Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Great Rift Will Crush You

Oh hey there.  Here I am. I realized I never really posted much, or really anything, about this past field season. That's what this blog is supposed to be all out. Who and what have I become!?  Well, I finally did get to go in the field for a few months so I was pretty pumped. Hayduke, Garfunkel and I lived in a pretty hilarious metropolis of 29 (Twenty-nine, yes) people (not all of them were civilized...) called Atomic City in Southeastern, Idaho.  A pretty comical place to call home for a while.  We dwelled in a wee trailer from year, I dunno, 1987? that had been taken over my mice. I'm really painfully happy I have insurance again and that my hanta virus test came back negative. Holy hell, I was living in fear there for a while. Gross. (Above: Big Southern Butte, where I worked, Johnny Nutcase with the cutest Horned Lizard in all the world; Below: Greater-sage grouse nest that hatched and a view from Big Southern Butte looking into the field sites, me with telemetry equipment)
I tracked sage-grouse with telemetry, looked for the nests, stuff like that. I usually hang out with songbirds and this was a little different. I enjoyed it but the hardest part for me was that it was a ton more driving around than I'm used to, not nearly as much trekking and wandering.  Nest success is unfortunately pretty low with sage-grouse, so that was not an upper. Unlike a lot of people who do what I do, I get out of control emotional and really attached to "my" birds, so it's always a mourning process when a nest is predated, or the babies are eaten, or a female is taken out. Ugh. I take it very personally. I'm not supposed to, but I always will.  That happened a lot this season. Lot of tears on my part. However, one of the birds I was following had a third nest attempt! Which is actually really rare for  sage-grouse, and even more rare that it hatched!....As you may know, the sage-grouse failed to get listed as endangered recently. I'm going to refrain from my (VERY ANGRY) thoughts on that subject because I'm trying to keep this positive tonight. (Below: A hefty, low key, and calm Western Rattlesnake; me with a really sweet, docile gopher snake)
Snakes! Oh man, soo many snakes, which I was thrilled about. I saw almost 35 rattlesnakes!!! in a matter of like, 7 weeks. Excellent! tTons of gopher snakes (good lord, those guys are the sweetest snakes ever), and a handful of olive racers (so beautiful).  I was squat peeing at one point and heard a rattle and oh heeeyyy there buddy, a rattlesnake was about 5 feet from me coiling under some sagebrush. Not the most ideal situation. But no harm done, as usual. I ended up jumping over a couple in the rocks while I was running a few times, but a lot of them I'd see early in the mornings on the dirt roads and would help them get out of the way. and most I'd just see or hear while in the field. I saw tons of rattlesnakes while working in Texas, but I only remember two of them ever rattling at me. The majority of the Westerns I saw in southern Idaho were big time rattlers. Sort of weird. Theories?  (Below: olive racer- these guys are so fast, really hard to get photos of; western rattlesnake right on the Great Rift - there were two others within ten meters of him!; and another laid back gopher snake)
The sagebrush ecosystem is really underrated and doesn't get nearly enough credit. Tons of wildlife  and birds. Big Butte (that big guy jutting out of the sagebrush) was pretty impressive. It's a rhyolitic dome over a million years old (one of the biggest on earth, actually) and is ~7500 feet high, which is pretty gnarly when you think about it.  It has a completely different ecosystem up there (obviously) than all the sagebrush around it.  It's got some huge trees and a pretty thick forest and lots of weird rock formations and many prairie falcons! There were a handful of canyons into/up to Big Butte that made for really fun runs, but I was really easily distracted by snakes and birds and badgers and elk...(Below: view from Big Butte; a healthy elk herd; me at the base of Big Butte- one of my trail runs going up into a canyon. So fun)
The field sites were close to Craters of the Moon National Park, which made things a little interesting at times. Once the nests hatched and the female sage-grouse left the area, they went southeast towards a very strange and bizarre world. I can't really explain it, but it sort of had an unsettling haunted vibe, but not all together bad. While I was tracking one of them, I found a sinkhole sort of thing (no photo, which is a bummer) that was about ten feet by ten feet or so. Upon further inspection, I saw what looked like a lava tube (maybe about 4 feet wide) , which, it probably was because those are common around there. I'm glad I was paying attention to where I was stepping because that thing would have loved to suck me into the core. A mildly frightening experience. I crossed the Great Rift lots of times at the end of the season.  Honestly, really eerie stuff. I love snakes but the rattlesnakes really loved hanging out in the rift or right on the edge. One small slip and you'd be kinda screwed. The drop-off was pretty significant.  This is really out in no-man's land and it took me 2 hours to drive there and no one is ever out there. It's BLM land until it goes into NPS property and there is just not much human activity out there at all (which is how I like it), but those sinkholes and lava tubes and giant weirdo openings in the earth area a little bit disconcerting when you're out there solo.  The Great Rift is an 85 kilometer long (2-8 km wide) rift or belt of fissures, open cracks, cinder cones and shield volcanoes. It's weird. And awesome.  (Below: the ol' Great Rift. Sometimes you could see the bottom. At minimum, it was 20ish feet down, but most places were a lot deeper and darker than that)
Speaking of lava tubes, there is a huge one nearby called Bear Trap Cave.  I checked it out one day while sage-grousing. The thing was pretty massive and has been tracked for about 15 miles. It's a huge lava tube and out in the middle of nowhere. I saw two rattlesnakes while walking into it and a Ferruginous Hawk was roosting there too. I love (LOVE!) caves and rarely get weirded out by them, but this thing made me really uneasy for some reason.  (Below:  Johnny Nutcase at Bear Trap Cave. I was sort of expecting a ghost to show up in the photo. This self timer took about 9 tries, by the way) 
Well then, there you have it. That was a wordy and lengthy bout of stuff but not even near as much as I could have blabbered. All but two of these photos are from a pretty unimpressive point and shoot, since I rarely take my good guy in the field with me. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I said I would and I did.

