December 20, 2020

Blog Stew with Spikes

• Colorado's Most Dangerous Trails! Yes, Death-Defying Dangerous —  and Search & Rescue Will Come *For Free* Because They Are Crazed Adrenaline Junkies

Here's the list. It's kind of an ad for shoe spikes, compasses, etc.

The list is based on the number of rescues conducted and emergency GPS signals near those trails. . . .

Shane Leva, general manager of Mountain Chalet, a hiking outfitter in downtown Colorado Springs, said he agrees with the selection of the four trails on the list.

"For a lot of those, you'll be in fourth- and fifth-class settings, which means you'll be using both your hands and your feet to be scrambling," he said. "Think like low-grade rock climbing, essentially. You'll have hundreds if not thousands of feet under you. You'll need to have some good mountain sense and know how to navigate through that type of terrain

Which remind me that I need to check out the new Mountain Chalet location, but I have not been in Colorado Springs since March, the day before lockdown began, when I went up to see my dentist. 

• How to Photograph the Winter Solstice Jupiter-Saturn Conjunction

Some good advice here  (your tax dollars at work), even if you are just staggering out into the cold night with your smartphone.

And no, this is not the feckin' Star of Bethlehem or the star of anything. Those ancient Zoroastrian astrologer-priests, a/k/a wise men from the East, spent more time looking at the heavens than you do, and they knew the difference between wandering planets and fixed stars. 

If you have been outside recently after it gets dark, you might have noticed a bright pair of “stars” in the sky lying southwest — or left — of where the sun sets.

In reality these are the two giant gas planets, Jupiter, the brighter of the two, and Saturn. Even though they are separated by hundreds of millions of miles in the solar system, they have been moving closer and closer to one another in our sky for quite awhile.

 

• Please don't geo-tag the good places writes Greg McReynolds at Mouthful of Feathers

I can't agree more: 

You can post all the hashtags you want, but please knock it off with the geotagging and mapping bird hunting spots. Social media hotspotting is not cool man. Name a state. Name a region. Name a large city with a good BBQ restaurant. But don’t name spots. I know it’s not just hunters. It happens in fishing and mountain biking, sometimes splashing back on hunting. I’ve lost many a blue grouse hunting spot to user-created mountain bike trails, many of them spurred on by social media stoke. And I’ve given up a lot of spots over the years.

 

December 12, 2020

Black Bears Matter


M. and I  been watching (and hauling food for) this young black bear sow since July, when she was brought to our neighbors' rehab center after having been arrested in the little town of Beulah on a charge of raiding chicken coops and porches for food. Not the most efficient raider, she weighed only about 35 lbs. (16 kg.) at the time— undersize for a yearling.

So she came to the center and occupied a large enclosure alone, being too big to be put in with this spring's group of orphan cubs. She ate. She was bored. They tried to give her some "enrichment" — things to play with etc., most of which she destroyed, being a bear, after all. She smashed a couple of dogloos too —again, not a surprise. (They go through a lot of dogloos.) And she ate.

I saw her on the two weeks ago and was astonished at how she had grown — up to 140 lbs. (63.5 kg.), they said.

Gretchen Holschuh, the district wildlife manager who had trapped her (that's her cranking open the gate) chose the release site, which was on private land this time, with a cooperating landowner. They always wait for all the big-game hunting seasons to be over before releasing bears — by December, bears should know it's time to get serious about hibernation.

Free at last, she ran off into the snow as fast as she could. Considing the summer's drought, she was probably better off in terms of weight than most of the other bears. I hope she stays away from chicken coops this time.

December 01, 2020

To Light a Camp Stove

Jørgen Brønlund was a Greenland-born Inuit and the last to die.

If you read this blog, you probably have read Jack London's famous short story about an Yukon prospector set in the early 1900s, "To Build a Fire." (Actually there were two versions with diffrent endings. The second one is the one most of us have read.)

