Another day...another skunk
December 15, 2017 4:09 PM | Posted in: ,

Coming soon!




Drone Blown
December 4, 2017 7:31 AM | Posted in:

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 the DronebotRosie 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 avoid domestic chores better suited for human efforts.

Pepé Le Pew Deja Vu
December 1, 2017 11:37 AM | Posted in: ,

Alert Gazette readers - and, really, aren't you all? - will recall that I successfully, if foolishly, released a trapped skunk a couple of days agoPepé le Pew 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 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:

Critter Capture Scorecard graphic

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 couldn't be opened from the inside (although alert Gazette readers will recall that one rough-and-tumble raccoon managed to thwart that feature). This meant that the force necessary to open it from the outside would bounce around the contents of the trap, and that had uncomfortable implications.

In addition, the blanket or towel covering the cage would defeat the mechanism for locking the trap door in the open position...meaning that I would have to stand over the cage, holding the door open, until the skunk vacated the premises. What were the odds that it wouldn't notice a 6' tall doofus hovering over it?

Despite these challenges, I was determined either to be a shining example or a cautionary tale, and we proceeded as though we had good sense. I also decided that it was important to record the events for posterity, I think the following video speaks for itself.


As you saw, the plan actually and amazingly worked. The little skunk - they're really cute, by the way, when they're not ruining your life - was no worse for wear and lived to stink another day. The same could be said for me.

I will have to rethink my choice of baits, although I no longer have a clue about what attracts raccoons that doesn't entice skunks. Perhaps I'll just depend on the fact that skunks are so smart that one would never be trapped like that again. After all, I have such a firm grasp on animal behavior. What could possibly go wrong?

Stranger Things in the Back Yard
November 1, 2017 9:32 PM | Posted in: ,

I haven't had much activity on the game camera lately, possibly due to the fact that the batteries were dead. Once I figured that out, I replaced them and set the camera on a step on our back porch, facing out into the yard. 

When I downloaded the images this morning, there was our neighborhood skunk, taking his usual stroll from one side of the yard to the other. A possum also made an appearance -- and somehow managed to bump into the camera while meandering around. These things were interesting, but not too exciting. 

But the last clip was a whole other thing. It started out in a boring fashion; I couldn't even discern what had triggered the camera. But about 15 seconds in, something...weird...occurred. 

In this case, a thousand video frames are worth a hundred words, so take a look for yourself.

 
 
So, any ideas about that that last flurry of activity might have been? I've watched it a couple of dozen times and I still have nothing but a cockamamie theory. Don't laugh, but here it is:

Captioned game camera photo

We do have owls in the neighborhood, and the wings on this UFO could belong to one of them. What I can't tell for sure is whether what looks like dangling feet belong to a second creature (in the claws of the first one), or if they're very poorly photographed bird's feet.

If the former theory is correct, the question then becomes -- what did the owl capture? If we were in West Texas, I'd quickly guess a rabbit, but we've never seen one in these parts. It's a mystery, for sure.

I understand The X Files is returning to television. If they're in need of an episode plot, this is a good place to start. The truth is out there...perhaps in our back yard.


Nature...as I see it
October 8, 2017 8:58 PM | Posted in: ,

One of my goals in retirement is to spend more time with my camera, doing some creative things with it and Photoshop. I've managed to check off a few projects on a rather lengthy list, so yesterday I grabbed my macro lens and ring flash and went hunting. Here are some of the subjects that caught my eye.

There's a particularly gnarled oak tree in the lot adjacent to ours. I see the face of an owl. What do you see?

Photo of a tree trunk

Abundant rainfall and high humidity create blankets of moss on tree limbs.

Photo of a moss-covered tree limb

I don't know what species of grass this is, but the seedheads are unique.

Photo of grass seed heads

I was so focused on the wasp that I never noticed the mayfly (that's what I'm calling it in the absence of any actual knowledge) until I placed the image here.

Photo of insect on flowers

The turtle is the anchor for this photo, but there's lots more going on if you look closely enough.

Photo of a turtle in the water

Toadstools and mushrooms are abundant lately.

Photo of a mushroom

Photo of a mushroom

Photo of a mushroom

This grasshopper appears to be praying over its dinner salad.

Photo of a grasshopper on flowers

Granite boulders of all sizes litter the banks of Pecan Creek.

