May 31, 2013

Fish Free in Colorado June 1–2

This is Colorado's free fishing weekend — no license required.

From the Colorado Parks & Wildlife news release:
Each year, the agency designates the first weekend in June as the only two-day period that anglers all around the state are not required to have a fishing license. For the rest of the year a fishing license is required for anyone 16 years and older.      

A recent survey of resident and non-resident anglers revealed a high level of satisfaction with fishing experiences in Colorado. Anglers said they especially like to pursue the numerous trout species available in state waters. The majority of fish caught in Colorado are stocked by the agency, and each year more than 3 million catchable-sized trout and 14 million trout fingerlings are stocked into the more than 2,000 lakes, ponds and reservoirs around the state.
While fishing licenses are not required during free fishing weekend, all other regulations remain in effect. Anglers should consult the 2013 Colorado Fishing brochure for specific regulations and restrictions for the waters where they'll be fishing.
Fishing licenses can be purchased at any Colorado Parks and Wildlife office or from one of the more than 600 license agents across the state.  Licenses can also be purchased online. Anglers may also purchase a fishing license over the phone and receive a temporary authorization number allowing them to fish immediately by calling 800-244-5613.

Heroes Are Made, Not Born

I am not sure where the division of society into "sheep," "sheepdogs," and "wolves" began, but the author of this three-part series, "Are You a Sheep or a Sheepdog" attributes it to the author Dave Grossman.

Part 1: Are You a Sheep or a Sheepdog?

Part 2: 8 Reason's You're Hardwired for Sheepness

Part 3: Your Roadmap to Becoming a Sheepdog.

Whatever the source, it's a useful classification system. And as the author notes, we are mostly born "sheep."
Grossman isn’t using the term pejoratively, he’s simply referring to the fact that most human beings are kind, gentle, and peaceful. The conflicts and ethical dilemmas they’re regularly faced with rarely rise to the level of life and death, good versus evil. For the most part people deal with challenges that are more annoyances than true crises. And when faced with conflict, they generally try to do the right thing, avoid making waves, and demonstrate pro-social behavior.
We are followers. We don't trust our intuition. We think, "It can't happen here." We suffer from "normalcy bias" and the "bystander effect."
33-year firefighting veteran Jack Rowley saw normalcy bias play out on a regular basis at bars in Columbus, Ohio. Fires were surprisingly common at bars on Saturday nights and whenever Rrowley showed up, he’d see smoke quickly filling up the establishment. But instead of mayhem, he’d find folks just sitting at the bar “nursing their beers.” He’d ask them to evacuate and the customers would say, “No, we’ll be just fine.”
Speaking of the real sheepdogs, Wyoming sheep rancher and writer Cat Urbigkit is in the middle of lambing season, and her livestock guardian dogs are earning their keep. (That is one of her book covers up above.)

May 23, 2013

On The Road . . . Somewhere

But Charlie Chestnut checked out in 1998.

M. and I are on the road. This was the view during our picnic supper. Anyone familiar with this establishment?

UPDATE, May 31, 2013:  Home again. None of my dozen regular readers took a stab at this little puzzle. The name "Castaneda" is misleading, for the building was the Harvey House hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico, for most of its active existence.  Photo taken from the Amtrak station next door.

“We’re on the last kick,” he said. “The bulk water is gone.”

All my adult life, I have been hearing predictions that the Ogallala Aquifer (also called the High Plains Aquifer by people unsure how to pronounce "Ogallala"), a huge sponge of water under the High Plains, was dropping . . . dropping . . . dropping.

Fly east out of Colorado Springs and look at all the irrigated circles from center-pivot irrigation. They are growing corn, mostly.

Corn to feed to cattle in High Plains stockyards. Corn for ethanol (it's patriotic!) to make us energy independent so we won't be sending money to the Middle East.

All those wells pumping groundwater have led to this result.
Vast stretches of Texas farmland lying over the aquifer no longer support irrigation. In west-central Kansas, up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry. In many other places, there no longer is enough water to supply farmers’ peak needs during Kansas’ scorching summers. . . . .

A shift to growing corn, a much thirstier crop than most, has only worsened matters. Driven by demand, speculation and a government mandate to produce biofuels, the price of corn has tripled since 2002, and Kansas farmers have responded by increasing the acreage of irrigated cornfields by nearly a fifth.  
From a US Geological Survey report, quoted at Coyote Gulch, the water blog:
The study shows that, since 2000, depletion of the High Plains aquifer appears to be continuing at a high rate. The depletion during the last 8 years of record (2001–2008, inclusive) is about 32 percent of the cumulative depletion in this aquifer during the entire 20th century. The annual rate of depletion during this recent period averaged about 10.2 cubic kilometers, roughly 2 percent of the volume of water in Lake Erie.
Maybe we will see more grass-fed beef (or buffalo?)  and more winter wheat in on the High Plains in the future. That's the optimistic outlook. But that slogan from the 1970s and 1980s, "A bushel of wheat for a barrel of oil!" is still just chest-thumping nonsense.

