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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dog body language and bears

Our internet was down all day yesterday... So, this is just a quick update.

The Labraduo and I hiked a wildlife corridor yesterday, and their body language radiated tension over nearby animal scents. I never saw any animals but, based on my dogs' tension, I had no doubt that some were in close proximity.

First, R stared into the forest with his nose quivering.
Then, he growled and bared his teeth at something unseen.
As we tromped along the snow-laden trail, both dogs stopped in their tracks, immovable as they investigated scents, on multiple occasions.
Given the tautness in their body language, I kept them on leash until we returned to more civilized trails. It's amazing how much I can learn about what's hiding in the forest if I watch their body language. Yesterday, I was pretty sure that some bears had started moving through the forest, out of hibernation. K's body language was her specific "there's a bear over there" posture!

I'm hard at work making a video montage of my bear den photos from my remote wildlife cameras. But, just to give you a taste of what's to come, here are a couple of examples.

Somehow, one yearling cub ended up with a paw straight up in the air as the pair rumbled and tumbled in play.
And, shortly later, after they'd rousted mom from the den, she tenderly examined one cub's paw.
The gentleness of a mother bear with her cubs astonishes me.

Monday, March 29, 2010

KB and the Three Bears

After an early bike ride by myself, the two pups and I snowshoed out the back door into our glorious world.
The photo of the mountains emanates wintery cold but little signs of spring are sprouting - a sprig of green here or there where the snow has melted, and a pair of red-winged blackbirds in a willow bush on the edge of a meadow. Only one is in the photo below.
Our hike felt wintery as we traipsed through deep snow up a forested slope, following the bounding tracks of mule deer. The mule deer fled our neck of the woods for a week or so after successive storms hammered us with feet of snow. At least a pair of deer have returned.

After trudging through endlessly deep snow up the steep hill that the mule deer had climbed, we left the darkness of the forest and walked on the crust of a snowy meadow. Obviously, this meadow contains the best wriggling snow of the year!
We climbed from there to a high point, where K towered over us like a bohemoth!
It was another gorgeous day on the Front Range with my two pups!

Recently, I visited the bear den (without the dogs) to exchange memory cards in my wildlife cameras and made an exciting discovery. Three bears inhabit that small den! Because they'd never been outside together, I didn't know that identical cubs were snuggled into the den.

In my almost 1200 photos, two nearly identical yearling cubs and a mother played together like raucous teenagers. I don't know how much longer they'll stay in the den - but I had guessed based on our high altitude weather that it would be at least another month. We'll see!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bobcat on patrol

Today's stupendous blue sky helped me to climb out of the stupor of fatigue and pain. K helped too, with her enthusiasm for exploring. When I finally crawled out of bed very late today, I didn't feel like doing anything but my K's gold eyes followed me, patiently waiting for signs that we were about to start our hike. I couldn't let her down...
Following the path of least resistance, we walked in the trampled furrow toward the meadow. A maze of coyote tracks criss-crossed our deep crease in the snow. Last night, the coyotes had been able to walk on the crust of the snow. It's not too surprising that we saw myriad coyote tracks as they've been meandering near our house since yesterday. Here, a coyote posed for one of my wildlife cameras.
Once we waded into the meadow, only one set of coyote tracks remained, and K found them fascinating. So, I followed her instinct and started tracking the coyote. The coyote tracks are barely visible to the right of K in the photo below.
As we followed, the coyote tracks headed straight for this beehive rock, a layered dome that sits on the edge of the meadow and on the edge of private property.
Much to my surprise, bobcat tracks began paralleling the coyote tracks. In the photo below, the left set of tracks were left by a galloping coyote and the right set were left by a carefully walking bobcat.
When we finally reached our destination after tromping across the meadow of deep snow, both coyote tracks and bobcat tracks focused on the beehive rock.
Then some tracks led to a tiny hideaway between some low pine trees and the beehive rock. Nestled in the protected spot, we found where either a coyote or a bobcat slept recently. I'm betting on a coyote but I'm not certain. The animal is shedding for springtime and left a thin layer of fur all over the bed.
Then, I focused on the bobcat tracks, which seemed to circumnavigate the beehive rock, but I couldn't go onto the private property to see exactly what the cat had done. However, I could see that her tracks eventually rocketed straight down the beehive and returned to the meadow, sauntering to the west and veering to examine every boulder.
Once we'd climbed above the meadow, we could see that the bobcat had climbed to the apex of the beehive from the private property. We'd seen her tracks on she descended from this prominent viewpoint.
We kept following the bobcat's tracks, and she followed almost exactly the same route as many times before. She ducked under a barbed wire fence in her usual spot and marched past the tunnel dug by rabbits going to their den. I was surprised that she wasn't more interested in this gourmet restaurant.
She stopped at a scent post that I've noticed before. Miss Bobcat left a fresh scraping of pine needles with her very own scent atop them. This marking tells other bobcats that there is "no vacancy" in this rich territory.
Just beyond this scent post, we crossed a human trail. The bobcat joined the packed trail and I lost her tracks in the midst of a confusing mosaic of dog tracks.

