February 15, 2024

Pygmy Owl, Long-Distance Lizard

Pygmy Owl, abducted by aliens and examined.
A game warden called from up in the county seat. Someone had brought him a Northern Pygmy-Owl (correct ID on his part) that was "in danger" on a highway. 

We met on a side street, and he transferred the owl to my carrier. And there was a second passenger, a small lizard. Apparently the owl was about to eat dinner when the well-meaning two-legged came long. 

It was kind of astonishing that a lizard would be out and about. The sun was shining, but air temps were only in the mid-40s F at best. (Did the owl find it on warm asphalt?) The reptile seemed moribund, but then the light was fading at 7800 feet, and the air was cooling fast.

The Raptor Center in Pueblo was closed, of course. I called the director's cell phone. She said to keep the bird over night, give it a shallow dish of water, bring it down in the morning.

This morning I checked on the owl, which seemed alert and on its feet, poured a cup of coffee, and hit the road. 

On arrival, the owl checked out as healthy and unharmed.  "Take him home," the director said. I decided to take her literally.

But the lizard lived! I had not seen the lizard this morning and assumed that the owl had eaten it. But when I straightened out the towels in the carrier, there it was, barely moving one leg. Too cold, I am sure. A volunteer lifted it into a small box and went to place it somewhere warm.

After putting 116 miles on the Jeep, I had these results.

1. One [sagebrush?] lizard was relocated to the outskirts of Pueblo, into what should be a compatible habitat. Reptile brain says, "Umm warm." Missing tail tip probably not noticed.

2.  One Pygmy-Owl had a missing time/abduction experience but ended up about two miles away from where it had been. Its new location, however, features four birdfeeders, consequently, a prey-rich environment. Maybe we'll see it again.

What sets Pygmy Owls apart is that they are daytime hunters. Kind of like sharp-shinned hawks, they have short wings, long tails, and will try to snatch passerine birds off the feeder tray.  

Most owls have asymmetrically placed ears as well as flattened facial discs around the eyes. Both of these features are adaptations that give them better hearing. Interestingly, Northern Pygmy-Owls lack these features, and this may be an outcome of their diurnal habits and greater reliance on vision. All About Birds.
So releasing it in the day time was easy to do. Once it saw blue, it flew.



February 05, 2024

So Who Will Hack the Wolf GPS Data?


Colorado Parks and Wildlife has now published a GPS map for Colorado wolves.

Understand that while every wolf wears a GPS collar, including the ones that wandered in to North Park and were darted, collared, and released -- and including the 15 new ones coming in -- the magic map does now show where they are right now.

It shows what drainage they have been in lately. The website says,

  • Currently, the collars are programmed to record a position every four hours. 

  • Once four locations have been recorded, the packet of four locations is then transmitted via satellite to CPW biologists. 

  • The frequency of both position recording and transmission of the data can be delayed by a number of factors such as dense cloud cover, closed terrain, etc. 

  • By looking at the data, CPW staff can learn where wolves have been, but they cannot tell where wolves are at a current point in time, nor can they predict where the wolves will go. 

  • To protect the wolves, specific GPS data will not be shared.

"Specific GPS data will not be shared. "

Um, yeah.  Governments are so good at keeping data secure. Now who would want up-to-the-minute data? 

Most people's thoughts will probably go straight to some clandestine wolf-killer, some figure straight out of a Charlie Box wilderness-thriller novel.  

But follow the money. I remember how in the 1980s, as commercial rafting developed on the Arkansas River and the state took over recreational management, there were all these contentious meetings over regulation, which boiled down to

    a) Early arrivals in commercial rafting wanted to keep out the competition.

    b) Private rafters and kayakers did not want to be forced into the eddies by the commercial outfits.

    c) Anglers wanted to be left alone at dawn and dusk, at the very least.

You will make money if you
know where I am (CPW photo).
In 1989, the year after the big fires, M. and I passed through Yellowstone NP. We casually parked our van at the Slough Creek Campground. I fished a bit in Slough Creek (saw an otter!) and the Lamar River, where I could step from elk skeleton to elk skelton, after the big die-off in the 1988–89 winter.

