Alligators have sensitive jaws

by Dave Hanks

It’s hard to imaging an animal that is so big and covered with armored skin to be sensitive to anything. Yet the skin around the top of the snout and along the jaws is more sensitive than our finger tips. They can detect touch that is too faint for our fingers to feel. Their most sensitive areas are in the gums along their teeth.

Cats of all kinds have sensitive whiskers and elephants very utilitarian trunks; traits that rival the gators sensors and help each species in their struggle for survival. These sensitive areas can allow animals to identify prey, or whatever they come in contact with.

Alligator jaws that can shut with a tremendously powerful force are, otherwise, weak enough that one could hold their mouth shut with one’s hands – a striking contrast between force and gentleness. The touch sensors allow a special gentleness when the female responds to peeping coming from her ripened eggs, which she carefully opens and then carries her new babies in her jaws to safety. Clumsiness would result in a lot of young ones getting accidently chewed up.

Alligators are more adaptable than their crocodile cousins. This has allowed them to spread farther north. They are top of the food chain predators that feed on a wide variety of animals: fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and even your dog. They shape habitats where they live by digging “gator holes” which can modify the wetness or dryness of an area. Other organisms benefit from these modifications.

 

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Resting and warming in the Texas sun

I Really Like to be in Southern Texas

by Dave Hanks

I REALLY LIKE TO BE IN SOUTHERN TEXAS!

It’s pleasant in winter time, when temperatures are low.

This is the time of year when it’s best to go

To the Rio Grande Valley to enjoy the birdie show.

I REALLY LIKE TO BE IN SOUTHERN TEXAS!

All sorts of perchers like these conditions too

Just put out some feed and they soon come into view.

They are there in abundance, and I will name a few:

I REALLY LIKE TO BE IN SOUTHERN TEXAS!

To see Woodpeckers, Jays, Thrashers, and the Kiskadee;

Cardinals and Titmice, and an Oriole in a tree

And so many, many others, are there for you to see.

One gulf coast denizen is the Tri-Colored Heron. It is also known as the Louisiana Heron. They will be there stalking the shallows to catch and ingest almost anything that they can get down their gullet. This 26 inch tall bird inhabits the saline waters of the gulf’s marshes and mangrove swamps.

Audubon Oriole is another southern Texas joy to find, with its yellow body and black head and neck. Texas has more bird species than any other state in the union, and when we can take a trip there, it is always rewarding.

 

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Arizona: A winter month bird bonanza!

By Dave Hanks

First, this southerly location receives visitors from Mexico – a country with birds not found in the more northern states of America. Also, its desert landscape causes many species to be in abundance in the less arid and lusher areas. Some special areas Carolyn and I would visit during winter months to do photography start at the top of the state and extend into its southeastern corner.

Just below Flagstaff at Cottonwood is Dead Horse Ranch. It has many water birds, many scrubland species, and River Otter. This spot has always been productive enough for a several day stay.

South of Phoenix is Picheco State Park with its desert adapted species. Further south at Tucson is a very rich area. The Sonora Desert parks, both west and east portions add more variety, and all three parks increase the winter picture bounty.

Perhaps, Catalina State Park, north of Tucson, has yielded the most variety: Cardinals, Pyrrhuloxia, Cactus Wrens, Roadrunners, Goldfinch, Thrashers, and several Woodpeckers to name a few.

Further south, just north of Nogales, is Madera Canyon. This higher elevation provides a woodland habitat of Scrub Oak, Juniper, and Yucca. It sports four special species: Arizona Woodpecker, Bridled Titmouse, White-Breasted Nuthatch, and Scott’s Oriole.

From Patagonia Lake we travel to the Chirricahua Mountains and Portal in the southeastern corner. This is the real bird capital of Arizona. One can hardly get the feeders out before the birds that are waiting in the trees swoop down to feast. Peccary and Coati Mundi are two mammals that are there to experience also.

Crissel’s Thrasher: An exciting discovery and photo session

Crissel’s Thrasher: An exciting discovery and photo session

Eyes of Love

by Dave Hanks

Have you ever noticed a penny on the ground? Did you stop and pick it up? Many times I’ve stood by my school room and beheld a penny on the hallway floor. Students would invariably
pass over and not give it a second glance. They paid no attention to something they attached little value to. After a time, not wanting it to clutter the floor, I would rescue the coin and put it in a proper place. Where little value is ascribed, little observation occurs and poor understanding results.

When in the Registered Angus Cattle business, I cherished every cow in the herd. I could look at them lined up at the manger, from their back ends, and identify every individual and give a summation of each one’s traits. To others they all looked alike. But I had a deep love for Angus cattle and therefore noticed things easily. At a Utah State Fair, strolling
with my wife through the pavilion that housed art exhibits, we came upon a lady’s sculpture display. She had an excellent one of a bovine bull. She had titled it “Angus”. Though the
workmanship was very good, the title did not fit the subject. It was obvious that she had little real understanding of cattle. Wanting to know my thoughts, I was unable to convey to her that “feel” that was needed to have made the piece more authentic. An explanation that would be unnecessary to one absorbed with the subject matter.

