September 22, 2021

The Feral Volunteers: Thoughts on Wildlife Transport

Pueblo Raptor Cetner director Diana Miller and her new intern, Aaron,
examine a goshawk that collided with a window in Nathrop, Colorado. The prognosis was good.

 

Looking at the Facebook page for Colorado Parks & Wildlife Volunteers
— which I admit that I don't read every week — I saw there was a volunteer-recognition picnic last month for my region. 

The person posting commmented, "small group this year." Well, yeah, M. and I did not even know that it was happening, for one thing. But that's OK. We are the feral volunteers.

Most volunteers, God bless them, have regular assignments. I have been at state parks where the volunteers — staffing entrance booths, working at visitor centers, serving as campground hosts, etc. — outnumber the paid staff.  The whole system would break down without them. They get paid in free parks passes, hats and jackets and water bottles and other such plunder*, and words of thanks. (If you live in your RV all summer while serving as a campground host, is there a tax write-off? I don't know.)

Other volunteers work more on the wildlife side, doing habitat-improvement projects, monitoring wildlife such as osprey nests or bighorn sheep), assisting fisheries biologists, and so on. All good.  In my region, SE Colorado, volunteers contributed more than 45,000 hours in 2020, valued (somehow) at more than $1.3 million.

I like the unscheduled weirdness of wildlife transport though.

We transporters don't go to State Park X and do Assignment Y. We go up some raggedy road to where it's all cactus, guns, and pit bulls but someone says he has captured a hawk that might be hurt. Or — this was M.'s and my first assignment — we drive to Exit ••• off Interstate 25 north of Pueblo, cross the railroad tracks, and wait . . . until an unmarked box truck pulls up and the driver, having ascertained who we are, hands over a cardboard carton holdling a racoon. A racoon that was caught tearing up a liquor store in La Junta, Colorado.

We took it to a rehab center. Night had fallen when we finished. "It's like being in the Resistance," M. said. It was a feral evening.

We wildlife transporters don't have hours. We don't wear uniforms — well, there is a basebal lcap and a name tag, useful if you are going to someone's remote home, and you want them to chain the pit bulls.

We almost never go to an office or deal with "management," just with local game wardens — officially "district wildlife managers" —  who themselves have a lot of disgression in how they do their jobs. 

(Does that orphan bear cub live or die? Does the DWM call a rehabber — or pull their state-issued .308 rifle from the truck? It's up to them. Having a volunteer transporter to call on might make the difference.)

Wildlife rehabilitators are a pretty feisty bunch too. The best ones work in a "no-show" mode. They are rehabilitation facilities, not petting zoos! And if people show up hoping to let their grandkids meet the bear cubs, the only thing they will see is the exit. 

The Pueblo Raptor Center, I should say, is an exception, because it is part of a larger facility and because it has "education birds," those who cannot survive in the wild but are taken around to schools, etc. You can go during visitor hours and take a tour. The birds who might make it in the wild are kept out of sight. Volunteers do a lot there too.

Wildlife transport is like being on the volunteer fire department only without the radio tones and the dinging cell phone, and the chatter, "You want me to bring the other brush truck? Copy that!"

In our case, it's asking if the critter is already caught or needs to be caught (Thick gloves! Cotton-flannel capture net! Carrier! Flea powder!) or if maybe it just needs to be moved from one carrier to another so that the original person can take theirs home. And where are we going? Do we have the reporting person's phone number, the DWM's phone number, and has someone notified the facility that animal or bird is coming? And much of the time we are in places with no cell-phone service.

What is the pay-off? Sometimes we are given a bird or animal to release. Whether it was an evening grosbeak rocketing out of the carrier to join a flock of its fellows near my house, a turkey vulture soaring over the Royal Gorge, or raccoons scooting off into the brush, it's a good feeling.

* "merch," if you prefer.

September 21, 2021

Aspen Foliage as Required by the Ektachrome Act

It is about six days before Peak Aspen, but this photo of fall aspen colors is posted pursuant to the Colorado Photography Act of 1964 (familiarly called the "Ektachrome Act"), which requires that all professional and semi-professional photographers in the state—essentially anyone who has ever sold a photo—shoot at least one full roll of slide film on scenic shots featuring golden aspen groves.

