Archive for January, 2006

Snowy Prints

Tuesday, January 31st, 2006

This is what Pablo should be looking for during the wintry months at Roundrock. Except that he’s not at Roundrock when there is snow on the ground. Instead, he is in suburbia, wringing his hands because he was too scared to go rural in the snow. He might get stuck far from a convenience store or something!

Max and I found these tracks on a recent visit. What you see are turkey and I think perhaps fox (?). If you know otherwise, please let me know too.

These tracks are atop snow atop ice atop water in the greatly diminished Lake Marguerite. In the early morning when Max and I arrived, the winter sun had not topped the ridge sufficiently to begin melting the ice that skimmed the surface of the lake. And this bit was on the south side of the lake, where the sun would reach it last, if at all. The snow had to be two weeks old by the time we reached it. It was pretty much the only snow at Roundrock.

And that is part of my point. I have not been out to Roundrock when there has been snow on the ground (well, except for one time when the snow was mostly melted and I had other business to get to).

I imagine the snow-kissed fields and forest at Roundrock would be covered with tracks of critters going hither and yon. I want to read what stories I can from them. See where they go, where they came from, and why. I’d like to see evidence of just which kinds of critters scurry about.

Well, maybe that day will come yet this winter.

Still Standing

Monday, January 30th, 2006

I’d like to say that I set up the photo this way in order to be artistic, but the simple fact is that I was shooting into the sun, which is a freshman mistake. Still, it looks nice as it turns out.

This is, of course, the fish finder, and I was surprised to find that it is still standing. The hole I gouged into the tree stump was not a good fit for the shape of the glass, so I thought that it would tumble out of there after a mild breeze or if a vandal sparrow alighted on it. So far, so good.

This photo is looking to the south, more or less opposite of the last photo. I had wanted to capture the light coming through the glass, and I guess I did. All of that light brown land behind it should be lake, and some day it will be. If I remember correctly, Max and I took this photo when we made our early visit to Roundrock on the day of our family visit in December.

The stump looks black here not (only) because it is in shadow but because it is charred. This stump is part of a wood pile that both the dozer man and I had attempted to burn. Some cosmic force prevented our success, and that’s just as well. The woodpile will be ideal for fish habitat. But wouldn’t it be ironic if a spring ground fire swept through the dead grass that had grown in the lakebed and finally got this wood pile to burn into ash?

1.28.2006

Sunday, January 29th, 2006

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In a January like none in my memory, we’ve continued to enjoy mild temperatures, and when these happen to come on a weekend, what is one to do but jump in the truck and head to the Ozarks?

Much-needed thundershowers were in the forecast for the day, so we decided to leave Max at home: a two-hour drive home with a wet dog in the cab of the truck is really not all that pleasant. On our recent trip to Fallen Timbers, we engaged in what we consider an important annual activity: walking the property line. And the same thing was our plan for the day at Roundrock.

It nearly didn’t happen.

We arrived at Roundrock at our usual time, but all of our plans were going to be dictated by the weather. If the hard rain we expected arrived, we would dispense with the mile and a half hike around the perimeter since the wet and the wind would make us colder than we wanted despite the warm 50 degree day.

Among the chores we had tentatively scheduled for the day was the sowing of some wildflower seeds I had recently purchased from a small but knowledgeable operation. This was something we could do in the rain even if all of our other plans were washed out. So we directed our feet toward Libby’s Island, where we have cast wildflower seeds before. I’m hoping this spring and summer it will be awash with color, and today’s contribution will be a pleasant addition to that. Later we scattered some seeds in a wet area near the pecan plantation. I hope to see lobelia cardinalis blooming madly there this year.

As we strode across the pecan plantation back to the dry shelter, looking with measured sadness at the missing pecans — even the ones we mulched so dutifully last fall — I thought that perhaps we should give up the whole pecan idea and turn the area over to quail habitat instead. The Conservation Department sells inexpensive sets of plants that are suitable for quail. Well, it’s something to think about.

When we are in the woods, we leave our watches in the car, so we had no clear idea what time it was. Since the rain was continuing its intermittent falling, we were not sure if we would take the perimeter hike or not. If we were, though, we would want to stoke our furnaces (lunch), so we headed to the shelter, the comfort of the chairs, and the yummy meal we had packed in the cooler. Someday when I’m really desperate for something to post, I’ll write about our typical lunch fare at Roundrock.

