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The Fire Ant Gazette - A Texas Hill Country Blog



A blog-like thing originating in Horseshoe Bay, Texas (and formerly of Midland, Texas)



Updated: 2018-04-14T16:03:55Z

 



Beaver Believer (or "See...canadensis!")

2018-04-14T16:03:55Z

It's probably common knowledge that beavers slap the water with their tails as a warning about - or an attempt to startle - potential predators. They also tend to swim with their heads slightly above water but with their bodies slightly submerged.So, you may be ask, why are you - a native Texan living in the heart of a beaver-impoverished state - giving this random lecture about the creature's behavior? Simply this: I watched a beaver swim in the creek behind our house last night. I have never heard of a beaver sighting in this area, much less seen one myself, and I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that they are indeed living in our neighborhood.We came home around dusk after eating out with friends, and there were some significant thunderheads building up in the north, so I walking into the back yard to observe them. Our weather was calm and there was still enough light to see the creek, so I stood at the back fence and looked down at the water, about twenty feet away.I saw a shape moving in the water and my first thought was "that's the biggest catfish I've ever seen in the creek!" My second thought was, "wait...what? We don't have catfish in the creek." The shape appeared to be 2-3' long, trailing something wide. I mentally cycled through some possibilities, trying to place it in a logical context. I knew there were nutria around the lake, but those are basically big rats with long skinny tails, and that didn't fit the profile of what I was watching.The shape continued to swim slowly down the middle of the stream, and I figured I should attempt to get a photo or video to prove my sanity, even though the fading light made it doubtful that my aging phone's camera would capture anything recognizable. And fail it did, although perhaps not entirely of its own fault. What I managed to record was approximately five seconds of the ground.*My view of the animal was blocked by a tree on the creek bank, but I expected it to come into sight in a clearing a few feet down the stream. It didn't, so I decided it had doubled back. I moved back down the fence line and sure enough, it was swimming the other direction. But my movement apparently caught its attention and its... It's probably common knowledge that beavers slap the water with their tails as a warning about - or an attempt to startle - potential predators. They also tend to swim with their heads slightly above water but with their bodies slightly submerged.So, you may be ask, why are you - a native Texan living in the heart of a beaver-impoverished state - giving this random lecture about the creature's behavior? Simply this: I watched a beaver swim in the creek behind our house last night. I have never heard of a beaver sighting in this area, much less seen one myself, and I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that they are indeed living in our neighborhood.We came home around dusk after eating out with friends, and there were some significant thunderheads building up in the north, so I walking into the back yard to observe them. Our weather was calm and there was still enough light to see the creek, so I stood at the back fence and looked down at the water, about twenty feet away.I saw a shape moving in the water and my first thought was "that's the biggest catfish I've ever seen in the creek!" My second thought was, "wait...what? We don't have catfish in the creek." The shape appeared to be 2-3' long, trailing something wide. I mentally cycled through some possibilities, trying to place it in a logical context. I knew there were nutria around the lake, but those are basically big rats with long skinny tails, and that didn't fit the profile of what I was watching.The shape continued to swim slowly down the middle of the stream, and I figured I should attempt to get a photo or video to prove my sanity, even though the fading light made it doubtful that my aging phone's camera would capture anything recognizable. And fail it did, although perhaps not entirely of its own fault. What I managed to record was approximately five seconds of the gro[...]



Relive your run, you masochist

2018-03-13T19:24:48Z

I'm a bit of a data junkie, and nowhere is this more evident than in the spreadsheets I've kept for decades detailing my workouts. I do this not because I have an accounting degree, nor because I'm OCD (although one of those things is definitely true and the other is probably true). I keep records as a motivational tool. The presence of blank rows on the spreadsheet is a reminder that I'm probably falling short of my workout goals...which aren't all that challenging but they do emphasize consistency.For years I've tracked my running workouts with a phone app called MapMyRun. There's a similar app called MapMyRide for bicyclists, but I rely on my bike computer and rarely remember to turn on MapMyRide. I rely on MapMyRun to record time and distance; it also provides data on split times - which I generally don't care about - and elevation gain - which I care about now that I live in the Hill Country but the accuracy of which is questionable. It also has some social features that I absolutely don't use.MapMyRun satisfies the data junkie in me, but life is more than data, right? (Feel free to discuss this burning question amongst yourselves; I'll wait.) Data can be enhanced by visualization, and I recently learned of yet another application that does just that for the workouts recorded by MapMyRun.Relive is a free app that integrates rather seamlessly with MapMyRun (as well as other fitness apps such as Strava, Garmin, and others) to create a short video recapping your workout by unwinding the route onto a satellite map (said map is provided by ESRI, the good folks that make the gold-standard GIS software, ArcGIS). The aerial view doesn't exactly provide a virtual reality experience, but it is definitely an interesting way to relive (!) the workout. The app also drops a pin on the point of highest elevation on the route, then overlays some statistics at the end (duration, pace, mileage, elevation gain - which, again, should be taken with a grain of salt). The app also generates an elevation profile of the route that spools out along the top of the window as the video progresses.Here are a couple of examples of my early efforts using the app. Relive 'Ran 6.64 mi on 2/28/18' Relive 'Recovery run - 3.33 mi on 2/8/18' Relive doesn't provide many options for the unpaid version of... I'm a bit of a data junkie, and nowhere is this more evident than in the spreadsheets I've kept for decades detailing my workouts. I do this not because I have an accounting degree, nor because I'm OCD (although one of those things is definitely true and the other is probably true). I keep records as a motivational tool. The presence of blank rows on the spreadsheet is a reminder that I'm probably falling short of my workout goals...which aren't all that challenging but they do emphasize consistency.For years I've tracked my running workouts with a phone app called MapMyRun. There's a similar app called MapMyRide for bicyclists, but I rely on my bike computer and rarely remember to turn on MapMyRide. I rely on MapMyRun to record time and distance; it also provides data on split times - which I generally don't care about - and elevation gain - which I care about now that I live in the Hill Country but the accuracy of which is questionable. It also has some social features that I absolutely don't use.MapMyRun satisfies the data junkie in me, but life is more than data, right? (Feel free to discuss this burning question amongst yourselves; I'll wait.) Data can be enhanced by visualization, and I recently learned of yet another application that does just that for the workouts recorded by MapMyRun.Relive is a free app that integrates rather seamlessly with MapMyRun (as well as other fitness apps such as Strava, Garmin, and others) to create a short video recapping your workout by unwinding the route onto a satellite map (said map is provided by ESRI, the good folks that make the gold-standard GIS software, ArcGIS). The aerial view doesn't exactly provide a virtual reality experience, but it is definitely an inte[...]



