Maui Part One: Humpback Whales

My husband and I just got back from the fabled island of Maui, Hawai’i. We went to see humpback whales, sort of a continuation of our whale-watching trip to Alaska 18 months ago.Alaskan whales But we ended up enjoying much, much more.

The humpback whales in Hawai’i come from feeding grounds in colder waters, like the fjords of Canada, Alaska, and even Russia. But there are populations of humpback whales in the South Pacific, North and South Atlantic, Indian Oceans and even the Mediterranean and Red Seas as well.

Both in their feeding waters and their mating waters, humpbacks put on a show, diving and breaching.Fluke down dive 8x10

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Humpback whales are baleen whales, that pull water into their mouths, then strain krill and small fish out with the baleen. But for their entire three-month, 6000 mile trip to Hawai’i and back to the Canada and Alaska, the whales live off their reserves of fat.

Humpbacks are found in the shallow straits around Maui every December through March.  The nursing mothers arrive first, then juveniles, then males. Pregnant females arrive last, having fed until the last moment. They give birth soon after they arrive. (Wild Hawaii Marine Life)

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Baby humpback spraying to the left, with mom lunging  her head up to the right.

The non-pregnant females attract one to several suitors. One of the ways a female signals her interest to males is to raise her pectoral flippers in a wave.

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The female humpback may slap her pectoral fins in the water, sometimes until they are a little pink, just like your belly would get from doing belly-flops in the water.

Several males flock to the female, and compete to mate with her. Across the humpback whale population, for every female, there are two males. (Wild Hawaii Marine Life)

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Three male humpback whales competing for the female.

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Female and male humpback courting.

Because they don’t eat during their trip to and from Hawai’i, the whales can’t afford to stay in the Islands very long. Ninety per cent of humpbacks spend less than a month in Hawai’i before heading north again.

The females leave as soon as they are pregnant. They usually spend ten to twelve months pregnant, and one year nursing their young. The males hang around Hawai’i the longest, trying to mate with as many females as they can.

 

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Happy Pi Day

Today is Pi Day: 3.14 — that never-ending irrational number that we couldn’t do without. Enjoy your Pi!Pi Plate.jpg

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What went into this mutt?

We’ve been having a lot of fun with Tegan, the new puppy. We play with her constantly. And between ourselves, we try to guess what breeds of dogs her parents were.

She is long and low. The gene for short-leggedness in dogs is their version of dwarfism. It is found in only a few breeds, yet oddly, it is the dominant gene.

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Viva the Great Dane plays with Tegan. You can really see how short Tegan’s legs are here.

Long and low breeds: dachshund, either Cardigan or Pembroke Welsh corgi, Swedish valhund, basset hound.

 

Her coat is black, with “pumpkin seeds” above her eyes.

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I’ve always heard the orange marks above her eyes called “pumpkin seeds”, but the American Kennel Club seems to call them “kiss marks”.

Black dogs with pumpkin seeds: Doberman pinschers, Rottweilers.

But her muzzle and paws are speckled, brindled or “merled”.

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The speckles on her paws are called “merle” or “brindle”. Not many dogs have merling or brindling.

Dogs that are brindled or merled: Greyhounds, pit bulls, boxers, dachsund, Cardigan Welsh corgi, Australian shepherds, cattle dogs, collies, including border collies. The gene for merling is incompletely dominant, which means it is dominant except when it’s not. Helpful? Not so much for me, either.

She has no undercoat — soft fine hairs that provide insulation.

Dogs without an undercoat: greyhounds, pit bulls, Doberman pinshers, Rottweilers.

Her coat is stiff and wavy.

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Every zig-zag in her coat is a natural wave in her fur. When you run your hand over them, they are hard ridges.

Rottweilers, Chesapeake Bay retrievers.

Her paws occasionally point out.

Dogs with bow-legs, or “knuckled-over”: bassets, pit bulls (this is a flaw in either breed that can become severe). Hers isn’t bad, and we hope she’ll eventually outgrow it.

Her ears are thin and erect…

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Coconut courtesy of the State of Florida.

