Monday, April 27, 2009

Flicker Love

Perhaps the loudest "sign of spring" lately is provided by the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus). Although most of our local birds have been courting, some vociferously, the Flicker takes his job seriously. We have a pair, and it seems as if there's a pair for every couple of houses in the neighborhood. Or "our" pair gets around.

Flickers conduct their courtship and territorial displays with two means of getting attention: calling and drumming. They're large birds, so they can make a lot of noise. It's tiring, I'm sure, so he needs to hit the suet feeder regularly to refuel, as he is here.

Here's a small sample of the morning wake-up call we got at 7:40 a.m. Sunday. Repeat at regular intervals for full effect. This drumming is especially impressive because it's taking place on the metal stovepipe on our roof, which means you can hear it inside as well as outside the house. Beats beating on a hollow log, he says.

I like the test thunks that precede the drumming, as if he's checking the surface for proper resonance. Here's what the 8 seconds of drumming above looks like. (You can click to see these better if you like.) Bee Lady said "it's so fast!"; looks like about 20 percussive events per second, when I zoom it in.

Part 2 of the Flicker courtship ritual is calling. Both of these noises serve to attract mates and provide territorial warnings to interlopers. I was criticized a few years back for calling bird songs noise, so you be the judge on this one. Do we want to call that a song? It looks like this:

Add that to everyone else out there advertising, and it ends up being quite a delightful spring cacophony. Especially when you begin to figure out the individual voices. Here's a taste of just two voices (Note: 4 mb file), the staccato Scrub Jay squawk over a distant Flicker call.

For all this, you may thank an old friend (we'll call him TrailMeister, or TM for short) who reappeared this year to chide me for not recognizing the call of a Kingfisher. (I mean, how often do I see/hear a Kingfisher? GMAB.) But I had a digi-recorder handy, so I started sending him little challenges, and... well, here we are. Now that I've figured out how to post these little clips, you can expect more of them!

In fairness, I must add that The Chemist sent me this link some weeks ago, where I went to find out what Kingfishers sound like. The Chemist recommended listening to rattlesnakes as a dog-training exercise. That's another story, but may well have reminded me that my recorder would work for other than its intended purpose.

Signs of the Season

After Saturday's steady drizzle, yesterday dawned clear and bright. At 7:40 a.m. the first Hummingbird of the season showed up, hovering where the feeder should have been, where he remembered it was last year. We jumped up from our coffee, and in minutes, it was found, filled, and back up. He (a male Broad-tailed Hummingbird) returned later to check successfully, a sure sign that spring is here.

You may be wondering what he's doing this morning, as we woke to this—another world of white. About 4 inches (10 cm) of wet snow out there.

Here's how Darling Husband started his work day.

The Flicker attacked an icy block of suet; Juncos and Towhees and Finches looked for bird seed scattered on the ground, and the Hummer stayed close to his chosen food source for the morning. Yours truly was not very successful at capturing him in pixels, but I'm posting these photos anyway, just so you know he's okay.

Between sips of sugar-water, he rested near the house on a feed bucket, or out in the branches of the ash tree, seemingly unperturbed by the snow, as long as he was fed and his feathers retained the necessary fluff-factor. Then there were two, politely sharing the only visible food in the area. No squabbles on a day like this, weather a common, if temporary, enemy.

Two hours later, white skies have lifted to reveal landscape features, sun peeks through and helps trees and bushes begin to shed heavy loads of snow, and temps climb to 10 degrees (6C) above the freezing zone. All is on its way to being well, as another of our spring cycles winds to a close.

Despite my basic faith that nature can take care of itself, I worry. Even short-lived tough times can have ill effects for some, if not for the system. But I hear the Flicker calling—and drumming—his reassurance; even he knows tough times don't last.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Foggy Day; Mystery Bird Solved

A cool and soggy day, even the cats want to be inside, as cozily curled up as possible. Unusual but much appreciated, the fog is turning into a bit of a drizzle, and maybe even a dusting of snow on the top of the nearby mountain, invisible in today's view.

The neighbor called; two unusuals in her yard. I headed over with binocs and camera, and got a good look and an ID on this guy, probably the gallinaceous pair I saw near the mailbox on Tuesday. I was unable to capture a picture of these striking birds together.

Here's what I thought was the male, giving me the evil eye. (Sexes are pretty much identical, as far as I could tell.) Any ideas on ID?

