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Monday, February 29, 2016

Newborn Bear Cubs!!!

I finally found uninterrupted time to put together a video to show the exciting action at the bear den.

All through the winter until 1/14, the bear ate snow only twice, both times by reaching her head outside the den to take a bite or two of the snow on the ground.

On 1/14, things changed. She began eating snow at least once per day. She wiggled so that her head reached further outside the den, day by day.

Then, on 1/30, she was a restless bear. Her head was visible in the den entrance almost all day.

She ate snow many times. Twice, she walked outside the den. Each walk was only about 6-8 ft in distance but it was an odd departure from her behavior earlier in the winter.

On the night of 1/30, she seemed not to sleep. She looked outside the den, and seemed to toss and turn until our last video clip at around 11 PM. After that, she was deep in the den, and there were no visible movements to trigger the cams.

The next morning dawned with incredible winds. The tree holding the cams swayed in the wind, which triggered a cam to record video and audio. The audio told the story - cubs had been born, probably very early in the morning of 1/31!!!!!

You can watch the video here or at Youtube. Make sure that your sound is turned ON!!! The bawling of the cubs tells you the most exciting part of the story!

I don't know when we'll get to see the cubs for the first time. Their mom was impregnated last May or June. The cells divided a few times, and then remained in suspended animation as balls of cells. Because the sow was fat and healthy when she entered the den, the balls of cells implanted in the uterine wall and began to develop into cubs.

The cubs were about 1 pound in weight when they were born. They spend almost all their time latched onto a nipple, nursing. They bawl when they lose their grip on the nipple or are not covered by mom so they get cold.

The sow and cubs will undoubtedly stay near the den into the spring, until the cubs are mobile and can climb trees to flee predators. I'm incredibly excited about getting to watch the cubs via my cams this spring!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Springtime and Stars

Look at the ground around the LabraDuo with just a touch of snow near where they were standing. Then, remember that a foot of fresh snow fell last Monday night. As of last evening, large sunny areas were down to bare ground because our unseasonably warm weather has melted the snow so fast. Although I pine for springtime every year, this is too soon. It's been so warm that I find myself scanning the ground for spring flowers.
When the time is right, I'll rejoice at every sign of spring. However, this is too soon.

In the springtime, we restart our cycle of trips to beautiful places in the west. In the early months when the mountains are still snow-packed, we go to the desert. I am so excited to visit there again! And, because we have a comfy LabMobile to relax in, we'll be able to go while R is recovering from surgery. That will be a nice change of scenery for him!

As you all know, I love to watch the night sky during our camping trips. In the desert, we can see an unimaginable number of stars, all spinning around the north star.

Spring, along with our camping trips, will be here before we know it. In the meantime, I think that we need some more winter (and snow) so the fire danger isn't too intense next summer.

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The R Factor

Our dogs have such incredibly different personalities. R is exuberant, and almost nothing curbs his utter enthusiasm for every tiny thing in life. We've been letting him run a little bit, under controlled conditions. We know it's not "total rest" but R wants to live with some verve, even while waiting for surgery.

His recalls are amazing during my evening outings with the Duo. His only off-leash time is when we are training.

When Shyla is solo with me, her recalls sizzle with enthusiasm.

Yet, when she and R start a recall side-by-side, she seems afraid to compete with him most of the time. She sits back and lets him get a head-start when I call them. After he's taken a few steps, she starts a slowish recall to me. I think that R's intensity scares her - a notion that is supported by the big tongue flick she did as I called them in the next photo.

She didn't start moving until a few seconds later.
I remind myself of how much Shyla needs solo attention whenever I get tempted by the possibility of adding another dog to our pack - like when I see an adorable photo of a dog who needs a home on the web. Two is the perfect number for us because it means that Shyla gets daily time with all my attention on her. That quality time seems to build her confidence more than anything else.

Of course, I still adore the time I get with the Duo together. I just wish I could figure out how to draw Shyla out of her shell when they are training together.
On another note... I'm working on a video of the bear den activities. I'm sorry for the delay but making videos seems to take forever! The developments at the den, and the possibilities for the spring, are more exciting than I dared to dream over all the many years that I have quietly monitored this den. This year's events make all the measures I've taken to avoid ever disturbing a bear there seem incredibly worthwhile.

Happy Saturday!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Activity at the Bear Den in late January

I've had the bear den on my mind, where surprising activity has occurred this winter. I'm going to let the story unfold for you a little at a time. The bear never left the den until near the end of January. Earlier in the winter, the bear occasionally ate snow by reaching outside the den and biting into the snow that was within reach.

Then, the bear had a couple of very restless days, walking outside the den to eat snow. We saw a little activity like this back in 2010, the last time this den was occupied but not so early in the winter.

At about 10 AM on 1/30, the bear first decided to leave the den.

The bear traveled only about 6'. You can see the rings around the bear's eyes - those are probably due to mange, which is common in hibernating bears. When a bear turns down its metabolism, the immune system also slows down, allowing mange to take hold. Those of you who followed this blog 6 years ago probably remember that the sow who used this den in 2010 had mange.

