July 16, 2018

Hummingbirds Co-Existing Peacefully

I was going to relax with some blogging yesterday afternoon (I really was), and then the rain started falling all up and down the Wet Mountains, leading to some stream-flooding, rock slides, and waterfalls appearing in unexpected places.

The fire department was called out, mainly for traffic control — we were shutting roads down left and right, based on radio calls to the effect that "the water is over County Road XX."

All that took up four hours or so, then it was time to go home. This morning, the county Road & Bridge crews and various local residents — especially everyone with an irrigation ditch head gate to maintain — are out moving mud, tree trunks, etc. out of the roads and culverts.

And this afternoon, it might be "lather, rinse, and repeat."

Meanwhile, in the morning sunshine, the hummingbirds are demonstrating how they can live in harmony, which to them means "All against all."

You can see the ultra-aggressive rufous males flashing copper, hear the buzzing broad-tailed males (the females of both species wade right in there too), and slipping through the crowd, there is one male calliope hummingbird, something of a rarity here. The calliope hummingbird is the smallest bird found in the United States.

July 08, 2018

Not-Gardening in a Time of Drought

Lamb's quarter, self-seeded in a big tub.
It rained three nights ago, boosting our total for the past four weeks to a magnificent 0.2 inches, or about 5 mm. Coming after a dry spring, it's serious drought time.

The creek had already gone dry, although the sandy bottom was moist. Since our well is in the creek aquifer—somewhere—the state of the creek is always a concern.

Some areas upstream got more rain than here, and a trickle of flowing water has returned, muddy water that must be coming off an upstream burn scar.

Knowing these conditions were coming, thanks to the shamanic prophecies of the National Weather Service, we did not even try to garden like normal. Almost everything we planted is in containers—some tomatoes, some herbs.

And there there is the Zen of not-gardening.  Instead, we took what showed up on its own.

One is lamb's quarter a/k/a goosefoot, a Chenopodium, which means "goose foot" in Latin. How lambs get into the story, I do not know. I assume that sheep would eat it. When it's too dry even for Swiss chard, these are our greens.

Another edible volunteer is wild amaranth, when it's young. Call them both quelites, if you prefer.

A third is nettles, which M. planted several years ago and which have firmly established themselves, putting them in the class of feral greens. Lots of hippie/Greek nettle pie is eaten in this house, "hippie" because she insists on making a whole-wheat sort of-phyllo dough.

We were going to try growing a similar plant to lamb's quarter, "Good King Henry," Blitum bonus-henricus, this year, but put it off. (In case you were wondering, it was apparently named after Henri IV of France, which just goes to show that you can preside over decades of religious wars and still have a tasty pot herb named for you. He did apparently encourage tree-planting.)

In the woods, brush, and pastures, not much is happening. A few tiny acorns. A scant handful of wildflowers—and what does bloom seems to come early and is stunted, as though the plants are trying to get through an abbreviated life cycle. Even my bomb-proof penstemon is just hanging on, barely existing.

A couple of days ago I thought I saw some Liatris about to bloom, which rocked me back, because its normally a flower that marks the end of summer. I need to go back and double-check. Maybe the plants just want this summer to be over.

July 07, 2018

Day Bear, Night Bear, Muddy Bear

A series of photos from May at Camera Trap Spring, where even a little seep of water the size of two hands cupped is enough for a bear to sit in.




Beat the Heat — at the Fish Hatchery!

Rainbow Trout
From Colorado Parks and Wildlife:


Free family-friendly fun available at CPW hatcheries in Upper Arkansas Valley


SALIDA, Colo. – Looking for a unique, free outing where your family can have fun such as making the water churn with ravenous, leaping trout in spectacular mountain settings? How about an outing where you may even learn a thing or two?

Consider visiting two Colorado Parks and Wildlife hatcheries in the Upper Arkansas River Valley, set amid the Collegiate Peaks in central Colorado, where staffers live by the motto “Your fishin’ is our mission.”

Start by visiting the Chalk Cliffs Rearing Unit hatchery, where CPW raises catchable-size rainbow trout. The hatchery is at 22605 CR 287 near Nathrop, about two miles west of U.S. Highway 285 toward Mount Princeton.

CPW volunteer “camp hosts” greet visitors from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day. See where CPW raises about 700,000 10-inch rainbows annually in concrete raceways and ponds for stocking in lakes along the Front Range.