I was in favor of postponing the hike along the fences until a later visit when we could be more sure of the weather. Even a colder day when it would be dry would be better than a moderately warm day when we would be soaked and far from the truck. Libby thought otherwise. She pointed out that if we did not take the hike, we would regret squandering the opportunity. You can guess the rest.

We started our hike along the northern property line where a good fence runs. In past years when we took this hike we always went counter-clockwise. This day, however, we broke with tradition and went with the clock. (At Fallen Timbers we have always hiked the perimeter clockwise. I don’t know why that is.) This took us immediately into the forest where we would be at least a little protected from any rain, which had mostly stopped for the present. This part of our woods, the NE corner, has slabs of reddish sandstone breaking the surface of the forest floor. I have some vague building ambitions for the stuff, so it was nice to walk amongst it and dream my dreams.

In a short while we came to our eastern boundary, which is also well fenced. Over the years we have tried to do a little clearing along our side of the fences around Roundrock. Our goal is to make a clear path for hiking, thus facilitating future annual hikes. To do this, we cut the low branches of trees along the fence so that we can walk under then unaccosted. A second reason, though, is to have recent, obvious cuts to the trees along the fence so that our neighbors can see that we have been in the area. If they know we are paying attention to the property line, they are more likely to share our respect of it. So here and there I cleared the way — by no means making a continuous path, which will take years — and leaving evidence of our vigilence as we went. The eastern boundary takes in the Central Valley where it exits our property, and this means whether we are headed north or south, we will go down one hill and up another, which we did.

At our SE corner we found ourselves a nice log and had a sit. At this point we were only about a third of the way finished with the perimeter, but the breather was welcome. It was also nice just to sit still and listen to the sound of the rain falling on the leaf litter. Eventually we pushed ourselves upright and continued.

The fence along our southern border only goes half the distance of our line. It then turns to the south and the remainder of our southern line is unmarked, which means adventure. The photo above shows a large portion of our southern line. The open, grassy area is my neighbor’s property. That’s Roundrock on the left. My neighbor keeps this avenue of grass open, and on our visit today we saw fresh tire tracks in the grass. Behind me in the photo, the remainder of our southern boundary stretches through the trackless forest.

We had neglected to bring a compass with us. This would have helped at this point since we had to keep due west despite the slope of the land, which would tend to draw us to the south. I’ve hiked the stretch a few times, though, and I was pretty sure I knew where we should go, more or less. Since the line is not defined, how could I know where the right way to go is? Well, I just do!

We came to the dry creek — a sort of landmark on this hike — about where I thought the line ran, and from here it was an easy stumble up the creek to our SW corner where our road enters Roundrock. Not too bad. From here it was an easy hike along our gravel road all the way back to our waiting pickup truck.

At the truck we shed all of our wet clothes (well, most of them). I’m unconvinced that ponchos really keep one dry. I think I sweated sufficiently beneath the thing to compensate for the water that would have fallen directly on my clothing.

The sun never made an appearance this day. It was windy some of the time, rainy much of the time, and overcast all of the time. By the time we reached the truck, we were ready to go home, and that’s what we did.

A Lot of Gall

Saturday, January 28th, 2006

gall 1.JPG

This gorgeous piece of work is in the woods at Fallen Timbers. Let me give you some sense of scale. When I stand beside it (all of my five feet and nine inches), my head comes about to the middle of this gall. My fingers can just touch when I reach around the trunk of the (otherwise healthy) white oak tree it is growing on. This gall is easily three feet in diameter. That is one big chunk of gall.

I do not know the specifics of gall growth, though what I can find says they are caused in some way by insects that enter the plant and somehow stimulate the growth of the plant’s cells at a rapid rate. The insects then can live in the gall — or live one stage of their lives — safe from predators. I suppose some version of that has happened here. I’ve never seen any insects emerging from anywhere on this gall, but this oak is located in one of the more inaccessible areas of Fallen Timbers, and I would be less likely to hike there in the summer when insects are more active.

