Monday, December 29, 2008

A Year Round the Berry-Go-Round

As this plant carnival marks an entire circle round the sun this month, welcome to Edition #12 of Berry-Go-Round! Enjoy...

What’s better on a cold winter day than a pot of potato soup? Alas, the
potato world is poorer with the loss of economic botanist Carlos Ochoa, who said potatoes “are like children: you name them, and in turn, they give you a great deal of satisfaction.” Robert’s link-heavy post at Agricultural Biodiversity will take you on a journey of potato exploration, and, thanks to Carlos’ work, potatoes will continue to satisfy our need for nourishment.

Sarcozona promises “depressing news every Thursday” at Gravity’s Rainbow, so tune in for this week’s dose on Extinction Thursday to learn more about a plant that’s gone extinct lately—and why!

Alex is the Watcher at Watching the World Wake Up (aka WTWWU), and his watchful eye detects a lot of botany while he's out riding the mountain bike trails of Utah (and sometimes elsewhere). He recommends St. George, Utah, because "first, it's an area with really, really interesting botany that isn't well known. Second, it's largely snow-free with interesting and accessible plants in the cold months. And third, if any plant-oriented readers are thinking of a warm-weather getaway in the next 3-4 months, St. George is great destination." His three rides, each in a different life zone, start on the desert floor and work up.

As a new convert to botany, Alex gets passionate about stuff on the trail and the details of coevolution of red squirrels and pine cones. I've really enjoyed his in-depth approach, as evidenced in another three-part series on hybrid oaks, including new discoveries. (Watcher's amazing graphics are a highlight of his posts!)

Join Ian for a look at "Gumbo Limbo," aka Bursera, trees and a lesson in speciation, with Evolution and conservation in Mexican dry forests from Tropical ecology notes.

A visit to Walking Prescott from GrannyJ's daughter, who lives in darkest Alaska, mandated "a warm sunshine fix," she says. "So we drive 40 miles downhill from our town at 5400 ft. elevation in the mountains to a nearby desert river, where I surveyed the cactus scene and found wonderful nursery trees/shrubs." Stop by for a fabulous assortment of Sonoran desert cacti to brighten our winter scenes.

Here at Foothills Fancies, we've revisited an old friend at Coyote Semilla, which is, alas, my only plant post this entire month! Whatever happened to Plant of the Week? Ah well, that's what resolutions are for, right?

What's a "Peepal Tree?" I can almost hear you asking. Not a lot of botany in this post, but it does bring us a Peepal tree and a very cheerful look at Nagaraja Temple in bright and warm and Admirable India. If
you're looking to escape snow and cold, check it out!

A late and welcome entry comes from Tai Haku, who stumbled across a fertile (and perhaps futile) female of the cycad persuasion recently. Vasquez pollen donations are welcome at Earth, Wind, & Water, where another handy post collects all of Tai's cycad posts for the true enthusiast.

Pine BranchesLastly, two posts gleaned from bio-bloggers also brighten the winter scenery. Chris at Catalogue-of-Organisms fills us in on core eudicots and weird rhubarb, great background for future discussions of plant classification. Nina at Nature Remains visits Seibenthaler fen out Beyond Xenia, providing excellent photos and finding color in winter botany.

Have a Happy New Year, all, and be sure to join Alex the Watcher for the January edition, first of the brand new year, to be posted end-of-month at Watching the World Wake Up.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Greetings of the Season!

Wishing everyone all the wonders of Nature and the joys of this winter season, as we begin to notice and appreciate the return of longer days again. The chickens, new ones at least, have already noticed and are providing golden drops of nourishment in the cold of the year.

This guy's been coming around of late, I think he's developing a taste for sunflower seeds, which he finds under the bird feeder. Or he likes our "Baby Doe," the female of his species, who's been visiting for years. Perhaps both.

We are holding hope for the New Year and being grateful for the small wonders we find daily all around us. May you share the peace of Nature this season and all year through!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

BGR Deadline Revised

Submissions for Edition #12 are trickling in, though I'm sure there'll be a flood of them after the holiday tomorrow! I'm extending the deadline to Sunday, December 28th. Please send links to your favorite recent plant posts to ffnaturalist AT gmail DOT com. The new edition will be posted here before the end of the year, marking one complete circle round the Sun for our plant carnival!