Photo of granite rocks

Yes, it's a moth.

Photo of a moth

Someone has requested photos of deer. I aim to please.

Photo of a whitetail buck

Photo of whitetail deer

Here are some logs for your viewing pleasure.

Photo of logs



I'm sure you noticed that a few of the preceding photos showed a bit of Photoshop manipulation. I sometimes do that in an attempt to bring a different perspective to a familiar scene or subject; mostly it's simply to enhance the image (I have some really good lenses, but a really mediocre camera).

But sometimes, it's just for fun.


By day and from a distance, it's a rather unassuming live oak trunk...

Photo of a tree trunk

But when the sun goes down, it's a whole other story...

Photo of a tree trunk with a city skyline inside

I love the look of these tree fungi. This one is growing horizontally almost six inches on the trunk of a live oak next to our house. The color gradiation is simply amazing (and, no, that's NOT Photoshop at work).

Photo of fungus growing on a tree trunk

But as I contemplate this photo, it reminds me of something else...

Donald Duck with a tree fungus bill

I started to boast that from now to eternity, whenever someone googles "Donald Duck fungus," this is the only page they'll get. But when I decided to double-check my boast, I found that I'm not even the first to use the term, much less the only one. Sheesh.
I'm not a parent so I can only guess at the accuracy of what I'm about to say. I suspect that at some point in every child's life, they realize that most of those dire parental threats ("If you don't behave, Santa isn't coming." "Your face is going to freeze like that!") are idle, and not only are they no longer intimidated, they will downright flaunt the prohibited behavior, daring retribution.

I bring this up only because the animals in our neighborhood have this attitude toward my serious prohibition against wreaking havoc in our yard. Exhibit A for the prosecution:

A veritable parade of wildlife in our back yard

This is a compilation of scenes from my game camera taken over the course of a single night (Sunday night/Monday morning). How many species can you identify?

I'll break it down for you:

  • Oct 1, 8:18 p.m. - A fox appears

  • Oct 1, 10:18 p.m. - An armadillo makes an entrance

  • Oct 2, 12:27 a.m. - A skunk materializes

  • Oct 2, 5:06 a.m. - A raccoon shows up
To compound the insults, you might notice that two of the inorganic, inanimate objects in this little farce are traps intended to imprison at least two of these critters. Neither accomplished its purpose.

IN FACT...

Check this out.

A raccoon approaches the trap

A half hour prior to the raccoon's appearance documented above, it (or someone impersonating it) decided to take a closer look at the trap I had baited in anticipation of just such an inquiry. We already know the outcome, don't we? What we don't yet know is just how impudent and contumelious this creature's behavior will be.

A raccoon enters the trap

Do you see that? DO YOU SEE THAT? It's IN THE TRAP, dining on sardines, and mooning my game camera. *Rodney Dangerfield voice* I tell you, I get no respect.

Update: Just when I thought things couldn't get any weirder...this happened this morning.

Buzzard trying to figure out how to get at the sardines in the raccoon trap

The buzzard knew something smelled deliciously dead (five-day-old-sardines remnants), but darned if he could figure out how to get to it.

This possum isn't playing
October 2, 2017 9:40 PM | Posted in: ,

Well, I may not be able to outsmart a raccoon, but that doesn't mean I'm a total trapping failure. 

Last Saturday I awoke to find that the door on the trap was closed, but through the bathroom window I couldn't identify the occupant. I got dressed and walked through the back yard and around the corner with my phone's video recorder going. Here's what I found:


Later, I reviewed the photos from my game camera, which I had focused on the trap, and was able to recreate the timeline of the capture.

Photo - Possum first appears on camera
The possum first appears at 4:27 a.m. Note the open trap door.

Photo - The trap door is closed
The trap door closes sometime between 4:27 & 4:30, presumably to the possum's chagrin.

Photo - When daylight arrives, the trap door is opened, but the possum remains
Daylight arrives, but the possum doesn't depart, despite the open door.
The rock on top of the cage is to keep the trap from closing again, when/if
the prisoner decides to accept the terms of his parole.

Alert Gazette readers will recall that this was not my first possum encounter. I much prefer the live ones to those of the deceased persuasion. They're actually a fascinating species, being almost totally resistant to the venom of rattlesnakes and water mocassins (which ruled out one of my cause-of-death theories espoused in the preceding link), and quite resistant to rabies.

