June 17, 2012

A Camera-Trapping Trophy, But Blurry

 Continuing the narrative that started here and was continued here.

Some other animals came to the spring in late May, before it dried up.There was this red fox and two kits —the one at left is drinking.
Red fox family in the early dawn.
A wild turkey passed by the camera.
Wild turkey hen
Even a domestic dog —I suspect that it came up by an easier route than we do, from a small horse ranch about half a mile away. To reach the bowl from that ranch is easier than the route we must follow.

Once when I was hunting up there a few years ago, I saw a black-and-white farm collie trotting purposefully down in the direction of that ranch.

This dog missed meeting up with the rattlesnake.
And then there was this one, early in the morning on May 20th. If only it had slowed down a little for a sharper image!


I have always figured that to catch a mountain lion with the scout camera was a sort of Holy Grail. Now I will have to adjust my goal to a good image of a mountain lion — or else Holy Grail #2, which is a ringtail.

June 16, 2012

Another Camera-Shy Bear


At 5:20 p.m. on May 23rd, when the east-facing site would have been in partial shadow (hence the less-than-perfect photo), this bear walked past the camera.

It was, incidentally, walking right on the spot where the rattlesnake — whom I know think of as the guardian of the spring — waits in the mid-day hours.


Nine minutes later, it tripped the camera again. Two minutes later, the camera recorded one image — solid black. Given the "digital delay," at that moment it was probably lying on the ground.

Is this the same bear that wrecked my camera in 2010? I don't think so. That bear was a sow with a cub. This bear seems smaller, somehow, and appears to be alone. Maybe it is Camera-Destroying Bear's cub grown up — and with Mama's attitude toward cameras.

More tomorrow from this site.

June 15, 2012

First, Let's Get the Spooky Stuff Out of the Way

Camera Trap Spring (my name for it) is a tiny seasonal spring on some BLM land up and over a ridge behind our house — about a 40-minute scramble.

Teddy, why are you here?
It produces good scout-camera photos, but there is something spooky about the little bowl where it sits. Whether hunting, hiking, or whatever, I always feel a little on edge when walking up there.

Over the years, meanwhile, it has built up a wealth of associations. M. and I were walking back from there in 2011 when a forest fire blew up across the valley, forcing us to evacuate our home.

Today, the air smelled faintly smoky, probably from the Little Sand Fire.

In 2010, it was the scene of the "CSI: Camera Trap Spring" episode.

I put a camera up there earlier this spring, got a few images, then got busy in May and never switched out the data card or replaced the rechargeable C-cells, which are only good for two weeks at the most.

So we went back today. After the rattlesnake incident in May, we left Fisher the Chessie at home.

On the way up the ridge, M. spotted a foot. It looked like a house cat's front leg, actually. Whoever eats kitties — a fox? — often leaves the feet.

Then coming down into the bowl, I saw what looked like a brown furry pelt on the ground. I poked it with my walking stick, flipped it over — and it was a teddy bear.

Half a mile from the nearest house, thick brush and woods — how did it get there? Matted plush showed that it had been carried in slobbering jaws by the head and the back.

We started joking about Nearsighted Fox, who brought a plush toy home to her kits.

Approaching the spring, I tapped forcefully on the ground with my stick. Snake, watch out!

DIdn't see it.

The camera, meanwhile, was face-down on the ground. Someone ursine had smacked it hard enough to break the plastic brackets on the back, causing it to fall from its strap, which was still attached to a pine tree.

But I had brought another camera, which (a) I am not sentimentally attached to and (b) which uses eight alkaline D-cells, meaning that it will run for months and months.

There lay the camera on the ground.
Also I had brought a trowel to clear out the spring — but it had shrunk down to just a damp patch of soil under its overhanging rock. I decided to reach in and enlarge the tiny basin anyway.

About that time I heard a rustling in the dried oak leaves. I'm sure I said something eloquent like, "Shit, the snake!"

M. says I made a good jump backwards.

It was only four feet away — but it was on the move, not preparing to strike.

I must have looked right at it. Rattlesnake — the original digital camouflage. Why doesn't someone market that?

We finished the camera set up and came back. Teddy went into M's pack and has now been washed.

And there were lots of photos on the knocked-down camera, one of which made my day.

More to come.

June 14, 2012

Spanish Cave Paintings the Oldest Yet

New tests on prehistoric Spanish cave paintings are pushing them back into Neanderthal territory.
Testing the coating of paintings in 11 Spanish caves, researchers found that one is at least 40,800 years old, which is at least 15,000 years older than previously thought. That makes them older than the more famous French cave paintings by thousands of years.
That is thousands of years older than the paintings at Chauvet Cave, for example. Some researchers are starting to speculate that Neanderthal people, who are not thought as having "art," may have made them.

Too Much! Too Much! Not Enough!

I am always telling people that the stream of social media is like drinking from a firehose, which is why I try to keep my Facebook feed to a minimum, don't tweet, don't read tweets, and don't do much else. I'm a jumpy person by nature as it is.

