Monthly Archives: June 2010

Fine tribute to his friend

I’ve always said one the the greatest injustices in life is that we’re doing well to get 12 years from a great dog while some of our most troublesome family members seem to live forever.

Mike Blair only got 10 years with Java, his chocolate Lab.

Click here to see his tribute to his buddy that recently passed.

Mike, as many of you know, has been a highly-talented photographer with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks for many years. He made the switch to video admirably. About twice a week his works get top-billing on the department’s website –

A guy who personally and professionally spends a lot of time wandering the Kansas countryside, Blair probably shared a lot of that time with Java. Shots on the tribute video show the dog in the seat beside him.

Good for both of them. Labs are born to be buddies and with their “pack” as much as possible, not left behind in a backyard or small kennel.

I know the bond because, like Mike ,I spend a lot of time trolling in the backcountry. As often as possible, Hank’s with me.

Sorry for your loss, Mike, but I hope you get another puppy as soon as you can. People like you are like angels to a dog.

That’s one reason why Java was so special.

Bee ready with Mountain Dew

Friend/chief photographer Bo Rader’s photos of a swarm of bees that descended on his  buddy’s little truck in California (photo below) reminded me how pesky the little insects can be.

The worst concentrations I’ve dealt with were on a New Mexico elk hunt near Chama. They seemed to be about everywhere. Bees swarmed the meat from any elk brought back into camp. We had to constantly replace twist-off caps on soda bottles so we didn’t accidentally take a stinger in the mouth on our next sip.

One guy got stung on the tip of his lip. Several people mentioned they were allergic to bee stings and showed serious concern for their health at the camp.

Eventually we started making bee traps which worked pretty well.

I took a bottle of Mountain Dew and drank just enough that when it was placed on its side the soda was even with the bottom of the bottle’s neck. Within minutes bees were landing and marching in. Within about two hours the bottle was so crammed full of bees there wasn’t room for any more.

It appeared the bees would walk in, get on the soda and flush upwards when they tried to leave. I screwed the cap on tight ,long enough to make sure all were dead then poured several hundred bees into a stream to feed the trout.

So it went for several days, each of which seemed to have fewer bee problems in camp. We played around a bit with different types of soda to see what worked best.

Mountain Dew and 7-UP were best. Dark and diet sodas didn’t work as well.

Before I start hearing from bee-rights groups let me say I’ve only taken such measures a couple of times and only when a number of people were in jeopardy.

Amid the food plots and other wildlife habitat I’m creating at our farm is an old fashioned bee-tree. A small cloud of bees is usually swarming around the hole in the trunk of the old bur oak.

I’ll not do anything to harm the little creatures that help pollinate my patches of clover.

Nor will I ever be drinking Mountain Dew or 7-Up anywhere nearby.

This swarm of bees settled on the open door of a small truck's camper in California. It cost the owner $400 to get them lethally removed.

This swarm of bees settled on the open door of a small truck's topper in California. It cost the owner $400 to get them lethally removed.

Feed it to the bass, they’ll eat anything!

Last week’s blog about watching dozens of largemouth bass jump high in the air after hovering dragonflies was written more for the “cool to see” factor than something of surprise.

I’m never surprised at what ol’ bucketmouth will try to eat. Theirs isn’t a life of just bluegill, crawdad and frog dinners.

Basically if it’s moving and will fit in its mouth it’s a potential dinner.

Just out of college I agreed to help an uncle with a pond that was way overloaded with bass from 11-13 inches. My first trip I kept ten and found tiny painted turtles in the bellies of eight of those fish.

Later that same summer Kathy caught a similar bass with a huge  belly. “Full of eggs?” she asked. Hardly, the spawn had passed two months earlier. At home I pulled a water snake several inches longer than the bass from the belly of the fish.

Last summer some friends caught a bass that had the tail end of a garter snake still visible while the bass’ belly was obviously full.

Through the years I’ve developed a habitat of taking a peak inside the mouth of every largemouth, smallmouth or spotted bass I handle. In the Flint HIlls we often see the pinchers of crawdads. In ponds it’s often the tail of bluegill. My dad once found the 1/2 pound of a 6 1/2 pound bass he caught was a nice crappie in the fish’s throat.

My favorite find, though, was down in the phosphate pits of northern Florida. Sticking from the throat of a 7-pound bass were the feet of some kind of bird. Judging from the size of the feet it was a bird the size of a robin.

