October 31, 2007

Bigfoot or Bear?

This photo sequence comes from Pennsylvania, a long way from my Colorado home, but it is intriguing. The first photo is startling. Has the "creature" morphed into a bear between #1 and #3? Or was there a switch? And what is the square thing sticking up in the #3, blocking the tip of the bear cub's nose? Was it just two bears (or adult and two cubs) all along?

Could it be a mangy bear, like Terrier Man's weird mangy woodchuck?

More fun with motion-activated cameras!

UPDATE: Maybe it was indeed a mangy bear.

October 29, 2007

Luminous Animal*

Early this morning--shortly after 1 a.m., M. says--she is a light sleeper and will wake up when a mosquito sneezes--the dogs erupted.

Bark bark bark. Jack running to the front door, wanting out. Shelby running to the cracked-open bedroom window. Bark bark bark!

It's the way that they react when a bear is near the house, although this time, unlike a week ago, we did not shine a flashlight out the window and illuminate Mrs. or Mr. Bruin standing there next to the rainwater tank.

Today I went over to the guest house, where the motion-activated camera had been set up on the back stoop. I found it knocked over. At least it was not twenty feet away and in pieces. Only one species generally smacks things as a way of investigating them.

So is this fuzzy white image a very over-exposed black bear, shortly before he or she clobbered the camera?

Maybe I need to rig the camera up higher somewhere.

(There were six other shots in the camera--the usual foxes.)

*It's a Pueblo literary joke.

October 24, 2007


Like a fast-moving fog,
or a prairie fire
coming straight at my camp.

But in the San Luis Valley
the white cloud streamers
are powdered alkali,
lifted by wind from dry lake beds.

Ducks are not flying, nor the harriers
that peer at decoys for signs of life,
not red-winged blackbirds nor noisy wrens
that shoulder through dense reeds.

Only the crows ride the salty clouds
slipping and soaring,
only the crows,
because they can.

(A quasi-poem in lieu of a blog entry about the recent duck hunt. Weathered-out of Blanca Ponds again, but not entirely empty-handed.)

Children in the Woods.

Last spring's nature-writing class responded positively to readings on children & nature and the whole "nation of wimps" meme.

So I have added a chapter of Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods to my illegal-photocopy anthology.(Might use this newspaper piece too. His sort-of blog has not been updated.)

The other text will be The Landscape of Home, I am thinking, which is fairly Colorado-centric.

Looking for something else in the university library, I found one autobiography of a man who definitely did not suffer from "nature-deficit disorder." Paul Errlington put himself through South Dakota State College in the 1920s partly through trapping (skunk, mink, muskrat) and later became a biology professor at Iowa State University. His autobiography The Red Gods Call was published by Iowa State University Press in 1973.

At the end of my last semester in high school I had an attack of rheumatic fever. [He had had polio too.] The acute phase was agonizing, brief, and without special complications, though my joints had a lingering stiffness for weeks. This was in the spring. The next fall I planned to go to northern Minnesota to spend a winter traipping. My doctor did not discourage me from going ahead with these plans providing I avoided overexertion.

His parents, too, did not try to keep him indoors. Nowdays we need organized programs like this one.

Blog Stew in a Double-Lined Bag

¶ Welcome to Rocky Mountain National Park: please poop in the bag provided.

¶ Switching to unleaded gasoline cuts crime?

¶ One big aggregator site for the Southern California fires. Since I have to go to San Diego next month on business, I am watching with more than the usual concern I would feel for others who live in forest fire-prone areas.

¶ Forest fires and other emergencies are not the time to read up on survival lore. Doug Ritter's site covers gadgets, techniques. Pilots might want to read this article from the site.

October 22, 2007

"His faithful dogs at his side"

Two weeks after the official search was called off, the remains of Gary Lorenz and his retrievers, Merry and Pippin were found by a hunter in Fremont County on Saturday, the first day of Colorado's second rifle deer/elk season.

(It is so often hunters who find the bodies. Hikers and backpackers stick to the trails--that might be a metaphor, but let's leave it for now.)

Lorenz is believed to have died from some combination of dehydration and hypothermia. The post's title comes from KRDO-TV, which is is promoting its evening newscast as I write.

UPDATE: The Colorado Springs Gazette says that the dogs survived.

The dogs stayed nearby through it all, and were found near his body in good condition.

“They must have loved him a lot to stay with him for that long,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Andrea Cooper said.

The dogs reportedly were friendly when deputies approached, and have been returned to Lorenz’s family. "

I wonder what they were eating for nearly a month.

October 21, 2007

Learning Winter All Over Again

After repeated experiences with National Weather Service snow predictions, you would think I would have learned to be more cautious.

