Monday, June 10, 2019

The Nature of Family Reunions

Since I depart for my wife's family reunion in northern Ohio today, I have been thinking about the nature of such events.  Of course, families are very limited in nature since, in most species, the young disperse early in life to prevent inbreeding; indeed, with few exceptions, unicellular organisms, invertebrates, fish, amphibians and most reptiles never even meet their parents.

Families, as we know them, only exist in certain birds and mammals and humans are among the few species to retain long-term familial relationships.  Throughout most of our history, a nomadic lifestyle broke up extended families and, even today, a global economy has encouraged (if not required) the spatial separation of family members.  One might argue that family reunions have become especially important in modern human society.

On the other hand, whatever interpersonal tensions existed during childhood tend to persist, and reunions may reignite those emotions.  Then there is the additional influence (positive or negative) that spouses and children have had on family dynamics and now "bring to the table."  It is no wonder that family reunions have been fodder for so many novels and movies (some dramatic, others comedic); I expect a little of both over the coming week.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

A Chilly Morning in June

Following a week of hot, stormy weather, a cold front dipped across the Front Range overnight, bringing cool, cloudy conditions to the region this morning.  Down along the South Platte, insectivores had once again gathered to feast on their prey above and along the fast moving waters of that relatively warm stream.

Dominating the scene were hundreds of violet-green swallow, forced down from the foothills to join their rough-winged, barn and cliff cousins; the latter have been nesting beneath the Bowles Avenue bridge since early May.  Other insectivores along the river were Say's phoebes, cedar waxwings, American robins, red-winged blackbirds, Bullock's orioles, common yellowthroats and yellow warblers.  By this late date in spring, mallards and a few common mergansers were the only waterfowl on the South Platte though double-crested cormorants have become increasingly common.

Once the intense Colorado sun breaks through the overcast, afternoon temperatures will rise to near sixty (F) and a steady recovery toward more seasonable conditions is forecast for the coming week.  On the positive side, the cool air should stabilize the atmosphere for a few days, temporarily suppressing the development of severe afternoon and evening thunderstorms.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Matted Hair in the Brush Pile

Now that summer has set in and the bird population on our farm has stabilized for the season, I am more inclined to roam the property, looking for unusual insects and plants.  This morning, while exploring our "wild corner," I came across a clump of matted hair in the brush pile.

Initially assuming it was the remnants of a mouse or small cottontail, I used a stick to investigate further but found no bones or other material to confirm my suspicion.  I then concluded it was a type of fungus and, after some investigation, settled on a species of Phycomyces; these fungi produce long, hair-like sporangia which terminate in tiny spheres that contain the spores.  Feasting on (and recycling) a wide variety of rotting organic matter, the fungal bloom was likely triggered by our recent heavy rains.

My identification may or may not be correct but, in more than sixty years of exploring natural ecosystems, it was the first time I encountered such a fungus; just the latest confirmation that nature's diversity is endless, even for a life-long naturalist.

Friday, June 7, 2019

A Shower of Larvae

Reading outdoors early this afternoon, I had placed my chair in the shade of a large Siberian elm that overhangs our driveway.  Off to the west, a thunderstorm had begun to form and I hurried to finish a chapter before I was forced inside.

Just before my goal was realized, something struck the chair that sounded like a drop of rain; several other impacts soon followed as a breeze picked up from the approaching storm.  As it turned out, the "raindrops" were tiny, yellowish slugs, a fact that was made clear when one struck the book.  Looking around my chair, I found dozens of the larvae on the asphalt, writhing about in search of vegetation.  Before I was forced indoors by rain, a robin turned up to feast on the hapless invertebrates, efficiently picking them off the driveway.

I suspect the tiny victims were the larvae of elm-leaf beetles, known to favor Siberian and Chinese elms and to lay two broods of eggs, one in late spring and the other in late summer.  After falling from or traveling down the tree, the tiny, translucent larvae find a safe spot to pupate into the adult stage.  Of course, an asphalt driveway is not an ideal landing spot and the robin surely enjoyed the windfall. Since we do not use insecticides on the farm, there should be plenty more larvae for our resident insectivores.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

The Month without Migrants

Avid birders look forward to the spring and fall migration seasons, when seasonal residents and migrants mingle with permanent residents, greatly increasing the diversity of avian species in any given area.  By June (in the Northern Hemisphere), spring migration is usually complete and the "autumn migration" will not begin until July; one might thus suggest that June is the least interesting month for birders, especially with regard to unexpected sightings.

By mid July, shorebirds begin to migrate southward and will continue to do so for several months.  Waterfowl, songbird and some raptor migrations are underway by late summer, continuing into December for certain species of geese.  Some might argue that January is also devoid of migrants but vertical and irruptive migrations occur throughout the winter.  By February, geese, sandhill cranes, American white pelicans and other select species begin to head northward and the spring avian migration will continue through May.

That brings us back to June, a time when summer residents have settled in and, in many cases, already have a brood to raise.  June can certainly be a pleasant month to scour the fields, forests and wetlands for additions to one's personal life list but migrants (except for a straggler or two) will not likely grace the scene.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Storms of June

Following a period of cool, rainy weather, temperatures are heating up along the Colorado Front Range and so is the severe weather.  Indeed, severe thunderstorms and tornados generally peak in this region during the month of June.

While late afternoon thunderstorms are common from May to September, damaging hail and wind coincide with rising mid-day temperatures and a still unsettled jet stream.  Seemingly modest thunderstorms, drifting eastward from the mountains, suddenly explode into powerful monsters, ravaging all that lies beneath their path while adjacent areas, bathed in sunshine, go unscathed.

As I drove a friend to the airport this afternoon, a few showers obscured portions of the Front Range. By the time I headed home, some twenty minutes later, most had dissipated; one, however, sitting over western Arapahoe County, had fed on their energy.  Characterized by intense rain, high winds and large hail, it was drifting eastward (per the radio warning) and I changed my course to avoid its wrath.  One would be foolish to drive into that atmospheric maelstrom! 

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Of all those brown-olive-white flycatchers that migrate through the U.S., the olive-sided flycatcher is perhaps the easiest to identify.  Relatively large, with an over-sized head, long thick bill, short tail and "vest-like" plumage on his chest, this migrant prefers to hunt from a dead limb near the top of a tree; from that conspicuous perch, he flies out to snare a large insect and then usually returns to the same spot.

Breeding in coniferous forests across Alaska and Canada and southward through mountain ranges of North America, most of these long-distance migrants winter in South America though some shorten their journey, staying in Central America.  Among the last migrant flycatchers to move through the U.S. in spring, they are most often observed in late May; apparently fond of their wintering grounds, most head south again by late August.

Olive-sided flycatchers are more common in the Western U.S. (at least in my experience) and I encountered two at South Platte Park this morning.  Seemingly sure of themselves, they are less skittish than their smaller cousins and will usually pose at close range, disturbed only by a juicy insect that flies near their perch.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Swallows to the Rescue

Yesterday, as I knifed through the hot, humid air on the Great Plains, I noticed many herds of cattle that had crammed together or taken to farm ponds to escape biting insects.  Just another disturbing spectacle that might encourage other observers to give up meat consumption!

Fortunately, in some areas, squadrons of swallows arrived to feast on the insects that were tormenting the cattle; while they were difficult to identify from the highway, most appeared to be barn swallows.  Though the agile fliers dive-bombed the herds, the cattle surely appreciated their service.

Of course, herds of deer, elk, caribou and other native herbivores are also tormented by insects during the summer months.  But cattle herds have been established by humans, their members living just long enough to provide food for people and their domestic pets.  Their brief lives are far from idyllic! 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Crossing Tornado Alley

Heading back to Colorado, I crossed Tornado Alley this morning and afternoon, a broad swath of landscape from Texas to Nebraska and Iowa that is especially susceptible to tornadic thunderstorms in spring and early summer.

As one who has frequently driven across the Great Plains, I hereby offer a couple of personal recommendations to fellow travelers.  First of all, cross this region as early in the day as possible since supercell thunderstorms (and the tornadoes that they spawn) most often develop in late afternoon or evening, fueled by daytime heating.  Secondly, tune into local radio stations to stay informed regarding dangerous storms; while the terrain is relatively flat and many storms can be spotted at a distance, this is not always the case, especially when heavy rains obscure your view.

Today, I managed to reach Hays, Kansas, with no major problems, though I did skirt one severe thunderstorm just west of Topeka.  After checking into a motel in Hays, however, a tornado warning was issued for this city and we all gathered in the laundry room until the storm passed just to our east.  Meanwhile, tornadic thunderstorms have begun to ignite all across eastern Kansas (not to mention an outbreak in Pennsylvania, stretching along the rim of a high pressure dome that sits over the Southeastern U.S.).

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Calm after the Storms

Following a week of hot, humid weather and severe thunderstorms, relatively cool and dry air has invaded central Missouri.  Though flooding persists along the Missouri River and other large streams, one can now more fully appreciate the flora and fauna of a Midwest spring.

Sitting on our deck this evening, I saw and or heard at least 20 bird species, dominated by squadrons of chimney swifts that zoomed across the clear blue sky; joining them were turkey vultures, sailing overhead, and an occasional common night hawk, identified by their white wing patches and distinctive calls.  Backyard visitors included ruby-throated hummingbirds, gray catbirds, cedar waxwings and a least flycatcher among more common residents, all seemingly enjoying the cool respite as much as I was (at least until a Cooper's hawk appeared).