This bear also has a scrape near the mange on the nose. I'm guessing it's from scratching at the mange.

After walking just a few steps and pausing, the bear turned around to head back into the den.

Look at how fat and healthy this bear is. And look at that coat!

On the same day, the bear was out again after noon, doing another walk of a few steps. She stuck her tongue out for the camera.

Aside from the mange, this bear looks super healthy with lots of fat and a very thick coat!

Less than two minutes later, the bear was squeezing back into the den, despite the balmy 46°F temperature.
I'll share more photos and videos in the coming days and weeks. The camera also recorded video which is very fun to see and hear! Do you have any ideas about why a bear would suddenly become restless in the middle of winter, taking small walks outside the den? We know that no animals went near it, except for one squirrel, so the bear wasn't disturbed.

Obviously, bears do not sleep soundly all winter long, unlike common lore. Lots of researchers have shown just how awake bears actually are but none as clearly as Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield, who put cameras inside bear dens to record the bear's behavior throughout the winter a few years ago.

Knowing that our wildlife is flourishing in the forest makes me smile. I love thinking of this bear curled up snug in the den.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Colorful Nature

Many of you know how much I enjoy observing Mother Nature, including the sky, clouds, sunlight, and wildlife.

It's often very cold when Shyla and I start our morning snow bike ride - so cold that our breath turns to steam in the freezing air. This morning at sunrise, Shyla was breathing right into the sunrise rays, and her breath turned gold with a touch of the rainbow! I wasn't sure how to best capture it with my camera but I figured it out eventually.

I'm so thrilled to see Shyla looking and acting like her usual self again. I'm not seeing any of the apathetic behavior that seemed to bog her down last week. She loves sticking her whole head under the snow and then making me laugh when she pops up with her "snow dog" look!

Later that day, we saw a "sun dog", as we started our evening hike. A "sun dog" is a cloud with ice crystals in it that glows with the color of the rainbow when the sunlight hits it. I noticed it because a small flock of geese honked as they passed overhead, just below the sun dog. They were heading north - a hopeful sign for this mountain girl.

And then we saw gorgeous wind-blown clouds at sunset.

It is a beautiful world!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Almost Wordless Wednesay - Joy to the World

Nothing on earth makes Shyla happier than snow! As of today, I thought her demeanor was back to normal. The hints of fear and tentativeness that I'd seen over last week were gone. You can imagine how much seeing her joy made me smile!


Leaping for joy this morning!!!!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Snow, snow, snow!!!!

We've had an incredibly busy and exciting day. But, according to Shyla, the biggest news was that we had an unexpectedly big snow storm last night. Shyla had a blast this morning!

Shyla is over the moon about the snow. She ran and ran today, making the snow fly wildly all around her.
Even though the snow slows down my snow biking (the new snow is about a foot deep), I was thrilled to see it too!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Fear wins for a day

I was right about the subtle signals that I was picking up from Shyla that she wasn't feeling confident. We went to our dog training class in town yesterday, and she seemed to want to hide the entire time.

It brought back memories of how terrible I felt for her when she was almost always scared of the world when we first met her. Yesterday, just like when we met her 3.5 years ago, she held her body low, her ears pinned back, and startled easily as she constantly scanned the world for danger. Unfortunately, a skateboard sneaked up on us and got much too close. Shyla cowered to the ground, paralyzed with fear of the noisy wheels.

The difference is that, this time, I feel confident that it's a passing phase. I wonder if she's a little sick, below a level where we can note it but enough that she doesn't feel confident. Time will tell.

Shyla is our first fearful dog, and I'm learning that a dog probably never becomes truly a "formerly" fearful dog. When life goes slightly askew, the haunted look can return. I have no photos of that "look" for you because I was focused totally on helping Shyla cope. However, I can guarantee that it was nothing like the her facial expression and posture in the photos from this morning.

I am happy to report that she seemed just like her usual rambunctious self during our snow bike ride this morning.

She even "charged the camera" at one point, giving me this closeup view of her beautiful eyes! (the shadow is me!)

My trainer's suggestion was to do very little formal training with her for a couple of days, and then to see if she returns to it with her old enthusiasm. I'm guessing that she will because she grabbed a toy and asked me to tug today - a great sign!
I keep learning from Shyla. This time, the lesson is that I need to always protect the hard-won confidence that Shyla has gained because she probably won't ever be completely cured of her fears.  However, I do have high hopes that this phase will pass quickly.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Silhouette Sunday - Magenta Sky

With our wacky weather, the clouds and sky have been gorgeous. One evening, there was a vertical pink cloud that encompassed the half moon at its top.

The cloud's color was more mellow when I photographed Shyla in front of it but I thought it was still glorious.

With the wind blowing so hard, both dogs love sniffing the scents that are traveling toward us from far away. I love the graceful silhouette that sniffing the scents in the wind makes!

As we finished our evening hike, the view to the east looked tranquil even though the west wind was intense.
I'm really hoping for some clear sky for the full moonrise and moonset. It's been cloudy for the full moon every month since September. I love photographing the full moon as it rises and sets.