I decided to head up toward the ridge where the bobcat had gone last time she followed this route. We contoured just below the ridge, winding among randomly scattered boulders, thinking that her tracks would have to cross mine if she'd headed over the ridge and into the same dense forest as on past forays.
Although we made it all the way into the depths of the forest, we never found anymore bobcat tracks. I suspect that the clever cat knew that the snow would be deep in this forest.
Although it was leg burning hard work to attain the ridge, it was worth it. We sat in the sun, enjoying our incredible world. What a view.
And, what a best furry friend. I love K - especially on days like today when I need her to energize me! What would we do without our dog friends? I don't want to think about it.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Our lone coyote and hibernation

The whole pack headed out for a hike. My legs felt rubbery with fatigue but having my whole family with me helped push me through the snow and up the hills. At the start, we passed a group of towering and graceful aspen trees reaching toward the blue sky. This cluster has become a symbol for me as I watch them change with the seasons. Today, they remained dormant, no bulging buds obvious on their twigs. However, beneath the surface, they're more active than we know. Their bark contains the machinery for photosynthesis, and on a sunny winter day, they likely use that machinery to convert sun to glucose and store it away for later use.
Based on the blue skies to the east, we thought that the mountains might be visible from a high point. We hiked upward, with the dogs leading the way, and returning frequently to 'check in'. I began to notice some clouds on the barely visible western horizon.
A loose layer of powder deposited atop a deep base snow layer made the trekking tough but the dogs didn't mind!
The fresh snow glittered in the sunshine like millions of diamonds tossed recklessly across the ground. Every color in the spectrum emanated from them, and the colors changed as I shifted my head from side to side. What glorious gifts nature gives us!

When we arrived at the summit in the tracks of our dogs, the mountains were invisible.
But, a blue view with puffy clouds caught my eye to the eastern flatlands. It's rare that I love the view to the east more than the one to the west!
After arriving home from our hike, a noble coyote came by our forest clearing. This young canine obviously felt nervous about being close to a house in daylight. I don't blame him, after seeing what cruel humans can do to such a beautiful creature due to unfounded fears and hatred.
He repeatedly fled, with this crouched posture preceding a sprint.
This coyote seems to be our new loner. I wish that I could sort out the coyote dynamics in our home range. I know that, for the summer through February, we seemed to have a trio living nearby, two of whom acted like a mated pair, and a third who mostly traveled solo. One was shot and killed, and I believed that he was the loner. However, within weeks, three coyotes appeared together in a wildlife camera photo. Now, the pattern has returned to normal, with a pair traveling together and this young guy forging his own path.
He might be a newly arrived young coyote, searching for his own range. In any case, I hope that my fellow humans give him the chance to find his way in our world.

Now, I'm going into hibernation to get some serious sleep, just like the young cub has done with the resurgent wintery weather that's hit our mountains recently! I think that I've pushed myself too hard recently - a mistake that I repeat time and again - but which is usually reversible with some rest. The problem is that I hate resting - look at all that I might be missing in the grand outdoor world!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Snowy spring day

The intense yearning for spring has hit me. So, the stormy skies didn't bring a smile to my face this morning.
K and I did a short snowshoe hike, but the deep snow with an icy crust made travel very difficult. We crawled our way up to Hug Hill, hoping that the mountains might peek at us. They didn't. But, K did a trick for me on the top!
I had to rev her up to get her to take a playful pose. Her mood tends to mirror mine to an eerie extent. If I'm lacking spark, she usually is too. We should have brought R today - he makes it his mission to make everyone be playful and happy! Alas, R had plans of his own for an excursion with the other biped in our pack.