Free activities include fish feeding – watch the water bubble with frenzied rainbow trout that jump into the air when you toss a handful of feed into the ponds – and videos. For tour information, call Chalk Cliffs at 719-395-2378.

Down the highway, Mount Shavano Hatchery sits along the Arkansas River west of Salida at 7725 CR 154.

Camp hosts are on hand 10 a.m.-4 p.m., daily, to provide information on the hatchery and Colorado fish. Guests park at the top of the hill at Mount Shavano and walk down a set of steps to the hatchery.

Mount Shavano Hatchery is one of the largest trout hatcheries in the state, annually producing 540,000 disease-free catchable 10-inch trout and 2-3 million smaller trout and kokanee salmon.

Guests are greeted by interpretive signs explaining the life cycle of trout. Go inside, meet the CPW volunteer camp hosts, get a tour and watch great videos, including dramatic footage of CPW staff using airplanes to stock high mountain lakes. Then it’s out to the raceways to feed the fish. For more information, call 719-539-6877.

For more information on these or any of Colorado’s 19 hatcheries, visit the CPW website www.cpw.state.co.us/Hatcheries.

June 25, 2018

Some Facts and Figures on Bear Attacks

Rarely, black bears become predatory too (Science Daily).
If I never hear again that joke whose punch line includes, "grizzly bear shit has bells in it," I will be a happier person thereby.

Alaska journalist Craig Medved offers some facts and figures on bear attacks — based on Alaska data, of course, but worth nothing anywhere.
“As of 2015, 75 instances of bear spray use were recorded (in Alaska) of which 70 (93.3 percent) were successful in altering bears’ aggressive behavior whereas five (6.7 percent) were not,” [Brigham Young University professor Tom] Smith and [noted Canadian bear researcher Stephen] Herrero write.

“However, of the 197 persons involved in those 75 encounters only four received slight injuries (2 percent) – all inflicted by grizzly bears.”

There is a significant likelihood, the scientists add, that the spray worked on a lot more bears than are in the study. Smith and Herrero says information on bear attacks, which involve people being injured by a bear, is limited, and information on incidents, in which people are involved in non-injury incidents, even more so.

“Unquestionably,” they write, “many incidents go unreported for a variety of reasons. It is believed that many human-bear interactions resolve peacefully, are not newsworthy, and therefore underreported. This (also) includes times when persons successfully dispatch a bear with a firearm.”
And this:
Lifestyle changes are clearly reflected in the data, too.  Since 1980, attacks on joggers went up nineteen fold from one to 19, and those on cyclists grew five fold from one to five.
“None of these joggers or bicyclists [was] carrying a bear deterrent, and we believe that contributed to the outcome,” the study added.

Hikers and hunters remain far and away the largest category of people attacked by bears. Attacks on hunters have been going down, though, with attacks on hikers going up, probably representative of another lifestyle change.
And then there is the whole issue of dogs and bears, with which I have had a little experience. You should read the whole thing.

June 24, 2018

Futility at Camera Trap Spring

Some time when I hike to Camera Trap Spring — particularly during dry summers like this one — I take a trowel and try to dig out the spring a bit, making a little pool for the water to collect in.

And then this happens. Or a bear does the same thing. Fine, boys, enjoy your mud wallow.

June 22, 2018

A New Site for Ringtails


Some years ago my friend John S. was telling me about a backpacking trip he had made into the Beaver Creek State Wildlife Area in northeastern Fremont County in southern Colorado.

During the night, he said, a noise at his campsite awakened him. He flicked on his flashlight and found a "skinny raccoon" trying to get into his pack.

"That was a ring-tailed cat," I said, using the common nickname. (They are not really felines, and in fact they are related to raccoons.)

It was a case of being book-smart rather than speaking from experience. Truth is, I have never seen one one of these nocturnal "skinny raccoons" in the wild, despite all the nights that M. and I spent hiking around places like Beaver Creek SWA in the mid-1990s when we were censusing owls for the Bureau of Land Management.
They forage exclusively at night, feeding on mice, birds and insects. They are slim enough to hunt woodrats in their dens. Frequently they hunt in pairs and in autumn forage as family groups. Ringtails have efficient kidneys and may not need to drink, thriving instead on the moisture in their prey (Colorado Parks and Wildlife).
Gray foxes are nocturnal too, but I spot one now and again, most recently last week while walking the dog at 10 p.m. Not these guys. I did get some blurry images on a camera at one location, but it is not a location that I care to use anymore.

