Saturday, January 3, 2009

Weekend Update!

© 2009 Albert A Rasch

"Dillio" in his Snuggly Blankie

Such is my life...

Albert A Rasch
The Hunt Continues...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

PanzerSchwein, Hoover Hogs, and Armadillos

© 2008 Albert A Rasch

Other than the fact that state unemployment doesn't cover the bills, being off work has its advantages.
  1. I can write just about every day, sometimes twice a day.
  2. I can work out on my schedule, not the Man's.
  3. I can fish with Blake.
  4. I can boss everyone around the house 24/7.
  5. I can take leisurely bicycle rides with the Mrs.
It was number five that led to today's adventure.

We, that is the Mrs and I, where leisurely pedaling our bikes through parts of Lakewood Ranch's commercial district. Well, the Mrs was leisurely pedaling, I was circling around her, jumping the curbs, speeding up and skidding, riding with no hands (She really hates it when I do that.), and generally making a nuisance of myself, when I noticed two black vultures in the bank's parking lot. Everything is closed of course for January First, so the lot was empty, and as usual, curiosity got the best of me. Why would two carrion loving, flying garbage disposals be in the bank's parking lot? As I called Cristal, and spun up the bank's drive to see what was up.

I was fixated on the vultures, and didn't notice anything until Cristal started scolding them. "You nasty, dirty birds!" she hollered. Both birds looked around them obviously shocked, "She's obviously talking to someone else." One said to the other. You could tell it was scandalized at the reference. "Yes you! That's right, I'm talking to you! Get away from him!" I was just as confused as the birds were. At that point Cristal went through the shrubs. "She's gone bonkers!" I thought. The vultures, wisely vacated the premises as I went up the drive-thru lane to circle the bank.

The screen of low shrubs kept me from seeing what Cristal had seen. It was a small nine-banded armadillo stuck in the vast expanse of asphalt. He had shoved his nose and face in a drainage grate in a futile attempt to escape from the relentless sun and the tormenting vultures.

Who knows how long he had been there. All day? Maybe two? A cursory visual examination showed no obvious injuries, lesions, or abrasions. I quickly, but gently, grabbed his tail and body. He barely resisted me when I picked him up. I flipped him over, gave him a once over, determined he was a boy, and saw that likewise he wasn't hurt underneath either.

He had a tick on his belly and with a deft pluck, the Mrs rid him of that bloodsucker. Other than that, the armadillo didn't seem to be injured, just very lethargic. We saw a wooded area not far away so it was decided we would release him there. I walked while the Mrs brought our two bikes. I figured a nice shady spot would be what he needed.

I gently put him down, and he walked a few steps forward and just lay down. The Mrs was worried. "He must be dehydrated." she said. "Probably." I countered and added, "Let me ride over there and see if there's any water. I was pretty sure that there was a pond or at the very least a drainage ditch. When I got there it was in fact a drainage pond, but unfortunately it had been treated. The water was a murky "Tidy Bowl" blue, with rotting vegetation around it.

The Mrs to one look at the stagnant pool and then looked at me and said "Take your shirt off and wrap him up in it, we'll put him on the patio until he regains his strength."

"Sure thing Baby." I replied. Off came the shirt. Now my masterful physique was exposed to all passers by. The little 'dillo was still in the same spot, and just as sluggish when I picked him up. I bundled him up like a baby, put him under my arm, and mounted up. After an uneventful five minute ride, and not a few catcalls I might add, we were home.

Cristal found a shallow plastic top that we put on the floor. I filled it with water, and set the little fellow down in front of it. You could see his nose wiggle one way then the next as he narrowed in on the water. When he found it his tongue and lips went to town. He was thirsty in an awful way.

While he drank his fill, we found him a cardboard tube to hide in, a box, and some leaves to fool around with until this evening when we will release him, probably by Whitetail Marsh. There's plenty of shade in the thickets that surround it. Their preferred habitat, moist soil near water, is also in abundance.

Within moments of finishing his water, he was up and about, obviously feeling oh so much better. He naps a few minutes at a time, but otherwise he walks around sniffing everywhere. Rollie-Pollie isn't too thrilled with the intrusion on her patio. Every time she lies down the armadillo isn't too far behind to shove by her.

As we encroach on every last square inch of the earth's surface, more often will we find animals trying to survive where they don't belong anymore. Sandhill cranes wandering forlornly as the pasture they called home gets scraped clean and turned into a subdivision. Gopher tortoises are buried alive because some developer gets a permit to do so. Softshell turtles being eradicated from every body of water to fill the insatiable desire for turtle in the Orient. One third of all amphibians are either extinct or are becoming so, on account of human actions.

