April 26, 2010

Evaluating Tick-Removal Tools

Three researchers from the Acarology [ticks and mites] Laboratory at Ohio State University discuss tick-removal tools.

It's that time of year, even here in Colorado, which is not as "tick-y" as some places. I did pick up tick fever in Boulder County one May. What I remember from that is lying in bed for about three days with a splitting headache, too weak to pick up a handkerchief.
Ticks, potentially infected with disease causing agents, present an often-unrecognized risk associated with the wilderness habitat. Many people neglect to do frequent tick checks to interrupt feeding. The most effective method of interrupting tick feeding and stopping potential disease agent exchange is to mechanically remove the tick.
And that is what I failed to do after lolling in fresh springtime streamside vegetation. A day or two later we went to dinner at the Gold Hill Inn, and during the desert course I felt as though I were coming down with the flu—aches all over, fever, etc.

Hot match on the tick's butt? Don't bother, they say:
Needham tested several of these "folk" methods: fingernail polish, petroleum jelly, a glowing hot match and 70% isopropanol for their ability to induce ticks to "back out" or release from the host. He found that none of these methods initiated self detachment in adult lone star or American dog ticks.

A New Mountain Lion-Awareness Video

In this four-minute video, the Colorado Division of Wildlife explains that you are unlikely to see a mountain lion in the wild but nevertheless offers suggestions for dealing with them. I like the guy with the bicycle.

Note the "guard animal" at 3:12 or so.

All well and good, but I can tell you from personal experience that throwing rocks and sticks may elicit mere curiosity from the big kitties. I have seen them respond to gun shots over their heads with merely a feline blink. "Hmm, loud noise."

Style note: I still cannot hear "recreate" as a verb without flinching, but what else do you say?

April 25, 2010

Neanderthal Ancestors in the Family Tree After All?

Previous genetic research has indicated that Homo sapiens sapiens (that's us, readers) and Neanderthal people (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) had not interbred.

Now even newer research suggests that wait, maybe they did.
A genetic analysis of nearly 2,000 people from around the world indicates that such extinct species interbred with the ancestors of modern humans twice, leaving their genes within the DNA of people today.
Given our government's obsession with racial categories—witness the current census form—imagine where this might lead.

Mountain Community Photo Gallery

If you can't get enough of pictures of people telemarking down the Great Sand Dunes and the like, visit Mountain Gazette's Community Photo Gallery, where you can upload your own shots.

April 19, 2010

Brits Discover Nature Deficit Syndrome

An article in the British newspaper  The Independent argues that being a "walker-friendly country" is not enough to stop nature-deficit disorder in the UK.

I call it the Don't Touch culture. The don'ts include picking or playing games with wild plants, catching pond life or flying insects, foraging for wild food, climbing trees, or burning wood on a campfire. Many people seem to think such activities are illegal. Doubt has even been raised about the legal position of picking blackberries by the wayside. Personal, direct contact with nature is being discouraged by fusspots and busybodies and control freaks who seem to want to regulate every waking moment of our lives. You can read their disapproval in the small print under the welcome sign at the entrance. Look but don't touch. You know it's illegal.

April 18, 2010

The Flight at the End of the Tunnel

It might still snow again, but three days ago, the first male broad-tailed hummingbirds arrived, and we know that are coming out of winter.

April 14, 2010

Cilantro-Haters, Bed Bugs, and Stink Bugs

Do some people dislike cilantro because it smells to them like bedbugs?  (Julia Child hated it too.) Not so, says an anthropologist who dismisses the bedbug connection as folk-etymology:

Helen Leach, an anthropologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, has traced unflattering remarks about cilantro flavor and the bug etymology — not endorsed by modern dictionaries — back to English garden books and French farming books from around 1600, when medieval dishes had fallen out of fashion. She suggests that cilantro was disparaged as part of a general effort to define the new European table against the flavors of the old.

But there is a reason why some people say it smells like soap to them.

Soaps are made by fragmenting fat molecules with strongly alkaline lye or its equivalent, and aldehydes are a byproduct of this process, as they are when oxygen in the air attacks the fats and oils in cosmetics. And many bugs make strong-smelling, aldehyde-rich body fluids to attract or repel other creatures.

