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Friday, January 31, 2014

Happy Friday!

What would I do without dogs in my life? Their joy is infectious. They leap into life, full of optimism.
They jump just because they're happy. They love snow, they love cold, and they love us! I strive to live up to that love.
Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mountain Lions

Due to a tragedy, talk of mountain lions is reaching a feverish pitch in our neck of the woods. Two family dogs were out in a fenced yard, and one was killed by a mountain lion just 30' from the house within the confines of the fenced area. When the owner came outside, the lion was "caching" the dog's body (covering it with snow or debris to hide it), and the other dog was going berserk close to the lion. The owner heroically saved his second dog, thank goodness. However, it's terrible that even one dog was lost.

Rumor has it that a mountain lion has been killed to prevent any more tragedies. According to the rumor, the lion who killed the dog was wearing a GPS collar, making it possible for the lion to be killed relatively quickly after the tragedy. It is possible that this one mountain lion was solely responsible for the flurry of reports of dogs being attacked by mountain lions. In past similar situations, killing one lion has stopped the attacks.

I am more aware of mountain lions than your average resident. My trail cameras capture mountain lions living like they're supposed to rather than sneaking up close to houses. I captured this pair of photos a few months ago far from any houses. First, a hulking bull elk passed a trail camera.
Then, a mountain lion passed, following in the elk's tracks, just 90 minutes later. I suspected that the lion was following the elk's scent. The mountain lion looks small compared to the elk, doesn't he? Yet, he's an adult lion, fully capable of killing an elk.
Mountain lions hunt by sneaking up on their prey and then pouncing on the oblivious animal. That's why they can kill animals so much bigger than themselves.

Indeed, just last week, a mountain lion killed a young bull elk, with just "spike" antlers, in our neck of the woods. I didn't find the elk carcass until a mountain lion's favorite parts had been devoured so the he had probably abandoned it.

If you've never seen it, a few years ago, I captured footage of a mountain lion at his cache of a deer carcass. You can watch Part 1 and Part 2, if you have never seen them.

I pointed a trail camera at the carcass that I found this week. When I checked it the next day, I found that coyotes fed on the remaining meat and bones all night long. For most of the night, four coyotes surrounded the carcass.
Then, after the coyotes departed in the morning, the ravens arrived, filling their bellies with bits of the carcass (my camera is still monitoring it now to find out who else visits). Based on my past observations, I know that nothing goes to waste when a top predator kills a deer or elk, and many other animals benefit from it. In the past, I've caught photos of other birds (like magpies and jays), foxes, bobcats, and even rodents on the remains of a mountain lion kill.

Because almost all mountain lions stick to their natural prey - deer and elk - we can feel relatively confident that they'll leave us alone while we hike, bike, and play in the forest. There's a good chance that they secretly watch us sometimes, but they let us pass peaceably.

Every now and then, a mountain lion develops a taste for domestic animals, like alpacas, llamas, miniature horses, ponies, and dogs. The attacks end either for seemingly no reason or after a mountain lion caught in an attack is killed.

Tonight, out on our trails, a big storm is starting. The snow was falling as the Duo and I took our evening hike. As we hiked, I was wondering how the wild animals, including the mountain lions, would fare in the storm. I think the Duo was simply wondering if I'd let them play in the beautiful fluffy snowflakes.
I wonder if any feline eyes were on us as we watched the snow fall?
P.S. I just learned that the rumor about officials killing a mountain lion was wrong. In fact, our wildlife officials say that one mountain lion killed another lion in the area where the above-mentioned dog died. Moreover, I learned that a second dog was killed by a lion, within a half mile of the first, a few days ago.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Real Life in the Mountains

On watch...

Those eyes were warily watching for another gust like this one.

When the wind subsides, the peace is an overwhelming gift.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Colorado Bluebird Day

Shyla and I were out at sunrise in the sunshine, frigid cold, and new snow.
I was determined to make it a better day than yesterday. Some things are beyond my control but my attitude is within my control.

