Black bear eating from my apple tree, August night, 2012

Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday: It's Raining Frogs!

Today is Save the Frogs Day, which, according to its founders is “the largest day of amphibian education and conservation action in the planet's history, with over 115 events in 19 countries.” Check out their website for more information and for ways you can help.
In honor of Save the Frogs Day, today's offbeat offering deals with the phenomenon of frogs falling from the sky. All over the world, people have been reporting "raining frog" events for thousands of years. Scientists now speculate that water spouts--tornadoes that occur over water bodies-- are the likely cause. They theorize that the spouts lift small, lightweight animals like frogs up from the water and carry them into the sky, only to drop them like rain elsewhere. I for one would love to see frog rain sometime (but only if the little fellas weren't hurt). Check out these websites for more information on frog rain:
Click on the frog to view this print in my ecrater shop
The Naked Scientist, All About Frogs, and Weird Rain from 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thursday: Magazine Babble--Harper's

Today’s entry deals not with a book, but a magazine—Harper’s. Thought-provoking articles, essays, poetry, fiction, and illustrations abound. The most fun for me is reading “Harper’s Index,” a monthly listing of interesting, startling, sometimes related—and sometimes not—facts, figures, and statistics.  Here’s an example of four (in an index of 40) from October 2010:
Number of Aerial Achievement Medals awarded by the Air Force to drone operators since January 2009: 3,497
Number awarded to pilots of manned aircraft during that time: 1,408
Date that United Farm Workers began "Take Our Jobs," a campaign asking legal U.S. residents to work as farm laborers: 6/24/10
Number so far who have been willing to do so: 14
Harper’s goes all the way back to the 1850s, and if you subscribe to the print version (as I do), you have access to every single issue (250,000 pages) in their archives online. You may also opt for a digital subscription, but I enjoy the illustrations and photos in print so much, I have to get the actual magazine. The archives are wonderful to explore, especially regarding topics like the US Civil War.
Harper’s "Weekly Review" is available to all free of charge on their website, and cartoons not seen in print are featured here: Even if you do not subscribe, I highly recommend checking in with their website regularly (or actually signing up for their weekly review email).

JUST IN: E-book tidbit: Evidently, you can now have your Amazon Kindle signed, just like an actual printed book, at book signings.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wednesday: "Lights Out" is Good for Birds

This from the latest issue of National Geographic Magazine, which just arrived in my mailbox yesterday. It seems this spring, Chicago's Willis Tower, NYC's Rockefeller Center, and dozens of other buildings in the US and Toronto will "scale back their lights overnight for the benefit of migrating birds." Avian collisions with windows cost "millions of lives" each year, according to the magazine.

National Geographic states that at least 90,000 birds collide with buildings in NYC each year, and that in the US and Canada, the annual death toll for bird collisions with window glass is more than 100 million. That's a lot of mortality. Many birds can't tell the difference between a reflection and reality and find lights at night disorienting, compounding the problem--especially during spring and fall migrations.

The magazine goes on to say that homes--not urban buildings--actually account for most bird strikes. I can attest to this, as a hermit thrush flew into my living room window Friday (and luckily, survived--see Monday's blog). Adding patterns to windows is a recent development being integrated into some new high-rise construction. For my part, we have stained glass-type decals and "sun catchers" in every window, and yet we still get bird strikes.

Turning down urban lights may not entirely solve the problem of avian collisions, but it's a step in the right direction. I was encouraged by this piece, which you can find (along with a telling photo of glass that has been recently impacted by an unfortunate flier) on page 26 of the May 2011 issue.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday: The Garlic Rock

