Showing posts with label spring. Show all posts
Showing posts with label spring. Show all posts

May 18, 2019

The Lone Lilac Abides

I was climbing the steep dirt road up behind the house, following the dog, mind off somewhere (probably volunteer fire department stuff) when I ran into a wall of lilac scent.

There it was — the survivor. A family from down in Rocky Ford used to have a cabin up there — really just a parked camping trailer with an addition. They planted a lilac bush on a southwest-facing slope behind it, and they must have picked just the right variety, in the late 1960s or whenever it was.

They stopped coming much after 1998, when the father died. Eventually the adult children sold us those acres, and one tough lilac bush.

Through drought years, blizzards, and total neglect the lilac prevails. This is one of the good years. Among the scent of sun-warmed ponderosa pine — pungent lilac.

May 13, 2019

'False Spring' Pasta


We are used to "false spring" along the Eastern Slope of the Rockies.

Maybe now, with the last snow melted, this is the real spring, but I am still calling this dish pasta falsa primavera — with fillaree, lamb's quarters (quelite cenizo), clover, and dandelion, all picked within yards of the house.

April 24, 2019

Quick, It's Nest Box Time!

American robin (Cornell)
Want to Build the Right Nest Box for Your Area's Birds?


The Cornell University has an interactive guide that will help you download appropriate building plans and place your nest box: Right Bird, Right House.

Want to Monitor Bird Nests for Citizen Science?


You can sign up to monitor a wild bird's nest through Cornell's Nest Watch program.
Participating in NestWatch is easy and just about anyone can do it, although children should always be accompanied by an adult when observing bird nests. Simply follow the directions on our website to become a certified NestWatcher, find a bird nest using our helpful tips, visit the nest every 3-4 days and record what you see, and then report this information on our website. You can also download the NestWatch Mobile App for iOS and Android and record what you see at the nest in real time.

Why It Is All Worthwhile (Besides Science)


The inimitable Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk, writes how seeing birds enter her childhood birdhouses provided "a little flush of pride dangerously near possession" and muses,
In Britain, the class system inflects nestboxes as it does everything else. You can buy boxes that resemble scale models of pubs or churches, ones with poems or flowers painted on the front, with tiny glued-on gates and picket fences. These are frowned upon by the gatekeepers of British nature appreciation, who recommend plain wooden ones. The RSPB explicitly warns against using decorative boxes in case their bright colours might attract predators, even though there’s no real evidence for this. Yes, metal boxes are a bad idea because they can overheat nestlings, but a handwritten “home sweet home” isn’t much of an issue when robins can and will nest happily in discarded teapots.
Read the rest of her "Spring Reflection: A Birdhouse Makes a Home."

April 21, 2019

Spring Flowers &c. Seen While Walking the Dog

Sand lilies, Leucocrinum montanum.

Spring beauty  Claytonis rosea (says the guidebook).

Dropped feather from a Eurasian collared dove, busy breeding already.
Pasque flower, Pulsatilla patens
Three good websites: Wildflowers of Colorado, Eastern Colorado Wildflowers, Southwest Colorado Wildflowers

May 21, 2018

Angry Birds Are Angry

"If I see him again, I'll kill him," he thinks.
Yesterday two American robins began a day-long battle with their enemies — the birds in the mirror.
"I've got you now! You can't get away!"
One of them is particularly upset about the evil robin inside the passenger-side mirror on my Jeep Liberty.
I think the overcast weather made the windows more mirror-like. Screens are on the inside.
The other one has a bigger challenge. He keeps seeing enemies in the casement (crank-out) living room windows. "Death to you! And to you!"

You try to eat breakfast and there is this frantic shape flapping around outside.
The funny thing is that they do not fight each other — real live opponents.
I assume that this activity is springtime hormone-related and should abate soon. But they go at it from dawn until dusk.
 

May 02, 2018

What Spring Looks like in 2018


Male back-headed grosbeak
(Cornell Lab of Ornithology).
These things happened today:

1. I heard thunder.

2. A male black-headed grosbeak came to one of the birdfeeders. They breed here, so that's a sign of changing seasons. And they sing like a robin who has had professional training.

3. It rained a little. A whole tenth of an inch. What does it tell you that a tenth made me deliriously happy? Like maybe no Red Flag warnings (high fire danger) for a day or two?

4. Also, I saw a band-tailed pigeon, another summer resident, fondly remembered as playing a part in an odd pigeon-related encounter some years ago.

