She’s Back! And She’s Brought The Kids – Again

She’s back and she’s brought the kids, again! This is Edith Halfway Jones one of our resident Black bears here at *The Institute and if you are a long time reader of the blog you know that she is a regular here. It was exactly one year ago on May 12 that Edith showed up late for work and in danger of not only getting her pay docked but losing her position on the elite bear patrol that guards the inner perimeter of The Institute. Her excuse was three little bear cubs, obviously hers, that she had as a single mother over the winter.

Edith usually a demure, quiet non-partier had let her hair down or at least her fur, got hammered on a mixture of EverClear infused with pine needles, spent some time with a bear she had just met and the result was the triplets, Solenoid, Nodule and little Fleabert. For additional information about her return last year see this post.

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We  thought she had left for good last Fall taking the cubs and heading into the far reaches of the back country outside the borders of The Institute and we wouldn’t see her again. So it was with no little surprise when she showed up this evening, back in the saddle again, with the triplets stuffing their faces with as much of this new green grass as they could choke down. She looks good. She’s sleek and shapely. The cubs look good too. They’re fat for just being out of the den. Edith seems a little more calm and adjusted to being a mom. Last year she micro-managed the cubs a lot with a fair amount of growling and some biting but this year she’s not concerned at all with their chasing around and heading off into the brush alone. A little chirp from her and they’re right back where she can lay a paw on them if she needs to. Motherhood seems to suit her.

As was mentioned earlier she has checked in on the 12th of April this year, almost a month early. Last year she came back on the 12th of May. It’s been warmer this winter and the kids probably got up early and after their playing squealing Climb on Mom games with their sharp little claws and head bumping for milk, she couldn’t stand to hear them yell “Let’s go out. I’m hungry.” one more time she gave up and came out early. Luckily the grass is ready and there’s lots of ground squirrels and voles around to eat too. The cubs are twice the size they were last fall.

There you have it. We got Spring. We got bears. There’s even a pair of Bluebirds catching bugs by flying softly into the window glass with a bump and grabbing a mouthful and nesting under the deck again. What more could you want.

Spring iz Sprung.

The Grass is Riz.

I wonder where the Flowers iz.

Hope  your place is on schedule and your bears are back. Happy Spring to you all.

* Note: For those of you unfamiliar with The Institute and what it does, please see the page labeled The Institute on the Menu Bar above. That should explain everything. You shouldn’t have one single question remaining regarding The Institute after reading it. None. For those of you favored few who already know about the Institute, Nevermind. Return to your daily activities. Thank you for your support.

End Of Summer

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This time of year is probably more a start of fall rather than an end of summer but the exact name doesn’t matter that much. If you’re looking backward from here you see the trees starting to turn, the grass heading towards that golden color it gets when it’s ready to drop its seed for the year. If you’re looking forward, the air is cooler, almost cold in fact, and the grass is still stiff from the morning frost. Mist rising off the river is silvery opaque, and its passage downstream is slower, the surface of the water flat and mirror-like reflecting the foliage along its banks. Your jacket is buttoned up to the top button and you can see your breath with every step.

Your focus is on the smaller things now. Getting ready for winter, thinking about the chores you need to finish up now while it’s easy, before you’re doing them in the snow. Thinking about what’s left to harvest, some pumpkins, a few squash, root vegetables still in the ground. Turnips, rutabagas, bunching onions, small, round beets, short carrots, radishes, winter radishes,  mustard greens, leaf beets, bunching onions, Swiss chard, kale, spinach. Maybe there’s Brussels Sprouts, everybody’s favorite, right after any zucchini that needs picking.

Chores that need to be done now are stuff like tilling up the garden, draining the fuel out of the lawnmower so it starts next spring. Making sure the  flap in your long johns isn’t sewn shut. That’s a favorite reminder from your spouse if you weren’t nice enough to her over the summer. Haul that hay in from from that very last field. You really want to plow all the way out there when there’s four feet of snow on the ground.

Yes there are chores to be done, and equipment to be gotten ready or put up for the season but there is also the need to get out there and walk the trails around the place. See how things are winding up. Get your fill of looking at the things you love before they’re covered by winter’s snow. Take in that fall feeling before it changes into that frozen ears, snow down your boots, winter we all get tired of way to soon. Be in the moment.

This is one of the good times of the year. Make sure you make the most of it.

