Saturday, December 15, 2007

Friend Flicker...

Happiness, says Mr. Flicker, is fresh suet in the feeder! Only recently, after all these years, have I learned to tell them apart and can confidently report this as a male flicker. The secret, at least with the Red-shafted we have here, is of course, the red sideburns flaunted by the male, which should be more visible if you click to enlarge the photo.

It's been a lengthy hiatus, but here it is blogging season again-- the winter birds are back in force, and there's enough snow and cold to keep them in close attendance at the feeders. Another week, another 100 pounds of birdseed... What's that about eating like a bird?

Familiar friends are here-- scores of Red-winged Blackbirds, more Steller's Jays than ever before, the perennial Scrub Jays, Magpies in full force, ubiquitous Starlings, and dozens of little brown and gray finches, juncos, and sparrows. A little color in the bushes comes from these Spotted Towhees (now Western Towhees, if memory serves). Even Artemis, our Sharp-shinned (and taloned) visitor, is still coming back for feathered snacks.

Somehow the camera never quite captures all the color apparent to the eye. A few weeks ago, the flocks of Starlings and Red-wings were further brightened by an unexpected spot of turquoise and green-- a Parakeet had joined them in visiting the feeders. We haven't seen him since the first storm but trust (and hope) he continued south to more hospitable spots.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Goes around, comes around...

Awoke this morning, in the dark, to the sound of rain beating against the roof and windows. Finally it quieted, but only because it turned to snow. So now, several hours later, there are still these big white flakes pelting down. They can't do much-- can they?-- but it looks downright blizzardy out there. Thermometer is hovering at about 36 degrees. Cats want to go out, but only the whiskers make it through the door before the rest of the body changes its mind.

I'm resisting taking a photo of this muck. Fortunately, there truly is "nothing new under the sun," and as Foothills Fancies has now accumulated a full year of posts, if you want to see what it looks like out there, you can stop in at April 7, 2006... and see also Lilac Snow for evidence that, even now, it's not too late for measurable accumulation of that crystallized H-2-0!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Nevada Botany

There’s a stretch of road in Nevada known as “the loneliest road in America,” and there isn’t much to do but keep the car pointed west (or east) and hang on for the ride. Some 40 miles from the last town, I noted an unusual form of tree growth, and stopped (within a mile or two, given the speed limit) to turn and check it out. As a sometime botanist, I just couldn't place the long dangling infloresences, either the strangest fruits I'd ever seen or perhaps some kind of fungal growth.

Of course, Google was able to tell me all about this famous tree! The shoe tree of Middlegate, Nevada, even pointing me to a complete story on the subject, and mentioning a New York Times article.
Alas, the above link reports the demise of the Middlegate Shoe Tree on December 30, 2010, at the hands of vandals.

This particularly famous edition of the shoe tree (a cultural phenomenon I'd somehow missed all these years) is laden with all kinds of footwear-- even a horseshoe-- and, somewhat more grim, a couple of elk legs. Click on the photo to enlarge and explore some of the offerings here.

Unfortunately for this cottonwood tree, the weight of this sole-ful burden has caused many of the more accessible branches to break, depositing a nice pile of shoes at its feet. Other shoe trees have suffered even more from the extra attention of passersby, as the links above will tell.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Think Spring!

Can't have that snowy scene still up when spring is officially here! So here's the view for today. Blue skies, a little green showing on the ground, and it's a balmy 68 degrees out there this morning. We've actually been pushing up near 80 degrees a time or two in the last two weeks. Here we go into a whole 'nother seasonal cycle.

I've been getting out more, so in the next few days I'll be able to report on some local field trips and other happenings out there. See today's previous post, if desired, for the nuts and bolts details of why FF has been dormant of late.


Foothills Fancies is starting a whole new year today. I thought we'd have our 100th post up by now, but on March 5th, my computer decided not to cooperate with that plan. For the statistically inclined, this and today's next post are officially the 99th and 100th, but as four are still sitting in drafts, that means we have only reached 96 online entries.

For an entire fortnight I have been computer-free, at least at home. I've gotten to the library a time or two, or taken advantage of brief email checks elsewhere, but for the most part have been cut off from technology. It was an intriguing interlude, but I wish I could report it was productive. Monday night, the good old Vaio came home and got reconnected, so now I'm reconnected with the electronic universe as well. No data was lost in the big box's sojourn with the Geek Squad.

So, did I organize my office? Oh, puh-leeze! Catch up on my housekeeping? Nah... I entertained, most notably a cat, apparently feral, who goes to the vet tomorrow for the appropriate surgery. I did some historical research, especially on old aerial photos. Nothing too exciting, but I did get out on a few hikes that will be grist for future posts. Spring fever is definitely underway-- I almost planted something yesterday!

