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Deformed finches

A large number of purple finches eating at my birdfeeder have deformed eyes. Their eyes stick out from the side of their head. Sometimes there appears to be skin over the eyes, and the birds are blind or nearly blind. What is causing this?

Ann Loggins, Webb City

Editor's note: Our avian expert, Jim D. Wilson, said he's heard of many similar reports throughout Missouri, and the problem also has been noticed in the eastern part of the country. The Conservation Department has launched a study at selected sites and will release information about the phenomenon as soon as it becomes available. He suggests in the meantime that people reduce the risk of infecting more birds by keeping feeders and feeding areas clean and not using feeders that birds must stick their faces into to eat.

Fatal attraction

I nearly choked to death laughing at Mitch Jayne's story, and a happier death there couldn't be. I don't know, nor do I care, whether or not Zeke and Perletta are real-God bless them if they are. Please let us have more of these treasures.

Diane F. Mills, Canton

Military discipline

As a kindergarten teacher at Pick Elementary School on Fort Leonard Wood, I use your magazine to help my students get a closer look at nature.

Although most of my students are not from Missouri, they learn about the mammals, birds, reptiles and plants here. Each fall, we collect monarch butterflies, and my students and I watch their amazing metamorphosis. I see it with new eyes with each group of kindergarten students.

Theresa McCouch, Waynesville

Perilous Reading

I find your publication interesting, educational and well done, to say the least, but it is making me sick. The ink gives me a headache and a bad taste in my mouth and makes me dizzy. Please stop!

Warren Pinehart, Sarcoxie

Editor's note: The ink we use to print the Conservationist is soybean based and is considered less toxic than the petroleum-based inks used in the past. That's small comfort, I'm sure, to someone who is allergic to it. Perhaps it would help to air out our magazine a few days after it arrives.

Saving our skins

What happens to all the skins from deer taken during our hunting seasons? Are they salvaged?

Jo Gallo, Bridgeton

Editor's note: Deer hide makes wonderful leather. Most of the hides from deer processed at Missouri meat packers are shipped to the Northeast or to Mexico for tanning. Leather from deer is lighter and more flexible than cow hide and is made into jackets, vests and other apparel. The best quality hides are tanned and dyed and become fine leather garments, such as lady's dress gloves.

Feeding bluebirds

For the first time in 10 years, a bluebird came to eat on our deck. She was eating my homemade bird food consisting of cornmeal, flour, sugar, oats, peanut butter and oil or bacon grease.

Jane Batson, Flemington

Harassing anglers

The short piece in the October issue described a new law making it a misdemeanor to interfere with lawful fishing.

I wonder if this law applies to my wife, who often interferes with my attempts at lawful fishing, claiming lawn work is more important.

David Fiedler, Ballwin

Some Cactus common

My husband discovered some prickly pear cactus in an old pasture on our farm in Scotland County in 1964. I took a start and planted it in a dry flower bed. It really thrived all these years and bloomed every June.

The photo is proof that it has been seen in Missouri since 1909.

Doreis Reibel, Arbela

Editor's note: Our article, "Plant Sleuths," failed to mention that there are two other species of prickly pear in Missouri, one of which-the plant in your photo-is very common. The common species has a fleshy, purplish fruit that is not spine-covered. The rare starvation cactus has spine-covered fruits.

No Alum

Your venison stew recipe in the November issue didn't mention rubbing powdered alum into the meat. Alum cuts the fat so that it doesn't stick to your teeth, but it does not change the flavor.

Virginia Tucker, Rolla

Raising sparks

In your piece on firewood, you said hickory is the best wood to burn, based on BTU by weight. Nothing in mid-America matches Osage orange, although I've found mimosa to be very hot wood. All I know about hickory is that it is easy to split and it throws sparks about as bad as any wood.

Paul Wright, Sedalia

AGENTS NOTEBOOK

A man and his 11-year-old son had 13 largemouth and two smallmouth bass, all between 12 and 22 inches long. They had taken them from an Ozark stream in early December.

Was it a great fishing trip? No. It was a case of illegal activity. The man and his son had gigged (speared) the bass, not caught them on a rod and reel. Not only could they not be considered good anglers, they weren't even good giggers. As someone in their community said, they were simply poachers.

Our game and fish laws help ensure that hunting and fishing involve fair chase. It's illegal to gig bass because they are too vulnerable to that method of harvest. Similarly, you can't hunt deer with a spotlight at night or use an electronic call for turkeys.

When people poach, they take unfair advantage of wildlife and rob the rest of us of opportunities to hunt, fish and enjoy the outdoors. They steal from themselves, too, for they deprive themselves of the satisfaction of taking game in a sporting way.

What happened to the poacher with the illegally gigged bass? The man was apprehended and convicted in court. He was fined $500 and given time in the local county jail. His son likely learned a lesson he'll not soon forget.

Some people look at poaching as winking at the law, but it's much more serious. If you see someone poaching, call your conservation agent or Operation Game Thief at 1-800-392-1111.

JIM POKORNY

TEXAS COUNTY

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