Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Nature of Complicity

Complicity is the willingness to support or overlook the illegal or immoral ideas and behavior of others.  Currently, it is manifest in the police officers who failed to intervene in the killing of George Floyd.

Throughout history, the term can be applied to those who carried out the savage decrees of dictators, who hid the known side effects of various industrial products (e.g. tobacco), who failed to expose the cruel behavior of their associates (e.g. Catholic priests and bishops) or who voted the party line to protect their own tenure while knowing that the legislation was unfair or discriminatory.  We must also admit that individuals who ignore current public health recommendations are complicit in the spread of Covid-19.

Many Republican Senators and Congressmen have demonstrated profound complicity throughout Trump's reign, failing to acknowledge his lies, choosing to support his dangerous policies and signing onto legislation that threatens the environment, human rights and International cooperation.  They, like the police officers in Minneapolis, must be held responsible for their complicity.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Colorado's Tornado Season

North America has the dubious honor of experiencing more tornadoes than any other Continent and the majority of these develop across "Tornado Alley" which stretches through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa and western Missouri.  Tornadoes may develop during any month of the year but peak in the month of May.

Here in Colorado, tornadic thunderstorms most often develop in June and most often occur in the northeastern portion of the State.  Developing over the Continental Divide, the storms drift eastward, gaining strength as they draw in heat from the High Plains.  Weld County seems to be the focal point of these powerful storms though they may form anywhere east of the Front Range.

As Hurricane Season begins in the Southeastern U.S., Tornado Season gets underway in Colorado.  Let's hope neither is seriously destructive this year but our warming climate augments the risk.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Daytime Owl Watching

Most owls are nocturnal creatures, more often heard than seen.  There are exceptions of course; burrowing, snowy and even barred owls come to mind.

Great horned owls, though occasionally encountered on their nest or roost site, are most often seen at dawn or dusk as they begin or complete their night of hunting.  Recently, however, I have been fortunate to observe one of these "flying tigers" throughout the day since he has chosen to roost in a large cottonwood on the southern edge of our farm.  While he is secluded from most directions, I have clear visibility of the owl from our driveway and have noted that his slumber, like that of most humans, is regularly disturbed.

In addition to the background din of human activity, he is occasionally awakened by the harassment of blue jays or magpies.  At other times, he adjusts his position on the limb, turning around, fluffing his feathers or even delivering a hoot or two.  Though his attention is surely drawn to cottontails at times as they scamper about our "lawns," he is either too full or too tired to make a strike.  I'll do my best to let him sleep.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Early Morning, Late May

On this sunny, cool morning, I went out to get some work done on our Littleton farm.  Though the sun had risen and a dome of bright blue sky stretched above the property, a great horned owl was still hooting from one of our larger shade trees.

A chorus of birdsong was provided primarily by house wrens, spotted towhees, house finches and a lone American robin while the calls of black-billed magpies and a common raven rang across the farm.  Other noisy residents included black-capped chickadees, American goldfinches, broad-tailed hummingbirds, bushtits and fox squirrels.  Cottontails, slowly recovering from their population crash last autumn, nibbled their way across our "lawns," oblivious of the owl's hooting.

In no hurry to experience the heat of summer, I relish these cool spring mornings.  From what I observed today, our wild residents share my sentiments.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

New Mexico Locust

A drought-tolerant member of the pea family, the New Mexico locust is a small tree that grows throughout most of the Southwestern U.S., favoring foothill ecosystems.  In late spring, it is easily identified by its pendulous clusters of fragrant, pink flowers.

Planted on our Littleton, Colorado, farm before we bought the property, we appreciate their beauty and drought-tolerance but must deal with their suckering; if we left them unchecked, they would soon spread across the lower third of the farm.  In addition, their thorny stems discourage trimming once they become established.

On the positive side, their bean pod seeds are fed on by a variety of wildlife and I get plenty of exercise sickling down the tiny saplings that invade our "lawn."  Natural beauty often comes with a mix of benefits and challenges.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

An Expected Chill

Back in Colorado for a week, we have enjoyed warm, sunny days and cool, clear nights, a bit too much to expect for May along the Front Range.  Indeed, snow is not unusual during this month and intermittent, chilly rain often occurs.