We came back in the 2000s after wolf reintroduction. Slough Creek campsites had to be reserved months in advance. Every highway pull-out in the Lamar Valley was full of surly shoulder-to-shoulder observers with expensive optics: spotting scopes and telephone lenses. Tour busses with wolves painted on them lumbered up and down the road — like this one.

If the wolves reproduce — and if they move east into Rocky Mountain National Park — that will be Colorado's future too. Wolves as spectacle. 

As with rafting on the Arkansas, there will be a struggle for regulations that give some operators an advantage over their competitors.

And speaking of "advantage," if you were a "wolf-tour guide," what could you do with GPS coordinates as to just where the wolves were that day?

January 20, 2024

Biggish Cats, Short Tails

 

In early January 2024 Mario Angeles video'd these two lynx near Silverton, Colorado. That is a special moment, all right. Between native populations and (mainly) reintroduction, Colorao's lynx population is estimated at only 150 and 250 animals. 

And while it's not a lynx — not down here in the foothills where there is little snow on the ground — the scout camera right up behind the house did pick up a bobcat this month.

This is good bobcat habitat though, rocky and brushy, but you do not see them very often. 

Just for comparison, here is a young bobcat living large at the wildlife rehabilitation center in Custer County, due to be released when the weather warms. 

Photo: Wet Mountain Wildlife


January 12, 2024

Colorado Wolves: Faux "Paws" on the Ground

Gov. Jared Polis was on hand Dec, 18, 20203 to release Oregon wolves in Colorado,
but some Coloradans deeply involved with the project never were invited.

Some officials and Western Slope residents are annoyed that Colorado Parks and Wildlife seemed eager to please Governor Polis (if not Marlon Reis, his animal-rightist husband) while forgetting promises to them. They were never on the guest list or even informed about last month's wolf release.

According to the Sky-Hi News in Grand County,

Two [CPW] commissioners in particular, Marie Haskett from Meeker, who represents sportspersons and outfitters, and Duke Phillip IV, who represents agriculture and is from Colorado Springs, both believe a lack of communication and transparency has led to distrust of the agency in rural communities. And they both think the wolf reintroduction created animosity between rural and urban areas. While dismayed at the way the wolf releases were rolled out, the commissioners both expressed gratitude for the hard work CPW staff put into making the historic, voter-mandated reintroduction possible.

Haskett was the first to speak about wolves at the Jan. 10 meeting. She called Dec. 18 – the day the first five wolves were released – a “sad day” because comissioners were not notified. She claims that many of the CPW staff who worked tirelessly on the reintroduction were also not made aware. To her knowledge other members of the legislature and local counties were not alerted about the releases either.

“Even the Grand County commissioner (Merrit Linke) who was on the TWG (Technical Working Group) was not invited to the release, and yet other specific members of the working group were,” Haskett said. “The people who politically drove this issue were present. The divide between rural and urban populations was blown up with this ballot initiative. Now CPW has taken a huge political hit with the public because of these political actions.”

Philip in particular was angry because he had worked on the reintroduction but found that it had occured a day afterwards — by watching TV news.

Haskett said that poor communications with local people puts CPW's work at risk, since it must manage wildlife on both public and private land. I would add that it also feeds the conspiratorial narrative that the wolf introduction was "punishment" to an area that did not vote for Gov. Polis and other Democrats.

For official wolf news, check CPW's "Wolf Management" page.

January 02, 2024

The Man Who Is Buying the Colorado Prairie

Click to enlarge (Source: Bloomberg)
Stefan Soloviev is only the 26th largest landowner in America, so he has a way to go to catch up with John Malone or Ted Turner.

Stefan Soloviev (Business Insider)

I do remember when he bought the grandly named Colorado Pacific Railroad, all 122 miles of it, in 2018. But there was more to come, much more. The New York businessman, still in his 20s, started buying land. Then he went to see it, in this case, in Prowers County, southeast Colorado, which includes the town of Lamar.

