May 18, 2012

Bad Fire Season Forecast for Colorado's Western Slope

The fire season could be "volatile," says the supervisor of the White River National Forest — which is, incidentally, Colorado's most heavily used forest for recreational purposes, thanks to the ski areas.

According to the Aspen Daily News, supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams gave Pitkin County residents the usual advice:
Fitzwilliams and the [county] commissioners encouraged local residents to create “defensible space” around homes by clearing limbs and tinder. Information on what homeowners can do to protect themselves is available at

He warned that some subdivisions in the county are so precariously placed, firefighters are unlikely to defend them in the event of a fire.
For a technical briefing applicable to Colorado, Wyoming, and the Black Hills, watch this seven-minute video. La Niña is weakening;  that is the good news. The bad news is the Western Slope snow pack at 20-25 percent of average.

Cooks Agree, Cast Iron is Best

I did not know that mountain lions carried rabies, but one in northern Arizona did and attacked a man's dog while he was camping on the Tonto National Forest.

He knocked it out with a cast-iron frying pan, which is an argument for traditional cookware, isn't it. (Via Patrick Burns, who offers other goodies.)

May 17, 2012

Don't Tread on Me

Western rattlesnake (Crotalis viridis) peers from the oak brush at the spring.

Two snake posts in a row. I did not plan on that. M. and I decided to hike up to Camera Trap Spring, about 35 minutes from the house, to replace the batteries in the camera there. (Rechargeable C cells seem good for ten days maximum.)

We brought Fisher the Chesapeake Bay retriever with us, thus introducing the element of random anxiety and chaos that he always adds to any experience.

Once he disappeared into the brush and came back carrying some dog's squeaky toy. How did that get up on the ridge? Did a fox bring it up there?

At the spring, I was packing up the old batteries, etc., sitting on the ground, when M. started screaming at the dog.

I jumped up, saw that he was prancing around something by the spring, saw that it was a snake — I was moving toward him — thought it was a bull snake like the one yesterday — saw the rattles — somehow leapt around the snake and grabbed his collar.

We looked him over. He did not seem to have been bitten, nor had he yelped. So M. held him while I took pictures of the snake, well-camouflaged in the dappled light of the forest floor. We had walked within six feet of it ourselves.

It was between two and three feet long. Maybe it found the spring to be a good hunting place for small mammals, and since it had not struck Fisher, perhaps it had a belly full of deer mouse or wood rat and had felt somewhat lethargic.

It is more than three hours later now, and since he does not look like this, he was one lucky dog.

As for photos, none were good enough for the blog, but a bear had been there. I think that I need to re-position the camera, so I will need to go back, doglessly.

May 16, 2012

Interior Dept. Ranks Wind Turbines over Eagles

The US Department of the Interior, the Honorable Ken Salazar presiding, is expanding permits for wind farms' permissible chopping up of eagles.

But look on the bright side. American Indians who have been complaining about how sluggish the feds are in filling their requests for eagle parts for ceremonial uses will now have more birds to choose from.

More here. Vague mentions of "mitigation" and "conservation."

Yet in California, tribal governments sue to stop wind farms. Life is complicated. Who are the "bad guys"?

Bully for You, Snake

Cell phone picture of bull snake, taken while fishing this morning.

Bull snakes are victims of evolution, I reckon. Their stripe pattern is close enough to a rattlesnake that people see them and think, "Oh no, a rattlesnake."

Then they vibrate their tails when annoyed, which sounds kind of like a rattlesnake's rattles, so people go, "Get the gun/shovel/hoe/implement of choice and kill it!"

Really, they are quite beneficial. Unless you are a mouse. Or possibly a duck.

Sorry about the photo quality. Someone left his pocket Pentax at home.

May 15, 2012

Siren, Emergency, Residents for the Warning of

You don't normally associate tornadoes with snow-capped mountain peaks, but two days ago the National Weather Service issued a warning for the western part of the county—big thunderstorm, rotation observed, etc.

I happened to be looking at the Pueblo NWS radar map, and there was the red tornado trapezoid on top of the yellow trapezoid for the thunderstorm. What a surprise. It never really formed, although some people said that they saw the beginnings of a funnel cloud.

Today I went up to the county seat for the monthly emergency services board meeting (I representing our little fire department), and of course the tornado was topic #1 on the agenda—specifically, how long to blow the town's emergency warning siren for such an usual event.

