October 29, 2008

A Trip, an Award, and a List of Good Bloggers

M. and I are packing. Later today, the dogs go to the kennel, and we go to La Junta to catch the train for an academic conference that I attend every year. I will have two copies of my conference paper, plus one on a flash drive!

Meanwhile, Steve Bodio has awarded me the Super Scribbler award. (I was a high school journalist too, of the very "underground" sort.) I am to nominate five other bloggers.

So, quickly, here goes:

¶ Women are becoming hunters (or huntresses, as Holly Heyser calls them) in larger numbers, and she is blogging her own experiences afield at NorCal Cazadora. Like me, she is an ex-newsie.

¶ Galen Geer has been blogging at The Thinking Hunter for a little over a month. But I have known him for 30 years, and in that time he has written hundreds of columns and articles, plus a few pithy books, most recently a collection of stories set in southern Africa, Last Supper in Paradise. So blogging will come easily to him.

¶ I have been messing around with a scout camera, but I go to Chris Wemmer's Camera Trap Codger to see how it's really done.

¶ Tamara K. at View from the Porch is the sultana of snark, the prom queen of the gunnie blogosphere, well-read, knowledgeable, and a daily read. She needs this award like a moose needs a hat rack.

¶ Mike at Sometimes Far Afield gets into similar country to mine, and he brings along the best sort of dog. Go, Chessie bloggers!

Our destination today is Chicago. You would not think that "Southern Rockies Nature Blog" would touch on Chicago much, but actually, I have done so a few times.

October 28, 2008

Bighorn Sheep Festival Coming Up

These bighorn sheep, part of the Hardscrabble herd, were grazing along Colorado 96 last Saturday.

The Division of Wildlife promises a whole day with Colorado's state critter on Saturday, November 8, near Georgetown: the Bighorn Sheep Festival.

Hot cider, guided hikes, little kids dressed up like bighorns -- how can you go wrong?

Topographic Maps the Way You Want Them

You can now order customized topographic maps (so that your favorite mountain, etc., is dead center) and benefit the excellent conservation group Backcountry Hunter and Anglers.

Just go here and click the graphic link at the bottom of the page for My Topo.

Then poke around the rest of the BHA website and if the description fits you, join up!

Interview with a Gamekeeper

The Guardian, which occupies a somewhat similar (perhaps even more leftward) place in the British media spectrum to that of NPR's All Things Considered in the United States, interviews a British gamekeeper.

"A lot of people don't really understand what we do," he says. "The bottom line is, I'm not going to deny it, we're rearing game birds to shoot. People think we're murdering bastards, just killing things. But they don't see the benefits of it ... you're more likely to see songbirds out on a shoot than you are on non-managed land, where the predators at the top of the tree are the ones surviving."

Via British blogger James Marchington, who called the piece "surprisingly balanced."

If your word association with "gamekeeper" is "Lady Chatterley," then you are probably an NPR listener--as am I. But the arguments that Geoff Garrod makes are what an American would expect to hear from the local district wildlife manager, game warden, etc.

October 23, 2008

Conquer Climate with Language!

Problem: Parts of Australia have been suffering from a long-term drought.

Proposed government solution: Don't use the word "drought."

Not to poke too much fun at the Australians. I could imagine some people in SE Colorado taking the same approach.

The Anasazi leaders probably did the same thing in 1100. "It's just a temporary dryness. As soon as we get some new macaws from Down South, everything will be OK. Perform the ceremonies correctly!"

October 22, 2008

"No one knows how to cook anymore"

Two things converged in my mind today. One was this comment thread at Querencia, where various people link a perceived decline in hunting culture with Americans' increasing inability to deal with unprocessed foods (meats or vegetables) in the kitchen.

My title quote comes from Holly Heyser's comment, spot-on, as usual.

The second was a Denver Post piece about school menus changing in response to child obesity. Parents complain (!) that they cannot feed their children as high quality food at home as they get at school. Consider this:

Bridget Sandoval, a 30-year-old mother of four in the small farming town of Wiggins, sometimes struggles to throw together healthy meals for a family that's getting by on one income now that she's a full-time nursing student.

"If we have to make something quick, I turn to Hamburger Helper," she said. "It's not that good. The kids don't like it. I don't like it. But sometimes it's nice and quick. If you want a meal to be healthy, it takes time and money."

When I was teaching, I used to hear the same lament from some students: "We can't afford good-quality food."

Yes, you can. But you have to know how to cook. The problem is more one of cultural poverty than financial poverty.