I love listening to “The Splendid Table” here on our local NPR station (KUNC). Sunday afternoons just wouldn’t be the same without the warm and welcoming voice of Lynn Rossetto Kasper and her guests, especially the callers who phone in with questions and concerns related to cooking. So I had to buy Lynn’s book (written with Sally Swift, BTW, co-creator of “The Splendid Table” and a 20-year veteran of TV and radio),“The Splendid Table’s: How To Eat Supper” when it came out a few years ago. It’s a wonderful read for many reasons, but one of my favorite items in the book is her “garlic rock” snippet. Actually, it’s Sally’s story, printed on page 117. I am swiping this directly from their delightful cookbook/storybook of cooking:
“Years ago, I discovered I really wasn’t comfortable smashing garlic cloves with the side of a chef’s knife.  I worried about that sharp edge. So I found a rock. It fits snugly in the palm of my hand, it’s easy to grasp, and it has a nice flat side that crushes my garlic to smithereens.
I simply throw it in the dishwasher, and I always get a comment from the galley crew about “Where does the rock go?”
I was so excited when I read this! I too, had never been comfortable smashing garlic with a knife because I am a slow-healer, slow-clotter. ( A paper cut on my finger takes weeks to heal.) Because I bought this book in the winter, when the “river” (aka “the channelized irrigation ditch”) behind my house was dry, I ran out into the riverbed to procure a few garlic rocks. It’s not as easy as it sounds. You need something flat yet substantial, that, as Sally says, fits nicely in your palm. Brought a half dozen rocks in, ran them through the dishwasher three times, and then proceeded to give them to friends as really cheap gifts, or keep them for myself.
I love the garlic rock concept. We grow our own garlic and it tends to be smallish. Peeling it is tedious, so just slamming it with a rock and then pulling off the casing is so much better than what I’d done before. I will always be indebted to Sally Swift for her low-tech, lithic solution to an ages-old problem.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday: The Pleasant Valley Report

It was a bit dreary for the Easter holiday here in Laporte, but getting all that gentle rain is good for the environment, so we won't complain. Saturday we colored eggs, and I am most proud of this one (which I shared on facebook). The nest here is a Cordilleran Flycatcher nest. Each year, a pair nest under an eave near our garage. After I took the photo, I returned the nest to its perch.

Friday, a bird flew into one of our large picture windows. That "thud" is always a sickening sound, and we try to mitigate this problem with suncatchers and decals on the glass, but inevitably, a few unfortunate birds each year will fly into a window. Luckily, my husband was right there when this happened, rushed to below the window, and recovered the bird, a Hermit Thrush. Here's a photo of it taken after it was picked up from the ground. (Happily, after a few moments lying quietly in a shoebox, the bird recovered and flew off.)

Here's hoping everyone had pleasant Easter/Passover/Earth Day holidays. Things are getting really green around here, which is exciting.

Note: I cannot for the life of me get the fonts to stay consistent on this blog. My latest attempt is this serif face. Let's see what happens...

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday: Human Enigmas from

This week’s offbeat offering is a share. While looking up something completely unrelated on  (a low-carb cracker recipe, of all things), I ran across this neat article:

By Stephen Wagner, Guide
Had you ever heard of the “green children” found in Spain in 1887? Not me! Or the "wolf girl" of Kansas, circa 1974? Nope! Here are seven interesting stories for this Good Friday / Earth Day. If the paranormal and unusual intrigue you, I encourage you to poke around more on the related pages (see the links posted with this article). And you can sign up for Stephen Wagner's free weekly paranormal newsletter here:

Happy Easter, everyone.
© 1998 Teri Kman

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thursday: Digital Preservation of Old Books

Book Buzz From Betsy aka KnitKnut:
I’ve always liked old books, whether fiction or non-fiction. They give us a peek at an earlier era. Fiction reflects ideas, fashions, and ways of life very different from how we live now. The vast array of non-fiction shows us history from a different perspective, or scientific theories that led to ground-breaking discoveries (or seem laughable today). Old textbooks, manuals, and periodicals provide us with patterns and techniques for many crafts that are hobbies for us now, but were a way to earn a living wage then. Many of these books and magazines are in the public domain, meaning they are no longer under copyright and can be used by anyone.
The fragility and limited number of actual books and magazines means that many would never be able to access them, so archiving them electronically makes good sense. It takes time and money to preserve these books, and space to store them electronically. Several partnerships are working to save these works in digital form and make them available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection. Internet Archive—along with Googlebooks, is one such joint venture. The archive site is easy to navigate and includes all kinds of titles. Their goal is to digitally reproduce all books in the public domain and make them available for free. For me, this means a lot of happy hunting through books on all subjects. I’m sure to find something to fit whatever mood I am in at the time.
Next week I’ll share some links for the crafters out there (such as knitters like me). If you know where to look, there are more than just individual patterns to download. You can also access e-books with tips, techniques, and directions.
Note from Teri--This just in Wednesday April 20 from the Wall Street Journal: Amazon Kindles will now work with library e-books.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wednesday: The Sea Turtle Conservancy in Gainesville