NOTE: After Dec 25, please use the email address above instead of the carnival submission form to ensure your submissions get included this month! Thanks!

Many thanks, and have a Merry Yule!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tracking a Mystery

Yesterday seemed to be a perfect day for tracking, perhaps because even the wind was frozen. When I went to the mailbox, I found several stories written in and next to the driveway, including one little mystery.

Cottontails abound, so to speak, around here these days. One friend suggests local coyote populations have been drastically reduced, perhaps by disease; we don't hear them as often as we used to. That leaves these guys as our most ubiquitous and visible mammal. So here's a good classic bunny track, including one with even front paw marks showing.

Loosely related: Speaking of wild canids, I saw one just the day after I wrote this post. At first glance, I thought coyote, of course, but looking closer I realized it was a foothills resident I'd never encountered (alive) before: The Grey Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus). Alas, no camera, but my what a stately critter! Needless to say, I was thrilled!! (Expect a post in the future.)

Next up, near the top of the drive, a small rodent (?) ran or hopped perpendicularly across the driveway, from one weedy rough over to the rabbitbrush, where the shelter was perhaps better.

Then came a set of bird tracks, or rather marks. Definitely not walking around, more like alighting, poking under the snow, and leaving with a distinctive wing burst. Hope he/she found whatever was being hunted. I like the long scratch marks on this one, suggesting a Rufous-sided Towhee (as they used to be known; now Western Towhee I believe). I was starting to be intrigued by the different colors the camera caught from the same snow.

This better bird print reminds me of the fossils from Solnhofen, Germany, with a more complete splay of wings and even a suggestion of body and tail. A nice takeoff... See more fossils at this gallery.

Okay... here comes the mystery. This little guy(?) made a neat row of tracks all along the driveway, but they ended abruptly halfway up. Hmmm. No sign of struggle, what could it be? I noted that it was traveling next to the DH's tracks as he left for work this morning.

Coming back, I traced it in the other direction, beginning to suspect the truth this last photo confirms. Even the inanimate (if snow is such) can leave traces of its existence, often more regular and predictable than those of the living. Another nature mystery solved, another track decoded!

Monday, December 15, 2008

For the Record

It's bitter... 5 below zero... this morning (that's
-21 C; sounds more impressive that way, doesn't it?). Too bad the photo didn't capture the white glaze of hoarfrost on the branches of the ash tree. Snow crunching underfoot when I stepped out (ever so quickly!) for the photo.

I haven't let the chickens out and doubt they'd come anyway. They'd probably appreciate some oatmeal though! (Corn meal mush yesterday, though warm, didn't seem to be a hit, much to my surprise.) DH set up a heater in the coop last night, so I hope they're comfortable—more than they would be without it, at least!

Our chicken adventure started twelve years ago, and my first impressions are recorded at Small Wonders. It's amazing how many of my predictions have come true since then!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Coming Soon: Berry-Go-Round #12

Good morning, plant lovers! Just a quick note to remind all that the next edition of the plant carnival Berry-Go-Round will be hosted here at the end of the year. Submissions are due December 27th; please email them to me at ffnaturalist AT gmail DOT com or use the magic submission form. Thanks!

With a Northern Hemisphere bias imposed by my locale (sorry, can't shake it!), here's a theme suggestion for anyone who needs one:

Storms and Winter Weather
Bring Plants and People
Close Together!

If you like, consider blogging about plants in storms, plants weathering storms, or even holiday house plants you're getting reacquainted with! All plant-related posts are welcome, of course, especially from those in the Southern Hemisphere, where it is, we trust, warm and springlike! We northerners will appreciate reminders that life and flowers go on despite our cold or snowy weather. And should hyphal impulses strike, remember that BGR still allows fungi to be included.

Thanks—I look forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Balance of the Day

Our daily view seems to concentrate on the mornings, as in yesterday's post. Here's the other end of yesterday, to balance things out. What's left of the sun is coming through the valley of Bear Creek to strike the western faces of the Red Rocks outcrops for a change. This is about all we get of sunsets; our view west is blocked by the first range of foothills.

Compare above with this sunrise view from January 2006, as yesterday we couldn't see the sunrise. (I know this is in a post somewhere, but I just can't find it yet.) I do more sunrises because I like the way the rocks are reflected in their long shadows stretching westward. Here's another.

