It’s high time I post another phenology update. In all honesty, all the work we’re doing to get the house painted and sorting through drawers and closets to weed out what won’t get moved, I’ve not had a lot of time to just get outside and see what’s going on.
After months of only seeing groups of does, we’re finally starting to see the bucks seeking them out. Here are a couple of them caught on the trail cam. Mike said he saw another 5×5 buck not far from the camera the other night. We’ll find out in a few more days if he was captured on the cam or not.
A neighbor mentioned seeing two young bucks locking antlers on a hillside near his house last week. The rut is on from the looks of things.
And, while on a walk with Rhad at the end of October, I noticed what looked like elk tracks, but maybe they could be from a large buck instead. Maybe that was the first one to come calling on the girls around here.
One thing I have been able to notice more of late is the temperature, simply because it needs to be warm enough to paint. I’m glad we’re getting down to the tail end of it because each week in October and November has been a bit cooler and provided fewer hours to get out there to work. The most dramatic difference was in late October and early November when each week was noticeably colder overall. The shift from fall to winter.
The chipmunks aren’t out anymore even when the temperatures rise into the upper 50s and low 60s. I think the last one I saw was right around Halloween. I know I wrote that down somewhere, but can’t seem to relocate it. I watched one almost frantically gather as many seeds as possible from the ground below the feeder and scuttle them off to his den beneath the storage shed. With them heading to semi-hibernate (they go into a torpor state and do come out of it occasionally through the winter), we’re guessing the bears aren’t far behind. That finds us testing this theory by adding a bit of more ‘scented’ trash in the dumpster a day or two before pickup.
The tiny Pygmy nuthatches (one is on the right there in the photo) were quite successful nesters this summer and seem to have nearly doubled their numbers to around 12-15. It’s hard to get an accurate count as they seen to never hold still for long. The added numbers have given a boldness I’ve not seen before from them; they actually gang up and chase out squirrels and the Clark’s nutcrackers – the previously undisputed kings of the feeders. Just yesterday, one of the young squirrels noisily scolded them from below after being chased off.
At the feeder, the regulars are:
- Pygmy Nuthatches
- Steller’s Jays
- Clark’s Nutcrackers
- Gray Jays (aka Camp Robbers)
- Mountain Chickadees
- Black-capped Chickadees
Occasional visitors include:
- Hairy Woodpeckers
- Downy Woodpeckers
- Brown Creeper (not at the feeder, but on the tree trunks where the chickadees and nuthatches have stashed seeds)
Noticeably absent are:
- Evening Grosbeaks
- Pine Siskens
- White-breasted Nuthatches
Take some time this week (as I hope to do) and get outside to see what’s happening.
I’m going to enter yesterday as the peak of color for the aspen here on our property. It’s really sort of a subjective thing – we read in the paper this morning that they thought it was at 40%. I heartily disagree with that one.
So how do I define the peak of color? Most of the aspen are in full color, with a few left yet to turn – some stands may still be green – but the first ones to turn are now losing leaves, some have lost them all.
It’s when you can feel the fullness of fall.
Yesterday, Mike took the little cheapo camera with him as they traveled up Gold Camp Road to do some surveying work. All of these were just drive-by shots, but show where things are. We’ll be heading out this weekend occasionally to a few spots for some more photos.
And with that bit of inspiration (thanks, Honey!) – get outside! Stay curious.
The aspen are changing rapidly now – once they get a tinge of yellow, they slide into all yellow within a day or two. Sometimes they almost seem to changing by the hour. The peak turning is maybe a day or two away, but it’ll be this week. Other wet years we’ve also had a ‘late’ turning – so it’s still within the norm. The aspen were simply getting all they could out of the late moisture.
Fun little photo project you can do. Just pick a tree you can photograph from the same spot each day. Take one shot a day – ideally around the same time each day. My tree for this year is really starting to change now.
Here’s how last year’s project turned out:
Fall has finally blown in. Lots of wind this week – mostly 10-25 mph with a few gusts up higher. It’s dry, too, with the humidity often in the single digits. The temps are down and we had our first light frost this week on Tuesday. All of this wrapped into a sign of fall. Now the aspen are turning in earnest and most have reached the ‘lemon-lime’ stage – some more on the lime side, and others on the lemon. Maybe 10-20% are fully in the yellow stage. I’m amazed at how quickly they’re turning. The peak of the aspen will be a bit later than in the past few years, and I expect that to probably show up some time next week.
The wild geraniums and other groundcover are also turning and the grasses are finally curing out. All this extra rain has kept the deer from taking a look at the garden. They’ve nibbled some on the horseradish and day lilies, but not much else.
That wind has also blown off all – or at least a whole bunch of the shed pine needles – useful for a couple of years for the tree, then it lets them go. While helping Taylor up the stairs the other day, I noticed the letter A formed courtesy of the nearby Ponderosa trees.