Only a few years later, the last survivor of a 1906–1908 expedition, sponsored by the Danish government and known formally as the Denmark Expedition to Greenland's Northeast Coast, died after failing to light his kerosene (?) stove in a freezing cave.

His body and his diary were found in 1908, but the stove itself was recovered only in 1973. 

A possible reconstruction of his last hours suggest he might have tried to use a diary page — and other stuff — to help pre-heat the fuel.

November 13, 2020

3D Adobe Printing Could Be an Option for Southwestern Builders

 

Me in my good black shirt at a job site.

Back when I was a college student, I spent a couple of summers laying adobe bricks in Taos, New Mexico. Under the tutelage of the foreman, Phil Rael, I got to be fairly good at spreading the zoquite [local slang, from Nahuatl] and setting the bricks. 

In the project pictures, the bricks were trucked down from San Luis, Colorado, where they were made in some rehabilitation program for junkies, or something similar. They were top-quality, asphalt stabilized, a little larger than the local homemade variety.

They arrived on an old flatbed truck by two middlemen. I was trying to document this project, and those two were a little camera-shy. Here is one of them, Pat W. I kind of think he dealt in more than one kind of bricks. 

But that is so old-school! Now they are using 3D printers with adobe in the San Luis Valley -- at least in one pilot project. Sweet!

Combining indigenous mud-based building materials with 21st century robotics, California-based Rael San Fratello created the oddly beautiful structures of “Casa Covida,” their “proto-architectures” that connect high- and low-tech traditions. Its name is a nod to both the pandemic and the Spanish word for “cohabitation.” The project recently took a virtual bow in an impressive hour-long event hosted by the Architectural League NY. (The video is online.) The partners, Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, spoke from Antonito, in southern Colorado, and took questions about their work and about “the social agency of design" . . . . .
Pat did not like being photographed.

The creators’ overall goal is to prove that low-cost, low-labor construction is possible, efficient and safe. Think of it as the highest of low-tech. Or down-to-earth high tech.

Using clay, water and wheat straw found onsite, the project aims to“push the boundaries of sustainable and ecological construction.”

It's still an early-stage project, not open to the public. 

What I always liked about adove was the plasticity. You want an arch over there? OK, we'll make one. Was that course of bricks a little out-of-plumb? We'll make it up on the next one. Once it's plastered, no one will know the difference.  

But this new approach goes so much farther! Check out the photos and videos here.

November 09, 2020

Pouring Bureaucratic Syrup on the Wolves

Gray wolf (Colorado Parks & Wildlife)
The people have spoken: Coloradans voted by a roughly 1% margin to order Colorado Parks & Wildlife to re-introduce gray wolves.   Or as one site put it: "Urban vote decides for rural Colorado."

As the Grand Junction ABC affiliate reports, roughly 62% of Western Slope voters said no to the measure, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Front Range voter advantage.

Which is usually the way it goes on statewide votes. 

The pro-wolf faction adopted the language of nature:

The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, a backer of the proposition, said this is the first time citizens have voted to initiate the restoration of a native species.

“Voters throughout Colorado took politicians out of the picture, choosing to restore natural balance by returning wolves to their rightful place in Colorado,” said Rob Edward, fund president.

 CPW director Dan Prenzlow bowed to the inevitable:

“Our agency consists of some of the best and brightest in the field of wildlife management and conservation. I know our wildlife experts encompass the professionalism, expertise, and scientific focus that is essential in developing a strategic species management plan. CPW is committed to developing a comprehensive plan and in order to do that, we will need input from Coloradans across our state. We are evaluating the best path forward to ensure that all statewide interests are well represented."

So where does the money come from?
(Graphic: University of Maine)

When agency heads start talking about "leadership" and "plans" and "stakeholders" and "statewider interests," and other vague terms, I call it "pouring bureaucratic syrup over a problem." Lots of soothing talk, sort of telling a child who awoke from a bad dream to just go back to sleep, Mommy is here.  Glug-glug-glug.

