February 14, 2019

Attacked on the Trail by a Mountain Lion (2)


Here is Travis Kauffman, who recently fought off and killed a mountain lion that attacked him while trail-running in the foothills west of Fort Collins, Colorado.

The size of the lion, once announced as 80 pounds, has now shrunk to 40–50 pounds. A yearling, probably.

Gossip abounds. For instance, one source pretty well plugged into the state's mountain lion network (of humans, that is), claimed that he actually was shooting a video of the lion when it attacked him. That is why the attack came from the front, she said.

True, when hunting deer, lions generally attack from the side or year and bite the prey's windpipe. This lion, probably young and inexperienced, fastened onto Kauffman's wrist.

But given that he outweighed it by 100 pounds and was angry to boot, you can see how he could subdue and kill it, although he got some significant lacerations that will leave him with some scars.

(Unrelated: Travis is purely American name, as Nigel is British/West Indian. Do all Travises have Texas roots, a memory of the ill-fated William B. Travis at the Alamo?)

"Frozen World"



Filmed in the southern Rockies, the Wet Mountain Valley to be exact.

February 12, 2019

Motherless Cub Gets Another Chance

Goodbye, little bear. Your luck has been good until now. I hope that it holds.

You and your litter mate were found in central Colorado Springs last summer, victims of some unfortunate events. Lucky for you, the game wardens caught you both, and you were taken into the rehab center.

There you ate and played with your two new cage mates, and you ate some more. All that fish and fruit and grass and Walmart avocados by the carton.

Today they came and shot you with a dart gun. After a while you fell asleep, were weighed (110 pounds / 50 kg), given one last anti-worm shot, and loaded with your sister into a wooden crate.

By now, you two should be bedded down inside that crate, which is filled with straw and covered over with straw and snow to serve as a bear den for the rest of winter. You are on a big ranch in the Wet Mountains, away from the highway, behind locked gates.

The cattle have been moved to lower elevations, so even the ranch hands will not be around much. It should be nice and quiet.

When you feel like getting up, you won't have Mom to follow after. You will be on your own. Look out for each other. Keep a low profile. Watch out for bigger bears. Stay away from the houses. Eat and eat and eat. You have a pretty good chance of survival.

(When I see those ranch hands next summer, I will ask them if they have seen you two. If they say that they have not, that might be a good thing. On the other hand, I want to know . . .  )

February 06, 2019

Attacked on the Trail by a Mountain Lion (1)

Adult mountain lion  (Colorado Parks & Wildlife).

Screens all over America, even at political websites, lit up yesterday with the news of a trail runner attacked by a mountain lion west of Fort Collins.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife kicked off the story with a news release on Monday, February 4th, reading in part:
LARIMER COUNTY, CO -- Colorado Parks and Wildlife is actively investigating a reported wild cat attack on a trail runner at Horsetooth Mountain Park on Monday afternoon, Feb 4. The victim survived the attack and is currently undergoing medical treatment at a local hospital.

The man was trail running on West Ridge Trail on Horsetooth Mountain Park property when he was attacked from behind by a large cat. The cat bit his face and wrist; the victim suffered facial lacerations, wrist injuries and scratches and puncture wounds to his arms, legs and back.
Subsequent news stories explained how the thirty-something runner not only fought off the cat but but choked it to death.  
The man picked up a rock with his free hand and pounded the cat in the head, but the animal hung on. He then put the lion in a headlock and wrestled and scrapped with the creature on the trail.

When he finally managed to free his wrist from the cat’s jaws, the runner counterattacked. He jumped on the mountain lion’s back, and, using his hands, arms and feet, he choked the animal to death, she said.
His Paleolithic great-nth grand-daddy would have been proud.

In one well-known case, a woman running alone was killed in 1994 on a trail near Auburn, California, which makes a chapter in Jordan Fisher Smith's 2005 memoir  Nature Noir: A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra. On the other hand, three years ago a Pitkin County, Colorado, woman fought off a lion who had her 5-year-old's head in its mouth, so she gets the Paleo Prize too.

Allyn Atadero, father of Jaryd, with his son's clothing, found four years
after the boy disappeared along the Cache la Poudre River (Montana Standard).
Coloradans also remember the high school cross-country runner attacked in Idaho Springs in 1991 on a practice run near his school,  not to mention a 10-year-old killed in 1999 in Rocky Mountain National Park and the mystery of 3-year-old Jaryd Atadero, who disappeared on a group hike. His unsolved death is often attributed to a mountain lion, but some argue that he might have been snatched by an eagle. (There is a book about his disappearance too.)