“It was 6 miles off the paved road and I’m driving and everything looks the same and I’m driving and driving and I finally get to the property and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m in the middle of nowhere.’ And I had a bit of a panic attack,” he says during a wandering interview with The Colorado Sun. “I’ll never forget that first time out here. It’s gotten easier. You adjust. You adjust to your surroundings. You start to become part of the community.”

He also has a pretty good spread in east-central New Mexico, as you will see if you explore this Bloomberg graphic article on America's top one hundred landowners.

Land: they ain't making any more of it. 

Soloviev, meanwhile, has big plans:

So the pitch looks like this: Rent his farmland at market rates. Grow your own grains. Truck them to Soloviev’s grain elevator close to the Colorado-Kansas border. Then ship the grain on his new Colorado Pacific Railroad to Pueblo to access Union Pacific’s national rail network. Soloviev says eventually he wants to grow into the international exporting business with cargo ships that can move Colorado grain “as far as I can take it.”

December 31, 2023

Wolves Now Add to the 'Colorado Experience'

A wolf who walked in from Wyoming caught on a scout camera
in North Park in March 2023 (Don Gittleson via AP).
Dad was still alive when the debate on reintroducing wolves to Colorado began, soon after the 1995 reintroduction in Yellowstone National Park. His US Forest Service career began and then ended in Colorado, and he had thoughts. 

His days of being a horseback district ranger in the Eastern San Juans were long gone. "Now," he said. "this state is just a big park. There's no place for wolves."

That's setting aside the livestock issues. When Dad was asking herders, "¿Cuántas borregas tiene?" there were no wolves to think about. Those sheep outfits are much diminished, for other economic reasons, but some remain, as do cattle, horses, llamas, alpacas, and other speciality livestock.

The late Ed Quillen, mountain-county newsman and publisher, prided himself on being the only Denver Post editorial columnist who lived outside the Denverplex. He liked to say that Colorado used to be a "colony of Chicago," providing minerals and agricultural products to industrial America. 

But then, he said, we became part of the "Los Angeles economy" — a colony of the entertainment industry. Now Colorado's best-known export is experience

If that is so, then think of wolves as just another tourism experience, like ziplines over canyons

So maybe Dad had it backwards? Colorado is a "park," so it should have wolves? Wolves that will add spiritual value to the Colorado experience without hurting anyone. 

With some wolves already filtering from Wyoming on their own (and killing livestock and dogs) was it necessary to bring in more? The voters in their wisdom thought so in 2020. Now 30–50 wolves are planned to be released in Colorado over the next three to five years.

Wolf 2302-OR, a 68-lb. female yearling, is released somewhere in Grand County on Dec. 18, 2023.

 

Some  headlines and squabbles:.

Maybe colorful flagging will keep wolves away from livestock. So says Adam Baca,  Colorado's first "wolf conflict coordinator."

Some Oregon ranches think flagging ("fladry") and other counter-measures are not enough.

[Tom[ Birkmaier, an Oregon rancher, expressed his concerns about the relocation, telling Oregon Public Broadcasting, "It's just going to bring the problem over to a lot of ranchers and end up killing a lot of livestock in Colorado."
This sentiment is not limited to Oregon ranchers alone. Lawmakers in other wolf states, including Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, have also declined Colorado's request for wolves, despite their own sizable wolf populations.

• Cat Urbigkit, Wyoming sheep rancher, writer, and livestock guardian dog expert, points out misinformation in the Colorado Parks and Wildlife press kit and says some of the released wolves came from livestock-killing packs.

CPW wasn’t up front in telling the public about the depredation history of the packs the newly released wolves originated. It was Rachel Gabel who dug into the details and told the public what she’d found.
Gabel is a rancher and ag-journalist from Wiggins, Colo., who has covered the wolf reintroduction extensively.

She was promptly attacked by the governor's husband, Marlon Reis.

