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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Mountain Lion Marking Spot

Last week, I lucked out. I had just scouted for a spot to put a trail camera. I chose a spot where multiple scrapes were left by a bobcat in the pine duff. Often, multiple carnivore species all mark in the same places so I didn't know what animals might mark there.

Within days, a mountain lion killed an elk extremely close to that spot. The lion chose the spot in front of my trail camera as his marking and toilet spot. Here he was on the first morning when he'd killed the elk within hours before. Note the blood on his chest.

He ended up choosing this as his touchstone spot that he passed as he approached and departed the elk carcass.

In the video, you'll see that he often dug up a spot with his hind paws. Sometimes he did that to make a depression for his scat. Then, he'd spend at least a minute covering up his scat using his front paws to move pine needles and snow over it. It seems so odd that the biggest predator in our forest covers his scat so meticulously, as if he's hiding it.

I felt so lucky to get such amazing views of this secretive carnivore. Here he was returning to his feast one afternoon. Lions eat their prey at night, and then they sleep all day. Usually, they sleep some distance from the carcass. This guy seemed to be sleeping during the day about 3/4 mile away (I had a cam there too - this lion was really cooperating with me!). The footage was in last week's video although I didn't yet know why a lion kept walking past the cam!

He spent a total of 4 days decimating the carcass. I found the carcass just after he'd departed for the last time. I didn't know that he'd given up on it so I set up cams pointed at the carcass. Alas, the lion had sated his appetite and moved on. Red foxes finished the meal.

Here's a video of the lion's activities at this touchstone spot where he marked vigorously.

Happy Lion Tuesday!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Fill the Frame

I've tried to make Mondays my wildlife footage day of the week but I just couldn't get a video done this week (I am a very slow video editor). So, I'm taking a holiday for President's Day.

I did work on my Dogwood 52 week photography challenge, focusing on two faces that make me smile. The challenge was to "fill the frame" so I filled two frames with our canine family.

Sweet Shyla. No dog has changed me as much as Shyla has. She has her weaknesses, which I focus on too often. I've grown closer to her than I ever thought would happen with any dog after K. She puts up with my "drive" that has an intensity that used to scare her. And, I help her through her fears and try to make her smile every day. I'm so glad that we insisted on keeping her almost 6 years ago.

Then, there's our black dog. He always manages to look serious in portraits but he's one of the goofiest and happiest dogs I've ever known. I love when I can find the right light to highlight his brown eyes. They show the sweetness of his soul.
Today, I celebrate these two canines who bring us so much happiness!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Poetry in Motion

I knew that life was looking up when the morning light was gorgeous. We headed out into gale force winds, but that's become normal recently. 

As we headed up toward my favorite place for sunrise light, I noticed that the angle of the rising sun had changed enough that a new place was illuminated, albeit briefly. 

Shyla was happy about it too because it's her favorite leaping site.

She awes me with her grace and power.

Look at her in flight! She's perfectly horizontal like she's truly flying.

And, she appeared to float as she landed from her leap.
Her first leap of the morning is always her best. Often, I am not fast enough with my camera and all its settings to capture her poetry in motion. I lucked out his morning, and it set my mood meter to "happy" for the rest of the day. The knee isn't better but my attitude is.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Labraduo Happiness

I've got to admit it. I've been staring at a blank screen with no post written for a while. The reason is that this knee pain has pushed me over the edge. My spine always hurts... but the knee is like the straw that broke the camel's back. I'll be getting an MRI early next week. At least that will tell me why my knee hurts so much and is disfigured with swelling. Fixing it will be another task altogether.

I had the Labraduo today, both halves! Normally, that's cause for happiness. And I was happy while we were out together on the trails. I just can't muster happiness right now with the backdrop of pain that I'm feeling.

