November 03, 2014

What Can You Call a "Trophy"?

Among the countless thoughts running through my head at 5 a.m. today (mostly not stuff I would share) was a bit of self-castigation for using the word "trophy" in the previous post about blurry photos at the waterhole. (I see that I used it on my first ringtail photo last April too. So I'm being repetitive too.)

What did I really do? For years, off and on, I have been hanging cameras on that by the tiny, seasonal spring.

Ringtails, meanwhile, have been on my list of critters that I know are supposed to be here, but I never see. Or that might be here—there was the whole issue about fishers in the Wet Mountains, yes or no, in 2005.

This year I set the camera on May 5th, checked it every four to six weeks, switching out the memory card and the batteries as needed.

As usual, being out there—or being out there in the form of a surrogate plastic box with a lens—gets results. I set up a gadget, and it did the work while I slept.

But I laugh at myself for using the word "trophy," like I stalked the magnificent beast or something. It is such loaded word. Some people loath it. Even I felt a little bit strange when I once visited a rich doctor's two-story-tall trophy room full of heads of African big game animals, a full-body mount of a polar bear, etc.

There is that underlying sense of conflict in the word, whose Greek root means "monument of an enemy's defeat."

Yet we all hang onto things that remind us of peak experiences, unless we are true renunciates. My "trophy" is tasteful, but yours is disgusting—is that it?

Maybe I should have just used the word "accomplishment." With two ringtail "hits" at two different sites, I have proven to myself that they are here, and now I need to figure out how to get better pictures, not that I am trying for the quality of photos that a print magazine needs.

But if I worked for a better photo and got it, that would be a trophy. The enemy would be my own laziness.

November 02, 2014

Two Ringtails and a Weasel Went to a Waterhole

Last spring I wrote about my first scout camera photo of a ringtail, which was something of a trophy, in that they are secretive and nocturnal.

On Wednesday last I picked up the camera at Camera Trap Spring, closing the site for the winter, and found that two ringtails had visited that spot as well in early October.

Unfortunately, they were right at the edge of definition for the infrared flash — the batteries may have been weakening too — but I was still delighted to see them.



It is a weasel, and apparent size suggests a short-tailed weasel (ermine). But I did not think to place a vertical ruler by the water source. Any mavens of Mustelidae out there want to make a definite identification?


UPDATE: The Camera Trap Codger, who is an actual wildlife biologist, opts for long-tailed weasel in his comment — which is what I sort of thought too until I argued myself out of it.

October 27, 2014

Today's Weather . . .


. . . as interpreted by a fin de siècle artist. We have entered the decadence of autumn as the golden leaves turn brown.

October 24, 2014

Opponents of Colorado GMO-Labeling Offer Nothing But Scare Tactics

Colorado's Proposition 105, on the current ballot, would require labeling of certain foods containing "genetically modified organisms" (GMOs). Vermont started requiring such labeling earlier this year.

The "no," anti-labeling forces have spent $11.2 million, filling my mailbox with billboard-size brochures. The "yes" group, "Right to Know Coloradohas spent less than $500,000.

The "no" people would like to say two things, but there is a slight contradiction between them.

1. "Genetically modified foods are perfectly nutritious and represent an advancement in agriculture."

2. "You — the person who buys and eats them — should not be informed that you are indeed eating them, because . . . . "

 . . . exactly why,  they can't really say, so there is a lot of smoke and mirrors and hand-waving and "Look over there!" coming from the people with the millions to spend.

Watch out! Requiring an extra line of type on the label will require a "huge bureaucracy." It will represent "unreliable information" (Like, how?) It will be "arbitrary" (Aren't all laws arbitrary?).

And so on. Look over there, here comes a huge bureaucracy!

No information. No argument based on logic. (You will find the nearest thing to that in the comments here.) Just scare tactics. And lots of Monsanto money.