Yet — and this is important — when you read this list of fatal attacks in North America, which begins in 1890, you will notice how many of them were on children. Of the adults, a majority seemed to have been alone and moving — running, skiing, hiking. One mountain biker was attacked while bent over fixing the chain on his bicycle, apparently.

Now is when I could segue into telling my own stories of being stalked by mountain lions — one time in particular got sort of Paleo — but I think I will save it for a follow-up post. Check back in a couple of days.

January 31, 2019

Colonel Roosevelt Works the Crowd, Presents a Teddy's Bear

Colonel Theodore Roosevelt — he prefers that title to "President" now that he is out of office —stopped by the annual meeting of the Colorado chapter of the Wildlife Society down in Pueblo last night.

(Backcountry Hunters and Anglers was one of the sponsors, so I was there as a BHA member.)

The former chief executive was in fine form, telling jokes, recounting tales of using his powers to preserve millions of acres into national parks and monuments while also, with Gifford Pinchot and others, creating the national forest system.

And telling jokes about his hapless handpicked successor, William Taft.

He capped the evening  by giving away a "Teddy's Bear" to the youngest member of the crowd, demonstrating that he retained a politician's knack for handling babies.

I hope that I look as good when I am 160.

January 30, 2019

Why Do We Want to Feed Birds, and Does It Help Them?


Evening grosbeaks eating black oil sunflower seeds.
Australian scientist Darryl Jones answers questions about bird-feeding for Cornell University's "All About Birds."
At first, it was pretty much a casual, do-it-yourself activity—tossing out food scraps or leftover grain. Bird feeding at the scale we see now didn’t really take off until the early 1980s when it became possible to go into a pet food or hardware store and buy all these specialized items for feeding wild birds. It was primarily the [cage bird industry starting to] sell to people to feed to wild birds.
The interview is partly about the industry, partly about good feed practices, partly about effects on bird populations (mostly good), and this:

Why do people feel so deeply about feeding birds?
Jones: That’s probably the most fascinating [question] of all—it’s so much more complex than I ever imagined. A lot of people feel that we humans have done so much damage to the environment and therefore to birds, that they want to give something back—which is a pretty serious, profound activity. Others just really want to learn about birds and feeding brings them up close. And that leads to this whole area where interacting with nature can lead to increased psychological, physical, and spiritual well-being. If that’s the case, bird feeding is one of the most intimate, immediate kinds of interaction with nature that you can have.
Read it all.

January 15, 2019

It's Tuesday, So It's Bears-day

 A news report on today's bear release.

I did not sleep well last night because I knew that I was getting up earlier than usual.

Wash, dress, walk and feed the dog, fill a go-cup with coffee, and be on the road to the wildlife rehabilitation center.

A tranquilized bear is weighed. The white ear tag
marks it as release from a rehab center.
The game wardens were already there, four of them: two men, two women, all from the Colorado Springs area.  They had already started "darting" the bears — two them lay sleeping in a corner of their enclosure, while one hung woozily from the chain-link wall.

My job as a Colorado Parks & Wildlife wildlife-transport volunteer was just that: transport. In this case, I was a bear-stretcher bearer. Once a knocked-out bear was on the stretcher, one of wardens and I carried it to a hanging scale, where it was weighed (less 15 lbs. for the stretcher and webbing). Then it was out across the snow to a waiting culvert-trap, now repurposed as a transport trailer.

Two trailers, four yearling bears in each, butt to butt, so that they would not accidentally roll onto each other's muzzles and cut off breathing.

Then, after two hours (that's 15 minutes per bear, pretty good teamwork), the two rigs left the property, headed north to somewhere in El Paso or Teller counties. (Exact location of the artificial dens is confidential, of course.)

When bears are released in summer, they are given a wake-up drug first, so that they, literally, hit the ground running. 

Game warden Corey Adler arranges the
tranquilized bears for transportation.

In the winter, however, they are hauled on sleds to the man-made dens, four yearlings to a den, and left there, still tranquilized, to wake up later among familiar scents.

To see those dens, view the photos with Jennifer Brown's article in The Colorado Sun.  That"180 acres" is wacky wrong though. The wildlife rehabilitation center is much, much smaller.

Weighing between 110 and 160 pounds (50–73 kg) , the seven males and one female are roly-poly fat, thanks to massive donations of fruits and vegetables from the Cañon City Walmart, fish from CPW, and meat donated by big-game hunters. Trying to grab hold of one is like grabbing Jello.

All the while, photos are being emailed to a CPW public relations guy, and the TV station crews will be waiting near the release site.

Six more bears remain to be released in the near future.