In 2009, the Sea Turtle Conservancy (formerly the Caribbean Conservation Corporation) turned 50 years old. This non-profit group’s web site states that it is
"the world's oldest sea turtle research and conservation group. An international nonprofit 501(c) 3 organization, Sea Turtle Conservancy was founded in 1959 by world-renowned sea turtle expert Dr. Archie Carr to save sea turtles from eminent extinction through rigorous science-based conservation. Headquartered in Florida, the organization carries out worldwide programs to conserve and recover sea turtle populations through research, education, advocacy and protection of the natural habitats upon which depend upon. Over the course of 50 years, Sea Turtle Conservancy's research programs have yielded much of what is now known about sea turtles and the threats they face, and the organization is applying this knowledge to carry out the world's most successful sea turtle protection and recovery programs.”
Check out the Conservancy’s web site for some nice features, including a page where you can track sea turtles by satellite. Teachers might want to consider adopting a sea turtle for the classroom as well, (although anyone can adopt!).

Click on the green sea turtle to find it in my ecrater shop

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday: Cooking with Tea

Tea is one of life’s great pleasures and I have many boxes, tins and canisters of tea. Black, white, green and red tea; Rooibos tea; herbal tea--you name it, I’ve got it. About a year or so ago I read a small piece in “Women’s Health” magazine reminding us home cooks that tea is a super-food ingredient. There may be many recipes out there using tea as the main flavor, but that was not the gist of this article. Instead, this sidebar piece suggested simply adding tea to your sauces and soups. I’ve been doing it ever since, with great results. Not only does the tea impart color and a bit of flavor, but all those good antioxidants, too. Because tea bags are basically bouquet-garnis, they are easy to use in this way.
Essentially, I add a few green tea bags to any light colored soup or broth I am cooking. Black tea bags are perfect for dark soups—like bean, or for stews. Oolong (red) tea is versatile and I add a tea bag or two to vegetable soups, especially spicy ones that feature paprika and red pepper. A few citrusy herbal tea bags tossed in when boiling rice or quinoa are wonderful. Try lemon zinger with jasmine rice for a peach-colored, fragrant side dish.
Would love to read any of your suggestions for integrating tea into meals. Toodles.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday: Take Me Out to the Ballgame

It’s that time of year, folks, “my” first baseball game of the season. A good friend and I will be at tomorrow’s Rockies game against the Giants at Coor’s Field down in Denver. Weather will be coolish, but hey, that's April in Colorado. Pitchers are Ubaldo Jimenez for the Rockies and Jonathan Sanchez for the Giants. Should be a decent matchup.
Coor's Field Sign from last year. That's us (Saint Paul's church).


Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday: Offbeat: The State of Weirdness

I have been a longtime fan of Chuck Shepherd, the guy who edits “News of the Weird.” This column has been appearing in regional independent papers for years, and of course, now his stuff is available online. I know many people are also regular readers, but just in case you’re not, bookmark this site for easy access any time you need a diversion. He introduces his site as such:
Hey, this is the home of Chuck Shepherd's weekly News of the Weird newspaper column, which for 21 years has been the gold standard in reporting the bizarre and the ridiculous.
In addition to a sizeable and searchable database of past news stories, Chuck’s got a great map on his site that allows you to filter your weirdness according to the state in which you reside.

On a state-related note, a separate site l love is "Weird New Jersey." I was born in Jersey and have fond memories of growing up near Lake Hopatcong. It's fun to read these tidbits from the region where I used to laugh and play, unaware that so much strangeness was at hand.

