Mt Pleasant News
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Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 1, 2014

KEEPING WATCH - CANOEING THE SKUNK FROM FAULKNERS TO BOYLSTON

By Steve Wilson | Jul 18, 2012
Courtesy of: Don Poggensee IOWA'S ENDANGERED BARN OWL IS KEEPING WATCH

SKUNK RIVER —  8/15/2012

Three generations of Wilsons hopped in one kayak and one canoe this morning at Faulkner's Access to see if there was enough water going down the river to allow us to remain seated all the way to Boylston. The answer is yes, but it was close as grandson Riggs in his kayak did get hung up on a sand bar once but he was able to push on through.

(Riggs and I walked Big Creek the other day tossing clams stranded in the drying rocks of what used to be riffles into the remaining pools.)

We were surprised this morning by the number of Little Green Herons, Great Blue Herons, Canada Geese and Bald Eagles that we saw on the river trip. We saw 10 Great Blue Herons all in flight at the same time heading down the river ahead of us. 

Later over 100 Canada Geese took flight off of a couple of neighboring sand bars. The geese love the open sand bars for loafing and preening as was evidenced by the many small nearly white feathers they left behind to wave and dance in the gentle breeze as we floated by. 

We also saw several Kingfishers, in fact most of the time it seemed that at least one was visible fore or aft. Sandpipers and killdeer were also well represented. I got a quick look at a beaver.

The eagles were a mix of mature and immature birds. 

We were alone on the river having a wilderness experience close to home.

8/10/2012

I got a call about some bees. SCROLL DOWN TO BOTTOM OF THE PAGE TO SEE THE PICTURES:

On the afternoon of 8/9/2012 I got a call from Lynn Conrad, a service person for the local phone company. Lynn said he had some bees who had set up housekeeping in an communications pedestal where he needed to do some urgent work. He said my name had come up in a discussion with fellow serviceman Jeff Scarbrough as they tried to think of someone who might be willing to give the bees a new home or maybe help hunt up someone else who would.

I took the bait. I began calling around chatting or leaving messages with beekeepers from Mt. Pleasant, Fairfield and rural Henry County. By late in the afternoon I had a beekeeper who said he would be willing to remove the bees during the late morning hours of the next day if there was enough honey to make it worth his time. I called the telephone service man and he said that would work. Then things began falling apart.

The next morning I went to inspect the small service pedestal and found that while it was full of bees there was very little honey stored in the combs.

The bees store honey above and to either side of the comb in which they raise their brood. If You look at the first two pictures you can see there are four combs with the top six inches of the three to the left and pretty much all of the comb to the right being light colored wax sparsely covered with bees. This comb contained all their honey stores. These combs were built perpendicular to a hinged divider in the pedestal and so they were maybe only two to three inches deep. My best guess was the bees had maybe 3 to 5 pounds of sealed honey stored in the comb. And while the bees appear to pretty well fill the pedestal, the pedestal is not very big.

When I called the beekeeper and told him we were looking at 3 to 5 pounds of bees and about the same amount of honey he assured me they were not worth his time to mess with.

There is somewhere between 3 and 4.5 thousand bees in a pound. A healthy hive during a good year will have at least 60 thousand bees during the honey flow and two queen management systems seek to double that number. Hives normally have only one laying queen and she can lay as many as 2000 eggs in a day. A strong colony on a good year would have 100 pounds of honey in the supers right now with another 50 stored in the lower brood boxes to carry them through the winter. On exception years you can double those numbers in the honey supers of exceptional hives. In short, without supplemental feeding this "hive" was destined to starve to death this winter.

So, either I go save the bees or they get bombed, which may or may not be worse than starving to death. Lynn told me he did not want to bomb the bees if he could avoid it. Bees provide essential pollenation services and as I mentioned in another post, bumble bees are in short supply. I did not want to be a party to killing the bees.  Grandson Riggs was coming over so I decided what the heck, I would go and remove the bees and give them a new home. I could always unite them with another hive to give it a boost for the fall flow - but right now with the asters drying up it looks like there is not going to be much of a fall honey flow. With nothing to do, more bees in the hive right now will simply reduce the stores of a colony. It was a compound choice, first I am going to save the bees and then I am going to feed them. Crazy? Maybe.

Please understand I am not a beekeeper, I am a bee haver. That means there are a few hives pretty much on their own sitting in the back lot, left overs from the days when Joy and I kept a hundred hives and harvested as much as 5 tons of honey a year. Well, OK, that only happened once. Really good honey years come once every ten years or so in this country with really bad ones being much more common. The rule of thumb in that situation is to never operate more hives than You can afford to feed. I will probably end up feeding these bees something like five gallons of sugar syrup to get them ready for winter.

