My new post over at This or That:
My new post over at This or That:
Why was I not informed about the honey badger? This is an animal that wakes up from a puff adder venom induced coma, staggers to its feet and thinks, "Man, that was a wicked adder nap. Know what would really hit the spot right now? More puff adder."
Discovered via Cracked: https://www.cracked.com/article_18860_6-animals-that-just-dont-give-f2340k.html
It was cold today, but it was a free day at the zoo, and it turns out that winter is a good time to go to the zoo since many of the animals are sporting beautiful winter coats. We saw the African wild dogs, a first for me, and the spotted hyenas, striped hyenas (my favorite of the two) the servals, a quickly pacing fossa, an amur leopard (which, if you’ve seen Planet Earth, makes you feel like you’re looking at a caged ghost) the always gorgeous snow leopard, a lounging polar bear, the arctic foxes, which get the cuteness award for being all curled up into big, fluffy white balls; the otters, a close second in the cuteness category; a swimming tapir and an elephant, among many others. Aside from the arctic foxes and a few others, most of the animals were very active and provided better than average viewing. My favorites were the Siberian tigers and the wolves, who were asleep the first time we looked, but provided a show later on.
To see a full grown Siberian tiger a few feet away is to be awed (is it really that big? It totally is. Look how big it is! You keep dumbly thinking to yourself.) To see it is also to be awwwed when it starts playing with the four already large five-month old cubs nearby. It was hard to be impressed by anything after that, but the three white wolves did a good job of it when, around sunset, they gathered and howled.
Crowds gathered round to see the beautiful animals at the zoo today, and displayed a frightful amount of ignorance as they did so. I feel I must report:
People mistook the African wild dogs for spotted hyenas because the two are rotated through the same enclosures and apparently, if there’s a sign that says “hyena” on it, that must be what you’re looking at, even if it’s actually a multi-colored canine that looks nothing like the picture of a spotted hyena on the same sign, and even if the actual hyenas can be seen simply by turning your head to the left and looking in the adjacent enclosure.
“It’s a Savannah Stalker!” This is what people think servals are called, because the sign giving information about them is titled “The Savannah Stalker,” with “serval” written in smaller type down below. There's no excuse for the person who thought that this was a bobcat.
“It’s an anteater. I didn’t know they got so big!” They don’t, lady, and they don’t spend much time submerged in water, either. Ok, apparently they are capable swimmers, but think about it: do ants live under water? Don't answer that. You’re in the pachyderm house, and you’re looking at a Malayan tapir. Don’t worry, your small son is smarter than you and is happy to correct you.
Finally, parents seem to have slacked off on their duty to tell their children not to pound on aquarium glass as it harasses the fish or other animals inside. I'm not saying the kids are dumb, because they're just kids. All I'm saying is that a responsible adult needs to step up and threaten to throw them in with the Siamese crocodile if they don't stop tapping on its glass.
Luckily people weren't the only thing on display, and I'll talk about the actual animals in a minute.
14 May Friday. So the week was cold and wet, and we couldn’t even come in on Wednesday because there was too much snow, so when we came in today and it was only partly cloudy and relatively warm, it felt great. We spent the morning finishing up a dense patch of myrtle spurge that we started the previous day, and then our crew leader broke off to do some office work while my two crewmates and I got the good job: delve into the Heart of Darkest Boulder to GPS any big infestations of garlic mustard we find. I speak of course of the Cottonwood Grove Habitat Conservation Area along Boulder Creek. Surrounded by roads and industry, the area is an unusually dense and overgrown riparian forest, a green patch easily visible on aerial maps of Boulder but fenced off from the public and generally unknown outside the transients who take advantage of the extreme complexity and density of the understory to camp in seclusion. In fact, the transients, along with the proximity to a polluting chemical plant, are often cited as the real reasons for making the area an HCA in the first place – the designation provided an excuse to build an excluding fence around it.
Inside the fence is an area as close to jungle as you will find in
We saw a small group of deer as we attempted to follow the creek, and soon after finding a small patch of garlic mustard things got interesting. I was pulling up some garlic mustard when I happened to look over to my right. One of my crewmates was pulling another little patch some thirty or forty feet away, and no more than fifteen feet beyond her, a coyote was walking by. Focused on the weeds, my crewmate didn’t even notice the medium sized carnivorous mammal passing silently on her right. I called her and pointed urgently, but stupidly couldn’t seem to get out the word coyote. She looked at me, trying to figure out what I was so excited about, and by the time I got her looking in the right direction the coyote was gone. But with some searching we saw it again, lingering in the foliage, looking back at us for a minute before departing. I tried to get a picture but my camera malfunctioned. I’ve seen plenty of coyotes before, but it felt different seeing one in a forest rather than out on the prairie, as though it were more mysterious and wolf-like, and its ability to pass unnoticed in plain sight impressed me. We continued with our work and cleared the patch before lunch.