(I knew one US Forest Service district ranger who absolutely mastered it; I don't know if she accepted Smokey Bear as her personal savior, but she sure could drop twenty buzzwords in one sentence.)

Colorado now has a Wolf Management Website where you can track the process of trying to do what the voters requested while trying to find the money to pay for it. There is good information there on the legalities of "introduced" wolves versus those who wander in on their own, which agency (federal or stte) manages which wolves, and so on.

UPDATE: Newly elected State Senator Bob Rankin, who represents the area that included both self-transplanted wolves and the proposed wolf release, plants to introduce a bill to re-locate an equivalent number of wolves to Boulder and Jefferson counties. (Jefferson includes most of Denver's western suburbs.) 

“I do intend to do that,” Rankin — who won formal election to the state Senate last week — said following his victory. “I’m going to have to admit: it’s more just a protest, more than anything else, to call attention to the fact that the people most affected voted against [Proposition 114].”

 The bill stands no chance, and he knows it. There was a "credible" sighting on the Eastern Slope earlier this year though.

 

 

November 01, 2020

Skinny Mom, a "Cinnamon" Bear

Cubs playing in the little spring — Mom still wearing last year's coat.


About 45 minutes' walk from the house (over a steep ridge) is a tiny spring that is a wildlife magnet.  That is where I have gotten my only scout camera mountain lion pictures, including this one.

Last year the camera photographed a cinnamon-phase black bear that looked skinny and unhealthy. I mean like cigarettes-and-Pepsi-Cola skinny. But she was back this year — with cubs. Wild animals . . .

I hung the camera in early May, and the batteries died on July 15th. What happened after that, I do not know. But here she was, wallowing in the spring that the elk had been stomping through.





It's a hard life being a bear mom in a drought year. I wonder where they are now.



October 31, 2020

Federal Decision Complicates Proposed Colorado Wolf Reintroduction

Gray Wolf (Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Coloradans are voting right now through Tuesday on a ballot measure to reintroduce gray wolves in the state. According to Ballotpedia,

The measure would require the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to create and carry out a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves (Canis lupus) by the end of 2023. Wolves would be reintroduced on Colorado lands west of the Continental Divide. The exact location of wolf reintroductions would be determined by the commission. The commission would also manage any distribution of state funds that are made available to "pay fair compensation to owners of livestock for any losses of livestock caused by gray wolves." The measure would direct the state legislature to make appropriations to fund the reintroduction program. 

Colorado Parks & Widlife has not budgeted for this. Therefore the costs of the program and the "fair compensation" would have to come from shaking the Magic Money Tree (a clone of the one that grows in Bernie Sanders' backyard) or else be taken away from other programs. (Remember, Parks and Wildlife receives no funding from the state legislature, in other words, no tax revenues.) The Wildlife Commision has consistently opposed the idea of wolf reintroduction.

According to the state’s fiscal impact statement on the initiative, just setting up the program will cost nearly $800,000. There is no estimated budget for the actual ongoing management of wolves, but Prop 114 mandates that the General Assembly find the money somewhere, which experts say means taking the funds from other programs.

“There’s no extra money in the budget for it to come from,” former CPWC Commissioner Rick Enstrom told Complete Colorado. “It’s going to have to come from additional fees, or something else is going to have to go away. Is that funding for other endangered and threatened species? Is it from children’s education in public schools? Is it from any of the myriad issues Colorado Parks and Wildlife has to deal with every day with limited staff?”

Meanwhile, wolves have arrived on their own.  A wolf on its own is federally regulated wolf, or has been, but now it won't be. If there is to be a state program, a wolf walking from Wyoming would not be part of it. It will be fun telling them apart.

Wolves were declared an endangered species (there is a legal definition for that) back in 1974. Now the Dept. of the Interior says that they have recovered enough to be removed from that list. 