tire change

2018-02-06T22:40:03Z

its tuesday afternoon and tonight is trivia night at the yacht club but thats not really important whats important is that my truck has had a slow leak in the right front tire some people would refer to it as the passenger side front tire but a lot of time theres no passenger in my truck so lets go with right front ok so i got tired of pulling out my craftsman air compressor every day or so to put about 6 or 7 pounds of air into the tire although i really like having an air compressor it makes me sort of feel like that tim allen guy in that tv show but thats also not important so i finally got tired as i already said so i decided to pull the wheel off and futon the spare and drive into town and leave it at discount tire the low air tire not the spare of course because doing the reverse would be silly and let them fix it presumably for free since thats where i bout it and that why i love discount tire so theres an immutable law of nature that all tire changes must be done in the rain and so it was this morning but you say have a garage why didnt you change the tire in the garage thats quite observant of your are you spying on me but anyway we are having some ok a LOT of removing done to our house and the garage is filled with stuff that shouldnt be there but theres nowhere else for it so i could only pull the truck into the garage about six feet so in reality i didnt really have to change the tire in the rain but if you know anything about honda trucks you also know that retrieving the little spare tire and jack from the cargo compartment in the truck bed requires contortions and power tools and cursing and in every case doing it in the rain hence the cursing so i get the spare and the jack and the special security lug nut socket which is supplied because honda truck tires are so coveted by thieves and i proceed to jack up the front of the truck in the shelter of six feet of garage only to discover that the truck is parked too close to my wife car... its tuesday afternoon and tonight is trivia night at the yacht club but thats not really important whats important is that my truck has had a slow leak in the right front tire some people would refer to it as the passenger side front tire but a lot of time theres no passenger in my truck so lets go with right front ok so i got tired of pulling out my craftsman air compressor every day or so to put about 6 or 7 pounds of air into the tire although i really like having an air compressor it makes me sort of feel like that tim allen guy in that tv show but thats also not important so i finally got tired as i already said so i decided to pull the wheel off and futon the spare and drive into town and leave it at discount tire the low air tire not the spare of course because doing the reverse would be silly and let them fix it presumably for free since thats where i bout it and that why i love discount tire so theres an immutable law of nature that all tire changes must be done in the rain and so it was this morning but you say have a garage why didnt you change the tire in the garage thats quite observant of your are you spying on me but anyway we are having some ok a LOT of removing done to our house and the garage is filled with stuff that shouldnt be there but theres nowhere else for it so i could only pull the truck into the garage about six feet so in reality i didnt really have to change the tire in the rain but if you know anything about honda trucks you also know that retrieving the little spare tire and jack from the cargo compartment in the truck bed requires contortions and power tools and cursing and in every case doing it in the rain hence the cursing so i get the spare and the jack and the special security lug nut socket which is supplied because honda truck tires are so coveted by thieves and i proceed to jack up the front of the truck in the shelter of six feet of garage only to discover that the truck is parked too close to my wife car and the jack handle won't fit so i have to go in the house to get [...]