 

Wings In The Sunrise

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The time is 7:48:47 am, February 9th of a year gone past. It is bitter, bitterly cold. And it is the exact moment that the conditions are just right for the thousands of Snow Geese wintering here at Bosque del Apache to lift into the air en masse. The rushing noise of their wings punctuated by their coarse honking calls creates a sound unique to this moment. As they lift and try for altitude they will pass overhead so closely you can feel the downward force of the wind from their wings, perhaps only a dozen feet or more over your head.

It is a mesmerizing sight to see, with sometimes 30,000 birds clustered together on long rafts that nearly fill the ponds they spend the night in suddenly, at some unknown cue explode into the air. They rarely circle the pond as they ascend, instead the various family groups, or tribes, or however they relate to each other begin to separate and choose the course to their day’s feeding area. Soon in mere seconds it seems, the pond is empty and quiet. Perhaps there may be one or two stragglers left on the ponds flat surface, those who have decided that they’re going to take the day off today, or perhaps the floating bodies of a few who have given up the ghost during the night, due to age or injury or just plain fatigue, but quiet. The silence is deafening.

This event takes place every morning the Snow geese are here at Bosque del Apache until one morning, again on some unknown cue,  they rise once more but instead of returning they head North to their summer range and the ponds are quiet and still until the coming Fall. Then each morning without fail you can take part in the wings in the sunrise experience. It is truly an unforgettable moment.

 

Practising

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As Fall closes in on us all the animals in the park are preparing for the winter. For some like the Yellow-bellied Marmot this means gathering all the grass that it can stuff in its burrow. If you’re a buffalo not only do you stuff your big fat face with all the grass and foliage that you can, you also grow a thick mat of hair all over your body and especially on your face. This will allow you to push that face into the snow over and over again looking for that old frozen grass and not freeze your nostrils off.

Birds for the most part, being infinitely smarter than other animals just bail as soon they notice the cold and head for places that are warm. Miami, Rio, South Texas. They don’t bother with all that extra feeding. It’s hard to fly if you’re a 15 lb. Bluebird, so they opt for dining lightly on the trip south.We could go on and on about all the idiosyncrasies of the different animals preparing for winter but you all have cable, you watch the Animal Planet so you’re pretty aware of all the preparations they make.

What you may not know however is the huge amount of prep and practice that goes into the bears preparation for wintering over in Yellowstone. Especially grizzlies. Yes, you know about going in the cave, sleeping, then doing that some more until winters over and it’s safe to come out. But what you don’t know is how difficult it is for a naturally active grizzly bear to just go into that cave and go to sleep and stay that way for like six months or more sometimes.

He’s just had a very full summer of dashing around eating Elk calves, tearing the lids off of garbage cans, biting the occasional tourist, fighting with other grizzly bears, thinking bear thoughts, leaving bear tracks along the lake’s edge for tourists to find so they can see how big he is, having to deal with those pesky wolves, getting the occasional ear tag for some infraction or other. It’s a lot of work being a grizzly and along about November or even late October they have to go to bed again. Except they’re really amped. They are pumped up from the busy summer and sleep is the last thing on their minds.

They’re thinking about all the cool stuff they got away with this summer, pulling the door off that camping trailer, hooking up with that hot little female, running off before the rangers could shoot it with those rubber bullets. There’s no way it’s going to sleep.

But sleep it must. They can’t be up and goofing around during the winter, that’s not how this whole bear thing works. It’s designed for the bear to sleep for the winter or else everything just goes all wonky and we can’t have that. After an exhaustive study to see how these grizzly bears handle this problem it was found that they have developed a pretty inventive solution to it. They practice sleeping. That’s it. Just practice. Every chance they get, like after a great big meal of freshly killed buffalo for instance, they just crap out along side the carcass and sleep for as long as they can. That’s what this guy in the picture above is doing. You can’t see the carcass because he’s sprawled on top of it to keep the magpies and ravens from getting it. In a while he’ll wake up and eat some more, then go back to sleep again and will repeat this maneuver until he’s got the ability to got to sleep at the drop of a shinbone. This repetition of eating and sleeping gets his weight up to about eight hundred plus pounds or so, kind of like when we eat that Family size, Papa’s Favorite Pizza from Papa Murphy’s with extra red sauce and cheese at 2:30 in the morning and wake up later unable to fit our shoes on.

This is how they get all the sleep experience they require to stay asleep for months. This is also the time they perfect their dreaming skills. To see what they dream about check out this previous post http://www.bigshotsnow.com/2014/11/09/ and it will tell you all you need to know about Bear dreams. It won’t be long now before all that practice will be put to good use. The leaves will fall, the winds turn cold, and the long trek up the mountain to enter the cave he has used for the last six years will begin. Fortunately the bear has prepared himself well and as soon as he gets settled in and gets all turned around just right with his nose pointed toward the entrance, he will do that thing he does to cause him to fall asleep and that’s it. He’s in for the duration. He’ll sleep until the first trickle of melting snow runs down his back. Then he’ll be up and at it again. Nature has come full circle.

