Archive for March, 2007

Odontotaenius disjunctus

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

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Every time I look at this picture, I think that this beetle is wearing a black suit and going off to work. Nice creases and pressings. Crisp. Business like. Single minded, even. (Everything I am not.)

We saw this beetle, a Horned passalus if my identification is correct, at the end of our day at Roundrock. We were packing up to head back home to suburbia when I spotted him on the big log beside our shelter. (The place where I leave all of the peanuts.) It was ambling along the log, away from the peanuts, and catching a little bit of sun.

What I’ve read about these beetles says that they are commonly associated with rotting logs, so this was an ideal location for it. This makes me wonder how many of these beetles I might have at Roundrock. If each fallen snag harbored a colony of them, I could have hundreds of thousands of them. Odd that after all the years I’ve wandered about my woods, this is the first time I’ve ever seen one. I love it when fresh discoveries keep coming along.

(The Latin name for this critter makes me think of loose teeth.)

Missouri calendar:

  • Average day of last frost in southern Missouri.

Panorama

Friday, March 30th, 2007

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Nothing succeeds like success (especially when you have a handy web designer to help you get there).

Click pic to embiggen, as Mark would say.

When we were out at Roundrock about two weeks ago, I made my first attempt at capturing images to blend into a panoramic view of the lake. So since this is my first attempt, go easy on the critical comments.

What can I tell you about these shots? Well, I took them all at the same time, within seconds of each other. I can’t account for why the photos comprising the center have such different light and color about them, but there you go. I stitched these together using Photoshop Elements, which I received as a gift from my darling children.

The dam is not nearly as curved as this blended image implies, of course. I could have corrected for perspective, but it made a weird, half-moon shaped image that I didn’t much like. Still, you certainly get a bit of an idea of what the lake looks like from the center of the dam.

Having done this, I’m wondering now what else I might try to take panoramic from Roundrock. Perhaps something in a smaller scale, like the view from the shelter or the area of our new campsite. Or the pond, maybe. Okay, this is going to be fun.

This one is five shots stitched together, and I think some of the detail is lost given the width that is necessary and the constraints of the display window. I may try a few with fewer pix, but we’ll see about that.

(How many trucks can you count in the photo, as Walter would say?)

Missouri calendar:

  • Redbuds begin blooming.
  • Phoebes return this week.

3.24.2007 – Part the third

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

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I’ve long-since gotten over my critter-feeding anguish. I now regularly bring a bag of roasted peanuts (unsalted, of course) when we go to the woods, and I try to scatter them in various random places at Roundrock. But I usually just leave most of them on this old fallen tree near our shelter. On our last trip to Roundrock I did this very thing just after we had our lunch, leaving the old tree stocked up pretty much as you see in the photo above.

And then we drove over to our new campsite to plant the remaining nannyberry plants. I think there were about eight left to be put in the ground, and while I’d like to scatter them in various random places at Roundrock, I thought we might put them where we would see them, at least at first. These seem like vigorous plants, and if we have luck this year, I intend to order more for next year. I checked on their Missouri-ness since my land ethic at Roundrock calls on me to plant only Missouri native plants. It turns out they are native only to the most exteme northeastern part of the state, apparently in just one county, as you can see on the map here. But that’s good enuf for my land ethic, and maybe my “massive” planting plan will get it established elsewhere in the state.

The soil is much easier for working up by the new campsite. In places I can dig and not hit even one rock. The topsoil is rich-looking and black, but after about two inches, the soil beneath it is brown and surprisingly sandy. (We don’t find much sandstone in this part of the forest so . . . I don’t know what that might mean.) But after a morning of digging in rocks, it was a pleasure to dig in this soil.

Funny thing about our new campsite: we keep a pair of comfy chairs there at all times. So, after a day of planting and a nice lunch, those chairs were calling to us. What could we do? We’re only human. We settled ourselves in the comfy chairs and had ourselves a little siesta. The frogs kept up their intermittent chorus, though they were farther away this time. And the wind blew through the canopy above us. The sun had found us. Life, again, was good. I’m not sure how long we were there. Maybe a half hour of blissful sitting. And then we thought we should head back because there was one more chore left for the day.

