never going to be a replacement for the Bluebonnet Cafe. However, it serves nicely as a celebratory spot for special occasions.

Apis specializes in what I refer to as foo-foo food. You know, the dishes that are comprised of ingredients that require several adjectives to impress upon you their elegance and sophistication: it's not just crab, it's "Peekytoe Crab"; why serve mere pastrami when you have access to "Veal Brisket Pastrami"; and a simple radish can never compete with an "Easter Egg Radish." In other words, you pay by the adjective.

All kidding aside, the food was great, the atmosphere warm, and the service knowledgeable with just the right amount of solicitousness. Highlights for me included an appetizer of charred Spanish octopus (a whole tentacle, and I was able to resist the temptation to wrestle it, Lloyd Bridges-style, much to the relief of my table mates), and the Honey and Crème Fraiche Gateau, a dessert topped with a tiny curl of crispy honeycomb. OTOH, there was a small miss: I couldn't resist trying a sardine-based "snack" (which was sort of a pre-appetizer appetizer). I was interested to see what kind of magic they could work with sardines, but just as a pig with lipstick is still, at the end of the day, a pig...well, you can figure out the rest. (And no offense to pigs; your bacon is delicious.)

All in all, it was a great way to end a great week...and this seems to be a great way to end an endless blog post. So...

Not So Fast...

Those brave few of you who are indeed still awake may recall that I promised one last thing.

I grew up in Fort Stockton, about an hour's drive from Alpine where the high school football team is known as The Fightin' Bucks. Most of you may understand that that nickname comes honestly, as deer of the buck persuasion are known to lock horns, literally, to assert dominance and win a date with the homecoming queen, if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor.

We were returning home at HSB one evening before dusk and, as usual, there were a number of whitetail deer doing deery things in the open field across the street from our house. It so happened that a couple of them were engaged in the aforementioned ritual, and I managed to get a short video of the epic struggle on my phone. The quality is poor - we were 50 yards away in low light - but you should still be able to get a sense of how, well, ridiculous bucks look when they fight. I did speed up the video considerably; two minutes of this action is 90 seconds too long. (And keep your comments about the length of this post to yourselves.)




"8 From the Gate" is a rodeo reference. If you can stay on a bull for eight seconds after the gate opens to release your mount, then you've achieved a qualified ride. Good luck with all that, and let me know how it goes. [Return to the riveting account]
The 50-mile stretch of US Highway 385 between Fort Stockton and Marathon, Texas, has always been one of my favorite drives. If you encounter five other vehicles during the trip, it's a heavy traffic day. It's a perfect showcase for the desolate grandeur of the Trans-Pecos region of West Texas, winding through some of the largest ranches in the country and significant geologic phenomena, and never failing to present the traveler with a wide array of wildlife.

On various trips, we've encountered mule deer, antelope, javelinas, coyotes, snakes almost as long as my truck is wide, and more rabbits (jack and cottontails) than we could count. But on a recent trip, we encountered something that none of us had ever seen before.

Earlier this month we drove from Fort Stockton to eat at the 12 Gauge Restaurant, adjacent to the historic Gage Hotel in Marathon. Our group consisted of MLB, my brother and his wife, and my mother. After the usual excellent meal, we hit the road about a half hour before dusk. About twenty miles into the drive (see map below), we came around a curve and I spotted something out of the ordinary a few hundred yards down the road. 

"Quick...grab your cameras and get ready!" MLB and my sister-in-law immediately armed their iPhone and iPad, respectively, and focused on what I saw: a bull elk standing in the highway right-of-way, just off to our right. 

Initial sighting of elk
The initial sighting

The typical absence of traffic on this highway worked to our advantage, as I was able to stop on the shoulder to photograph the elk, as well as back up and pull forward to stay alongside him.

Bull elk in West Texas
"Are you looking at me? Are YOU looking at Me? Well, are you?"