I know that some woodcarvers prize galls for their craft, but I don’t know how anyone could possibly get this gall out of our forest in one piece. First of all, the oak tree would have to be taken down. That alone might smash the gall. Then the gall would have to be removed (or the length of the trunk bearing the gall would have to be separated from the rest of the trunk). Then someone with super powers greater than my own would have to lift the massive gall into the bed of a truck, if a truck could even be lead down to this point in the forest. (Note: trespassing would be required.) And it may be that the gall is hollow or rotten or infested or otherwise unuseable. Who wants to go to all that trouble just to find out it’s a rotten gall?

I wonder if I have a record holder. Is there some gall registry I could check?

Here is a picture of the backside of the gall. Looks monstrous, doesn’t it?

gall 2.JPG

My Bottom

Friday, January 27th, 2006

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This is an old photo. I am down in the bowl of the lakebed. That’s the dam looming up on the right. Clearly it was just built for it is as bare as a baby’s bottom (i.e., no plant growth). The treadmarks of the dozer are visible in the ice on the bottom of the lakebed. (It was a wet bottom.) This was a sunny but probably cold day in a January a few years ago. From the angle of the shadows, I’d say it was cold January mid-morning a few years ago.

It’s that white thing on the right that is the subject of this post, though. I haven’t seen it in a long while, and that is a good thing. That white drum is the drain at the lowest point of Lake Marguerite. It is a standard 55-gallon drum (made of some sort of plastic) with about a zillion one-inch holes drilled in it.

If you look closely, you can see a white pipe leading out of the bottom of the drum on the right. This pipe continues under the dam, is interrupted by a valve at the bottom of another drum partially buried in the other side of the dam, and emerges from the soil to appear in the pecan plantation. This is how I can drain water from the lake if I wish. The holes are large enuf to allow water and collected silt to pass through, but they are small enuf to prevent lunker bass and catfish from getting washed away. (The plan didn’t work too well for these fellows.)

Why would I want to drain water out of my lake, you ask? Maintenance is the most likely reason. When the shoreline is overcome with cattails, I can draw down the water level until the cats are high and dry. I can then dig them out or simply allow them to dessicate. When we had the follow-up work done on the dam, we drained the little bit of water that was in the lakebed so the dozer could work down in there.

Also, if I have a full pool (when I have a full pool!) and I know a serious storm is coming that will drop a load of rain, I could draw down the water in anticipation so that the spillway isn’t overcome and washed out.

There is also the chance that when we finally know the lake will hold — because we have sustained a full pool — we will want to drain out every last drop of it. If we will stock it with free fish from the Conservation Department, we have to guarantee that there are no existing fish in the lake (aside from feeder minnows). As regular readers of this humble blog already know, Lake Marguerite has established two separate populations of fish without our participation. The second of those populations is hunkered down in the bottom right now, waiting out the Ozark winter. (That does seem like a heartless solution to my random fish problem, and maybe I will forego the free fish and simply buy stock from a commercial fish farm.)

All Pablo needs to do is go to the partially buried drum on the pecan plantation side of the dam, work the lid off (the settling of the dam has misshapen the drum more than a little), reach into the dark depths (possibly filled with seepage), feel around for the valve handle, and give it a 90-degree turn. Water will come surging out of the business end of the white pipe, pushing rocks out of its way and gouging a fresh trench in the earth. The water, even on the hottest August day, will be icy cold (because it will come from the bottom of the lake). It may be brownish because it may be carrying silt that has accumulated in the lowest part of the lakebed, but it will soon run clear.

Pablo can then close the valve when he wishes, and all will be right with Roundrock again.

Hunting between the lines

Thursday, January 26th, 2006

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This is evidence of a hunter who is not an interloper. This hunting stand is in a tree not far from our pond. However, the tree is on my northern property line. (In fact, the barbed wire of the fence is stapled to the tree.) So the hunter’s stand is immediately across the property line. The fact that it is very close to our pond where deer would likely come for a drink is purely coincidental, and if he did shoot a deer at the pond, well, he’d have to trespass to fetch it, and we all know that would never happen.

I was standing in our road that runs along our northern border when I took this shot. That flat, brownish area beyond the low growth is my neighbor’s field in which he grew maize last year. The field is large. When I look at a satellite image of the county, this field is my visual clue for pinpointing Roundrock. I’d guess it is at least 200 acres. So it is probably not surprising that there are at least four tree stands in the trees that ring this field. And those are just the ones I can see from our road.

