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Monday, January 31, 2011

Arctic blast

Yesterday evening, we knew we were enjoying the last of the warm sunshine during our sunset hike for an arctic blast was jetting toward us. Sleek R enjoyed the kiss of warm sunshine on his fur.
The sun set in a subtle glow with orange clouds hovering over a peak that our pack climbed last summer. I can only imagine how harsh the conditions are up there right now.
It was warm and calm on the July day when we climbed it. We sat in the sun on the summit to soak up the views. I needed this photo today to remind that the sweet days of summer are ahead of us!
While the air reached into the 40's yesterday, the forecasts for the next two nights go as low as -40°F. Oh my, a major challenge is coming for us and for the wildlife. I've stocked the birdfeeders and heated bird bath. At least we can help our feathered friends.

The animals near our house were on the move over the past 24 hours. The coyote with a leg wound (you can't see it in this photo - but it appears to be healing) visited our clearing in the middle of yesterday afternoon.
Another coyote departed on a mission in the wee hours of the morning.
I've noticed in my coyote, bobcat, mountain lion, and bear wildlife camera photos that canines prefer to trot while cats and bears prefer to walk when traveling through their homeranges. The coyotes in the above photos are trotting - which means that each pair of diagonal limbs (e.g., right front and left hind) moves in sync. I think that it's interesting that different species seem to prefer to use different gaits when patrolling their territories.

This bobcat, photographed last summer in the same spot as the two coyotes above, is walking. You can tell because his left forelimb and right hindlimb are not in sync.

As the temperatures started to plummet early this morning, a rabbit hightailed it across the heavily used carnivore path, doubtless trying to avoid the fate of the rabbit in the bobcat's jaws shown above.
This morning, K and I snowbiked but I took few photos because my fingers froze against the metal camera. At the time of sunrise, K stood in the gray world atop a boulder at a spot that normally has a tremendous view.
We kept moving to stay warm. K romped through the snow, and rapidly built up frost on her face.
She and I shared a tete-a-tete atop Hug Hill. Oh how I love being in the forest with my chocolate lab, even when it's painfully cold.
I hesitated to ride too far but I decided to "try" a little riding solo. It turned out that I was dressed plenty warmly. I also carried a down jacket in my backpack in case of emergency. In the end, I was glad to be out in the world as it was transformed by our arctic blast.
Tomorrow will be a bigger challenge. I love challenges!

To those of you who expressed worry about my predilection for taking on challenges in the forest, there is one small consolation. I carry a device called a "Spot" that allows me to use GPS satellites to send a "911" message that includes my GPS coordinates. So, if I'm ever in serious trouble, I can use that option. But, I would never use it just because I'm tired (like the other day). It's reserved for true emergencies like a broken leg that prevents me from moving.

Here's to winter's return! May our fire keep burning warmly and our wildlife survive the next few nights. Let's all stay warm!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bobcat, deer, and our beautiful world

My luck seems to be turning at my wildlife cameras. A bobcat padded softly past one late yesterday morning. The tree that he was closest to in the photo below is a scent post that he chose not to mark yesterday.
But, he did seem to consider marking it. As he passed it, he paused and gazed at it. Perhaps he could tell that he was the last one to mark it so there was no need to "refresh" the scent.
I also checked the gully wildlife camera where a bobcat recently visited (see photos in Friday's post). A pair of does and their nearly full-grown fawns passed the camera. Fawns stay with their mothers for almost a full year if their mothers survive the hunt. I don't know how fawns fare if their mothers don't survive the year.

Mule deer are renowned for the size of their ears and the telescoping motion that lets them orient their ears in whatever direction they choose. One of the does demonstrated this perfectly. First, the doe in the foreground listened to world in front of her.
Then one ear monitored behind her while the other monitored in front of her.
Finally, both ears pointed backward, alert for an ambush.
The second doe who passed the camera with her fawn carefully sniffed a stump that I thought might be an animal marking post based on tracks at its base, scuffing of the wood, and fur stuck in the splintered wood (as if an animal has rubbed against it). Based on the doe's interest, I might be right. We shall see if any animals mark it while my camera is in this spot.