Ok, so I am a bit sentimental about bees but too when I went to look at them I saw beautiful yellow bees that appeared to be gentle, as bees go, and who apparently had survived the mites and the more mysterious maladies that have been stalking the bees for the last several years. Their queen had to be good enough (or was it foolish enough) to lead a swarm and form this colony during a very dry year. And if some day I was to come upon gentle survivors might I be tempted to once again look for a way to make a buck with bees? Nothing like a little bit of selfish interest to boost one's motivation. The story line might well have been, As luck would have it, a foolish Queen and her Court meets a  foolish bee haver and his grandson.

While there is no way am I going into honey production again, hefting 70 pound honey supers over my head, still what about raising queens...? Its just a dream. That is what my neighbors told me about Swan Park too. Steve it is just a dream. It is like buying one lottery ticket everytime the pot goes over 150 million, not because I expect to win, but because for a day or two I can dream about what I would do if.....  Just imagine, spending a fortune making a safe place for swans to nest and bees to forage and kids to visit and ... sigh, back to the bees.

Lynn called yesterday morning and asked, " Steve, where is the guy who is going to remove the bees."

I told him, "The beekeeper has backed out. Grandson Riggs and I will be the ones to give the bees a new home." 

Lynn: "I need the bees out now Steve."

Steve: "But wait, I thought You said there was plenty of time."

Lynn: "That was then and this is now. Things have changed."

Steve: "Grandma Joy and Riggs just left to go yard saling, they will not be back before 2 pm." 

Lynn: "I need to rewire the box now."

Steve: "Well then You will have to bomb the bees."

Silence... then, "Steve, I will talk to the customer. There is a problem but still the customer does have service. I know the guy, he is an outdoor type like You and I. I will see if he can wait until Monday. I will call You back. I hate to bomb the bees. I will tell him just what the situation is and it will be his call."

I got the call back a few minutes later. "Steve, the Governor has granted a stay of execution. You have until Monday.

Steve: "Awesome!"

Lynn:  "But only on one condition."

Steve: "Which is?"

Lynn: "You must call him and let him know when You are going to arrive so he can watch You transfer the bees" 

Steve: "No guarentee he will not get stung."

Lynn: "He said he will sit in his truck and watch through the window."

Steve: "Ok, what is his name?"

Lynn: "Tim Ockenfels, the Manager of City Carton Recycling."  

Steve: "Tim!? I know Tim. That's great. No problem. It will be great to see him. I worked with Tim recycling stuff when I worked for Motorola."

Lynn: "One more thing, call me when your done."

"Yes!"

(See the pictures at the bottom of the page)

PS, It was a great day. Thanks to all. I know it was a great day because Riggs told me it was. He said he felt good about helping to save the bees.  And obviously so too did Lynn Conrad, Jeff Scarbrough and Tim Ockenfels. I felt good to be in good company.

To top it off I bought one lottery ticket. 250 million would buy a lot of sugar syrup. You get the point, right? I am feeling lucky and I still will even when I miss the Powerball Jackpot and the bees turn out to be... well, just hungry bees needing a new home.

The bees will get a ride home at dusk tomorrow.(8/12) They will leave a bit of wax behind but they should have pretty well cleaned the honey off the wires by then.  8/11

 

UREKA - 

5 BUMBLE BEE WORKERS WORKING THISTLE BLOSSOMS ON THE WETLAND LEVEE. The thistles are quick to go to seed and already the Goldfinches are working some early seed heads. Male Goldfinches still out numbering females over 10 to 1 at the feeders.

PAINTED TURTLE NEST

 Back in May I came upon a good sized Painted Turtle laying eggs up at the wetlands. It was late in the afternoon. Perhaps You remember me writing about it. Anyway, after she had covered the eggs and taken off for the water I pinned a wire cage down over the nest .  The abundant raccoons had been digging up everything that looked remotely like a turtle nest and with no protection I was confident this nest would not have survived the first night.  

 Since then I have been pouring a little water on the nest once or twice a week to be sure the eggs did not dry out. This afternoon I got a feeling that it was time to check on the eggs since it has been a warm year. In late nests, or during cool years, the eggs may  not hatch till late in the fall and then the baby turtles may hibernate in the nest to dig out in the spring, presuming the mice and voles do not get at them first. This year, as we all well know, has been a very warm one, so an early August hatch seemed possible. In the event of an early hatch I did not want the little guys trying to dig out only to find the cage I put in place to protect them had turned into a death trap!