As Diane Ackerman wrote in the New York TImes recently, "The new technology, for all its boons, also bedevils us with alluring distractors, cyberbullies, thought-nabbers, calm-frayers, and a spiky wad of miscellaneous news. Some days it feels like we’re drowning in a twittering bog of information."

On the other hand, she continues, "One solution is to spend a few minutes every day just paying close attention to some facet of nature. A bonus is that the process will be refreshing.

"When a sense of presence steals up the bones, one enters a mental state where needling worries soften, careers slow their cantering, and the imaginary line between us and the rest of nature dissolves. Then for whole moments one may see nothing but the flaky trunk of a paper-birch tree with its papyrus-like bark.

"Or, indoors, watch how a vase full of tulips, whose genes have traveled eons and silk roads, arch their spumoni-colored ruffles and nod gently by an open window."

Yes, like that. Get your attention span back.

I have,  however, been letting the scout cameras develop their attention spans, and some interesting things have turned up, which I will blog soon. In little chunks.

The Paradox of Outdoor Guiding

"By the time someone can afford this, they're almost too old to do it," says Colorado fishing writer John Gierach, somewhere on an Atlantic-salmon stream, putting his bachelor's degree in philosophy to work. (John paid his dues, no question about it.) H/t Patrick Burns.

June 13, 2012

Small Flies, Small Fish, Red Columbines

South Fooses Creek — tangles and pocket water
When I think of South Fooses Creek, a small stream in western Chaffee County, I think of three things. Two of them are pleasant.

Red columbine
One is that in summer I always find red columbines growing in its canyon. I have the hardest time with these at home — granted, home is a little low in altitude, a little dry, and a little alkaline of soil for optimum columbine cultivation, so I have to baby columbines along.

For some reason, the yellow varieties that I have seem more robust than either red ones or the official-state-flower blue-and-whites.

There are other flowers too: I think this one (right) is bitter cress, Cardamine cordifolia, in the mustard family. At least it looks like the picture in the field guide, and the habitat is right: "Grows in wet areas, such as stream banks, meadows, and forest depressions."
Bitter cress

And there are fish, mostly little brook trout, the kind that are mature and reproducing when they are six inches long. Once you venture off the Colorado Trail, which has been cleared of winter's blowdowns, the forest is full of fallen logs, and about every third fishable pool has a dead tree lying across it ready to grab your line with a hundred gnarly hands.

The rest of the pools you sneak up to — "Indian up on them," as Dad used to say — and drop a dry fly in for a short float that might produce a strike from an undersize brookie.

I keep a couple of the "trophies," but I don't photograph them.

When I return to the Jeep, I am standing by where we pitched the tent on Dad's last camping trip.

I had come down the same trail with some fish in my pack, only to find a clothesline rigged above our campfire with some underwear and socks drying on it.

He told me that he had gone down to the creek to fill a water bucket, but even though he had a walking staff, the boggy ground had thrown him off balance, and he ended up sitting in the shallow water. Hence the change of clothes. He seemed a bit annoyed.

And when he dropped me off at home, he opened the tailgate and started unloading stuff — the tent, the Coleman lantern, and so on. "It's yours," he said, "I'm through with camping."

After all those years. But If he couldn't trust himself to walk down to the creek without a fall, it was time to quit.

Sometimes I stand in the basement looking at the shelves of camping gear and I wonder, what should I get rid of?

June 12, 2012

The Winners: Penstemon and Flax

Bed of penstemon and flax
Next to our driveway, behind a stone retaining wall, is a demanding place to grow flowers. The soil is thin, and the site, which faces WSW, bakes in the afternoon sun.

Various plants, even succulents, have failed on that site. Two survive, however.

One is a purplish-blue penstemon, I forget which variety, which has established itself and even survived last summer's drought, although it was happier this spring.

Gardening sites talk about stratifying the seeds, but I just let it seed itself in the fall, which seems to work best for wildflowers.

The other is a blue flax, and I forget where I got it. Plants of the Southwest?

Here is how it looks on a grand scale. We've encouraged it to spread by tossing seed around.

Yes, they still need watering, but their ability to take the heat, wind, and dryness is impressive.

If I had room for a big flower bed, I would just grow every variety of penstemon that I could lay my hands on.

June 11, 2012

Gray Fox in Daylight

Click to embiggen.
I get a lot of nocturnal pictures of gray foxes on the scout cameras, but this was a rarer shot—a fox moving through the woods in mid-morning on May 31st.

June 10, 2012

If the Sky Seems Hazy . . .

. . . bookmark this page, so that you can see where the smoke is coming from. It shows fires in Canada and northern Mexico as well.

For a close-up on Colorado and New Mexico, bookmark this page.

June 07, 2012

The Hayman Fire, a Decade Later — and a Gender Issue

It has been ten years since the deliberately set Hayman Fire burnt the heart of the Pike National Forest and gave a good scare to such communities as Woodland Park, Deckers, the Air Force Academy, and the southwestern Denver suburbs.

