August 29, 2012

Giant Cats of England

Traditionally, August in the Northern Hemisphere news business was called the "silly season." Political conventions and hurricanes aside, it was a time for weird, fill-the-space news stories to be run, even in the more staid newspapers.

Like the idea that — absent larger predators — feral specimens of Felix catus (also known as Felix domesticus) are capable of growing to bobcat or small cougar size in England.

I am glad to see the Telegraph keeping up the traditions of print journalism.

August 28, 2012

A Ponderosa Forest Time-Lapse — Watch It Change

A series of photos of the same stand of trees in the Bitterroot National Forest, taken over 88 years. Sure, it's Montana, but ponderosa pine grows from Canada to Mexico. The first two pictures show a real "ponderosa parkland," the remaining seven do not.

The slide show comes from an NPR series on "megafires," such as last year's Las Conchas fire in northern New Mexico, that state's largest to date. Lots of interesting reading there.

(Originally linked on Wildfire Today.)

August 26, 2012

Synchronized Fawning

I have been too busy for much blogging, but here is a scout camera pic. I always think that fawns should be losing their spots by now, but not so. They are still in their summer coats, even as the adult deer are starting — some of them—to change.

And some of the narrowleaf cottonwoods down by the (dry) creek have already turned golden and then dropped their leaves— even while the wild plums are not yet ripe enough to eat.

August 22, 2012

Hunting Numbers on the Rise

Several organizations are trumpeting a rise in American hunter numbers, according to a survey by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service (PDF.)

Dave Hardy (himself a former FWS attorney) comments at Of Arms and the Law:
This is a sharp reversal or earlier trends downward. This matches my hypothesis that we're seeing a broad cultural turnaround. Americans have historically liked guns, shooting, and hunting. From the 1960s onward, that was reduced. Now (at last, after fifty years) it's returning to the norm.
 In a news release, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation notes,
The just-released 2011 National Survey of Hunting, Fishing, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation shows 13.7 million people, or 6 percent of the U.S. population age 16 and older, went hunting last year. That marks a 9 percent increase over 2006, reversing a previous downward trend.
Is this trend a response to hard times, as one of Hardy's commenters suggests? Or people becoming gun owners for self-defense purposes and then moving from target-shooting to hunting?

August 18, 2012

Not Autumn but a Change

Walking the dogs last night, I noticed yellow leaves from the narrowleaf cottonwood trees lying on the ground beside the road. A few started turning yellow in mid-August. Drought stress? Usually their peak of golden shimmer comes in October — and I expect that most will hold their lives until then. But still, it's a sign.

Sometime in the last two weeks the black-headed grosbeaks who breed in the oak brush around the house departed without saying good-bye. So did the male rufous hummingbirds, although a few females remain, mixing it up at the sugar-water feeder with the resident broad-tails.

Evening grosbeaks' movements are mysterious. A flock of perhaps two dozen was here early in the summer, May into June, and then they disappeared. Now a few are back.

The big change was the cold front that came in on Tuesday. Now the highs are in the 80s F. (or less) instead of the 90s. And the sunlight has a warmer, yellow quality — due to the smoke from forest fires in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, etc. moving in with the northwest winds.

This is not autumn, but it is some kind of change.

Rain falls occasionally, but not enough. M. and I abandoning some of the outlying flower and vegetable beds. Gather what is there, let the rest dry up. I rolled up one soaker hose this morning, and I need to get out and start gathering seeds. Unlike this guy, I won't need a vacuum cleaner.

The temptation, however, is just to drink coffee on the porch and get an early start on autumnal melancholy — and the only cure for that is travel.

August 17, 2012

When It Comes to Mushroom-Hunting . . .

. . . I am glad that I do not live in one of the chic parts of Colorado.

Otherwise, instead of trying to out-maneuver mysterious Russians, I would be coping with the luxury trade.
Within minutes, legal recruiter Morgan Warren, 36, of Houston had cut a mushroom the size of a portobello. An hour later, while sipping wine, snacking and sitting in camp chairs the Four Season staff brought, the group reconvened to examine the dozens of mushrooms they had collected. . . . . Then it was back to the SUVs, which dropped everyone off at an aspen grove to stomp through a thicket of prickly plants and fallen logs to find more species.
Apparently they go out, pick everything in sight, and then let some expert hired by the Four Seasons Resort at Vail. tell them what is what.

