September 22, 2020

News Report: More Colorado Women Hiking with Firearms

nylon binocular case/chest pack
Chest-carry binocular case by Further Faster Design with concealed rear pocket.
(The antler is just to prop it up.)

 From Denver television station KHOW, "Some women are opting to carry guns on Colorado trails to stay safe."

“I carry a handgun when I am hiking alone on a trail that is more secluded, or at night, or (when) I am backpacking alone,” said Cierra LeVan, a 27-year old teacher in Mesa County. “I do this for personal protection and self-defense, from both potential animal and human predators.”

LeVan is not alone; Rather than avoid hiking because they don’t have a companion, some women are opting for more than bear spray for protection when they hit the trails. The question of whether or not one should carry a gun while hiking has long been a topic in online group chats, and there is a Facebook group just for women who hike with guns. . . .

“Most women I know have been touched or grabbed by men when in the woods. It’s too common,” said Sara C., a 35-year-old Denver business owner who did not want her full name used for fear of being targeted. “A creepy guy sees a girl fishing or hiking alone, tries to grab her arm or her body … dogs and guns will scare people off.”

It's an individual choice. There are mental steps to take. Is your life worth defending, yes/no? Are you willing to not only learn to shoot, but to learn the legalities of self-defense? 

Are you willing to commit to regular practice and building "muscle-memory" that will help you in an emergency? Just "buying a gun" is like a non-driver buying a car because you might need to evacuate during a floor or fire — but you just park it in the garage and leave it for three or five years — will it run when you need it? Will you remember how it works?  

Then there is the law. Self-defense law varies state by state, although there are common concepts. Fire a "warning shot"? A hostile district attorney might say you committed "felony menacing" just then. 

Does your state require a concealed-permit? Can you get one by taking a class and exam, or are they issued only to friends of the governor, mayor, or county sheriff?

People must be willing, since gun sales shot up this past summer — many first-time buyers, many racial minorities.

A note on the photograph: This binocular case by Further Faster Design, a Colorado firm, features a slim rear pocket with Velcro closures on the top and both sides for fast, easy access to your birding field guide or whatever. I bought mine this summer, and I like it. More information here.

This case rides high on the chest with X-straps on the back. It might fit some female body types all right, others not so much. But I had just made the photograph for another purpose, so I used it.

September 21, 2020

Ghost Birds in the Sky

Nick Vinciguerra collecting dead
Violet-green swallows in Velarde, NM.
(American Birding Assn.)






The unusually strong storm that swept through the southern Rockies and Plains the second week of September pushed " a spectacular array of fall migrants to Albuquerque," as one biologist noted. 

Smoke from West Coast forest fires may also have forced some southbound birds further east as well.

The sad part is that many died — not so much from the smoke as from hunger, one New Mexico researcher, doctoral student Jenna McCullough writes for the American Birding Association website.

Sudden and dramatic unavailability of food caused by a historic and drastic cold snap is, I believe, a more parsimonious explanation than a widespread, smoke induced, mass mortality event. While we do not have data on how fast smoke inhalation would kill birds hundreds of miles away from the fires themselves, what we do have are data from the 258 Violet-green Swallows that Nick and I collected in Velarde this week. . . . .

If a lack of food contributed to the mortality event, birds would have less fat and no protection against hypothermia. Indeed, of the hundreds of birds we assessed, none had fat stores on their bodies. Furthermore, Though we have yet to perform any toxicology analyses or inspect their lungs for signs of smoke inhalation, I think it is safe to say that these birds were starved and succumbed to hypothermia. When USFWS autopsies of other birds are reported in the coming weeks or months, we suspect they will reveal a similar cause of death.

Cold and snow mean no flying insects, which is bad news for swallows and other insectivores.

Here in southern Colorado, I found one Lesser Goldfinch dead in the driveway, uneaten, during that brief cold weather. Considering it was only five seconds' flight from a sunflower seed feeder, it should not have been hungry. But M. and I both were briefly sick that week, which I blamed on the sudden shift from about 94° F to °27 F (34°C to -3° C). Maybe something hit the little goldfinch too.

August 31, 2020

When 'Influencers' Go Wrong

Remains of a social-media influencer eaten by wolves (I wish).
I used to hang out a lot with hunting and fishing writers — even published a little myself —and one sure conversation was always "How can you provide information without giving away too much?"

