Saturday, January 30, 2010

Feeling Picked On?

At home?

Or maybe at work?

Actually, I'm fine, thanks, just couldn't resist sharing these!

Have a great weekend...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Of Vermin and Varmints

How often have you heard the two words in the title in recent decades? Not much, I hope, though I know they are still used. I'd never thought of wildlife in these terms until I moved to Arizona in grad school, and discovered "varmint hunting." Say what?

Wikipedia does an intriguing etymological job on vermin, albeit relatively citation-free, pointing out that both words have evolved from the root (verm-, meaning wormlike), which originally included mostly insect pests, to cover pests that range in size from rats to small or medium-sized predators, such as (in Arizona's predominant case) coyotes. Soon I found myself writing letters to editors (okay, one, in response to a Paul Harvey diatribe) and hanging out with HSUS types occasionally. I wanted a chance to see coyotes, alive and without holes in them. And that, in the category of "things you can see while hiking in Arizona," is putting it mildly.

"God's dog," it turns out, is persona non grata in the Southwest, where hunting is regulated not as a game animal, but in a special class for predators.* I'd say "was" but here's what the AZ Game & Fish Dept has to say on their website today:
The take of coyotes by hunters has been relatively stable during the past 10 years, about 13,000 hunters taking an average of between 30,000 and 40,000 coyotes a year. Most of these animals are taken while "varmint calling," while hunting other game, or simply as opportunities arise...[updated April 2009]
* "Predatory mammals as defined by A.R.S. 17-101 are coyotes, bobcats, foxes, and skunks. Bobcats are the only predator also classified as a furbearer with an export tag required to ship a bobcat pelt out of state.
August 1 - March 31 is open season for Bobcat and Foxes as authorized in Commission Order 13. The season for Coyote and Skunk is yearlong." [Emphasis mine.] If you like this one, you'll probably want to read their Predator Management Policy.

From the immediate at that time, my interest shifted to the historical today. Just last month I encountered an arresting tidbit: this account of pests destroyed at a bird sanctuary in 1929-30, from Bug Girl's blog. I hope she won't mind my repeating it here for those who may have missed it.

A Disgraceful Tally

You really should click to enlarge this—it gives you an idea of the real abundance and variety of wildlife, even into the early decades of the last century, if so much can be destroyed on one small 700-acre preserve. (Note, however, that the take of most every group was down substantially the second year.) I've no doubt the taking of 174 snakes and 58 owls necessitated the killing of the 2,644 mice!

"Such birds and animals as were poisoned have not been included in these totals." Gee, that's good to know.

I quite agree, Bug Girl—things have changed, thank goodness! Else we couldn't have enjoyed last week's Cooper's hawk without fears, so close to "civilization," for his life.

In related news, on March 6th Dyana Furmansky, author of Hawk of Mercy, a biography of Rosalie Edge, will discuss her book. In the early 20th century, Edge earned the title "Nature's hellcat" by campaigning against such prejudicial practices on the part of conservationists who protected sport species (think ducks) at the expense of hawks and snapping turtles. Details here, and a great story on Edge by the author here.

Note: Illustrations, from a collection I did years ago, are copyright S.L. White and not to be used without permission, as are photographs. Thanks!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Two for The Watcher

Sometimes the work of a fellow blogger so moves us we simply must comment. Other times, it may trigger something that's too involved for the mere comments field on the subject post. Such has been the case lately for me. A couple of The Watcher's recent posts triggered memories of a favorite author, Loren Eiseley. I've no idea whether The Watcher reads or has ever read Eiseley, but I want to share a couple tidbits of Eiseley's work with you.

Inspired by The Watcher’s post of December 30th on why birds are “God’s favorite children”, I wanted to contribute another reason—they OWN the planet.
It happens every spring and nobody seems to take any notice at all. There are no congressional investigations, no cross-examinations of witnesses before television, no one hurls himself out of a window. Nevertheless, it happens every spring and there is no doubt that it smacks of sheer communism. I refer to the expropriation and reassignment of land in these states and the incredible way in which even city properties fall victim to it. Yesterday morning I could hear conversations about it just outside my window, and somebody over my rooftop was expropriating in at least half-mile sections. … The whole thing smacks of subversion and disrespect for the laws of private property. It may well merit an investigation. It should begin by a thorough and painstaking investigation of the birds.