Without some effort and diligence on our part, we will see the last of many animals in the wild.

I guess I'll dig up some grubs or worms for him this afternoon, just so we can say, "We watched an armadillo eat."

Albert A Rasch
The Hunt Continues...

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Here Gator Gator Gator! Awwww Aren't They Cute!

© 2008 Albert A Rasch

I'm bicycling down Lakewood Ranch Blvd when I see two couples peering into the water of one of the many ponds and lakes in the area. I assumed that it was probably a gator and figured I might as well introduce myself and give an impromptu discourse on American Alligator biology.

I jumped the curb, rolled over the sidewalk, clamped down on the front brake, then flipped the bike around 180 into the grass. (Learned that in New York City.) Fortunately for me they were so engrossed by what they were looking at that they didn't see me splatter all over the grass. Picking myself up, I walked over to them and asked, "Whatcha got?"

The they about fell over themselves telling me that there were three gators in the pond.

Tourists. They had to be. Only tourists are that agog by some alligators.

I walked up a bit more and sure enough there were two little fellows floating in the lily pads, and a third one swimming up from the far side.

I thought it all a little strange. Most of the time you can't get very close to an alligator. But these fellows were positively unconcerned by our close proximity, and the third, well make that third and fourth little guys were positively swimming towards us. "This isn't good." I thought to myself.

Obviously someone has been feeding these youngsters and have come to equate humans with food. Whomever is doing it has pretty much signed their death warrants. As these little fellows get bigger, they will no longer be cute little gators, but huge "potential maneaters" that are "terrorizing" the local denizens of the condos that surround them.

That's when they become a nuisance alligator.

Let me quote the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission ( FWC )web site:

"What is a nuisance alligator? Generally, alligators may be considered a nuisance when they are at least four feet in length and pose a threat to people or their pets or property. (Note: The threat is determined by the people who call in. AAR) Alligators less than four feet in length are naturally fearful of people and are not generally capable of eating anything larger than a small turtle. They eat small fish, frogs, and other small animals. They are too small to be a threat to even small pets and pose no threat to people. They are typically not dangerous to people unless someone attempts to handle them. Also, they are common in Florida, and the mere presence of a small alligator is not cause for concern, even when they turn up in places where people may not expect to see them such as retention ponds and drainage ditches. However, occasionally alligators less than four feet in length are legitimate problems and must be addressed. If an alligator less than four feet in length approaches people, does not retreat if approached, or is in a location that is not natural, call the Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 1-866-FWC-GATOR (1-866-392-4286). The Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program strives to reduce the threat from alligators to people and their property in developed areas, while conserving alligators in areas where alligators naturally occur. If you have a nuisance alligator call the Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 1-866-FWC-GATOR (1-866-392-4286). "

That's when the FWC calls the alligator trapper. There are about 40 licensed trappers and the Commission has some of its own. Using treble hooks on multi-strand cable and baited with chicken , they set up and try to hook the alligator like a big fish. This works best on the smaller ones. The larger ones are usally snagged with very sharp treble hooks on heavy braided line with substancial rods and reels. And of course there is always the harpoon. Really, I kid you not.

The long and the short of it is that the vast majority of these gators are killed, either on the spot, which means that the trapper only has a short time to get the carcass to the processor, or they are kept alive until they are killed at the processor.

Though listed as an endangered species in 1967, they were fully recovered by 1987 and removed from the list. And though they are no longer in any danger of extinction, they are still threatened by the constant, inexorable encroachment and habitat loss caused by man. And as we continue to build into those areas that once were the domain of the otter, egret, and the alligator, the incidence of contact with them increases. There are thirteen confirmed fatal alligator attacks from 2000 to 2007. Three in 1990's, four in the 1980's, and three in the 1970's. (Source: Wikipedia - List of fatal alligator attacks in the United States by decade)

That's strange... Recovering species, building boom, population growth, increased alligator attacks...Uhmmm...