I  made no real attempt to learn the bird’s species. Instead I slipped the big bass back into the water and let him finish his lunch.

The morning of flying bass

Do you remember those old painted magazine covers that depict a big bass clearing the water’s surface, mouth agape, inches from snagging a dragonfly from the air?

I’d probably seen that actually happen three or  four times over the past 45 or so years of fishing for bass. Yesterday morning we probably witnessed it a conservative 40 times.


After more than a year of trying, Sen. Carolyn McGinn and I found matching holes in our schedules and went fishing at a friend’s place in Harvey County.

While rigging gear at the edge of the one-acre pond I saw a bass of about 15-inches clear the water a few yards away as it tried for a dragonfly. I remarked how rare of a treat it was to see such behavior.

Seconds later it happened again. And so it went for the next two hours.

I’m not sure if it was some sort of dragonfly hatch happening or if the insects were concentrated around the little pond for some favored food. No matter, fish were breaking the surface across the back half of the pond, usually in and around flooded vegetation.

Some of the bass shot straight up and fell straight down. I watched some do complete flips in the air as they leaped in long arches. I have no clue as to their success rate.

Ours was fair.

Carolyn did best casting top-water lures like Jitterbugs and plastic frogs that could be fished amid floating vegetation. I mainly tossed a Texas-rigged plastic worm or one of the frogs. I mentally kicked myself for leaving my fly rod and bass poppers at home.

Quite a few times we’d see a bass jump, toss a quick cast to that spot and get a strike. More times than not the fish didn’t end up in our hands.

Carolyn, who hadn’t fished in several years, missed quite a few strikes – even on the Jitterbug with two sets of treble-hooks.

I had the embarrassment of having a hook come untied and had new line break near the reel on a hook-set. A lot of bass came unhooked half-way in when I switched to a new style of hook.

We landed a combined 10 bass despite three times as many strikes. Most of the fish were 13-16 inches long.

I’m sure a few years down the road I won’t recall how many we caught or lost but I’ll certainly remember the morning as the one when bass seemed to be flying everywhere.

Kansas Elk Foundation gets national award

The Kansas chapters of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have received a coveted national award for their work on the Cimarron National Grassland in southwest Kansas.

The National Grassland Council awarded the conservation group a special Prairie Partner Award. The council is a committee of the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The Elk Foundation has been raising funds amid Kansas chapters since 1989 to help with projects on the grasslands for elk and other wildlife. About $700,000 has been raised. To date about 21 projects have impacted about 40,000 acres via research programs, improving water resources and restoring riparian areas.

Once native to most prairie areas, elk were largely gone from the plains by the early 1900s. The herd re-introduced to the grasslands in the 1980s has reached as high as 150 animals. The current population is estimated to be about 50 elk.

For more information on the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation go to

Missing – one nice island

Something was missing when I took Hank for some exercise north of Newton Sunday morning.

I had the whistle, one of Hank’s retrieving dummies, some biodegradable shampoo for his bath and my cup of coffee.

But our island wasn’t there.

Read More »

Time afloat with a fun kid

062010ashton2_mp002 I’ve shared the outdoors with a wide variety of people.

Billionaires have been my buddies on western Kansas pheasant hunts and I’ve fished with professional athletes.

Governors from several states have sent me friend-to-friend e-mails to talk fly-fishing or turkey calling. I’ve enjoyed some amazing deer hunts with professional entertainers.

I had just as much fun with six-year-old Ashton Barkdull while bowfishing Tuesday night at Wilson Lake.

His dad, Ryan, let me tag-along as they spent about seven hours in his specially-rigged bowfishing boat.

I knew the kid was precocious with his “I’m Ashton Barkdull, pleased to meet you, Mike,” seconds after I climbed into the truck.

Ashton possessed a unique blend with skills of an experienced outdoors man along with the curiosity and bewilderment of a child. He hit it hard all night without a complaint and knows what he’s doing with a bow – including being safe.

062010ashton2_mp001Then again, it would be tough to imagine a better adventure for a small boy who loves the outdoors.

You can read more about Ashton and bowfishing at night on Sunday’s outdoors page. Be sure to go to to see more photos after you read the article.

West Wichita’s beep-beep bird

A few days ago we were lucky enough to enjoy photos of a newborn whitetail fawn sent in by Alan Disney. This time he’s sharing shots of something few in Wichita have seen.

Alan Disney has seen a lot of wildlife in his backyard near Auburn Hills, but he was sure suprised to recently see this roadrunner.

