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.
[Ed. note -- This is actually a Random Thursday (Monday edition) post, but the author has overridden staff protests in order to use, in his words, "an ever-so-cute" headline.]

First, please feel free to ignore my editor's snarky comment, which stems from an obvious case of envy. Those who can't write, edit.

The Artwork Detective Saga Continues

Alert Gazette readers will recall a couple of previous posts -- here and here -- about Atlantic Richfield's Corporate artwork collection and my minor role in helping to dispose of it following BP's devouring acquisition of ARCO. Even though it all took place more than a decade ago, I still get occasional inquiries about it from various "stakeholders" who have apparently exhausted all legitimate and credible sources of information. A lot of these inquiries originate in California, where ARCO was headquartered, and I'm able to answer almost none of their questions since I only dealt with the artwork in the Midland (Texas) office.

But I received an email last week from someone in Midland asking about a specific piece that they had acquired. They had the artist's last name and an ARCO-assigned serial number and asked if I had any additional information about the piece. I pulled up the old inventory and, sure enough, found the artwork in question (an intaglio print from 1972). The person expressed excitement over the new info, but then asked if I had any information regarding the value of the print.

I did have an appraisal spreadsheet provided by the Corporate department, but when I opened it, there was no value assigned to the piece in question. A review of the spreadsheet showed that only artwork appraised at more than $150 was assigned a value (there were pieces valued at up to $35,000 in our office, by the way), and thus if a piece had no appraisal, it was deemed to be of little value. I conveyed this information to the owner, expecting a response of disappointment. 

Instead, I received this in reply:
Thanks Eric for all of your help! I don't feel as nervous to give it to my grandson for his college dorm room now and he loves it!
I'm now excessively proud of the work I'm doing to decorate dorm rooms. I think I'll add this skill to my LinkedIn profile.

The Armadillo Destruction Continues

Alert Gazette readers will...ah, never mind. I've beat that one senseless. Anyway, despite having trapped four armadillos in the last week (I'm up to 29 in total), they continue to wreak havoc on our newly sodded front lawn. Lest you accuse me of exaggeration (which, admittedly, is almost always a sure bet), here's some photographic proof of the typical damage we find each morning.

Photo - Lawn damaged by armadillos

I don't have a "before" photo for comparison, as I never anticipated needing one, but I assure you that this area was nothing but smooth green turf, pre-armadillo. I confess to a complete loss of patience, and if I didn't think the neighbors would complain, there would be no future live catch-and-release in effect, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Photo - Armadillo Excavator (Excadillo)
An actual unretouched photo of the Excavator sub-species of armadillo (Dasypodidae cavator horribilis)

The Fourth of July Decorating Commences

The city of Horseshoe Bay has an Independence Day parade* every year and it's open to anyone with a vehicle capable of going a couple of miles down city streets. So, last year MLB and I decorated our tandem recumbent bicycle and pedaled along the route, sandwiched between a Seventies-era Mustang convertible and a 1953 Mercury convertible. We hung a few flags from the bike, put some red, white and blue glittery wreaths on the rear rack and wrapped the frame with decorative ribbon, and we felt pretty festive.

We're planning to do it again this year, but obviously need to step it up a bit, so we hit the Michael's in Bee Cave and came away with more ribbon, plus the stuff pictured below. I'm especially excited about the double pinwheel, which I plan on mounting on the front of the bike. My only fear is that I'll be hypnotized by the spinning colors and we'll fall off in front of the throngs lining the street. Wouldn't be the first time, but that's another story for another time. Or never.

Photo - Fourth of July decorations

*They actually have three parades. One takes place on the lake and is for boats (duh), and another is a short jaunt for kids on bikes and trikes. Pretty sure we don't qualify for either of these.
Note: The following contains critical armadillo trapping advice. Ignore it at your own peril. You've been warned. There's also a walking stick gif.

Alert Gazette readers will recall the account of my armadillo trapping woes, wherein the creatures were zooming in and out of the malfunctioning trap as if it were a port-a-potty next to a Tijuana taco stand*. 

This situation quickly escalated from a frustrating inconvenience into a costly debacle as the armadillo(s) began to cause significant damage to the several thousand dollars worth of new zoysia sod installed in our yard. I'm not talking about a few holes here and there. The animals were actually burrowing under entire sections of sod and rolling them up like rugs. I was desperate for a solution.

I went so far as to use a Dremel tool to smooth any rough edges on the trap doors and the side channel guides to reduce the possibility of binding when they dropped down. I tested the trap and it seemed to work perfectly, but the next morning (and the morning after that), I found one door dropped and the other one halfway down and in a bind, indicating (or so I thought) another in-and-out armadillo escape. And our lawn continued to look like a used-up minefield. I finally gave up and ordered a new trap.

