I’m finding more time on Mondays or Tuesdays to write up the Weekly Phenology Summary, so – at least for now – this is when they’ll be.
This morning is a bit chilly, with an occasional snow shower moving through. Down in Colorado Springs, though, they’ve already got a couple of inches on the ground. Upslope. That’s when the storms come in on the plains and back up against the mountains. In this area, if that happens up in the Monument area, along the Palmer Divide, it might make it over to us. But if it has to make it up Ute Pass, it may not. So far, it’s not looking like this storm will make it here.
And we are dry again. So far this winter we’ve only had 19″ of snow – and a few dustings that weren’t included in the total. Last week we had a couple of warm days in the upper 50′s, which melted most of the snow pack we had. Only deep in the trees does some remain. And, of course, in their infinite wisdom, the forest service has nearly clearcut things so there are few trees to help hold in the snow. They’re getting ready to start on a section near us. We’ll see how this ‘experiment’ works out.
Last night while talking about it, Mike pulled up the Snotel sites. Snotel sites were put up in the 70′s if I remember correctly to monitor the snowpack. That helps the cities, who own the water rights, to manage it better. It doesn’t look all that good for us this summer. This is a screenshot of the forecast for how they think we’ll look on June 1.
In fact, we’re right on track to basically match 2002, the year of the Hayman fire, started by a forest service gal in an attempt to get a reward – an unintended consequence of rewarding workers for spotting and helping to put out fires. The fires that year started in late March. Single digit humidity was the norm. You know, below 5% humidity, you can drink all the water you want and never really get fully hydrated.
So – it’s time to purge and organize. That’s a main goal here in February for us. Going through things, packing up some to evacuate or just flat out take down to the storage unit we’ve already got. Minimizing the amount of work to do in the likely event we do have to evacuate. Going through that the first time is hard because you don’t know what to expect. But after that, you know exactly what’s important to you and what you can let go of. And, we’ll start whiddling back on our water usage. We’ve never had our well run dry (knock wood), but I don’t want to find out what the limit for it is. Being on a well, we actually use very little water because most of it goes right back down into the ground again. People in the city, though, are going to face pretty serious rationing, and soon, I would guess.
This week I’ve been changing the location of the trail cam – and picked up a coyote. It didn’t pick up the fox, though, that was nearby that morning when Mike left for work. I normally don’ t put it out in this spot in the winter due to the snow pushing the animals in other directions, but the path that goes through here holds promise for some traffic with no snow to speak of.
Last week when Mike was working in the field, they saw some wild turkeys and a nice buck – still hanging onto his antlers. And a herd of about 75-100 elk – many of the bulls still with antlers as well, but none of the large racks, so perhaps those are being shed first?
Have a good week and take notes on what all you see. Building a phenology notebook really is a rewarding project. I’ll be sharing more soon about mine. Just still pulling bits and pieces together.
I apologize for the tardiness of this report – all I can really share right now is that lots is happening behind the scenes. Lots of typical creative struggles happening on a daily basis, but knowing they’re typical helps to blast through them. I’m still a few months away before I can really share anything. If posts start getting random, know it’s just that I’m still jamming from one project to the next as fast as possible and a slowly as it requires.
But onto the phenology…
While the flock of Gray-capped Rosy-finches returned on Sunday long enough for Mike to also see them, this little guy – common as can be – has stolen my heart again by being the first one to announce spring with just two little notes. I first heard them on January 8th – and again most all day on the 12th and many days since then. The 8th was a warm day and I thought maybe that prompted the song, but I’ve also heard it when it was well below freezing. I have no idea of how normal it was to hear the first call on the 8th as black-capped chickadees have only been hanging around for a couple of years now. And I think this is the first year we have two males working to define territory and attract a mate.
If you look at the phenology page, you can see that the very first signs of spring are starting now.