The answer is now clear. More details later!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Man of the House

Here's the male of the species, who showed up today after I (belatedly) refilled the suet feeder. (It was only empty for a day...)

Haven't seen the female since Wednesday, but "ya can't have one without the o-o-o-ther"!

Sure hope these new visitors hang around. (C'mon, guys, the suet is restocked!)

Male has a black head; it's gray in the female. See Birds of April.

Hmm... these are nice! I'm thinking DH and I may have to swap cameras!

Oops! White-breasted Nuthatch!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Walk in the Woods

Sorry, boss. Earth Day is a nationwide holiday, and it's on my schedule of days off. And what a lovely (irresistible spring) day it was... Bee Lady and I, along with her dog Jake, just had to get out for a walk in the woods, if only a short one. We chose O'Fallon Park for a section of "hiker-only" trail I hadn't checked out before. Driving up Bear Creek Canyon, enjoying the views, we spotted several Elk in the meadow at Lair o'the Bear, an Open Space park west of Idledale. There's a new beaver dam there, too, but we were not deterred from our destination.

Nor did the surviving snow on the ground deter us. Jake, in fact, reveled in rolling in each patch we slogged through, perhaps easing his old bones. We walked through a slumbering forest of Ponderosa Pine and Douglas-fir, yet untouched by spring, and were soon rewarded with fabulous views of the mountains to the west. The late sun made capturing the mountains a challenge, so you'll have to exercise a little imagination to see Mt. Evans in the distance here.

Looking back toward Independence Mountain provided a good view of the north-facing slopes still buried in last week's snowfall. Spring will be delayed even longer there. On our warmer side of the hill, Leafy Spurge and Dalmatian Toadflax (both invasive exotics) were already getting a head start on the natives.

There was even time for an ecology lesson. We saw several trees whose tops had been snapped off by the weight of the wettest snow of the year, so when we noticed many tips of PPine branches laying on the ground, I assumed they, too, were victims of seasonal weather-pruning.

Not so, said Bee Lady. See these bare twigs next to them? This pruning is the work of the Abert's Squirrel1who, instead of caching pine seeds as the Chicarees (Pine Squirrels) do, nibbles on the cambium layer of selected pines. Selective like Porcupines?, I asked. [Those guys choose trees with high sugar(?) content, which are often the ones in the earliest stages of disease or insect attack. It's been reported that Porkies can recognize a sick tree long before any evidence is visible to the forester.]

Just so, said Bee Lady as she explained how the squirrels cut pine tips and select twigs behind the growing part, leaving green tassels strewn beneath the tree. She even demonstrated the cambium-munching technique, much like a person eating an ear of sweet corn. (Okay, I probably shouldn't say cambium, so much as inner bark, that is, phloem and cambium, the living parts of a tree stem. The nutrient-free wood, or xylem, is left behind.) The squirrels are selective, it turns out that ecologists just aren't quite sure what they're looking for in the target trees.2

To add to this tangled web of a story, Bee Lady says the Abert's Squirrels must munch certain fungi come June or so to maintain the necessary enzymes (or some such) to digest all that cellulose they'll be eating next winter!

Our short hike seems to have gotten too long for one post, so it's actually continued in the previous post.

1Sciurus abertii, but comes in several subspecies too. Thanks to Deb for the squirrel photo link above, better than the one at Wikipedia. There's another nice page on Abert's at NatureWorks.

2According to Marc Snyder, 1992, "The phloem of target trees had significantly higher concentrations of nonstructural carbohydrates and sodium, and significantly lower concentrations of iron and mercury, than the phloem of matched nontarget trees. Oleoresin characteristics associated with selective herbivory were unaffected by simulated herbivory over 2 yr, supporting existing evidence that these characteristics are under strong genetic control. Because herbivory is associated with these host traits and results in dramatic reductions in host fitness, Abert's squirrels are probably important agents of natural selection in host ponderosa pine populations." Yum! Nonstructural carbohydrates!

On the other hand, Pedersen and Welch (1984) found that "Protein and other nutrients did not differ significantly between feed and nonfeed trees. However, both outer and inner bark were easier to remove from the woody portion of the feed tree twigs than those twigs collected from nonfeed trees. Therefore, due to the lack of differences in monoterpenoid and nutrient content between feed and nonfeed trees, we attributed the use of certain trees for use as feed trees to the ease of peeling and separating outer from inner bark."

