May 30, 2011

Reindeer, UV Light, and Marketing

Results of a study that show Arctic reindeer can see into the ultraviolet spectrum have been getting some attention.
The frozen wastes of the Arctic reflect around 90 per cent of the UV light that hits them; snow-free land typically reflects only a few per cent. So [Glen] Jeffery and colleagues wondered whether reindeers had adapted to their UV-rich world.
Fair enough. I had understood that birds, too, could see more UV than we do. Consequently, what looks like dull plumage in a bird species may actually be more vivid in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum.

What puzzles me is that two decades ago I was introduced to products like U-V-Killer, marketed to hunters. There is a spray to make your clothing non-UV-reflective as well as a detergent for washing hunting clothes—virtually all commercial laundry detergents contain optical brighteners that cause clothes to reflect more at that end of the visible spectrum, thus seeming brighter. (Notice how the chemical brightens under ultraviolet illumination in the photo.)

The pitch is that you want hunting clothes to reflect less ultraviolet light, so you use the special detergents and sprays.

Therefore, is this reindeer research really nothing new? Just another example of gee-whiz science reporting?

May 29, 2011

Fire and Landscape in Central Texas

It's not a Southern Rockies story per se, but we have similar situations here: "Texas wildfires made worse by changes on the state's vast landscape, scientists say."
A century and a half ago, Central Texas was a mosaic of grasses, some patches of trees and some sizable forested acreage, maintained in approximate proportions by fires every five to seven years.
A visitor today sees a wooded terrain, with dense junipers covering many hillsides and homes tucked among the trees. Fire is seen now only as the enemy in those places -- understandably, since a bad fire could be a disaster for people.
If I recall correctly, Texas folklorist and writer J. Frank Dobie (1888-1964) told a similar story about an experience he had when riding as a young man (on his family ranch?) in southern Texas. 

He decided to take a break, so he tied his horse to a mesquite. Then he looked and saw an old iron picket pin in the ground nearby, left by some nineteenth-century cowboy or cavalry trooper.

And it occurred to him that only a short time earlier that spot must have been all grassland, for only then would a rider have needed to drive the pin in order to tether his horse. Ecological change in just two generations or so.

May 28, 2011

Finally, a Bear

All through late April and May, M. had been coming home from her walks (and I from mine) noting the lack of bear sign. Where were they?

So on May 21, before we left for a short trip to Taos, I put a scout camera on what I call prosaically The Hidden Trail, the same place where I recently captured the mule deer doe.

This morning I walked up there with fresh batteries and a fresh SD card and right away noticed that the camera seemed to be a little askew.
Brown fur in front of the lens, uh-oh.
Yep, the usual culprit. At least this bear did not try to destroy it but was just investigating.

As I thought. While we were in town, a bear came by.
So the bears definitely are out and about. This one looks pretty healthy—will its particular shade of brown be enough to identify it if I see it again?

May 23, 2011

Ideas for Bird Photography

"Caught in the Act," by Marie Reed, presents this accomplished photographer's thoughts on digital photography for birds, including both equipment and planning the shot. From the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology web site.

May 22, 2011

Eagle-Rassling and Rooster-Netting

M. and went down to the Raptor Center in Pueblo on Saturday for a wildlife-transporters' class on handling raptors.

Here Diana Miller, the Raptor Center director, demonstrates how to handle an eagle. This particular bird has been handled a lot—she is more than forty years old and has been an "education bird" for most of her life after having an injured wing amputated. That does not mean she is completely docile, however!

When it was my turn, in fact, I kept thinking about how close her beak was to my chin and wondering how she felt about men with beards. (OK, apparently.)

The next session involved capture, and since the Raptor Center did not want us chasing their Swainson's hawk or some other exhibit birds around, someone provided two roosters.

In the second photo, you see one of the transport volunteers making her approach with a capture net.

The net is cotton—mesh nets can cause injuries to birds and animals if their feet, wings, or heads become entangled.

The roosters were indignant about being netted, but once released they quickly returned to checking the ground for green plants and bugs.

Speaking of capture, the peregrine falcon that I picked up last August in the Wet Mountain Valley was released there in late April after spending the winter recuperating at the Raptor Center. Unfortunately, M. and I were unable to be present for the release, which was done for a school presentation in Westcliffe, but apparently all went well.

