Spunky Skunk vs Cowed Cougar
October 11, 2019 10:11 AM | Posted in: ,

In yesterday's post, I described my uneasy efforts to release a skunk from a trap. During that process, I kept reminding myself to not get complacent; just because I'd never been sprayed, I shouldn't think it couldn't happen. It didn't, and even though I eventually had to agitate the animal a bit to get it to leave, it never made any threatening motions.

In fact, in my experience -- admittedly limited and YMMV -- skunks are pretty chill. And when you think about it, there's good reason: their defense mechanism is probably one of the most effective on the planet, and humans aren't the only ones to recognize that fact. Case in point is the following video originating from Canada, in which a cougar (the mountain lion kind, not the older-woman-predator kind) discovers that his threat pales alongside a skunk's.



One suspects that the cougar has learned about the skunk's odoriferous emanations the hard way, although that begs the question of whether cougars are really so stupid as to think that another encounter would yield a different outcome. Or, maybe, it was just that hungry.

Anyway, the apparent lesson for us less-stinky humans is that when we need a boost in self-confidence, we simply need to picture ourselves as skunks. [insert political figure joke here]
Update (10/11/19): The events described below reminded me that skunks are probably the most confident mammals on the planet. Here's some visual evidence of that premise.
'Cause what'cha gonna do with a cowboy
When that old rooster crows at dawn
When he's lyin' there instead of getttin' out of bed
And puttin' on his boots and gettin' gone
What you gonna do when he says honey
I've got half a mind to stay
What'cha gonna do with a cowboy
When he don't saddle up and ride away
Last night was a perfect storm of terribleness from a trapping perspective. I awoke to find both armadillo traps half sprung, indicating that they either malfunctioned when an animal entered and/or a trapped armadillo managed to extricate itself (the latter has happened before, as I've grudgingly shared).

It was bad enough that one or more armadillos eluded capture and continued to ravage our lawn, but I peered over the fence and found that instead of the usual raccoon...it was one of those black-and-white-striped kitties, aka una mofeta, aka a skunk. Great. Just. Great.

Photo - Skunk inside trap

Photo - I and my defensive beach towel approach the trapOf course, this isn't my first skunk rodeo [see here and here and *sigh* here; there was actually a fourth one that I didn't even bother to disclose], but it's been almost a year and 33 raccoons since one managed to get itself incarcerated.

I was in no real hurry to deal with it, and it was curling up for a nap as is the norm for skunks around daybreak, so MLB and I went for a run and I tried to remember the correct sequence of events that yield an untrapped skunk and an unsprayed trapper.

At one point during the run, we briefly discuss the idea of calling the city animal services folks and letting them deal with it, but I decided against that since our lawn guys were due this morning and I wanted the skunk gone before they arrived.

So, upon our return I armed myself with an old beach towel and an utterly inappropriate feeling of confidence and began the methodical process of (1) covering the trap, (2) opening the trap, and (3) preparing to run like the wind (or at least a vigorous amble) when the skunk sprang from its prison. 

Steps (1) and (2) went off in a rather boring -- for you readers, at least -- fashion. Step (3)? Not so much. As it turned out, el seƱor mofeta was rather content in his now-darkened bedroom. And, after all, it was past his bedtime. In other word, he wasn't coming out. 

And he didn't.

And he didn't.

Photo - Skunk resting peacefully inside trap

An hour later, the trap was still open and he was still snoozing inside it. Our lawn service hadn't shown up, but I figured they would at any time, so I took a more aggressive stance against the snoozing varmint.

I have a tree limb pruner mounted on an extendable pole, and I figured I could at least uncover the cage from a [hopefully] safe distance using it. It worked very well, in fact, and now the skunk had a little window in the side of the trap from which to look before returning to its nap. Really?

I began gently rocking the cage by pushing the pole against it. That did result in the skunk getting to its feet and sleepily assessing the situation. But it still didn't seem interested in leaving.

I finally jiggled the cage a bit more aggressively, and after almost three hours the skunk warily exited the trap and wandered slowly toward the creek (and away from me, so I didn't have to put my own escape plan into action).

Photo - Skunk exiting trap

After a lengthy consultation with myself, I think I'll put the trapping endeavors on hold for a while. Lawns are overrated anyway.