The removal plan, which would turn wolf management over the state wildlife departments in the states where they live, has to go through several months of legal process. It has also upset the people I call "wolf cultists."

The long-anticipated move is drawing praise from those who want to see the iconic species managed by state and tribal governments, and harsh criticism from those who believe federal protections should remain in place until wolves inhabit more of their historical range. Gray wolves used to exist across most of North America.

It also complicates the ballot issue — which I strongly suspect will pass. Wolves, as mentioned are "iconic." 

A CWP spokeswoman, speaking in soothing bureaucratic tones (I call this "pouring bureaucratic syrup over a problem"), says that everything will be all right:

“The rule will be published in the Federal Register at an unspecified future date, and will not be finalized until the 60-day window post-publication has expired,” Rebecca Ferrell, a public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), said in an email. After those 60 days, the management of gray wolves will be in the states’ hands.

Ferrell says that CPW will continue to monitor wolf activity and dispersal in Colorado. And if Coloradans vote to reintroduce wolves on November 3, CPW will “work with federal partners, neighboring states, all of our partners and stakeholders across Colorado to create a plan to implement the outcome of the ballot vote.”

Wolf-cultists don't trust the state agency because it gets money from hunters and works with ranchers. They want to swing the big federal hammer. But the federal hammer is being put back in the toolbox. So what now?

October 27, 2020

The Science of Trekking Poles—But This is Science You Can Ignore, If You Like

Photo credit: National Park Service
Some people love trekking (hiking) poles. The authors of the guidebook Don't Waste Your Time in the West Kootenays: An Opinionated Hiking Guide opined as follows:

[After a strenous month of hiking research] both of us developed knee pain. The next summer we used Leki trekking poles every day for three months and our knees were never strained. We felt like four-legged animals. We were more sure-footed. Our speed and endurance increased.

On the other hand, they also reported the reaction: "So where are your skis. Ha ha ha!" 

An article at Outside sums up the research and also gives the contrarian view:

On the other hand, the Switzerland-based International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation sounds a more skeptical tone, suggesting that using poles too much will sap your balance and coordination, thus raising the risk of accidents in situations like crossing ridges that are too narrow for poles.

In other words, poles make you weak! Do you vant to be weak? Or do they make you a sure-footed animal? 

This article on PubMed summarizes the research. 

Interestingly, pole users burn more calories. That could be a good thing (you're hiking to control your weight) or a bad thing (your food supplies are running low). 

You do protect your knees — but, retorts the Mountaineering Federation, the joint stress is good for you. (See also this.)

As they say on the Internet, your mileage may vary. 

Hopeless moderate that I am, when carrying just a day pack, I often carry just one pole, thus gaining some balance but keeping a hand free. The last time I was deer hunting in rocky country, I stashed the pole at one point along the trail in. Not having it was another reason to slow down, and slowing down is a Good Thing (TM) when you are hunting.

In a related issue, I will admit to saying something snarky the first time I saw somone snowshoeing with ski poles — especially as she was in a flat meadow. It seemed like belt + suspenders overkill. But I will admit that ski poles are a help when side-hilling in Rocky Mountain powder.

It's just that I always think that if you're on snowshoes, you need hands free for tools — rifle, saw, whatever.

October 23, 2020

The Great Hunt Lasted Only 300 Years?

 

A human following a giant ground sloth stepped in the big beast's tracks.

While someone followed the giant sloth in what is now New Mexico, trying to provoke its attention, someone else (probably spear in hand) was coming in from its blind side:

Meanwhile, another set of human footprints approaches from the opposite direction. These are daintier, with impressions made by raised toes. It seems that while the sloth was flailing, someone else tip-toed up to it from the back. That’s a hunt, [British geographer Matthew] Bennett says. “The strategy was all about stalking to distract and irritate the animal, and get it to turn its back on someone approaching from the blind side.

