Wildlife Archives

Fall Food Plots – Trying New Seed Mixes

Posted on September 14, 2017 by Leave a comment

We haven’t planted new food plots since 2014 and it is time (Summer 2017) to plant some fall annual food plots in preparation for perennial food plots in 2018. We have a half acre of three year old Imperial Whitetail™ Brand Clover which needs to replaced in 2018 with at least an acre of Whitetail Clover. This late summer (August 5th) we planted six seed mixes from the Whitetail Institute. We have found reliability and innovation with Whitetail Institute products and seldom try other brands. Seed selection is one of the most important aspects of planting food plots. This time we are planting Pure Attraction®, Ambush®, Winter Greens™, Beets & Greens™, Tall Tine Tubers™ and Imperial Whitetail Oats Plus™. These are all annual seed blends and should be killed during the winter in this western New York location.

3 year old neglected Imperial Whitetail Clover food plot

3 year old neglected Imperial Whitetail Clover food plot

We started in June preparing for this planting with a late burn down. I say late because of very rainy spring weather. We did not apply the first application of glyphosate until the weeds were about 18 inches tall in most places. We used a heavy rate of glyphosate to control perennial weeds, with quackgrass being our biggest concern. We made a second application about the third week of July. To attempt to control quackgrass, you must make a second application when it re-grows following the first application. Since we are planting fall annual food plots, we will have another opportunity to control the quackgrass, if it regrows. We will make another burn down application next spring, before we plant our perennial planting of Whitetail Clover.

Food plot "Burn Down" number two

Food plot “Burn Down” number two

When we look at food plot seed blends in advertising and online, we get an idea of what is in the package, but to know exactly what is in the package you must read the Seed Label on the package you purchase. The seed label is required by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). This label will tell you the specific varieties, percent pure seed, germination percentage, origin of the seed (state), percent weed seed, percent inert matter, germination test date, amount of noxious weeds, container weight, etc.

Here is the seed label information for the varieties in the seed bags we purchased: These seed mixes contain a high percentage of coating material which is very important to the germination and weight distribution of the seed as it goes out a broadcast seed spreader. It is better to ensure that the seed you plant will grow than to purchase uncoated seed that may not germinate in adverse conditions. The coating is All-Vantage containing RainBond which will also helps water adhere to the seed in dry conditions.

Tall Tine Tubers: We like Tall Tine Tubers which we have grown before. The turnips provide foliage for the deer to eat after a freeze in the fall and the turnip “bulbs” to eat throughout the winter and early spring.
Tall Tine Turnip – 55.24%
Purple Top Turnip – 10.48%
Other Crop – 0%
Weed Seed – 0.05%
Inert Matter (includes 34.18% Coating Material)

Beets & Greens: This is the first time we have planted this seed mix. We are excited to see how the sugar beets in this mix preform. We have grown the other plants in the mix previously including Radish, Kale, Rape, and Tall Tine Turnips. It appears to be a mix that will nourish deer in late fall and possibly through winter and early spring. We had difficulty calibrating our hand held seeder to spread this seed because of the size difference between the larger beet seed and the smaller brassica/turnip seed. When we opened the seeder up to accommodate the beet seed, it let out too many brassicas. We feel this was the cause of our planting too much seed on a smaller area than the 1/2 acre intended. We may need to look at other seeder options.
WINA 412 Radish – 25.59%
WINA 210 Kale – 18.87%
Trophy Rape – 18.26%
Newbie Sugar Beet – 14.81%
Tall Tine Turnip – 2.95%
Other crop – 0.05%
Inert Matter – (includes 19.04 % coating material)
Weed Seed – 0.05%

Winter Greens: This is a good all around annual fall food plot mix. We have planted this previously. The deer will come in to eat it after a frost or two. In our area in western N.Y. State, it will be consumed from about mid Oct. until it gets really cold in mid January, maybe longer if there is snow cover. The deer will dig through the snow for it!
WINA 210 Forage Kale – 24.32%
Premier Forage Kale – 24.28 %
Dwarf Essex Rape – 4.44%
Trophy Rape – 3.29%
Dwarf Siberian Kale – 3.28%
Purple Top Turnip – 0.79%
Other crop – 0.05%
Inert Matter (includes 34.2% Coating Material)
Weed Seed – 0.08%

Ambush: This is a new seed mix for us and we are anxious to see how the lupines, peas, Alex Berseem Clover, sugar beets and Annual Ryegrass do in this mix. Our initial impression is that this mix germinated slowly, and the Alex Berseem Clover, and lupines germinate and develop slowly. Since the pea and lupine seed are large seeds and the percents in the seed mix are derived by weight, there are really not many lupine and pea seeds that have an opportunity to germinate. We’ll have to see how it looks in October and how much the deer feed on it. In our case, we may also need to change our planting procedure to make sure the bigger lupine and pea seeds are covered with more soil to get a higher germination percentage.
Amiga White Lupine – 25.88%
WINA 204 Peas – 19.80
Lumen White Lupine – 15.97
Whitetail 906590 Oats – 11.96
Alex Beseem Clover – 9.88
Newbie Sugar Beet – 5.98%
DH-3 Annual Ryegrass – 4.99
Other crop – 0.05%
Inert Matter (includes 5.10% Coating Material)
Weed Seed -0.06%

