Odds and Ends
Hello from Kansas,
The last time I typed we were having cool and wet weather in Kansas. How things have changed as we now are experiencing our normal summer weather. From mid-August into the first week of September it has turned scorching hot and dry. Even so it is still green for this time of year and though the brome grass won’t be as spectacular for fall grazing as it appeared a month ago at least we will get some good out of it.
Calving season is approaching quickly and we brought the bred heifers’ home this week. I already walk through the mothers to be first thing in the morning and again in the evening. The heifers actual due date is September 18th but I can guarantee that they will begin delivering their calves before that time. We just hope it isn’t over this weekend of September 7th as we are to hit the century mark both Saturday and Sunday.
I will stray from ranch life on a couple of subjects hence the odds and ends title. First I wanted to follow-up on the family of raccoons that took up residence in close proximity to our house this spring and summer.
We continued to catch glimpses of the coon family at dusk or when I would flip the porch light on as I was calling Taz into the house for the night. At times I would grab my camera intent on a photo of the cute rascals but somehow they would just disappear like magic by the time I stepped outside. One evening Paul hollered at me that the mother raccoon and one baby (half-grown at this time) were south of the house heading north. I grabbed my camera, slipped on my sandals and went out the backdoor with Taz right on my heels.
Yes! I spy the mother and baby by our propane tank but then things begin to get interesting. Taz growls, arches her back and begins walking towards the pair of intruders. I call to Taz trying to get her to return to me but she is completely focused on the coons. The raccoons have frozen in place but when Taz continues to advance, mama arches her own back then stands up on her hind legs. Taz loses her bravado when this creature suddenly doubles in size. I back up and Taz retreats with me which allows the two raccoons to dash for cover.
Again I lose my chance at a photo as I had become so concerned about Taz’s safety and possibly mine that I never even thought about snapping one. A movement catches my eye across the driveway by the hackberry tree. I’ll be darned, there are the other two young raccoons playing around the trunk of the tree completely oblivious to my presence. I walk quietly and as I close in on the two youngsters I begin to snap photos. Taz has deserted me by the way, I guess she has had all the excitement she wants for the night.
I manage to get fairly close to the frolicking siblings before they notice me and even then they are more curious than scared. The pair climb part way up the trunk of the tree and stare down at me. Snap goes my camera with the flash throwing light on my subjects. The blinding light startles the two masked critters into crawling a bit farther up the tree but again curiosity gets the better of the little guys and they stop to peer down at me again. I smile up at them and take a couple more photos before leaving the coons to the cover of night.
Paul and I leave Kansas in mid-July to meet with his three sisters for a week on Cape Cod. After pushing hard to get all the hay up (we did) we were more than ready for a break from the ranch. Our main goal is to see family including nieces, nephews and their children that we haven’t seen for a year or in some cases several years! I won’t go into the details of the reunion which was great but I did want to write about our whale watching tour we took while visiting the East coast.
We drove from Wellfleet to Province town on this hot day of July to check out the touristy town and to take a whale watching tour. We all go our own way to check out art galleries or historic buildings and meet up for lunch an hour before our scheduled whale watching tour. After lunch we make our way to the pier and join the long line of tourists waiting to board the Dolphin IX. The four of us, Joy decided to explore more of the town, make our way to the upper deck of the large touring ship. Our fellow passengers range from families to elderly folk, all seemingly excited to join in the search for whales.
We couldn’t have picked a more perfect day to be on the Atlantic. The ocean is unusually tame today and it is more like being on a lake than the sea. As we sail along the naturalist explains the different kind of whales that we have a chance at spotting such as the minke, finback and humpback. We might see grey and harbor seals; we will see a variety of sea birds while having an outside chance at seeing a shark. I’m more than ready because even though I have a fear of water, I love being on the ocean as long as I am on a big ship.
As the Dolphin IX skims through the Atlantic towards whale habitat we settle down in the bench seats hoping that with luck we will get a glimpse of the large mammals. We glide by a tall ship on the horizon that is dwarfed by the vastness of the ocean and sky. We pass fishermen in small boats and travel along spits of sand where beach goers lay soaking up the sun. The naturalist alerts us to some harbor seals and most of us leave our seats and lean against the railing to have a look. As we sail on our guide continues educating us about whale behavior, what they are eating in this area and so on. He comments on a group of moorhens and how unusual it is for them to be here this time of year. When a pair of finback whale are spotted a couple hundred yards out I expect the ship to approach them or slow down but we continue on our way. All I saw of the creatures were a sliver of their rubbery grey backs. Hmm.