After our hike, I headed out on the dirt road for a bike ride, always a highlight of my day. Almost immediately the upslope clouds moved inexorably toward me.
Very soon thereafter, the snow started blitzing me from the sky, reducing visibility to almost nil.
I headed home, and K with her octopus expressed my malaise perfectly. It's time for spring!
I should be as adaptable as the hibernating bears. When I visited their den almost a week ago, I picked up memory cards containing photos from a series of very warm days between snow storms. Alas, the bears didn't rev their bodies back to full speed despite the balmy 40 degree weather. A bear appeared at the den door twice each day to nibble on the snow. However, I couldn't tell which bear made each outing because they never emerged fully from the den. I suspect that each bear ate snow once a day... but that's nothing but a wild guess.

Here's a clip to let you visualize how slowly they were moving.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Freeze frame - forest life stops

First, I have to show off the most perfect birthday present ever. It reminds me of hope - the hope that K and I will float along on our trails together again, with me on wheels and her loping easily beside me. I think that this cycling jersey was made for K and me!
It's easier to see the bicycle cog, adorned with bones, encircling a chocolate lab from K's back.
As my long-term readers know, I tend to ride my bike outdoors regardless of wintery conditions. I have studded tires that give me super-powers on ice and I have fat 4" wide tires that give me float in powder. Alas, I had to yield to my sensible side today (and probably tomorrow), realizing that a single crash could destroy all my hard work by hurting my neck. So, I'm staying on my indoor trainer until the dirt roads are clear of ice. This sensible behavior demonstrates that I do have ONE single neuron in my brain dedicated to common sense.

Truly, it is still winter up here in the thin air.
So, despite the deep snow, I was determined that K and I would have fun sojourn in the woods on foot this morning. We forged a route to the west, initially following our tracks from yesterday and then extending them further.
A veil of gray clouds lagged behind the departing storm. It hung over the Divide to our west.

After following a tortuous route through boulder outcroppings, dense pine forests, and waist-deep snow, we came out on a ridge that's become my favorite. K froze, nose quivering in the air, for 30 seconds. I wondered what she sensed, and started visualizing scary animals like mountain lions.
As I started scanning for danger, she flopped over on her back and started wiggling in the snow, leaving a Dog Snow Angel.
I guess that her "high alert" was to investigate whether it was safe enough for her to be SILLY!

We tromped through deep snow out to a pinnacle. The cloud veil shaded the high mountains closer to us but not the towering peaks behind them. The sunlit ones glowed in the distance. In this photo, also notice how much wild forest still sprawls across our landscape. So much territory to explore!
As we paused on the pinnacle, a flock of ravens focused its attention on us, cawing and swooping in lazy and crazy circles around us. K watched them on one side.
And then, she swiveled her neck when they soared to our other side.
Although K looks as if she's gazing into the future in this photo, she actually silently watched our flock of ravens.
Nearby, K's favorite lookout loomed. Can you believe that a pine tree flourishes in this windswept rock tower? I can't.
K climbed up to survey her kingdom but the ravens continued to circle.
She stared at them as they soared over her head in the photo below.
Finally, one swooped very close and below K's perch, she made a move toward the edge. Fortunately, the alarm in my voice as I said "NO" stopped her in her tracks.
The ravens kept following us as we wended through deadfall at the top of a steep slope. As soon as we moved back from the brink of the slope, the ravens abandoned us.

I wonder why they followed us? Usually, ravens lead us to dead animals. However, in that situation, they focus on the carrion rather than on us. If I'd seen a single deer or cat track today, I might have guessed that a lion was guarding a carcass downhill from us and the ravens were circling as they waited for the lion to let down his guard. The slope is very lion-friendly terrain where I've found their signs many times before. But, I doubt that interpretation because I didn't see a single track from a large animal today. I think that all of our large animals fled to extreme south-facing slopes, that will melt very fast, before the storms hit.

Nature is often an unsolvable mystery for me - but I love trying to solve the mysteries surrounding the behavior of our wildlife. I called today's post "Freeze frame" because large animal activity seems to have ground to a halt since our heavy snowfall. I wonder how the animals know that storms are coming and then where the animals go when they hit. I may be wondering for a long time!

On a side note, I'm feeling much better today although I'm itching to get outside on my bike. For now, I'll enjoy my tromps through the snow with the pups as much as I can. I'm lucky to be able to go for beautiful hikes out my back door despite the deep snow!