I like cilantro well enough, but to me stink bugs smell like over-ripe apples. In the early winter when there are fresh-picked apples in the house and stink bugs have infiltrated the walls as well, it can get confusing as to which is which.

Wikipedia explains stink-bug aldehydes.

April 13, 2010

Pueblo's Green-Chile "Slopper" Rivalry

The Travel Channel's "Food Wars" crew came to Pueblo to film the green-chile "slopper" rivalry between Coors Tavern (no connection to the brewery up in Golden) and the Sunset Inn, its rival, which touts its own green-chile recipe.

Green chile is what makes Pueblo’s slopper unique. Pouring traditional red chili con carne over an open-faced hamburger and bun dates back at least as far as the 1920s when “Ptomaine” Tommy DeForrest introduced his Los Angeles customers to the dish that eventually became the “chili size” because they always demanded he use the bigger of two ladles to dish it out.
"Red or green?" may be the unofficial state question of New Mexico, but Puebloans have long answered with the latter. A visiting friend from the Four Corners was once unpleasantly surprised to learn that the Pantry Cafe, for example, served breakfast burritos with green chile only.

Clifton Wins Duck Stamp Contest

No relation to this writer: Delaware artist Richard Clifton won the contest with a painting of flying pintails (4.6 MB .jpg file).
Hunters age 16 or older are required to purchase a stamp to hunt waterfowl in Colorado.  Hunters receive an electronic stamp, validating their license, but they may also request a traditional "gum-back" stamp, featuring the artist's rendition, at the time of purchase.  Gum-back stamps are mailed upon request, and a $2.50 fee is charged to cover stamp mailing and processing. 
I have been wanting to watch Fargo again, and now I definitely do.

April 12, 2010

Learning to Observe

Since I started geocaching earlier this past winter, I have found enough of them that I felt confident to start placing my own.

Geocaching builds observational skills. What looks to be out of place? (That rock arrangement did not happen by itself.*) Where would I hide something here? (Hollow tree? Near a fence post?)

Do these observational skills relate, for instance, to wildlife-watching? Or watching other things?

A recent newspaper article described how two groups of soldiers and Marines were best at spotting roadside bombs: hunters and those who grew up in "tough urban areas."

The best troops he's ever seen when it comes to spotting bombs were soldiers from the South Carolina National Guard, nearly all with rural backgrounds that included hunting.
"They just seemed to pick up things much better," [Army Sgt. Maj. Todd] Burnett said. "They know how to look at the entire environment."

Troops from urban backgrounds also seemed to have developed an innate "threat-assessment" ability. Both groups, said Army research psychologist Steve Burnett, "seem very adaptable to the kinds of environments" seen in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So the key is "What is out of place?" and "Who is acting strangely?"?

I remember as a kid during the Vietnam War reading an article in one of Dad's American Rifleman magazines about how soldiers had to be taught to flick their eyes from spot to spot when walking on patrol.

It's good advice for hunters too—it is the same technique that tracking-teacher Tom Brown recommended under his term, "splatter vision."

Or as Dad used to say when squirrel-hunting: "Don't look for squirrels—look at the whole tree."

* Geocachers like the acronyms URP (unnatural rock pile) or SPOR (suspicious pile of rocks). Likewise with sticks.

April 07, 2010

Wind Turbines Interfere with Radar, Solution Promised

Wind-turbine blades can interfere with radar that tracks airplanes, an Air Force general says.

Turbine builders, including Vesta, which has a plant underway in southern Colorado, say they "are working on it."

We now await the environmentally friendly Mark 3 Stealth Turbine with radar-absorbing blades.

CDOW Releases Bighorns on Hayman Burn

Part of the Hayman Burn, July 2008.
News release:

Eight years after the Hayman Burn scorched 138,000 acres of land, the largest wildfire in Colorado history, the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) has transplanted Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep into their historic habitat.

Nine female and three male bighorn sheep from the Rampart Range herd near Colorado Springs were released within the perimeter of the burn on January 11th and 12th of this year.  This area is adjacent to habitat occupied by the Tarryall-Kenosha Mountains bighorn sheep herd.