The animal wasn't particularly exercised by our attention, although he ambled back and forth in a mildly annoyed fashion as the paparazzi recorded his movements (see the short video below). After a minute or two, he calmly stepped over the fence and wandered into the brush, and we left feeling like we had been privileged to witness something magical.





The presence of elk in West Texas is a somewhat controversial topic. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) classifies elk as an exotic species, meaning that they believe it's a non-native species. However, not everyone agrees with this designation. Some researchers believe that elk have inhabited West Texas for centuries, and their evidence and arguments are compelling.

It's not a purely academic dispute. By classifying elk as non-native exotics, TPWD allows them to be hunted year around, with no limits on the number of animals that can be killed. In fact, because the agency believes elk compete with native (and endangered) desert bighorn sheep for food, it recommends that ranchers hunt the elk to the point of elimination.

I'm not a hunter, but I understand and agree with the benefits of controlled hunting for certain species. I just find it hard to believe that the relatively small elk population poses any serious threat to the food supply for another scarce species, especially given the vast landscape in which both reside. The cynic in me can't help wondering about the influence on the TPWD of the hunting outfitters and ranches who benefit financially from year-round elk hunts.

Regardless - or perhaps especially - in light of this situation, it was a memorable encounter on that lonely Texas highway, and we came away with a new appreciation of the natural wonders of the Trans-Pecos region.

Bull elk in West Texas

Rockin' Rabbit
July 16, 2015 8:31 PM | Posted in: ,

I think this speaks for itself.

Cottontail rabbit stretched out on a rock

When Species Collide
June 19, 2015 3:32 PM | Posted in: ,

Red Fox
Update (6/21/15) - A lot of people have asked if we're feeding this fox, and that's why he's in our yard so often. The answer is an emphatic "no." I have no doubt that there are some people who are providing food, perhaps inadvertently, in the form of cat or dog food, but I would never leave food for a wild animal. They shouldn't get too comfortable around, or come to depend on humans. Having said that, I do leave a five gallon bucket of rain water uncovered on our back porch, and I've seen the fox get a drink from it from time to time.

If you've spent much time around mockingbirds, you probably know that they're quite territorial, and will vigorously defend what they believe to be their personal space (which is generally arbitrary and expansive). I've shared this before but on at least one occasion I've worn a motorcycle helmet while mowing the lawn to protect my head from a spiteful mockingbird.

I've seen them repeatedly dive at cats, squirrels, and dogs; they're seemingly fearless, and quite persistent. (At the risk of being overly anthropomorphic, I don't believe they're sadistic, like blue jays, which have been known to swoop down and grab baby birds of other species and then drop them to their deaths, seemingly for the fun of it.)

So, it was no great surprise when I witnessed a mockingbird harassing our back yard fox earlier this week. We suspect there's a nest hidden in the thick foliage of the Mexican elder that's planted next to the back wall. I was fortunate enough to have my video camera running when it happened.



By the way - let me put this as delicately as possible - if you watch closely toward the end of the video, I believe there's evidence that dispels the question of whether we're dealing with a regnard or a vixen.

Fox Times Two
February 3, 2015 9:03 PM | Posted in: ,

Our fox continued to visit our back yard around noon for a few days after we filed this report. He (or she - I have no way of knowing for sure) would usually be snoozing in the sunshine on the back porch when we got home for lunch, and then vanish shortly after noon. But, just as we had grown accustomed to its presence, it stopped appearing, and that was a little disappointing.

So, yesterday we were happy to see the fox make another lunchtime appearance. But the biggest thrill was seeing that s/he had brought a friend.

While our regular visitor lounged in the grass, I watched the newcomer get acquainted with the back yard, as it explored the shrubs along the back wall. The new animal seemed more wary than "our" fox, as evidenced by the fact that when I decided to try to get some video of the pair, it quickly retreated into our ice-damaged desert willow, and kept a close eye on me from that perch for a bit before deciding to seek a paparazzi-free zone. Take a look for yourself...