Most of these bears were orphaned last year when their mothers were killed, either by vehicular collision or by a game warden when the mother had repeatedly broken into homes, looking for food.

The wardens know that they have to make that difficult decision sometimes, but they don't like it. As one of them said today, "This is our chance to show that we don't always kill bears."

January 14, 2019

Back When the VW Bug Was an Off-road Vehicle

In 1956, if you owned a Type I Volkswagen Bug in South Dakota, you had yourself an off-road vehicle.

Here is Dad's VW with evidence of a successful antelope hunt on the roof rack and his friend Harry Linde (owner of a sawmill near Keystone, S. D.) posing with their rifles.

There were also stories about chasing jackrabbits in that car . . .

But don't go chasing across the prairie/steppe in an old VW Bug today: get a replica Kübelwagen T-82.

January 13, 2019

Where Are the Dogs of Yesteryear?

Ubi sunt?
"Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?" asked the medieval French poet François Villon. Usually that is Englished as "Where are the snows of yesteryear?"

And where are the dogs of yesteyear?

M. with Jack the Chesapeake Bay retriever and Shelby the collie-Lab mix, also known as the Bandit Queen. North Taylor Creek, Sangre de Cristo Range, early winter, 2002(?).

January 11, 2019

You Can Tell That The Firewood Article Was Not Written in the West — #4 Gives It Away

An article about how to stack firewood, and it's fine, but number 4 made me laugh.

Think forest fire and keeping fuel away from the house, not termites.

Actually, I hardly have a woodpile right now, and that is nothing to brag about. The early snows caught me off-guard, and I have been the Grasshopper, not the Ant, ever since. I go out on nice days and cut some rounds from this big, beetle-killed pine trunk near the house, wheelbarrow them home, and then split them.

Next summer, I need to be more the Ant.

There are, in fact, more ways to stack firewood, and you can find them by skimming back issues of Mother Earth News or, I am told, by visiting Norway.

January 09, 2019

Smoke-Phase Turkeys in Southern Colorado

Two smoke-phase wild turkeys were part of a small flock.
Two days ago I bumped in a small flock of Merriam's wild turkeys in a residential area of eastern Custer County. Mixed in with the normally colored birds were two light ones — not true albinos, but definitely whiter than normal.

It turns out that these turkeys are called "smoke phase" or sometimes "smokey gray." You might wonder if their wild parents mated with a domestic bird, but not so, says this Minnesota outdoor writer.
"The partially white or smoke-phase turkeys occur naturally," said Tom Glines, Minnesota's senior regional director for the National Wild Turkey Federation. "The white or gray feathers are black-tipped and the birds are beautiful."

There has been some concern that landowners have released pen-raised turkeys into the wild -- a practice that is illegal without a permit -- and that some of those captive turkeys have bred with the wild turkeys, resulting in the smoke-phase turkeys.

There is no hard science to back up those concerns.
 No, they do not turn color in the winter. They were a new sight for me though.

January 04, 2019

Graves in the Woods (2)


Two little graves in the San Isabel National Forest
Unlike the graves mentioned in "Graves in the Woods (1)," these are not human graves, I think — unless they were infant twins — which would be extremely weird.

More likely they were for two pet animals, small dogs or cats. We found them near a Forest Service road when we first moved here in 1992, and they looked pretty much the same back then. The Mason Gulch Fire of 2005 missed them by a few yards.

I wonder if whoever  buried them there ever comes back for a visit.

December 31, 2018

Graves in the Woods (1)


Moormans River, near Free Union, Virginia

M. and I rolled in Sunday the 30th after a long train trip to Virginia to see (most) of her East Coast relatives.

Cabin chimney above
the Moormans River
We like to travel by train, which leaves you with a lot of episodic memories, like being awakened somewhere in the Ohio River valley by the bright lights of a coal-fired power plant shining in the window, or further up the drainage, watchcing the Kenawha and New rivers running brown and out of their banks with water from this winter's storms.

We walked from her brother's house down to the Moormans River, which was high enough for boating, had anyone so desired. I know that it often drops to a trickle, and he did tell a story of abandoning a kayak trip one summer for lack of water.

This chimney and foundation, laid up with local stone, are on the trail to the river. The brother, who has lived there more than twenty years, said that he only recently had spotted some grave sites near the cabin. Two are parallel sunken graves, the others less sunken but still marked with small headstones and footstones.

Those markers are small slabs of the native stone. They bear no inscriptions. Either there were once wooden markers that decayed, or there were none. Perhaps people just remembered: "That grave was Ma's, and little Bessie is buried next to her."Now no one remembers.

