June 26, 2020

I Am not a Pixie-bob! I Am a Wild Cat!

A yummy rat makes travel time go by more quickly.  Our neighbor
wildlife rehabbers like to put stuffed toys with small mammals for companionship.
Some where in southeastern Colorado, someone "found" a bobcat kitten in an abandoned house out on the prairie. (In other words, the kitten was probably part of a litter, with a mother, but was snatched.)

The "finder" took her back to town, where she was kept as a pet and described to everyone as a "pixie-bob."

I never heard of a "pixie-bob" before this week. Apparently it's a bobtailed domestic cat breed that (allegedly) has some bobcat genetics, but don't waste your money on a DNA test.

Someone tipped off a Colorado Parks and Wildlife district wildlife manager. Keeping wild mammals as pets is totally illegal, unless you're a rehabilitator or a licensed zoo, etc. Since her mother's location was unknown, a wildlife rehabilitation center was the only place for her.

M. and I, the volunteer wildlife transporters, met him partway between here and there and picked her up in a busy big-box store parking lot. Is there anything more dissonant than handling a wild animal amid acres of asphalt, rumbing motors, truck traffic on the interstate highway, the smell of fast-food restaurant grease, and a hot summer wind?

Back in the foothills of home, we left her with the rehabbers for a short stay. They had raised three bobcat kittens over this past winter — those three were released earlier this summer.

But one kitten is a lonely kitten. A rehabber in Douglas County already had two kittens and was happy to take a third.

By now we were calling this one "Pixie-bob," and she had been happily eating elk and chicken bits in a Tuff Shed-turned nursery, but it was time for her (wriggling wildly) to go back into the blue carrier and travel more than an hour northward. She got a freshly thawed rat to occupy her on the trip; when I cleaned the carrier afterwards, nothing was left but a short section of the tail. Crunch crunch!

With any luck, this will be her next May or June:

Bobcat release (Colorado Parks and Wildlife).

June 20, 2020

An Orphan Fawn with Pretty Good Prospects

Orphan mule deer fawn arrives at the rehabilitation center.
This is the time of year when fawns are dropping and wildlife agencies are telling people, "Don't think that fawn has been abandoned unless it is still there 24 hours from now! Its mother had to go eat, but she knows where she left it, and she will be coming back."

Generally that is true, unless she is lying dead by the side of the highway, which is the back-story to some of the wildlife transport runs that M. and I do every June. That was the case with this little mule deer from eastern Fremont County.

We picked him up two days ago from the woman who had found him. He had a quick 45-minute ride to the wildlife rehabilitors, and now he is in the antelope/deer fawn enclosure, behind a high chainlink fence reinforced with barbed wire and electric wire— all to keep predators from thinking it is some kind of snack bar. (So far, so good.)

As all Colorado Parks & Wildlife volunteers are trained to do, we politely thanked her for taking care of the fawn and for contacting CPW about it.

As I picked up the carrier, she asked that I hold it up to the passenger seat of her Chrysler Pacifica so that the young kids in the back could say good-bye to the fawn. I did that. 

I got the impression that she had kept it longer than she should have as a learning experience for the kiddies. Like some people let the cat have kittens so that the kids can witness "the miracle of birth."

On the plus side, she had given him goat's milk, which  he accepted, and he was alert and lively when he arrived at the rehabbers' place. No harm.

Not like the woman who lived in a little house up the river in Huerfano County and found an injured great horned owl. I think it had collided with a fence or power line.

She kept it for about four days while looking up information on the Internet, where she got some site that told her to feed the owl oatmeal or something equally wrong for a carnivore.

Finally she or someone talked to the Raptor Center in Pueblo, and I was dispatched to get it. When I picked up the owl, she cooed over it, "You'll be going to a better place where they will make you all better."

No, you will be going to a better place where you will get the needle because you are too far gone.

But I was polite and (I hope) upbeat, even though I knew it was a hopeless case.

So if Colorado  Parks & Wildlife ever moves on behind the "Leave the fawns alone!" message, which is super-important, maybe they could add, "If you pick up an injured bird or animal, call now, not two days from now!"

June 14, 2020

New Front Range Colorado Wolf Report

The Grand County wolf-like animal. Photo: Janice Freeman via Colorado Parks and Wildife.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife field officers are trying to confirm a wolf sighting in western Larimer County, just south of the Wyoming border in the headwaters of the Laramie River. According to CPW's "Colorado Wolf Update" for June 2020,
Wildlife managers are attempting to confirm a credible wolf sighting in the Laramie River Valley in Larimer County. An animal sighted in the area was wearing a wildlife tracking collar, which indicates it is likely a dispersal wolf from monitored packs in Montana or Wyoming, however flights and ground crews have been unable to detect a signal or visually confirm the wolf. It has been determined that the animal in Larimer County is not wolf 1084-M from neighboring Jackson County. If a wolf or wolves are confirmed in Larimer County, they would be the furthest east in Colorado in nearly a century.
Further west, in Grand County, campers reported being approached by a large wolf-like animal. Reading between the lines of the news release, it sounds as though wildlife officials suspect this could be wolf-hybrid, perhaps one that was dumped "in the wild" but is used to being fed by humans.
Biologists responded to the area to gather biological evidence that could be used to confirm the presence of a wolf versus a coyote, lost or escaped domestic dog or domestic wolf-hybrid.
"Biological evidence" . . . . that sounds like they need a very specialized tracking dog.

May 22, 2020

A Blue Bird, but not a Bluebird, Out of Place

Mountain bluebird — not what I was
seeing (Cornell University).
After my experience while mushroom-hunting last August, I am half expecting to bump into the Realm of Faerie again.

So when I looked out the front window and saw an abnormally blue little bird (junco-size) pecking around one of the sunflower seed feeders, I could have just said, "Well, it's some weird pet of the Other Crowd, you know. Better leave it alone."

