Bear Tree Down

Last week a huge wind storm blew our hundred-year-old spruce to the ground. This tree played host to many, many animals over the years, perhaps most notably this little bear, who slept up there almost every night for three weeks last summer. Too bad to lose a giant like this.dsc01080

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According to Wikipedia, in 1925, when this tree was probably planted, Pierre Johnson won a post in Ouidah, a constituency in Dahomeyan, a French protectorate in Africa. There were 470 registered voters, and the French sympathizers won in the constituencies of Abomey and Porto-Novo, as you probably already know. But old Pierre Johnson won in Ouidah in spite of the strong French influence. I include this bit of history because it was the year of this tree’s “birth” and because it is a fact that can easily slip away. Try to remember it.

Increasers and Decreasers

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In his 1982 book, Where the Sky Began, which concerned the settlement of the great American prairie, John Madson drew a distinction between increasers and decreasers. The former were animals such as house finches, pigeons, and fox squirrels that increased their populations when living in human habitations. The latter, species like bears, coyotes, foxes–in short, predators–experienced population crashes as a result of human invasions.

But with time, these distinctions have become less clear. When I was a kid, in the 1950’s, the city had pushed out almost all larger wildlife. We never saw deer, bears, coyotes, or foxes in town. They were left in the distant countryside. Now, however, deer thrive in the city in large populations, bears roost in our trees at night, and coyotes take poodles off leashes in parks for lunch.

Once I asked the Fish and Wildlife Department if our school could collar and track a bear. They said no, and the reason was telling: “If the people in Broadmoor had any idea how many bears there are in the trees, they’d freak. We don’t do anything to call attention to bears.”

Tiny friend on the trail…

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This photo, at least on my screen, is the actual size of this little beast.

dsc02218On October 1st, not far above the “four-way,” on the road to the Seven Bridges Trailhead, I came across this neonate smooth green snake, total length 110 mm. This makes it a late summer brood hatchling, smaller than the average given in Redder, et al. (2006). In my experience, this little species is rare in this region, but according to various studies cited in Redder, its population densities can reach at least 75 per acre. Imagine that. So around here, in a grassy swale near water, in the area the size of a football field, there might dsc02219be, say, 20 or 30 of these little guys, and we never see them. Almost never. They eat insects and spiders. Keep looking. Most snakes occur in populations much larger than us non-herpetologists imagine. We just don’t know how to find them.

Redder, Alan J., Brian E. Smith, and Douglas Keinath 2006 Smooth Green Snake (Opheodrys vernalis): A Technical Conservation Assessment. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region Species Conservation Project, http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5182074.pdf

And here’s another from Paul Young, from Stratton Open SpaceSmooth Green.jpg

Waking Up at the May Museum

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Dedicated to the May family.

When I was eight years old, I suffered a short career in Cub Scouts, less than a year, weathering one bit of idiocy after another. The camping trip, washed out by a downpour, the picnic in the park spoiled by the nutcase who forgot to bring the drinks, the hike up the canyon ruined by falling on sharp rocks that cut my shins and made them bleed–everything conspired to destroy my faith in scouting.

The last straw, my final and most deflating experience with the organization, but also the most wondrous event in my life, was the field trip to the May Museum of Natural History. There, my patience stretched to—and beyond—the breaking point. Continue reading “Waking Up at the May Museum”