June 29, 2016

The Brave Bunny & the Fox Den That Maybe Wasn't

A branch got in front of the lens!
A few days ago I mentioned some encounters with a red fox and discovery of what I thought was her den.

One thing bothered me a bit: it seemed a little late in the year for small fox kits. The last time that we did a "wildlife taxi" run for a very young kit, it was April. 

But I had also camera-trapped kits out with Mom in mid-June.

But by the third week of June, would they be using the den? On the 24th, the camera snapped this cottontail rabbit in front of the opening. Now that was one brave bunny, or else perhaps the den was empty.

For one last try, I decided to bait the site with some scattered dry dogfood. There was certainly a lot of fox scat in the area—some fox(es) had been bombing favorite trailside rocks, as they do. And it was fresh.

I checked the camera this morning, the 29th. Someone new had arrived, a spotted skunk!

Spotted skunk, Eastern or Western?
There were several photos of it sniffing and posing in front of the boulder, but nothing showed it going in or out of the den. Was it just there for the dog kibble?

I cannot recall ever seeing one here before. They are smaller and more excitable than good ol' Mephitis mephitis, the ubiquitous striped skunk, and they climb trees, sort of.

Sources vary as to what separates Eastern and Western populations. Some say the Continental Divide. On the other hand, this Forest Service document says, "It does occur just east of the Rocky Mountains and into the foothills in Colorado." Foothills, scrub — that's us. So maybe the High Plains are the dividing line. (The species difference is delayed implantation in the Western spotted skunk.)

I also got photos of another neighbor dog and, twenty minutes later during his morning run, our Chesapeake, Fisher. I remember that he tore off running toward the den area, which I was trying to keep him away from. Either he smelled dry kibble at a hundred yards or, more likely, he smelled the other dog's recent presence.

Anyway, no sign of a fox. But I think that I will leave the camera up and see what happens. Maybe there will be another fox-skunk showdown. This one, with a striped skunk, was photographed nearby a few years back.

June 28, 2016

Bojon Pride

The license-plate holder reads, "Happiness is being Slovenian."

It was the big "Slivovitz" decal in the pickup's rear window that caught my eye. "Bojon" or "bojohn" is Southern Coloradan for a person of Slovenian descent, but also is applied to people with roots anywhere in Eastern Europe.

See also, "You might be from Pueblo if . . . "

Spotted yesterday on Union Avenue, itself now dignified as the Historic District — not part of what is traditionally considered Bojon Town, but not far away.

The neighborhood is not what it used to be, and the big topic is being a Superfund site and all the ramifications of that.

June 25, 2016

This Baby Beaver Makes Me Think of Grey Owl

Beaver kit



This is the time of year when M. and  I are back and forth to the little wildlife rehabilitation center not far away. One day last week it was to drop off cuttings of willow and lanceleaf cottonwood for the beaver they are rearing.

Gus peers into the beaver's enclosure. Is he jealous?
Gus the badger came earlier this spring. For a time he was the only animal — then came the beaver, some raccoons, a tiny bear cub, and the usual group of fawns (dropped off one of the last on yesterday, in fact).

He took time off from enlarging the den under a boulder in his enclosure to mumble at us through the fence between his home and the beaver's. Does he think that people should be bringing him treats (frozen mice) first?

I can't look at a beaver kit without thinking of Archie "Grey Owl" Belaney, though. An Englishman who re-invented himself as half-Apache, then lived among the Mohawks and married a Mohawk woman (wife #2 of three), he was born in East Sussex in 1888 and died in 1938 in Saskatchewan. He worked a number of years as a trapper, except for military service during World War One. As one biography notes,
Finally, Belaney became disgusted with the brutality involved in trapping. This disgust was triggered by the revulsion his new companion, a Mohawk woman named Gertrude Bernard, felt for the practice. When Bernard, otherwise known as Anahareo, adopted and raised a pair of beaver kittens whose mother had been killed in a trap, Belaney came to recognize that animals he had trapped for most of his life were highly intelligent and affectionate beings. After establishing a close bond with the kittens, Belaney vowed never to trap another beaver and to work to stop the wholesale slaughter of beavers.