Our neighbor, Deb told me yesterday that she has been seeing a pair of foxes cavorting around – and the dens I know of from years past have had more footprints around them, so mating season for the fox is likely just around the corner. We typically see the fox pups around the dens in early to mid May which is when they’re around 4-5 weeks old. Working backwards from there, and adding in the ~7.5 week gestation period, that puts the mating season at the end of January to the first part of February. I’m really hoping they choose to use the den right down below our house where I should be able to watch the pups from the deck, and can swing around to the road to get photos. The other known den is just off of our property under some large boulders that give 5 or more entrance/exits from the den. It hasn’t been used in years, though, due to the neighbor dogs who wander down there. When one of those dogs was a puppy, we saved it from being a snack for the fox kits. A fox was ‘playing with her’ and leading her down that way when we noticed and intervened.
I actually expected to see a pair of foxes set up house near here last year. It seems the cycle of wildlife shifts and changes in a pretty obvious pattern. Right now we have lots of squirrels, chipmunks & ground squirrels and a ton of rabbits. With that much food, some predator moves in. A neighbor a few roads over, though, says they’re seeing a lot of coyotes and hearing them regularly. So maybe that’s kept the foxes denning up elsewhere.
After our somewhat of a cold snap a week or so ago, things have really warmed up. I know the cold can be hard on some people, but I miss the -40° F week or two we used to get. The reason for that is simple – it kills bugs. In particular, it kills the bark beetles. Climate change? Perhaps. Or perhaps this is just a result of cities with acres of bluegrass lawns that really don’t belong here in the west – and cloud seeding done by so many cities to try and bring a bit more water to their watershed and ski resorts to their slopes. Or perhaps this is all part of a larger cycle we don’t have enough years of data to really see yet. Whatever it is, we are in a serious drought right now – more serious than I think most people realize. It’s going to be a mighty interesting summer if we don’t get snow – but I still hold out hope that March and April will bring us the deep snows. And if not, then we’ll spend the summer ready to evacuate.
I’m working on the setup of my physical phenology notebook – and am debating breaking it up into two parts – I’ll share here as soon as I get them far enough along to share.
For now, I’ll leave you with the trail cam captures from this past week…
Yesterday while working on projects (that have somewhat collided on me) , a bird landed on the railing of the deck just in front of me. A ‘new to me’ bird, but I was fairly certain it was a Rosy Finch of some sort. The projects could wait for this. I looked out at the feeding station and there were tons of them! When they saw my movement they lifted to sit in a tree not far away. Not 100% sure of what I was seeing, I headed upstairs to get a better look and take a photo.
That’s the ‘second favorite tree’ of birds that visit us. It had mistletoe which causes the twisting of the branches into ‘witches brooms’ but a porcupine that visited here awhile back ate a good chunk of the mistletoe, that left the branches a bit bare and a bit more healthy – that was in late 2004 (had to check the scrapbook pages I did then about it – you can see them here and here). The bare branches make this a favorite tree for many birds.
Then I headed back to the main floor because they were all returning to the feeders and I knew I could get a few more shots to ID them better.
Then a delivery truck drove in the driveway to drop off a package and spooked them. They rose and there were MANY more on the ground I didn’t know were there – the deck shielding them from my view. At least 50, likely about 70. As they flew I couldn’t get them all in the shot with the lens I had on.
They did come back a second time and there were even more – at least 75 and perhaps even 100. This group swooped back and forth a few times in a stunning display. Not sure if they’ll return today, but it would be fun if they did!
This guy has been around for the past few days – hanging pretty close to the house, but not necessarily crossing in front of the trail cam. Yesterday morning as I sipped my coffee and looked out the window, I watched him come up and cross over the ridge on which the house and dog yard sit. He would take a step, then listen, take a couple more and listen. He was listening intently to something down in the valley – it could have been someone or a dog at one of the houses below, but it also could have been something else. Our dogs have been sniffing hard down there rather often. I need to put on my boots and head that way some day and look for any telltale tracks in the snow.