For purposes of maintaining the Very Important Accurate Historical Record, here's the scorecard as of today. Please study carefully; there will be a quiz later.

Graphic - Critter Trapping Scorecard

"So," I'm sure you're thinking, "what's with the 'poetry' at the top of the page?" Well, I'm glad you asked. Those are the lyrics of the chorus from a song entitled Whatcha Gonna Do With A Cowboy, performed [YouTube it if you wish] by the late Chris LeDoux and the very much still with us Garth Brooks. I thought the lyrics were appropriate for this topic if you substitute "skunk" for "cowboy" and ignore all the other cowboy references and, you know, it all sounded a lot better in my head. But, then, so do most of my posts.

Fowl Lurkers
September 26, 2019 9:23 AM | Posted in: ,

I was sitting in our home office a few days ago, arranging books in the shelf by cover color in ROYGBIV order, as one does, when I received a text. MLB was in the den, and texted me, as one does when the other party is fifty feet away.

Screen capture of the text

Despite the critical importance of my book arranging endeavor, I left it immediately and rushed - well, more of an amble, to be exact -- into the den. Sure enough, there was the unmistakable sound of something remarkably clumsy attempting to rappel down our chimney.

As I headed into the back yard to get a view of our chimney, a large bird exploded (note: this is a figurative reference; birds have rarely literally exploded in our back yard) from the pecan-less pecan tree. I initially thought it was a hawk, but it turned out to be a buzzard...which was unusual, but not unheard of. It was a portent of things to come, and those things arrived immediately as I turned around to get a view of our roof.

Photo of four buzzards perched on the chimney

Buzzards are graceful in flight, but equally clumsy afoot, and the noise we were hearing was generated by their claws attempting to gain purchase on the metal cover and flashing on the chimney.

Photo of buzzards perched on the roof

Stepping back a few more feet, I saw at least five more of the big scavengers on the roof, plus another gaggle (with apologies to geese) in the trees. I was eventually able to shoo them away, but I never figured out why they had graced us with their presence.

Granted, we had earlier returned from a hot and sweaty run and probably resembled roadkill, so perhaps they were sensing an imminent demise which would require their services.

Lo siento...you may one day feast on our tortured remains, but that day is not today, mis amigos.

Cartoon vulture

It's that time of the year when the pecan trees in our back yard begin to earn their keep by producing, well, pecans. We certainly look forward to a great harvest of that nutty goodness, with visions of pies and ice cream toppings and pecan-crusted tilapia dancing in our heads...which is where those visions will stay because since we bought this house three years ago, we have yet to taste a single homegrown pecan thanks to the ever-increasing population of squirrels.

It's bad enough that they chow down on our pecan crop before it even matures, but they add insult to injury because they drop the discarded pieces of nut onto our deck. This creates a real mess as well as a good approximation of a lego-strewn floor for the unwary barefooted resident (i.e. us). We actually can't sit on our deck during the day because of the continuous deluge.

You're probably thinking, "well, how bad could that really be?" I'm glad you asked. Just drag the yellow bar on the photo below to the left to see a before-and-after comparison to show the effects of the pecan bits raining down.

Back yard deck after 3 hours 'Clean back yard deck

I'm not sure these photos do justice to the actual situation. It's important to understand that this mess was created in a space of three hours, and is repeated every three hours during the day until ALL. THE. PECANS. ARE. GONE. In fact, the annoyance factor is so high that I actually went to the trouble of setting up a GoPro camera to film a time lapse of the phenomenon:

Time lapse sequence of pecan pieces dropped by squirrels onto our deck
This will be Exhibit A in my self-defense strategy if I'm ever hauled in for shooting up our trees with a 12-gauge.

This is, of course, a fairly short-lived problem, given that over the course of a week or so, the squirrels will completely decimate the pecan crop and go back to simply chewing our chair cushions. And, frankly, because our trees are a native variety (rather than one of those PED-amped hybrids), the nuts aren't really very good. But it's the principle of the thing, you know?

If you've followed this blog long enough, you know that I've always been partial to mammals of the Sciuridae persuasion, but I've just about reached the limit of my tolerance. (Plus, they dug up my DIY pecan pie!) I've even started to think about a solution.

Bass Pro Shop online listing for a Ruger air rifle
Firing shotguns within the city limits is frowned upon. This is not a shotgun.