Belaney henceforth devoted himself to writing of his experiences of the Canadian wilderness and of Native culture in order to forward his conservationist message and to provide an income to replace the one he had formerly earned by selling beaver pelts. Belaney’s vision was to establish wildlife sanctuaries throughout the North. He was also interested in prohibiting commercial traffic in animal skins to protect animal life and to prevent native culture from becoming commercialized and driven by European fashion trends. Belaney thought that Native peoples, instead of killing animals for profit, could work as conservationists and forest rangers in wildlife sanctuaries.
In his own writings Archibald Belaney presented himself as Grey Owl, a half-breed who was more Indian than white. The popularity of his writings led to extended lecture tours for Grey Owl in Britain and in North America. Grey Owl played up his Indianness for these lectures, darkening his hair and skin as was his custom and dressing in Native apparel. The Canadian woodsman, with his fringes, feathers and beads provided a thrilling sight on the streets and stages of England of the 1930s. (Although, ironically, some of Grey Owl’s Indian costume was actually bought in England, where it was sold as an exotic novelty from the colonies.) His message was thrilling to an audience jaded with and troubled by many of the traits of modern Western culture: "You are tired of civilization. I come to offer you, what? A single green leaf." 
Today, of course, he would be ripped up and hung out to dry by the Culture Police, his actual English identity spashed on websites like FakeIndians.

There were indeed some questions at the time as to how this "half-breed" could produce well-written books like The Men Of The Last Frontier, but people who wanted to believe, believed.

But his defenders can always point out that he did major work as a wildlife conservationist, both hands-on and as a writer and lecturer. (And there were few Apaches in 1920s Ontario and Manitoba to challenge his assumed identify, I suppose.) He was the first "celebrity conservationist" in Canada.

Some called him "the world's most famous Canadian." Here's a short video that mixes original footage of Grey Owl with clips from the 1999 biopic, in which he is played by Pierce Brosnan.


June 21, 2016

I Could See This Happening in My Colorado County

Utah federal wildland engine crews (Associated Press).
"Drones Deter Utah Firefighting Operation":
Wildfires have long attracted amateur photographers, and inexpensive drones equipped high resolution video cameras have proven a temptation to fly around fires. Larger drones have occasionally been used by firefighters -- with appropriate safety measures -- to conduct surveillance.

Firefighters worry a small plane or helicopter might collide with a hobbyist's drone, causing a crash. Firefighting aircraft are already operating under often-chaotic conditions in tight canyons and in low visibility, and pilots say drones can increase the risks.
And the drone operators would be saying, "I'm not causing a problem / I didn't know I was causing a problem. I'm just shooting video to put on Facebook and YouTube. I'm one of the good guys."

Maybe it's because they don't really think of themselves as pilots, and don't have pilot training. And they don't know how risk-adverse the feds are when it comes to fire-fighting deaths.

June 20, 2016

Venomous and Nonvenomous Links

In El Castillo cave, hand stencils join a red disk (not pictured)
that may be Earth's oldest cave art (Science/AAS)
Arizona wants to kill you. I thought the rattlesnakes were bad; now this: "Arizona Hiker Dies After Being Stung by 1,000 Bees."

Americans don't visit national parks anymore — that was the message a couple of years ago. (See the graph for early 2000s.) Now it's "The National Parks Have Never Been More Popular."  Free admission for the 100th anniversary helps, so does cheaper fuel. Or is this just one of those "fat is bad for you / fat is good for you" deals? Will M. and make it to Yellowstone this fall?

In case you missed it — although we are not talking about Chauvet-type art, still the evidence is that the Neanderthal people made art. And of course it's older than the Cro-Magnon stuff.

June 19, 2016

Your Summer 2016 Drought Outlook.

Click to embiggen.
From the easily remembered site drought.gov, the U.S. Drought Portal. (Question: can you step through it both ways?)

June 18, 2016

Spot the Fox!

There is a red fox in this picture.
There is a red fox in this picture too, but the slower shutter speed
with infrared flash meant that its image is enlongated and ghost-like.

June 17, 2016

The Mushroom Hunter, Her Dog, the Wolf, and the Bears

This is a "lost mushroom hunter" story with a twist. Joanne Barnaby, a resident of Canada's Northwest Territories tells the Washington Post how she and her dog were stalked by a wolf who tried for hours to separate them.
[She[ had been picking mushrooms in the remote Canadian wilderness [on June 10th ] when she had heard a growl behind her. She turned around and saw Joey, her faithful mutt, locked in a snarling standoff with a skinny black wolf.
Then a chance encounter with another top predator led a plan to extricate herself and Joey from what felt like a losing game.

Some people accuse her of being a nature-faker, claiming "wolves don't do that." (They're just furry angels who want bring us spiritual blessings.) She says otherwise, vehemently.

June 14, 2016

Scrub Oak, the Sequel


Running ahead of us, Fisher the Chesapeake Bay retriever had his picture taken.
My favorite spot for scout cameras, "Camera Trap Spring," is changing every year.

