Archive for April, 2009

Stump tales

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

This is another scene from my favorite part of the forest. I think the stump in the foreground tells a tale. You can see that it was cut with a saw and that its diameter is much greater than that of the trees beyond it.

Long-time readers (both of them) will recall that the land that I now call Roundrock was once part of a much larger cattle ranch. I’ve found similar stumps in this same area, and my theory is that the ranch hands had cut down these large trees in order to let more sunlight reach the ground and improve the forage for the cattle.

I think that the younger trees beyond the stump are what has grown in the time since this part of the ranch was abandoned. Without the cattle to graze, the forest began its return. Even so, this part of the land seems to be unfavorable to trees and even scrub. It doesn’t grow thickly here, and the lines of sight are much longer. Perhaps the grass didn’t flourish here either, which may explain why this part of the ranch was closed off so much earlier than the rest of it.

I like puzzles like these. Someday, maybe, I’ll run into an old timer who can give me the full story of the ranch.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Wordless Wednesday – 4.29.2009

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Missouri calendar:

  • Indigo buntings and dickcissels are arriving.
  • May apples begin blooming.

Western painted turtle (or not)

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

What we have here is, possibly, the shell of a Western Painted Turtle. Libby found this shell on one of our walks around the lake. It’s shape, size, and coloring is different from the normal box turtle shells we find here and there in the forest, so it was enuf of a novelty to pause and ponder.

If my identification is correct, then this is from the northern variety of the turtle. In Missouri there are two varieties, with the turtle from the Bootheel section sporting a red racing stripe down its back.

The forest floor cleaning service was still doing its work with this shell. However, I think eventually we’ll put it in the old backpack on a future walk around the lake and add the shell to our collection around the fire ring.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Big Dipper has tipped and spilled into the Little Dipper.
  • June bugs begin appearing.

So it flows

Monday, April 27th, 2009

What you see here is the overflow spillway for the pond, which is tucked into the northwest corner of our 80+ acres of Roundrock. (The way you can tell this is the pond and not the lake is by the presence of that sad duck house at the top of the photo, just to the right of center.)

The pond level fluctuates with the weather, but even in the driest months, it doesn’t drop below a certain level. It’s dam is sealed, perhaps by decades of accumulation of loathsome goo in the bottom. In wetter times, the water reaches the lip of this spillway and cascades through the grass there to form the ravine that nearly a half mile later joins the lake.

I’ve been waiting for duckweed to appear in the lake. By August, the pond is completely covered with it, and since the overflow from the pond eventually joins the lake, I expect the duckweed to colonize it too. (Some have suggested I stock the pond with carp to minimize the spread of the duckweed. Some day I may find the gumption to do just that. They, too, may find their way to the lake eventually.)

We’ve been stomping about at Roundrock for nearly a decade, but this is the first year that the spillway for the pond has shown erosion. The spillway has always been covered with a dense growth of fescue (the grass that ate the county, one man said). You can see an obvious channel in the photo above, but farther down, the bare earth is exposed and is washing away. I can’t account for this seemingly sudden change. About the only thing I can think of that we might have done is to remove some cedars from farther down the dam. I don’t think they were close enuf to have any influence on this, and even if they were, that work was done years ago, before #1 Son went off to Africa.

I don’t think the erosion poses any threat to the integrity of the pond dam. The water washes far enuf around it to avoid being a problem, and the seriously eroded parts are far down, where the dam is thickest. Still, it bugs me that this kind of thing has suddenly begun happening. Any ideas?

Missouri calendar:

  • Ozark darters spawn in rocky riffles.
  • Egrest begin nesting in heronries.

Sunday thoughts

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

When you think about it, redbuds are actually more purple, and purple finches are really more red. And goldfish? Who’s in charge of these things?


Where are my seedlings from the Missouri Department of Conservation? I ordered them to be delivered in April, but I got a card the other day saying the order would ship in ten days. That will be May, for goodness sake! I ordered one bundle of wild plum and another of American Beauty Berry. That should be about fifty plants in all, and I’m eager to get them in the ground while the temps are still mild and the clouds are still generous so they can get a good start before the Ozark summer arrives.


Jean Henri Fabre conducted a famous experiment with processionary caterpillars a long time ago. He arranged a group of them to march around the rim of a pot such that there was no leader: all were following the ones before them. They marched around the pot ceaselessly for seven day. I’d first learned of this reading Sue Hubbell or Anne Dillard, but I was reminded of it by this post at the esteemed Niches blog. (Still not sure how that word is pronounced.)