We drove the truck back to the shelter site overlooking the lake, and there was a surprise waiting for us. All of the peanuts we had set out less than two hours before were gone. Completely gone. Not even a shell was left!

This was interesting. I’ve long wondered just what critters gobble these goobers. I’ve thought that some sort of wildlife telegraph message goes out when the nuts are left and all sorts of critters come to the site, taking turns in a sort of peaceable kingdom moment. But I’m beginning to think otherwise.

I’ll bet now that if I chopped open that old tree, I’d find a huge cache of peanuts hidden within it. You can see the hole there. Does some rodent live inside a giant cavity there? And is the rodent wily enuf to know when the peanuts have been delivered? If so, I may as well pour the nuts directly in the hole from now on to save the critter the trouble of coming outside. I won’t chop open that log, but I will wonder about it.

The last item on our day’s agenda was to sink a fence post beside the maple we had planted and put a chickenwire cage around it as we have for most of the other trees we have planted. The maple was on the other side of the lake. The fence post was one thing to carry, but the weighty post driver was another. And the roll of chickenwire. I took the two heavier objects (plus I had the backpack with assorted tools and two bottles of water). Libby shouldered the fencing. And off we went. As we hiked across the dam, Libby spotted two empty peanut shells. Hmmmm.

We’re old hands at the fencing-around-a-tree game, so we got that work done quickly. Then it was time to find a tick-free rock (they’re already out — how about a few more freezing nights to knock down their numbers?), sit, and enjoy our bottles of water. And we did. We then filled the empty bottles with lake water and poured it on the soil around the base of the maple. This tree will get a bit more attention this summer as it gets established in its new neighborhood, and the maple we put down by the pecan plantation is doing splendidly (after a couple years of questionable progress — but that was without fencing at first), so I am hopeful about this maple as well.

The time had come to head home. We hiked back to the truck, set out our remaining peanuts on the old log, and drove out. The sun had been shining most of the afternoon, and the wind was high, so I hoped that the road across the meadow was drier and firmer. Nonetheless, I hit that road as fast as I could and didn’t look back.

(Now I’m waiting for my shortleaf pines to arrive. I may have to go down to the woods again this coming weekend!)

Missouri calendar:

  • Double-crested cormorants arrive at wetland areas late this month.

3.24.2007 – Part the second

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

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Saturday was the day of the nannyberries at Roundrock. But first, our arrival.

You may recall the slight difficulty we had a couple of visits back when we were crossing my neighbor’s meadow. I had called my dozer man and asked him if he could come by and make whatever fixes were needed and spread some new gravel on the road. He said he would take a look at the problem and give me an estimate, and since we hadn’t heard from him by the time we were headed down to the woods, I assumed he hadn’t gotten around to the job yet.

But he had. When we came to our sad road across the meadow, we found that it had a fresh load of gravel added and spread.

Unfortunately, someone else had also made this discovery and had driven half way down our road before deciding to turn around and drive out. I suppose my interloping driver had decided the roadbed was too soft to proceed but not too soft, apparently, to attempt a three-point turn. And this, as you might imagine when you understand how wet the area has been recently, left a nicely chewed up patch of road with deep, fresh ruts and mud. Someone had made a nice mess of the repair work, and I will have to call back my road builder and spend more money.

Fortunately, we could see this mayhem from a distance, so I gave the old truck some gas and we pelted across the mess with enuf momentum to propel us through it. (I’m not sure we did the roadbed any favors ourselves though by crossing it while it was still wet, but how else to get to our woods?)

And so, into the trees we went, and the road was much better here. Our destination was, of course, the lake to see if it was any fuller, and then the nannyberry planting would commence. The pond, which we pass on the way, was as full as I’ve ever seen it, and some of the cattail beds were mostly immersed. The fallen stalks of the cattails made a handy sunning bed for a couple of resident pond turtles, and though we drove by more than 50 feet away, they quickly plopped back in the water. I couldn’t make any kind of reliable identification from the distance, looking into the sun, and the briefness of the turtles’ presence, but what little I saw and the habitat involved suggest they may be a pair of western painted turtles (Chrysemis picta belli), and I think a camera and a little bit of patience might go far in resolving this.

