Nutcracker & Pine: A healthy relationship

CLARK’S NUTCRACKER has a symbiotic relationship with White Bark Pine, or in our mountains – Limber Pine. These two, high-mountain tree species can be identified by their needle bunches, which come in groups of five. There are many Limber Pine trees at Lake Cleveland. A symbiotic relationship is one in which both species benefit from each other. The nutcracker is adept at opening the cones of these two trees. The nuts from these cones are the main staple of the bird’s diet. The bird not only benefits from the food source, but the trees benefit by having their seeds spread. The tree populations are re-generated from seeds hidden in the ground and forgotten. Wherever you find these trees, you will also usually find this bird.

This is a big (12” to 13”) gray bird. It is trimmed with black wings, a white bottom, and white in the trailing wing edges. It’s voice is a loud, nasal “kra-ah-ah”. As a member of the Jay family, it (like all Jays) is raucous and opportunistic. They will readily come to a campsite that provides food. Seeds, suet, peanuts, bread are attractants that are readily accepted.

Nutcrackers lay three eggs and incubate them for 18 days. The young will fledge in three to four weeks. The bird is blessed with a pouch under the base of the tongue – just behind the lower beak. It can gather up a large quantity of seeds to either feed the babies or to store for a later date.

It is “neat” to arrive in the high mountains and to hear this bird, as it flies its circuit, making the morning air ring with it’s resounding calls.


Sage Grouse and a “March Madness”

I know the location of a SAGE GROUSE lek (strutting area). These skittish birds are difficult to approach, and thus require extra planning and preparation to get near them.

My wife and I, one March evening, drove to the lek in our truck/camper. I set up my portable blind on the strutting area and retired for the night. At 4:30 A.M., I entered the blind to wait until dawn. There must be no disturbance when the birds arrive. It was quite cold and uncomfortable, but my anticipation was great.

Soon after entering the blind, the birds came in. I could hear them “booming” all around me even though it was still too dark to see them. The sun finally came up, and there they were, practically at my feet. I could see many “white ruffs” randomly spaced over a large area. Sometimes, adjacent males would come together to display to each other. This was especially true if a hen happened to arrive in their proximity. I excitedly shot 3 ½ rolls of film. Finally, a curious Pronghorn came running up to inspect the blind, staring right into my camera, and that scared the grouse away. Thus, ending a very productive morning.

This large bird, with two yellow air sacs encased in a white bib, fans his tail and struts – making bubbling, popping sounds. Courtship takes place in March and very early April, but the prime time is late March. The leks seem to be situated where the sage is less dense. Sage is not only protective, but is also an important food source. The hen lays a large clutch of eggs that, when hatched, yield precocial chicks (well developed, feathered, able to run, and to feed themselves).

Current populations are struggling to survive because of decreasing habitat.



American Robin: Myths & Truths

The American Robin is given credit as the harbinger of spring. I find that a hard to support, oft-told saying. True, many Robins do migrate (especially the females), but we have male Robins hanging around our property all winter. Evidently, they are reluctant to leave their territories. If there is an abundant food source and water available they will stay. This winter, we have had a flock of about forty living in a small plot of Russian Olive trees – eating the berries. I suspect the real harbingers of spring are people. People, who roll out of doors when the weather starts to warm up, and personally seeing a Robin for the first time in the year declare, “the Robins are back – spring is here”.

However, the Robin must surely be classified as the “early bird”. Many song birds do not get active until the sun has had a chance to warm the air. But you can always depend on the Robin to be around in most places and at an early hour. They love lawns, especially when moisture causes worms to surface. They now become: “The early bird that gets the worm”. They also love fruit – stripping bushes of any berries that appear. In fact, it can be a race to harvest the fruit crop before the Robins do.

Called a Robin, by the first immigrants, because of the brick-red front which is similar to the English Robin. It is really a large Thrush, a family that includes Bluebirds as well as other birds named Thrushes. This is a family of eloquent songsters. The Robin is our most adaptable bird and can be found in almost any habitat. If you have a bird bath, or other sources of shallow water, you will see them bathing frequently. They love water! The fact that they do well around people, assures their survivability in spite of our ever increasing population. The Robin is the state bird of Connecticut and Wisconsin – a worthy symbol.


Rattlesnake at my Feet

Sometimes strange things happen while photographing wildlife. One of the strangest happened in southeastern Arizona. I had hung my portable blind from a tree limb that was close by a water seep. Firmly ensconced inside the blind, I was listening for any noise to alert me to the presence of something coming to the seep. I heard what I thought to be a strange sounding bird. Looking at the trees and finally at the ground, I was startled to see a Diamond-Backed Rattler 18” from my left foot. One moves very quickly and spontaneously in such a situation. Checking the camera, which was upset in the escape movement, I determined that nothing was broken and after cleaning it off, I proceeded to photograph a new subject.

Rattlers are heavy bodied and this one was about five feet long. Heavy bodied snakes are known as “lay in wait” species that ambush prey coming along a pathway. There are 22 species of rattlers in the U.S.A., 2 species of coral snakes, the Copperhead, and the Water Moccasin (Cottonmouth). At that, we are lucky as venomous snakes only make up about 10% of our snake population. Australia has a 90% ratio of venomous serpents.

This classic S position allows the rattler to strike straight out and their retractable fangs puncture and withdraw easily. Australian snakes, like the Taipan, Tiger Snake, Death Adder, and Brown Snake; strike sideways. This is the fastest method, and they can bite you 5 or 6 times before you can remove your hand. Cobras, the most famous of world snakes, strike downward. This is the least fast method, and one reason that they can be used by snake charmers.

