Cedar Waxwings

Out for a walk with the dogs today, I saw robin-sized grey birds with subtle yellow bellies flitting from branch to branch in a crabapple tree, eating the shriveled fruit. As I looked closer at them, I saw that they had crests!

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From Birds of Pennsylvania, Dzung Tran

Birds of Pennsylvania

Cedar waxwings!

I’ve only ever seen these strikingly beautiful birds once before, for just a moment. I’m grateful for a second look. In a way, it’s strange that I haven’t seen them more often, because according to Birds of North America, cedar waxwings live in Colorado foothills and up all year round.

Even better news is that, with the planting of fruit and ornamental trees, and the reduction of pesticides, cedar waxwings are on the increase. Yippee!

I used to carry my camera with me every time I took the dogs for a walk. I got a lot of great photos that way, and I would have gotten some nice ones today. But somehow, I got out of the habit. I therefore had to download these magnificent photos from the internet.

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From Adventures in Mothland, David Beadle

Adventures in Mothland

Maybe I’ll start hauling my camera along again…

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A little corgi dropped in and wanted to stay.

It was hard to lose our corgi, Darwin, but it was time. Still, we all missed him greatly. (The Gift Of the Dying Dog)

Then we got a call from our veterinary clinic, asking if we were ready to adopt another corgi. A relative of one of the staff at the clinic is going through a divorce, and moving to a smaller place. Too small for even a small dog. He didn’t want to give the corgi to the pound, if he could help it. Could we take the dog?

We were a little reluctant to take on another dog so soon after Darwin died. We were still recovering from watching the little skamp slowly decline.

More to the point, we already had Tegan, our year old corgi-Rottweiler-cattle dog-pit bull bundle of enthusiasm. (What went into this mutt?) Years ago we brought two dogs into our home one who didn’t get along. The result was ugly. So we were a little wary — once we said yes to Zoe, we’d be committed —  if these two dogs didn’t get along, we’d have a big problem.

Her owner said her name was Zoe. She was just a year old, and a little on the small side for a corgi — about 21 pounds. She’d been around a bunch of chihuahuas without incident, whom she was happy to let rule the house. The owner sent us some photos so we could see what Zoe looked like.

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Zoe preview (2)

He really didn’t want to take her to a shelter, but time was running out. He wanted to know that she was going to a good home.

After thinking about the temperaments of the two young dogs, we said yes. We’d work out any problems as they came up, but we couldn’t let her go to a shelter.

It took the better part of a month to hammer out the details, but finally, on the day after Halloween — All Saints Day — Zoe flew in from her old home.

The people at the airport Live Animal Pickup were wonderful. It was obvious that they tried to make the animal’s trip as stress free as possible. Even so, her flight was delayed, so she had to stay in her kennel for about 8 hours. She was stressed.

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We took her home, and introduced her to Tegan the Terror. Loud noises, being bounced around, needing to pee, ending in a strange place, with strange people — it had been a very hard day for a little dog. Zoe took one look at Tegan, twice her size, and bolted to hide under a chair. She showed her teeth to tell Tegan she’d had enough.

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Tegan responded with a play-bow so deep she was in danger of rolling over. Pawing the air, with little yips of excitement, Tegan coaxed Zoe out from her hiding place.

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They then started a game of chase that has lasted two months.

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Zoe starts the chase as often as Tegan does. The chase each other at top speed around the yard and through the house.

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They take turns being chaser and chasee. They have worn paths in the lawn.

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They play tug-of-war.

 

Tegan and Zoe Xmas

When they finally stop, they flop down next to each other. I think we can relax about how they get along.

Tegan and Zoe

Sometimes, you just have to trust that things will work out. And sometimes, they do.

May the New Year work out for you, and bring you unexpected friends.

 

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Cold Weather Birds

We woke up to 12o F (-11o C) in central Colorado — we have yet to have a significant snowfall in the foothills west of Denver. It’s been a little odd to see so many different types of winter birds coming to the feeder without snow. But they are coming!