Every traditional culture had its poor people's foods--boring, but nutritious enough to keep you going.

Think of beans and tortillas, rice and stir-fried veggies, oatmeal, cabbage, pea soup -- and a little fish or chicken when you can get it.

It's all still cheaper for the nutrients than Hamburger Helper, which is just an expensive way to buy pasta.

You can fix some of these foods in quantity and eat them for days --

"Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold / Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old" -- you think that's just a nursery rhyme? It's a memoir of 17th-century English life!

In the same comment thread, Steve Bodio writes,

last week we were in the two local markets doing our shopping. In one, the cashier asked what a squash was-- then asked how you cook it, having never had one. This is in rural New Mexico. In the second, another asked what CABBAGE was.

Hello!? New Mexico? Three sisters?

Cultural poverty. And neither Barack Obama nor John McCain can fix it.

(Of course, some people have restaurant-grade kitchen appliances and a quarter-mile of granite counter tops -- and they still eat take-out food. Same problem.)

October 21, 2008

Regeneration in Yellowstone's 'Green Desert'

Above: lodgepole pine forests filling in after the 1988 Yellowstone fires.

My recent trip to Yellowstone came at the 20th anniversary of the big forest fires of 1988, which burned about a third of the park. The last time I had been there, recovery was just beginning. Fishing on the Lamar River, I had stepped from one winter-kill elk skeleton to the next.

It's all different now. There are lots of elk -- and the lodgepole pine forests are all 8-20 feet high.

In the current issue of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's magazine, Bugle, writer Lee Lamb reviews the factors that produced this complex of huge fires (sorry, no link yet), their effects on wildlife, and what happened since.

Immediately after the fires, the nutritional value of annual plants exploded, but then influx of new nutrients slowed. The park's northern elk herd — really too many animals for the habitat — numbered at least 19,000 before the fire. At least half died in 1988-89. The population rebounded, although the introduction of wolves in the mid-1990s, plus hunting when the elk are outside the park, keep the northern herd's population to 8,000-10,000 animals now.

The lodgepole pine forests are coming back, of course. Lamb speaks of more aspen groves in the park—frankly, I did not see them. In fact, I was surprised at how little aspen there was. Unlike here in the southern Rockies, where aspen springs up after a fire, lodgepole is mostly replaced by more lodgepole.

Even-aged stands of lodgepole pine are sometimes called "the green desert," because they permit few other plants and shrubs to grow and provide little food for wildlife other than squirrels.

Right: a tiny aspen crowded out by lodgepole.

M. says she prefers the northern parts of the park--Hayden Valley, Lamar Valley, Mammoth Hot Springs--best, and I tend to agree. Lodgepole pine forests are fairly boring, unless they have geysers and mud pots bubbling up in them.

October 20, 2008

A Bulletin from Camera Trap Spring

I planned to start deer hunting close to home this afternoon, but the weather was not cooperating.

Before the season started, M. and I had hiked over the East Ridge and replaced the batteries in the camera that I had placed a few days earlier at a tiny seep that I call Camera Trap Spring (original, eh?). The first two-day placement had produced no images at all, but there is not much water in that little valley -- something had to show up at the spring.

Today was cool and misty. Just when I was ready to head out for an evening sit at the spring, rain and thunder started. I decided to just hunt/hike over, fetch the camera, and come back.

When I reached the spring, I saw that the camera's (rechargeable) batteries were dead. That could be good, I thought.

Back home, I downloaded the pictures...

An Abert's squirrel. Multiply this image times eight or so. It was one active squirrel.

A pine squirrel had also been visiting the spring. There were multiple shots of it as well.

A gray fox showed up about 9 p.m. Thursday night.

But whoa! Look who stopped by for a drink in the wee hours of Saturday morning. Was this thirsty bull elk the reason that the water level in the seep had dropped? Sneaky guy -- he is hanging around in this patch of deep forest all the time, I bet, and coming out to feed by moonlight.

October 19, 2008

Photographic Blog Stew

¶ The short list for best wildlife photographer of the year, at New Scientist

¶ Tracking a peregrine falcon's migration online. (Via Doctor Hypercube.)

¶ Longmont, Colorado, photographer Bill Schmoker
has a blog and a license plate: BRDPICS.

October 18, 2008

A Blue Line on the Map Does Not Mean Water

Yesterday was a perfect fall day, and M. and I plus two friends were out in the Wet Mountains with shotguns, three dogs, and picnic ingredients. Only one grouse was seen, but the picnic part went well.