For those who've had trouble (including me), apparently the "NEW Blogger" enabled comment moderation. It's off now, so you are again free to comment. Thanks for patience!

[Footnote to anonymous commenter on "Here's the Frog": The Jeffco Hikers blog was deleted and I can't get to it anymore. Details for you are on that post next to your comments--or just email me at, so I can get back to you.]

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Love Colorado Weather!

Sunday, out looking for wildflowers... Tuesday, watching a llama pack train go by on the trail... Wednesday a.m., back to snow again.

Just yesterday I noticed that many of the huge snowbanks we'd accumulated this winter had completely melted, but it looks as though the few remaining may get a new lease on life! Wasn't bad earlier this a.m., but it's now looking decidedly blizzardy out there. A hundred red-winged blackbirds are taking advantage of the seed I put out, and even Artemis came by for a look around!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Signs of Spring

Was it silly to go looking for spring flowers on February 25th? You be the judge...

The Oregon grape (Mahonia repens) is showing fall color in its leaves (thanks to sun exposure), but look at those yellow buds! They're thinking about spring... This one, on a warm south-facing bank next to the trail, is well ahead of its greener brethren half-buried in dead leaves under the Gambel's oaks. (As always, click to enlarge.)

But there, among those dead oak leaves, a few spring beauties (Claytonia lanceolata) are also thinking about getting going. Unlike the Oregon grape, which is visible while standing, you really have to hunt for these guys-- about an inch tall now, but with little pink buds tucked up under, just waiting to unfurl.

As you can see, the snow has not been off them long. More is due tomorrow...

A closer look at those buds... These little wonders have to make an early start, and plan to run through their entire season before the oak leaves appropriate all the sunshine.

So, yes, there are signs of spring, if you only know where to look!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Winter Wonderland...

Last week, Nature repeatedly provided opportunities for awe, as the last post suggests. Dustings of snow, rather than the recent major dumps, allowed appreciation with less frustration. Time for a trip through Red Rocks, where the foothills were once again looking very fancy!

I think this one is my favorite from Thursday, although it's very hard to choose.

This is Ship Rock, near the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. For a look at it from another angle, see Ship Rock Then & Now, on the Mountain Parks history website.

Today, warmer weather prevails and we are fast going back to brown! Although thawing and chill have been alternating, the ground finally has appeared for the first time since the Winter Solstice storm. It means the disappearance of these gorgeous views, but has several nice side effects!

As always, click on photos for a closer look.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Odds are...

that most of us believe in numbers. But we rarely live our lives by them. If we did, we probably wouldn't drive! Yesterday, I had what was, for me, an unprecedented experience that reminded me of the assumptions we make daily about events we rarely witness. I decided to drive to Kittredge, a small settlement 7 miles up Bear Creek Canyon.

But a trip to Kittredge isn't unusual. Something happened to shake, just a bit, my confidence in the odds. Our most recent snow, on Sunday, had brought another 6 to 8 inches to add to our growing piles. But yesterday, Monday even, everything started to melt. The piles are gradually slumping and, if warm temperatures prevail, will dwindle.

What does that mean for a drive in the canyon?

Bear Creek runs roughly west to east, with lots of twists and turns. At the mouth of the Bear, the canyon is especially steep and narrow. Its north-facing slopes (photo) remained bound in snow, but its south-facing rock walls were warm and dripping, as snow and ice were hit by the sun for just a few hours of the day. In fact, returning just an hour later, at 2:30 p.m., those warm walls were already feeling the lengthening chill of premature sunset.

Above, my peripheral vision caught a falling object, a rock loosened by the thawing of its resident cliff face. It landed in the road ahead of me. There wasn't even time to swerve, only to register that it was flat enough to drive over. Apparently, my number was not yet up!

After that, rather more alert, I began to notice the number of new rocks on and along the road. It crossed my mind it might not be the best day for a canyon drive, with temps in the 40s after a cold night. I went on, reminding myself that hundreds, maybe thousands, drive this canyon daily without mishap. Is there really strength, or just reassurance, in numbers?

Witnessing geology in action gives you pause. Sure, the road is lined with "Falling Rocks" signs, but how many of us notice them? And what are you supposed to do with that warning? Falling rocks are not rare, just unpredictable. Yesterday, geology was acting mostly on smallish rocks, less than a foot in diameter, but surely geology has proven capable of much more, even recently right here on the Front Range.