Watching him reminded me of a time I mentioned to a gal at Buffalo Ranch in Yellowstone that it took me a bit one morning to determine who was making noise outside the window. I finally guessed it was the deer and later looked and confirmed it. She asked me how I could tell by the sound. Prey animals tend to pause and listen every few steps. A bison would have had heavy steps, and fewer pauses. Deer or antelope/pronghorn would pause often to listen, then munch, then take a step or two and pause again. Predators (including humans) tend to walk constantly in a single line with no pauses – unless they’re hunting or smell or see something of interest.
I then told her of the time my husband and I were out scouting for an upcoming elk hunt. When hunting (either with rifles or cameras), we walk like prey animals. And, with concentration, the person following can do the job of the back legs of a four-legged animal. I timed my footsteps to coincide with my husband’s to create a walking gait of another animal. We’d pause, listen, rustle the foliage on the ground for a moment and then take some more steps.
Suddenly, he caught sight of a large bull elk who was ready to take us on as a challenging bull. Guess we did a good job. Too good. I only caught a glimpse of him before both of us stood with our backs up against trees that would hide us from him. Between us we had two pocket knives. He had LOTS of muscle behind very sharp antlers. We could hear him as he tossed his antlers around in the smaller trees and snorted and such for a good 30 seconds to a minute until he decided there wasn’t anything there for him to attack. I don’t think I hardly breathed during those achingly long seconds.
But back to this week’s phenology -
New Year’s Day we woke to the most amazing frost I’ve seen in a long time. The crystals formed were almost an inch long and just gorgeous. Angel Wing frost – when the wind came up even slightly, the large triangles (mostly) would helicopter their way to the ground. Lovely way to start the year!
We’ve had some cold nights lately where one of us usually gets up in the middle of the night to stoke the fire. Those have finally convinced the pansies in the window box to give it a rest for awhile. But they were blooming almost up to Christmas Day:
Have a great week and make a bit of time to watch the nature that surrounds you – even in a city – it’s there. I’ll leave you with the video of the trail cam captures:
Yes, I know I’ve been missing the Friday Phenology posts recently and have filled this blog with December Daily Stories. And so we have it this week on Saturday. Human phenology that takes center stage in December. In large part that’s because as John Latimer so accurately stated – wintertime is the doldrums of phenology. Whereas summer brings a rolling list of rotating flowers in bloom, activity by wildlife and lots to explore, in winter, we watch the ice thicken, and the snowpack (hopefully) build and keep an eye on those temperatures.
This past week we had another 5 inches of snow to add to our total which now stands at 15.25″ – not a lot, but March is the snowiest month of the year here in Colorado, with April and then I believe February falling into the 2nd and 3rd places overall. So we still might get enough to make water rationing less severe. Though it’s hard to say about that. A report from Pikes Peak a couple of weeks ago saw little to no snowpack and what water on the reservoirs up there had open patches of water.
Our birdfeeders see the flock of Evening Grosbeaks and the mass of Juncos who mainly hang out down on the ground, feeding on the seeds dropped there. But when the snow flies, they come up on the deck and on the feeders. I took the opportunity to snap a few photos of The Juncos of Winter – we get all the varieties here – and I like to try to get photos of them each winter during snowstorms. Please excuse the wood slats that desperately need painting. We had that on the list to do this last summer, but it just didn’t happen. It’s on the list for next summer. I didn’t get them all the other day when it was snowing, but I plan to print these out as 4×4 photos and add them in as a Story From December. If more opportunities arise, I’ll add in more varieties we see.
And we have the trail camera (camera trap) gathered and summarized here. We moved the camera back over to look at the shop simply because of the number of tracks seen there – not all deer or rabbits – and we suspected we still had a fox in the area. In one part, you’ll notice a man walking by – that’s the electric company folks walking along the easement where the power poles go – they’ve been in the area checking for trees that need to come down, though they didn’t tell me of any of ours that needed to go. They did, however, put a cover on the transformer to keep squirrels and other critters out – a few of our power outages were due to that. Happy to have them do the maintenance needed to keep the lights on.
“‘May all your hours be sunny’ is another way of saying ‘May you perish in the drought.’”
