April 14, 2015

Don't Give Red Nectar to the Hummingbirds

Female broad-tailed hummingbird (U. of Georgia)
The first bold broad-tailed hummingbird arrived on the 10th, and for once I already had sugar water mixed up (4:1 water to sugar) and waiting in the fridge.

Here is why the people at The Birding Wire say you should not dye it red:

• It has NO purpose - Most hummingbird feeders you can buy have enough red color on them to attract hummingbirds without the need for red dye in the nectar. If there is no red on your feeder, simply tie a piece of red flagging, rope, or fabric to it.

• Red dye is typically petroleum based - The dye in colored nectar is red dye #40. Red dye #40 is now made mostly from petroleum, which is not good for any animal to ingest!

And a couple more. Read the whole thing.

 Besides, the sugar water comes in handy when you need to make a quick Birder's Margarita.


April 11, 2015

Are Recycled Freight Pallets all that Green?

There is something about freight pallets. All that wood — it must be good for something.

As a grad student with a fireplace, I would pick them up for free at the city dump — and than I would come up against a problem. If your only tools are a handsaw and a claw hammer, it takes a lot of time to break one up, and the reward is not all that much firewood.

About that time I visited some Cree Indians living near Great Falls, Montana. This man had a big sweat lodge out behind his house, and he had a good source of freight pallets.

So he would stack them about chest high, set rocks on top, and toss some gasoline at the base of the pile. Add fire, whoomp!

Drink a little coffee, and then you had a bunch of hot rocks sitting in the ashes. People would strip down, crawl into the sweat lodge, and the fire keeper would carry in some rocks on a shovel. Commence lengthy prayers in the Cree language.

That is one thing to do with them.

Then M. is thinking about building some raised garden beds, protected with hardware cloth from the insidious gophers. She mentions this to a neighbor who also has a good source of freight pallets at his workplace, and he drops off about half a pickup load.

In the comments of that site are people worried about chemicals and bacteria in the wood. Hello, we're building garden beds to be filled with dirt. Dirt is full of bacteria, mostly good stuff. But there those people are, wiping down the wood with bleach. M. would be more upset at having bleach in her garden.

And every time I hear someone worry about chemically treated wood in freight pallets, I wonder, have they ever handled some? They are BUILT CHEAP. Some wood looks recycled, other looks like discards from a lumber mill. Who worries about treating something that is basically a disposable product?

Maybe on their planet you find heat-treated pallets. I never see them.

The other problem is that the cheap, untreated wood splits easily, and prying it loose from those spiral nails that a lot of pallet-builders use causes more splits. Many cross pieces are not even truly rectangular. So a lot of the pieces end up in the firewood stack.

And that brings me back to the beginning. Even with a power saw, I'm cutting and stacking and realizing, once again, that there is not that much volume of wood in a freight pallet. But there it is, and it's free.  It fills that space between kindling and actual firewood chunks.

April 10, 2015

Royal Coachman

Royal Coachman (The Fly Shack)
Fidget. Eyes sticky/watering from hay fever. I have a long paper that I am supposed to be editing for an academic journal, helping the author whip the prose into shape.

Fidget. I write an email to a friend, mentioning that I am truly in editorial mode today.

But instead I walk ten minutes up into the national forest to check a scout camera. It has thirteen images, but I have forgotten to bring a new data card to swap. Looking around, I see fresh turkey droppings.

And on the way home, I hear a turkey gobbling right up where I took Fisher on his walk this morning.

Fidget. Internet. Nap. M. comes back from a trip to the grocery store, and I tell her that since her Jeep's engine is warm, I would like to borrow it and go fishing.

Not far, just up the canyon, where I park and put a new leader on the 5-weight line. A package of tippet material in my vest says "Best used by November 2002."

Does that mean
  1. that I don't fish enough?
  2. that "use by" dates are meaningless on fishing gear?
  3. that I buy more supplies than I need, forgetting what I have?
  4. all of the above?
On the stream, I tie on a Royal Coachman — a little season-opening ritual in honor of my father — and I catch a a couple of tiny brook trout, which go back into the little creek. I demand at least a six-inch minimum on brookies.

At least they are back, after nearly being lost to drought. The beaver ponds, I think, act as refugee camps when the creek goes dry, but the trout do not get very big.

So I feel better now. Maybe I can start that paper after supper.

March 22, 2015

On the Road – The Arizona Jinx

Colorado River floodplain with the uncharacteristically misty Chocolate Mountains in the distance.
Another visit to Arizona is winding down, and again it seems like there is something here that wants to frustrate it.

The family-visit part was good; it is the hiking-and-birding parts that always go off the tracks.

Our 2006 trip took a sudden detour to the E.R. at St. Mary's Hospital, Tucson, as detailed in
"A Misadventure in Crotalia."