Pure Attraction: This is a new seed mix for us. We really like Whitetail Oats and this was an attractive mix to us since we wanted to combine some other seed types with our oat planting. One of the attributes we like about the “sweet” oats is that the deer will start eating it almost immediately, where we have to wait for frosts for many of the “greens”.

Whitetail 906590 Oats – 38.89%
Whitetail 105069 Oats – 35.87
Fridge Triticale – 12.34%
Bolero Peas – 4.41%
Brundage Wheat – 3.72%
WINA 210K Forage Kale -1.045
Premier Forage Kale – 1.04%
Dwarf Essex Rape – 0.225
Tall Tine Turnip – 0.22%
Trophy Rape – 0.14%
Dwarf Siberian Kale – 0.14%
Other Crop – 0.07%
Inert Matter (includes 5.10% Coating Material)
Weed Seed – 0.07%

Imperial Whitetail Oats Plus we have planted previously several times. I do not currently have the seed label for the seed we planted, but I can add that later. The majority of this seed is uncoated oat seed. We really like this product! The deer feed on it almost immediately and will continue to feed on it until it is frozen out in our area. It continues to grow and the deer keep it pruned almost down to the ground. Due to abnormal growing conditions and our first time experimentation using a UTV as a cultipacker, we chose to over seed our entire planting this year with a half rate of the “sweet” oats. So far, this has proven to be a benefit, although we did get excellent germination for almost all our seed mixes.

Imperial Whitetail Oats over-seeded at half rate over all plantings

Imperial Whitetail Oats over-seeded at half rate over all plantings

Our planting process this year included two burn-down applications primarily to control perennial quack grass, followed by three discings, planting, then fertilizing. We would like to have incorporated the fertilizer in with the discings, however with approaching rains we wanted to make sure we had the seed planted, and germination confirmed before we committed to purchasing fertilizer. We also felt we probably had enough phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) to get the plants going. There might be an advantage of making one late heavy N-P-K application after germination verses a split application of an early N-P-K application followed by a later Nitrogen (N) application. Ideally you would make the two fertilizer applications. We’ll see how big the turnips and sugar beets get by November 15th?

Imperial Whitetail Oats Plus germinating!

Imperial Whitetail Oats Plus germinating!

We try to follow the seeding rate on the package, usually I purchase 1/2 acre bags of seed. Sometimes it is a challenge to get the rate correctly and achieve optimum spacing between plants. If the seeding rate is to close, you get a lot of spindly plants. If it is too thin, you get gaps which allow weeds to get established. Particularly with turnips, radishes and sugar beets, if they are planted too thickly, the root bulb will be small. For these rooting plants you want them planted thin enough to grow big “bulbs”. Having enough fertilizer will also help grow big bulbs if the plants have enough space.

Always exciting to see good germination and plant spacing!

Always exciting to see good germination and plant spacing!

An example of planting too thickly

An example of planting too thickly

We had one area that we decided to turn into a food plot late in the summer and it only received a mowing and one burn down application. It was very trashy even after it had been disced about 4 times. We planted extra seed and oversewed it with the “Sweet” oats. It appears to have had good germination and we expect this plot to do well.

Good germination in a really trashy area!

Good germination in a really trashy area!

After germination it is great to watch the plants get established and in some cases fight for light and dominance with their neighbors. If you can’t get your seeding rate perfect, it’s better to plant extra seed than not have enough planted in our opinion.

Oats and Brassicas getting established! Tillering - Sinking roots!

Oats and Brassicas getting established! Tillering – Sinking roots!

Our most shady/secluded plot getting established!

Our most shady/secluded plot getting established!

We have one newly cleared area where we have cut down relatively large trees to expand our food plot area and to let more light in on or existing plots. We have cut the trees, harvested the firewood, burned the branches and have planted this area for the first time. This creates the need to disc the soil and plant around the stumps. We do not plan to remove the stumps and all our food plots have stumps in varying stages of decay.

Planting around the stumps!

Planting around the stumps!

We have planted about 2 1/2 acres of food plots this year, some is planted in between rows of english walnut trees that we have planted. We have our first nut on a tree this year! We did not plant blocks of the same seed mix types, but alternated seed mix types in about 30 foot bands throughout the plots. In previous years we have planted in blocks which resulted in some plots being pretty bare after the deer at almost everything. With this approach all the plots should have something growing throughout the entire hunting season.

