August 18, 2017

An Owl in a High Valley Pasture

The Wet Mountain Valley
I was dispatched yesterday to catch an injured owl at a building site near the Custer County airport, Silver West. (True fact: it has a 6,954 ft./2.1 km. paved runway, in case you need a place to land your 737 in a hurry.)

I found the site, and there under a backhoe sat a great horned owl. It looked too alert to simply walk up and grab. The "toreador" technique of tossing a blanket over it might have worked, but the blanket might well have caught on the machine. So I took the big, soft net and ambled along, checking out the owl.

No slacker, the owl made a little hopping flight, landed — and then ran like a pheasant under a barbed-wire fence. #*@$%!

The woman who had called me asked if she and her twenty-something son, who were the only people working there, could help me. I said yes, I could use your help. She fetched him from where he was running a plate compactor on the other side of the site.

I arm-signaled: "The owl is there. Go around. Pincer movement."

We crossed the fence, made our pincer, and the owl, distracted, let me come close. When it tried to fly, I swiped  with the net, not exactly catching it. But it dropped to the ground and assumed its defensive posture — on its back, talons up. An easy snatch,  and it was time for a long drive to Pueblo and the raptor center.

I do not have the veterinary diagnosis, other than that the owl was probably "young of the year." That it could still fly a little makes me hope that it had only a soft-tissue injury, but I don't know.

Without the woman and her son, I would have been pursuing that owl solo across the landscape shown above, and would I have ever captured it, both of us tired and stressed?

Right now I am reading The Devil's Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America's Great White Sharks by Susan Casey,* who used to be with Outside magazine. Describing her time with shark researchers on the Farallone Islands near San Francisco, it has lots on hunting behavior, of course.

When I met the son close-up, after the owl capture, we had a brief conversation, and I thought, "I never saw this guy before, but he immediately understood through nonverbal signals what was happening and what we needed to do. Truly, humans really are pack hunters."

* Her website shows the nature writer in a little black dress, a change from the usual boonie hat-and-boots image.

August 12, 2017

Another Complicated Bear Story

Not one of the most recent bear cubs, but from a similar situation.



You saw the same story in the Colorado media and even nationally, which means that it came from a news release and that none of the reporters was actually on the scene. And how would they be, unless they had a radio scanner in the news room on Colorado Parks & Wildlife frequencies—which they don't. (Police and fire, yes.)
A mother bear died Thursday after Colorado Parks and Wildlife tried to remove her and two young cubs from a residential neighborhood just south of Colorado Springs.
Notice how reporter Ellie Mulder writes (or cuts and pastes), "The cubs, which can't survive on their own yet, will be taken to a rehabilitation facility and eventually released."

That reminds me how how my mother once told me that my cat and her kittens were being "taken to a farm." I still hate her for that lie, and hate myself for believing it.

Yet in this case it is true! I arrived at said rehabilitation facility today to deliver a load of food donations, having picked up a bag of "large breed" puppy chow myself.  (Black bears are a large breed, aren't they? Cubs need lots of calories and protein.)

They have eight cubs this year, and they are all hungry.

The cub pictured  — a different case — was hanging around a home on the edge of Cañon City with its mother. I saw a photo of the sow, and she looked emaciated. One day she was found dead at the house. The district wildlife manager (game warden) who investigated said that she had puncture wounds on her leg (fight with a bigger bear?) and broken ribs (hit by a car?).

Grimly but efficiently, the game warden and the homeowner loaded the sow's body into a culvert trap. Still seeking to nurse, the cub climbed in, was caught, and transported to the rehabilitation facility to dine on puppy chow and donated watermelon. It's doing fine thus far.

Back to the news story. The bear was in somebody's yard, and someone official had to do something, so they darted her, she climbed higher, and fell to her death — not the first time that has happened.

Some thoughts:

1. Why not use a culvert trap and catch both sow and cubs? Was the area too busy? Too much interference from people, dogs, whatever?  Or was it just a case of act now and wrap it up?