Four-footed Follies
August 14, 2019 3:07 PM | Posted in: ,

Update (8/14/19): I guess I should complain about the weather more often. Shortly after posting this, we had a brief rain shower...almost two tenths of an inch. That won't break the drought, but it certainly was enjoyable.

We've gone more than a month without measurable rainfall and the creek will likely cease flowing within the next week or so if the depressing 10-day weather forecast is accurate. The city is in a catch-22 position of banning vacant lot and pasture mowing because of the danger of wildfires resulting from sparks...but that leaves a LOT of combustible material in the fields. 

Most of the hummingbirds have deserted us, and even the cicadas seem to have given up (as has our lawn). But the heat hasn't seemed to slow down the parade of animals past Casa de Fire Ant and into our traps. 

Here's the latest tally, as of this morning (this is a cumulative total dating back to August, 2017, when we moved into the house):

Critter trapping scorecard

I updated the totals to account for the possum that wandered into the cat food-baited trap. The possum count is a bit misleading. Since I don't relocate possums, it's likely (probable) I'm trapping the same one over and over. They don't seem to be the sharpest knives in the critter drawer, although MLB has a different take. As she puts it, "they get a free meal inside a safe enclosure, and get released after a few hours so they can do it again that night; what's not to like?" I can't really argue with that logic.

But, they're still stupid. Even after I open the trap, it takes an average of an hour before they figure out they're free to leave.

Possum in cage
This morning's possum awaiting his MENSA invitation

However, in an overabundance of fairness, I'll give it the benefit of a doubt and assume that it's being cautious, given one of its fellow mammals that's continued to lurk in our neighborhood. 

Animated gif: bobcat

Yep, the bobcat is back. The above series of photos was taken a couple of nights ago, and this marks the third appearance -- that I've been able to capture on camera -- in about a month. These frames give a little better idea of the size of the cat. The cage in the foreground is 32" long and 13" tall.

Of course, possums and bobcats aren't the only visitors. Up until a couple of days ago, I was catching a raccoon every night. That action is no longer newsworthy...until something unexpected shows up. Take a look at this 30-second video:


The raccoon had been in the trap a while before the fox wandered up and took notice of the caged critter. If you watch closely, you'll see the fox bark at the raccoon (who doesn't seem to be the least bit exercised by the fox's presence, or apparent threats). 

I can't help wondering if the fox has tangled with a raccoon in the past, given its unwillingness to get too close. My guess is that a raccoon can more than hold its own in a battle with a fox. They're smart and probably fight dirty.

As far as the fox's bark goes, while the game camera doesn't capture audio, I was able to find an accurate rendering of the animal's vocalizations. Based on this, it's easy to come to the conclusion that carrying rabies isn't the worst characteristic of the fox.



Please accept my apologies for resurrecting this...music. I blame the heat.
Alert Gazette readers will remember how I teased them with this preview of potential Independence Day bicycle decorations in preparation for our participation in the local (Horseshoe Bay) parade. The final modest result pictured below belies the hour or so of toil in the sauna-like confines of a garage in the middle of a Texas summer. It also doesn't capture the copious amounts of gaffer tape and nylon cable ties employed to ensure that decorations stayed comfortably (and safely) away from such operating mechanisms as brakes, chains, shifters, and wheels.

OTOH, it DOES show that we were appropriately patriotic (or, if you prefer, garish and gaudy), and ready to parade.

MLB and I pose with our decorated recumbent tandem
Photo courtesy of the very personable golf cart driver who had
the misfortune of following us in the parade.

This was our second year to ride in the HSB parade, and it was a lot of fun.  This year we were blessed with cool and cloudy conditions, unlike the Great Heatstroke Tour of 2018. The route is short -- less than 1 1/2 miles -- and lined with people of all ages from start to finish (plus a leashed pig wearing an Uncle Sam hat). There are scores of decorated golf carts, cars and truck both old and new, and the obligatory appearances of city dignitaries riding in convertibles and fire trucks. And, of course, one weird recumbent tandem bicycle.

With all due immodesty, I confess that our bike gets some of the most animated reactions from onlookers, and especially the kids. The procession moves slowly enough to allow some interaction with the spectators, and it's a blast to hear the comments. And one media photographer was apparently impressed.

