Hummers in Snowstorm

Here at the base of the Rocky Mountains, we often have late spring snow storms. In fact, these late storms are often some of our biggest and wettest of the year. Today’s snowstorm is no exception. It has been snowing hard all day, and we don’t expect it to let up until tomorrow.

Normally in these spring storms, we worry about plants that have leafed out having branches broken as the wet snow weighs them down. The good news is that the temperature has been hovering right around freezing, so that the snow that fell earlier is melting off about as fast as new snow is being layered on top.

I’ve been hearing hummingbirds zooming overhead for about a month now. I knew that they were able to survive these late spring snow storms, and I assumed that they did it by going into torpor, a sort of overnight hibernation. This is a risky strategy because if it is too cold, they might not have the energy to wake up.

But in the last couple of storms, I’ve heard hummers zipping overhead. I have no idea how they find enough flowers not covered in inches of heavy wet snow to survive. But evidently they do. To make it a bit easier on them, I made sure my hummingbird feeders were clean and full last night.

We were rewarded with a female broadtailed hummingbird making just enough of a pit stop for my daughter to snap this photo.

hummer at feeder in storm_edited-1

The hummingbird is the dark lump in the center of the photo, getting a quick drink at the feeder.

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Raven in the backyard

Raven-4_edited-1Raven-3_edited-1Raven-2_edited-1We often have ravens and crows in the neighborhood.Crows and Ravens Angry Bird’s Feathers Ruffled Last night we saw another lone raven in our back yard last night, preening on a post for about five minutes. It eventually flew away. Three minutes later we saw it come screaming back across the yard, mobbed by four crows. The crows were so close and so mad, that as the raven crossed our yard, it did a full barrel-roll, trying to fend them off.

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Science not Silence

I spent the day protesting at the March for Science rally in downtown Denver to draw attention to the political attacks on science. In doing so, I was privileged to join some incredibly creative, passionate, smart and remarkably funny people. March for Science rally draws thousands .

Marchs were held around the country and around the world. Here are some links to other stories: Washington Post– Here are some of the best signs from the March for Science in DC , New York Times — Scientists, Feeling Under Seige, March Against Trump Policies , and the BBC — March for Science: Rallies Worldwide to Protest Against Interference .

I snapped some photos of some of the signs I saw, but there so many people I couldn’t get them all.

For some, you have to be a science geek to get them:

“How do you expect me to live long and prosper under these conditions?”

“Peer review matters!”

“In Peer Review We Trust”


Sometimes it’s a little hard for scientists to convey the same sort of immediacy as other protesters.


[Peer review is what happens when you send your scientific theory out into the world. Other scientists read it and try to tear it to shreds. They question your hypothesis, your assumptions, your data, your methods, your conclusions. If your theory holds up against these assaults, then, and only then, can it take its place in the scientific canon as a working theory. And only until something better comes along.]

“Climate change denial is √-1” [the square root of -1 is an irrational number].



Enter a caption

“Small p-values, not small mindedness.” [small p-values indicate that the evidence against the null, or current, hypothisis is strong, which is a good thing because it suggests that your alternative hypothesis is correct.]


Others are more universal:

“Science is not an alternative fact.”

“Got smallpox? Me neither. Thank science.”

“The facts don’t change just because you don’t like them.”


This woman had two signs, front and back.


Her hat has a DNA pattern knit into it.

There were a lot of these: “I’m here thanks to science — cancer survivor/diabetes survivor/amputee.”

“Scientists are often wrong — but science isn’t for long.”

“I am what a scientist looks like.”

“Science Made America Great!”

“Make Science Great Again!”

“The white coats are coming! The white coats are coming!”

“I thought there would be pi.”


We had encouragement from people we inconvenienced.

My favorite, though, was one held by a young minority girl: “Forget Princess! I want to be a scientist!”

So remember to make like a proton and always be positive!




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Spectacular Starlings

In 1890 and 1891, about 100 European starlings were released into Central Park, in New York City. Beloved in Europe, they quickly became pests in North America. These aggressive birds often congregate in large flocks that can take over a feeder, leaving a mess behind. They evict native woodpeckers and bluebirds from their nests in trees trunks and take them for their own.

I could never figure out what Europeans loved about them. The birds I’ve seen  are a drab brown with speckles — nothing special.

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This bird’s wing and tail feathers are outlined with bronze.

Until this lone starling came to our feeder this month.

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Its back feathers are iridescent green flecked with gold.

Unfortunately, the low light and the bird’s constant movement made it hard for me to catch the brilliance of this starling’s colors while keeping the bird in focus.

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The starling’s colors all came out when it perched in the sun for a moment.

Starlings are still hard on native tree-nesting birds. But I can finally understand why Europeans love them.

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Maui: Part Two

When my husband and I weren’t watching whales, we were tooling around the island. At one point, we found some green sea turtles.


Green sea turtles

According to the locals, they’d hauled themselves out on the beach to warm sea turtle (1)


One had encountered a shark, the only predator of adult sea turtles besides humans.

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The pale nub on it’s flipper is the stub of bone exposed when a shark bit off the tip.

One of the things that surprised me the most about Hawai’i was the variety of volcanic rocks. I expected lots of basalt flows, created by lave running from the volcano to the sea.

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Rope lava from a relatively recent eruption.

But the basalt was layered with ash.

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Ash layers can be identified between the basalt flows because they have eroded into the cliff a bit.

Shifting Sands Pan

Shifting Sands Trail on Haleakela

In fact, the summit of Haleakela, the most recent volcano on Maui, is made up mostly of ash.

Stand-in for Mars

Breccia — fused ash — litters the summit of Haleakela.

I can  see why NASA tested Mars rovers on Haleakela.

Road to Hana

Lower down, though, the volcanic rocks made hundreds of small pools that are one of the reasons so many people fall in love with Maui.

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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

Whale Breach 8x10-2

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)

mother and calf-1

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”.


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.


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…


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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


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.


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.

Evening Glories 2.jpg


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 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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