Bugs, oaks, birds, cats and booze

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The Yellowjacket season has arrived. I saw the first one in mid-July and they have gotten more plentiful ever since. I set out my Yellowjacket trap about three weeks ago and have trapped about 40 of the little stingers so far, along with three bald-faced hornets, a red wasp, and numerous small moths. The trap I use is orange, pyramidal-shaped, and has six openings, two near the top, and four close to the bottom. It works best if the top two are sealed using wads of paper towel, and the large one near the bottom is closed. I bait the trap using sugar-water mixed with a few drops of balsamic vinegar. The liquid should be no more than a quarter of an inch deep.
I’m beginning to wonder if the oak trees overhanging my deck are going to produce any acorns this year. A large water oak tends to produce an abundance of acorns every year. The white oaks usually produce every other year. Four years ago, the latter produced a bumper crop, and at least half a gallon bucketful fell on my deck, but not a single one has fallen since. And no water oak acorns have fallen this year. I’m beginning to suspect that the unusual weather conditions we’ve been experiencing might be responsible for the failures. If any arborist or horticulturist reading this can shed any light on the subject, please let me know. My e-mail address is rhmount@gmail.com.
Brightly colored, yellow and black male goldfinches are now feeding on the seed-heads of the wild sunflowers growing around my house. I’ve seen no females. Now is the nesting season for Goldfinches, and I assume the females are incubating their eggs. Males do not share in this responsibility but they do bring food to their mates. Goldfinches seem to be fairly common breeding residents around these parts, but their nests must be difficult to locate because records of their nesting are very rare.
Auburn is officially registered as a “Bird Sanctuary,” but it may also provide a banquet of sorts for free-ranging house cats. In the United States, according to the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, free-ranging domestic and feral house cats kill between 1.3 billion and 4.0 billion birds each year. Ground-dwelling birds, such as Robins, Catbirds, White-throated Sparrows, and Towhees, are particularly vulnerable to house cat predation. Auburn has an ordinance making it unlawful for owners of dogs to allow their dogs to be outdoors and unrestrained, but no ordinance exists against free-ranging cats. Some people who own cats argue that cats can’t be trained to be led on leashes, but I have seen evidence to the contrary. The city of Montevallo, incidentally, has a “cat-leash ordinance,” and residents are pleased with the results.
Owners of house cats, and others as well, should be aware of the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which is transmissible to humans and reproduces solely in the intestines of cats. An article in “Scientific American,” titled “Protozoa Could Be Controlling Your Brain,” describes weird symptoms of toxoplasmosis affecting some people who have contracted T. gondii from cat feces. They include becoming fearless of things that can harm them, visual impairment and possibly blindness, and abnormalities in embryos in pregnant women. Infections have also been linked to schizophrenia. Cats become infected with the parasite when they eat infected birds and rodents they have killed. If someone can offer a reasonable argument that enactment of “cat-leash ordinances” would not be desirable, I’d like to hear it.
On an entirely different subject, I’d like to share with readers some information on taxes on liquor charged in ABC stores in Alabama in comparison with taxes charged in surrounding states. In Alabama, the rate is $18.23 per gallon; in Georgia, $3.79; in Florida, $6.50; in Mississippi, $7.41; in Tennessee, $4.46. Is it any wonder that many Alabamians buy their booze in surrounding states rather than buying it in ABC stores? For the record, Alabama’s tax on liquor ranks it fourth highest in the nation.
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Department of Zoology and Entomology at Auburn University. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.

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