That most photography is now digital appears to have escaped the legislature, which has not updated the statute's language.

September 14, 2021

Some of the Fawns Survived

That weird-looking eye is just a reflecton from the cat's tapetum lucidum.
Mule deer does here drop their fawns in June. Last winter, we had a little group of three does and two yearlings that hung around in the forest near the house. 

On July 8th, one of my trail cameras up behind the house picked up this mountain lion right in the area that the mulie does favored. 

A neighbor mentioned that so-and-so had a seen a lion (that person being a sort of inept but trigger-happy back-to-the-lander whose animals escape, are killed by his own dogs, or whatever), while someone else had a seen a lion quite near our house in a different direction.

I said "Hmm" and did not mention my photograph. No point in advertising. But I wondered if she (?) had nabbled any fawns.

We kept seeing the two yearlings — now approaching sexual maturity — off and on, but not the three does. Presumably they were hiding their fawns in high grass or brush, and feeding warily.

Finally on September 10th my wife and I were eating supper outdoors on the porch — a prime deer-spotting time — when we saw two fawns grazing on what we call "the old road," which is an 1870s stage road-turned-pre-1960s ranch road turned grassy strip in the oak brush.

So two made it. There could have been as many as six fawns, since mulie does often drop twins. But I wonder how many that lion got. They have to eat too.

UPDATE: I checked a different camera today (15 Sept.), about four hundred yards from the house. It looks like our female (?) lion is still hanging around — she was there on the 10th even as M. and I were observing the fawns.



September 06, 2021

Cussed Out by a Gray Fox

Adult gray fox two days ago. Dad?

I went up to "Ringtail Rocks" late Sunday morning to swap the SD cards in the trail cameras up there. Despite the name, I have not had a single ringtail image this year, but I did not start until August. 

Since there were a small bear and a big dog in the last photo set, M. felt she come and carry the bear spray. Plus she is always up for a woods walk.

I had just opened the upper camera when a fox barked from about eight years away and startled me. The oak brush was too thick to let us see it, but barking continued untl we left, the fox circling around to one side but staying concealed. 

It was the middle of a hot day, when you don't expect foxes to be active, but maybe he (?) had a reason, like the kits being nearby. They had appeared on the camera too.

This one definitely lookd young.




This one seems youthful too.

A sort of puppy-like quality.

Mom? Or one of last year's female offspring?

I've been reading more on gray fox famliy dynamics. Males and females do form permanent bonds and raise the young together, sometime accompanied by yearling females. (Young males, I suspect, are strongly discouraged from sticking around.) I have had a number of photos at two locations that involve one adult and two young, but given that the distance apart is only a quarter mile, I might be seeing the same family in two places. I have also located a probable den site that deserves watching next April-May.

Range of the gray fox (Wildlife Science Center).


September 04, 2021

A Bear and His Dog

Dogs I have had seem to take one of two attitudes toward black bears. The three Chesapeake Bay retrievers all believed in keeping a safe distance and barking a warning. Come to think of it, Jack (1996–2009) once treed a bear cub while walking with the woods with M., who — once she realized what had happened — grabbed him and vacated the area. Shelby, our crazy-brave collie-Lab mix, charged solo after bears several times — and lived to tell about it. There was a reason she was called The Bandit Queen.

But now here is a German shepherd (Or shepherd-mix, if it is the dog that I think it could be) hanging out on the ridge up behind the house with a bear. That is a first for me, and also for our wildlife-rehabilitator friends, who said it was "really strange."  Maybe these two did not read the part in the manual that says dogs and bears are supposed to be antagonists?

Click the photos for a larger view.

A small (subadult?) black bear wanders toward the camera.

 
An hour and a half later, here is a German shepherd.

But the bear is still hanging around too, and they seem unperturbed by each other.

 There were no further photos of either animal after that.

September 02, 2021

Dealing with "Covid Contracture"

 I have been trying to come up with a word for what has happend over the last fourteen months. M. calls it "languishing" — even if you are perfectly healthy, your ambition and sense of accomplishment just s-l-o-w d-o-w-n as the days all drift together.

My offering was "Covid Contracture." Even if you have no travel restrictions, like those Australians forced to offer "a reasonable excuse to leave home," you find yourself going out less and less.