Already approaching 50 degrees (10C) and it's only 7:15 a.m. This snow will be gone before the next storm hits this weekend.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

World of White

Waking up today to a changed world, all in white. This is a marvelous gift, still drifting down in scattered flakes this morning. Most of our annual moisture comes from big snows like this one, and stocking the soil with some water for plants helps get them through the winter. So, a good thing, all in all, especially if you don't have to go anywhere. (One of the blessings of working at home.)

After a weekend in the high 60s, this storm pussyfooted in quietly yesterday. The sky was lowering darkly all morning, but when I looked out mid-day, I saw this new development slithering down the valley from I-70. And watched as it engulfed us, slowly, gradually, trailing soft flakes behind... In a matter of minutes, the deed was done, and the gray day was gone.

Here are two closeups of the snow moving in over Red Rocks Park.
Just back now from shoveling my way out to the chicken coop, then making a second trip with food and water. The girls (and roosters too) have not ventured out of the coop yet, even though a snow-free patio awaits them. For the weather record, it's 25 degrees out there (-4C, after 67F/20C over the weekend), and, I'd say, up to a foot (30 cm) of light, fluffy white stuff.

Everyone out there has breakfast and a snack, so we're set for the time being. Loverly day!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Swinging with the Sun

As Winter Solstice approaches again, the sun slides back into its winter-morning spot at the south end of the hogback. This morning, it provided this glorious view from the direction that doesn't usually get photographed around here.

The Sun is part of my winter timekeeping system, described further on Small Wonders in one of my first-ever essays (outside of school). There's another Solstice sunrise waiting for you there. For some reason (too early perhaps), I rarely capture summer sunrises.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Coyote Semilla: Plant of the Week

In my head I still hear the pronunciation given by the 8-year-old Latina I encountered long ago in Arizona, who authoritatively informed me of this plant's name the first time I saw it.

At the risk of exposing my linguistic inadequacies, we'll do the name first. The word coyote simply must be given the proper 3-syllable twist she gave it (perhaps reflecting the original Aztec): coy-oh-tay. The 2-syllable American (ki-oat) and its monosyllabic Texas variant are as unacceptable here as the longer American ki-oh-tee. Now if only I could wrap my tongue around it as smoothly as the child did.

Semilla, though, is Spanish through and through, as far as I know, and derived from the Latin. It means seed (English speakers, think "seminal"). When you see a baseball-sized dry fruit all over the prairie, you have encountered this plant. When green, it might resemble a small watermelon, but in that state you're more likely to notice the leaves before anything else. They will be bright blue-green, almost a foot long, and arrayed on vines that sprawl widely, carrying those coyote seeds hither and yon. And they, the leaves, will smell to high heaven (hence the species name). In all, a very impressive plant.

Kingdom Plantae – Plants
  Subkingdom Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
   Superdivision Spermatophyta – Seed plants
    Division Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
     Class Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
      Subclass Dilleniidae
       Order Violales
        Family Cucurbitaceae – Cucumber family
         Genus Cucurbita L. – gourd
         Species Cucurbita foetidissima Kunth
         aka Missouri gourd, buffalo gourd, calabazilla, wild gourd

That's one reason, I guess, why we were discussing it at First Friday the other night, when several botany geeks I know get together for pizza and chat. Yesterday, Bee Lady and I went on an expedition to try to gather a fruit from the only place I know of in our county where this plant grows wild. We found the shriveled vines and leaves, and but one fruit. We took a few seeds, and left the lone gourd to finish rotting in peace. In such moribund condition, the plants weren't even worth a photo.

We chatted Friday night about how or whether the plant was used by native peoples (yes, it was!), and the Chemist reported that the rind of this fruit contains the most bitter substance known to humankind. Doesn't sound too appetizing... After we left our wild patch, we hied on over to his house to gather wildflower seed from his excellent native garden. He has gourd plants, too, but without fruit. Why not? Bee Lady speculated that, in town as he is, he lacks the appropriate pollinator. Could be—the nearest reported distribution for Coyote Gourd is several counties away to the south or the east.

We are somewhere under the red triangle. So how did it get here? A little botanical mystery. The plant site is near an old townsite, which may or may not have overlapped an earlier Indian site ("evidence" for which comes from spirits by way of psychics, but that's another story). So it could have been brought here, planted even, by humans. Or it just could be that the database, which includes only formal records (e.g., herbarium specimens), is incomplete—the plant simply hasn't been collected and reported to those who keep track of such things. Or both.