In 2010, a ranger-guided hike to the Bétatakin Ruin (you can't go on your own) at Navajo National Monument was aborted when another hiker injured herself, stopping the trip for everyone.

Last Tuesday, we drove our rented car into Kofa National Wildlife Refuge (named for the King of Arizona mine), bumped along some miles of gravel road, and finally found a pullout to park in. All ready to go hiking, I glanced at the left rear tire. It was flat.

The next ugly surprise was in the trunk. Of course there was no full-size spare tire, but Hyundai does not even give you a short-range "donut" spare. Instead, they provide a canister of tire sealant that attaches to a 12-volt electric air pump, complete with warning not to drive the repaired tire more than 10 km. or six miles. Right. There's a tire shop just down the hill, past the big saguaro.

So I pumped up the bad tire and, keeping it to 15–20 mph, drove carefully down to U.S. 95 (more than six miles), then dialed the car rental company's roadside-assistance number. I got through to a human being on the third try, and he was trying to locate us by triangulating my cell phone or something, because "Highway 95 north of Yuma, milepost ••" was too simple for him.

And then to wait, as a military blimp hovered overhead, a drone buzzed in the distance, and artillery thumped. Yes, we were now by the Army's Yuma Proving Ground, where "in a typical year, over 500,000 artillery, mortar and missile rounds are fired, 36,000 parachute drops take place, 200,000 miles (320,000 km) are driven on military vehicles, and over 4000 air sorties are flown."

When the tow truck showed up, about two hours after the original incident, the driver said that he had been given a location ten miles way, but he knew to call us himself.

By the time we had obtained a new car, it was tequila time.

• • • 
Muddy rental car.
Re-equipped with a Ford Focus, M., my sister, and I went to Imperial National Wildlife Refuge on Wednesday. This riparian refuge along the Colorado River is mainly about birds, with interior roads, overlooks, and hiking trails.

Did I mention that it was raining? Yes, in the area that get about three inches a year, it was raining. We ducked into the visitor center, where upon hearing M.'s question about a hummingbird seen outside,the staffer on duty immediately had his Sibley guide open to the hummer pages.

Phainopepla (Cornell Ornithology Lab)
It cleared off enough for us to walk a couple of miles, although the skeeters was fierce. And then we relocated to the Rio Loco Bar on the river at nearby Martinez Lake, where we could check out a few birds through the plate glass windows behind the bar.

We decided that that was a pretty nice place, so much so that we drove back out there after supper — because I had left my Sibley bird guide lying on the bar that afternoon.

One other question. The Phainopepla has no common name? Really??

March 18, 2015

Don't Be Alarmed! Keep Calm and Click On

Astute readers may have noticed that this blog's URL has changed. It is now www.southernrockiesnatureblog.com.

Maybe that will help in search-engine optimization.

Anyway, the cool kidz say it's cooler.

March 17, 2015

On the Road — By the Lower Colorado River (2)

YumaLanding1885.jpg
"Yuma Landing 1885" by George Rothrock (Wikimedia Commons).
The Colorado River today is not big enough for steamboats at Yuma, Arizona.
Today's walk came courtesy of an article in Orion, "Down by the River," written by Rowan Jacobsen.

M. and I were headed here anyway to visit my sister and brother-in-law, but we did not know that Yuma, Arizona, is a place where the tamarisk (salt cedar) invasion has been driven back significantly.
Few areas were hit harder [by tamarisk[ than Yuma, and the calamity went beyond the tremendous loss of biodiversity. In 1999, community developer Charlie Flynn took the helm of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, which is part of the National Park Service’s program to foster community-driven stewardship of important natural or cultural landscapes. His task was to bring the riverfront back to life, but he found the area so overgrown with invasive tamarisk thickets that no one could get near the water, and in the few places where people could, they didn’t dare because of drug smugglers who used the abandoned waterway as a thoroughfare. “Once all the non-native vegetation grew up, it was the perfect breeding ground for drug traffic, meth labs, hobo camps, trash dumps,” Flynn explained to me. “You name it, it was down there. It was a no man’s land. People just didn’t go to the river. They were afraid to. Even the police hated going down there. You couldn’t see two feet ahead of you.”
Now you have people like us walking around with binoculars, excited to see birds that are probably commonplace here but not in so much southern Colorado — black phoebe, great-tailed grackles — and American coots, which are common enough in, for instance, the San Luis Valley, but I am not used to seeing little flocks of them walking around in city parks.

At least one of those hobos, whose road name was Lucky, gets his own interpretive sign. Found camping in the thickets, he took a job on the restoration crew and is credited with planting 5,000 trees.
Leveled and diked, some areas can be flooded with water pumped from the river.

