June 2013 Reality Ranching
Since I don’t have photos to match some of my ramblings, raccoons or birds, I will just use some favorites I have snapped lately.
What a spring we had this year and boy did nature respond in a splendid way. The cool weather punctuated with timely rains sent the tame (planted) grasses in our part of the world into a lushness that we won’t soon see again. The rains weren’t gully washers, at least not in our corner of Wabaunsee County but when they fell the moisture was used to its fullest due to the fact that searing winds didn’t suck it away the next day. However, the native grass in our pastures already stressed from the drought, did not like the cool nights. It needed warm night temperatures to grow and even now the prairie grass is shorter than we like to see it this time of year. Our brome grass is as beautiful and plentiful as we can ever recall. Paul walked into some hay fields where the seed head on this tame grass tickled his chin. To make it even more amazing the brome continues to stand up instead of lodging (falling over) as tall brome normally does. There will be no shortage of hay harvested in our county this year.
The wildflowers this spring have pulled out all the stops. They are blooming profusely and in abundance in pastures, meadows and roadsides. The butterfly milkweed sets the roadsides ablaze with their flaming orange flowers. The flat heads of yarrow are the color of dirty snow. We have fire and ice in summer courtesy of wild flowers. Sprinkled through the pastures are yellow goat’s beard, the catsclaw’s sporting a purple globe, the stately white moth mullein, clouds of daisy fleabane, black-eyed Susan, bell-shaped beardtongue and a variety of milkweed and others too numerous to list. Mother Nature has painted a masterpiece for anyone who bothers to cast their eyes over the green canvas of a hillside or meadow. Sadly, I simply cannot capture the magnificence of nature’s offering in a photo although I certainly have tried. The close-up photos are lovely but my photos trying to capture the flowers spread across a meadow just doesn’t do natures art work the justice it deserves.
Since I am on a nature theme I might as well comment on what seems to me to be a high density of birds this spring. We put up 5 bluebird nest boxes this year and all but one were occupied for at least one hatching. I know I have never seen so many Cuckoo birds as I have this year. Usually one is only aware of cuckoos as their “chuckling” (Paul’s description and very apt) rolls out from a woody area. I seldom see cuckoos flying but this spring I have watched these secretive birds on the wing quite often. Great crested flycatchers were so thick earlier that when I was out walking there seemed to be one announcing its presence from a tree every few yards. Driving from the 99/4 junction south of our house, cliff swallows have taken up residence under every large bridge plus the I70 overpass on the trip to Wamego. These graceful swallows build gourd shaped mud nests and attach them to the underside of the bridges and the underpass. The colonies that took up residence under the bridges have chosen wisely but the flock that built their nests beneath the overpass not so much. The swallows always swoop downwards when they leave their mud abodes. Driving to Wamego one day I watched in dismay as a swallow exited its conical nest and flew directly into the windshield of a passing car. I don’t know what kind of survival rate their young will have when it is time for the fledglings to leave the nest.
Speaking of birds I must relate this rather poignant story of a pair of Purple Martins that visited our marten house this month. I have been hoping these large swallows would discover our martin condo for three years now. I was so excited when I heard the beautiful warbling of a male martin earlier this month. When I saw that he was singing while perched on top of the white bird house, my hopes for martin occupation soared. As I spotted a female marten flying in circles around the area I was doubly happy. The female never joined her male troubadour on the house roof however and the next day no marten was to be seen or heard.
Two days later the male marten was back singing at the top of his voice. I watch curiously as he takes wing and flies over to the old windmill settling on a metal rod. Looking closer I see that the female martin is perched on the same rod. The male emits another loud, exuberant, chattering melody. The courting male flies back to the bird house roof and chortles his sweet nothings to the female who sits with her back to the marten house. I watch that persistent male repeat this ritual six times, singing from the house and then flying to the windmill to warble in his chosen ones ear. The unimpressed female never even turned her head to glance at the proffered abode. The male was still carrying out his back and forth sales job trying to convince his chosen mate that this is the place for us, when I went inside my own house!