UPDATE: According to an AOL News article out today, 4/24/2011, Chuck Shepherd himself claims Florida wins the title of "weirdest state."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thursday: Book Babble & Buzz

I am still quite “Amish” when it comes to procuring my latest reading material. I don’t “kindle” or “nook” (are they verbs now?) and happen to borrow much from the local library, but several of my good pals are into digital books. One such friend is Betsy.
Betsy and I got to know each other on  a perfect Saturday afternoon in July, 2010. We were attempting to arrive on time at Coors Field for a Rockies game against the Cubs. She wanted to carpool, and I had a car. I discovered that she was one of the most well-read people I had ever met, and over beers, post-game,  at Wynkoop Brewery in Denver, we discovered similar tastes. Now we’re in a book group together. We are very different. She can knit to knock your socks off and I can barely tie my sneakers. I paint with watercolors and she reads about Impressionist artists.
Betsy is educating me about digital books, so I asked her to chime in on this blog with suggestions for getting started with them. Therefore, even though it may seem that I am just dumping Thursday’s blog into somebody else’s lap to write, here’s this week’s “Book Babble” entry, from Betsy. (Besty—I owe you a Guiness.)
Knit Knut’s Book Buzz
I love to sit down with a good book. The FEEL of it. The SMELL of it. The sound the pages make as I am turning them. I know that there are countless others out there who feel the same way. The printed book isn’t going to disappear, but it is undeniable that the digital book is here to stay. Most studies show that in the next five to ten years, more books published in the US will be done so electronically than in actual print. Right now, as we speak, a good percentage of the fiction titles released in any week are done so digitally, before the printed copy ever makes it to the shelves.
Digital (or “ebooks”) are cheaper than their print versions, but-- if you read as much as I do—it still impacts your checkbook, wallet, or credit card.  You must ask yourself—do I really want to pay for a book I’m not sure I’ll want to ever read again, or that just seemed like a good idea at the moment?
Personally, I go to the library to give many books a “test drive,” and you can do the same with ebooks. Across the country, public libraries are now offering ebooks that you check out as if they were print versions. The only difference is, you never have to return them to the library. The ebooks at the average public library simply become “unavailable” on your device at the end of the lending period.
But--you protest--there isn't a public library here in my town! You can find ebook libraries on the web. I’ll be exploring this in weeks to come and hopefully, will be able to link blog readers to sites with free or low-priced titles. NetLibrary is a good place to start. They provide the ebooks offered by many public libraries and can be accessed directly. Most web-based libraries (like NetLibrary) allow access to “free” areas, as well as access to special collections (that sometimes require nominal fees). So do some searching and sign up when you can. (Remember—you can always cancel your membership if it turns out to be a pay service.)
Teri tells me that she’ll regularly blog about an actual printed book she read recently. I am here to offer info on digital offerings. Another link next week!
Besty (aka KK)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wednesday: Mountain Gorilla Babies in the Wild

Last month, I was forwarded happy wildlife news: three new mountain gorillas confirmed born in the wild. It wasn’t until I read further that I discovered how few mountain gorillas exist (just over 700). As I type here at my gym I can count at least 100 people. That’s perspective for you. Right here in front of me is the equivalent (individual-wise) of about 14% of all the mountain gorillas anywhere on earth.
Here’s the report on the births from the International Gorilla Conservation Programme  (IGCP), whose goal it is “to ensure the conservation of mountain gorillas & their regional afromontane forest habitat in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).”
Early February 2011 brought the birth of three mountain gorillas over a two-day period in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park
Finally, a little mountain gorilla background from IGCP:
In 1902, the German explorer Oscar von Beringe became the first non-African to encounter the mountain gorilla. In the ensuing century, a combination of hunting and habitat destruction has driven this very rare primate to the verge of extinction.
But for the intervention and dedication of a handful of people, the mountain gorilla would surely already be extinct. The work of conservationists such as Carl Akeley, George Schaller and Dian Fossey focused global attention on the plight of gorillas.
It is the people of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda, for the most part unsung heroes, who deserve the credit for ensuring the survival of the mountain gorilla, and who offer the greatest hope for its continued survival over the coming centuries. The continued protection, monitoring and management of the mountain gorilla and its habitat have demanded huge commitment and cost many lives. The dedication of park staff in the three countries is the chief reason why mountain gorillas are thriving today.
Mountain gorillas are effectively divided into two distinct populations. The first is confined to an area of around 330 square kms in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The second is found in the Virunga Volcano Region (VVR), which lies across the international borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Although it comprises one single ecosystem covering approximately 450 square kms, the VVR is separated into three national parks: Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, Volcano National Park in Rwanda and the Southern Sector of the Virunga National Park in DRC.

