Merry Christmas 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

It’s already that time of year again—time to celebrate the birth of Christ and enjoy the company of our family members!

Cold weather and snow mean that it is also time to find a cozy seat and catch up on some research and reading. Please enjoy this year’s lineup of our best content.

We’re looking forward to serving you again in 2017. Merry Christmas!

Best of 2016

From Homestead on the Range
The Family Garden Journal

New Compact Family Garden Journal


Introducing Our Free Weekly Newsletter

Free Weekly Newsletter


Posts
Pros and Cons of Gardening in Kansas

Pros and Cons of Gardening in Kansas


6 Reasons to Preserve Kansas Heritage

6 Reasons to Preserve Kansas Heritage


The Roots of Western Music

The Roots of Western Music


Pawnee Indian Museum

Pawnee Indian Museum


8 Utopian Experiments in Kansas

8 Utopian Experiments in Kansas


5 Steps to Birdwatching Expertise

5 Steps to Birdwatching Expertise


Prairie Strips in Field Crops

Prairie Strips in Field Crops


How Vermont's GMO Labeling Law

How Vermont’s GMO Labeling Law Affects You


Top 10 Kansas Towns

Top 10 Kansas Towns


Benefits of Making Music

Benefits of Making Music


Series
The Exodusters: Part 1

The Exodusters


Horse & Donkey Breeds

Horse & Donkey Breeds


Big Predators Return to Kansas—Updated!

Big Predators Return to Kansas—Updated!


The Changing Face of American Agriculture

The Changing Face of American Agriculture


Garden & Orchard Diseases

Garden & Orchard Diseases


Resources
The Kansas Poems of John Greenleaf Whittier

The Kansas Poems of John Greenleaf Whittier


K-State Horticulture Newsletter

K-State Horticulture Newsletter


Farming the Dust Bowl

Farming the Dust Bowl


Dog Breed Selector Tool

Iams Dog Breed Selector Tool


Music Practice

Music Practice


Supplies
Intellitouch Tuners

Intellitouch Tuners


Dustin-Mizer

Dustin-Mizer


Photos
Wind Turbines

Wind Turbines in the Flint Hills


Fleabane

Fleabane in Bloom


Wheat

Wheat Field


Quotes
Quote of the Week: Keep on Shooting

Keep on Shooting


Quote of the Week: Courage

Courage


Quote of the Week: Good Resolutions

Good Resolutions


Quote of the Week: Better to Dare

Better to Dare


Quote of the Week: Forgive Your Enemies

Forgive Your Enemies


Wood Duck

Wood DuckThe gaudy male wood duck (Aix sponsa) is a sight not readily forgotten. Its head shines an iridescent green, except where crossed by bold white lines on the crest or extending in a U shape from the throat. Its eyes are bright red, while its bill is an interesting combination of yellow, red, white, and black. Its breast is a deep burgundy with white spots, separated from the body by a well-defined white line. The back is iridescent blue, while the sides are buffy, bordered on the flanks by another patch of burgundy. The tail is dark.

Of course, this is the wood duck’s breeding plumage. At the end of the breeding season, the male molts to a drab shadow of its former self. It only retains its red eye, multicolored bill, and white throat patch with U-shaped extensions.

The female wood duck is more subtly beautiful, adorned with soft brown-gray overall. It is lightly spotted with white over the breast and sides, and if you are lucky, you may get to see a patch of teal blue at the end of the wing. The most striking part of the female’s plumage, however, is a stark white spot around the eye shaped like a teardrop.

In flight, both sexes share identifying features. Wood ducks in flight look relatively small, but with a long, square-ended tail. In poor lighting, where specific markings are not visible, they appear dark overall but with a contrasting white belly. If you get a good view of the topside, you may see the blue wing stripe (it may simply look dark in poor lighting) bordered by white on the trailing edge. Wood ducks fly swiftly and directly with fast wing beats.

 

Best Field Marks

  • Crest on both sexes.
  • Colorful bill of male.
  • Teardrop-shaped white patch around eye of female.
  • Squared-off tail, most noticeable in flight.

 

Voice

Wood Duck

The male wood duck is known for a soft, squeaky whistle, best described as a rising jeeb. When courting, it also burps repeatedly. Males assisting mates in finding a nesting site give a series of jib-jib-jib calls

Females are known for their loud, wheezy squeals of whoo-ee given when disturbed.

 

Distribution & Occurrence

The wood duck is a permanent resident of most of eastern Kansas. In the western part of the state, it may only be visible spring through fall. When not breeding, its needs are easily met. It will happily occupy just about any pond, marsh, or stream with a few trees nearby, regardless of whether this water is in a rural or urban area. The water must be free of ice, however, so in the winter it may move further south if it cannot find a suitable habitat.