October 21, 2014

Bible Verses for Pheasant Hunters

You drive through the prairie states at this time of year, and there are lots of "Welcome Hunters" signs on motels and stores. Pheasant season is at its peak, especially south of Interstate 94, which seem to follow some kind of climate boundary—there are fewer pheasants north of it.

Where I am staying right now in Valentine, Nebraska, I can see people walking bird dogs under the motel's red neon lights. On the highway, pickup trucks with dog boxes, some pulling duck boats, flash past.

But it was a Days Inn in Pierre, South Dakota, that took the prize. Its sign read, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat. Acts 10:9."

October 07, 2014

October Weather Report

"That October, the weather couldn't decide what to do with itself. Some days it arrived gray and bleak and pensive. Ponderous leaden clouds leaned overhead, their bellies slumped against the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains; polar blasts of wind and stiff black leaves blindly scrambling down the streets. . . . . Other days, the weather arrived sleek and sassy. The air  was warm and it had a glitter to it, and a fizz. Only one of two clouds trailed across the taut blue sky, each fluttering brilliant white from the shoulders of the mountains like an aviator's scarf. Sun-besotted, people stood around wearing summer slacks and summer skirts and grins that were grateful and a little bit guilty, the grins of children who had pulled a fast one on their parents. They licked ice cream cones and they sipped sodas and they were very vocal about the wonderfulness of the climate, and in their voices you could sometimes hear a hint of self-congratulation at the wisdom they had shown in choosing to live [in Santa Fe]."

The opening of Flower in the Desert, a mystery by Walter Satterthwait

October 06, 2014

"Someone" Was Living in that Hole

Nine years after the big fire.
Monday we hiked one of our favorite old trails, severely burned over in 2005. That fire was followed by a flash flood the same summer, wiping out parts of the trail, and then came an influx of invasive weeds. The weeds are not so bad now — there is more grass — but you still have to pick your way over trunks of dead trees that have toppled in the intervening years.

More linkage

M. is enough of an animist that of course she would say, "Someone is living in that hole," as opposed to "an animal of some sort." Isn't an animal "someone"? (It's the second item under "Sept. 15.")

Recent severe forest fires in Colorado are not a "departure from the norm," say University of Colorado researchers. " Modern fires in these Front Range forests are not radically different from the fire severity of the region prior to any effects of fire suppression." In other words, we are still feeling the effects of the 1910–present regime of fire suppression.

Bicycle commuting supposedly skyrockets — but in Colorado Springs, it's all about fun, not about going to work. "The Springs is probably the best city along the Front Range for mountain biking," said Tim Halfpop, manager of Old Town Bike Shop on South Tejon Street. "But we're the worst for road riding and getting around town."

The founder of Wiggy's, the low-profile but respected outdoor gear maker in Grand Junction, is promoting lamilite, a continuous-fiber synthelic insulation. I am just re-reading Ernest Hemingway's novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, set in the mid-1930s during the Spanish Civil War, in which the American protagonist, Robert Jordan, extolls the virtues of his eiderdown-insulated "robe," for which he paid $65 — more than $1,000 today, according to one calculator. Makes Wiggy's bags look like a deal.

Rich French diners are still chowing down on endangered birds. It's tradition, you see. "Captured Ortolans are kept and fed heavily for at least three weeks until they resemble a small fat ball. Once they reach a specific weight, the unfortunate birds are drowned in a French liqueur called Armagnac, before being prepared or sold. In France, the price for such a peculiar 'delicacy' easily reaches 150 Euros ($189 US)."

Did I mention that ze artiste Christo has admitted that his plan to hang plastic panels over the Arkansas River is "at a standstill"? No doubt some art auction house will sell copies of his legal filings. It's all conceptual, you see.

October 02, 2014

In the Southeastern San Luis Valley

The evocatively named Flat Top mesa in eastern Conejos County, just north of the New Mexico state line. Taken from a spot looking west, near San Luis-the-town.