A powerful forest fire went through several years ago, killing the pines and douglas fir and burning all the Gambel oak down to the ground.

Gambel oak distribution, from
"Atlas of United States Trees"
by Elbert L. Little, Jr. Wikimedia Commons.
After the fire, the Bureau of Land Management paid for aerial reseeding the following spring to prevent flooding and soil erosion — and the weather cooperated. Now there was abundant grass among the blackened tree trunks.

Here is how the area looked right after the fire.

But while entire pine tree root systems were burned underground, Gambel oak survives. Now it is coming back in force.

As you can see from the map, southern Colorado and adjacent regions have lots of Gambel oak.

The days of easy walking around on the burn are ending. If you look at the slope beyond the dog, you can see that the scrub oak is now about waist-high.

Among upright bipeds, turkeys seem to cope better than I do with that stuff.

I will post some critter pix soon.

June 09, 2016

Mama Fox at the Den

As I posted six days ago, M. and I found a fox den up behind our house at the end of May.

I put up a camera, and then we took off on a trip out of state. Today I retrieved the data card. When I get a moment, I will try a different, better camera.

Meanwhile, all I saw was various views of what I assume is Mama Fox — and an interloper.
The little red fox outside her den on June 1st.

It's Zoe, a neighbor's German shepherd. Normally she is behind a fence
about 350 yards away — no distance to a big dog — but on last Friday
morning she was out running loose — her nose led her to the den.

Mama Fox was still out and about the following night.
(The infrared flash makes her eyes glow.)

June 03, 2016

Finding a Fox Den

A blooming cactus from last week, which
has absoutely no connection to this post.
Four days ago I was taking Fisher, the dog, up the little dirt road behind our house — his morning off-leash run in the woods.

A sharp barking came from up the mountainside, and I thought that Melvin, the nearest little dog in the neighborhood, had escaped his yard and was running free.

"No," I realized after a moment, "it's a fox."

Fisher ignored it, but I was curious, so I leashed him and walked up into the area where I had heard the bark. He sniffed the ground a lot.

Two days later, I heard the bark in the same patch of oakbrush, and this time I saw a red fox. She (I am assuming) kept barking until Fisher gave chase.

Typically for him, he gave up after about fifty yards. My old collie-mix dog, Shelby, would have chased that fox until it ran her in a circle and she came back with her tongue hanging out, but he is less predatory.

In fact, after he came back to me, she barked again: "Hey, I'm up here! Chase me!"

Obviously, she had a den nearby.

M. and I came back later that day, and we quickly found a hole dug under a big boulder with fresh fox scat outside.

So I have placed a scout camera there, because if I could get a photo of the kits, that would be a first for me.

May 15, 2016

You Got Two Buffs for a Gator?

The American bison, a/k/a buffalo, is about to be named our national mammal, thanks to the National Bison Legacy Act, which passed through Congress last week and now awaits the president's signature.

I am all for this —  and let's have a national reptile next. The American alligator?

And why stop there? Put me in charge of America and a buck will mean a buck. In other words, take George Washington off the one-dollar bill and replace him with a buck whitetail deer.

Some people in the Treasury keep saying we should switch to a one-dollar coin: more economical, etc. But they lack the guts to pull in the paper money and force a switch. Well, do it! If the Canadians can put a loon on their dollar coin and call it a "loonie,"  we can have Odocoileus virginianus and call it a "buck."

All will be spelled out in the Charismatic Megafauna Currency Act of 20XX.

The buffalo belongs on five-dollar bill. It just feels right to me, and there are five letters in bison.

Not to be totally mammalian, I will order that the ten-dollar bill carry the image of the aforementioned alligator.

The fifty . . . maybe a bighorn sheep? Something solid and Western? Elk?

The hundred, formerly known as a Ben Franklin, would now be a bald eagle. (Yes, there were other eagle coins in the past. We'll sort it out.)

But the eagle is not worth what it used to be, so how about a five-hundred dollar lynx? Think of the linx/lynx puns.

Or a thousand-dollar bill, for the convenience of those needing to carry large sums of cash around. Reach into the Pleistocene and decorate it with a stalwart Columbian mammoth.

Imagine the conversations:

"He showed up with a roll of mammoths — makes you wonder what he does for a living."

"Anyone got two buffs for a gator?"

"I'm down to my last eagle."

Forget all this Andrew Jackson/Harriet Tubman stuff. My proposed legislation will have people arguing over animals!

May 14, 2016

Now It's Legal in Colorado

I can sell these barrels legally now.
I am not afraid to post this picture anymore, because rain barrels are legal in Colorado. (Not that I have ever heard of anyone prosecuted for saving rain water on that small a scale.)