The wood duck is also one of the few waterfowl species that nests across most of the state. Because trees are a requirement for successful nesting, this duck prefers the eastern regions. However, it will nest further west along tree-lined streams. It does not mind traveling about a mile between its chosen tree and a body of water.

 

Behavior

Wood Duck

These colorful ducks are quite at home foraging on both land and shallow water. They rarely tip up to feed but immerse only their heads and necks. Wood ducks mostly eat plants (including seeds) and small insects, although they will eat some small amphibians.

The courting process begins as early as January, so that when the ducks arrive at the breeding site they are already paired off. They are very wary when nesting. Their preferred nesting location is a tree cavity, usually created by woodpeckers. This hole can be as low as three feet off of the ground, or as high as 50 feet in the air. Wood ducks do not typically line their nests, the female depositing 10 to 12 eggs on average directly onto the wooden floor of the cavity. During the incubation process, however, it will pluck down from its breast to cover the eggs.

Soon after hatching, the young ducklings begin the arduous process of escaping the cavity and heading toward open water. They are born with sharp claws, helping them scramble up to the opening. The female then calls to them, and they obey by throwing themselves to the ground, falling as much as 50 feet without being hurt. The female then guides them to water—a risky undertaking due to predators. For the first few days of their life, the ducklings eat only high-protein insects, but they gradually eat more plants with time. They are left to fend for themselves at one to two months of age.

Wood Duck

Attracting

Hunters attract wood ducks with lifelike calls and decoys.

Birdwatchers may enjoy building nest boxes for wood ducks. These should be placed in well-hidden locations in the woods on trees or poles. Protect the boxes from predators by cutting down overhanging branches and putting up specially designed guards, which usually look like metal rings or cones. Be patient—wood ducks are slow to accept man-made nest boxes, but they will catch on if you have chosen a suitable location.

 

Similar Species

Female Blue-Winged Teal
This dabbling duck may appear similar to the female wood duck at first glance, but the differences are readily apparent on closer examination. The teal lacks both the short, fuzzy crest of the wood duck and its distinctive teardrop-shaped eye patch.

 

Helpful Resources

Wood Duck
Photos, audio, and more information from Cornell’s All About Birds site.

The Complete Book of Birdhouse ConstructionThe Complete Book of Birdhouse Construction
This inexpensive booklet includes plans for building a wood duck nest box. Read our full review.

 

Complete Series

Ducks of KansasDucks of Kansas

 

Get Ready for January 2017

Get Ready for January 2017January is a great time to plan for a new year! Take some time to shape your philosophy and develop a farming or gardening approach.

  1. Plan a garden.
  2. Discover community-supported agriculture.
  3. Learn the pros and cons of gardening in Kansas.
  4. Study the farming practices of the Plains Indians.
  5. Define sustainable agriculture.
  6. Preserve Kansas heritage.
  7. Evaluate the interstate highway system.
  8. Find out how compost gardening works.
  9. Examine your horse’s conformation.
  10. Read about the peopling of the plains.

Family Garden Journal Introductory Price Ends January 2017

The Family Garden JournalThe new compact edition of The Family Garden Journal, published by Homestead on the Range, is currently available for $19.99 at Amazon.  This offer will end at the beginning of the new year!

This beautiful paperback journal can help you or a loved one develop a green thumb while creating a keepsake:

  • Start by planning for success with our Step-by-Step Gardening Guide.
  • Check items off of your shopping list as you collect seeds for the growing season.
  • Mark each plant’s place on your garden map.
  • Build a customized schedule to ensure that each seed makes it into the ground at the proper time.
  • Divide the work among several family members with one handy table.
  • Build your own gardening manual with attractive reference pages and a 366-day journal—now in a handy, compact size.
  • Find out with the turn of a page which plant varieties were your favorites, which pest control methods worked best, and how much produce you harvested.

The Family Garden Journal makes a great gift, so take advantage of the introductory pricing and order a copy or two before Christmas.  Don’t forget to buy one for your own family!

Sample pages are available for preview here.

Fulvous Whistling-Duck

Fulvous Whistling-DuckAlthough it’s called a duck, the fulvous whistling-duck (Dendrocygna bicolor) is remarkably gooselike, with its large body and long, gangling legs and neck.  On the other hand, it is far more striking in appearance than many geese.  Most of its body is a tawny cinnamon color (fulvous), contrasting with a black stripe running down the back of the neck and a whitish stripe following the contour of the wing across the side.  The back is mostly black with tawny stripes.  The rump is white.  The bill, legs, and feet are gray-blue.