But no. I flipped through some bird guides, trying to figure this out. It looked like someone took a junco and dunked it in blue hair dye.

I knew it was not a mountain bluebird. They are relatively common once you get out of the thick trees and into some open country, and they are a big ol' thrush, relatively speaking, like an American robin.

Indigo bunting (Cornell University).
I even tried Merlin, Cornell's online bird ID guide (which I have on my phone), and which tried to tell me that it was either a mountain bluebird or a white-breasted nuthatch or something else completely wrong.

So I started asking birder friends (and my patient spouse),  and they all came back with "indigo bunting." Obviously the Merlin app was fooled because they are not supposed to be here, but hey, it's May, when migrants are migrating and birds pop up where not expected.

When you look at the indigo bunting's range map, my house is not in its territory, but you know how it is, sometimes wild animals forget to read their owner's manuals. What was it doing up in the montane pine forest? I don't know. It did not stick around.

May 21, 2020

Do Your Duty as a Hominin!

Mountain lion — or cougar, if you prefer. (Colorado Parks and Wildlife)
I have had some mountain lion encounters, none of them this bad, so permit me some second-guessing. Everyone does it in regard to predator attacks.

Washington state mountain biker Isaac Sederbaum, the initial victim, having then seen his companion attacked by a lion, "later told the authorities that he had to travel about two miles before getting a cellphone signal and calling 911."

Isn't it your duty as a hominin to pick up a heavy stick and go full-on Angry Ape at the cat? They are ambush predators, so they avoid face-to-face showdowns. That might have worked.

But no. Got to make that 911 call. And eventually the lion is tracked with dogs and shot, as so often happens.

Ten thousand ancestors sadly shake their heads.

* * * 

True story: my friends the wildlife rehabilitators had a somewhat parallel experience. She was attacked by a lion inside an enclosure who grabbed her by the head. Her husband was not far away, and as he said, more or less, "I tried to kick a forty-yard field goal with that lion's head as the football."

Then he pulled her to safety, closed the gate, and got her some medical help. Apparently she was a celebrity at the hospital. They don't get to see big-predator injuries very often in Pueblo, Colorado, so all the docs were curious.

Lesser Prairie Chickens Reintroduced in SE Colorado

Some footage from Colorado Parks & Wildlife's ongoing efforts to re-establish lesser prairie chickens on the Comanche National Grassland in southeastern Colorado.

From the CPW news release:
CAMPO, Colo. – Lesser prairie chickens, gone for decades from the Colorado landscape, are again living on the eastern plains, thanks to an ambitious four-year project led by biologists from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Kansas, the U.S. Forest Service, along with private landowners.

Recently completed surveys by CPW biologists revealed that hundreds of the birds are now thriving on breeding grounds, known as leks, on the plains extending across southeastern Colorado and western Kansas.

Lesser prairie chickens once numbered in the tens of thousands in those grasslands. But a variety of factors led to their gradual disappearance. Experts blame, in part, the conversion a century ago of grasslands to cropland that contributed to the Dust Bowl in 1932 and wiped out many of the birds. More recently, the lesser prairie chicken population in Southeast Colorado and Southwest Kansas was devastated by severe snowstorms, particularly in December 2006, followed by years of drought.

They even vanished on a 330,000-acre swath of sand sagebrush and grasslands known as the Comanche National Grassland in Baca County, Colo., and the Cimarron National Grassland in Morton County, Kan., as well as privately owned rangeland and Conservation Reserve Program grassland. . . .

By 2016, biologists counted just two males on the Comanche and five males on the Cimarron.

That same year, CPW decided to try relocating lesser prairie chickens from thriving breeding grounds in Kansas in hopes of resurrecting leks on the national grasslands. So a CPW team, led by conservation biologists Jonathan Reitz and Liza Rossi, began working in collaboration with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, Kansas State University and the U.S. Forest Service. . . .

Over the past four years, the team of Colorado and Kansas biologists, and K-State graduate students, relocated 103 males and 102 females to the Comanche. The team also released 101 males and 105 females during the same time period just east of the state line 
Read the whole thing. 

Extra-credit question: What is the relationship between prairie chickens and contemporary pow-wow fancy dancing?

May 14, 2020

After the Fire, There is Art


If I were a landscape painter (like Dad), I would try to do more
with this than just a photo. Golden banner (Thermopsis divaricarpa)
against burned pine trees from 2012.

As you read, Australia had a rough fire season in late 2019-early 2020. To landscape painter Warwick Fuller, that was an opportunity.
The 72-year-old was in the Wolgan Valley in New South Wales, painting the aftermath of the devastating Gospers Mountain fire, which burned through 500,000 hectares of bush over the summer.
It's an area he had often visited in a career spanning 40 years.
Warwick Fuller at work in a fire landscape (Australian Broadcasting Corp.)

Fuller, internationally recognized as an impressionist landscape painter, finds himself drawn to areas recovering from fire.
On his recent painting expedition, green shoots covered the burned trunks of trees throughout the valley, new grass was emerging and the ancient sandstone bluffs, which had inspired him for decades, were a strange mix of colours. 
They reflected renewal amidst the destruction caused by a fire which burned for three months. 
"Light is what really drives me, it's what makes me want to paint the landscape but on top of that I'm trying to interpret what's deeper than just the physical surrounds, the physical objects in the landscape," Fuller said.
He inspires me to do more, although more likely with a camera. I should be more systematic, get out in more weathers, all of it. The year-to-year changes after a fire can be fascinating.

May 09, 2020

'Winter Burn' on Ponderosa Pines

Ponderosa pine with winter burn "Needle drop" is normal with ponderosa pines and other conifers. The pine's needles last two or three years before falling off in a normal way and becoming "duff" on the forest floor. Usually the dead needs fall from the interior of the canopy while new growth occurs at the tips of branches.