 Having lifted the cage I carefully started removing the earthen plug Mom had carefully constructed over the nest.  Once into the nest the first thing I came upon was a broken shell. 

"Darn mice!" I thought. 

Still digging another broken shell but some movement further down. I figured I was either going to find the culprit or... maybe... an early hatch of turtles.

As it turned out, all of the evidence was of an early hatch of 15 of the cutest little Painted Turtles I have ever seen. Seems there is something mysterious about the care of a human that makes them cuter, don't You think?

*****************************************

I hauled 10 more gallons of duckweed from the wetlands to the pond this afternoon. Between thirty Woodies and a few Mallards and one Trumpeter Swan and a couple of visiting flocks of Canada Geese it disappears pretty fast.

 

8/7/2012

NEST OF BARN OWLS IN A GRAIN BIN.

One night driving on the Henry/Jefferson county line road I saw what looked like a Barn Owl flying in the lights of the truck. Other than that (and that being more than a bit iffy)  I have never seen one in the wild.They are listed as endangered in Iowa.

Therefore it was exciting to see that Don Poggensee, president of the Ida County Conservation Board, has taken a special interest in protecting a nest of monkey faced Barn Owls located in a grain bin. Four of the five young birds have successfully fledged on golden wings with the one apparently being taken by a predator. Don is dedicated to protect and care for all the wildlife of Ida County as well as maintaining the parks. The endangered owls, and all of us really, are fortunate that they showed up in his neighborhood. Thanks Don for the picture and your dedicaton!

 

8/6/2012

At first I thought it was a large and unusually persistant fly catcher. Then I thought maybe it was a blocky and little bit clumsy swallow. I kept catching a glimpse of yellow on the tail and brown on the cape but I just could not believe that a Cedar Waxwing could fly like that.

I am accustomed to watching Cedar Waxwings fly in flocks in a direct and deliverate fashion among Red Cedars and  Honeysuckles in fall and winter wolfing down the berries. This bird would dip, dive and stall like a fly catcher but then continue to cruise over the meadow and wetlands in wide circles much like a swallow but with less gliding. Turns out I just have not observed the hunting flight behavior of Waxwings that are busy gathering high protein food for their young. They will often raise two broods a summer and most likely this bird was feeding a second one. They nest in a high fork in a tree often near wetlands. These guys were not a target species when I constructed the wetlands but only because I did not know they were attracted to them. I also thought they nested farther north.  Fun to watch. Beautiful too. See: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Cedar_Waxwing/id

I heard the Pileated Woodpecker again last evening. It has been awhile

An all male flock of nine Goldfinches on the ground at the feeder indicates the females, who show up only sporatically now, are on the nest. The males are taking feed to her and will continue to do so once the young have hatched. Sometimes the female will abandon the brood leaving all the work to Dad. (What can I say, it happens in humans too sometimes.) The female may even go find another male and build another nest while her new bow sits in a nearby tree and sings.

They are sure beautiful birds but when it comes to family arrangements I will stick with the Canada Geese.    

8/5/2012 Big Creek Current flow Iowa Ave - North of Mt. P. - .09 Cu/ft/sec 

http://waterdata.usgs.gov/ia/nwis/uv?cb_00065=on&cb_00060=on&format=gif_default&period=&begin_date=2012-07-1&end_date=2012-08-05&site_no=05473450

8/4/2012

The time had come to release the brood of 14 Wood Ducks that shared their downy days with school children in Mt. Pleasant and Fairfield. They can fly now and I have been giving them pans of water to encourage them to oil up their feathers so they will not get waterlogged on the pond. 

 To prepare the Woodies for their mission in wildlife diplomacy last spring it was necessary  to imprint them on human beings, in this case that would be me. I must play the role of the Mother Duck. With Canada Geese that is simple. When I helped Amos D. Goose out of the egg it was automatic. The first friendly animate object is... (in my case) Father Goose.

The Woodies need something more and over the years I have learned that talking to the ducklings several times a day for several days before they hatch works pretty well. As for just what to say, it does not seem to matter much. I try to be consistent in any given year. Something like Hello, hello. Hello You guys, hello. Hello, lets go, lets go. The tone of  voice I use is high and wavy to approximate the voice of a hen woody, very probably more to my satisfaction than theirs. Any way with plenty of follow-up contact it works. The Woodies will spill out of their cage and crawl all over me. With their sharp toe nails climbing up the front of my shirt is a piece of cake. Once on my shoulder they can easily hope on top of my head to enjoy an elevated view of their world.