Click on the gorilla to see it in my ecrater store

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday: The Cornucopia: Homemade Dog Biscuits

Yeah, last week I said that Tuesday’s entries would not be about recipes. Generally speaking at the Nest, they won't, but this week is an exception.

A few years ago, you’ll recall, it was discovered that certain pet food products (most from China) were tainted. Animals actually died, and at that point I decided to start baking my own dog biscuits. Heck, I thought, I bake our own human muffins, human crackers, and dog broth (to make their kibble taste better), why not the actual treats I give them (the dogs—not my human friends) between meals? I trolled the web for recipes and using them as a basis, developed my own. I can say with 100% certitude that my dogs LOVE these. (That cannot be said for many store-bought brands, or a few of the other "homemade" pricey ones. Have you ever had a dog spit out a two-dollar, farmers' market cookie? Humbling. I wanted to eat the cookie myself, given how much I’d paid for it.)
As it so happens, a few fellow cooks/dog owners (nationwide) have recently checked out my dog biscuit recipe on and had positive comments. Knowing that we animal lovers tend to congregate with our own kind, I felt it might be helpful if I shared my chicken liver dog biscuit recipe with you.
A few notes. While I do own bone shaped biscuit cutters, I prefer this old cookie cutter (2") I have that's shaped like a parallelagram. Using this shape means no wasted space, and I can fit the entire batch of biscuits on one baking sheet. And my dogs scarf these things down so fast they wouldn't care what the shapes are.
BTW—Beef liver works equally well, but is stinky when you boil it, so I usually do that outside on the grill.
And you can substitute any pureed veggie for the meat in this recipe if you happen to own a dog who's a vegetarian. Pumpkin is great, or any jar of vegetable baby food that doesn't contain onion. (Who would feed a baby onions, anyway?) Add some extra garlic powder to boost the flavor if you decide to opt out on the meat.
Finally, I have begun throwing a few teaspoons of flax meal into the mix, for the health benefits. I like to think my dogs appreciate it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday: The Pleasant Valley Report

I’m happy to say that Larimer County, Colorado saw no new wildfires break out this weekend. A bit breezy yesterday (Sunday), but that didn’t keep me from doing yard work. Although much is still brown and bleak, the flowering trees are budding, grass is greening up in patches, and the final bird in the “Spring Has Arrived” Trifecta appeared Friday—the white throated swift! (Grackles, then turkey vultures, and the swifts verify for me that spring has indeed arrived. Despite other weather evidence to the contrary).
My chickens kicked the dogs off their bed

Friday, April 8, 2011

Friday: Offbeat

Who hasn’t had a dream about living under water? I know I’ve had several, (and evidently, James Cameron does, too). With that in mind, today’s Offbeat post leads you to an underwater hotel. What? You’ve not heard of such a thing? Yes, there are such wonderful places. Except, as far as I can tell, it would be helpful if you knew how to dive (I only snorkel) to spend a night in the Jules Hotel in (under?) Key Largo, Florida.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Thursday: Book Babble

Is there anything quite as reliable as a book? You don’t have to plug it in, it never runs out of juice, and on an airplane, you can use it whenever you want. Books transport us into other worlds and oftentimes, make us smarter than we were before we read them. And, books stack nicely on a shelf. I am constanly losing things around my house, but I can almost always find a book, probably because they have those nice titles on their spines.
Thursday’s posts will deal not only with books, but all things readable. I try to read about 3 books a week, but not because I can afford to buy that many. This is because we have a very good library system in Fort Collins; natural resource professionals and watercolor artists don’t get paid enough to buy a lot of books.
Let me tell you about a book I recently read (although in addition to words, the book is mostly images): The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth (The Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race
How do I begin to tell you how funny this book is? It’s layout resembles a textbook and its intended audience (jokewise) is the space aliens who will eventually land on earth and colonize our planet. The graphics are superb, due to the fact that the finest designers on the planet—the guys at Pentagram—are responsible. If you elect to read this book, pay special attention to everything on every page, even the smallish photos in the margins. Nothing was left to chance here. Everything is a joke. One of my favorite photos is of business cards for enterprises that “just didn’t work out,” such as “Solomon’s Baby Dividers,” and “Zeppelin Delivered Fireworks.” You’ll find yourself laughing so hard you’ll snort. (Even though I checked this out from the library, I’m considering actually buying this one.) The best part is that the comedy writers embed so many facts that you’ll actually end up learning something while enjoying yourself.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wednesday: It’s Not ALL Bad