Multiple Food Plots with Multiple Seed Mixes Planted

Multiple Food Plots with Multiple Seed Mixes Planted

With the food plots established and the expectation that big bucks from all over will come to flock into these food plots, we decided to build a simple hunting stand to overlook about 2/3 of the plots. At the very least it will give us a place to sit, out of the rain, in a comfortable chair while we watch the show.

Simple Hunting Stand

Simple Hunting Stand

™ ®

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Amphibian Eggs in Allegany County, NY State

Posted on May 17, 2016 by Leave a comment

Disclaimers and Conclusions: Before you start to read this blog, we have a couple of disclaimers and conclusions to share. First we believe most of the amphibian eggs we have observed are Spotted Salamander eggs, unless otherwise noted. We researched every type of frog egg photo, for the frogs we have mentioned, and have concluded that they may not be properly labeled and therefore our descriptions may be in error. Since amphibian eggs are inherently similar, this is somewhat understandable. One would need to see the species lay the eggs to be certain that their conclusion is accurate, which is difficult to achieve. We decided to leave the descriptions of what we have observed and hope we will have a future opportunity to edit this blog and make updates with more accurate and interesting information.

Multiple egg masses laid by how many types of amphibians?

Multiple egg masses laid by how many types of amphibians?

When we visited our two ponds in late April, we observed clusters of amphibian eggs, in the water. One pond is about an acre in size, has a stream running through it and is stocked with fish. The other pond is very small, spring fed, only about 30 feet in diameter and has no fish. This pond is very similar to a vernal pond, but it never goes dry. One of our first questions was what amphibians laid these eggs. We see and hear various toads, frogs, salamanders and newts from time to time, but how do you tell which eggs belong to which species? Our first action was to look up the names of the amphibians known to be in this geography of western NY state.

Toad:
American Toad – Anaxyrus americanus – Lay eggs from April through May, in two strands of black eggs. The black pollywogs hatch in 2-14 days. The eggs we have photographed are most likely not American toad eggs. We have lots of these toads on the property.

Salamanders:
Eastern Red Spotted Newt – Notophthalmus viridescent – breed in the water in which they live, they lay a few eggs each day in different places. So, these are not the egg masses we are observing. The newts and red effs are common on the property.

Spotted Salamander – Ambystoma maculatum – These salamanders migrate from land to breeding ponds in late winter and early spring. These egg clusters are similar to what we have photographed. Spotted salamanders are common on the property.

Amphibian eggs in dead marsh grass

Amphibian eggs in dead marsh grass

Amphibians developing within the eggs

Amphibians developing within the eggs

Frogs:
Bull Frog – Lithobates catesbeiana – Bull Frogs which live in and around ponds, breed in late May – July. They lay and abundance of eggs which form a thin floating sheet on the water surface near the edge of the pond. So, the eggs we are seeing are not Bull Frog eggs. Bull frogs are common on the property.

Green Frog – Lithobates clamitans – Green Frogs also live in and around ponds. The frogs lay their eggs in mid April though June. The eggs are in clear masses with black eggs and are not similar to the eggs we photographed this April.

Northern Leopard Frog – Lithobates pippins – Northern Leopard Frogs live near water but are seen in fields and on land in the summer. They overwinter near a non-freezing water source. They breed from March – June. The egg masses are clear with black eggs which we did not observe in our photographs in April. We are not sure if we have Leopard frogs or Pickerel Frogs, or both, but we do have this type of frog, which we observe most often in fields in the summer.

Pickerel Frog – Lithobates palustris – These frogs lay their eggs in early May. The egg masses are clear with black eggs which we did not observe in our photographs in April. We are not sure if we have Leopard frogs or Pickerel Frogs, or both, but we do have this type of frog, which we observe most often in fields in the summer.

Wood Frog – Lithobates sylvaticus – These frogs lay their eggs in March and April in smaller clusters. These frogs hatch very quickly and look very similar to toad tadpoles. In our photo of the black tadpoles are most likely wood frogs. Though seldom seen, we do have Wood Frogs on the property.

Wood Frog Pollywogs

Wood Frog Pollywogs

Gray Tree frog – Hyla versicolor – These frogs lay eggs between April and August. The eggs are laid in floating masses of about 40 eggs, although the female will lay up to 2000 eggs. We do not see this type of egg in our photos. We do not know if we have this type of frog?

Northern spring peepers – Pseudacris crucifer – Lay their eggs March to June. They prefer to lay clusters of up to 1000 eggs which they hide on the pond bottom under debris. However if the water pool is shallow they may be laid closer to the surface where they are in clear masses with lots of black eggs. We do not believe our photos show Spring Peeper eggs. We hear these frogs but they are seldom seen.

