Photos and text copyright Romping and Rolling in the Rockies 2009-2017.

All photographs and text within this blog are copyrighted.

You may not copy or repost any photos or text without specific permission from the author of this blog. When in doubt, please ask.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Exploring the springlike world

I'm writing this blog while sitting on my deck - which is completely crazy for March 2. The dogs insisted that we venture outside for the afternoon. All three love hanging out on the deck, and they knew that it was warm enough for it. They told me by standing by the deck door and pointedly staring alternately at me and at the door. I was going by the calender, which says it's too early for deck lounging. But the dogs were right!

We used to let the dogs have access to the deck almost all the time in warm weather - it's a high deck with no access stairs from outdoors so it seemed safe to us. Then, a neighbor had an Australian Shepherd snatched off her deck by a lion. She actually saw the lion leaping from the high deck with the dog in its jaws. Since that wake-up call, we only allow the dogs on the deck when we're with them. We have a mutual protection pact.

Today, I had heavy legs and felt like I was dragging an anchor due to my inspired mountain bike ride yesterday so it was a good day to 'explore' rather than ride hard. K and I took a new route. It crosses an expansive meadow with views of the snowy mountains. The grass is golden (or, you might say, brown) now but this meadow will have a riot of wildflowers in a couple of months - assuming that we get some moisture between now and then.

While we were in the meadow, K adopted a classic coyote pose, standing statue-still with one paw raised and seemingly pointing at a rodent. She paused in this posture and was completely absorbed in something that I couldn't see. A coyote researcher (Hope Ryder) spent 2 complete years observing coyote behavior in Wyoming, and she saw a coyote hold this position for 11 minutes, waiting for the perfect instant to pounce on its quarry, a mouse. By contrast, a high energy and distractable dog like K rarely holds still for more than a handful of seconds when outdoors. However, like her coyote cousins, she's recently become obsessed with digging in the meadow - I assume that she's excavating rodent holes. R likes to hover nearby - again, this is a behavior that Ryder has observed in coyotes. Often, the rodent has more than one exit to its burrow, and a second coyote is on guard to pounce if the rodent flees through the other hole. Perhaps, that's what R is doing! The good news is that neither of them has ever even come close to catching a rodent.

I'd been planning to try today's route for a while - but I'd been waiting for a weekday when the area would be deserted so that I could poke around to find the boundary lines between public and private land. As I was carefully weaving along a ridge above the meadow, I saw a sign that said 'National Forest Land Behind this Sign'. Well, I was on the wrong side of the sign - and just at that moment, a stocking capped head popped up from a cluster of boulders. But, it was a friendly guy who shouted that he was holding onto his dog. I interpreted that to meant that his dog was aggressive so I told K to 'heel', and we popped over to the 'correct' side of the sign. However, even these signs aren't good guideposts because a lot of the non-National Forest land is owned by the county, and they rarely have boundary signs. So, I'm often baffled about whose land I'm on.

Colorado state law says that recreational users are responsible for knowing whether they're on private or public land. In other words, land owners don't have to post signs to prosecute for trespassing. It's really difficult to know exactly where you are relative to invisible 'property' lines on the earth. The trees, flowers, rocks, and animals all look the same on both sides of a private property line. Most people are reasonable and even accommodating - I have permission from many of them to ride across their land. But, a few very territorial types are rumored to chase out trespassers with guns. Many years ago, one of my dogs was murdered by a drunk guy with a gun while I was hiking - the guy was convicted of a felony for his actions - but it's left me paranoid about taking K anywhere near the rumored gun-toters.

Today, as I rolled through the forest and meadows, I couldn't ignore that it felt like springtime. The warm sun inspired me to ride in shorts - exposing my very untan legs to sun for the first time in months. I saw a small butterfly that fluttered past me too fast to identify him. Then, I saw several flies buzzing around in the sun - not a notable event in summertime - but definitely an oddity in wintertime.

Later, as I descended a dark, densely forested, and northfacing slope, I saw two Gray Jays foraging in the pine forest. They're occasional visitors to our elevation in the winter but they mostly live up higher in the mountains. Surprisingly, they don't extract seeds from pine cones, although they'll eat spruce seeds from the ground. They mainly subsist on animals (carrion and they prey on mice and birds), bugs, berries, and fungi. Last summer, I saw a Gray Jay eating Amanita muscaria, a hallucinogenic poisonous mushroom, and I assumed that the he was doomed. But, I just read that Gray Jays can eat these bright red eye-catching mushrooms with no harm. To save some food to eat later or over the winter, Gray Jays use their exceptionally sticky saliva to adhere food to trees.

Today, I tried to photograph the pair of Gray Jays but only managed to capture a photo as one flew out of the frame. They didn't seem afraid of me but they were in a flurry of motion flitting from one perch to the next- as if they were trying to make the most of this springlike day. I'm not sure what food they were seeking since they were in a dense mostly pine forest - perhaps they eat the berries from the dwarf juniper that sparsely covered the forest floor. After the Jays had flitted out of sight, I descended to the gulch where I saw a mountain lion a little more than a week ago - and the creek that runs through it was melting fast. The sheen of water on top of the ice gleamed in the sun and reflected the forest.

After a an easy ride of exploring, I rolled onto my property to find that the insomniac Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel was up and eating again. In the photo, he's courageously poking his head out of his hole to check me out. He's stuffed seeds into his mouth so that his cheeks and gullet look grotesquely swollen. Those seeds will give him midnight snacks for the next few months - he doesn't seem to sleep very soundly! His brethren won't appear above ground until May. Imagine sleeping deeply for more than half the year like a normal Golden Mantled Ground squirrel does - maybe the insomniac can't stand to miss out on so much of the year. That's how I'd feel!


  1. That's so sad about your past dog being murdered. How long ago was that?

    You're lucky the pups don't hunt rodents more. Ours catch them ALL the time in our pastures. They don't always eat them, but when they do ... eeewww!

    But, they are not nearly as efficient as the coyotes. I watched on last summer, right after the coyote babies were born, and it caught something on several straight pounces.

    Lilly does have staying power, though. Sometimes in the summer we have to call her inside from the sun because she'll stare down a vole hole for hours. We worry she will get dehydrated.

    Once she was barking down a hole, which she never does. She is very quiet when she hunts. So, I went to see what was what, and just as I leaned down to look, a wild ferret/weasel/whatever popped out and screamed at me. Scared the heck out of me.

    I grabbed Lilly so that it could run off.

  2. Roxanne,

    Wow, Lilly really does have staying power when it comes to rodents. Maybe it's a border collie thing - they can be much more focused than labs.

    To answer your question, our dog was murdered about 18 years ago. It was one of those lifetime watershed events for me. A horrible thing that changed me forever.

  3. Oh my gosh! I can't believe that about your dog being murdered - how horrible! I would imagine that is something you never get over.

    And you are lucky your dogs don't catch lots of rodents. Ours catch them all the time. And swallow them. And then throw them up again later, once they come back in the house. Our husky mix, S, was a particularly talented hunter.


If you are a Blogger registered user, you can skip the step asking you to verify that you are not a spammer. For posts older than 5 days, I have comment moderation turned on.

Thanks for your comments!!!!!