Saturday, March 31, 2012

Snakes Alive

Lone Star Tick- Wikimedia
Following an extremely mild winter, the early arrival of animals and plants usually associated with mid-April shouldn't be surprising.  Common sense would suggest that the ticks that crawled over us all through this year's winter months would create a bumper crop in the spring.  Mike Penprase wrote about this in Thursday's News-Leader article How did area critters survive winter?.   He quotes entomologist Rob Lawrence, the Missouri Department of Conservation’s insect expert.
“The whole issue of insect and tick survival in the winter and predicting it is much more complex than we might think. That’s because a very cold winter doesn’t always guarantee that insect populations will be low once warm weather begins," he said.  "Cold weather causes insects to go dormant, and bugs that burrow into the soil or have other protection tend to survive. Continuous cold, in some cases, actually is better for insect survival. Insects that leave dormancy and become active during warm weather often don’t find food needed to survive."
Driving the lane along our glade at Bull Creek, I came across a 30" timber rattlesnake which we had apparently driven over the day before.  It had been taking advantage of the warm weather to head out hunting.  Basking in the sun would be common but I was surprised that it had roamed this early from the south facing rocky shelf rocks that its family normally calls home.

Find the rattle- click to enlarge
Timber rattlesnakes occur in small numbers in the Ozarks, but our land seems unusually blessed with them.  The terrain (wooded slopes with lots of shelf rock overhangs) and aspect (the southerly direction the rocky slopes face) is a description you might find the the real estate section of Timberrattler.com.  While they are unwelcome around our house and garage, it is always exciting to get to see them in the wild along Bull Creek (see picture).  They are a beneficial species and an important strand in the web of life.

Another sign of early spring was the appearance of a black vulture on the corral fence of our old deserted barn.  They had nested in a stall there last year, entering through some missing boards in the wall.  We had the privilege of watching their chicks grow up into fine adults (picture).

 Allaboutbirds says this about black vulture nesting habits:
"Instead of building a nest, the Black Vulture lays its eggs on the bare ground of the chosen nest site. Parents incubate the young equally. The Black Vulture lays its eggs in isolated locations with little human disturbance. They find a dark recess in a cave, abandoned building, thicket, pile of rocks, or in a hollow log or tree. A pair of Black Vultures may assure themselves of the site’s isolation by perching nearby for a period of weeks before egg-laying."
Vulture chicks now grown
The fact that the vulture was undisturbed as we stopped within 10 feet to look at it raised the hope that it is considering using the same nursery this year.  We are going to avoid the barn for several weeks to avoid scaring off these potential renters.  Vultures are good citizens of Bull Creek,  serving our community in a mortuary capacity by disposing of the exposed remains of mammals.

Early or not, ticks or no, you gotta love spring.

1 comment:

  1. Good News:
    We waited for three weeks before checking the stall in the barn to avoid scarring off the vulture parents. Today was the big day to check it out and we have a vulture watching over 2 eggs!

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