May 22, 2013

Mediterranean Diet: The Dark Side

You have the olive oil, of course, and the seafood and the vegetables.

And the golden orioles, the nightingales, and the corncrakes. The larks and the finches, yum yum.

Call it a quirk of geography. Birds that migrate from Europe to Africa must cross the Mediterranean Sea, north to south or south to north. They are tired after that flight, easy to trap and kill, be it in Egypt, the Greek islands, Crete, Sicily, or the south of France.

In Egypt, for example, 
A few scattered nets along the coast have metastasized into a nearly impenetrable wall of traps, stretching almost without break from the Gaza strip in the east to the Libyan border in the west. Conservative estimates set the annual death toll of migratory birds in this area at 10 million, but others say it is probably an order of magnitude more.

In some areas, especially near Libya, the birds are caught for subsistence, by people who currently have no other way to feed themselves, but the vast majority, perhaps 80 percent of the birds trapped, are sold in markets as a pricey delicacy or hocked to high-end restaurants in Cairo for up to five euros for each slight songbird. 
This Mediterranean taste for songbird pasta sauce came to America and contributed to the shaping of American hunting regulations. Just as Americans were trying to move away from the "shoot everything" approach to conservation-guided hunting, along came the Italians (mainly) who got jobs, bought shotguns, took a train ride out into the country, and started shooting chickadees.

Louis Warren, writing in The Hunter's Game: Poachers and Conservationists in Twentieth-Century America, devotes a chapter to this cultural conflict:
Because Italian immigrants hunted birds, they were considered a principal threat to bird life and therefore an incipient cause of this potential apocalypse. In the minds of many, immigrants represented as much a threat to American nature, especially American birds, as they did to the social order of American cities. William T. Hornaday, the president of the New York Zoological Society and one of the most famous conservationists of the era, captured conservationists' fears of Italians in his widely read tract, Our Vanishing Wildlife: "Let every state and province in America look out sharply for the bird-killing foreigner; for sooner or later, he will surely attack your wild life. The Italians are spreading, spreading, spreading. If you are without them to-day, to-morrow they will be around you." 
In 1903, the influential conservation magazine Forest and Stream published an article, "The Italian and the Birds," noting,
Once I examined the contents of a bag that one of a party of three Italian hunters [in Massachusetts] carried and found nearly fifty birds, including two or three quails, which at that season were unlawfully taken, and among the song birds that constituted the greater portion of what the bag contained were several chickadees, a bird that with its feathers off is not much larger than an English walnut. I have learned that the Italians are in the habit of killing and eating chickadees and all other song birds, and for this purpose will snatch the young from their nests before they can fly.
Today, hunting regulations in America are better respected, and what transgressions take place usually take different forms. The French may even stop eating songbirds too.

Unfortunately, contemporary Egypt is a pretty dysfunctional nation that cannot even feed itself. (To think that Egypt fed parts of the Roman Empire at one time!) So bird conservation is pretty far down the to-do list, after massacring Coptic Christians and what-not.

May 19, 2013

Spring Comes to the Burn

On May 16, M. and I re-visited the burned ridge behind our house for the first time since November. It burned last October 23, part of an extremely fast-moving fire that destroyed 15 homes and various outbuildings in the space of about thirty minutes, reaching a total extent of 2,500 acres
Here is the area that we re-visited as it looked at 6:40 p.m., October 23, 2013.
Fisher, our Chesapeake Bay retriever, came too. On the ground behind him you can see scattered clumps of shredded bark, mixed with grass seed and dropped from a helicopter on April 13-14, 2013.

Fisher, not bothered by dirt and ash.
This particular area is public land (Bureau of Land Management), although most of what burned was private.
Attaching a sling-load of mulch and grass seed to a helicopter—April 2013 (Pueblo Chieftain).
Concerned about the possibility of ash and dirt washing down into streams, the BLM paid for re-seeding of its portion, which is mostly along a higher ridge.

Mulch had fallen into the little spring. Fisher decided to clear it out.
The first thing that we always do is visit a little seasonal spring that we call Camera Trap Spring. It is the place where a sow black bear attacked a camera, where Fisher narrowly avoided a rattlesnake last year, and where I have gotten pictures of a variety of wildlife.