Reis doesn’t just differ with Gabel in a lengthy thread of Facebook comments he posted over Christmas weekend. He repeatedly, personally attacks her abilities and standing as a journalist and urges the public to “never trust anything Rachel Gabel writes." . . .

It also makes us wonder whether our politically astute governor winced while reading Reis peevishly accuse Gabel of seeking, “not to report the truth, but to inspire fear.” Or, where Reis pettily huffed in the same post, “I'll never understand how she got hired as a journalist.”

• Wolves did not just wander into Colorado their own. The first pups were spotted in spring 2021. But that did not count as a "self-sustaining population," Colorado Parks and Wildlife said. It was interesting to the wildlife biologists though.

Stay tuned, there is more to come, for sure.

November 29, 2023

Life, Death, and Coffee in Clayton, New Mexico


No one is ever on the sidewalks in Clayton, New Mexico. Its population has trended down since 1960, and if you want to visit a store or other business, you can generally park right in front. The longest walk in town is probably from the farthest truckers' diesel pumps to the convenience store entrance at the Love's fuel stop.

I once tried to walk around downtown (was staying at the restored Eklund Hotel) and came the nearest ever to being forcibly disincarnated by a passing pickup truck, even through I was crossing with the light. I felt the backwash of Death's wings, I can tell you that. 

Maybe the driver was so unused to seeing a person on crossing the street that he assumed I was an incorporeal ghost. Or he was drunk.

So when I make my regular US 87 coffee stop at Crossroads Coffee (a.k.a. Mock's Crossroads Coffee Mill) I park in front or in the little gravel lot alongside, or on rare occasions I use the drive-up window.

There's no need to walk.

October 20, 2023

Give Your Jeep a Prairie Road Advantage!

 

Jeep's "Borrow Ditch Advantage" option is available only from Great Plains dealerships, so it is not well-known to the automotive press.

October 19, 2023

What the Hunter Said to the Dog, and What the Dog Replied

Long ago in the Ice Age, a rough fluffy Dog lay down on the Hunter's reindeer-skin pack.

When the Hunter returned, he spoke: "Hey, you stinking animal! My quiver is under there! If you broke one of my good arrows, I'm going to shove it into your ribs, you unclean beast!" 

And the Dog spoke with his tail, as Dogs do: "We're going out? I'm ready! Let's go!!"
 
And they lived happily ever after, until Dog did something else that was Wrong.

October 17, 2023

The "Heart of Wilderness" Lies in the Prairie

If you take your finger and place it on a map marking the geographical center of the nation, somewhere above Kansas and below South Dakota, it won’t simply be resting on a blank spot, it will be touching the beating heart of true American wildness; a place of windswept, impossibly vast tableaus, ancient, grass-covered hills, and fast-flying prairie grouse. 

I am on a Northern Plains journey night now, with a traverse of the Sandhills planned for the return leg of it. Here is one of several links to earlier crossings: "Self-Advertisement in the Nebraska Sandhills."

I never have spent as much time there as I would have liked, but this video helps to make up for that lack. It's scripted by Oklahoma writer Chad Love for the Pheasants Forever conservation group. You can find more still photos here.

There is public land there too.

October 11, 2023

What Fall Aspen Gold Tells Us about Water

Hiker looks a rain gauge in an aspen grove.
This year's Colorado aspen leaf-peeping season was a fine one, and the reason is last winter's snowpack, reports the Colorado Sun.

With enough water and nutrients, deciduous trees can produce more leaves, creating denser foliage that offers even more of a spectacle to enthusiastic leaf peepers in the fall. 

This year, winter precipitation blanketed Colorado in a deep snowpack, which acts as a vital natural reservoir for the state’s water supply. By May, most of Colorado mountains had an average to above-average snowpack compared with historical records from 1991 to 2020, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The summer was cooler overall, and some parts of the state even received record rainfall. The state hasn’t seen many of the windy days, cold temperatures and snowfall in aspen stands that all contribute to falling leaves.