Do you say you caught this perfect trout "in such-and-such a pool on the South Platte River," or just "in the South Platte River below Cheesman Dam," or "in the South Platte," or "in the mountains southwest of Denver"?  Because it was true that outdoor writers' work could send the hordes to places that previously had been lightly pressured.

Now everyone who catches the fish has to put it on Instagram or TikTok or whatever. And that pisses off some people who say that "influencers" are ruining the outdoors.
"There's a picture of me just a few months old and in a backpack, with my parents taking me for a hike through a national forest where I grew up," says Steve [not his real name]. "And as I've grown, my love of the outdoors has grown."
But also growing is Steve's frustration with influencers trampling over his beloved open spaces to get that perfect photograph.
"I drew the conclusion between the rise of this disrespect and the rise of Instagram and social media," he says, speaking to the BBC from a mostly rural area in the western US. "So I decided to start an Instagram account, to fight fire with fire."
So what did "Steve" do? He started an Instagram account called Public Lands Hate You, with posts like this:
You probably know that this account has a bone to pick with influencers who engage in harmful and illegal behavior on your public lands and post it publicly for the world to see. Not only are the initial actions of these influencers undesirable, but by posting their behavior for thousands of people to see, influencers are giving their followers the wrong idea about what is acceptable on your public lands.⁣
Trampling wildflower meadows. Introducing beauty products into hot springs. Crossing closure fences. Off-leash dogs in leash-controlled areas. Approaching wildlife. Ignoring drone laws. All for the perfect shot to promote themselves and their sponsors.⁣⁣
⁣And there is an associated website: Public Lands Hate You, with the slogan "Our public lands are not a prop!" 

It's not that people go to these places, it's that they break laws or disrespect the land in order to get the perfect photo to illustrate their perfect curated life.

Go have a look. Raise a litte ruckus. Those who live by the clicks can die from the clicks.

August 01, 2020

Fisher and His Metal Mommy

Fisher, his Kong toy, and his "wire mother" — we call it "metal mommy."
Harry Harlow was an American psychologist of the mid-20th century who permanently damaged many baby rhesus monkeys in order to prove "scientifically" that babies need nurturing mothers.

But maybe his research has something to do with my dog Fisher.

Artificial "cloth mother" and baby rhesus monkey
Baby rhesus monkey with
"cloth mother" (Wikipedia).
Harlow's experiments were controversial; they included creating inanimate surrogate mothers for the rhesus infants from wire and wool. Each infant became attached to its particular mother, recognizing its unique face and preferring it above others. Harlow next chose to investigate if the infants had a preference for bare-wire mothers or cloth-covered mothers. For this experiment, he presented the infants with a clothed "mother" and a wire "mother" under two conditions. In one situation, the wire mother held a bottle with food, and the cloth mother held no food. 

Fisher turned 13 earlier this month, making him officially an elderly dog.  His appetite and digestion are good, sight and hearing OK, but if you watched him hobbble along the trails up behind the house, his age would be apparent — despite all the joint-health supplements and CBD he has ingested over the years.

He was a bouncy 2-year-old when we got him. He had been turned over to the Chesapeake Bay retriever rescue organization, and there were reasons for that. Most, I slowly realized, revolved around fear. Although not outright mistreated, I think he had been alone too much. He can co-exist with another dog, but he has never had a dog-buddy. There was food-agression. There was biting. I won't tell the whole sad story here, but after a year with us — when we thought he was improving — he was ->|  |<- this far from going for a one-way walk with me up onto the national forest.

M. argued to save his life, but he never respected her until she hit him with bear spray one time in the kitchen. He was that kind of dog. The other thing that saved him was Randy Grim's book Don't Dump the Dog: Outrageous Stories and Simple Solutions to Your Worst Dog Behavior Problem. (M's sister-in-law, who is a dog person, had volunteered with author Grim's organization Stray Rescue of St. Louis, and she suggested it.) We followed some of Grim's suggestions rigorously, and they helped. That plus time-in-service.

He mellowed as he aged. His body language softened, although he was never cuddly. But he started doing things like lying by my desk chair, which was new.

But somehow, something was still missing in his life.

July turned extra-hot this year, and I brought up an old box fan from the basement. I positioned it to blow across the study rug where he likes to lie, catching a whisper of breeze between the adjacent bedroom windows and the open front door.

He liked it. He liked it even when room was cool. He not only lay in front of it, but he pressed his body up against the grill. Some mornings after his walk and breakfast, he would come into the study — where I was doing my morning news-read online — lie on the rug, and whine a little. Until I turned it on — then he was content.