Somehow, it's comforting to know that you'll never see the one that hits you!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Rabbit's Tale

At 3:30 a.m. Dog #2 just had to go out. He insisted. Glancing out the front door, I saw five of our local bunnies in close proximity to the house, munching the birdseed left from yesterday. ‘Should be safe,’ I’m thinking. Sure enough, five of them are more than a match for one bird-brained dog—they scattered in too many directions for him. Though he tried valiantly, first this way, then that, all of them made it to safety.

Sixteen delightful degrees this a.m., after several days hovering near zero. But the wind… even the rabbits are ducking the wind this morning. One was on the back porch, huddled against the house just inches from the sliding glass door. Thank goodness the dogs didn’t see him! The fact that they can’t shred the door, even in tremors of excitement from bunny-sightings ten feet away, doesn’t keep them from trying! I missed him, but captured this one, hunkered down in the lee of my car with his ears tucked close, not far from the east door. Gandalf is intent on another one, munching leaves just outside that same door.

I’ve mentioned their love of birdseed before, but I haven’t remarked on the fact that, these days, bunnies are everywhere! It wasn’t always so. Trying to pin it down, I’m guessing it was the mid-1990s when we first started seeing rabbits in the neighborhood. There must be a complex, or at least interesting, ecological process going on, and I’m only starting to ask the questions. Why are they here, why are there so many of them? What are they doing to local ecology, and why aren’t the coyotes eating more of them?

Unlike other warm-blooded menu items at the bottom of food chains, bunnies are cute. People, myself included, tolerate them, even love them. We care that they make it to safety; we shudder when the Dog comes out ahead. But I’ve also traveled in circles where bunnies are derogatorily considered as ‘fuzz-butts’ or ‘fur-balls.’ Their ubiquity is starting to shift my perspective toward the latter. Something is out of whack. Stay tuned...

It's Been Quite a Year...

On the eve of the anniversary of my first-ever blog post, here's a partial record of my record in blogging this past year:

  • Local History Explorer started 1.17.06 12 posts

  • Foothills Fancies started 3.20.06 90 posts (to date)

  • Paul B. Sears started 4.26.06 10 posts

  • Romantic Naturalists started 5.29.06 3 posts

  • Eastbound 2006 6.29.06-8.02.06 68 posts

There are a few others I've started, some with other people, but these are the ones most likely to continue... It's intriguing that other people I've tried to work with haven't demonstrated this enthusiasm for blogging.

Why so many blogs? Why not one "whole life" blog, as others have seemed to accomplish? My first thought was I wanted them to be focused (somewhat), and had several very different topics I wanted to talk about. Once I got hooked, of course, blogging seemed the answer to every need for expression! I still seem willing to create new blogs as the occasion arises.

I started blogging for several reasons, and will no doubt continue. FF has been the most "successful" (if that means consistent), but even FF has had long periods of silence. 90 posts in 10 months is not a track record most bloggers would be proud of! I'm okay with it... I needed and enjoyed the process, and it's connected me with lots of good people, new ideas, and great memories.

I'll be staying with it...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Here we go again...

On December 17th, in preparation for a neighborhood party, I put out a few decorations, including this little sign, followed on the 21st by about 18 inches of nice white stuff. On December 28th, after we finally made it home from the west slope, through Storm #4 and another 18 inches, The Husband insisted I take it down. And I did! It doesn't seem to have helped; now, we have Storm #5 anyway! A cumulative total of about 44 inches-- and still falling.

Other decorations were similarly fated, especially the little tree that we had inside for the party. A small live Blue Spruce, it had to go back outside so it wouldn't break dormancy. It got buried on the 21st and no one has seen it since! I trust it's cozy under a snowy blanket-- and hope to see it again soon.

Birds aren't the only visitors coming down from the mountains. I went out to a meeting Wednesday morning, and saw three herds of Elk --two on the hogback and a large herd at the golf course in Golden. Naturally, I didn't have my camera with me. Guess I won't be getting out today to photograph them-- but here's one that stopped by in October.

The all-time best picture (and sentiment) is this one sent by Cat Woman during the first big storm (#3), with just three shopping days left til... The dog's name is Stormy, because she was rescued during a big foothills snowstorm a few years ago. Perfect!

Snowy Morning Birds

Storm #5 arrived early this a.m. and already 6-8 inches have piled up. At 7 a.m., it was pretty monochrome-- lead sky blending into the foreground and even nearby mountains faded to invisibility. So the monochrome cat went out, pre-dawn, to investigate.

Her brother, more timid, did his birdwatching behind glass (while mom paced, worrying about the disappearance of the dogs, who finally escaped the drifted fence). At first Gandalf only saw a few Juncos, but then this Steller's Jay showed up, creating a little excitement.

The black-headed, crested Steller's Jay is common in the nearby mountains; they seem to migrate downhill only when bad weather threatens-- that's when we see them at the feeders. Today, all week, just the one so far, though.