I assume that many of you are not employed in the conservation sciences, but that you’re still freaking out about the state of the planet. I don’t care if you come from a red, blue, or purple state—political leanings aside, you’re probably concerned about how we humans are sticking it to Mother Nature. Who am I to preach? I drive a car, I take hot showers, I enjoy bananas that get shipped here from southern latitudes (huge carbon footprint on that one. So much for “slow food.”).
As a biologist, I happen to do a lot of reading about environmental issues, and most of the news is bad. Not just bad, but really, really bad. Every once in awhile I run across a study or news article that says that something GOOD is occurring somewhere, and I get so excited. On Wednesdays I’ll try to pass on a hopeful link. Here’s today’s entry: Ten Wildlife Success Stories.  In 1999, I was lucky enough to work at a refuge restoring populations of one of the species in this article—the Mexican Gray Wolf (aka Lobo).

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tuesday: The Cornucopia

When you think about the things that make life worth living, isn’t food tops on your list? Sure, sex is good, but fleeting. Most of us don’t have sex three times a day, but we eat AT LEAST three times a day! I love to eat, and it’s a good thing I exercise like I do, or I’d be wearing my food.

Tuesday’s posts will deal with all things edible.  My husband and I are very into the “slow food” movement, which means, essentially, we try to grow as many of our own vegetables as possible, avoid anything processed, and buy unpasteurized milk and grass-fed beef. The “unprocessed food” thing means I have to cook a lot. But I don’t mind! Up until five years ago, I was not a good cook. Now I am.
Here’s the story of how I became an above-average home cook. My husband had a bicycle accident in 2006 and was in the hospital with a brain injury. (It was touch-and-go for awhile, so I don’t want to make light of it.) Anyway, for ten straight days, I was in the hospital room with him almost 24/7. And since he was in a doctor-induced coma and on a respirator for most of that time, I was pretty bored. Daytime television has always disgusted me, but what else was I to do? Eventually, I stumbled across the Food Network. How, you may ask, had I never seen this channel before? I cannot say. But because it seemed to be the only redeeming thing on TV, I watched that channel the entire time I was there. And I learned things!
I learned how to properly brown mushrooms, how to easily make a pie crust using a Cuisinart, how to prepare a decent curry, and how to pass off store-bought stuff as homemade. I adopted a whole new set of heroes—Bobby Flay, Mario Batalli, and that barefoot woman. It was incredible, almost as if I’d taken a semester-long class in cooking. Seriously, 14 hours a day with nothing to do but watch cooking shows seeped into my subconscious. Instead of using recipes now, I use techniques, and make up dishes on the fly. This was unheard of for Teri prior to the accident. If there’s anything good that comes out of having your spouse hospitalized, this is it!
So Tuesday’s postings on the Nest won’t focus on recipes, but rather on ingredients, cookware, techniques, and superior food products I’ve discovered at the supermarket (such as Greek Gods full-fat yogurt—better than ice cream!).  I welcome your comments and suggestions. Next Tuesday I'll have an actual food entry, vs. this introduction. Bon appétit!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Monday: The Pleasant Valley Report

Let me begin this post by saying, that until a year ago, I had no idea that we resided in “Pleasant Valley.” Sure, it’s nice here, and yes, I suppose it is a valley, but we just knew it “Laporte.” (Laporte is actually quite historic and I will blog more about our town proper at a later time.) As I type, stimulus money is paying for an improved bike trail and restoration of a historic bridge near our house, and when I looked this project up online I discovered that the bike path is called “Pleasant Valley Trail.” Further research at the Fort Collins archives revealed that this area has been called Pleasant Valley since 1870 or so. So as bland and vanilla as this title is, it has a “Prairie Home Companion” feel. Thus, from here out, where we live is no longer a subdivision or rural unincorporated area. It is—Pleasant Valley.