 

When Summer Changes To Fall

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With every major change of the seasons, Winter to Spring, Summer to Fall, the Canada geese would make their pilgrimages either North or South. To get there on time they would normally head in the intended direction when the weather was also starting to change. In the Spring the snow would still be lingering on the north slopes, and the back roads, unpaved as always, would be muddy tracks through the fields or trees. In the Fall the leaves would be well along, having changed color, drying out and wavering in the chilly wind, some having fallen already and crunching beneath my heavy boots.

My mind, sodden from the memory of the winter and the constancy of the cold, never quite believing that it would ever end, was hungry for the next signs promising the change and deliverance of the next season. When I thought I was at the end of my patience that’s when the Canada geese would appear. I would begin listening for them, impatient for their arrival, scanning the horizon for those first waves of V shaped formations, their strong wings powering their way towards me. I would listen harder and eventually I would be rewarded with the staccato cries of the geese calling from high up in the clouds. My ears catching every note as it sifted down through the grey misty haze and broke like sharp, crystal-edged flakes of sound around my soul. Each call a request, an invitation to join them, if only I weren’t locked tightly to the earth.

Take me with you, I would say to them quietly, take me with you. Often I would call it loudly up into the sky in a vain attempt to reach them, to make them see that I was trapped here and could not leave. I wanted desperately to join them, to go with them to those far off places, but they never paused in the steady rhythmic beating of their wings. If they saw or heard me they showed no sign of it, for I was not of them.

Year after year, season after season, it never failed to happen. When the first wings appeared out of the distance, impossibly high, looking like dotted lines drawn against the expanse of sky, their bodies just a dark silhouette, always, always when the first faint call reached out of the mist, the thought would jump unbidden into my mind. Look, I am here, take me along.

Heading north in the Spring and south in the Fall, stark against a deep blue sky, every feather outlined in perfect detail, or passing through clouds, their shapes becoming faint and opaque like shadows barely seen in the darkness. Their calls muffled, the size of their bodies getting ever smaller as I watched them recede into the distance, their calls fainter and fainter until they were gone and only an echo of them remained in my mind. Take me with you, I would say, and though I was forever rooted to the ground, I never ceased to ask.

Now years later I still find that catch in my throat as I stand here leaning against the door frame, my nose pressed tightly against the metal mesh inhaling the sharp metallic tang of cool fall air through the screen door. I’m waiting once again for the sound and sight of the high-flying geese heading South. I am here and the season is changing yet again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back In The Bushes

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Spring in Rocky Mountain National Park is usually a time when love is the center of attention. There is all that birds and bees stuff going on what with pairing up and nest-building and the place fairly reeks of love. For the Elk, love is for the Fall. Spring is for birthing babies. Elk mate and carry their young through the winter and in the Spring there is a frenzy of activity as the various pregnant cows decide important things. Like which clump of bushes to drop their calf’s in. It has to be far enough away from the main herd to keep busybodies away yet close enough to show off the little darlings after they arrive. Or what type of layette they will have to make their nursery complete, blue or pink, that kind of thing. One of the biggest decisions to make is which name to pick out if it is a bull calf.

Edith June and Loretta Clarisse are sisters and have always been fiercely competitive. They’ve been on the outs since last Fall when they found out they had both been with Big Daryl the herd bull. Big Daryl was one of the toughest, meanest, most belligerent bulls in the park which made him highly desirable of course, and the sisters both wanted to name their offspring some variation of Daryl, figuring this would give them an edge next Fall when the Rut, or mating season came around.

Edith June, the cow on the left, had made a grand announcement that not only was she carrying Daryl’s progeny but that she was carrying twins, both bull calves. She was going to name them Daryl, as in, this is my son Daryl and my other son Daryl. When Loretta Clarisse heard that gossip ripple though the herd she was incensed, not only incensed but furious, nearly out of her mind with anger and rage, her jealousy rampant, as she was only carrying  one calf and it was a cow. Holy Mackerel. Did the droppings ever hit the fan when she found herself bested by her sister. Not one to keep things to herself Loretta Clarisse cornered Edith June back in the bushes and made her feelings known.