Then we went to see if the seeding had had good results.
Grass coming up through the mulch.
This was one of the better-looking patches. And I should add that mulch was used only on the steeper slopes. Other areas received a grass-seed mix with no mulch. Since the seeding a month ago, snow and rain equivalent to 2–3 inches of precipitation has fallen, luckily without serious erosion.Whether this counts as acceptable results in re-seeding, I do not know, although I am attempting to check on that. Some other areas do not look as good.
Dandelion and deer droppings (to left of central rock, top of clear spot).
Here, for instance, is a dandelion and some other plants growing, plus evidence of deer passing through the burn. Some of the new grass had been nibbled too. There were no tracks at the spring, however—if there had been, Fisher probably obliterated them!
Golden banner with 500 ml bottle.
This looks like golden banner (Thermopsis divaricarpa), a member of the pea family. Self-seeded, I assume.

And of course the burnt Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii), which could probably survive atom bombs, is sprouting from its roots. As the CSU Extension office says, "Fire readily kills the above-ground portions of oak brush. However, intense sprouting follows almost immediately and usually causes the stands to become even denser."

Birds seen: some crows, two woodpeckers (probably hairies—did not have a good look), and to our surprise, two Western tanagers (migrants).

Your State Bird is All Wrong

I have a longer photo post coming, but for now, read Nicholas Lund's piece in Slate about America's state birds (hint, there are nowhere near fifty of them), with suggestions for improvements.
Was western meadowlark the official state bird of the entire Louisiana Purchase and they just kept if after becoming states?

May 17, 2013

Majority of Colorado Sheriffs to Sue over Gun Control Laws

Some 54 Colorado sheriffs, representing 84 percent of the total, "say recently passed state gun control laws are unconstitutional, and they plan to file a federal lawsuit Friday to block them," making the announcement at a news conference today.
At a Friday news conference in Denver, sheriffs, disabled individuals and a woman's group said two new laws requiring universal background checks for gun buyers and restricting the size of high-capacity magazines violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms and the Fourteenth Amendment's prohibition against states denying individuals due process and equal protection under the law.
Knowing how he feels, I am sure that the sheriff of my county has joined the suit, although apparently he did not drive up north for the event.

This group of sheriffs was probably more bipartisan than the legislators who rushed those bills through the process a few weeks ago.

For those who need a refresher: A county sheriff (from the Old English scirgerefa, "shire reeve," or official in charge of a shire/county), is part of the judicial branch of government, not the executive branch, like a city police chief. He or she is elected, not hired.

In an urban county, such as Denver, the sheriff runs the jail and carries out other orders of the court. In unincorporated areas and some small towns, the sheriff provides law-enforcement functions and others, such as serving as fire marshall.

Taos County Says No to Family Dollar

Not even if you give it a faux adobe facade.  Culture trumps convenience.
El Prado resident Manuel Trujillo worries giving Family Dollar a foothold would lead to bigger chain retailers moving in. Trujillo lives in a fourth-generation house in El Prado that’s more than 200 years old, and he doesn’t want the character of his neighborhood to shift toward box stores.
There is already a Walmart on Paseo del Pueblo Sur, so maybe the dollar stores will pop up there.

May 16, 2013

May 15, 2013

The Hummingbird Scale of Badass-ery

Black-chinned hummingbirds (National Park Service)
I snicker a little every time that I see a stained-glass "sun catcher" with a hummingbird image, or anything like that.

Is there anything more vicious than a hummingbird? They live in bird Valhalla — they would rather fight than eat.

Right now, our hummingbird feeders attract two species: broad-tailed and black-chinned. (And very rarely a calliope, but I am not considering them here.)

Movie poster (Wikipedia).
Yes, we feed them,  and in return we have a continuous showing of The Dawn Patrol on the veranda — heavy drinking followed by aerial combat.

This website collects references to hummingbirds in various American Indian mythologies (without sources or context), but I am going with the Aztecs: they are reincarnated warriors.

The black-chinned hummingbirds seem to have a slim advantage over the broad-tailed hummers in airborne bluff and intimidation, but the real nasties are the rufous hummingbirds, who show up mid-summer on their southbound migration. They are "the feistiest," according to Cornell University's All About Birds website.

They rule the skies for a couple of weeks and then, mercifully, are gone.

May 13, 2013

What Is This Thing You Call Spring?

I was almost seventeen before I encountered "spring."