We watched beautiful yellow, black and red Western tanagers and yellow and green yellow warblers as we ate by the creek. After lunch, the coyote came back, and this time she decided to stay. As we worked a dense garlic mustard patch she came and lay down some thirty feet away and watched us lazily. If we snapped a loud twig or got within twenty feet she would take notice and perhaps move off for a minute before settling in a new location at a comfortable distance and continuing to keep an eye on us. She watched us for well over an hour this way, even apparently taking a nap now and then. I finally got my pictures, and while I wanted to take this as an awesome wildlife experience, the strangeness of her behavior was enough to make me wonder if she wasn’t sick or tame from transients giving handouts. Yet I couldn’t help thinking about how this is what the origin of dogs must have looked like, with wolves lying just outside a human camp, waiting for a bone to get tossed their way, wolves who edged closer and closer until they divorced the rest of their kin to join us permanently, and how we rewarded their loyalty and the voluntary sacrifice of their freedom by mutating them into Boston terriers. Despite the knowledge that something must be wrong about a coyote behaving this way, it nonetheless remained a surreally cool experience, watched over by a coyote as we worked.
She followed us at a distance throughout the afternoon, always mildly interested, just keeping an eye on us. We saw at least three dead raccoons in various states of decay (including a beautifully intact skull that I couldn’t resist keeping) which might have been the coyote’s handiwork, perhaps indicating that she isn’t sick or overly tame after all. Once, reentering the HCA after going out to drop off our trash bags full of garlic mustard, I saw a rabbit dash into the bushes, followed closely by the coyote, who looked over as if to ask why I interrupted the hunt. When we split up for a last pass through the western end of the grove she followed me at a distance through the forest.
An off-limits jungle, unexpected wildlife viewing and a close, extended encounter with a wild representative of that place in the form of a coyote. Yeah, I was on the clock for that.
Yesterday was apparently an anomaly. It was gray and rainy this morning, and I really, really didn’t want to go out and work. When it’s like this I hope it will pour rain and send us home early, pay or not. But, just as we got to Mt Sanitas and started pulling myrtle spurge, the rain passed and very suddenly it was all blue sky and sunshine for the first time this week. Even though it was still all wet, I thought, this is ok, I can work now. And it was fairly easy going until lunch, but then it was overcast again, and suddenly cold again and threatening rain and I wanted to go huddle inside. It’s not that I mind cool, wet, gray weather -- it’s nice and cozy and springy as long as it doesn’t last more than a few days -- it’s just that I hate being cold and wet while working. The cold this week keeps giving me this strange false impression that it’s fall and winter is coming and I wish it were spring, and then I remember that it is spring and summer is coming. Strange.
Despite the fact that I’m usually solar powered when it comes to work and the sky was drearily gray and threatening rain and it was quite cool again today, I felt strangely energetic rather than lethargic. Maybe because the northern properties of Ryan, Andrea and Jacob are some of my favorite in the whole system. They feel remote and quiet and there’s a beautiful valley surrounded by hills whose steep slopes bear dark shale, the favorite habitat of the endemic Bell’s twinpod (e.g. these and these). It was the first place I saw a sand lily, and on this day another flower new to me. So despite the abundant cacti and steep slopes I always enjoy working in this area.
This morning as we attempted a difficult grid around one of the hills we were serenaded by snipes, whose ethereal call always seems nearby and all around even though the birds themselves are difficult to spot. And a peacock or two on a nearby farm, whose blaring cry is better suited to a humid jungle and reminds me of the Denver zoo. And a little later, a rooster’s crowing, the sound of which, after all these years, still reminds me of daybreak in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. We found noticeably less Med sage than in my previous summers, a welcome change, and I always enjoy the great view to be had from the hilltops. Turning to the east, away from the valley, you can see a tipi on another hill a ways off, and to the south, two giant radio dishes at the table mountain antenna site. It always seems surreal to me, to be in a grassland well outside the city where the sparse human inhabitants operate goat dairies and pick-and-pay organic vegetable farms, and here are these monumental pieces of advanced technology just sitting on the hillside, isolated from any obvious origin, purpose or user. Kind of sci-fi.
Also, the rattlesnakes wisely stay inside when it’s cold.
So we had a good walk the other day, setting out from our apartment through the neighborhood and the big nearby open space via trails and sidewalks to explore a different open space we’d never been to before. On the way back, we stopped at the clubhouse for some free tea and coffee, and then walked to the grocery store to pick up a few things before having dinner at a local pizza place and finally returning home. This combination of walking for both recreation and utility in the same trip would have been very unlikely only four and a half miles away in the neighborhood where I grew up, but it is quite easy here.