When the naturalists announces there are humpback whales ahead everyone exits their seat and finds a place at the rail. Oh my, I forgot how huge these ocean creatures are. There are a half-dozen of the enormous whales and passengers including myself squeal with delight as whale spouts blow high into the air and tails emerge from the water. Cameras including mine are being pushed to the limit as we try to anticipate where and when the whales will show parts of themselves. After watching the whales for a short time, much to my surprise, the Naturalist announces that we are leaving the humpbacks behind. He explains that a sister ship has reported a large number of Humpbacks ahead that are in a feeding frenzy.
The Dolphin IX captain eases away from the whales and once clear of them we speed along towards what(according to the naturalist), is a once in a lifetime sight. Oh yeah, I like the sound of that! Most of we sightseers stay at the rail leaning over to search the ocean horizon. I see a stationary ship in the distance that I assume is in the whale zone and I begin scanning the area with my binoculars. It isn’t long before I see a whale tail break the surface and as I continue to glass the vicinity I see a couple of spouts bursting into the air. Yeehaw.
We soon arrive in the thick of things and if your heart doesn’t speed up when a mammal the size of a bus surfaces next to your ship something is seriously wrong with you!! Our naturalist is explaining the method the whales are using to trap and eat the sand eels that the gigantic predators are after. Amazingly, two or sometimes 3 whales swim in a circle beneath the ocean’s surface blowing bubbles, yep you read that right. They literally corral the wriggling bait with a frothy bubble fence which the eels are loath to swim through causing them to concentrate in a tight ball. Once the panicked eels have been forced into these globes the whales swim beneath the eels and rise to the surface with their mouths open wide. The whales’ baleen throats expand with gallons of sea water which of course is full of sand eels. The water is filtered back into the ocean while the eels are swallowed. What amazing team work and what a sight to see. I was lucky enough to see one of these balls of sand eels near the ship and it is no wonder they are such easy pickings for whales when they are in that formation.
There are teams of whales working all around the ship and there are human cries of disbelief and delight coming from the front, both sides and the rear of the ship. Not only are the paying passengers whooping so is the naturalist and other crew members. The Naturalist is on his microphone the whole time explaining to us what signs to watch for so we are able to locate where the whales will emerge, with gaping jaws, from the Atlantic. It doesn’t take long to figure this out because the water where the humpbacks are building their bubble fence is a frothy circle and the seabirds are hovering above the area as they anticipate snatching an easy snack.
Once the giants fill their throats with dinner they duck back under the surface humping their back and the final appendage is their black and white mottled fluke (tail) rising above the ocean before sinking out of sight. We are privileged to watch this hunting tactic over and over but still our allotted time runs out too soon and we must leave this phenomenon behind. Another ship load of whale watchers are eagerly waiting to take our place. I’m too excited to sit down so I watch the whales for as long as I can as the Dolphin IX turns back for Provincetown. The Naturalist tells us they believe there were around 20 whales in this group, it seemed like more to me, and 6 to 8 in the first group of humpbacks. This is way beyond my expectations because when we left I was just hoping we would see a whale!
I listen to a woman telling another passenger that this whaling tour is a regular thing for her family to do and they have never seen anything like this spectacle in all the trips they have been on. One of the crew tells another passenger how delightful it was to hear the naturalist and other researchers so excited about the feeding whales. How lucky were we!
Paul and I saw a myriad of humpbacks years ago when we took the inside passage cruise in Alaska. The captain told us then that we were experiencing a once in a lifetime event. It was terrific but since the whales were migrating we basically just saw part of their backs and lots of spouting going on in every direction. We saw a whale in Hawaii while taking a whale watching tour that half-breached out of the water which was very cool. Still neither of those experiences matched what we had just witnessed. This is one of the coolest wildlife experiences that we have ever had and that is saying something.
By the way, the day after our whaling tour the weather had changed. It was overcast, windy and the Atlantic was throwing big angry waves at the shore. How fortunate for us to have decided on taking the tour the day before.
At the start of this writing I mentioned the heifers that we brought home in preparation for calving. Sure enough we began getting calves over the weekend in which the temperature slid above 100 both days. It was absolutely miserable and we had to keep checking these baby calves to make sure they were in the shade. Often the little calves were lying in direct sun so we would move them under the trees with mom. As of today, the 17th, we have 19 baby calves on the ground! That means we are more than half done with calving our heifers. Thankfully, it has cooled off too. Later, Nancy