On this pine, however, and some growing near it, you can see that the dead, yellow needles are at the tip. A recent news release from the Colorado State Forest Service suggests a reason:
A cold snap in October, coupled with last week’s [mid-April 2020] extreme temperature fluctuations, injured ponderosa pines, other pine species and spruce trees in the Douglas and Elbert county areas, including Castle Rock, Franktown, Parker, Elizabeth and Kiowa.
I  don't live in one of those counties, which include the part of the Black Forest area NE of Colorado Springs, called that for its stands of pine trees. But we had the weather: On April 14, a neighbor's weather station recorded a low of 2° F. (-16° C), following a week of warm temperatures.
Damaged pine and spruce trees may appear grizzled and possess white or straw-colored foliage, referred to as “winter burn.” Other symptoms may include the tips of needles appearing rust-colored while the base of the needles remains green.
The tree I photographed is rooted in a small gully, which means it gets a little more moisture, so it has grown taller than the pines around it. On the other hand, that gully is a conduit for cold air rolling down the slopes.
Unfortunately, little can be done for trees that have sustained winter burn damage, according to Meg Halford, a forester in the Colorado State Forest Service’s Franktown Field Office. However, “the buds on these frost-injured trees may have survived, and they may produce new growth this spring,” Halford said. “Don’t count them out just yet.” 
Some others are showing dead needles that might mean more pine beetle kil/fungus infection. We don't lose whole mountainsides of trees, as has happened with the lodgepole pines further north. It's more a question of a few here and a few there. There is not much I can do about that. The standing dead trees mostly become firewood.

May 04, 2020

Everything Picturesque about the Upland Southwest


Yellow-blossom cholla cactus, dead Gambel oak, one-seed juniper, barbed wire, old sun-baked tires, pile of rusty tin cans. If it can stab you, it will.

And in the air, the overpowering smell of musk mustard, only slightly sweeter than skunk spray. 

Back home, M. was out picking some wild greens to put in our supper. I suggested musk mustard — all the very best foraging blogs recommend it.

"I don't care what the foraging blogs say," she replied. "It makes me nauseous."

So we get lambsquarter instead. 

Musk mustard, Chorispora tenella, a/k/a purple mustard.
What do the foraging blogs say? Things like this:
There are very few greens tasty enough to make an entire salad out of; musk mustard is one of those greens. Lightly dressed with a drizzle of oil & vinegar and a few crumbles of goat cheese…it’s the perfect salad. If you listened to the National Park Service and cattle ranchers, you’d think musk mustard was a noxious weed. And you’d be missing out on an easy-to-identify, plentiful wild edible.
Or  this:
Among the plants I observed and collected on this trip, wild mustards made a strong showing. These are often overlooked or passed over for sexier wild fare, but wild mustards are plentiful and accessible throughout Denver area right now—making them a good choice for a late April, early May foray. 
No quelites wars at our house, though. I picked some prickly lettuce, which is a little bitter on the line of dandelions, but not more than some of the greens sold in stores.

May 03, 2020

Colorado to Require Hunting or Fishing License to Access State Wildlife Areas

The past has just turned into the future again. Back in 2006, Colorado began to require "habitat stamps" with hunting and fishing licenses. Here is the rationale:
The program provides a means for Colorado Parks and Wildlife to work with private landowners, local governments, and conservation organizations to protect important fish and wildlife habitat and provide places for people to enjoy our wildlife heritage.
The agency has leveraged a variety of other funds around this core – including Great Outdoors Colorado and federal State Wildlife Grants – to extend the program’s reach. These combined funds have been focused on protecting fish and wildlife habitat and opportunities for hunting and fishing.
It's not a physical stamp; it's simply a surcharge. The then-ten dollar stamp would also permit recreation at areas leased by what was then the Colorado Division of Wildlife, such as Lake DeWeese in Custer County. Then, if I remember right, that requirement was dropped.

Now the Wildlife Commission has tightened the rules:
A valid hunting or fishing license will be required for everyone 18 or older attempting to access any State Wildlife Area or State Trust Land leased by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, beginning July 1.
The rule change was adopted unanimously April 30 by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission.
“By policy, state wildlife areas are acquired with hunter and angler dollars, and are intended specifically to provide wildlife habitat and wildlife-related recreation,” Southeast Regional Manager Brett Ackerman told the commission at its meeting. “This rule is aimed at curtailing non-wildlife-related use of these properties.
It says "everyone," not just one person in the group or per carload.And it says "license," not habitat stamp. I wonder how this is going to shake out in practice.

From the news release:
At the meeting, Ackerman presented examples from across the state of the increasing use of state wildlife areas inconsistent with their purpose, including set up of temporary residences, vehicular use on big game winter range, vandalism, and other uses detrimental to wildlife and wildlife-related uses.
To continue with my earlier example, Lake DeWeese SWA is leased from an irrigation company. It is already stipulated that non-fishing boat use (such as water-skiing) is not permitted. But now, a fishing license in order to picnic on the shore? Hoo-boy. What a job for the local game warden.

UPDATE, MAY 9, 2020:  "Hiking Bob [Falcone]," columnist for the Colorado Springs Independent, weighs in: "Buying a fishing license to hike in a state wildlife area makes sense."

May 01, 2020

CPW Volunteer Coordinator Gets Retirement Parade

Up in my county seat, a high-school senior, a 90-something resident, and some small children have somehow earned "social-distancing" birthday greetings that involve sheriff's and fire vehicles driving past they homes with lights and sirens. It's "a thing" now.

M. and I did it yesterday, joining dozens of Colorado Parks & Wildlife volunteers and staffers (some of them have light bars and sirens) in a farewell parade for Jena Sanchez, volunteer coordinator for southeastern Colorado, in lieu of the previously scheduled retirement party.