Shyla kept moving, trying to stay warm. It was 5°F, according to my thermometer.
She paused briefly to survey our kingdom.
On days like today, there is no better perch than K's Rock for observing the beauty. Shyla hopped up on it, and then meticulously sniffed the boulder that K touched so many times in her life. I wondered if the scent of K lingered. If not her scent, K's spirit certainly inhabits this spot.
The early morning was mostly calm, except for a few brief bursts of wind. During the wind bursts, the fresh snow was so light and fluffy that it flew through the air, creating a ground blizzard. Someone doesn't look too happy with it. Fortunately, it was very brief.
Despite the few bursts of wind, we had such a good time together that I managed to beat back the blues that gripped me yesterday, after some unwelcome news that the musculature around my "bad" shoulder is atrophying (i.e., wasting away) very fast. I don't know what it means yet - but it deeply scares me. However, it's not impeding my ability to get out and enjoy our world, as long as I ignore the pain. So, that's what I plan to keep on doing!
This was a day that I would've hated to miss - a classic Colorado bluebird day. Do you see Shyla waiting for me in the next photo?
I'll follow Shyla's lead in trying to seek the best in life.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Snowy Day in Colorado

A snowy day in Colorado...
It's also very cold, with my thermometer reading 6°F when I started my snowbike ride with Shyla. It wasn't much warmer when we finished.
Shyla doesn't let anything get in the way of her joy.
I, on the other hand, have had a dark day with lots of pain. Perhaps tomorrow will be sunnier, both inside and out - like yesterday was.
R is such an amazing example of why dogs are great role models for me. He's almost always enthusiastic and joyful, even as he's recovering from a painful surgery. I strive for a spirit like his.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Mountain Lion on Patrol

Earlier this week, we woke up to a layer of snow.
As I pedaled around our trails with Shyla, I noticed mountain lion tracks. They weren't perfectly clear because it had snowed a little after the lion walked through. Based on where we saw the tracks, I thought that the lion had probably followed the classic "mountain lion route" through and around our trail system.

I dropped Shyla off at home, and I rode to different spots on that "route" where I've seen lion tracks so many times over the years. He did indeed follow the expected route, with only small variations.

His tracks came through the pine trees in the photo below. He dragged his paws slightly, leaving marks in the snow, even though the snow was not deep. I wonder if he's an older and stiff lion.
I have trail cameras posted along this "classic mountain lion route", and I caught his image at two spots.

He walked past the first camera, with snow hurtling out of the sky.
Then, he paused.
He sniffed the area where a juvenile mountain lion has previously rolled around and rubbed his back on the ground.
This lion was far too serious and mature for such antics. He walked away after a quick sniff.

Then, about a half mile away, he walked under a huge Ponderosa Pine tree where I found mountain lion scat and a "scrape" about five years ago. Ever since then, I've monitored this tree in the winters (this is a "winter route", not used much in the summer). I see about two mountain lions per year pass this spot.
This guy walked past, and then stopped almost exactly where I found the scat so many years ago.
He noticed the camera's soft red glow.
And then, he decided to scrape under the tree. A "scrape" involves kicking backward with each hind paw, and leaving a drop or two of urine over the scrape. Males do this most often. As I followed this lion's tracks, I saw that he'd been scraping like a maniac. He left scrapes all over our forest.
It's been a winter of lots of mountain lion activity in our neck of the woods. Just today, Shyla showed me the remains of a young bull elk that had been killed by a mountain lion. It had been killed out in the open, on the edge of a meadow. Then, the lion had dragged it 25 yards into a spot with more tree cover. I could see the drag marks in the snow. Based on the state of the carcass, it's possible that the lion in the above photos was the one who ate that elk.

Shortly later in the day, I learned that there is yet another elk that was killed by a mountain lion nearby. My friend's dogs found the very fresh kill.

I have a trail cam at one of the kills, and it will be interesting to see who comes to feed on it.

Last but not least, I wanted to share a video from the "New Year's Eve Mountain Lion" who I showed you one photo of in an earlier post. I suspect that this is a young lion, based on his antics. He rolled around in the snow in a spot where another young mountain lion rubbed his head extensively back in July. You can watch the video here or at Youtube.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Beautiful Saturday

It was a warm and sunny Saturday. We were out at sunrise, seeking solitude in the forest.
We had the world to ourselves for a brief time as the sun crested the eastern hills. We relaxed and enjoyed the sunshine. We played fetch with Shyla's favorite toy, a rope toy that I found in the forest during the first week that she was living with us.
Then other people and dogs started to emerge onto the trails in the gorgeous weather. Shyla has come a very long way with her myriad fears but she still is terrified of meeting large groups of off-leash dogs, even if they're with their humans. I knew from the look in her eyes that at least one of those groups was headed our way.

Some days, I feel like I have the patience and calm attitude to help Shyla through one of our encounters with our neighbor's barking and howling 10-pack of dogs. Other days, like today, I don't. So, we hid in the forest to let them go by, and then we made a dash for home.
I always feel a little bad when I take this strategy. Shyla might become comfortable with the 10-pack if she sees them often enough (because we get out early, we see them only about once per month). However, I have to assess my own state-of-mind before letting an encounter occur. Today, I didn't have the zen attitude that I need in order to convey calmness to Shyla.

