Monthly Archives: May 2010

Lemur on the loose?

Every year I get several calls or e-mails from someone seeing an unexpected animal roaming in Kansas.

Years ago there was the famed moose of western Kansas. A buddy had an emu walk right into his turkey decoys. Another had a llama walk under his treestand.

Now a friend thinks he has a lemur roaming his farm a few miles west of Newton. He and his wife spotted some tracks they couldn’t identify around his barn. His sister got a good and long look at a strange animal in her drive-way about a half-mile away.

Her description fits a lemur perfectly, especially the ringed tail a yard or more long.

Here’s what she saw.

Many times I’ve wondered if such reports were just cases of mis-identification. But seriously, what could you confuse with a lemur? And how’d an animal native to islands off  Africa’s east coast come to be roaming rural Harvey County.

So, if you hear of someone who’s missing their family lemur let me know.

I may stick a couple of trail cams up in that area.

You never know.

Peregrine watching in Wichita

News came this week of the successful hatching of some peregrine falcons in downtown Topeka. As they have in the past the legendary Westar Energy Green Team has been offering the birds great support and sharing it all with the public via live camera views taken of the nest.

Click here to view the nesting birds.

Though facilities have been placed to encourage peregrines to nest in downtown Wichita we’ve yet to be blessed with our own hatchlings. Peregrines nest on high-rise buildings in several major cities, using the tall building as substitutes for the tall cliffs where they traditionally nest.

But we do get some pretty good peregrine watching opportunities from time to time.

My first view of a Kansas peregrine didn’t last as long as it took to type this sentence – but it was sure impressive.

I was standing at a window in the newsroom, staring outside and wishing I wasn’t surrounded by so much concrete and metal when a flock of pigeons slowly flew by only a few yards from the glass.

From above and behind the building another pigeon dove, splitting the flying flock in a panic, a gray blur gaining air quickly on its tail. The pigeon and following peregrine dove out of my sight quickly but I was left stunned at the predator’s speed and manuverability.

Several times since I’ve seen peregrines sitting atop a downtown building or zipping through the skies looking for dinner.

Heading to lunch one day some co-workers were walking down an alley in Old Town when a silver streak came to ground a few yards away. It was a peregrine, clutching a pigeon it had just taken from the air. The peregrine seemed totally unimpressed by my friends passing only a few yards away.

My friends returned to the newsroom very impressed and appreciative of one of Mother Nature’s top avian predators.

Whale of a striper probably a state-record

For many years Paul Bahr stared at a weathered newspaper clipping of when the current state-record striper was caught from Wilson Lake in 1988. He often dreamed of what it would be like to catch a striper that bested that 43.5 pound fish.

Last Friday the Ellsworth angler found out when he boated a Wilson Lake striper that later weighed 44 pounds on certified scales. The weigh-in was witnessed by Heath Barta, a Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks park ranger, and others.

Paul Bahr's 44 pound striped bass is expected to be officially declared a new state-record for the species. He caught the fish last Friday at Wilson Lake.

Paul Bahr's 44 pound striped bass is expected to be officially declared a new state-record for the species. He caught the fish last Friday at Wilson Lake.

He caught the fish trolling with live shad in about three feet of water, a technique that’s worked well for Bahr and his family. Last month his 11-year-old daughter, Whitney, landed and released a 40.5 pound striper at Wilson. Last May 15-year-old Josh Bahr caught one that weighed 34 pounds.

Wildlife and Parks always waits 30 days from when they receive an application for a state-record fish before making it official in case an investigation is needed.

For more details and to see more photos on the Bahr family and their big stripers check Sunday’s outdoors page in The Eagle or at www.kansas.com.outdoors.

Record crappie – No. Striper -stay tuned

The run of possible state record fish continues to roll on and on. I got calls on two more over the weekend.

The first came from a buddy at Gander Mountain, saying a state record white crappie was caught from the Arkansas River Sunday morning near Riverside Park. The folks bringing the fish in said it was five pounds.

A few minutes later I got a “disregard” phone call. The fish weighed about 3.3 pounds, nearly a pound short of the existing state record. The initial weight was done on old-fashioned spring fishing scales. A digital set at Gander blew the state record hopes out of the water.

Today’s call talking of a new state record wiper caught at Wilson Lake on Friday seems far more likely. I’m still running down details but it appears to have weighed 44 pounds on certified scales with the proper witnesses.