I cannot recall the exact numbers, but CPW uses a lot of volunteers, which add to an equivalent of something like 150 full-time staff. For this quadrant of the state, Jena was the one who coordinated training, assignments, hours-tracking, general hand-holding, and rewards and recognition. She had the gift of doing all that while making you feel like you were her favorite volunteer.

Some photos from the event, held at the Lake Pueblo State Park visitor center and environs. For video and words from Jena herself, go to Fox 21 (Colorado Springs).

CPW volunteer decorating her car at the Pueblo fish hatchery parking lot.
Some "Bear Aware" vols had a real but old-looking bearskin on their car. (They are
in a program that teaches residents and campers how to avoid bear problems.)
Jena Sanchez (blue shirt) waves to well-wishers as a Colorado Springs TV crew
and a CPW photographer film the event.
And the well-wishers keep coming!
Jena and Larry Sanchez, definitely not at Pueblo Reservoir (CPW photo).

April 27, 2020

Corvids Are Smart and Have a Better PR Agency

Crow with tool (Cornell University).
Corvids (crows, magpies, ravens, jays) are smart birds. So are parrots. But what I notice is that the Corvidae are better at getting their message out. Now why is that?

Take this article from Science Daily, "How Birds Evolved Big Brains." It seems even-handed:
The two groups of birds with truly exceptional brain sizes evolved relatively recently: parrots and corvids (crows, ravens, and kin). These birds show tremendous cognitive capacity, including the ability to use tools and language, and to remember human faces. The new study finds that parrots and crows exhibited very high rates of brain evolution that may have helped them achieve such high proportional brain sizes.
But then the photo (not the one here) is of a crow, and the closing quote is this bit of corvid triumphantalism:
"Crows are the hominins of the bird kingdom," says co-author Dr. Jeroen Smaers of Stony Brook University. "Like our own ancestors, they evolved proportionally massive brains by increasing both their body size and brain size at the same time, with the brain size increase happening even more rapidly."
Corvids are better than parrots at manipulating the news media, after all, but maybe it's not that hard. 

April 13, 2020

A Czech Hunting Photographer in the 1950s

Cameras and lenses used by Karel Hájek. The Irish
setter shows up in a lot of photos, but I am not sure
if it was his dog or someone else's. Likewise the rifle.
At the end of his folio-sized book of hunting and wildife photos, Hunting with Camera and Gun, the Czech photographer Karl Hájek writes,
I have taken many hunting pictures, but I know that I have a lot to learn. New situations arise which create new photographic or aesthetic problems. One keeps coming across something that could improve the pictures, that could improve the pictures, that could make them more interesting or more graphic . . . . For our work we can well take the old tried saying as a motto: "No one knows his job so well, that he could not do it better." As an example from hunting let us take pictures of stags in the rutting season. We are delighted with the first picture if we succeed in photographing the stag when he is "bellowing." A fine picture! The we suceed in catching the stag again in better light. A better picture! And then another one! And then another one, this time with the rutting stag against the light. And finally an even better photograph: on a raw early morning we catch the stag against the light while he is bellowing and one can see the vapour of his breath as it issues from his jaws. We could still take the stag in a dozen other positions—opposite us, to the right of us, to the left, and so on. Each one would be different, new, and perhaps better. . . .

The photographing of game has a charm of its own. One experiences many wonderful moments. Some of the most magical of one's life, for they are the sort of magic that never repeats itself, moments that are always different. First of all, it a wonderful thing to be able to see game in its natural environment, to observe its habits, and to discover how wisely nature conducts life. It is a moment of great experience, giving man, the opportunity of really understanding nature.

Karol Hájek, Hunting with Camera and Gun, trans. Jean Layton (Prague: Artia, 1956).
Beaters and shooters warm themselves during a mid-day break in a "driven" hunt.
Seventy years later, with all the improvements in camera gear, you can see better photos of flying birds, for instance, in any issue of Colorado Outdoors. But what brings me back to the book years after I found it in a secondhand-bookstore in Boulder are Hájek's photos of the hunting experience and his character studies of individual participants.

Although the photos were made in post-World War II Communist-ruled Czechoslovaka, they seem  representative of any time from the late 19th to the mid-20th centuries. It's quite Central European: so formalized, so organized, so ceremonial — dead deer laid in a neat row in the snow as the hunters fire a ceremonial salute above them and horns are blown. Yet he quotes another Czech writer,
"The old habits have disappeared and in their place there is a state examination, without which no hunter can be taken on. At the same time, other ancient customs and usages have been abolished, for instance the severe penalties demanded for unhuntsman-like behaviour and for failure on the part of the hunters, who, if he trespassed against the huntsman's code or against hunting regulations, had to lie across the carcass of the stag or wild boar and suffer himself to receive three strokes on his back-side from the leader of the hunt. This kind of punishment was a frequent affair and even personages of high birth had to submit to it."

F. and L. Stetka, Lovecké rozkose (The joys of the hunt)




Original caption: Much emphasis is placed on the knowledge of how to use a hunting rifle properly, since a weapon in the hands of an inexperienced person can be a danger to other hunters. For this reason, the older hunters readily share their experiences with the young men and women of all professions who are now taking up hunting.

That  rifle looks like so much like Dad's Mannlicher-stocked Mauser in 7x57 from the gun works in Brno (now in Czechia), except that his lacked the set trigger but had a better scope. It left the Central European world of Loden coats and ceremony and ended up as a forest ranger's saddle gun. A different world with a different tradition of wildlife management.

April 02, 2020

Springtime, Vultures, and Snow

Spring is an iffy business on the Eastern Slope of the Rockies. Dad had one all-purpose adjective for it: "putrid."

There are areas of the Western Slope that have fiercer winters yet almost manage a proper spring. Like right now it is 59° F. in Durango while it is 40° F at my house, and both are at approximately the same elevation: 6500–6600 feet.