That is when I thought of Harry Harlow. It's not the cloth mother, but the wire mother — only this one vibrates? Does it feel like a return to the womb and his mother's heartbeat? And what happens when winter comes? But maybe at this point in his life I should indulge him.

July 25, 2020

Fishing License Sales Rise as SWA Rule Begins

Front page photo from the Wet Mountain Tribune, July 16, 2020.
I was talking with a game warden from one of the mountain counties three days ago during one my "wildlife transport" runs, and I asked her how the new requirement — that you must have a hunting or fishing license to use state wildlife areas — was working out for field officers like herself.

Right now, we are just trying to educate people, she said, adding that people would get in her face and yell about "I pay taxes!"

Which  goes to show how ignorant they are. You could pay $10,000 a year in state income tax, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife would get little if any of it. (But do buy lottery tickets, because some of that money goes to state parks.)

Click to enlarge (San Bernardino
Natonal Forest on Facebook)
Meanwhile, she said, virtually every campsite in her area, developed or not, was in use. Maybe it's time for people to try this creative approach, pioneered in California--see graphic at right.

1. Not all state wildlife areas (SWAs) are owned by the state.  See the lake in the photo above? It's owned by a Cañon City-based irrigation company. I know this because I used to be a shareholder and watered our trees and gardens with that water. But I could safely bet that 95-percent of visitors (iincuding locals) think it's "public land," whereas in fact CPW leases fishing rights, including boating-while-fishing, and does permit cmaping. There are other SWAs that also are leased, although many are owned outright.

Colorado’s SWAs are acquired with license dollars from hunters and anglers – and are managed with that funding today – primarily to restore, conserve, manage and enhance wildlife and wildlife habitat.

2. CPW gets virtually no state income tax money. That is actually a good thing, because then legislators cannot raid CPW's budget to pay for their more-favored projects. Click here for pie charts of Wildlife and Parks funding.

Notice that the wildlife side is 68-percent funded by license sales and 19-percent by federal grants. ("Severance tax" refers to taxes on mining, oil, etc. not personal taxes.)

3. The federal grants are tied to hunting/fishing license sales. I have heard people say this is Donald Trump's fault. No, it is Franklin Roosevelt's "fault," since the controlling Pittman-Roberton Act was passed in 1937. The act directs money from federal taxes on firearms and ammunition down to the states with these guidelines:
States must fulfill certain requirements to use the money apportioned to them. None of the money from their hunting license sales may be used by anyone other than the states' own fish and game departments. Plans for what to do with the money must be submitted to and approved by the Secretary of the Interior. Acceptable options include research, surveys, management of wildlife and/or habitat, and acquisition or lease of land. Once a plan has been approved, the state must pay the full cost and is later reimbursed for up to 75% of that cost through the funds generated by the Pittman–Robertson Act.The 25% of the cost that the state must pay generally comes from its hunting license sales.If, for whatever reason, any of the federal money does not get spent, after two years that money is then reallocated to the Migratory Bird Conservation Act.
Some people say that Pittman-Robertson should be extended to hiking books, backcountry skis, backpacking gear, etc. An interesting thought.
Sanchez Reservoir is near the town
of San Luis in the southern San Luis Valley

4. Why is this access issue coming up now? I  will just quote a recent CPW news release:
Across the state, CPW has seen increasing use of state wildlife areas inconsistent with their purpose. A good example is camping, including people taking up temporary residence in SWAs. We’ve also seen vehicular use on big game winter ranges, pressure from hikers, maintenance issues, trash, vandalism and other uses detrimental to wildlife and wildlife-related uses.
5. So why can't I buy a "hiking pass" or a "wildlife-watching pass? See #3. A "hiking pass" would not bring in any of the federal grant money that state wildlife management depends on. CPW tried something like that in the recent past, but got into a hassle with the federal government:
Several years ago, the General Assembly voted to require all users of SWAs to purchase a state Wildlife Habitat Stamp as a way to generate conservation funding.

It failed for a couple reasons. First, only hunters or anglers complied, for the most part. Those who only hike or watch wildlife or camp didn’t bother to buy the stamp.

Second, funding for SWAs actually fell because federal officials ruled the Habitat Stamp was classified as “program income” and it ended up decreasing our federal grant money by the same amount we were able to bring in.
6. Suprise, fishing license sales are rising! According to Colorado Public Radio. "Colorado Parks and Wildlife has issued nearly 90,000 more annual fishing licenses so far this year compared to the same period in 2019." They say a lot of that is people getting outdoors during the pandemic, but also mention the new regulation. Many of these anglers are new to the sport — or at least new to it in Colorado.