Photo credit: Patrick J. Alexander @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
USDA, NRCS. 2008. The PLANTS Database (6 December 2008). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Stormy Weather...

Postponing my errands yesterday turns out to be a bad idea. It's far worse out there today. Ten (6C) degrees colder than yesterday's 26 (-3C), snowflakes getting bigger and bigger by the hour. And no suet to share with the feathered friends. A day to make warm oatmeal for the chickens, and work up the ambition to go out and feed them soon. (I should have known it would be bad; THREE Steller's Jays in the yard yesterday.)

The cold weather is bringing out the birds; it's clear that winter weather brings birds and people close together, at least around here. All perches on the thistle feeder are occupied by Pine Siskins, most upside down, with more waiting in line on the chain of the adjacent birdbath. One of my favorites; click to see how many I caught in the air! Juncos are everywhere, and several Magpies, but only a few Red-winged Blackbirds have ventured out today.

A sassy new guy has also moved in of late; can you see him in the top photo? Sign of the times, as we never used to see these. Fox Squirrels (Sciurus niger) are going from occasional to regular; I think this one has set up shop somewhere in the yard. (Here's a closer view.) They are invasive, moving west along the tree-lined riparian areas of the Great Plains, setting up a stronghold in Denver's urban forest (Tree City USA), and now, growing more common in the foothills even outside riparian areas. Curiously, the distribution map at Nature Serve implies they belong in Colorado, but are exotic in Wyoming and other western states. Click on "Distribution" and scroll down to see a map with that distinctive finger reaching into Colorado along the South Platte River system. Apparently they haven't progressed as far in the Arkansas Valley. NatureServe suggests they're even vulnerable (to extinction, or rather extirpation) in Alabama, North Carolina, and New York states.

It's a good sign, I suppose, that our yard is arboreal enough to support these little monsters. I'm a softie, of course, so have thus far used no repellents or deadly force against them. We see no more than one at a time, and each has moved on in its own time, perhaps finding better pickings elsewhere. But today he's hungry, as is everyone else out there, and the sunflower seeds are too tempting, so he strikes a "cute squirrel" pose to convince me he's just part of the local ecosystem. And maybe he is.

NatureServe, by the way, is a handy reference to plant and animal distributions and taxonomy. For plants, I often use the USDA Database as well. This morning, while googling an obscure fungus, I discovered another repository of biodiversity information, the ZipCodeZoo. Pretty neat idea, but currently soliciting donations to prevent its own extinction. Drop by and see what you can learn about your own neighborhood; this site is rich in data, references, and links. (But use with caution: I've yet to see a Basking Shark or Pawpaw here in Colorado.)

In a closet somewhere in this house is a half-completed needlepoint sampler bearing the message Storms and Winter Weather Bring Plants and People Close Together. I think I'll propose this as a theme, at least in the northern hemisphere, for the upcoming edition of Berry-Go-Round. (Okay, so in my younger days I had illusions of being creative and skilled in domestic crafts, so what? We're all trying to figure out who we are here...grin)

Before leaving this a.m., the DH (bless his heart!) laid a fire for me in the woodstove, using his "new" upside-down technique. Works like a charm—10 minutes after lighting it, I had this lovely fire going, taking the chill off the house.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Berry-Go-Round #11 is Up

Drop in at Catalogue of Organisms for an enjoyable stroll through this month's carnival celebrating the green and the not-so-green. Christopher has assembled a fine harvest of botanical delights for your perusal.

The next Berry-Go-Round will be hosted here at Foothills Fancies, so please send in your own submissions or nominate posts written by others! Email me at ffnaturalist AT gmail DOT com.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Gentleman Caller

Baby Doe has a friend today; must be that time of year. The two of them were out in the yard this morning, along with about a hundred Red-winged Blackbirds, when I happened to glance out. She looks a bit quizzical about the whole thing, though a woman of her experience ought to be used to seasonal attention by now. Maybe she's flattered by the attentions of a younger male. Could be she's just bored, not interested in raising yet another pair of twins next summer, however elegant their sire. She knows where this is leading.