Over at Fallen Timbers we found a similar situation. Avid hunters can buy portable tree stands that are not much more than a seat strapped high on the trunk of a tree. Ingress and egress are by means of a tiny ladder also strapped to the trunk. We found one of these on a tree that was pretty much straddling the property line between our woods and our neighbor’s. The hunter was as close to our property as he (or she) could be without actually crossing the line. (I don’t see what difference that makes. If he’d picked a tree fifty feet into his own property line, I don’t think he would have had less chance at roaming deer. The deer don’t distinguish property lines.)

stand1.JPG

All of this reminds me of a joke.

A hunter shoots a duck. But rather than fall directly out of the sky, the fatally wounded duck glides across a fence line and then drops at the feet of the farmer whose land it is.

The hunter jumps over the fence to retrieve his duck, but the farmer objects.

“That duck landed on my property. I don’t think you have the right to go into private property no matter where you shot the duck.”

They argue for a while, each man thinking he is right. Finally, the farmer offers a way for them to settle the matter.

“Each of us will kick the other man right where it counts. The man who doesn’t fall to the ground wins. I’ll start.”

He winds up and kicks the hunter as hard as he can. The hunter staggers and nearly blacks out, but he manages to remain standing.

“Okay,” he gasps. “My turn.”

“That’s okay,” says the farmer. “You can have the duck.”

Owl Action

Wednesday, January 25th, 2006

Lacking the owl affinity of Deb and the photographic skills of Rexroth’s Daughter and Rurality and the Ontario Wanderer and The Farmer’s Wife (and so on), I’m almost embarrassed to post this photo.

At the end of our latest family trip to Roundrock, not too long before official sunset, as we were driving out and almost to the paved road, I saw a large and unlikely bird sitting on a wire over the gravel road. I said to myself, “Self, that looks like an owl!”

A barred owl, more precisely, if my brief observation can be relied upon. The wire is above a grassy field, and I suppose the owl was waiting for some hapless field mouse to venture too far from shelter. The owl was facing away from me, but it kindly turned its head all the way around to look down on me (with disdain, it seemed). I fumbled about for my camera and only managed to squeeze off a shot after the owl had flown. Still, it is a nice image of the wings, and the sky is a lovely blue.

Libby and I have heard barred owls in our woods at night, so I suppose they are commonplace, but I didn’t think I would ever see one in relative daylight.

Happy Burns Day to all of my readers in Scotland and/or devotees of the great Scottish poet!

Frosty Log

Tuesday, January 24th, 2006

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A close look will tell you that these two round rocks are resting on

  • a log
  • a burned log
  • a burned log that is covered with frost.

This log has a bit of history at Roundrock. Originally, it had been attached to the stump amidst the woodpile in the middle of the lakebed. I didn’t like the idea of a blackened stump rising from the middle of the pristine waters of Lake Marguerite, so in the first year, before the lake filled for the first of many times, Libby and I carried the chainsaw down to it and lopped it off. Before doing this, we had tied a rope to the top of it (still visible in the photo below), and Libby applied constant pulling pressure to the stump as I cut into its base. After all sorts of effort and colorful language, we finished the cut, and the removed part was tied to the woodpile that would eventually be fish structure.

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The remaining stump became the pedestal for the brown glass fish finder, which you’ve met before.

The cut log, however, was restless, and on a subsequent visit, Libby and I saw what we thought was the shadow of a deer resting on the muddy bank across the (receding) lake. Slowly and cautiously we crept across the dam and through the tall grass to where the deer was reclining. As we grew close, I feared that it wasn’t resting but actually dead, for why would any deer allow two humans (and probably a dog, but I don’t recall) to approach it so closely?

Of course even someone as clueless as I finally understood that it wasn’t a deer but a log of some sort that the lake had washed onto the bank. The receding water left the log high and mostly dry, but whence had it come? I hadn’t stomped through every inch of the watershed that feeds Lake Marguerite, but I was fairly certain I would have known about a burn site that still contained a log of this size.

It wasn’t until we were nearly upon it and I saw the rope that I realized the peripatetic log had escaped its bondage in the woodpile and gone on an adventure. We had used nylon rope with the thought that it wouldn’t rot despite being underwater for decades. (And presumably the wood would become so waterlogged that over time the wood would never float again, would it?) Thus I guess the rope was snapped, and what kind of force would do that?