For me this was wrapped up with my dog Fisher's last year, when his decreasing mobility meant that the twenty-minute walk before breakfast became shorter and shorter, until it was maybe 200 yards or less and finally just to the end of the driveway and back.

M. and I broke out in July, hauling the pop-up trailer down to the Conejos River for a few days. Gone three nights, and it felt like two weeks. I had no idea how "contracted" I had become.

Soon we will be off for northern New Mexico for a bit, a trip postponded from June 2020.

I posted a few pictures from July on Instagram, where you can find me as as chas.clifton. Here are a few more.

The willows have filled in nicely — which is to say you can hardly push through them — and it's a great place to fish the Conejos River along FSR 250.


 Effects of the spruce beetle along Colorado in the La Manga Pass area. In the long run, this is OK for the forest. but meanwhile . . . 

. . . salvage logging takes care of some of it, but there is no way that all the dead trees will be used in this commercial way.


"It looks like the South," M. gasped, thinking of Spanish moss. But this is usnea, useful in certain herbal medicines that she makes, so she went away with a bag full.

September 01, 2021

August 25, 2021

The "Gray Man" Is Everywhere — Did You Notice Him?

Photo illustration from Survival Sullivan

The "gray man" is everywhere. You just have not been noticing him. Maybe the COVID pandemic with its lockdowns and "vaccination papers, please" has kicked a lot of people into thinking about how to go unnoticed. Gray Man is a movie title. There are two thriller book series: The Gray Man and The Grey Man, quite different from each other and not really what I mean here, except with the idea of "not attracting notice."

The "gray man/gray woman" concept is all over websites for preppers (formerly known as survivalists).

 "The Gray Man Concept," and How to Be a Gray Man"

The same attire and mode of behavior in the middle of a larger city’s financial district will see you blend in effortlessly with the tens of thousands of office drones and cubicle commandos going about their day will see you stand out like a neon sign in a small village an hour outside of the city limits.

How to Be a Gray Man"

The gray man is invisible. He is undetectable, unremarkable, and flies by a hysteric crowd like a stealth aircraft. The gray man can bug out safely to a secure location without raising any flags, or bug in without being suspicious to the Joneses.

 "41 Essential Rules to Become the Gray Man

Forty-one? Will they all be on the test?

"Urban Survival Tactic: How To Become A Gray Man"

Knowing how to be a gray man is quite possibly the greatest urban survival skill that anyone can learn. No fancy equipment, no fancy gadgets, just good old fashion common sense combined with intuition and innovation. Find out how you can be invisible in a sea of a million people.

Even without racheting up the paranoia, there are plenty of day-to-day reasons for not wanting to attract attention. Maybe you just don't want to look like a tourist — an obvious mark for beggers and hustlers.    

A few personal observations:

 • In some areas, my technique was to carry a local newspaper, back when newspapers were more of a thing. A shopping bag from a local grocer helps too. 

•  Outside the US and parts of Canada, no cargo shorts. How often, for example, do you see a mature Mexican man wearing shorts?

• Never wear a convention nametag on city streets. I have seen people astonished when some total stranger comes up with "Hey, Jason, how you doin'?" as an opening to trying to hit them up for something.

• As some writers note, sometimes you just cannot blend in, as when I lived in Mandeville, Jamaica, as a teenager. The best that I could do was not look like a tourist but more like . . . a British expat? My school uniform (DeCarteret College) was a help — in fact, it was gray, shirt and trousers! — but I wore it only when going to and from.

• In some areas, a middle-aged man and a woman walking together are obviously tourists, unless they do so when locals do, such as attending cultural events or church. Having children in the group may or may not contribute to that impression. (Funny, the writers do not mention children for the most part.)

• Most of the writing is pointed at men. Many women have figured this stuff out on their own already. ("Always wear shoes you can run in," and so on.)

• I have often tried to follow this advice as stated by Dan F. Sullivan

When you walk, especially from home, don’t always take the same route. Change it a little bit. Go faster or slower. Take entirely new or roundabout ways coming and going. This will also help you familiarize yourself with the different ways to get home, or to bug out.

Speaking of walking, this is key: "Learning to walk like the natives walk will hide you better than just about anything else." 