2. Not all game wardens will do even that much. They might just take their rifle out of the truck and solve the problem that way. (The higher-ups seem to have no problem with that approach.)  How much does the response depend on who is watching?

3. Some game wardens, however, will do all that they can to save bears. They counsel residents on how "bear-proof" their homes, do their best to catch and transport "problem bears," and issue citations to people who harm without cause. I can think of a couple like that in my area.

Mostly, I am just tired of a civilization(s)  that cannot coexist with other-than-human nations.

#colorado parks and wildlife #bears

August 10, 2017

Off to See the King

King bolete. Slightly past its prime, but with careful trimming and slicing,
onto the drying screen it goes.



After last Friday's hailstorm left our vegetable gardens looking bombed and machine-gunned, there was only one thing left to look forward to — mushroom season.

I envy people who live in wetter climates like Alaska and the Pacific Northwest for this one thing: they can hunt mushrooms much of the year. We get some in the early summer, but the frenzy starts in August.

The first part of the week produced a flush of "slippery jacks" (Suillus granulatus) near the house. They are boletes but low-grade ones (from the eating standpoint)  that quickly turn wormy and mushy — the window for picking them lasts about two days.  M. says that they are "too bland" but dries and adds them to her vegetable soup stock mixture.

Today M. and I  drove up to the mountainside that we call The Mushroom Store, and the first thing we saw was a car parked in "our spot," a little pullout that I like because it is is a couple hundred yards from where the picking starts, instead of right beside it. I pulled onto a nearby old logging road instead, and we got out as quietly as we could.

We started toward the first area that we always check — and saw movement through the trees. Time for another route. We wear muted colors and communicate with little whistles and hand gestures. You never know, there might be Russians.

So we faded off into the woods and in about an hour had 23 pounds of mushrooms, mostly boletes with some hawk's wings. That made for a couple of hours of processing — the dehydrator full and laboring, screens all over the greenhouse, another screen on the hood of M's Jeep in the garage — for now, because it's raining. We will be dancing them in and out of the sunshine for the next two days.

All this rain — the high water, flash floods, sandbagging — at least it's producing mushrooms here in the Southern Rockies.

August 02, 2017

iPhone versus Pentax Point-and-Shoot

M. and I went for a hike today — a mushroom reconnaissance, really — and I got to thinking about pocket cameras.

In this corner, my ten-year-old Pentax Optio E40, 8.1 megapixel sensor, 5x optical zoom plus digital zoom, 6.2–18.2 mm focal length.

In the other corner, my three-year-old iPhone 5s, also about 8 megapixel sensor, and a tiny lens (no optical zoom) coupled to software jiggery-pokery that produces pretty good pictures.

Both have built-in flashes, but today's comparison was outdoor photography.

Like almost everyone who has a smartphone, I carry it most of the time — especially in fire-and-flood season.

The Pentax Optio has a logged a lot of miles in my daypack, hunting vest pocket, etc. How would it hold up head-to-head against the iPhone? Should I still bother with it? With batteries, it's an extra 6.2 oz. (177 grams).

On to the test. Both cameras produced JPG images in the 4–6 MB range, about 45 x 34 inches (Pentax) or 45 x 32 inches (iPhone). For the blog, I have reduced all of them to 12 inches in width (no cropping) at 72 dpi.

1. Wildflowers
Monarda (bee balm) / iPhone 5s


Monarda / Pentax Optio E40
I have not adjusted the exposure, which was a little darker on the Pentax. Neither focused perfectly, partly due to the trouble of seeing the camera screen in bright mountain sunlight. (A through-the-lens viewfinder camera is what you really need in this situation.)

2. Long-distance landscape
View across the Wet Mountain Valley / iPhone


View across the Wet Mountain Valley / Pentax

The iPhone did a better job with the values in the clouds than the point-and-shoot Pentax did. Lightening the latter's photo to match the iPhone tended to wash out the definition in the clouds.

3. Maximum zoom
 
The town of Westcliffe from about seven miles away / iPhone



Westcliffe / Pentax, maximum optical zoom 

Westcliffe / Pentax, maximum optical zoom + digital zoom
The Pentax zooms more, but there is probably a spy satellite that could give a better street view of Westcliffe, Colo., on a sunny day. I wonder what sort of software jiggery-pokery they have.