You still have one more day to make your submissions to the next Festival of the Trees. Your host for May is Peg at Orchards Forever, and you can send your links to amberapple (at) msn (dot) com. Or you can use the handy online submission form. Be sure to visit the Festival when it comes online on May 1. You’ll get an idea of how you might do it when you’re the host. (You do want to host the Festival, right? Visit the coordinating blog to learn more.)


The ginkgo tree in my back yard in suburbia has finally decided it is safe enuf to bring out its leaves. It’s still ahead of the pin oak and the cypress, but most of the other trees in the neighborhood have already arrived.


May The Elements of Style rest in peace (and about bloody time, too)!


Missouri calendar:

  1. Crappie are spawning.
  2. Mink kits are born through early May.

Dead duck (house)

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

This poor thing was one failed experiment from the start. Using plans from the Missouri Department of Conservation, I built this wood duck house in my basement in suburbia and set it out in the pond at Roundrock. I wrote a thrilling account of it more than three and a half years ago. No ducks ever used it.

Over the years it has sagged more toward the water, and I won’t be surprised to find it washed up against the shore on an upcoming visit. (Actually, I’d be relieved because that would mean it was finally out of the pond.)

You see the state we found it in when we were last at Roundrock: roofless. I’m not sure where the roof went. It wasn’t washed up against the shore, but I don’t think it sank in the water either. So now the sad duck house looks even worse. It’s not that I imagine lots of people stop and ponder it, wondering what it says about my ethic, but I ponder it.

Missouri calendar:

  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds begin arriving.
  • Hickories bloom.

There be dragons

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Someday I hope to put a dragon in my lake. It will be one of those undulating kinds that loop up and down in the water. It will have glowing red eyes and a gaping mouth where birds will nest.

Until then, however, I just may settle for this wooden one that has formed on its own near the southern shoreline.

I’ve vowed several times to get this old log out of the lake. It’s far enuf to the west that when the lake water seeps out sufficiently through the leaky dam, it can be on dry ground where I can get to it. When that happens, though, I’ve forgotten all about it, and if I am stomping around that part of the dry lakebed, I seem to overlook it. Perhaps it is lost in the scrub that springs up when the water recedes.

I’d once mistaken this tip of the log for a duck and crept steathily through the trees to get a closer look at it. I’m not all that stealthy, though, and when I was able to continue to get closer to the “duck” it dawned on me that the duck wasn’t going to fly away simply because it wasn’t a duck.

Now it’s a dragon. Or maybe a water horse.

Missouri calendar:

  • National Arbor Day
  • Cedar-apple rust appears.
  • Coyotes bear young through May.

Shooting birds

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

I mentioned in Tuesday’s post that our last chore of the rainy and overcast day at Roundrock involved setting up the game camera to point at the suet feeder we keep on a tree there. The feeder has been in place for years, so the forest birds know where to come for cakes of suet — even the ground below it is swept clean by foragers looking for bits of suet that have fallen there.

The problem with my photography objective was that the feeder was hanging on the wrong side of the tree. If I were to take pictures of it where it was, they would be washed out by the background light coming from the south. It normally hangs from a horseshoe we have nailed to the tree. You can just see a bit of it on the top right of the trunk. (Another problem was that from that side there was no place to hang the camera, the shelter tarp having filled the open space there, but open space it is.) To solve this little problem I drove a nail into the other side of the tree. There happens to be a fine tree at just about the right distance on this side from which to hang the camera, as you see below.

See the lake in the background glinting so marvelously? This was an overcast day; imagine if the sun had been out (which is was about ten minutes later).

The camera has a test mode that is supposed to let the user know if it is set up properly. You set it in this mode then cavort in front of the camera at the proper distance, and it’s supposed to take a picture if you did everything right. It didn’t take a single picture. This was annoying, but I assumed I was misunderstanding something, so I just switched the camera to business mode and crossed my fingers.

There are two cakes of suet in the cage above. I had filled the log with peanuts as we normally do and still had plenty left, so I thought I would place some peanuts atop the suet cage in case that attracted an ivory-billed woodpecker or something. You see that they fell right through the cage and in among the suet cakes.

The last thing I did was take these two photos. You’ll see (if you look closely) that the counter on the camera registered two shots taken. All is well in the woods.

Missouri calendar:

  • Turtles crossing roads; watch out!
  • Chimney swifts return.

One Word Wednesday

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009


Missouri calendar:

  • Earth Day
  • Oaks bloom.
  • Lyrid meteor shower peaks.