• It's funny to see professional preppers, etc., writing to endorse a trend for which they cannot sell you anything. You get your gray man/woman clothes at big box retailers, and if you want gray gray, you go to the work clothes rack at Tractor Supply, etc. Around here the "etc." would be a Big R store. I shop there now and then.

Some people are trying to sell "urban backpacks" and stuff — often in gray — but I think that "gray people" buy theirs at the thrift store. I did. It's black, has no dangly bits, and an inoffensive Toyota logo.

August 16, 2021

Brown Trout, Road Work, Yurts: Getting Re-located on the Arkansas River

Waiting for a pilot car on US 50 near Texas Creek. The driver is Darryl Godot.

I went fishing on the Arkansas River today, which should be normal as pie for a southern Coloradoan, but for me it has not been that way.

I just wasn't making enough time for fishing—and then COVID 19 fell like an old-time theatre fire curtain. That should have made for more time, me being already in work-at-home mode, but I was fooling myself: I was not invulnerable to the "languishing" and loss of purpose affecting many of the Laptop Class.

My last remaining two-piece medium-weight spinning rod had died in combat at North Michigan Reservoir in State Forest State Park in August 2019, and I finally replaced it last month. So today's mission was  to (a) try out the new rod and (b) go someplace.

I came out of a side canyon on a little county road, popping onto US 50 beside the Arkansas River,  where the traffic was pouring up the river — eighteen-wheelers, RVs of all description, and the repurposed school buses favored by the whitewater rafting companies, painted with names like "Chuck" and "Dionysus."

On the sound system, Mara Aranda is singing in Latin and Ladino. Lots of drums. It all fits —  a troop of medieval lancers on skinny horses might pick their way down these rocky slopes looking right at home.

Smoky haze from fires further west fills the canyon, obscuring "Precambrian rocks cut with black dikes and white dikes." It's like a haze of memory: I am driving down the canyon in my old pickup late at night, headlights on the granite walls, after visiting that girl in Salida. She ditched her radio DJ boyfriend and came down to my place, but the kindling just never caught fire, and she went back to  . . . LA?

Forward a few years—beer, chips and salsa on the patio of the old Salida Inn as local Trout Unlimited members strategize how to protect fisheries in the proposed state parks division's Arkansas Headwaters Recreation area, which seems to be all about commercial rafting, commercial rafting, and oh yes, kayaking. Colorado Trout Unlimited's state resource director, Leo Gomolchak (major, USA, ret.) was always there to keep us fighting. I walk out to the parking lot with him—the tires on his Bronco are worn down to the steel cords. (He resembled the actor Lloyd Bridges, don't you think?)

Another memory: coming down the canyon at night in my friend Dave's truck, and a mountain lion comes up from the river, dashes in front of us, and climbs the steep hillside on the right, at speed. 

The spinning rod is no longer a virgin, so to speak.  We will eat trout. I am normally a catch-and-release guy on wild trout, but at least once in a season, I eat some, if only to recognize that this is Serious Business for the fish, if not for us. It's not like a friendly game of tennis where the players shake hands across the net. "Good game!" "Great casting, man, total respect!"

But I had gotten so disconnected. The river seemed higher than I expected—I had not even checked a fishing report. The Wellsville river gauge, upstream from where I stood, was showing 766 cfs, definitely in the fishable zone but still a little higher than I had expected. 

I was back to wearing new-ish rubber-footed hip waders, which reminded me about how in the late 1980s and 1990s, you were a total bumpkin if you wore rubber-footed waders. All the kool kidz had felt-soled wading boots, and eventually so did I.  

Ed Valdez, the short and stocky original owner of the Cañon City fly shop Royal Gorge Anglers, used to refer to the Arkansas' underwater surface as "greased cannonballs," in other words, slimy rocks. He wore felt soles with strap-on cleats, and he cast a long fly line. "I'm short, so I have to cast good," he said.

Now many states have outlawed felt-soled boots because they can more easily spread invasive organisms. Deplorable rubber soles are cool again.

And I am feeling a little unsteady on the "greased cannonballs," even in ankle-deep water. Note to self: bring a wading staff. Yet as ever, the presence of the river draws a curtain between me and the highway traffic. There is only the rod, the lure, the water, maybe the trout. Until the sun is too high, and I feel my  concentration slackening.