And the foxes from Mission: Wolf are doing well too, the local rehabilitator tells me.

May 21, 2011

Suddenly, New York City is Full of (Pretend) Big-Game Hunters

"Hunting" at the Black Bear Lodge in Manhattan, a "theme-dive bar"
It's that sick, tired, old "drunk hunter" meme again.

But these are hipsters, so the New York TImes likes them.

Pretend-hunting is big at "the Black Bear Lodge, a hunting-themed bar in Gramercy Park."

May 20, 2011

Mysterious Band-tailed Pigeons

Band-tailed Pigeons (Columba fasciata) mob one of our sunflower seed feeders.
Band-tailed pigeons were a new species to M. and me when we moved into the Wet Mountains, which are part of their limited Southern Rockies range.

Their presence here is why we found noted bird photographer Richard Crossley strolling up our driveway three springs ago.

These are not city pigeons (otherwise called rock doves or rock pigeons). In fact, they are a little bigger.

And quite a bit spookier than city pigeons, mourning doves, or the Eurasian collared doves that are now thoroughly at home hereabouts.

The movement of a face behind the window twenty yards away is enough to send them whap-whap-whapping into the air. Often I am just walking around watering plants or something when, suddenly, a flock of thirty or so band-tails explodes out of a pine tree like a helicopter taking off. Be still, my heart.

They are a game species but in Colorado a minor one—what this Colorado bird site reports fits my informal observation.

In Colorado, their distribution seems roughly equivalent to the distribution of Gambel oak. No acorns, no band-tailed pigeons?

(To me, the presence or absence of scrub oak is the marker between Southern and Northern Rockies, not Interstate 80 or South Pass.)

Poking around on the Web, I find a number of scientific papers on parasites and nesting, but this does not seem to be a heavily studied species in the Southern Rockies. But I can tell you that between them and the black-headed grosbeaks, I am buying lots sunflower seeds.

May 19, 2011

I Contain Multitudes

Computer artwork and colored electron microscope images of bacteria in and on the human body.

"The human gut alone contains almost four and a half pounds of bacteria. We are in essence only ten percent human - the rest is pure microbe."

Think of the "Song of Myself" that Walt Whitman could have written had he known that fact.

May 15, 2011

American Dogs of War

Pamela Geller rounds up some images of American war dogs. Being Pamela Geller, she especially appreciates the fact that dogs are "unclean" in most Muslim societies.

However, if you have ever lived alongside dogs without the benefits of modern plumbing, you might come to understand just why they are considered to be "unclean."

Not that we infidels don't love them all the same.

Photo: U.S. sergeant Matthew Templet and his bomb-sniffing dog, Basco, search for explosives in an abandoned house in Haji Ghaffar village during a clearance patrol in Zari district of Kandahar province on Dec. 27, 2010. BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

May 14, 2011

Wildlife Commission Says No to Christo

In a unanimous vote, the Colorado Wildlife Commission recommended against covering parts of the Arkansas River with fabric panels, a vision of the artist Christo, who likes to "wrap" things, reports the Denver Post.
"This is an inappropriate action that we cannot support," commissioner Dorothea Farris said before initiating the decree at the commission's monthly workshop in Salida last Thursday. "We have a responsibility to protect the wildlife."
About 13 years into the artist's $50 million plan to temporarily suspend 5.9 miles of translucent fabric above the Arkansas River between Salida and Cañon City, the opposition of the Wildlife Commission represents the largest stumbling block for the project to date.

While approval or denial of the project falls outside of the commission's jurisdiction, its interpretation of detrimental consequences to abundant wildlife throughout the 42-mile corridor carries significant weight as the BLM decides whether to issue necessary permits based upon environmental impacts.
Salida writer Ed Quillan remains agnostic—at least he was last year—but one of his commenters summed up the view of many of those local residents who are not in the tourism business: "CDOT projects that a minor accident will cause a back up of thousands of cars. For what? The ego of a man who occasionally visits to say how good he is to us and how lucky we are to have his vision." I have noticed that aspect of his personality too.

