Last night's cloudy, but dazzlingly bright, sunset told me that a storm was sitting on the other side of the mountains, and our springlike weather might be winding down.
This morning, signs of spring were bursting out even though the air felt wintry. I was back in my full winter garb for riding but the cold air felt invigorating. March and April usually bring the biggest snowstorms, and a cloud front moved onto the Divide this morning. Sometimes the storms creep over the Divide and give us snow... and sometimes they don't. The meteorologists must hate trying to forecast our weather because the Divide seems to add a random factor. This morning, even when K and I tunneled through a low aspen forest, the threatening sky loomed.
K and I headed out on our own this morning as R was running with my husband. K loves getting all of my attention - it seems that the youngest dog usually hogs disproportionate attention because he needs the most training. Today, I could ride along relaxing with my reliable partner K.
We rode up high to get an overview of the storm and literally saw it moving in over the course of our ride. It never breached the Divide but it enveloped it.
As we rolled along a forested trail, even I could smell that a skunk had sprayed his noxious scent. I wish that I knew the mysteries of what the animals do when no one's around. Did a mountain lion, bobcat or coyote attack him? If a coyote gets sprayed by a skunk, will its packmates allow their companion to get close to them despite the stench? Actually, I'm so fascinated to learn more about the animals in our forest that I'm going to buy a 'trail camera' that'll remotely take photos when a motion sensor is triggered. It'll be a fun project to figure out the best animal trails for the camera.
Years ago, we went through dogs-getting-skunked phase, when we lived in another part of the country. One time, our two dogs got skunked in the face at close proximity while out running with my husband. As luck would have it, he had a rental car while ours was being fixed - and had to load the skunk-reeking dogs into the rental car to go home from the trail. Believe it or not, after he literally poured boxes and boxes of anti-odor powder into the car and then vacuumed it, we didn't get charged extra for the skunk stink by the rental company.
Today, I kept K in a heel for quite a while after smelling skunk - I have no desire to live with a dog that smells like skunk for weeks after the noxious spraying. I've seen only one skunk here in many years - likely because we're technically a smidgen over their preferred elevation range.
After riding the high ridges, we swooped down through our meadow on the way home. I viligantly watched for coyotes. After reading Hope Ryder's book, God's Dog, about her coyote research, I feel certain that the coyote behavior toward our dogs in this meadow is territory-based. When K saw and chased the coyote recently, the coyote did not start to flee until K had closed to within 30 yards or so. Then, he didn't appear to be running as fast as K - even though I'm almost certain that he could at least match her speed. My guess is that he wanted her to catch up so that they could sort out the territorial issue. In fact, after I recalled K, he didn't continue fleeing but stood there defiantly. I suspect that my dogs' scents permeate the entire meadow, which is an intrusion into the coyote's territory.
Ryder describes similar chasing behaviors among competing coyotes near the boundaries between territories. What she observed was that the coyote being chased didn't move at top speed and then stopped mid-chase for a confrontation. Among coyotes, like wolves, a ritualized dance of aggressive and submissive body language ensued. Every incident that she observed ended with one coyote being submissive to the other and leaving - she didn't see actual physical violence among the coyotes.
I think that K's behavior toward coyotes parallels her behavior toward trespassers on our land - supporting my idea that her coyote interactions in the meadow are territory-based. Although she's matured enough that she'll respond to a recall now, she used to take off like a streak straight at the trespasser and completely ignore me. If the trespasser was a human, she'd look very serious during the chase but then launch into her wiggling 'I'm so happy to meet you' demeanor when she arrived at the person. If it was a dog, she'd posture a bit before letting the tension go.
If she actually caught up with the coyote in the meadow, I wonder what she'd do. I think that coyote ritualized aggressive-submissive behavior is too different from dog behavior for them to negotiate. That's probably why these dog-coyote confrontations usually end in physical conflicts that the dogs lose. I've handled wild-caught coyotes, and they move with lightning quickness. They can rip their teeth into a person before she even thinks about reacting. I suspect that a dog is similarly mismatched in close combat with a coyote.
Today, after dropping K off at home, I rode some of our freakishly dry trails. In sandy and rocky soil down near water, I saw my first blooming flower of the year - it was small (half inch across) but in blossum! I believe that it was a Storksbill (Erodium cicutarium).
A recent study reviewed in Audubon magazine compared flower blooming dates from Henry David Thoreau's notes of 150 years ago to blooming dates in recent years. On average in Concord Massachusetts, flowers bloom 3-4 days earlier now. But, a couple of species bloom 21-32 days earlier today than in Thoreau's time. The potential problem is that the animals who depend on those flowers for food or who pollinate those flowers might not change their timing in sync with the flowers. For example, bugs who rely on nectar from the flowers might hatch at the same time as 150 years ago and miss the blooming peak. The bottom line is that 'global weirding' is not just affecting Greenland and the Arctic but is also affecting mid-latitude America.
After seeing my first blooming flower, I climbed up high and saw the Divide lurking behind the clouds. Then, in the last mile, I saw another Mountain Bluebird on a meadow's edge. I wonder if the arrival of the bluebird is linked to the emergence of a few bugs. I've seen flies, wriggly terrestrial arthropods, and butterflies in the past few days. Bluebirds prefer to eat insects but will also eat small seeds and berries in the winter. I've also noticed that the bluebirds disappear from our high elevation when we have a spring snowstorm. I suspect that they flee to the refuge of the lower plains.
This evening's hike was fun but the sunset itself was muted. Since last night's sunset was perhaps the most spectacular one that I've seen here, I've included another photo of it. The sky lit up like it was burning behind the mountains. I was distracted by keeping the dogs from chasing a herd of six mule deer, likely the same ones as we've been seeing almost daily. The deer no longer seem very afraid of the dogs - they act like they expect that the dogs won't truly pursue them. The deer don't even move out of sight while I recall the dogs. So, then we launch into repeated recalls, as the dogs realize that the deer are still lurking nearby after each recall. The upside is that R is getting a ton of practice recalling off of running deer. That'll serve us well for years to come.