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The Bover Kingdom

November 17th, 2008

One of the oddities around Fox Haven in November is the Ladybug Bonanza that takes place every year.  Sure we see ladybugs, or ladybird beetles around throughout the year, but from late October until mid-November there are zillions of them.   So many in fact that they end up both outside and inside the house.  And actually, most of these are not the typical ladybugs that many of us grew up with, but rather the Asian Ladybug.  Apparently these little guys were released around the country from the 1960’s on, and first showed up “in the wild” in the U.S. around 1988.  Since then they have exploded across the country.  They do eat aphids and other pesky bugs, but they’ve also become quite pesky themselves.  There’s just too many and they get everywhere.

Last week there was a great cloud of them behind the house, flying about on a warm day.  And yes, they are cute little critters, except for one small detail.  At this time of year- they bite!  Maybe it’s just because they don’t have other bugs to prey on, but when they land on your arm and crawl around, you’ve just got time to think “How cute…” before going “Owww!” and brushing it away.  It’s not that bad, but who expects to get bitten by a ladybug!?

And at night where do they go?  They return to the Bover Kingdom of course.  What is the Bover Kingdom?  Well, please allow me to digress for a moment.

The young boy loves ladybugs.  He’s still young enough, and innocent enough, to find joy in so many things, including little bugs.  He has always loved ladybugs for some reason.  He delights in their being, their color, their cute little shape. He was a ladybug for Halloween a few years back.  He even has a little “ladybug house” that he uses to gather them up and watch them crawl around.  Oh, and yes- the name.  It’s “Bover”, with a long “o” sound.   At our house they are known as “Bovers” from the name he gave to them years ago as a toddler.  How he came up with that I have no idea, but one day they officially became known as bovers, and we’ve never looked back.

Except for the day he found a dead one on the porch when he was three years old and didn’t really understand the concept of deadness or the opposite of being alive.  I remember it like it was yesterday…  a loud “Daddy! Come here!”  and I dutifully wander over asking “Whatcha got there?”  He points with a chubby little finger and solemnly replies, “Look, a non-moving bover.”

We’re finding a lot of moving and non-moving bovers lately.  But we’ve also finally discovered where they go at this time of year!  They hide.  Anywhere they can.  Which brings us back to our story.  While gathering wood to stack closer to the house yesterday we discovered the Magical Bover Kingdom!  As we picked up one of the last pieces of wood on the bottom of the pile, we revealed the secret chamber of hidden bovers, that place of ALL PLACES for little bovers.  Maybe it was even Bover Heaven.

Ladybugs in November in Missouri

They looked like jewels among the leaves and wood.  Why are they gathered in such a way? For warmth, or laying eggs before succumbing to the freeze of winter?  Maybe they hibernate… I don’t know.  It was pretty to see, and pretty weird.

But at 4:00 am yesterday I also found that they hide on the bottom of firewood.  It wasn’t my fault, honest.  It was dark, I didn’t turn on any lights and I was sleepy…  I was building up the fire in the wood stove and went outside to get a log. A log on the bottom of the wood pile. I brought it in and placed it right into the stove, closed the door as flames engulfed it and sat back to enjoy the warmth… only to see some kind of sparkly, shimmering mass dancing in the fire.   “Hmmm, that’s kind of neat…” I thought.  And it was, up until the moment my eyes opened wide as I realized it was dozens… (okay, hundreds) of little bovers scrambling madly about.  “Aaahhhh! What have I done!?”

They were all over the bottom of that log and quickly became roasted little (sparkly) embers.  Kind of pretty actually but I felt really bad for burning up a bunch of ladybugs.  Oh if my son could see!  In his eyes I would never be the same.

Well later that morning we brought some more logs in… I turned around, remembering them on the hearth, “Noooo!” I screamed, running toward the fire… (not really).  But I did casually mention that there were probably a few critters hiding on that thing.  Remembering our discovery of the day before he immediately ran over and said “Bovers!”  At which time he began to pick them off one by one, finally carrying a handful gently to the door to let them go outside (the fact that it’s going to be 21 degrees F tonight doesn’t matter).