Photo showing bottom door groove in the trapThe new trap arrived yesterday and as I unpacked and assembled it, I took the unprecedented step of reading the instructions and tips that came with it. This caught my eye: Armadillos are messy. When they are caught, they will cause dirt to fill the bottom door grooves. Clean them from time to time, or the doors will not close properly.

"Whoa!" I thought, "what if the problem is not that the doors aren't falling shut, but that they're being forced open again by a trapped armadillo?" I had never considered this possibility, but when I inspected the trap I found that the bottom door grooves were indeed packed with dirt so that the doors dropped down level with the floor...and the armadillos were able to either nose one of them up, or reach under with a claw. The purpose of that groove was obviously to prevent the animal from lifting up the door from the bottom. And what I assumed was a trap door that stuck on the way down was actually one that had been put in a bind when it was lifted by the escaping animal.

It was a simple matter to test this theory. I cleaned out the grooves and placed the trap along the path where they normally ambled before diving into our lawn (they are definitely creatures of habit). And this morning when I looked outside, both doors were down and there was a snoozing-and-securely-trapped armadillo inside.

The irony is that while my enlightenment came as a result of reading the material that accompanied the new trap, the new trap trapped nothing last night, while the old trap did the work. Anyway, I'm not naive enough to think there's only one armadillo in our neck of the neighborhood, and now I've got both sides of the yard armed and ready for additional action.

Oh, and here's the updated headcount, in case you're wondering:

Graphic showing number of trapped animals, including 25 armadillos and 21 raccoons

And here's a walking stick gif, because not everything is about mammals:

Animated gif of a walking stick


*I have no idea what this means, but I'm told it's always a good idea to add a simile or metaphor or something to otherwise boring narrative.
Armadillo blithely walking past trap (animated gif)

It's been awhile since we've published a Random Thursday article [Ed--After reviewing this, it's obvious that it hasn't been long enough.]

Trapping Fails

Following a very quiet winter and early spring in which I actually contemplated the notion that I had trapped out the nuisance wildlife population in our immediate neighborhood. Lately, however, our game camera has captured images of cavorting raccoons and armadillos, and while I myself have been known to cavort, I draw the line at the divots those animals have begun to inflict upon our lawn. So, out came the traps.

I did catch one raccoon last week, but as the images above and below demonstrate, my attempts to corral the armadillo have been futile. The gif at the top of this page shows the 'dillo blithely traipsing by the open trap. They follow the same path pretty much every night, but I managed to miss that path by about a foot.

The following gif demonstrates a more frustrating situation, wherein the armadillo actually enters and activates the trap, but one door drops only half way, and the animal makes a u-turn and walks out the same way it walked in. As it turns out, the trap wasn't completely level, so one of the doors was caught in a bind.

Armadillo escaping from trap (animated gif)

In the immortal words of Snidely Whiplash...Curses! Foiled again!

Update (05/29/19): And the fails just keep coming. I trapped a raccoon overnight but waited until after breakfast to haul it away. That gave it enough time to bang into the trapdoor and escape. Does it have enough discipline to avoid the temptation of more sardines tonight? We shall see.

Texas Music

MLB and I spent last weekend in Fredericksburg (that's Texas, y'all, not Virginia) at the annual Crawfish Festival (which has been the subject of a previous Gazette post), and we spent several hot and humid hours over two days dancing to a variety of music, mostly country but also zydeco and rock & roll. On Saturday evening, we cruised over to Hondo's for stacked enchiladas, and stuck around for some dancing on their patio. It was a fun time, made more so by the musical antics of the Mitch Jacobs Band

I suspect that most of margarita-fueled crowd at Hondo's didn't even notice that the lead singer inserted an entire verse of The Who's Pinball Wizard into the band's rendition of Folsom Prison Blues...but I certainly did. Can't quite get a handle on it? Try these lyrics with this tune:

He ain't got no distractions
Can't hear those buzzers and bells
Don't see lights a flashin'
Plays by sense of smell
Always gets a replay
Never seen him fall
That deaf dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pin ball

It works, right? The only logical question might be "why?" but there's no logic in Texas music.

Later on, the band performed the Waylon Jennings classic, Luckenbach, Texas, and the singer took the liberty of impersonating Willie Nelson, Julio Iglesias, and -- wait for it -- Bob Dylan. Again, I don't think he got the crowd reaction his skillful performance deserved, but I was impressed.

The Dogs of John Wick

I took my truck in this afternoon for scheduled maintenance and [the always ridiculous] state inspection. Since the garage is within walking distance of the movie theater in Marble Falls, I suggested to MLB that she meet me there for the matinee of John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum. [As an aside, the use of both a colon AND a hyphen in a movie title is incontrovertible evidence of the producer's delusions of grandeur.]