So, we headed home, and I did a training session with each dog. Shyla is learning a number of new tricks - spin clockwise, spin counterclockwise, balance a treat on your nose, balance an object on your head, roll over, and wave with either your left or right (depending on which I ask for). We spend about 10 minutes per day on it, and we both love it.
I've recently restarted trick-training with R, to help him with his excess energy during his elbow surgery recovery. We are focusing on waving with his left or right paw and resting his chin on his paws. The waving with his left paw is actually a rehab exercise that encourages him to move his left elbow through its range of motion - so it serves two purposes!

His recovery seems great so far. He doesn't limp while walking but has a noticeable limp when he trots. I think that's par for the course only 2.5 weeks post-surgery.
And his soft eyes melt my heart.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Mountain Love

Shyla loves living in the mountains!
Run hard and sleep well!
Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Resigned but Lucky

All week, I've felt anxious about all the curveballs that life is throwing at us. I've tried to enjoy my time outdoors with the pups and tracking wildlife, hoping that would help reduce my stress.
I enjoyed Shyla's goofiness. I love capturing moments like this one with my camera. I wonder what she was looking at!
By last evening, a small winter storm was moving in, and my stress was simultaneously spiking. My surgery date was almost here, and my gut said it wasn't the right course of action.
Overnight, as snow blanketed our world, I reached a decision in the midst of my angst. I decided to follow my strong gut feeling and indefinitely postpone my surgery.
Two things led me to make this decision. One is that my pain has felt like it is originating in my spine, and not in my shoulder, for the past few weeks. That's a big change from back when I decided to have shoulder surgery. The second is that I keep getting small infections, suggesting to me that my body isn't ready to take the leap into surgery right now.
With my gradually returning calmness this morning, Shyla and I enjoyed our playtime in the snow. She ran with abandon, despite the bitter cold that had arrived with the snow. We also found mountain lion tracks... and photos of him on multiple trail cameras! I'll save those for another day.
Now, we're lucky enough to have a warm fire crackling as I reflect on the day. I don't know what's going to happen next in my quest to reduce my pain. In fact, I feel small bit of resignation that perhaps it can't be helped without the risk of spine surgery.
Feeling resigned not the easiest place to be - but I still know that I'm lucky in many parts of my life. I love my pack, and I love where I live. And, I have a warm home on this cold night. Lucky indeed.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"Active Mountain Lions"

The rumor flying around here is that there is an "active mountain lion in the area". Apparently, there are signs posted next to some roads announcing this. The odd thing is that I tend to think that there are always active mountain lions in the area.

Within a short distance of our home, I've captured many mountain lion photos in the past month, and that's perfectly normal for this time of year.

A half mile from our house...

Further from our house...

In addition, I posted trail camera photos of other mountain lions just a few days ago. It does help me to feel slightly more comfortable to know that I've never captured a mountain lion photo close to our house. Believe me, we have more wildlife cameras per acre on our land than any normal family so if lions were coming close to the house, we'd probably know.

One reason might be that we don't have lion attractants, like unsupervised dogs, outside our house. Lions do view dogs as edible prey. So lions are more prone to approach houses with dogs outside them, even if they're in fenced yards or on decks. Needless to say, fences and high decks don't stop mountain lions.
Dogs in fenced yards and dogs that are allowed to "hang out and/or roam" outside their houses are the ones at the highest risk of being eaten by mountain lions. So, all of our dogs' outdoor time is with us. We pay close attention to them while we're out with them.
According to the rumors, the active mountain lion has attacked multiple dogs. However, according to those same rumors, the dogs were attacked while being walked off-leash when it was dark out - truly dark - hours before or after the sun was up. That's a big risk around here.

In daylight hours, Shyla does have one behavior that tends to scare me. When people or dogs who she fears approach on a trail, she sidles off to the side of the trail and hides. If she hides soon enough, neither the people nor their dogs notice her. However, my heart pounds until I can spot where she's hidden. It's never far away, and, amazingly, it's always downwind of the trail. She's a very smart dog.
She also has shown me that she's very aware of mountain lion scent and scared of it. I've seen her act scared when she sniffed mountain lion tracks.
I think that's a healthy and probably a very helpful fear!

I truly hope that no more dogs are attacked by mountain lions. Perhaps the publicity will educate new residents about the precautions that they need to take in mountain lion territory. However, I do know that, even if we take precautions, mountain lions pose some level of risk to all of us. It comes with the territory but it's a very low probability risk compared to the happiness that living in the mountains brings us everyday.