“It’s just shaped up to be a fantastic year to get out and see some of the colors in Colorado, and it’s a good year for trees in general in Colorado,” [said  Dan West of the Colorado State Forest Service].

With the wind coming in, the northern Colorado aspen leaf season is ending, but you can still see them in parts of southern Colorado into New Mexico.

The orange, yellow, and red scrub leaves are peaking down  here, but the Denver-centric media like the Colorado Sun don't mention those!

October 07, 2023

Of Bear Spray, Bears, and a Missouri Hog

Gusse and Inglis canoeing in Canada (NY Post).
I have been reading the sad story of Jenny Gusse and Doug Inglis, experienced Canadian canoeists and backcountry travelers, killed September 29th, together with their dog, by a grizzly bear in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

A friend who sometimes traveled with them said, “Their skill level was extremely high, they were conservative. They took every precaution they possibly could."

Another of the couple's friends said, "“I remember him telling me about camping and how you got to go so far even to pee from your tent. He would tell me all the safety precautions.” 

An expended can of bear spray was found at the scene.

Naturally the commenters weigh in on how bear spray is useless and ya gotta have a big 'ol gun in a caliber starting with 4 or 5. Except this is a Canadian national park: "The use of firearms (including pellet guns, bear bangers, bows, sling shots etc.) and hunting are not permitted in Banff National Park." So there is that.

I am not a big bear expert, and I have used pepper spray only on angry dogs (where it worked just fine). But I am reminded of my late brother-in-law Stone Curtois and one of his hogs.

He used to raise a small number of hogs at at time, ten or fifteen, on a little farm in southeastern Missouri, supplementing his main source of income, which was a portable sawmill. 

The hog pen was fenced with electric wire, which the animals respected, except for this one. It wanted to break out, he told me, but it knew that the electric fence would "bite." 

So it would charge the fence, screaming in pain before it hit the wire. In other words, its commitment to breaking free overruled the pain that it knew was coming.

I've read of various bear attacks, talked with people who used pepper spray on grizzlies successfully, and interviewed one woman who was shaken like a rag doll by an Alaska brown bear but saved by the person in her BLM survey party who had a rifle.

I have noticed that people living in places like Cooke City, Wyoming (adjacent to Yellowstone NP), mow their yards and walk to the store with bear-spray  cannisters on their hips.

It seems that bears can be like that Missouri hog: once they stop assessing the situation and commit to an attack, pain won't stop them. But if they are still only assessing, bear spray can be effective.

The 2018 attack on Wyoming hunting guide Mark Uptain and his client seems similar to this recent case: bear spray was used, but the bear (or two) involved were not fazed. Like the hog, the bears had already made up their minds.

It's also indicative that both of those attacks occured in September, when bears are "hyperphagic," as the biologists like to say. In other words, eating eating eating.

As for my brother-in-law, he died in a tree-felling accident. Him, a guy who read logging-supply catalogs for recreation. You can know what you are doing and still have something go wrong, or make that one tiny error.

September 03, 2023

On Seeing Liatris -- Thoughts of Poverty and Summer Sadness


Many people call this late-summer wildlflower "blazing star," but I always call it by the bontanical genus name, Liatris. It is the only wildflower that I call by its Latin name, and the reasons have to do with poverty and sadness.

Liatris blooms in late August. It is a perennial, and its energy-storing coms must have gotten a good soaking in our wet early summer, because I have never seen it thicker on the slope behind the house.

Its message is obvious: this is the last blaze of summer — enjoy it while you can. (Meanwhile, some are impatient for summer to be gone, but that is another story.)

I almost hate to see its blossoms, not only because summer is ending, but because they always take me back to the summer when I turned 36 and the bottom fell out.

M. and I had come to Cañon City, Colo., so that I could work on a friend's start-up magazine, but it failed (as most start-up magazines actually did in the pre-Web era). There we were in our 1910 smelter worker's cottage without enough money to leave town, nor any idea where to go if we did.