Elk in Velvet--and a Surprise

Our Earth Day hike (see following post, actually written first) brought us a few other delights of discovery, mostly on the return trip. Stomping through one of the wet snow patches, I noticed some tracks that didn't belong to us or the dog. Puzzled, intrigued, and grateful we hadn't obliterated them on the way out, we searched for some clear enough to photograph. Here they are, once again without a scale object other than a few Doug-fir needles, but they would have looked nice with one of my Colorado quarters I keep forgetting to bring.

The tracks were too big for the squirrels we had been discussing, too small for a dog and not-quite-right for raccoon, we thought, though there was some resemblance. In the snow, they looked almost like an infant's handprint, except for distinct claw marks. Bee Lady decided on a Pine Marten, and I quite liked that conclusion. It could, of course, been some other small weasel, but we relished the thought of this little guy watching us from a tree while we looked for him.

The Pine Marten or American Marten (Martes americana) is the largest weasel we're likely to see in these parts, Fishers being pretty rare, and Wolverines almost nonexistent. Apparently secure in Colorado and several other western states, the Marten is imperiled or vulnerable in Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, California, and Oregon, as well as in most of the northeast. Its broad range, though, makes it globally secure thanks to abundant populations in Canada. (See Distribution map at

Check out the photo—pretty cute, huh? (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.) I shouldn't feel too bad about never having seen one—my source says "even people who live in marten habitat may seldom see them." Darling Husband did see one on a hike in the mountains a few years ago. Ours was probably watching from the treetops as we headed back down the trail.

Here are the photos DH took, June 2007, near the trailhead to Gray's and Torrey's Peaks. Brightening to get his face to show up washed out the old snow behind him; not as perfect a pose as the one above. Click to get a better view of him.

Also a rear view, in typical weasel observation pose, to show off his shape. These guys are about the size of a small housecat.

We'd somehow overlooked a couple signs of spring on the way out. First, I spotted this Mountain Candytuft (Thlaspi alpestre), a delicate spring mustard that is easy to miss, usually occurring by itself, scattered along the trail. We saw only this one.

Next up was the one we'd been looking for: the Mountain Ball Cactus (Pediocactus simpsonii). It's a dramatic plant, especially when in flower, but very capable of hiding in plain sight among the rocks and lichens. Often where there's one of these beauties, there will be more, but again, we saw only one blooming.

Still with me? If so, you're probably wondering about those Elk by now. We found them again, in a meadow a little further downstream, and took a quick detour for a better look. Five or six, mostly bulls (maybe all bulls, some just too young to show antlers), in the picnic area along the trail.

They are just beginning to regrow their annual racks, now just fuzzy protrusions from their foreheads as they grazed. Again, without scale, it's hard to convey how BIG these guys are! Almost 5 feet (1.5 m) at the shoulder, and weighing in the neighborhood of 700 pounds (320 kg), they are twice as heavy as Mule Deer (though they easily look three times!). Somehow, though they're around daily in the mountains west of home, it's still always exciting to see them (at least for those of us who don't have them munching on our landscaping).

So, in all, a great day on our little part of the Earth!

A Little More on Elk

By the final years of the 19th century, when the frontier was not only closed but almost sterilized, Elk had become so rare from overhunting that their conservation became an important effort in the early 1900s. When the bison preserve at Genesee Park was established in 1914 (with bison imported from Yellowstone Park), a couple dozen Elk were brought along to form the nucleus of the herd that still resides there.

The irony is that, 95 years later, the captive herd is well outnumbered by wild Elk (like the ones pictured above) in the foothills west of Denver. Today the species is not only back from the brink of extinction, but so numerous that it is one of the Rockies' most popular game animals with hunters. Elk have even overpopulated habitat in Rocky Mountain National Park to the extent that culling has again become necessary there. An Elk Vegetation Management Plan guided removal that started in February and took about 33 elk (out of 100 planned), all cows. A bit of fertility control is also being tried out on the remaining herd. The program has been controversial, as the following articles show.

Elk culling to begin
First animals taken
Wolves are the better answer
Estes Park residents disagree on culling plan

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It's Earth Day!