The newcomer is a just a little larger than the regular visitor, which, according to the infinite wisdom of Wikipedia, means that it's a male. If this is a mated pair, we might be looking at a fine fox family later this spring or summer, assuming they think our yard is safe enough (meaning that I should be less conspicuous with the cameras, I guess).

In the video, you can see the putative male make a fairly assertive exit, while the (let's assume) female watches with a resigned (might as well be as anthropomorphic as possible) expression, as if to say, "really...this is the best back yard in the neighborhood and you're scared of a dude with a video camera?" Eventually, she follows him out (and as we headed back to the office, we watched them cross the street in front of our house, him in the lead, and her following a while later). I hope we'll see them again soon.

The Fox Returns
January 25, 2015 4:36 PM | Posted in: ,

We were leaving the house to head to church this morning when my eye caught something odd through the door that leads from our bedroom to the back porch.

Photo - sleeping gray fox

It's hard to make out from this phone photo, but it's a gray fox napping on the mat outside the door.

I opened the blinds a bit more to try to get a better view, but that disturbed his sleep and he slipped out of view. We went into the living room and watched through the shutters as he put his front paws up on one of the Home Depot buckets we use to catch rainwater, and took a long drink. I tried to video that, but the phone kept focusing on the shutters instead of the fox, so the result wasn't particularly dramatic or edifying. As we pulled out of the garage, we spotted him through the back gate. He was already resting comfortably in the grass, watching us leave.

I have no way of knowing if this is the same fox I've reported on previously, but it's been a while since we've had a visitor like this.

When we got home in the early afternoon, we checked the back yard and, sure enough, he was napping - foxes apparently aren't very energetic during the day - behind our rain barrel. I grabbed my DSLR and video camera and went fox hunting.

Photo - gray fox
Photo - gray fox

Following is four minutes of relatively non-action-packed Urocyon cinereoargenteus footage. For most of it, I was either standing or sitting less than twenty feet from the fox...who was at worst annoyed that I was interrupting his afternoon snooze. Lazy or not - I'm referring to the fox, although it could also be self-referential - I continue to be fascinated at the behavior of these animals, even as I worry that they might be getting too comfortable around humans. I don't think they're a danger to us, but I'm afraid that somebody might believe otherwise and try to harm them.

But, as the video shows, the neighborhood bunnies might need to take some precautions.



It took almost seven years...
September 21, 2014 1:26 PM | Posted in: ,

...but they finally made it to our backyard.

Photo - Squirrel in tree

I'm not thrilled about having squirrels in our neighborhood, but their appearance was inevitable. We are sequestered by at least a quarter mile of treeless pasture on every side, but a lot of trees come in via landscapers and it was just a matter of time before some of these guys hitched a ride.

It's not that I have anything against squirrels, but I'm dealing with enough distractions as it is without...oh, look!...
I observed a couple of instances of unusual behavior on the part of some young animals this week, and they made me wonder about whether such behavior was learned or instinctive.

My drive to work each day takes me for a mile down a street called Mockingbird, the length of which on one side is mostly undeveloped pasture that belongs to Midland Country Club. A lot of wildlife comes out of that pasture and crosses the road, for reasons that perhaps only a chicken might be privy to.

On Wednesday, I observed a couple of young cottontail rabbits foraging side-by-side in the grass next to the curb on the side of the street across from the pasture. As I came upon them, they froze for an instant, then immediately bolted...in opposite directions, both away and toward me [despite what this biologist states with such British authority]. One had the poor judgment to bolt right in front of my truck (he fortunately managed to avoid getting squished); the other ran perpendicular to my line of travel, but away from me.

I can't recall seeing two rabbits bolt in that fashion before, but it made me wonder if the tactic of moving in opposite directions was an instinctual reaction designed to ensure that at worst only one of the pair would succumb to an attack by a predator. It seems highly unlikely that a single predator could bring down both bunnies even if they ran in the same direction, but it still raised the question of whether the maneuver was learned, instinctual, or just a random occurrence.