The Fugitive Fox

2018-01-25T17:09:36Z

It's been a quiet couple of weeks at Casa de Fire Ant, at least from a trapping perspective. I haven't bothered to bait the raccoon trap for a variety of reasons -- laziness being at the top of the list -- although the armadillo trap has been armed and routinely ignored. I assume that either (1) the armadillos have evolved intellectually to the point where they recognize and avoid the danger, or (b) the trap has lost its scent. I'm going with (b) because the alternative is too scary to contemplate.Alert Gazette readers will recall that I recently expressed a bit of frustration at what I believed to be theft by fox. I didn't have conclusive proof that I was being flimflammed by a fox, but the circumstantial evidence was powerful.That changed last night.I decided to risk another 88¢ can of sardines (the money is beginning to add up, folks; I'm thinking about starting a GoFundMe account to defray trapping expenses) as bait. I slid it into the trap around 10:00 last night and set the game camera on the ground a few feet away.When I checked the trap this morning, the bait was gone and the trap was unsprung and empty. However, the game cam was finally able to record the canine caper, and here's the proof.It may not be obvious from the video, but the fox actually steps on the trip plate. However, it appears that its weight is on the other forefoot and so the plate doesn't spring the trap door. That's fine with me; I don't really want to trap a fox. On the other hand, I also don't want them grabbing all the bait intended for raccoons.If you're wondering what it appears to be eating just before entering the trap, I pour the juice from the sardine can onto the ground just outside the entrance as a way to entice animals to enter.Gray foxes are pretty common around our neighborhood. On one occasion, as we drove into the neighborhood at night, we spotted three of them within fifty yards of each other. I don't know if the group is a family unit, or if there's just good hunting in the vicinity.Some people incorrectly identify gray foxes as red foxes, presumably because the former do have some red fur on their chests and underbellies. But the two don't really look that much alike, and aren't even... It's been a quiet couple of weeks at Casa de Fire Ant, at least from a trapping perspective. I haven't bothered to bait the raccoon trap for a variety of reasons -- laziness being at the top of the list -- although the armadillo trap has been armed and routinely ignored. I assume that either (1) the armadillos have evolved intellectually to the point where they recognize and avoid the danger, or (b) the trap has lost its scent. I'm going with (b) because the alternative is too scary to contemplate.Alert Gazette readers will recall that I recently expressed a bit of frustration at what I believed to be theft by fox. I didn't have conclusive proof that I was being flimflammed by a fox, but the circumstantial evidence was powerful.That changed last night.I decided to risk another 88¢ can of sardines (the money is beginning to add up, folks; I'm thinking about starting a GoFundMe account to defray trapping expenses) as bait. I slid it into the trap around 10:00 last night and set the game camera on the ground a few feet away.When I checked the trap this morning, the bait was gone and the trap was unsprung and empty. However, the game cam was finally able to record the canine caper, and here's the proof. src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/252737366" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen="">It may not be obvious from the video, but the fox actually steps on the trip plate. However, it appears that its weight is on the other forefoot and so the plate doesn't spring the trap door. That's fine with me; I don't really want to trap a fox. On the other hand, I also don't want them grabbing all the bait intended for raccoons.If you're wondering what it appears to be eating just before entering the [...]



A Post-Modern Jukebox Sampler

2018-01-15T01:01:29Z

It's Sunday morning and I'm losing a fight with a cold and/or allergies, and I'm taking the lazy way out by blogging someone else's material...in this case (because, really, most of my stuff is stolen plagiarized borrowed from someone else) some music videos from Scott Bradlee's Post-Modern Jukebox. SBPMJ (hereafter referred to as PMJ for purposes of brevity) is one of the most imaginative and musically gifted groups around, and they probably don't get as much publicity as they should. (Alert Gazette readers will recall that I've mentioned them before on the pages of this here blog-like thing.)PMJ's gift is taking songs by other artists and reworking them in ways that often elevate the musicality of those tunes, or transform them into a completely different genre. The musical genius is compounded by the absolute attention to detail in the videos the group assembles. We're fortunate that many of their performances can be found on YouTube, but I'll save you the clicks as well as the mental/psychic effort of deciding on the standouts by presenting the following list. Trust me; I know these things.Barbie Girl - In the style of class Beach BoysThis song was originally recorded by the Scandinavian pop group Aqua in 1997, and a few years ago was voted "Worst Song of the Nineties" by those Rolling Stone readers with the mental wherewithal to work a mouse and browser. It also prompted Barbie maker Mattel to file an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit claiming copyright infringement. And, of course, the lyrics do not stand the test of time insofar as they are egregiously anti-feminist. (Here's the original video.)Other than that, it's a wonderful little song...at least in the hands of Master Arranger Scott Bradlee.Morgan James, the lead singer in this performance, plays the part of Barbie with a self-awareness that sustains the overall ironic tone of the arrangement. Her vocal chops are astounding, especially in the section where she simulates a theremin.Blurred Lines - Bluegrass VersionMusically-woke readers are likely wondering why an historically squeaky-clean Gazette would include a song with frankly pornographic lyrics (and I won't stoop to linking to the original video) that has been dubbed by some as the most distasteful song of 2013, the year it was recorded by Robin Thicke. Blurred Lines was co-written by Pharrell Williams (!) and Thicke (who later claimed he was stoned on Vicodin and that Williams did most of the lyrical damage). This... It's Sunday morning and I'm losing a fight with a cold and/or allergies, and I'm taking the lazy way out by blogging someone else's material...in this case (because, really, most of my stuff is stolen plagiarized borrowed from someone else) some music videos from Scott Bradlee's Post-Modern Jukebox. SBPMJ (hereafter referred to as PMJ for purposes of brevity) is one of the most imaginative and musically gifted groups around, and they probably don't get as much publicity as they should. (Alert Gazette readers will recall that I've mentioned them before on the pages of this here blog-like thing.)PMJ's gift is taking songs by other artists and reworking them in ways that often elevate the musicality of those tunes, or transform them into a completely different genre. The musical genius is compounded by the absolute attention to detail in the videos the group assembles. We're fortunate that many of their performances can be found on YouTube, but I'll save you the clicks as well as the mental/psychic effort of deciding on the standouts by presenting the following list. Trust me; I know these things.Barbie Girl - In the style of class Beach BoysThis song was originally recorded by the Scandinavian pop group Aqua in 1997, and a few years ago was voted "Worst Song of the Nineties" by those Rolling Stone readers with the mental wherewithal to work a mouse and browser. It also prompted Barbie maker Mattel to file an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit claiming copyright[...]