May 11, 2011

When Black Bears Attack, Don't Blame Maternal Instinct

The black bears most dangerous to people are not mothers with cubs but single bears—often males—prowling for food, a new study says.
The study also found, contrary to popular perception, that the black bears most likely to kill are not mothers protecting cubs. Most attacks, 88 percent, involved a bear on the prowl, likely hunting for food. And most of those predators, 92 percent, were male. 
This article in the New York Times includes a valuable video by bear-attack researcher Stephen Herrero, who talks about patterns in bear attacks.

I used to believe the "mother bear defending her cubs" idea too. Then, in the early 1990s, M. and I worked as contractors each summer for the Bureau of Land Management, counting Mexican spotted owls (and other owl species) in southern Colorado.

Since our work involved hiking from late afternoon into darkness, we had a number of encounters with black bears.

The first time we encountered a sow with two cubs in a narrow canyon, we immediately retreated. The we climbed up on a nearby rocky outcropping. We could hear the bears flipping rocks in the little creek, looking for food, and grunting at each other. Eventually, it became dark, and they had to be still out there somewhere. But we could not afford to wait all night, so we flicked on our headlamps and hiked out with many an anxious glance backwards. Never saw the bears.

Another time, another deep canyon, we met a mother and cub. Mom sent the cub up a tree, while the last we saw of her was her butt going over the ridge. We continued higher up the canyon to our calling spot. Meanwhile, the cub started to wail—a sound somewhere between the crying of a 100-pound baby and the bray of a donkey.

After trying unsuccessfully to find another way down that did not involve passing the cub, we eventually started back the way that we had come. By then Mom had come back, and they were both gone.

All other bear encounters were inconsequential. Most bears are shy.

Prof. Herrero points out that bears are still mostly "benign," when you consider that there are on average two attacks a year from a North American bear population of 750,000-800,000.

May 10, 2011

Where the Elk Go to Nap

On the morning of April 22, I went to place a camera at Camera Trap Spring, which I had been leaving alone since last summer's bear-versus-camera incident.

With the dry year that we have have experienced, the little spring was dry. But nearby I saw a place that looked like an elk bedding spot. It certainly was. Later that same afternoon a sleepy bull elk arrived.
A bull elk with antlers in velvet (tip barely visible) decides to lie down for a nap.
Ah, now he is comfortable.
Then his buddy decides to step in front of the camera.
Unfortunately, the second elk decided to rub against the tree to which the camera was strapped. I got several photos of his butt. His rubbing pushed the camera around so that it faced a useless direction and captured no more photos.

I retrieved the camera on April 29, even as smoke from the Sand Gulch Fire—on the edge of exploding beyond its "containment"—was blowing overhead.

Although the terrain is rough, these elk are fairly close to some homes as the crow flies. They are spending the day in a thick stand of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir.

May 09, 2011

Video Trailer for a Falconer's Writing

In November 2009 I reviewed Rebecca O'Connor's book Lift, saying,
That dialectic--woman as prey and predator--spirals through Lift, a book that is intensely erotic in the original sense, being about passion, desire, and union with the Beloved, even when the beloved is a bird.
Rise: A Collection of Writings is her new collection of short pieces and poetry, and she has made a "video trailer" for it. Rise will be available as an ebook in July.

May 08, 2011

A Blog for Colorado Gardeners

Perennial Favorites is a small nursery in Colorado City, south of Pueblo, so obscure that you only learn of its existence when a friend tells you about it.

The nursery specializes in plants adapted for our altitude, low humidity (the relative humidity was only 2 percent in Pueblo today), and sudden shifts from cold to hot.

Everything comes with expert advice and occasionally contact information for even more obscure growers, scribbled on a scrap of paper.

They do most of their business in May, opening fewer and fewer days as the summer progresses.

M. and I went by today and dropped about $150 on bedding plants—we will rebuild some perennial beds hit hard by this cold, dry winter, and try some new experiments as well.

This year they started a blog, which I will add to my blog roll under Southwesterners, hoping to learn more about growing plants  "particularly suited to Colorado's challenging conditions."

May 06, 2011

This Photo Was Not Taken in the American West

Rather, it was taken in the United Kingdom—in Wales, to be precise. The UK has a series of wildland fires burning, in England and Scotland as well as Wales. Several seem to have been started by teenage boys. More photos at the link.