Black-headed grosbeak range map (Cornell Lab of Ornithology).

April 29, 2018

Fire Thoughts in Spring

Pasque flowers.
There's a rumble from the state highway down the valley. It is the second warm weekend day in a row, and "the hatch is on," as we say. Everyone in Colorado Springs or Pueblo with a motorcycle wants to ride it into the mountains. Some don't make it back, and then Flight for Life is landing at what I call Motorcycle Death Corner, an almost-hidden downhill switchback that sneaks up on the happy weekend rider.

But on to happier things. We are not on fire, at least not right now. The prairies are, however. Red Flag Warnings in ten states, including our part of Colorado.  Big blazes like the Rhea Fire in Oklahoma, now more than 286,000 acres. Quite a few smaller ones too — southeastern El Paso County and eastern Pueblo County (Colorado) seem to be getting hammered.

At the Wildfire Today blog, Bill Gabbert labels the OK Bar fire in southern New Mexico as an "under the radar" fire.
The fire is being managed by New Mexico State Forestry using a less than full suppression strategy. Fires not being suppressed do not receive the same exposure from the public agencies as conventional blazes, and this one may get even less in the next few days. After it grew by almost 5,000 acres on Friday, the national Situation Report for Saturday described the fire like this:
Extreme fire behavior. Last narrative report unless significant activity occurs.
Just two weeks ago I was on an Amtrak train chugging through the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. For one thing, there was more snow on the ground than around my house! (It had all melted six days later, on the return trip.)

Since you are usually seated opposite strangers in the dining car, you have these conversations about topics such as train travel or the weather or where you live as compared to where they live and the natural hazards associated with each place.

It's true, people in the East just don't "get" wildfire, or the community PTSD that sets in after one after another after another have come knocking at your door. That's OK, I don't "get" hurricanes.  (Tornadoes, yes.)

I look at our the window at the leafless, grey Eastern deciduous forests passing by and think, "If it's true that the Indians used to burn these woods agriculture or attracting big game, how they manage to do it? Wait for the perfect day in September? Because they always seem too moist."

April 30, 2017

Why Didn't the Hummingbirds Die in the Snow?

"I'm not dead yet!" (Cornell University).
It snowed here two nights ago. It snowed a lot. We had at least eighteen inches — fifty centimeters for those you who like cute little centimeters — or as I prefer to say, "a cubit and little more."

Yesterday the temperatures got barely above the freezing point, but today was warmer, and with the southern Colorado sun beating down, the snow is fast retreating.

But yesterday, when it was still cloudy and cold, a resident posted to one of the county's Facebook pages (usually devoted to photos of  sunset-over-the-mountains-from-the-deck-of-our-new-home), a photo of a hummingbird at a sugar-water feeder with a question: Why was the hummingbird just sitting there and not moving? Was something wrong with it?

I think that she had a great opportunity to observe the topor of the broad-tailed hummingbird.

The Cornell ornithology lab's site says of them, "To survive the cold nights in their high-elevation habitats, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds can enter torpor, slowing their heart rate, and dropping their body temperature."

Speaking of hummingbirds in general, here is more on torpor:
Besides being among the smallest of all warm-blooded animals, hummingbirds also lack the insulating downy feathers that are typical for many other bird species. Due to their combined characteristics of small body size and lack of insulation, hummingbirds rapidly lose body heat to their surroundings. Even sleeping hummingbirds have huge metabolic demands that must be met simply to survive the night when they cannot forage. To meet this energetic challenge, hummingbirds save enough energy to survive cold nights by lowering their internal thermostat at night, becoming hypothermic. This reduced physiological state is an evolutionary adaptation that is referred to as torpor.

Torpor is a type of deep sleep where an animal lowers its metabolic rate by as much as 95%. By doing so, a torpid hummingbird consumes up to 50 times less energy when torpid than when awake. This lowered metabolic rate also causes a cooled body temperature. A hummingbird’s night time body temperature is maintained at a hypothermic threshold that is barely sufficient to maintain life. This threshold is known as their set point and it is far below the normal daytime body temperature of 104°F or 40°C recorded for other similarly-sized birds.
And there is this advice:
When hummingbirds sleep and are in the Torpor state, they have been known to hang upside-down. If you find a hummingbird that is hanging upside-down and they appear to be dead, it is actually more likely that they are just asleep. They will probably not even respond if you touched them. If at all possible, leave them alone and they will wake up when they get warmer. 
The male broad-tails usually arrive during the first two weeks of April — this year it was April 7th. I always expect one snowstorm after this arrival, and this year (so far) there have been three. Obviously, the reproductive advantage of showing up early to claim a good territory must outweigh the chance of becoming a hummingbird-sicle. And torpor is how they do it.