After the big January 2005 snowfall that was under-predicted and caught us flat-footed with all our vehicles up at the house, 200 yards from the county road, and three feet of snow on the ground, M. and I made a new rule: If there are a dozen flakes in the air, move at least one Jeep down to the end of the driveway. That way, if a lot of snow falls, all we have to do is dig through the ridge piled up by the snowplow.

But, oh no, it's only mid-October, and they are predicting "2 to 4 inches" with a high in the mid-forties Fahrenheit.

At 2:30 in the afternoon, the temperature is still below freezing, and I measured 10.5 inches on the back deck.

I had come home last evening from duck-hunting in the San Luis Valley (more about that later) and left the little trailer hitched up in the driveway, because the prediction was for "2 to 4 inches," and, I figured, the ground was warm and it would not stick.

I wake up to snow pouring down and the electric power going off and on. (Heavy, wet snow weighting the wires and tree limbs.) When the power came back, I quickly aired up the little tires on the portable generator in case I had drag it outside and start it running.

"We'll need the generator tonight," M. had said earlier as we lay in the bedroom, lit only by silvery reflected snow light. "Desperate Housewives is on."

But then the electricity came back. I shoveled around the trailer, unhitched it, and pushed it out of the way. Then I put its tow vehicle, the Jeep Liberty, into 4-Low, turned it around and blasted down to the end of the driveway. M. filled water jugs—no power means no pump.

So now we are reminded what winter is all about.

UPDATE: The power did go out again just before dark, and so we were on generator power until around 8:30 p.m. when the San Isabel Electric linemen showed up. Apparently they had a busy day.

October 17, 2007

Blog Stew with Mice

¶ My visitor log showed a visitor from the Polo-Ralph Lauren corporate domain googling "western wear for dogs." Is this a fashion forecast? Or are they just dressing up the cow dogs at the ranch outside Ridgway because RL himself is dropping by?

¶ Colorado's top five "feeder birds" -- in other words, species that show up at feeders watched by Project Feeder Watch participants -- are juncos, house finches, flickers, black-capped chickadees, and house (English) sparrows. My prediction is that it looks like a good year for Steller's jays (no. 18) here.

¶ The blogroll now includes a blog from the Secret City of Atomicgrad, Atomic Nerds.

¶ Only four deer mice have given their all for a taste of almond butter in the basement so far this fall. (The basement connects to the garage, the garage connects to the woods.) Maybe, as Patrick Burns points out, the red foxes are helping to deal with the problem.

October 15, 2007

Living with Mountain Lions, the Sinapu Way

Because the news media can only frame stories in terms of confrontations--and because advocacy groups inject themselves into controversies to get some attention--a Boulder group called Sinapu leapt into the recent commotion about a Boulder County resident who killed a mountain lion that attacked his dog.

The group does not purchase habitat nor, so far as I can tell from looking at the site, sponsor scientific research. But it does tell you how to live in lion country -- sort of.

Let's look at some of the Sinapu recommendations:

* Make lots of noise if you come and go during the times mountain lions are most active–dusk to dawn.

Oh sure, carry an air horn. Blow a whistle. Do your best imitation of a four-lane arterial boulevard--your neighbors will love it. I know, ride an ATV everywhere! Even just down to the mailbox!

* Install outside lighting. Light areas where you walk so you could see a lion if one were present.

Isn't that why you moved to the mountains, so you could light up your property like a K-Mart parking lot? Screw that "Dark Skies" stuff. Or you could just carry a good flashlight when you need to.

* Closely supervise children whenever they play outdoors. Make sure children are inside before dusk and not outside before dawn. Talk with children about why lions are important to Nature, and teach them what to do if they meet one.

=That boy who was apparently killed by a lion by the Cache la Poudre River was taken in broad daylight, I think. But he was alone.

Although I understand the dawn-and-dusk part, I hate to see anyone advising parents to keep their children indoors -- unless, of course, it is for adult-supervised organized sports practice at a designated athletic facility. Ugh.

* Landscape or remove vegetation to eliminate hiding places for lions, especially around children’s play areas. Make it difficult for lions to approach unseen.

Sure, make the place look like a golf course. It works in Vail.

* Plant native shrubs and plants that deer don’t prefer to eat–thus discouraging them from coming in close to your living quarters. Predators follow prey.

Let's see: Deer evolved with . . . native shrubs. Those are what they browse. Maybe Sinapu should suggest not to plant ornamentals such as crab apples, a big deer favorite. But if you eat your apples, as we do, then there is a trade-off.