4. Other considerations

Features: Both shoot videos. The Optio has built-in settings for close-up, landscape, portrait, action, night photography, etc.

Storage: With the right SD card, the Optio can equal the iPhone's storage capacity.

Weight: The iPhone5s is slightly heavier, about 5 grams. But it is a computer that takes photographs, whereas the Optio is only a camera.

Battery: Both suck in different ways. All cell phones run down their batteries too fast, even when asleep, unless you turn off GPS, wireless, etc. The Optio runs down its AA batteries just remembering the time and date, and when you change them, you have to reset those numbers. Figure on a set of batteries a day with active shooting, although you can use rechargeables.

Durability: I keep my iPhone in an OtterBox case, and so far I have not broken it. The Optio is susceptible to dust because of its zoom lens, so normally it rides in a tactical case, which is a plastic sandwich bag. If I dropped it off a cliff or it fell out of the boat, I would not feel so bad, which is a plus.

5. Conclusion

Smartphones are killing the low-end point-and-shoot compact camera market. The Optio and its competitors offer built-in shooting modes, which I like, but smartphone owners can add apps to improve their features. (I like Solocator, which adds altitude, compass bearing, and latitude and longitude to photos.)

My conclusion: I will probably keep using the Optio until it breaks, but I doubt if I will replace it, except possibly with a cheap used one. I will keep my digital SLR for the "serious" photography.

July 28, 2017

Links Taller than Your Head

It's a good year for wild sunflowers.
Links. Do I have links. They sprout like sunflowers on the prairie.

How to improve your outdoor photography. 10-2-4 is not about Dr. Pepper — 2 p.m. is when you are traveling to the place that you wish to photograph after 4 p.m. And "Zoom with your feet" does not apply to buffalo.

Predatory ducks. It's Romania, so maybe they suck blood as well.

• How older elk survive to a ripe old age (for elk).  They learn the difference between bowhunters and rifle hunters.

A poacher goes down hard. If only this happened more often.

• From Colorado Outdoors: "Five Tips to Catch More Fish This Summer."

Another article on bold, aggressive urban coyotes. Denver, this time.

• High country trails don't just happen. It takes people like this.

July 15, 2017

Lost Dog Survives Wolves & Winter — And She's a Chessie

So out of loyalty to this fine breed, I give you this story of a long-lost elderly dog who survived:

"The last [the dog's owners" had heard, a hunter in Jerusalem Valley had seen a brown dog in the forest, running from wolves.

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/news/local/article160290474.html#storylink=cpy"

"The past year’s hard winter would’ve been tough to survive in the wild, even for an animal in its prime, Glankler said. The dog she had rescued, though a hardy Chessie (a dog known for its wooly, oily coat that was bred for the extreme cold of retrieving in the Atlantic), was completely deaf and clearly pretty old. Glankler couldn’t be completely sure this dog was Mo."

Read the whole thing.

This post approved by Fisher,
who is not lost.

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/news/local/article160290474.html#storylink=cpy"

July 06, 2017

Nature, Symbiosis . . . Ticks

Lovely complexity of nature.
M. and I were in Pueblo today, and someone tipped off one of the game wardens, who called me to say that she was going out to the Transportation Technology Center (where the levitating ghost train once ran) to pick up an orphan fawn — and could we relay it to the rehabilitators who live near us?

Oh sure. We had to hang around for an hour at the public library, which was torture, until she and a state wildlife biologist pulled up in her shiny black Colorado Parks and Wildlife truck.

When they handed over the crated fawn, they mentioned that it had a lot of ticks in its ear. And when we unloaded it, we saw them, like a bunch of grapes.

C., the rehabber, said she would enjoy popping them and killing them. She has a macabre sense of humor sometimes.

It can be worse. This page, from an organization devoted to creating perfect private habitat for whitetail deer, has some gruesome pictures under the heading "Can Ticks Kill Fawns?"