It is sort of like the way that Sir George Gore went hunting in the Rocky Mountains in the 1850s: Shoot everything, and let the guides sort them out.
"That was the takeaway for me — how bad I was at mushroom picking," quipped Warren's husband, David Warren. "I picked 99 pounds of mushrooms, none of which I can eat."

Animals on the Move

Just some quick notes:

SeEtta Moss documents acorn woodpeckers nesting at Pueblo Mountain Park — a rarity in this part of  the state.

"Bad" ground squirrels moving into western Colorado. This trend has been documented since the early twentieth century.

Got any alleged Bigfoot hair samples for European scientists to test? Do you think that we will ever hear about a follow-up?

August 13, 2012

Hand Clenches and Accidental Discharges

Say Uncle links to an informative post about accidental handgun discharges, even by trained shooters—not to mention cops, who may or may not qualify as "trained."

Sometimes—under certain stresses—the body forgets what hand is doing what.

The cure is more trainingcreating a safer muscle memory.

August 12, 2012

Designing Personal Gear: An Army First-Aid Pack

An interesting  article (with short video) on how a piece of military gear—in this case, an individual first-aid pack—is designed at the Natick Soldier Systems Center. (I think that Natick also designed the Polartec-insulated Generation III Extreme Cold Weather System clothing for the military.)

In the video,  the  designer speaks of starting with "an existing SAW gunner pouch" for the first version of the first-aid kit.

Ah, that's where the individual fire shelter pouch came from too! It sure fits the definition of "just kind of a brick on your side that gets in the way of everything." If you were issued the Large model, it's too big for the quick-extraction pocket on many fire packs.

August 09, 2012

Kitty is a Killer

And Kitty Cam can prove it.

Research from the University of Georgia:
Results indicate that a minority of roaming cats in Athens [Georgia]  (44%) hunt wildlife and that reptiles, mammals and invertebrates constitute the majority of suburban prey. Hunting cats captured an average of 2 items during seven days of roaming. Carolina anoles (small lizards) were the most common prey species followed by Woodland Voles (small mammals). Only one of the vertebrates captured was a non-native species (a House Mouse). Eighty-five percent of wildlife captures were witnessed during the warm season (March-November in the southern US). Cats roaming during warmer seasons were more likely to exhibit hunting behavior and the number of captures per hunting cat is expected to decrease with increasing cat age. Cat age, sex, and time spent outside did not significantly influence hunting behavior.
Patrick Burns has some comments.
If you have decided that your cat is entitled to behave like a wild animal, don't be surprised if  your cat's life ends like that of a wild animal -- dead from vehicle impact, bullet, trap, poison, or a mauling from a dog or coyote.
Somehow the cat issue ends up connected to the whole "free-range kid" movement too.
Um, there may be some differences between cats and children, at least with time.

August 08, 2012

An Afternoon of Not-Firefighting

Helicopter fills bucket in portable tank.
That's a work light on our brush truck to the right.
Note the hat on the man watching.
Lightning and rain yesterday evening produced a magnificent 0.2 in. (5mm) of rain. Today we found the fires.

I was busy in a layout project when I heard M., who was on the veranda, start swearing. I thought she had a problem with her PowerBook. Then she came in and told me that the fire siren was blowing. I cannot hear when indoors, even with the windows open.

I started changing clothes, pretty sure that this was a wildland fire, not a structure fire. It was, two of them.

But then it turned into "they also serve who only drive around."

After the initial telephone and radio hook-ups, we ended up with me driving the brush truck, another volunteer with me (it seats two), and two more following in a private truck.

The newer fire was small, way up on a timbered ridge—a good three-hour hike from the road—on the national forest and not threatening any homes. We relayed that information to the sheriff's dispatcher.

Good, he said, why don't you go help at the D___ Creek Fire, which had been reported earlier.

So we went—18 miles over twisty mountain roads, up and down, mostly washboard gravel. We passed the fire, from across a valley, but our dispatcher does not know where the command post was.

The fire was in our county, but due to topographical reasons, the response was coming mostly from the adjacent county.

Finally we passed a US Forest Service truck, waved him down, and got the location of the command post.

We drove there, were greeted warmly — and told that the Forest Service was sending crews and air tankers and that the local firefighters were being demobilized — except for those driving water tenders, needed to fill the tank from which the helicopters were dipping water.

This message was delivered by a sheriff's deputy, but I found myself staring at his hat. It was a typical deputy's rolled-brim cowboy hat — but it had a suspension harness. What about that?