So I grabbed that “bover cleaned” log and put it in the woodstove, meeting his approval.  And we’re a lot more careful about shaking the bovers off the firewood we’re bringing in now.  But the little dudes are really hard to see.  Last night after putting another log in the fire, he yells  “Daddy wait!” as I jump, startled.

“What? What is it?!” I ask, and he says there’s a little bover crawling on the log I just put into the fire.  Or was.  “Where did it go?” he asks.   And trying hard not to smile I say, “Uh… well, it went up the chimney.”  He actually laughed at that one.

Falling Leaves, Conservation Thoughts

November 7th, 2008

Windy and cold!  The weather has turned, and it’s surely November.  The leaves are blowing off the trees and changing the previously green landscape to brown everywhere.  A literal carpet of leaves.  Soon it will be time to rake and mulch, and the leaves will disappear.  But first there’s a really big pile of leaves to be made out there waiting for people to jump into it!

Carpet of leaves in November

And the leaves are blowing into the water too… I am always amazed how many leaves accumulate in the pond.  How long do they take to decompose?  Do they pile up on the bottom year after year?  Who knows… but they seem to disappear in a matter of weeks.

Leaves in the pond

But weeks is all we have to really work on outside projects before the winter cold sets in.  Not that I don’t work outside in winter, but it’s a little harder to work with metal, tools and other such things in 20 degree temperatures.  I’ll admit it, I think it’s just more fun (and comfortable) to work on things when the weather’s nice.  I think the real issue is that I love being outside.  So when it’s really cold, I don’t get out as much.   Which is a bit of a contradiction, because I just love the snow.  Or maybe I love looking at the snow.  Well the boy won’t let me off the hook so easily this year, and I’m sure I’ll be out tromping around with him soon!

Deer and duck season have arrived in Missouri, and it’s time to think about putting some meat in the freezer.  I only went out a couple times last year and the freezer stayed empty, at least of wild game.  Contrary to popular belief, hunting wild deer is not easy for most people, especially if you don’t have private land to hunt on.  Most of us hunt public lands, along with a lot of other folks of course.   Also it’s not really a shooting gallery out there, again contrary to that portrayed in the media.  I’ve only seen one or two other hunters when I hike back on public lands, and most of the time you only catch a glimpse of a deer or deer sign such as tracks, etc.  I’ve taken one deer in three years; poor hunting by some standards perhaps. 

Those hunting on private lands usually have more success simply due to less competition. It helps to scout early and by placing deer stands or blinds in strategic locations.   In most states there are strict regulations for what sex of deer may be taken, usually by county, and other strict regulations for the type of hunting method used such as archery, blackpowder or modern rifle.  Bow hunting season is the longest, and it’s the most challenging method of hunting because your effective range is limited to about 30 yards.  It’s very difficult to stay quiet enough, still enough, and not “smelly” so that a deer comes within 30 yards! 

Blackpowder or muzzleloader hunting is also a little longer of a season since you manually load your powder and shot, and have just one chance to shoot accurately.  It’s like musket hunting in the era of Daniel Boone.   Rifle season offers perhaps the best chance to take a deer at farther ranges of course, but the season itself is only 10 days long each year.  Most hunters try their luck during that 10 day period, and that is also when the most deer are taken each year.