The lake, I am happy to report was fuller than on our last visit. Sadly, the leaks below the dam were stronger as well. We walked out onto our dam to survey the lake. The scrub tips still rising above the water give the illusion that there is more dry land than there actually is, but when we pushed through this scrub last winter, it was taller than we are in most places, so that gives you an idea of how deep the water actually is in these areas.

We had 25 nannyberry plants and one maple to put in the ground. The maple is a volunteer that was growing happily in a big pot on the deck of my suburban Kansas City home. In the fall it would turn a brilliant scarlet red, and I thought that I would dearly love to see that red across my lake and reflected in its blue waters. Thus I vowed to replant this red maple, and I had prepared a bed for it some weeks back overlooking the lake in an area where I think it can stay moist much of the time.

The plan was to plant almost half of the nannyberries on the south side of the lake, almost half on the north side of the lake, and the remainder by our new campsite. I wanted to see how identical plants would do in the different environments. On the south side of the lake they will get less sun but more moisture. On the north side, the opposite. And by the new campsite they will get better soil. This ambitious planting agenda would call for a long, indirect hike around the lake, and we needed to figure out a way to carry the plants easily and still allow their roots to stay moist.

And thus Libby’s solution:

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This bucket some interloper left behind has proven its worth to us many times, and I keep intending to get a few more. What you see in the bucket are the nannyberry plants — 25 of them on the right — and the sinuous red maple with its root ball of rich potting soil on the left. The nannyberries were still moist from the packing around their roots (sphagnum and shredded newspapers), and the maple was still dormant, with its roots protected in the potting soil. (Nonetheless, Libby took the first chance she had to dip some lakewater into the bucket to keep the roots happy during our long morning of work.)

And away we went. I had a few spots in mind for the nannyberries, but conditions on the ground (literally) were going to dictate. My general planting method is to sink the shovel in the ground, pry a wedge opening, drop the roots of the plant into the wedge, and then close it with my boot. I modify this for circumstances: the pecans had actual holes dug and filled partially with good soil. But the pines seem to have thrived with this wedge arrangement, and the nannyberries look like their root systems are robust enuf to look after themselves once started:

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(Sorry about the low contrast in that photo. But look at that snarl of roots!)

So I plunk down the shovel in a likely spot for a nannyberry and see what I find. With luck there is enuf soil in the spot to sink the shovel seven or eight inches and do my wedge thing. But most of the time I strike a rock (and not a round one either). So I lift the shovel and try a few inches or a foot to the left or the right. Sometimes I find soil. Most times more rocks.

This meant that I couldn’t always put the plants where I wanted them, which is pretty much on the forest edge overlooking the lake. Still, there is plenty of forest edge overlooking the lake, so we managed to find suitable ground for seven or eight of them on the south side of the lake. Since the lake was higher than on our last visit (isn’t that a nice thing to write?), we had to go a little farther up the Central Valley to make our crossing, and this put us within a stone’s throw of Gefarinsel. I thought that maybe we could put a grove of nannyberries on top of this grassy island. So far the top of the island has nothing but grass, some wildflowers, and a nice pile of round rocks. I had tried to put some sumac on the northern slope of the island, but they never took.

So up on the island we went, and down into the grass the shovel went. And it clunked on a rock every single stab. So we gave up that idea, and I think I’m going to have to put some plant up there that can thrive without much water because the top of the island has no shade, and the elevation means it will drain away its water faster. Plus I was getting tired of digging and wanted to get back in the shade.

Thus we took ourselves to the south-facing slope where we hoped to plant another seven or eight nannyberries. The ground here, however, is even more rocky and unwelcoming than on the other slope, and I don’t think we put in more than four of the plants before we — amazingly — began to hear the lunch bell ringing. We did find this fitting spot for a nannyberry though:

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This snag had fallen recently and exposed a nice bed of rich-looking soil. The nannyberry is the twig in the foreground with the orange tape tied to it. A few of these plants were already bringing out leaves, and given their robust roots and general planting requirements, I think I can be hopeful about their chances of survival. We tied the orange tape to each nannyberry we planted with the hope that we will be able to identify them in future hikes about our woods. I don’t want to clear plants I’ve deliberately planted.

