High Summer Labyrinth Walks

What fun hosting  Bankers Trust staff and clients and welcoming an out of town visitor to the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth.  Tuesday, July 11 was steamy and threatening storms.  But, the hardy crew engaged in lively discussions and asked probing questions about the more simple lifestyle we embrace at Winding Pathways.  Now, simple does not mean easy.  Tending a large yard and five circuit labyrinth are work.  Rewarding work. And, people are curious about chickens, managing small gardens, maximizing space, retaining water on our property, heating with wood, and creating diversity that welcomes wildlife. Topics like ways to save energy which saves money to be invested or used caught their attention. And questions on managing pests like ground hogs and deer. We touched on a lot and had a great time.

Go to 1080 Labyrinth for a photo album of the afternoon and evening.

Then, with storms obviously to the south showing off cumulus and anvil clouds but no threat, all walked the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth.  Mike T’s comment summed it all up.  As he and Terri entered the center a cool breeze touched their faces.  Mike paused and said, “I never want to leave.”

Thanks Terri Doyle for organizing and promoting!

Turkey Time!

Well, the turkey characters are at it, again! Up they come each morning even  before sun up, looking quite fit and hale, and gobbling for breakfast.  At Winding Pathways we get a kick out of the web pages and sporting flyers that detail all the equipment one needs to bag a turkey and how early one has to get up to beat the turkeys out of bed.  Special camo clothes, calls, camo guns, shells. To the credit of the web sites, they do offer intriguing information on strutting, clutches of eggs, turkey senses, and habitat. A Kidzone site shares an interesting story of the “mix-up” of the name. and, of course, Audubon gives a great set of pictures and details about turkeys.  All fun reading.

From the comfort of our home, we sip our coffee and watch a crew of seven meander up from the ridge where they roosted and another eight that saunter over from the neighbor’s trees.  Then, it is the Sharks and the Jets (think West Side Story) as they squabble over the seed tossed out – not for them – but for the song birds. Or look at us with pathetic longing, trying to make us think they are starving.  Ha!

Meanwhile, the less dominant males slide in for a feast.

Same with mating. The dominant males strut and intimidate and the less aggressive males sidle up to a female that is ready and mate. Maybe we will eventually have less pushy turkeys.

Enjoy this gallery of winter and spring turkey antics.

Lions in this Here Country!

Mountain Lion

These big cats have over 40 names. (Courtesy NYPL free digital file.)

Early one December evening a neighbor was driving home near our home when she spotted movement out of the corner of her eye. Thinking a deer was about to dart in front of her car, she immediately stopped to prevent a collision.  She was astounded when a mountain lion crossed about ten feet in front of her  illuminated by headlights.

A mountain lion………in Iowa! Perhaps that’s not so farfetched. Our neighbor would know one when she saw it.

Mountain lions (Puma concolor) are spreading out from their traditional home in western mountains. A couple of decades ago the only known eastern population of the big cats was in Florida, where they are extremely rare and are usually called panthers. These big cats were once common throughout North America except for the far north. They also ranged throughout all of Central and most of South America. As big predators they were heavily persecuted by humans, and their habitat was devastated by settlement. A big blow to cougars was the elimination of deer from much of their range in the late 1800’s.

Much has changed to give lions, or cougars as they are sometimes called, an opportunity to expand.

Most people now appreciate them as beautiful animals and don’t shoot them on sight. Many states protect them from shooting. Also, the woods and deer have returned. In 1900 most of what today is a vast hardwood forest that stretches from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean was farmed.   Many of those farms went out of business and trees move in. Today, there’s near continuous forest for hundreds of miles and much of it is filled with deer, a favorite food of mountain lions.

A few years ago a male cougar walked from his Black Hills home to Connecticut, where he was hit and killed by a car. Most Midwest states have documented the presence of cougars. A few have been hit by cars. More have been photographed by trail cameras put out by hunters to track deer movement.  Some have been shot. Seeing a live one is very rare.

So, a cougar sighting near Winding Pathways in Iowa is neither impossible nor surprising. It was probably a young male cat seeking a mate and place to live.

Do mountain lions pose a threat to people, livestock, or pets? Not really. There have been documented cougar attacks on people, mostly in California where they are not hunted and have lost fear of people, but the risk in most places is trivial. Cougars are shy animals that choose to stay out of sight and prefer eating deer to dogs, sheep, cattle, and cats.

We wish we’d seen the mountain lion that passed through our neighborhood but he’s probably miles away by now.

This is an independently researched column. No money or goods have been exchanged for this information.

Smarter Than We Think

Watching backyard wildlife yields amazing sights and education. We recently noticed two things at Winding Pathways that reminded us about how many animals are downright smart.

Both involved a manufactured trap that supposedly catches House Sparrows. We have more of this pesky bird than we’d like so we set the trap under a feeder and baited it with cracked corn.  A few minutes later an intrepid chipmunk entered the trap’s funnel-like door, feasted on seeds, and couldn’t find his way out. We gently released him and set the trap back on the corn.

A few minutes later we were amazed to see the chipmunk back and watch it tunnel under the trap to reach the bait! He’d learned that entering the trap brought trouble and figured out how to safely reach lunch.

Our sparrows are even smarter than the chipmunk. Not a single one entered the trap. Instead they feasted on corn and millet on the ground around the feeder. After a few hours they had eaten all the safe seed but they still wouldn’t enter the trap.

We now have new respect for the intelligence of both chipmunks and House Sparrows.

 

 

Turkeys: Gift To the World

Turkey

Strutting his stuff

As we enjoy Thanksgiving dinner we pay homage to the great gift the Americas gave the world.

Beef, pork, lamb, and chicken all come from animals with Old World origins. Shortly after Europeans discovered North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, and other new worlds they introduced these familiar and useful farm animals. Before Columbus made landfall, Native Americans knew nothing about these exotic animals. But, they knew turkeys.

Of all common meat animals eaten today only turkeys came from the New World.  Before Columbus, wild turkeys abounded across much of North America. Their domestic cousins were tended by some tribes. Treated with great care, the domesticated turkeys were an important source of clothing, tools and food. Among some uses of the tribes of the Four Corners of the United States, turkeys provided feathers for coats, eggs for eating and reproduction, and bones for tools. Evidence exists that the Native Americans cross bred for certain valued characteristics. Europeans quickly developed a taste for turkey and brought them eastward across the Atlantic where they became a common European food.

Our Thanksgiving dinner consists of turkey, potatoes, and winter squash, all Native American foods. Sometimes we add acorn muffins and capstone the meal with a long time family recipe for pumpkin pie, made from a plant that also originated here.