So I had a hamburger at a little store. The gas pumps were plastic-bagged, and the the indoor restrooms were dead. What is this, the Other Colorado? There were porta-potties — evidently on the six-month service plan.

I drove down part of the highway that I had not seen for five years or more. How is this happening? It's the Covid Contraction. Must fight it! 

There was road work in progress. Cue the northern-states joke about there being only two seasons, "winter" and "highway construction."

A rafting company now offers "luxury riverside yurts." True, they were on the river bank, but they were in a gravel parking lot where the paying customers get off the buses, hear their safety lectures, and load onto rafts to run the Royal Gorge. And all this only a hundred yards from US 50's truck traffic. Maybe at night it is a "luxury" experience.

And so back up in altitude to home. Five stars, will do it again.

August 09, 2021

On the Perils of Navigation with a Small Screen

Oil pan cracked, the bus sits on Coffee Pot Road. (Photo: Garfield County Sheriff)
People in Colorado are having a good laugh over the hapless Greyhound bus driver who took his passengers onto a rough Forest Service road, following some app that was supposed to route him around the part of Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon that is currently closed due to mudslides.

Meanwhile, the state highway department  supposedly prevailed on Google Maps and Apple Maps to mark Independence Pass (Colorado 82) as "closed," which led to a lot of the Denver-based media saying it was closed "due to mudslides."

Not true — the closure was to keep oversize vehicles off the road. There is signage, but when people who don't know the road try to use it as a detour, inevitably some big motor home or tractor-trailer rig ends up stuck.

I am happy to let Siri on my iPhone guide me around a city, but the small screens just don't do the job when you need to orient yourself in a large area. Nothing — so far — beats a big paper map that lets you see the relationships of Place A, Place B, and Where You Are Now.

Last Friday, M. and I were driving down a long gravel road homeward-bound from mushroom hunting. Below us, a car with two kayaks on the roof pulled out from a popular creekside parking spot, and the driver turned left, uphill. As we came past, she waved. We stopped.

"Can you tell me where the campground is?" she asked, holding up her cellphone.

I blanked for a moment. "There is no developed campground up here," I said.

 "I mean the _______ Creek Campground," she said. "We made a reservation there."

"Oh," I replied, "You passed that about six miles back."

(True, the Forest Service signage there could be better. It is easy to miss the turn-off to this little public campground if you mistake it for a private driveway — you have to pass a small private campground and a couple of houses on the way in.)

She turned around and followed us, over washboard and potholes and cattle guards, until we passed the turn-off, when M. rolled down her window and made vigorous pointing gestures to the right. The would-be campers had only lost about 45 minutes wandering around and then being re-directed.

• I suspect that if she had zoomed in far enough to see the forest roads on her map, then her posiition and the campground would not be on the screen at the same time, making it hard to see their relationship.

If she backed out her view enough to see the campground (if it was on the map), she probably could not see how to get there.

• I did not know that that small campground was now in the Rocky Mountain Recreation Company reservation system. Makes sense though.

• Where they were going to use those kayaks I do not know.

UPDATE: As of Tuesday, August 10,  the state highway department was still feuding with Google Maps. Good luck with that.

July 30, 2021

All My Flycatchers, Season 17: The "Spare Tire" Strategy


 Season 17.
There is nothing like monitoring a bird's nest to collapse time — it is like there is only one spring and one summer, constantly cycling, and in the end — some day — I will be this grumpy old man who cares about nothing except whether a pair of Cordilleran flycatchers have returned in June.

This year's "Lucinda" built a nest on the Official Flycatcher Nesting Shelf, sheltered under the eave on the back of the house, above human head height, and protected (I would like to think) from most predators.

She laid three eggs, pictured. And then a few days later, a fourth, which never hatched. This seems to be a pattern — a late fourth egg, maybe intended as a sort of "spare tire." Sometimes there is fourth chick, but they never seem to live. Several times, when cleaning out the nest (flycatchers do not re-use nests), I have found the desicated featherless body of the fourth chick.

"Trying their wings" is not a metaphor

Meanwhile, eating breakfast and supper on the front porch this past week, I was watching a flycatcher making its short hunting flights from a dead limb on a ponderosa pine tree. It seemed like a good hunting spot, since it overlooked a small open area.