We made our way back to the shady shelter and opened the lunch cooler. And, of course, there are those comfy chairs to sit in. The woods were filled with the singing of the tree frogs and the chortling of the frogs down by the lake. The wind was coursing through the trees overhead. The day was warm. The lunch was good. The post-lunch stupor ensued.

But there was still plenty of day left ahead of us.

Missouri calendar:

  • Wild plums begin blooming along woods and fence rows.

3.24.2007 – Part the first

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

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Not unprecedented, but not commonplace either, Libby and I made a trip down to Roundrock within a week of our last visit. Life is good.

You’ll recall that my order of nannyberries from the Missouri Department of Conservation nursery arrived last week. Although I was still expecting a larger order of shortleaf pine trees as well, we decided to put the nannyberries into the ground right away. Then we would force ourselves to make yet another trip to our little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks after the pines arrived. (The sacrifices we all must make!)

I had hoped that both orders would arrive at the same time, and the big planting job that would entail would mean that I could spend the weekend at Roundrock doing the work. I was ready to pack the tent and the other gear, and all week I watched as the weather forecast steadily improved for this kind of adventure. Dry and in the 70s, nearly to the 80s. But then the weekend came and the pine trees didn’t, so no overnight for me.

We left the house at our usual time (shortly past 7:00 a.m.) and were on our way. Generally, our visits to the woods occur on Sundays. This is not by preference as much as by opportunity. Many of our Saturdays are committed to this or that, so we tend to make our Roundrock trips on Sundays as a result. This means that stores and shops we might visit on our way to the woods are usually not open when we pass. But not so on this Saturday morning, and we made two stops.

The first was to a farm supply store. As you may recall, we have been hoping to extend the overflow pipe as it exits the base of the dam. The flow (which must be as intense as it is infrequent since it would require a full pool in the lake) is gouging the ground there, and though I don’t think it is a threat to the integrity of the dam, it is worrisome. To make the extension, we would need a length of 12-inch diameter corrugated plastic pipe to attach to the pipe that emerges at the base of the dam. This isn’t the easiest stuff to find when you’re not in the business and aren’t from the area. But Pablo can be known to be persistent, and I had found a source: the farm supply store I mentioned above. And so we stopped there on the trek to Roundrock.

And I learned I must come up with a different plan. They did have the pipe and the connectors necessary, but there were some complications. The first was that the standard length is 20 feet, which is not only much longer than we need but could not be safely transported in the back of my truck (with its seven-foot bed) without the likelihood of leaving it on the highway behind me at some point(s). And for all of this difficulty, I would get the privilege of paying more than $100. The second complication was that this pipe is very rigid. It is made of thicker plastic than the 4-inch pipe commonly used in garden landscaping. This larger pipe was not going to bend at all. (It’s made for employment as a culvert under a roadbed, so it needs to stay rigid.) Unfortunately, the lay of the land below my overflow pipe’s exit is not a straight shot. The slope of the dam meets the floor of the pecan plantation, requiring a bend in any pipe that might pass there. Add to this the 20-foot length of the pipe available and you have the classic irresistible-force-meets-unmoveable-object condundrum.

So now we’re considering a different plan. Libby suggested that we simply pour a slab of concrete below the overflow drain exit to prevent further erosion, and already in my mind’s eye I see a sort of cascase forming.

The second stop we made was at the public library in the small town near Roundrock. When, for whatever reason, we have books around the house that we don’t intend to keep, we have taken to donating them to the library in this town. The library may add some of them to its collection — and I’ve found a few of my donations on the shelves there — and those it doesn’t keep it will sell at its annual book sale fund raiser. (And those it can’t sell at the fundraiser it donates to the local used bookstore, so everyone wins!) And since this was a Saturday, the library was open and could accept our donation. Our contribution this time was relatively small: only one grocery sack of books, but most of them were hardbacks, and I hope they help the cause since a good library is a lot like oxygen to Pablo.

