Reflections

I LIKE KITES!

I enjoyed "Roadside Raptors." Last year we had a mated pair of Mississippi kites that made a daily ritual of perching on a dead branch in our oak tree.They were so beautiful to see, and their call is so unique, that we looked forward to watching them soar and dive in our yard all summer long.

This year they are back and have taken up residence in the same tree, but I've seen them harassed by jays as they sit on their perch. It's my understanding that the only reason they may have come into our area was as a result of the West Nile virus kill of the crows and jays in recent years. If this is correct, will my beautiful kites be driven from our area as the crow and jay populations rebound?

Madonna Lowell, Crestwood

Editor's note: Mississippi kite populations have been expanding even in areas where crows and bluejays are numerous. Crows and bluejay populations in the St. Louis area were hit hard by the mosquito-borne West Nile Virus from 2002 to 2003, to the point that their numbers are now extremely low. Unless affected species develop immunity to the disease, their numbers might not rebound.The disease also affects other bird species. In Missouri, 2004 testing of dead birds for West Nile Virus began May 1. If you should find a dead crow, blue jay, house sparrow, grackle or bird of prey (hawk, owl, eagle) in your yard or neighborhood, call your local city or county health department to report it. They may be interested in picking it up for West Nile Virus testing or in recording the locations of where dead birds are found.

PHOTOGRAPHER CREDITED

The photograph of a sand prairie on page 20 of the June issue of the Conservationist was taken by Casey Galvin of Bloomington, Illinois.

SERPENT STOCKING

Look in the July issue of the Conservationist on page 10 upper left corner. It appears to me that we have our very own Loch Ness Monster here in Missouri.

Louis Byford, Rock Port

Editor's note: According to photographer, Jim Rathert, the picture shows a twisted cottonwood in the pose of a serpent. He's pretty sure it wasn't a serpent posing as a twisted cottonwood.

AMAZED

Just wanted to let you know how absolutely wonderful we think your magazine is! I have never been to your website before but rushed here to renew my Conservationist subscription, as I don't know what we'd do without the truly great writing, beautiful photos, valuable and entertaining information, and lots more.

Our whole family enjoys the magazine. I am not from Missouri and have lived in several other states, but nowhere else did we receive--much less free-of-charge --anything remotely like your magazine. It's the finest example of my "tax dollars at work" I've ever seen!

Tracie Noel, Lake St. Louis

LAKE RELOCATED

Just thought I'd remind you that Mark Twain Lake isn't a northwestern Missouri reservoir, as stated in the contents page of your June issue, but rather a northeastern one.

Tom Winter, Kansas City

LOVE THOSE BRITTANIES!

I did enjoy your article on hunting dogs but I must take exception to some of your statements on the Brittany.

The Brittany is a most exceptional breed of dog. Most Brittanies have an excellent nose and will almost always hunt.The exception being when they have not been trained or handled properly.

It is one of the sporting dogs that also make an excellent companion and house dog when not in the field.One of the best kept secrets of the Brittany is how wonderful they are as house pets.Many of our National Champions, Field Champions and Dual Champions spend the off-season sleeping on the beds of their owners and playing with their children.

Marvin and Mary, via Internet

Ask the Ombudsman

Q: Do fox and gray squirrels crossbreed? What do they eat? I saw one around our bluebird house, acting like it was trying to get the baby birds. I've also heard that old male squirrels will castrate the young ones. Is this true?

A: Some color variations might give the appearance of crossbreeding, but fox squirrels and gray squirrels are two different species. In the unlikely event they did crossbreed, the offspring would be sterile.

Squirrels mainly eat vegetation, but they eat birds' eggs, nestlings, etc. Several years ago, when we had the major cicada hatch, I watched a fox squirrel eat a number of cicadas.Not too long ago several of us in this office watched a gray squirrel eat the insides out of a song bird that had struck a window and died.

Our squirrel biologist tells us that the young-of-the-year males' testes are internal and don't descend until the animal reaches sexual maturity.The castration story probably got its start from early-season hunters who didn't notice the organs in the body cavity of young males and erroneously concluded that they had been castrated.

For more information about squirrels, search the web using the key words Sciurus niger or Sciurus carolinensis. For information on nuisance or problem squirrels go to.