Being fond of humans is not a valuable survival trait in the world of waterfowl. Fortunately the Woodies have a tendency to quickly out grow the imprint as soon as they can fly and swim freely on the pond. To effect a soft release I cut a hole in the pond side of the cage. Joy sprinkled some food on the ground making a path of inticement ending near the pond. Yesterday, when We  opened the hole the ducks took their time coming out. Once outside the cage some quickly flew to the pond while maybe half of them kind of loafed around just outside the fence for awhile. By the time Granddauther Keira arrived with her Mom on a mission to put fly spray on the horses all the ducks had disappeared. However as We stood talking in the side yard two drakes flew in from the east. We were surprised by their return and herded them back into the cage to let them think over the options safely as we left to take care of the horses.

Today I decided to give the drakes another chance to evaluate the options. This time first one of the drakes took off for the pond and than the other. The last one to leave was the first one to come back. He landed across the fence on the pond dam in high weeds. I decided to make a rescue attempt. In doing so I had to open a gate and push through some the tall vegetation.  When I got to the opening where I had seen him he was gone. I figured he got scared and either ran into the weeds or flew over to the  pond. At any rate, there was nothing more I could do but go back into the yard to join Amos.

When I entered the yard I was surprise to see the drake was there to greet me. He continued to be very friendly and was willing to perch on my hand. I carried him thus to the main gate of the two kennels that house the night time security cages of Joy's chickens to the north and the woodies to the south. I pondered just what to do thinking it would be nice to have a Wood Duck to visit Fairfield sixth graders this fall. However I did not want to house a lonely Woody the rest of the summer so I just stood there talking to Amos and the drake who continued to sit on my hand, trying to decide what to do next.

At that point another duck came in from the east and crashed landed into the kennel wire to tumble onto the ground. At first I presumed it was the other drake but as I looked closely I could see that while a faint white cheek band was present, there was no red coloring developing on the bill. This duck was no drake. As the hen jumped up to perch on a 4X4 laying on the ground I slowly lowered the drake and encouraged him to join her. As they then sat there together I began to reach toward the hen to stroke her feathers. It was soon evident that for the moment she was as tame as the drake and that after spending one night on the pond.

At this point the idea of having a pair of tame Woodies for fall classes was certainly appealing. So I decided to see if I could pick them both up with one perching on either hand. Doing so I headed for the enclosure expecting both of them to take flight as I  approached the gate into the kennel. They stayed put even as I knelt down and set them before the entry way into their secure cage. Once at ground level they hopped off and walked in to enjoy a drink.

"Ok, guys for now its another night in the pen. We will talk about it some more tomorrow. "

8/5/2012 Update.

When I returned last night at dusk to check on the pair of Woodies the Drake was perched on an elevated platform in the security cage but the Hen was on the floor walking the wire. I thought she might be frightened by the relative lonliness in the cage since it had gone from 14 to 2 occupants. So I brought both birds in to spend the night. This morning I took them back out to their pen and again she began to walk the wire. When I opened the passage way to the pond she hesitated for a moment then hopped out and flew into the cove. The Drake is still in the loafing area. He communicated he wanted the bathing pan refilled by acting like he was taking a bath on the ground. I re-filled the pan and he immediately began taking a vigorous bath, diving, splashing and flapping his wings. The pan was half empty in a matter of minutes.

I guess the little lady just wanted to touch base and then say good by. We are at once a bit sad and a bunch happy for her, wishing her well. 

The released Woodies have now joined wild Woodies on the pond. Looking out the window later this morning Joy saw thirty Woodies come up on the bank for a bite to eat and then fly together back into the cove. Early contact with the wild birds is a significant part of a successful release program. Fear is a contagion among Wood Ducks and therefore the tame birds quickly learn from the wild ones to fear us as well as the host of natural predators all waiting to catch a Woody with her guard down.  

Just now I went down to the loafing pen to witness the call of the wild has claimed the last of the 14 Woodies that blessed us with the smiles of children and adults alike last spring. The Drake had finished his bath which no doubt was followed with preening and oiling his feathers. Then he apparently walked out of the nursery and flew to the pond. Is this the end of our story?

 

7/30/2012

 

A Carolina Wren has joined the predominately male Goldfinches at the feeders the last couple of days. We usually see one or two of these wrens hanging around in the winter but not often in the summer. The high per centage of male Goldfinches at the feeders and the opening of the first thistle blossoms may have something to do with each other. Goldfinches are late nesters and love thistle seeds. We saw a nice brood of Wild Turkeys, maybe a dozen, yesterday as Grandson Riggs, Amos D. Goose  and I went down to feed the horses. Body wise, the turkeys looked to be just a bit bigger than full sized quail indicating they are part of a late hatch. Still watching but not seeing any Bumble Bees.