—Loren Eiseley, from The Lost Notebooks of Loren Eiseley (K. Heuer, ed.)

I suspect he was under the influence of the McCarthy hearings when he wrote that one, don't you? Perhaps that explains why this vignette was (I believe) never published. Fellow Eiseley fan Gary Raham (see below) suspects Eiseley would not have wanted the unfinished material in his notebooks to see light, but such is often the fate of the illustrious. I only regret that I can't share the incredible sketches of The Lost Notebooks with you as well. If you're a follower of Eiseley's work, you need to see this book!

Inspired by The Watcher’s post of January 18th, in which he waxes poetic about exozoochory (we love that word!), here's Eiseley’s own eloquent testimony on seed dispersal:
When I climb I almost always carry seeds with me in my pocket. Often I like to carry sunflower seeds, or an acorn, or any queer “sticktight” that has a way of gripping fur or boot tops as if it had a deliberate eye on the Himalayas and meant to use the intelligence of others to arrive at them. More than one lost mountaineer lying dead at the bottom of a crevasse has proved that his sole achievement in life was to inch some plant a half-mile further toward the moon. His body may have been scarcely cold before that illicit transported seed had been getting a foothold beneath him on a patch of stony ground or writhing its way into a firm engagement with the elements on the moisture of his life’s blood. I have carried such seeds up the sheer walls of mesas and I have never had illusions that I was any different to them than a grizzly’s back or a puma’s paw.

—Loren Eiseley, from The Lost Notebooks of Loren Eiseley (K. Heuer, ed.), though I suspect this one may have been published in an essay somewhere

Leaving aside his disregard for the evils of introducing plants where plant dictators (like FF) think they don’t belong, I’ve always appreciated Eiseley’s writing for its poetic combination of science, introspection, observation, and outright nature mysticism. It’s an appreciation I share with one of my research enthusiasms, Paul B. Sears, who wrote in a review of Eiseley’s The Mind as Nature:
It is well that we are increasingly respectful of quantitative method and its results. But this respect should never blind us to the fact that no man [or other living thing] is a mere statistic. There is an essential place, not least in science, for those precisely individual accounts, too often lightly—even scornfully—dismissed as “anecdotal.”

—Paul B. Sears, 1963, The Exception is the Rule, American Scholar 32(2):321-322.

Foothills Fancies, you’ve perhaps noticed, is all about anecdotal! Though far less eloquently than Loren Eiseley, who by the way is the topic of an upcoming talk here in the area (and wasn't that a smooth seque):

Wednesday, Jan. 27, 7:00 p.m., "Fireside Chat" sponsored by the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge: “Loren Eiseley – A Poet Wearing the Fox Skins of a Scientist,” by Gary Raham; Dinosaur Ridge Visitor Center, 16831 W. Alameda Parkway, Morrison.

Loren Eiseley (1907-1977) wrote for Harper's Magazine and Atlantic Monthly, penned best selling books, both non-fiction and poetry, but also served as Provost and Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1960, his The Firmament of Time only lost out to the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich for the National Book Award. As a graduate student he discovered a Folsom Point embedded in the vertebra of the extinct Bison antiquus at the Lindenmeier site north of Fort Collins. Yet he struggled his entire career to find the balance between the objective pursuit of science and exercising his ability to explain and dramatize science with the written word. He felt awe contemplating deep time and man's place in the natural world. This event is not recommended for children.

Note: Illustrations, from a collection I did years ago, are copyright S.L. White and not to be used without permission, as are photographs. Thanks!

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Hawk Week

Beginning with Monday's Redtail-magpie episode, the week has focused on hawks. Wednesday morning, another magpie fit drew me out to look at the same elm, and I was rewarded with a view of a Cooper's Hawk hopping from the ground to a low branch of the magpie tree with what I hope was a starling in hand.

The easy pickings around our feeders usually draw immatures, so we're having some trouble being certain, from quick looks, whether we're seeing Cooper's or Sharp-shins at times. (See what you think: photo left from this morning.) Telltale signs, best seen in the adult, would be the squarish head, roundish tail, and less streaked breast of the Cooper's, all relative and dependent on getting a good look. And of course, larger size—but that too is proving to be hard to judge except at the extremes. Males can be quite a bit smaller than females in accipiters, causing the three species (Goshawk being the third) to overlap in size.

