Reality Ranching, Wildlife encounters July 2014

Mother raccoon and two of three babies that walked by the house on our sidewalk

Mother raccoon and two of three babies that walked by the house on our sidewalk

I am not a very good low light photographer plus I was taking many of them through dirty windows so forgive the quality of the wildlife photos!

SOMETHING NEW IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

We are fortunate to have frequent encounters with wildlife on our ranch. Paul and I can often watch various critters from the comfort of our recliners in our sun room. This summer has been no exception with the usual parade of deer, raccoons, turkey, and rabbits being observed as we relax in this many-windowed room. However, there is one creature this summer that was a first for us and caused a stir of excitement in the area.

One evening in late May, I look up from reading to check out what might be stirring in our yard or the fields beyond it. There is an animal grazing on Milton’s alfalfa that doesn’t compute in my brain. It is too big for a deer and its body much lighter in color than our white-tailed deer. I grab the binoculars that are always lying nearby and zoom in on the unidentified mammal. “Paul, I think I see the elk”! Actually, there is no thinking about it as the brown head and neck attached to the light body could be nothing but an elk.

A friend had informed us a few weeks ago that a cow elk had been seen grazing on his alfalfa fields. Another neighbor has photos of the elk on his game camera. Paul and I had kept an eye out whenever we drove by the fields but until now had not had the good fortune of seeing the unusual visitor. Well, that has changed and we just had to look out our window!

Paul asks if I’m going to try to get close enough to the elk to take a photo, and I figure I might as well give it a try. I put my shoes on, gather my camera, step out the back door, and start walking south. There is a strong wind blowing out of the south which is in my favor. We haven’t hayed the brome field I must walk across so this too helps mask me from the elk’s sight, but this also means I can’t see her. Once I reach the alfalfa field I no longer see the cow elk. I hope that she crossed the creek into the next field, so I decide to continue with my quest even though the sun is dropping towards the horizon.

When I am halfway across the field a curious doe approaches me, stomps her foot a couple of times, then turns and takes off running, her white tail waving, towards the area where the elk had been grazing. If the elk is nearby this fleeing deer isn’t going to help matters. I reach the south end of the field that is bordered by the tree-lined creek bank. Staying close to the creek edge, I use the trees for cover as I cautiously walk to the east. As I climb up a slight rise, I stop in surprise as there is the cow elk lying down in the southeast corner of the alfalfa field. No wonder I couldn’t see her anymore!

Eve the elk

Eve the elk

I take a couple of photos through a gap in the trees before stepping out into the open to try to get a better shot of this beautiful creature. As I show myself, the elk gets to her feet and she looks at me for a brief moment. Unfortunately, I changed the setting on my camera and with the fading light the camera takes too long to process the photo. What could have been a great photo is an unidentifiable blur. I quickly change back to the prior setting and snap one photo as the elk runs for cover. I trek the quarter-mile back home, happy that my effort to document the elk was a success.

Don't get motion sickness looking at this photo!

Don’t get motion sickness looking at this photo!

As you can see my photos are not very good but at least I have proof that we really do have an elk out our back door!

I dubbed the elk, Eve, and she stayed around for most of June. We would see her at least once a day and sometimes several times a day. The most opportune time to observe Eve would be just before dusk, when she would walk out of the timber on the east side of the alfalfa field and begin to graze. The rays from the lowering sun would light up Eve’s coat so it glowed like a spotlight. Eve never stayed long, fifteen or twenty minutes, and then she would disappear into the trees.

The unsettled weather kept us from mowing Eve’s alfalfa field when it should have been mowed but the day came when the forecast predicted several dry days in a row. I was assigned the job of mowing the alfalfa, so I drove the John Deere and disc mower to the field. I felt a twinge of regret as I assumed that once the alfalfa was harvested, Eve would move on.