Here's the Duo! R looks as carefree and joyful as ever! Shyla tried to be funny by sticking out her tongue.
Happy Saturday! I'm going to muster some happiness, have no doubt.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Meeting Evil - Again

We recently ran into the evil woman who hit Shyla last year on the trails. I've feared that she would hit Shyla again given her proclivity for hitting dogs, despite the negative consequences the first time.

Alas, there was no need for me to worry. Shyla crawled away and hid behind a tree before most people would even notice that I had a dog with me. She remembered the woman far better than I did. It took me a few moments to recollect who she was. I think that I have subconsciously wiped her face out of my memory bank.

Hiding behind trees or boulders is a classic Shyla move. She used to do it at least once on every outing when she was scared. Now, it's far less frequent because so many of my neighbors have made big efforts to help with Shyla's fears.

She never looks this upbeat when she's behind a tree due to fear. In this case, she's behind a tree as part of a game with me.

When we saw the evil person the other day, I could barely speak because the rage bubbled up in me so fast. I was not surprised by how angry I felt inside. The place where the "hit" occurred is one of my favorite places on earth, Hug Hill. Since being hit there, Shyla never fully relaxes when we visit that spot. That hurts my heart.

After that unpleasant encounter, I wanted to cheer up Shyla so we played some treat games. Those games make us both smile! This one was a successful snarf.

This one was not, as I'm sure that you can tell by Shyla's eyes.
So, we ended our bike ride with smiles. Sometimes, that's all that I can ask for.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Thankful for Positive Training!

One of the things that I love most is learning about how to communicate with our dogs and thereby teach them new things.

I have doing some "shaping" training recently, and it is tons of fun. I've been doing this type of training for a while but I'm revisiting the science behind it in an online course that I'm taking now. I taught Shyla to wave using this technique.

Here's the idea behind "shaping". I think of something that I want to teach my dog to do that he has never done before. I get my clicker and a lot of treats. Then, I click every time that my dog makes a movement that is even remotely starting him toward what I want to teach. The click communicates that he's doing something good. I give him a treat after every click.

Later in this post, I'm going to show you a very short example video. I taught R to touch a target with his nose. I chose to use R for this because he has little experience with "shaping". The target is the red bulb-shaped object on top of a short pole in the photo below. R is heading toward it in the photo.

I gave him no verbal cues at the start. I simply stood there and waited to see what he chose to do. You'll see that he initially wanted to walk backwards because that's his favorite thing that I've ever taught him.

My first click is because he got somewhat close to the vicinity of the target. I then wrote "missed it" in the video when he made a quick glance toward the target, and I missed clicking it. After that, I did a bunch of clicks for him glancing at the target.When he went back to solely walking backwards, I didn't click. I waited for him to orient toward the target again.

Very soon, he understood! He repeatedly walked to the target and hit it with his nose!!!! He figured that out simply from the feedback that I gave him with the clicker.

I find it so astounding that I can communicate how to do a completely novel behavior using "shaping" - basically by clicking and treating every increment toward doing the behavior.

Here's the short video. I hope that you enjoy seeing R in action.

I am so thankful that this type of positive training, and other methods of positive training, have been developed and are being adopted by so many dog owners. It's fun for both the person and the dog! There's no punishment for mistakes. Rather, the training is done totally by giving positive feedback to encourage the behaviors that you want more of. I love it!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Run from the Shadows, Seek the Sunlight

Does it ever feel like the dark shadows are stalking you? Shyla might feel that way at sunrise!

I don't have much time to write today but a shadow captured me this weekend. I'm feeling more overwhelmed by it than normal because of the other things in my life, like my dad's health, that are weighing on me. By contrast, the fact that I probably tore my ACL this weekend isn't a really big deal. However, I'm still sad about it because of the adventures that it may cause me to miss.

I am seeing an orthopedist today, and we'll go from there. The swelling is astoundingly huge, and now part of the knee is turning black and blue too!

If you've been reading for a while, you probably are not surprised that I immediately asked permission to keep riding a bike. Riding a bike doesn't hurt very much, although my pain scale is a bit skewed by having experienced nerve pain from my back. Nerve pain is an order of magnitude worse for me than any other kind. In any case, I still rode my bike this morning... and I lived to talk about it!