After several tries, the legislature has passed a bill and the governor has signed it allowing state residents to collect up to 110 U.S. gallons of rain water at a time for lawns and gardens.  Why is 110 a magic number? I assume because 55 gallons (208 l.) is a common commercial barrel size.

Water is serious business here, where the Colorado, Rio Grande, Platte, and Arkansas rivers all begin.

This water is not moving downstream
to its rightful owner, don't you see.
Every little trickle that moves down hill is allocated to somebody, whether an irrigation company, a city, a farmer, whatever. Not only that, but if any other user goes to water court seeking, for example, to change a point of diversion — to remove water from a stream there instead of here —everyone whose rights might be affected will jump into the case lest they be accused of not practicing "due dilligence" and defending their claim.

It's sort of like how former brand names like "cellophane" and "escalator" became generic, because they were not constantly defended in court.

Consequently, Colorado has more water lawyers than the rest of the solar system put together, or so I was always told. (And please, no repetions of the old water/whiskey jokes in the comments.)

Now if Jane and Joe Homeowner catch the water and then siphon it onto their vegetable garden, they are not doing what the big interests do, like moving water under the Continental Divide. Their water moves in the direction that it always would, only just more slowly.
Sponsors of the bill struck a compromise with farmers and ranchers, adding a provision to the bill that says if there’s any proof rain barrels are hurting downstream users, the state engineer can curtail the usage of them
The new legalization is also defended as a teaching tool:
Conservation groups hope the legislation encourages Coloradans to capture and use runoff from their rooftops on their lawns and gardens to help people recognize that water is a precious resource in this arid state, compared to the amount they would have used from their garden hoses, otherwise.

May 13, 2016

Nice Kitty! Hold Still Now!


I don't know the backstory — someone might have found the mountain lion in the trap and alerted Utah Wildlife. Two game wardens arrive to free the cat, and what happens next is a class in Catchpole 101, with a naturally very angry Puma concolor.

If you were wondering, you will find Utah trapping regs here. I wonder if this trap was indeed "marked or tagged with the trap registered number of the owner."

May 11, 2016

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Colorado Flower Growers Assn. carnation ad 
(Morgan Library, Colorado State University).

That line from Pete Seeger's anti-war ballad is appropriate because this story starts (for me) in the 1960s.

I was in Miss Carter's sixth-grade class at Kullerstrand Elementary School in Wheat Ridge, a Denver suburb, and one day she took us on a class trip to her fiancé's family business.

They were commercial carnation growers with a complex of greenhouses somewhere in west Denver, and we were told all about the growing and dyeing (yes, many were dyed) of carnations.

Denver was the "carnation capital of the world," as far as the locals were concerned. The greenhouse industry took off in the 1870s as irrigation systems were built. By 1928 there ws a Colorado Flower Growers trade association, and carnation-growing peaked around the time that Miss Carter became Mrs. Davis (I think), and we kids had to accustom ourselves to her new name.

What happened? This timeline from an online history of the Colorado flower trade tells part of the story:
1976 – The carnation industry in Colorado begins to decline due to increasing competition from Californian and South American flower growers, the rising cost of fuel for heating and air-conditioning the greenhouses, and limited expansion of greenhouses in the state.
Two further explanations: The OPEC oil embargo of 1973 led to the sudden jump in prices for heating oil, gasoline, propane, diesel, etc. And the "increasing competition" from South American cut-flower producers was a direct result of the War on (Some) Drugs, with American dollars going to (chiefly Colombian) growers on the theory that building i[ that industry would make producing cocaine, etc., less attractive.

Judge for yourself how well that scheme worked out, but at least roses and carnations got cheaper at the grocery store flower counter. People were selling cheap carnations on street corners — remember that?

By the time I was in my twenties, you could find numerous empty greenhouses in certain Denver neighborhoods—shattered glass roofs, no sign of vegetative life but weeds. Many were located on sites that were probably attractive to developers.

I wonder, though, what happened to my teacher and her husband. Did they see what was coming and bail out? Did they go bankrupt, eternally bitter at the U.S. government for subsidizing their competitors? Did they close the business, sell the land, and find something new?

That story came crashing back when I saw this headline: "Major Flower Business Fears Migration to Marijuana."
The  CEO of 1-800-Flowers frets he might lose some of his best suppliers in states that have burgeoning marijuana industries, saying he’s afraid growers will realize that cannabis could be a more lucrative profession.

Such an exodus would expand the ranks of marijuana growers, adding a crop of seasoned veterans to the industry’s ranks.
 Too late for the Davises.