The great surge of water into the lakebed after a six-inch spring rain is my guess, and that tells me I need to schedule a visit to Roundrock (preferably an overnight) when I know there will be horrible downpours so that I can witness the torrents that can do this.

The log now sits in a field of muddy clay. The lake hasn’t risen high enuf again to take it on another journey, but I hope some day it will. Some lakes (Crater Lake, for example) have pet logs floating in them that have been given affectionate names and are spoken of with great respect. (What should I name this log?) The round rocks have sat like two bumps on the log for a couple of years, though when I visit, they have often fallen to the ground and I then replace them. Who knows what state they are in now?

The log is on the south bank, and in the winter months the sun doesn’t rise high enuf in the sky to cast light on it because of the intervening ridge. I like the bluish color that the white frost and the black log have contrived. I wish I were sitting on it now, contemplating the blue.

Pileated Woodpecker

Monday, January 23rd, 2006

pecker holes.jpg

This is a standing tree at Fallen Timbers. I took the photo many years ago, and I have been back to this part of the forest to look for this tree several times, but I have not been able to find it.

Too bad because it is evidence that we have pileated woodpeckers at Fallen Timbers. These holes are characteristic of the patient and noisy work these crow-sized woodpeckers pursue to create a nesting or roosting cavity. Pileated woodpeckers will also put this kind of effort into excavating a tree if it is filled with ants. Seems like a lot of trouble for something that tastes like an ant, but I’m trying to stay open minded.

It is possible that the reason I have not been able to find this tree is because this tree is no longer upright. Pileated woodpeckers have been known to excavate a given tree so extensively that the tree collapses. That doesn’t look to be the case with this tree, but the work was fresh when I took the photo, and more work may have been completed subsequently. Plus, if the tree really were infested with ants, then it was probably a lot more hollow than it appeared at the time.

I have seen evidence of these birds but no birds at Fallen Timbers, and I have seen the birds but no (other) evidence of them at Roundrock. The two bits of forest are about fifty miles apart — as the woodpecker flies — and I think that is beyond the normal range of such a wonderful bird. This leads me to the happy conclusion that I have two successful populations of pileated woodpeckers.

(This is a scan of a photograph, but you can tell that it was taken in the winter, when the sunlight is anemic anyway.)

Whose Den is This?

Sunday, January 22nd, 2006

I came upon this interesting bit of construction on my last visit to Roundrock. I’m eager to hear your thoughts about what varmint may reside here.

This is on the south-facing slope, just down hill from the grassy area I’d mentioned once before. A little bit of ledge rock breaks the surface of the ground here a little, and because it has fractured a little over the ages, little animals have moved into the little crevices to build their little communities.

One early winter day a few years ago, Libby and I were tromping along here and found hundreds of blue cedar berries collected in the rocks before this opening. Whole small branches had been snipped off a nearby cedar tree and collected here. (Alas, this was in the days before Pablo had a digital camera, but I think I have a print photo of it somewhere, and maybe I can get it digitized.)

We’ve been known to leave peanuts on this ledge, and as at the tree stumps where we also leave them, there is no sign of them when we return later. (Once I left a whole large bag of peanuts on a stump one evening, and in the morning of the next day, all of them were gone.)

So we’ve known that there is critter activity along this ledge for a long time, but what interests me about it now is that the critter has arranged these sticks before the den opening. Enlighten me. What critter does this? And why?

About five feet farther up the hill I found what I guess is the back door to the den, as you see in the photo below. And you can see that sticks have been arranged over this opening as well.

My knowledge of natural history is still so small that I can’t begin to guess who lives here. I know we have rabbits at Roundrock, but I’m pretty sure they don’t make stick arrangements or stock a pantry. And I’ve seen a large, long-tailed weasel-like creature on the shoreline on the other side of the “lake” before. I suppose this den is too small for a fox, but maybe not. (The diameter of the opening in the second photo is about six inches.) Don’t foxes like to have two entrances to a den? We have occasional armadillos, but I don’t think they den in rock crevices, do they? The stick work looks too big for something like a mouse. Would a skunk do this?

You can be sure I’m not going to stick my face up to the den opening to have a look. Nor am I going to reach in there to feel around. It may always remain a mystery, but if you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them.