July 12, 2020

The Mountain Gazette is Back (Again)

I missed out on the original 1960s Mountain Gazette — too young, but I subscribed during the M. John Fayee era (the 2000s) and still have my "When in Doubt, Go Higher" T-shirt someplace.
The last person to resurrect Mountain Gazette in 2000 after a more than 20-year hiatus was M. John Fayhee, a legendary journalist and scribe who spent 12 years at the helm of the magazine. His insightful eye reshaped Mountain Gazette, with irreverent barstool insight, an abiding appreciation of the West’s characters, an razor-sharp criticism of interlopers seeking to get rich on a town’s culture and landscapes, and a stable of the region’s top writers. His approach celebrated the artistic and literary heritage forged by its founder, Mike Moore, with long-form essays — think wandering 25,000-word explorations of Western culture, weather, and life and death in high-elevation towns — and a definitive rebuke of flashy outdoor mags heavy with gear reviews and top-10 lists.
That quote is from a Colorado Sun piece on the Mountain Gazette's third incarnation, now in the womb.
Appreciation for the Mountain Gazette never died, even when it stopped publishing. Older issues can be found in curated collections in antique stores. Lovers of the magazine collect them like precious vinyl records.

And now the journal of culture and commentary is getting a second, second chance.

Mike Rogge, a 34-year-old skier and new dad from Lake Tahoe, is breathing new life into the idled magazine, hoping to revive the glory days when Mountain Gazette harbored the stories and characters that defined high-country culture.

Rogge bought the dormant Mountain Gazette and its website in January from Summit Publishing Co., which prints the popular, free Elevation Outdoors magazine seen on racks all over Colorado.
The new plan is for a glossy, semiannual sort of "coffee table magazine," not sold on newstands, with "long-form stories, essays, and poetry capturing mountain town culture" and  "stunning, large format photography" for $60 per year. More information here. 

Clothing and accessories (merch) are already available, so if you are unsure about the magazine, you can get the bumper sticker.

July 05, 2020

Deterring Bigfoot from Your Property

I believe these people want to sell you some Big Yeti Stout.
First, the disclaimer. I am not in any way a "Bigfoot hunter." A couple of my friends have had "experiences" though. One is a longtime bowhunter, nature writer, and guide — very much not a "woo-woo" sort of person — who waited a long time to tell what he met in the San Juans. Others have "heard stuff." Here, however, I consider how people think about Bigfoot/Sasquatch/yetis.

Generally, people-of-Bigfoot fall into one of three categories:

1. Bigfoot is a primate. These are the "cryptozoologists," who think that there might be an undiscovered ape creature out there  — and not just in the Pacific Northwest.  They often refer to these and other mystery animals as "cryptids."

One of the most professional was Grover Krantz (1931–2002).  Krantz taught physical anthropology, primarily at Washington State University in Pullman, Wash., which put him within easy driving time of prime Bigfoot-hunting areas, and toward the end of his teaching career he wrote a book, Big Foot Prints: A Scientific Inquiry into the Reality of Sasquatch, assembling what he considered to be the best physical evidence for its existence.

Krantz's teaching career ended just as DNA evidence was becoming The Big Thing in his field, and I do not think that he ever made much use of it. The book, published in 1992, has only a brief mention of seeking DNA evidence, a method that has come a long way in thirty years.

Bigfoot runs in the family: his niece, Laura Krantz, produced a highly polished podcast called Wld Thing about her uncle, about Bigfoot hunters, and about contemporary DNA evidence.  She is a former editor and producer for National Public Radio, and it shows—this is one of the best-sounding podcasts that I ever heard, not to mention being well-paced and edited.

Typical of the "physical Bigfoot" camp is the North American Wood Ape Conservancy, a group that concentrates its efforts in southeastern Oklahoma and east Texas. They consider themselves to be a "citizen scientists," and they have already done some ancillary work on the presence of red wolves in the Ouchita Moutains of Oklahoma.

They have an occasional podcast as well, Apes Among Us. 

NAWAC members seem to run a bit younger than some groups', and they show up at their preferred site with camouflage, up-to-date optics, night-vision goggles, audio and video recorders, and other tactical gear — plus hunting rifles, because they argue that while skeptics can deny photos, etc., no one will deny a dead "ape" in the truck. Still, after a number of years of field work, sightings, and intriguing experiences, apparently no one has pulled a trigger.