Chipmunks and ground squirrels are still seen daily – frantically filling their cheeks with whatever seeds they find. Though it’s now been a couple of days since I’ve seen the last hummingbird at the nasturtiums in the window boxes. Our neighbor may still be seeing them, though – she’s got the ‘popular’ feeder and usually sees them a bit longer than we do – so I’ll need to ask her.
Next week is supposed to have those warm and dry fall days and cool to chilly nights – perfect weather to help the aspen finish up turning to gold.
I checked the trail cam today (Fridays are the day I try to get to that) and here’s a sampling: deer, fox and surprisingly again, a raccoon. First raccoon of the year, I think. There were quite a few cats on there as well – still all ones we know where they live – so no feral ones to worry about.
The other morning while out with the dogs, I heard a whirring sound – some bird of some sort, but I never could find it. Definitely a unique sound. Only heard it once, though, as we first went down into the dog yard. Guess that one might stay a mystery.
Take some time to get outside and see what’s going on!
Have a great weekend and stay curious!
The sun was out and the wind calm – and I had to get outside especially after all the rain. Grabbing my camera, I decided to take a closer look at the kinnikinnick – an evergreen groundcover that’s thriving with all the moisture we’ve had this summer. Very few leaves are damaged compared to years with less moisture.
Kinnikinnick was used as a tobacco by Native Americans in the past, and it’s a food source for birds and other animals. The berries are all fully ripe. I mentioned the other day that a few slightly green ones were still being found – that was last week. This week, I’m only finding perfectly red ones. I’ve heard someone say that the berries make a substitute for coffee, but haven’t ever found that referenced anywhere. The only thing found is that a tea can be used for treating urinary tract infections and works as a laxative. How accurate that is, I’m not sure, and I doubt I’ll be trying it.
Runners are spreading all over the place, but at the end of a few, I noticed this:
Pulling one off, I noticed these were rolled leaves – meaning something was living in there.
The leaves are fairly thick and this was difficult to open. I finally used my pocket knife and tried to be as gentle as possible, not squishing the inhabitants. And this is what I found:
Aphids. Interesting. I’ve noticed some of the Dark-eyed Juncos fussing around some of the kinnikinnick, but didn’t pay that close of attention. Maybe they’ve found this extra protein source. Not all of our patches of kinnikinnick have these, but some of the larger carpets seem to have them the most.
Then I noticed these:
Flower buds. In the fall? Huh.
Maybe the buds normally form in the fall, but I always thought they formed in the spring. Maybe I was wrong and not paying close enough attention. I’ll keep a closer eye on these to see if they develop further – this next week is supposed to dry out a bit more and give us some warm sunny days and cool sunny nights.
Quick update on the aspen leaves turning color: In one day, the aspen all lightened noticeably. The UPS driver out here mentioned it as well – that overnight they seemed to have decided it’s fall. Now to see how quickly they’ll turn.
If you haven’t been outside lately, head out and see what all you find. Look closely. Then look even closer.
Nature is the best teacher there is. Stay curious.
Generally, on most years, the aspen here in Colorado usually reach their peak around the last full week in September. I don’t think they’ll be even close to that this year. With as cool and wet as it’s been, I think the aspen are taking advantage of the ability to still grow and store energy. At least that’s my best guess. We aren’t even at 1% turned yet. And hearing from others around the state, they’re seeing the same.
I do recall in other wet years (not as wet as this summer, though!) that the leaves haven’t been much to write home about. They sort of turn, then just shrivel up and fall off. Here’s one that I found on our property last week that looks like it might be taking that route to winter:
As for other bits of phenology:
- Hummingbirds (pretty much only the females and maybe a few juvenile males) still zing through the air around here. At least a small handful are seen daily. Still waiting for the last day to see them.
- The deer are about half way done with shedding their summer coats.
- Very few flowers still in bloom, but if found, usually they’re asters or a lingering hare bell.
- We still have some band-tailed pigeons around, but many of the summer birds have left already.
- We’re still seeing chipmunks and ground squirrels around, though their population is down significantly since a few of the neighbor cats have been here – thank goodness. The rodents were getting a bit thick – all the moisture kept their food supply up, giving them the ability to reproduce at a rather alarming rate.
- The kinnikinnik is as lush and healthy as I’ve seen it in a long time – still growing with all the moisture around. Most berries are bright red at this point, but a few can still be found with a tinge of green on them still.
Well, after leaving the trail cam out almost all month, we finally have a bit of a movie to show. Over the past couple of weeks, the deer have really started to shed their summer coats. The bucks are still in full velvet, but it won’t be long now until that’s gone as well. I’ve also been hearing the coyotes early most every morning lately. Wherever they’re hanging out, it’s not terribly far away, but also not extremely close.
Enjoy the video of the August trail cam captures:
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!