September 22, 2021

The Feral Volunteers: Thoughts on Wildlife Transport

Pueblo Raptor Cetner director Diana Miller and her new intern, Aaron,
examine a goshawk that collided with a window in Nathrop, Colorado. The prognosis was good.

 

Looking at the Facebook page for Colorado Parks & Wildlife Volunteers
— which I admit that I don't read every week — I saw there was a volunteer-recognition picnic last month for my region. 

The person posting commmented, "small group this year." Well, yeah, M. and I did not even know that it was happening, for one thing. But that's OK. We are the feral volunteers.

Most volunteers, God bless them, have regular assignments. I have been at state parks where the volunteers — staffing entrance booths, working at visitor centers, serving as campground hosts, etc. — outnumber the paid staff.  The whole system would break down without them. They get paid in free parks passes, hats and jackets and water bottles and other such plunder*, and words of thanks. (If you live in your RV all summer while serving as a campground host, is there a tax write-off? I don't know.)

Other volunteers work more on the wildlife side, doing habitat-improvement projects, monitoring wildlife such as osprey nests or bighorn sheep), assisting fisheries biologists, and so on. All good.  In my region, SE Colorado, volunteers contributed more than 45,000 hours in 2020, valued (somehow) at more than $1.3 million.

I like the unscheduled weirdness of wildlife transport though.

We transporters don't go to State Park X and do Assignment Y. We go up some raggedy road to where it's all cactus, guns, and pit bulls but someone says he has captured a hawk that might be hurt. Or — this was M.'s and my first assignment — we drive to Exit ••• off Interstate 25 north of Pueblo, cross the railroad tracks, and wait . . . until an unmarked box truck pulls up and the driver, having ascertained who we are, hands over a cardboard carton holdling a racoon. A racoon that was caught tearing up a liquor store in La Junta, Colorado.

We took it to a rehab center. Night had fallen when we finished. "It's like being in the Resistance," M. said. It was a feral evening.

We wildlife transporters don't have hours. We don't wear uniforms — well, there is a basebal lcap and a name tag, useful if you are going to someone's remote home, and you want them to chain the pit bulls.

We almost never go to an office or deal with "management," just with local game wardens — officially "district wildlife managers" —  who themselves have a lot of disgression in how they do their jobs. 

(Does that orphan bear cub live or die? Does the DWM call a rehabber — or pull their state-issued .308 rifle from the truck? It's up to them. Having a volunteer transporter to call on might make the difference.)

Wildlife rehabilitators are a pretty feisty bunch too. The best ones work in a "no-show" mode. They are rehabilitation facilities, not petting zoos! And if people show up hoping to let their grandkids meet the bear cubs, the only thing they will see is the exit. 

The Pueblo Raptor Center, I should say, is an exception, because it is part of a larger facility and because it has "education birds," those who cannot survive in the wild but are taken around to schools, etc. You can go during visitor hours and take a tour. The birds who might make it in the wild are kept out of sight. Volunteers do a lot there too.

Wildlife transport is like being on the volunteer fire department only without the radio tones and the dinging cell phone, and the chatter, "You want me to bring the other brush truck? Copy that!"

In our case, it's asking if the critter is already caught or needs to be caught (Thick gloves! Cotton-flannel capture net! Carrier! Flea powder!) or if maybe it just needs to be moved from one carrier to another so that the original person can take theirs home. And where are we going? Do we have the reporting person's phone number, the DWM's phone number, and has someone notified the facility that animal or bird is coming? And much of the time we are in places with no cell-phone service.

What is the pay-off? Sometimes we are given a bird or animal to release. Whether it was an evening grosbeak rocketing out of the carrier to join a flock of its fellows near my house, a turkey vulture soaring over the Royal Gorge, or raccoons scooting off into the brush, it's a good feeling.

* "merch," if you prefer.

September 21, 2021

Aspen Foliage as Required by the Ektachrome Act

It is about six days before Peak Aspen, but this photo of fall aspen colors is posted pursuant to the Colorado Photography Act of 1964 (familiarly called the "Ektachrome Act"), which requires that all professional and semi-professional photographers in the state—essentially anyone who has ever sold a photo—shoot at least one full roll of slide film on scenic shots featuring golden aspen groves.

That most photography is now digital appears to have escaped the legislature, which has not updated the statute's language.

September 14, 2021

Some of the Fawns Survived

That weird-looking eye is just a reflecton from the cat's tapetum lucidum.
Mule deer does here drop their fawns in June. Last winter, we had a little group of three does and two yearlings that hung around in the forest near the house. 

On July 8th, one of my trail cameras up behind the house picked up this mountain lion right in the area that the mulie does favored. 

