Phenology Report – Early April 2015

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This week we’ve dipped back into winter, and I’m glad for it simply because we need the moisture. We had 4″ of snow on the 6th and 1″ on the 4th. Not much, but each snowfall melts to show just a bit more green. The day before a storm moves in, we often have glorious weather that gets us itching to get outside more.

This has been an incredibly mild winter here and most everywhere I’ve gone in town, people are already talking about the hard summer we’ll face if we end up with a dry spring as well. That, and the consequences of a mild winter – ticks and voles.

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The ticks are thicker than I’ve seen in many years – making me choose walks that take me down the middle of a road. But on April 2, arriving like superheros, the Gray-capped Rosy-Finches showed up by the hundreds. The worked the sagebrush, flying over, and I’m hoping – eating the ticks. They would fly in and a few would land, the next landing in front of them, then more landing in front of those – looking like they a giant rolling cloud. Or perhaps a sticky roller – picking up the ticks along the way. They moved in a few times and pretty much covered the area around here – so I’m hopeful that they knocked the ticks down at least a bit. I’ve been seeing them every day or two, so the food supply must be enough to support them.

I’ve also noticed birds following the deer and the elk around – magpies in particular – jumping up and picking off what I assume are ticks. I saw some cowbirds lining a horse’s back in a pasture on the valley floor, so they are back.

The voles are starting to filter into more and more discussions I hear in town. They are thriving and lawns are suffering. The voles are bringing in the raccoons who can dig some pretty large holes going after them as a meal. Between this and the high deer population in town, it might be a lean summer for gardens. After doing a lot of research, my mom and others are resorting to gassing the little buggers.

Before this snow came in, we had a few amazing days of warmth and little wind. We even touched in the 70s out here. I had a chance to simply sit outside for a bit and read in the sun – gathering in a bit of Vitamin D. The plan for the day was to crunch out some work on the computer, but it seems a Canadian Goose hit a power line and the power was out for three hours. Delightful break, but I’m sorry the Goose had to sacrifice him/herself to get it. I also saw my first butterflies as well as some mayflies, thanks to that break.

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The bluebirds seem to have sorted out who is going to live where this summer. The pair who won our at our nest box visit every morning and evening, but are gone for much of the day, but the nest building has begun and they are increasingly busy at that task.

One morning this past week, a Kestrel flew by and landed on the fence for a few minutes – the pointed wings shooting past the window caught my attention more than anything. It stayed long enough for me to grab the binoculars and spend a minute or so just appreciating the colors and beautiful markings on it since it was too far away for a photo. I’ve heard they are a sign of a healthy environment, and it is a pretty complete ecosystem around here.

The grouse should be strutting on their leks each morning now, but we’ve yet to get up early to head out to watch them. We’ve especially kept an eye out here near the house because we’ve flushed grouse on numerous occasions, but now that we’re specifically looking for them, we’ve not seen them. And we need to plan a trip to a Sage Grouse lek as well.

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The rabbits around our house are also thriving – it’s not uncommon to look out and easily see a half dozen out eating the fresh green grass or sitting against a wind break of some sort, soaking in the warmth. That brought a Golden Eagle in to hunt close to the house one morning, but unfortunately, we didn’t get many shots – just don’t have better lenses, but it was amazing to see this bird up close in the early morning light.

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And on Easter morning, a juvenile Red Tailed Hawk spent his time looking for an Easter bunny breakfast. And he had a tag-along Clark’s Nutcracker. Wherever the hawk landed, the nutcracker was a fence pole away. Maybe the nutcrackers are nesting somewhere nearby.

In the last week of March, we heard that someone in the area watched a moose swim across Buffalo Bill Reservoir to the dust abatement dike on the North Fork side, climb up and then settle down for a nap. Also a Grizzly Bear walked all the way down Green Creek to valley floor. A neighbor also reported seeing tracks on a road above their house – so they are out and about.

 

Western Thatching Ants

2015-03-29 11.26While on a walk today, Mike and I noticed an ant mound with the inhabitants covering the top. I snapped a photo and looked them up. They are Western Thatching Ants. A neighbor said they’ve been out on warm days for a few weeks now, but this was our first time noticing them.

After reading and watching a couple of videos, I’ll have to keep an eye on them for birds – and steer clear of them – don’t really want to get bit.

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Here are some of the sites that helped me to learn more:

http://www.naturenorth.com/summer/Ants/Thatching_Ants.html

https://www4.uwm.edu/fieldstation/naturalhistory/bugoftheweek/western-thatch-ant.cfm

Elk are on the move

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Just a quick phenology note to say the elk are starting to be seen in new locations as compared to even a few weeks ago. Sometimes we’re seeing them in large bands, but also now in smaller ones. The other day by the Wapiti Post Office, there were four of them standing just as close together as they could. This morning, a larger group seems to be down behind the School.

