Monthly Archives: February 2010

Hope in a meadow lark’s song

Like most Kansans I’m as anxious to find a sign of spring as a hot stock-tip.

Wednesday morning three of us were touring Osborne County food plots, each taking our deserved turns at complaining about this never-ending winter, when I heard the unmistakable call of a meadow lark.

Looking north, I saw the bird on a stone fence post, chest puffed, beak open and upward.

It only called a few times before flushing.

But at least for those few seconds the temperature seemed to warm and plants seemed to green.

And now I’m anxiously awaiting spring more than ever.

Educational placard placed at Twin Lakes

By Wednesday or Thursday an educational sign should be posted near Twin Lakes.

Bob Gress, of the Great Plains Nature Center, said the sign provides some educational material for the many people at Twin Lakes to look for the area’s famed pair of bald eagles.

Gress said the sign has some of the basics of bald eagle nesting and behavior. Several photos taken at the lake by various photographers will also be displayed.

The eagles have been seen adding material to a nest over the lake. Gress said copulation has occurred at least twice. Nobody has reported any signs of eggs.

It’s not known if the two mature birds will try to raise a brood in the nest in the middle of Wichita. They may be making the nest for practice or for a place to perch and feed. Some experts have questioned if the nest’s size or very urban location lends to successful nesting.

Gress said the birds are seen around the nest most mornings. In times of bad weather they may hang in the immediate area later into the day.

Last year well more than 30 active bald eagle nests were located in Kansas, including several along the Arkansas River between Wichita and the Oklahoma border.

Of sports shows, bass fishermen and birthdays

My knees are sore and my feet have a slight ache.

Must be the day after the sports show or I’m another year older.

Actually it’s both.

—Cuteness certainly ruled at this year’s Great Outdoors Photo Contest. Dan Witt’s photo of the tiny raccoon, sadly peaking around the top of a wooden fence post, dominated voting online and at the sports show.

Bald eagles continued to be popular with voters, too, as Brian Trimm’s shot of the mature bald eagle near the Lincoln Street bridge finished second for adults.

Congratulations to the winners and sincere thanks to the 450-plus who entered the contest and the many who voted.

You can see the winners of the adult and youth divisions at this link.

—Brent Chapman, Kansas’ top professional bass fisherman, also deserves congratulations for an impressive fifth-place finish at last weekend’s 2010 Bassmasters Classic tournament on Lay Lake in Alabama. Chapman weighed-in  37 lbs., 14 oz. of bass over the three day tournament.

Hopefully I’ll be able to land an interview with Chapman in the near future.

—Oh, yes, that birthday thing has come around again. No, it doesn’t really bother me because some number isn’t the same as it was yesterday. I’m in good health, my family is thriving, I have some great friends, a lot to look forward to this year  and I have a very good dog.

Life is better now than many years when I was younger.

How old you ask?

I kinda refer to it as 40-12.

Bests to you.

Show time!

First, a reminder that voting is on-going on Kansas .com for our Great Outdoors Photo Contest. We’ll take votes until about noon on Saturday.

Click here to go to the voting.

For me it’s one of the busiest times of my year, four days of hour after hour at the Sports, Boat and Travel Show.

And I look forward to it almost as much as the opening of duck season.

I enjoy working with the crowds of people who stop by the booth to admire the photography and vote. Some are first-timers but many  have stopped by so many years they know the drill.

A lot of families come by. Kids of all ages are always encouraged to vote and I’ve probably helped several hundred tykes complete ballots through the years.

Some of the youth of the first few years now drive themselves to the show.

Pretty cool.

Again, all who entered the photo contest have a free admission ticket waiting at the show’s ticket window.

If you subscribe to my e-letter or regularly read my blogs please say so if you stop by. I have a few goodies to give-away this year.

Food plot power!

It’s not often I smile when I see something I’d invested much time and money in ripped up. But I was absolutely giddy walking down an old logging trail at our farm north of Lawrence.

Holes the size of car hoods pocked the snow on an acre of ground my step-brother and I had cleared with chain saws and his bulldozer. Deer trails looked like ruts as they looped through the woods and on to the field where I’d spent quite a bit of money in Round-Up, seed and fertilizer.

The deer were obviously hammering both of the one-acre food plots I’d planted to a variety of clovers. If they were hitting them in the dead of winter, when most of the clover is dormant, I can only imagine what it’ll be like when the patches turn green again this spring.

Working with the wildlife habitat in the late-winter, spring and summer is a great way to keep my fingers into the hunting and wildlife on the place.

I’ve also been killing a lot of undesirable trees.The sunlight that allows to hit the forest floor brings dense underbrush within a few months. That translates into great browse for deer, nesting areas for wild turkeys and improved habitat for a variety of brush-loving Kansas songbirds.

Every trip back to the farm is like running a trotline as I look for signs the new plots and brush are being used. Last spring I twice flushed nesting hen turkeys from the briars beside one clover patch. We saw more and better deer on the place last season than we had in ten or more years.

But the more positives you see the more you want to do.

Last Thursday I over-seeded more clover seed atop the snow on the two existing plots. By the first warm days of spring those thousands of tiny seeds will be in the soil. They’ll make the existing stands of clover even better.

But when the last of the seed was gone I took the tractor to an old cow pasture of nine or ten acres atop the farm’s tallest ridge. In my mind I see it far differently than so much of the current brome, fescue and broom sedge that offers little to wildlife.

I have big plans for that spot.

More on that later.

Roadrunners – nature’s comedians

In my eyes real roadrunners are about as comical as the cartoon bird portrayed with poor ol’ Wile E. Coyote.

Every time I’ve seen one in Kansas the bird caused a chuckle with some funny action. Most stories I’ve heard from friends also make me smile.