If you're familiar with the John Wick franchise, you know that the main character has an affinity for dogs, and there's a canine sub-plot in each installment. JW:C3-P is no different, except there are TWO dog plots. Without spoiling anything, MLB and I both felt that some German Shepherds absolutely stole the show, without even being main characters. I suspect at least some of the dogs' performance was CGI-enhanced, but it was seamless with the actual animal acting which was nothing short of breathtaking. I wouldn't bother going to see the movie if you're only in it for the dog action -- the overall level of violence makes the first two seem like Mary Poppins spin-offs -- but if you know what you're getting into, the Shepherds elevate the action considerably.
Alert Gazette readers will recall this account of suspected predation of a nearby bird nest by a rat snake. As devastating as it surely was, the parents refused to be discouraged, went right back to work, and hatched another brood of birdlets (black phoebes, to be precise). To date, the new batch of nestlings has escaped victimization by viper and the siblings have grown to become the avian equivalent of millennials. Of course, that comes with a whole new set of challenges.

If you thought the snakes were tough, mom says something like..."hold my beer."

In a bit of serendipity, MLB happened to perceive some commotion on the back porch in the vicinity of said nest, and had the presence of mind to video the goings-on with her phone. The result is an extremely interesting bit of nature that I've only read about -- and even then, I've always thought it was fictionalized. I've stitched her video footage together with some of mine (things got even more interesting following her initial recording), and the following short video is the result. Feel free to take a look, then let's unpack what happened, shall we?



So, at the risk of overly anthropomorphizing the situation, this appears to be a case of a parent getting fed up with the kids who moved back home after college, and who spend their [brief] waking hours playing video games in the basement and not doing their own laundry. If any of you find yourselves in a similar situation with your progeny, perhaps you'll take some comfort in knowing that the instincts that you're barely suppressing are actually a normal occurrence in the natural world. 

Hawk in back yard pecan treeBut, we still have questions. To wit:

  • At least two nestlings were thrown out of the nest, but one was left. How did the parent decided which ones needed to go, and which one could stay?

  • After evicting the little bird from the nest, did the parent really warn it about the presence of the hawk, as I've theorized in the video? How else can we explain the quiet stillness of the little guy while the hawk was in the tree, given its animation before and after the hawk's appearance?

  • And finally, how much therapy will the remaining nestling need after witnessing the plight of its siblings?
If you care to weigh in on these ornithological puzzles, please do so. But until I hear a better explanation, I'll continue to assume that parental tough love doesn't preclude life-preserving behavior.


Late last month we were confronted with the sad sight of three nestlings that had apparently fallen from their nest attached to a stone column about ten feet above our back porch. Two of the baby birds were already deceased and the third would soon be. 

There was no sign of a disturbance in the nest, and the parents continued to fly to and from the nest. We were at a loss to explain why the nestlings would have fallen from their well-protected home. But, such is life (and death) in the natural world.

A few days later, early on a crisp April morning, we heard a commotion from some upset birds in the vicinity of the back porch. We went out to investigate and were greeted by a small snake, perhaps eighteen inches in length.

Photo - Juvenile rat snake

The snake was somewhat lethargic until I got close to it, when it became more animated. While it didn't seem particularly aggressive, I noticed one behavior that alarmed me just a bit. Animated gif of Rat snake vibrating its tail Pay close attention to the tail in the gif on the right (which I've slowed down by 50% and converted to black and white to save bandwidth). That vibrating tail is an easily recognized characteristic of a rattlesnake -- and this obviously was no rattler -- but it's also a behavior of some other species, including the copperhead, another venomous pit viper, and a species not uncommon in the Texas Hill Country. 

I'm not very familiar with copperheads, as they aren't normally found in the parts of West Texas where I spent most of my life, and my frame of reference for them was limited to the aforementioned tail-shaking behavior (they're thought to do this in the dry leaves where they're often found as a warning to would-be predators). Given that, I made the decision to dispatch the serpent, not wanting to take a chance on having a poisonous snake lurking around our back porch.

Later, after spending some time googling images of copperheads and other tail-shaking snakes, I came to the conclusion that I had misidentified the recently departed; it was, in fact, a juvenile rat snake.

I confess that I felt a bit of guilt about killing a non-poisonous snake. Rat snakes are useful for controlling the rodent population (although this one was probably too small to be much of a threat to anything but the tiniest of mice). I've never subscribed to the philosophy that the only good snake is a dead snake.

However...

MLB and I got to thinking about the agitated birds that brought the snake to our attention, and from there it was an easy mental leap to those unfortunate baby birds I mentioned at the top. And, unlike with copperheads, I do know a few things about rat snakes, including the facts that (1) they are skilled climbers, and (b) they've been known to raid bird nests.

Armed with this knowledge, and insight gained from year's of watching CSI, I deduced that those nestlings hadn't just accidentally fallen out of their nest, but were in fact panicked by the presence of something -- well, let's just say it: a snake -- and in their frantic state fell to their demise.