He's a handsome fellow, despite the broken antler. Young, I'd say, or perhaps just coming into his prime. I've noticed before that the males seem to have lighter faces and that contrasting forehead, helping identify them even when antlers are lacking. Unlike Whitetailed Deer, our Mule Deer have antlers with an even dichotomous branching pattern—each side splitting into two forks, and so on. In Colorado, we'd call this guy a "5-point" buck I think, counting only one side. (Elsewhere, both antlers count, but with Muleys you only have to multiply by two for the equivalent. I'm not sure, though, whether the little prong at the base counts.)

C'mon, Baby Doe—look at those big brown eyes!

Blog-Keeping Updates

This month's edition of Berry-Go-Round, the carnival of all things Plantae, will be hosted any moment at Catalogue of Organisms... I'm as far behind in carnivals as I am in writing about plants, but as BGR will be hosted here at Foothills Fancies in December, I'm going to have to catch up fast! If you run across interesting plant blogging, please send me links at ffnaturalist AT gmail DOT com or post them in the comments here.

Pixie at Name That Mushroom has awarded me Brownie Points and over-the-top blog reviews in recognition of my (partial) identification of one of her mushroom photos. Laura, that's above and beyond the call of duty! But many thanks... I look forward to more frequent fungal posts from you over there soon, please!

In my absence, I missed ABC Wednesday's visit to "S"... but you can review the results at S-is-for-Sodalite, and check out one of my favorite minerals at the same time.

Pretty Me! has honored me with a Proximity Award for introducing her to fibs*—her first excellent one is here. This award honors blogs that "invest and believe the PROXIMITY- nearness in space, time and relationships. These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement." Now, by the "rules" of blogging, I guess I need to pass the award on to eight others. A tough assignment, as I've been supported and inspired by so many of you! Give me a little time on this, Prati... and thanks!

* A form of extended haiku, 6 lines with a 1-1-2-3-5-8 syllable pattern, following the Fibonacci series. See my earlier attempts at this, and regular haiku, here.

Snowy Sunday

Snowy Sunday outside means busy blogger inside. I'm just back from a Thanksgiving trip to visit family—solo, alas! Darling Husband (DH) stayed home, kept the bird feeders filled and the domestic predators monitored and managed. All safe and sound at home now, myself included.

Someday I am going to blog the entire drive across Colorado—it will take several posts, I'm sure. Yesterday's trip home was daunting, especially over the last of the six passes that must be crossed. Fairplay, at the north edge of wide open South Park, is known for high winds and high-speed driving. When there's snow, it becomes doubly challenging. Here's a view of the Fairplay-to-Jefferson stretch, courtesy Google Earth. The light green area is part of South Park; it did not look like this yesterday.

The 16 miles from Fairplay to Jefferson were introduced by a huge road sign that read "Winter driving conditions ahead." That was daunting enough for a weather wimp like me; the new hotel back in Fairplay was beginning to sound good. We came to a complete stop at Jefferson, where state troopers and tow trucks greeted all, just two miles from the base of Kenosha Pass (upper right in photo above), because someone had already miscalculated the appropriate travel speed. One patrol car fell in reassuringly behind me. (Ah, I thought, there'll be a witness at least, if I slide over the edge.) White-out blizzard conditions prevailed for the next 16 miles, as we all crept cautiously over the mountain. A more dedicated blogger would have stopped for photos, I'm sure.

Here's a view of part of South Park from Kenosha Pass under more hospitable conditions in October, just a few weeks ago. Good thing I got home on Saturday—they closed the road from Fairplay to Kenosha Pass on Sunday!

Mountains in Colorado create their own weather, it often seems, and Kenosha is not especially difficult or treacherous, as mountain passes go. As soon as we reached the eastern base of the pass, clear dry road conditions resumed, and the rest of the trip home was uneventful.

DH was the real hero of this trip, providing a fresh set of snowtires and brand new windshield wipers before I left, and promptly pouring me a glass of wine when I got home. He even allowed me to spend the entire evening immobilized on the couch under a warm and purring feline coverlet!

Kenosha Pass (el. 3048 m./10,000 ft.) is a high mountain pass located in the Rocky Mountains of central Colorado in the United States. View article on; see also South Park ; and Fairplay.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ice... Not So Nice!