I will keep trying to look on the bright side, away from the shadows!
One miraculous bright side is that my Dad is doing well. I'm about to go see him at his home, with huge gratitude that he survived, and we can have more time together.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Wildlife Monday - Mountain Lions!

Last week, I decided to grind my very wide fat bike tires through unpacked snow to check some trail cameras. The amount of snow on my route varied from 8" to zero, depending on the sun exposure. 

As I started my ride, big and wide mountain lion tracks joined my route to lead me to my cameras.

I had no doubt that they were mountain lion tracks. They were big, although far from the biggest that I've ever seen. My chemical handwarmer is 3.25" long and is in the next photo for scale.

As I followed the lion, I got to see all the small deviations between his route and the path covered by my cameras. I dropped my bike and carried my GPS as I recorded his route to examine later and possibly adjust a camera location. He evaded one camera by climbing up a hillside. Then, he passed by another camera to let us see him.
Somehow, after passing my trail camera that takes still photos, he wiggled his route to completely miss a nearby video camera.

Then, we came into an open area, and there was no snow to record tracks. However, a quick check of a camera showed that the lion had come through there. I'm learning that this open area is very special to the mountain lions. It is one of the few areas where they feel comfortable enough to be out in daylight on a regular basis. I sure hope that humans don't discover it!

The lion who I'd been following was only the most recent one -  there had been an unprecedented number of lions wandering around our neck of the woods over the past few weeks. I think that the mild winter might be the reason why they are staying at our relatively high elevation this winter.

The "mild" temperatures came to a halt for the weekend. I watched the temperature plummet by 25°F in a very short time on Friday night. Then, it started to snow. I really wanted to check another camera for this post so I made a quick foray to it, barely keeping myself from freezing while standing still to deal with the cam. However, it was worth it - I found even more footage of lions! I'm glad that I endured the agony to my poor Raynaud's addled fingers.

I made a video (on Youtube) of the activities of the mountain lions over the past couple of weeks, including one lion who went up on his hind limbs to sniff high in a tree! Almost all the lions looked very healthy and well fed.

I hope that you've enjoyed my Wildlife Monday post!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Black Dog Sunday

Our black dog has enjoyed a healthy streak, and we've enjoyed it too. You might remember that he had a cancer scare recently but a bunch of tests showed the tumors to be (probably) benign. His happiness and high energy were a big reason why we felt fairly confident that he was healthy even before the vets said the same thing.

On occasion, I get to have both halves of the Labraduo join me on a bike ride. They are an absolutely wild pair because they love to play while sprinting at top speed in circles around my bike. I usually stop to enforce some calmness fairly early in the ride.

We practice recalls, which turn into highly competitive races. Shyla is the faster dog but R's competitive spirit tends to scare her a tiny bit so she hangs back in the races.

After R gets one step on Shyla, he cuts in front of her to make sure that she can't win.
Although I wish that Shyla wasn't scared by R's intensity, it is cool to note that he couldn't muster the speed to beat her in a recall race prior to his elbow surgery more than 1.5 years ago. With his "new elbow", he is definitely faster! How great is that?

I tried an experiment to see if I could infuse Shyla with confidence. I gave Shyla a head start of a couple of strides, hoping that she'd find the confidence to win. It didn't really work. You can see that she started out ahead but her ears were back and her face was worried as if she was focused on what R was doing.

Not surprisingly, R found a way to come around her by leaping a rock to her side. Note how Shyla stuck her tongue out at that moment.

R is a unique spirit. A lot of people wouldn't be able to handle his over-the-top exuberance and intensity. We were told that he was rejected as a competitive field Lab because of a lack of intensity. That story makes us chuckle as we imagine the personalities of the dogs who were *more intense* than R! I often feel as if he may explode with excitement over the smallest fun things.