One location on our property has definitely benefited from the recent soupy weather and heavy rains: the compost bin.  Fueled by the heat and humidity, uncountable invertebrates are now swarming over the yard and kitchen waste, feasting on the plant material and creating a future supply of nutritious compost.  The external atmosphere may have become more appealing to humans but the tropical conditions within that bin is ideal for those recyclers.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Along the Apple River

The Apple River of northwest Illinois rises in extreme southwestern Wisconsin.  Flowing southeastward through the Driftless Area (see The Wisconsin Ozarks), it enters Apple River Canyon State Park some 25 miles east of Galena.  There it slices through a ridge of Silurian dolomite and then angles to the southwest, passing Elizabeth, Illinois, and flowing through Hanover before reaching the Mississippi.

On this beautiful spring day in Illinois, we drove to Apple River Canyon State Park, where the river merges with Clear Creek and exposes scenic walls of dolomite.  Five trails lead through the forest, along the river and atop the bluffs; while they surely offer spectacular vistas in winter, the dense foliage of May obscured our view in most areas and our visit was a bit disappointing.

As experienced hikers know, State Parks and Nature Preserves vary widely in the quality of their trail networks and in the access they provide to natural wonders.  Then again, nature can manage just fine without human-friendly facilities and, in fact, her welfare is often threatened by the crowds that they attract.  Her beauty exists whether we witness it or not and if we pick the wrong season to view a canyon, well, that's our problem! 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

In Driftless Terrain

As I described in The Wisconsin Ozarks, an area of the Upper Midwest was sparred the effects of the last Pleistocene glaciation.  This Plateau of early Precambrian limestones and dolomites (known as the Driftless Area) extends from central Wisconsin into southeastern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa and extreme northwestern Illinois. Galena and its environs lie within that geologic zone, where the topography is characterized by knobs, hills and ridges, carved from the plateau by glacial meltwater and numerous post-glacial streams.

This morning, after breakfast in historic downtown Galena, we headed to Horseshoe Mound Preserve, just southeast of town.  From that pinnacle, one enjoys a panorama of northwestern Illinois, extending to southern Wisconsin and across the Mississippi River Valley to Iowa.  Our next stop was a bit farther south, where the Casper Bluff Land and Water Reserve, stretches above the east bank of the Upper Mississippi; covered by restored prairie, oak savanna and riparian woodlands, it also harbors ceremonial mounds from the Late Woodland Period (700-1000 AD), including a thunderbird effigy mound.

Our third hike of the morning was at Galena's Gateway Park, still under development; some of the trails through this hilly, abandoned farmland were not well-maintained and the walk seemed much longer than it actually was. On the other hand, it was a great area for birding and rose-breasted grosbeaks were especially common.  Following that rather strenuous trek we rewarded ourselves with a visit to a winery northeast of Galena; there we indulged in one of its products on a shaded veranda, enjoying a pleasant view of the driftless terrain.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

May Foliage & March Weather

On our journey to Galena, Illinois, the landscapes were verdant (as one might expect in mid May) but it felt more like March.  Cool air, a low gray overcast and a strong east wind persisted all the way from central Missouri to northwest Illinois.

As we had learned prior to the trip, flooding was extensive along the Mississippi, also backing up and flooding the feeder creeks and rivers that we crossed in northeast Missouri and eastern Iowa.  Forced from the flooded woodlands, flocks of wild turkeys scoured the soggy fields and raccoons ambled along the country roads.  Turkey vultures were often abundant in the gray skies, joined at times by American white pelicans as we snaked up the Mississippi Valley.

Before heading into Galena, we visited Mississippi Palisades State Park, which stretches atop cliffs that line the east edge of the valley.  There, a series of overlooks offer spectacular views of the Great River and its wooded islands, all part of the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge.  After a front moves through later this evening (the same system that brought severe thunderstorms and tornados to Oklahoma and Missouri) our weather is forecast to be more spring-like tomorrow.

Monday, May 20, 2019

North to Galena

Tomorrow, my wife and I will head to Galena, a historic town in the Mississippi River Valley of Northwest Illinois.  Known for its preserved architecture, prehistoric mounds and wineries, this town is also close to a number of parks, nature preserves and, of course, the great river itself.

While our exact route is still under consideration, we plan to drive northeastward across the Glaciated Plain of northern Missouri and Iowa before crossing the Mississippi at Davenport.  We will then snake northward along and near the east bank of the river all the way to Galena.  Barring unexpected problems or detours, it should be a five hour journey from Columbia.

Hopefully, our mid week road trip, occurring during the peak of spring, will lead through beautiful natural landscapes and expose us to an excellent diversity of wildlife (while avoiding the human crowds of weekends and summer).  The validity of those expectations will be clarified in coming posts.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Murder of a Tree

Our Columbia, Missouri, home is in an older neighborhood near the University, where large shade trees line the streets.  Mostly oaks and sweet gums, the stately giants are surely at least 75-100 years old.  A few have succumbed to disease or storm damage, but most are healthy and full, offering beauty, shade and both food and sanctuary for wildlife.

We were thus dismayed, to say the least, to observe the willful destruction of one of those giants today; I suspect the slow execution will take a few days to complete due to the size of the tree.  It is a sweet gum that appeared to be healthy prior to the assault; perhaps the new owners are not fond of the copious "gum balls" dropped by that species and decided to avoid the annual cleanup that would lie ahead.

Focused on convenience, we humans often design landscapes that suit our own needs, giving little consideration to the ecologic ramifications.  In this case, the owners certainly have the right to remove a healthy old tree from their property but, for many of us who watched the execution, it was a gut-wrenching affront to nature, a murderous sacrilege in the name of tidiness.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Birding by Ear

The month of May can be frustrating for birders, especially for those with limited experience.  On the one hand, birdsong is reaching its annual peak as summer and permanent residents engage in nesting and territorial behavior and as a parade of migrants are passing through the region.

On the other hand, the shrubs and trees are now fully leafed-out, obscuring the location (and identity) of the numerous songsters; in other words, birds seem to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time.  Standing beneath large deciduous trees of the Midwest, one can often identify a variety of tunes but cannot locate their source.  Of course, the solution to this mid-spring conundrum is to learn to identify the various migrant and resident species by their songs and calls, not just by their appearance.

Easier said than done, avid birders come to appreciate the value of this skill and, over the years, become adept at audio-identification; fortunately, digital recordings are now available to assist with that learning process.  As with other human skills, some of us are more talented than others and practice is essential.  Handicapped in this area myself, I have found it helpful to sit on the back deck and just listen for a while; when uncertain, I try to confirm my identification by sight but, amidst the luxuriant foliage of May, that is often difficult! 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Flooding on the Floodplain

Back in Missouri, I made a bee-line down to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area this morning, one of the best birding locations in the Midwest.  Initially greeted by dense fog and cool air, the skies cleared within a half hour and the birding, as usual, was excellent.  On the other hand, flooding along the Missouri River spilled across large portions of this floodplain refuge, having a significant impact on the mix of species.

Swallows dominated the scene, strafing the pools and flooded fields; within that group, cliff swallows were by far the most numerous, joined by their tree, northern rough-winged and barn cousins.  Indigo buntings were also abundant, far outnumbering dickcissels and American goldfinches that shared the shrinking grasslands; a pair of blue grosbeaks and a couple of lark sparrows were the highlights in that habitat.  Woodland sightings included Baltimore and orchard orioles, red-bellied and red-headed woodpeckers, yellow-breasted chats, yellow warblers and a lone male magnolia warbler.  Despite the extensive flooding, waterfowl were limited to Canada geese, blue-winged teal, a have dozen coot, a few northern shovelers and a token number of mallards; conversely, perhaps due to the flooding, raptors were limited to bald eagles and a lone kestrel.

No doubt, I'll be back at Eagle Bluffs several more times before I return to Colorado; whether the flooding persists (or not) will depend on the whims of Mother Nature and, to some degree, the water management decisions of refuge personnel.  Regardless of the water levels, each visit will surely offer unique and unexpected sightings. 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Flashback Post XIV

On this annual celebration of Moms and all they do for families in particular and for human society in general, I decided to offer links to past Mother's Day posts.  My personal remembrance, thanks and admiration as well.

See: Mom's Mitochondria, Maternal Devotion, Natural Peacemakers and Homage to Mother Nature

Friday, May 10, 2019

Back to Spring

After several days of chilly rain and snow along the Front Range, the sun has reappeared and mild air is sweeping across the urban corridor.  Down at South Platte Park, walkers, birders, bikers and fishermen resumed their usual activity, encouraged by a promising weather forecast.

A new wave of migrants and summer residents were also present at the Park, including gray catbirds, cliff swallows, western kingbirds, western wood pewees, yellow-breasted chats, a western tanager and an olive-sided flycatcher.  In concert, the winter ducks have all but disappeared, represented only by a pair of buffleheads and a lone hooded merganser.

While we often experience brief, winter-like setbacks in spring, the potent May sun, dry air and high elevation ensure a rapid recovery.  Within another day or so, we'll forget all about the snow showers that, just yesterday, tested our patience.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Avoiding Socialism

Republican politicians and Big Business leaders are all atwitter (literally) about the proposals put forth by Democratic Presidential Candidates regarding medical care, education and wage fairness, labeling those Liberals "Socialists" who are out to ruin American Democracy (unlike our current President).