Finally, Earth Day and Spring seem to be arriving simultaneously! Thirty-nine years later, it seems we don't hear enough about Earth Day, which should certainly be (along with Buy-Nothing Day, the Friday after Thanksgiving) our most significant—and transformative—holiday.

I still remember that first Earth Day, when we thought picking up garbage was a significant way to celebrate. The world, or at least this state-side portion of it, has indeed been transformed since then, so subtly we often fail to realize it. Although it seems we can never do enough, let's look at a few things that have changed for the better since 1970, signs of the times, at how full our collective glass really is.

Litter: once ubiquitous on major highways; drivers were warned of the consequences of throwing refuse out car windows. $500 fines, rarely enforceable, have been replaced by Adopt-a-Highway signs, and volunteers help keep our scenery looking more scenic and less trashed than in 1970.

Endangered species: yes, and more of them than ever, but the Bald Eagle, our national symbol, is no longer among them. Neither is the Peregrine Falcon, the American Alligator, the Gray Wolf, or the Grizzly Bear. Whooping Cranes, Desert Pupfish, California Condors, and Black-footed Ferrets have not disappeared as predicted, thanks to strenuous measures by many people. Your children don't even remember DDT or the spray trucks of summer, implicated in many of those declines.

However, 51 species have been delisted, and not all of them are charismatic megafauna. Delisting always makes me nervous; guess I'm naturally suspicious. Here's the scoop, in case you were wondering. Of those 51 species, 25 have been delisted because of recovery. Seventeen have been delisted because the "original data [were] in error." Unfortunately, the remaining nine have been delisted by reason of the fact that they've gone extinct. How many of us can name even one of them? (See Requiem, below.)

Habitat protection: although still committed to resource extraction, most land-management agencies at least acknowledge and evaluate the consequences of their actions. We have, thanks to many nongovernmental organizations as well, more protected habitat nationwide than we did in 1970, and we can't have wildlife and wild plant diversity without habitat.

Air and water quality: places where city sewage flows freely into local streams and industries spew poisons into the air unregulated are no longer a daily experience in most communities.

For all that remains to be done, we are fortunate here in the U.S. that significant progress has been made. But it is not cause to rest. For each item in the list, there is bad news somewhere, and we don't need to look far to find it.

Requiem (with date delisted): Guam Broadbill (2/24/04); Longjaw Cisco (9/2/83); Amistad Gambusia (12/4/87); Mariana Mallard (2/23/04); Sampson's Pearlymussel (1/9/84); Blue Pike (9/2/83); Tecopa Pupfish (1/15/82); Santa Barbara Song Sparrow (10/12/83); Dusky Seaside Sparrow (12/12/90).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Birds of April

Once again, I'm launching a new feature here at FF. Given my track record, I just know I shouldn't say that!

This time, it's a monthly compilation of visiting and resident birds. This is that transitional shoulder-season, when winter friends will disappear without a fare-thee-well, and returning guests show up to delight and amuse us. Any day now, the Hummingbirds. We must be prepared!

We have some newcomers this month, some "never befores" to report, like the one in this photo. And I'd never thought to take the camera to the mailbox with me, but would that I had today! I'll probably never see again this never-before bird, nor ever be sure of its identity.

April is not over, that we know. But here's the list so far... let's expect a few more before the month is out! Most were at the feeders; a few obvious ones (Vultures and Eagles, for example) were not. Never-befores (only one this month) are in blue.

That's 27 total, and the migrants haven't even arrived yet! Links go to those whose photos have been previously posted.

The White-breasted Nuthatch was unexpected, not having popped in before. (She's acrobatic, but not as much as Blogger would have you believe. Gravity still prevails, even here. If anyone can tell me why Blogger occasionally does this or how to overcome it, I'd be grateful.) She has become a regular, at least for now, checking the suet feeder periodically over the past week. That distinguishes from her cousin, the Red-breasted Nuthatch, who showed up just once back in May 2008.

As with other suet-lovers, these Nuthatches are insectivores and cavity-nesters. Their young are almost totally dependent on animal foods. They also, according to Erhlich et al., sometimes join mixed-species flocks, which can confer feeding advantages as well as protection from predators.