Today, K and I were up and ready to go easily in time for sunrise, a surprise after a tiring and long day yesterday.
This morning's sunrise started dark and then grew brighter and more psychedelic.
Due to low clouds on the eastern horizon, the world became bright later than usual. Once the sun peeked over the clouds, I reveled in the bright blue sky and warm air while K obsessed over the elk scent wafting from our west. A bevy of elk spread out over a meadow, nibbling the dry grass.
In the afternoon, our pack clown, R, decided that it was time for a hike hours earlier than usual. He paraded around the house carrying my lumbar pack which I usually wear for hiking. When we took that away from him, he countersurfed and trotted off with a Netflix DVD with plans to gnaw on it (he's done it in the past). Next was some paper recycling that he shredded for us. We finally got him focused on a dog toy so that we could delay our sunset hike until sunset. I'm beginning to think that the boy isn't ever going to grow up - and I love it!
When we *finally* headed out to hike, R was full of zany energy (surprise, surprise!).
During our hike, we explored some boulder outcroppings for the very first time. We've never before had access to the boulders or the expansive meadow that they adorn because an audacious landowner fenced in a huge area and claimed to own it. The truth has now emerged that the resident owned only a small fraction of the fenced area, and the people (and dogs) are taking back their national forest! I should be more shocked by the whole fiasco - but mountain people can be crazy.

The Duo examined the gaps between the lichen-covered boulders with exquisite care.
The Duo didn't get stuck under the boulder... although I was worrying as they slithered further and further into the crevice.
We enjoyed a long and warm hike. Unbelievably warm weather has taken hold here, ever so briefly. After temperatures in the 40's for the past couple of days, Tuesday's temperature is projected to bottom out at -17°F and reach a scorching -8°F during the day. That'll make for some Michelin Woman days...

For now, we'll enjoy the warmth and the hint of spring in the air!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A tale of two worlds

Making it onto the trails in time for sunrise motivates me every morning. But, it's getting harder. Sunrise is ratcheting one minute earlier each day right now. I pedaled like a fiend this morning, and K and I barely made it up high in time for the show.

After sitting together in the complete silence enjoying sunrise, we headed up even higher, where the crystal clear topaz skies with snowy mountains on the horizon wowed me again.

K was full of vigor, ready to gallop hard the whole way. Alas, I think that it's good that snowbiking is *slow*. It's so hard to push tires through snow that I feel like a slug most days. I think that's good for K because she's forced to travel at my slow pace while she continues to get stronger.

On our ride, I finally spotted a classic "K track". If you see a track like this, you know who made it!

After I rode with K, I headed out solo on my snow bike, visiting an area that I've eschewed because of my fear of the snow depth on the return leg of the loop. As I rode up the south side of a ridge, I mentally ridiculed myself for worrying because the hillside was almost completely clear of snow. I became convinced that snow depth would not be an issue on this ride.

I surveyed the views from the top of the ridge and then hopped on my bike to descend the ridge's north side. Oh my. The snow was nearly knee deep in the shadiest areas. No other humans had traveled on the trail this winter so it wasn't packed down the slightest bit.

However, two mountain lions had hunted along the trail some time in the past few days. They walked steadily in some sections, and then they'd explore side gulches or hillsides before returning to the trail. I'm guessing that these tracks were left by a mother and a large kitten.
My "easy" ride took a turn toward an "epic" ride, as I struggled to propel my 4" wide tires through heavy wet snow. I was exhausted beyond words, stopping to feel sorry for myself every 15 minutes or so. I ate extra food and drank extra water but it didn't increase my horsepower.

Eventually, I made it home but it was a mighty battle. I must admit, however, that I love having only myself to depend on when I'm out in the wilderness. Even if I'd had cell phone reception (ha!), no one could have driven to my remote location to save me. I was on my own.

Fortunately, food and rest replenished my muscles. The whole pack took an evening hike, enjoying every minute of the inexorably lengthening day.