Perhaps they should stop to analyze where the real threat to Capitalism lies: with the massive and immoral income disparity in American society.  If Republicans and Business leaders want to head off socialism they must address this issue.  Unfortunately, any discussions related to minimum wage and benefits such as quality health care and free child care are immediately met with the objection that profit margins will be reduced.  But if the obscene salaries and perks of the CEOs and other executives are cut back to balance those costs, profits will be unaffected.

Almost everyone would agree that American Capitalism is superior to the Socialism of Cuba and the Communism of Russia.  But it is far from perfect and, unless we get serious about addressing the needless disparities in American Society, we will face our own Revolution.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Year of the Chipping Sparrow

Chipping sparrows are small, attractive songbirds that breed across the U.S. and Canada, wherever open woodlands are found.  Displaced from urban centers by house sparrows, they are still common in parks, suburbs and undisturbed habitat.

Here along the Front Range urban corridor, chipping sparrows are primarily migrants and most head into the foothills to nest; there they prefer open "ponderosa parklands" between 7000 and 8000 feet in elevation.  Each spring, a few small flocks of these travelers turn up on are Littleton farm, stopping to rest and feed for a day or two; this week, large flocks (more than sixty individuals yesterday) have appeared and are hanging around to join the house finches and white-crowned sparrows that scour our weedy lawns.

I suspect their abundance on the Piedmont is a result of the rainy weather that has enveloped the Front Range for the past several days; having just arrived from Mexico, they may be waiting for less stormy conditions before heading into the mountains.  From my perspective, both the rain and the chipping sparrows have been more than welcome.

See also: The Hair Bird

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

A Lone Lazuli Bunting

Thunderstorms raked the Front Range this afternoon and, between two of those storms, I went out to explore our farm.  Greeted by our usual avian residents and a large flock of migrant chipping sparrows, I was about to head indoors when I spotted a bird atop one of our hackberry trees; it was a male lazuli bunting, just back from Mexico.

Unmistakable with his sky blue head and back, conical bill, white wing bars and cinnamon chest, the visitor was surveying our weedy lawns and shrub lines, perfect summer habitat for lazuli buntings.  In reality, these open-country birds are best found across scrub habitat of the lower foothills or on broken grasslands of the adjacent Piedmont.  While solitary birds may be encountered during migration, they are more often observed in flocks during the summer months, scouring the ground for seeds and insects.

Breeding throughout the Intermountain West, from the Colorado Front Range to California, lazuli buntings also inhabit the Great Plains where their range overlaps with that of indigo buntings; while the two species have been known to interbreed, both tend to be highly territorial when nesting.  By mid-late summer, lazuli buntings begin to drift southward toward their winter homes in Mexico.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Wilson's Warbler

On this cloudy, mild evening along the Colorado Front Range, I noticed a small bird flitting about a grove of small trees in the "wild corner" of. our Littleton farm.  Initially assuming it was a house wren, I zeroed in with my binoculars to discover that it was a male Wilson's warbler, easily identified by his black cap, contrasting with bright yellow plumage.

Having wintered in the Tropics, Wilson's warblers nest across Alaska and Canada and southward through the mountain ranges of the West.  Fairly common migrants along the Front Range urban corridor, they head to higher elevations (generally above 10,000 feet) to nest along the shores of alpine lakes or in willow thickets along mountain streams; indeed, they are one of the more common songbirds found near timberline.

Like many humans, these small insectivores apparently like seasonal change, escaping the hot, humid environment of their "winter" to summer and breed in chilly landscapes of the far north or higher mountains.  One must admire their audacity!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Golden Currant

Golden currant is a small, drought tolerant shrub native to western North America; it has also become naturalized across most of the U.S., excluding the Southeastern States.  Its loosely-branching, woody stems bear lobular, maple-like leaves; in early-mid spring (depending on elevation and latitude), clusters of fragrant, tubular yellow flowers appear, attracting hummingbirds, orioles and a variety of pollinating insects (including monarch butterflies).

On our Littleton farm, we have several patches of golden current; favoring partial shade, they mingle with chokecherry, lilacs and other shrubs in our woodland borders.  Blooming over the past week, the flowers will yield small blue-black berries by early-mid summer, consumed by a host of songbirds and small mammals; humans also enjoy currant berries, using them to make jams and jellies.

Like most plants on our farm, these natives require no irrigation or maintenance.  Better yet, they more than compensate for the space they occupy, offering beauty and attracting many wild visitors.  Over time, those visitors will return the favor, spreading the plant's seeds to other areas of the property.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Dominance & Relationships

In several previous posts, I have expressed my thoughts on love and compatibility, concluding that one does not necessarily imply the other.  As a result, I am of the opinion that couples should live together for a few years before committing to marriage (and especially before conceiving children).

It seems to me that another factor may also sabotage loving relationships, often very early in their course.  Fear of domination, the concern that your partner's ambition may interfere with your own personal goals, has become increasingly relevant in modern society.  Prior to the mid 20th Century, men were the traditional breadwinners within a family and most wives were homemakers, devoting themselves to managing the household and raising children; of course, in many cases, that role was accepted with some resignation.  Since that time, women have pursued careers that were previously limited to men and couples must often balance the demands that come with a two-career partnership, magnifying the stress that naturally accompanies marriage and child-rearing.

It is thus not surprising that fear of domination (real or imagined) threatens many modern relationships.  In the end, the only means of dealing with this fear is a mutual commitment to open communication, cooperation and compromise, an approach that must be reinforced throughout the marriage or partnership.  Unfortunately, the underlying tension may persist, fueling distrust, conflict and, in many cases, divorce. 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Phasing out Meat

If today's Beyond Meat's IPO on Wall Street is any indication, investor sentiment has shifted in favor of plant-based food.  Indeed, Impossible Burger, another company that offers a plant-based meat substitute, will soon be selling its product through Burger King restaurants.

No doubt, the younger generation's focus on a healthy diet and on minimizing our impact on the environment is playing a major role in this cultural shift.  In addition to concerns regarding the inhumane treatment of livestock, there is a great deal of evidence that meat production wastes fresh water, consumes much (if not most) of our grain production and pollutes our air and water; methane production by cattle is thought to be a significant factor in man-induced global warming.

Natural carnivores, humans won't be giving up meat anytime soon but unbridled population growth and unchecked climate change may force a shift to plant-based nutrition.  Fortunately, Millennials and their children, facing a planetary crisis, will likely accelerate that transition.

See also: A Plant-based Diet 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Case for Kelp

After reading Melissa Clark's article on kelp in yesterday's New York Times, I was inspired to spread the word regarding this marine vegetable, an environment-friendly food source that may play an important role in meeting the nutrition demands of our ever-expanding population.  Long "farmed" in other regions of the globe, kelp has become a substitute source of income for fisherman in northern regions of North America who have suffered from dwindling fish populations and limitations placed on their annual catch.

Per Ms. Clark, kelp is a tasty form of seaweed, unlike some others that have been farmed across the globe.  Furthermore, it is fast growing and requires nothing more than an anchor rope, drawing its nutrition from the sea and, in concert, extracting pollutants such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen and phosphorus (combating acidification of ocean water and potentially playing a significant role in our efforts to combat global warming).

Already used in upscale restaurants across the country, kelp could become a staple in the American diet; indeed, it is rich in numerous vitamins and minerals and, like other vegetables, is a good source of fiber.  While I have absolutely no qualifications when it comes to meal preparation, she reports that kelp is used in salads, pasta dishes and as a garnish item with fish and various meats.  Watch for this nutritious and environment-friendly item at your local grocery and give it a try for Mother Earth!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

April ends with Snow

April is bowing out with snow along the Colorado Front Range, not an unusual occurrence.  Arriving last evening, the upslope storm left only an inch or two of snow across Metro Denver, coating the lawns and trees by daybreak.

Heading down to South Platte Park, I found that the wildlife was generally unfazed by the chilly air and wintry landscape.  Exceptions were the large flocks of violet-green swallows that strafed the river or huddled in trees along the shores of Eaglewatch Lake; just back from the Tropics, I'm sure they were dismayed to find that the cold weather had stunned and grounded their prey.  Other birds were as active as ever, perhaps even invigorated by the chill; an osprey tore apart a fish atop a power pole, a mixed flock of cormorants and mergansers dove for their morning meal and a host of songbirds (chickadees, yellow-rumped warbers, house wrens, woodpeckers) gleaned lethargic insects from the shrubs and trees.  Even a pair of broad-tailed hummingbirds, seemingly out of place in the wintry landscape, chased one another through a lakeside woodland.

Thanks to the high April sun and despite the gray overcast, the snow was gone by noon and the look (if not the feel) of spring has returned.  Alas, another round of light snow may fall tonight but a rapid warmup is expected by the weekend when summer-like conditions will envelop the urban corridor.  Such is spring in Colorado.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Sleep and Creativity

Most humans tend to view sleep as downtime for the brain, disrupted only by crazy dreams of dubious significance.  In like manner, highly productive workaholics often dismiss sleep as a waste of time, bragging about their limited need for sleep.  But medical science has discovered that a certain amount of sleep (generally in the range of 7-8 hours per day) is important for our health and that, contrary to popular perception, sleep is a active neurological process.

Indeed, persons engaged in creative fields of endeavor (writing, music, art, architecture, design, etc.) can recount incidences in which they awoke from sleep with a unique and often detailed idea, unrelated to any rumination that might have occurred prior to sleep.  I can personally attest to the fact that a dozen or more of my blog posts were written in the middle of the night, almost fully constructed at the time that I awoke.  There is little doubt in my mind that the brain synthesizes, analyzes and correlates ideas during sleep, drawing data from our conscious experiences and stored memories.