The strength of venom is not the most vital factor in a bite. Sea snakes are highly toxic but produce small amounts of poison. As a rule, the bigger the snake, the more venom produced, and therefore the more dangerous. The huge King Cobra produces so much venom that it is the only animal that can kill an adult elephant.

The WESTERN DIAMOND-BACKED RATTLESNAKE at my feet is nicknamed the “coon-tailed” rattler because of the stripes on its tail. This one kept his eyes and head turned toward me, even though my wife, brother, and sister-in-law came running to investigate – tail buzzing loudly all the while. It was loud enough to be heard at the cabin 40 yards away.


A Race across the Beach!

This bull ELEPHANT SEAL is mad. His eyes are aflame with irritation and he could do me real damage if he caught me. Such furious eyes – I will never forget them! I thought seals were slow, but I had to sprint to stay ahead of him. I was doing some close-up photography when he suddenly came alive. A girl had been throwing rocks at him in order to get a reaction. She got one all right, but he directed his wrath at me. Thankfully, I didn’t trip, as I dashed across the sand out of range.

Seals can’t sit up like Sea Lions because they don’t have jointed hind appendages. The protection of marine mammals has resulted in an increase of the Great White Shark. ELEPHANT SEALS are the shark’s favorite food and the area around San Francisco has the most shark attacks in the world.

“What a proboscis!”



These opportunistic omnivores will eat a wide variety of food. They are widespread across the country, except at high elevations. They are even found in cities. They do, however, prefer riparian areas where they can “chow-down” on all sorts of aquatic lifeforms. You may see them washing their food but it’s not because of hygiene. It’s because they do not have salivary glands.

Their paw construction allows them to grasp things and when they do, they don’t want to let go. Raccoons can handle themselves against dogs. They are also purported to make good pets.

They like dog food, and we lured these in at night. By using the camera’s flash, and my wife shining a flashlight on them, we obtained this photo.


Beauty-Beast Syndrome

By Dave Hanks

Almost everyone has read the story of “Beauty & the Beast” – a tragic/sweet love story. But there are real life stories in the same vein. Not love stories, but tragic in their own way.

We have all seen the pathetic case of the “fat girl” who attaches herself to the school “beauty queen”. The “fair” one allows the connection because of the adoration and subjugation of the unpopular girl. The “lesser one” feels needed and gladly feeds to the “relationship monster” anything that is demanded. She will even demean herself in pursuit of affection from the idolized companion.

This situation is not just restricted to females. I know because, as a male, I have been the lesser member of this phenomenon at various times in my youth. Wanting desperately to be involved with others of my peer group, I have been the “tag-along”: the third member of a group of three, the fifth member of a group of five, etc. I willingly allowed myself to be dominated and put in condescending roles in order to feel a comradeship with someone. A foible of my youth, now past.

The strange quirk of this syndrome is that the beast role doesn’t demand a beast nor the beauty role require a beauty. If in the minds of the participants they fit each role, then that is all that is needed for this strange relationship to form.

One such relationship stands out in my memory above all others. It involved two college girls, roommates that did everything together. A seemingly ideal partnership where they planned everyday existence together. Planned mischief together. They even planned their future life travels together. Similar in ideological background and in their dreams, yet very different in all other ways. The one that I shall call the “beauty” was small, petite, and a real shrew-type. A selfish girl that had always been doted on. The fact that her looks were just common did not matter. She viewed herself as a campus queen and demanded tribute from others. She only associated with and dated those who filled these wants.

The other roommate, the one who played the “beast” role, was perhaps 35 pounds larger and had always been burdened with a “big” complex. A complex stimulated because she was the tallest in her family, a family of average sized people. She also carried an “unloved” complex. Her mother died when she was only four years old. The new step-mother, try as she might, could never warm-up to the suddenly thrust upon her – children. As a result the “beast” felt unloved and inferior – turning to seek solace in books and in dreams.

When the “beast” arrived at college and met the “beauty”, an attachment formed. The syndrome flourished as the “beast” continually fed the giant ego of the “beauty” and in return felt camaraderie and a sense of belonging. The “beauty” worked the relationship for her own desires. She continually subjected the other, by mutual consent, into situations that were uncalled for, unwise, and in some cases even dangerous. These escapades were occasionally indulged in as extra time from school-work permitted.

I met them one summer night and immediately perceived the relationship. It was most obvious, to anyone with powers of vision, that each girl’s assumed role did not fit either girl. The “beauty” immediately detected my distaste for her and my interest in the “beast”. I was a threat. Someone who might sever her disciple from her. She did what she could subtly do to put distance between me and her friend but in the end she failed.

I have first-hand knowledge of this particular syndrome arrangement. I have it because, you see, I married the perceived “beast”. A pseudo beast! The one that was the true “beauty”!


Stress and the Superficial

A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit their old university professor. The conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life.

Offering his guests hot chocolate, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of hot chocolate and an assortment of cups – porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain-looking, some expensive and some exquisite – telling them to help themselves to the chocolate.

After all the students had a cup of chocolate in hand, the professor said: “If you noticed, all the nice looking expensive cups were taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is but normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress. Be assured that the cup itself adds no quality to the chocolate. In most cases, it’s just more expensive and in some cases even hides what we drink.” “What all of you really wanted was chocolate, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups…and then began eyeing each other’s cups.”

“Now consider this: Life is the chocolate, and the jobs, houses, cars, things, money and position in society are the cups.

They are just tools to hold and contain life, and the type of cup we have does not define nor change the quality of life we live. Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the chocolate God has provided us.”

“God brews the chocolate, not the cups . . . enjoy your chocolate.”

Being happy doesn’t mean everything’s perfect, it means you’ve decided to see beyond the imperfections. Live in peace and peace will live in you.


Dog and kitten: No stress – Happy with their role in life