Turkey vulture
But there are signs. Driving toward Pueblo on Monday morning, March 30, I saw a turkey vulture eating a roadkill skunk by the highway, while M. spotted one overhead as she was out walking back at home.

Today a letter to the editor in the county weekly proclaimed "Vultures are back." (The message was to watch where you park your vehicle in town.) I like living where vultures are worth a headline.

Monday evening a little rain-and-graupel squall blew through, complete with thunder. The first thunder of the season. With thunder comes lightning — back in April 2011 we had to evacuate in front of a lively little (2500 acres) forest fire that was put out by  . . . a snowstorm.

Maybe Dad was right. Putrid.

So we look for wildflowers — only spring beauty (Claytonia) has shown up yet. M. picked a few early dandelion leaves and put them in a salad largely for what she admitted was symbolic value, but we have to obey the hunter-gather imperative.

I am expecting one or two more snows, in the natural order of things. And hummingbirds.

March 26, 2020

Piñones 2: The Lemonade Stand Rule

Bagged piñon nuts for sale by a roadside vendor.
The "Lemonade Stand Rule" originated when I was driving one time on US 20 across western Nebraska. I went through a little town — Rushville? Hay Springs? —  and saw two little kids selling lemonade on the sidewalk in front of a Victorian house.

It was a picture-perfect small town scene. I was trying to be a photojournalist and to build up my stock-photo portfolio. But I knew that if I stopped to photograph them properly, I would have to track down a parent and get a signed photo release, which would mean some explaining— and did I really want to do that when I had an interview scheduled with this USFWS guy at Valentine National Wildlife Refuge (further east) later that afternoon?

I eased off the gas, thought for moment, and then drove on. But I soon berated myself on two counts: "You dummy! There were those kids alone under a big prairie sky. At least you could have bought some lemonade to cheer them up! And why didn't you take the time to get a good clear photo? You'll never be a professional!"

The Lemonade Stand Rule (LSR) states that unless I am extremely pressed for time or the traffic is impossible, I will always stop for kids' lemonade stands. In this over-regulated age, selling lemonade is a sem-Free Range Kids things to do, and the sellers should be supported.

(There should be an Oshá Stand Rule too, after the time I failed to stop at a table selling oshá root down in San Luisand something bad happened.)

What about piñon nuts (piñones) then? 

Last January I was driving and saw a pickup parked by the side of the road with a sign advertising piñon nuts. I applied the LSR, made a quick left across the oncoming traffic and pulled up behind it.

I got to talking with the vendor—he was a re-seller, a local guy—and we were trading a little basic info. He said he lived in the Wet Mountains, and I said, "Oh, up on XXXX  Creek?" and I was right. We had some things in common, and when he volunteered that he had done a little federal prison time (for a nonviolent offense nearly twenty years ago), I knew exactly what that had been about.

The nuts were not cheap. My last post explained why that is. But I bought a small bag and got back in the Jeep, thinking, "I must have lived here for a while."  (I have the photos too, but I am not using them here.)

Please stop for lemonade stands. Fight the Machine.

March 23, 2020

Piñones 1: Smart Birds — How Do They Know?

Some  late-season pinon cone with some nuts. You can see where the birds (jays?)
chopped out other nuts, so why did they leave these? Maybe they knew something.
The white droplets are sticky resin.
Where we live is a sort of a mash-up of the piñon-juniper forest (also known as "the PJ") and the montane forest of ponderosa pine, douglas fir, gambel oak, and yes, three kinds of juniper.

There is one big piñon pine near the house, but we have ignored harvesting from it — that's a messy job (see below) — preferring to just leave the nuts for the birds.

On the other hand, as wild-food chef Hank Shaw  (You will see his blog in the sidebar under "Elsewhere") writes,
If you’ve ever bought pine nuts in the store, chances are you’re eating Chinese imports that are often of dubious origin. And even if you are vigilant about where your pine nuts come from and buy, say Italian pine nuts, you may get high quality, but you pay for it through the nose.

Why aren’t there American pine nuts, you ask? Well, there are. You just have to go find them yourself.
Shaw offers a method for gathering nuts that begins,
First, buy a cheap pair of gardening gloves. The cones are coated in pitch, a sweet-smelling sticky resin that will get on everything. It happens to be one of the most lovely smells in the world, so it’s not all bad. But your gloves will get wrecked, so be prepared for that.
Not gathering pine nuts.
Alternatively, you spread sheets out and knock the cones off with sticks, sort of the old medieval "by hook or by crook" method.

M. was out walking in the woods lately and noticed cones with nuts still on one tree. Odd. She brought some back. We cracked them . . . and almost all of the nuts, while they looked good, had no "meat" inside them.

Which makes us wonder, how did the jays know to leave those alone? They looked normal. Smart birds!

Empty nuts!
The sticky pitch, which hangs in white blobs off the cones in the photo, was a handy glue for ancient people.

I just imagine some woman of the old Southwestern Basketmaker culture who has spent all day smearing the stuff inside a basket to waterproof it. Did she say, "Oh no, I don't have hands anymore, I have flippers!" She probably used some kind of little paddle to spread it.

March 21, 2020

Vodka, Cherry Coke, and an SKS Rifle



All the worries these days. So here is James McMurtry's "Choctaw Bingo." You know who his daddy is, right?

I mainly like this song because aside from being drenched in Southern Plains au-then-ti-ci-ty, it is the only song that I know of that name-checks my mother's birthplace, Baxter Springs, Kansas. And bois d'arc/bowdark trees.

Of course, she was one of the good girls, and her grand-daddy was the postmaster, as long as there was a Democrat in the White House. She would be horrified.

The lyrics, if you need them, are here.  The Russian navy still uses SKS rifles for some parade units, without steel-cased Tula ammunition.

March 07, 2020

"The Hatch is on"

The highway goes over this little crest and then turns down and left.
If you don't turn left too, bad things happen.

