K and I rolled out early enough to see the sun emerging from behind a cover of clouds.The clouds hovered all morning but the sun soon burned through right over top of us!
As we rolled through a pine forest, K and I again spotted hints that a bear may be drowsily wandering our woods. K exhaustively sniffed another digging, again the rotten wood in a fallen tree's root system, and then started salivating. According to dog behaviorists, salivating (or drooling) is a sign of stress - and bears undoubtedly stress out K more than any other animal. She turns into a lunatic when a bear forages or climbs trees just outside our house.
K once chased a bear in her adolescent wild phase. As we were hiking, K had roamed too far ahead. We called her, and she came streaking back toward us with a black bear just in front of her. The bear veered off, and K gave up the chase to come to us. That was not one of our better moments as dog guardians.
Since then, we've learned a lot - including that K always wears a bell in the forest to forewarn bears and other animals of her arrival. And, we've learned the early warning signs that a bear's in the area and recall K and the other dogs right away.
It's about a month earlier than we usually see our first bear so perhaps our bear is up for a short snort and will be snoring again soon.
As we rolled along, I saw and K sniffed several fresh bobcat scats. Now that I've learned to recognize it, bobcats almost always scratch out a shallow depression before depositing scat in it. I've had a hard time getting the scratchings to show up in a photo when they're in dirt - but they're very obvious in snow. Bobcats leave scratched out depressions and scat in prominent marking spots - like in the middle of a trail.
After I dropped off K, I did another 'summer-only' loop - where my only contact with roads was to cross them. I carefully plan my routes to maximize my time in the forest and minimize my time near civilization. It's amazing to be doing these trail-only rides in March but the dryness portends a scary summer fire season. A wildland fire broke out across the canyon last week - but fire crews doused it in short order. Usually at this time of year, a layer of snow covers the forest floor. In 2003, we had a snow deficit until the third week in March when we had the storm of the century - 6 feet of snow in 48 hours. I wish that we'd have the storm of the century again this March!
As I rode along a south-facing slope, I noticed a transformation in the aspen trees. The twigs no longer looked like bare skeletons.
When I found a low branch, a close-up investigation showed catkins bursting out of the buds. Unfortunately, I've never written down when the catkins burst out of the buds in the past so I don't know if it's early.
As I observed aspen trees for the rest of the ride, I noticed that only south facing ones with absolutely no shading had catkins emerging. The aspen trees in the foreground below have swollen buds but no catkins. These trees sit in a colder spot.And, these aspen trees don't even have swollen buds yet - although they do have small buds that I saw when I examined the twigs close-up. It's hard to even imagine how different this panorama will look in two months with green leaves on the aspens and less snow on the mountains.The USA National Phenology Network is soliciting information about blooming and leafing-out dates from nature observers. 'Phenology' refers to the timing of natural events. It's a new project so, for now, we can enter only this year's botony events. In the future, it will be possible to enter past data (e.g., I have many years of journals that note when various plants bloomed in our meadow) and to enter animal events like birds fledging or bears emerging from hibernation. The goal is to enlist people like us to provide data that can be used to analyze the effects of global warming. To enter observations, click 'participate' in the top bar on the website. Be sure to read all of the directions carefully, as they want you to observe representative locations for your area, rather than an extremely warm south-facing slope like the one where I saw the aspen catkins today. They also list preferred species for reporting - so check out whether you have any of those species in an accessible site. It seems like a great idea - although the website is still a bit clunky - but I'd encourage people to participate for the good of our planet.