The next evening I kept an eye out for Eve and to my delight I saw her amble out onto the mown field. Eve stuck to her schedule and parameters as usual, hey maybe she will stay around. The next night she appeared but her behavior changed drastically. Eve appeared in the same area as usual, browsed for a few minutes on the edge of the field where some grass and weeds were standing. Suddenly, she began to walk briskly across the field heading west and disappeared from my sight.  The next evening, imagine my surprise to see Eve appear in her customary spot but that night she was nervous from the start. Eve walked along the fence that separates the brome field from the alfalfa field, stopping several times to look over the fence. I was sure she was going to jump the fence but she continued walking along the fence until I could not see her anymore.

A few minutes later, Eve appeared in the brome field below our house walking north. I watched her until she disappeared into the cover of trees and we haven’t seen her since. I can’t complain because we had nearly a month of her presence in our corner of Wabaunsee County. What a wonderful and unusual animal for us to be able to enjoy.

The one thing that puzzles me about Eve is that elk are herd animals. A bull elk might get pushed out of the herd or even leave on his own, but it makes no sense why a cow elk would leave the safety of the herd. Hmm.

I stepped out our back door and snapped this long distance photo of Eve

I stepped out our back door and snapped this long distance photo of Eve

TOURING THE YARD

Taz takes advantage of the wide window sills in our living room to survey the comings and goings of birds and animals. I can always tell when she spots some creature that excites her as her tail begins to twitch and she will utter short little cat chirps.

On this particular evening, Taz was peering out the west window when she went into crouch mode and became agitated. I assumed she saw her nemesis, Black Jack, a cat that showed up early this spring and decided to stay. When Taz jumped down from her perch and ran over to the south window to follow the creature that had caught her interest, I decided to get up and investigate what all the excitement was about.

Sampling the Hackberry leaves

Sampling the Hackberry leaves

Checking out the fence

Checking out the fence

Eating roses

Eating roses

No wonder she was acting differently, there is a doe primly walking through our yard! I leave the room to get my camera then go to the sun room where the windows are larger and more numerous, making it easier to watch the unexpected show. Paul and I watch as the brazen deer walks the perimeter of our south lawn. First she samples the leaves of our hackberry tree. Not particularly impressed by this tidbit, the doe walks over to the wooden fence and sniffs at the boards. The deer then walks daintily to our rose bush and samples the red roses. These flowers seem to be more to her liking as she makes the petals fly while she consumes a couple of the blooms. Our evening entertainment sees the second rose bush and starts towards it when she becomes aware of our Purple Martin house that sits atop a fifteen foot pole. For some reason the high-rise bird house freaks our visitor out. The doe stretches out her neck as she peers up at this scary structure.

Discovering the Purple Martin house

Discovering the Purple Martin house

The oddity of the bird house dampens the deer’s appetite and the explorer starts back the way she came but this time she is on full alert. As the doe nears the house she must catch a glimpse of her human audience as she takes one cautious step, comes to a stop and stomps her front foot. The curious doe continues her slow procession toward the window where I am taking photos. I can’t believe how close the cheeky doe comes to the house. Finally her resolve breaks and she makes a dash from our yard in the direction of the garden. The deer hasn’t returned so I guess the roses weren’t that big of a treat.

Anybody home?

Anybody home?

BLACK CATS AND AN ANGRY RESIDENT

I mentioned the cat that decided to adopt Paul and me earlier in this blog. Black Jack has to be from the same lineage as Taz because at times if I don’t look closely I’m not sure which cat is which. Taz absolutely despises her relative and to be fair Black Jack is somewhat of a stinker. The young tomcat likes to fight and intimidate, in fact he beat up and chased off a much larger tomcat that was an occasional guest at our ranch.

Seeing double and double trouble

Seeing double and double trouble

Because of Black Jacks temperament I came to the decision that he should be neutered this spring. He came through the operation just fine but the aggressive nature didn’t disappear with the removal of his manhood! I am sure in time he will becomelazier and more laid back but right now that sure isn’t the case.