Then I saw the bird land on another larger limb and watched it with binoculars. Wow! another nest, with three little heads poking out. I got my spotting scope and a small tripod that fit on the table top. I know, very Ranger Rick, birding between bites of breakfast.

Two days ago, one chick was stretching out a wing that looked fully fledged. Yesterday morning, it was out of the nest, sitting on the branch beside it, but still being fed by one of the parents. 

This morning, all three were out of the nest. If they were raptors, I would call them "branchers," but do you use that word with passerine birds too? Anyway, there they were, outside the nest but sticking close, occasionally beating their wings without taking off. (We could hear the soft thumps from twenty yards away.) 

The adults, meanwhile, kept up a steady cycle of fly in, land, feed one or two young, fly away, perch, hunt, and repeat.

By late afternoon, the nest and the branch that it sits on were empty of flycatchers. Maybe the lease ran out on July 30th.

I wonder if there is a forgotten fourth egg up there.

July 12, 2021

Rolling Down from Rattlesnake Gulch

 

A smokey sunset over the hood of Engine 968. This was a Jeep wreck up the canyon, not a fire call, but I still like it when I can work the place name "Rattlesnake Gulch" into my report in the National Fire Incident Reporting System. It's just so by-gawd Western.

Will This Be Mega-Mushroom Year? Or, Foraging Texas-Style

 

I was hiking on June 25th with my wife and my niece when I found the giant puffball on the right.  I cut it in half to make sure it was still fresh enough to take home—and it was.

Then as we were driving the little road out from the trailhead, my niece, who was in the right-hand back seat, starts shouting, "Wait! Wait! Stop!"

She had spotted the other puffball. She has good instincts — she spent her teen years on my sister's farm, where aside from electricity and motor vehicles, it was pretty much 1890 — hand pump for water by the sink, wood heat, and the privy was out back. You blast the kudzu with a shotgun when it tries to crawl in through the screen door, that kind of thing.

"I never foraged from a car before," she said, climbing back in. 

"That's doing it Texas-style," I said.

But seriously, while the Western Slope is baking, here in southern Colorado we are getting early tastes of monsoon weather, and I have never picked so many mushrooms this early at this altitude (below 8500 feet, give or take). It was the first year that we had the dehydrator running in June.

M. and I will be heading for higher country soon. We have hopes.

July 04, 2021

Apple Pie Is Not Always for Your Enemies

 

Every now and then, M. reverts to her New England roots and serves apple pie for breakfast  (The white stuff is yoghurt.)

I like it, but now it reminds me a visit a few years back to the Salem (Mass.) Athenaeum.  They had an exhibit on historical food-writing, and — in a humorous and ironic way — were giving out cards printed with Mark Twain's description of traditional New England apple pie:

To make this excellent breakfast dish, proceed as follows: Take a sufficiency of water and a sufficiency of flour, and construct bullet-proof dough. Work this into the form of a disk, with the edges turned up some three-fourths of an inch. Toughen and kiln-dry it a couple of days in a mild but unvarying temperature. Construct a cover for this redoubt in the same way and of the same material. Fill with stewed dried apples; aggravate with cloves, lemon peel, and slabs of citron; add two portions of New Orleans sugar, then solder on the lid and set in a safe place till it petrifies. Serve cold at breakfast and invite your enemy.

For all that he lived some years in Connecticut, Twain's preference was always for Southern cooking.

June 30, 2021

The Last Post I Will Write about Fisher

When he could still run — Fisher, spring 2017.

Once there was a Chesapeake Bay retriever named Fisher, whom we took in as a 2-year-old "rescue" back in 2009. 

Over the years he progressed from Horrible Dog — there were reasons why his first owners could not cope with him — to Horrid Dog to Exasperating Dog to Problem Dog to finally just The Dog. 

I have written about him here quite a few times, and he has popped up elsewhere in blogs and on Facebook, as in this blog post by hunting writer Holly Heyser on her old Norcal Cazadora blog. He appears there as "the guilty dog." 

Spinal problems from a nasty twisty fall he took while chasing something finally got to be too much. (I have been down that path before.) After three years of coaxing him along with gentle treatment, CBD oil, and pain medicine, it was time for the curtain to fall, last week, just short of his 14th birthday.

I am training myself not to check the front porch for his presence every time that I drive in.