To be fully transparent, this post was prompted by the "appearance" of a person in a dream whom I have not seen and not consciously thought about in more than 40 years.  Our conscious memories are but a small fraction of those stored in the circuitry of our brains and sleep allows us to "explore" that hidden data, providing fuel for our creativity.  It seems to me that those who shun sleep to increase their productivity are failing to take advantage of a valuable creative resource.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

A Swarm of Painted Ladies

Like monarchs, which they resemble, painted lady butterflies are migratory, heading to the Desert Southwest for the winter.  In the fall of 2017, their swarms were especially large along the Colorado Front Range and, this March, the migrating ladies created a spectacle in Southern California, the result of a massive desert bloom that was triggered by heavy winter rains in that region.

Early this evening, when I went out to look for new summer birds on our Littleton farm, my search was disrupted by the steady movement of painted ladies across the landscape.  Moving from southwest to northeast, these fast flying butterflies (capable of reaching 25 mph) constantly caught my eye.  Within a half hour, I'm certain I saw at least 1000 of the hardy migrants, anxious to reach their breeding sites.

Preferring to lay their eggs on thistles and related plants, painted ladies utilize most habitats in Colorado and may be observed throughout the warmer months.  However, it is in mid spring and early autumn when their mass migrations may catch the eye of even the least attentive observers of nature.  This evening's spectacle will certainly be long remembered by this naturalist.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Summer Songbirds stream Northward

Birders who reside in the Northern Hemisphere know that late April and early May offer some of the best birding of the year as summer songbirds return to their breeding grounds.  Here along the Colorado Front Range, that annual parade is well underway.

Over the past week, broad-tailed hummingbirds and house wrens have returned to our Littleton farm and, down at South Platte Park, I have recently observed barn and violet-green swallows (joining their tree cousins), brown-headed cowbirds, white-crowned sparrows and a green-tailed towhee; Swainson's thrushes, blue-gray gnatcatchers, chipping sparrows, gray catbirds, Lazuli buntings and Bullock's orioles should arrive any day now.  The number of migrant yellow-rumped warblers has been increasing on a daily basis and other Western warblers and flycatchers are expected within the next two weeks.

All of these summer species will be greeted by our next round of chilly rain and snow early next week but they "know" Colorado and always adapt well.  We birders certainly appreciate the seasonal message that they bring, especially during the fickle weather of a Front Range April. 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Leonardo on Nature

Today, I had the pleasure to attend an exhibit on the Life and Work of Leonardo da Vinci at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.  During his 67 years on this planet (1452-1519), da Vinci accomplished a great deal in the fields of art, mechanical invention, anatomy and philosophy, most of which was not publicly acknowledged prior to his death.

While most of us are familiar with some of his paintings (especially the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper) and his anatomical drawings, the exhibit expanded on his personal philosophy and how those beliefs impacted his work.  Nature was clearly the inspiration for all aspects of his creativity, a source of truth from which, he believed, we must learn and to which we should aspire.

Natural processes inspired his inventions and natural laws governed his view of life and the Universe.  Leonardo, a perfectionist himself, believed that perfection only exists in nature and that our capacity to love or hate something is totally dependent upon our ability to fully understand it.  In his view, we humans reflect truth only by aligning ourselves with nature, inspirational words of wisdom in the mind of this naturalist.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

A Finch Invasion

Returning to our Littleton farm late this afternoon, I stepped from my pickup and was struck by the amount of chirping that arose from the canopy of one of our large Siberian elms; the source of the noise was a large flock of American goldfinches (18 by my count).  Of course, I went in to grab my binoculars for a closer look and returned to find that the flock had scattered to a grove of piñon pines.

Taking a seat, I watched the brightly colored finches move among the trees and was soon aware that they were joined by a half dozen lesser goldfinches, eight pine siskins and at least twelve house finches, not to mention the chickadees, bushtits and a lone red-breasted nuthatch that were drawn to the scene.  In addition, while I was focused on the finch invasion, I was pleased to hear the familiar buzzy whistle of a broad-tailed hummingbird as it looped about the farm, the first of the season.

No doubt, the flock of American goldfinches, permanent residents along the Front Range urban corridor, had picked up the pine siskins as they moved through the area; the latter birds will soon return to the foothills where they will nest and raise their young before winter weather drives them down to lower elevations.  The house finches and lesser goldfinches, permanent residents on the farm, merely joined in the feeding frenzy when the nomads arrived.  While none of these finches are rare or even uncommon, I cannot recall another time (on this farm or elsewhere) when I encountered so many in one place at the same time; it was a special treat to watch and listen to their activity.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Towhee Romance

For at least six years, a lone male spotted towhee has lived on our Littleton farm (and has been the subject of several past blog posts).  Each spring, he has sung his heart out but failed to attract a mate; while most towhees reside in the shrub belt of the lower foothills, these large sparrows seem to be spreading across the adjacent Piedmont and have become permanent residents in our area.

Over the past two weeks, I have noticed that he is now in the company of a female, identified by her chocolate-brown head, chest and back (in sharp contrast to his black coloration).  Noticeably quieter this spring, I suspect the male's vocalizations will increase once nesting begins and he feels the need to defend his territory.  If all goes as nature plans, the female will construct a cup-shaped nest beneath or within low shrubs and lay anywhere from 2 to 6 eggs; since towhees may produce up to three broods each year, our farm might be over-run with their offspring by late summer!

Feasting primarily on insects during the breeding season, spotted towhees also consume seeds and berries; most of their food is located by scratching through leaf litter and it is that activity that often draws our attention to their presence.  I wish to publicly congratulate our longtime bachelor and hope that the couple will spend many happy years on the farm!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Fire, Faith & Human Culture

Anyone who cares about art, architecture and human culture mourns the tragic destruction of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris this week; such a reaction is independent of one's religious faith or lack thereof.  As I write this post, the cause of the fire remains unknown though an accident, related to restoration work, seems most likely.

It is understandable that this tragedy, having occurred during Holy Week, is especially painful for Catholics and it is also unsurprising that many believers find solace in that association.  Inclined to accept messages from God in various forms, they see a heavenly hand in the destruction of a great human cathedral, mimicking efforts to destroy The Church by killing Jesus.  So too, the Cathedral will be reborn.

This relationship (and friction) between human culture and religious faith has been evident throughout our history.  After all, for much of that time, The Church has controlled both the financial pursestrings and the political power.  Today, that balance has begun to shift, primarily related to the scientific revolution and partly to revelations of scandal within the Catholic Church.  As human enlightenment progresses, we will hopefully retain our interest in and devotion to historical culture while discarding the bonds of mysticism.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge

Browns Park is a broad river valley in extreme northwest Colorado, bordered by the Diamond Mountains (the eastern end of the Uinta Range) to the west and the Cold Springs Mountain ridge to the east.  The Green River, a major tributary of the Colorado, courses through the valley after leaving Flaming Gorge in Utah; in southern Browns Park, it re-enters the mountains at the spectacular Gates of Lodore (within Dinosaur National Monument).

Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1965 to protect vital riverine wetlands and associated riparian habitats which have long been nourished by seasonal flooding.  Following the construction of the Flaming Gorge Dam (which eliminated that flooding) refuge personnel established a water management system that pumps water from the river and local creeks into the wetland areas.  After all, migrant birds have long relied on these wetlands as they cross the dry terrain of western Colorado; in addition, many species of waterfowl and shorebirds nest along the Green River.

The 12,150 acre refuge protects those riverine habitats as well as a swath of upland shrub zone, characterized by sage, greasewood, needle grass, piñon pine and Utah juniper.  Among the 68 species of mammal that inhabit the refuge are moose, mule deer, pronghorns, river otters, badgers, beaver and wintering herds of elk.  Other species of note include golden and bald eagles, sage grouse, white-faced ibis, American bitterns, Woodhouse's toads and, of course, rattlesnakes.  The spectacular scenery and solitude of this remote refuge are equally appealing to the visitor; during my two-hour visit (admittedly on a Monday afternoon), I did not encounter another human being.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Journey to Browns Park

West of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, U.S. 40 parallels the meandering Yampa River, flanked by wetlands and, this time of year, by flooded fields due to the mountain snowmelt.  I was pleased and somewhat surprised to see several ospreys along the highway, already preparing to nest in that scenic alpine valley.

Beyond Hayden, the Yampa dips to the south and the highway begins its long journey across a semiarid plateau, covered by sage grasslands and dissected by small streams; pronghorn, mule deer and livestock foraged on the grasslands while western meadowlarks, common ravens, black-billed magpies and a host of raptors (golden eagles, red-tails, kestrels, northern harriers and prairie falcons) represented the avian population.  West of Craig, highway signs advise that there is "no snow plowing between 7PM and 5AM," clear evidence that I was off the beaten path (though on a major U.S. route).

The Yampa returned to recross the highway just east of Maybell, where I cut northwestward on Route 318 and crossed the Yampa once again.  After fording the Little Snake River a bit farther down the road, I began a long excursion through a dry, desolate landscape of sage valleys and sandstone ridges, the latter adorned with Utah juniper; I might add that a sign warned of "no services" for the next 120 miles!  Finally, some 50 miles from Maybell, I descended into Browns Park, watered by the Green River and home to a scenic National Wildlife Refuge; details on the refuge tomorrow.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Colorado's Remote Corner

The northwest corner of Colorado, which borders Wyoming and Utah, is surely one of the more remote locations in the State.  On the other hand, this region harbors Colorado's portion of Dinosaur National Monument and is the home of Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge, which I plan to visit over the next two days.