Do I hunt here at Fox Haven?  I would, but we only have a few acres of “huntable” land really.   Deer transit our properly usually at night when you’re not allowed to hunt (hunting after dark or with lights is called “poaching”!).  I do have my eyes open for a transient deer that loves to rub his antlers on my trees.  One of our last remaining maple trees- planted two years ago with the young boy, was stripped of it’s bark last week.  I should have covered or protected it earlier- as I’m trying to do with the apple trees.  But I put up a little wire around it for now, and we’ll see if it can still grow with half it’s bark missing.  I’d like to find that deer though…

Maple tree bark stripped by deer antlers

I’m a little more determined this year, and maybe I’ll be more successful on the public lands I hunt.  If I do well I know a couple of families that really could use the food.   We have a wonderful “Share the Harvest” program in Missouri where deer meat (venison) is donated to many charitable organizations that need the food.  In 2007 over 5,500 hunters donated more than 260,000 pounds of venison!  This is not only helpful for the charities that receive the food, but it’s also a vital management tool:

“The Share the Harvest Program is extremely useful in the Conservation Department™s management of Missouri™s deer population.  The Department works with the Conservation Federation to target areas with high deer numbers by increasing local processing-cost incentives and Share the Harvest promotional campaigns. This results in an increased harvest in areas where deer populations are high.”

So why manage deer populations?  Primarily for health and safety- both of the deer and especially for people!   In the late 1990’s statistics showed more than 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions each year, resulting in more than 29,000 injuries and over $1 billion dollars of insurance claims.  I’m sure it’s higher today.   And where there are deer, there are deer ticks which may carry Lyme (or other) disease, a rapidly growing and debilitating disease in the nation.  The damage to agriculture from deer is also in the billions of dollars, and many urban communities are struggling to balance public appreciation for deer as wildlife with the damage and risk that is also present to the community.  

On balance, hunting is one of the best methods for controlling deer populations, and offers benefits in many different ways.  Harvesting deer not only provides food for many purposes, but the money from licensing and training requirements benefits many different conservation and natural resource programs.  In the duck hunting arena, the nation has benefitted immensely from wild land preservation and conservation initiatives to help waterfowl populations.  Too successful in some areas as we’ve seen with Canada and other geese populations.  But as the interface between human populations and wildlife grows closer through the years, we’ll need to ensure sound conservation practices are in place to manage the inevitable conflicting resource needs.

October Rain

October 23rd, 2008

Awoke to a cloudy darkness that gave way to heavy rain this morning.  It will be with us most of the day so the outside projects will wait.  I know it looks so dismal, but for some reason I enjoy rainy days… mostly.  Of course one time we lived near Seattle and had 96 days straight of rain! That’s a bit much.  Missouri rain is often intermittent, heavier and then gone almost as quickly as it comes. But today the storm system will pass slowly.

I think rainy days help provide a reason to relax inside or catch up on things we’ve put off for a while.  Of course it makes travel a mess, and next week we’re due for our first real frost and freeze.  Glad it’s not Halloween today.  I think three out of the last four Halloweens were cold and rainy here.  Hopefully it will be a decent night for the kids next week, and thank goodness it’s on a Friday this year. 

Rainy October day in Missouri

Oh, another bug question to figure out. Beetle Doc are you still around?!  I found this “nest” of some type when cutting up that oak tree the other day.  It’s very fibrous, with a small, dime-sized opening at the top and what appears to be some type of eggs or balls inside.  Is it an insect gall? A spider nest?!  I’m not sure what else it could be, but I laid it aside in the bushes.

Insect nest or gall

We still have a few things to finish up outside on the pre-winter checklist, so this weekend will be a good time for that.  Up until today I’ve been working on so many different projects, but sometimes I don’t pay enough attention to what the Yellow Lab is up to!  I caught him about to go for a swim in the pond a couple days ago.  I forget how much he loves water, and when I’m not looking he goes right in.   That must be his way of telling me we don’t train enough.  He’s two years old now by the way.  I swear he looks right through me…

Yellow Lab in October ready for a swim

Pile-O-Piglets and Other Critters

October 21st, 2008

Last Friday we went to a fun night for families at the elementary school.  It was great seeing the kids go crazy, and enjoy some silly activities.  They even had a mini-petting zoo with a cute “pile-o-piglets.”  These little guys were pretty tuckered out from all the attention.  It would be neat to raise some  pigs as Ron’s family has done this year, but I’m not so sure we could, uh, invite them to dinner if you know what I mean! 