I blogged a drive through the burn in 2008. This year, the newspapers are doing retrospectives: "Hayman, Then and Now" in the Colorado Springs Independent, for example.

The Denver Post has a package of stories. Today's focuses on how today's firefighting focuses more on property protection in the "wiildland-urban interface" and less on aggressive fire attack.

Another headline, "Questions Linger about Fire's Start," is simply pussy-footing around the truth.

Everyone in the wildland fire service with any knowledge of the investigation agrees, as far as I can tell: Terry Lynn Barton started it deliberately. The story about burning her ex-husband's letter at a campsite and the fire then getting out of hand was simply fiction.

"[Her ex-husband] denied that he gave her a letter," [Forest Service investigator Luke] Konantz testified in 2008. "And he said he was sleeping on the porch when she would have left for work and didn't see her."

But if she started a little fire in order to be a heroine by putting it out, that is atypical too. 

It is not unknown in the fire service for someone — often one of the newer firefighters— to think like this: "We've trained and trained, but we haven't had an actual fire. If I started one in this vacant building, it would be a great experience, and no one would get hurt. (And it would be tremendously exciting.)" 

Then there was the rural tradition back when the Forest Service hired people off the street of starting a little forest fire in order to provide some temporary employment. Not so much any more.

Frankly, you don't often hear of a woman doing that. It's more of a "guy thing." But maybe not always?

June 05, 2012

Mysterious Radiation in 775

It's already in Wikipedia: Something happened in or about 775 CE — a burst of radiation that affected Carbon-14 levels.
The only known events that can produce a 14C spike are floods of γ-rays from supernova explosions or proton storms from giant solar flares. But neither seems likely . . . because each should have been large enough to have had other effects that would have been observed at the time.

A massive supernova, for example, should have been bright enough to produce a 'new' star visible even in the daytime, as was the case for two known supernovae in ad 1006 and ad 1054. Such an explosion would have needed to be brighter than either of these . . .  because those events were not large enough to leave traces in the 14C record.
Read the rest.

Passing of Ed Quillen, Newspaperman & Expert on Victorian Undergarments

It was a small item on the Denver Post website, and it did not even register at first except semi-subliminally: "Denver Post columnist Ed Quillen dies at age 61 in his Salida home."

Well, crap. At least he went out without any hospital torment: a sudden heart attack as he sat in his easy chair.

A journalist since high school, later a columnist, and the founder of the still-published regional magazine Colorado Central, as a columnist, Ed was often the Post's only non-button-down, non-Denver-metroplex voice — a voice for the rest of us.
Quillen, who hated attending events where he couldn't appear in jeans and a sweat shirt, jabbed the moneyed set as "Brie and Chablis elitists." Homes thrown up in sprawling developments he called "plywood hutches." A certain class of politician he referred to as "rich, white guys."
He knew about water law, mining, agriculture, and Colorado railroads —the fundamentals— in a way that most reporters did not. 

As editor of Colorado Central, he used to come talk to my magazine-writing class about the business and freelance writing in general. And he published a few quirky articles that I felt like writing.

He told us that one trick to column-writing was to take a commonly accepted idea and extend it to the point of absurdity, or take an absurd idea and treat it matter-of-factly.
He published a collection of his columns in 1998 and co-wrote or ghost-wrote a number of books on such diverse topics as cocaine [The White Stuff, co-authored with reporter B.J. Plaskett—CSC] and mainframe computer programming. (Quillen may have come across as a country boy with his shaggy beard and rusty pickups, but he had been building his own computers for years.) 
As the Post article mentions, he and his wife, Martha, also wrote a string of "adult Westerns," which Ed defined by saying, "When Marshall Dillon and Miss Kitty go upstairs, the book doesn't stop there," and he used to toss out obscure terms like "balbriggans." At least in his imagination, he knew all about 19th-century undressing.

There aren't enough like him, and now there is one less.

June 03, 2012

Clearing Trails in the Sangres

I mentioned concern in the Wet Mountain Valley that blocked trails in the Sangre de Cristo Range from last winter's windstorm would discourage visitors.

The Forest Service has been working clearing trails, but the job is not yet finished.

M. and I took a walk on the Rainbow Trail in late May between Venable and Hermit creeks.

We could hear chainsaws running further up the slopes, and the Comanche Creek trail was closed completely, as was Alvarado Campground.

On the Rainbow, some blockages had been removed, but there were still a number that looked like this.

At one creek crossing, falling trees had smashed the handrail of the footbridge.

June 01, 2012

A Guide to Field Guides for Birders

Laura Jacobs surveys the current best North American bird guides for The Wall Street Journal.

I'm sticking with Sibley's for now, but her mention of Richard Crossley's new one for Eastern birds brought back memories of his visit to our house.

He was not too sociable — it was a little like he was the sahib and we were the "natives." I don't know whether to put that down to his being English or to his being a professional photographer and consequently very focused. (Sorry, couldn't resist).  I've known a few like that.