The refuge straddles the Green River, a major tributary of the Colorado, that rises on the west flank of Wyoming's Wind River Range.  After passing through Flaming Gorge, which straddles the Wyoming-Utah line, the river curves eastward into northwest Colorado where it receives the waters of the Yampa River before returning to Utah; there it eventually joins the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park.

Always remote, Browns Park was the site of a fur trading post back in the early 1800s and was a popular hideout location for outlaws such as Butch Cassidy.  My route from Denver will take me west to Silverthorne, north through the Blue River Valley to Kremmling, across Rabbit Ears Pass to Steamboat Springs, westward across Colorado's Northwest Plateau and then northwest on Route 318 to the refuge.  More details in coming posts.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Insectivores Crowd the River

On this raw April morning in the South Platte Valley, with a dusting of snow on the ground and the air temperature hovering near 30 degrees F, there was an excellent diversity of birdlife along the river.  While the number and variety of ducks continues to decrease, the cold conditions had drawn flocks of insectivores to the relatively warm waters of the South Platte.

Red-winged blackbirds, American robins, European starlings and common grackles were most abundant, noisily scouring the banks and even hunting from rocks and logs that poke above the shallows.  Joining them were killdeer, Say's phoebes and yellow-rumped warblers while squadrons of tree and violet-green swallows strafed the river's surface.  Adding to the avian diversity were belted kingfishers, double-crested cormorants, black-billed magpies, northern flickers and a lone osprey, among other common species.

Novice birders tend to avoid excursions on foul weather days but such conditions often augment the activity of their quarry.  This morning, the chilly air sent many regional birds to the relative warmth of the South Platte River and those of us who ventured down there were rewarded as well.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Rivers of Southeast Australia

Having watched two seasons of Secret City on Netflix, I naturally wondered about the source of the scenic lake in Canberra.  With a bit of online research, I found out that Lake Burley Griffin lies along the course of the Molonglo River; this stream rises in Tallaganda State Forest, on the west flank of the Great Dividing Range, southeast of Canberra.  After flowing northwestward to the city, it angles westward to merge with the Murrumbidgee River, the second longest in Australia.

Rising in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, the Murrumbidgee flows northward past Canberra ( in the Australian Capitol Territory) and then westward across the plains of southern New South Wales.  Almost 925 miles from its source, this river joins the Murray River (Australia's largest and longest) near Boundary Bend.  Unfortunately, a large portion of the Murrumbidgee's headwaters have been diverted into reservoirs, significantly reducing the flow through this ancient and once powerful river; nevertheless, severe floods have continued to plague valley towns during wet years (see La Nina and the Australian Floods).

The Murray River, 1558 miles in length, rises in the Australian Alps, ENE of Melbourne.  Flowing northwestward through the "Breadbasket of Australia," the Murray forms the boundary between New South Wales and Victoria.  At Mildura, the river angles westward, entering South Australia, and, at Morgan, it turns southward, flowing toward Lake Alexandrina (southeast of Adelaide) and thence to the Southern Ocean.  While Canberra lies relatively close to the Pacific Coast of Southeast Australia, its lake and river waters flow a very long distance before reaching the sea.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Winter in April

After almost two weeks of mild, dry weather, the spring vegetation on our Littleton farm was in need of precipitation.  I was thus pleased to find a cool mist bathing the plants this morning and was even more encouraged when that mist changed to a steady light rain.  On the other hand, that moisture was the leading edge of a "winter storm" that would set back the progress of spring for a few days.

Triggered by a deep southward dip in the jet stream, this April snowstorm will stretch from Colorado to Wisconsin, dropping up to two feet of snow across the Northern Plains; worse yet, the potent system is expected to produce blizzard conditions throughout much of that area, especially from northeastern Colorado into Nebraska and South Dakota.

Snow developed along the Front Range urban corridor by early afternoon and continues as I write this post.  Additional snowfall may only be modest in Metro Denver but northerly winds will pick up as the storm moves eastward, dropping overnight lows into the mid twenties (F) for the next two nights.  Recent afternoon highs near 80 F will be cut in half but such wild weather swings are common here in April.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Transition in the Valley

As we move through April, the transition from the "cold season" to the "warm season" is increasingly evident in the South Platte Valley.  The large flocks of Canada and cackling geese that wintered along the Front Range have left for northern climes and the remaining Canadas have paired off to nest along our lakes and ponds.  The number and variety of wintering ducks have also decreased significantly while the first wave of blue-winged and cinnamon teal and migrant shorebirds have returned to Colorado.

Here on our Littleton farm, most of the dark-eyed juncos have dispersed to Canada or to the mountains and the last few pine siskins are stopping by the feeders; in their place, chipping and white-crowned sparrows will soon visit the farm before heading to higher terrain.  Double-crested cormorants, tree swallows and American white pelicans are now soaring above the urban corridor, soon to be joined by white-faced ibis, Franklin's gulls and other migrants.

Within another week or two, broad-tailed hummingbirds, gray catbirds, barn swallows and house wrens will join our permanent songbirds and the spring warbler parade will begin.  By early May the transition will be complete and the South Platte Valley will settle into a pattern of warm, sunny days and late afternoon thunderstorms; of course, an upslope snowstorm will not be out of the question until mid June!

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Sport & Society

Early man had every reason to remain physically fit.  After all, his very survival depended on his ability to confront dangerous prey and predators and to face the challenges imposed by his natural environment.  Once we developed permanent settlements, facilitated by the cultivation of plants and the domestication of animals, our physical prowess turned to warfare and sport; the latter, of course, included physical combat for the purpose of entertainment.

Today, some 10,000 years later, those rudimentary sports have morphed into a wide range of amateur and professional contests, the latter commanding some of the highest salaries in human civilization.  As the Final Four gets underway and the Masters Golf Tournament looms in the near future, it seems appropriate to consider whether professional athletes are valued out of proportion to other (more vital) members of our society.  While youth and amateur sports play an important role in the health of humans, the economics of both college and professional sports seems to be out of control.

Certainly, successful athletes have worked long and hard to achieve their stature and cannot be denied the right to cash-in on that effort.  However, Big Money has repeatedly corrupted college sports and the value placed on professional athletes has fueled a wide range of social ills and personal tragedies. It seems to me that we can honor sport and admire talent without bestowing god-like celebrity on the participants and without directing financial resources away from vital social programs.  That decision lies with the fans, not with the power brokers of professional sports leagues. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Return of the Vultures

Turkey vultures are common to abundant summer residents across most of the Lower 48 States; throughout the southeastern quadrant of the country, as well as along the California Coast, these scavengers are permanent residents.

Here along the Colorado Front Range, turkey vultures are relatively uncommon and are only present during the warmer months (April to October); come winter, they head for Mexico, South Texas or the Desert Southwest.  This morning, I observed two of them soaring above our Littleton farm, the first I have encountered this spring.

Feeding almost exclusively on carrion, turkey vultures take advantage of roadkill and also scavenge the remains of deer and elk killed by predators or storms; they also feast on fish that are stranded by shrinking ponds and reservoirs.  Not pretty up close, these birds are among nature's most talented aerialists and certainly play a major role in her recycling system.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

A Message from Argentina

At 2:15 this afternoon, I personally received a message from Argentina.  The Southern Hemisphere has ceded the sun's direct radiation to the Northern Hemisphere; in other words, we in the Northern Hemisphere have now moved past the vernal equinox.

The carrier of that message was a Swainson's hawk, the first I have observed this year.  Soaring above our Littleton farm, the hawk had left the Argentinian autumn and traveled to the North American spring. He and his cohorts will nest across the High Plains, Colorado Plateau and Great Basin provinces before heading back to Argentina next fall.  There they will "winter" in the Argentinian summer.

Favoring open country with scattered trees in which to perch and nest, Swainson's hawks feed on a variety of large insects, reptiles and small mammals and are often observed soaring above crop fields and grasslands.  Today's lone traveler was the first but I will surely observe dozens (if not hundreds) of these migrant raptors over the next six months.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Birding at Noon: No Fooling

Novice birders are often advised to search for their quarry early or late in the day, when many species tend to be most active.  While this recommendation is certainly legitimate, especially during the heat of summer, it should not discourage birding activity at other times.  Indeed, some birds (soaring species for example) may not be active until several hours after sunrise, when solar heating is potent enough to produce thermals.

Today, I walked out to explore our Littleton farm at noon.  A golden eagle was soaring overhead, harassed by a small flock of crows.  Within an hour I had encountered more than a dozen other species, many of which flushed to cover when a sharp-shinned hawk streaked across the farm.

Such sightings (the eagle and the hawk) often occur when least expected and at any time of day.  The best advice for any beginning wildlife watcher is to get out there at every opportunity, during any season and at any hour of the day (or night).  No Fooling!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

First Flowers

Returning to Colorado, I found clumps of deep-blue Scilla siberica adorning sun-exposed areas of our Littleton farm.  These showy bulb plants are always the first flowers to appear on the property, often blooming by mid February.