It was the Great Hunt, and it lasted just three hundred years, so archaeologists propose.

Clovis spear points from the Gault site in Texas. (Center for the Study of the First Americans, Texas A&M University)

At the heart of their argument are "Clovis points," a type of spear point once associated with the first people in the Americas. Now, more scholars are suggesting that the big Clovis points were developed for what the first arrivals found in the way of wildlife — and when those "megafauna," such as giant ground sloths, were all gone, no one bothered making Clovis points anymore.

[Michael Waters, distinguished professor of anthropology and director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans] said that until recently, Clovis was thought to represent the initial group . . . to enter the Americas and that people carrying Clovis weapons and tools spread quickly across the continent and then moved swiftly all the way to the southern tip of South America. However, a short age range for Clovis does not provide sufficient time for people to colonize both North and South America. Furthermore, strong archaeological evidence "amassed over the last few decades shows that people were in the Americas thousands of years before Clovis, but Clovis still remains important because it is so distinctive and widespread across North America," he said.
                                                                                 • • •

"It is intriguing to note that Clovis people first appear 300 years before the demise of the last of the megafauna that once roamed North America during a time of great climatic and environmental change,"  [Waters] said. "The disappearance of Clovis from the archaeological record at 12,750 years ago is coincident with the extinction of mammoth and mastodon, the last of the megafauna. Perhaps Clovis weaponry was developed to hunt the last of these large beasts."

We could say then that "Clovis" is a technology — materials and techniques to produce certain tools — not a "people." Many peoples used Clovis technology, until they abandoned it.

There is a story there we will never know, when the young hunters stood with their spears carrying big points and realized that the really big beasts were gone —although they might have kept them handy for short-faced bears and such.

October 22, 2020

The Kid Was Tougher than He Looked

Some of the same Scouts, on a five-night trip the next summer.
The other kid's initials were R. A., so I will call him that, in case he ever Google-stalks himself. Later on, his mother would be one of my English teachers at Fort Collins High School. I was 14, and he was younger — 12? 11? 

We were both members of Boy Scout Troop 97 in Fort Collins. Wayne Parsons, the scoutmaster, was on the staff of the Roosevelt National Forest there (as yet unconsolidated with the Arapaho), and he was all about outdoor experiences and outdoor projects. We never did a service project in town, and that was fine with me. (It looks like Troop 97 still tries to be outdoors-focused.)

This event was to be an overnight backpack trip in Rocky Mountain National Park. We would start at the Bear Lake Trailhead, cross the Continental Divide on Flattop Mountain, camp somewhere, and then descend to the little resort town of Grand Lake, on the park's western edge. 

My mother picked up R. A. and drove us to Bear Lake. For some reason, we had been delayed, and when we arrived, the others had already left. 

Crossing the Continental Divide
on Flattop Mountain, 12,000 feet.

"It's OK," we said, not wanting to be quitters. "We'll catch up to them." Satisfied, she drove away. We started walking, up onto the high plateau that Flattop its name, at about 12,000 feet. A line of cairns guided us across this treeless plateau. Overall, it was a fine August day.

But then we came to a junction. To the left was (I think) the North Inlet Trail, which was just under 13 miles to Grand Lake. To the right was another trail (Tonahutu Creek), which was a bit longer, about 14 miles, making the entire trip about 17–18 miles.

We had to make a choice. R. A. looked to me. I guessed that Our Fearless Leader would take the longer trail. I was wrong.

We walked. On and on we walked, dropping steeply from alpine meadow into forest. We stopped for a snack. The sun was sinking. The forest was thick and dark, Troop 97 was nowhere in sight, and we were tired. After a bit more hiking, we agreed that we had to stop.

A view down from Flattop,
before I stopped taking pictures.
We did have sleeping bags, we had food, and the weather was fine. We knew in a general sense where we were. R. A., bless his heart, never said, "You dummy! You took the wrong trail!" but just kept his thoughts to himself.