Western chorus frog – Pseudacris triseriata – Lays up to 1500 eggs in masses of 20 to 300 eggs from March through May. We could not find a photo of Western Chorus Frog eggs to compare with the other frogs. We are guessing the egg masses are clear with black eggs, similar to the other frogs, and assume we have not photographed this type of egg cluster. We do not know if we have this type of frog?

The life cycle of amphibians is one of the wonders of life. Amphibians can be observed almost year around except for the dead of winter. It is amazing how some species brave the cold, variable weather of March and April to seek out a small body of water to reproduce.

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Signs That Spring Has Arrived!!

Posted on May 14, 2016 by Leave a comment

We took a trip to southwestern western New York state during the last weeks of April and first few days of May. This year this was a cool period of time with Spring unfolding very slowly. We like this time of year because it is a time of re-birth for both plants and animals. Trees start to grow new leaves, animals like foxes are searching for food for their newborn kits, birds are arriving after overwintering further south.

On our initial walk we observed at a small pond, polliwogs hatching from eggs near the waters edge. We were surprised they were already hatching since it must have been quite cold when the egg masses were laid. The egg masses could be from frogs, toads, or the eastern newt. We took some of the eggs and placed them in a large jar in the kitchen to watch some of them hatch.

Polliwogs hatching!

Polliwogs hatching!

On our porch in the stacked firewood, each year ladybugs find a way inside to overwinter in the protection of the porch and the stacked wood. When the warmth of the sun awakens them in the spring they seem to have entered a maze and cannot find their way out. Notice all the differences in color and spot configuration.

Overwintering Ladybugs waking up!

Overwintering Ladybugs waking up!

When we walk into the woods, we find several spring flowers, that have emerged from the cold soil and are now blooming. Sometimes these plants will grow right through the layer of dead tree leaves that fell last Autumn.

Trout Lilly - Erythronium americanum

Trout Lilly – Erythronium americanum

We have both the white trilliums and red trilliums growing in our woods. The flowers are scattered randomly throughout the woods. There is one place where there is a large group of white trilliums which is quite spectacular, if you can be there during the very short period of time when they bloom.

White Trillium - Trillium grandiflorum

White Trillium – Trillium grandiflorum

In our woods, only about one out of 10 trilliums is a red trillium.

Red Trillium -Trillium erectum

Red Trillium -Trillium erectum

The Slender Tooth Wort is a much smaller flower but is also beautiful if you can get down on your hands and knees and take a closer look!

Slender Tooth Wort - Cardamine angustata

Slender Tooth Wort – Cardamine angustata

In wet areas grow different flowers. One is the Marsh Marigold.

Marsh Marigold - Caltha palustris

Marsh Marigold – Caltha palustris

Another is the False Hellebore. Although the False Hellebore has not yet bloomed, the leaves and foliage are quite beautiful as they begin to grow in the early spring. This plant is very poisonous if eaten!

False Hellebore - Veratrum virile (extremely poisonous)

False Hellebore – Veratrum virile (extremely poisonous)

Salamanders and snakes overwinter under rocks, logs and in this case, a discarded automobile tire. As the soil temperatures rise, they will become more active. Snakes and amphibians are cold blooded and move slowly when it is cold.

Salamander - most likely some type of spotted salamander

Salamander – most likely some type of spotted salamander

A few years ago, also in April, we lifted a rock where a spring was coming out of a hillside. When we did, we encountered a Garter Snake (genus Thamnophis) and a Red-Backed Salamander (Plethodon cinereous).

A garter snake and Red-Backed salamander disturbed when lifting a rock

A garter snake and Red-Backed salamander disturbed when lifting a rock

We often wondered how long it takes a Robin to build it’s nest. We noticed a robin starting to build a nest very early in the morning on our truck tire. By 7:00 that night the robin had finished and was sitting in the nest. That seemed pretty quick to us!

Robin's nest on a parked truck tire!

Robin’s nest on a parked truck tire!

The hay fields that are used to feed local dairy cows are also beginning to green up. The grasses have grown several inches tall, the clover is leafing out and dandelions are just starting to flower. The dandelions are a good source of early season pollen to feed honeybee larvae which are developing in our honeybee hive.

Grass, Clover and Dandelions starting to grow!!

Grass, Clover and Dandelions starting to grow!!

The entrance to the honeybee hive is reduced in the fall to keep out cold winds and uninvited mice!

Honeybees entering and exiting through a reduced entrance put in place last Fall

Honeybees entering and exiting through a reduced entrance put in place last Fall

Early Spring is a great time to put on your jacket, and go exploring to see what you can see. You may be amazed!!