There are a few more I'd like to mention, seen or heard in the immediate area (that is, the area seen in the "views from home" photos). These are the Canyon Wren I heard among the cliffs of Red Rocks yesterday, one of the few bird songs I recognize. (We're working on that; more to report soon.) And last night, wonder of wonders, a new sound in the dark. Husband, then Friends, had reported this, but last night, I heard it, all by myself. Outside in the dark, a sound like a cross between a coyote and a goose... barking overhead, the migrating Sandhill Cranes!

And the mailbox bird? Something gallinaceous. The best I can come up with is Sharp-tailed Grouse, two of them, just meandering along the road. Gone, of course, by the time I returned with binocs and camera.

A joyous Spring, indeed! (I'd better go buy suet!)

Erhlich, Paul R., David S. Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye. 1988. The Birder's Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds. Simon & Schuster. 785 p. (an encyclopedic complement to your identification guides)

The Road to Hell

I have so much to blog about! Watcher-like, I'd even made a plan, a list of things to cover here at Foothills Fancies. And yet, that prickly pear cordial sat up here all month, embarrassing me by its continued top-o'-the-blog presence when there are spring storms to cover (another foot of white stuff last Friday that I missed almost completely), an entire round-trip across Colorado, Earth Day tomorrow and my wistful plan to cover Good Earth stuff all month... sigh. Time has not been on my side of late.

And now, thanks to a snowy April putting us back on track for annual moisture (and then some!), green and growing things will be bursting out of the ground faster than I can record them. Hallelujah, it's April, and spring is really here this time! (I'm convinced, anyway, what with it hitting almost 80 today, 27C.)

Coming Attractions: Well, we've got Flicker Love, The Bird List (yes, I've finally started keeping track, sort of), Trophy Hunting, geological discoveries, the Windshield Survey of Colorado (with a little bit of Utah thrown in), and more, much more.

Expect wonders! What else can I say on a fine spring day?

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Fruits of No Labor

Well, almost none (on my part anyway). The Collector put out a plea last fall for someone to take a bucket of fruit off her hands, and I was among the lucky recipients. It took a while to get around to "processing" my bounty; she said the first step was to be sure to use dishwashing gloves to wash the fruit, so first I had to acquire a pair of those. One evening in November, gloves on hands, I undertook the process—first washing and cutting up the glorious purple prickly pears, or tuna, as they are known in the southwest.

FF is not, as I trust you know, a recipe blog, but we're going to make a single exception here, and I hope you'll forgive the digression. Consider it an aberration induced by this unseasonably snowy weather.

Here they are, all washed, on the cutting board. The Collector assured me most of the glochids would sink to the bottom of the wash bowl as I gently rubbed the fruit in the water, but handling without gloves was still not advisable. I decided, to allow maximum flavor development, to cut each fruit in half. This also provides a small opportunity for an anatomy lesson.

The fruit reflects the flower, of course, and cactus flowers are classic examples of hypogyny. Hypo (below) and gyn (female or ovary) tells us the ovary is below the flower we notice, that is, the showy petals and sepals (tepals) are attached above the ovary. The seeds and fruit will develop below the withered remains of the flower, rather than above, as they do in the tulip. In this photo, the white spot represents the flower base, where it attaches to the main plant. At the other end of the fruit is a tough brown bowl shape that once held the tepals and stamens on its rim. In between is the ovary, full of seeds and surrounded by a thin red-purple layer of fleshy fruit. A few of the mucilaginous seeds are artfully scattered nearby, along with a cluster of spines.

Thankfully, the spines are on the pads of the plant, not the fruits. This one just came along for the ride, adding a little thrill of danger to the processing.

Perhaps this is a good place to point out that not all cactus, nor all prickly pear species, make nice juicy fruits like these. Some, like our cholla, have dried up non-fleshy fruits that are not much use for things like jelly, syrup, or (in the case of our recipe here) cordial. These tuna are from Opuntia phaeacantha, a large-padded prickly pear native to the Four Corners states (AZ, UT, CO, NM) and those bordering them east and west, as well as, for some reason, South Dakota. The species name suggests the abundant and obvious grey or dusky (phae-) spines on this common desert plant. The large pads are often bluish in color; the flowers are more often yellow-orange, only occasionally magenta. [Photo courtesy of and copyrighted by Al Schneider, of Colorado Wildflowers, a great site, by the way; he is also the Colorado Native Plant Society webmaster.] Here's the range map too, from the USDA Plants database, who for some reason call this plant "Tulip Prickly Pear." Better known, perhaps, as Mojave, plains, or desert prickly pear. See also Al's page on this species.