Black Jack or Taz? It's Black Jack but I have a photo of Taz in that same tree and the same pose

Black Jack or Taz?
It’s Black Jack but I have a photo of Taz in that same tree and the same pose

So what do I do to try to get these two cats to accept each other? I have intervened in their spats by scolding them, tossed a cup of water on Black Jack when he was harassing Taz, but like his sister he doesn’t really mind getting wet. One day as I started out on a walk both cats began to follow me. I thought to myself that maybe this would be a good way for the contrary felines to learn to get along.

Returning from a walk

Returning from a walk

Sometimes our walks went fairly well, other times it seemed that every few steps I was intervening for Taz’s sake as Black Jack would be in a particularly ornery mood. Often the two black cats would just lay down and stare at each other, and as you know cats only come when you call them if they darn well feel like coming! When this face off occurred, I would go stand in front of Taz, stamp my feet, clap my hands and tell Taz to move. I was literally herding a cat which as you can imagine did not go over well. Taz would hiss and growl but eventually move in the direction I wanted her to go. If some of you wonder why I didn’t just pick her up it is because I don’t relish the idea of claws and teeth sinking into the flesh of my hand. Taz is not a cat you want to handle when she is mad.

One day I was walking back on Soloscheid road, with Taz ahead of me and Black Jack trailing. Taz does not suffer the heat well and she headed for the shade under the tree that grows next to the stone fence. I suddenly hear a rapid buzzing noise coming from the direction of the fence. I don’t need to see the creature making that sound because once you have heard a rattlesnake shaking his rattles, trust me you will not forget. Taz must have walked close to the reptile to get the snake this worked up.

That is a big rattlesnake! Look close and you can see the blur of the rattles

That is a big rattlesnake! Look close and you can see the blur of the rattles

I notice Black Jack walking through the grass towards the sound of the angry rattler. I yell at the foolish cat and he hesitates before moving slowly forward.  I step toward Black Jack and then I see the big timber rattler, his tail shaking so fast it is just a blur. Black Jack takes another step forward and I watch as the snake strikes out. The rattler isn’t in a full coil so luckily Black Jack is out of the snakes strike range. I continue to berate the cat who finally decides to exit the ditch and come back onto the road. My yelling has caused Taz to decide she will take Black Jack to task for whatever crime he committed. Taz gets up and runs at Black Jack hissing and spitting and they disappear across the road in the opposite ditch. Well, at least they both are moving away from the snake.

I leave the feuding cats to their own demise and walk back to where the reptile is still sending his warning out. No wonder the rattler is in such frenzy as he is half coiled next to the stone fence with no escape route. I snap a couple of photos using the zoom on my camera and continue back to the house. I can hear the dry rattle of the snake for quite a ways down the road. Fortunately, the cats are worn out and manage to finish our walk without any more fussing. That is good as I don’t need any more excitement today!

How about a more peaceful photo to end this blog:)

How about a more peaceful photo to end this blog:)

Oh yes, any advice on how to get two cats to accept one another is welcome. After five months of this cat feud I am out of ideas on how to get the knuckleheads to agree to a truce! Later, Nancy

 

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Reality Ranching July 2014

Reality Ranching July 2014

The wild flowers have been gorgeous this year. This is Bee Balm sprinkled across the hills

The wild flowers have been gorgeous this year. This is Bee Balm sprinkled across the hills

Since I posted my last Reality Ranching blog, that desperately needed big rain event occurred in our corner of Kansas the second week of June. A soft rain began falling late one afternoon and continued throughout the night giving us nearly ten hours of continuous rain. Wonderful! Since we had received other rains prior to this one, the ground was saturated, so the four-inch rainfall resulted in rising creeks, full ponds, and smiling ranchers! Of course, this abundant moisture also brought washed out creek gaps.

Our creek  choked with grass and weeds the first of June

Our creek choked with grass and weeds the first of June

This is our creek after the four inch rain. No vegetation left (it is all hung up in the wire:))

This is our creek after the four inch rain. No vegetation left (it is all hung up in the wire:))

The Deblers’ happen to be enjoying a well-deserved family vacation at this time, so Paul and I were faced with the task of putting the water gaps back up. After eating breakfast, we piled wire, posts, hip boots, a chainsaw, and other necessities in the back of our pickup. Since the main creek was running too high to safely cross, we start with the smaller gaps that are in the side draws of our pastures.