* Keep your pet under control. Roaming pets are easy prey and can attract lions. Bring pets in at night. If you leave your pet outside, keep it in a kennel with a secure top. Don’t feed pets outside; this can attract raccoons and other animals that are eaten by lions. Store all garbage securely.

Good advice.

* Place livestock in enclosed sheds or barns at night. Close doors to all outbuildings since inquisitive lions may go inside for a look.

Might work if you have a horse or a few goats, but not practical for actual ranchers.

* Encourage your neighbors to follow these simple precautions. Prevention is far better than a possible lion confrontation.

Do you see what is missing? What do you do if things go very, very wrong and all of these passive precautions fail?

Sinapu likes to talk about "stewardship," but they inevitably slide off into Timothy Treadwell-ism. "Stewardship" includes the power of life and death; it implies control. But they do not want to go there.

(And don't forget, always wear a helmet when going outdoors!)

October 14, 2007

What the Bears are Eating - 2

Bear scat with plum pits. 13 Oct. 2007.  Photo by Chas s. CliftonOur bears have moved on from eating squawberries to finishing off the last of the wild plums, to judge by this evidence. Those lighter brown lumps are plum pits.

October 13, 2007

One Last Aspen Photo and Then I'll Stop

Somewhere in the Wet Mountains. Photo by Chas S. Clifton 10 Oct. 2007One last picture before the next cold front finishes stripping leaves from the aspen trees. Many groves are already bare, so moving through them is like walking on popcorn. Sometimes I wish that the Wets had more little "parks" and aspen groves and less of the deep, dark timber like that in the distance. Much of the thick stuff is second-growth timber--a lot of little sawmills operated here a century or more ago.

October 12, 2007

The Minnesota Mountain Lion

As long as I am posting about game-camera photos, a hunter's camera has now proved the existence of cougars in northern Minnesota.

Bill Berg, now retired after a long career as wildlife biologist for the DNR in Grand Rapids, says he saw two videos and a few pictures of mountain lions in northern Minnesota, but it was always difficult to know if the animals were wild or escaped pets.

But Berg doesn’t doubt that a few mountain lions exist in Minnesota at any given time.

“No doubt there’s an animal now and then, and I think some of them are wild animals dispersing and some are cats that got too big for the kitty litter.”

Usage question: Can we call them mountain lions in Minnesota, which is a little short on actual mountains?

Without actual mountains, seizing the moral high ground in the best Boulder, Colo., style will be only a metaphorical act.

Season of the "Ash Bugs"

the tiny midges we call
They came out on about Oct. 9 this year, as the Gambel oaks turned egg-yolk yellow and tan: tiny midges (?) with a tuft of greyish-white fluff on their butts.

Right: "Ash bugs" on our dog Shelby's coat.

They fill the air like bits of falling ash.

"Goddamned ash bugs," M. says, stomping into the house. "One flew into my mouth, and one went in my eye. And they're in my hair. Sheesh!"

Down in Rye, meanwhile, there was some real ash in the air.

October 11, 2007

No Man, No Dogs, No Search

Last night's Cañon City Daily Record said that the search for Gary Lorenz was being abandoned.

He and his two golden retrievers disappeared in western Fremont County on Sept. 24, and the possible fate of both man and dogs continues to obsess me.

The incident has caused me to make some plans for the future, which I will blog about when the time is right.

October 10, 2007

Blog Stew with Possums

¶ Camera Trap Codger posts about possums, including a possum savant and what happens to dead possums in the wild.

"25 Skills Every Man Should Know." And women, too, if they drive cars or use computers. But I have never had to frame a wall, nor do I have a place where I could put one. Backing up a trailer is the skill that I am currently working on.

¶ Check out the "How to Survive Anything Mother Nature Throws at You" too.

¶ Henry Chappell muses on the life expectancy of Western movies and novels. Will "postmodern grotesquery" save the genre?

When Would It Be Right to Shoot a Cougar?

A man in Boulder County shoots a mountain lion that has attacked his dog. Unfortunately for his legal position, dogs are not described by law as "livestock" (although I often refer to ours that way).

The Sinapu crowd predictably wants him hanged.

The dog-owner, Jeremy Kocar, told the Daily Camera newspaper, "I'm from Wisconsin — and we take care of things there," a remark that produced a certain amount of chest-puffing among Coloradans.

Read the comments if you have time and mental equanimity. Sample from "Teledude": "When you move to the mountains, you take the risk that you or your pets are food for something else." (Login required: Bug Me Not is your friend.)

David Baron detailed the change in attitude in his excellent 2003 book The Beast in the Garden. People in that area had become more accepting of the cougar population around them, despite the occasional deaths of pets and at least one human, a high-school cross-country runner.

