June 10, 2019

Attacked on the Trail by a Mountain Lion (4)

"Stinky" in November 2018.
 Last November, as described in a post called "The Mountain Lion Who Hated Everyone (With Reason)," I talked about the vomit-covered kitten that we picked up from a Huerfano County game warden and brought up to the local wildlife-rehabilitation center.

(Here is CPW's news release about her.)

I called her "Stinky," for lack of a better name. She soon gained a cage-mate, another kitten from down the Arkansas River in Otero County, whose even more antisocial demeanor — a good thing, really — earned him the nickname of "Hissy."  He would hide inside a hollow log in the enclosure, peer out, and hiss in the most hostile manner that he could.
"Stinky" six months later. She is crossing
the hollow log but would not fit inside it.


This was Stinky at the end of May, when she and Hissy were deemed sufficiently grown to be released into their original territories. They weighed 50–60 pounds, Hissy being a bit larger.

So I thought back to the case of Travis Kauffman, who got his fifteen minutes of fame last February when he "fought off" and killed a mountain lion west of Fort Collins.

A subsequent necropsy put the little lion's weight at 24 pounds (9 kg.) So it weighed maybe half or less what Stinky weighed upon release. 

Kauffman stomped a kitten, albeit a big one.

I and everyone else who wrote about that thought that he had been attacked, his running triggering a predatory reflex.

But the rehabber had a different view. She pointed out that Kauffman's injuries were on his front, whereas a mountain lion normally attacks from the rear or side. She thought he was probably bent over the kitten snapping photos with a smartphone when it literally got in his face.

The kitten was big enough to scratch him up, but not big enough to take him down.

Part 1 here
Part 2 here
Part 3 here

June 06, 2019

Wildflowers in a Scrambled Spring

Penstemon virens, low penstemon — I think.
This spring has been unusually cool and wet. The "wet" means that all of Colorado is now officially out of drought. I kept thinking locally that the soil moisture was still not what it could be—I was not seeing the spring melt trickles in the little draws—but the last May snowstorm produced some, so hurray for that.

The early wildflowers (spring beauties, pasqueflower) were nothing much, but these penstemons came on strong. M. and I were in south central Texas in April when the bluebonnets (which are lupines) were blossoming—the slope behind the house is almost like that.
Clematis hirsutissima, hairy clematis or sugarbowl.

These hairy clematis (I say Clem-atis, you say Cle-mat-is) usually bloom by late May; this year there are just getting going now. Ditto the wallflowers, not pictured.
Rocky Mountain locoweed, Oxytropis sericea. They are blooming in full force too. On the other hand, the apple trees in the neighborhood had a very few blossoms. It was chilly for so long.

Four-nerved daisy or "Perky Sue"


Perky Sue? Isn't that an old rock 'n' roll song? No, that was "Peggy Sue," as first performed by Buddy Holly — video here. (Supposedly its name commemorates this  Texas lady.)
 
Its botanical name is Tetraneuris Ivesiana.  Photographed at Trinidad Lake State Park on the first of June.

June 02, 2019

An Earth-Shattering Kaboom at Trinidad Lake State Park

Right here is when (most of) the dinosaurs died.


Things you learn. Not being a paleontologist or a geologist, I did not know that that the K-Pg boundary — Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary — is visible at a southern Colorado state park. (It used to be the K-T boundary [Creataceous-Tertiary], but the kool kidz have changed the name, and if you don't keep up, you're just so 1990s.)

In a  recent New Yorker article, "The Day the Dinosaurs Died," Doug Preston writes,
Today, the layer of debris, ash, and soot deposited by the asteroid strike is preserved in the Earth’s sediment as a stripe of black about the thickness of a notebook. This is called the KT boundary, because it marks the dividing line between the Cretaceous period and the Tertiary period. (The Tertiary has been redefined as the Paleogene, but the term “KT” persists.) Mysteries abound above and below the KT layer. In the late Cretaceous, widespread volcanoes spewed vast quantities of gas and dust into the atmosphere, and the air contained far higher levels of carbon dioxide than the air that we breathe now. The climate was tropical, and the planet was perhaps entirely free of ice. 
You stand there, and you look at it, and you think, "Right there. Death and chaos like we cannot imagine."
His X-Acto knife unearthed the edge of a fossilized fin. Another paddlefish came to light; it later proved to be nearly six feet long. DePalma probed the sediment around it, to gauge its position and how best to extract it. As more of it was exposed, we could clearly see that the fish’s two-foot-long snout had broken when it was forced—probably by the flood’s surge—against the branches of a submerged araucaria tree. He noted that every fish he’d found in the site had died with its mouth open, which may indicate that the fish had been gasping as they suffocated in the sediment-laden water.