With a title like that, you probably think this blog post is about fly-fishing. It's not. I wish that it were. To be honest, I have had this flu-like virus since early December. It's not "the" flu with fever and body aches; it was more like fatigue and sore eyes and insomnia and shortness of breath with bronchial wheezing. Since breathing difficulties are listed as a symptom of coronavirus, I was saying that I had coronoavirus before coronavirus was cool, but in fact, it must have been something else.I thought that I had pretty well beaten it, but then it came back for a farewell tour this week.

It has all left me uninterested in x-c skiing, fishing, late-season quail hunting, anything of that sort. Just some hikes close to home, before February's snows made that about impossible. And wood-cutting. Always wood-cutting.

As I prepared for an afternoon of editorial work (editing someone's book proposal), everything electronic started pinging and dinging. "Motorcycle wreck at mile marker such-and-such. Unknown injuries." And  . . . we're off. The ex-chief and one volunteer were leaving the station in one brush truck — a small wildland fire engine; we use them for traffic control too. On the radio, he asked me to bring another, so I was about five minutes behind them, heading up a twisty mountain highway, babying the diesel engine until it fully warmed up.

This happens every warm weekend — clumps of motorcycle riders, from 8 to 20 or so, out for a ride on twisty mountain roads. "The hatch is on," M. and I say to each other when we hear the rolling thunder out on the state highway. Not caddis flies or mayflies or anything like that.

On the way, the dispatcher broke in, saying that the air ambulance had been "stood down." That could mean one of two things: injuries were minor and the county ambulance service had the situation in hand, or, no one needed an ambulance.

Twenty minutes later, I was on-scene, and Ex-chief positioned me to slow down traffic in a spot where oncoming drivers could see me, but I myself could not see down into the accident scene. No problem — I had gone through this year ago, when another rider went over the edge at the exact same spot, and we had to guide the helicopter in to pick up him up.

After a time, he called me up to the scene itself, because it was body-recovery time, and they needed more muscle. We zipped the victim into a body body . . . and then another body bag because that one had ripped because of barbed wire . . . and then six of us (two fire fighters, one deputy, one sheriff's posse member, and the two female EMTs) carried him up the steep rocky slope.

We stood around while the EMT's filled out the appropriate body tags. A mortician from a town twenty-some miles away arrived in an anonymous Ford Flex van, which he opened to reveal a gurney. We loaded the victim, strapped and zipped him in, and he was gone.

As we stood there, more clumps of motorcycle riders went by, slowing down to gawk. Sometimes I think we could carry a sign on the fire engines that we could set up at the scene: "This could be you!" The hatch definitely was on.

Everyone these days describes peak experiences in terms of "It was just like a movie!"

I get it. This was like the History Channel's Vikings series. A big guy (like 300 lbs. big) with a scraggly blond chin beard, he must have laid the bike over on his left side, which tore the foot and ankle nearly off. Then his un-helmeted head collided with a couple of granite boulders, leaving big deep lacerations down to the bone — maybe deeper. All I could think was that he looked like the loser in a Viking ax-fight.

Mountain Bluebird (Cornell Univ.)
Back at the fire house, more motorcycles were still passing, heading back to Colorado Springs or to the Denver-plex. (Our victim was from Aurora, if I heard correctly.)

But two mountain bluebirds zipped past over the concrete apron outside the engine bays, a sign of spring that I could endorse.

March 02, 2020

Please Don't Put Oshá on my Cookies

Biscochitos, official state cookie of New Mexico.
This post starts with foragers, but be patient, the Southern Rockies part is coming.

First, from Vice magazine, a piece on rural wild-food foragers in England, which includes this observation:

The pair's foraging ethos sits between the Bear Grylls-style of wild food ("forcing yourself to eat something that tastes horrible") and the "hipsterized" trend to add a foraged element as a garnish, rather than incorporating it into the dish itself. 

So then my wife is reading New Mexico Magazine, and naturally she is drawn to an article about forager-restauranteurs Johnny Ortiz and Afton Love, who operate a tiny restaurant called Shed:
Donning their muddy boots and with recyclable tote bags in hand, they probe the landscape for the edible plant life that a majority of Westerners have long been estranged from, owing to the rise of food monocultures. Ortiz’s food philosophy revolves around foraging and thus maintaining wild plant and animal ecosystems, as well as farming and raising animals, plus digging clay to make much of the ceramic ware in which his meals are served. Shed’s dinners, which consist of a prix fixe menu of 12 small plates, are but the “fruiting body” of an entire ecology.
And, wouldn't you know,
The dishes demonstrate the metaphor: a wafer-thin whole wheat bizcochito [sic] seasoned with fennel, covering a ponderosa pine bark ice cream, sprinkled with piñons shelled in a tortilla press and served in a black micaceous clay bowl made from earth he harvested at a “Taos Pueblo spot where my ancestors would’ve dug from.” There’s osha sprinkled on top.
Oshá, a root, is definitely medicinal — I went through several bottles of the tincture while fighting a virus with a lot of bronchial congestion earlier this winter.

Sprinkling it on a biscochito (essentially a sugar cookie), however, to me is like sprinkling turpentine on vanilla pudding. The taste is not exactly dessert-alicious. Maybe it is "hipsterized." I admit to not having tried it.

February 23, 2020

High Country News Editor Spooked by Cowboy Hats

Heather Graham in "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues," a Nineties movie with a Seventies sensibility.

Brian Calvert, current editor of High Country News, recently had an anxiety attack about cowboy hats.

He probably has not read far enough back in the archive to know this, being relatively new, but this not the first time that HCN has tied itself into knots of political correctness over Western wear.

Back when HCN was published in Lander, Wyo., before Ed and Betsy Marston took it over in the 1980s (as I recall), they published an earnest editorial asking whether  environmental activists in the West could wear snap-button "Western" shirts, for example, lest they unwittingly identify with eee-vul ranchers and other earth-rapers.