Wildfire can be good for wildlife.  In this case, plant growth since the early 1900’s had covered the site in  dense forest, which precluded bighorn sheep use for the last 50 years.  However, the massive fire cleaned out large areas of dense trees, improving the habitat potential for sheep.   Bighorns typically thrive in steep, broken terrain devoid of dense vegetation. In Colorado, they prefer habitat dominated by grass, low shrubs, and rocky terrain for escape.

DOW biologists, working with additional funds from the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society, began studying the site for reintroduction in 2006.  GIS mapping analysis and site visits confirmed that conditions were ripe for the return of the bighorns. Five years after the burn, the site had not grown over with the previously thick tree canopy.

“Moving sheep to their historic range due to the Hayman Burn shows that good things can often come from tragic events,” said Janet George, senior terrestrial biologist with the Northeast region of the DOW.  “As the state animal, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are one of our most prized wildlife, with visitors coming from all over the states to hunt and view these magnificent animals.  It is gratifying to be part of an opportunity to expand their range and give them a shot at a larger population.”

Ten of the twelve sheep, nine ewes and one ram, were radio collared prior to release and are being monitored regularly.  Since the release, their movements indicate the bighorns have been exploring a five-mile radius around the release site and have stayed within the perimeter of the Hayman Burn. Additional sheep will likely be transported to the area next year.  The sheep will continue to be monitored for the next several years, as DOW studies the success of the transplant.

Trendy Blog Stew

• When trends converge: fly-fishing body art.

• It's hard to beat Lenore "Free-Range Kids" Skenazy's headline: "All Gardeners are Perverts."

• Chad Love decides that favorable signs from the universe do not necessarily means that the universe wants him to be suddenly rich.

April 06, 2010

Help Hospice Patients Keep Their Pets

Catharine, my stepmom, spent her last couple of weeks in life as an in-patient at Pikes Peak Hospice in Colorado Springs.

While she was still conscious, she wanted to say good-bye to Suzie, a basset-mix  who was her favorite of her and Dad's two dogs.  I remember taking Suzie for her first-ever elevator ride, her claws clicking on the tile corridor floor, and hoisting her up to the hospital bed so that Catharine could touch her.

Walking around a corner on that same floor, I came upon a bulletin board filled with photos of patients' pets who needed homes.

I had not thought about the problem of patients' pets until confronted with it in my own family. Fortunately, I could give a home to Suzie, and my sister took the Jack Russell terrier—he hates cats, and M. and I had two cats at the time. (Aside from that, he is a fine little dog.)

The Banfield Charitable Trust of Portland, Ore., funds programs to help out-patient hospice patients keep their pets at home, a related issue:

Unfortunately, many people in hospice care are also physically or financially unable to care for their Pets. Simple tasks like feeding, walking, grooming, or a trip to the veterinarian are difficult, if not impossible.  Pet Peace of Mind allows hospice patients to complete their end-of-life journey with the comfort and companionship of their Pet, without worrying about their Pet's current or future needs.

They have been appealing to dog-bloggers to help drum up votes that will help them win a $250,000 grant from Pepsi. It's one of those online-voting contest where you can vote as often as you like.

You can go directly to the "Help Hospice Patients Keep Their Pets" page, but the site wants to you register or, if you use Facebook, to log-in via Facebook. (The latter did not work for me; I kept getting error messages.)

How to Tell a Vulture from a Hawk

Turkey vultures are back—we saw a dozen flying over Pueblo on the weekend.

This morning M. went rushing out to the front porch, not sure if she had caught a glimpse of vultures or of red-tailed hawks, soaring on the gentle spring breezes here at the house. (Gusts up to 66 mph were recorded yesterday.)

Easy to tell them apart, I suggested. Just go lie down in the meadow and hold still. Hawks won't  be interested.

And what I said about the evening grosbeaks leaving was not true. They went for a jaunt and came back, and now a dozen or more are working their way through the black oil sunflower seeds, crunch crunch crunch.

UPDATE: I drove to the post office later after writing the above, and there on a roadkill carcass in the borrow pit were eight or nine turkey vultures, a little more than a mile from our house, no distance at all to a vulture.