Here is another view of the layer from sciencebuzz.org.
This site is on the Long's Canyon Trail at Trinidad Lake State Park. It is just a quarter mile or so from the trailhead. 

May 18, 2019

The Lone Lilac Abides

I was climbing the steep dirt road up behind the house, following the dog, mind off somewhere (probably volunteer fire department stuff) when I ran into a wall of lilac scent.

There it was — the survivor. A family from down in Rocky Ford used to have a cabin up there — really just a parked camping trailer with an addition. They planted a lilac bush on a southwest-facing slope behind it, and they must have picked just the right variety, in the late 1960s or whenever it was.

They stopped coming much after 1998, when the father died. Eventually the adult children sold us those acres, and one tough lilac bush.

Through drought years, blizzards, and total neglect the lilac prevails. This is one of the good years. Among the scent of sun-warmed ponderosa pine — pungent lilac.

May 13, 2019

Nevertheless, She Pointed


Wendy, the visiting German wirehaired pointer, is a  .  .  .   pointing dog. She is impressive on pheasants, but she cannot pass up a robin in a city park either.

Tonight it was the broad-tailed hummingbirds that earned her concentrated and beady/birdy stare. They. Are. Birds.

Evidently that's how it works.

'False Spring' Pasta


We are used to "false spring" along the Eastern Slope of the Rockies.

Maybe now, with the last snow melted, this is the real spring, but I am still calling this dish pasta falsa primavera — with fillaree, lamb's quarters (quelite cenizo), clover, and dandelion, all picked within yards of the house.

April 27, 2019

Trendy Chefs, Libertarians Discover Roadkill Cuisine

A presentation of raccoon meat resembling the scene of roadkill created by the late Moto executive chef Homaro Cantu and Chris Jones, chef de cuisine, at their now-closed restaurant at Fulton Market on the west side of Chicago, Illinois. (Alex Garcia/MCT/Newscom, published in Reason magazine.)
Once when I was working at an outdoor magazine, the executive editor and I daydreamed a whole series of events for a sort of Redneck Olympics.

One of them was the "roadkill pickup," inspired by the time when, while following him along US 50 in Cañon City, I had seen another car smack into a cock pheasant near Colon Orchards, and I had stopped, hopped out, grabbed it, and driven on as though someone were standing behind me with a timer.

His wife cooked it that evening. It was fine.

At Hit & Run, the blog of Reason magazine, food lawyer Baylen Linnekin applauds laws (including Colorado's) that liberalize the collection of road kill.
Bizarrely, though, many states prohibit the practice. In fact, as I detail in my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, nearly half of U.S. states prohibit harvesting roadkill. Nevada, for example, conflates roadkill harvesters with poachers. Last year, a Louisiana man faced a fine of up to $750 and up to a month in jail for harvesting a dead fawn.
But help is on the way. Oregon's roadkill law, which I discussed in an earlier column, was adopted in 2017 and took effect this January. Subject to certain conditions, the law allows anyone who obtains a permit to harvest a deer or elk, which a person can eat, share, or give away. (Sorry, no skunk meat; though it's fine to harvest stink steaks in Idaho.)
Then there are the "concern trolls":
"Our concern really is where people might intentionally hit animals for trophy or food," says John Griffin, senior director of urban wildlife programs with the Humane Society of the United States. "Like an elk or something large. It's incredibly dangerous. For both species."
Does John Griffin know what hitting an elk does to your car, and maybe you?  How many people would sacrifice a minivan or SUV for a free meal? He just does not want anyone eating wild game under any circumstances, that much is obvious.

April 24, 2019

Quick, It's Nest Box Time!

American robin (Cornell)
Want to Build the Right Nest Box for Your Area's Birds?


The Cornell University has an interactive guide that will help you download appropriate building plans and place your nest box: Right Bird, Right House.

Want to Monitor Bird Nests for Citizen Science?