Happy Magenta Sunday!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

What a week!

I'm not certain why this week has been so tough, leaving me exhausted. It probably has something to do with R's surgery, the powerful never-ending wind, and skating on the edge of not sleeping enough.

Even Shyla has been a bit "off" this week. She has her moments of total exuberance, like this one. I'd had her do a sit-stay behind a boulder where she couldn't see me, and I called her. Her frenzied delight at being able to come to me was incredible.
But her enthusiasm for our training hasn't been at its usual level. Her recalls are lackluster and she sometimes seems to be in her own bubble. I hope that she gets back to normal when the wind goes away.

At the end of the week, I finally made a leap of progress on R's surgery, which made me feel a lot better.

I now have two surgeons who are interested in doing the surgery. The very best one cannot yet commit to a date or a place. However, after talking with him on the phone, I feel confident that he'll do his best not to let us down. I'm 95% sure that he'll do R's surgery in April either here or on the east coast. As of today, we also have a backup plan in case the very best surgeon backs out - an excellent surgeon from California will do the surgery here in Colorado if needed. I feel relieved about that.

Every time we reach even a small crisis, I am overwhelmed by how kind you all are. Thank you. And, R thanks you too. He's actually still a very happy-go-lucky dog despite his reduced activity. Our nosework training is helping him avoid going stir-crazy. He gets SO excited about it! More on that on another day.
Happy Saturday to all of you.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Friday Fun

It was still incredibly windy this morning so Shyla and I started out down low, playing some games that I hoped would help her relax. She loves the game where she balances a treat on her nose and then tries to flip it into her mouth.

On her first try, she used a technique that my camera never captures because she does it so fast. Somehow, the treat goes directly from her nose into her mouth with either no air time or only a tiny bit of air time. Here it is, in her mouth by the next frame. Look at her eyes - they always make me laugh because of their wild intensity about this game.

The next time didn't go quite as well. She flipped the treat directly over her head and lost track of it, never catching it.
I hope that you all have fun and restful weekends, finding reasons to laugh like Shyla and I did this morning!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Severe Disturbance!

You have come through in a huge way with suggestions and offers of help with R's surgery, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. At this point, we are in a holding pattern, awaiting replies from surgeons. There's a strong chance that we'll be traveling someplace to have the surgery done. Because I am very stressed out about R's elbow, I am going to try to write about something else today! How about that?

We're in a scary weather pattern. Here, at 8200' in the Rockies, it hit 62° yesterday, and we have wind gusts that the meteorologists say have hit 100 mph at times. The warmth is the scary part - it's supposed to be winter here.

As you can imagine, our snowpack is disappearing fast. In shaded areas and on north-facing slopes, there's still a lot of snow. However, some sunny spots have no snow at all.

Shyla loves snow so she seeks out snow patches in mostly dry meadows for playing.

She loves taking flying leaps whenever she's near snow. She catches me by surprise sometimes with her ability to fly.

Thank goodness she can make safe landings.

Our weather is being called a "severe wind event" by the National Weather Service. The forest is a cacophony of noise these days. The wind howls through the treetops, and I can hear trees squeaking and crackling as they feel the brunt of the wind. Each day, we see newly fallen trees in the forest around us.

It's been clear to me that wind is still scary for Shyla. The signs are subtle. Shyla is happy and relaxed as long as she and I are together, with no one else around, even if we are being buffeted by the wind.

However, she relapses into the behavior of a very fearful dog when other people and dogs are near us in the howling wind. This phenomenon is called "trigger stacking", meaning that she is simultaneously dealing with more than one thing that is stressful. Either one alone - the wind or the strangers - would be manageable. However, she cannot cope with both simultaneously.

I'm making a big point of using rarely-traveled routes and being out early so that Shyla doesn't have to deal with outsiders. Today, we didn't see anyone at all during our snowbike ride. That was perfect for Shyla! (and for me too!).
I feel so lucky to be her safe harbor. She has a heart of gold.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Wordless Wednesday - Sunset Edition

We've had wacky weather - high Chinook winds and very warm temperatures. Although it's scary to have it be so warm in February, the wind and clouds have made for fabulous sunsets.
Sunset silhouette

The start of a sunset over our ski area

The purple phase before dusk

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Thank you!

Thank you for the uplifting and very helpful comments yesterday. You gave me some great information and ideas. Your ideas and energy just led me to discover that there might be a more local option for R's surgery. I'm not sure yet but there's a chance.

Sometimes, all you need is some good friends and a lucky break... I'm not sure if we have the lucky break yet but there's hope!

I'm amazed by how much this process exhausts me. I think I'm figuring out a plan and then something makes it fall apart - again and again. Earlier today, I felt like quitting for a while - not calling or emailing any more vets. But then I realized that sometimes I just have to persist until a break comes our way.

Now it's time to take the Duo for a walk and perhaps see a beautiful sunset.
Thank you so much for the support and ideas. Please pass along any new ideas. You are so helpful!