We buzz down the highway and check the gaps in the corner pasture on Chalk road. As we suspected, the wire panel that keeps the cattle from walking under the small stone bridge to freedom, has been pushed over by the high water. Although the water is still running strongly in this small creek, we manage to pull the panel back in to position. Paul replaces a steel post that was dislodged by the high water, and then we anchor the panel to the posts with wire. One down.

Sometimes we use a cattle panel across the gaps in the smaller side draws

Sometimes we use a cattle panel across the gaps in the smaller side draws

The gap on the other end of this pasture is out too, but the posts are still in place. This water gap consists of 3 strands of barbed wire which is the normal structure of our creek gaps. We untangle a few branches from the wire, restring them across the stream, and fasten the wire to the posts. Two down.

When we get back to the truck, we discover that on our trek through the brush and trees to reach the creek, we picked up some unwanted hitchhikers. I pull five ticks off of me and I think Paul had three of the disgusting blood suckers on him.

This is the Ranger. A very handy addition to the ranch.

This is the Ranger. A very handy addition to the ranch.

Paul and I return home to transfer the fencing material into the Polaris Ranger since some gaps in our large pastures are hard to get to with the pickup. We check the four gaps in Milton’s’ pasture and are delighted to find only one of them obliterated by the high water. We move on to Leroy’s’ pasture where the gaps on both sides of the large stone bridge are down. Still there isn’t a lot of trash in them so putting them back up is fairly simple. The other small creek gaps are fine.

On we go to the Wagstaff pasture, where the only water gap in this pasture is still standing.  We drive by one of the small ponds we fenced around in order to keep the cattle out of them earlier this spring. This little pond went from a muddy puddle yesterday to being full of water today. That is great news except we didn’t place the electric fence high enough on the edge of the pond. All we can see of our fence is the top of the T-posts. That means we have a ruined electric fencer and a battery to “fish” out of the water. Well, live and learn. If we have to fence this pond out in the future now we know how high we must set our fence.

After lunch it is time to face the really tough creek gaps which will have deeper water and a lot more trash hung up in the wires. The main creek has receded enough that we can get the tractor through the rushing water, so we load our equipment in the bucket loader and drive across.

Just a peaceful cattle photo

Just a peaceful cattle photo

Blast, the neighboring cattle found the open gap already and have joined our herd of cattle. I don’t know how cattle seem to sense when a breach in the wall (fence) opens up! Well, better that we have visiting cattle than having our cattle out wandering over hundreds of acres of the neighbors pasture! A few of the neighbors steers are walking around in the lane outside the gamma and brome fields, so we herd them in with  the rest of the cattle and lock the whole bunch in the gamma pasture. By shutting the cattle in this field we won’t have to fix the creek gap between our brome field and the neighbors pasture. When we have time to separate the steers off our cows, we will chase the visiting bovines back through the same hole in the fence that they came through.

We have two gaps on the main creek we must put back up now, because they are part of the gamma pasture where we have penned all the cattle.  Paul puts on his hip boots as I begin untangling the wire that the high water left stretched along the edge of the creek. Uprooted grass and small tree limbs are hanging on the wire and must be shaken or pulled loose from the wire.

Paul has crossed the creek to put in the anchor post and discovers that his hip boots leak! The water is nearly hip boot high anyway so I guess if he steps into a deep hole it won’t matter. Poor Paul must lug around water filled boots as he walks through the swiftly flowing water.  You would be surprised how much current this creek has right now. At least the boots are protecting his feet from the sharp rocks on the bottom of the creek.

It is midafternoon, hot and humid, so by the time we get the second gap repaired, I am soaked in sweat and energy depleted. My job is minimal compared to Paul’s so I can’t imagine how tired he must be. I would like to say we are finished but we still have a pasture west of Alma to attend to. There are three gaps that we know will be out because the creek is much bigger than ours and the gaps go out easily. Let’s hope the cows haven’t found the open spots yet.

