Friday, April 28, 2006

Here we go again...

It's beginning to look a lot like Monday afternoon out there. See April 07 for photo, I'm not going to do this again! Juncos and hummingbirds are happily (?) coexisting outside, as the temperature hovers at 38 degrees and the flakes keep getting bigger. At least it's wet and, as we Coloradoans always tell each other, "we NEED the moisture."

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Lilac Snow

Tuesday (yesterday) morning, 6:30 a.m.

On Sunday it was 80 degrees; I actually considered putting on shorts, got a little sunburn. By Monday night, I was worried whether my lilacs would survive. This is what they looked like Tuesday morning.
A little late for "daffodil snow" this year, we ended up with a real "lilac snow"... and I scraped more than 3 inches off my car yesterday morning.

(Essay on spring snow season...)

Ahhh, Colorado! This a.m., temp is already approaching 44 degrees, and the sky is bright and sunny. Per usual. Mild surprise--the lilacs seem to be coming back to life. The blossoms on the Italian plum and apple will probably be gone; all the flower buds on the green ash trees fell to the ground. The ashes will have to put out a new set of leaves; tender new ones have frozen. Never even saw an apricot blossom this spring; they were killed long ago by one of our cold spells. What about the wild plums? Will their flowers weather the weather better than our introduced fruits? The bears hope so...

Here's this morning, for comparison.

Just a few spots of white stuff left-- It's as if the world has gone from black-and-white to color!

Valley Birds

Yesterday morning we sat in Lila's sunroom in Morrison, just 200-300 vertical feet downhill, and watched the birds at her feeders. A lazuli bunting, blue as today's sky, showed up! Also a red-breasted nuthatch, somebody I hadn't seen before. But she lacked our white-crowned sparrows and goldfinches. What a difference a mile makes! Here on the hill, we still have juncos, our winter pals.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Across Colorado

Just a quick note to say that I'm off on the West Slope, so will have an excursion report when I return in a few days. It's snowing this morning on Hastings Mesa, the Stellar's jays and magpies are hanging out in the tree tops looking for handouts. Bears are out of hibernation, one was spotted this a.m. Lots to tell when I get back!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Spring Snow...

It's only been a half-hour, but the snow "flakes" (more like balls) are now almost 3 cm in diameter. Very cool!

Gray Day Turns White

As I was saying to the Husband this a.m., "looks like there's moisture in the air out there." Green Mountain in the distance was obscured by a hazy film suggestive of air you can't quite see through!

Then, it rained for a little while. How exciting! Rain is a relatively rare event here--yesterday I virtually did a rain dance in the parking lot at the office because there were sprinkles on the pavement. But today, actual rain was slanting down.

Now it's turned into fat white globs and is pelting gently down. I neglected to check the temp when I got up, but it's currently hovering at 38. Balmy. Here's the view as of 7:39 a.m. The white globs will show up better if you click on the picture for a larger version.

Yes, that's Red Rocks in the distance. And what's that in the foreground? Can it be? Yes, I think... it's... GREEN!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Nature in the News...

Every once in a while, Nature does make the news. How rare this is (apart from drastic weather) seems to be a measure of our distance from the natural world. Today we have two posts about Nature in the media.

Unfortunately, it seems to me, the evening news-- along with most of our society --only notices Nature when human plans or goals are being somehow interfered with—hence the “pesky” flickers, below. Have you noticed how often we remark—and resent—these small signals that events in Nature are healthy, that reproduction is still going on?

Pesky Flickers!

The bunnies aren’t the only ones feeling hormonal surges. The Husband reports that even the evening newscast picked up on the fact that flickers are also exercising their territorial and courtship prerogatives lately. It’d be hard not to notice, when almost every time I step outside, the sound of drumming is in the air.

Given more to solitude than flocking, flickers were forced to develop long-distance communication. Living close to hollow trees, male flickers took to drumming to attract the female during those seasons when togetherness is called for. Ah, spring! So here they are, in town and country, finding our hollow houses and chimneys more than adequate substitutes for the growing shortage of hollow trees. At least that’s the way it looks to me.

People tend to notice large woodpeckers pounding on their houses, especially early in the morning. Even people who ordinarily aren’t too attuned to Nature get the message. Rejoice—it’s spring!

One of our resident flickers took to drumming on a bluebird house we’d installed years ago. (Hope it wasn’t occupied.) Evening before last, we were pleased to see that he’d had some success—two flickers were chatting in the big elm tree. Bobbing heads, making a new (to us) flicker noise. Not the common call or alarm clacking as they fly, but a more subtle sound, the cooings and murmurings of growing affection. Can young flickers be far behind?

March Madness

I meant to write about March madness, and here it is, April already! The cultural form of March madness is over. I remotely sensed it had something to do with basketball, but fortunately I got to witness its origins in my front yard, so I have a better understanding of the etymological roots of the disease.

Beyond the temptation of alliteration, March madness has a fine pedigree, dating to 1546 according to Wikipedia. The phrase might have died out long ago (along with “mad as a hatter”) had Lewis Carroll not reinforced it in 1863 in Alice’s Adventures Underground, beloved to modern readers as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and thus ensured its continuity into the present day.

Why is the March hare mad? First, recall that “mad” comes down to us mostly as a synonym for insane, senseless, illogical. Only later did it develop its current common use as angry.

In short, the March hare has spring fever. Clearly March madness has something to do with those passions that erupt in spring, as the breeding cycle begins. Our local cottontails are always a bit impulsive, dashing under cars and such—but last month they were truly senseless, more willy-nilly than ever, and seemingly without provocation.