Newsflash: Local Wildlife Gets Wilder

2018-01-06T16:38:13Z

The local raccoon population has apparently spread the word that my sardine-baited trap is to be ignored. For the past several nights, the bait has gone untouched and the trap unsprung. Photographic evidence of raccoon inspectors makes this all the more frustrating.That's not to say that the setup hasn't attracted other, more exotic animals. A few nights ago, one of the local foxes actually made its way into the trap and escaped with the bait. To be honest, though, foxes are pretty ordinary compared to some of the other visitors. Last night was a great example. Here's what the game camera captured during a brief 10-minute period.Sadly, I was unable to actually trap any of these creatures, which will likely cause the more skeptical readers to doubt the veracity of these photos. I blame the current Fake News phenomenon for causing otherwise perceptive people to disbelieve concrete visual evidence.... The local raccoon population has apparently spread the word that my sardine-baited trap is to be ignored. For the past several nights, the bait has gone untouched and the trap unsprung. Photographic evidence of raccoon inspectors makes this all the more frustrating.

That's not to say that the setup hasn't attracted other, more exotic animals. A few nights ago, one of the local foxes actually made its way into the trap and escaped with the bait. To be honest, though, foxes are pretty ordinary compared to some of the other visitors. 

Last night was a great example. Here's what the game camera captured during a brief 10-minute period.

(image)

(image)

(image)

(image)

Sadly, I was unable to actually trap any of these creatures, which will likely cause the more skeptical readers to doubt the veracity of these photos. I blame the current Fake News phenomenon for causing otherwise perceptive people to disbelieve concrete visual evidence.



Outfoxed

2018-01-04T19:56:00Z

In my role as a wannabe trapper I've grown accustomed to being outsmarted by raccoons, who have frequently escaped with the bait without being captured. However, I'm now being outfoxed by an actual fox.Here's what happened last night:I didn't catch footage of the sardine abscondishment, but the tin was missing in another video captured shortly after this one.We've seen foxes hunting in our neighborhood almost every night (and occasionally during the day), and I've got other videos of them sniffing around the trap, but this is the first time I've seen one enter the trap. This one was a lot more cautious than the animation indicates; the realtime footage was 30 seconds.So, as if I didn't have enough challenges, I now have to figure out how to keep the bait safe from an animal that's long to grab the sardines without stepping on the trip plate. I do have a glimmer of a possible inkling leading to the beginning of a potential partial solution, but it involves power tools, MIG welders, and sorcery. In other words...this should be fun!...
In my role as a wannabe trapper I've grown accustomed to being outsmarted by raccoons, who have frequently escaped with the bait without being captured. However, I'm now being outfoxed by an actual fox.

Here's what happened last night:

(image)

I didn't catch footage of the sardine abscondishment, but the tin was missing in another video captured shortly after this one.

We've seen foxes hunting in our neighborhood almost every night (and occasionally during the day), and I've got other videos of them sniffing around the trap, but this is the first time I've seen one enter the trap. This one was a lot more cautious than the animation indicates; the realtime footage was 30 seconds.

So, as if I didn't have enough challenges, I now have to figure out how to keep the bait safe from an animal that's long to grab the sardines without stepping on the trip plate. I do have a glimmer of a possible inkling leading to the beginning of a potential partial solution, but it involves power tools, MIG welders, and sorcery. In other words...this should be fun!