October 01, 2014

No, You Won't Be Charged to Take Photos of Your Wilderness Hike

Lots of hysteria recently around an admittedly poorly present U. S. Forest Service announcement on fees for commercial photographers in wilderness areas. Typical was this from the Outdoor Wire's Jim Shepherd:
It may sound far-fetched, but a program like this could mean a wilderness visitor who snapped a photo using a smartphone and later posted it on a personal blog could be considered a "media outlet" and face a $1000 fine.
It not only may sound far-fetched, it is far-fetched. As this headline reads, "No, the Forest Service is Not Planning to Charge You $1500 to Photograph the Wilderness."
Put away the pitchforks, folks. After reading some of the recent horribly misleading media coverage of a proposal by the US Forest Service, you might think that members of the media (down to – and yes, including! – us lowly bloggers) are about to be banned from all National Forest lands. You might even be forgiven for thinking wildlife, landscape, or casual photographers selling their prints online or at a local art show or gallery are about to be hit with an onerous fine.
I checked with semi-pro photographer Jackson Frishman, who does lots of photography in designated wilderness areas. His response, via email
I'm guessing the FS is mainly viewing it as a way to keep productions out of wilderness that don't really need to be there (e.g., the Lone Ranger 2 doesn't need scenes filmed inside the wilderness boundary, find a non-wilderness location instead), but I'd question whether that's actually a common enough problem to merit a solution, given the existing rules of wilderness and the logistical needs of major productions. I could see those guidelines being used to harass investigative journalism critical of FS policy (though to be fair, such a situation might also be pretty much non-existent in practice).
Read the Forest Service's "we didn't mean it like that" news release here.

What we have here is just fed-bashing from the usual suspects. Given that it is an election year — and we have a Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate who wants to see public lands handed over to the state or privatized (Colorado, that can barely fund its state parks, is going to take over, e.g., Rocky Mountain National Park??) — I can't help but see a connection.

September 28, 2014

Colorado Has More Bears, NJ Bear Goes Rogue

"Colorado bear population much bigger than expected, new study finds." The headline
Colorado black bear — and there are maybe 20,000 more?
actually describes a study in Summit County, but it is not the only one.
Researchers found that in every study across the state, in habitats that ranged from good to poor quality for bears, the bear population was double the numbers wildlife managers had been using before.
Meanwhile, an incident in New Jersey reminds you of the old joke that you don't have to run faster than the bear, you just have to run faster than the next guy.

But  Rutgers University student Darsh Patel might still be alive if he and his friends had acted sensibly.

"The hikers broke off in different directions . . . " Not a good idea. If champion sprinter Usain Bolt was matched against a black bear over fifty yards, I would bet on the bear.

Our ancient ancestors no doubt realized that they could not outrun big bears, big canids, or big cats.  I suspect that five people standing solidly together, yelling, and throwing stuff would stand a better chance of continuing life.

Three Coloradans have been killed by black bears since the 1970s, which is a low percentage considering the number of bear encounters. (I have lost count of my own.) Most black bears are shy, but a few are not, either because they have become used to a human-provided food source—or, in some cases, because they may just be extra-aggressive individuals.

Wikipedia's North American Fatal Bear Attacks database is worth reading. It is not always possible to see what caused the incident or whether it was food-related.

UPDATE (Nov. 27, 2014): Patel's cell phone photos have been released. Was this a "mugger bear"—one that had learned to intimidate people in order to get food?

September 20, 2014

Thoughts Post-Pioneers Day Parade

The band kids practice their "hurry up and wait."
The Pioneer Days king and queen, in a buggy drawn by a matched pair of white horses, clatter up alongside the fire engine.

“We’re supposed to follow you,” says the queen, who has the reins. “You’re not going to be siren-ing, are you?”

“No siren,” I say, “Just lights.”

She is relieved. The horses have been nervously watching the high school marching band, practicing nearby. Ford 550 brush trucks don’t bother them — they know trucks — but forty kids in shakos banging drums and playing horns are definitely Strange and Possibly Threatening. Their ears tilt forward and their eyes seem to bulge.