Also, that "playing possum" deal is a real thing, but it appears to be an involuntary, uncontrollable act, much like Trump's tweets. The catatonic state can last up to several hours. This behavior is not present in babies, nor well-developed in juveniles, which might explain why this young one merely clung to the side of the cage when approached.

I'm fairly confident that possums aren't culprits in the systematic destruction of our yard and flower beds, so I had no qualms about releasing this one back into the neighborhood.

Scoreboard: Raccoons - 2, Me - 2
September 26, 2017 6:10 PM | Posted in: ,

Alert Gazette readers will recall that I was feeling pretty triumphant after the capture of not one, but two marauding raccoons who had been brutalizing our lawn. I'll admit that I was sure the human race could be proud of the way I was representing it in the mammalian biped-vs-quadruped battle.

Alas, pride goeth before a fall, and this West Texas city boy is learning some hard lessons about raccoons. Namely...

They will penalize your complacency.

Yesterday I awoke to find a third trapped raccoon in the back yard. But while the other two had appeared resigned to their fate, this one was the Steve McQueen of raccoons (Not old enough to get the reference? Grow up and get some culture, wouldja?). It was trapped, but not cowed, and our lawn had paid the price. Sometime during its incarceration, the creature had managed to turn the cage over and frantically dug up twice the area of lawn in an attempt to escape (once while the trap was upright, and again after it was capsized). 

It was still jumping around when I went out to check on it, so I moved the trap over to a bare spot so it couldn't do anymore damage while I went back inside to finish my coffee. But when I got ready to load it up for transport to the release area...the trap was empty. It had somehow banged around enough to hit the trap door in just the right spot to open it.

Let's recap. One, our lawn was damaged twice as much as usual. Two, the raccoon escaped. Three, he ate all the sardines. And not only did I still have a raccoon on the loose, I was sure he would never again be tricked into going into the cage, regardless of the lure of more sardines.

Score: Me - 2; Raccoons - 1

They will capitalize on your mistakes.

The lesson was hard, but I thought I learned it well. I would not place the cage in an area where the captive could do additional damage to the lawn, nor would I allow the cage to be rolled around by an over-stimulated occupant.

I placed the cage next to the wrought iron fence, in a spot where the grass hadn't spread, so it was resting on bare dirt. In a stroke of genius, I used nylon zip ties to firmly attach it to the bars of the fence, ensuring that it would not be shifted, regardless of the enthusiasm of the prisoner. I then slid a fresh can (partly opened, of course) of sardines into the trap and armed it.

I awoke the next morning to find an empty cage containing an empty can of sardines. Well, #$^$#$%.

As it turned out, I had a good idea, but it was poorly executed. Allow me to rationalize explain. I'm using a Havahart® Easy Set® trap, which is an excellent design when not thwarted by an idiot owner. The design is pretty straightforward: the animal, lured into the cage by the promise of a gourmet meal, steps on a flat plate which releases a rod which in turn allows the door to drop behind the unsuspecting diner and said door [theoretically] locks in place, engendering feelings of deep regret on the part of the trapped animal.

However, a problem occurs when some fool fastens the cage so tightly against something -- say, theoretically, the bars of a wrought iron fence --  that the door-dropping mechanism is placed in a bind so that the door drop, which is a fairly critical step in the whole trapping-the-raccoon plan, fails to materialize.

Let's recap. One, the raccoon got a free meal, without the usual stress of a human leering at it through the bars of the cage. Two...well, that pretty much sums it up.

The upside was that (1) the lawn was not subject to further humiliation, and (b) possibly that particular raccoon might view the trap as a variation on a Furr's Cafeteria and will return for another free meal.

Score: Me - 2; Raccoons - 2

More lessons learned. I have now repositioned the trap -- loosened the bonds so that it's still tied to the fence, but not in a bind -- and rearmed it with a fresh can of sardines. And now we wait.

I wonder what the raccoons are thinking...


Raccoons are enjoying new celebrity, thanks to Rocket Raccoon and the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Rocket even has his own Wikipedia page (and there you'll learn that he's actually more than forty years old). But raccoons are really better in theory (and movies) than in reality. Many of you already know this.