2. Bigfoot is "interdimensional." Back when I was a young newspaper reporter, I interviewed a resident of Green Mountain Falls, Colo., named Dan Masias, who came from a restaurant-owning family in the Colorado Springs area, and who claimed to have seen two upright hairy "creatures" walk past his house in March 1989 after having earlier seen tracks in the snow.
A facetious sign on the Pike's Peak Highway, more or less
uphill from Green Mountain Falls, which is down to the right.

He had photos of the tracks (some with three toes—apparently that happens) displayed in his home. After the story appeared in the paper, I was contacted by people wanting to tell me about how Bigfoot sightings were associated with UFO sightings. I was astonished, because I had thought of them as two different areas of weirdness. Not so.

It could be that if we follow the terminology of NASA astrophysicist/UFO writer/West Coast astrophysicist Jacques Vallée, eveything is part of "The Phenomenon" — and everything was here all along.

So if you can take that one big leap — and it is a very big leap — then all the other questions fall away.

Grover Krantz, for example, thought that the Pacific NW Sasquatch occupied a similar ecological niche to a black bear in the cold rain forest. But what would a Rocky Mountain Sasquatch do in the winter? Hibernate? Live in a cave? Or why do the tracks stop and start? Well, says the second group, they (like fairies, gnomes, "aliens," etc.) are here — and then they are not-here. Poof!

I bought this shirt in 2019 at the State Forest State Park
visitor center — not the only Bigfoot-themed item on sale.
3. Bigfoot is the symbol of wildness.  

It's not too late: you can still register for for "Yeti Fest" in North Park, Colorado, sponsored by Never Summer Nordic, a concessionaire at State Forest State Park — which apparently has adopted Bigfoot/Yeti/Sasquatch as an unofficial emblem. Enjoy live music, a Yeti-call contest, and a Yeti hunt with real guides — unless it has been canceled due to Covid 19. Maybe it has been. Better luck next year!

What I think is going on here though is not a hardcore endorsement of Position #1 or Position #2 but a celebration of the Colorado outdoors and the spirit of wildness. Bigfoot may be the North American equivalent of the revived Green Man symbol, originally found throughout Britain on medieval churches.

So what about Bigfoot Deterrence? You Promised Us!

Before it petered out, I followed the blog of a Colorado-based group, Sasquatch Investigations of the Rockies. (Related: It's not too late to sign up for this month's "Colorado Bigfoot Expedition" with the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization - unless that gets cancelled too.) The SIR folks thought that tree trunks stacked certain ways were left by Bigfoot, which reminded me of the "Ute Prayer Tree" fakelore.

They also used to leave spreads of food out for the big guy, on flat boulders and such. I am sure that somebody enjoyed them. I used to wonder, though, why they did not place scout cameras to find out just who came. Maybe it was more fun to speculate.

Then I was listening to one of Timothy Renner's Strange Familiars podcasts — he is a Pennsylvania musician who has found a new niche as a paranomal investigation podcaster and author. The podcasts are very low-key and often  feature Tim and a friend(s) who are hiking (sometimes at night), while talking about local history, camping, weird tales, strange experiences in the woods, and such, interspersed with "Did you hear that?" "It sounds like it was coming from across the creek."

Bigfoot deterrent?
In one of their Michaux State Forest episodes, the question of scout cameras came up, and the group agreed that Bigfoot avoids them. No one ever gets Bigfoot photos on a scout camera, they said. (These Washington state highway camera photos seemed to say otherwise but have been debunked.)

So there you have it. Put up the scout cameras and Bigfoot will stay away.

Postscript: Cameras and other large critters.

I  lost a scout camera to an angry black bear back in 2010, but the photos were interesting.

Sooyang Park, an amazingly dedicated South Korean wildlife photographer, has done a lot of work in the Russian Far East and authored Great Soul of Siberia: Passion, Obsession, and One Man's Quest for the World's Most Elusive Tiger. He says that the Siberian tigers he photographs (spending weeks in a little blind covered in dirt and timber) seek out and destroy cameras and audio recorders — he thinks  that they smell the plastic cases.

On the other hand, the Wild Cats Conservation Alliance (a good group, please donate) sprinkles its social media feeds with photos of leopards and sometimes tigers that appear to be at least partially from game cameras.

