Archive for May, 2005

Nestbox Mystery

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

I can thank Rurality for this revelation. She posted a link to an interesting little article at Hilton Pond that cleared up a mystery I’d been puzzling about at Roundrock.

There are hundreds of standing dead trees on the 80 acres of Roundrock. As a consequence, there are plenty of natural sites for cavity-nesting creatures to call home. Nonetheless, we have set out several bird houses because our nurturing natures require it of us. My good friend Duff made several for me that I’ve set out in visible places so visitors can’t miss them.

This is one of Duff’s houses. (That’s the “lake” in the background, and the tiny limbs coming in from the left are from a redbud tree–one of hundreds I had overlooked when I concluded we needed to plant redbuds in our forest.)

Among the nestboxes we set out was one that can be opened from the side so that we can peer in through the glass wall to see nature at work. Every time we’ve done that in the year or so since we hung the box, we found it mostly filled with a curious, brown, stringy fiber. It looked nothing like any kind of bird nest either of us had ever seen.

Now I think Rurality’s link might explain it. We have all of the components. There are hundreds of cedar trees at Roundrock. Many are merely skeletons because of past ground fires. And we have seen flying squirrels out there on occasion. I’ve concluded that flying squirrels are nesting in this bird house, and that warms my heart because our plan is to leave Roundrock better than we found it. If we’ve done something to nurture the wild things, then we’ve done something right.

I’ve wondered if I should clean out the box each summer, but I’ve concluded that I won’t. In the natural order of things, no one is going into tree cavities and cleaning out past nests for the birds and squirrels. If they need empty cavities to begin nesting, they will clean out past debris themselves. At least, that’s how I’m looking at the matter now. Anyone have any further enlightenment for me?

Pecan perils

Monday, May 30th, 2005

eaten pecan

This post is an anachronism. I wrote it on July 13, 2011, and backdated it here as a companion for this day’s (May 30, 2005) post, which is the first I made about the pecans.

When we were last out to Roundrock, on July 9, 2011, I took a few moments to wander among the pecans in the acre below the dam. What you see above is what I found.

Some fuzzy black caterpillars had been munching on the leaves of my pecans! The tree above was the worst, but two other trees were being attacked.

Based on what I could find out, I think my pests are walnut caterpillars. They looked like the ones in that link anyway, and they were eating pecan leaves, which those varmints will do.

Libby and I spent a little time picking the fuzzy black things from the tree, but there weren’t many since there weren’t many leaves left, I carried about a half dozen in my cupped hands up the side of the dam to introduce them to some fish I know. They squirmed on the water for a while, but then they just sank. I’m hoping some fish finds them palatable, but if not, at least those caterpillars aren’t eating my pecans.

From what I’ve read about them, however, my efforts were mostly symbolic. There could be thousands of them at some stage of their life cycle in and around my pecans, and they can go through up to three full cycles in a summer. The next time I visit Roundrock, the rest of my pecans might be defoliated.

But we picked off what we could find (as we stood there in the heat), and then we retreated to the shade and comfy chairs on the cabin porch.

Later that morning, I decided to return to the pecans to see if any other caterpillars had made an appearance. I took a bag with me this time since holding squirming caterpillars in your hand is a little creepy. I searched all of the trees in the acre — in the process finding one in the center that I hadn’t known had survived — but I was only able to find three more of the fuzzy black things. They also went for a swim.

As I understand it, the pecans can probably survive the defoliation as long as it doesn’t happen several years in a row. It’s all part of the natural order, right?

Pecan – Pecan’t

Monday, May 30th, 2005

First of all, I pronounce it pe-cahn, but that’s not the issue.

The man I hired to raise the dam must have received a miscommunication from me, for when we visited Roundrock to see his progress, he had cleared an area farther to the east than I had intended. This would have put the dam up against the property line, which I didn’t really want. After we chatted, my dozer man moved the damsite a bit to the west, and the result was about an acre of open land below the dam that was now nicely flat. It seemed like a perfect place for an orchard of some sort, and I asked him what he recommended.

He said that this area would likely be damp for a while as the dam settled and sealed itself and that pecans would do well in that situation. I liked the idea because that meant more nuts for the wildlife (eventually). So among the first trees we ordered from MDOC were 50 pecans.

L and I spent a back-breaking day planting all of these in the rocky ground of this open acre. Remember that this is the broadest part of the central valley, and centuries of gravel have washed into it. Amidst all of that cherty gravel, though, was some soil, and we drove our shovel into it all to dig the 50 holes.

We set the trees in five straight lines going east/west. Each tree was spaced 20 feet apart, and we staked every one as well as put a foot or so of black tubing around each to keep off the maurading bunnies.

Here is one of the happier pecans. Note the blue, winged creature alighted on the leaf. Alas, not all of the pecans share the same exhuberance.

Of the 50 pecans we planted, about half died the first year. We replanted those. They died. We replanted again. I’ve since learned from a pecan farmer that these trees are notoriously difficult to get started. Fortunately, we are having a wet spring in Missouri, so these might take. The center of the open acre dries out fastest. The southern side stays mostly wet. The northern side has better soil. And the western side is closest to the dam, so it has more leakage to keep the little pecans moist. But the center . . .