So the new summer project is to find them on our property, and I just succeeded this past week. Not much of an image, but now I know they are there and can try different camera sets.

June 13, 2018

A Journey of 100 Miles Begins with a Single Dart

District wildlife manager Justin Krall and some of the crew,
with two bears loaded in the culvert trap for transport.
The four bears were getting big and bored, maybe with some tendencies toward bad. What had been hungry cubs in 2017 were now hefty sub-adult males, weighing around 160–170 pounds (~75 kg).

They had spent months at the wildlife rehabilitation center, eating, sleeping, climbing tree trunks, eating, wrestling sumo-style, eating, splashing in stock tanks — but now it was time to go!

Their human contact had been kept low — the rehab center is not a zoo — but now came more humans, two of them with CO2-powered dart guns. PPFFFTT!
The couple who run the center were there, of course, plus me as additional stretcher-bearer.

We lifted each tranquilized bear onto a stretcher, where it was weighed,  micro-chipped (as with pets),  ear-tagged (all this is wildlife-research data), and vaccinated against sarcoptic mange. Here is the one I called "Stumpy," the smallest at about 125 pounds, waiting to be loaded with his companion. 

Then they were loaded into trailers (which are actually "live" bear traps themselves) for a long ride up into the Arkansas River headwaters, into areas where the drought is not so severe. At last came release, two in one place, two in another.

Looking over the upper Arkansas River Valley


"No long goodbyes," says district wildlife manager Kim Woodruff, who made this last video. That these bears gallop away from humans is a good thing, for them. Now they have their chance.

June 10, 2018

Making Money from Old Stuff in Southern Colorado

Main Street, Florence, during a car show (Colorado Life).
Colorado Life is not as wide-reaching a magazine as New Mexico, but they did get off the beaten Denver-ski towns-ghost towns path recently to do a piece on a small town in southern Colorado that has reinvented itself as "the antiques capital of Colorado."
Florence boomed in the 19th century, but it wasn’t one of Colorado’s innumerable gold- and silver-mining boom­ towns – black gold was the specialty here. Florence had the first oil well drilled west of the Mississippi River, and the local oilfield was just the second in the nation to be commercially developed. Alexander M. Cassidy, who kicked off Florence’s oil industry in 1862, went on to found a company that evolved into Conoco.
As long as we are on the antiques-and-nostalgia kick, there is a small enterprise in the gold-mining town of Victor making tin cans with 19th-century labels. Collectors and filmmakers know where to find them.
A couple of summers ago, she got a call requesting cans for the second season of AMC's "The Son," featuring Pierce Brosnan and taking place in the old West. Proper props were needed for a target practice scene, Karen was told.

"I didn't tell the cans they were gonna be shot," she says, regretfully.
Today's junk, tomorrow's antiques: "Gear That Doesn't Work," from Outside magazine. Hang on to that titanium spork; it might be worth something some day.

June 09, 2018

"One of Our 50 Is Missing"

Click to enlarge.
The current Southwestern drought does not stop at the border but extends into northwestern Mexico. Sitting here with a mid-day temperature of 98° F., humidity of 8 percent, and only a tenth of an inch of rain, if that, for the week, I was wondering When will it end?

So I went looking online for 2018 Southwestern monsoon forecasts and found one from The Weather Network. Pretty informative — but also geographically "challenged."

I scrolled down through the charts and graphs and found this video: "Must See: Time Lapse of the Monsoon Season in Mexico."  Late summer rains do start first in Mexico and then move northward. And ponderosa pine trees do grow in the Mexican Sierra Madre.

But wait — that logo says "Angel Fire Resort," which is in northern New Mexico, admitted to the Union in 1912.

And who will appreciate that error more (I hope) than the editors of New Mexico Magazine, which for decades has run an item in every issue titled "One of Our 50 Is Missing" (archived here).

Even today, traveling in the USA and elsewhere, New Mexico residents are complimented on how well they speak English, while postal clerks in other US states tell people that they must fill out a customs form to send a package to Las Cruces. And so on.

Should we cut TWN some slack because they are headquartered in Ontario?