Native to southwest Russia and eastern Europe, this wildflower is commonly known as Siberian squill (though it is not native to that region).  Now planted in gardens across the globe, scilla readily naturalizes by both seed and bulb offsets, producing carpets of blue in woodlands and fields alike.  These wildflowers favor full-sun and well-drained soil but adapt to a variety of conditions.

By late March, Siberian squill, grape hyacinths, dandelions, wild cherry shrubs and apricot trees are all usually blooming on the farm.  Due to extreme cold and heavy snow in late winter, however, spring color is well behind schedule this year, making the beautiful clumps of scilla especially welcome.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Late March at Eagle Bluffs

Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, on the Missouri River floodplain, is not always a pretty place in late March.  Cloudy, cool weather with intermittent showers is typical and flooding often inundates the woodlands and fields.

But, while they may not appeal to humans, such conditions are ideal for migrant waterfowl and shorebirds and, of course, for raptors that feast on those travelers.  This morning, as a fine mist obscured the view from my Beetle, I drove slowly along the muddy roads, stopping at various points to scan the pools and flooded fields.  Blue-winged teal, American coot and northern shovelers were abundant, joined by smaller flocks of lesser scaup, gadwall and green-winged teal.  Wilson's snipe were common in the boggy wetlands while early tree swallows strafed the sloughs and canals.  A few dozen American white pelicans lounged on a sandbar, pairs of Canada geese guarded nest sites along the grassy shorelines and a host of raptors (bald eagles, red-tails and northern harriers) patrolled the refuge; both eagle nests at the preserve were occupied.  Among other sightings were great blue herons, belted kingfishers, pied-billed grebes and pectoral sandpipers.

More than 30 bird species and a lone river otter were observed during my final visit to Eagle Bluffs before returning to Colorado.  As always, the refuge offered a memorable and inspiring sendoff. 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Spring Rolls In

All afternoon and into the evening, bands of thunderstorms have rolled across central Missouri, bringing warm, moist air and intermittent rain to the wintry landscape.  In concert, the lawns have greened and the first blossoms now adorn our magnolias.

While snowmelt and heavy rains across Nebraska and the Dakotas has produced flooding in the Missouri River Valley, most of the regional landscape has remained relatively dry and today's storms may signal a transition to more seasonal conditions.  The leafing of shrubs and small trees will likely commence in the next few days, well behind schedule.

Then again, the thunderstorms are developing ahead of an approaching cold front, which will sweep cooler and drier air into the region; afternoon highs are forecast to remain in the forties (F) over the coming weekend.  As we are reminded each year, the fickle weather of March must run its course before spring can truly take hold.

Monday, March 25, 2019

No Collusion!

The Mueller Report, at least in the eyes of the Attorney General, clears our Dear Leader of any collusion with Russia.  Needless to say, President Trump feels vindicated.

Then again, he has not been cleared of racism; nor has he been absolved of his anti-immigrant and anti-environment policies.  His denigration of our intelligence agencies and our free press and his adoration of dictators remain intact.  His narcissism, his lies to the American public and his willingness to ridicule our allies continue to taint his Presidency and the image of our country.

Though he may still face indictments related to his personal behavior and businesses and while most Americans deplore his ignorance and his lack of empathy, Trump is now recollecting the support of his fellow Republicans.  After all, there was No Collusion!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Back in Thick Air

I am back in Missouri for a week and, despite the date, the landscape shows little evidence of spring.  The long, cold winter has delayed leafing and flowering and the lawns are only half-hearted in their greenery.

As is often the case, the most significant change to my "birding-eyes" is the larger number and variety of songbirds in more eastern ecosystems, fueled as they are by humid air, a higher amount of precipitation, greater diversity of vegetation and a much larger number of insects.  Over the next six weeks or so, that variety of songbirds will be especially large, as winter species gradually depart, summer species arrive and migrants pass through the region, all joining the permanent avian residents.

Sitting out on our back deck on this mild, cloudy morning, I saw or heard a dozen or more species within a half hour and will surely see far more when I visit my favorite birding haunts.  While I am partial to drier landscapes, the mild, humid air of the Midwest is especially inviting in early spring, delayed though it may be.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

A Super Worm Moon

The title "Worm Moon" has been given to the full moon of March, referring to soil changes in the Temperate Zone of the Northern Hemisphere at this time of year.  Occuring in concert with a thawing of the soil, which brings worms toward the surface (and robins onto our lawns), this year's Worm Moon also coincides with the vernal (spring) equinox.

In addition, this year's Worm Moon occurs near the perigee of the moon's orbit around the Earth, the closest it comes to our planet.  This makes the moon appear about 10% larger than an average full moon, prompting the title of Super Moon.

Rising above the Eastern Colorado Plains this evening, the Super Worm Moon was certainly impressive.  While both our beautiful satellite and the "lowly" earthworms are oblivious of human terminology, they are no less vital to our welfare.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Spring and the Equinox

For those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, the spring equinox occurs today, when the sun's radiation falls directly on the equator; for individuals in the Southern Hemisphere, it is the autumn equinox.  While this astronomical definition of the season makes sense from a global point of view, it has little to do with the onset of "spring conditions."

Spring has been unfolding across southern latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere for the past month or so, as flowers and greenery adorn the landscape and severe thunderstorms, some with devastating tornadoes, have ravaged the countryside.  Farther north, across Temperate latitudes, subtle signs of the season have also been apparent for weeks (crocuses and skunk cabbage pushing through the frozen soil, chorus frogs calling from icy ponds and a swell of birdsong, to name a few); nevertheless, polar fronts and snowstorms continue to threaten the region.  Even farther north (across the Arctic and sub-Arctic) and in the high elevations of our mountain ranges, spring conditions may not arrive for two months or more.

Indeed, despite the ubiquitous pronouncements on this "First Day of Spring," the season is a continuum, determined by latitude, elevation and atmospheric patterns, the latter varying from year to year.  Those of us along the Colorado Front Range, anticipating periods of snow into May and regularly gazing toward the snow-covered peaks to our west, are less inclined to accept a strict definition of the season. 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Flashback Post XIII

As the NCAA Basketball Tournaments are set to begin, upsets are almost certain to occur.  My take on this human phenomenon was expressed in a post from April of 2011.

See Advantage: Underdogs

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Dipper upstages Ducks

On this morning's Waterfowl Count at South Platte Park, ducks were few and far between.  Our group was assigned a section of the river south of the Nature Center and we probably encountered no more than 30 ducks on our walk along the east bank; buffleheads, common goldeneyes, mallards and lesser scaup were the primary representatives.

However, as we rounded a curve east of Redtail Lake, I caught site of a plump, gray bird, bobbing on a log near the bank and intermittently plunging into the adjacent rapids.  It was an American dipper, common along mountain streams and in nearby canyons but far less common on the Colorado Piedmont.  This winter, however, a small number have turned up along the river in and near South Platte Park.

Favoring clear, fast-flowing streams, dippers feed on a variety of aquatic invertebrates in addition to fish eggs and minnows.  Their nest is placed beneath a rock ledge or man-made bridge, close enough to receive spray from waterfalls or rapids; twigs and moss are used to construct the dome-shaped structure.  The winter visitors to South Platte Park will likely return to the foothills or mountains to nest but, if the river continues to run high, they might just stick around.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

A Lesson from Juncos

Dark-eyed juncos are attracted to our Littleton, Colorado, farm, with its naturalized habitat and numerous shrub lines; they are especially drawn to a cluster of juniper shrubs in front of the farmhouse which provide dense cover.  Each winter, at least 25-30 individuals winter here, comprised primarily of slate-gray, Oregon and gray-headed subspecies.

The various subspecies are identical in their size and behavior, differing only in the coloration of their plumage.  Indeed, they feed in large, mixed flocks, scouring the ground for seed (grass, weed or store-bought) in peaceful coexistence.  The only "conflicts" among these small, peaceful birds arise between males of the same subspecies when early spring hormones trigger territorial behavior.

We humans would do well to mimic the behavior of these juncos, blind to superficial differences and cooperative in their efforts to find shelter and food and to evade predators.  Fortunately, they are not subject to the effects of a large, complex brain which makes us susceptible to discrimination, intolerance, racism, mysticism and other forms of deranged thought or destructive behavior.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Front Range Blizzard

During the night, a steady rain began to fall along the Colorado Front Range.  By early morning, the rain had changed to snow and, by late morning, a blizzard raged along the urban corridor.  The potent winter storm brought a record low pressure of 975 mb to Pueblo and wind gusts as high as 97 mph in Colorado Springs (another record).  Thunder claps accompanied the heavy snow here in Littleton.

In Metro Denver, wind gusts have reached 80 mph and the combination of high winds and low visibility closed Denver International Airport.  While Denver may get only 5 inches of snowfall, we expect up to 10 inches in western Littleton, where the terrain is a bit higher.  Needless to say, the depth of the snowfall will be less of an issue than the strong, gusty wind which has already caused extensive tree damage and power outages and will threaten travelers and livestock with deep drifts and a deadly wind chill.

As I have often mentioned in this blog, March is the snowiest month along the Colorado Front Range but this storm is especially potent.  Its track has actually been too far north to produce maximal upslope precipitation in Metro Denver and the storm's effects will thus be especially severe across western Nebraska and South Dakota.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Rock Squirrel on the Farm

I returned from Austin to find that a rock squirrel had taken up residence on our Littleton farm, the first to do so since we purchased the property in 1990; since he appears to have a den beneath one of our old raised flower beds, he may have arrived last autumn and is merely emerging from hibernation.