The irony there is that "Western wear" as sold on Main Street was formalized by urban tailors after World War Two as costumes for musicians and actors. Even foreigners know this:
HCN founder Tom Bell wearing a
"problematic symbol." I don't mean
the eye patch.
El traje de vaquero era utilizado en esta época por los colonizadores, los hombres de montaña y durante la Guerra de Secesión o Guerra Civil Estadounidense. Igualmente, con los años ha ido popularizándose gracias a su relación con el estilo musical denominado country de la mano de cantantes como Gene Autry o Roy Rogers, muy populares en EE.UU. durante los años 40 y 50. 
In addition, without cowboy hat-wearing, environmentally concerned Wyoming rancher/biologist Tom Bell, who founded High Country News, Briant Calvert would not have his job and editorial pulpit.




Brian Calvert needs to tell these Navajo rodeo contestants
that their hats are "problematic." (VICE magazine).
Did he think about that before writing how the cowboy hat was "a symbol of power and exclusion"? That it is nothing but a prop to show who is American and who is not? He needs to get out more. Maybe he could meet these guys in the photo at right. They clearly are insufficiently "woke."


The broad-brimmed hat is practical in sunny country, as generations of wearers have known. And if it threatens to blow off, you need a "stampede string," as the old-timers called it.

And they are flattering to almost everyone. You don't have to be Heather Graham. I am sure that my grandfather, who sold Stetson hats in his store, had a whole line of patter about that!

Me, I've got one Stetson "Open Road, " kind of a compromise style, and one no-name low-crowned, pine sap-stained broad-brimmed hat in my cranial wardrobe. I plan to keep wearing both of them.

February 21, 2020

CPW Declares Victory over Wild Pigs


A few weeks ago I wondered about Colorado's wild pig population, but as commenter Ron was the first to point out, there now officially are not wild pigs. Officially.

"They are gone," says Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Colorado ist Wildschweinfrei,



If you see one — or know of anyone transporting them — call  USDA Wildlife Services at 1-866-4-USDA-WS (1-866-487-3297) or Colorado Parks and Wildlife at 303-297-1192.
Feral swine range as of 2016 (CPW).

But since wild piggies are mobile and don't read signs, the solution is obvious. Build a Wall and make Texas pay for it.

February 05, 2020

Pig-hunting Makes Sports Illustrated — What about Southern Colorado?

Feral pig (USA Today).
UPDATE, 21 Feb. 2020: Colorado Parks and Wildlife claims to have eradicated all the wild pigs. But did anyone tell their Texas relatives?


At Sports Illustrated, a Texas-centered account of North America's growing wild/feral pig problem and the hunting of same from helicopters by paying customers.
Wild pigs, by all accounts, make entertaining quarry for these sportsmen. They’re smart, elusive and faster than you think—up to 30 mph at a sprint. And that very appeal is, essentially, the root of the whole problem. America’s love of pigs as sport-hunting fodder has sowed a situation it can’t shoot its way out of. And might not want to.

“If they were not fun to hunt, we would not be in the shape we’re in,” says Higginbotham, a beard’s worth of mustache framing his mouth on three sides. “And I term it to be: We’re in a war.”
Up in Saskatchewan, where there are few good flying days, corral-style traps and "Judas pigs" are touted as an answer on agricultural lands. (I think I will start saying that whenever I am annoyed: "Well, Judas pig!")

I do not know if southern Colorado lacks a major pig problem, or if I have just not talked to the right people. So far, I have seen only one alive, in a little riparian area feeling into Pueblo Reservoir. Southeastern Colorado seems to be the place, but this outfitter is on the Western Slope.

Another time, my dog Shelby (the Bandit Queen, we called her) disappeared, and I found her about a mile away along a little gravel road, chewing lumps of fat off a discarded black pig's hide. So somebody got one somewhere. Shelby paid the price that night, vomiting copiously.

February 03, 2020

Exurban Mule Deer: Middleweight Sparring

These boys don't care who is watching. Or maybe they want an audience.

January 12, 2020

Wolf Reintroduction Makes Colorado Ballot — Who Will Pay?

 
In the video, wolf teachers encourage a grizzly sow to reduce her carbon footprint by not having too many cubs.

Last month, supporters of wolf reintroduction on Colorado's Western Slope said they had the necessary 200,000-plus signatures to put a measure on the ballot, and Colorado voters will make their choice on "Initiative 107" in November 2020. The initiative begins,
(a) Historically, wolves were an essential part of the wild habitat of Colorado but were exterminated and have been functionally extinct for seventy-five years in the state;

(b) The gray wolf is listed as an endangered species on the commission’s list of endangered or threatened species;

(c) Once restored to Colorado, gray wolves will help restore a critical balance in nature; and

(d) Restoration of the gray wolf to the state must be designed to resolve conflicts with persons engaged in ranching and farming in this state.
Item (c) is essentially a nature-religion theological statement. Scientific ecology has moved beyond the "balance of nature" thinking to more dynamic and complex ideas of constant change. Even the "trophic cascade" model, as applied to predator/prey relationships by Aldo Leopold in the early 1900s,  is now questioned by some researchers.
"It's a really romantic story," Utah State University ecologist Dan McNulty said. "It's a story about a world that doesn't really exist."
A year ago, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission voted 7-4 against wolf reintroduction. This month, former CPW commissioner Rick Enstrom, who served on and earlier "wolf working group," offered a negative opinion.
Predation [of elk herds] is hardly the only problem with wolves in Colorado, says Enstrom. The biggest issue is money. The proposed initiative calls for wolf management and predation compensation to be paid out of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) wildlife cash fund “to the extent that they are available.”
The wildlife cash fund pays for all wildlife operations of CPW. It’s replenished primarily by hunting and fishing licenses, and it’s always over-budgeted says Enstrom.
Where compensation for livestock losses will come from when there is no money available in the wildlife cash fund is left unstated.
The initiative states that the General Assembly "shall make such appropriations as are necessary to fund the programs authorized and obligations, including fair compensation for livestock losses that are authorized by this section but cannot be paid from moneys in the wildlife cash fund, imposed by this section."