And only then, after these chores were finished, did we arrive at Roundrock. And we found a surprise waiting for us there.

Missouri calendar:

  • Serviceberry begins to bloom in woods.
  • Badgers bear young through early April.
  • Ohio buckeyes begin leafing.

Mystery Mud

Monday, March 26th, 2007

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I uncovered (literally) this mystery on Libby’s Island when we were them a couple of weekends ago. I don’t know what these cells were for, though I’d guess for wasp larvae. These were on the underside of a round rock fragment (see below for a better image of that). I was toeing round rocks out of the ground (they’re everywhere!), and this fragment came up and turned over. And there were these little mud constructions.

After I convinced myself that some malevolent parasite was not going to spring from one of these cells and attack me, I took a stick and knocked a few open. They were all empty. Only one had a wisp of some white gossamer in it that may have been a shed, what, exoskeleton? Larval shroud? I don’t know.

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Each cell was a bit under an inch long. They were adhered to the rock, so they would have been suspended from the roof of the little cavern before I overtuned the rock. I suppose there must have been some access point to the cavity to allow the mother bug to get in there to do all of this work.

There is a theory that humans first began making pottery in imitation of these kinds of natural constructs. I can understand that when I see these.

Missouri calendar:

  • Newly emerged zebra swallowtail butterflies fly in woodlands.
  • Gooseberries begin blooming.
  • Swallows return.

Sunday mix

Sunday, March 25th, 2007

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I know you’ve all been waiting anxiously (or eagerly) for the answers to the picture puzzles I posted on Friday. Well, the wait is over.

The first photo shows a bit of interloper evidence Libby and I found in our northeast corner on a recent trip to Roundrock. It is, to the best of my judgment, a tree stand: a sort of homade seat that can be strapped to the trunk of a tree, allowing the hunter to sit high above the forest floor, able to see the unsuspecting deer approach while remaining unseen himself. What puzzled me about this was that there are no trees in the area that seem large enuf to support this device and the weight of a hunter. Still, we’ve found the most deer skeletons in this part of our forest, so it must be a good place to go for game sightings.

The second object I showed in my photos is the backside of the inside of a turtle shell, the carapace. The two points o’light show thin parts in the shell, and I’ve seen these to greater and lesser degrees in every turtle shell I’ve examined. I don’t know why the shell is thin in these two spots. Perhaps one of you knows.

I think I’ll leave the puzzling pix to the Florida Cracker. He’s so much better at it than I am. I just hope he comes back from his hiatus.

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Zanne, over at Farmer’s Wife, is hoping to break 100,000 visitors to her blog before her second anniversary on April 9th. I think she’ll do it! Why don’t you surf over that way and say howdy. You just might be number 100,000, and she says she might give this person a piece of wood!

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One year ago today I was writing about bulky beasts.

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There’s still time to make a submission to the next edition of the Festival of the Trees. If you have a treeish post (or if you know of one you’d like to recommend), send an email to Roger at Words and Pictures. His address is roger [dot] butterfield [at] gmail [dot] com. This festival keeps getting better.

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The photo above is from near the top of one of the ravines at Roundrock. It is close to where I took the picture of the lichen on the stone that everyone seemed to like so much. (I did.) You can just see the ankle snappers that lie beneath the leaf litter, waiting for me to come along so foolishly. I expect this spot in the forest is beginning to green up. I wish I were there right now.

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By the way, those clever and tireless spam bots seemed to have found a new doorway into my comment section that my Akismet blocker hasn’t secured yet. I’ve been deleting scores of spam comments recently. And while I know that is tremendously interesting to you, my point is to apologize to you (yes, you!) if a comment you have left in the last week or so did not appear. I may have accidentally included a few legitimate comments when I went on my search and destroy mission.

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Q quotient: 945/1050

Missouri calendar:

  • Red morel mushrooms begin to appear.

Pecan peregrinations

Saturday, March 24th, 2007

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On our trip to Roundrock last weekend, we ventured down into the acre below the dam to see how the pecans were doing. It was still much too early for them to show any signs of emergence from their winter sleep, but there is nearly always something interesting in this bit of open land, so a hike about it is rewarding.