Somewhere recently I heard about an article saying that while there are fewer elk around due to wolf predation, the ones that remain are tough and mean – getting much better at defending themselves. The group seen above didn’t stay very long – incredibly alert, someone out walking a dog at least a quarter mile away from them was enough for them to turn and move over the hill.

The deer are also moving a bit differently around here – so the migration is underway.

Phenology Report: Mid March 2015

21 MAR 2015 - Ishawooa Horse Head on Southf Fork  near Cody, WY

21 MAR 2015 – Ishawooa Horse Head on Southf Fork near Cody, WY

Spring is coming early here – and the low snowpack is a concern to many. Already the Ishawooa horse’s head on South Fork is clearly showing. The horse’s reins hanging down will eventually melt enough to ‘break.’ This is used as an indication of when the highest runoff is over and the mountain passes are clear enough to travel. Compare this year (above) on March 21 to last year (below) on June 15:

15 JUNE 2014 - Ishawooa Horse Head

15 JUNE 2014 – Ishawooa Horse Head

In fact, even a drive up to Pahaska, near the East Gate of Yellowstone had hardly any snow. For those of you who know the area, we didn’t even see any snow or ice on the banks of the river until we were almost to Kitty Creek.

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But today as I type this, we’ve had bit of snow and it’s still snowing up higher – and more is in the forecast. I’m always happy to see snow or rain out here – thankful for the moisture.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebirds have returned for the summer.

As for the birds returning, the Bluebirds are back – and in our little pocket of houses, each has at least one bluebird nesting box and the birds are battle out where they will live for the next few months. We have a pair that has been busy protecting their claim on the bird box behind our house. The Mountain Bluebirds returned on March 10 to most of the greater Yellowstone area. That was also the day a report came in of Sandhill Cranes over on South Fork outside of Cody. Since then we’ve seen them as well.

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Sandhill Cranes flying overhead on 21 Mar 2015

On a drive around the area, we spotted three bison on North Fork – all plodding their way west toward the park.

A bull bison that spent the winter east of Yellowstone

Bison seen along the North Fork of the Shoshone River 21 March 2015

And we saw numerous bands of Bighorn Sheep in the lower part of the North Fork – most were ewes, but a few rams were in the mix as well.

Two Bighorn rams keeping to the edge of the road along the North Fork Highway

Two Bighorn rams keeping to the edge of the road along the North Fork Highway

The mule deer bucks in the area have mostly lost their antlers – I did notice one large buck rubbing his head in the sagebrush as his new set of antlers is starting to come in. Must be similar to cutting teeth.

All along the North Fork, the aspen had their catkins nearly fully out. The Cottonwoods are getting ready to follow with the buds on all the trees quite swollen. We did stop by Newton Spring Picnic Area and noticed the Gooseberry bushes are already sending out leaves. Looking down at the base of the bunch grass in the area, there’s more and more green showing. Dandelions have their first leaves out, but no blossoms yet.

In town, the lilac bushes are starting to send out their leaves and I spot crocuses and daffodils blooming in a few yards.

So spring is well on its way here in the Cody area, but I’m glad to see winter hanging on for a bit to give us a bit more snowpack.

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You can see more of my Yellowstone Phenology Notes here and be sure to check out my other sites/blogs – SnowMoon Photography and Geyser Watch.

And make time to get outside yourself and enjoy watching spring arrive in your area!

A Corgi’s Back

A Corgis BackI love documenting life by topic. And creating a personal yearbook or photobook (whatever these things are called) allows me to feel zero pressure to ‘keep up’ with it. I’m simply telling stories and illustrating them with photos.

Lately, though, I’ve felt a pull to mess around with creating textures and overlays – and of course, those magic blend modes. I was worried whether this style would work in the clean and simple style I’m doing overall and while I’ll need to give it a bit of time, I did pull it into the InDesign file I’m using for the personal life stories of 2015.

This story – about a Corgi’s back – also took time to tell – much of the journaling was done when there was something more to tell. And now, there’s enough to call it good. For those of you who know long-backed dogs, know they’re prone to back issues. Rhad’s a bit young to have this, but the story explains it.

So far, I think the collage style will work, but if it doesn’t resonate with me in a few weeks, I can change it up if I choose.

A Corgis Back spread

Mindfulness: Be still

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Two years ago, my father was in his last days here on Earth. While in the hospital he had many nurses and we got to know them somewhat. There was one, though, that made a lasting impression on me simply because of a small thing about her I noticed.

After she had finished tending to Dad’s needs, she would just quietly stand and look at him – and survey the room. It wasn’t for long – maybe 30 seconds at the most. I’m not sure if she was praying or simply being still and listening, but people don’t usually practice pausing.

