Friday, April 27, 2012

Critters We Left Behind

Having been back in Vermont for over a week, I've been thinking about some of the critters we encountered on our Southwestern trips.  While we have a wood fire going and snow pellets in the air here, it also is nice to take walks with the dog and not worry about poisonous or dangerous things.

We first encountered potential trouble in Louisiana when I was out on some trails hiking with the dog and saw this sign. It sort of got my attention but it was early spring and I figured that probably snakes were still staying warm underground or wherever.  Of course, it was a warm day for January and as I poked through some brush off trail, I was startled to see this cottonmouth coiled up on an old stump.  It had one of these, "And who might you be?" looks if snakes can have expressions.  Penny was off leash and sniffing here and there but I grabbed her before she found our friend.

After taking a couple of iPhone pictures, I made a quiet retreat and stayed on the trail the rest of the walk.

This state park, Lake Fausse Pointe, also gave us our first real exposure to mosquitoes.  Southern mosquitoes are big and nasty and it's not fair to have them around in January.  Mary seems to attract them and we had several bouts later in Texas.  They seem to find any small opening in the Airstream and with a white ceiling, give us a pre-bedtime ritual of swatting them.

Of course, you never know where you'll run into alligators.  It didn't raise our confidence level when one park ranger told Mary, "Ma'am, don't worry about them -- they only go after the old and the slow." Well ....   I tend to worry more about the dog hassling them and keep her on leash in alligator country.  Some of these get pretty big -- here's one we saw at a Louisiana refuge.

We have a few black bears here in Vermont but they are hardly ever about - I've only seen three or four in our woods in ten years of outings.  On the other hand, in Texas I've heard and seen coyotes frequently and also seen many wild pigs and javelinas.  Here's a coyote that crossed right in front of us at a campground at Big Bend.

Javelinas love to browse at feeding stations at Falcon State Park.  They seem skitterish but when they have young ones with them, they reportedly can get ornery.  We just give them a wide birth at any time.

And the worst critters we encountered this trip came at the end when both Penny and I hit infestations of ticks.  Now, we worry some about ticks in New England and Penny is on meds for fleas and ticks but we were out in the brushy woods at Village Creek State Park, north of Beaumont, Texas, and just got whacked.  I was wearing shorts and both of us were covered.  These suckers were hard to remove and we kept finding them.  We moved on to Mississippi and like an idiot, I went out again and apparently brushed by vegetation with more of them and we spent another evening searching and removing them.

I had bought some tick medicine from a vet in Texas.  I normally use Frontline on Penny but she carried something else, saying that it was just as good.  Well, these ticks just laughed at the generic substitute.  Our friends Jason and Kevin picked up some Frontline for Penny and we dosed her in Mississippi and it did the trick.  I just wore long pants and tucked in socks and stayed out of tick areas.  Neither of us seems to have developed any issues from our encounters.

And lastly, while we were at Falcon, a neighbor told me about a scorpion that some folks found dead in the women's bathroom.  He then showed me a live scorpion that he caught underneath a rock down by Falcon Lake.  He was going to bring it to his grandson who reportedly was excited to get it.

The thought of capturing a scorpion to bring back to one of our grandkids never crossed my mind.  I have a good relationship with my daughter and daughters-in-law and want to keep it that way.  We left all the critters behind us.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Paddling in Mississippi

I took the kayak out this morning for a little exercise/birding here at Natchez State Park. There's an impoundment that's about the size of Wrightsville Reservoir where I'll paddle this Spring and I saw many of the same bird species (Osprey, Belted Kingfisher, Wood Ducks, Common Yellowthroats, etc.) I'll see in Vermont this summer. But that's where the similarities end.

A Great Egret fished nearby and dozens of Black Vultures wandered around waiting for thermals. The water was greenish and tepid, and several big bass boats were already tucked into coves.

It is Turkey season here but I'm not used to warning signs where I paddle.

As I lugged the kayak down to the water, a good ol' boy setting out in his shiny rig said with his barely-understandable Southern drawl, "you might not want to go up the cricks - I've seen a bunch of 'gators in them. One of them was as long as that boat of yours!"

I thanked him for his advice, noting that we don't see many alligators in Vermont.

As I paddled, I wondered if he, having seen the license plates, was putting me on but I think not. It's funny how floating logs and cypress knees can look like gators. I did see a great-looking "crick," sort of like the inlet at Wrightsville, as was tempted to follow a gaggle of beautiful Wood Ducks up it. But, discretion won over and I cruised back up the center of the lake, enjoying the workout and keeping my heart rate normal.