Erect ears: lots of dogs have erect ears, but for our purposes I’ll limit the choices to others we’ve talked about — corgis, cattle dogs, border collies.

Rottweilers and Doberman pinscher ears are actually droopy — when you see these dogs with erect ears, it’s because they’ve been cropped so they stand upright.

…except when her ears curl back, which is called a “rose” ear.

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Tegan chewing on a coconut I brought back from Florida years ago. They ought to sell these as chew toys.

Ears that curl back: greyhounds, pit bulls.

She is the friendliest, cuddliest dog I’ve ever had.

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Tegan when she was very young, cuddling with Darwin. He is not a naturally cuddly dog.

Cuddly dogs: Everybody has their favorites, but the breed that has been the most consistently cuddly for me has been pit bulls. Yes, pit bulls. The ones I have known have been crawl-in-you-lap-and-hug-you friendly.

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I’m sure I’ve missed some breed with these characteristics, but I think I got the main ones.

So what do you think? What breeds went into Tegan?

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Puppy Play

We got a new puppy in November, and it has been a pleasure to watch her as she grows.

We named her Tegan, which is a Welsh term of endearment that means “number one girl”, “sweetie”, “honeybunch”.

She is a Mutt. Based on what she looks like and how she acts, her ancestry probably includes Pembroke Welsh corgi, Dobermann or Rottweiler, cattle dog, and pit bull but we really don’t know.

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Tegan at four months old. She loves to cuddle and play. And her tail never stops wagging.

We got Tegan when she was two months old. One of the biggest things that attracted us to her was that the first time we met her, she climbed right into our laps. I want to use her as a Pet Therapy dog, so this was a big plus.

When we brought her home, our corgi, Darwin, didn’t know what to do with her. It took him about a month to figure out that puppies can be fun.

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Tegan and Darwin playing together. It looks like they are fighting, but they were both free to leave at any time. Darwin was growling, but it was a high-pitched “puppy” growl.

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Tegan is mouthing Darwin’s muzzle. He is comfortable enough with it to be on his back.

Since Darwin accepted Tegan, they’ve been good buddies.

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Darwin lets Tegan join him on his favorite perch.

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Tegan is being very submissive here, no threat at all.

The red “octopus” is a favorite toy of both dogs.

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Her reward is to get to play with the favorite toy.

There are limits though. When Darwin has had enough, he retreats to his “man-cave”, which happens to be the bathroom. Tegan is not allowed in.

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Tegan waits for Darwin to come out and play.

Once Darwin has had a chance to be by himself for a while, he’ll be back out, ready to play.

 

 

 

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Night-glowing Clouds

I saw these clouds outside my back door last night, just as the sun was setting.

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I think they are noctilucent clouds — nocti means nigh and lucent means glowing or shining.

Noctilucent clouds form when there is a lot of ice particles from water vapor extremely high in the atmosphere.Mysterious Glowing Clouds Appear Across America’s Night Skys In fact, noctilucent clouds are the highest kind of clouds that form.

 

Photo courtesy NASA http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/images/station/crew-17/html/iss017e011632.html. The noctiluscent clouds glow right at the edge of the atmosphere.

 

If you are thinking that you’ve never seen clouds like this before, you are not alone — noctiluscent clouds have only been reported since 1883. They are, however, becoming more common and brighter. They are also showing up in the mid-latitudes — as far south as Colorado. Nobody knows why.NASA: Strange Clouds

What makes this shot so interesting is that the sun is so low on the horizon and the ice crystals that form the clouds so high that other clouds block the sun’s rays, giving the noctilucent clouds a streaked appearance.

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Sharp-shinned hawk misses flicker for lunch

The gregarious band of little bushtits took off in a burst of feathers and cheeping alarm calls.

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I looked up just in time to see a Northern flicker shoot out of the top of a tree, with a sharp-shinned hawk in hot pursuit. Luckily for the flicker, the hawk had made its move too soon, and given the flicker a head start the predator couldn’t overcome.