Writing about ticks always makes me think of outdoor entrepreneur and author George Leonard Herter. (Before there was Cabela's, there was Herter's.) Steve Bodio and I form a sort of two-person George Leonard Herter appreciation society.

Herter wrote with no regard for the norms and niceties of "sporting literature," just saying whatever was on his mind. Dare I say it, he was the Donald Trump of hunting writers.

He frequently mentions ticks, as in the number of them found on African game animals. In The Truth about Hunting in Today's Africa: And How to Go on Safari for $690.00 (1963), a book that now feels as distant as anything by Hemingway or Robert Ruark, he notes,
A really large rhino with a trophy size front horn of 30 inches of more [sic] is now [c.1960] impossible to get. Tick birds feed off of ticks that inhabit rhinos and also off from the blood that continually uses out of the scars on their skins. By watching for tick birds you can often locate a rhino. The tick birds, however, warn the rhino of your approach.
And also this exchange:
Jacques walked to the rear of the rhino and lifted its tail. Its anus was ringed with huge ticks a half inch in diameter.

"Every time I shoot one of these pigs I can't help feeling sorry for it. How would like to go around all your life with ticks like that around your anus?"
Show me another safari/hunting writer who discusses rhino ticks. Not "unhinged" as the New York Times described him, but just untroubled by the niceties of sporting lit.

UPDATE: The fawn died four days later. Tick-infested fawns are often "compromised," the rehabbers  said, which fits with the article that I linked to.

July 05, 2017

Notes from a Small-Town Independence Day Parade

Kids and and early-model Farmall Cub tractor. Can't beat that.
Florence, Colorado, has joined the trend towards "wet" parades. The parade route is divided into two halves: all units move through the dry half first, and then at an intersection, those who do not wish to continue—such as units with lots of bunting and young children—peel off.
These spectators are staying dry.
As we frequently do, our little fire department contributed a unit to the parade — and a unit to another parade in another small town. For the second year running, I drove in Florence.
Hah, what is your puny squirter against a city water truck? (Florence VFD photo)
The wet half of the parade is a water battle between spectators and parade units. The former have all manner of squirting apparatus plus garden hoses hooked to spigots on buildings. The latter have open tanks of water, buckets, and squirt guns — plus some of us have fire engines.
Soak that cop! Soak his Can Am Spyder Police Edition! You know you want to. (Florence VFD)
In our case, the fire engine is a brush truck (small wildland engine) with a gasoline-powered pump. (Most large fire pumpers run their pumps off the engine, which means that the vehicle must be stationery to pump.) We restrict ourselves to one-inch hoses, two of them. Our complement included the oldest firefighter, a retired Navy pilot who loves this stuff, and the chief with his wife and three children.
Wet-zone combat.
Me, I just rolled up the windows and drove toward what I knew was coming — the downward blast from one Florence's aerial nozle.
Into the (watery) hell mouth.
I noticed this year a couple of purpose-built wet-parade units, like this one below. Also, this "Murica" thing is becoming meme-ish. Who started it?

Two views of the same truck, with water tank filled and ready.
Who says oil and water don't mix?
In the end, what makes a parade (along with high-school bands) is somebody riding something. I asked the two riders on the saddle longhorns if I could take their picture. They agreed, and said that they had been in the parade the last two years as well. "That's the trouble," I said. "When you're in the parade, you can't see the parade."
While we were waiting, the oldest firefighter remarked on the incongruity of devoting a parade to spraying water in an arid state.

"Maybe we're celebrating Florence's senior water rights," I said. "They go back to the 1860s, I think."

As I wrote once before, humans love orgies.