My computer got sick and died... again. But I am back up a running now.

7/22/2012

When the calm night air settles over the pond the duckweed that has spent the day pushed against the downwind shore becomes the medium for an "Etch-A-Sketch" of the most subtle currents of wind and water.

 

Commonly a slender tendril will emerge out of the cove and then follow along the west shore until reaching the south-west corner of the pond where it turns east to travel along the south shore. By the time the band along the south shore reaches the south east corner of the pond it will be spreading out in whispy undulating bands that look like a variegated green scum spreading back to the north toward the cove. It will also start bunching up in the patterns such as You can see in the picture.

If You do not want duckweed on the pond, the time to collect it is on a windy day along the leeward shore - the sooner the better whenever it appears. A landing net with a long handle and 1/4 inch mesh works well for small amounts. If the pond is clean, rise your catch and add some of it to a salad.

Where I seek to balance the duckweed on the home pond to the benefit of the visiting and resident waterfowl I watch it carefully, adding five gallon bucketfulls collected off of the wetlands as required to maintain a nutritious source of greens. If I get too much on the pond I can always visit the cove with my net on a windy day.

 

7/18/2012 UPDATED

Great Egret on Walmart Wetland. Reported at 6 pm by Ron Osborne. Osborne also counted 22 birds in a flock of Killdeers along with a couple of Yellowlegs on the New London Wetland.

The local Grandsons and I went on a river walk up to Stony Point. We too observed a flock of Killdeer containing maybe 16 birds. We also saw a Bald Eagle, a Great Blue Heron and a Kingfisher.

The water was hot. I mean it would have felt great in January but it offered no refreshment in the July heat. As we walked along in waist deep water the temperature was particularly noticeable at the water line. Any wet skin or clothing exposed to the air was cooled by the evaporation that was excellerated by a very gentle breeze. Step into a low spot, emersing that cooling band into the water once again, and the water actually felt hot. I watched for any signs of heat related fish kills but did not see any. In years past the Walleyes were among the first to go. Ugh!

I have been harvesting the duckweed off one wetland to give the swans some open water. Usually the swans keep up with the "bloom" but this year production has shifted into high gear. The warm sunny days are great for duckweed. I wade into the shallow water with a long section of a wooden handrail that works very well to skim off the duckweed. I notice that the water in the shade under the duckweed is much cooler than the river water while the layer of duckweed has created a very thin thermocline. As I push the duckweed to shore it ropes up a bit in front of the handrail so that it is possible to scoop it off with a manure fork when I compress it a bit against the bank. 

Duckweed is edible in your salad when harvested off "clean" or disinfected water.  Deer as well as swans, geese and ducks all readily consume it. As the pile along the side of the wetland grows I am thinking there has to be a way to use this stuff to produce energy or... yeah...  something. We need someone to do for duckweed what Carver did for peanuts. I tried it as a soil amendment/mulch once with less than exciting results but I think I will try it again. It looks like I will literally be piling up tons of it. http://www.greenbang.com/and-the-next-plant-based-fuel-is-duckweed_8660.html

The waste water treatment wetlands in Columbia Missouri also produce a significant crop of duckweed and they too would like to find away to turn it into a crop. There is no question it is well named. The Wood Ducks we are raising for educational programs and release as well as Amos D. Goose all relish it. It looks like minature clover leaves floating on the water. Older plants develop long (a couple three inches) roots. Young plants with short roots appear to be the favorite among the Wood Duck. see: http://images.search.yahoo.com/search/images?_adv_prop=image&fr=yfp-t-701-1&va=Duckweed

 

http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/resources/documents/DW/Dw2.htm

 

They seem friendly enough but.... (Courtesy of: Tim Ockenfels)
HONEY BEES AND COMB IN COMM. PEDESTAL (Courtesy of: RIGGS WILSON)
CAREFULLY STRIPPING AWAY THE BROOD COMB (Photo by: RIGGS WILSON)
PUTTING COMB IN FRAMES TO PLACE IN BOX HIVE. (Photo by: RIGGS WILSON)
THUMBS UP FOR HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN (Courtesy of: Tim Ockenfels)
WIRES STILL DRIPPING WITH HONEY RIGGS IS ALL SMILES WATCHING THE LAST OF THE BEES JOIN THE QUEEN IN THEIR NEW HOME. (Photo by: STEVE WILSON)
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