But where are the limits? If I caught a mountain lion attacking Jack or Shelby -- and they do come around the house -- I too would shoot. To avoid that possibility, we have a rule -- enforced for cabin guests too -- that dogs do not go out after dark without a human, even big dogs.

I wonder if some of the "never never never" people could stand by idly either.

Entry-Level Camping

Campers of the 1930s at Lake Isabel, San Isabel National Forest, southern Colorado (US Forest Service photo).

Last December Kristyn Econome (vice president of the Backcountry Snowsports Alliance) wrote in a letter to the editor of the Denver Post:

I long for a back-to-basics campground with minimal facilities. I can't remember a time within the last few years that I've stayed in a "Forest Service" campground that wasn't run by a concessionaire. For some reason, a while back, the higher-ups in the Forest Service thought that its visitors wanted more amenities, such as flushable toilets, running water, trash cans and even paved roads in campgrounds. Thus, they decided to essentially rent out the campsite facilities to concessionaires who "improve" the campgrounds and charge higher fees so that I may camp there.

It's the same point that I made about ski areas: the well-heeled and experienced have lots of choices, but how can you get started for not too much money? (Many Colorado ski areas are on land leased from the Forest Service as well.)

You could start with a copy of Camp Out! The Ultimate Kid's Guide. I have not actually seen a copy, just the linked blog entry, but the premise is good.

People who do not experience the back country, preferably as children, never come love the back country.

A Splash of Fall Color

Photo by Chas S. Clifton, Oct. 7, 2007Southern Colorado fall color: Virginia creeper growing in the willows along Hardscrabble Creek. More at the Pueblo Mountain Park blog. No one can resist.

October 07, 2007

You Didn't Need 'Scent-Lok' Anyway

This cracks me up: ALS Clothing, maker of "Scent-Lok" hunting clothes, which are in all the catalogs (Cabela's here), is being sued on the grounds that its product does not work.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota alleges the clothing doesn't work and hunters have been - and continue to be - defrauded. . . .

Attorneys are requesting a class-action status for the suit, saying that "tens of thousands" of Minnesota hunters have been deceived into buying millions of dollars of odor-eliminating clothing. . . .

The question of the efficacy of scent-blocking technology has, indeed, been one that has been heavily debated since the introduction of the technology more than a decade ago. Now, it seems the question may be one with millions of dollars at stake.

Honestly, I sometimes wonder how ancient hunters with their atlatls and bows killed anything at all, considering that they lacked Gore-Tex, GPS positioning systems, all-terrain vehicles, binoculars, and Game Ear hearing amplifiers.

Since I suspect that they rarely bathed, perhaps they just watched the wind?

Nature writer Dave Petersen of Durango, Colorado makes that point in his new book A Man Made of Elk:

In order to hunt safely, comfortably, with dignity and success, we don't need an $8,000 ATV perched on a $3,000 trailer pulled by a $40,000 SUV to get us there and home. We don't need "scent-proof" designer camo clothing, electronic trail-timers and infrared cameras, automatic game "feeders" (in fact high-tech bait stations), optical rangefinders, cell phones, Taj Mahal portable ground binds and tree stands and on and on el barfo.

Dave's book is worth buying though.

October 06, 2007

Theodore Cockerell and the Cowboy Mythos

After reading the letters of English naturalist Theodore D.A. Cockerell, written from the Wet Mountain Valley in 1887-1889 to his girlfriend and her brother back home, I have come to a conclusion. This hard-working natural scientist perhaps shaped the way that Custer County thinks about itself.

When Cockerell arrived, Westcliffe and Silver Cliff were full of miners. On his arrival, he mentions going to Silver Cliff to see the mines.

I was much interested. They find silver here usually in the form of chloride, which is a sort of olive-green, but also, more rarely, they get it native.

And so on for a long paragraph. True, the silver-mining boom had crested when he arrived:

Silver Cliff is the principal place in the district for silver mining, and some years ago when the silver was first discovered there as a great rush for the mines and about 15,000 people were in the place at one time, but mining was not the success they expected, and very soon what promised to become a big town dwindled down to its present proportions--a small and insignificant village.

(Cockerell put Silver Cliff's population at 1,000 and Westcliffe's at 500.)

He lived part of the time at the home of an Anglo-Irish ranching family, the Cusacks, whose property is now a guest ranch, The Pines.

But mining still was going on. At one point, Cockerell thinks he has landed a clerk's job at a mine in Rosita, but due to cash-flow problems, the offer is withdrawn, and he stays with the ranchers.

There he writes quite a few observations about stockmen and cowboys--observations still quoted today--and ignores the mining industry, being more interested in entomology than geology.