July 02, 2017

Mining Camp Medicine, from a Plain-Spoken Memoir

From The Life of an Ordinary Woman by Anne Ellis (1875–1938), first published in 1929:
When anyone fell sick, the first medicine was whiskey, then came quinine and camphor (this camphor prepared at home from the gum and whiskey); then turpentine. One was pretty far gone when one or all of these did not bring him out of it! There was also a good deal of virtue in a chew of tobacco bound on a sore place. I have had many a chew on a cracked toe. Fresh cow manure was also considered good for this, leaving such a white place! For babies with bowel trouble Mama [a "born doctor"] fixed brown flour of which I would steal nibbles, and if this did not help, rose-root tea would, and I would be the one to dig the roots. She was always brewing sage* tea for some tenderfoot, who was getting "climated." Then there was Oregon grape root, brewed with rock candy, supposed to be fine for the kidneys, when juniper and a lot of whiskey were added to it. I have known men in Denver to send to us for the roots, supplying their own whiskey.
Compared to the "Little House" books, Anne Ellis's memoir of childhood and marriages in Colorado mining towns of the 1880s and 1890s (among others, Querida, Bonanza, Coal Creek, and Victor), is relatively un-prettified.  Daughter and wife of hard-rock miners, she grows up accustomed to swings between good times and bad, mixed with sudden moves to some other place which everyone knows will be a "sure thing."

Its publication in 1929 meant that it could not be completely unvarnished, but you do pick up some of the slang of the times. When the young miners from Bonanza went to Salida to "get their teeth fixed," the operations took place after dark at a house on Front Street and did not involve dentistry. 

This book had a sequel, Plain Anne Ellis, which I might have to find. (Martha Quillen at Colorado Central reviewed her third and final memoir, Sunshine Preferred and liked it less.)

* I assume this was Artemisia, not Salvia.

July 01, 2017

An Alaskan Speaks about Bear Spray

Bear spray canisters and holsters
(Udap brand).
A spate of incidents in Alaska (and the Northern Rockies) have some people asking, "Does bear spray work?"

Alaska news-blogger Craig Medred has posted on this repeatedly. The main issue seems to be that minority of black bears (not griz) who turn predator, but grizzlies are always of concern as well.
Twenty-seven-year-old Erin Johnson from Anchorage died June 19 after she and a coworker were attacked by a predatory black bear while doing environmental studies in brushy forest about five miles from the state’s largest underground gold mine. . .
Sean Farley, a bear researcher and wildlife physiologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, emphasized that bear spray has proven hugely effective on charging bears, especially charging grizzlies.

But he noted the physical state of those bears. They charge with eyes wide open, nostrils flaring and often huffing air into their lungs. They are fully exposed to the active ingredient in the spray – oleoresin capsicum, an oily extract from the pepper plant.
Unlike tear gas, which appears to work poorly on bears, capsicum causes more than just irritation to the eyes. Inhaled, it inflames airways making it temporarily harder to breathe and from what is known about research on humans, it might do even more than that.

A charging grizzly is likely to get a big dose of capsicum. That is not necessarily the case for a predatory bear. . . . Farley describes predatory bears as approaching with eyes squinting, mouths shut and  nostrils narrowed. They come in like bears approaching beehives ready to suffer a bit to get the food they want. Their physical preparations would serve to minimize the dose of spray hitting the bear.
The post goes on to talk about risk-assessment: "Statistically, you are orders of magnitude more likely to die in a motor vehicle or boating accident in Alaska than to be attacked by a bear, let alone killed by one." But fear of bears is more primal than fear of motorboats.

And there is speculation on the changing nature of predators world-wide. Read it all.

The big about bears approaching beehives reminded me of when my late brother-in-law was raising hogs on his farm in southeastern Missouri. His was a small operation, maybe a dozen or so at a time, partly for the family and partly for sale.

He told me about one particular hog that would bust through an electric fence. The pig knew that it would get shocked, so it started squealing before it hit the fence, but it still wanted to break through more than it did not want to be shocked. There is no reason why some bear might not take the same attitude toward bear spray.

I still carry it at appropriate times, however. It also works well on overly aggressive dogs. And I see that Medred still carries it too.

June 26, 2017

First Scout Camera Bear of 2017

This lanky young black bear was out ambling around on Sunday the 18th, but I just changed out the SD card in that camera today and found its picture.

Bear sign has been scant, which is probably a good thing, if it means that they are dispersed and finding stuff to eat. I did have a birdfeeder knocked down the night of June 4th, which reminded M. and me that it was time to go into summer mode and bring them in each evening.