You can sign up to monitor a wild bird's nest through Cornell's Nest Watch program.
Participating in NestWatch is easy and just about anyone can do it, although children should always be accompanied by an adult when observing bird nests. Simply follow the directions on our website to become a certified NestWatcher, find a bird nest using our helpful tips, visit the nest every 3-4 days and record what you see, and then report this information on our website. You can also download the NestWatch Mobile App for iOS and Android and record what you see at the nest in real time.

Why It Is All Worthwhile (Besides Science)


The inimitable Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk, writes how seeing birds enter her childhood birdhouses provided "a little flush of pride dangerously near possession" and muses,
In Britain, the class system inflects nestboxes as it does everything else. You can buy boxes that resemble scale models of pubs or churches, ones with poems or flowers painted on the front, with tiny glued-on gates and picket fences. These are frowned upon by the gatekeepers of British nature appreciation, who recommend plain wooden ones. The RSPB explicitly warns against using decorative boxes in case their bright colours might attract predators, even though there’s no real evidence for this. Yes, metal boxes are a bad idea because they can overheat nestlings, but a handwritten “home sweet home” isn’t much of an issue when robins can and will nest happily in discarded teapots.
Read the rest of her "Spring Reflection: A Birdhouse Makes a Home."

April 21, 2019

Spring Flowers &c. Seen While Walking the Dog

Sand lilies, Leucocrinum montanum.

Spring beauty  Claytonis rosea (says the guidebook).

Dropped feather from a Eurasian collared dove, busy breeding already.
Pasque flower, Pulsatilla patens
Three good websites: Wildflowers of Colorado, Eastern Colorado Wildflowers, Southwest Colorado Wildflowers

April 20, 2019

This is the Best Bigfoot Podcast

Earlier this month I was in a bar in San Marcos, Texas talking about Bigfoot, as one does. Some friends who teach at Texas State University there had organized a conference on "monsters" in literature, religion, folklore, cryptozoology, etc.

I was trying to come up with the last name of the late Grover Krantz, a physical anthropologist, but having a brief memory lapse when the guy sitting next to me supplied it. An instructor at the U. of North Carolina at Charlotte, he was a walking Bigfoot database.

My connection to Krantz was just that I had worked at Johnson Books in Boulder, which published his Bigfoot-is-an-actual-ape book Big Footprints: An Scientific Inquiry into the Reality of Sasquatch.  (Johnson is now part of Bower House.)You can read about Krantz and Bigfoot in Smithsonian.

I had left Johnson Books by then, so I did not get to meet him, but the editorial director sent me a copy. I read a lot of it by lantern light at night, curled up in my van, parked at some duck-hunting spot in the San Luis Valley. It helps to be alone in the dark when reading any Bigfoot book.

The guy sitting next to me offered another piece of information: Lauren Krantz, Gover's distant cousin, a former National Public Radio reporter-producer, started a Bigfoot-related podcast last year, Wild Thing

Wild Thing is the best-produced podcast that I have ever heard. So many of the podcasts out there consist of one person ranting, or two or three buddies Skyping or calling via cellphone, so that sound levels are inconsistent as they can be. They trash-talk each other or swap in-house gossip or talk about what they are for lunch, and it just drags on.

I can think of one podcast where the main hostess is trying to answer questions in a chatroom while her guests are talking, so you hear the tickety-tock of her keyboard all the time.

Not here. When it comes to production values, Krantz's podcast sounds as good as Radio Diaries or This American Life, if you ever listen to any public radio.

Wild Thing
Nor is Krantz a "true believer." She describes her subject as " our collective fascination with Bigfoot," and the first episode is devoted to learning about her cousin Grover, whom she never knew when he was alive. Read summaries of episodes here. Mostly she follows the issues raised by Grover Krantz's hypothesis of a surviving giant ape, as opposed to UFOs and "interdimensional beings."

Hear her interviewed on Skeptic magazine's Monster Talk podcast. And here is Krantz interviewed by the Seattle Times: "Bigfoot Hunters Aren't Crazy, Just Curious."

She talks to experts, visits Bigfoot sites, and sits down for an interview with Bob Gimlin, now in his late eighties, but still willing to discuss the social and economic price he paid for being half of the famous "Patterson-Gimin" film of 1967, which purports to show a minute of a female Bigfoot striding through a Northern California riparian zone.  There is the world of Bigfoot hunters and their disagreements, and of course, she goes on a Bigfoot hunt of her own.

