Bee Hunting in the Ozarks

The time is rapidly approaching when our friend Jasper will come around, inviting us to come along with him on another Bee Tree Hunt. (for photos of a bee hunt, click here) This is an ideal time for a bee hunt, or “coursing bees”, as it is called around here.  This is a skill that was once common among the subsistence farmers who inhabited this area in the past.  It is an art that is quickly disappearing, so we are fortunate to have Jasper teach us the tricks of the trade.  This is our friend Jasper:

Jasper on a bee tree hunt

Jasper is an incredible man.  At 82 years young, he can scramble up and down these hills and hollers all day long coursing bees, and even being three decades his junior, I can barely keep up with him.  Jasper also gathers black walnuts from our ranch, as well as surrounding farms, and is consistantly the regions leading supplier to the Hammons Walnut Company, who sets up collection stations throughout the Ozarks every fall.  During summer, Jasper will spend about 6 weeks gathering blueberries from a large local farm, which he gladly shares with all his family and friends.  But these are stories for a later day, which I will most probably babble about come this summer.

Meanwhile, I want to share a couple of bee photographs that Retta took last spring.

Bee gathering pollen

Another bee doing its thing

Sometimes I wish that we humans were endowed with 10X zoom, macro-enabled eyes – wouldn’t that be something?

Purple Martin Scouts Have Arrived

Retta reports that the purple martin scouts have arrived in our area.  She has now spotted them and heard their calls twice in the past two weeks.  The scouts are here a little earlier than I had expected them, but now that they are here I had better get their housing in order.  Every fall, after the martins have left for their wintering grounds, I cover the nest rooms with plugs to keep out the “pest” birds.  When the scouts return, in advance of the main contingent of martins, I open the houses back up again.

Purple Martin 24 Unit Condo

Two seasons ago, Retta found an injured martin writhing around on the ground beneath the martin house.  She immediately removed the bird from harms way, and discovered that the martin had a broken leg.  Retta managed to fashion a cast for the bird’s leg out of masking tape.  But feeding the bird became a cause for concern.

Martins are exclusively aerial feeders, performing astounding maneuvers in the sky as they dart back and forth, swooping down upon their airborne prey.  Because of their feeding habits, it is not easy to replicate their diet.  Retta proved equal to the task, however.  With aquarium fish net in hand, she would go about the task of tracking down and catching all manner of insectivoria – including moths off the screen doors.

Purple Martin Food

It was quite amazing, really, to watch her feed this bird live insects with a tweezers, and even more surprising how much it took to satisfy the bird’s hunger.

Retta nurses this martin back to health

The martin was a female, so we naturally began to call her Mary Martin.  Eventually, the bird became healthy, and one day, while Retta was giving her some fresh air, she simply took off.  Fretful at first, we soon realized that she was going about her business in a normal manner, and was raising her own family.  She would fly close to Retta whenever she passed.  We think this was a sign of thanks from her to Retta.  We are very hopeful to see her back again this year.

To Free, or Not to Free (range your chickens, that is)

When we first moved to our place, we soon discovered the joy of cohabiting with ticks.  Buy guineas, we were told by our friendly neighbors, as they do a great job of controlling the tick population naturally, without resorting to pesticide treatments.  So we bought a couple of dozen pearl and lavender guinea keets (chicks).

Guinea Keets

Among the keets, however, there were also two buff lace polish chicks that had been packed, by mistake, along with the keets.

Hey, these aren't guinea keets!

As it turned out, the chicks were a male and a female, so before long, nature took its course, and we were in possession of fertile eggs.  Retta, being the nurturer that she is, decided to buy an inexpensive incubator for these eggs, and whadayaknow, a few weeks later we were chicken ranchers.

Chicken farming at its best

The young chicks soon grew into chickens, who roamed the grounds all around the house and barn areas, pecking and scratching for seed and bugs here and there.  During the daytime, the chickens were free to roam as they pleased, and at night they always settled down in their coop, where we would lock them up for safe keeping until the following morning.

Polish chickens foraging

Life was good, indeed.

Until the predators came!  Hawks, coyotes, fox, raccoon, feral cats, stray dogs, owls …. they all came at one time or another.  Before long, the flock was reduced in size dramatically.  Until finally, we were left with two – a rooster and a hen.

Free-Ranging Polish Chickens

But now, sadly, we are left with only the hen, as some predator managed to kill the one remaining rooster we had this last weekend.  It’s kind of sad, watching her – her demeanor in the coop leads one to believe she is truly mourning the loss of her companion.

And so it goes.

As we contemplate ordering some more chicks from a hatchery, we also muse on whether it is more humane to have the chickens live a longer life in captivity, or to allow them the opportunity to free-range during the day, knowing full well that they are destined to be picked off, one-by-one, by the predators that abound here.