We started back up the twisty road, and my partner was asking, "Did you see his hat?"

OK, maybe I've lived a sheltered life, but I did not know you could get one of those. Neither did she, and she grew up on a local ranch.

Every day on a fire is a learning experience.

Back closer to home, we waited to refuel at the county Road & Bridge shop and watched an air tanker drop slurry on the small, high-on-a-ridge fire.  Another Forest Service guy had told us that smokejumpers were going to attack it. They did not show up today, that I saw, so maybe tomorrow. The wind is fairly calm, so thus far I am not too concerned.

There went my afternoon. I still had to fill out an incident-response form, of course.

Food, Social Class, and Class-Resentment.

I rather be writing about mushrooms (and would that make me a "liberal" or a "conservative"?), but I will step aside and urge you to watch Rod Dreher wade into the swamp of issues of food and class.

Americans cannot talk about class honestly. A lot of our talk about "race" is actually about class, which is why it is so illogical and even dishonest.

When you mix in food prejudices, you might find yourself meeting yourself coming around the corner.

I have had older students run the "I can't afford to buy organic foods" routine on me, but without examining their monthly spending patterns, I could not say if that was true or not.

Lots of good lines in Dreher's article. Here are some:
The food snob is a comedy staple (ever seen the BBC’s hilarious “Posh Nosh” send-up of culinary elitists?) and, for many conservatives, an object of political derision. It’s easy to make fun of liberals who glide up to San Francisco farmer’s markets in their (metaphorical) limousines, agonizing over the purity of the squash’s provenance with the anxious attention of a medieval Scholastic to the immaculate qualities of his syllogisms. You get the idea that you could chase some of these people all the way to Canada with a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos tied to the end of a pole.

But far fewer people pay attention to reverse food snobbery—to folks who are proud of eating junk, and lots of it, in part out of the conviction that doing so offends Whole Foods shoppers, who, on this view, “think they’re better than us.” When Michelle Obama announced her program to encourage American children—one in three of whom is overweight or obese—to eat healthier meals, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin attacked the First Lady as a busybody and a fatso.
But do read it all. You will find yourself agreeing with at least one of the commenters, too.

August 07, 2012

Blog Stew with Ingredients that You Don't Want to Know About

Off-topic but fascinating. Sewer-diving in Mexico City (with video). Sewer-cleaning the "fatbergs"  in London (with video). More sewer history.  The good old days of scavenging in sewers.

The Humane Society of the United States is sued for racketeering and other issues.

District judge Emmet G. Sullivan did dismiss allegations of mail and wire fraud, but he did so only because Feld didn't have standing to file this charge. His ruling all but set the stage for a class-action RICO lawsuit against HSUS for misrepresenting itself in its fundraising campaigns across the nation. This lawsuit easily could bankrupt HSUS, put it out of business and send some of its top executives to prison.
Funny, isn't it, that you have to go to a blogger to hear about this.

Ze artiste Christo has pushed back the construction of "Over the River" yet again. Tourism-industry types are dismayed, try to find silver lining.

I understand the argument that asks how pristine is a canyon with a highway(US 50) and a railroad in it already. But I do think that the Bureau of Land Management should have restricted OTR to the stretch between Texas Creek and Parkdale, because if there are highway blockages — and there will be — one could detour around on Colorado highways 96 and 69.

Upstream of Texas Creek, there are no detours, except very long, twisty, gravel roads through the mountains such as Fremont County Road 2 or an even longer highway detour up to Hartsel and Antero Junction.

It doesn't take much to close US 50 now: a little roadside fire, a car going into the river, a truck hitting a bridge abutment — I have seen all of these.

• Oh yes, and this: tracking coyotes with GPS collars in urban Chicago.

August 06, 2012

Notes on Some Southern Colorado Farmers Markets

CCFA farmers market at Holy Cross Abbey, Cañon City
Our usual CSA farmer offered only spring shares this year, for various reasons, so last month M. and I were faced with making the rounds of farmers' markets to supplement our garden.

First we tried the Pueblo Riverwalk Famers Market, which starts a 4 p.m. on Thursdays for the after-work crowd. Once you sort out the artsies and craftsies, there were four food producers selling — all local, but non organic. The booths were jammed onto one sidewalk between Union Avenue and Victoria Street — one of the few spots with shade! We bought some Rocky Ford cantaloupe, which was riper than what the supermarket had.