~Edwin Way Teale from his book, A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm
It’s dry. This last week we’ve seen humidity some days in the single digits. It’s warm. Most days lately reach well into the 50s. I cannot stress enough how much I despise brown winters. As the sun rises lower into the sky each day, it becomes more and more uncomfortable to be outside and facing south. Blinds are pulled. On the days we’ve had clouds, the blinds are open and my eyes relax.
The volunteer pansies are still blooming in the window box beside the window where I sit. Blooms freeze overnight, but invariably by afternoon, more appear. I probably need to give them a bit of water along with the rest of the garden that’s been neglected for too long.
A couple of weeks ago, we had a regular morning flock of about 20-30 Evening Grosbeaks show up on a daily basis. That number has at least doubled. While outside this morning, the sound of them cracking open the black oil sunflower seeds and letting the shells drop to the ground sounded almost like rain. The Mountain Chickadees and Pygmy Nuthatches are definitely getting comfortable with us. While filling the bird bath with water this morning, one of the Mountain Chickadees kept flying in, landing, and flying off, just inches from me. The Pygmy Nuthatches almost need to be brushed off before I can fill the feeders at times. All of them, though, ascend in a group to the safety of the tree near the feeders at the first audible ‘quark’ from a Raven.
We also had a visit from a lone Red-Winged Blackbird. Normally they don’t come over the ridge that separates our road from the next one which has a stream. I haven’t really checked the stream water level recently, but I imagine it’s down. Perhaps he just joined the Grosbeaks to see where they went. He did visit the birdbath as well. Kind of unusual for them to still be hanging around up here at the end of November (photo taken the 27th through double paned windows, so not the greatest, but enough to ID and document).
In my last Friday Phenology report I mentioned about how the Evening Grosebeaks eat the spruce worms. Between the Grosbeaks, Chickadees and Nuthatches, I’ve noticed when it gets warm (and the feeders have been drained for the day), they move to the trees and mainly work on the branch tips. Mainly spruces and firs – the ones that were absolutely covered in spruce moths this last summer. An infected tree usually will have a few tips that grow curled in the spring.
But the Blue Spruce next to the house has many branch tips that look like this:
So do the Douglas Fir trees:
Obviously they are finding food there. It will be interesting to see how those branches grow next spring. I image without the needles, if we do get the week or two of deep freeze in January or February, those brand buds may not have the protection they need to make it through.
The trail cam this week was fairly active – showing the deer are still in rut.
Get out there and learn and explore. Watch your world and look into the things you find interesting. You don’t want to end up not knowing enough like this. It’s just amazing how the deer cross our road in about the same spot all the time without a deer crossing sign!
Not a whole lot to report this last week. The temps are now consistently in the 40s and low 50s and nights have been chilly. Sun, sun and more sun has been on tap with no real moisture to speak of on the horizon, though this next week might have some clouds. Even in the high country there isn’t much snow to speak of. Hopefully that will change in the next few weeks. I know most people appreciate the warmth, but for me, brown winters are hard to endure. I’ve already bought myself one plant to help me through.
The usual suspects are at the feeders on a daily basis. The photo above is of one of the Mountain Chickadees we have around that are really quite cream colored on their tummies. Not all of them are that way, but there’s a group of four of them that always show up with the two black capped chickadees. I thought (and still somewhat do think) they might be crosses. But I sent this photo in and the experts said the Mountain x Black Capped almost always have just the narrowest of white “eyebrows” on them. This one definitely doesn’t fit that, but the cream color still makes me wonder. I first saw them in the summer of 2011. In 2010 we had our first Black Capped Chickadee show up and stay, but I only ever saw one, and it hung out with the Mountain Chickadees. Last year, though, one more showed, but I’ve only seen the two. Sweet to have them whatever they are.
Since finding out about the Evening Grosbeaks eating the spruce worms, I’ve paid more attention to activity in the Spruce trees around here where I know they’ve been hit, and not only do I see the Evening Grosbeaks going after them, but the Mountain Chickadees and Black Capped Chickadees as well as the Pygmy Nuthatches are all working on the tips of the branches where the worms hide.
