May 18, 2019

The Lone Lilac Abides

I was climbing the steep dirt road up behind the house, following the dog, mind off somewhere (probably volunteer fire department stuff) when I ran into a wall of lilac scent.

There it was — the survivor. A family from down in Rocky Ford used to have a cabin up there — really just a parked camping trailer with an addition. They planted a lilac bush on a southwest-facing slope behind it, and they must have picked just the right variety, in the late 1960s or whenever it was.

They stopped coming much after 1998, when the father died. Eventually the adult children sold us those acres, and one tough lilac bush.

Through drought years, blizzards, and total neglect the lilac prevails. This is one of the good years. Among the scent of sun-warmed ponderosa pine — pungent lilac.

May 13, 2019

Nevertheless, She Pointed


Wendy, the visiting German wirehaired pointer, is a  .  .  .   pointing dog. She is impressive on pheasants, but she cannot pass up a robin in a city park either.

Tonight it was the broad-tailed hummingbirds that earned her concentrated and beady/birdy stare. They. Are. Birds.

Evidently that's how it works.

'False Spring' Pasta


We are used to "false spring" along the Eastern Slope of the Rockies.

Maybe now, with the last snow melted, this is the real spring, but I am still calling this dish pasta falsa primavera — with fillaree, lamb's quarters (quelite cenizo), clover, and dandelion, all picked within yards of the house.

April 27, 2019

Trendy Chefs, Libertarians Discover Roadkill Cuisine

A presentation of raccoon meat resembling the scene of roadkill created by the late Moto executive chef Homaro Cantu and Chris Jones, chef de cuisine, at their now-closed restaurant at Fulton Market on the west side of Chicago, Illinois. (Alex Garcia/MCT/Newscom, published in Reason magazine.)
Once when I was working at an outdoor magazine, the executive editor and I daydreamed a whole series of events for a sort of Redneck Olympics.

One of them was the "roadkill pickup," inspired by the time when, while following him along US 50 in Cañon City, I had seen another car smack into a cock pheasant near Colon Orchards, and I had stopped, hopped out, grabbed it, and driven on as though someone were standing behind me with a timer.

His wife cooked it that evening. It was fine.

At Hit & Run, the blog of Reason magazine, food lawyer Baylen Linnekin applauds laws (including Colorado's) that liberalize the collection of road kill.
Bizarrely, though, many states prohibit the practice. In fact, as I detail in my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, nearly half of U.S. states prohibit harvesting roadkill. Nevada, for example, conflates roadkill harvesters with poachers. Last year, a Louisiana man faced a fine of up to $750 and up to a month in jail for harvesting a dead fawn.
But help is on the way. Oregon's roadkill law, which I discussed in an earlier column, was adopted in 2017 and took effect this January. Subject to certain conditions, the law allows anyone who obtains a permit to harvest a deer or elk, which a person can eat, share, or give away. (Sorry, no skunk meat; though it's fine to harvest stink steaks in Idaho.)
Then there are the "concern trolls":
"Our concern really is where people might intentionally hit animals for trophy or food," says John Griffin, senior director of urban wildlife programs with the Humane Society of the United States. "Like an elk or something large. It's incredibly dangerous. For both species."
Does John Griffin know what hitting an elk does to your car, and maybe you?  How many people would sacrifice a minivan or SUV for a free meal? He just does not want anyone eating wild game under any circumstances, that much is obvious.

April 24, 2019

Quick, It's Nest Box Time!

American robin (Cornell)
Want to Build the Right Nest Box for Your Area's Birds?


The Cornell University has an interactive guide that will help you download appropriate building plans and place your nest box: Right Bird, Right House.

Want to Monitor Bird Nests for Citizen Science?


You can sign up to monitor a wild bird's nest through Cornell's Nest Watch program.
Participating in NestWatch is easy and just about anyone can do it, although children should always be accompanied by an adult when observing bird nests. Simply follow the directions on our website to become a certified NestWatcher, find a bird nest using our helpful tips, visit the nest every 3-4 days and record what you see, and then report this information on our website. You can also download the NestWatch Mobile App for iOS and Android and record what you see at the nest in real time.

