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Monday, April 30, 2018

Wildlife Monday - Closeups of a Mountain Lion Kitten!

I have a trail cam in a spot that I absolutely cannot access during the winter because the snow piles up too high. Finally, on a recent day, I managed to make it to the spot and see an entire winter's worth of photos. They did not disappoint!

A huge variety of species passed the cam, and even some late-to-bed bears went past it. However, the mountain lions won the day.

A mother mountain lion went by a few times. Here is one of her forays past the camera.

Seeing a female adult mountain lion isn't extraordinary. However, the cat following behind her was extraordinary.
Yes, it's a mountain lion kitten!

I know it's a mountain lion kitten as opposed to a bobcat because its tail is long and has a black tip like a lion. The shape of the face is also unmistakable. Look at the width of his forelimbs - it's as if he already had his grownup front legs at a young age!

Just like a playful human child, the kitten decided to walk on a log as if it was a balance beam. Look at the SIZE of those paws. Wow!

Then, the kitten noticed the camera and stared right at it. When I saw this photo, I wished that I'd put a better camera at that site. The flash was too intense and blew out the highlights on the kitten's face. (I'll be putting a "good" camera there very soon.)

Sure enough, the kitten's curiosity was awakened by the camera, and he stood right in front of it after taking a single bound toward it.

Then, he smooshed his snout against it. Can you make out his nose on the left of the photo?

It's even easier to make out the shape of his snout in this photo.

The kitten backed off by a few inches, and we could see his eye!

Finally, he moved away far enough that we could see most of his body.

As he stood still looking around, a set of "big lion" whiskers entered the photo. I believe that his mom had come back for him.

Soon enough, he and his mom lost interest in the camera, and the youngster stood with his oversized paws on a log.

Then, he departed the scene by walking on top of his balance beam!

Just a few days later, his mom was back by the camera.

I believe that she'd lost track of her kitten. If you look very closely, you can see her mouth open wide in the next photo. I believe that she was vocalizing to locate her youngster.
I am working on finding a cam to place in this spot that will let us see video and hear audio. I wish that it had been there last winter so that we could have heard the mom call her kitten!

I will be making a video of the many species who showed up at this camera over the past year! It'll be fun. I totally lucked out in finding this great trail cam location!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Black Dog Sunday

I recently had both halves of our Labraduo along for a mountain bike ride. I love the days when that happens. I come close to wearing out the shutter on my camera when R joins me and Shyla!

R was in prime form, with fiery eyes as he tried to win every recall race. You can almost read Shyla's expression - "What the heck is he doing? My brother is crazy!".

You may think that this photo looks familiar. In fact, a very similar photo graced one month of our 2018 calendar. I guess that R had to show that he hadn't lost a step or his hops in the past year. He took a huge flying leap to win the recall race in almost exactly the same way as he did it a year ago. His spirit is incredible.

When I got the two of them out into more open terrain, Shyla turned on her afterburners to easily win a recall race. Don't tell R but she is one of the fastest dogs I know. However, she often doesn't have the courage to run with all her heart. Look at her smile as she finally sprinted as fast as she could!

When we got home, R relaxed, looking very handsome when I woke him up to take his photo.
We feel so lucky to have received the good news about his health this week. Also, we continue to be awed by how much his elbow CUE surgery improved his life. It was one of the best things we've ever done for one of our dogs!

He's an amazing spirit, and I hope that he's around for a lot longer.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Shyla's Many Faces

Shyla frequently sticks out her tongue and makes funny faces when she's trying really hard.
It makes me giggle when I see the snapshots later. It's tough to find a photo of her jumping where her tongue isn't out at least a little bit!

The other time when she makes funny faces is when someone tosses her a treat. Her concentration knows no bounds and her eyes stay WIDE open!
She's a funny dog. She tries so very hard almost all the time, and I love her for it.

This is her sweet look.
Happy Sweet Saturday!

Friday, April 27, 2018

Springtime Flowers are Starting to Bloom!

In our alpine world, we lag behind much of the rest of our country in terms of spring flowers. Only a few species are blooming now.

One is our wild crocus, also known as a Pasqueflower. They are popping up from every snow-free spot on the ground. I love their brilliant yellow.

And I love their petals with purple highlights.

Over our years here, the Pasqueflower has come to represent all my dreams for the coming spring and summer. I love when it is blooming because we have months and months of daylight, sunshine, and relaxation ahead of us.
One reason why Pasqueflowers can thrive as our earliest bloomer is that they can close their petals tightly whenever it snows or gets cold. I've seen a blossom survive a snowstorm of several feet. It emerged after the big melt to open its petals to the sunshine once again!

Most of our world still looks dormant. Dried grass and flowers still dominate the meadows where Shyla and I play.

However, I've started to see a tiny hint of green in some places. Do you see it in the aspen grove behind Shyla as she took a flying leap?

My Shyla has continued her wonderful new habit of "covering my back" while I focus in on tiny flowers. It takes all my concentration to get a flower that is only a half inch across into focus. Shyla is even more wonderful than these "Spring Beauty" flowers!
Happy Springtime. We have so much to look forward to!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Gratitude for the Surprise of Snow!

Until I moved to the Colorado mountains almost two decades ago, I didn't realize how important winter snow was to the health of the forests. We've had less than half of our normal snowfall this winter, which could mean a wildfire disaster this summer.

With that in mind, you can perhaps understand how thankful I was to wake up to a surprise of a thick layer of snow on our world.

It was so beautiful. I hopped out of bed for sunrise and captured these photos. To the east...