He was wearing high-top sneakers, which were the recommended hiking gear for youngsters with fast-growing feet. I saw that a blister had popped and bled through the canvas a little. He had never uttered a word about that. I had Bandaids at least.

The next morning we rose early, rolled up our sleeping bags, ate something, and started walking. We did not know where the pickup point was or when pickup was scheduled, and our new fear was that we would be left behind in Grand Lake.

I remember once we saw a sign that said something like "Grand Lake 6.2 mi." We walked and walked and then there was another sign, "Grand Lake 6 mi." (or whatever the whole number was), and we opined that that was a very long two-tenths mile.

Finally we came down through some tourist cabins and out onto a paved street. No sign of other Boy Scouts. I had enough money in my pocket for one celebratory Coca-Cola. We located the end of the trail that we should have come on. Then we waited. And we waited.

Eventually, after maybe two hours, the rest of the Scouts marched out of the woods. They probably had lazed around camp making pancakes or something while we were on our forced march to Grand Lake.

Some of the parents made room in their cars for us. I don't know whether we came back over Trail Ridge Road (US 34) or down US 40 (probably) but somehow we returned to Fort Collins. And it was no big deal. I don't remember anyone fussing over R. A. and me.

All of that might be burned now. Probably is. The East Troublesome Fire looks to be climbing up the same drainage that we walked down. Now that is something to think about.

September 28, 2020

A Mountain Lion in the Morning

 

I hung this scout camera on May 9th at a little seep that I call "Camera Trap Spring." (You won't find that name on Google Earth, not if I can help it.)

It's in little bowl in the foothills about 45 minutes' walk from my house, but a walk that involves scaling a step ridge, negotiating a small talus slope, and winding through a lot of oak brush. 

The camera also recorded turkeys, bears, deer, elk, and gray foxes, all drawn by a tiny water source that kept running through this drought summer. When I finally got motivated to retrieve the camera today (the batteries had died in mid-July), I was truly surprised to find water there. That probably explains the bear with a muddy rump that was captured on another camera on my side of the ridge—if they can't do more, bears like to just plop their butts down in the water.

When I stand up at the spring, I can see houses, maybe hear a far-off dog bark, and watch traffic moving on the state highway. Yet because there is no vehicular access—and it's a serious hike in—the animals act undisturbed, like this cat having a drink at 8:49 a.m., no fear at all.

The camera recorded some deer there two hours earlier. I wonder if he was thirsty after a meal.

September 22, 2020

News Report: More Colorado Women Hiking with Firearms

nylon binocular case/chest pack
Chest-carry binocular case by Further Faster Design with concealed rear pocket.
(The antler is just to prop it up.)

 From Denver television station KHOW, "Some women are opting to carry guns on Colorado trails to stay safe."

“I carry a handgun when I am hiking alone on a trail that is more secluded, or at night, or (when) I am backpacking alone,” said Cierra LeVan, a 27-year old teacher in Mesa County. “I do this for personal protection and self-defense, from both potential animal and human predators.”

LeVan is not alone; Rather than avoid hiking because they don’t have a companion, some women are opting for more than bear spray for protection when they hit the trails. The question of whether or not one should carry a gun while hiking has long been a topic in online group chats, and there is a Facebook group just for women who hike with guns. . . .

“Most women I know have been touched or grabbed by men when in the woods. It’s too common,” said Sara C., a 35-year-old Denver business owner who did not want her full name used for fear of being targeted. “A creepy guy sees a girl fishing or hiking alone, tries to grab her arm or her body … dogs and guns will scare people off.”

It's an individual choice. There are mental steps to take. Is your life worth defending, yes/no? Are you willing to not only learn to shoot, but to learn the legalities of self-defense? 

