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Monday, May 30, 2011

From winter to spring and bobcat!

Since arriving home from the desert, we've experienced winter, spring, and summer. Our first hike at home was winterlike.
Since then, it has gradually warmed up, and we've seen some sun.
It seems almost unbelievable - but our aspen trees have given birth to delicate light green infant leaves.
Today was a gorgeous day but I spent a big part of it dealing with R's former toenail. I say "former" because it was completely excised so that only the nailbed remains. His infection is improving, and his healing looks okay. So, we are going in the right direction.
I found some funny photos on one of my wildlife cameras. An inquisitive bobcat investigated the camera and then posed.
His whole visit to the camera is included in a flipbook video which you can view here or at Youtube.

From the desert to the mountains

Back to the desert for one last day... We spent our last day/night at the San Rafael Swell in a sea of sandstone.
A fierce wind was blowing as the four of us explored the sandstone world that surrounded our campsite before heading off to western Colorado.
We divided our trip home from Utah into two parts by stopping at an "old standby" campsite just over the border into Colorado and overlooking the Colorado River.

While we slept, a rain storm swept across the desert, enveloping us. Because we needed to drive home that day, we couldn't wait around for good weather. K had been limping earlier in the vacation so she and I had barely mountain biked together in a week. I think that the rocky world of the San Rafael Swell didn't agree with her surgically altered paw.

That morning, we headed out into the rainy world for a very short ride together. It felt wonderful to have my chocolate girl next to me again. She did a dance, complete with play bows and spins, to sing out her happiness about being on the trails with me again.
I wanted to go very slowly to keep her paw safe so I stopped to photograph dripping primrose flowers...
...and gorgeous dwarf lupine flowers. They glowed purple next to the trail, elegantly beautiful in an understated way.
We rode for a short time, and K's paw seemed painless. I dropped her off with the boys to hang out while I hammered out for a longer ride.

I rode uphill to a singletrack trail that winds along a cliff above the Colorado River.
I didn't see another person on the trails but the flowers repeatedly stopped me in my tracks. Look at these crimson paintbrush flowers perched on the cliff's edge. Two years ago, I saw a prairie falcon nesting just below where those flowers sit. I didn't see a nest this time.
The Sego Lilies, drenched in rain, made me want to stop and worship them.
After each stop to enjoy the flowers, I'd promise myself that I wasn't going to stop again for the rest of the ride. I swore that I'd just zoom by the blooming shrubs and delicate flowers.
But, then, another patch of flowers would draw me like a bee to nectar.
The palette of colors astounded me, especially against the stormy skies and with no other people around. This odd looking but beautiful flower has the unappealing name of "Pallid Milkweed".
Prairie wild onion...
Finally, I heard the rumble of thunder in the distance and realized that I was riding on a very exposed cliff where I was the tallest thing around (that's a rare occurrence for a short woman). It wouldn't be a good place to ride out an electrical storm. So then, I did truly hammer toward camp. No more flower stops.
Almost there... It was easy riding from here to camp so I zoomed downhill without a care.
During my short stop at the van before we drove home, I noticed a beetle on the sideview mirror. Maybe she was checking her makeup? We helped her off the van so she wouldn't take an unexpected trip to the mountains and we headed for home.... where the rain was snow and the flowers were barely blooming yet.
But, since arriving home and enduring seemingly endless snow and rain, our world is waking up. I love springtime!

On a more somber note, today marks two years since our yellow lab, S, lost his battle with cancer. We miss him but we've reached peace with his memory. We mostly smile rather than cry when we remember him. He was an amazing character who brought lots of love and laughs to our pack.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The bear mating season begins!

Last year, the bears started their emphatic mating season marking on May 30. This year, it appears that they started two days earlier.