Pile of piglets

It has been wonderful weather outside, and a chance to get a lot done.  Of course it’s nice to just enjoy the outdoors as well, and after school yesterday we jumped in a little paddleboat on the pond.  The boy loved paddling around collecting leaves, while the basset hound followed around the shoreline going “Bowwooo!”   We saw a few of our large Koi swimming around.  There should be five in the pond, but we’ve only seen four recently…  we call this one “Orangey.”  I’m not sure how big they’ll get, but compared to those oak leaves this one is really growing.  I’ve heard they can live for decades.

Big Koi named Orangey

 

The big garden news:  After planting 3-4 watermelon starts and watching dozens of vines grow and flowers bloom this year, we finally have our ** ONE ** watermelon for the year.  Yipee! I don’t know why the plants didn’t set more fruit… they were in full sun and really nice soil. We’ll see how this one ripens before we try it.   Our pumpkins didn’t set this year either.  Maybe it was too much rain?

 Homegrown watermelon

But the tomatoes are doing great- and I put up another 3 quarts of spaghetti sauce.  We’ve got enough green tomatoes on the plants still for another 3-4 quarts of sauce, but I may have to pick them all before we get our first frost.  For now we’re enjoying cool nights and warm days.  The frost can just stay away, thank you very much!

For the bug aficianados out there, here’s blue and black butterfly of some kind.  I thought it was a swallowtail of some type, but can’t quite identify it.  ***Update***  Beetle Doc was kind enough to tell us this is a “Red-Spotted Purple” butterfly.  That’s what I was going to say! Not… :) 

Unknown black and blue butterfly

And here’s a Comma butterfly, or maybe a Question Mark (yes, that’s a butterfly name!).  It’s the first one I’ve seen here.

Comma butterfly in October

Okay, one more bug today. This little thing is really strange.  It’s a wood wasp of some type I think, and was flying along just above the ground.  It’s about 2 inches long!  That long part is normally an ovipositor for laying eggs.  But again, I tried and was not able to identify it.  Anyone? The wings are a blur as it is flying along in this picture.  *** Update ***  Beetle Doc got this one right too! It’s an Ichnuemonid wasp, and lays eggs into larvae of beetles, caterpillars and other wasps using that long ovipositor.  Strange critter…

Uknown Wood wasp

A New Day, and a Tiger On His Tail

October 8th, 2008

Sometimes the world seems so small, especially when fog blankets the landscape.  At dawn we see the glow of light, and the sun rises, becoming brighter through the gray curtain of cloud.   On days like this the world awakens more slowly, or at least we may feel a closer, measured pace to the presence of life around us.   What does the sunrise represent?  Hope?  A new day, or a new future?

Sunrise through the fog in Missouri

Does it hold meaning for you?  I once read a story that framed the context of challenge by saying,  “In America we get up in the morning, we go to work and we solve our problems.”   And that’s pretty much a testament to action.  So often it’s that first step that is the most difficult.  But as we begin, as we move and as we take steps towards our goals, we are moving every aspect of our lives toward that new day.  With our action, opportunities will come, doors will open and circumstances will gradually shift toward our goals.  We don’t have to solve everything at once, but as we begin everything changes.   And we’ll get there.

Speaking of action, it seems the kitten and the yellow lab have become playmates.  The lab doesn’t quite know what to make of this little ball of energy.  The kitten romps and pounces, darts in and out and generally uses the retriever’s tail as a chew toy.  Instead of a “tiger by the tail,” this dog has a tiger on his tail.

 Kitten playing with Yellow Labrador Retriever

The kitten chomps and wrestles until the lab puts a big ‘ole paw on top of him.  Then a little  “reeoow!” screech and the cat darts away again.  We watch them closely, but he is amazingly restrained to the needle sharp teeth and claws of the kitten.  It will be interesting to see their relationship as they grow older.   When I imagine friendship between dogs and cats, I think of Sparky, no longer with us, as he walked with Justin.

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