Sunday, July 26, 2015

Red Wasps, Yellow-jackets and Black Vultures

                        The black vulture, an emerging menace for Missourians

            I want to warn all you readers about something… red wasps!  The whole month of August and much of September are the days in which they become most aggressive, as their larvae grow closer to maturity in the paper nests they make around nooks and crannies in sheds and around porches.
            The same can be said of yellow-jackets, which have nests in the ground.   But nature has an answer… in August and September the country is full of green tomatoes, and nothing soothes any kind of sting like a green tomato, cut in half and applied to the sting, squeezing juice onto the area.  If you have multiple stings, use duct tape to hold cut small green tomato halves against each.  I don’t know why they are so efficient for stings, but they are.  Maybe I have a reader who can explain the chemistry of it.

            How far into north Missouri have armadillos and road-runners actually advanced?  A reader near Lake of the Ozarks told me recently that this summer he has seen several road-runners on his place, at least three or more.  Armadillos, which are the scourge of ground nesting birds, are in the show-me state now by the thousands.  Recently there has been an outbreak of leprosy in Florida and some other southern states, attributed to the abundance of armadillos.

            It has long been known that the animal is a carrier of leprosy.  Just last week the Missouri Department of Conservation acknowledged that as on of their media specialists said on television that everyone should avoid handling dead or live armadillos!  I second that… it is a brilliant piece of advice, perhaps the result of their extensive scientific studies!

            I am afraid what is coming next is a plague of black vultures.  They are becoming common in the very southern fringe of Missouri and terribly overpopulated in northern Arkansas.  Last January I saw more than a hundred of them at a big chicken raising facility along the James River south of Springfield, I suppose feasting on piles of dead chickens dumped just above the river.
            In January, they should be long gone from here, as they winter in Mexico and Central America, but they seem to disdain migration now. They seem well fed because of changing land use and the question is, how far into Missouri will they go?  I’d like to hear from readers on this.  The farthest north I have seen them is Truman Lake.

            Down in the White River area of north Arkansas many hundreds of them have being killed through special permits given by the Game and Fish Commission. They are a real problem for boat docks where they congregate in big numbers. But it seems you can’t kill enough of them.  These birds will kill young calves… that fact has been documented. I don’t think turkey vultures have ever been known to do that.

            Another Missouri reader told me he witnessed a single black vulture pecking at and bloodying the ears and face of a newborn calf before he could drive it away, and then it came back to continue its assault.  He called the MDC and reported it, and he was transferred to someone who told him no vulture would do such a thing. They will!

            Black vultures even attack things they can’t eat.  A dozen or so of them attacked a new pickup parked on Norfork Lake a couple of years ago and scratched an pecked it so badly they did several thousand dollars worth of damage to it.  There have been several instances of them damaging vehicles and no one can understand why.
            These birds are devilish.  They, along with the armadillos, should be killed anywhere they are found, but, for some idiotic reason they are protected by federal law under the migratory bird act.  It would be interesting to know how far north they have come so if you are sure you have seen one anywhere north of Stockton Lake, let me know.
            You can easily tell a black vulture from a turkey vulture.  They have no red on the head, they are smaller, with grayish patches beneath the wings.  You can see a color photo of one on my website…

            When it gets this hot, there isn’t much you can do outdoors during the day. A couple of years ago, I took outdoor writers Jim Spencer and Jill Easton on a July float trip when the temperature rose to 102.  We spent as much time in the water as we did in my johnboat, and we kept everything wet in that aluminum boat.  When I was a kid, and floated in wooden johnboats, you couldn’t burn yourself by hopping out of the water onto a seat. You CAN burn yourself on a dry, super-heated aluminum boat seat.
            At the end of the shoals that day, we would wade out chest deep and fish the spots where the water slowed and deepened, and we actually caught a good number of bass.  I use to float those rivers at night and use a jitterbug to catch bass, and at the same time catch a sackful of bullfrogs.
            As you get older bullfrogs aren’t as good to eat, partly because there are more problems found on a river at night; slick rocky shoals too shallow to float, bugs attracted to your headlamp, the humidity, the discomfort of gravels in your shoes, and the fact that good bullfrogs aren’t nearly as plentiful as they once were.   A friend of mine blames several things for that, primarily the over-population of great blue herons.  There are far too many of them, but then, there are more otter, more mink, more raccoons, more of everything that likes to eat bullfrogs.

            I wonder sometimes if when a raccoon gets older if he is content to just to eat corn and crawdads, and not work as hard as he might have to in catching a bullfrog.  I think sometimes that it is laziness that makes me hesitate to go frogging in the middle of the summer.  But if it cools down a little…I’m going to do it again!
            I keep hearing a couple of big bullfrogs bellowing in the pond down in the woods behind my home. I ought to go practice on them I suppose, just to sharpen up my reflexes.  We never did gig frogs, we always caught them by hand, freezing them by shining a bright light in their eyes.  That takes a quick hand and you have to focus.  You can’t be looking around to be sure there are no snakes to deal with.
            Once when I was a kid, I was about to grab a frog when a big water snake slid right over it.  That shook me up, but the frog didn’t move and I got him.  Come to think of it, I always liked fishing at night with a jitterbug more than frogging, which was a whole lot like work at times.  If it gets a little cooler some summer night, I might just forget the froggin’ and go jitterbuggin’!  Yeah by golly, I think that’s what I’ll do… some night soon… if it gets cooler…

            Readers can write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at

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