Alan Disney has seen a lot of wildlife in his backyard near Auburn Hills, but he was sure surprised to recently see this roadrunner.

Disney at first thought he was maybe seeing a skinny pheasant or small turkey in his backyard near Auburn Hills. Then realized he was looking out the window at a roadrunner.

He got this shot of the bird standing not far from his window. The other shot shows it moving across his backyard, much to the dislike of a crow.

Roadrunners appear to becoming more common across southern Kansas. From time they're seen in west Wichita as well as other places.

Roadrunners appear to becoming more common across southern Kansas. From time to time they're seen in west Wichita as well as other local places.

From reports I get from outdoorsmen, birders and biologists it appears roadrunners are becoming more common across the southern one-fourth of Kansas.

They’re far from rare in the Red Hills west of Medicine Lodge all the way to the Colorado border. Noted bird authority Max Thompson saw one recently in his Winfield yard. Several winters ago he had several reports of one in several locations in Winfield.

Three years ago friends west of Newton had one come into their yard every evening for a week. I saw the pics and it was definitely a roadrunner.

Two were recently seen in a cemetery near Great Bend.

Jerrod once got a good look at one south of Matfield Green in Chase County.

They’re cool birds. Some I’ve seen have been every bit as funny as the one of cartoon fame.

Heading in to Buster’s in Sun City to eat one day Mark Dugan and I noticed one trotting beside his truck as we pulled from a stop sign. When Mark would speed-up the roadrunner would speed-up. When Mark stopped, the bird stopped, too.

Stopping to open a gate during a building blizzard in Comanche County one afternoon I looked over and saw a roadrunner standing under a cedar tree only a few feet away. The look was pure, “What the heck are you doing out in this kind of weather?”

I’ve had several friends hear a knocking on their window or sliding-glass door and found it to be a roadrunner pecking on a window.

My favorite story, though, comes from a friend who often saw one in his yard north of Coldwater. The bird seemed to delight in running by when my friend got home and almost always was carrying something in its beak.

One night the bird came hustling by with a cigarette butt dangling from the corner of its beak. Pretty comical animals.

Great shots, Alan. Thanks again for sharing.

Junior achievement of the wiggly kind

Much of Sunday was a tense time for people in the region. Heavy rains had many creeks and rivers brim-full or flooding.

In Newton many basements were taking water and the staff at Sand Creek Station found about half of the noted golf course under as much as four feet of water. All through the area  people kept worrisome eyes on dark clouds to the west and fretted a forecast of more to come through the night.

And while out photographing the most water I’ve seen in Sand Creek in my 17 years in the area I came across a pair of entrepreneurs making the best of it.

No, Shealee and James Rine weren’t stumping sump-pumps or sandbags. They were our filling a bucket full of some of the biggest nightcrawlers I’ve ever seen.

James Rine, left, and his sister, Shealee, spent part of Sunday morning gathering nightcrawlers washed ashore by high waters. Some were more than a foot-long. They sold the worms to relatives to use for fish bait.

James Rine, left, and his sister, Shealee, spent part of Sunday morning gathering nightcrawlers washed ashore by high waters. Some were more than a foot-long. They sold the worms to relatives to use for fish bait.

Seriously, some of the worms stretched 12-inches or more.

The kids and family were picking the worms from the banks of Sand Creek near Fifth Street.

High waters from the creek and water rushing down the street had piled the nightcrawlers. They were sold to relatives who will use them as great bait for catfish.

Wild turkey tail tale

Gary Brook’s only complaint about his 2010 Kansas spring turkey season is that it passed too quickly.

He filled one turkey permit of his two permits opening day and planned on keeping his other for later in the season. Then he saw a bird on the season’s second day he just had too have. The bird’s tail fan is nearly coal-black, lacking the normal browns and barring on most wild turkeys.

A turkey with a solid black tail was a bird Gary Brooks couldn't resist. It's the first of its kind most hunters have seen.

A turkey with a solid black tail was a bird Gary Brooks couldn't resist. It's the first of its kind most hunters have seen.

Brooks said he’d seen the black-tailed gobbler the previous evening. He was hunting in the Flint Hills south of Wamego.

The mature tom’s body and wing feathers, beard and spurs were otherwise normal.

Below is a photo that shows how most Kansas wild turkeys appear.

This turkey's tail shows normal feather coloration.

This turkey's tail shows normal feather coloration.