Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Buy Nothing Day!

All day yesterday the MiL teased me about getting up early this morning to go shopping! The Black Friday hype even reached her, and she doesn't drive, rarely shops or spends money... and, happily, wouldn't go to the Maul with me if I did ask her.

I'm not sure she understood when I explained about
Buy Nothing Day
, a bright spot in the "let's-start-Christmas-before-we-get-through-Halloween" madness that is fall in our cultural milieu.* Putting Pilgrim associations far aside, Thanksgiving is a holiday that has redeeming social value and is connected to the Earth much in the way of an old pagan harvest festival. Unfortunately, as only grocery stores get much economic boost from it, this moment to stop and consider one's blessings is in danger of being overrun by the more critical need to keep the economy humming along. I'm with the folks at Adbusters, who say:

There’s only one way to avoid the collapse of this human experiment of ours on Planet Earth: we have to consume less.

*Wikipedia will fill you in on the downside of Buy Nothing Day, a holiday for the 'haves' perhaps, but where else can we find criticism of Black Friday?

As for me, I've reached that age where I have the basic stuff I need and, the Darling Husband would say, too much of most of it. I need to develop skills in "enlightenment" instead—lightening my load on the planet by finding homes for some of the "stuff" I've managed to accumulate these last 30 years or so. (A DH quote: "You don't help the environment by turning the house into a landfill.")

It's true: A victim of early Earth Day conditioning [There is no "away"], and knowing the fate of most trash, I don't throw things away like I should. (Some of it, for example, ends up on this beach in Hawai'i; photo right.) I'm convinced there must be someone out there who needs or appreciates these trinkets as much as I do—I just haven't located them yet! ( With the possible exception of my 24-year-old niece, who is at the "I want" stage, and makes a good repository for excess crockery and glassware, as well as tidbits from my yarn collection and other unfinished projects.)

I lean toward the recognition of "useful life left," even in items that are missing pieces or otherwise in need of repair. Yes, perhaps it could be taken to the thrift stores most of it came from in the first place, but some is even beyond that stage. Hesitation, resistance to disposal, also arises from reading Wendell Berry, who once remarked:

Our great fault as a people is that we do not take care of things. Our economy is such that we say we 'cannot afford' to take care of things: Labor is expensive, time is expensive, money is expensive, but materials—the stuff of creation—are so cheap that we cannot afford to take care of them.

Berry was not, of course, the first to notice this trend. In googling to find that quote again, I ran into an interesting "transhistorical and transcultural approach to trash," which contains (scroll down) a long timeline of trashy tidbits, including this one:

Our willingness to part with something before it is completely worn out is a phenomenon noticeable in no other society in history… It is soundly based on our economy of abundance. It must be further nurtured even though it runs contrary to one of the oldest inbred laws of humanity, the law of thrift.
- J. Gordon Lippincott, industrial designer, 1947

Ah, thrift... now there's a word you don't hear every day.

So, although my car is out of gas, there's an item on ebay I covet, and we're low on chicken feed, I'll be staying home today.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Out-of-Date Update: Grosbeaks

Feeling Wednesday's post on grosbeaks to be inadequate, I have delved into the matter a little further in order to bring us a more thorough look at these fascinating birds. Our five species are all members of the Fringillidae, and thus are related to sparrows, finches, and buntings in this largest family of North American birds. And the Cardinal (who knew?). All characterized by a short stout beak (hence gros-beak).

That's according to one of my semi-modern bird books (and I suspect the others concur in such a basic statement). So I consulted my two favorite local bird references for even more.

An Annotated List of the Birds of the Mountain Parks and Mount Evans region by Robert B. Rockwell and Alexander Wetmore. from Denver Municipal Facts, Vol. 2, No. 3, March 1919 (but based on a paper published in 1914)

The Birds of Denver and Mountain Parks, by Robert Niedrach and Robert B. Rockwell, Colorado Museum of Natural History, Popular Series No. 5, December 1939.

For the Black-headed Grosbeak
1919 Black-headed Grosbeak Zamelodia melanocephala
Summer resident. More common on the plains than in the mountains.

1939 Rocky Mountain Grosbeak Hedymeles melanocephalus papago Overholser.
Summer resident, common. Upper Sonoran and Transition Zones.