Does it look a bit glossy out there today, despite the gloom? Almost killed myself going out to fill the bird feeder. Everything is coated with a sheet of ice—the ground, the bird feeder and birdbath, every twig, cactus branch, and blade of grass.

The doe showed up; she looks like she's wearing white mascara. Her eyelashes are coated with ice—but she seems to be able to see just fine. (Click to enlarge for a better view.) She's watching me to make sure I'm not letting the dogs out after her. I wonder how she avoids slipping!

Notice too that she's standing next to the big Rabbitbrush (a topic of yesterday's post) that is always part of the front-yard view. See slide show in sidebar.

Ring-necked Rock Dove

Should have thought of this guy yesterday, for R over at ABC Wednesday. Here's a belated entry...

Or, I should add, possibly a gal. The only time I can tell pigeons apart is when they're exhibiting breeding behavior. This one has been around most of this fall, so far. Quite a handsome fellow! I always enjoy it when a bird has some distinctive character, so we can recognize him or her upon return. See the Pied Junco, an earlier post on this topic.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

R is for Rabbitbrush

Thanks to ABC Wednesday being on "R" this week, this ubiquitous local shrub will be our first Plant of the Week. It's the yellow one in this photo, with a white aster for company.

Most of the year, Rabbitbrush (sometimes called Rubber Rabbitbrush for its latex-like sap) is not impressive, but it does have its moment in the sun. Late in the season, when it seems color is gone for good, Rabbitbrush goes into "glory" mode. This photo was taken October 5th, when the entire neighborhood was still lit up by its bloom, as it has been since early September.

The scientific name of this plant is Chrysothamnus nauseosus or Ericameria nauseosa, but its two subspecies generate a variety or three for every western state in which it occurs; at least 22 altogether. It seeds easily and is among the first to come up when opportunity—a bare patch of ground— arises. It is a composite, a member of the Asteraceae family, and produces wind-borne seeds that help account for its broad distribution across the semi-arid west.

Kingdom Plantae – Plants
 Subkingdom Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
  Superdivision Spermatophyta – Seed plants
   Division Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
    Class Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
     Subclass Asteridae
      Order Asterales
       Family Asteraceae – Aster family
        Genus Ericameria Nutt. – goldenbush
        Species Ericameria nauseosa (Pall. ex Pursh) G.L. Nesom &
          Baird – rubber rabbitbrush

One of the first things I remember learning about Rabbitbrush is its wealth of associations, mostly with insects. I was working in mined land reclamation, and it was said that if you planted Rabbitbrush on recovering land, the plants would attract some 60 different kinds of insects to begin the process of recolonizing. Much of that attraction lies in these flowers, which are insect pollinated. Last year this plant was covered with bees and Painted Lady butterflies. This year, the butterflies came through in limited numbers, but the bees still did their work.

Six weeks later now and even this last touch of color has faded, turned into plumed seeds, leaving behind the somewhat drab landscape that will be with us, when not relieved by snow, until spring.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bird du Jour: One Chick, Two Chickadee

The suet feeder was empty (again!) yesterday, and the Chickadees seemed disappointed. They are always the first ones up in the early morning, snatching sunflower seeds before it's even very light out there. A few days ago it occurred to me their tiny beaks have trouble getting to the suet, especially after the Jays, Magpies, and Flickers have shaved it down to a sliver, like a well used bar of soap.

So I cut a chunk off a fresh cake and used it to force the suet against the holder. In seconds, they were back and clearly delighted, as four of them showed up at once. Squabbles ensued, but mostly they seemed content to take turns. One little guy/gal even found a crumb on the ground, and flew away with it.

Chickadees are an easy bird to "favorite"—their antics are life to them, but endearing to us. And they always seem so cheerful...

Aldo Leopold considered them one of his favorites too and observed them carefully on his farm in Wisconsin. How, he wondered, does such a tiny bird survive winters in Wisconsin? Read more on this at Small Wonders, my second essay published in the Upbeat series long ago.

All is Forgiven

Dear Mr. Weatherman:

I apologize. I was sure you said you'd sent that "Next Day Air," but it arrived a day later. Please forgive my outburst yesterday.

At first light this morning, there was barely a dusting, but now it looks to be getting serious. (You do know I have to be on top of Lookout Mountain for a meeting at 11, right? Never mind, I'll cope!)