Photo in the Horseshoe Bay Beacon of us riding our bike in the parade
They even spelled our names correctly.

This photo appeared in the July 11 edition of the weekly Horseshoe Bay Beacon, and ours was the only non-dignitary-transporting vehicle that made the paper. Granted, we appeared on page 9 (of a 12-page edition), but at least we were above the fold.

Disclaimer: I know, I know. Helmets. We do normally wear them. But our average speed in the parade was about 2 mph, and I doubt that we ever exceeded 4 mph, so give us a break this one time, how 'bout? Of course, at those speeds there is a distinct challenge of staying upright, so perhaps we were pushing the boundary. But that's how we roll. [Heh]

I had originally intended to use our new celebrity status as a soapbox to address some bicycle/motor vehicle interaction etiquette issues, but I think I'll save that for another day. The main takeaway would simply be: please don't run over us, even when we're not so obviously patriotic. Thanks very much!

Oh, yeah; I almost forgot. Thanks to the post-holiday sale at Hobby Lobby, next year's decorating scheme will be even more awesome. Stay tuned.
A couple of weeks ago I spotted something in the adjacent vacant lot that looked out of place. It was a turtle -- a Texas river cooter (Pseudemys texana) to be precise -- in the process of creating a "nest" in which to deposit eggs. Being the insensitive-and-nosy jerk I am, I immediately set up a couple of cameras on tripods to record the process. (Alert Gazette readers will recall that this isn't my first turtle-egg-laying rodeo.)

While I didn't catch the mother-to-be at the very beginning of her quest, she was early in the process and I was able to video and photograph it through the very end, and it took a couple of hours (and a few swap-outs to recharge batteries). 

The nest building process is fascinating to me. The turtle had picked out a seemingly random location about a seventy-five yards from the creek where she resided. Using only her back legs, she dug a hole at least nine inches deep. The soil was completely dry when she started, but somehow during the process she emitted enough water to create a muddy environment before laying the eggs. When the laying process started, after each egg was deposited, she pushed it down into the hole with a hind leg. That action seemed to be rude and rough, but the leathery shells weren't damaged, nor were their contents (I assume).

I didn't hang around to observe the entire two hours, but I did check back in time to watch the actual egg-laying, and I counted at least eleven eggs. 

Photo - Turtle laying egg
Turtle egg being deposited in new nest

Once all eggs were deposited, she reversed the initial process. Again, using only her hind legs, the turtle pulled dirt and plant material back over the nest, and arranged it so that it was completely unobtrusive, even to a close visual inspection.
By the way, turtles get no respect when it comes to baby animal names. "Hatchling" is about as generic as it gets. I think they deserve better, so I propose something like "turtleini." Or "turtle tot." Or "turtlette."

OK, maybe we'll just stick with "hatchling."
Photo - Camouflaged turtle nest
Would you have known there were a dozen turtle eggs hidden beneath this patch of ground?

It was gratifying to think that we might be able to observe the hatchlings in three-to-four months.

Or not.

As it turns out, Mother Nature is often cruel and capricious. A mere day later, I walked past the nest and it resembled a miniature bomb crater. What was indiscernible to the human eye was apparently easily discovered by one of the several species of predators that live around the creek. I counted at least eight eggs in various states of consumption (and one still whole but obviously damaged). The only remaining question was: which varmint was to blame?

Photo - Ravaged turtle nest
The ravaged nest, circled in blue; egg remains are circled in yellow

I theorized that whatever had attacked the nest was likely to return at least one more time, so I pointed my game camera toward that general vicinity. Sure enough, the answer appeared when I downloaded the contents of the SD card onto my computer the next morning...and that answer was a bit shocking to me. Here's a screen capture from the short video captured by the camera:

Photo - Armadillo digging in turtle nest
Yes, it's an armadillo, digging back into the remains of the nest.

If an armadillo would have been at the bottom of your list of potential turtle egg eaters, join the club. But, according to the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management (a website for which the armadillo should be the centerfold, IMHO), the species is omnivorous to an extent I never considered. I'll save you a click and give you this excerpt from the ICWDM website:

The eating habits of armadillos

(Parenthetically, [Ed. -- This is redundant since it's already enclosed by parentheses.] this behavior received additional confirmation a few days ago when I found an armadillo in a raccoon trap baited with cat food.)