It was another tale of two worlds. Out in a sunny meadow, the Duo frolicked in tall golden grass.
As the sun sank lower the sky, the world took on its dawn and dusk glow as the Duo raced each other.
Then, a two headed dog appeared on a boulder, one head black and the other chocolate.

Before long, we descended toward a shady and snowy forest. Out of the warm sun, the dogs started romping with a frantic intensity that surprised me. I have not seen K run so fast since early last summer.
R lured her with a long stick, hanging it out to the side to convince her to chase him.
Soon, K caught him, and clamped her jaws on the stick. Victory for the recovering underdog!

Friday, January 28, 2011

The leap and the bobcat

Spring has arrived in January here in the mountains! I pedaled up to Hug Hill first thing this morning, enjoying the warmth and well-packed trails. The cloudless sky pulled us upward to the peak, a spot that I'll never stop enjoying.
K and I played some games. She jumped a log near the summit. I captured her image in mid-air.
Then, I captured her astounding landing. She was in a full paw stand for an instant!
I had no idea that it was such a dramatic landing until I looked at the photo. I literally cringed, thinking of her "bad" paw when I saw this photo.

She was fine, thank goodness. Her eyes shined, carefree and happy in the morning sun just after her jump.
On our way down the hill toward home, I heard the spring song of a mountain chickadee. I think that he was as tricked by the sun's warmth as I was!
K and I checked a couple of wildlife cameras, and, finally, we had some action at one of them. I moved it yesterday. I had previously placed it on the easiest and levelest path for crossing a ravine - the path that I thought that an off-trail traveler would use. I left it there for a month and captured just one deer photo in all that time. So, I've been scoping out the tracks in the snow to figure out where the animals do cross the ravine. I found a stampede of tracks on the most ridiculous route (from my viewpoint). It goes down a vertical and slippery gully that feeds into the main ravine. It skirts a cliff of boulders. Why would the animals choose that route? My only guess is that it's very well hidden if they are avoiding humans.

Well, within hours of putting a camera on that gully, I had a visitor. A bobcat stuck his head into the frame from the right.

He sauntered to the end of a a rotten tree trunk and began kicking backward with his hind paws. I've captured this behavior on video in the past so I know that he alternately kicks with each foot (left, right, left, right). This creates a "scrape" that he then marks with urine and sometimes scat.
His tail went up and he squatted. He had no idea that he had *no* privacy!

Then, he scanned the area before marching onward. I love the black and white stripes on the backs of his ears.

Finally, he stretched out his legs, taking long strides uphill. I think that he was heading to a rocky escarpment where I've seen his tracks many times. He hunts the rabbits who live under the boulders.

I think that it's intriguing that I've been photographing bobcats in my area for close to two years now, and I've never captured a photo of a mother and kitten bobcat. I wonder why. Perhaps our territory is dominated by an iron-pawed male and the females stay in the shadows, away from my cameras. Male bobcats are a big threat to kittens and will attack them. So, this explanation might make sense.

At about the same time as the bobcat walked up the shady gully, the Duo and I were playing in the sun. I may be repeating myself but we always start with training games, to put the dog pair into the right state of mind to romp with abandon but pay attention to me if I call them.

We started with a sit-stay but neither dog pretended that they were focused on me. They did stay, however.
They focused uphill. Near sunset on a still day, a slight breeze flows downhill as the air cools and sinks. When I did Search and Rescue with my air-scenting dog, we always paid attention to these predictable light breezes so we'd know how to search a hillside most efficiently. In the evening, searching the base would give information about the whole hillside above us.
 R's neck stretched a few inches as he tried to levitate toward the amazing scent.
Whatever so raptly possessed them was forgotten a short time later as they chased each other in circles and played like puppies. R is the master of changing direction on a dime, as he's doing in the photo below.
Later, as the sun sank below the horizon, I leashed the Duo to prevent any wildlife encounters. We watched a soaring, fluttering, and gliding flock of birds slide across the horizon.
Then, the entire sky became suffused with pink. Peace.