A neighbor mentioned that so-and-so had a seen a lion (that person being a sort of inept but trigger-happy back-to-the-lander whose animals escape, are killed by his own dogs, or whatever), while someone else had a seen a lion quite near our house in a different direction.

I said "Hmm" and did not mention my photograph. No point in advertising. But I wondered if she (?) had nabbled any fawns.

We kept seeing the two yearlings — now approaching sexual maturity — off and on, but not the three does. Presumably they were hiding their fawns in high grass or brush, and feeding warily.

Finally on September 10th my wife and I were eating supper outdoors on the porch — a prime deer-spotting time — when we saw two fawns grazing on what we call "the old road," which is an 1870s stage road-turned-pre-1960s ranch road turned grassy strip in the oak brush.

So two made it. There could have been as many as six fawns, since mulie does often drop twins. But I wonder how many that lion got. They have to eat too.

UPDATE: I checked a different camera today (15 Sept.), about four hundred yards from the house. It looks like our female (?) lion is still hanging around — she was there on the 10th even as M. and I were observing the fawns.



September 06, 2021

Cussed Out by a Gray Fox

Adult gray fox two days ago. Dad?

I went up to "Ringtail Rocks" late Sunday morning to swap the SD cards in the trail cameras up there. Despite the name, I have not had a single ringtail image this year, but I did not start until August. 

Since there were a small bear and a big dog in the last photo set, M. felt she come and carry the bear spray. Plus she is always up for a woods walk.

I had just opened the upper camera when a fox barked from about eight years away and startled me. The oak brush was too thick to let us see it, but barking continued untl we left, the fox circling around to one side but staying concealed. 

It was the middle of a hot day, when you don't expect foxes to be active, but maybe he (?) had a reason, like the kits being nearby. They had appeared on the camera too.

This one definitely lookd young.




This one seems youthful too.

A sort of puppy-like quality.

Mom? Or one of last year's female offspring?

I've been reading more on gray fox famliy dynamics. Males and females do form permanent bonds and raise the young together, sometime accompanied by yearling females. (Young males, I suspect, are strongly discouraged from sticking around.) I have had a number of photos at two locations that involve one adult and two young, but given that the distance apart is only a quarter mile, I might be seeing the same family in two places. I have also located a probable den site that deserves watching next April-May.

Range of the gray fox (Wildlife Science Center).


September 04, 2021

A Bear and His Dog

Dogs I have had seem to take one of two attitudes toward black bears. The three Chesapeake Bay retrievers all believed in keeping a safe distance and barking a warning. Come to think of it, Jack (1996–2009) once treed a bear cub while walking with the woods with M., who — once she realized what had happened — grabbed him and vacated the area. Shelby, our crazy-brave collie-Lab mix, charged solo after bears several times — and lived to tell about it. There was a reason she was called The Bandit Queen.

But now here is a German shepherd (Or shepherd-mix, if it is the dog that I think it could be) hanging out on the ridge up behind the house with a bear. That is a first for me, and also for our wildlife-rehabilitator friends, who said it was "really strange."  Maybe these two did not read the part in the manual that says dogs and bears are supposed to be antagonists?

Click the photos for a larger view.

A small (subadult?) black bear wanders toward the camera.

 
An hour and a half later, here is a German shepherd.

But the bear is still hanging around too, and they seem unperturbed by each other.

 There were no further photos of either animal after that.

September 02, 2021

Dealing with "Covid Contracture"

 I have been trying to come up with a word for what has happend over the last fourteen months. M. calls it "languishing" — even if you are perfectly healthy, your ambition and sense of accomplishment just s-l-o-w d-o-w-n as the days all drift together.

My offering was "Covid Contracture." Even if you have no travel restrictions, like those Australians forced to offer "a reasonable excuse to leave home," you find yourself going out less and less.

For me this was wrapped up with my dog Fisher's last year, when his decreasing mobility meant that the twenty-minute walk before breakfast became shorter and shorter, until it was maybe 200 yards or less and finally just to the end of the driveway and back.

M. and I broke out in July, hauling the pop-up trailer down to the Conejos River for a few days. Gone three nights, and it felt like two weeks. I had no idea how "contracted" I had become.

Soon we will be off for northern New Mexico for a bit, a trip postponded from June 2020.

I posted a few pictures from July on Instagram, where you can find me as as chas.clifton. Here are a few more.

The willows have filled in nicely — which is to say you can hardly push through them — and it's a great place to fish the Conejos River along FSR 250.


 Effects of the spruce beetle along Colorado in the La Manga Pass area. In the long run, this is OK for the forest. but meanwhile . . . 

. . . salvage logging takes care of some of it, but there is no way that all the dead trees will be used in this commercial way.


"It looks like the South," M. gasped, thinking of Spanish moss. But this is usnea, useful in certain herbal medicines that she makes, so she went away with a bag full.

September 01, 2021