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House sparrows. House sparrows were introduced into North America in 1851 and 1852. They quickly covered the US and most of Canada and Mexico.

 

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House finches. According to Birds of North America (https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/houfin/introduction), house finches started out as a desert species of California and Mexico. They were released in New York City in 1939, and have exploded across the country.

 

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Collared doves. These birds were introduced to North America in the 1970s, and have since spread across the continent. Scientists worry that they will compete with native doves, like the mourning dove, but the verdict is still out.

 

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Black-capped chickadees. Always in motion, these guys flit from tree to feeder to bushes.

 

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Red-breasted nuthatches.  Five years ago, I rarely saw nuthatches at my feeders. Now they are fairly common. (Nuthatches paring up)

 

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Dark-eyed juncos. I rarely see dark-eyed juncos when there isn’t any snow on the ground. This year, I’ve seen a lot of them.

 

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Hairy woodpecker. People in our neighborhood trim the deadwood out of their trees pretty quickly, so it’s a treat when they stop by.

 

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Bushtit. These little guys usually fly around in a flock of 20 or so, chipping constantly to keep in contact with each other. (Sharp-shinned hawk misses flicker)

We hope your holidays are filled with as many interesting visitors as ours!

 

 

 

 

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Thanksgiving Sunset

Thanksgiving SunsetA little late, but here is a view of the sunset on Thanksgiving evening.

Hope you had a beautiful Thanksgiving, and will have a wonderful Christmas.

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NASA Computer Simulation Shows 2017 Hurricane Tracks

This computer simulation from NASA shows just how interconnected the world is.
https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/details.cgi?aid=12772&button=recent

The computer simulation runs from August 1 through November 1, 2017. It follows hurricanes that tracked over the Atlantic Ocean this fall, letting you see how dust from the Sahara ends up in Miami, and smoke from the wildfires in California and British Columbia migrates all the way to Europe.

The first time through, listen to the narration. It explains a lot of what you are seeing, points out the storms and how unusual they were.

The second time through, watch what’s happening in just one region. You can see storm fronts come through, then dissipate as other systems disrupt them. It looks like the planet is breathing.