On Thursday mornings you can try the Florence farmers market in shady Pioneer Park. It features one local organic producer (Lippis farm) plus some sellers of honey (sometimes), spices, goat cheese, and potted plants.

The Central Colorado Foodshed Alliance sponsors markets in Cañon City, Salida, and Buena Vista.

We visited the Cañon market a week ago — it is held on Saturdays — and came away with a few items, including some raspberry-chipotle jelly from Shirley Ann's Field Fresh Produce of Manzanola (down the Arkansas Valley east of Pueblo). Any economic activity in Manzanola needs to be encourage, and the jelly had a nice zing.  You can buy Shirley Ann's products online.

Check the CCFA site for more information about times, places, producers, etc.

Another market that we have not visited since last summer is held in Westcliffe on Thursdays from 2–5:30 p.m. Not too many vegetables are grown locally (compared to the early 20th century, when the Wet Mountain Valley produced lettuce, potatoes, sugar beets, and I don't know what all else—before refrigerated railroad cars brought everything from California). It should offer herbal remedies, local beef, and Amish (i.e., very sweet) baked goods along with veggies that are least Colorado-grown within the "foodshed."

August 02, 2012

Mushroom Days: The Russians are Coming

Hawkswings and boletes, mostly.

It's been raining some (although not enough at our house), so M. and I decided to go mushroom hunting.

We went once last week, but brought back only about half a shopping bag's worth. Today was better.

We had filled two bags at the place we call The Mushroom Store when M., who was closer to the narrow Forest Service road, heard a car pass and then stop. Then we heard a man shouting something in the woods.

She came over to me. "He's calling, 'Anya! Natalia!,' " she said. "I thought that I heard kids."

"Oh, ****," I said, "Russians!" Notable mycophiles, those Russians.

Keeping in touch with soft, bird-like whistles, we faded away through the thick firs, crossed a barbed-wire drift fence at a place where we knew it was broken, and circled off down the ridge.

If they spotted us walking towards the Jeep with our heavy bags, we would be coming from the exact opposite direction from where we picked most of the 'shrooms. This is just basic Mushroom Tactics 101.

As quietly as we could, we drove away.

Then we tried another stop, hiking up a washed-out old road to a small mine. The road was just blossoming with Amanitas, but we found more king boletes as well. It's going to be a good year.

Some other blog posts about mushrooms in the Wet Moutains.

August 01, 2012

Wildlife Taxi in a Flash Flood Zone

Fast-moving water fills the dry creek bed.
 Time: 2.5 hours. Distance: 56 miles. Passenger: Ferruginous hawk.

Another "wildlife taxi" run tonight. Some people in a semi-rural area of the next county north (5–10-acre plots, trailer homes, chickens and goats) had a found a ferruginous hawk huddled in their yard. Since there were loose chickens everywhere, that might explain why it was there.

They had caught it, put it in a cage, and called the Raptor Center. An earlier generation would have just reached for the shotgun, so sometimes there is such a thing as progress.

M. and I went through a strong thunderstorm on the way there, and it was still raining lightly as we headed home. Going into Nearby Town, there was a cop right on my rear bumper, and as we passed the city limits, he turned on his overhead lights.

I thought that I was only 1-2 mph over the posted limit, so I started mentally rehearsing as I pulled to the side: "Emergency!" "Sick bird!"  But he swung around and dashed on by.

Then my cell phone, sitting on the Jeep's center console, started beeping and buzzing. I had a warning from the National Weather Service about flash floods. I did not even know that it would receive severe-weather alerts!

Leaving town, I could see the cop's lights a couple of miles ahead. Then they halted. As we approached, I could see his cruiser parked at a junction and him struggling into a reflective vest while he waved me to stop.

A bridge ahead was washed out, he shouted.

I asked him about a rural gravel road further out on the prairie. It was open, he thought, so we turned around, backtracked a few miles, and then took the alternate route. I shot the photo by a bridge on that road, which was in no danger.

We made it to our rendezvous with the center's director, who squeezed the hawk's breast, said it was a juvenal (immature), which we had guessed, and that it seemed underweight. Maybe it had seen those chickens as its last hope for a meal. Instead, it ended up on a three-county road trip in a cardboard box. But, barring some illness that was not obvious, maybe it will bulk up on mice and then be released.

(Coyote Gulch reminds us that today was the anniversary of the Big Thompson Flood of 1976.)