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Ramps

Posted on April 28, 2016 by Leave a comment

Separated from the soil and ready to clean

Separated from the soil and ready to clean

Ramps (also called wild leeks) (Allium tricoccum) are a forest plant which grows in “patches” in the eastern United States. Our ramps grow in the mainly deciduous forest of western NY state. The ramps are in the onion family and taste similar to cultivated onions and garlic. We are fortunate to have them growing on our property, however we only harvest a few every couple years. They are really a novelty, in our opinion, for culinary use. This year we incorporated them into venison cheeseburgers and they were quite good. Some gourmet celebrity chefs could probably convince you they were the best tasting thing since Kale, but it is basically just a wild onion, and tastes like an onion.

Ramps growing in the Spring in the western NY forest

Ramps growing in the Spring in the western NY forest

We do enjoy seeing them grow in our forest, and we are glad they are a continuing part of our environment. They flower and go to seed shortly after they pop up in the spring. Then they go dormant, die back, and disappear from the forest floor until the following Spring, when they reappear. We believe mother nature has timed their life cycle this way because they come up before the leaves are on the trees, take advantage of the sunlight, and then go dormant after the trees are in full foliage. The spring is usually a damp time of year and the summer can be dry so the ramps survive this way by being dormant when the soil is dry and the other forest trees suck up all the available moisture. Energy and moisture is saved in the onion like bulb.

When first dug, the roots are intertwined with the soil

When first dug, the roots are intertwined with the soil

The ramps reproduce from seeds. The plant flowers in the early summer by sending up a leafless flower stalk. After the foliage has gone dormant, the plant flowers and seeds develop, falling near the mother plant later in the summer. Not every plant will flower. The seeds germinate when conditions are right in late summer or early fall. Not all the seeds will germinate and live.

This year we were lucky and the soil was quite dry when we dug our ramps. The soil crumbled away from the roots easily after we dug one shovel full. We separated the soil so it would stay in the woods. We tried to cut the roots off, but it seemed easier to just “snap” them off. A single ramp plant can be many years old and develop a root “stub” which is relatively easy to snap off.

Hauling the Ramps back to the kitchen

Hauling the Ramps back to the kitchen

Since the ramps are quite a way out in the woods we took our tractor and wagon to go harvest the ramps. Now we are ready to take them back to the house and the kitchen where we will prepare them to eat.

Ramps ready for your favorite recipe or fresh chopped in a sandwich or salad

Ramps ready for your favorite recipe or fresh chopped in a sandwich or salad

If you should happen to go out to the forest to harvest some ramps, please remember this is a wild plant treasure that does not reproduce easily. It is important not to harvest more than 30% of the “patch”. That way you will always leave more than you take. Not every year is a good growing year for the ramps so it is important that you leave enough so the patch can continue to grow. If you want to make the effort to go back to the patch in late summer to harvest seeds and plant them, you may be able to start another patch in another spot in the forest. In some locations the ramps are being over harvested and are in danger of being eliminated from their home range. Harvest sustainably!!

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Eastern Box Turtle Hatchling

Posted on February 12, 2016 by Leave a comment

In mid October in north GA we were removing our summer flower beds and replanting pansies for the winter. When walking through the yard our eye caught a newly hatched Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene Carolina, Linnaeus). We see mature box turtles regularly in the yard so finding the hatchling was not surprising, although we had never seen one before.

Box turtles will mate in the spring shortly after emerging from hibernation. The females lay eggs in a chamber they make in the soil in June or July. Hatchlings will emerge in 70 to 90 days depending on the weather. Since turtles are cold blooded, the eggs will have a tendency to emerge earlier in warmer weather with sufficient moisture to keep the soil soft.

In our case we found this hatchling within a few weeks of hatching. Since harsh winter weather is sometimes fatal to hatchlings, we decided to keep the turtle over the winter for spring release.

Hatchling box turtle first found in mid October in GA

Hatchling box turtle first found in mid October in GA

After a little research we determined that feeding the hatchling meal worms would work best. Meal worms can be purchased at a local pet specialty store. The meal worms stay alive for several weeks if kept in the refrigerator and the turtle seemed anxious to eat them. Although mature box turtles are omnivorous, eating both plant and animal flesh, the hatchling are carnivores.

Meal worms make a good meal for a young box turtle

Meal worms make a good meal for a young box turtle

Throughout the winter months we observed the turtle eating well and growing well. As spring approached we decided to set it free.

Contemplating Freedom!!

Contemplating Freedom!!

In early April on a nice warm sunny day we placed the hatchling on the ground not far from when we originally found it. It sat still for so long I became tired of watching it and I became distracted by something else in the yard. When I returned a few minutes later, it was no where to be seen. Certainly it had scurried under the nearby dead leaves in the woods just a few feet away.

Baby map turtle next to a 3 1/2 inch pocket knife

Baby map turtle next to a 3 1/2 inch pocket knife

The Eastern Box Turtle has several color and shape phases. We observed both the box turtles pictured within our neighborhood. We often see evidence of their visits to our vegetable garden where they feed on low hanging tomatoes. You can tell by the bite marks that it is not a squirrel or some other animal.