This neighborhood, at least our section of it, was built around 2003 and seems to have had at least a modicum of thought put into it. It consists of high quality apartments and townhomes, with restaurants and businesses built into the neighborhood along a main street, and single-family detached houses, which, although much, much too large in my opinion, are nonetheless quite attractive with varied designs, hidden rear garages and lots of neat little parks interspersed to make up for the fact that the houses occupy almost their entire lot and are very close together. Solar pv’s on the roofs are quite common. And, even unfinished though it is with the aforementioned empty lots, there’s a lot of necessities and community assets within a short walk for everyone in the neighborhood.
Oddly, as if to emphasize how nice it is, there’s an adjacent block of houses west of us that, despite being built only a year earlier, are depressingly 20th century. They’re big and blocky, ugly and monotonous, with comparatively few parks, no mix of housing types, and no businesses. You’d think nothing had been learned since the days when my parent’s house was built.
My parent's house and the neighborhood where I grew up are old fashioned in all the wrong ways. The neighborhood is a typical late 20th century American suburban neighborhood, dating to about 1980. It's a big rectangle of single family detached houses dropped on the landscape like a bomb just beyond the preexisting edge of the city. The houses are a study in how not to design a house. They’re drafty, dark, inefficient, and generally look like a large car garage with a sad living quarters attached to it. They care nothing for the landscape or their orientation relative to the sun, and the limited number of designs repeat, creating a confusing labyrinth along the unnecessarily wide streets.
For comparison, I used Google Earth to find useful things within a
Here's a list:
Parent’s house (built about 1979):
* Recreation: good access to parks, open spaces, trails, and rec centers.
*Schools: a public elementary, middle and high school.
*Restaurants: 3 (1 local coffee place at
1 local burrito place about same distance and a Starbucks at
*Gas stations: 1 at
*A small amount of other business and retail.
[To be fair, a number of things nearly make the cut: a Sonic at
*Recreation: good access to parks, open spaces, trails, and rec centers.
*Schools: 1 pre-school, 1 k-12 private school and a community college.
*Restaurants: ~30 ranging from fast food to coffee places to casual to slightly more fine dining.
*Grocery stores: 2 (3 if you count Walgreens, 4 if you count the new Walmart being built.)
*1 public library.
*Gas stations: 2.
*Various other retail and businesses.
Our new neighborhood has the same strengths as my parent’s neighborhood (good access to recreation and schools) plus a lot more. It’s the clear winner for providing its residents with lots of the things they need and want within a short, easy walk. However, just because something is within a mile radius doesn't mean it's a mile walk. Everything is farther away when you account for the often meandering paths one must take to reach one's destination. This makes it even more important that developments have well designed density with things close at hand. Again using Google Earth I determined the distance by the shortest walking route to a couple destinations in each neighborhood.
Walking route to the nearest restaurant:
Walking to the grocery store:
But it could be even better. For instance:
*The neighborhood could be more bike friendly – our apartments should rent bike lockers in addition to the car ports and garages.
*All the roof space on top of the apartments is wasted. It should be used for community gardens, or covered in solar panels, or a mix of the two.
*The houses here are way too big.
*The neighborhood should be even denser with more apartments and townhomes and yet more businesses, all without sacrificing comfort.
*Better access to public transit like buses and rail (which should exist.)
Will people get out of their cars if walking is a reasonable alternative? I do. Given all the benefits, personal and ecological, of a dense, walkable neighborhood, I can’t understand why anyone would ever be allowed to again build like they did in the bad old days of the late 20th century.
The other day I sat in the boughs of a rather horizontal cottonwood, the only nearby source of shade in the middle of a rolling prairie, crunching a ripe apple. That was a good break. Later I saw a very yellow bumble bee land on a white larkspur, and the contrast between the white flowers and the yellow and black bumble bee was very cool.
The day before I found some fossil clamshells in a shale outcropping. I left them there, of course, but took a picture.
A few days earlier I was inside a bird closure area, near an osprey nest. I asked Christian, a wildlife tech and avid birder, if those people over there were allowed to fly their buzzing model planes so close to the bird closure. His expression soured and his tone betrayed the truth of his desire as he said, "If I had a shotgun, I would shoot that fucking thing down." I guess they are allowed to fly their planes that close to the raptor closure, but the people who favor the birds don't like it, not one bit.
We've been working hard, really hard, to kill all the flowering Mediterranean sage plants before they go to seed, but the wet climate this year has brought up an order of magnitude more plants than there were last year while the economy has seen to it that we have fewer staff members to deal with it. We were supposed to be done by now, but there's still hundreds of plants on our land out there, dropping their flowers and starting to dry out as they go to seed. Hopefully we'll be able to get almost all of them next week.