This year, it snowed eight inches on the 1st of May, and the subsequent week was cool, cloudy, and rainy. The sun came out again on the 12th, and today, hauling brush and branches, I am sweating as the temperature hits 80° F (27º C).

Sugarbowl clematis is blossoming and some trees are leafing. (Gambel oak, a native, always waits until late May.) Hummingbirds orbit the sugar-water feeder.

Evidently, our spring is over — or almost over.

But just before my seventeenth birthday, I was living for a time in suburban St. Louis with my older sister's family, and something odd happened.

There was a period of some weeks when it was not too warm, flowers blossomed everywhere, and the notorious St. Louis humidity was not yet oppressive. People seemed to revel in it.

Evidently that is the "spring" of which the poets speak. We never have it.

Ancestral wisdom is encoded in a little verse, however, which tells how Colorado has
Winter in the spring,
Summer in the fall,
Fall in the winter,
And no spring at all.

May 09, 2013

Find a Funky Bird's Nest

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology has a funky-nest photo/writing contest going.
Be creative! Take a photo, create some artwork, shoot video, write a story or a poem, or create a sculpture. Just show a bird’s nest built in some out-of-the-way or out-of-this-world place.
If I knew that I could win valuable prizes, I would take a better picture than this one, which originally appeared in this blog on July 5, 2008.

It is a Cordilleran flycatcher's nest on a piece of pipe that I left leaning against the chimney.

Amazingly, no fox walked by, reared up, and snatched the birds — the chicks fledged successfully.

After that episode, I built them a permanent nesting ledge higher up, which they do use — some years.

How Not to Sand Bag

It's raining now — it has been raining for two hours — and on the west side of Colorado Springs and up Ute Pass, people worry about run-off from the Waldo Canyon Burn.

Some are sand-bagging their property, but they don't have the years of experience — and the vast numbers of sand bags — possessed by residents of Fargo and Grand Forks, North Dakota, for example.

The Gazette's Side Streets blog has some "how not to sand bag" photos and some advice. Really, doing one house here and one house there is not the best approach.

May 08, 2013

It's Cosmic Ray Season

Thunder rumbled yesterday, during the night, and again this morning, with a mid-morning thunderstorm that included .30-caliber hail.

That was followed by a fire call that had me and two others in our brush truck—plus a sheriff's deputy and a BLM wildland engine—driving fruitlessly all over this corner of the county looking for a reported smoke sighting. We found nothing, and I suspect that someone saw a little wisp of storm cloud clinging to a mountainside and thought that it was smoke. That happens — and people are jumpy after last year's fire season.

Then it rained some more. The cosmic rays must really be acting up.
No one really knows what causes lightning to form and strike—the prevailing view is that it comes about as a result of collisions between ice crystals in clouds and hail stones. But because clouds and the lightning they produce are unpredictable and hard to pin down, no one has been able to prove this theory. Another theory, proposed by [Russian physicist Alexi] Gurevich twenty years ago, says that lightning is formed from the collisions between cosmic rays and water droplets present in thunderclouds. Now he and a colleague claim to have found evidence to support this idea.
Interesting stuff. Read the rest. 

May 07, 2013

Mountain Snowpack, May 1, 2013

Click to enlarge.
Colorado looking much better, except south of the Arkansas River and in the San Luis Valley —  New Mexico not so good. Compare past years' maps.

May 05, 2013

Wildfires, Fallout Shelters, and Death

With planning permission and money, you too can have a "bushfire bunker." (Wildfire magazine.)
Paging through the newest issue of Wildfire magazine today, I ran across an article on fire response in the Australian state of Victoria: "How Should We Shelter from Intense Bushfires?"

The Australians seem to go back and forth on the "shelter in place" concept. Sometimes it works, sometimes it is bad advice. But one company is selling "government approved" wildfire safety bunkers.

Apparently an underground bunker gives you enough air supply to breathe while the fire front passes over you. Still, just reading about them kicked up a nightmare-image from my childhood.

My father, in addition to being a US Forest Service district ranger, was also active in Civil Defense volunteer work in the 1960s, the peak of the Cold War. One day he brought home a little paperback book called Fire and the Air War.

Pretty heavy reading for a 10-year-old. It was chiefly about World War II incendiary bombings, urban fire storms, and the like.

The one lesson I took away was that you can have a shelter with excellent blast protection and still end up dead because the fire storm sucked all the oxygen out. (See also the uselessness of sheltering in cellars, etc., during forest fires.) The photo of a dead, unburned German family in their basement shelter said it all.