[It could be that rabbits are more noble than people, because everyone knows that the first rule of hiking in bear country is to make sure you can run faster than your partner.]

The second scenario played out on our front porch yesterday evening. We have a new brood of barn swallow hatchlings in the nest above the porch, and I was being my usual nosy, annoying self by standing and watching the little guys, who were just old enough to poke their beaks over the edge of the nest in anticipation that someone would drop something delicious into them.

Baby barn swallow in nestThey took absolutely no note of my presence...unlike the parents. They returned from what I presume was a foraging expedition and took immediate umbrage at my presence, buzzing me like tiny fighter jets [I never have a badminton racket when I need one]. But here's the interesting thing: just before they began their strafing runs, they let out with loud chirps that sounded to my un-barn-swallow-like ears just like all the calls they make. But as I kept my eyes on the babies in the nest, at the first sound of the chirp, all the young ones ducked back into the nest and did not reappear, even though under normal circumstances the appearance of one of the parents would bring them up for feeding.

I have to think that chirp was simultaneously a warning to me, but also an alarm to the hatchlings. Again, I wondered whether they were hatched with the instinctive recognition of such warnings, or if there was some kind of learning curve involved.

I doubt that anyone has a definitive answer to these questions, although I did find this page with some insights about (and recordings of) the barn swallow calls and songs. If the website is to be believed, male barn swallows give out fake alarm calls if their mate seems to be getting frisky with another male (although in this case I'm pretty sure there's nothing fake about it), raising more questions about instinct vs. learned behavior.

I don't want to read too much into a couple of isolated incidents - we could just be dealing with aberrant, deviant, and/or typical youthfully rebellious behavior. But these questions add to the fun of observing the natural world around us.

Bunny Stop
June 1, 2013 8:14 PM | Posted in: ,

Baby cottontails are perhaps the cutest wild animals in existence, especially when they try to hide in plain sight.

Photo of a bunny

This one inexplicably stopped just short of a bridge that would have completely hidden it. Perhaps it thought that we'd be confused by the rebar right behind it, thinking it was a snake. In any event, I was able to get a picture looking straight down from the bridge.

Photo of a bunny

It quickly tired of the paparazzi and disappeared under the bridge, as it should have done in the first place.

Fox on the Box
March 30, 2013 7:05 AM | Posted in:

Have you ever seen anything like this before?

Photo of a fox on our roof

What's that? Oh. Well, how about this...

Photo of a fox on our roof

The fox was back yesterday. It's getting to be a regular event, although not to the point where I should refer to him as "our fox." He's just not that happy to see us, for some odd reason.

Anyway, I disturbed his back yard nap when I came through on my way to mow the front yard (a disturbing act to me as well, by the way). He trotted around the side of the house, went up the brick wall, and jumped onto our roof. By the time I got around to the front yard, he had traversed the entire roof and was on the fence on the other side.

Photo of a fox on our roof

I watched him for a couple of minutes - again, much to his displeasure - and then got to work on the yard. About that time, a crew pulled up to the house next door and got ready to mow and edge that yard (and why didn't I think of that?). After a couple of minutes I noticed they were all out in the middle of the street looking up at our house and pointing. They had spotted the lounging fox.

I started to ask them if they'd never seen a roof-sitting fox before, but the answer was fairly evident. Plus, it's hard to be cool when you've never seen one before either.

It's sort of fun to have a carnivore on the canopy, but the neighborhood birds don't seem to share that sentiment.
Debbie and I went for a walk around the ponds this morning after breakfast, and as usual, encountered some interesting animals.

The geese are still hanging around. They were inexplicably strolling through the vacant lot across from our house (I saw one of them nip at some of the weed seed heads), and when they saw us walking down the street, headed our way and paralleled our course. Here's a short snippet of video I took with my phone.