So, in the end, the river cooter's diligent efforts will likely come to naught, although it may be possible that a couple of the first eggs were deep enough to escape the marauding mammal. Such is life in the wild kingdom we call our neighborhood.

The following video is a condensed compilation of the footage I gathered over the duration of the events described above. If you have 8 1/2 minutes to burn and find moving pictures more interesting than my rambling text, feel free to check it out.


Rocket Raccoon beating up grass
Actual game camera footage from our front yard

The weather isn't the only thing heating up around Casa de Fire Ant. As I've previously documented -- feel free to scroll through past entries; I'm too lazy to find the links -- our newly sodded front lawn has been an irresistible siren call to armadillos and raccoons bent on destruction. The situation devolved to the point where I purchased an additional trap for each species, with mixed results. More on that later.

Education can be painful, particularly at my age, but it's still worthwhile, and what we've learned lately is that the worst of the damage that I've attributed to armadillos is actually more likely being caused by raccoons. We've found several reports of newly-laid sod being rolled up like a rug, and the culprits are NOT the bulldozing armadillos that I've been blaming. That doesn't absolve the armored raiders from all blame; they just tend to create shell craters instead of scorching the earth.

But not all the "education" has been effective. Desperation can lead to trying some weird-sounding tactics. For example, one of the anti-critter tips that MLB ran across was that raccoons and armadillos disliked the smell/taste of (1) cayenne powder and (b) garlic powder. She followed that advice and for several days our front yard smelled like an Italian restaurant. Seriously...you could detect the aroma from a block away.

This tactic actually seemed to work for a while, although I worried about the effects on the lawn of the spice dumping. And, of course, we had to start over after every rainfall or bi-weekly watering. And, eventually, it seemed that the garlic just made the turf more like a tasty salad for the varmints.

So, we moved onto the next tip, which alleged that raccoons don't like to walk on weird surfaces (my interpretation). There was a recommendation for putting down bird netting in the areas frequented by the animals. I was skeptical, but we were desperate, so off to Home Depot went MLB and she returned with a hundred dollars worth of netting and garden staples. We spent a few hours yesterday putting down almost 2,000 square feet of netting around the perimeter of our front lawn (which has four sections subdivided by sidewalks and driveways, so the perimeter of the grass is larger than you might think). 


I had visions of waking up this morning to find animals hopelessly entangled, like dolphins in ghost nets, and actually lost some sleep wondering how I would go about freeing an angry raccoon from such a snare. I thought about searching Amazon for "suit of armor." (Of course they have one.)

The good news is that I didn't have to unwrap a mammal. The bad news is that armadillos don't give a whit about bird netting. They managed to cross no-man's land, as it were, and continue to divotize the lawn.

Photo - bird netting covering a section of lawn
Bird netting is apparently not the threat nor hindrance we were led to believe.

There was a silver lining. As I mentioned above, I now have two raccoon traps, and both of them were filled with raccoons this morning. This represents significant and heartening progress in our quest for a lawn that doesn't resemble a battleground. And, interestingly, the double trapping occurred by yet another tip that actually worked.

I had always known that raccoons had a fondness for cat and dog food, but since I had had good success with the sardines, I continued with the smelly, messy baiting. But it had been more than a few nights since I'd trapped a raccoon, and I had game cam footage showing them ignoring a baited trap. I have no idea why they'd apparently lost interest in sardines, but I decided to buy a small cheap bag of cat food at the store on Monday, and that's what I used as bait in both traps last night (I used my last can of sardines -- again, in vain -- on Monday night).

My hope is that getting rid of this pair of raccoons will at least give our lawn some time to recover, and allow me to concentrate on the wily armadillos. I'm not naive enough to believe I've solved our problems, but as you can see by the following tallies, the past month hasn't been unproductive. So, unless I'm trapping animals that someone else has trapped elsewhere and dumped into our neighborhood (sadly, not an impossible situation), I have to think I'm making a dent in the natural population of varmints.

Graphic showing tally of trapped animals as of 5 June 2019
Trapped animal tally as of 6 June 2019

Graphic showing tally of trapped animals as of 5 June 2019
Trapped animal tally as of 9 July 2019

I'll save you some math: in just over a month, that's 7 raccoons, 5 armadillos, 2 possums, and 1 slow-learning feral cat which I caught multiple times but counted only once. Actually, I may have caught the same possum twice, but they all look the same to me. I hope that doesn't sound speciest.