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The Gift Of the Dying Dog

Hemingway said that all true stories end in death. This, then, is a true story…

Autumn, 2011

My son wanted a dog of his own. We said no.  We already had two dogs. He only had two years before he went off to college. There was no point in getting him a dog that he was going to leave. I didn’t need to take care of three dogs.  The question was settled. We weren’t getting my son a dog.
Then my daughter started talking about a puppy at veterinary clinic where she worked. It was adorable, she said, a little corgi with big ears and inquisitive eyes.  And then she mentioned that it had been relinquished to the veterinary clinic because it had an incurable heart problem.  The clinic was trying to find somebody to take it so that its last days wouldn’t be spent in a kennel at the back of the clinic.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The prognosis was not good.  The puppy had patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) with reverse flow. Translated, patent ductus arteriosus means that a valve in his heart didn’t shut properly when he was born.  This open valve allows oxygen-poor blood from his body to mix with oxygen-rich blood from his lungs, diluting it.  Without treatment, dogs with this heart problem typically live just weeks to months.
By itself, PDA is fixable with surgery; the veterinarian would just operate and sew the valve shut. The problem is in the reverse flow.  In a small percentage of PDA cases, the blood vessels in the lungs thicken and narrow, causing the flow of blood to reverse from left to right, hence the name “reverse flow.” Once the blood vessels thicken, the veterinarians can’t shut the valve without forcing too much blood through the narrowed vessels. It would be like trying to force the flow from a garden hose through a straw – the extra blood would blow out the narrowed vessels.
But my family agreed that we couldn’t let the puppy live out its life without at least being able to lie in the grass, and watch the squirrels, even if he couldn’t chase them. And so we brought the puppy home. A Welsh corgi (are there any other kinds of corgi?) needed a Welsh name.  My son named him Darwin. It means “dear friend.”
A few days before we adopted Darwin, the veterinarian tried him on a new medication – Viagra, of all things.  Viagra was originally designed to treat pulmonary hypertension (“high blood pressure in the lungs” –  the problem causing the reverse flow).  Viagra just happened to have other, more profitable, side-effects. For Darwin, the drug changed his life from one of lying on his bed watching the world, to one of being out chasing those squirrels.  But we have no idea how long the improvement would last.
Darwin, of course, doesn’t know that he is dying. He’s a cheerful, active,
busybody. Every morning starts with him bouncing stiff-legged down the stairs, his ears flopping on each step. Then it’s time for a game of tug, or a ball-throwing session.  If you try to ignore him, he pops his short front legs up on your lap, drops the toy-of-the-day in it, cocks his head at you and let out an insistent Yarp! This is corgi for Hey! Play with me!
Once the game is over, he supervises getting everybody out the door to school or work, and then makes sure that the birds don’t get too comfortable on the bird feeder. After that, he rootles around in the garden, or barks at the neighbor’s dogs, flaunting his toys.
And he does flaunt his goodies.  He takes them to the back fence to show to the dogs in the yard behind us.  Once they are nicely frenzied, he tosses the bones in the air. La la lah la la!  What do I have here?  A bone!  Would you look at that?  Don’t you wish you had one?Darwin holding Kuramas leash ed 2
As everybody settles down for the evening, Darwin makes little piles of his toys, sorted by type: balls go in our room at the foot of the bed.  Bones go in my son’s room by his computer, where he can step on them when he walks around in bare feet. Prized chewy things go at the top of the stairs, where Darwin can keep tabs on the other two dogs.
He’s had a busy day.My Ball
Darwin has enemies, though. Cleaning utensils are a constant threat. He has reduced the kitchen broom to a fringe of bristles sticking out at every direction.  The vacuum sweeper is an angry menace, to be attacked on sight. The snow shovel has teeth marks on it where he has wrestled it away from us, saving us from some horrible fate.Darwin in the snow-09
Our feeling is that if Darwin has a short life span, we are going to give him every opportunity to experience the world. We take him on walks, to the dog park and on errands around town. As if trying to make up for time he won’t have, Darwin dashes toward everyone he meets, ears back and a smile on his face.  He proceeds to charm people as only a puppy can. The biggest proof of this is that the grandparents no longer ask about their grandchildren.  They want to know how Darwin is doing.Darwin in dog food bag-6_edited-1
But in the back of everybody’s mind lurks the knowledge that he won’t last.
Grasping at straws to cure Darwin, we took him to the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital. The canine cardiologist there listened and looked and took blood. But in the end, she shook her head.  She could adjust Darwin’s medications so that he had more energy. But she couldn’t cure him.  He might live three to five years, seven at the most, but in the end, his body will become adapted to the Viagra, and the drug won’t work any more.  And he’ll die.
The knowledge of his shortened life makes our time with Darwin more precious.  And to make sure that they aren’t left out, we pay more attention to the other two dogs than we did before, too. In fact, the constant nearness of death makes us pay more attention to everything about life.
But it’s hard to stay glum about Darwin’s future when a twenty-five-pound fur ball jumps on your chest in the morning, gently placing a ball in your sleeping hand. You’re wasting the day! he yips. Toss the ball!
My son says Darwin has given him a gift. Darwin has taught my son that “Every day may be my last day.  But every day may be my best day.”
Don’t worry about tomorrow.  Just throw the ball!  

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September 2017
Darwin lasted six years longer than anybody expected, living a full and happy life. Finally, though, his body adapted to the medication and his great heart gave out.
But Darwin had one last lesson to teach us: how to die with dignity. So on a cold grey September evening, we said good-bye to our dear friend.
Godspeed, Darwin. We hope there are balls to chase, where ever you are.Darwin on Apex-4_edited-1

What Friends Do, Puppy Play

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Painted Ladies Part Two

After seeing thousands of painted lady butterflies a couple of weeks ago, I thought they were done for the season.Painted Ladies migrate across North America!

