Copperheads, turtle regulations and Hoot Owl calling

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Last week, I wrote complaining about the invasion of copperheads around my residence, seven since last August. Three days after submitting the column another showed up, this one discovered by a TV receiver installer in the crawl space beneath the house. Auburn’s Veterinary College is training dogs to locate Burmese pythons in Florida. Copperheads should be easier to locate than Burmese pythons because of the distinctive acrid odor they emit when they sense the approach of potential enemies, including dogs. Copperhead-sniffing dogs for our area are as badly needed as are dogs trained to locate pythons in the Everglades. Handlers of copperhead-sniffing dogs could charge landowners a fee for each copperhead located and removed. Just a thought.

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The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources meant business when it issued an emergency rule ending all commercial taking of wild caught turtles, their eggs, and turtle parts. The rule applies to all the state’s public and private waters. Violators are subject to a fine of up to $500 and/or up to a year in jail.

Turtle farmers can continue to propagate and sell offspring of legally acquired native turtles, but brood stock must be obtained from other permitted turtle farmers or from legal sources outside the state. Possession of any of eight species of the state’s 20 species of freshwater turtles is prohibited. These protected species are alligator snapping turtles, Alabama red-bellied turtles, flattened musk turtles, and all five species belonging to the genus Graptemys (map turtles and the black-knobbed sawback). Also protected are box turtles, gopher tortoises, and salt marsh-dwelling Mississippi diamondback terrapins. Taking of non-protected species is limited to two per day, for eating or for pets, but cannot be sold.

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For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by owls. Four species are breeding residents of Alabama, great horned owls, screech owls, barn owls, and barred owls (aka hoot owls). In the woods on my home place I occasionally hear screech owls, but not as often now as in earlier years. Gray squirrels have increased in abundance, and I suspect they have appropriated many of the tree cavities formerly used by the screech owls. About dusk I sometimes hear the low-pitched six-hoots of a great horned owl, but not as often as I did prior to the clear-cutting of the forested tracts adjacent to my property.

My favorite is the barred owl, and I am delighted that at least one pair has decided, for the first time, that my woods are a desirable place to locate. The eight hoots of a barred owl is exceptionally pleasing to my ears. Then when two or more get together, they raise a ruckus of sorts, during which it seems that each one is attempting to out-hoot the other(s). I call the resulting sound a “hootenanny.” The dictionary defines the word as an informal performance of folk singers. A friend of mine, hearing the racket produced by an assemblage of hooting barred owls opined, “Sounds to me like a Baptist preachers’ convention.”

When I was a junior in high school, I dated a classmate, Jean Malone. Often, the dates consisted of my driving to a place adjacent where I would attract some barred owls by imitating their calls and listening to hootenannies. One day Jean told me, “Bob, I want you to take me to the junior-senior dance.” I said, “Jean, that doesn’t appeal to me, and besides, I don’t know how to dance.”

Jean bristled and told me, “I’ll teach you to dance, and if you don’t take me to the prom, I will never go hoot-owl calling with you again.” Jean taught me how to do the fox-trot, I bought a tuxedo from J.C. Penny for $50, and I took her to the dance. I dated Jean throughout the remainder of our high school days, and she continued to go owl-calling with me, and even accompanied me and some friends on several coon hunts.

Speaking of coon hunts, the postmaster showed my father a letter he’d received addressed “To the Best Coon Hunter in Albany, Georgia,” and told him, “Logan, this may be for your son.” It was, from an old friend of mine who had moved to California and had forgotten my name.

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Mini-Quiz: 1. Burkina Faso is a country that went by what name prior to 1960? 2. The grandfather of what prominent American was captured and tortured by the British because he was believed to be a Mau Mau terrorist?

Answers: 1. Upper Volta; 2. Barack Obama

 

Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also co-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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