A male, not the same one as marked a tree earlier this month, walked past a broken bear marking tree and toward another. Notice that he has no ear tags, unlike the one who we saw previously. That means that he hasn't been getting into birdfeeders or garbage.
Then, he went into full back-rubbing mode. Look at his huge paws in the air and his mouth wide open. I wish that my camera had audio because I'd guess that he was making some interesting noises, kind of like a dog ecstatically wriggling on his back. His goal was to advertise that he was a big handsome male searching for a sow in heat. Based on my reading, I'd guess that he was urinating as he did this whole display to add to the olfactory message.
He then walked about a mile and passed another of my cameras. I made a flipbook video of his antics which you can watch below or at Youtube.
The spot where he marked is the same spot where I captured photos of the bear sow and cubs the other day. Pip asked why a male bear would harm cubs. I don't think that anyone truly knows the answer to that question but some scientists have guessed that a male bear will kill cubs to send the mothers into estrus. That would make the sow available to mate with him and give him a chance to pass his genes to a new generation.

Also, Pip asked about how long bear cubs stay with their mothers. A female bear mates in May-June, and the fertilized eggs stay in "suspended animation" until she goes into hibernation in late fall. If she's fat and healthy, the fertilized egg will implant in the wall of the uterus while she's in the den. The cubs are born in January. Then, they stay with their mom for about 17 months. They spend their first summer, fall, and winter with her. The yearling cubs and mother emerge from hibernation together. In late May when the sow's hormones tell her that it's mating season, she separates from the yearling cubs so that she can find a mate. She spends the rest of that summer alone and drives away her yearling cubs if she sees them lurking too close to her.

Female cubs will spend their lives in the same area as their mother, carving out a part of their mother's territory as their own. For that reason, I think that we may see the female cub from the den that I monitored in early 2010 cruising for a mate in our area this mating season (that "cub" is now more than 2 years old and is probably sexually mature). In contrast, male cubs travel far away to establish independent territories so we won't see the male cub cruising our paths.

If the bear action calms down, I still want to post more about our desert trip. For the moment, we are enjoying what feels almost like spring here. K and I have been enjoying our mountain bike rides and hikes together while R is resting, trying to let his paw heal. Thanks for all of your good wishes for him. I think that he's recovering well - and the remaining big questions are how fast we'll be able to eradicate the nailbed/bone infection that had already started and whether the nail will grow back even vaguely normally. Only time will tell.

From the desert (where there are no bears but there are lots of beautiful vistas)...

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A bear family

Our sow and her two young cubs passed my remote wildlife camera very close to where they were first photographed on 4/28/11.

The camera is pointed at two bear "whammy" trees, pine saplings that the bears scent mark by rubbing their backs on them. The sow stopped to sniff one of the trees. She didn't mark it, probably because she won't be mating this year because she's busy raising her two young cubs. Moreover, male bears will try to kill her cubs if they track her down so she'd probably prefer to fly under their radar.
One of the cubs seemed fascinated by the tree like his mom was. He paused for a long moment staring at it.
For a perspective on the cub's size, I have a photo of a bobcat who passed exactly the same spot about a half hour later. The bobcat is probably around 15 lbs body weight.
My hope is that these "whammy" trees will be marked by breeding bears in the next month, using displays like the huge male did in late April.

I put together the entire visit by the bear family into a "flipbook" video which you can view below or at Youtube.
I'll hopefully finish up my desert posts tomorrow. In the meantime, we're helping R recover from a badly torn toe nail. He had to be "put under" to remove the shredded nail yesterday and is now very sleepy but recovering. We think that he caught the nail on the edge of a sidewalk as he walked in the city, resulting in a very painful injury.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Mule deer at scent post and San Rafael Swell continued

Before I talk about our desert trip, I must update you on all the crazy animal activity in our forest. It turns out that deer are even less smart than I previously thought. A band of six visited the spot where the huge mountain lion left his scent mark the other night. The deer visit was about 36 hours after the lion's visit, and the group seemed mesmerized by his scent, spending a long time sniffing it.

The first deer arrived...
But soon there was a traffic jam of deer trying to get to the spot that the lion had scraped.
One of them posed for the camera. Soon they began to meander away but didn't seem even vaguely spooked by the lion's scent.
Indeed, one even lingered long after the others to continue to examine the spot. This looks like last year's fawn who still has a few lessons to learn from her elders.
That deer behavior did not even remotely resemble how I expected that deer would react to a mountain lion's scent. Mule deer are the most heavily preyed upon animal by mountain lions. Elk are second on the list. Wouldn't you think that they'd be scared by a mountain lion's scent?