And guess who's here? She reminds me of the old weather predictor: if the dog/rock is wet, it's raining, etc... So today, if the deer is white, it must be snowing.

Anyway, thanks. Whatever this amounts to will be much appreciated!

Best wishes—
Foothills Fancies

p.s. For those who are wondering why the deer is white, and is she freezing?, these critters are well insulated! They have hollow hair that prevents heat loss and keeps the cold from getting through to their skin. You probably already knew that!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

You Promised Me Snow!

Dear Mr. Weatherman:

Although we've been enjoying the mild weather, once again we are disappointed on the precipitation front. (No pun intended.) Didn't you say last night there'd be 3 inches of the white stuff this morning? What happened?

Remember last week, when Telluride and the West Slope got 18 inches, and the eastern plains got a big dump too? That storm apparently just skipped right over us. It's almost mid-November, for heaven's sake—surely you could have found us something measurable by now. It's 62 degrees out there right now, what's up with that? That's at least 10 degrees higher than what you folks say is our "normal" average high for November!

The Husband mentioned a few days ago that one of your people reported we were 10 inches low on precipitation so far this year. You know we only get about 16 total. We should have at least 15 of that by now!

I don't mean to complain, exactly, but I'm starting to get worried about the plants and animals out there who depend on a little moisture now and then. And did you see those grasshoppers this summer? They stripped my hollyhocks and lemon balm completely. I haven't seen it like that since 1981, when they defoliated all the lilacs. (They're recovering, thank you, but I'll never see that thyme again.)

Remember, too, that old Arabian saying: All sunshine makes a desert. Thanks for sending clouds, at least, today.

You know that normally I'm an easy customer to satisfy, rolling with the punches as it were, but if things don't change soon, I'm afraid we're going to have to take our business to someone a little more reliable!

All the best—
Foothills Fancies

p.s. It sure is nice not having the chickens' water frozen every morning, though!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Q is for Quarry, and the Quest therefor. This place where Earth's bones were torn from their long home almost a century and a half ago, yet the rock has still not healed. Exposed sandstone reveals the spot; occasional marks of the tools used so long ago. A steep climb, tough to imagine men working here in those early days.

Nearby, the rocks are cloaked with lichens, proof of their undisturbance. They watched as George Morrison "settled" this place, using its native rock to grow buildings. Some remain today; some do not.

But the view goes on.

More Qs at ABC Wednesday; we are joining mid-alphabet.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Fun Fungal Games...

Catching up with the blog world the last couple of days, I ran across Pixie, who has discovered a great way to make blogs interactive—and way fun—at Name The Mushroom. She awards brownie points if you're the first to identify a posted photo, and I'm happy to report that a shroom neophyte like yours truly got one right (sort of)! She's posting from the UK, with fun guys from Iceland and other faraway places, just to make the game more challenging.

So, if it's not too late for Halloween, here is my own local version of Dead Man's Fingers, Clavaria purpurea. Although it's claimed to be edible, it's so unappetizing I can't imagine trying it.

Pixie is kindly giving me credit for guessing the common name, but names her quite different species Xylaria polymorpha. It allegedly occurs "throughout North America," according to the Audubon guide, but as it prefers maple and beech stumps, I doubt we have much of it here in Colorado, as Evenson's Mushrooms of Colorado confirms.

I haven't yet posted my promised mushroom field trip reports, but earlier mushroom-lover insights can be found over on Small Wonders.

Pixie says my brownie points are on the way. Can't wait!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Bird du Jour: Hairy Woodpecker

Latest kid on the block showed up this a.m., bigger and louder than the Downy Woodpecker we've covered before. He (red spot confirms male) has been here before, I don't think this is a new record, but it's been a long time. First spotted on the ash tree, he politely flew to the apple, then the elm, to give me time to refill the suet feeder. Then he checked out the sunflower tube (right), sampling that offering,

before returning to the ash to see what was in the huge split in the trunk. (We lost a major branch this summer.)

Finally, on to the suet, where his pose would allow a good look if only I were a less hasty photographer. (Stop and hold still, girl.)

The red-wing flock showed up first this a.m. Clearly I am going to have to fill sunflowers the night before.

[Addendum this afternoon: I think the female Hairy just showed up... They may be juveniles, these two.]