4.18.2009 ~ Part Two

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

The coincidental sequence repeated itself! After we had crossed the dam (see yesterday’s post), we continued hiking around the lake. I steered my feet deeper into the forest though. I was hoping to see anything that might be blooming. On the drive down we passed many trees with white flowers on them — serviceberry perhaps? — and I wondered if there might be some in my forest. There weren’t that we found, but there was a nice log to sit upon and contemplate the universe for a while.

When we resumed our stumblings, we were soon back at the shoreline. Although the frogs were singing lustily, we didn’t see any eggs in the water. It may still be a bit early for that or it may be that the wild fish in the lake are big enuf to eat amphibian eggs now.

Our hike along the southern side of the lake had us facing west, which allowed us to see what was massing in the western sky. The rainstorm that we’d seemed to have outrun on our drive to the woods earlier that morning was catching up. In fact, the clouds were so dark and tumbling up there in the western sky that I was sure we would not complete our hike around the lake before the clouds released their rain to soak us. Of course had we been able to scurry back to the shelter area in time, we would have found no protection there since the tarp has been gone for weeks. We’d have to climb into the truck to wait out the storm. If it came.

The clouds seemed to be giving us a break. We visited our usual stops around the lake as our hike continued, continued unhurried by the threats of the weather. Some of our best visits to the forest have been in the rain, so we weren’t too worried if it happened to us then.

Once we were on the north side of the lake, we steered our stumbling steps farther up the slope, away from the water. I had a notion that I might find some nice round rocks if I went up into the trees. (There is a certain level in the slope where the rocks appear more frequently.) We ventured up one side of a ravine we don’t visit very often. It is the most rugged of the ravines, and a hike directly up its center would be a difficult task. So we stayed above in on the western side, the ravine falling to our right and a particularly amorous turkey calling lustily in the forest to our right. We couldn’t see the turkey through the trees, but we could certainly hear him as he sang his plaintive song. Despite being up on the slope, we could still hear the ceaseless frog chorus from the lake. Love was in the air.

Once we’d hiked far enuf to the north for the ravine to become passable, we stepped across it and started back toward where we’d left the truck. All the while the clouds were giving us a pass. It was still dark and ominous overhead, but the rain held back.

We don’t hike this part of the forest much. The road along our northern property line is not far away, and if we need to get from one end of the forest to the other, we generally use that. The lake, of course, is to the south, and we spend a lot of time in that area. So this part of the forest gets overlooked. Because it is on the south-facing slope, it is dryer. There are still some Blackjack oaks here (though they are concentrated more to the west), so passage through the understory can be difficult and indirect. There are patches filled with blackberries and others with sumac (though not nearly enuf). It’s a different hiking experience through here, but then it ends where our road cuts south through the trees and to our truck with the feed bag awaits. And that’s where we ended up.

Since we don’t carry watches when we’re at Roundrock, we had no idea what the actual time was, but we decided that the lunch bell was sounding. We gathered our cooler and the comfy chairs then carried them down to the lake so we could chew our food while we drank in the scenery. The clouds, in the meantime, had held off as long as they could, and the sprinkling began. It was pleasant for a while to watch it dimpling the surface of the lake, but it did hasten us through our sandwiches. I’d saved the last corner of mine to break apart and throw in the water. In the past, this has attracted a lot of fishy attention, but no one was interested in it on that day. The bits of bread floated unmolested on the water, and I suspect that the fish were in the deep water where it was probably warmer for them. I don’t suppose the bits of bread and turkey will go to waste in that dark water.

The rain grew more serious then, and we soon found ourselves retreating to the truck. For a while it was pelting down on the roof of the truck very hard. This would have been a pleasant state of affairs had we been under a tarp with the rain pounding down around us, but in the cab of the truck it was a cacaphonous assault.

We really had only one other chore for the day. I wanted to reset the game camera to shoot the suet feeder to see if I could get a shot of an ivory-billed woodpecker. This involved putting a nail in the opposite side of the tree where we normally hang the feeder. Had I wanted to shoot it where it normally hung, the camera would be pointing to the south, and all of the shots would have been washed out by the sun. Still, I wanted to keep the suet cage in the same general area since the birds know it’s there. The rain let up enuf for Pablo to get to work on this project, and without getting too wet, I soon had it all arranged.

About the time I finished, something happened. All of the clouds blew away, the sky was filled with blue, and some bright orange ball up there started to make my skin feel warm.

We took a different route home. I thought that maybe Toad Suck was open, but it’s still too early. Then I went in search of a dragon, but I must have turned down the wrong country road, for I didn’t see it. But there’s always tomorrow.

Missouri calendar:

  • Giant Canada goose goslings begin hatching.
  • Columbines bloom.