Two sunken graves. Others are nearby.
We all went hiking too in Shenandoah National Park, on a little piece of the Appalachian Trail, and that was an afternoon that I cherished.

I support public lands as much as anyone, but here too there are hidden presences — a overgrown old road, a pasture gate lost in regrown forest. People were evicted to make the park.

Although the lands earmarked for the new park were covered with homes and farms, there was little public outcry when inhabitants of the nearly 5,000 individual land tracts were expelled, their lands presented to the federal government. After all, the Blue Ridge dwellers were not only different from the mainstream of American society, but, according to one contemporary journalist, their existence in the dark hollows represented "about the limit of destitution at which human life could be sustained." Park promoters and government officials publicized the fact that "these people will be moved to more civilized regions of agriculture and industry." The creation of the national park propelled these backward mountaineers into a world they had previously eschewed.

When archaeologists found a toy ray gun in the rubble of Corbin Hollow, they knew these were not people "cut off from the current of American life." 

From the first day of the survey in Nicholson, Corbin, and Weakley hollows on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge, formerly home to three communities with eighteenth-century roots, it was obvious that some observations about the region were flawed. Automobiles, Coke bottles, Bakelite toys, cologne, hair tonic, and hot-sauce bottles, even a half-torn 1931 cellulose card calendar featuring the artwork of Maxfield Parrish, all shattered the accepted image of backward hillbillies eking out an existence that was "completely cut off from the current of American life." (Archaeology magazine, "Shenandoah's Secret History," Jan.–Feb. 2000).
More graves there too, I am sure, if you know where to look.

December 16, 2018

Never Underestimate a Bolo Tie, and Other Gift Suggestions

It's time for Southern Rockies Nature Blog's seasonal gift guide.

• Booze and smoked meats are always good

• I like books. Maybe you know someone who would too. Two that caught my eye:

Lines on a Map: Unparalleled Adventures in Modern Exploration

Tracks Along the Left Coast: Jaime de Angulo & Pacific Coast Culture

Or how about a bolo tie? I got my first one as a college student — it's the one on the right with the green "stone," which is probably plastic, but I did not have much money then.

Like tattoos, every bolo tells a story — but you can take it off at the end of the day.

"Never Underestimate the Bolo Tie," writes someone with deep New Mexico roots.

For most of my life, I associated this unique type of neckwear with old men, New Mexican politicians, and the 1980s. Even though as an Okie the bolo tie isn’t foreign to my state, I never thought I’d personally sport one.

That all changed at my grandfather’s funeral.

When we laid him to rest, each of his grandsons who served as pallbearers sported one of Grandpa’s old bolo ties.

I picked one from his collection that stuck out to me. It’s a silver keystone with an oval piece of turquoise inlaid in it. Simple, but distinguished.

I was wearing a pair of dark jeans, cowboy boots, white shirt, and brown sport coat. It’s a getup my grandpa would have worn. Rugged, yet refined.

I put the bolo tie on and gave myself a look in the mirror. I was expecting to feel awkward and self-conscious wearing it, but to my pleasant surprise, I thought it actually looked quite sharp on me.

December 12, 2018

An Unexpected Slot Canyon, Trail Art, and a Threat


It's better in the winter — this is early December
I was over in Fremont County, south of Cañon City, in an area where I used to wander some twenty years ago. Back then, a hike meant following deer trails, arroyos, or an occasional two-track road.

Now there is a trail network. That's a good thing, mostly.

Stumps + rusty iron = trail art
Winter is the time to be out in this country. The sun is bright, there is only a little ice in the shady spots, and the "piñon gnats" of summer — those little bugs that fly into your eyes, nose, and ears — are absent. So are rattlesnakes.

Layers of shale.
 I found this little slot canyon that I had not known about.
Tint the photo pink and say that you were in Utah.
Other people knew about it though, as their old graffiti attested.
1901 ??
I learned that some people believe there are dinosaur tracks in the canyon. I have seen tracks in places like the famous trackway out in the Purgatory Canyon. To me, the various dimples in the rocks looked more the result of erosion.
I don't think these are tracks from a prehistoric beach.
But there is always something. These trails are on BLM land, and a Canadian mining firm, Zephyr Minerals Ltd., wants to core drill part of the area and maybe mine it — or sell it to some outfit that would. So instead of year-around recreational area, there would be a big hole in the ground, maybe a cyanide-leaching pad or some crap like that.

There is a potential for polluting Grape Creek, which brings down the DeWeese-Dye Ditch & Reservoir Company's water from the Wet Mountain Valley to serve hundred of shareholders large and small on the south edge of Cañon City.

So another battle to be fought.