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Dark of the Year

How's this for fall color? Taken Wednesday, after a dusting of snow overnight, the early morning light indicates we were still not quite adjusted to the mandated seasonal shift in schedule. Someone is looking for breakfast, but The Husband recently muley-proofed the chicken feeder, so she's come close to the house to scavenge birdseed under the feeders instead.

A new blog-buddy, the Watcher, commented on the fact that Foothills Fancies had "gone dark," with no posts since last May. I quite like the phrase, as if a little light had gone out (in my brain maybe?). I've been thinking a lot in recent months about what, if anything, happens when a blogger stops writing, really stops. How would we know he/she was never coming back? What if said blogger took up elsewhere? It can be tough to track favorite writers down, as I discovered when Crayons left a bad link as a forwarding address. Blogger can be good about protecting our anonymity if we let it. As mine is pretty much shot anyway, I want to let you know that I've set up a new email for blog-business:

The fact is, for me, blogging can be a bit of a dark-season passion. Winter inspires reflection, and maybe creates a sense of quieter time for writing. I don't know how I fell off the wagon, as it were, last spring. Certainly not for lack of things to talk about. Once you stop briefly, though, lack of blogging creates its own momentum as you wonder where to take up again, how to catch up on all the experiences not blogged. I suppose we never do. But just for the record, I do believe in blogging, for a number of reasons. And apparently I had a similar hiatus in 2007. Nothing unusual.

A blog I ran into early in my posting career similarly went dark last February, leaving a poignant post. I feared the worst; perhaps she'd never return. If you happen across my path before you check in on Endment again, know that she also is back this week!

The bottom line: My enthusiasm for blogging persists, whether I'm actually doing it or not!

Signs of Change

If Juncos and White-crowned Sparrows show up, can winter be far behind? Something roared in this morning about 3 a.m., wind whipping branches and howling around the windows. Today looks good—but tis seriously cool out there. A Steller's Jay, harbinger of foul weather, has come down from Evergreen to suggest we are in for something weather-wise. Photos, and great story, of Steller's Jays here, courtesy of the Watcher.

Yesterday a Flicker on the suet, today only Magpies and Scrub Jays fueling up, and a lone Red-wing Blackbird where there was a horde a day or two ago.

Links will take you to photos and/or stories of these birds during previous visits. This started as a bird-blog, after all. We'll get back to plants soon, in preparation for hosting Berry-Go-Round in late December. I have in mind a "Plant of the Week" feature with this year's photos to get back in the swing.

All I have time for today...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Happy Endings...

Heisenberg again. You never know how outcomes will be affected by observation. Yesterday, glancing out the front window, I saw a strange visitor. Another "never before"... so naturally I reached for the camera and took a few shots.

Seeing that beak, and something about the general configuration, led me to suspect "shrike." After checking the bird books, I'm thinking Northern Shrike, a rare bird I've probably only seen once before, perhaps in Wyoming. A juvenile, with barred chest and faint mask, this one was very alert and perhaps too curious for his own good.

Unfortunately, but perhaps true to his predatory kind, after this shot, he/she flew straight at me and into the glass. And sat stunned, on the ground, as I mentally assessed the whereabouts of the cats and dashed outside to see if I could help. The bird fluttered away, as the young cat who happened to be outside dashed up to "help." Grabbed cat, bird fluttered around the corner of the house. It was getting to be quite a chase.

With the cat secured indoors, I went out the front, toward the driveway, scanning ground and trees without sighting the bird. Turned to go back into the house, and there he/she was, on the doorstep. I'd walked right past! I circled wide, went in by another door, and watched nervously for 20 minutes more. Was it my movement behind the glass, or possibly the camera flash, that drew his attention into danger? Did curiosity—his and mine—almost kill the bird this time? I felt responsible for his predicament.

Finally, wits collected and feathers rearranged, the bird flew up into a small ash tree nearby, warily allowed a couple more photos, then took off with, we hope, a new life lesson learned for all time. Windows...

Northern Shrikes, one bird book says, come south by hundreds periodically when "cyclic population crashes of voles in Canada" occur, about every five years. Maybe we'll be lucky enough to see more. Maybe I should start looking for impaled prey on local hawthorns and barbed wire fences. At least I'll know what not to do next time I see one.

We both went on with our days. I hope his held no more excitement. Mine did, with a heartwarming ending last night that, we all pray, marks an inspiring new beginning for this country of ours!