Common throughout the Intermountain West, rock squirrels favor lower canyons and shrub zones of foothills, often denning beneath rock ledges; colonial for much of the year, they become more territorial during the breeding season.  Omnivorous, these attractive ground squirrels feed on nuts, seeds, fruit, insects, eggs and carrion and I observed our current resident as he scoured the bird feeding area.

Often encountered across the lower Front Range foothills, rock squirrels descend onto the Piedmont along stream beds and I have previously seen them on the banks of the South Platte River.  While one stream (Raccoon Creek) passes within a few hundred yards of our farm, I'm not sure how our lone resident found his way to the property.  Perhaps he was following his nose to our annual crop of pinon pine nuts!

Monday, March 11, 2019

McKinney Falls State Park

Before heading to the Austin airport yesterday, I visited McKinney Falls State Park in the southeastern quadrant of the city.  There, Onion Creek has sliced a channel through the Cretaceous limestone that underlies the region, exposing broad expanses of that bedrock and dropping over two scenic waterfalls (the Upper and Lower McKinney Falls).

Rising near Johnson City, Texas, west of Austin, Onion Creek winds through the Hill Country before snaking across southern Austin; almost 80 miles from its origin, the creek enters the Colorado River east of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

As one might expect, the State Park was crowded with tourists and local visitors on a warm Sunday afternoon.  While other hordes were visiting the South X Southwest festivities downtown, nature is a potent competitor for human attention and this Park harbors some of the most scenic landscape in Metro Austin.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Whistlers in Dry Country

On our last full day in Austin, my wife and I took a hike along the Slaughter Creek Trail, in the southwest Metro Area.  Once again, we were at the edge of the Hill Country, hiking through semiarid grasslands and counting on groves of oak and juniper to provide some protection from the bright March sun.

After almost 90 minutes of enduring heat and dryness, we came to a secluded pond, where a quartet of ring-necked ducks dove for their lunch; to our pleasant surprise, there was also a trio of black-bellied whistling ducks, lounging along the shore.  Permanent residents of Mexico, southern Arizona, South Texas and South Florida, these colorful birds also nest throughout Eastern Texas and may wander farther north during the summer months.

Lanky, slender ducks, they are easily identified by their black belly, white wing-patches and bright pink-orange bill.  They nest primarily in tree cavities near water and feed on both aquatic and terrestrial insects and plants.  While I have encountered them in Florida over the years, I had not seen black-bellied whistling ducks in several years and was especially surprised to find them in the semiarid landscape west of Austin.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Austin's Botanical Gardens

During our visit to Austin, Texas, we had the pleasure to visit the city's two botanical gardens.  The Zilker Botanical Gardens stretch across the Colorado River hills just west of the downtown area.  Relatively small but attractive, this preserve mingles a natural ecosystem with native plantings, historic structures and a variety of water features.  Access is via a network of paved and earthen trails, bridges and rock stairways.

Much larger and nationally famous is the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center (also known as the Texas Botanical Gardens), southwest of the central city area.  It too offers a mix of natural habitat, plantings and historic structures and is a center for education and horticultural research.  The extensive, flat landscape is accessed by several miles of paved and unpaved trails.

More than peaceful destinations for observing and photographing flowers, modern botanical gardens often introduce visitors to plants from across the globe but focus primarily on regional flora.  Emphasis is placed on both education and conservation and attentive patrons gain appreciation for evolutionary adaptations in the plant world and the vital roles that plants play in our natural ecosystems.  For birders, botanical gardens, with their broad array of plant life, always attract an excellent variety of species. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Edge of the Hill Country

The Hill Country, in central Texas, is primarily the product of marine Cretaceous limestone that was deposited in a shallow sea some 100 million years ago; later lifted as a plateau, it has since been sculpted into hills by numerous streams; in some regions, granite domes rise above the limestone, also lifted by tectonic forces.  The widespread limestone bedrock has produced a karst landscape, characterized by numerous caves, springs, sinkholes and underground streams.

The eastern edge of the Texas Hill Country cuts across western Austin, offering broad views of the Metroplex from higher terrain.  Representing the easternmost segment of the Desert Southwest, the semiarid hills are covered by yucca and prickly-pear studded grasslands and by woodlands of juniper and oak.  Wildlife includes white-tailed deer, coyotes, fox, bobcats, armadillos, roadrunners, a host of raptors and a wide variety of songbirds.

On this cloudy, mild morning in Austin, my wife and I visited two sites along the edge of the Texas Hill Country.  The first was Mount Bonnell, perhaps Austin's most popular overlook, with rises above the north bank of the Colorado River, northwest of the city.  After taking in the views from that limestone ridge, we enjoyed a two-mile hike through the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve, on the east side of Route 360, which protects a segment of the Hill Country ecosystem from the relentless encroachment of suburban development.   

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Colorado River of Texas

Visiting Austin, Texas, for a week, I have found that the Colorado River is the highlight of this southern landscape.  Entering the city along its northwest border, the river flows southeastward to the downtown area and then curves eastward past the International Airport.  Fortunately, our temporary residence, in a downtown skyscraper, offers several views of the Colorado Valley.

After rising on the Staked Plains of the Texas Panhandle, near Lamesa, the Colorado River flows southeastward for 862 miles to enter Matagorda Bay of the Gulf of Mexico, making it the longest river totally within the State of Texas.  En route, it cuts through the Hill Country of south-central Texas, passes through multiple reservoirs and drops about 3000 feet from its origin to its mouth.

Rivers, sculptors of our landscapes, tend to be dominant natural features of most geographic areas.  While our focus may be directed to hills and mountains, they are the products of uplift and erosion, the latter conducted by rivers of water or ice.  Far south of North America's glaciated regions, the Colorado River of Texas has long been fed by torrents of rain, natural springs and melting snow.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Disappearing Peaks

This morning, it was sunny and mild along the Front Range urban corridor.  A gentle southwest breeze was associated with the pleasant conditions, leading one to doubt that snow might develop by nightfall.

But looking west to the mountains, one noticed that the higher peaks had developed a hazy appearance, contrasting with the sharp, sun-drenched terrain of the foothills; later in the morning, that haze had coalesced into a band of clouds that totally hid the peaks.  By early afternoon, the wind along the urban corridor had shifted from the north, the temperature had cooled significantly and clouds had begun to replace the bright blue sky.  The forecast of a coming storm was then much easier to accept.

The high peaks of the Front Range are 30-40 miles west of Metro Denver and up to 9000 feet higher in elevation.  As storm systems push in from the west, the higher terrain is first to demonstrate evidence of the developing upslope; enveloped by colder air and already blanketed by snow, the high country is both the first and last area to experience precipitation when storm fronts move through.  Clouds will eventually lower over the urban corridor as the wind shifts from the northeast and, in concert, the snow level will descend from the crest of the Front Range to the Piedmont and High Plains.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Land of Sun and Snow

Having recently returned from South Florida, where sunshine is abundant but snow rarely falls, and from the Midwest, where snow is often abundant but winter sunshine is all too infrequent, I am glad to be back in Colorado where 300+ days of sunshine combine with relatively frequent snowstorms.

Of course, it may snow here from September to May but the intense Colorado sun prevents any long term inconvenience.  Then again, heavy upslope snowstorms in March and April can put a damper on spring, crushing the flower beds and disrupting seasonal sports.

Indeed, the first spring snowstorm is expected this weekend, ushering in the snowiest month along the Front Range; up to eight inches are expected.  But we know that sunny, warm weather will quickly return and acknowledge the fact that snow is vital to the welfare of this semiarid ecosystem.  For those of us who enjoy both sunshine and snow, there is no better place to live.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Death by Goshawk

Just outside the living room window of our Littleton, Colorado, farmhouse is a cluster of juniper shrubs.  Dark-eyed juncos often feed beneath those shrubs during the colder months and are frequently joined by a few cottontails.

On this cold, foggy morning along the Front Range, I was watching the news when I heard a crash and a loud squeal outside that window.  Peering through the fog, I saw a large accipiter within the shrubs, stomping on an apparent victim; alas, it was a northern goshawk and one of the cottontails would be his breakfast.  The raptor moved the lifeless rabbit out onto the snow to enjoy his feast but returned to cover when I attempted to get a photo.

Northern goshawks are permanent residents of coniferous and mixed forests across Alaska and Canada and southward through the Western mountains and the Northeastern U.S.; their range expands during the winter months when a small number usually turn up along the Front Range urban corridor.  This morning's visitor was only the third I have ever seen on the farm; lucky for me but not so lucky for the cottontail!

Monday, February 25, 2019

Rivers in the Snow

Flying back to Denver this morning, we passed above a snowy landscape from Kansas City to Denver.  Initially crossing the southern portion of the former Metroplex, our route eventually switched to the north side of Interstate 70 near Junction City, Kansas.  As we continued westward, paralleling that highway, I enjoyed a fabulous view of southern Kansas and southern Colorado, the river valleys producing black channels through the snow-covered terrain.

Noting the Smoky Hill River just south of the Interstate, I watched as the Solomon and Saline Rivers curved in from the north to merge with that stream.  A bit farther west, as the upper Smoky Hill made a beeline toward Colorado, I could see the broad northern curve of the Arkansas River far to the south, passing Great Bend, Kansas, before it dipped toward Wichita.  As we passed over Oakley, in western Kansas, I observed the Arkansas Valley once again, angling northwestward toward the Colorado line.