So what’s new in The Valley? The biggest news was the wildfire that broke out over the weekend, and the 70-mile-per-hour winds Saturday night didn’t help. (I was awake at three AM Sunday chasing after my deck furniture and gathering up pots and planters being flung against the house.)  The fire west of town in rural Larimer County timberlands (called the Crystal Fire) ended up consuming 4,500 acres but is now considered contained. Some homes were lost, and the cause of the fire is being investigated. Because we had so little precipitation here this winter, experts say this is just the beginning of a historically early fire season.
In happier news, we discovered a red-tailed hawk nesting in a cottonwood behind our house. This is a first for me, and because we have a bird spotting scope, we’ve been able to keep an eye on it. Garden news—I am sure many of you know that frog and toad populations have taken a nosedive in recent years. These amphibians are considered “indicator species”-- species whose presence, absence, or relative well-being in a given environment is indicative of the health of its ecosystem as a whole. So, when amphibians die off, it’s a sign that the system isn’t working, and we should be alarmed. Anyway, Friday, while spading the vegetable garden, my husband saw a toad! Growing up in New Jersey in the 70s, we saw toads all the time (we lived adjacent to a large patch of forest), but lately, it’s cause for celebration to find two or three toads A YEAR here in our backyard. I was so excited! Over a toad. Go figure.
Lastly, this tidbit is for the locals. Many in the Fort Collins area are familiar with that butterscotch-colored old store in Bellvue, which in its most recent incarnation was an art gallery. Well now, it’s a coffee shop—“The Bellvue Bean.” They’re having a grand opening on April 9. Live music, good grub, meet the owners, etc.. The cafe is located in such a gorgeous part of Larimer County, and the bike trail starts nearby at the Watson Lake wildlife area. I highly recommend a bike ride on the Pleasant Valley Trail, a stop at the Bean for pastries and caffeine, and possibly a stroll on the riverside boardwalk at Watson Lake this Saturday. Here’s the link for more info:

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Saturday: Wildlife Questions Answered: Raptor Identification