Mature Common Box Turtle (Terrapene Carolina, Linnaeus) (dark phase)

Mature Common Box Turtle (Terrapene Carolina, Linnaeus) (dark phase)

Although these box turtles look quite different in their appearance, this is quite normal for Eastern Box turtles. They are a welcome sight in our yard. We mainly see them in the spring or early summer before the hot months of July and August, and then again in early autumn as the temperatures cool down.

Mature Common Box Turtle (Terrapene Carolina, Linnaeus) (yellow phase)

Mature Common Box Turtle (Terrapene Carolina, Linnaeus) (yellow phase)

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Monarch Butterfly Overwintering in a Warmer Climate

Posted on January 18, 2016 by Leave a comment

We have our own Monarch Butterfly Milkweed patch, as a food source, for those monarchs that make their way up to Western New York State by late summer. The monarchs that visit our milkweed plants, migrate from their overwintering grounds in Mexico, starting their journey in March. The monarchs that inhabit the United States geography west of the Rocky Mountains overwinter in Eucalyptus tree groves along the pacific ocean in southern California. We visited the overwintering grounds located at the Goleta Butterfly Grove, located in Goleta, CA, about an hour and a half northwest of Los Angeles.

Monarch Butterfly Overwintering Cluster in Goleta, California

Monarch Butterfly Overwintering Cluster in Goleta, California

The Monarchs start arriving in Goleta in Mid November and start migrating north again in mid February. Amazingly they return to the exact same trees year after year. Once they leave the eucalyptus grove, they will seek out patches of milkweed where they will lay eggs. The eggs will hatch and the larvae (caterpillars) will feed on the milkweed. The larvae will pupate and become mature adult butterflies. The adult butterflies will move further north. After four generations, the last generation will migrate back to their overwintering location in Goleta, CA. A similar succession of events will happen in the eastern United States, only the monarchs will overwinter in Mexico. The Goleta Butterfly Grove protects the butterflies so that their future is preserved.

The Greeting Sign for the Goleta Butterfly Grove

The Greeting Sign for the Goleta Butterfly Grove

The trail wanders from the parking lot though a grove of eucalyptus trees located between a major highway and the Pacific ocean, along the back side of a residential neighborhood. This area is kept relatively warm by the warm water of the Pacific. The trees protect the butterflies from wind and helps moderate temperature extremes.

The Eucalyptus Tree Grove

The Eucalyptus Tree Grove

As you wander along the trail, there are signs to follow that direct you where the Monarch Butterflies are located. This is a beautiful trail between mid November and mid February, which is the rainy season for southern California. The soil is moist and winter annual weeds have greened-up and lined the edges of the trail.

Trail Marker

Trail Marker

The butterfly clusters are not easily seen in the morning when it is cool and the butterfly wings are closed and the butterflies are holding each other together tightly. They hang on the trees in clusters containing many hundred to more than a thousand butterflies. They almost look like a broken branch with brown dead leaves. This may be a natural camouflage for their protection.

Clusters can be seen hanging along the trail

Clusters can be seen hanging along the trail

When the daytime temperatures rise or the sun comes out and warms the cluster, the butterflies loosen their grip on each other and stretch their wings if they can. A few will start to fly and you can see an occasional monarch flying in the grove.

A Spectacle of Nature!

A Spectacle of Nature!

The hanging cluster of monarchs looks similar to a swarm of honey bees hanging from a tree branch, when you look at them from a distance. There are multiple clusters on different branches of the same tree and on different trees. The clusters take different shapes.

As the temperature warms, the Monarchs stretch their wings

As the temperature warms, the Monarchs stretch their wings

The overwintering of the Monarch Butterflies is one of those seldom seen and very amazing events. We were very lucky to visit the grove on a warm, partly sunny day, in mid January. For more information on Monarch Butterflies check out the FAQs from the USDA (United States Dept. of Agriculture)

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A Whitetail Deer Story

Posted on December 13, 2015 by Leave a comment

My First Buck!

My First Buck!

This hunting season I shot my first whitetail deer with antlers and it turned out to be a nice 10 point buck. I have been deer hunting on and off since I was 16 with probably about 17 years of actual deer hunting. I am 62.

We have about a five acre field up behind our barn that is mostly surrounded by a deciduous forest, except for an area of over grown balsam fir Christmas trees. There is a small spring fed pond less than one eighth acre located on the edge of the forest. Deer and other wildlife use this as a source of water to drink. In this field we have planted food plots, mainly Whitetail Institute Whitetail Clover. The deer feed on this daily from early May through late December. We also have our honey bee hives located on the edge of this field (honey bees need a source of water). In many ways it is an ideal spot for deer to live. It is in this field that our story takes place.