Every year in September the Wet Mountain Western Days celebrates the cowboy mythos in all the usual ways. You won't find any single-jack drilling contests or prospector's burro race here. Yet which industry really built the county more?

Foxy Photo 2

Pair of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), Oct. 5, 2007. Photo by Chas S. CliftonThree nights after my earlier fox photo, the scout camera captured this pair.

Mating season is still months away, but given the difference in size, I wonder if this is a bonded pair. But I know little about the pair bond in foxes beyond what I read here--that a male and one or two females may share a territory.

Lewis and Clark were somewhat confused by red foxes in the West. I am not sure why CSU says they are not in southeastern Colorado: I have seen them there, but it was on cropland, not grassland or canyon country.

Actually, if there is one elusive, nocturnal animal that I would like to photograph, it is the ringtail. I think they are here, but not in large numbers.

A Walk to Music Pass

Head of Sand Creek drainage, Sangre de Cristo range, Oct. 5, 2007. Photo by Chas S. cliftonView west from the top of Music Pass into the Sand Creek drainage.

Friday promised a crisp fall day with optimum aspen-viewing conditions.

But when we crested the hill on Colorado 96 and looked down into the Wet Mountain Valley, it was filled with rain, and the Sangre de Cristo range was invisible.

Wipers slapping, we drove through Silver Cliff and Westcliffe and stopped at Candy's for coffee, muffins, and The Denver Post.

After 45 minutes, the squall had blown through, and we headed for the lower Music Pass trailhead, figuring that if the weather turned bad again, we would just take a walk on the Rainbow Trail.

We met two backpackers from Colorado Springs coming out of the Sand Creek Lakes drainage on the far side of Music Pass. They carried fishing rods, but they babbled not of fishing but off the horrible night they had passed in wind, rain, sleet, and snow. And then they turned and hustled down the trial.

We ended up going all the way to the top of the pass (11,3080 feet), where the wind poured across from the San Luis Valley like an invisible waterfall.

"Tree" "Elk" "Tree" "Elk"

In the fir forest below the crest, I heard an elk bugle.

No, M. said, it's a fallen fir tree rubbing against another.

Just then I heard the gulping sounds that follow a bugle.

No, M. said, it's two trees rubbing. And she was right.

But on the way down, we did hear an elk bugling at a lower elevation, maybe 9,500 feet, about at the point where I was deciding that I really did not need to be wearing gloves anymore.

October 03, 2007

Foxy Photo

Red fox. Photo by Chas S. Clifton 10/3/07Red foxes like to scavenge sunflower seeds under the bird feeders. This one, having snacked, is drinking from a water dish.

I decided to try for a photo. It's not in this guy's class--he gets mountain lions, but I am learning what I can do with my El Cheapo scout camera--beyond taking candid photos of Shelby.

(Here is another blog devoted to scout-camera photography.)

October 02, 2007

Where Did the Dogs Go?

I cannot stop thinking of this incident, and I admit that the presence of the dogs has much to do with that.

A week ago a retired Air Force officer who unfortunately suffers from early-onset Alzheimer's disease vanished in western Fremont County.

Gary Lorenz of Cotopaxi was reported missing by his family last Monday afternoon after he left the family home on an all-terrain vehicle to check on horses.

The ATV was found wrecked at the bottom of a slope between his home and the horse pasture. He is missing. And his two golden retrievers, Merry and Pippin, who were tagging along, are also missing.

At first searchers put a positive spin on that fact: The dogs, they said, were staying with him and keeping him warm at night.

But now a week has passed, and there have been no Lassie-style heroics. The dogs have not come home to lead the searchers to Lorenz or to his remains. You cannot always count on dogs.

No one has found either man or dogs. Have the dogs scavenged his body? All very strange, sad, creepy.

October 01, 2007

Making Up Stories about Animals

She won't go home. She wants to take one more walk by the lake. She wants to finish that novel she started, now that her husband and kids have gone. Even though the summer house is not insulated, and the heating system is not the best, she wants to linger.

She is a broad-tailed hummingbird. Go south, honey. The sugar-water bar is closing. The weather is getting nastier. Isn't Mexico calling?

And then there is Goth Coyote.

I used to wonder why there were not more coyotes around us. Instead, the woods are full of foxes. But this summer Goth Coyote showed up. I call him/her that for his/her howl, which has a particularly haunting rising quaver that makes me think of torn black-lace elbow-length gloves and gobs of eye shadow. Another coyote sings duets, but GC's quaver is unmistakable from the horse pasture or up the Forest Service road.

He/she probably got in trouble at school. The Wet Mountain Tribune would probably concur with this opinion.