Today the resident male (they are all named Chico) was back at the sugar-water feeder.

April 04, 2017

Geoffrey Chaucer Understood Our Weather—If You Change One Word

When that aprill with his blizzards soote
the droghte of marche hath percèd to the roote,
Than dogges go they forth to play,
And what they thinke, Ich ken ne say.

March 11, 2017

What Keeps Me Awake at Night

How to lay sandbags: the right way, the wrong way, and the Army Corps of Engineers way.
The future seems to have two probable paths.

1.  A dry winter thus far here in the foothills (the high mountains have lots of snow) means extremely high fire danger this spring and summer. Despite Nature's and humans' best efforts, we have not yet burned all the trees around here.

2. Some typical spring snows and rains break the winter drought but also create debris flows and flooding coming off last October's 18,400-acre burn scar, much of it coming past my area and down into town. (Not as big as 2013's floods up north, but potentially devastating on a two-county scale.)

My house is well above any potential flood short of the "End of the Ice Age" melt, but if both of two bridges were slammed by floating logs or otherwise knocked out, I would be back in the foot-travel and dog-travois era. 

A team from the Army Corps of Engineers Albuquerque district office has been here. They are quite excited about studying the burn scar's flood potential from hydrological and other perspectives, but that is all they can do for us short of a federal disaster declaration, which has not happened yet. (A few body bags would speed up the process, one suggested.)

The flood potential may last for years. That's what they want to study. Yay science!

They did conduct sandbag training today, however. I feel so much better. A neighbor and I laid the first few bags today to protect our shared well house, which sits closer to the creek.

All joking aside, isn't it better to do something and also worry instead of just worrying by itself?

April 29, 2016

Drought Monitor, April 28, 2016

Here is the drought picture as of yesterday, which does not show the current storm in eastern Colorado and along the Eastern Slope of the southern Rockies. Wet snow has been falling at my house in the morning of the 28th and is now beginning to stick, eight to ten inches so far, as the temperature hangs just above the freezing point.

Visit this page for broad-brush temperature and precipitation forecasts for the next two weeks.

April 06, 2016

The National Monument that I Avoided for No Reason

Colorado National Monument's Window Rock with Grand Junction sprawl in the background.
I have not been everywhere, but I have visited many of the famous spots of the Colorado Plateau, from Mesa Verde and Hovenweep to Wupatki and Chaco, to Monument Valley, Valley of the Gods and Comb Ridge, Goosenecks State Park and the San Juan River, Canyonlands, Moab, Arches, and Natural Bridges.

I once performed emergency repairs on a '69 VW bus after chocking its wheels with rocks partway up the Moki Dugway.

But never Colorado National Monument. Superstition? I would be driving on I-70 or riding the California Zephyr, look south as I left Grand Junction, westward bound, and think "Oh yeah, got to go there some time."

Maybe it's my uneasy relationship with Grand Junction. It's twenty miles across and one story tall, all highways and arterial roads so that least you can get through it quickly.  A once-small town has spread like a quart of oil spilled on the garage floor.

It's a place where I occasionally rent a motel room — once  M. and I, younger and poorer, rented a room in a now-vanished SRO hotel — probably the only overnight guests they had had in a long time — and someone coughed himself to death all night in the adjoining room.

I was covering some off-road race for a start-up car-racing mag (The Whitewater 200? Something like that.) and had an expense account of about $20. The magazine folded. Now "off-road race" is more likely to refer to a contest of Spandex-clad bro-cyclists.

And there is a the family angle. I can walk down Main Street and see where my maternal grandfather and his brother ran variously a furniture store, a rod-and-gun shop, and the Personal Loan Company. The house on North 7th Street where my grandparents lived until their divorce still stands.

(In addition, one of my older sisters was born in GJ, and the other lived here for some time when first married.)

So maybe it is my feeling of estrangement from that older side of the family (with a couple of exceptions) that makes me feel twice a stranger here, where I sit typing in a tiny studio apartment rented on Airbnb.com. At times I keep imagining that the Jeep has an out-of-state license plate, which is a sort of cognitive hallucination. It's been years since Colorado stopped coding license plates to county of issuance. You can't tell who is local and who is not from their plates anymore.