So this is an ongoing project.

You say tomato

Sunday, May 29th, 2005


This post is an anachronism. I wrote it on August 1, 2011, and backdated it here. It references the anachronistic post dated May 24, 2005.


The bed where I planted the buckeye (which are looking a little weary in the August heat and drought — remember I wrote this post on August 1), was originally our compost pile for the cabin. I had dug the hole there last fall (2010) and started using it for our compost, which consisted mostly of banana peels, apple cores, and the occasional ceegar butt. I brought some good compost from our bin at home to help fill the hole, and we added some bags of topsoil as well. Other organic matter found its way in there over the months, and at one time bits of tomato must have been among it, as you can see above.

This has grown quickly. It must have been a sprout on one of our visits, but I guess I had overlooked it. On a recent visit I found it as grown as you see above, as though it had emerged since my last visit. I credit the extremely good soil in the hole.

When we were out to the woods last, the tomato plant looked weary. It’s much too late in the season now for me to expect it to fruit. It doesn’t even have any flowers. Still, that might have been nice to experience: edible food from a plant growing at Roundrock.

I’m not going to do anything for it. Aside from the water that the buckeyes get when we visit — we are having a drought like most of the rest of the continent — I’m not giving it any attention. It, of course, won’t survive the winter and won’t be back in the spring the way (I hope) the buckeyes will. But it’s fun while it’s here.

Found Beauty

Sunday, May 29th, 2005

With the clearing of much of the central valley in preparation for the dam and lake, a good deal more sunlight has been reaching the forest floor here than has for decades. Now L and I are seeing flowering plants that we hadn’t seen in our past stomps through the trees.

We found this beauty on the north slope (south facing) in a mostly dry and rocky site. It is a variety of mimosa, though I haven’t yet nailed down which one it is. This vine was hugging the ground, though it seemed as though it could be a vigorous climber in better soil.

Among the tasks we set ourselves was planting dogwoods and redbuds along the future shoreline so that we would have color reflected on the water. All of the 25 dogwood we planted died (I don’t think the soil is suitable), but many of the redbud we put in have survived. What we have found, though, is that there already is plenty of redbud growing in the forest. The extra sunlight seems to have brought it into its growing stage. In fact, it appears in a few places that we had to push aside native redbud saplings in order to plant the ones we had brought ourselves.

We’ve been ordering trees (well, twigs) from the Missouri Department of Conservation for years. The price is certainly right. Even with shipping costs factored in, we’re paying about 25 cents per tree (twig). So far we’ve planted hawthorn, pecan, dogwood, redbud, short-leaf pine, and sumac. Different trees are in different settings, but I guess our average is about 50 percent success. Not bad for the price and the fact that we aren’t around constantly to water and tend them. The deer eat some of them as well. They seem to love the few maples I have tried starting at Roundrock. I’ll keep trying though!

The Dam Beginning

Saturday, May 28th, 2005

When L and I first trotted across these acres some years ago, the realtor pointed up the central valley and “coincidentally” mused that if he had topography like that, he’d certainly build himself a fine lake. A good fishing and swimming lake was always part of our goal, and standing water does tend to be a wildlife magnet, so part of what sold us on these woods was the lake potential.

An agent from the USDA was our first guest when we walked the forest with him, looking for whatever sage advice he might offer about managing our land. Among the things we showed him was where the central valley pinched in before opening wide. We thought this pinched area would be a good place to raise the dam since it would involve moving a lot less earth than elsewhere. He agreed, but he said that if he were going to build a lake, he’d go farther down the central valley and have himself a big lake. When a later guest made the same comment, we realized we were dreaming too small.

A slight acquaintance who had built a lake in his woods at the other side of the county recommended a builder, and we promptly contacted him to get our work started. We are now three years into the project, and we still hope to have a lake some day.

The central valley was forested, mostly with slippery elm, so all of that needed to be cleared, which was simple work for a man with a large bulldozer. Yet the area he eyeballed as future lake came out to something around five acres, so there was a great deal of clearing that had to be done. (UPDATE: We’ve since learned that the actual lake area is closer to 2.6 acres.)

He was meticulous about the work. He stacked the downed trees in long rows in the clean-shaven central valley. Later he set these ablaze to dispose of them. He did reserve one area of trees and soil, intending it to be an island in our lake some day. (And it may be . . . some day.)

Once he had clear lines of sight, he set up his survey equipment to plot just where the water line would be based on the height of the dam he believed he could build in the open valley. After this, it was time to push dirt and start building the dam.

Too hot to go

Friday, May 27th, 2005

gravel pile

This post is an anachronism. I wrote it on July 24, 2011, and backdated it here as part of my fool’s errand to write a companion for each post I’ve made to this blog since I retired it in May of 2010.


We did not go to Roundrock today as planned. The weather has simply been too hot. The summer of 2011 has been breaking temperature records all over the middle and eastern parts of the country. Today was going to be cooler than the past (and coming) week, forecasted to top out only at 102º at Roundrock.