I noticed her doing this with other patients as well. It was a practice of hers – of mindfulness. She was mindful about the energy she brought to a room and carried herself with a grounding not often seen. Lately, she and her practice of pausing regularly has crossed my mind often.

When you carry a word with you for a year, there are many opportunities for it to speak to you. Having this memory or thought cross my mind numerous times is one way my words speak to me. This practice of pausing – of giving Space is one I want to incorporate into my life. Praying is always good, but so is giving room to listen.

It’s time to add the practice of pausing to my life.

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“Mindful” is my word to carry with me through 2015. This idea of letting a word guide you through the year – something you want to incorporate more into your life – is something I’ve done for many years now. A goal for me this year is to share more of how it works for me. If you’re interested in doing more with a guiding word for the year, check Ali Edwards’ One Little Word class – you can jump in on that anytime.

Also see my other post prompted by this quote on my Photo Blog.

Species Account: Mountain Lion Kill

 

MtnLionEntryThis past week I’ve worked to pull together more bits and pieces to get my field journal in better shape before all the spring information starts coming in. What I’m finding is that I have much to add. I’ll be sharing more of the actual set-up soon, but one thing added recently are more species accounts. These are sections in my field journal for stories about specific species of plants and animals. One story comes from early in February of a Mountain Lion kill that happened about 400 yards from our house. It’s the first in a section created for Mountain Lion observations.

The journaling was written up on that day – writing things up right away is important as details get fuzzy rather quickly. I imagine there might be a few grammatical mistakes in there, but for now I’m not terribly concerned. I keep the writing in an InDesign file – and may also add in photos, but I thoroughly enjoy having a physical field journal. If there are mistakes that bug me, I’ll rework it at some point, but for now just make notes on it.

Journaling Reads:

Wednesday 4 Feb 2015 – at home in Wapiti – My normal routine is to get up and take Rhad out while Mike sleeps in a bit longer. We are in predator country – with lots of prey – so I take along a firearm I’m familiar with and a flashlight. This morning, the wind was calm and I heard the Great Horned Owls hooting almost non-stop from a ridge up above us. An inch or two of snow that had fallen overnight helped to send that sound along. On our way in, I take a closer look at the track left by a mouse – who had just enough snow to stay covered, and popped out a couple of times.

As the day slowly lightened, I started to see the outline of the hills above us, then finally enough light to scan the wind-gnarled trees on the ridge where the owls sounded like they might be. Before I could scan all the trees, my attention was shifted to the coyote that had just come into view on that ridge, trotting along and occasionally stopping to try a jump on a mouse or vole. Soon a second one appeared. As this one approached, they moved along at a fast pace, their structure allowing them to nearly float along with an easy gait.

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The deer near the house were attentive, and if Mike and I lost the coyotes’ location, the deer would point the way. Scanning the hillsides, we noticed a third one sitting near the top of a ridge, simply watching from above. Across the gully from this one sat another large dark dot – a Golden Eagle – that seemed about the same size as the sitting coyote. Again, we say, “those are huge birds.”

We kept watching the scene, and then notice quite a few birds near the bottom of the gully between the sitting coyote and eagle – mostly magpies, but also a raven or two…and then surprisingly, a second golden eagle rises and flies off. While we can’t see it directly from the living room, there’s a carcass there.

After getting ourselves ready for the day – the outing to see what we can see pushes us along. Soon we’re in the Jeep, to get the plowing done to a neighbor’s house who wants us to work to keep the road open to his place and conveniently takes us by the carcass. We stop in one spot and see the sagebrush is still hiding this cache. We wind our way up the hill and from above, we can see it’s a deer.

A short way farther, we see the unmistakable round holes of a mountain lion – each hole with a clearly defined paw print. It has followed – for the most part – the road we need to plow. I used my hand to generally measure the stride of the prints (as defined in James Halfpenny’s book, Scat and Tracks of the Rocky Mountains) were about 40” apart. Just over the ridge from the kill, where the pine trees grow in a more wind protected area, the tracks wander a bit. Perhaps this is where it paused for a bit to eat more of a portion taken. In one spot, where it took a shortcut to cut off a couple of curves in the road, it came down a steeper bank, sinking fairly deep into the mud as a heavy animal would.

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At one point, we notice a second set of tracks heading the opposite direction, but following the cat tracks. We guess the coyote, but it also could have been a fox (still need to look up info on the difference in tracks) – finding an opportunity to scavenge what the mountain lion left.

As we plow farther along, the tracks continued east along the road in a steady pace. We finally reach the house where we turn around and head back again and decide to invite our friend Kevin along to check out the carcass. By late morning, we figure there shouldn’t be anything on the carcass – and as we pass through again where we can barely see it, we’re right.