We load the ranger into the bumper trailer and head for Chambers.  We unload our workhorse at the farmstead and drive to the biggest gap first. Wow, this creek has been up several feet and the water is still plenty high. This is why we left this pasture until last as we knew the water takes longer to calm down. I can’t do a thing on this gap as the wire is swept along the far bank and the water is much too deep for my mid-calf boots.

The big gap at Chambers. This is actually the second time it went out.

The big gap at Chambers. This is actually the second time it went out.

Paul slogs across the stream and finds that the posts and wire are buried under a pile of gravel that the water has pushed downstream. We have extra posts and wire in the ranger so I can at least help carry stuff down to the edge of the creek. As Paul begins to rebuild the gap, I see a few cows grazing on the hillside. I tell Paul I am going to walk up to the cows and make sure all the cattle are accounted for.

First I have to take off my rubber boots and socks, roll my jeans up and wade across the creek. Yikes, the water is surprisingly cold and the gravel bottom is painfully uncomfortable on my bare feet. I can’t believe that as a kid I ran around outside bare footed all summer long, and as I remember it this never bothered me a bit (except when I stepped on a sticker). I finally make it across amid groans and ouches, put my boots back on and start walking towards the cows.

I call to the grazing herd before I reach them so they aren’t startled by my appearance. Most of the bovines raise their heads, look my way and then resume eating. A few of the greedier cows begin walking towards me in hopes that I am carrying some cubes to feed them. Once they realize I am empty-handed they lose interest in me and return to grazing the lush prairie grass. I count the cows and calve as they browse and are relieved to find that the entire herd is present.

Paul stringing wire across the creek

Paul stringing wire across the creek

I return to my starting point and find Paul has the three wires stretched across the creek and has started to pound the steel posts into the creek bed. I make my barefoot way slowly and painfully back across the stream. Ouch!! Once I am booted again I begin carrying the excess wire up to the Ranger. When Paul is finished clipping the wire to the posts, we make our way to the next gap.

Nearly finished

Nearly finished

The middle gap is full of trash but at least all the wire and posts are there. When we get this one finished, we move on to the final gap of the day. It’s a bugger for Paul as there is a deep hole where the anchor post across the creek is positioned. Paul must use a long branch to check the water depth in front of him with each step so he can find a route that is shallow enough to walk through. When he makes it to the far bank, he must pound the post down while trying to keep his balance so as not to end up falling into the deep pool he is standing next too!

I am busy trying to untangle the wires from each other and all the crap that is wound up in the wires. It is amazing how the water can twist these three wires into a puzzle as frustrating to decipher as a Rubiks cube. Paul must take each wire across the creek so that means three more cautious trips. We finally finish erecting the last gap and wearily make our way back to the ranger. Paul takes off his hip boots and pours out a cascade of water from them.  We drive back to the pickup and stock trailer, load the Ranger and head for home.  It is 7:30 when we arrive home, tired, hungry but glad we finished the task.

A perk for putting the gaps in at Chambers. Beautiful Butterfly Milkweed!

A perk for putting the gaps in at Chambers. Beautiful Butterfly Milkweed!

Two days later we have another hard rain that takes the gaps out on our main creek and at the Chambers pasture. At least all the side gaps in the smaller streams are o.k. I guess the practice we had rebuilding the creek gaps two days ago must have sharpened our skills, as this go round we put the darn things back up much faster. Putting creek gaps in was a job we let Randall take over the past few years and now we remember why:). We intend to let him have the tedious and frustrating job back when he returns tomorrow. Hey, Paul and I figured 30 plus years of gap fixing was enough and it was time to pass the baton to the young guy.

Randall was putting gaps in at Chambers a few days after he returned from vacation. Welcome home Randall!  Later, Nancy

There is a reason this wildflower is called Butterfly Milkweed. Butterflies love it.

There is a reason this wildflower is called Butterfly Milkweed. Butterflies love it.