The mortgage payment was low, but with her working only part-time and me just selling an occasional freelance article, our finances were tighter than tight.

Our friend Hank stepped in. His family were florists in Pueblo. He had earned a master's in agronomy at Colorado State and worked for a seed company in Idaho breeding peas, but he wanted a change, so he came home and started a wholesale flower business on part of his family's little acreage on St. Charles Mesa (SE side of Pueblo). 

It was pretty much a one-man operation -- including the long drives to deliver flowers down the Arksansas River and over into the San Luis Valley -- and sometimes when he had a lot of harvest and prep to do, he hired us as casual labor.

He grew commercial varieties of Liatris, taller than our wildflowers, because they made good cut flowers, with the blossoms opening over several days. Good "vase life," you might say. He always called it "Liatris," so I did too.

Things changed. I thought I was done with newspapers, but took a job at the Cañon City Daily Record that fall. It paid the bills, and overlapped partly with our seasonal job censusing owls for the Bureau of Land Management. I finished the overdue thesis and started teaching part-time, then full time, finally saying goodbye for  good to journalism. M. did likewise, teaching at a community college and finding she was good at it.

Hank's marriage ended, and so did the flower business, but he too switched to community college teaching, got a doctorate, and ended up on the biology faculty at Merritt College in Oakland, Calif. 

I wonder if he sees any Liatris out there, and if so, what its mental associations are. When I see them, I still get a quick gut-flinch: What am I going to do?

August 24, 2023

A Dog's Three-Dimensional World of Light, Shapes, and Scent — Mostly Scent?

Is Marco the dog following a visual trail, with the additional visual cues of rocks lined up on the side, or is he following "a rippling, three-dimensional tapestry of light, shapes, and scents, with every object effusing odors that are further revealed upon nose-first investigation"?

According to the researchers interviewed for this article in Popular Science, "Why Your Dog Needs to Smell the World," too many dog owners neglect smelling opportunities in favor of motion. 

Many dogs, however, live in less enriching circumstances. They spend most of their time in relatively scent-impoverished indoor environments and then, when taken outside for a walk, are hurried along at a pace that’s more about their caregiver’s interests than their own. Even just a cracked-open window can make a difference, says Horowitz, though she tries to let her own companions, Quiddity and Tilde, sniff to their hearts’ content while exploring on a stroll.

Dogs change too: Our former collie-mix, Shelby, used to charge forward on walks. She never learned not to pull the leash -- or I was unwilling to correct her again and again times 1,000. 

More often she was off-leash except for the last bit of the walk home, past the other houses.

But as she aged, she more and more prefered to take "sniff walks," going a couple of yards and then pausing to examine some tuft of grass or bush. That is what old dogs often want to do.

August 13, 2023

Blog Stew with Mountain Lion (Tastes like Pork, They Say)

Just a lion walking past a trail camera two years ago.

•  The culinary side of mountain lions (cougars) is not covered in this Colorado Parks and Wildlife video series, but you get one legally, be my guest. (Or should I be yours?)

• What is chronic wasting disease and why is it a problem for deer, elk, and msein the Rockies? Two more videos here from CPW.

 • Yes, beavers are great! Beavers in every drainage!    

SILVERTON, Colo. — Colorado’s San Juan Mountains are home to about 15,000 abandoned mines, according to Rory Cowie, the president and owner of Alpine Water Resources.

Several hundred of these abandoned mines are in need of a cleanup, which is something multiple federal agencies are working on. Cowie refers to these mines as “legacy mines”— mines that are no longer in use.

“They either have draining water that's of poor quality, or they may have a bunch of mine waste or tailings ... near them,” Cowie said. “And so, for the past 25 or 30 years, there's been efforts to clean up these mines, but there are a lot of them and it takes a lot of funding.”

But Cowie has a low-cost, natural solution in mind: the American beaver.

But be careful. As Ben Goldfarb writes Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter, mountain lions look at newly dropped-off beavers the way that you might look at a cheeseburger. There is a video embedded.