An Ellsworth angler with a lot of experience catching big stripers made the haul. I’m to interview him this afternoon for more details.

The old record was a 43 1/2 pound striper caught from Wilson in 1988.

So, that could be the fourth true state record fish caught this year. Smallmouth bass, rainbow and brown trout records have fallen.

This is the third time I’ve had wild-fish chases. One was on a black crappie said to be a white crappie. It wasn’t weighed properly anyway. The other was a 100-plus pound buffalo that ended up being a grass carp of about 39 pounds when properly identified and weighted.

$400 gone, prairie to come?

Most times when someone spends about $400 for “grass” it begins with a back-alley deal and ends with many cases of the munchies.

Tuesday I forked over that much scraped- together cash and it may end up as nothing. Hopefully, though, it’ll end up with six acres of fine prairie on a part of our farm that’s been nothing but brome for several decades.

By design it’ll be a mixture of grasses to eight feet tall and a collection of vibrant, seed-bearing wildflowers. I’m hoping for a prime bedding area for whitetails, a place for wild turkeys to nest and a complete home for bobwhites and other ground-nesting birds.

But right now I’m out $394.30 and am the aprehensive owner of just 64.76 pounds of native grass and forb seeds. That’s two bags I can easily lift at the same time.

I’ve already invested many days on our place north of Lawrence trying to get the land prepped by three sprayings with Round-Up and multiple disking to get the seed bed right.

Even if all goes well I may see no significant signs of prairie for three or four years.

So, I guess I’ll do my best getting the seed into the ground and hope Mother Nature smiles upon me.

Here is the menu of what we’ll be planting for wildlife. The mix was provided by Andy Friesen, the Wildlife and Parks biologist for our area.

GRASSES – Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Switchgrass, Indian Grass, Sideoats Gramma, Western Wheatgrass.

FORBES – Illinois Bundleflower, Maximillian Sunflower, Purple Prarie Clover, Showy Partridge Pea, Clasping Coneflower, Grey Head Coneflower, Black Eye Susan, Indian Blanket, Upright Coneflower, Plains Coreopsis, Lance-leaf Coreopsis, Purple Coneflower, Blanketflower.

Dam that’s a major piece of work

A widely-distributed article about the discovery of what’s probably the world’s largest beaver dam probably has thousands of landowners thinking “Glad it’s not on my place.”

Click here to read about the beaver dam about 2,700 feet long that was spotted via satellite in northern Canada. Scientists say the huge structure has probably been an on-going project for the large rodents since the 1970s.

In Kansas, and most other states, beavers are often cursed for the damage they do to private property. They’ve been known to feast on the bark of expensive ornamental trees in plush housing developments. They’ve also damned outlet structures on ponds and lakes that have led to flooding of roads and yards after rains.

At our farm beavers digging dens into steep shorelines have lead to at least three sizable landslides over the years. They also eventually girdled and killed the three ancient and sky-high white oaks that were the pride of our family. Clogging an overflow tube on a pond led to our driveway being severely washed out, too.

They are, of course, only doing what comes naturally. In western Kansas they’re valued because their dams on lightly flowing rivers like the Smoky Hill and Cimarron give waterfowl and fish rare places to thrive.

They’re an amazingly well-adapted animal. I sometimes enjoy watching them work and applaud the animals for their major engineering masterpiece in Canada.

But I’m still glad it’s not on our farm.

Oops – some oryx thriving, not extinct

Errors happen in journalism. Though most publications – especially The Eagle – go to great lengths to prevent wrongful information making it into print errors are only a typo or dropped word away.

But the one recently in an AP story on Yahoo was a biggie when it declared that oryx are extinct in the wild. Click here to read the story and statement.

The article is on a young scimitar-horned oryx recently born at The National Zoo. Scimitar-horned oryx are probably extinct in their native desert habitat of northern Africa largely because of poaching. Several captive herds exist and several thousand of the animals roam ranches in Texas. Some are on broad lands enclosed in high fences where hunting is allowed.

Rather that’s “in the wild” or even “hunting” is debatable. That other species of oryx are doing well in the wild can’t be argued. They’re in fine shape.

Several African countries hold other species, such as East African oryx, in very good wild numbers. New Mexico also has a thriving herd on and near the White Sands Missile Base. They’re also known s gemsbok.

Hunting is allowed in such areas to help control the populations. They make striking trophies with their gorgeous hides and long horns. Usually in Africa part of the meat is cooked in camp and the rest distributed to locals.

