Focus on What’s at Hand

It may not have been the best idea for a plant person to volunteer to monitor birds of prey. I mean, sure, I take lots of photos of birds. Some of them are even fair to decent.

But mostly, the bird photos kinda happen to me — I’m sitting at the kitchen table and an interesting bird drops by. Or I’m taking a hike and I hear a different bird call, and make it a point to find the bird and take it’s picture. I’ve never just sat for a couple of hours watching for a particular bird to show up.

And yet, that’s what I found myself doing yesterday morning — waiting for a prairie falcon, that may or may not have a nest in the nearby cliffs.

Even at 9:00 am, it was hot sitting in the direct sun. The only birds I saw were meadowlarks, which I love, admittedly, and swallows flitting along the cliff face where the prairie falcon was supposed to have a nest. Surely swallows wouldn’t nest in the same section of cliff where a falcon lives?

I checked my watch five times in half an hour. My mind wandered. And what should my wandering mind notice? Plants! Lots of them! In bloom! In vivid colors!

The plants that caught my eye first were the ever-showy sunflowers.

sunflower and green metalic be-3_edited-1

But when I went to photograph one, I saw this stunning metallic green sweat bee. I’m no poet, but if I was, I’d write about this beauty, covered in pollen. But I’d probably quit when I had to describe the sunflower — after all, what rhymes with orange? Still, I’ve got a gorgeous photo to express my emotions for me.

On the hill behind my observation post, Indian paintbrush was in bloom.

Indian paintbrush

Did I mention that I got out there early, when the light was really great?

I had to stop shooting for a moment to pick cactus pines out of my knee (occupational hazard). When I turned around, there was a scarlet globemallow, aka Cowboy’s delight, waiting for it’s turn to be photographed. Spharalcea coccinea_edited-1

As you probably suspect from it’s name, this plant is in the same family as marsh mallows, from which people used to make the puffy sugar bombs, marshmallows.

Wild plants are an acquired taste. To really see their beauty, you have to get up close and personal. Spharalcea coccinea-1

But scarlet globemallow rewards you when you do.

A plant that is a bit showier is wild rose. This one was being visited by a huge bumblebee.Bombus spp-1

It turns out that Colorado has more different types of bees than most places in the country. I have no idea why.

When I walked back to my car, I noticed a plant that I had missed in my haste to get to my site — purple reedgrass. Purple reedgrass

You only see why it got its name for a very brief period of time in the early summer, when the grass is in bloom. The purple bits are the anthers — the part of the plant that produces pollen. They will soon drop off, leaving it a green stalk of developing seeds. Brief but beautiful.

The prairie falcon? Yeah, I did eventually see it for about thirty seconds at the base of the cliffs about a half mile away. Didn’t spot it’s nest, though. Maybe next time. If I can keep my mind from wandering to the plants.





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What Friends Do

We got Darwin, the pure bred, championship-quality Pembroke Welsh Corgi, as a freebie from our vet. Why? Darwin was born with an incurable heart problem that was supposed to kill him within his first few months. With a new medication, and great care from the vet, Darwin’s made it to six years old – far outliving all expectations.
For his first five years, Darwin shared the house with a chow-golden retriever mix. The bigger animal never really understood how to play with another dog.
So Darwin played with people, bringing us toys and teaching us games. For all that he had a heart problem, he was passionate about chasing a ball.
When the golden-chow died six months ago, we got a corgi-pit bull-cattle dog-Rottweiler puppy we named Tegan. Tegan is the most playful dog we’ve ever had. If you try to put on a sock, it is instantly a pull toy. If you give her a yogurt container, it provides hours of amusement. And all with a healthy puppy’s energy.
At first, Darwin didn’t know what to do with Tegen-the-whirling-fur-ball. He wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to have to deal with all that young energy.


At first, Darwin wasn’t sure he wanted to play with Tegan.

But one day about a month after we got the puppy, Darwin came out of his dog cave, looked at Tegan and gave a high-pitched growl. Tegan tentatively play-bowed and raised her paws to him. Darwin responded by yipping and running. Tegan chased him. Game on!Puppy Play
Since those first days, their games have changed. They play tug of war over a favorite pull toy. They chase each other. When Darwin comes downstairs after his afternoon nap, Tegan pesters him mercilessly, play-bowing and groveling flat on the floor – then mouthing Darwin’s feet until they are wet with slobber. She’ll grab a mouthful of the fur on his butt, and yank, pulling him off balance.


Tegan bites Darwins butt.jpg

Tegan biting Darwin’s butt.

She’ll swing her hips around and slam him with her rear end.

Hip bump

Tegan gives Darwin a hip bump while playing.


After Darwin wakes up a little, he responds in kind, biting Tegan’s cheeks and mouthing her muzzle.

Darwin mouths Tegan.jpg

Darwin will grab Tegan’s cheeks.

If you don’t keep reminding yourself that either dog could leave at any time, you’d be worried by the intensity of their play.

Tegan offers toy to Darwin

But they keep coming back for more.

Darwin’s condition began to decline just before we got Tegan. While Tegan was just a few months old, Darwin was able to hold his own against her playful assaults. But by New Year, he was having a lot of trouble. He now pants constantly, and his chest heaves as he tries to suck in enough air to keep his body going.
I took him to the vet, who took an ultrasound of his heart. While a normal heart compresses about a third of the way down each time it beats, Darwin’s heart collapses completely. The vet said, “I don’t see why this dog is alive, let alone walking.” I didn’t tell her that every evening involves a twenty minute play session with an active puppy.
That night, Darwin and Tegan played as hard as ever. But I noticed something remarkable. Tegan, at four months old, was handicapping her play — when she got too excited, she’d redirect her energy to calm things down. In the middle of wrestling with Darwin, she’d turn aside and bite the table or chair legs, or more recently, my legs. Not hard, which is remarkable given the frenzied nature of the play, but with enough pressure so I knew she could do real damage if she lost control for a moment. These redirected bites clued me in to how much Tegan the puppy is holding herself in check so she didn’t hurt her sick friend.

Darwin drags Tegan

Tegan handicaps herself by getting lower than Darwin.

Once I noticed her redirection, I could see more examples of restraint. When she gets too aggressive, she rolls on her back, or when she pulls the rope toy away from Darwin, she brings it back and offers it to him.

Tegan gives toy to Darwin

Tegan gives Darwin the toy so they can play some more.


Today, while we were playing fetch, Tegan let the dying dog get the ball, or if she happened to get to it first, she’d drop it in front of him to keep Darwin in the game.
After all, isn’t that what friends do?

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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.

spectacular starling-4_edited-1

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

Until this lone starling came to our feeder this month.

spectacular starling-5_edited-1

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.

spectacular starling-1_edited-1

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.

green sea turtle-3_edited-1

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.

rope lava-2

Rope lava from a relatively recent eruption.

But the basalt was layered with ash.

Waves on basalt.jpg

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.

pec fluke wave-4

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)

group of 5-6-1.jpg

Three male humpback whales competing for the female.

Cow and Escort 8x10

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.

Viva and Tegan at the dog park-05-1.jpg

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.

Tegan takes a breather-2.jpg

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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