A New Year's Day Surprise: Ice Flowers

2018-01-04T22:34:01Z

New Year's Day in the Texas Hill Country was a cold, dreary, and breezy one. Temperatures hovered in the 20s for most of the day, and the sun never made an appearance. It was a good day for staying inside, eating black-eyed peas, and watching football. That was basically my agenda for the day, until I happened to look out a bathroom window at a puzzling sight. It appeared that someone had let loose  scores of white plastic shopping bags which the wind had wrapped around the unmowed plants in the vacant lot next door and then shredded. But those plastic shreds weren't moving in the stiff breeze. Hmm.I did the only thing that I know to do when confronted with an outdoor puzzle: I grabbed a camera and heading into the cold. I quickly realized that what I initially identified as shredded plastic was actually ice which the wind had apparently molded into some fantastical and delicate shapes.To deepen the mystery, there was no ice or snow anywhere else (we did get a light dusting of snow during the night, but it was gone by midday).Later, I received a text from MLB, who was multitasking by soaking in the tub, watching the Austin TV news, and reading on her iPad (I know...I know). She informed me that the station was running a story on this exact phenomenon. The report said it can occur during the first hard freeze of the season, when the ground is still warm and water and sap in some plants is still flowing. When that fluid freezes, it bursts through the stem of the plant. As the fluid continues to flow into the frigid air, it freezes into these amazing shapes, which are known as "ice flowers" or "frost flowers." Wikipedia has a brief explanation; the In Defense of Flowers blog has a more detailed description of the phenomenon.I'm not sure about the species of plant these ice flowers appeared on most often but it may be a variation of stinkweed, which is cited in the above-referenced blog post as being a common source of this phenomenon. Below are some of the photos I took. Click on the small images to see a full-sized uncropped version of the photo; you can use the arrows on the popups to navigate through the slideshow.  This may be a fairly common sight in the Hill Country, but for me it... New Year's Day in the Texas Hill Country was a cold, dreary, and breezy one. Temperatures hovered in the 20s for most of the day, and the sun never made an appearance. It was a good day for staying inside, eating black-eyed peas, and watching football. That was basically my agenda for the day, until I happened to look out a bathroom window at a puzzling sight. It appeared that someone had let loose  scores of white plastic shopping bags which the wind had wrapped around the unmowed plants in the vacant lot next door and then shredded. But those plastic shreds weren't moving in the stiff breeze. Hmm.I did the only thing that I know to do when confronted with an outdoor puzzle: I grabbed a camera and heading into the cold. I quickly realized that what I initially identified as shredded plastic was actually ice which the wind had apparently molded into some fantastical and delicate shapes.To deepen the mystery, there was no ice or snow anywhere else (we did get a light dusting of snow during the night, but it was gone by midday).Later, I received a text from MLB, who was multitasking by soaking in the tub, watching the Austin TV news, and reading on her iPad (I know...I know). She informed me that the station was running a story on this exact phenomenon. The report said it can occur during the first hard freeze of the season, when the ground is still warm and water and sap in some plants is still flowing. When that fluid freezes, it bursts through the stem of the plant. As the fluid continues to flow into the frigid air, it freezes into these amazing shapes, which are known as "ice flowers" or "frost flowers." Wikip[...]



Building the Perfect Beast

2018-01-01T00:57:21Z

The power of reason, the top of the heapWe're the ones who can kill the things weDon't eat...And now the day is comeSoon he will be releasedGlory hallelujah!We're building the perfect beastDon Henley [1984]With apologies to Mr. Henley, who likely didn't anticipate his lyrics would apply to raccoons, this seems to be exactly what I'm doing lately with my trapping efforts. My wife thinks my motto should now be "Making Smarter Raccoons." I wouldn't disagree.We're in a sort of arms race, the neighborhood raccoons and I. Every time I concoct a strategy to trap them, they create a countermeasure that defeats it. It's simultaneously humbling and -- I confess -- a bit amusing. If this was a TV game show -- say, Are You Smarter Than a Varmint -- I'd be exiting before the first commercial break.I relearned this lesson earlier this week when I discovered that the sardine-baited trap I'd put out was (1) sprung, (b) empty, and (&*$$%) missing its sardines. It had obviously been rudely treated:As you can see, the bungee cord that I used to keep the trap in place didn't accomplish its only assigned task. The entire trap had been shifted by something, and in the process the trapdoor was sprung. The can of sardines that had been placed beneath the trap and on top of the black mat was, of course, gone. (Alert Gazette readers will recall that I had started placing the bait under the trap instead of inside of it, because too many prospective prisoners had figured out how to abscond with it without tripping the trap...more "one-step-ahead hacking.")I assumed the culprit was of a raccoonish persuasion, and the game camera footage proved my assumption. Shortly after baiting the trap, a raccoon appeared and got to work hacking my system.Raccoons wear masks for good reason; they're thieves, and quite good at their thievery.I have to admit some grudging admiration for their cleverness and determination. The following video shows the raccoon trying one approach, and dropping it for another when the first one proved unfruitful. (Note that most of the footage is sped up by 200%...it's only about two minutes long, for those with short attention spans, like me.)I refused to admit defeat, especially with the reputation of the entire human race riding on my efforts. Darn it, I AM smarter than a large rodent with a walnut-sized brain and goofy tail. Since the... The power of reason, the top of the heapWe're the ones who can kill the things weDon't eat...And now the day is comeSoon he will be releasedGlory hallelujah!We're building the perfect beastDon Henley [1984]With apologies to Mr. Henley, who likely didn't anticipate his lyrics would apply to raccoons, this seems to be exactly what I'm doing lately with my trapping efforts. My wife thinks my motto should now be "Making Smarter Raccoons." I wouldn't disagree.We're in a sort of arms race, the neighborhood raccoons and I. Every time I concoct a strategy to trap them, they create a countermeasure that defeats it. It's simultaneously humbling and -- I confess -- a bit amusing. If this was a TV game show -- say, Are You Smarter Than a Varmint -- I'd be exiting before the first commercial break.I relearned this lesson earlier this week when I discovered that the sardine-baited trap I'd put out was (1) sprung, (b) empty, and (&*$$%) missing its sardines. It had obviously been rudely treated:As you can see, the bungee cord that I used to keep the trap in place didn't accomplish its only assigned task. The entire trap had been shifted by something, and in the process the trapdoor was sprung. The can of sardines that had been placed beneath the trap and on top of the black mat was, of course, gone. (Alert Gazette readers will recall that I had started placing the bait under the trap instead of inside of it, because too many prospective prisoners had figured out how to abscon[...]



