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!