Again the disagreeing couple disappears for a couple of days but then I spot them both sitting on the balcony of the bird house. I was jubilant, sure that this meant the start of a colony of martens. The next day they were gone again and I haven’t seen them for a couple of weeks. Perhaps they were scouting for next years nesting spot and when they return spring they will bring friends along to reside in our rent free martin house.
As usual our yard and surrounding land are alive with wildlife. Turkeys wander up our drive way occasionally. We have a doe that has taken up residence close to the house. I have seen her near the big bales east of our house several times and once she was standing by the water tank in the south lot. Paul has seen her several times close to the garden. I’m sure the doe has a fawn tucked away somewhere and perhaps she thinks that being close to a human dwelling will keep the predators away. I’m afraid that is a false hope as I have seen coyote scat in our driveway too. There is a gangly raccoon that has taken to walking along our sidewalk as dusk begins to fall. I imagine he checks the area where I toss scraps from the days cooking and then proceeds to use the easiest path to continue on his quest for food. There are a couple of Greta the groundhogs around but as of yet no little Greta’s have made an appearance. Rabbits, o’possums and squirrels round out the menagerie.
One evening as we sat in the sunroom Paul announces that a mother and two baby raccoons are running through the yard. I had been looking out an east window, watching Taz stalking a couple of rabbits. The rabbits were so concerned about her ability to catch them that they were leisurely nibbling on the buffalo grass. I rush to a south window to locate the trio of coons but I only see the mothers rear-end disappearing behind the evergreens in the corner of our south lawn. I get my camera, slip clogs on my feet and go in pursuit of the raccoons. When I reach the cedars, I peer up into the branches and listen for coon chatter but cannot locate the critters. I decide they might have scurried down to the creek so I follow the lane which leads to the stream with Taz trailing behind me. I am waylaid for a few minutes by the aforementioned doe standing near the water tank. The sleek doe snorts and runs at the sight of us but she stops after a short distant and turns to take a look at this odd pair. We stare at each other for a few seconds, and then the lovely creature loses her nerve and bounds away for good.
Once we reach the creek, I use a tree for cover, peering around the trunk looking up and down the creek. Taz sees no reason for this subterfuge and saunters up to the edge of the bank looking around with her usual curiosity. I do see a raccoon many yards away and watch as he dashes to and fro in the water. I assume he is after frogs or crawdads for his supper. There is no sight of the raccoon family darn it and the other raccoon is too far away for a photo.
Returning from checking cattle one morning this week, I spy those cute little raccoons near the pickup shed. Jumping off the 4 wheeler I remove my camera from the case (yes I take it along when I check cattle) and walk towards the duo. There is no sign of mom which seems odd but her absence makes me feel a bit safer in stalking the masked visitors. When the two truants see me walking towards them they run into the tall brome grass that is growing next to the shed. The baby coons disappear into the dense grass but I follow their progress by watching the top of the brome ripple as they scamper away. The youngsters stop at the base of a big oak tree and I smile, readying my camera for that imagined great photo I will take as they ascend the trunk. I wait and wait but no climbing coons appear to pose for my photo.
I walk over to the tree when suddenly I hear something crashing through the grass directly behind me. My heart begins pounding as I turn towards the racket assuming I will be facing an enraged mother raccoon. “ TAZ, you scared the heck out of me!” Silly cat.
I turn back to search the base of the big oak but there is no hollow near the bottom of the tree where the babies could be hiding. Hmmm. I traipse through the thick grass looking for telltale ripples of escaping animals but nothing. How could the rascals have escaped without my seeing them? I can only conclude they ducked under the bordering fence into the field where the grass is much shorter and pulled a Houdini on me by running next to the big brome instead of in it. I am disheartened by losing the photo-op but encouraged that if the mother raccoon has met her demise maybe these possible orphans are just smart enough to make it on their own.