Northern flickers spend all year in the wooded areas of the Front Range of Colorado. They are in the woodpecker family, but they spend as much time on the ground as they do in trees, stabbing their big sharp beaks into the soil in search of insects.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sharp-shinned hawks are woodland predators. They, too, live year-round in Colorado woodlands, and in fact they cover most of North America.  Most of their diet comes from birds that they surprise and chase through the trees — exactly what I saw today, except that the flicker got away.notice the long notched tail and dark cap on head

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Go Vote!

In 2012, for the last presidential elections, 56.5% of eligible voters cast a ballot (All Races). That means about every other citizen in the United States voted. Half threw their votes away. They decided not to participate.

On Tuesday, we will decide what direction we want our country to go.

You have a chance to be part of the democratic process. Every vote counts. Be sure to vote by Tuesday.

 

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Rocky Weekend

My husband and I spent last weekend in Rocky Mountain National Park.

We took a hike up North Moraine, along the Ypsilon Lake Trail. About a mile up, I stopped to photograph this good looking male hairy woodpecker. I was really glad to find him. I had always wondered if I was correctly identifying the downy woodpeckers I’d run  across in the foothills. I can now rest assured that I was — this guy was much bigger than the downies.

As I took my photos, my husband said “Don’t move too fast. There are three buck mule deer just above us.” We stood still for a few moments, and soon, were had deer all around us.mule-deer-ypsilon-trail-05_edited-1

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While this was very cool, it was also a little disconcerting. We think of the big grazers as being very skittish and docile, but I have seen elk and moose charge people when this close. This being the end of the mating season, and and about half of this band being male made me stay very alert to their body language. But we all remained respectful, and eventually went on our way.

As we climbed a little further, we got a close-up of the damage that the Roaring River received in first, the 1982 Lawn Lake Flood, and thirty-one years later, in the 2013 Week of Water (Record-demolishing Storm).

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It’s a little hard to get a feel for exactly how deep this gouge is, but the trees growing on its edges are twenty to thirty feet tall.

One of the things that makes the gouge so deep is that it cut through, not solid rock, but the glacial till that the moraine is made of. I know this because the cut shows lots of sand with rocks of different sizes scattered through it. Glacial till is the rock that the glaciers ground up and pushed into thousand-foot high moraines on either side and at the end of the rivers of ice. When I realized just how loose the dirt was, I backed slowly away from the edge.fall-river-valley-from-n-moraine_edited-1

The hike turned out to be a lot longer and a lot steeper than we realized, and about half-way up, our water ran out. We’d been hiking for about three hours at that point, and it was clear that we weren’t going to make it to the top. On the way back down, though we caught sight of the Fall River Valley stretching out below us. A fine way to end our day.

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Apologies

I have just been made aware that a presidential candidate’s campaign has advertised on my blog. His views are the opposite of mine, and I will not be a vehicle for his venom.

To remedy this situation, I just paid WordPress a fee to remove all advertising from my blog.

I am sorry to have been a party, however unwillingly, to insulting your intelligence.

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Aspen on Mt. Evans

We love our quaking aspen in Colorado, and never more than at this time of year. They are turning now, and they won’t last long.

I took a drive up to Evergreen last week and found a little meadow ringed with quakies, some of which hadn’t turned yet.

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Aspen are in the cottonwood family. You can see this in their round -yet-pointed, saw-tooth leaf shape. Aspen leaf.jpg

But you can tell aspen from other cottonwoods because of their white bark, and the unique “eye-shaped” scar that forms when they drop a branch. As a child, I used to worry that aspen were watching me. Not paranoid, though. Not.

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I saw these trees on the way down from Mount Evans, one of my favorite places to go when I need to get to the high country (Alpine flowers on Mt. Evans, Tundra Fall).

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Now that the mountain pine beetle infestation (BioBlitz 2012 — Climate Change in the Soil) has burned itself out, aspen will have an opportunity to fill in the open spaces left by dead lodgepole pine. Aspen reproduce mostly by suckers, and so don’t have the dangers associated with being small and vulnerable for years. The slopes that were covered by rust colored dead pines will in a decade wear a mantle of pale green in the summer and gold in the fall.aspen-from-mt-evans-05

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