The Child is The King

2017-12-24T17:24:30Z

Mary, did you know That your baby boy Would some day walk on water? Mary, did you know that your baby boy Would save our sons and daughters? Did you know that your baby boy Has come to make you new? This child that you've delivered, Will soon deliver you. Mary, did you know That your baby boy Would give sight to a blind man? Mary, did you know that your baby boy Would calm a storm with his hand? Did you know that your baby boy Has walked where angels trod? When you kiss your little baby, You've kissed the face of God. Oh Mary, did you know...? The blind will see, The deaf will hear, And the dead will live again. The lame will leap, The dumb will speak The praises of the Lamb... Mary, did you know That your baby boy Is Lord of all creation? Mary, did you know that your baby boy Would one day rule the nations? Did you know that your baby boy Is Heaven's perfect Lamb? This sleeping child you're holding Is the great I AM! "Mary, Did You Know?" Words by Mark Lowry, music by Buddy Greene...

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy
Would some day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered,
Will soon deliver you.

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy
Would give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby,
You've kissed the face of God.

Oh Mary, did you know...?

The blind will see,
The deaf will hear,
And the dead will live again.
The lame will leap,
The dumb will speak
The praises of the Lamb...

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy
Is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy
Is Heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding
Is the great
I AM!

"Mary, Did You Know?"
Words by Mark Lowry, music by Buddy Greene




Hiking Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve

2017-12-18T20:04:11Z

In 1969, a wealthy visionary named J. David Bamberger -- co-founder of Church's Chicken -- bought 3,000 acres of land in the Texas Hill Country a few miles south of Johnson City. Over the next few years, he increased the size of the ranch to its present 5,500 acres. In 2002, the Bamberger Ranch Preserve was created as a private operating foundation, and serves to maintain the ranch as a research and educational resource to illustrate the importance of preserving the original natural habitat of the Hill Country.Using proven grassland management practices, the ranch has reintroduced native plant species, while removing non-native invasive species. This process significantly reduced rainfall runoff, which in turn allowed the numerous long-dormant springs in the area to recharge and once again begin to flow. The result is a spectacularly biodiverse environment.The ranch is open to the public for periodic self-guided group hikes, as well as for various educational and research programs. My wife and I were fortunate to be invited by our good friends to accompany them on one such hike last November.Five well-maintained trails totaling about four miles wind through the ranch, most of them named after famous conservationists and environmentalists such as Jane Goodall, Rachel Carson, and Ferdinand Lindheimer (aka the Father of Texas Botany). The trails involve some climbing, but nothing very steep, and some occasional loose rocks to traverse, but overall the hiking is easy.The day was cool, clear, and slightly breezy when we set out. There were about thirty hikers, including one couple with two young children. We were shuttled through the ranch for a quick introduction, and the resident biologist pointed out various sites of special interest, including the chiroptorium...a manmade bat cave housing a migratory population of more than a million Mexican free-tailed bats -- the state flying mammal of Texas (I doubt there was a lot of competition for the title).The chiroptorium was built in 1998, but researchers were puzzled by the relative lack of bats residing there. They finally determined that the problem was the three large plate glass windows installed in one wall to allow observation of the residents. The bats' sonar apparently had trouble distinguishing the glass from the outdoors and they kept colliding with the windows. Once the windows were covered, the bat population grew quickly. (Visit this page for more about the chiroptorium.)We decided to hike almost the entirety of the trail... In 1969, a wealthy visionary named J. David Bamberger -- co-founder of Church's Chicken -- bought 3,000 acres of land in the Texas Hill Country a few miles south of Johnson City. Over the next few years, he increased the size of the ranch to its present 5,500 acres. In 2002, the Bamberger Ranch Preserve was created as a private operating foundation, and serves to maintain the ranch as a research and educational resource to illustrate the importance of preserving the original natural habitat of the Hill Country.Using proven grassland management practices, the ranch has reintroduced native plant species, while removing non-native invasive species. This process significantly reduced rainfall runoff, which in turn allowed the numerous long-dormant springs in the area to recharge and once again begin to flow. The result is a spectacularly biodiverse environment.The ranch is open to the public for periodic self-guided group hikes, as well as for various educational and research programs. My wife and I were fortunate to be invited by our good friends to accompany them on one such hike last November.Five well-maintained trails totaling about four miles wind through the ranch, most of them named after famous conservationists and environmentalists such as Jane Goodall, Rachel C[...]



Another day...another skunk. This time, with 100% more me.