Why It Is All Worthwhile (Besides Science)


The inimitable Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk, writes how seeing birds enter her childhood birdhouses provided "a little flush of pride dangerously near possession" and muses,
In Britain, the class system inflects nestboxes as it does everything else. You can buy boxes that resemble scale models of pubs or churches, ones with poems or flowers painted on the front, with tiny glued-on gates and picket fences. These are frowned upon by the gatekeepers of British nature appreciation, who recommend plain wooden ones. The RSPB explicitly warns against using decorative boxes in case their bright colours might attract predators, even though there’s no real evidence for this. Yes, metal boxes are a bad idea because they can overheat nestlings, but a handwritten “home sweet home” isn’t much of an issue when robins can and will nest happily in discarded teapots.
Read the rest of her "Spring Reflection: A Birdhouse Makes a Home."

April 21, 2019

Spring Flowers &c. Seen While Walking the Dog

Sand lilies, Leucocrinum montanum.

Spring beauty  Claytonis rosea (says the guidebook).

Dropped feather from a Eurasian collared dove, busy breeding already.
Pasque flower, Pulsatilla patens
Three good websites: Wildflowers of Colorado, Eastern Colorado Wildflowers, Southwest Colorado Wildflowers

April 20, 2019

This is the Best Bigfoot Podcast

Earlier this month I was in a bar in San Marcos, Texas talking about Bigfoot, as one does. Some friends who teach at Texas State University there had organized a conference on "monsters" in literature, religion, folklore, cryptozoology, etc.

I was trying to come up with the last name of the late Grover Krantz, a physical anthropologist, but having a brief memory lapse when the guy sitting next to me supplied it. An instructor at the U. of North Carolina at Charlotte, he was a walking Bigfoot database.

My connection to Krantz was just that I had worked at Johnson Books in Boulder, which published his Bigfoot-is-an-actual-ape book Big Footprints: An Scientific Inquiry into the Reality of Sasquatch.  (Johnson is now part of Bower House.)You can read about Krantz and Bigfoot in Smithsonian.

I had left Johnson Books by then, so I did not get to meet him, but the editorial director sent me a copy. I read a lot of it by lantern light at night, curled up in my van, parked at some duck-hunting spot in the San Luis Valley. It helps to be alone in the dark when reading any Bigfoot book.

The guy sitting next to me offered another piece of information: Lauren Krantz, Gover's distant cousin, a former National Public Radio reporter-producer, started a Bigfoot-related podcast last year, Wild Thing

Wild Thing is the best-produced podcast that I have ever heard. So many of the podcasts out there consist of one person ranting, or two or three buddies Skyping or calling via cellphone, so that sound levels are inconsistent as they can be. They trash-talk each other or swap in-house gossip or talk about what they are for lunch, and it just drags on.

I can think of one podcast where the main hostess is trying to answer questions in a chatroom while her guests are talking, so you hear the tickety-tock of her keyboard all the time.

Not here. When it comes to production values, Krantz's podcast sounds as good as Radio Diaries or This American Life, if you ever listen to any public radio.

Wild Thing
Nor is Krantz a "true believer." She describes her subject as " our collective fascination with Bigfoot," and the first episode is devoted to learning about her cousin Grover, whom she never knew when he was alive. Read summaries of episodes here. Mostly she follows the issues raised by Grover Krantz's hypothesis of a surviving giant ape, as opposed to UFOs and "interdimensional beings."

Hear her interviewed on Skeptic magazine's Monster Talk podcast. And here is Krantz interviewed by the Seattle Times: "Bigfoot Hunters Aren't Crazy, Just Curious."

She talks to experts, visits Bigfoot sites, and sits down for an interview with Bob Gimlin, now in his late eighties, but still willing to discuss the social and economic price he paid for being half of the famous "Patterson-Gimin" film of 1967, which purports to show a minute of a female Bigfoot striding through a Northern California riparian zone.  There is the world of Bigfoot hunters and their disagreements, and of course, she goes on a Bigfoot hunt of her own.

You can find it on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Android, and on its own website. And buy T-shirts.

April 15, 2019

Ed Abbey Talks about his Park Ranger Days at Arches

Author Ed Abbey talks about his park ranger days at Arches National Monument (now national park) in the 1950s, the experience that produced his landmark book Desert Solitaire, in this 1985 short documentary.

Me, I will never forget visiting Delicate Arch early one morning in 1990, trying to get ahead of the crowd, but then the crowd arrived, and someone said, "It looks just like the [Utah] license plate!"