Red-wing Blackbirds are not so timid, arriving by the dozens when there's birdseed out! Alas, in the photo, even the Red-wings are monochrome!

I guess recent evidence suggests this is primarily a snowy-weather-bird-blog. Mammalian wildlife is scarce today, though I did see two large canines dashing at top speed across the yard. Soon they'll be exhausted, and in for the day, I hope!

Answer to the Magpie quiz is at yesterday's post.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

One More Chance...

River Man and Cat Woman have provided two guesses on the earlier magpie quiz. If they collaborated, they'd have it-- but that would be cheating, right? I'm going to give them -- and anyone else who shows up -- one more chance at this. Here's the photo again:

How Many Magpies??
Who knew Magpie coloration was cryptic, mimicking winter trees? Okay, give it your best shot (do click to enlarge!)-- I'll be back later with the answer.

Okay-- guess everyone gave up! The answer is TEN...

Monday, January 01, 2007


Yes, Sandy, we did get snow. In fact, I've never seen the foothills looking fancier! See today's previous posts for a recap of our fall/winter weather. Be sure to click on any of the photos in these posts for a closer look.

Here are a couple shots of The Husband digging out with shovel and snowblower. He wanted a photo of the "plume"... In this first photo, that gentle slope in the foreground is the hood of my car!

But I'm not sure whether he was helping-- or burying-- the car (gray thing behind snowblower) in this shot. We are pretty well cleaned out now, the snow stopped on Friday.

Residual side-effects include the dogs using the drifts to jump over fences into the chicken area. Fortunately, chickens are staying close to the coop, don't like wading in drifts-- no casualties so far.

Of course, those of us who are nature nuts are looking forward to great effects on next spring's wildflowers! Another push (like the March 2003 blizzard) to pop lots of great things out of the ground. This is the first wet December we've had in years, and that's marvelous. With 18-20 inches EACH in these last two storms, we should be in great shape. In fact, the weatherfolk report that December 2006 precip now exceeds 2005 winter total.

Homeward the Hard Way

Storm 4, the second of our consecutive Thursday-December storms, arrived while we were driving home from the west slope on December 28th. [Storm 3, if you're counting, was December 21st, and is documented in This Morning's Visitors!] The first 5 hours of our 6-7 hour trip went smoothly, dry roads, clear sailing! The last "hour" of travel, on Interstate 70, lasted from 4 p.m. to after midnight. At about 4:19 p.m., I began to document our progress...

Vail Pass was a snap-- we left Vail at 4, and by 4:20 were already on the downhill side approaching Frisco (milepoint 200)... still sailing, albeit more slowly. Not so for Eisenhower Tunnel (mp 212), where it was bumper-to-bumper at a crawl up, but once through, with "only" 50 miles to go, we were sure the worst was behind us. It was 5:30 p.m.

We were wrong! Here's where we sat... for about 2 hours. Apparently they had closed the interstate without bothering to tell anyone. This spot is just east of Idaho Springs (mp 241), and it's now 9:30 p.m. (I forgot to get the camera out for a while there.) As you can see, people have been walking up and down the lanes, perhaps bored or in search of information, many looking for "rest areas" off in the trees along the service road. Ah, the joys of winter holiday travel. And by now, we'd picked up most of the ski/snowboard traffic as well.

We got moving again after 11, but didn't get to stay on I-70 long! Floyd Hill (about mp 250) was immediately loaded with stuck semis, and our search for Exit 259 ended just 9 miles short. We traveled down Clear Creek Canyon (highway 6) to Golden, much nicer (snowpack and steady 20-25 mph), through this Currier & Ives wonderland.

Nor could we go directly home from Golden-- but were diverted again, finally back on I-70 (westbound this time) at midnight. The final "leg" of our trip was a trudge up the unplowed hill (enjoying this moonlit view to the south) to arrive home at 1 a.m., find the dogs, lock up the chickens, and fall into bed!

Storms Start...

I'm going to backtrack a bit here, to get these storms (now that there are so many of them) in sequence. According to my incomplete notes, the first memorable one arrived on October 26th-- and brought us a surprise visitor.

Those are my lilacs he's eating... note that the leaves are still on them, guess that's what's making them so enjoyable. As you can see, he's standing in only a couple inches of snow from this early storm.

We see Elk here rarely, so this big bull was followed around the neighborhood by a network of phone calls alerting each house in turn. The lilacs are about 20 feet from our front door.

Storm 2 arrived on Nov 30-Dec 1, and dropped about 8 inches of nice white stuff. It brought a visit from Artemis (or a friend), who killed a Scrub Jay right next to the chicken coop. Her aim must be improving; a jay is a tougher meal. No photos this time.