We thought that after we trapped four armadillos in five nights, our back yard would no longer look like a herd of drunken golfers (OK, perhaps that's redundant) with pitching wedges had descended on it. Boy, were we wrong.

As it turned out, the Armadillo Mafia was good at two things: digging up grubs, and keeping the raccoons at bay. And once the 'dillos were gone, the 'coons were free to muscle into their territory.

I had applied grub control to the lawn with no apparent effect, so my last resort was to buy a trap and use the same strategy that had been successful with the armadillos. My first try using canned cat food and marshmallows was a flop (thanks a bunch, Internet!). Even the flies weren't impressed.

My brother and his wife said that they'd heard that the best bait for raccoons was a slightly opened can of sardines. Apparently, they're smart enough to discern that a fully opened can meant it was a trap. I was skeptical, but also desperate, so that's what I tried.

I placed the trap in the middle of the back yard, and slid a can of sardines (in oil, of course; I'm not a barbarian) into the back of the trap. I left it with a silent prayer that skunks don't like sardines.

Here's what showed up the next morning.

Raccoon in cage

Cute little guy, isn't he? Unlike the armadillos who, once they determined they were trapped, immediately went to sleep, the raccoon was alert and...well...a bit agitated. He'd apparently spent a restless night trying to dig through the bottom of the cage, which was now layered with shredded St. Augustine. The lawn under the cage looked like a new grave:

Damaged lawn under cage

I was happy to (1) see a raccoon and (b) not see a skunk. But I was puzzled: there was no sign of the sardine can. It wasn't in the cage; it wasn't in the yard. It wasn't anywhere in view over the fence. I'm pretty sure the raccoon didn't swallow it.

Here's my theory. We actually had TWO raccoons in the cage, and the door wouldn't close completely because of the close quarters. One of them was able to back out of the trap with the sardines, and the door slammed shut behind him, leaving the other trapped and sad and sardine-less.

In any event, as with the armadillos, my plan was catch-and-release, with the release part occurring far, far away. As I have absolutely no experience with raccoons, I wasn't sure how miffed and adversarial this one might be once uncaged, so I rigged up a remote trap door release, consisting of a long rope hooked onto the release handle.

I loaded the trap into the pickup bed (the caged occupant wasn't amused by the trip from the back yard to the truck) and strapped it down. MLB agreed to act as videographer and EMT. We drove to an undisclosed location, close to live water where the little guy might have a chance to thrive, and put my release plan into action.

The results were...umm...sub-optimal. Well, see for yourself.


Obviously, I had nothing to fear from this particular raccoon, as he disappeared faster than Sean Spicer's acting career. I still think my remote-release theory is sound; I just need to work on the application part.

Of course, if my other theory is correct -- the one about the double raccoon appearance -- we still have at least one more to trap. I've rebaited the trap with a fresh can of sardines, and this time it's zipped-tied to the bottom of the cage. I let you know how it turns out.

In the meantime, I hope I don't dream about a certain weapondized and vindictive raccoon.

Rocket Raccoon

Update: After composing the preceding account last night, I set the trap again, hoping to catch the companion raccoon that had managed to abscond with the sardines while abandoning his unfortunate partner. I didn't want a repeat of the mangled lawn under the cage so I placed it in the vacant lot next door.

I went out with a flashlight before daylight this morning to check the trap, and sure enough, another one had succumbed to the siren song of the sardine; his eyes were glowing accusingly in the glare of the flashlight. I returned to my cup of coffee.

After daybreak, here's what I found.

Photo - the second victim

This time, the victim occupant had practically filled the cage with debris, including a fairly large twig that baffled me as to how he had possibly dragged it inside. The trap was also on its side, evidencing a spirited attempt at an escape.

More impressive was the fact that while I had tightly secured the can of sardines to the bottom of the cage with nylon zip ties threaded through the ring tab, the raccoon had still managed to break the can free, peel the lid completely away from the can, and in the process snap off the ring tab. And, of course, the sardine can was clean as a whistle (however clean that may be). Never underestimate the ingenuity and commitment of a trapped raccoon.

Photo - The trap and remnants of the sardine can

The release went smoothly, as again the freed captive gave us not a second glance as it scurried into the woods. I do wonder if it will meet up with its partner, and what the ensuing conversation might entail.