I hope that I have another day on the trails with R soon!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Magical Starry Saturday

This is my Angel K. She's been gone since 2012 but I shall never forget anything about her. I loved her eyes. Each eye had a star like pattern around the pupil.

Here's a close-up of one of her unique and glorious eyes.

I thought of K's starry eyes as I went through some of my star photos that I hadn't processed yet. This one was from our time in early September high in the San Juan mountains of southwest Colorado. The mountain ranges visible from our campsite are on the horizon. The moon was bright so not many stars were visible. This photo shows their motion around the North Star over 1.5 hours.

I'm doing the Dogwood weekly photo challenge this year. This week's challenge was "alternating rhythm" which is defined as "alternate patterns of light to bring depth and rhythm to the photograph". I was really stuck about how to meet this challenge while using something natural as my subject. I finally decided that a star trail photo includes an alternating pattern of light.

This one is from K's Rock showing a combination of 120 photos taken over 1 hour and 20 minutes. I took the series when we were in the desert in October. The North Star is in the middle of the circles, just about at the top of K's Rock. The rock was lit by a bright moon that was setting just as I started the series of photos. The rest of the series was taken with no moon so many stars are visible, each tracing its path around the North Star.
I love that I think of Angel K's eyes when I gaze at the magical stars.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Wintertime Flower Friday

Today, we lost the wonderful sunshine that made me smile the other day.

The world looked a lot grayer today. I bought Shyla a new collar which brightened up my photos a lot.

Today I was thankful for the Paperwhite bulbs that the Runner got me to help me through the long winter.
They are gorgeous flowers! Happy Flower Friday!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Thankful for Morning Sunshine, Finally!

We had a stretch of days with almost no morning sunshine. I'd awaken excited to get out into the sun, and it would be a dull drab day. Flat and gray days make me feel the same way.

But then, the sun shined again on a recent morning. We sprinted up to a high plateau to stand in the sun's rays. I turned my face toward the sun to feel it's subtle warmth. I love the sun!!! It makes me smile.

It was cold so we didn't stay still for long. I called Shyla who accelerated toward me on a recall.

She is so beautiful to me, especially when she's glowing in the sunrise light and has her golden eyes pinned to mine as she sprints.

We couldn't play in the sun for too long because I had a spine appointment in town. It's a place where Shyla is welcome to accompany me. She and I received the greatest compliment in the waiting room. Shyla was sitting facing me, totally focused on me. Another patient said "Your dog is so attentive to you. Is she a service dog?".

I do realize that a dog in a medical waiting room is more likely to be a service dog than a dog on a trail... but I still was thrilled that her behavior lived up to a standard that would make someone ask that question!
After this photo, we were off to the races, doing our ride and heading to town. It's amazing how a sunny morning can make me happier!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Sun Puddles on Wordless Wednesday

Our Black Dog sitting in a sun puddle...

The Labraduo snuggling in a sun puddle (while being stalked by a photographer)...

We are so lucky to have two dogs who love each other.
They are a perfect pair!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

It's All Fun and Games

To help me laugh more despite the serious stuff of life that has taken hold of me, Shyla and I have been playing lots of funny games during our morning outings.

She's become very good at the game where I toss a treat (in the foreground and out of focus) and then photograph her trying to snarf it. You can see her focus...

This was less than a second later as she started to open her mouth...
She snarfed it... but somehow my silly camera missed that instant.

Shyla has trouble when my aim is off, like in this one. I love how the treat is in focus but Shyla is not. Her eyes are tracking the treat but it's not close enough to her.

By far, her favorite game is the nose balance game. She gets very serious during the balancing part.
When she flips the treats into the air, somehow she picks out one to focus on. She snarfs that one and picks up the rest from the ground.

The instant after she flipped the treats into the air...

As she snarfed one of them, she knocked the others off their trajectories so they scattered far and wide.
We have such fun on our morning outings - whether we run a lot or play a lot - we both come home happy and tired.