I had driven down with the small load of rubble we used to fill the washed out area below the overflow pipe. You see my truck parked just on the edge of the flow of water leaking under the dam. I think two of my tires were in the water, and given my stuck-in-the-mud experience of the prior visit, you might think I’d have more sense than to park where I did. (Or you might not.) But the ground here is gravel, well compacted by the dozer work of several years ago, so I had no trouble getting out. (I did spin the wheels on purpose later just to give Libby a charge.)

You can see in the foreground on the lower right the beginnings of the intermittent pond that sometimes forms below the dam (when the leaks are reliable enuf to keep it full). I don’t really mind this pond being there. It is mostly in the shade of the north-facing slope, so it wasn’t a good spot for planting trees. Plus, if it gives the amphibians a mostly predator-free place to spawn and live, then I’m in favor of that. Maybe most cheering of all, however, is the fact that this little pond does not drain into the ground. It serves as an encouragement to my ambitions that the soil in the Central Valley can eventually retain water.

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I took this shot from the opposite end of the pecan acre. There is the truck in the distance, at the base of the dam. That intermittent pond is in the shade on the left. You may be able to make out the grid pattern of some of the posts beside the healthy pecans. And you may even be able to discern the void in the center of the acre where the pecans have consistently failed to survive. I plan to put some pines in there this year just to see how they do (and maybe to keep the grid in order — is that obsessive of me?).

Historical footnote: When I took the second picture, I was standing about where the builder had originally proposed placing the dam. That would have added another acre of water, but it would have placed the dam too close to the property line for my comfort. Plus, where would I have put my pecans?
You can see how the green in beginning to return. With any luck, so am I.

Missouri calendar:

  • Look for pussy willows’ fuzzy blooms.
  • Horned larks flock in open fields.

Friday Puzzle

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

Normally, you can count on the FloridaCracker to post a puzzle picture on Fridays. But since it seems that he really is serious about this two-week blogging hiatus — I would have bet he couldn’t stay away that long — I thought I’d try to fill the gap.

Here are two puzzle pix that I offer to you.

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This first, you can tell, is not native to the forest. I’m pretty sure I know what it is and what it was used for, but I am not sure why it was in this part of the forest. You can see a bit of chain and some steel cable. There is also old carpeting on some of the surfaces, and although you can’t see it, a hinge is involved in the mechanism. Also, it’s falling apart.

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And what do you suppose these two points o’light are all about. Please tell me, because I don’t know. I know where I found them, but I don’t know what purpose they serve, if any. I find these points o’light just about everywhere in my forest. In fact, I found two on my last visit.

Sorry, but there is no prize for getting the answer correct, other than being the one in the comments who shows how smart she or he is.

Let’s say I give my answers in my Sunday post, okay?

Missouri calendar:

  • Walk a trail to enjoy the sounds of spring.

Blue-tailed skink redux

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

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When we were lifting the rubble from the pile by the shelter (to fill the hole below the dam), we seem to have disturbed the winter hiding place of this fellow. This is a blue-tailed skink, about the existence of which many of you harbor doubts.

They also go by the name of five-lined skinks because of the five lines on their backs, but I’m sure this fellow simply wanted to go. His winter slumbers were interrupted, and the day was not yet warm enuf to be kind to him.

He was sluggish and thus cooperative before the camera. Nonetheless, this was the only shot of a half dozen I took that even came close to being acceptable. There is a bit of blue in his tail. I don’t know if this color gets more intense when breeding season approaches, but the skinks only maintain the blue color for their first year, so this one may be a skink elder who is done with all the flashiness of youth.

After our photo session, Libby placed him at the base of a tree, on the sunny side. There were plenty of leaves there, and after a moment he squirmed and writhed under them, happier, I hope, despite his morning’s terror.

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In other news, the nannyberries arrived yesterday. If the pines come today or tomorrow, Pablo will be spending the weekend at Roundrock.

Missouri calendar:

  • Female red-winged blackbirds arrive this week.
  • Bats are laving hibernation caves.