Instant cottonwood grove, with drip irrigation.
Built in 1915, closed in the 1980s, reopened in 2002, the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge is the near one.
The farther bridge carries the railroad (BNSF and Amtrak).







On the Road: By the Lower Colorado River

(Credit: Cornell University)
Two Eurasian collared doves are having hot dove sex on a roof across the street — feathers float down — while others provide a raucous chorus. And there are mockingbirds. I must be back in southern Arizona.

Next: a trip to a historic battlefield in the War Against Tamarisk.

March 09, 2015

Blog Stew: I'll Eat my (Coyote Brown) Boots

 I have so many links to offer. Does anyone still click on hyperlinks? Here is a start, anyway.
Note crucial color difference.

• The Army is switching to "coyote brown" boots, just so you will know. "Desert tan" is just so Operation Enduring Freedom. Having the better boot color will aid the fight against Islamist terrorists.

• "Guntry clubs" — apparently this is a "thing" now, as people say on the Internet. "Savvy investors" are interested, says the Washington Post.

The average age of new target shooters is 33, while 47 percent live in urban or suburban areas, and 37 percent are female, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for the firearms industry.

Me, I will stick with the Blood of Christ Shooting Sports Club.

• Hunting-angling-food blogger Hank Shaw on the dangers of trichinosis, particularly from eating bear meat.
It is a fact that bear and cougar meat are the most prominent vectors for trichinosis in North America. Pigs, which are what most people think of when they think of trich, are actually not commonly infected.
This is a link that you definitely should click.

It's March, and People Are Starting to Get a Little Funny

A neighbor posts in a local buy-and-sell group on Facebook:
I have several pickup loads of gently used snow I would part with at a very reasonable price. No deliveries. You haul. Message me fer details.

March 08, 2015

Women Going Feral — And Then Writing

Last fall, during a layover at Sea-Tac airport, I was checking email on my laptop when this young woman walked up and asked if she could share the table (there were too few of them).

She had two books with her — one of them was Cheryl Strayed's Wild, while the other was a novel. "I can't decide which one to read," she said.

"Read Wild," I said. "My wife loved it — I've read parts of it — it's good."

Later, M. and I saw the movie, which was overlooked in the Oscars — too odd for the judges, too many trees? — fairly faithful to the book, but with Extra Hollywood Stereotyping.*

Meanwhile, having read her former blog and her book on the cultural history of falcons, and corresponded a little, I was awaiting Helen Macdonald's memoir H is for Hawk

 I knew she could write. There had been the blog post where she described a goshawk flying through trees: ". . . the gos spooled away through the trees. He looked like a coin falling through water, flashing silver and grey. Some kind of metal. A very fierce one. Potassium, Sodium, Goshawk."

(We hates her, preciousss.)

H is for Hawk picked up a bucket of literary prizes in Britain, and reviewers on this side of the pond have been equally laudatory.  

The New Yorker gave it four pages (!!), reviewer Kathryn Schulz writing, "Books about nature, like the category 'animal,' sometimes suffer from a sin of omission: in both cases, people belong inside them but are often left out. Books about grief run the opposite risk; too much of the person can be left in, too much of the world omitted. Macdonald, who is writing both kinds of book at once, makes neither mistake."

Painted with a very, very broad structuralist brush, both books tell the same story. The writer loses a dear parent (Strayed her mother, Macdonald her father.) Both have been been drifting — both have self-destructive streaks (Strayed's more developed, perhaps) — both struggle with loneliness.

Photograph by Christina McLeish 
Both seek the wild, Strayed in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges, Macdonald, the falconer and academic historian of science, in more domesticated England, in the yellow eyes and murderous flights of Mabel, a newly acquired goshawk.

Strayed, backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail, tells one of the female solo hikers whom she meets, "Honestly? I'm lonelier in my real life than I am out here. I miss my friends, of course, but it's not as if I have anybody waiting for me at home. How about you?"

Macdonald, looking at her life alone in the woods with her goshawk, feels numb: "My heart is salt."

Both must enter the woods and then follow the thread of their stories out — but how far, and for how long? 

* Strayed meets a farmer who is "working," which seems to consist of driving a tractor up and down a dirt road in the desert, no cropland in sight and nothing attached to the tractor.

March 07, 2015

Some Spring 2015 Weather Predictions

When it comes to the temperature chart, at least, it seems that readers in British Columbia and Alberta could just extend the shaded zones through Canada. Or compare Environment Canada's long-range forecast products.

February 28, 2015

Colorado Snowpack, February 25, 2015

From the Rocky Mountain Coordination Center, which supplies fire weather forecasts but has quite a bit of current weather information.

February 17, 2015

The Ultimate "Prepper" Gun?