We head in to do a couple of chores, and then meet up with our neighbor, Kevin, and head over. Walking along the hillside with enough snow to hide all the rocks I found myself carefully following Mike and Kevin’s tracks as I worked through this opportunity to practice my balance skills.

Arriving at the carcass, we see it was a doe and we start to figure out the crime scene. About 15 feet from the carcass is a spot clear of snow – we guess where she had bedded down. Her neck is torn open, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that was how she was taken down, but definitely a possibility. The internal organs are all gone except the stomach and intestines. The ‘top’ front shoulder and leg is missing (a closer look at the photos later on shows it there under the rib cage). The meat from the top (her left) side is pretty much gone. We had noticed the Golden eagles jumping up – likely trying to flip her over. (Gory photo #1 and Gory photo #2 – click on them if you want to see)

Around her are a myriad of bird tracks and wing prints in the snow. And a single line of cat tracks, well covered with snow heading up the gully. So that would mean the cat full from feeding headed to a spot to rest…we guessed probably just over the ridge where the pine trees are more numerous.

We spent about 10-15 minutes there, and then headed out. Throughout the day, we watched birds come and go – tons of Magpies, some ravens and 4 Golden eagles – likely the breeding pair and perhaps another breeding pair. We only saw one on the carcass at a time. A second often watched from the hillside above. Usually when one moved in on the carcass, the other moved out. Rarely did we every see two on it at any one time.

Mike measured the distance on the map to find the carcass was 382 yards away – we had guessed about 400 yards. Nice to know we’re fairly accurate on guessing distances. It’s a skill that can’t be practiced enough.

As the day wore on, we watched the deer and the birds, but no sign of the coyotes again or any other mammals on it. At last light, a group of three deer walked up far enough to see the carcass, perhaps paying their last respects to a family member, and then moved off to the east.

Note: A couple of days later when out with Rhad just before bedtime, Rhad stuck close to me and the hair stood up on my neck a few times. The cat was near and watching. Luckily no encounter with it, though.

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Products used in my field journal:

Hello March!

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March is here and I’m constantly scanning the sagebrush around our house, and the fences when driving into town for that flash of blue (the photo above, though, was taken last June). This tenth week of the year is about when the Mountain Bluebirds begin to arrive in the greater Yellowstone region. At first there will be one or two, but then the rest soon join in large flocks. I’ve already seen a Loggerhead Shrike looking for mice in the sagebrush – that was the first one to return. Also, the eagles should be working on their nest. The local pair of Golden eagles have been seen around here regularly and on carcasses in the area and should be working on their nest soon – if not already.

The deer are no longer as grey as they were – some are turning quite brown and the does are growing rounder with one or two babies growing inside. Many of the bucks have lost their antlers already. The bull elk, though, still have theirs for now. We can see them hanging out on top of a mountain across from us with the spotting scope – and when the light is right, those large racks amazingly show up.

If you’ve ever thought of keeping a nature notebook, March is a great time to start. Starting with phenology (observations of the rhythm of the seasons) is an easy entry point to getting yourself outside more.

Earlier this year, I decided to combine my phenology notebook and my field journal – dividing it up by weeks, and using one of my smaller notebooks with pocket pages and paper to keep track of things. In it there are pages to just quickly jot down with a pen a small observation, and for more formal field journal entries, I usually use the pocket pages. I like the loose-leaf, 3-binder so I can add in things as needed – but any notebook will do. Sometimes the more informal it is, the easier it is to start. Find something that works for you.

 

New Product: Field Journaling Labels

150201J1260460Now in the store – and in my Etsy Shop.

I’ve been wanting a few very simple and classic overlay frames and labels.  Sometimes it’s just a simple thing that helps bring a cohesiveness to a project. There are times I have a photo that really doesn’t need a full story with it, like the buck jumping the fence above. It simply captures the effortless grace he has while ignoring the boundary marking fence.

At other times, I want to highlight an embellishment, or just create a frame to contain a bit of journaling.

ExampleWebBuy them now in the store – or in my Etsy Shop.

 

Restacking the Load

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The Armful

For every parcel I stoop down to seize,
I lose some other off my arms and knees,
And the whole pile is slipping, bottles, buns,
Extremes too hard to comprehend at once,
Yet nothing I should care to leave behind.
With all I have to hold with, hand and mind
And heart, if need be, I will do my best
To keep their building balanced at my breast.
I crouch down to prevent them as they fall;
Then sit down in the middle of them all.
I had to drop the armful in the road
And try to stack them in a better load.

– Robert Frost

While quiet here, I’ve been stacking projects into a better load behind the scenes. Big projects getting the best of my energy first, intermixed with daily necessities. Then on to the ones near and dear to my heart. Mindfulness practiced daily helps immensely as does my weekly planner that developed over the past few months.

More to come…