I have hunted here before and seen many deer including one other very large buck. Another very large buck was shot by my neighbor’s wife, and probably a lot more came and went through the years without being noticed. They are attracted to this location additionally because does with fawns annually raise their young here. It is a good place for bucks and does to “hook up” during breeding season, which is also hunting season.

I hunted this spot on the Saturday evening of the opening day of “Regular” or “Gun” season starting about 3:30 PM. You can hunt till about 4:45 this year which corresponds with sunset.
My view looked out over several food plots of different ages. Looking to the west was the setting sun with the silhouettes of trees in the background. It was looking west that I started to see some movement. First came a healthy fawn into the field edge. Almost immediately a red fox approached from the opposite direction cruising the field looking for a mouse for dinner. They approached about thirty feet away from each other, had a momentary stare down and then went their separate ways in the opposite direction.

Next out of the woods came a limping fawn. Something had happened to it’s front leg which made it limp. After about ten more minutes a spike buck appeared. The spike buck and the limping fawn seemed to relax, put their heads down and stared to graze on the clover. The healthy fawn kept putting it’s nose in the air sniffing for the scent of danger.

The quiet was interrupted by the honking of geese flying overhead. They seemed to be circling looking for the next place to land. Twice, the flock of maybe a hundred geese rose up in the air so the setting sunlight shined through their wing feathers making them look like specks of gold glittering against the blue sky. A few minutes later a flock of ducks flew overhead much lower and I could hear the flutter of their wings against the air.

I watched these three deer for about twenty minutes, sitting on five gallon bucket, when I decided to practice getting my rifle in position like I was getting ready to shoot the spike buck. I was in an awkward position to grab my gun which was leaning on a tree and then maneuver quietly to get in position to place the deer in my sites. I was about halfway through this process when my jacket caught a twig, which snapped, and sent all three deer, tails in the air, leaping back into the safety of the forest.

It reminded me of what I already knew. Don’t sit!! Stand and wait, ready to shoot, with gun in hand!!

Sunday morning I took a long walk on the property across the road. The woods were very quiet, with only an occasional shot being fired in the distance. The caw of a crow or the chirp of a bird broke the silence occasionally. There were occasional heavy snow squalls through the morning. I found shelter behind a tree to keep from being covered with snow during the squalls. When you walk though the forest this time of year, it is a good time to put your “Forester” hat on and check the trees for those that should be harvested, those that need to be thinned and those that just need to grow. I didn’t see a deer all morning!

At 3:00 I headed out back to my bucket, but did not sit on it! I hid behind a triple trunk cherry tree and waited patiently with gun in hand, standing! I watched the field through the gaps in the tree trunks. After about fifteen minutes a fawn came out of the forest and started to graze in the same spot as last night. It is always good to see some activity, so I just sat and watched the fawn graze, while scanning the rest of the field every few minutes.

Then I noticed some movement about 150 feet further down along the same forest edge about 4:20 with the sun almost set. First a doe, then a fawn, then another fawn, then another doe and then the same spike buck as the evening before. Some of them stared to graze. The glint of the setting sun on yellow antler drew my eyes inside the forest edge. There behind this little herd of deer emerged the large ten point buck that we had been seeing on our camera. It was beautiful! It slowly moved along the field edge gradually getting closer to me and walking broadside. This would be a perfect shot, if I could get into position and make the shot. I was shooting the old fashioned way with open sites, no scope.

I lifted the rifle in between the tree trunks, cocked the hammer and released the safety. I was I little more excited than I anticipated and took a moment to calm down. Then I lined up the rear “V” site with the front “I” site and the chest of the buck. I pulled the trigger. Up and off he ran bursting back towards the woods, but I thought I detected a slight “stagger” as he took off.

I walked over to where I shot him, but there was nothing, no blood, no hair, no nothing. Maybe I missed him completely? It wouldn’t be the first one I missed! I started following the tracks and noticed a few specks of blood, so I did hit him! I followed the tracks and minor specks of blood and found him expired in the woods about 200 feet from where he was shot.

There was a quick walkie-talkie call to my son for help as the sun had set and it was getting dark and colder. We decided that I would start field dressing the deer while he walked up to help. Once we finished that, we dragged him a short way to one of our hiking/logging trails.

Down to the barn we hiked to get our tractor started, which sometimes doesn’t like to start on cold days. It had been about 30 degrees all day. It started with a little extra cranking. We hitched up a small wagon and drove it up to pick up the deer.

To clean it up, we drove it down to the house and washed it with a garden hose, so that it would be ready to be butchered. We agreed to give the deer to our neighbor the following day, so we took it to the barn to hang. Our neighbors will butcher the deer and use the meat during the upcoming year. Hanging the deer for our purposes allowed the body to cool down uniformly and helped to keep it clean and preserve the meat. We used a gambrel to this. The next day we were able to lower the deer into our wagon for delivery.