Methods: On to our recipe, or more accurately formula. So easy even I can do it, but the attempt was, for this fruit at least, experimental. Take a jar, any size, and fill it two-thirds full of fruit, topped with one-third sugar cubes. Keep the proportions correct by volume, even if the jar is not full, as here. You must use cubes to assure the volume; granulated sugar would just fall down and fill the spaces between the fruit, resulting in an improper measurement. (As you can see, accuracy is critical, so just eyeball it.)

Then fill to the top of the sugar cubes with an alcohol base of your choice, usually vodka (unflavored, please) or whisky (a cheap one is fine; this is not the place for your best stuff).

Anthocyanins being what they are, these red and purple pigments diffused into the whisky almost instantly, making a wonderfully cheery solution as the sugar slowly dissolved and settled to the bottom. (Don't add more, your proportions are already set.)

By morning, the sugar disappeared and the fruit had floated to the top. At this point, if your jar isn't full, it would be wise to weight the fruit to ensure it stays below the surface and avoid the possibility of mold. I used crumpled wax paper to fill the extra space and push the fruit down a bit. Cover the jar, but not too tightly.

Now comes the hard part: waiting. Several months. Put the jar in a cool dark place (this shot was specially posed, I couldn't resist the shaft of sunlight on the fruit!)... and wait. Time passes faster if you hide the jar away and try to forget it's there.

Then, some day months later, you can decant your concoction and see how you did! I usually filter through coffee filters (muslin or some such would work too), and in this case, that was a challenge! The brew was slower than usual; it took a couple days to persuade a pint or so through. I really didn't want to be sipping glochids, though. When I mentioned the problem to the Collector, she enlightened me: that mucilage around the seeds gives a dense consistency to any juice from this fruit.

Results: The experiment has been deemed a success by several testers. I thought it was a bit of an acquired taste, this prickly pear cordial, but that may have been because of the complex undertones added by the whisky. Next time, I think I'll try it with vodka instead. Vodka might also better preserve the intense red color, which seems to be lost a bit with the whisky base.

In any event, some snowy Sunday in April, this concoction will deliver a burst of fall flavor more than adequate to toast the past harvest and urge a reluctant spring forward.


Saturday, April 04, 2009

A Little Excitement for a Snowy Day

Just when we thought the long quiet day was winding down to a quiet end, we heard the telltale thump of a bird hitting the window. I looked out in time to see this visitor swoop onto the pole holding the bird feeder. Big! Too big to be our old friend Artemis. Darling Husband double-checked the book, and sure 'nuff—Cooper's Hawk.

From the post, the bird hopped into the nearby ash tree to sit and pose for this photo by DH. (Because of her size, we're going with "she" this time.) Moments later, she dropped to the ground near some bushes, then hopped up onto a branch near the fence.

We couldn't quite make out what was struggling in her grip as she ripped feathers from some small body. She'd picked a perch obscured by the gate and two layers of fencing. The plucking seemed to take awhile; but once prepared, the meal disappeared quickly.

No longer hungry, she looked merely bored as she rested and contemplated her next move. In her own sweet time, she lightened her load, looked around a bit more, then launched off through the trees. Only a spot of blood on the branch, one fresh dropping below, and a scattering of junco feathers on the snow told the story.

The survivors promptly returned to the feeder.

Status Quo

Spring, at least a spring where we can talk about plants and flowers doing interesting things, has been indefinitely delayed. At last report, we are apparently due for snowy cold days every few days for the rest of the week. For an idea of what's going on out there today, please see the previous post. Same scene, next verse. Birds, suet, drab gray... on it goes.

Happily, we can get our plant fix elsewhere this week, with the current Berry-Go-Round carnival, now posted at Neotropical Savanna. A taste of the tropics, a little evolution, some springy thingies, tips on orchid gender, and a peek at neato-phytes all await your exploration over there in Panama, where it's much more plant-friendly than here.

The Propagator and I got into a lively discussion last night at First Friday: he brought along a single bloom plucked from one his Aporophyllum plants, which are apparently blooming like crazy! So a field trip to his greenhouse may be in order this week... we've got to find something botanical to report, and I need a dose of spring! (I'm not complaining, mind—until this week, we hadn't had snow all year, and I shan't look askance at gift moisture!)