My wife and I have developed an unbridled love for the natural world. Our eyes have been opened as a result and there has been a “snow-balling” effect. The more you notice, the greater the ability to notice becomes. When showing others slides of local birds and other life-forms, the comment always surfaces: “I’ve never seen any of those. Where have they been hiding?” It’s amazing – when the “covers” come off the eyes, things appear where they never were before. I’ve witnessed this marvelous event. New vistas of excitement, knowledge, and understanding results. Understanding breeds fondness. Understanding increases as fondness deepens.

Two people with an affection for each other, see things in the other person which the average observer cannot comprehend. Why is this? Because there is no one who
can view things with as acute accuracy as one who “looks through the eyes of love”!

How About Some Serious Pondering

by Dave Hanks

My brother Richard, in the later part of his working years, was employed by an irrigation company. His job consisted mainly of taking soil moisture samples and recommending watering
procedures to the client. In order to do this, it took a great deal of investigative searching, testing and the practical experience previously gained from operating his own farm. His Father-In-law would periodically ask his advice, only to completely disregard it in favor of that which he had heard on “the street”.

This frustrated my brother to “no end” to say the least. Yet he was guilty of the same thing regarding environmental issues that had entered the political arena – totally disregarding the findings of scientists in favor of “crack-pot” radio, television, and newspaper commentators ( the likes of Limbaugh, Bell, Maughan, to name a few ) who were pushing a political agenda.

Why do people do this? Why do they shut their ears and eyes to the obvious? I was a Biology teacher in high school and so I have witnessed this closing of the mind on a first-hand basis. This is especially true in environmental science and the theories relating to species continuation and adaptation. Parents were always interfering in the learning process. The following is a quote I have para-phrased that I believe most timely: ” People toss out science in order to assuage their insecurity in certain of their own ideologues, especially religious ones – purposely closing off any contact with biological education. Scientific illiteracy is leaving too many of us unprepared to discuss or understand the damage we are wreaking on our own habitat and even on our own existence. ”

I have long been a preacher for the tremendous importance of variety. Variety seems to me to be as important an eternal principle as any other you’d care to mention, yet there is an almost insane drive by the human animal to reduce it as much as possible. Whether it is in our social drive to follow styles to be like the next guy, or the drive to make us all think and act alike in a religious context, or the replacing of naturally occurring bio-systems with
mono-cultures. Ethnic variety is what’s made America strong on the world stage. Likewise the elimination of variety in naturally occurring gene pools will eventually catch-up with us all. A very frustrating and frightening prospect to me!

I always cringe when others refer to me as a bird watcher. They talk as if all we do is recreate with birds. This attitude hits me as so trivial that it is irksome. While I do love birds and observe them, I love everything out there in nature. Our time is spent photographing all life-forms, birds being the most abundant and noticeable. What I really am is a naturalist and a conservationist. Hopeful what we do might have an effect in some small way on the attitudes of others. After all, I don’t think there is any concern facing the human race more serious than keeping our planet healthy. Also, to keep it viable through the preservation of all the variety possible in all the many and varied gene pools.

In this race for the dollar and the using up of everything on this earth, who will be the eventual winner?

Learning for Life

by Dave Hanks

Some experiences in life stand above others as attitude shapers and lifestyle modifiers. My college athletic education was one of those. In fact, to compare it to the classroom would be unfair. It’s value to me stood “head and shoulders” above the academic learning I experienced. While the college curriculum was mind expanding, much of that type of learning came later while on the job. But participation in sports was a tremendous course in human nature and relationships.

All levels of individuals facilitated this learning process. Starting with the President of the University, who was an SOB, I learned that positions of authority are not necessarily staffed by people with high levels of integrity and that you had better recognize it. Two of the coaches fit that same category while others were somewhat more human. Added to that mix was the vastly divergent personalities of teammates and opponents, and rival school anti-Mormon attitudes. This later attitude, though well camouflaged, at times “leaked” from the head coach who was a Baptist. He never felt comfortable at BYU and it’s a wonder that he was ever hired. I’m convinced that LaVell Edwards great success was first “rooted” in the fact that he had a total understanding of the “Mormon psyche”.

From all the applied pressures, the rantings, the cussings, and in some cases coaches who provided the opposite extreme; I learned much about what does and what doesn’t motivate. Another lesson was how valueless lip-service is and how important is a quiet resolve. You learn that the truly dependable are few while the majority are not. I confess to having become a cynic when it comes to human palaver. Talk is not only worthless, at times it’s downright disgusting. Other things learned were: self discipline, a drive for perfection in all areas, and the experience of physical exertion that the average “Joe” has no concept of. However, mental/emotional aspects outrank the physical – the physical aspect is so closely matched betweenteams that only a slight edge turns out to be a huge difference.

Teamwork, competition, work ethic, getting yourself up when knocked down, etc. are recognized as values worth learning. One thing that is never mentioned is compassion. Compassion for the “other guy” because my success results in his failure. I have sat in losing dressing rooms as both a player and a coach and I guarantee that it is a miserable experience. This realization has made me less critical of how someone else performs a task. Knowing how it feels in the other locker room, I have never rejoiced in the victory but only rejoiced in the escaping from defeat.

There are those who think athletics should be de-emphasized or even done away with. How naive! Extra curricular events are every bit as valuable as the classroom and that is not to demean that area of one’s education. School sports can be a tremendous unifier, especially for LDS church members who may not have much in common otherwise. I am not the typical sports fiend, but I am deeply grateful for the enriching and life expanding gift that my athletic experience bestowed upon me!