I found a good resource for information on Colorado birding here at a Ning group. It seems to pretty much compile lots of good information. While my schedule is too full to add in another community group at the moment, I do lurk there quite a bit.
The deer around here are in rut and have been for a bit, and the trail cam caught a buck sniffing and following. He’s been hanging around with the group of does normally seen at least once on the trail cam.
Watch what the Field Journaling .com trail cam captured this week in the Colorado mountains.
It’s been a bit since I’ve done a Friday Phenology post, and yesterday while on a walk with the dogs, I realized why. We’re in between. It’s like a big waiting period. Waiting for snow. One of the many reasons we live out here is because we love snow. I can handle the deepest of white winters with ease, but give me a brown one with glaringly sunny days and I honestly get grumpy. While moving some slash from trees that had to have branches cut, I noticed one of the aspen branches actually had a bit of fuzz peeking out from one of the leaf buds – has it really been that warm? I brought that one in to practice sketching – still working on the composition of that one, but there’s a drawing in that branch.
Each day on our walks – might as well do something with it so very warm – the dogs and I are watched by a raven or two. I’m guessing it’s a pair that has their nest in the area. How they know that we’re out and about is beyond me. But they’re always patrolling. Their “quarks” are a common sound. If we’re where they expect us, they fly over once, but if we’re in an unusual location, they circle lower for a closer look. Curious Corvids.
And speaking of Corvids, we changed the bird seed in the feeders to just the black oil sunflower seeds – previously we had the nut and berry mix that also had the sunflower seeds. After this switch, the Gray Jays, Steller’s Jays and Clark’s Nutcrackers spent a couple of days emptying the one feeder in search of peanuts, tossing all the seed on the ground, much to the Junco’s delight. Then they left. Didn’t see them for most of this last week. But then yesterday they were back, accepting the change, and politely filling their gullets and no longer spreading seed on the ground to pick out nuts.
The change in seed also brought in more Evening Grosbeaks and Pine Siskins. Evening Grosbeaks are the bird of the year, and there was a recent article over on the ABA Blog about them that said they feed on the spruce worms. That makes perfect sense since the spruce bud worms were thriving this year. If they eat them as well, I’m happy to keep buying black oil sunflower seeds to keep them in the area. The Birds of Colorado book says they also have been seen gorging themselves so much on aphids that the juice stained the feathers around their beaks. We’ve had them here in the area for three years now, successfully nesting each year and it’s good to know they’re also protecting the trees and plants. Nature has a way of fixing things to keep a balance.
The ABA Blog post also mentioned that “they” are now thinking the dead Lodgepole forest is due to human activity. ???? Maybe lack of activity – the forest service hasn’t done control burns as much as they did in the past. People talk about ‘bringing it back to what it used to be’ – well, when exactly? When the native Americans would set fires to burn out their enemy’s territory fairly regularly? When the settlers had nearly clearcut many areas? You can’t ‘go back’ – you can only move forward. A more solid and logical report we saw said what we were thinking, that the drought years have caused a lot of stress on the trees which allows the beetles to thrive. Without much control burning, we’ve watched the beetle kill march it’s way south for about a decade or more now. And the officials are just now noticing and wanting to ‘fix’ the problem? All I can say is they’re a little late to the party.
The trail cam this week picked up deer, rabbits and a fox. At some point I want to compile the times the deer are seen and see how regular they are or aren’t. But for now, here’s this week’s capture slideshow:
The Field Journaling .com trail cam captures for the week.
Finally, a bit of blatent self-promotion: the Field Journaling notebooks (Craft Version) are in my shop over at Etsy. They make the perfect home for phenology notes, nature journals, or to house scrapbooking December Daily or other mini-album projects. I certainly appreciate any support to help keep things rolling here.
It’s still a bit early to head out and retrieve the trail cam card to see what walked by this week, but I realized that I never posted the one from last week. But, better late than never. Hopefully I’ll also have time to put together the video and get it up today as well, but we’ll see how the day progresses.
A Trail Camera in the Pikes Peak region of Colorado 18-25 October 2012