February 15, 2024

Pygmy Owl, Long-Distance Lizard

Pygmy Owl, abducted by aliens and examined.
A game warden called from up in the county seat. Someone had brought him a Northern Pygmy-Owl (correct ID on his part) that was "in danger" on a highway. 

We met on a side street, and he transferred the owl to my carrier. And there was a second passenger, a small lizard. Apparently the owl was about to eat dinner when the well-meaning two-legged came long. 

It was kind of astonishing that a lizard would be out and about. The sun was shining, but air temps were only in the mid-40s F at best. (Did the owl find it on warm asphalt?) The reptile seemed moribund, but then the light was fading at 7800 feet, and the air was cooling fast.

The Raptor Center in Pueblo was closed, of course. I called the director's cell phone. She said to keep the bird over night, give it a shallow dish of water, bring it down in the morning.

This morning I checked on the owl, which seemed alert and on its feet, poured a cup of coffee, and hit the road. 

On arrival, the owl checked out as healthy and unharmed.  "Take him home," the director said. I decided to take her literally.

But the lizard lived! I had not seen the lizard this morning and assumed that the owl had eaten it. But when I straightened out the towels in the carrier, there it was, barely moving one leg. Too cold, I am sure. A volunteer lifted it into a small box and went to place it somewhere warm.

After putting 116 miles on the Jeep, I had these results.

1. One [sagebrush?] lizard was relocated to the outskirts of Pueblo, into what should be a compatible habitat. Reptile brain says, "Umm warm." Missing tail tip probably not noticed.

2.  One Pygmy-Owl had a missing time/abduction experience but ended up about two miles away from where it had been. Its new location, however, features four birdfeeders, consequently, a prey-rich environment. Maybe we'll see it again.

What sets Pygmy Owls apart is that they are daytime hunters. Kind of like sharp-shinned hawks, they have short wings, long tails, and will try to snatch passerine birds off the feeder tray.  

Most owls have asymmetrically placed ears as well as flattened facial discs around the eyes. Both of these features are adaptations that give them better hearing. Interestingly, Northern Pygmy-Owls lack these features, and this may be an outcome of their diurnal habits and greater reliance on vision. All About Birds.
So releasing it in the day time was easy to do. Once it saw blue, it flew.



February 05, 2024

So Who Will Hack the Wolf GPS Data?


Colorado Parks and Wildlife has now published a GPS map for Colorado wolves.

Understand that while every wolf wears a GPS collar, including the ones that wandered in to North Park and were darted, collared, and released -- and including the 15 new ones coming in -- the magic map does now show where they are right now.

It shows what drainage they have been in lately. The website says,

  • Currently, the collars are programmed to record a position every four hours. 

  • Once four locations have been recorded, the packet of four locations is then transmitted via satellite to CPW biologists. 

  • The frequency of both position recording and transmission of the data can be delayed by a number of factors such as dense cloud cover, closed terrain, etc. 

  • By looking at the data, CPW staff can learn where wolves have been, but they cannot tell where wolves are at a current point in time, nor can they predict where the wolves will go. 

  • To protect the wolves, specific GPS data will not be shared.

"Specific GPS data will not be shared. "

Um, yeah.  Governments are so good at keeping data secure. Now who would want up-to-the-minute data? 

Most people's thoughts will probably go straight to some clandestine wolf-killer, some figure straight out of a Charlie Box wilderness-thriller novel.  

But follow the money. I remember how in the 1980s, as commercial rafting developed on the Arkansas River and the state took over recreational management, there were all these contentious meetings over regulation, which boiled down to

    a) Early arrivals in commercial rafting wanted to keep out the competition.

    b) Private rafters and kayakers did not want to be forced into the eddies by the commercial outfits.

    c) Anglers wanted to be left alone at dawn and dusk, at the very least.

You will make money if you
know where I am (CPW photo).
In 1989, the year after the big fires, M. and I passed through Yellowstone NP. We casually parked our van at the Slough Creek Campground. I fished a bit in Slough Creek (saw an otter!) and the Lamar River, where I could step from elk skeleton to elk skelton, after the big die-off in the 1988–89 winter.

We came back in the 2000s after wolf reintroduction. Slough Creek campsites had to be reserved months in advance. Every highway pull-out in the Lamar Valley was full of surly shoulder-to-shoulder observers with expensive optics: spotting scopes and telephone lenses. Tour busses with wolves painted on them lumbered up and down the road — like this one.

If the wolves reproduce — and if they move east into Rocky Mountain National Park — that will be Colorado's future too. Wolves as spectacle. 

As with rafting on the Arkansas, there will be a struggle for regulations that give some operators an advantage over their competitors.

And speaking of "advantage," if you were a "wolf-tour guide," what could you do with GPS coordinates as to just where the wolves were that day?