One of my remote wildlife cameras also captured very cute photos of a mother bear and her cubs in a remote part of the forest yesterday evening. I'll share those tomorrow. I love this time of year with all the wildlife activity!
Back to the desert trip, we were in the San Rafael Swell, an area well known for its canyons. We found a canyon wide enough that we could comfortably walk it without having to lift the dogs over any obstacles or climb any huge boulders.

We started our hike at the top of the canyon where it was wide and sunny. The Duo looked funny as they both sampled a scent at the same instant.
That raised snoot look emphasizes how gray K's muzzle became during her horrendous ordeal with the bone infection and toe amputation this past fall and winter. She's still beautiful to me but I hate seeing signs of her getting older.

As long as she keeps her chin down, the gray isn't so obvious!
As we hiked down into the canyon, the walls cast looming shadows.
Rushing water of flash floods has polished the bases of the sandstone cliffs over eons.
The canyon walls towered over us. Notice K at the base of the left wall in the next photo. She's a speck in the geological world.
As the sun set, I found a spot where its rays spotlighted my K. I love how her fur glows in the sunset or sunrise light.
We also found a Claret Cactus in bloom in a sandy alcove off the canyon. The delicate flowers seem shocking next to the sharp spines on the cactus.
After exploring the canyon, we moved to a campsite in the San Rafael Reef. The reef is a Navajo and Wingate sandstone wall on the east side of the formation called the San Rafael Swell. It feels like a reef with the sandy colored walls and sand covered washes.
Selective erosion has left behind the harder rock in some fantastic formations like these towers.
We camped within the Reef during our last night at the San Rafael Swell. We wished that we'd found this special campsite earlier in the trip. You can barely see the top of our van in the photo below.
It was an amazing trip. We explored so much new territory that was unlike anything that we'd walked upon before. I'll have one more post about the trip, and then I'll stop - I promise!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mountain lion, dogs, elk, and coyotes

I still want to tell you a bit more about our desert trip because we made two more fascinating and beautiful stops that I haven't written about yet. However, K and I had an exciting bike ride today so I'll save the desert story for tomorrow.

As K and I started our ride, I could tell that an uncommon animal had been on our path. She was on high alert, darting from side-to-side and constantly scanning our surroundings. She relaxed briefly atop Hug Hill under rare blue skies.
Then, as we skirted an area where I have a wildlife camera, her nose hit the ground and she looked like a hound on the trail of a fox. I called her back and decided that, although I tend to try to keep the dogs away from my wildlife cameras to avoid permeating the areas with their scent, I was going to break my rule and check the wildlife camera that we were close to.

As I excitedly peered at my viewfinder, I discovered that the majestic mountain lion had returned to his scent post last night to leave a huge pair of furrows in the ground where he'd marked his territory by scraping backward with each hind paw.
I believe that this is the same lion as visited on 4/3 and 4/19/11. I made a "flipbook video" of his visit. It shows that he has a very full belly. He appeared to be walking past the scent post when the scents of other animals caught his nose. Then, he changed direction to leave his own territorial statement. You can view my flipbook video below or at my youtube channel.
Since his last visit to this scent post, a number of other animals have visited the scent post. First, a couple of dogs wandered through and peed on the previous scrape left by this lion.
The next one is not R - it's a different black dog.
Then, a few days later, a large faction of our elk herd paraded through. I counted about 50 rumps that passed the camera over the course of several minutes. Some of these prey animals were very interested in the scents left by their predators.
More recently, a trio from the local coyote pack came through. The first animal focused on my camera.
Then, they got down to the business of marking the spot as their own. Just like the last time that the coyotes visited this spot, each individual peed on the mountain lion scrape.
I have to say that when I compare the bulky, well-fed, and muscular mountain lion to those coyotes, I think that the feline rules this scent post!
I can feel the power of the mountain lion in that special spot in the forest. His spirit infuses the forest with mystery and energy.

He also adds an element of fear. The presence of lions is one of the main reasons why I am so vigilant about keeping the dogs nearby and under control!