They continued to walk in roughly the same direction we were headed, but they crossed the street, back and forth, inspecting who-knows-what. Some of our neighbors had congregated on a front porch and they watching the geese with great interest. One of them had a chihuahua on a long leash, and he was quite attentive, straining at the leash to get a closer look...until, that is, the geese turned toward him, at which point he quickly retreated to his master, content to switch to remote monitoring mode. We had a laugh at his expense, but I observed that it would be like us confronting a T-Rex, given the size difference between the small dog and the large goose. I didn't blame him a bit.

It took us about ten minutes to round the south pond - pausing to speak to a cottontail rabbit who thought he was hiding in plain sight just off the sidewalk - and by the time we got to the opposite side, the geese had made their way along the pond and we watched them waddle down the bank and back into the water. I suppose they were getting in their morning constitutional, as were we.

Heading toward the north pond, we spotted something in the middle of the sidewalk about 20 feet ahead. It was a horny toad. I wondered why we always seemed to see them on the walkway, and we soon got our answer. He was resting in the path where an abundance of ants were busily crossing the concrete, and it was a veritable movable feast from his perspective. We watched as he pounced on several ants who had the bad judgment to wander into his sphere of ingestion. He didn't seem to be willing to chase any of them down, content to let them come to him, but we did see him miss one ant, eat another that was close behind, then whirl around and consume the one that almost got away. Unfortunately, the scene took place too far away to capture on my phone's camera.

Rounding the north pond and heading home, we roused the usual jackrabbit contingent. They like the tall grass brought out by the summer's rainfall, but you can usually spot the black tips of their ears sticking up over the ground cover. Those guys are built for speed, and they're as shy as the geese are bold.

Snow Bunny
December 4, 2009 9:41 AM | Posted in: ,

Not everyone shares the schoolkids' enthusiasm about last night's snowfall:

Photo - bunny in snow

Coyote Serenade
November 3, 2009 7:46 AM | Posted in: ,

We're constantly delighted with the intrusion of the rural trappings of nature upon the suburban location of our neighborhood. However, one of those trappings had been noticeably absent in the past few months: coyotes.

That's not entirely accurate. I had occasionally spotted one here and there, even in the middle of the afternoon, but we hadn't heard their unique vocalizing in a while.

That changed late Sunday afternoon, as my wife and I walked through the neighborhood enjoying the beautiful weather. The full moon had just cleared the Midland Country Club treeline and I observed that its reflection in the pond would make a great photo.

As we made our way toward home, some distant sirens interrupted the evening calm, setting the neighborhood dogs to barking and yelping. They finally ceased their commotion and relative quiet returned...for a moment.

Suddenly, an amazing cacophony erupted, seeming to originate in the pasture less than half a mile south of us. The "missing" coyotes were back, and they were in fine voice. Their concert went on long enough - and was loud enough - to prompt us to try to capture some of it on our iPhones. Here's the result of mine (cleaned up a bit to remove some background hiss and boost the gain a bit).

What had stimulated this unexpected serenade? My only explanation is that the tricksters had succumbed to the stereotype and they were reacting to the appearance of the full moon.

I can't say that coyotes are welcome guests in our neighborhood, but if they're going to hang around, it's nice that they announce their presence in such interesting ways.
We spent the last few days in scenic Weatherford, Texas (if that sounds like sarcasm, you need to drive through some of the neighborhoods south of I-20 and you'll see that I'm serious. But be sure to pack a GPS.) and thus haven't been attending to bloggerly duties. Here's some stuff I hope will make up for that.

  • We don't live far from Carlsbad Caverns, in New Mexico, but I've never seen the bats emerge from or return to the caves. I'll bet you haven't either, at least not like this:


The flight of the bats was filmed using an infrared camera which tracked their movements via their body heat. Amazing footage. I've watched it closely, and out of a half million bats (unaudited, I suspect, but still) I saw not a single collision. Drivers in Houston's rush hour traffic should be so skilled. (Via Wired)
  • From the sublime to the, um, not so. Here's how Terminator should have ended. (Via  Geeks are Sexy)


  • Wonder if Bruce Schneier knows about this?