And to the west... The Continental Divide is on the bald snowy mountains on the horizon. I love the purple hue due to the alpenglow.

From higher in the air but still pointed to the west... more of the Divide was unveiled.

Looking straight down on us... I can see myself in the photo but I bet that no one else can pick out the black dot. It was as cold as it looks - about 17°F. I couldn't feel my fingers by the end of the flight.

After that early start to the day, Shyla and I headed out into the forest after sunrise, with me pedaling my fat bike. It was glorious! We've barely had the chance to enjoy snow this winter.

I love my riding partner. She can melt me with her eyes.
We are both so thankful for the fun, beauty, and moisture of the snow!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A Few Good Words on Wednesday

Our Black Dog had a test done today, an ultrasound to check the tumors in his abdomen. They hadn't changed size since the last check!
Joie de Vivre

We are overjoyed.
And so is he.

He can keep chasing his sister over mesas and mountains.
With his ears straight up in the air.

He can visit all our pack's favorite places again.
View from a desert campsite with a full moon
Most definitely "a few good words".

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Training Tuesday - Using Shaping to Teach a Novel Skill

I love teaching my dogs how to do new things, even if the things that I'm teaching are not particularly useful. The ability to communicate with them to "explain" what I want them to do is what excites me.

The most fun and most effective way to do that is with a clicker. I've trained both of my dogs to understand that a "click" from the clicker means that they are doing something right. The click happens exactly when they do the correct thing, and a treat always follows.

I taught both dogs to "take a bow" using clicker training.

There's a technique with a clicker called "shaping". Basically, you have your dog stand in front of you, and you use a click to tell them that they are "getting warmer", meaning that they are getting closer to doing what you want them to do. If they try something and I don't click, it means that they're "getting colder". It's really a lot like the child's game of warmer and colder.

I do this with both dogs. I've done it less with R than with Shyla so he tries every little step on the way to a task. That makes him a great first example for this technique. Please notice that there is absolutely no punishment or negativity to this technique. You reward when the dog does something good, and you are silent when he goes astray.

In this example, you'll notice an antenna with a red bulb on top of it on the floor. My goal is to get R to touch the red bulb with his nose. I don't want him to have to make any great leaps of logic so I start by clicking when he even vaguely looks toward it or goes near it. Later, after he is getting the idea, I start by clicking just one step directly toward it. Eventually, he is reliably touching it with his nose - after 1 minute and 22 seconds of shaping (I didn't edit the video at all!). Here's the Youtube link, if it doesn't work here.

Note that when I wrote "missed it" on the screen, it was a moment when I should have clicked but wasn't fast enough.

Obviously, this task was not even vaguely an important behavior everyday life. I love practicing the "shaping" technique with unimportant tasks because I have no emotional stake in whether they get it right or not. If I mess up the training process, there are no long term consequences in terms of their behavior.

With this technique in my arsenal, I can teach them all sorts of important things. An example is that I've trained Shyla to pick up things that I drop and put them in my outstretched hand. This helps me immensely when my spine is hurting a lot.

I love positive training of dogs - it's fun for me and for the dogs because there's no negativity involved!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Mountain Lions and Bobcats Mark Territory (3/2-3/30/18)

At first glance, it's just a typical spot in the forest with a deep carpet of pine needles and forest debris strewn about. However, if you know about the way that wild cats mark territory, by kicking back with their hind paws to scrape the ground and then urinating in it, the spot rapidly starts to look like a wild cat proving ground.

"Scrapes", two parallel furrows (one for each hind paw), cover the area. Some are big and some are small, depending on whether mountain lions or bobcats made them. Moreover, you might also notice a wide area of disturbed pine needles. If you explore further, you find mountain lion scat under the needles. Believe it or not, our biggest predator covers up its scat. By contrast, feisty little bobcats do not.

Within a day of placing a trail camera at this spot, a mountain lion cruised through.

Next up, a bobcat arrived. He sniffed the area, and he decided to roll around in the mountain lion scent. He spent the first couple of minutes within view of the trail camera. This photo was during a brief break in rolling around.

Then he moved under the camera so that he wasn't in full view anymore. You can barely see his head on the lower edge of the image.

Finally, he stood up and shook off the pine needles before departing.

Believe it or not, a mountain lion was back to mark territory again within a few days.
In the video of the mountain lion visit on  3/7/18, be sure to listen carefully for the panting and hind paw scraping by the cat. When he's scraping, pine needles are flying in the air and appearing in front of the camera.

The video finishes with two visits to an old elk carcass by a lion. That carcass is very close to the marking area where the previous clips were recorded.

I love our wild cats. I love the sheer power of the mountain lion, and I love the feistiness of the small bobccat!!!

You can watch a video of the mountain lion and bobcat marking these territories either here or at Youtube.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Black Dog Sunday

One evening in Utah, I had fun with R, taking photos of him at the base of K's Rock. He has such an intensity about him. I think that I had a treat in my hand for this one, and 100% of his brain was focused on it, thinking "how do I get that treat?".
That's the way that R is wired. There's no "halfway" in his world. He's 100% into something or not interested at all.

We did some recalls, and he put his whole heart into it, as if he was racing someone.
He makes me smile so much when he and I interact. My love for him has grown exponentially with each passing year.

The funny part is that, compared to his eleven littermates, R had the "least drive". Whoa, can you imagine his siblings? I can't imagine living with them!

I have since learned that his first owner used aversive methods to train dogs. I can see how R might shut down when faced with that kind of training. At his core, he's a very sensitive soul.

It took me a long time to get to know his sensitive side. He's so driven most of the time that you'd never guess that he had such a soft heart.
I love our black dog!