Sunday, August 28, 2011

Glad I live in the west

I grew up on Long Island, NY, several lifetimes ago, so I was very interested in hurricane Irene and what kind of havoc it would create along the east coast. My first memory as a child is of the "Long Island Express," the hurricane that struck Long Island in 1938 and caused so much damage and killed many people.

I was only 3 1/2, but can remember the house shaking, my parents being extremely nervous--my sister was only a few months old and that probably added to their fears--and then a panel falling from the ceiling, probably an entry hatch to the attic. The house was small and surrounded by trees and I'm sure branches were hitting the house as well as rain pelting it.

I remember years later my parents taking about being fooled by the eye of the hurricane. The wind and rain stopped and the sun came out in a clear blue sky. Of course back east you can't see for a gazillion miles like you can on the plains, so they probably could see the blue sky in the eye and no clouds. Then, as suddenly as the eye appeared, it closed and the storm came back, with the wind from the opposite direction. I'm sure they were even more terrified. I would have been had I been a few years older.

I do remember years later when I was probably a pre-teen, 11 or 12, climbing a tree in our yard to experience the wind from another much less intense hurricane. I imagined myself in the rigging of a four-masted sailing boat in the ocean, rocking back and forth with the wind and swells. I probably got out of the tree when the rains came. It is a treasured memory, one of the few I have from my childhood.

Perhaps all this explains the weird sensations I had several times this weekend. I'd watch CNN and the Weather Channel, switching back and forth to miss the ads, and I became immersed in what was going on. Twenty years as an Air Force pilot have given me a love of weather phenomenon, so I watched intently as the experts explained what was happening and what was likely to happen. I also was fascinated by the pictures of the waves crashing on the shores and of the erosion taking place on the beaches.

Several times on both Saturday and then this morning, Sunday, I got up from watching the hurricane and walked to the kitchen to get coffee or breakfast and be shocked to see that the sun was shining and the temperature climbing toward 90. Somehow in my imagination I had gone off to the east coast and was in the middle of the hurricane. No, I did not visit one of our medicinal marijuana dispensaries yesterday. I guess I just got lost in the story of what that storm was doing to the east coast.

Yesterday, before I started watching Irene, I took a two-hour hike out on the prairie at the Plains Center. I ran into the same rattlesnake I ran into two weeks ago. He is a big fellow but has a small rattle. It looks like someone or something broke it. One myth about rattlers rattles is that you can tell the age of a snake by counting the buttons. First, getting one to hold still long enough to count his buttons can be dicey. And, they get a new button on their rattle every time they shed their skin, three or four times a year. So this fellow will add several buttons to his tail this next year. Here he is as he crawls across the trail I was walking. In the second picture notice the triangular shape of his head, the tell-tale sign of a pit viper.

A bit later, I spotted a pronghorn doe who had also spotted me, and she took off running. As she started, a fawn jumped up out of the grass and followed her. What a wonderful sight. Unfortunately, she was gone before I could get my camera on her, so I just have to be satisfied with the wonderful image in my mind. For me, pronghorns are magical animals who can appear and disappear in a heartbeat. Each time I see one, I consider it a gift.

As I approached the large cottonwoods in the creek area, I spotted a large raptor sitting on a bare branch. When I got closer, he spooked and flew off to the west, but then he decided to show me what a beautiful creature he is and flew directly over me. At one point, he landed on a branch, giving me a wonderful picture of his red tail, of course a red-tailed hawk. The first picture shows him getting ready to land with his tail spread and showing its color. In the second pic, you can see the white of his undersides and the markings that are common to red-tailed hawks.

And so, I'm very glad that I live in the west. First, that's where my wife lives, and I'd really be lonesome without her. Then, we don't have hurricanes out here. And finally I get to share my walks with some handsome and magical critters.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

And you thought I'd skipped town

I've neglected this blog way too long. I'm ashamed. But after reading Cathy's blogs, it seems rather futile to put anything out there for others to read. It's been very hot here in Denver, temps in the 90s for 18 days and now up and down between low 90s and high 80s. This morning was cool so I decided to walk out at the Plains Center to see what might show up.

I was just turning onto the main trail that heads north, just before an old pipe cattle guard, and a rattler welcomed me to the area with a nice buzzing sound. He wasn't able to get off the trail before I got there, so he buzzed to let me know he was there. He was a very handsome devil and posed for a few pictures. Here's the best of three I have.

I said my hellos and goodbyes to Mr Rattler and was then greeted by another different sound, a low wuf, wuf, wuf. I looked around and saw Mrs Coyote on a ridge about a quarter mile east. I was pretty sure she had some pups around and was warning them that I was in the area. Here she is checking me out. Note the two prairie dogs in the background keeping an eye on her.

She alternated wuffing and high pitched barking and finally broke into a more traditional coyote howl. She wuffed and barked and howled at me for 45 minutes until I finally got onto another trail leaving her area. Here she is howling at me. What a beautiful critter. God I love those prairie animals.

A little further along the trail, with Mrs Coyote still wuffing at me, I scared up a ferruginous hawk, probably a young one judging by his coloring, who flew up and started circling, giving me a some very good looks at him. Also got some great shots of him. Here's on from underneath. With the coyote and the hawk, I'm sure the prairie dogs were very nervous.

I met some friends on the trail who were headed back to the nature center, so I joined them. They both love coyotes and were laughing at Mrs Coyote barking at me. We got almost back to where I had earlier seen the rattler and a coyote pup, I'm sure one of the ones Mrs Coyote was warning about me, came running out of some reeds near the creek. He was so busy watching us as he ran away that he didn't notice a small bump in the grass and tripped, doing a wonderful face plant. This is the first time I've seen a coyote blush. I wish I had a picture to prove it.

But all the beauty in Denver is not out on the prairie. We have had some right here in the back yard. For several weeks, we had dragonflies zig zagging across the yard. Of course they almost never light, never when you have a camera handy, so it's really hard to get pictures. I fooled one into landing on a bush near my patio office--had my eyes closed as if I were napping. I ran inside and got my camera and took a picture of a white-faced meadowhawk.  Don't you love that name, meadowhawk. Only an entomologist would come up with a grand name like that. Here's one for your viewing enjoyment.

And a few morning later, I went out onto the patio steps to have my first cup of coffee and heard a buzzing sound. Not being on the prairie, I didn't figure it was a rattler, so I explored. The buzzing was coming from one of the recessed skylights in the patio. A dragonfly was at the top of the skylight banking his head on it trying to get out. I know if I tried to shoo him out I'd probably kill or wound him, so I just left him along. I figured he's get tired and fall out of the skylight. Well, he did, but was clinging to the bottom of it. Back in to get the camera. Here's a picture of a paddle-tailed meadowhawk.

Handsome devil, isn't he? He disappeared later in the morning, I guess to continue feeding on mosquitoes and gnats. Hope he fed well.

And last night I took Principessa out to the back yard for her final visit, to empty the tank, and looked for bats and saw a couple. When she went back in, I headed for the front yard where I usually see more bats than in back. Sure enough, there must have been a dozen bats of varying sizes flitting around, some pretty close to me. So I wrote a haiku to celebrate the first bats for this summer. At least the first for me. I'm sure they've been there all along.

     bats are out tonight 
     catching bugs close to my head 
     wonderful fliers  

And that's how things have been here at Lake Woebegone. Perhaps I'll not be so lazy down the road and post here more often.