Check that store-bought hex nut.
At The Firearms Blog, Nathaniel F. reviews a Mongolian snaplock carbine owned by friend-of-this-blog Steve Bodio.
In Central Asian villages, even blacksmiths are uncommon, which means field-expedient repairs are common, and many percussion weapons get converted to the easier-to-maintain flintlock ignition. Purpose-built guns like these would be purchased by shops on rare trips to larger towns. The quality of the weapons would typically be fairly uneven, so patrons would not be allowed to fire the guns before buying, lest the shop be left with a bunch of undesirable junk guns. As a result, interesting superstitions about how to tell the quality of a rifle came to be, including putting a steel pin in a puddle of saliva on the barrel, and slowly rotating the barrel.  By watching the rotation of the pin in the saliva, supposedly they could tell which barrels were good.
It is no antique: Bodio estimates that it was made in the 1950s. Simple, reliable, easy to repair.

February 08, 2015

How Not To Become Prey

Bears biting backpackers. Mountain lions munching mountain bikers.

Every time that some carnivorous critter bites or kills a human, there will be voices proclaiming, "They were here first. We live on their territory."

That is true in a long historical view —  and it is also true that human populations have lived alongside big carnivores throughout history — but Wyoming writer Cat Urbigkit's new book, When Man Becomes Prey: Fatal Encounters with America's Most Feared Predators, adds some nuance and some new information.

Her book is divided into species-specific chapters
  • Black bears
  • Coyotes
  • Gray wolves
  • Mountain lions
  • Grizzly nightmares
  • Greater Yellowstone grizzlies
plus two more, "Habituation and Alaska Attacks" and "Learning to Coexist with Predators."

Each chapter begins with some narratives, the kind that you want to read in the daytime with a clear view of your surroundings. They then cover relevant scientific research and practical ways to avoid conflict with bears, mountain lions, or whatever. "For some hikers [in coyote habitat] rocks-in-pockets becomes a routine at the start of every hike."

For instance, I was raised to believe that while they were a threat to dogs and cats, coyotes left adult-size humans alone. Urbigkit leads with the 2009 killing of Taylor Mitchell in Cape Breton Highlands National Park by a small pack of three coyotes — all healthy. "Wildlife officials suspected that these coyotes had become habituated to humans during the tourist season, and this may have involved the animals receiving food rewards from humans." (There have been other attacks on children and adults , but she was the only recorded adult human fatality.)

Attacks on pets, even leashed dogs with people, are also increasing. Geographically, coyote attacks seem most common in parks, where no hunting is allowed, and into urban areas, again without hunting and with a variety of food resources.

A certain degree of hunting, she suggests, does encourage predators to stay away from people. Yet with mountain lions, for instance, "wildlife managers believe that when heavy localized hunting results in the harvest of older mature males, more young mountain lions are likely to disperse into those areas, creating an increase in [lion-human] conflicts."

Some other take-aways:

• While people think that black bear sows with cubs are the most dangerous, "the majority of the fatal attacks on humans involved male bears, and most attacks took place during the daylight hours." While most black bears are shy, some do prey on humans deliberately. Also, "no one killed in a black bear attack carried bear spray."

• Urbigkit, who lives on a sheep ranch south of Grand Teton National Park, believes in bear spray: "You don't have to be an excellent shot to be effective with a can of bear spray — a cloud of spray between you and a charging bear should be enough for your immediate retreat from the area."

She also offers a case where bear spray stopped an attacking mountain lion. I myself have used it only on aggressive dogs, where it worked well, so I suspect that it would work just as well on a wolf or coyote.

• There are no documented cases of black bears attacking humans in defense of a carcass, but as Northern Rockies hunters are learning, grizzlies, where present have done that a number of times.

• The old idea, from books like Jim Corbett's Man-Eaters of Kumaon (1944), is that the predators who attack humans are usually elderly, crippled, or wounded. With grizzly bears, that is sometimes true, Urbigkit writes. But there also more North American predators than there used to be, thanks to recovery programs and more-regulated hunting. In addition, we have created such predator-friendly places as parks and food-rich subdivisions.

Consequently, they become habituated to us — and we become habituated to them, sometimes forgetting that they "are not loveable toys to be enjoyed when convenient [Yellowstone wolf tours?] and then discarded or destroyed when they reveal their true natures.

"Predators should be treated with a realistic acknowledgment that they are animals that kill prey to survive, and should be respected for the wild creatures that they are."

Any backcountry hiker or hunter, anyone who visits parks like Yellowstone or Great Smokies, and anyone who sees bears, coyotes, or deer in their neighborhoods — where there are deer, there are lions — ought to read When Man Becomes Prey.

It is available from the publisher, Lyons Press, or from the usual online source.