We are easing along a narrow, dusty Forest Service road in two dog-packed Jeeps when we encounter a 4x4 coming the other way. A man and a woman are in it.

They want directions to "Spruce Creek." They are both wearing chest waders.

For starters, they are up on a ridge at least 1,000 feet above the stream. And at first I muddle the directions for the hair-raising road that will get them down to it, but eventually we work out that part.

I do not have the heart to tell them that even if they find the creek, there is no way that they will need the chest waders. Just because it has "Creek" in the name does not mean that there is much water there.

October 15, 2008

Tamarisk-Eating Beetles Expand Territory

A little progress in the war on tamarisk -- imported tamarisk-eating beetles are spreading in Fremont County.

Tamarisk-eating beetles found in Fremont County likely are the descendants of bugs that were released in a nearby area two years ago, providing some hope that beetles released elsewhere in Southeastern Colorado could turn up later.

You go, beetles.

CSU to Study Herbal Remedies for Arthritis in Dogs

The Denver Post reports on a Colorado State University study planned on herbal remedies for arthritis in dogs -- such as Zyflamend, I suppose, although no brands are named.

CSU's vet school is seeking volunteer dogs.

Jack, our 13-year-old Chessie, is showing some arthritis in his hips. He also may have a bladder tumor. We went through a whole series of vet visits, urinalyses, etc., last spring because he was occasionally passing blood and showing a high bacteria count in his urine..

Two courses of antibiotics and about $400 later, that was the diagnosis: maybe a tumor. His urine showed some "transitional cells" and a possible "mass" was seen in the ultrasound examination of his bladder, which I witnessed.

The vet wanted to try Previcox, a non-steroidal anti-inflmmatory drug, because it apparently has slowed tumor growth also.

M. quickly Googled it and saw all the "Previcox killed my dog" stuff. So she put him on Zyflamend, which might maybe possibly has some anti-tumor properties.

As with all herbal remedies, you hear some exaggerated claims about it. On the other hand, you don't hear about liver and kidney damage.

The bottom line for me is that Jack is a 13-year-old big dog. He still gets around pretty well if he is allowed to have extra rest between trips afield. And he is still enjoying life, although I am assuming that this may well be his last hunting season.

October 14, 2008

MTV Trashes an Island

Here is how it looks when MTV films a reality show and then leaves.

Things I have learned in my life: You don't loan anything to a theatrical company. And you don't want movie-makers anywhere near where you live.

A Taste of Winter

Photo by Chas S. CliftonWe woke this morning to big, fat snowflakes. The temperature is a smidgen above freezing, so there will not be much accumulation, but still, it's a warning.

Sometimes I wonder if I would trade our six months of potential winter (since snow can fall any time from September into May) with a climate that offered a short, intense, definable winter season.

But I have also come to expect the breaks in the winter, when it's warmish and sunny, and you can catch up on outdoor jobs. One year I painted most of the house in November.

Today, though, looks like a day for a damp walk in the woods with the dogs and then desk work!

October 13, 2008

"Why Men Shouldn't Own Action Figures"

I do not know where this came from, but I have received it now from two friends, and it made me laugh.

A Little Hypocrisy from the World Wildlife Federation?

I can see why this juxtaposition of World Wildlife Fund advocacy and high-priced recreation causes sarcastic reactions. James Rummel is astonished too.

If you had $65,000 lying around, would you go on the trip?

October 12, 2008

Blog Stew with Predators

Sign in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park, posted May 2008. Photo by Chas S. Clifton

¶ I saw this sign in the Lamar Valley at Yellowstone. I know that when when wolves arrived, they killed coyotes. So what is happening now? I did see one set of what looked like coyote tracks along the Lamar River, but saw only one individual coyote elsewhere in the park.

¶ Now this is what I call optimistic: a large carnivore initiative for Europe. Check the link for various news items.

¶ A video on the wolf controversies in North America.

The Mammoth Hot Springs Elk & People Rodeo

Photo by Chas S. CliftonElk wandering on the lawn of Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel in Yellowstone National Park. Note the bull on the left. Click to embiggen.

I don't know how long that semi-tame elk have hung out around the hotel and old Fort Yellowstone grounds. I'm sure that decades ago, it was the easiest way for visitors to see them. But encouraging bears with open garbage dumps made them easy to see too, yet the Park Service abolished that practice eventually.

When we visited on Oct. 3, the rut was in full swing, I could see at least five bulls from the steps of the visitor center (the old Army post's BOQ). Two had harems and were acting acutely aware of each other, with occasional bugling and aggressive body language--at a safe distance.