June 26, 2020

I Am not a Pixie-bob! I Am a Wild Cat!

A yummy rat makes travel time go by more quickly.  Our neighbor
wildlife rehabbers like to put stuffed toys with small mammals for companionship.
Some where in southeastern Colorado, someone "found" a bobcat kitten in an abandoned house out on the prairie. (In other words, the kitten was probably part of a litter, with a mother, but was snatched.)

The "finder" took her back to town, where she was kept as a pet and described to everyone as a "pixie-bob."

I never heard of a "pixie-bob" before this week. Apparently it's a bobtailed domestic cat breed that (allegedly) has some bobcat genetics, but don't waste your money on a DNA test.

Someone tipped off a Colorado Parks and Wildlife district wildlife manager. Keeping wild mammals as pets is totally illegal, unless you're a rehabilitator or a licensed zoo, etc. Since her mother's location was unknown, a wildlife rehabilitation center was the only place for her.

M. and I, the volunteer wildlife transporters, met him partway between here and there and picked her up in a busy big-box store parking lot. Is there anything more dissonant than handling a wild animal amid acres of asphalt, rumbing motors, truck traffic on the interstate highway, the smell of fast-food restaurant grease, and a hot summer wind?

Back in the foothills of home, we left her with the rehabbers for a short stay. They had raised three bobcat kittens over this past winter — those three were released earlier this summer.

But one kitten is a lonely kitten. A rehabber in Douglas County already had two kittens and was happy to take a third.

By now we were calling this one "Pixie-bob," and she had been happily eating elk and chicken bits in a Tuff Shed-turned nursery, but it was time for her (wriggling wildly) to go back into the blue carrier and travel more than an hour northward. She got a freshly thawed rat to occupy her on the trip; when I cleaned the carrier afterwards, nothing was left but a short section of the tail. Crunch crunch!

With any luck, this will be her next May or June:

Bobcat release (Colorado Parks and Wildlife).

June 20, 2020

An Orphan Fawn with Pretty Good Prospects

Orphan mule deer fawn arrives at the rehabilitation center.
This is the time of year when fawns are dropping and wildlife agencies are telling people, "Don't think that fawn has been abandoned unless it is still there 24 hours from now! Its mother had to go eat, but she knows where she left it, and she will be coming back."

Generally that is true, unless she is lying dead by the side of the highway, which is the back-story to some of the wildlife transport runs that M. and I do every June. That was the case with this little mule deer from eastern Fremont County.

We picked him up two days ago from the woman who had found him. He had a quick 45-minute ride to the wildlife rehabilitors, and now he is in the antelope/deer fawn enclosure, behind a high chainlink fence reinforced with barbed wire and electric wire— all to keep predators from thinking it is some kind of snack bar. (So far, so good.)

As all Colorado Parks & Wildlife volunteers are trained to do, we politely thanked her for taking care of the fawn and for contacting CPW about it.

As I picked up the carrier, she asked that I hold it up to the passenger seat of her Chrysler Pacifica so that the young kids in the back could say good-bye to the fawn. I did that. 

I got the impression that she had kept it longer than she should have as a learning experience for the kiddies. Like some people let the cat have kittens so that the kids can witness "the miracle of birth."

On the plus side, she had given him goat's milk, which  he accepted, and he was alert and lively when he arrived at the rehabbers' place. No harm.

Not like the woman who lived in a little house up the river in Huerfano County and found an injured great horned owl. I think it had collided with a fence or power line.

She kept it for about four days while looking up information on the Internet, where she got some site that told her to feed the owl oatmeal or something equally wrong for a carnivore.

Finally she or someone talked to the Raptor Center in Pueblo, and I was dispatched to get it. When I picked up the owl, she cooed over it, "You'll be going to a better place where they will make you all better."

No, you will be going to a better place where you will get the needle because you are too far gone.

But I was polite and (I hope) upbeat, even though I knew it was a hopeless case.

So if Colorado  Parks & Wildlife ever moves on behind the "Leave the fawns alone!" message, which is super-important, maybe they could add, "If you pick up an injured bird or animal, call now, not two days from now!"