Cows rarely get physical but when they do it is impressive to watch. Kind of like when two pretty, but shapely sisters fight over getting the same boyfriends name tattooed on their posteriors. There is head-butting, name calling, gnashing of teeth, baleful glaring, and hoof hitting. Hoof hitting is the one that causes damage. Their hooves are sharp and they hit with the full weight of their 450 lb. bodies, and cuts and getting an eye out are not uncommon.

Fortunately some of the older cows who have been through this many times before  waded in and broke them up before any real damage was done. Other than some bruised egos and a sharp pain in Edith June’s side from the exertion everything ended as well as could be expected. The older cows herded Loretta Clarisse to the other end of the meadow to cool down and Edith June’s friends commiserated with her, telling her how lucky she was to be having twins and how awful her sister was for being such a bitch. Cow elk use the word bitch having heard it from the many tourists that frequent the park so don’t be surprised if you hear them calling each other that if you visit. This is a good reason not to use vulgar language in front of our wild friends.

What you have just seen is not a rare occurrence here in Rocky Mountain National Park. Elk are a family and the family dynamics aren’t a lot different from that found in human families. One of the things to watch for as you view the Elk herd on your next visit is the sheer number of bull calves named Daryl. Elk are not very imaginative and tend to copy whatever the most popular cow does. So every bull calf born this year is likely to be named Daryl even if it’s father was actually named Steve. That’s just how things work here.

The Fall Terminator Line

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Every Fall the terminator line, that line that separates day from night, the one that can be seen moving across the face of the Earth from outer space, ushers in the changing of the season from Summer to Fall. The terminator line is usually thought of as being connected to the day/night cycle but our observers at the Observatory here at The Institute have determined that it is also connected to the changing of the seasons. Just as everyday the terminator races across the earth bringing night to some, and on the other side of the line, day to others, the terminator line also separates Summer from Fall.

As most people are busy watching football, playing video games, or doing inside stuff, they don’t notice this phenomenon. But the animals do. Take this mother Grizzly and her cubs for instance. They are right smack dab on the terminator line as it rushes toward them. You can see the difference between Fall and Summer in the meadow they’re in. On the top side of the line the grass has already turned golden on its way to being brown for the winter. On the lower side of line you can still see the grass is green and chewable. Mother is keeping the family on the summer side of the line as long as she can because they need to eat right up to the point where they enter the den.

The cubs always playful and boisterous are now quiet and still, hiding their heads in the grass, just below and to the left of Mom. We can’t hear the sound of the advancing terminator, but the bears can and it is terrifying to the young ones. We set up microphones that are able to pick up the UV layers of sound that are out of our hearing range and it was totally freaking scary. Two of our technicians fainted and had to be dragged back to the research vehicle where the Heimlicher procedure was performed along with liberal use of the company defibrillator.

Apparently the sound is similar to that of running along beneath the underbelly of a 747 as it reaches takeoff velocity. There is also a crackling sound as the Fall side of the terminator incinerates the foliage and causes all the grass to wilt and die screaming and all the colors rush out to the extremities of the trees and bushes. Where they then leap off on the leaves and catapult themselves into oblivion just to get away from the noise. That’s enough to scare any bear cub. Mother is used to it after being through it many times but nothing reassures the cubs like living through it once. It won’t be long and the terminator will pass over them at nearly warp speed leaving the little family dazed and confused, wondering if they had been snake bit or struck by lightning, as they wander dizzily around the meadow. But that soon passes.

It is rare to catch an animal family actually working the terminator line, but we did and that’s why *The Institute has the reputation for the unusual, strange, and freaky that we do. Some have wondered if we’re not the Supermarket tabloid of the science world. Although we appreciate the compliment we are simply The Institute, the worlds best Institute for science and other cool stuff there is.

If any of you out there can hear above 80,000 kHz then there is a good chance you might be able to hear the terminator coming. If so and you haven’t heard it before, try and maintain your composure so you don’t start a panic. Also stay way back from any bear family you might encounter. Mother grizzly may have been through this before but she is still a grizzly and a single mom. No matter how many times she’s been through it, it still makes her itchy and she is likely to snap at you if you get too close. This is a dicey time to have any sort of interaction with her. Just stay back. Let’s just be glad this terminator business only happens a few times a year.

* Note: For those of you unfamiliar with The Institute and what it does, please see the page labeled The Institute on the Menu Bar above. That should explain everything. You shouldn’t have one single question remaining regarding The Institute after reading it. None. For those of you favored few who already know about the Institute, Nevermind. Return to your daily activities. Thank you for your support.