2017-12-16T21:48:32Z

I woke up around 4:00 a.m. a few days ago (hold your snark; you'll be old someday, too), and detected the unmistakable odor of skunk. I found this a bit unsettling, but not enough to get out of bed to investigate. I rolled over and went back to sleep.A few hours later, I opened the garage door to check the trap, although I was pretty sure I knew what Id find. Sure enough, yet another skunk had checked into Citter Inn. As with the preceding two, I decided to record the release, and that's documented in the video below.While only you can decide whether it's worth spending 4 minutes and 6 seconds (plus load time) of your life watching this video (the TL:DW version is that I didn't get sprayed), I hope you will for a few reasons.First, this is a really pretty skunk. I'm not sure who represents the standard for human beauty nowadays -- for women, perhaps it's one of these; for guys...well, you're on your own there -- but let's say this critter is the Scarlett Johansson of the skunk world.Second, toward the end of the video you'll see some interaction between different species as recorded by my game camera, as well as the evidence of one whose affinity for and effort to acquire sardines was unparalleled. But, really, the most important reason is that I'd like to have your feedback about something. Rather than use captions to describe what's going on in the video, I took a shot at doing a voiceover narration. I'd be really interested to know whether you have a preference about captions vs. narration (or would BOTH be preferable?).I'd also welcome feedback about the quality of the audio, although that's less important. I recognize that my recording environment is less than ideal, particularly since we've cleared the shelves and walls of all content in preparation for remodeling. The sound is pretty echo-y as a result. Also, the webcam microphone is not exactly professional quality. I did try some pretty high-end Bose headphones as an external mic, but the results were actually less pleasing than the webcam, which I thought was strange.Anyway, here's how much I'd like your feedback: I've actually reinstated the comments section on the Gazette. It's been years since I've allowed comments on any posts because of the overwhelming volume of spam I had to deal with (you can ask any... I woke up around 4:00 a.m. a few days ago (hold your snark; you'll be old someday, too), and detected the unmistakable odor of skunk. I found this a bit unsettling, but not enough to get out of bed to investigate. I rolled over and went back to sleep.A few hours later, I opened the garage door to check the trap, although I was pretty sure I knew what Id find. Sure enough, yet another skunk had checked into Citter Inn. As with the preceding two, I decided to record the release, and that's documented in the video below.While only you can decide whether it's worth spending 4 minutes and 6 seconds (plus load time) of your life watching this video (the TL:DW version is that I didn't get sprayed), I hope you will for a few reasons.First, this is a really pretty skunk. I'm not sure who represents the standard for human beauty nowadays -- for women, perhaps it's one of these; for guys...well, you're on your own there -- but let's say this critter is the Scarlett Johansson of the skunk world.Second, toward the end of the video you'll see some interaction between different species as recorded by my game camera, as well as the evidence of one whose affinity for and effort to acquire sardines was unparalleled. But, really, the most important reason is that I'd like to have your feedback about something. Rather than use captions to describe what's going on in the video, I took a shot at doing a voiceover narration. I'd be really interested to know whethe[...]



Drone Blown

2017-12-17T17:16:14Z

Show of hands: who remembers Rosie from The Jetsons? [Ed - Nobody. If you're old enough to remember the TV show, you're too old to remember anything about it.] Rosie was the family's robotic housekeeper. Almost six decades later, we're still waiting for a Rosie to come along and rescue us from the burden of household chores (and don't get me started on the flying cars we were promised). So far, the Roomba and the Echo have fallen short of our expectations in that area. But I'm here to report that there's hope on the horizon. All we have to do is to get creative with the devices we already have.Case in point. I have a drone, a little DJI Spark, and it's a lot of fun to fly around the neighborhood, chasing deer and squirrels, exploring the creek while avoiding water moccasins, and spying on the neighbors (well, if we had any neighbors - which we don't - I would totally be spying on them). But it occurred to me this weekend that it was time for this toy to grow up and start adulting like the rest of us, present company excluded.One of the downsides to being surrounded by a multitude of trees is the accompanying leaf blowing required to keep the sidewalks, porches, and driveways clean. I have a gasoline powered blower, but it's heavy and noisy and not all that joyful. I wondered, is there an easier way? Could leaf blowing become fun? I'll let you be the judge: As it turns out, the drone-as-groundskeeper has a few teensy flaws. First, it would take approximately 17 hours to fully clean our outside surfaces. This is a problem because the Spark's battery is good for only about 15 minutes of flying time, and takes ~30 minutes to recharge.Second, weather conditions limit the practicality. You may have been able to perceive that the drone was not hovering steadily in the video. The wind was a bit gusty and definitely impacted the stability of the device.Third, the drone's operating system DID NOT APPRECIATE the close proximity to all kinds of obstacles. Even though I turned off the automatic obstacle avoidance feature, it continued to scream incessantly that I was TOO CLOSE TO EVERYTHING, AT ALL TIMES!!! Once, it even took matters into its own...uh...rotors, and landed itself when I flew it too close to the sidewalk. Perhaps it's intelligent enough to... Show of hands: who remembers Rosie from The Jetsons? [Ed - Nobody. If you're old enough to remember the TV show, you're too old to remember anything about it.] Rosie was the family's robotic housekeeper. Almost six decades later, we're still waiting for a Rosie to come along and rescue us from the burden of household chores (and don't get me started on the flying cars we were promised). So far, the Roomba and the Echo have fallen short of our expectations in that area. But I'm here to report that there's hope on the horizon. All we have to do is to get creative with the devices we already have.Case in point. I have a drone, a little DJI Spark, and it's a lot of fun to fly around the neighborhood, chasing deer and squirrels, exploring the creek while avoiding water moccasins, and spying on the neighbors (well, if we had any neighbors - which we don't - I would totally be spying on them). But it occurred to me this weekend that it was time for this toy to grow up and start adulting like the rest of us, present company excluded.One of the downsides to being surrounded by a multitude of trees is the accompanying leaf blowing required to keep the sidewalks, porches, and driveways clean. I have a gasoline powered blower, but it's heavy and noisy and not all that joyful. I wondered, is there an easier way? Could leaf blowing become fun? I'll let you be the judge: src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/245659534" width="640" height="360" framebord[...]