The antlers on this deer, although not in record territory, will make a nice mount. We will be making a skull mount on our own. We had a conversation with another neighbor about how to do this, which appears be possible by an amateur, with a little planning and a little work.

This was the first antlered deer I have ever shot. Although a minor milestone, it does feel like something has been accomplished. Hopefully, the tradition of going deer hunting with my son on opening day will continue into our tenth year. We have a great time each year regardless of whether we are successful hunters.

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Red Tailed Hawk Catching a Mouse!

Posted on August 26, 2015 by Leave a comment

In rural western NY State Red Tailed Hawks are very common to see flying, soaring and calling overhead. It is somewhat unusual to catch them capturing lunch. We apologize for the photo quality, but we still wanted to do a post about the event. We were lucky the camera caught both the catch and the “fly away”. In the fields and pastures here there is an abundance of mice and meadow voles. A meadow vole is a larger mouselike animal with a short tail. These rodents are a frequent meal for owls, hawks, foxes, and snakes.

Red Tailed Hawk Catching a Meadow Vole

Red Tailed Hawk Catching a Meadow Vole

This Red Tailed Hawk has flown down and ambushed what we think is a meadow vole based on its somewhat large size and color. The hawk has taken a moment to secure it’s catch and is flying off to a more private place to consume it’s meal.

Red tailed hawk flying away with it's catch!

Red tailed hawk flying away with it’s catch!

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Northern Red Belly Snake

Posted on August 15, 2015 by Leave a comment

In western NY State we have seen Northern Red Belly Snakes for 50 years. They hang out on our south facing back door stoop which is basically a very large flat stone which backs up to the concrete foundation. There are some other joining stones which provide hiding spaces for the snakes. The snakes are attracted to this area because the rocks hold heat. The warm rocks warm the cold blooded snakes. We used to call these snakes “Red Bellied Racers”. This door stoop area is also attractive to garter snakes. They both seem to be comfortable sharing the same space. Both types of snakes are relatively harmless small to mediums size snakes. We could classify the Red Belly Snake as a small snake. It only gets to be about a foot long (12 inches). The Red Belly Snake is a very friendly, easy to handle snake.

Northern Red Belly Snake

Northern Red Belly Snake

The Red Belly Snake gives birth to live young. They are nonvenomous snakes. They eat slugs, earthworms and insects. There have always been a lot of ants around our back stoop. I suspect they eat eat ants. We like having the snakes around and we do not chase them away or try to harm them.

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Eastern Smooth Green Snake

Posted on August 14, 2015 by Leave a comment

In our location in western NY State we are fortunate to have the Eastern Smooth Green Snake living near us. We only see this snake every couple of years, but have been seeing it for over 50 years. The green snake is a “friendly” snake that is relatively easy to hold and it will become relatively relaxed while being held. Green snakes do not make good pet snakes because they rarely survive in captivity. It is a small to medium size snake normally being 14-20 inches in length. It’s color varies in shades of green from quite dull to almost brilliant green, with a white or yellow belly. Green snakes are nonvenomous. They use their tongue by flicking it in and out of their mouth to smell what is around it. Their tongue is red and black. They have no ears and detect vibrations to evaluate their surroundings.

Eastern Smooth Green Snake

Eastern Smooth Green Snake

Amphibians, Reptiles and Birds have a cloaca which is a single opening that is used for intestinal, urinary and reproductive body functions. On the under side of the end of the tail you can see a line which looks different. This is the opening or cloaca. Sometimes snakes will discharge a substance that has a very foul smell from this opening, when they are handled. This substance can be washed off after handling the snake. Getting this substance on you is a minor inconvenience compared to the adventure of handling a snake. When capturing and handling a snake, if you are relaxed and gentle, the snake is less likely to discharge this substance.

E. Smooth Green Snake Showing the Cloaca

E. Smooth Green Snake Showing the Cloaca

Green snakes mate in the spring and summer and lay eggs from June to September. They usually lay two clutches containing four to six eggs. The eggs are laid in natural cavities in or near the ground. The eggs are white and oval and are about one inch in length. The eggs usually hatch within 23 days.

The Beautiful Green Snake

The Beautiful Green Snake

Green snakes feed on a variety of insects and spiders, snails, worms, and slugs. They prefer to live in areas with a combination of open vegetation and shrubs. They need moisture to live which makes a nearby water source important to survival during dry periods. Snakes are cold blooded animals and lie in the sun on rocks or logs to keep warm. Snakes are often seen near a rock pile or building which holds the heat into the evening and overnight. Green snakes have predators that eat them. Their predators include the red tailed hawk, great blue herron, bears, raccoons, and foxes.

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