In Southeast Colorado, our route curved northwestward above Rush Creek and I could see the Purgatoire River to the southwest, flowing northeastward from the Raton Mesa to join the upper Arkansas; the latter stretched westward toward the high spine of the Sangre de Cristo Range.  After crossing the broad ridge of the Palmer Divide, with Pike's Peak looming to the west, we entered the South Platte watershed and made our final descent into Denver. 

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Uncommon Goldeneyes

Common goldeneyes are attractive diving ducks that breed on wooded lakes across Canada where they nest in tree cavities.  Come winter, most travel to the northwestern quadrant of the U.S., to the Great Lakes or to coastal areas of the Northeast but smaller numbers may be found on lakes and rivers throughout most of the country.

Yesterday, while walking around Phillips Lake in southeast Columbia, my wife and I encountered five male goldeneyes, the first I have seen in Missouri; though I regularly observe these ducks along the Colorado Front Range (during the colder months), they are certainly uncommon in the Heartland.  On the other hand, while they are usually seen in small groups or scattered flocks, they may gather in large numbers at favored staging areas, especially during the spring and fall migrations.

Bobbing in the waves and diving for aquatic invertebrates, yesterday's visitors were among the few species observed on a cold, cloudy and windy afternoon; joined by a large flock of cackling geese and a lone mallard, the stoic goldeneyes seemed unfazed by the raw conditions.  After all, they are Canadians.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Southeast Flooding

When we left Longboat Key, Florida, yesterday morning, it was sunny and 80 degrees F; these pleasant conditions persisted as we drove northward, as far a southern Georgia.  An hour south of Atlanta, however, clouds began to thicken and intermittent showers cooled the air into the forties; by the time we reached that city, a steady rain was falling and dense fog shrouded the skyscrapers and the landscape.

We spent the night just north of Atlanta, in Marietta, and learned from the desk clerk that rain had been falling for days.  Throughout the night, lightning flashed and thunder rolled and, by morning, a flash flood advisory covered all of northwest Georgia; indeed, the streams were bank full along the Interstate all the way to Chattanooga.  Once we reached Tennessee, the rain had stopped but all of the rivers westward to Nashville and northward to Paducah were out of their banks and shallow lakes covered many of the fields.

Flooding was especially severe at the mouths of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers and along the lower Ohio itself.  Recurrent heavy rains, combined with melting snow and cold, compact soil, were responsible for the soggy landscape, setting the stage for both the spring waterfowl migration and the verdant months ahead.

See also: Flood Season

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Recovery in the Bay

On our last full day on Longboat Key, I am pleased to report that signs of recovery in Sarasota Bay are increasing.  Following the devastating red tide last summer, the Bay ecosystem is slowly returning to normal and, over the past two weeks, the evidence of that recovery has become more convincing.

Bottle-nosed dolphins have cruised past our condo and a handful of manatees are now hanging out in the boat canal.  While ospreys remain far less common than usual, flotillas of American white pelicans have re-entered our portion of the bay, red-breasted mergansers are diving for their meals and cormorants are once again perching on the channel markers between their fishing expeditions.  Low tide always brings a host of waders to the bay; though their numbers remain relatively low, all species have been represented during our stay.

No doubt, the Bay's recovery has a way to go but the signs are promising.  We have observed schools of large fish from the seawall and more jumpers have breached the surface each day.  The ecosystem has been recharged and we humans must minimize any pollution that might fuel future toxic algal blooms.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Rushing through Perico Preserve

On this cool, foggy morning in South Florida, my wife and I visited the Perico Preserve, east of Anna Marie Island, off Manatee Avenue.  Another terrific site for birdwatching, this refuge is a mosaic of upland woods and scrubland, freshwater wetlands and a tidal pool.  Accessed by trails and boardwalks, the preserve stretches out to mangroves along Perico Sound.

Unfortunately, mosquitos were numerous and voracious during our early morning visit and, since we left our repellant at home, our exploration was short and swift.  Nevertheless, we encountered 25 species of birds, including common gallinules. tri-colored herons, a yellow-crowned night heron and a trio of wood storks.  Though not observed this morning, Florida scrub jays inhabit this scenic refuge.

On our way back to the condo, we stopped by Whitney Beach on the northwest coast of Longboat Key.  There, a steady, cool breeze and gentle mist were especially soothing after our mosquito gauntlet at Perico.  Though birds were impossible to see on or over the rough Gulf (due to the dense fog), we were greeted by a large, mixed flock of laughing gulls, black skimmers, royal terns, Sandwich terns and Forster's terns that lounged on the beach, waiting for the fog to lift.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Emerson Point Preserve

Located at the western end of Snead Island at the mouth of the Manatee River, Emerson Point Preserve is one of the best birding locations in Manatee County.  Characterized by upland woods of palm, oak and pine, mangrove swamps, lagoons and salt marshes, this 270 acre refuge is owned by the State of Florida and managed by the County.

The preserve is accessed by a fine network of shell trails and wooden boardwalks and an observation tower offers broad views of the Manatee Valley, barrier islands and Tampa Bay.  On our two-hour walk this morning, my wife and I observed ospreys, anhingas, brown pelicans and a wide variety of wading birds; home to gopher tortoises, the refuge also harbors remnants of early North American culture, including the 1200 year-old Temple Mound.

Unfortunately, the western tip of Emerson Point Preserve has become a popular site for local fishermen, sun bathers and water recreation enthusiasts, detracting from the natural beauty and serenity of this subtropical refuge.  If one sticks to the trail and boardwalk network, however, the pristine quality of the preserve's varied habitats is fully appreciated.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

A Magnificent Visitor

Back on Longboat Key, Florida, I was birding along Sarasota Bay this morning, watching American white pelicans, red-breasted mergansers, double-crested cormorants, brown pelicans and laughing gulls feast on the recovering fish population (see Birdlife after the Red Tide) when a prehistoric figure soared in from the Gulf; it was a magnificent frigatebird, the first I have seen this year.

Spending most of their lives at sea, these marine aerialists snatch fish from the ocean surface, scavenge refuse from fishing boats or steal prey from other sea birds.  Visiting subtropical and tropical bays throughout the year, they only land during the summer breeding season when they gather in colonies on mangrove islands.  Ill equipped to maneuver on land and unable to rise from the ocean surface, they do not swim and cannot walk; rather, they must wait for winds to takeoff from their mangrove perch.  Each pair raises one chick per year and the female provides food for its first year of life.

Though I have seen large flocks of magnificent frigatebirds in the past, a lone winter wanderer is especially inspiring, knowing that he has been aloft for six months or more, often sleeping as he soars above the warm but turbulent waters of tropical and subtropical seas.  The fact that he often steals his meal does not diminish my admiration.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Cheated by Clouds

Many of us who enjoy plane travel relish the opportunity to observe our planet from 30,000 feet.  Indeed, that perspective gives the traveler a unique opportunity to observe and appreciate the topography and hydrology of our varied natural landscapes.

Anticipating my roundtrip flight between Atlanta and Denver this week, I hoped to view the southernmost Appalachians, the Tennessee River Valley, the lower Mississippi floodplain and the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas, among other landforms; I also expected to catch aerial views of Birmingham, Memphis, Little Rock and Wichita, which are along our scheduled flight route.  Alas, thick clouds obscured the landscape in both directions (except for the sun-baked terrain of Colorado); indeed, even my views of the Atlanta area were limited to the airport itself.

Of course, we naturalists understand that weather is unpredictable and that nature's whims do not always match-up with the hopes and expectations of human travelers.  Maybe next time!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Flashback Post XII

On this Hallmark Holiday of Romantic Love, I thought I might share a few past posts on this complex human emotion.

See: The Nature of Love, Human Love and Love at First Smell

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

A Change in the Trees

Returning to our Littleton farm after a ten-day absence, I initially saw nothing new; pockets of snow covered the brown "grass," a deep blue dome stretched overhead, the bright Colorado sun offered its warmth and reassurance and goose poop still littered the driveway.  But there was a change in the trees, one that was even more evident at South Platte Park this morning.

Looking at the canopy of deciduous trees, I could see that the buds had enlarged significantly, a product of rising sap; after all, this is maple syrup season across the Northeastern U.S. and this February phenomenon occurs in many other trees as well.  Awaiting warmer conditions before they burst into flower or leaf, the swollen buds are an early sign of the coming spring.

No doubt, most humans pay little attention to this annual process, focused as they are on the cold, snow and the weather gauntlet that still lies ahead.  But naturalists know that nature's year is a continuum and that a host of natural events connect the classic seasons.  The rise of tree sap is one that often goes unnoticed.

Monday, February 11, 2019

To Winter and Back

Due to some personal business, I have left warm, sunny Florida and will return to Denver for a few days.  It was 76 degrees F when I boarded the plane in Sarasota this morning for the 1.5 hour leg to Atlanta; as I write this post, I am sitting in the Atlanta airport, staring out at cloudy skies and light fog.  It is 45 degrees.

My flight to Denver leaves later this afternoon and I can expect to be greeted by near-freezing temperatures there; ah the joys of modern travel, trading in summer for winter.  After a brief stay in Colorado, I'll then return to Longboat Key for another respite before our drive back to Missouri.

We humans, having evolved in the Tropics, relish a journey to warm climes in the winter but are often slow to adapt when we return; fortunately, the dry air and intense sunshine in Colorado will ease my abrupt transition.  Besides, what better destinations for an outdoors enthusiast?