So, tomorrow's forecast of showers with a high in the 50s F is not atypical.  Indeed, as I write this post, clouds are building in Metro Denver and a light northeast breeze has dropped the temperature from the low 80s into the sixties; it is only 56 degrees in Salt Lake City and in the forties throughout most of Wyoming.  Rain is expected to develop here by late tomorrow morning.

Fortunately, as is often the case, the atmospheric trough is forecast to move rapidly to the east and warm, sunny weather should return within a couple of days.  Meanwhile, we'll enjoy a break from the intense Colorado sunshine and appreciate whatever moisture our yards and plants receive.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Flashback Post XIX

It's that time of year along the Colorado Front Range.  Waves of miller moths are moving from the Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains; en route, dozens end up in our homes.  A more thorough discussion of this annual phenomenon was posted in June of 2009.

See: Miller Moth Invasion

Monday, May 18, 2020

Dead Ash Trees

After a two month absence, we returned to our Littleton, Colorado, farm to find that most of the trees, shrubs, pastures and "lawns" appeared to be in good health.  Sad exceptions were three modest-sized ash trees that I have been nursing over the past 15 years or more.

I'm not yet sure if their demise is related to the ash blight or to a severe cold snap that occurred here in mid spring.  Regardless of the cause, their deaths were an unexpected blow, especially coming amidst the relentless and distressing news about the coronavirus pandemic.

At times like these, we look to nature for solace and are usually rewarded.  But she is all about life and death and, here in a semi-arid environment, where we often try to push the tolerance of certain species, one must respect her verdict.  Any future plantings will be limited to trees and shrubs that have evolved within this ecosystem.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Kudos to Kansas

Yesterday, we drove back to our Littleton, Colorado, farm and more than half of that trip was across the open landscapes of Kansas.  One of the "reddest" of States, Trump 2020 signs appeared on barns and parked truck trailers, almost rivaling the religious messages that crowded the billboards.

But the electronic highway signs were focused on the Covid-19 pandemic, repeatedly offering the advice to stay home, practice social distancing, use facial masks and wash your hands frequently.  They also instructed workers to stay home if sick and stressed that we are all responsible for the health of others.  Of course, some of the signs also thanked the truckers who are bringing vital supplies to the nation during this crisis.

While dysfunction reigns in the Capitol, it is reassuring to know that most State leaders are taking the pandemic seriously and encouraging their residents and visitors to do the same.  My kudos to the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

A Final Visit to Eagle Bluffs

Since we plan to return to Colorado in a couple of days and since thunderstorms are expected tomorrow, I decided to make a final visit to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area this afternoon.  Though a few showers moved across the floodplain, the mild, cloudy conditions were relatively pleasant and avian activity was high.

While I had written off pelican and shorebird migrations last week, both have re-intensified.  More than seventy American white pelicans graced the refuge and large, mixed flocks of shorebirds foraged along the central channel; among the latter were a trio of dunlins and a large flock of dowitchers.  Other highlights included a female blue grosbeak, a northern waterthrush and a lone eaglet that was exercising his wings and jumping about the nest.  A special treat for me was a small flock of black terns that fed with the numerous swallows; as I described in The Prairie Tern, this species has long been a personal favorite, evoking a memory from my birding past.

I hope to return to Missouri (and to Eagle Bluffs) sometime during the summer; if not, I'll make every effort to return for the spectacular migrations of autumn. 

Monday, May 11, 2020

Lark Sparrows

During a brief visit to Eagle Bluffs this morning, I was fortunate to encounter a small flock of lark sparrows, foraging on a graveled road.  Easily identified by their distinctive facial pattern, central breast spot and white tail edging, these rather large sparrows are most common across the Great Plains and Great Basin during the breeding season.  But they seem to prefer their wintering grounds in Florida, South Texas, Southern California and Mexico, migrating northward rather late in the spring and heading south by late summer.