In flight, the first thing you will notice is the whistling-duck’s unusual build.  The feet of this duck trail along behind the tail in flight, and the neck usually droops slightly.  The fulvous whistling-duck flies directly with slow, powerful wing strokes—nothing like most ducks.  Also note the black undersides of the wings and the white rump, best seen in flight.

Young fulvous whistling-ducks are basically just duller versions of their parents.

 

Best Field Marks

  • Gooselike silhouette.
  • Tawny head, neck, and underparts.
  • White rump, best seen in flight.

 

Fulvous Whistling-DuckVoice

The fulvous whistling-duck takes its name from a high-pitch squealing whistle given in flight.  This sound is alternately described as pee-chee or kit-tee, with the accent on the second syllable.

 

Distribution & Occurrence

This duck is a casual visitor to Kansas, typically found in unusually warm weather.  Cheyenne Bottoms appears to be its favorite place to stop, and it may be found there anytime from early May to early November.  However, in April and again from August to November, migrants are sometimes spotted at a handful of wet, open locations across the state, such as lakes, marshes, and flooded fields.

The fulvous whistling-duck normally breeds on the Gulf Coast and does not appear to have met with much success nesting in Kansas.  It is believed to make the attempt at Cheyenne Bottoms from time to time, however.

 

Fulvous Whistling-DuckBehavior

One thing that stands out about the fulvous whistling-duck other than its odd appearance is its equally odd behavior.  A social, confiding bird that dives and swims well, it can run on land with equal ease.  Unlike its cousin, the black-bellied whistling-duck, the fulvous whistling-duck does not typically spend much time in trees.  It prefers to rest during the day in dense growth.

During the night, the fulvous whistling-duck comes out to feed.  It frequently scavenges fields for waste grain, weed seeds, and blades of grass, but it also eats aquatic plants.  When feeding in water, it usually either tips up or makes a shallow dive.

 

Attracting

Attracting a fulvous whistling-duck is not likely to be an option in a landlocked state.  Your best bet is to wait for warm, wet weather and then travel to a likely location such as Cheyenne Bottoms.

 

Similar Species

Black-Bellied Whistling-Duck
The only thing you are likely to confuse with a whistling-duck is another whistling-duck.  Fortunately, the two species are easily distinguished.  The belly color is a giveaway.  As you would expect, black-bellied whistling-ducks have striking black bellies, while fulvous whistling-ducks have fulvous (tawny) bellies.  The former also have coral-red bills and legs, while the latter have grayish appendages.  Another clue readily seen in flight is the wing color.  The black-bellied whistling-duck sports a flashy white patch on the wing that its relative lacks.

 

Helpful Resource

Fulvous Whistling-Duck
Photos, audio, and more information from Cornell’s All About Birds site.

 

Complete Series

Ducks of KansasDucks of Kansas

 

5 Gifts for Birdwatchers

5 Gifts for BirdwatchersIs there a special birdwatcher in your life? You know, that person who never travels without binoculars and who remembers a location by that rare bird he added to his life list while visiting?

Here are a few ways to bring a smile to his face this Christmas:

  1. The Backyard Bird Feeder's BibleBackyard Bird Feeder’s Bible: Every birdwatcher needs a copy of this handy guide to species, seeds, flowers, and more. From DIY projects to landscaping tips to identification helps, just about everything a birdwatcher could want to know is included. If they don’t have one yet, by all means, complete their library! Read our full review.
  2. Field guide: If your birdwatching friend or youngster is just starting out, give him a copy of the Peterson guide for either eastern or western North America. More seasoned birders probably already have a field guide they rely on; supplement their collection with a guide specific to their state. Try The Guide to Kansas Birds and Birding Hot Spots, or search Amazon for guides for other states. Read our reviews for the Peterson guides and The Guide to Kansas Birds.
  3. Squirrel-proof feeder: A good squirrel-proof feeder can do more than just keep squirrels at bay. It is sturdy enough to last for years, and it may even lock out undesirable birds like crows and blue jays. This excellent hopper-style model holds quite a bit of birdseed, and can be either hung or mounted on a pole.
  4. All-Weather Birder's JournalBirder’s journal: This may be the best journal your birdwatching friend has ever tried. Compact size, waterproof cover, sturdy paper—what more could an all-weather birder want? Read our full review.
  5. Complete Book of Birdhouse Construction: Do you know a birdwatcher who is also handy in the shop? This little book may give him a few ideas on how to tailor his projects to his favorite birds. Read our full review.