Yesterday morning, for example, a hawk I took to be Sharp-shinned (and, one hopes, our familiar Artemis) was the first bird out, and her presence kept the others hungry and on guard for a brief time just after dawn. The magpies went into vociferous hawk-mode in the afternoon, showing us what we thought was Cooper's again. Having a resident colony of pie-birds is proving an aid to observation!

Photo credits for this morning's good look go to The Husband. Finally, someone who's not camera-shy: She/he sat in the Russian-olive for a full half hour, while the light changed from rosy to standard Colorado-bright.

My slide show idea didn't work as well as I'd hoped, so scroll below for an almost animated sequence. Looking right, left, and down—where's breakfast! First four around 8:45 in early light; last four around 9:15 a.m.

Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii (finally! A bird sci name that makes sense!)

Consulting our old friends Niedrach & Rockwell (1939), I find this:

Cooper's Hawk.       Accipiter cooperi (Bonaparte)
   Field Marks. Length 15-17.5 inches; similar to sharp-shinned hawk but larger; end of tail rounded instead of straight.
   Summer resident, not common; more numerous during migration. Upper Sonoran through Canadian Zone; most common in Transition.

   Owing to its characteristic habit of perching close to the trunk of densely foliaged trees, this species is inconspicuous. It is seldom seen any distance from tree growth. A few pairs nest regularly on the table-land south of Denver, where, in June 1937, Bailey and Niedrach secured photographs of adults and young in their nest among the scrub oaks; others build in the evergreens near Bergen Park and south of Idaho Springs. Cooper's hawks are very fast upon the wing, and as they are not particularly shy, are often observed over the city. A few winter, but the majority leave for the south by the last of October, and do not return until early April. This hawk is a large edition of the sharp-shin and because of its size, takes much larger game. Near habitations it is a persistent poultry-killer, and consequently has aroused the animosity of farmers.

The latter, if true, should have me fearful for the chickens!

Morning in Warm Tones

After more than 28 years in this spot, the morning views still captivate me. When the sun first hits the rocks...

Expect wonders!

January 8, 2010.

What a way to start the day!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

No Resolutions

Perhaps I should have warned you I've been contemplating a new look for Foothills Fancies this year. Or at least a new color scheme, something a bit more wintry. It'll take me a while to get used to this, but here it is.

The entire day has been "lost" in fiddling around with the computer. Fun, even enlightening, but not productive, in the traditional sense of the word. It's been a kind of hole-up, watch-the-temperature-drop, and go-for-the-cabin-fever kind of day anyway.

I can't tell you all the amazing things I'm planning to blog about in 2010, but I can show you. Maybe. (Hey, a girl can dream.) We'll be crossing our fingers, but not making any promises. Life has a way of intervening, sometimes with unexpected opportunities that can take over.

2009 was that kind of a year, so I'm learning not to make predictions. As blogging years go here at FF, the results weren't half bad, at least numerically. (No comment on overall quality.) Sixty-one posts here makes it a close third (out of four years), but 2009 did set one new record! It's the first year where at least one post managed to appear in each calendar month. Wow... no extended hiatuses, despite all that's been going on. I know that's stretching, but I'll look for achievement where I can!

Just so you know, though, even living in "exciting times," I'd rather be blogging more often. Whatever's going on, I do take daily pleasure in checking out the informative and entertaining and top-notch work the rest of you are posting. Thanks for all the good times and great reading!

Nature Moments

But first, a public service announcement: The last Berry-Go-Round of 2009 is up over at Agricultural Biodiversity. Some great reading for a cold day!

Photo du jour (eastish). The sun has begun its northward trek at last! I missed the peak color for this morning's shot; took me a minute to find the camera.