In other words, costs created by the wolf-reintroduction would have to compete for funding with highways, social programs, universities, prisons, and everything else that the state has to pay for.
 
And the perpetually stretched-thin district wildlife managers (wardens), techs, and biologists will not have another huge responsibility dumped on their plates.

I hate to bang on about money, but 90 percent of the voters probably do not realize that Colorado Parks and Wildlife is not funded by the taxpayers — like the Dept. of Corrections, for example. CPWis funded mainly by license sales, user fees, some federal excise-tax money, and donations (the state income tax-refund donation).

And what license fee brings in the most money? Out-of-state elk licenses. So not surprisingly, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is against re-introduction.
“To be clear, RMEF strongly opposes the forced introduction of gray wolves to Colorado,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. “We have witnessed 20 plus years of lies and litigation in the Northern Rockies concerning wolves. This Colorado effort is driven by the same groups using the same tactics to accomplish their agenda.”
Cat Urbigkit is a writer and an internationally known authority on livestock guardian dogs, which she and her husband (and others) use to keep wolves and coyotes away from the sheep on their western Wyoming ranch. She bluntly accuses the pro-wolf group of wanting to create a wildlife Disneyland, and she notes that the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project is funded mainly by the Tides foundation, rather than grassroots donors.
If one were to believe the spiel, wolf advocates are benevolent custodians of the public interest, and ranchers suffer from “the myth of the wolf” and “a fear deeply ingrained” that can be cured with education. A few recent examples of this custodial role show that the advocates propose “a wolves for thee, not for me” landscape – one in which decisions are made by unaffected residents of population centers on behalf of uneducated rural serfs (serfs whose work feeds the nation and are most impacted by ever-expanding wolf populations).
Anti-reintroduction groups, such as the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, are organized at Stop the Wolf, where they have plenty of photos of what wolf attacks look like as well as information on political opposition.

For a longer take on the pros and cons of wolf re-introduction, you should read this Colorado Politics piece from September 2019, "Is It Time to Bring Gray Wolves Back to Colorado?

Actually, if the billionaire-funded Tides foundation wanted to do it right, they would offer to pay for the reintroduction, instead of sticking an always-underfunded state agency with the job.

January 09, 2020

CPW: New Wolf Pack Appears in Colorado

Wolves -- our spiritual teachers (stock photo).

I have a longer blog post in the works about the upcoming Colorado ballot measure on the reintroduction of wolves. Meanwhile, they are again reintroducing themselves, says this Colorado Parks and Wildlife news release.
MOFFAT COUNTY, Colo. - Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials say an eyewitness report of six large canids traveling together in the far northwest corner of the state last October, in conjunction with last week's discovery of a thoroughly scavenged elk carcass near Irish Canyon - a few miles from the location of the sighting - strongly suggests a pack of gray wolves may now be residing in Colorado.


According to the eyewitness, he and his hunting party observed the wolves near the Wyoming and Utah borders. One of the party caught two of the six animals on video.



"The sighting marks the first time in recent history CPW has received a report of multiple wolves traveling together," said CPW Northwest Regional Manager JT Romatzke. "In addition, in the days prior, the eyewitness says he heard distinct howls coming from different animals. In my opinion, this is a very credible report."



After learning about the scavenged elk carcass, CPW initiated an investigation which is still ongoing. At the site, the officers observed several large canid tracks from multiple animals surrounding the carcass.

According to CPW wildlife managers, the tracks are consistent with those made by wolves. In addition, the condition of the carcass is consistent with known wolf predation.

"The latest sightings add to other credible reports of wolf activity in Colorado over the past several years," said Romatzke. "

In addition to tracks, howls, photos and videos, the presence of one wolf was confirmed by DNA testing a few years ago, and in a recent case, we have photos and continue to track a wolf with a collar from Wyoming’s Snake River pack.



Romatzke says from the evidence, there is only one logical conclusion CPW officials can make.

"It is inevitable, based on known wolf behavior, that they would travel here from states where their populations are well-established," he said. "We have no doubt that they are here, and the most recent sighting of what appears to be wolves traveling together in what can be best described as a pack is further evidence of the presence of wolves in Colorado." 


Romatzke adds CPW will continue to operate under the agency's current management direction.

"We will not take direct action and we want to remind the public that wolves are federally endangered species and fall under the jurisdiction of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. As wolves move into the state on their own, we will work with our federal partners to manage the species," he said.


The public is urged to contact CPW immediately if they see or hear wolves or find evidence of any wolf activity.  The Wolf Sighting Form can be found on the CPW website.

January 04, 2020

Hunter Steve Rinella Takes Down Movies' Hunting Scenes

I

"If you like animals, you like being out around animals and experiencing animals, you fall in love with the way nature is.

"Then you watch film renditions of it, and they don't love what it is. They wish it was different.

"And I'm like, Who are you to wish nature behaved differently than it does when it in and of itself is perfect?'"

Noted hunting writer/podcaster/ etc. Steve Rinella takes apart Out of Africa, Jeremiah Johnson, and other movies in which hunting is key to the plot. 

On Elmer Fudd-style cartoonish movie hunters:

"I don't hunt with anyone who puts an ear-flap cap on when it's warm out."

And then he goes into The Revenant, which I could not finish because it was just so inconceivable bad and improbable. As Rinella says, the actual story is one of resilience and forgiveness, but not the twisted Hollywood version  . . . 

The Deer Hunter: Everything is good, "and then [the movie makers] do the thing where they insert the wrong damn animal!"

Enjoyable!