While ruminating on their eventual downfall, one of the fellows asked me about the difference between a gator and a croc. I gave them a quick (For me!) description of the alligator's, crocodile's, and caimen's features and launched right into proper respect and interaction with wild animals. I gave them my usual "Welcome to Florida. Don't feed the racoons, don't feed the gators, and make sure you put on bug repellant at dawn and dusk unless you like viral enciphilitis." speech. I told them how these alligators would ultimately be destroyed because some thoughtless person had decided that it would be entertaining to feed alligators. I reminded them that if they were scared (And they were.) of these little bitty gators, that at most were twenty to twenty two inches long, "Imagine," I said, "if just one was six or seven feet long and you were as close to it as you are to these." They all nodded their heads politely and in thoughtful appreciation as eyes dart right and left. Feet started to shuffle in apprehension as the thought of a six foot alligator possibly being somewhere in that pond. It was more than they cared to contemplate. I smiled inwardly as they beat a hasty retreat.

I didn't bother to tell them that there were four more gators floating in the lily pads just a few feet away.

I found the following leaflet on the FWC website.

Don't Feed or Molest

I'm going to print out a dozen or so of themm and put them over by the condos. I'll highlight the part about a reward, that should get a few of those condo commandos interested!

Gosh, I really do like stirring the pot!

Albert A Rasch
The Hunt Continues...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Cheer! Cheer! The Gangs All Here!

© 2008 Albert A Rasch

Quick post for tonight! I didn't get to work on the pirogue. The Mrs wanted me to look for a job. The nerve.

But later in the afternoon Blake's new friends stopped by and asked Blake if he would take them fishing. Blake hollered up for permission, so I made him come on up and ask Mom if it was Ok. She of course told him to ask me. So I of course said yes. Which ten minutes later led to "How could you let them go by themselves! It's getting dark and there are alligators the size of a small car in that lake!" I of course responded with, "Honey, the gator will go for the smallest kid in the bunch, and Blake is by far the biggest." A stunning piece of irrefutable logic if you ask me.

Of course, all it got me was a smack on the back of the head, which, by the way, I never saw coming because...


Women can't live with 'em, and you can't shoot them either.

Rubbing my head, where that damned two and a half carat emerald cut diamond I bought for her ten years ago when I was really out of my mind, clocked me, I got up, marched to the stairway and laced my boots up.

Charlie was already there waiting to be leashed up. Even the dog has me trained. Will it never end!

Well, we made it to Lake Uihlein with out being run over by the cars speeding along Lakewood Ranch Blvd., and much to the Mrs' relief none of the kids had been eaten. I, on the other hand, was half hoping that we would find the kids cowering behind a park bench, screaming in terror, as one of them was being pulled down into the murky depths by a huge gator, just to justify the knot on my head, but alas, it was not to be.

Blake's Fishing Possee
Tommy, Darrel, Joe, and Christian

There was one small, minor issue that had to be cleared up before anything else though. And that had to do with good manners. When we first approached the boys, not a head turned in our direction, no one thought to say good evening, or hello. It was the second time it has happened.

Bad Idea.

One look from the Mrs and I assumed my best drill sergeant demeanor and barked out, "Line up! Right here! Now!" I love it when young men jump and follow orders. The look of surprise, a touch of bewilderment, the momentary thought of defiance that is quickly discarded, it's just a moment of pleasure that is all too infrequent. They lined up and were quick about it. I let the Mrs take it from there. Basically we asked them to be gentlemen. To greet us properly, look us in the eye, and use the English language correctly, and that if they had a question to always ask. In return for their good manners, we would in turn, invite them to all the interesting goings on that we are involved in. There's my projects that they can get their hands dirty with. (Or lose an eye!) We are always available to organize a camping trip, fishing trip, and all sorts of other outdoor fun! Plus we cook some mighty fine vittles!

They got the message.

I can't think of anything better for a bunch of boys to be doing than fishing. And I'm really proud of Blake for bringing this disparate group of boys together with a common purpose of having some good, clean fun. Good on you Buddy!

Oh, and by the way, even though I get the occasional smack on the head...

I still love her more than anything!

Albert A Rasch
The Hunt Continues...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Project "X": Building Blake's Pirogue Part III

© 2008-2011 Albert A Rasch and
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
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Building a Homemade Pirogue
Part III: Measuring for the Ribs.

Making a pirogue without plans isn't very difficult at all. Not knowing what you are doing though, makes it more interesting.

I keep on thinking of improvements I could make to the next pirogue or punt boat we build; ideas of things we should have done, or things that we thought of on the fly. We will incorporate those ideas into the series as "Lessons Learned." And when we build the next homemade pirogue, johnboat, or punt, we will include them as part of the tutorial.

Well, as you can obviously see,
I didn't get it done in time for Christmas!

What can I say! It was Christmas before I knew it! I'll make up for it by finishing before the New Year! Deal?