June 14, 2020

New Front Range Colorado Wolf Report

The Grand County wolf-like animal. Photo: Janice Freeman via Colorado Parks and Wildife.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife field officers are trying to confirm a wolf sighting in western Larimer County, just south of the Wyoming border in the headwaters of the Laramie River. According to CPW's "Colorado Wolf Update" for June 2020,
Wildlife managers are attempting to confirm a credible wolf sighting in the Laramie River Valley in Larimer County. An animal sighted in the area was wearing a wildlife tracking collar, which indicates it is likely a dispersal wolf from monitored packs in Montana or Wyoming, however flights and ground crews have been unable to detect a signal or visually confirm the wolf. It has been determined that the animal in Larimer County is not wolf 1084-M from neighboring Jackson County. If a wolf or wolves are confirmed in Larimer County, they would be the furthest east in Colorado in nearly a century.
Further west, in Grand County, campers reported being approached by a large wolf-like animal. Reading between the lines of the news release, it sounds as though wildlife officials suspect this could be wolf-hybrid, perhaps one that was dumped "in the wild" but is used to being fed by humans.
Biologists responded to the area to gather biological evidence that could be used to confirm the presence of a wolf versus a coyote, lost or escaped domestic dog or domestic wolf-hybrid.
"Biological evidence" . . . . that sounds like they need a very specialized tracking dog.

May 22, 2020

A Blue Bird, but not a Bluebird, Out of Place

Mountain bluebird — not what I was
seeing (Cornell University).
After my experience while mushroom-hunting last August, I am half expecting to bump into the Realm of Faerie again.

So when I looked out the front window and saw an abnormally blue little bird (junco-size) pecking around one of the sunflower seed feeders, I could have just said, "Well, it's some weird pet of the Other Crowd, you know. Better leave it alone."

But no. I flipped through some bird guides, trying to figure this out. It looked like someone took a junco and dunked it in blue hair dye.

I knew it was not a mountain bluebird. They are relatively common once you get out of the thick trees and into some open country, and they are a big ol' thrush, relatively speaking, like an American robin.

Indigo bunting (Cornell University).
I even tried Merlin, Cornell's online bird ID guide (which I have on my phone), and which tried to tell me that it was either a mountain bluebird or a white-breasted nuthatch or something else completely wrong.

So I started asking birder friends (and my patient spouse),  and they all came back with "indigo bunting." Obviously the Merlin app was fooled because they are not supposed to be here, but hey, it's May, when migrants are migrating and birds pop up where not expected.

When you look at the indigo bunting's range map, my house is not in its territory, but you know how it is, sometimes wild animals forget to read their owner's manuals. What was it doing up in the montane pine forest? I don't know. It did not stick around.

May 21, 2020

Do Your Duty as a Hominin!

Mountain lion — or cougar, if you prefer. (Colorado Parks and Wildlife)
I have had some mountain lion encounters, none of them this bad, so permit me some second-guessing. Everyone does it in regard to predator attacks.

Washington state mountain biker Isaac Sederbaum, the initial victim, having then seen his companion attacked by a lion, "later told the authorities that he had to travel about two miles before getting a cellphone signal and calling 911."

Isn't it your duty as a hominin to pick up a heavy stick and go full-on Angry Ape at the cat? They are ambush predators, so they avoid face-to-face showdowns. That might have worked.

But no. Got to make that 911 call. And eventually the lion is tracked with dogs and shot, as so often happens.

Ten thousand ancestors sadly shake their heads.

* * * 

True story: my friends the wildlife rehabilitators had a somewhat parallel experience. She was attacked by a lion inside an enclosure who grabbed her by the head. Her husband was not far away, and as he said, more or less, "I tried to kick a forty-yard field goal with that lion's head as the football."

Then he pulled her to safety, closed the gate, and got her some medical help. Apparently she was a celebrity at the hospital. They don't get to see big-predator injuries very often in Pueblo, Colorado, so all the docs were curious.

Lesser Prairie Chickens Reintroduced in SE Colorado

Some footage from Colorado Parks & Wildlife's ongoing efforts to re-establish lesser prairie chickens on the Comanche National Grassland in southeastern Colorado.

From the CPW news release:
CAMPO, Colo. – Lesser prairie chickens, gone for decades from the Colorado landscape, are again living on the eastern plains, thanks to an ambitious four-year project led by biologists from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Kansas, the U.S. Forest Service, along with private landowners.

Recently completed surveys by CPW biologists revealed that hundreds of the birds are now thriving on breeding grounds, known as leks, on the plains extending across southeastern Colorado and western Kansas.