My recent trip across Colorado (12/27-12/30) brought several noteworthy Nature Moments, undocumented except in memory and this brief list.
  • Spectacular "mare's tails" above the southwest horizon most of the way
  • No eagles, but lots of hawks, including
  • One, in Montrose, I'm convinced was a Swainson's (a surprise! wintering in Colorado?)
  • One Great Blue Heron, ditto—a most pleasant surprise
  • A small flock of turkeys on the roadbank west of Ridgway
  • One starry morning, see below
  • And, of course, the trip home

Starry times: Forgetting to check the skies at a reasonable time during a long evening catching up with my sister, who lives up in the hills (only recently on the grid), I woke at 5 a.m. and glanced out. Not my usual view, and so many stars that the patterns I've been learning were obscured. Though captivated, it took me several minutes to figure out "where" I was. (Who knew Gemini had feet?! And, yes, Virginia, there really is a Milky Way!) When you're used to looking into an urban sky at 10ish p.m., everything seems off in the early a.m. of a more pristine sky!

The sight was so incredible that I made the 100-mile (160 km) round-trip again the next night! Alas, my only reward other than my sister's company was a night of cloudy skies.

This story will continue in a subsequent post, but one more Nature Moment should be listed here.

On Monday, I was called away from the computer by a loud wrangling in the backyard. Usually "bird noises" fade after a few seconds, before I can get there, but this went on. Something must be happening. At the southwest corner of the house, the elm tree was filled with a dozen or so magpies having a most vociferous conversation of a disturbing kind. I walked west and peeked around the corner (toward the chicken coop), seeing nothing but a vague dark flash.

Fearing for the chickens, I went back through the house to the north side, and was treated to the sight of a large raptor swooping east. Nothing in talons, thankfully. He/she landed in another elm tree on the northeast. Three crows harassed the buteo south toward the road; I followed back through the house to the east door, picking up binocs on the way (gates in the yard make it quicker to go through than around the house). The hawk perched on the wires, and the crows settled nearby. The magpies had quieted, but the crows now kept up the chase. When they herded the buteo east to the next power pole, I got the ID: Red-tailed Hawk, probably one of our local year-round residents. He/she soon left for happier hunting elsewhere.

I appreciate that this bird is no longer known to us as the chicken hawk of past years. I'm glad we have descriptive names now, instead of naming them by what they eat (or don't, as some names seem erroneous) and, as in older times, killing them accordingly. No more (or not so much) the chicken hawk, sparrow hawk, or duck hawk, now Red-tail, Kestrel, and Peregrine. We forget sometimes how much has changed along with those labels.

Monday, January 04, 2010

With Extreme Prejudice

Even a plant-lover, and I do consider myself such, can be challenged by some species, and the mellowest of us can be pressed into trophy hunting when circumstances are right. Summer is the season for bagging the biggest baddest trophies in our neck of the woods. Each year I've been going after my limit, but of course, you never run out of this bad boy. Its beauties, and I'll grant there are some, are only petal-deep.

The object of my disaffection and prejudice last season, as in years past, is Dalmatian Toadflax (variously Linaria dalmatica, Linaria genistifolia ssp. dalmatica, etc.) The experts say "don't pull it—it just makes it come back stronger," but that never made sense to me. So I started an experiment in my own neighborhood, ruthlessly attacking every sprig I could find while out walking around the block, especially after rain. Pulling weeds is so satisfying when the ground is wet, and you really feel like you're getting results! When it's dry, and stems snap off at ground level, you have to suspect your efforts are futile.

Hypothesis: Control of Dalmatian toadflax can be achieved by repeated, diligent hand-pulling.

Methods: Repeated diligent hand-pulling, wherever, whenever, but especially in the immediate home territory.

Goal: A reduction in the local population, or (at the least) a drastic decline in recruitment of new individuals by seed. If one can only keep them from flowering, that has to help, right?

Results: Bags of garbage, at least the inflorescences of which have to be treated like the hazardous waste they are, and the opportunity to have roadsides free of these yellow snapdragons! And, I truly believe, considerable success in knocking local populations back and preventing their expansion.

Thus the "bagging" of trophies is literal here, and like any good hunter, I felt compelled to document my success—so let's back out a little on the photo above for the traditional shot: June 16, 2009, selections from my daily limit. (No, I resisted the impulse to have my picture taken holding them by the roots...)

That this Eurasian species has taken over most of the United States is documented here, by the USDA Plants database. Grey color indicates its non-native status in the U.S.

In Colorado, I suspect it occurs in many more counties than shown here in the USDA map.

Posted for the current edition of Berry-Go-Round. More on this species and its control a bit later.