April 12, 2019

Fisher's Missed Career Opportunity

I could have been a contender!
Fisher, my Chesapeake Bay retriever, loves poop. Every off-leash ramble in the woods is a chance to diversify his gut bacteria.

Only now do we learn that he could have done something much the same for science!

The article titled "He couldn't hack it as a drug-sniffing dog. Now he's conservation's best friend," shows what he might have become, if I were a wildlife biologist:
Train, a Chesapeake Bay retriever, sniffs out the scat, or poop, of elusive wild animals like jaguars and oncillas in the name of conservation. 
It might sound like an unsavory task, but these scat samples are goldmines for researchers like Train's owner, conservation biologist Karen DeMatteo.
Oh well, there are still fresh turds to be discovered here. No jaguar though.

April 03, 2019

Trusting Siri in West Texas

Let Siri pick a route, and turn on the cruise control.
I am driving through West Texas in April, so it is highly unlikely that GPS directions would leave me stuck in a snowdrift or run me off into a lake.

On the other hand, when (female Australian) Siri tells me to veer off State Highway 208 and onto a county road (paved, but not posted at 75 mph like SH 208), I wondered what was going on. There was traffic on the road, though, so evidently there was no chance of dead-ending into the world's largest patch of nopales (prickly pear).

I had driven home-to-San Angelo a couple of times before, so I had an idea of where I was going, but there were lots of route choices. I decided to give Australian Siri her head, although when she tried to get us to our San Angelo motel the last time, she became hopelessly confused in trying to pronounce the street name, Beauregard.

Sheesh, where were we? US 87.  Farm-to-Market 400. US 84, US 380,  and finally (with a little cut-off), State Highway 208, blasting south at 80 mph through the high-fenced Texas game farms with their fancy gates.

 I kept looking for some kind of exotic African antelope or something, but saw only four pronghorn antelope yearlings, locked among mesquite and red cedar, some whitetail deer, and the ubiquitous goats.  Also lots of wind turbines, some of which were actually turning.

Y muchos nopales.

March 07, 2019

A Big Year for Colorado Avalanches


Heavy snow this summer has been causing avalanches in the Colorado high country. Interstate 70 was closed on Vail Pass early this morning, in fact.

Here is why there are so many avalanches:
The “historic avalanche cycle” started in October and November, when Colorado got a lot of early-season snow. That snow rotted into facets: imagine ball bearings or sugar-like snow that can’t be formed into a snowball. That’s the weak layer. Then came lots more snow. In the past month, CAIC forecasters started seeing fewer avalanches releasing on that weak layer on the ground.
 Then came even bigger storms — like this past weekend when 40 inches fell in two days in the Central Rockies, or the 50 inches that piled up in 50 hours in the Four Corners area two weeks ago. And the slab grew even larger and heavier, all sitting atop the weak layer on the ground. That means every falling flake boosted the chance of a catastrophic slide. And in this latest round of storms, the final flake fell on slide paths above I-70.
I lifted this video and quote from an article in the online Colorado Sun go there for more video and background information.

February 24, 2019

Attacked on the Trail by a Mountain Lion (3)

Part 1 here
Part 2 here
Infrared image of a mountain lion. Scroll down to learn about
mountain lion photography from an expert. (Photo: Stanford University)

My first face-to-face with a mountain lion (two of them, actually) came during my student days when I worked a few times as a camp hand/assistant cook for a small hunting outfitting concern in Westcliffe, Colorado.

During a spring bear/turkey hunt (spring bear hunting in Colorado ended in the early 1990s), the guides decided to provide some after-supper entertainment.

They took the clients (two or three men) and me down into a side canyon of Grape Creek, and Guide 2 showed us how to wail on a mouth-blown predator call. Then he shined his red spotlight across the drainage and there sat two lions — youngsters traveling together, we suspected.

They watched us. We watched them. We were ready to leave, but there they were. Finally a guide pulled out his .44 Magnum revolver and fired a couple of shots over their heads.

Blink. You could imagine them thinking, "It makes loud noises." Top predator, meet top predator.

We started walking back up a rocky path to our vehicles. The guide cast his red light back and forth behind us, but it kept getting dimmer and dimmer. Later, he claimed he had controlled that dimming with a rheostat. I suspect that his batteries were just worn out.

It was dramatic though. By the time we had the clients back to the nearby cabin, one of them, a lieutenant in a Southern California police department who had told us tales of his urban exploits, was about ready to jump out of his skin.

Me, I went out and bought a red spotlight with rechargeable battery and some predator calls. Now and again I like to see what's out there. And of course there are the scout cameras.

If I lived in northern Colorado I would be tempted to take one of these courses

How does "Mountain Lion Photography Workshop" sound?
Join local wildlife videographer and conservationist David Neils for a deep dive on the habits and habitat of mountain lions in Northern Colorado. You'll learn how to map the hunting and travel routes of these apex predators using four natural factors to view the landscape like a mountain lion, and capture weekly video of these elusive predators. 
 Here is a list of dates and places.

February 19, 2019

The Cult of "Ute Prayer Trees"

A small pine has grown in a U shape, trying to reach sunlight from inside
a thicket of Gambel oak. I could show you the same thing on my place,
but this photo was lifted from the What's Up, Archaeology? blog.
Finally, a take-down of the whole "Ute Prayer Tree" legend that has been getting too much of a hearing up and down Colorado, particularly in the Ute Pass area (west of Colorado Springs, e.g., Woodland Park, Divide, etc.)

"Bent Trees Part 1: Pseudo-archaeologies" was published last week on the What's Up, Archaeology? group blog. The author, Holly Kathryn Norton, is the Colorado State Archaeologist, and this is only Part 1 of her fisking of this contemporary "old Indian legend."

As you walk through a forest in Colorado, or anywhere else, really, there are trees that have not grown straight. In Colorado, particularly in the Pike’s Peak region of the Front Range, a contemporary mythology has grown around these trees. The myth takes many forms but the foundational logic is that these trees were purposely bent by the Ute Tribe, and the name given to the trees hints at why proponents of the practice think the Ute bent the trees- Prayer trees, burial trees, spirit trees, grandfather trees, marker trees, vortex trees, trail trees. The names change as the loosely formulated hypothesis are challenged by both professional archaeologists and the Ute themselves.
A little basic forestry combined with knowledge of history disproves a lot of it. I have made this same challenge to "prayer tree" proponents: Take a forester's increment borer, pull a core, and count the rings. Any ponderosa pine tree "modified" by the Utes on the Eastern Slope of Colorado ought to be at least 150 years old. If it's only 70 years old, then forget it. And if you know pine trees, you will know that many of the trees so described are far too young to have been modified by old-time Ute people.
There have also been serious questions about the age of individual trees that have been identified as “Ute Trees.” Core samples taken a couple of years ago on a tree that was identified as a “prayer tree” aged the tree to 67 years old, well after the Utes were forcibly removed from the Front Range to reservations in the Southwestern part of the state, nearly 8 hours away by modern car travel. I was personally told that this age is not accurate because “bending trees causes the DNA in a tree to change, so modern dendrochronology no longer works for aging a tree.” These kinds of arguments are just false, but no amount of fact-checking can refute such a blatant disbelief in scientific information.
And yet . . . and yet . . . this desire to see Ute Prayer Trees (or for some people, trees modified by Bigfoot) is what people have always done, seeing the spiritual side of nature and trying to put a name and face on it, whether it's dryads or Druids or you name it.

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.