These fine songsters are common birds in our city parks and along shaded streams. They arrive from the south about the middle of May, nest during June, and depart for the south early in September. During the height of the breeding season they are readily observed in favorable locations; the males are in full song, and may be heard singing at all hours of the day. The nest is a flimsy structure of twigs, built usually in shrubs or low trees, and both male and female help with incubation.

For the Blue Grosbeak
1919 Western Blue Grosbeak Guiraca cerulea lazula
One record from Morrison.

1939 Western Blue Grosbeak Guiraca caerulea interfusa Dwight and Griscom.
Straggler, rare. Upper Sonoran Zone.

The only record for the Denver area is one taken by H.G. Smith east of Morrison (Cooke, 1898). Dille (1902) reported one just north of this area at Altona, Boulder County.

For the Evening Grosbeak
1919 No report

1939 Western Evening Grosbeak Hesperiphona vespertina brookei Grinnell.
Migrant, not common. Upper Sonoran through Canadian Zone.

For the Pine Grosbeak
1919 Rocky Mountain Pine Grosbeak Pinicola enucleator montana Only one record from Lookout Mountain.

1939 Rocky Mountain Pine Grosbeak. Pinicola enucleator montana Ridgway.
Resident, not common. Canadian and Hudsonian Zones in summer; rarely down to the Transition in winter.

The pine grosbeaks are birds of the evergreen forests; they are tame, and while busily feeding will pay little attention to one’s approach. Owing to the nature of their habitat, they are rarely observed during the summer. In the fall and winter, however, they gather in small flocks and occasionally may be seen, the beautiful rose-red males being especially conspicuous against the snow background. Definite records from the Denver area are very few. Rockwell and Wetmore (1914) took only one specimen, an immature male on November 7, 1909, on Lookout Mountain during twenty-three collecting trips made between March 28 and November 14.

For the Rose-breasted Grosbeak:
1919 No report.

rbgros7761939 Rose-Breasted Grosbeak Hedymeles ludovicianus (Linnaeus)
Straggler, rare. Upper Sonoran Zone.

This strikingly marked bird has a propensity to wander far from its eastern range. Bailey and Niedrach (1938f) collected a male in worn plumage (no. 18900), May 20, 1938, near Daniels Park twenty miles south of Denver. This is the only specimen encountered within the Denver area, but it has been recorded as breeding at Longmont and observed at Loveland.

From these reports we learn that scientific names can change a great deal in 25 years (though the species epithet is often a good clue to identity), and that scientific writing used to be more entertaining to read. It also seems my chance of seeing a Blue Grosbeak is, perhaps, not as remote as I thought.

Historical accounts can also raise more questions than answers at times. For the record, here's the answer to one of them, as defined by Niedrach and Rockwell (in quotes, their summary of Typical Vegetation):

Upper Sonoran Zone is 3,500 to 5,500 ft (1,067 to 1,676 m) for Colorado, that is, Denver and plains habitats (grasslands, plains riparian, and wetlands)

Transition Zone is 5,500 to 8,000 ft (1,676 to 2,438 m) here, that is foothills and lower montane ("Scrub Oak, Yellow Pine, Douglas Fir")

Canadian Zone is 8,000 to 10,000 ft (2,438 to 3,048 m), or roughly upper montane to lower subalpine ("Quaking Aspen, Lodgepole, Engelmann Spruce")

Hudsonian Zone is 10,000 to 10,500 ft (3,048 to 3,200 m), upper subalpine and timberline ("Engelmann Spruce, Balsam Fir, Foxtail Pine")

Arctic-Alpine Zone is above 10,500 ft ( m), or alpine, above timberline ("Arctic Willows, Grassy Meadows, No Trees")

Alas, I think I see more questions coming out of that answer!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Evening--and Morning--Grosbeaks

Seeing grosbeaks turns out to be pretty easy (sometimes). As easy as inviting Bee Lady and Flame over for dinner! Unfortunately the evening appearance was over by the time they arrived on Sunday, so they had to accept our report. Monday a.m. the Evening Grosbeaks returned, and I was able to document the sighting with these charmingly fuzzy photos.