But the park rangers were in a bigger lather than the bulls.

At the visitor center we had Anna Pigeon with a bullhorn herding visitors around: "You're between two bulls!! Up on the porch!!!"

Someone in a patrol car dashed back and forth, light bar flashing, flicking his siren, and barking confusing orders at drivers over his PA system: "Stop! Go! Turn! Stop!"

Another ranger placed orange cones on sidewalks and driveways, constantly rearranging them as the elk moved around. It was almost an artistic performance.

M. made various dry comments about "testosterone poisoning," referring, I think, to the bull elk.

I thought of UN peacekeepers in Bosnia: Lots of activity, but no real effect on the conflict.

But then the Park Service is 20 percent about preservation and 80 percent about crowd control. (Or maybe that should be 10:90.)

M. and I waited until the rangers' attention was elsewhere, then strolled towards where the Jeep was parked. Someone shouted through a bullhorn--I gestured towards the parking lot and kept going. And we left.

I suppose that if they are going to have semi-tame elk, they could bring in some semi-tame wolves. Then no one would have to leave the hotel to see nature in the raw. Visitors could sit in the lovely Art Deco hotel dining room, listening to the big-band music on the sound system, and watch predation in the parking lot.

Or they could start discouraging elk from hanging around the hotel complex.

UPDATE: Yellowstone's web site has a page of videos of people getting too close to elk and buffalo. You can watch rutting elk attacking cars at Mammoth. But given the road layout, there is no other way for drivers to go, so why does the NPS allow the "tame" elk?

October 09, 2008

Grus on the Loose

Three southbound flights of sandhill cranes went over us today, as many as 40 in a group, at medium altitude -- loose V's and W's of birds, pale grey flickers as their wings moved.

I can't help but think that their call must preserve the sound of some dinosaur or other.

The local newspaper's "Peaks of the Past" (reprinted news items from earlier times) offered this item from its equivalent 1908 issue: "A flock of wild geese, about 30 in number, passed over Westcliffe Thursday evening."

If a flock of geese was notable a century ago, were there any cranes at all? Fewer than 1,000 in 1940, says Wikipedia.

Some things have gotten better. Bodio might be seeing these birds soon.

October 07, 2008

Built for Comfort, not for Speed

Buffalo in the road. Yellowstone Park. Oct. 2, 2008. Photo by Chas S. Clifton
In his novel Ægypt, John Crowley's protagonist sees someone driving a "Bison" station wagon. Evidently it looked like this.

Raven Pillagers

Ravens pillaging a Jeep parked at Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone. Photo by Chas S. Clifton.
Last Saturday, when M. and I parked at Norris Geyser Basin's lot, I saw a raven burying what looked like a piece of cracker under some gravel. Later we found the source: this pillaged Jeep Wrangler.

The owner and his pal came along while I was shooting pictures. They were astonished to discover that not only had the ravens ripped into some plastic bags, but they had also unzipped some luggage and gotten into it as well.

If ravens are smart enough to play dead, it is not surprising that they can open zippers.

October 05, 2008

Dining through Yellowstone (and Grand Teton)

View from Signal Mountain Lodge, Grand Teton National Park, 5 October 2008. Photo by Chas S. Clifton
Let's face it, national-park food is sort of like Amtrak dining-car food, but with even better views. (I think they serve the exact same "garden burger.") The wine list in the parks is better too.

By the end of our Yellowstone visit, M. and I had developed a routine. First, a leisurely campground breakfast. Then some walks around geological areas -- Norris Geyser Basin, for instance. Then, around 2:30 p.m., a large late lunch at one of the grand old lodges, e.g., Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel or the Old Faithful Inn.

Then fishing and buffalo-watching, or whatever. Back to the campground after dark for tea and whiskey.

Finally, if you are looking for a meal in the Grand Teton or Yellowstone areas, you should skip International Leisure Hosts, Ltd.'s Flagg Ranch lodge.

We tried to eat lunch there today, with emphasis on tried. On a slow day, with only about five tables filled, we ordered sandwiches, waited ... waited, only to be told that, surprise! some employees had eaten them! New sandwiches were promised, right away. (No offer to "comp" our meal though.) We waited ... waited -- and then we walked. You would think that by the end of the season they would have worked out their kitchen procedures.

So forget Flagg Ranch. Go a little farther south to Signal Mountain Lodge, which offers a much better menu, fast service, and the view in the photo above.