At one point, the sheriff suggested letting it sound for as long as the Weather Service warning lasted.

The emergency-services manager said that she had consulted some of her counterparts in High Plains counties, where they know about tornadoes, and that they often used a three-minute warning siren followed by a one-minute "all clear."

And so on. Meanwhile, I drifted off into an old childhood nightmare, typical of a mid-Cold War childhood. (There's a documentary film about that.)

Dad was an officer in a South Dakota National Guard anti-aircraft unit, tasked with defending Ellsworth AFB and Rapid CIty if the Soviet Air Force came over the North Pole and headed our way. He was also involved with some sort of Civil Defense work.

So I had in my schoolboy's billfold (which rarely contained money) a card, red ink on white card stock, that explained all the different emergency siren tones—continuous, undulating, intermittent—and what you were supposed to do when you heard them.

The siren could be for any threat—in 1972, after we left, a flash flood through the town killed more than two hundred people.

But in my mind it would always sound for a squadron of Tupolev "Bear" bombers.

In my 8-year-old's imagination, I was running (or bicycling) across the street from my school, up the gulley past the Methodist church, and across a half mile of prairie toward my house.

Because it is better to be incinerated at home than at school?

All that never happened, of course. When the siren down the highway from my house blows, it means just one thing: "Where is the fire?"

But somehow the discussion brought back a little kid tearing (mentally) down a dirt road toward a yellow house with brown trim.

May 14, 2012

The Stargazing Owl

As M. and I enter our third season as wildlife-transport volunteers (Wildlife Taxi, we call it around the house), we learn more about all the things that can go wrong.

Friday's call came around 9 a.m. An owl was inside a building-supply store in a nearby town. The Raptor Center said that they had room for it, and M. was planning to go to Pueblo anyway, so we split up the trip, me to get the bird and then hand it off to her to take to the center.

I walked into the store with my gauntlets and carrier, introduced myself to the cashier, and said, "I'm here  to see Paul about an owl."

Paul turned out to be the boss, and the bird — a great horned owl fledgling — was in the attached warehouse, huddled on the concrete floor behind next to some shelves. A forklift rolled past, trailing propane exhaust.

Paul held the carrier, and I scooped up the young owl. Nothing felt broken. He said that owls nested on the high warehouse roof.  The store is on the edge of town, with lots of open pasture around for the hunting of mice, prairie dogs, rabbits, and other prey. This one was out of the nest and had somehow crept into the warehouse.

M. came home that afternoon and said that all was not well. The fledgling had a problem with "stargazing."
Typically the muscles to the sides of the neck will be contracting causing a twitching and twisting if they contract singly, or pulling the head directly back pointing the beak to the sky if they contract together.
(Go here and scroll down to the description.)

The condition that can be caused by poor nutrition, injury,  or other things.

I talked with the center's director today. She was giving the owl vitamin supplements and said that it had a good appetite. Tomorrow it goes to the vet for X-rays and further examination. Sometimes afflicted birds have poor balance, so maybe that was why it was out of the nest.

She said that she would give it a week to ten days to show improvement. Otherwise, that's the end of the trail.

May 13, 2012

May 06, 2012

A Documentary of the Dreamtime

I own the book. I have now watched the film. I realize that I am unlikely to ever see the cave.

(Maybe the last is all right, because it spares me the experience that you, too, may have had of finally visiting some famous site and reacting, "I thought it would be bigger!")

Detail from the panel of horses at Chauvet Cave.
How could some Aurignacian-period hunter, shouldering his haunch of horse meat, imagine that future people would look back on his era while thinking, "That was the real time."

I look at those pictures with a quasi-religious awe. Some scholars apparently think that one artist did the best stuff, such as the panel of horses, but even the lesser work shows a sure hand. It is not scribbled or cartoonish.

The question remains  —  how did Old Master-quality drawing skills seemingly just pop up c. 30,000 years ago?

And biologically accurate too. 

Where is the student work? Drawn on rock surfaces outdoors, where it long since washed away?

(Rethinking that statement a day later — perhaps the filmmakers and still photographers give us a false idea by focusing on the best work. Consider this from an article in Natural History: " In some cases, we see a sophisticated, realistic painting next to a rather crude sketch, perhaps a copy of the original by an apprentice.")