We had decided that we were not going to take the dogs since all we really expected to do there was to swim in the lake (and generally inspect the place, and maybe pound a steel post into the ground beside the surviving pecan tree I didn’t know I had and another beside the maple that is doing so well finally, and maybe dig out more of the ditch beside the road so the water doesn’t overflow it and erode the spillway again, and maybe work on the retaining wall in front of the cabin, and maybe hike to the Central Valley to take some photos). So if all we were going to do was swim, we’d have to sequester the dogs in the cabin for the duration, which seems pointless (and may even be pestilentially hot).

Thus I had to pack the truck with the usual gear last night. The dogs can tell when I’m packing the truck that we are going to the woods, which they dearly love to do, and they get excited, whimpery, and clinging. I didn’t want to disappoint them in the morning, so I packed the truck last night and intended to slip out casually today.

Since we chose not to go to the woods, I was left with the considerable hardship of unpacking the truck this morning amidst the clouds of mosquitos afflicting suburbia. (Curious that we aren’t bothered by mosquitos at Roundrock, but I think the dragonflies are to be credited for that. And the bats. And the nightjars.)

Libby got a nasty bite from our son’s new cat yesterday. It grew red and swollen, and it hurt last night. She decided then that even if we did go to the woods, she didn’t want to expose her puncture wound to whatever microbes were swimming in the lake, so even that part of our visit was mooted.

So we’re staying home today. I’ve already done a little yard work. Later, we’re going to go in to (non)urgent care to get some antibiotics for Libby. Then we’ll go downtown to the main branch of the library (is “main branch” a contradiction?) to see an exhibit of circus posters they have there. She’s been talking about going for weeks, so why not today?

I miss the woods. It’s possible we’ll go next weekend, but if not, perhaps we can plan an overnight for the following weekend. Maybe the heat wave will have broken by then.


As for the photo above, it’s an old one of a pile of gravel I had deposited by the cabin when I last had road work done (more than a year ago). I’ve been slowly “harvesting” gravel from the pile for this and that job around the place. I used it extensively when building the retaining wall — a job unfinished — and for the open area around the fire ring. The pile is much diminished, but there is still about half of the original mass left, and I’m in no hurry to use it up. That’s Queequeg you see in the upper right, and I think that’s Libby’s foot you see in the middle right, though it may belong to Seth.

Bad Day for this Raccoon

Friday, May 27th, 2005

As I’ve said, we tend to see more signs of critters than actual critters themselves. This photo is an example as well as a puzzle.

We came upon this sight during one of our stomps across the north ridge. What had happened here? On first glance, it seems that a tree had fallen on this poor raccoon, trapping it there until it perished. Yet the fallen tree is hardly larger than my wrist, and I can’t believe that a raccoon couldn’t have worked itself free from such a predicament.

My second guess is that the raccoon had fallen victim to a bobcat, who brought it to this spot to devour. Once the meal was finished, the bobcat left. And later, the smaller tree fell onto the carcass.

It’s puzzles like these that keep bringing me back to the forest.

Maple, magnificent!

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

maple magnificent

This post is an anachronism. I wrote it on July 23, 2011, and backdated it here.


If you’re reading these posts in sequence, then you don’t yet know about my maple ambitions at Roundrock. As with sycamores, we did not find any maples in our woods when we first came to the land. I’ve planted more than a few in the time since then, but only two have managed to hang on. The one I’m featuring today is discussed in greater detail in this (future) post.

This poor maple has suffered greatly. It was eaten to the ground by deer and stomped on directly by some wayward cattle. Yet it kept coming back.

When we were last out to Roundrock (about two weeks ago, which, remember, would have been in early July of 2011), I stopped by this maple and found what you see above. It may be hard to distinguish in the photo, but the little maple is now as tall as the fence surrounding it! It’s doubled its size since it leafed out this last spring. I know this to be the case because I had checked on the maple earlier this season to see if it had survived the winter, and it was just a little thing at the bottom of the cage then.

I attribute this growth spurt to the fertilizer spike I dropped in the cage in the spring. I also think the maple has some well established roots. And the setting is pretty good. The soil there is deep and rich (a rarity in my Ozark forest), it’s beside at wet weather stream, so I think it gets some water, and I have cleared away some intervening trees so it will get sunlight.

The last two weeks have been mercilessly hot and dry. I hope on my next trip to Roundrock (tomorrow, perhaps?) I won’t find it withered and dead. I don’t think that will be the case.

So this and the one by the entrance are the two maples that have survived at my forest. They are both volunteers that came up in my back yard in suburbia. Given the trouble I’ve had with maples at Roundrock, I don’t want to pay for any to plant (at least until I’m there full time to tend them), but as I come across more volunteers, I’ll probably bring them out to plant.


Thursday, May 26th, 2005

In my lengthy Ancient History post below, I mentioned the soupy breccia that formed after the meteor impacted in the ancient ocean 350 million years ago. The last time I was down near Roundrock, I snapped this photo of some exposed breccia with the round rocks eroding from it.

The rock face here is about ten feet high, and I am standing perhaps five feet below its base. Note the sculpting of the breccia. That was done by waves in the ancient sea so very long ago. Beautiful!