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Wrong! There are still so many migrating through the Denver area, that, when they fly a bit higher, they are visible on radar!

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NWS Boulder‏Verified account @NWSBoulder Oct 4 4/4: Migrating butterflies in high quantities explains it. Today, the butterflies are staying close to the ground. #cowx #Science

How cool is that?

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Pika Patrol, Part Two

My husband, my son, his girlfriend and I went up to my Pika Patrol (Pika Patrol, Part One) site over the weekend. After thrashing about a bit learning how to use the GPS, we found the appointed talus slope. Located on the north shore of Grand Lake just south of Rocky Mountain National Park, researchers had determined that pika had been present there in the past.

The four of us searched the talus for half an hour. We listened for pika calls — they sound like the squeaky toys they resemble. We heard sharper chipmunk calls.

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You can tell this is a chipmunk by the lines on it’s face. Their call is a sharp bark.

We looked for piles of hay drying outside their dens. We found pine needles.

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Instead of fresh grasses and flowers, we found old pine needles.

We saw the distinctive orange lichen that indicates where pika have peed. The extra nitrogen in pika urine allows this particular lichen to grow. But the lichen had a dry, flaking appearance.

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The orange lichen looked dried out and flaky. Spider webs criss-crossed many crevices.

After half an hour of searching every nook and crevice we could find, we had to admit that there were no longer pika there.

We weren’t the only ones to come to that conclusion. Every pika monitoring site has three teams that visit it each fall to verify each other’s results. Nobody found any current signs of pika at this site.

At about 9000 feet, the Grand Lake site is the lowest site that the Pika Patrol monitors. According to a map I got from the National Park Service, this area burned in 1879, opening up the forest canopy. Pika were able to move down, and occupy this site for a time. But as the trees grew back, the meadow where the pike foraged turned back into forests, and trees grew in the talus field itself.

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A couple of my handsome and lovely assistants hold signs stating where we started our search, and which direction we were facing. There were aspen, spruce and lodgepole pine sprouting up around the edges of the talus slope.

If summer temperatures have gotten higher, this would have impacted the pika as well. At temperatures of 75o or above, pika must retreat to their burrows, rather than gather forage. For a site like this one, where grasses and flowering forb plants were decreasing anyway, the combination might have been too much.

It was disappointing not to find pika, but negative results are science, too.

 

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Painted Ladies migrate across North America!

This morning, my husband and I stepped out of our house to walk our dogs, and were mobbed by Painted Lady butterflies! Painted Lady hatch-03

There were dozens in our yard, sipping nectar from sunflowers and oregano.

Painted Lady hatch-05As we walked through the neighborhood, the numbers increased. They were everywhere. Delightful!

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Painted ladies are on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. (Painted Lady Vanessa cardui) Like the much more famous Monarch butterflies, Painted Ladies use multi-generational migrations. They start in Mexico, and take several generations to move into Canada, then turn around and take several generations to get back to Mexico (at least I think that’s how it works…) They do the same thing in Europe, migrating to tropical Africa. Nature Nut: Have you seen the painted ladies ‘invasion’? Nobody knows how they know where to go.Painted Lady hatch-11

They do this every year. Some years, the migration is bigger. And some years, like this year, the migration is enormous.

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Happy to have seen it.

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Colorado River Canoe

One of the things that I love about Colorado is that you can drive a few hours in any direction, and be in an entirely different environment. Normally, I spend a lot of time in the high country.

But last week my husband and I traveled to Grand Junction, in the western part of Colorado, to canoe an easy stretch of the Colorado River with a group of friends. Instead of the alpine tundra, we traveled through the high desert of the Colorado Plateau.

The Colorado River starts in the Kawunechee Valley of Rocky Mountain National Park at 10,000 feet (3048 meters), and quickly drops to the Colorado Plateau (4444 feet or 1355 meters where we put in) around Grand Junction. From there it meanders southwest through Utah to cut the incredible Grand Canyon of the Colorado in Arizona.