For the first time since 2009, we have sent an engine down to participate in Florence’s parade. Are not all small-town parades about the same? I always flash back to my boyhood in Rapid City, although by comparison, this parade is short on Indians and U. S. Air Force units.

There is, however, Fort Carson’s mounted color guard in their quasi-19th-century uniforms, and when the fire house siren sounds, they lead off.

In a small fumble of parade-marshaling, someone has placed the second color guard with their piper right behind the high school band, so after a quick run-through of “Scotland the Brave” (hey, the vote was two days ago), the piper decides not to compete with the band kids’ music.

Up front, the local fire department is siren-ing, but looking in my mirror, it appears that the queen has her team under control

Rounding the curve onto Main Street, we are briefly halted, while a Forest Service engine and the Fremont County sheriff’s wildland fire team pull in ahead of us — three more brush trucks. I let a short gap open up — we’re not them, we’re us.

Up ahead, the band kids’ gold shakos waver in the heat waves rising from the fire trucks. “It’s the 'Your Tax Dollars at Work' parade,” I say to J., who is waving from the right-hand seat.

Really, aside from two high school bands, Shriners on big motorcycles and tiny cars, and a some entries by local stores, there are few home-grown entries.  The majority appear to be governmental (if you count schools too). That is troubling. Not even a classic-car club.

It is over so fast, and we break formation on a side street, turning toward the highway back into the mountains, going home.

September 17, 2014

A Quick Journey to Fungal Paradise

The Anchorage-Seward train running past Kenai Lake
Semi-free range mycophiles
Just back from Anchorage, a trip that was part work and part pleasure. Alaska is outside the remit of this blog, but I wanted to record a few images none the less.

The train photo is from the Coastal Classic train, almost purely a tourist train, where the engineer slows way down when the onboard guide announces a moose or bear sighting. The water is Kenai Lake.

My hosts are extraordinary urban foragers, and their 8-year-old son celebrated his birthday by inviting some of his friends to go mushroom hunting, which is to say that some hunted mushrooms (none knew as much as he already does) while others just ran around waving sticks, but it was all good. Afterwards, ice cream.

Some of the moms and dads were there too, to keep an eye on the kids and watch out for free-range moose. But actually, when the boy and I went geocaching in another of Anchorage's large and mostly wild city parks, it was he who spotted the moose while I was busy looking at the GPS receiver!

I was seeing mushrooms that I knew only from books, and there were countless other colorful fungi to photograph and marvel at.

Coming home, the 737's overhead bins were full of fishing rod cases, and yes, I was a little envious, but at least I had a bag of Alaska gold (Phaeolepiota aurea) in my suitcase.
Delicate, lovely, don't know what it is.
Young Alaska gold mushroom, Phaeolepiota aurea. See also the red box that the boy is holding.

September 14, 2014

Forest Divination

Kincaid Park, Anchorage (Photo taken today.)
The Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department is so good that they know what the bears will be doing next year.

September 09, 2014

Transhumance Today


From northwestern Wyoming, Cat Urbigkit posts a brief video of her family's sheep coming down from summer range. The dogs, of course, are at the end.

She writes,
This video demonstrates transhumance — the season movement of livestock and people, something that occurs throughout the American West. Most range flocks include about 1,000 ewes, accompanied by their lambs.
This Wyoming flock is owned by a family ranch, one of 600 range outfits in the West. Last week was the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and this was my family's way of celebrating what wilderness means to us — cheers to man and beast!
All the dogs with black coloration are herding dogs (5 or 6 with this herd). There were 7-9 livestock guardian dogs with this bunch as well - both white and some red-coloration (representing Akbash and Central Asian Ovcharka lineages).

September 08, 2014

It Felt like Something Stepped on the House


Lightning struck near the house yesterday afternoon, and the shock wave felt like a big foot coming down, while the windows rattled and buzzed.

The incident reminded me of this cell phone snapshot from last month, taken up on the 2012 burn — one of two recently lightning-struck tree trunks close together. Both were already dead, of course.

Keeping me eye out for anther blasted tree like this one, closer to home.