Are you willing to commit to regular practice and building "muscle-memory" that will help you in an emergency? Just "buying a gun" is like a non-driver buying a car because you might need to evacuate during a floor or fire — but you just park it in the garage and leave it for three or five years — will it run when you need it? Will you remember how it works?  

Then there is the law. Self-defense law varies state by state, although there are common concepts. Fire a "warning shot"? A hostile district attorney might say you committed "felony menacing" just then. 

Does your state require a concealed-permit? Can you get one by taking a class and exam, or are they issued only to friends of the governor, mayor, or county sheriff?

People must be willing, since gun sales shot up this past summer — many first-time buyers, many racial minorities.

A note on the photograph: This binocular case by Further Faster Design, a Colorado firm, features a slim rear pocket with Velcro closures on the top and both sides for fast, easy access to your birding field guide or whatever. I bought mine this summer, and I like it. More information here.

This case rides high on the chest with X-straps on the back. It might fit some female body types all right, others not so much. But I had just made the photograph for another purpose, so I used it.

September 21, 2020

Ghost Birds in the Sky

Nick Vinciguerra collecting dead
Violet-green swallows in Velarde, NM.
(American Birding Assn.)






The unusually strong storm that swept through the southern Rockies and Plains the second week of September pushed " a spectacular array of fall migrants to Albuquerque," as one biologist noted. 

Smoke from West Coast forest fires may also have forced some southbound birds further east as well.

The sad part is that many died — not so much from the smoke as from hunger, one New Mexico researcher, doctoral student Jenna McCullough writes for the American Birding Association website.

Sudden and dramatic unavailability of food caused by a historic and drastic cold snap is, I believe, a more parsimonious explanation than a widespread, smoke induced, mass mortality event. While we do not have data on how fast smoke inhalation would kill birds hundreds of miles away from the fires themselves, what we do have are data from the 258 Violet-green Swallows that Nick and I collected in Velarde this week. . . . .

If a lack of food contributed to the mortality event, birds would have less fat and no protection against hypothermia. Indeed, of the hundreds of birds we assessed, none had fat stores on their bodies. Furthermore, Though we have yet to perform any toxicology analyses or inspect their lungs for signs of smoke inhalation, I think it is safe to say that these birds were starved and succumbed to hypothermia. When USFWS autopsies of other birds are reported in the coming weeks or months, we suspect they will reveal a similar cause of death.

Cold and snow mean no flying insects, which is bad news for swallows and other insectivores.

Here in southern Colorado, I found one Lesser Goldfinch dead in the driveway, uneaten, during that brief cold weather. Considering it was only five seconds' flight from a sunflower seed feeder, it should not have been hungry. But M. and I both were briefly sick that week, which I blamed on the sudden shift from about 94° F to °27 F (34°C to -3° C). Maybe something hit the little goldfinch too.

August 31, 2020

When 'Influencers' Go Wrong

Remains of a social-media influencer eaten by wolves (I wish).
I used to hang out a lot with hunting and fishing writers — even published a little myself —and one sure conversation was always "How can you provide information without giving away too much?"

Do you say you caught this perfect trout "in such-and-such a pool on the South Platte River," or just "in the South Platte River below Cheesman Dam," or "in the South Platte," or "in the mountains southwest of Denver"?  Because it was true that outdoor writers' work could send the hordes to places that previously had been lightly pressured.