April 05, 2010

A Dog Memoir Worth Reading

Normally I do not read dog books—memoirs, that is. I do read dog-training books.

When I was a boy, I read one of Ernest Thompson Seton's  books of animal stories—I don't remember which—in which one or more dogs came to bad ends.

Talk about aversive conditioning! It was like setting the shock collar on "10." I was shy of dog stories ever after.

Forty-plus years later and  I still look at my collie-mix dog, Shelby, and think of the dog in the story (another collie?) sleeping sweetly on the hearth of home (if I remember right), while its owner, realizing from its bloody muzzle that it is the sheep-killer that has been plaguing the area, prepares to shoot it on the spot.

Then somewhere I learned a phrase that ran more or less like this: "All dog stories are sad because dogs do not live as long as we do."

I seem to recollect it being attributed to Judge John Voelker (a/k/a Robert Traver.)

Thus prepared, when M. brought home Ted Kerasote's 2007 dog memoir, Merle's Door, from the library, I decided to read it too.

It has provoked a lot of discussion across the dinner table. Merle's life was not unlike Shelby's when she was younger—she spent a lot of time out roaming on her own and socializing with other dogs as well.

Like Kerasote, we had to deal with a neighbor who wanted to overfeed her, and unlike him, we spent a lot of time looking for her. (It did not help that she was—I am sure—kidnapped for two months.)

Kerasote's laissez-faire attitude about letting his dog develop his native intelligence must be provoking comments elsewhere too, because he wades right into the nature-versus-nature debate as applied to dogs.

And dog-training, I have learned, is a minefield. For example:

  • Cesar Milan: genius or charlatan?
  • Clicker training: good idea or reliance on a stupid gadget?
  • Shock collars: Useful at times or vicious torture?

And so on. Come down on the "wrong" side of those debates, and there will be somebody flinging feces in your direction. (Speaking of which, now that the snow is melting, the dog run desperately needs the big shovel.)

Kerasote, meanwhile, always a hard-working nature/outdoor writer, has now smelled the kibble and morphed into a dog writer, with two new dog books forthcoming.

As for Merle's Door, it's a good read but you have to expect the inevitable ending.

Big Brother in the Backcountry

News about the National Park Service putting remote-controlled cameras in the Yellowstone National Park back country.

Well, maybe not yet, but the legal language is there "for flexibility," say the parkies.

National Parks Traveler asks the obvious question:

Has poaching, resource damage, or backcountry crime become such high-profile matters that the National Park Service feels the best way to respond to them and combat them is through the use of webcams? And really, if you're heading into the backcountry for nefarious reasons and not merely to enjoy the setting and experience, how likely is it that you're going to travel well-established trails that might one day be lined with webcams?

Spending the money on actual human rangers, who can think independently, help people, and so forth seems like a better idea.

And imagine the poor NPS employee who signed up for an "outdoor job" and ends up sitting on his/her butt in an office watching camera feeds.

April 04, 2010

Blog Stew with Leftover Links

• What happened to the "viewing with alarm" that New Jersey could end up classifying feral cats as shoot-on-sight vermin? Meanwhile, noted conservation writer Ted Williams rips into the "trap, neuter, and release" treatment of feral cats.

• Have you been paying attention to the Magnetic North Pole? And do its wanderings have anything to do with our fringe digital-television reception, in that the antenna setting of 9 degrees North might be moving. (Joke, sort of.)

“The magnetic north pole moved little from the time scientists first located it in 1831. Then in 1904, the pole began shifting northeastward at a steady pace of about 9 miles (15 kilometers) a year. In 1989 it sped up again, and in 2007 scientists confirmed that the pole is now galloping toward Siberia at 34 to 37 miles (55 to 60 kilometers) a year.

• Used up your biological-diversity condoms yet?

• For mountaineering gearheads, a "history of gear." Here is Colorado's Mountainsmith, started by Patrick Smith, who now runs Kifaru. Ah for the days when a 14-year-old me would wander into the Holubar store in Fort Collins and gawk.

April 01, 2010

Yes, It's a New Template

I like simplicity—although I might add a photo.

And the new Blogger templates permit easy editing of type sizes and colors.