October 29, 2006

Animal "collectors:" Why do they do it?

Via Drudge Report (first time I have looked at it in ages) comes yet another story of someone with a houseful of miserable, filthy, uncared-for dogs (and birds).

I am asking my favorite ex-animal control officer-turned-blogger to explain the phenomenon.

I still can't get over the fact that she was scooping up strays in Portland, Oregon, when I was a college student there. Surely we passed on the street at some time, and luckily, Muddy, my junior-year girlfriend's "collie with a screw loose" never wound up in her truck.

Muddy was a "homing collie" in reverse. He would leave our home in Lents Junction and turn up outside my girlfriend's ceramics studio on the Reed College campus, having gone at least five miles through city traffic. He didn't do it often, but when he did, my heart almost stopped.

October 27, 2006

Trying for a personal response to climate change

As the proprietor of a blog called "Nature Blog," I keep thinking that I ought to say something about climate change.

The problem is that I do not know what to say.

Something is happening, I am sure. But I am disgusted by politicization of the public discourse.

For instance, the National Academy of Sciences offers a free summary of their report, "Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the last 2,000 Years."

The report states, "It can be said with a high level of confidence that global mean surface temperature was higher during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period during the preceding four centuries. This statement is justified by the consistency of the evidence from a wide variety of geographically diverse proxies."

(Read the news release here.)

Humanities guy that I am, I am impressed by the idea of researching climate change by studying old paintings of natural features such as glaciers, for instance.

Skepticism continues, of course, as in this Canadian news item.

But I'm still thinking about Greenland. You may know the story--reconstructed as fiction in Jane Smiley's novel Greenlanders--how the early medieval warm period collapsed around 1400 (?) as the world moved towards the Little Ice Age. (More on ups and downs of the Little Ice Age.)

They are farming in Greenland again. Weird.

What if . . . what if . . . this was something outside our control, in other words, not George W. Bush's personal fault? You can't blame the "Medieval Climate Optimum" on coal-burning power plants or eee-vul sport utility vehicles.

What if climate change was controlled by solar radiation or by cosmic rays' influence on cloud cover?

We could still save money and energy by emphasizing conservation and new technology more, whether doing so had any effect on the climate or not.

In fact, even as "recycling" became the save-the-planet mantra of the 1970s, I suspect that the screw-in fluorescent lightbulb will become the poster child of the current effort. I am typing this post by the light of one of them, screwed into a draftsman's lamp at my computer table. ("Anglepoise" lamp to my UK readers, both of you.)

And then I walk outside and look at the pine trees, thinking, "I must continue to love this place."

October 23, 2006

10-Bird Meme, No. 7, Pine siskin

Late October is the Season of Jays. Three kinds of them are hanging around the house: Steller's jays, scrub jays, and blue jays. We must be on some kind of habitat boundary for the blue jays--some years there are none, but this year I have seen as many as five at once.

And whichever jay is nearest starts calling excitedly when the birdfeeders are brought out from the garage, whenever M. or I get around to it. They go through quantities of sunflower seeds. They are not eating it all, of course, but stashing little caches of seeds in the duff under the pine trees.

Meanwhile the level in the thistle feeders stays high. The pine siskins are gone. In the photo, pine siskins feast on both Niger thistle and black oil sunflower seeds at adjacent feeders.

They are the background birds in the crowd scene, but we miss them when they disappear. It happens like this--the summer siskins vanish, then there are some weeks of no siskins, then they reappear. Or a new flock arrives. I have no idea.

A siskin makes me think of those conservative men's suits that reveal jacket linings of shocking pink or scarlet. In their case, it's the flash of lemon yellow when they lift their wings--a yellow like the breeding yellow of the American goldfinches that often flock with them.

Something in me will not be settled until they arrive.

Pine-trunk etiquette and mountain driving

Exploiting habitat niches (as the pros would say) each in in its own way, a brown creeper and a white-breasted nuthatch explored the same ponderosa pine trunk.

The creeper, as creepers do, was going up. The nuthatch was coming down headfirst, as nuthatches do.

Who would give way?

In the bird world, size matters. David Sibley gives the average nuthatch a weight of 0.74 oz. (21 gr.) and the brown creeper a mere 0.29 oz. (8.4 gr.). No contest--the creeper flew away.

And, sitting in the woods, I was left thinking about the rule for mountain driving impressed on me as a kid: Uphill traffic has the right of way. (Because they need the momentum?) Does anyone still follow that rule anymore?

October 22, 2006

Thinking about stuff more than blogging

I have posts in the works on the 10-bird meme and some other issues, but a combination of beautiful October days and masses of student papers to read has been keeping me from blogging. Maybe tonight ...

October 18, 2006

Assault by ATV

The future of backcountry law enforcement in Colorado and elsewhere in the West will be trying to curb out-of-control ATV riders.

From the Durango Herald:

After Jepson asked two ATVers to leave his property, "One guy just hit the throttle and ran into me," he said Wednesday. "The guy who ran into me just split, and he left me lying there with a broken leg."

October 06, 2006

Aspen gold, aspen fears

The photo shows aspen trees among the conifers in the Wet Mountains of southern Colorado on Monday, October 2nd. The following day a little squall line of thunderstorms came through and ripped off most of the golden leaves. The same thing happened with the big willows and cottonwoods along our road.

Meanwhile, news reports are full of gloom-and-doom about the decline in aspen groves. (Link may expire.)

One Forest Service ecologist said the causes were drought, increasing grazing by both cattle and elk, disease, and insect infestations.

I am surprised no one has mentioned fire suppression. Around Cripple Creek, for instance, so many aspen groves along Colorado 67 clearly represent little 19th-century forest fires, probably started by sparks from steam locomotives back when today's state highway was a railroad grade.

How many of the aspen groves we are used to seeing resulted from 19th or early 20th-century forest fires, before the era of serious fire suppression started mid-century?

When some acquaintances of ours, who live amid thick firs in the Sangre de Cristo Range near Westcliffe, did a massive tree-thinning to protect their home from wildfire, suddenly they had aspens! The last time I was there, the area around their house was full of knee-high aspen. Will they make it to maturity? That seems to be part of the issue.

Update: I went prowling on LexisNexis and found a trade-journal article that quoted David Skinner, wildlife biologist on the Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho:

Because aspens take advantage of the regenerative opportunities provided by forest fires, Skinner emphasized that the only real solution to their regrowth in the region would be less fire suppression.