Although I stated previously that I would not be blogging on the weekend, my good friend asked me to give her a rundown on what distinguished different species of hawks from one another. This is my attempt to provide that service.
All right, let me start out by saying that although I have a degree in wildlife biology, I am not a PhD. I am, therefore, a generalist. Which is actually a good thing, as many PhDs in this field (like other specialties) tend to spend so much time researching their “species of interest” that they don’t actually know how to answer questions about other animals.  
Most bird biologists will tell you that there are 7 kinds of diurnal (active during daylight hours, vs. owls, active at night) raptors, or “hawks.”  All are commonly referred to as “birds of prey.”  My favorite field guide on this subject is  “Hawks in Flight” by Dunne, Sibley, and Sutton. This blog post was written using this book as reference. It’s a fabulous, unique field guide that will have you identifying these birds of prey in no time.
Buteos are broad-winged, short-tailed hawks that excel at soaring.  Buteos eat many things, like rodents, reptiles, insects, etc. The most commonly seen buteo is the Red-tailed hawk. (Nine times out of ten, when you’re watching a movie and a hawk is calling, it’s a red-tailed hawk. Even when they show a different species. Don’t get me started on how Hollywood adds bird sounds that don’t make sense! )
Accipiters are raptors with short, rounded wings, long tails and long legs. They eat other birds. The Cooper's Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and Northern Goshawk are accipiters.  Accipiters, because of their body style, hang out in woodlands. They can maneuver through tree branches, and are described as “artful dodgers”.  Accipiters in my neighborhood include sharp-shinned hawks; they love to pick off doves at my bird feeders. (We all gotta eat.)
Falcons are way smaller (except for the Peregrine Falcon) than hawks, and are very, very fast. They have blade-shaped wings and typically nab their prey (usually other birds) on the wing, in flight. There are exceptions. Our smallest falcon, the American Kestrel, can be seen hovering (like a hummingbird, kind of) over open spaces and fields, waiting to pounce on a mouse or grasshopper.
Kites are small raptors that feed on insects. The Mississippi Kite is probably the most well known. These birds are gregarious, which means they enjoy hanging out together (not typical raptor behavior). In the US, most kites are found in the south.
Okay, now we get to the Northern Harrier. The harrier used to be called the “marsh hawk,” ( so take a guess where you’ll see one) and although nine species in its genus (Circus) populate every continent except Antarctica, the US has just this one. Harriers are found all over the country, so they are sometimes underappreciated, but  they should be respected; they are hunters with many tricks up their sleeves (if birds had sleeves). Harriers can capture prey on the wing or perch hunt, or even scavenge on remains.
Since we effectively lost our wild populations of California condors, eagles are the largest raptors in America. Unlike all other “hawks”, eagles do not look over their shoulders before they attack. (I guess if you’re that big, you don’t have to worry about becoming a meal yourself.)  Anyway, everyone knows what a Bald Eagle looks like. No? Grab an older quarter out of your piggy bank and take a look.
The Osprey is my favorite raptor. It’s got its own specialty—diving for fish. I love looking up and seeing an osprey with a fish wiggling in its talons. It’s fun to watch them dive-bomb into the ocean off Sanibel Island in the winter. This bird used to be called the “fish hawk.”
Finally, some people consider vultures birds of prey, but I don’t. Their feet have no talons, so they can’t actually kill anything with them; instead, they scavenge and eat carrion. (Their feet and featherless heads resemble storks, not hawks, and genetically, they are more closely related to storks.) Anyhow, the Turkey Vulture, for example, soars like a hawk, so it’s good to know how to ID them if you decide to go out hawk-watching.
I am sure someone will contact me to tell me that this post is erroneous in some way, but in general, I think it’s on the mark. Let me know if you have any other wildlife questions, and on Saturdays, I’ll try to answer them. I have an extensive reference library and happen to know several experts I can consult if needed. I am here to serve.

Click on this Peregrine Falcon to purchase my print

Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday: My Offbeat Offering for Your Weekend

Okay, so this one’s a “gimme,” because although offbeat, this post will tell you nothing new if you’ve ever a) lived in Philadelphia, or b) watched either “The History Channel” or “Bio” or “A & E.” But for those who are unfamiliar with it, the Mutter Museum is a truly unique national treasure not for the faint of heart.

I am swiping this directly from Wikipedia (mostly because I don’t know how to put an “umlaut” over the “u” in Mutter.):
                The Mütter Museum is best known for the Hyrtl Skull Collection and other anatomical specimens including a wax model of a woman with a horn growing out of her forehead along with several wax molds of untreated conditions of the head; the tallest skeleton currently on display in North America; a nine-foot-long human colon that contained over 40 pounds of fecal matter which originally came from a sideshow act called the human Balloon; and the body of the Soap Lady,[1] whose corpse turned itself into a soapy substance called adipocere better known as grave wax. Many wax models from the early 19th century are on display as are numerous preserved organs and body parts. The museum also hosts a collection of teratological specimens (preserved human fetal specimens) all of which were donated to science; a malignant tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland's hard palate; the conjoined liver from the famous Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker; a piece of tissue removed from the thorax of Abraham Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth; and a section of the brain of Charles J. Guiteau who assassinated U.S. President James A. Garfield.
Anyway, with vacation season just around the corner, I must insist that anyone heading to Philly this summer should definitely add a visit to this museum to the itinerary. Kids love this stuff! And if you weren’t so squeamish as to avoid a “Bodyworlds” exhibit (or a “Jim Rose Circus Sideshow”, for that matter [do you remember Lalapalooza?]) you’ll be glad you did. Lots of cocktail party/water cooler tidbits for months to come!
Roadside America (one of my favorite sites!) has a good link if you’re considering a stop at this museum. Anyone living in Philly is invited to add a comment to this post. Perhaps you know a fitting place to eat lunch in the vicinity of the museum, after the tour. (Maybe breakfast before a visit is not a good idea.)