One morning I looked out to see a pair of cottontails chasing each other. Finally one stopped short, stood up, and boxed at the other, all part of the March madness, I assumed. Sure enough, says Wikipedia, “unreceptive females use their forelegs to repel overenthusiastic males.” So perhaps the poor male March hare, a rejected suitor, has reason to be angry as well as “mad!”

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Feeder Cam

Another visitor to add diversity to the birdfeeder watch this a.m. I don't know what it is with these little birds, but we have noticed them much more frequently in recent years. When we first moved here more than 20 years ago, we never saw any of these. Must signal some change in migration patterns.

Here he is-- forgive the photo quality. It's a gray day today (we're hoping for rain), and I didn't dare open the door for fear of spooking this new visitor so I shot it through the glass. (Doubtless my photos would improve if I'd just wash the windows, but what fun is that?)

Our rehabber friend CarolG has better bird stories than I do, so I think I'll work on a new piece for my neglected history blog this morning. For a good bird story, featuring bunnies from the inside out, see her comment on yesterday's post. Warning: content may not be suitable for bunny-lovers, but is a great read for those who take the bird's perspective. It's sad that CarolG has no time to start her own blog--but fortunately my posts seem to inspire her! Thanks, Carol...

Monday, April 03, 2006

Speaking of Predators, part 1

When we first got chickens (back in 1996), I knew we’d be getting better acquainted with local predators. I just didn’t know which threats would prove the biggest challenge. We used to have lots of skunks, for example—but they seemed to get along fine with the chickens, even developed a taste for the feed, alas. We still occasionally smell skunk around or under the coop, but they have not been a threat. Raccoons, foxes, no problem. We’re too far from water for regular raccoon sightings, and foxes have rarely put in an appearance. Knock on wood.

April is the time of our annual visits from predators, so this month always makes me nervous. It’s spring, everyone’s either got babies to feed or is looking forward to having babies to feed. It’s a hungry time of year, I understand that. I also get that we’ve become members of the local ecosystem and have to pay our dues. So today’s chat is a bit grim, but not gruesome, I promise. I won’t inflict the entire reality on you.

The first deadly visits we had were a surprise—they came from the air. Chickens are very alert to anything that moves in the air, and will give the alarm whether the object in question is a pigeon, or hawk, or airplane. (They are a wonderful aid to bird-watching: as soon as I hear this special sound, I look up and am usually rewarded.) A small hawk perching nearby, as Artemis does, makes them nervous but doesn’t unduly alarm them. Perhaps they know somehow that she’s after smaller game.

In the early years, the chickens used to have the run of most of the open front yard. That changed in April 2001, when one of the local golden eagles discovered them. One night we came up short on the evening “beak count.” It snowed, though, so it was a day or two before it melted off and we found the evidence. We couldn’t be home all day, and the eagle returned about weekly for awhile. I think we lost about 4 chickens in all. We finally got smarter, and built a new fence to confine the chickens in a smaller space that had more tree and shrub cover. Eagles can’t maneuver well in tight spaces.

Barred rocks are one of our favorite breeds. The hens are sweet, friendly, productive, and hardy—you can’t ask for more. This is what a barred rock looks like after an eagle is done with her. (Note there’s a live barred-rock rooster in the background.) Very tidy: no body, not even a speck of blood.

This neat circle of feathers is, by the way, a prime way to tell a bird kill from a carcass killed by a mammal, as the latter usually don’t bother to pluck their prey. If they do, they pull the feathers out in mouthfuls, so you generally find clumps stuck together by saliva. Given time by my absence, the eagle carefully plucked each kill, presumably ate at leisure, and carried off the remains of the meal. Back to the babies.

The difficult times are when you hear the alarm and, roused by continued squawking, run outside to see what’s the matter. That, of course, spooks the eagle, who promptly takes off. You’re left with a dying bird, and the eagle still has to find lunch elsewhere. That’s a no-win situation. Much cleaner if you can muster the restraint to stay inside until it’s all over.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Two-Coyote Morning

Always a good idea to look outside before letting the dogs (or chickens) into the yard. Sure enough, there was a coyote on the rocks just to the north of our property fence. Just ambling through, checking to see if she could find any mice in the rockpile. Sniffing along, wandering through the grass, after several minutes she disappeared down into a nearby gully.

Finally I let the dogs out, then turned the chickens loose into their yard. The dogs did find a rabbit, who made a wrong turn but managed to get through the fence after a brief but merry chase. Then a second coyote wandered down the drive along the east fence, exciting the dogs to new levels of enthusiasm and making me wonder whether the fence would hold them. Unperturbed, the coyote moseyed past, secure in the artificial distance the fence added to the 20 feet that separated him from the dogs. Although he too soon disappeared over the immediate horizon, the dogs remembered him for a long time, staring off in the direction of his departure.

Coyotes doubtless visit here more often than we actually see them, although one morning we woke to see a couple about 10 feet from the front door, eyeing the chickens and drooling. They slipped through the fence, no problem, when the dogs went out—but that was too close for comfort!

One morning two weeks ago, I saw the coyote walking by along the same fenceline. She checked the deep grass by the drive, froze, pounced, then came up with a mouse that she downed in one gulp. Breakfast? No, only a snack. She continued on across the neighbor’s back lot, circling and sniffing, then back to our fence, where she found another rodent. More of a two-bite size, it took her a few seconds more than the first. The magpies closed in, but she left them nothing.

I once thought getting to observe an act of predation would be extremely rare, but it is merely unusual.