Here in Missouri and in other parts of the Mississippi River Valley, they are uncommon summer residents, attracted to fallow fields, over-grazed pastures and weedy grasslands with nearby shrubs and woodlands.  They scour the open terrain for insects and seeds and place their nest on or near the ground.

As a birder for more than forty years, I have found that sparrows are among the most difficult species to distinguish in the field.  But when one encounters a lark sparrow, there is no confusing it with its drab cousins.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

October in May

Were it not for the foliage and the birdsong, one might think it was October here in central Missouri.  Cool, dry air has invaded the Midwest; after an overnight low of 36 degrees F, we enjoyed an afternoon high of 64 under clear, sunny skies.

What a gorgeous day for eBird's annual Global Big Day on which counts are solicited from across the planet.  My wife and I spent an hour or so at Eagle Bluffs this morning and I observed 28 bird species, including a blue grosbeak and the stubborn common merganser that refuses to move on to more northern climes.  Late this afternoon, a backyard count turned up 19 species, none of which were unexpected here in early May but all of which seemed to be invigorated by the autumn weather.

So I enjoyed the fall-like conditions and helped to catalogue the status of avian populations across the globe.  Some forms of social distancing can be pleasant, productive and rewarding and the Canadian air made the experience all the more inviting.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Blackpoll Warblers

Among the last migrants to pass through in spring, blackpoll warblers breed across the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska, having wintered in the tropical forests of South America.  Most funnel northward through Florida before fanning out across the eastern U.S.

Since spring males have a black cap, they may be mistaken for chickadees by novice birders but these mid-sized warblers have a slimmer build and black streaking on their backs and sides; females have grayer, less striking plumage.  Contrary to most migratory songbirds, both sexes have more colorful, olive plumage in fall and winter; however, since their southward migration is over the Atlantic, from eastern Canada or New England, most American birders only see them in their spring outfits.

Last evening, I was fortunate to observe a male blackpoll warbler in our neighbor's walnut tree.  As is typical for the species, he was moving deliberately through the canopy, searching for insects, spiders and their larvae; berries may also be consumed.  It was a pleasure to have this long-distance migrant stop by our small piece of central Missouri.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Trail to the Eagle Bluffs Overlook

While the great majority of Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area stretches across the Missouri River floodplain, accessed by graveled roads and levee-top trails, a small portion sits atop the east wall of the river's valley.  There, a foot-trail leads from a small parking lot on Warren School Road to a ridge-top deck which provides a spectacular view of the floodplain with its streams, pools and woodlands; about 1 mile long, the trail courses through a gas line swath, an old farm meadow and parcels of forest.

On this cool, sunny morning, my wife and I hiked to the overlook for the first time.  En route, we encountered an excellent variety of woodland songbirds, including yellow-throated vireos, yellow-breasted chats and a yellow-billed cuckoo.  Once on the deck, we could see great blue herons and great egrets moving above the floodplain or feeding in the shallow pools; we also observed a tardy flock of American white pelicans, huddled on the west side of the refuge.

Having spent hundreds of hours exploring Eagle Bluffs over the years, the overlook trail offered a unique perspective and yet another appealing destination for exercise and wildlife observation in Central Missouri.  I certainly hope to return on a regular basis.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Shift Change at Eagle Bluffs

As the waterfowl and shorebird migrations wind down in early-mid May, we birders turn our attention to late spring migrants and summer residents; such was the case down at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area this morning.

Blue-winged teal, once numbering a thousand or more, were down to a few scattered flocks and American coot, which crowded every pool back in April, had disappeared altogether.  Ironically, a male common merganser, making the rare bird list for a month or more, still graced the refuge, and a female canvasback, not expected in May, was also observed.  Shorebirds, numerous and diverse just a few days ago, were only represented by killdeer, spotted sandpipers and a couple of lesser yellowlegs; American white pelicans and white-faced ibis, regular spring visitors, also have completed their migrations.

Indeed, the avian population has undergone another shift change in the Missouri River Valley; time to focus on raptors, wading birds, certain rails and summer songbirds.  The next shift won't arrive until September, though migrant shorebirds will begin drifting south by mid July.  Of course, unexpected, late summer vagrants will also attract flocks of birders to this fabulous floodplain refuge.