I this color phase a "Siamese bear," as in cat, because the old fur being shed looks light over the darker undercoat.

June 20, 2017

Blossom from a Rock

I see this every so often, but it still impresses me: a little Opuntia-genus cactus growing out of a crack in a big sandstone boulder. For "planting mix," decomposing pine needles.

June 09, 2017

It's Time to Fire Up the Coleman Lantern

Last weekend at Sylvan Lake State Park, the solar lantern just was not bright enough for both M's and my reading, so I fired up the single-mantle Coleman lantern to illuminate the trailer.

Coast to coast, this lantern has illuminated many campsites. It heated my old van on waterfowling trips in the San Luis Valley as the temperature plunged well below freezing.

As best I recall, it came from the garage of an old smelter worker's cottage on Cañon City's unfashionable south side, after a co-worker rented it.

(I lived next door. Those were not shining times.)

With new washers in the pump and a new globe, it was back in operation.

The special pungency of Coleman's blended white gas, poured through the distinctive filter funnel — bright red, so you don't leave it sitting on the picnic table, as I almost did last Sunday.

You spin the cleaning lever, pump it, light it, pump some more, open the gas — OK, I admit it sounds like starting a Model T Ford or something like that.

Apparently an ad for the British market.
I never heard of the "Empire" model.
Maybe it's that early-20th-century technology. But it works — and you don't send empty gas canisters to the landfill or let them pile up at Base Camp for someone else to deal with.
Some people say Aladdin lanterns are quieter and better, but growing up in Colorado and South Dakota, I never saw one.

Back in the 1980s when I occasionally served as a camp hand for a local outfitter in return for free outdoor adventure, I heard this story from one of the clients.

He had been looking for a little store that existed or was supposed to exist near Red Wing in Huerfano County because we were low on Coleman mantles, the original kind that you tie on with cold-numbed fingers.
 
As the client stood by his truck, he recalled, this ranchman rode up on horseback. When he learned what the problem was, the horseman pulled out his billfold, opened it, and extracted a mantle, which he handed down, saying, "Some fellows carry condoms, but up here, these are more valuable."

Or maybe he said "carry rubbers." Anyhow, if it's not true, it should be.

May 29, 2017

When Lightning Strikes, Survivors Are Changed Forever

When I was a college student working a summer construction job in Taos, New Mexico, there was an old man next door, Eloy M., who people in the areas said had been struck by lightning.

They said that that was why he was shy, kind of reclusive — he worked his corn field, but never seemed to go anywhere.

Was it the lightning that changed him? According to this article in Arts Technica,
The changes in personality and mood that survivors experience, sometimes with severe bouts of depression as well, can strain families and marriages, sometimes to breaking point. Cooper likes to use the analogy that lightning rewires the brain in much the same way that an electrical shock can scramble a computer—the exterior appears unharmed, but the software within that controls its functioning is damaged.
It's a fascinating article both on the mechanics of lightning and what happens to survivors of lightning strikes.

Some quick Internet research turned up differing answers as to which U.S. states have the most lightning strikes.

Some say Florida is number one; others say Texas. New Mexico makes the top ten.

May 17, 2017

People Who Run With Dogs Are Doing It Wrong

Hoedad (Forestry Suppliers).
• "And it might seem harmless to push especially active breeds beyond what their owners do themselves, for example by having them run alongside a bicycle. Some can handle this, but apparently not all."

• Intersectional squirrels transgressing ontological boundaries. Or something. The weirdest, most contorted, theory-obsessed (in a stumbling mechanistic way) sort of academic paper on wildlife you will ever read.  Usually it's grad students who write like this. But Teresa Lloro-Bidart has, presumably, a tenure-track job.

• I have swung my hoedad and planted a few trees in my time. So did Dad in his forestry-student days. We did not know about innoculating them with fungi, but thanks to people like mycologist Paul Stamets, the idea is catching on, as shown in this spruce-planting video.

UPDATE: Second link fixed. Sorry.