Lesser prairie chickens once numbered in the tens of thousands in those grasslands. But a variety of factors led to their gradual disappearance. Experts blame, in part, the conversion a century ago of grasslands to cropland that contributed to the Dust Bowl in 1932 and wiped out many of the birds. More recently, the lesser prairie chicken population in Southeast Colorado and Southwest Kansas was devastated by severe snowstorms, particularly in December 2006, followed by years of drought.

They even vanished on a 330,000-acre swath of sand sagebrush and grasslands known as the Comanche National Grassland in Baca County, Colo., and the Cimarron National Grassland in Morton County, Kan., as well as privately owned rangeland and Conservation Reserve Program grassland. . . .

By 2016, biologists counted just two males on the Comanche and five males on the Cimarron.

That same year, CPW decided to try relocating lesser prairie chickens from thriving breeding grounds in Kansas in hopes of resurrecting leks on the national grasslands. So a CPW team, led by conservation biologists Jonathan Reitz and Liza Rossi, began working in collaboration with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, Kansas State University and the U.S. Forest Service. . . .

Over the past four years, the team of Colorado and Kansas biologists, and K-State graduate students, relocated 103 males and 102 females to the Comanche. The team also released 101 males and 105 females during the same time period just east of the state line 
Read the whole thing. 

Extra-credit question: What is the relationship between prairie chickens and contemporary pow-wow fancy dancing?

May 14, 2020

After the Fire, There is Art


If I were a landscape painter (like Dad), I would try to do more
with this than just a photo. Golden banner (Thermopsis divaricarpa)
against burned pine trees from 2012.

As you read, Australia had a rough fire season in late 2019-early 2020. To landscape painter Warwick Fuller, that was an opportunity.
The 72-year-old was in the Wolgan Valley in New South Wales, painting the aftermath of the devastating Gospers Mountain fire, which burned through 500,000 hectares of bush over the summer.
It's an area he had often visited in a career spanning 40 years.
Warwick Fuller at work in a fire landscape (Australian Broadcasting Corp.)

Fuller, internationally recognized as an impressionist landscape painter, finds himself drawn to areas recovering from fire.
On his recent painting expedition, green shoots covered the burned trunks of trees throughout the valley, new grass was emerging and the ancient sandstone bluffs, which had inspired him for decades, were a strange mix of colours. 
They reflected renewal amidst the destruction caused by a fire which burned for three months. 
"Light is what really drives me, it's what makes me want to paint the landscape but on top of that I'm trying to interpret what's deeper than just the physical surrounds, the physical objects in the landscape," Fuller said.
He inspires me to do more, although more likely with a camera. I should be more systematic, get out in more weathers, all of it. The year-to-year changes after a fire can be fascinating.

May 09, 2020

'Winter Burn' on Ponderosa Pines

Ponderosa pine with winter burn "Needle drop" is normal with ponderosa pines and other conifers. The pine's needles last two or three years before falling off in a normal way and becoming "duff" on the forest floor. Usually the dead needs fall from the interior of the canopy while new growth occurs at the tips of branches.

On this pine, however, and some growing near it, you can see that the dead, yellow needles are at the tip. A recent news release from the Colorado State Forest Service suggests a reason:
A cold snap in October, coupled with last week’s [mid-April 2020] extreme temperature fluctuations, injured ponderosa pines, other pine species and spruce trees in the Douglas and Elbert county areas, including Castle Rock, Franktown, Parker, Elizabeth and Kiowa.
I  don't live in one of those counties, which include the part of the Black Forest area NE of Colorado Springs, called that for its stands of pine trees. But we had the weather: On April 14, a neighbor's weather station recorded a low of 2° F. (-16° C), following a week of warm temperatures.
Damaged pine and spruce trees may appear grizzled and possess white or straw-colored foliage, referred to as “winter burn.” Other symptoms may include the tips of needles appearing rust-colored while the base of the needles remains green.
The tree I photographed is rooted in a small gully, which means it gets a little more moisture, so it has grown taller than the pines around it. On the other hand, that gully is a conduit for cold air rolling down the slopes.
Unfortunately, little can be done for trees that have sustained winter burn damage, according to Meg Halford, a forester in the Colorado State Forest Service’s Franktown Field Office. However, “the buds on these frost-injured trees may have survived, and they may produce new growth this spring,” Halford said. “Don’t count them out just yet.” 
Some others are showing dead needles that might mean more pine beetle kil/fungus infection. We don't lose whole mountainsides of trees, as has happened with the lodgepole pines further north. It's more a question of a few here and a few there. There is not much I can do about that. The standing dead trees mostly become firewood.