  • Peace Frog is a Japanese motorcycle shop (manufacturer? customizer? hard to tell) which has assembled what appears to be a Royal Enfield with an Indian badge. Gotta love the minimalism; I'd ride one.

  • Speaking of bicycles (well, sort of) here's a lush new (to me) online-only cycling publication called The Ride (big honkin' PDF). It's mostly a series of one page essays written mostly by people unfamiliar to me, although Greg LeMond does recollect The Time Trial (surely you don't have to ask).

  • On a less light-hearted note, I continue to be disappointed, if not downright disgusted, by the names appearing on the petition to have Roman Polanski released. Wonder how many of them would be OK with their 13-year-old daughters being raped? Ah, don't answer that.

  • Last, and probably least, here's a list of 50 large corporations whose PR departments dropped the ball, social-media-wise, and allowed their names to fall victim to cyber-squatters. It's interesting that Chevron's fall-back name, @chevron_justinh, makes it sound like they've assigned their Twitter campaign to an HR intern. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.

My Wife is a Squirrel Mule*
April 25, 2008 11:11 AM | Posted in:

One of the things I hated to give up in the relocation was the view from my desk onto our back porch and yard, which provided a reliable tableau of bloggable wildlife action. My new setup has the window at my back, and it looks out on the front driveway, a much less attractive setting for observations of nature. 

So, I was as surprised as my neighbors to find myself lying on my side in the driveway yesterday around noon, long lens on the camera pointed to the undercarriage of my wife's SUV. The reason was that I had glanced out the window just in time to see one of those wily ground squirrels run under her car. That in itself wouldn't warrant anything more than a couple of additional glances, but the squirrel piqued my curiosity by displaying his own. He stood on his hind legs and peered at the underside of the car, as if inspecting it for defects. He moved down the length of the vehicle, repeating this behavior, and then he climbed inside the rim of the left rear wheel. That's when my own inquisitive nature took over and I grabbed my camera. 

I approached as stealthily as I knew how, and eased myself onto the concrete. However, the squirrel was nowhere to be seen. I circled the car and seeing no reaction, I finally slid under it to inspect the wheel well (half expecting to be ambushed from above by a rabies-crazed varmint who'd been plotting this moment for weeks). Nothing. Nada. Zip. 

I assumed he'd slipped away, blocked from my view by the car itself, so I returned to the house. As I put my camera back in the bag, I glanced out the window again, just in time to see him unfurl himself from under the car and drop to the driveway, not unlike the creatures in Alien, only hairier and less slimy. So, he'd been hiding somewhere up there all along. 

At that point, my wife walked out the front door to head back to the office, and instead of doing the expected and natural thing - running away - the ground squirrel leaped back onto the frame of the car! I told her what was going on, and we agreed that she'd pull slowly out of the drive, while I waited, camera in hand, for what I was sure would be a dramatic squirrel evacuation (unaccompanied, we hoped, a gooshy squirrel flattening). It never came. That little fella remained hidden somewhere under the SUV as she drove out of sight. 

I'm sure that Claydesta has a sufficiently profuse population of ground squirrels that one more won't make a difference, and I hope that the unauthorized passenger had the good sense to vacate the undercarriage upon arrival at my wife's office. The last thing we need is one of those guys playing the role of gremlin under our car, chewing on wiring and what-not. Or worse, hitching a ride into our garage and setting up shop where the potential for damage is even greater. 

The upside to the situation is that I apparently didn't lose as much in the move as I feared, from the perspective of getting a view of the natural world outside my window.

*No, not that kind of mule. This kind of mule.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Wildlife - Mammals category.

Wildlife - Insects is the previous category.

Wildlife - Other is the next category.

Archives Index