The easy walk-in entrance to the cave was erased by a rockslide about 20,000 years ago, and then the cave sat sealed, dark, and damp, growing its formations, until three French cavers found it in 1994 So it was visited sporadically for ten thousand years, the carbon-dating suggests.

Ten thousand years. Ten thousand years when the world was, in a sense, intact. Ten thousand years outside of history—shared with large animals. 

Even if it was a world where you had to watch for cave bears, wolves. and lions and where if you made it to forty, people probably called you “Old-Timer,” it was a world that made sense to its inhabitants.

As director Werner Herzog muses, we are locked into history, but they were not. Hence my borrowing of the term "Dreamtime" for when they lived.

May 05, 2012

Mountain Snowpack for May 1, 2012

Click to embiggen.
The snowpack in the southern Rockies is melting fast. The good news for some is that Colorado east of the Divide and the western High Plains has been a little damper this spring. See all snowpack maps here.

Blog Stew with Accurate Forecasting

Seagull meets its match — an octopus. The last line of the piece reasserts the Great Chain of Being.

• Am ambitious plan to connect islands of wildlife habitat in metro Denver with greenways.

• Indians are unhappy with the bureaucratic delays at the National Eagle Repository. But what are the alternatives?

• Here is the May Fire Potential Briefing for Colorado and Wyoming. Short version: Western Slope, scary; Eastern Slope and High Plains, not so bad, maybe. A map of fire potential for Arizona and New Mexico is here.

April 30, 2012

Visitor Opportunities Reduced in Two Colorado National Forests

In northern Colorado, the US Forest Service promises "rolling" closures of trails and roads as beetle-killed lodgepole pines on the Arapahoe National Forest are cut to reduce hazards.
Almost every popular national forest access in Grand County will be affected at some point during the spring and summer, from mountain biking access near the towns of Winter Park and Fraser to hiking and backpacking trailheads to anglers and campers who use the Arapaho National Recreation Area (ANRA). 
in southern Colorado, where windstorms knocked down thousands of trees in the Sangre de Cristo Range, blocking trails and damaging a popular campground on the San Isabel National Forest, there is talk of "prioritizing" the response.
[District ranger Paul] Crespin, [Jeff] Outhier and other USFS officials will be meeting with local elected officials, civic groups and tourism organizations here to explain the situation in the Sangres, and to encourage them to urge summer visitors [instead] to take advantage of trails, campgrounds and public lands in the Wet Mountains. 
Crespin said it may take many months to open the Sangre trails, and some may never be restored to their prior conditions.
In both cases, it's mainly a recreational/tourism issue. If people can't play, will they stay? The Wet Mountains offer some hiking trails and only one developed campground, at Lake Isabel.

(And then there is the whole frozen-cow disposal issue.)

Mushroom-Hunting Dogs

If we had more morels around here, I would train Fisher like these dogs. But I think M.'s and my mushroom hunting will continue to rely on sight primarily.

Wind Farms Causing Local Warming

Ever drive past an orchard and see one or more big fans above the trees, particularly in low spots?

The fans can be turned on when temperatures drop to the freezing point. They break up a layer of colder air close to the ground that can harm budding flowers.

Something similar happens at wind farms.
Researchers used satellite data from 2003 to 2011 to examine surface temperatures across as wide swath of west Texas, which has built four of the world's largest wind farms. The data showed a direct correlation between night-time temperatures increases of 0.72 degrees C (1.3 degrees F) and the placement of the farms.
As in the orchards, the cool air next to the ground is mixed by the blades with warmer air above.

Will this "put a damper on efforts to expand wind energy as a green energy solution"?

At first, I thought no, because it is just a local phenomenon. But in the overheated (sorry) debates on energy policy, expect to see this finding dragged in.

April 25, 2012

Attack of the Miller Moths

Yes, there are more of them this year.
Linda McMulkin, horticulture coordinator for Colorado State University Extension of Pueblo County, said the spring moth population usually experiences a wild population explosion only after a wet summer and fall that's followed by a mild winter.

It's been bone dry in these parts for some time, but the mild winter and earlier spring temperatures may have allowed more of last fall's eggs to survive and take flight in search of a sweet buffet . . . . What can miller-hating humans do about the flitty, nasty creatures? Not much.
I've been seeing more of those smaller, tan moths that normally invade in May. Should look them up in the insect field guide.

Update, May 5, 2012: Revenge of the moths.