June 04, 2018

A Sudden Little Fire and a View from the SEAT



Single-engine air tanker drops retardant at the Horse Park Fire
in southwestern Colorado on May 28, 2018.

I was just about to make the turn to the post office at 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 2, when my cell phone rang, and suddenly I was a volunteer fireman again.

A little blaze had popped up a few miles from town, possibly caused by lighting three days previously, but so far no one is saying so officially.

We got one brush truck with three volunteers as close to it as we could by driving through pasture land — the fire was nearby on national forest. A colleague and I were just tightening our bootlaces preparatory to walking up there and scouting it when the Forest Service arrived — in force.

There were command vehicles, wildland fire engines — and here came a line of crew buggies, which turned out to be the Twin Peaks Initial Attack crew, normally based in Utah. They formed up and started marching up the slope.

The Twin Peaks Initial Attack crew from Utah pauses to confer before climbing to the fire.

We looked at each other and said, "Well, it's their fire now." Our second brush truck was on-scene by then. We got a new mission, to visit all the homes nearby that had been put on pre-evacuation notice, look for potential problem areas, chat with the homeowners, eat cookies . . . and watch the air show.

Two Single-Engine Air Tankers (SEAT) arrived early, flying out of Fremont County airport. A four-engine tanker swooped down low. Two helicopters circled, dropping water. The fire already had a hashtag: #hardscrabblefire

Large air tanker dropping retardant (Ole Babock).
The bigger tankers can do the most, but it felt good to see the SEATs come in early.  The video above, found on the Fire Aviation blog, gives you a view from the pilot's seat.

Everyone is on edge about the drought, but the fast and heavy response stopped this little quickly.  Bullet, dodged. By five o'clock, some of the nearby residents who had decided to evacuate were coming home again.

May 29, 2018

Kokopelli is Laying Low


The rented Taos apartment's doormat depicts Kokopelli, "hump-backed flute player," a fertility deity of some Southwestern tribes. And here he is, minus the erect penis of some old-time images, reproduced in synthetic fiber — probably in China. (His "hump" may originally have been a sack of goods for trading.)

And you're wiping your feet on him, you racist, you cultural appropriator.

I don't care. When I see him, I know I'm in my home region, and that's what matters. Lift a glass to Kokopelli, be he god, culture hero, or Aztec pochteca. I am not one of those people who thinks that sacred matters must be kept at arm's length. He is here.

When culturally appropriating, grasp firmly with both hands and shake.

May 26, 2018

Welcome to the World — Where No One Looks Like You

Some time early this morning a motorist in western Huerfano County (southern Colorado) hit and killed a pronghorn antelope doe.

Later, a man driving by saw the dead doe’s belly moving. He did the courageous thing — stopped, pulled out his knife, and performed a roadside Caesarean section. And he got in touch with Colorado Parks & Wildlife, which appeared a while later in the person of game warden Travis Sauder.

M. and I are wildlife transport volunteers, and our telephone rang too. I reached Sauder on his mobile while he was en route to get the fawn. We arranged to meet down in Pueblo, and when we pulled up, there he was in his state truck, with the fawn in his lap, wrapped in a purple bath towel.
If the fawn grows up,
he will look like this.

We put him into a carrier and drove back toward the foothills and the rehabilitation center, where he quickly downed a bottle of constituted goat's milk, and, for the first time, stood up on all four legs.

It's odd to think that the first other creature he saw were all humans — and before long he may be sharing an enclosure with some mule deer fawns (assuming that some are brought in, which is almost certain) — but he will eventually go free and meet some other antelope. Instinct is strong.

May 21, 2018

Angry Birds Are Angry

"If I see him again, I'll kill him," he thinks.
Yesterday two American robins began a day-long battle with their enemies — the birds in the mirror.
"I've got you now! You can't get away!"
One of them is particularly upset about the evil robin inside the passenger-side mirror on my Jeep Liberty.
I think the overcast weather made the windows more mirror-like. Screens are on the inside.
The other one has a bigger challenge. He keeps seeing enemies in the casement (crank-out) living room windows. "Death to you! And to you!"

You try to eat breakfast and there is this frantic shape flapping around outside.
The funny thing is that they do not fight each other — real live opponents.
I assume that this activity is springtime hormone-related and should abate soon. But they go at it from dawn until dusk.