From Ned Judge, producer and director: "An eight minute film essay that I co-produced and directed with Ed Abbey in 1985. At the time I was working for a network magazine show. The executive producer took me to lunch one day. He told me that he was having trouble with his son who was 18. The son thought his dad was a corporate whore. He had told his father if he had any balls at all he’d put Ed Abbey on his show. That’s why the EP was talking to me. Would I see if it was possible? I had an acquaintance who knew Ed and he passed the request along. Ed responded that he’d give it a try. He signed the contract and wrote a script. We met in Moab and went out to Arches National Park to shoot some practice sessions with a home video camera. We would review them at the motel in the evening. After a day or two, Ed was feeling pretty comfortable on camera so we scheduled the shoot. We were all happy with the way it went. But then we ran head-on into [NBC] network reality. Roger Mudd, the show’s host, was extremely negative about putting an “eco-terrorist” on the show. The executive producer had no choice but to cave. So this Abbey essay was put on the shelf and never aired. Abbey died 3 years later in March 1989."

Ned Judge's more recent work includes The Medicine in Marijuana, an examination of the claims made for medical marijuana.

I can't embed the video, so watch it here.

April 13, 2019

Bird Festival, Cattle-Rustling, and Elk in Beetle-Kill Forests


Plan now for the Mountain Plover Festival.
  • You’ll get the chance to mingle with farmers and ranchers who choose to live in the local community and learn about their lifestyle.
  • Eat home-style food at every meal. Most meal are prepared by the community non-profit organizations.
  • Saturday evening includes a chuck wagon dinner with authentic Western entertainment.
  • Learn about conservation practices and history of the area.
  • Tour Private Land that would normally not be accessible.
  • Make new friends! Here's the website.
Sounds perfect if you are allergic to cities.  

• Cattle-rustling still happens in 21st-century Colorado.
But even keeping a close eye on livestock sales doesn’t prevent Colorado ranchers from experiencing their share of losses. Annual reports of missing or stolen livestock — the vast majority being cattle — average a little over 100, with losses ranging from a little over 400 to more than 650 head over the past four years. But that’s where the numbers get a little fuzzy.
• Pine beetles and the fungus they carry have killed huge amounts of lodgepole pine forest in the northern Rockies. As the dead trees drop their needles and become just standing trunks, more grass comes up between them. So that would be good for elk, right?

The evidence, however, is mixed. Some species do benefit, but not much the elk.
Looking at elk daytime use during the summer in Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest in south-central Wyoming, [University of Wyoming researcher Bryan G.] Lamont’s team expected to find mixed results. The loss of canopy would likely mean a loss in thermal cover, and more downed trees would make it difficult for the elk to move, forcing them to expend more energy. On the other hand, with new understory growth, elk would have more vegetation to forage. They expected elk might avoid the densest areas of downed trees but take advantage of the forage in other places.

Instead, elk tended to avoid beetle-killed areas overall, resulting in much less forest habitat that the elk use to keep cool during summer days. Beetle kill, researchers found, was different for the elk in important ways from wildfires or other disturbances.
 Time on the elk's side, however, as the dead trees start to fall and decay. Read the whole article here.

April 12, 2019

Droning Around the Neighborhood

I found this video in a Facebook group. It was made by Jerry Lofy of Colorado Springs and uploaded to Vimeo.

It starts with a view of the old Colorado Fuel & Iron steel mill in Pueblo —now a minimill owned by Evraz — and goes on to Bishop (or Bishop's) Castle (one man's dream), a nearby set of ranch ruins, and another historic site in the Wet Mountain Valley (Custer County).

Fisher's Missed Career Opportunity

I could have been a contender!
Fisher, my Chesapeake Bay retriever, loves poop. Every off-leash ramble in the woods is a chance to diversify his gut bacteria.

Only now do we learn that he could have done something much the same for science!

The article titled "He couldn't hack it as a drug-sniffing dog. Now he's conservation's best friend," shows what he might have become, if I were a wildlife biologist:
Train, a Chesapeake Bay retriever, sniffs out the scat, or poop, of elusive wild animals like jaguars and oncillas in the name of conservation. 
It might sound like an unsavory task, but these scat samples are goldmines for researchers like Train's owner, conservation biologist Karen DeMatteo.
Oh well, there are still fresh turds to be discovered here. No jaguar though.