(By one of those interesting moments of synchronicity, Glenn Reynolds linked to a Daily Mail [not always the most reliable source, I know] article on a Wisconsin family that opened up a 50-year-old Cold War fallout shelter in their backyard, only to find most of the contents well-preserved.)

The Australian bunker builders, however, say their bunkers give a six-hour air supply.  Apparently a forest of eucalypts, etc., burns up more quickly than did Dresden or Coventry.

Westword Interviews Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan
The Denver arts-and-entertainment weekly Westword recently interviewed food writer Michael Pollan, known for pithy sayings such as "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

The interview is in two parts: one and two.

Here is a snippet:
Denver has a growing season of about a minute and a half, which makes it very difficult to stay local. What do you say to cities like us that don't have the same access to locality as cites like San Francisco, for example? And how important/necessary is it to stay local?

You do what you can. It's important to be reasonable and not fanatical. But it's worth remembering that most places ate local a hundred years ago, and there are great techniques for preserving food. Fermentation of vegetables has gotten a great many people through the long winters, with plenty of vitamins and nutrients from plants. Then there's meat, and cheese. History is our guide here, though many of us may want a more diversified diet than our forebears had during the winter months.

May 04, 2013

Plains Drought not 'Global Warming' says NOAA

Although extreme, the drought is within normal variations.
 “This is one of those events that comes along once every couple hundreds of years,” lead author Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist at NOAA, said. “Climate change was not a significant part, if any, of the event.”
The trouble is, "climate change" has become a political wedge issue, something to separate the right-thinking people from the regressive knuckle-draggers.

On the other side of the looking glass, scientists forecast some degree of global cooling. How do you say "denier" in Russian? (h/t Anthony Watts)
Just recently, experts said that the Arctic ice cover was becoming thinner while journalists warned that the oncoming global warming would make it possible to grow oranges in the north of Siberia. Now, they say a cold spell will set in. Apparently, this will not occur overnight, Yuri Nagovitsyn of the Pulkovo Observatory, says.

"Journalists say the entire process is very simple: once solar activity declines, the temperature drops. But besides solar activity, the climate is influenced by other factors, including the lithosphere, the atmosphere, the ocean, the glaciers. The share of solar activity in climate change is only 20%. This means that sun’s activity could trigger certain changes whereas the actual climate changing process takes place on the Earth."
It's the difference between "climate" and "weather." See also these reflections on the drop in the number of reported tornadoes in the United States.

May 03, 2013

Good Links about Birds

• A New York Times science story on understanding owls.

 • Crows are smarter than you think. But if you know anything about crows, you already think that.

Wild ravens return to southern England. Key factors appear to be availability of roadkill plus legal protection. A century ago, gamekeepers routinely killed them.

Bring Back the Shasta Ground Sloth!?

The conference on re-creating extinct species that that Chris Clarke was blogging has come and gone, but there is still good stuff at the link.

I, for one, would happily contribute to a Kickstarter campaign to bring back ground sloths. Of course, they would want all of our avocados.

May 02, 2013

"Bird Language"

A short essay on mid-twentieth-century cowboying (unexpurgated) and the languages of nature. 
As the old man sang, each new verse detailed another page of the cowboy’s improbable voyage along the Chisholm Trail from Texas to Kansas, which was a sequence of increasingly unlikely and anatomically doubtful accounts of said cowboy’s congress with a host of shady characters including a horse, a rattlesnake in a pile of sticks, and an old woman who gave him nothin’ but hell. And a social disease. If my memory serves me correctly, it concluded with several verses about his ending up in what would now be termed a “long-term relationship” with a cow, and what the cow did when she caught him “puttin’ on airs” with a buffalo who “was no better than she should be”, but by then we were laughing too hard for me to remember much of anything.
Read the rest. It does move on to birds and animals eventually!

Cañon City Dinosaur Area Expands

Dal DeWeese — land developer, big game hunter, buddy of Teddy Roosevelt — helps to excavate a Diplodocus longus skeleton in Garden Park Fossil Area in 1902. I never heard that DeWeese was that big on dinos, so maybe this was a staged photo — look at how he is dressed. (Photo from BLM.)
People at the Bureau of Land Management office in Cañon City are happy about an official decision to expand the National Natural Landmark status of the famous fossil beds on BLM land north of town, the Garden Park Fossil Area.
The internationally renowned area boasts rich deposits of late Jurassic-period fossils. In the 1880s, fifteen species of dinosaurs, nine of which were new to the field of paleontology, were recovered from the area, making it one of the oldest and richest fossil sites in the country.
More history and old photos are linked here.  Go visit now, before the weather gets too hot.