Raptor in Flight
July 2, 2019 8:14 PM | Posted in: ,

Alert Gazette readers will recall that we have a[t least one] (possibly murderous) red-shouldered hawk living abiding in the trees adjacent to our house. He or she (or they) frequently fly around the vicinity and since we're not small mammals, it's a treat to see them and to listen to their plaintive cries.

I'm hardly ever (read: never) able to video the hawks in flight because they're fast and I'm not, but one recently flew into the frame of my game camera and triggered a short video. I find the flight of raptors somewhat fascinating, and I pulled a few frames of that video into a short gif.

Animated gif of a flying red-shouldered hawk

Pretty cool, huh?

This animated gif is eight frames of still photos, six of which actually show the hawk in flight. Following are those six frames in their uncropped splendor. The contraption in the foreground is one of my armadillo traps (sadly ineffective on this particular day).

Photo - flying red-shouldered hawk
Photo - flying red-shouldered hawk
Photo - flying red-shouldered hawk
Photo - flying red-shouldered hawk
Photo - flying red-shouldered hawk
Photo - flying red-shouldered hawk

The only thing that could have improved this sequence of photos is if the hawk was carrying a raccoon in its talons.
It's been an interesting week or so here at Casa de Fire Ant, thanks to the endless parade of wildlife traipsing past our abode, occasionally stopping to destroy our lawn on their way to whatever other endeavors attract them. 

Last week, we went out of town for a couple of days but I left my game camera activated to see what went on in our absence. That turned out to be a wise decision, from this amateur naturalist's perspective. I've stitched together something like a "best of" compilation from the several hundred photos and short videos recorded by the camera.



While the buzzards provided a bit of comic relief, the obvious star of the show is the bobcat that appears around the one minute mark of the video. We had recently heard reports of a bobcat in the neighborhood but this was the first time since we moved here two years ago that I've actually captured an image of one. Here are another couple of looks at the big cat:

Photo - Bobcat at night
Note the distinctive black bands on the front legs, a distinguishing mark of the species.

Photo - Bobcat at night
The bobcat's name derives from its stubby tail; the spots on the fur are another distinction.

The bobcat appeared on camera again, a couple of nights later, at almost the same early morning time. It walked so close to the camera that this is the only image that was captured.

Photo - Bobcat at night

A day or so later, I noticed a flurry of activity on the ground in the vacant lot on the west side of our house. It was a gathering of buzzards, and even from a distance I could see that they were intent on devouring something.

Photo - Four buzzards in a live oak tree
Four buzzards in a live oak tree

I walked over and the scavengers flew into nearby trees, unwilling to completely abandon their meal, which, to my dismay, was a whitetail fawn. The carcass was significantly damaged, but I couldn't discern whether that was due to the work of the buzzards or evidence of the fatal attack by...something.

Of course, my immediate thought was that the bobcat was responsible; its repeated appearance in conjunction with the dead fawn seemed like more than coincidence. Bobcats are known to take young deer, even though the latter are often larger than the cat.

However, the more I learned about both the bobcat and the other predators that prey on fawns, the less sure I became about the identity of the perpetrator. It seems that bobcats don't usually leave their prey after a kill. It's also entirely possible that a raptor such as a hawk or an eagle could kill a very young fawn, and there are red-shouldered hawks nesting in the trees (see photos below) near where I found the carcass. (I was also told that caracaras have been known to prey upon fawns -- yeah, I had to look them up, too. I've never seen one but that doesn't mean they're not around. The Audubon link shows that they're "uncommon" in this part of Texas; their common Texas habitat is in the far southern part of the state.)

Photo - Red-shouldered hawk sunning itself next to our driveway
Red-shouldered hawk sunning itself next to our driveway

Photo - Red-shouldered hawk nest
This hawk nest is about fifty feet above the ground, in a tree in the same vacant lot where the fawn carcass was found.

At the end of the day, the mystery of the deceased fawn is still just that: a mystery. I still lean toward the bobcat as the prime suspect, but we haven't even considered that a copperhead or rattlesnake dispatched the little guy. It's a tough world out there, sometimes, and the story doesn't always have a happy ending.