Now everyone who catches the fish has to put it on Instagram or TikTok or whatever. And that pisses off some people who say that "influencers" are ruining the outdoors.
"There's a picture of me just a few months old and in a backpack, with my parents taking me for a hike through a national forest where I grew up," says Steve [not his real name]. "And as I've grown, my love of the outdoors has grown."
But also growing is Steve's frustration with influencers trampling over his beloved open spaces to get that perfect photograph.
"I drew the conclusion between the rise of this disrespect and the rise of Instagram and social media," he says, speaking to the BBC from a mostly rural area in the western US. "So I decided to start an Instagram account, to fight fire with fire."
So what did "Steve" do? He started an Instagram account called Public Lands Hate You, with posts like this:
You probably know that this account has a bone to pick with influencers who engage in harmful and illegal behavior on your public lands and post it publicly for the world to see. Not only are the initial actions of these influencers undesirable, but by posting their behavior for thousands of people to see, influencers are giving their followers the wrong idea about what is acceptable on your public lands.⁣
Trampling wildflower meadows. Introducing beauty products into hot springs. Crossing closure fences. Off-leash dogs in leash-controlled areas. Approaching wildlife. Ignoring drone laws. All for the perfect shot to promote themselves and their sponsors.⁣⁣
⁣And there is an associated website: Public Lands Hate You, with the slogan "Our public lands are not a prop!" 

It's not that people go to these places, it's that they break laws or disrespect the land in order to get the perfect photo to illustrate their perfect curated life.

Go have a look. Raise a litte ruckus. Those who live by the clicks can die from the clicks.

August 01, 2020

Fisher and His Metal Mommy

Fisher, his Kong toy, and his "wire mother" — we call it "metal mommy."
Harry Harlow was an American psychologist of the mid-20th century who permanently damaged many baby rhesus monkeys in order to prove "scientifically" that babies need nurturing mothers.

But maybe his research has something to do with my dog Fisher.

Artificial "cloth mother" and baby rhesus monkey
Baby rhesus monkey with
"cloth mother" (Wikipedia).
Harlow's experiments were controversial; they included creating inanimate surrogate mothers for the rhesus infants from wire and wool. Each infant became attached to its particular mother, recognizing its unique face and preferring it above others. Harlow next chose to investigate if the infants had a preference for bare-wire mothers or cloth-covered mothers. For this experiment, he presented the infants with a clothed "mother" and a wire "mother" under two conditions. In one situation, the wire mother held a bottle with food, and the cloth mother held no food. 

Fisher turned 13 earlier this month, making him officially an elderly dog.  His appetite and digestion are good, sight and hearing OK, but if you watched him hobbble along the trails up behind the house, his age would be apparent — despite all the joint-health supplements and CBD he has ingested over the years.

He was a bouncy 2-year-old when we got him. He had been turned over to the Chesapeake Bay retriever rescue organization, and there were reasons for that. Most, I slowly realized, revolved around fear. Although not outright mistreated, I think he had been alone too much. He can co-exist with another dog, but he has never had a dog-buddy. There was food-agression. There was biting. I won't tell the whole sad story here, but after a year with us — when we thought he was improving — he was ->|  |<- this far from going for a one-way walk with me up onto the national forest.

M. argued to save his life, but he never respected her until she hit him with bear spray one time in the kitchen. He was that kind of dog. The other thing that saved him was Randy Grim's book Don't Dump the Dog: Outrageous Stories and Simple Solutions to Your Worst Dog Behavior Problem. (M's sister-in-law, who is a dog person, had volunteered with author Grim's organization Stray Rescue of St. Louis, and she suggested it.) We followed some of Grim's suggestions rigorously, and they helped. That plus time-in-service.

He mellowed as he aged. His body language softened, although he was never cuddly. But he started doing things like lying by my desk chair, which was new.

But somehow, something was still missing in his life.

July turned extra-hot this year, and I brought up an old box fan from the basement. I positioned it to blow across the study rug where he likes to lie, catching a whisper of breeze between the adjacent bedroom windows and the open front door.

He liked it. He liked it even when room was cool. He not only lay in front of it, but he pressed his body up against the grill. Some mornings after his walk and breakfast, he would come into the study — where I was doing my morning news-read online — lie on the rug, and whine a little. Until I turned it on — then he was content.

That is when I thought of Harry Harlow. It's not the cloth mother, but the wire mother — only this one vibrates? Does it feel like a return to the womb and his mother's heartbeat? And what happens when winter comes? But maybe at this point in his life I should indulge him.