Currently there’s a fun video to watch on the Wildlife and Parks website’s home page. You can click here to see Mike Blair’s neat video and narration of a roadrunner hanging around Ken Brunson’s rural Pratt home.

Brunson, a Wildlife and Parks biologist, can call the bird into his yard with a whistle. He then feeds it scraps of vension. Roadrunners are primarily carnivores. Be sure you watch the video through so you can check-out the cool X-shaped tracks.

The first one I saw in Kansas was near Sun City. Mark Dugan was driving slowly down a Barber County backroad when I looked over and saw the roadrunner trotting along beside us.

When Mark slowed to a stop for a better look the roadrunner also stopped. When Mark put his pick-up into gear the bird kept the pace. So it went for a half-mile or so before we headed to Buster’s for lunch at a normal speed. I half expected the roadrunner to eventually show up in Sun City, tongue hanging from trying to keep-up.

In a Comanche Count blizzard I once got out to open a gate and noticed a roadrunner standing under a nearby cedar, seemingly leaning against the tree’s trunk like some guy against a street sign watching traffic pass.

It looked at me when I spoke to the bird. No, it didn’t go “beep-beep.”

Friends have looked up and seen them staring into a window of their house or standing atop their car’s hood many mornings in a row when they leave for work.

My favorite story is a Comanche County friend who often returned home to find a roadrunner trotting around his yard, always with something in its beak. The best was when it walked by with a cigarette butt dangling from the corner of its beak.

Occasionally one makes it as farm east and north as the Wichita area. Jerrod once got a good look at one in Chase County. Friends had one much of a summer in their rural yard near Newton.

Word has it one has been seen over the past couple of years in western Wichita, roosting on houses and scurrying by when people least expect it.

I’m sure they can’t help but giggle as the bird passes by.

Deer bill changes, stalls again

A bill that would have required many bowhunters to shoot a doe before they could legally shoot a buck was in the Kansas House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday.

The bill had drawn protest from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and many Kansas sportsmen. A sub-committee that investigated the bill several days ago did not give it approval, said Chris Tymeson, Wildlife and Parks attorney.

On Wednesday committee chairman Larry Powell, R-Garden City, offered an ammendment that removed the doe-before-buck requirements but added language that required crossbows be legalized for all hunters during archery deer seasons, Tymeson said.

Wildlife and Parks was against such legalization, stating the ease of crossbows would bring more hunters into the November rut. Tymeson said within a few years an over-harvest of bucks could harm the age-structure of the Kansas herd and the trophy deer hunting industry.

The bill failed to draw a motion for acceptance.

Though currently stalled, Tymeson said the bill could be rekindled or the contents could be attached to another bill.

Another ‘net hoax

Another mass e-mailing and it ends up being another hoax. What are the odds?

These days about 90%. Seriously.

The story with the mailing is that some poor guy went deer hunting in the Carolinas and came across a mess of rattlers. So many, in fact, that he offered up his deer blind to anybody who wanted to hunt from it. He was quitting.

image0022Hmmm…

Rattlesnakes back east are either eastern diamondbacks or more likely timber rattlesnakes. Neither are in great numbers. Finding a huge number would be very, very rare.

Checking the photos I noticed the snakes were thinner and had a different scale pattern than any timbers I’ve seen in Kansas. The banding on the tail also didn’t look right.

I sent the pics to Joe Collins, a world-class herpetologist from Lawrence. He immediately identified the snakes as western diamondbacks. They don’t live anywhere east of the Mississippi River, let alone the Carolinas.

The  black and white bands on the tails of these rattlesnakes help identify them as eastern diamondbacks.

The black and white bands on the tails of these rattlesnakes help identify them as eastern diamondbacks.

Unfortunately I don’t have the real story behind the pile of headless snakes. I’d guess they’re probably from west Texas, where they’re pretty danged common.

I’ll never know for sure.

But it’s just one more reason many people now open such ‘net mailings with a built-in skepticism.

What a shame.

Awaiting the sounds of spring

It occurred to my when I paused from shoveling snow  Monday morning.

The silence reminded me how much I’m anticipating the sounds of spring. I think I’m anticipating them even more than warmer temperatures.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the frequent winter calls of passing geese and the idea of going outside without five layers of clothing is appealing. But I much more want to hear the tweeting calls of robins and long, love-struck calls of male cardinals.

As I finished shoveling I began to think of a special spot in the Flint Hills, just south of Matfield Green and where Chase County and Greenwood County meet.

I’ve written about what we call “The East Gate” before.

Come late March through most of May I love to park at that gate when daylight is just a glowing promise in the east. Most times I just lean against the hood of Ol’Red and enjoy a cup of coffee as I wait and listen.

Even my diminished hearing can hear the twirling calls of cardinals coming from up and down a timbered creek bottom. From two or three groves of sycamores and tall oaks will come the yelps and gobbles of many wild turkeys. Their responses to one another sounds like “the wave” as it rolls and rides up and down the stream.

From the north will be the low, haunting-like “you ol’ fool” of displaying greater prairie chickens. And there will be creaking call of passing wood ducks and noises from at least a dozen other woodland and prairie species I recognize but can not name.

You can bet I’ll be heading to the East Gate some calm morning in about six weeks.

I’ll wear a jacket if it’s cold.

Saints win – let the howl-fest begin

They’ve endured decades of football mediocrity and the near destruction of their town but Sunday’s Super Bowl victory gives New Orleons Saints fans a reason to really celebrate.

OK, so maybe they were already pretty good at celebrating long before their victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

This video clip of a gathering of fans getting a happy beagle involved in their “Who Dat” earlier in the season is certain proof.

(The complete chant is – “Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gunna beat them Saints?”)

Congrats to all Saints fans. Now, anybody have a dog that can start the “Rock Chalk” chant?