On our canoe trip, we expected to see bald eagles, osprey, great blue herons and other water birds, and we weren’t disappointed. The only one I got photos of, though, was a great blue heron along a shallow stretch of the river. And this late in the year, a good portion of of the River was shallow.

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A Great Blue Heron fishing in the Colorado River.

I am becoming a bigger and bigger fan of traveling by canoe or kayak, mostly because animals come down to the river to drink or feed, and you, traveling slowly and quietly, can approach them fairly closely. That allowed me to get close enough to the heron to get a good shot.

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Herons, more than almost any other bird, show me that birds are descended from dinosaurs.

Unfortunately, we drifted a little too close, and he took off as we passed.

I also got shots of a lot of animals we didn’t expect to see.

At our lunch spot for the second day, some of our canoe group floated around the bend in the river. They came back very excited about seeing desert bighorn sheep. People with cameras headed back to shoot the sheep.

Desert bighorn sheep are a subspecies of their better known cousins, bighorn sheep.

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Herd of about thirty desert bighorn sheep. Almost as many were down along the river (background) and in the junipers behind us.

Both types of bighorns love steep, rocky areas, but desert bighorns are lighter in build, and have horns that are a little more spread away from the sheep’s head.

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Desert bighorns are lighter built, and have wider-spread horns.

 

Our second campsite was in a canyon cut into the surrounding mesa. The rocks along the entire trip were old — 250 million years old, or more. Laid down in a sandy desert of their own, they were a beautiful red that intensified in the evening light.

Black Rock Campsite at evening

My brother loves to experiment with his camera, always trying new things. On this trip, he took pictures of the night sky. We lose a lot when we have street lights on every corner.

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Milky Way from the Colorado River near the Utah border. In the top center of the photo is a faint streak in the image. At first, I thought it was something on his lens. Instead, it was probably a shooting star.

 

When we started our trip, we were warned to watch out for scorpions, which like to crawl into shoes and packs at night. The warnings were justified — we found a scorpion in our second camp. Seeing it made me very glad I had put my sandals on when I had to get up in the middle of the night.

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This little guy is only about an inch and a half long, but his sting would still pack a wallop. (That’s a technical term for “really really really hurt badly.”)

As we were packing up to leave break camp the second day, we were incredibly luck to spot a family of  otters playing across the river. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, a family group of otters is called a “romp” (https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Arapaho/wildlife_and_habitat/northern_river_otterindex.html). How appropriate. They did indeed romp through the water, over the rocks and down the bank. Watching those guys play may have been the highlight of the trip.

We didn’t get any shots of the family of otters, but as we were pulling out of the campsite, we did see the male taking a dust bath.

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River otters rely on their incredibly dense fur to keep them warm and dry. That means they have to take really good care of it. This guy is rolling in dust, probably trying to get rid of parasites.

River otters are on the Federal Endangered Species list. When I was researching them at the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife website for this post, I saw a notice asking that if you saw an otter, to please let CDPW know about it. I complied, happy to be a tiny part of the otter’s recovery efforts.

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CDPW asked me to estimate how big this guy was. I said about 48-50 inches and 30 pounds, which is about as big as river otters get.

Further down the River, my friend started calling to me and pointing vigorously at the bank. Finally I could hear her yell “Wild turkeys!”

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If you heard my interview with Colorado Public Radio (Colorado Matters Over Trail Ridge Road), you know that I get really excited about wild turkeys.

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My husband did an admirable job keeping the canoe from tipping over while I took photos.

I’ve struggled for a couple of days with how to end this post. In the end, I decided that this trip affected me more than I expected it to. It made me realize, again, that although we are surrounded by a lot of ugliness in our daily lives, there’s a lot of beauty in the universe as well, if we just stop to take a look at it.

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The Milky Way arcs over a campsite lit by a candle.

 

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