We have spent two days hiking in Colorado National Monument — back to red sandstone, screaming flocks of scrub jays, and the bitter, resiny taste of ephedra leaves in my mouth — self-medication for spring allergies. Gambel's quail dart along the road and bighorn ewes and lambs cause "critter jams" on Rim Rock Drive.

Back on the Colorado Plateau, and why didn't we come here sooner? Spring is the best time.

March 29, 2016

Western Snowpack March 28, 2016

Here in southern Colorado, we are seeing the result of several storms that went north. My area got six inches of wet snow on Saturday the 26th, which was nice, but now it's dry and windy again.

February 12, 2016

Of Sage Grouse and Prairie Chicken Display


This is the time of year when people are booking tours to the dance grounds (leks) of sage grouse and prairie chickens.

If the tours are full, here is some footage from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, outtakes and behind-the-scenes material from the film The Sagebrush Sea.

I have long assumed that some of the traditional Plains Indian dance-costuming and moves are based on these amazing spring displays.

May 15, 2015

Rainy Weeks Help Eastern Slope Snowpack

Click to embiggen.
I have not been diligent with the rain gauge, but according to the Wet Mountain Weather Facebook page, as of May 5th the foothills town of Beulah had gotten ten inches of precipitation (rain and snow melt) for 2015, which is higher than average.

April 28, 2015

Bear 1, Scout Camera 0

I went to check the scout camera nearest to the house on April 25th, and as I approached, I saw it lying on the ground. Apparently a brief series of events took place the day before.
Here was a trail through the scrub oak, pine, and Douglas fir. Nothing happening, it would seem — but something had tripped the infrared sensor.
A minute and a half later. But wait, the camera has been turned 180 degrees! This must be the perpetrator, a bear shedding its bleached winter coat. It just smacked the camera as it walked by?
Uh-oh. It came back.
And now the camera is facing another direction. And then — not shown — it's on the ground, with the mounting bracket broken.

OK, so I have ordered another "bear box" security box from an eBay seller that will fit not this camera but another model.

Yet other bears at this same location have paid the camera no attention while acting a little goofy. They are individuals.

April 25, 2015

Current Drought, Snowpack Conditions in the West


As we await the formation of another "Albuquerque low" and with it some upslope rain and snow on Sunday and Monday, here is the situation as of two days ago.

April 10, 2015

Royal Coachman

Royal Coachman (The Fly Shack)
Fidget. Eyes sticky/watering from hay fever. I have a long paper that I am supposed to be editing for an academic journal, helping the author whip the prose into shape.

Fidget. I write an email to a friend, mentioning that I am truly in editorial mode today.

But instead I walk ten minutes up into the national forest to check a scout camera. It has thirteen images, but I have forgotten to bring a new data card to swap. Looking around, I see fresh turkey droppings.

And on the way home, I hear a turkey gobbling right up where I took Fisher on his walk this morning.

Fidget. Internet. Nap. M. comes back from a trip to the grocery store, and I tell her that since her Jeep's engine is warm, I would like to borrow it and go fishing.

Not far, just up the canyon, where I park and put a new leader on the 5-weight line. A package of tippet material in my vest says "Best used by November 2002."

Does that mean
  1. that I don't fish enough?
  2. that "use by" dates are meaningless on fishing gear?
  3. that I buy more supplies than I need, forgetting what I have?
  4. all of the above?
On the stream, I tie on a Royal Coachman — a little season-opening ritual in honor of my father — and I catch a a couple of tiny brook trout, which go back into the little creek. I demand at least a six-inch minimum on brookies.

At least they are back, after nearly being lost to drought. The beaver ponds, I think, act as refugee camps when the creek goes dry, but the trout do not get very big.

So I feel better now. Maybe I can start that paper after supper.

March 09, 2015

It's March, and People Are Starting to Get a Little Funny

A neighbor posts in a local buy-and-sell group on Facebook:
I have several pickup loads of gently used snow I would part with at a very reasonable price. No deliveries. You haul. Message me fer details.

March 07, 2015

Some Spring 2015 Weather Predictions

When it comes to the temperature chart, at least, it seems that readers in British Columbia and Alberta could just extend the shaded zones through Canada. Or compare Environment Canada's long-range forecast products.