April 03, 2019

Trusting Siri in West Texas

Let Siri pick a route, and turn on the cruise control.
I am driving through West Texas in April, so it is highly unlikely that GPS directions would leave me stuck in a snowdrift or run me off into a lake.

On the other hand, when (female Australian) Siri tells me to veer off State Highway 208 and onto a county road (paved, but not posted at 75 mph like SH 208), I wondered what was going on. There was traffic on the road, though, so evidently there was no chance of dead-ending into the world's largest patch of nopales (prickly pear).

I had driven home-to-San Angelo a couple of times before, so I had an idea of where I was going, but there were lots of route choices. I decided to give Australian Siri her head, although when she tried to get us to our San Angelo motel the last time, she became hopelessly confused in trying to pronounce the street name, Beauregard.

Sheesh, where were we? US 87.  Farm-to-Market 400. US 84, US 380,  and finally (with a little cut-off), State Highway 208, blasting south at 80 mph through the high-fenced Texas game farms with their fancy gates.

 I kept looking for some kind of exotic African antelope or something, but saw only four pronghorn antelope yearlings, locked among mesquite and red cedar, some whitetail deer, and the ubiquitous goats.  Also lots of wind turbines, some of which were actually turning.

Y muchos nopales.

March 07, 2019

A Big Year for Colorado Avalanches


Heavy snow this summer has been causing avalanches in the Colorado high country. Interstate 70 was closed on Vail Pass early this morning, in fact.

Here is why there are so many avalanches:
The “historic avalanche cycle” started in October and November, when Colorado got a lot of early-season snow. That snow rotted into facets: imagine ball bearings or sugar-like snow that can’t be formed into a snowball. That’s the weak layer. Then came lots more snow. In the past month, CAIC forecasters started seeing fewer avalanches releasing on that weak layer on the ground.
 Then came even bigger storms — like this past weekend when 40 inches fell in two days in the Central Rockies, or the 50 inches that piled up in 50 hours in the Four Corners area two weeks ago. And the slab grew even larger and heavier, all sitting atop the weak layer on the ground. That means every falling flake boosted the chance of a catastrophic slide. And in this latest round of storms, the final flake fell on slide paths above I-70.
I lifted this video and quote from an article in the online Colorado Sun go there for more video and background information.

February 24, 2019

Attacked on the Trail by a Mountain Lion (3)

Part 1 here
Part 2 here
Infrared image of a mountain lion. Scroll down to learn about
mountain lion photography from an expert. (Photo: Stanford University)

My first face-to-face with a mountain lion (two of them, actually) came during my student days when I worked a few times as a camp hand/assistant cook for a small hunting outfitting concern in Westcliffe, Colorado.

During a spring bear/turkey hunt (spring bear hunting in Colorado ended in the early 1990s), the guides decided to provide some after-supper entertainment.

They took the clients (two or three men) and me down into a side canyon of Grape Creek, and Guide 2 showed us how to wail on a mouth-blown predator call. Then he shined his red spotlight across the drainage and there sat two lions — youngsters traveling together, we suspected.

They watched us. We watched them. We were ready to leave, but there they were. Finally a guide pulled out his .44 Magnum revolver and fired a couple of shots over their heads.

Blink. You could imagine them thinking, "It makes loud noises." Top predator, meet top predator.

We started walking back up a rocky path to our vehicles. The guide cast his red light back and forth behind us, but it kept getting dimmer and dimmer. Later, he claimed he had controlled that dimming with a rheostat. I suspect that his batteries were just worn out.

It was dramatic though. By the time we had the clients back to the nearby cabin, one of them, a lieutenant in a Southern California police department who had told us tales of his urban exploits, was about ready to jump out of his skin.

Me, I went out and bought a red spotlight with rechargeable battery and some predator calls. Now and again I like to see what's out there. And of course there are the scout cameras.

If I lived in northern Colorado I would be tempted to take one of these courses

How does "Mountain Lion Photography Workshop" sound?
Join local wildlife videographer and conservationist David Neils for a deep dive on the habits and habitat of mountain lions in Northern Colorado. You'll learn how to map the hunting and travel routes of these apex predators using four natural factors to view the landscape like a mountain lion, and capture weekly video of these elusive predators. 
 Here is a list of dates and places.