Now, I can't prove that the snake I killed was the same one that raided that nest, but I suspect it had climbed up the rock column to the nest seeking eggs...and further, that it had returned to the scene of the original crime. As I said, I can't prove any of this, but neither can I disprove it, and the facts seem to fit better than OJ's glove did.

Having reached that conclusion, I also conclude that karma was visited upon that snake in the form of a hoe wielded by yours truly. Justice was served.

Photo - Bird roosting in a nestThat's not the end of the story, however. The non-descript birds* have nested on that column for a couple of years, returning each spring to raise their young. I don't know their species, but I do know they're not barn swallows. Anyway, after losing that first set of younguns, I thought they might move on to more hospitable environs, but they're persistent little guys. We've noticed that one of them is often on the nest while the other keeps watch from a nearby rooftop or hummingbird feeder hanger. The photo at right was taken through the blinds of our bedroom window, hence the weird composition.
*Update (4/24/19): My pal Sam, amateur birdwatcher and all-around renaissance man par excellence, has identified the nesting birds as black phoebes.
Curiosity got the best of me this evening, and I affixed my phone to a tripod, fired up a video recording, and hoisted it up to where I hoped I would get some images of the contents of the nest. Sure enough, there are five eggs in the nest, and we can thus expect to see another batch of hatchlings in the near future. I hope their existence unfolds in a much happier manner.

Photo - Eggs in a nest

Mors Ab Alto*
April 17, 2019 10:32 AM | Posted in: ,

*With apologies to the 7th Bomb Wing, USAF

We returned home last Sunday afternoon after a whirlwind** 750-mile weekend trip to our old stamping grounds*** in West Texas, and as we drove over the low water crossing to pick up our mail, we saw that a squirrel had recently been hit by a car and lay dead in the street. Given that we have approximately forty thousand squirrels in our neighborhood, this wouldn't seem like much of a loss, but in this case it was a rock squirrel, and they are relatively rare. Alert Gazette readers may recall that we were involuntary hosts to a gaggle**** of young rock squirrels about this time last year. It was a little sad to think that perhaps a new batch of squirrelings were now missing a parent.

Anyway, the buzzards (aka "the biohazard remediation team in the sky") had begun to circle, and would eventually descend to their inevitable feast. We don't give them enough credit for the nasty-but-important work they do, but that's another story and we're all about staying on point here at the Gazette.

Later that evening, as I was firing up the grill to cook cedar plank tuna (the salmon at the grocery store not looking particularly appetizing on that day, none of which is really germane to the story), I heard a *plop* followed immediately by thrashing sounds in the vicinity of the pecan tree in our back yard. I looked up in time to see two buzzards land awkwardly in the tree -- they're quite graceful in flight, but their tree landings are about as smooth as a Trump tweet -- and another one aborting a landing and pulling back up into the sky.

The two big birds stayed in the tree for a few seconds, and then followed the third one into the air. That was rather odd behavior; I had never before seen a buzzard perched in any of our trees. But it was the *plop* that intrigued me. 

I wasn't mystified for long as I immediately spotted the source of the sound. I thought about posting a photo, but out of respect for the delicate sensibilities of the typical Gazette reader, I've chosen this artist's rendering as an accurate representation of the scene:



Using my massive investigatory skills, honed by years of watching CSI Miami (I've also mastered the technique of standing sideways as I address the always-guilty suspect, but that's also off-topic), I determined that the buzzards were quarreling over the now partially-eviscerated carcass (I've spared you that visual detail), and one of them attempted to abscond with the corpse. The others followed and in the dogfight****** that ensued, the cadaver was dropped onto the lawn next to our porch. I'm sure the buzzards would have continued their dinner dispute had I not been present, but instead they continued to circle overhead for a while until they peeled off, one by one, in search of other roadkill.

And, of course, I was left with the wholesome task of disposing of the now-defunct Otospermophilus variegatus. I accomplished that by scooping it up with a shovel and flinging it into the adjoining vacant lot, where the scavengers eventually finished the task.

As a footnote to this story, as if we don't already have enough footnotes to this story, the next day a hummingbird committed suicide on our back porch by ramming headfirst into one of our windows. I expect Stephen King to show up any day on a research visit for his next novel.

**I'm not sure why a quick trip is often referred to as a "whirlwind," but if you're ever traveling in West Texas during the spring, you'll see (and feel) its relevance. [back]

***So, you're judging me, aren't you, for using the term "stamping" instead of "stomping"? For your penance, read this, then go forth and sin no more. [back]

****A group of squirrels is actually referred to as a "scurry." That explains how Scurry county, in West Texas, got its name, following a mass invasion of squirrels, not unlike the cricket invasion of Mormons in Utah.***** [back]

*****One of the sentences in the preceding paragraph is not 100% accurate.

******Oh, never mind. [back]