You can find it on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Android, and on its own website. And buy T-shirts.

April 15, 2019

Ed Abbey Talks about his Park Ranger Days at Arches

Author Ed Abbey talks about his park ranger days at Arches National Monument (now national park) in the 1950s, the experience that produced his landmark book Desert Solitaire, in this 1985 short documentary.

Me, I will never forget visiting Delicate Arch early one morning in 1990, trying to get ahead of the crowd, but then the crowd arrived, and someone said, "It looks just like the [Utah] license plate!"

From Ned Judge, producer and director: "An eight minute film essay that I co-produced and directed with Ed Abbey in 1985. At the time I was working for a network magazine show. The executive producer took me to lunch one day. He told me that he was having trouble with his son who was 18. The son thought his dad was a corporate whore. He had told his father if he had any balls at all he’d put Ed Abbey on his show. That’s why the EP was talking to me. Would I see if it was possible? I had an acquaintance who knew Ed and he passed the request along. Ed responded that he’d give it a try. He signed the contract and wrote a script. We met in Moab and went out to Arches National Park to shoot some practice sessions with a home video camera. We would review them at the motel in the evening. After a day or two, Ed was feeling pretty comfortable on camera so we scheduled the shoot. We were all happy with the way it went. But then we ran head-on into [NBC] network reality. Roger Mudd, the show’s host, was extremely negative about putting an “eco-terrorist” on the show. The executive producer had no choice but to cave. So this Abbey essay was put on the shelf and never aired. Abbey died 3 years later in March 1989."

Ned Judge's more recent work includes The Medicine in Marijuana, an examination of the claims made for medical marijuana.

I can't embed the video, so watch it here.

April 13, 2019

Bird Festival, Cattle-Rustling, and Elk in Beetle-Kill Forests


Plan now for the Mountain Plover Festival.
  • You’ll get the chance to mingle with farmers and ranchers who choose to live in the local community and learn about their lifestyle.
  • Eat home-style food at every meal. Most meal are prepared by the community non-profit organizations.
  • Saturday evening includes a chuck wagon dinner with authentic Western entertainment.
  • Learn about conservation practices and history of the area.
  • Tour Private Land that would normally not be accessible.
  • Make new friends! Here's the website.
Sounds perfect if you are allergic to cities.  

• Cattle-rustling still happens in 21st-century Colorado.
But even keeping a close eye on livestock sales doesn’t prevent Colorado ranchers from experiencing their share of losses. Annual reports of missing or stolen livestock — the vast majority being cattle — average a little over 100, with losses ranging from a little over 400 to more than 650 head over the past four years. But that’s where the numbers get a little fuzzy.
• Pine beetles and the fungus they carry have killed huge amounts of lodgepole pine forest in the northern Rockies. As the dead trees drop their needles and become just standing trunks, more grass comes up between them. So that would be good for elk, right?

The evidence, however, is mixed. Some species do benefit, but not much the elk.
Looking at elk daytime use during the summer in Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest in south-central Wyoming, [University of Wyoming researcher Bryan G.] Lamont’s team expected to find mixed results. The loss of canopy would likely mean a loss in thermal cover, and more downed trees would make it difficult for the elk to move, forcing them to expend more energy. On the other hand, with new understory growth, elk would have more vegetation to forage. They expected elk might avoid the densest areas of downed trees but take advantage of the forage in other places.

Instead, elk tended to avoid beetle-killed areas overall, resulting in much less forest habitat that the elk use to keep cool during summer days. Beetle kill, researchers found, was different for the elk in important ways from wildfires or other disturbances.
 Time on the elk's side, however, as the dead trees start to fall and decay. Read the whole article here.

April 12, 2019

Droning Around the Neighborhood

I found this video in a Facebook group. It was made by Jerry Lofy of Colorado Springs and uploaded to Vimeo.

It starts with a view of the old Colorado Fuel & Iron steel mill in Pueblo —now a minimill owned by Evraz — and goes on to Bishop (or Bishop's) Castle (one man's dream), a nearby set of ranch ruins, and another historic site in the Wet Mountain Valley (Custer County).

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.