Friends who’ve shot oryx in New Mexico have said it’s the finest wild game meat they’ve ever tasted – and that there are certainly plenty of the animals to go around.

Can’t pass the vegetables

It finally occurred to me as I stood there, wearing more dirt than a busy groundhog while hopping and squiggling more than a big litter of excited puppies.

I’m a shopaholic.

No, it has nothing to do with nice clothes or even hunting and fishing equipment (though I’m always intrigued by a new style of fly or lure).

I’m addicted to buying vegetable plants. Seriously, I can’t seem to stop myself anytime I pass a display of anything from tomatoes to some unheard of kind of Asian squash.

Every year I swear my garden will be smaller and every year it ends up being bigger. So it is this year, too.

It’s been about a week since my inner urges for more and bigger produce took over this spring.

I’d headed to a nursery in Hesston with a well-defined list for pepper, tomato and squash plants. Their selection was terrible and prices high. They lacked many of the varieties I wanted and those they had in-stock were withered or mere sprigs at best.

So I bought as many plants as I’d planned anyway.

“No problem,” I thought, “I’ll just head to another place in Newton and grab a cherry tomato plant to round-out the mix. It won’t take but a few seconds.”

I was so sure of the plan I didn’t even swing by home to rid myself of the two cups of coffee I’d had earlier in the morning.

Walking into the plant place a nice woman offered me a box for my shopping.

I declined, telling her I was only in for one tomato plant.

And then I hit the aisles. Rather than 30 seconds my shopping took 30 minutes as I went back and forth through their selection of plants that was better and bigger than what I’d seen in Hesston.

Eventually in my arms I cradled almost as many plants as I’d purchased earlier. Thankfully my bladder eventually over-ruled my veggie-frantic  brain and I headed for the cash register.

I must have been quite the sight, trying to balance all of those plants while trying to hide an obvious “gottapee, gottapee, gottapee” dance routine.

But I survived and got the plants paid-for, plus a package of radish tape near the cash register, and headed home.  Only when I got home did I realize I’d left the place without even buying the silly cherry tomato plant that had caused my stop at that store!

So after getting a bit of relief at home Kathy and I headed to yet another store in Newton. And there I found the cherry tomato plant of my dreams…and much bigger and cheaper examples of every kind of plant I’d already purchased.

So I bought more of those, too.

My name is Michael and I’m a veggie plant shopaholic.

Because of it my family and friends will be eating healthy and well throughout the summer and early fall.

Traveling by train

First train trip across America certainly left me impressed.

Well, the 3 a.m. departure from Newton was pushing it a bit but a little on-board napping made up for that quickly.

It was so nice to not have to show-up and check-in an hour or two early, go through in-depth security checks and not worry about losing our luggage.

I also found the seats larger and more comfortable than on commercial airliners with lots more leg-room.  The ability to get up and roam at will was greatly appreciated.

We – Kathy, Jerrod, her sister, Barbara and me – passed the time playing cards in the observation car. Breakfast in the dining car was pretty danged good, too. I was able to plug-in my laptop to get some work done and watch a movie.

Most of the people were super-friendly. Complete strangers often sat down and struck-up conversations.

I watched one amiable traveler sit down to an 8 a.m. breakfast of a banana, a box of Dots and a Budweiser. Guess he had the major food groups covered, though a Bud-Light may have been healthier.

Dunno, looked and sounded like the guy’s been making it just fine on such meals for many, many years.

Renowned videographer in the Flint Hills

Most days I really like my job covering the outdoors.

Monday was one of those days when I really loved it.

I got paid to spend most of the day with Timothy Barksdale while he worked on a PBS documentary on greater prairie chickens. He’s been on the project for many months, shooting hours of video in the Flint Hills and several other states.

Renowned wildlife videographer Timothy Barksdale is in Kansas working on a documentary on greater prairie chickens for PBS.

Renowned wildlife videographer Timothy Barksdale is in Kansas working on a documentary on greater prairie chickens for PBS.

We talked several hours about the on-going project and also in-depth work he’s done trying to video ivory-billed woodpeckers and some Hawaiian birds now extinct. Such works was for Cornell University, National Geographic and Animal Planet.

Barksdale’s research shows how far America’s greater prairie chicken populations have fallen since there were millions of birds in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri – all states now with only a handful of birds, at best.

But he still has hope for the species, especially in Kansas.

You’ll be able to read more in an article planned to run later this month.