Pepé Le Pew Deja Vu

2017-12-01T21:48:04Z

Alert Gazette readers - and, really, aren't you all? - will recall that I successfully, if foolishly, released a trapped skunk a couple of days ago without incident other than an elevated heart rate. I decided to give the trap a night off, but re-baited and re-armed it last night. I figured that a trapped skunk would have learned its lesson and would be focused on less confining dining opportunities.As with so many things in life lately, I was wrong. It's Biblical: as a dog returns to its vomit, so a skunk does to its sardines (Proverbs 26:11, ORGV [Old Retired Guy Version]).I was less apprehensive about the release process this time, but I might not have been had I been able to see inside the trap while I prepared to open the door. As the video below shows, the skunk's tail lifted ominously at one point, the equivalent of cocking the hammer on a revolver.I was a bit fascinated by the absence of any visible reaction by the skunk to the trap door springing shut. It's a fairly violent action, jarring the whole contraption and making a rather loud noise, but the animal was so focused on getting to the sardines I had placed beneath the bars of the cage that it didn't notice. That's probably why gluttony is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.By the way, much of the following video is sped up 400% for those of you with short attention spans. I move that fast in real life only on special occasions...like when a skunk is in the vicinity.I think it's time to give the trapping a rest while I contemplate a different, non-skunk-friendly bait that will still be attractive to raccoons. I know raccoons like cat food, but so do cats, and I'm not interested in trapping them, either.... Alert Gazette readers - and, really, aren't you all? - will recall that I successfully, if foolishly, released a trapped skunk a couple of days ago without incident other than an elevated heart rate. I decided to give the trap a night off, but re-baited and re-armed it last night. I figured that a trapped skunk would have learned its lesson and would be focused on less confining dining opportunities.As with so many things in life lately, I was wrong. It's Biblical: as a dog returns to its vomit, so a skunk does to its sardines (Proverbs 26:11, ORGV [Old Retired Guy Version]).I was less apprehensive about the release process this time, but I might not have been had I been able to see inside the trap while I prepared to open the door. As the video below shows, the skunk's tail lifted ominously at one point, the equivalent of cocking the hammer on a revolver.I was a bit fascinated by the absence of any visible reaction by the skunk to the trap door springing shut. It's a fairly violent action, jarring the whole contraption and making a rather loud noise, but the animal was so focused on getting to the sardines I had placed beneath the bars of the cage that it didn't notice. That's probably why gluttony is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.By the way, much of the following video is sped up 400% for those of you with short attention spans. I move that fast in real life only on special occasions...like when a skunk is in the vicinity. src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/245441750" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen="">I think it's time to give the trapping a rest while I contemplate a different, non-skunk-friendly bait that will still be attractive to raccoons. I know raccoons like cat food, but so do cats, and I'm not interested in trapping them, either. [...]



Skunk Works, or -- "Do you smell what I smell?"

2017-11-30T01:55:49Z

Alert Gazette readers know that I began documenting my critter trapping adventures last summer. Since then, I've caught armadillos, raccoons, possums, and one pretty stupid cat. The captive count has ballooned. In fact, I had to expand the Critter Capture Scorecard to accommodate all the new "guests." Here's the latest version:Uh...notice anything different about the scorecard, other than the increased population?I've been routinely telling folks that I wasn't worried about catching a skunk, because they seemed to be disinterested in the sardines I put out as bait for raccoons (possums and cats are also attracted, unfortunately). I had plenty of game camera footage showing skunks walking by the baited trap without giving it a second glance, and if they did happen to sniff around it, they didn't spend much time there. I was pretty confident in my animal behavior conclusions.That confidence was blown out of the water this morning about 7:30 when I opened the garage door and was confronted by a fine specimen of Mephitis mephitis, aka the ever-popular striped skunk. Well, dang. What now?MLB and I had actually discussed this scenario, back when we thought it might actually happen (or, before I was sure it would NEVER HAPPEN). Our thinking was that we would just call Animal Services and let them deal with it. That was probably still the smart play, but I've never been accused of doing the smart thing, and I decided it was my problem to deal with.While MLB googled tips on releasing trapped skunks ("talk in gentle tones to them," "crouch down so as not to be so threatening," "speak with a French accent, ala Pepe Le Pew." I might have made that last one up, but it seemed to be as valid as the other stuff.), I added a shot of bourbon to my coffee to still my nerves. OK, JK. I actually busied myself by videoing the little guy, and mentally working up a strategy that wasn't completely boneheaded.We agreed that the best approach would be to sneak up on the trap, lay a blanket or beach towel over it (in the hopes that the skunk would be narcoleptic and instantly fall sound asleep), and then TRY to gently open the trap, followed by running and screaming but hopefully no stinking.The biggest concern was that the trap's door was by design very difficult to open. It was made so that it... Alert Gazette readers know that I began documenting my critter trapping adventures last summer. Since then, I've caught armadillos, raccoons, possums, and one pretty stupid cat. The captive count has ballooned. In fact, I had to expand the Critter Capture Scorecard to accommodate all the new "guests." Here's the latest version:[...]