Always a rare thrill to see them; this was perhaps the second time in our 28 years here. But we don't see them in any great numbers. The seven or eight that showed up this weekend were a poor flock by grosbeak standards, but it was nice to have more than a lone stray stop by. Only males sport the jaunty yellow visor above the eye, and their plumage is much more dramatic in breeding season (and in better light than this early dawn).

In contrast, my first acquaintance with these startling birds, many years ago high in Coal Creek Canyon, was of a huge flock at a friend's winter feeder. ("Partial to sunflower seeds at feeding stations" says the bird book.) Larger than the usual finches and sparrows, they were quite a sight to witness! Evenings are, like the Pine Grosbeak also of our mountains, a winter species in our area. Our more usual visitor is the Black-headed Grosbeak of summer, which apparently I haven't blogged about beyond a casual mention at the link.

So of the five species of North American grosbeaks, we've now seen three here. The Rosies, like the Black-headed, are summer birds and rare. I can hope for a Pine Grosbeak some winter, but if (when?) I see the other summer species, a Blue Grosbeak, here I will be thoroughly stunned.

Nature Moments

In other news, yesterday's trip to bank and grocery store brought a nature moment worth recording, one of those passing flashes that sticks with you. Turning onto the northbound two lanes of Kipling Parkway, I noticed a quick flutter in the gutter at the side of the road. As I rounded the corner toward it, a Kestrel rose from the concrete, dangling a fresh rodent dinner in his talons. Yummy! Groceries! (The lower Kipling corridor, with its broad margins and regularly spaced light poles, is actually an excellent spot for raptor observations. Unfortunately, I usually have my hands on a steering wheel instead of a camera at those moments.)

Evening Grosbeak Hesperiphona vespertina

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Weather Wise for Winter

"It" started yesterday, and today we wake to another world, subtle and quiet compared to the balmy fall weather of late (high 60s, fondly remembered, just a couple days ago). Now smothered in the proverbial blanket. Reminds me of another world of white not quite a year ago.

The bird channel is available for viewing, all morning, and the cats are enjoying the show.

The first bird we noticed this morning, however, was the Sharp-shinned Hawk, perhaps a descendant of Artemis, who helped launch this blog almost four years ago. This photo wasn't captured this morning, but about two weeks ago. It's not the thistle seed that attracts her to the feeder.

Although I was inside, she must have heard me; the camera doesn't catch her unaware twice. Spots mark "her" as an immature. (Guess I'm continuing the Artemis identity, can't quite consider this one a male, though that's certainly possible.) Our feeders seem to offer good training for the young of this species. We've also seen quite a few of the larger Cooper's Hawks this year, but it seems to be the Sharpies who show up on days like this.

On a more colorful note, the Husband called me to the window yesterday to see a few of these bright interlopers. The Eastern Blue Jay, of which I managed to catch only one in this photo, is moving westward into new territories, of which the Denver Urban Forest is one. Rarely do they make it across the suburbs and the treeless fringe up into our foothills forests, so it's always a momentous occasion when they do.

But I'll let the Watcher explain all about blue jays; which he does most expertly! Scroll down for his Awesome Graphic explaining their migration across the Plains.

Usually weather like this brings the Steller's Jays down from Evergreen, but we haven't spotted any yet today. We have about a foot (30 cm) so far... a little less than in the pre-Halloween storm shown here. Honest, this and the one at the top are two different pictures! Note the added cervid in this version.

The winter will unfold as it will. Perhaps it's best that we don't know what's coming.

Monday, November 02, 2009

November Notes

Berry-Go-Round, the plant carnival, comes of age this week with a rather spectacular 21st edition now available for your review at Beetles in the Bush. Thanks, Ted, for some inspiring reading!

While I was leaving a comment on someone's blog this morning, a tiny spider, possibly the smallest living thing I've ever seen with unaided eyes, dropped past my computer screen on a line. That incident reminds me to tell you that we have a spider post coming up soon here at Foothills Fancies! Inspired by Watcher's recent attention to arachnids (also here) and a lifelong admiration for these octopedal beings, I'm going to wade in with a few stories, and, most likely, a great many unanswered questions.

And the fate of this morning's spider? Before she landed, I grabbed her line to transport her somewhere less dangerous. The trouble with a half-millimeter spider is that it's tough to see where she lands, especially when she's swinging from a tether, but I always figure houseplants are a better survival opportunity than the pile of papers on my desk!