I promised you pikas years ago. Maybe it was months ago, it's all running together now. But, alas, here they are. Behold the Pika Cute, Cute Pika.  If you don't think they are one of the most adorable goofballs you have ever seen, please exit my page and my life right now. These guys make ME SO HAPPY I CANNOT EVEN HANDLE IT. Really, just sitting here looking at them right now is making me tear up with the cute cries. I've got issues, I can admit it, I'm okay with my emotional vulnerability. Many are not. 
It's been a rough couple months, my friends. My head is spinning in a zone I am not totally comfortable with.  As the one and only, the great, the master, Ed Abbey says: " We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope." 
I'm obviously way behind with blog type things but I'm going to try to put a little more effort in. I've been in Utah, Idaho, New Mexico and wherever else the last couple months, and I've still got a hoard of photos from the field season, so stand by. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

G-Funk Forever (Part 1)

I've been trying and failing to write and complete this for a few weeks now. It hasn't gone smoothly. I am absolutely heartbroken. Garfunkel, my almost 21 year old cat is in heaven.  It's almost been one month, and it hasn't gotten any easier like they say it does, and I haven't gone a day without an overload of tears. I am completely crushed.  He was part of my life for so many years and has offered so much love, I really don't know what I'll do without that little nugget.  Things aren't the same.
Garfunkel found me while I was in college in Flagstaff, AZ. I was volunteering at an animal shelter and Garf reached out to me (literally, through his cage) and started yell-purring at me. Apparently, he wasn't the friendliest feline (to other cats or people), and the employees were really surprised when he latched onto me. We fell in love real fast.
I went back every day that week and got completely attached to him. The same employee told me they were going to put him to sleep on Thursday, two days away, if he wasn't adopted by that time.  I proceeded to freak out and told myself I would come back Wednesday afternoon and if he hadn't been adopted, I'd take him home. (At the time, "home" was a dorm room...)
I went back Wednesday and was told they had put him to sleep. I immediately broke down and went into a dog's kennel and sat there crying for a couple hours. I finally got the nerve to go into the cat room and saw that Garfunkel was still there, looking so sad and stressed out. Sadly, they did euthanize a different cat, but Garf was still there, waiting for me. I didn't have a car, so I called a couple friends (I am still grateful to Morgan and Seth!) and I adopted FunkyG and we smuggled him into my dorm room (so sly!). I lived right across from the RA and was so worried she was going to find out about Garf and tell me I couldn't have him in there. She told me she knew about him on the day I moved out, a few months later. So glad she was a good sport about the situation.
G-Nugget lived in 7 different states with me and visited 19 of them. He was a ramblin' catboy and loved road trips. He was such a good little traveler. He was always an inside cat but loved rolling (flopping?) around in the sun when I'd bring him out on the porch with me. I adopted another cat (Hayduke, a stray who found me while I was living in a crappy trailer park in Corpus Christi) and when I introduced the two of them, I was so paranoid that Garf would be really mean and hate Hayduke, but the two of them fell into cat-love within days. I'm so sad for Hayduke because I know he misses his buddy like crazy. He's been extra snuggly and needy, and really doesn't like to be alone. He and Garf were ridiculous together. Cutest thing ever. True love.
Garfunkel loved mango, watermelon, cantaloupe, long road trips, short road trips, valerian root, asparagus, cucumbers, a nice IPA, a little red wine, chasing geckos that got in the house. He LOVED his best friend/cat lover, Hayduke, and his old dog buddies Sebastian and Abbey. I know he was absolutely in love with me. He loved my mom and dad. He loved a good whiskey, smelling the fresh air, rolling around in the sun, chattering at outside cats, chipmunks, and birds through the window (no way that guy was allowed outside unsupervised). He loved snuggling like a person, spooning me while I slept, nose kisses, being brushed. He loved biting metal stuff (goofball), bubble wrap. He really had a thing for bubble wrap.  He'd smell bubble wrap from miles (or at least rooms) away, seek it out and destroy that stuff. He had the most hilarious meow you've ever heard, also audible from miles away. Pretty impressive. He had a canine tooth removed years ago and had a snaggle smile which could put anyone in a good mood. He loved licking my nose, drinking my water (or whatever was in my glass), serious eye contact, bathing Hayduke for hours. He absolutely loved being brushed (Hayduke does too). He loved climbing the attic stairs, even in his old age.
Garfunkel was a super snuggler. He slept like a person and would crawl under the covers and spoon me all the time, wrapping his little cat arms around my neck and burrowing his head into me. He'd give me the guiltiest look when I had to get out of bed!  His spoons were one of the things that made me happiest. Without fail, he knew when I was sad and would always comfort me. I don't care if it sounds crazy, we had a real, intense connection and he was one of my soul mates. I am so unbelievably sad without him around.   I know he had the happiest life though, and I am so grateful that he was part of mine, and is still part of mine. I have so many happy memories with that guy, but I still can't stop crying.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Why yes, I do wear my heart on my sleeve, yes.

YeeeOwls in yer face. I didn't get scalped while taking these photos, don't worry. Oh, you weren't worried? I didn't think so, really. Good for you. I sort of got a little obsessed with this nest because it was in one of the few trees in the area (sagebrush sea) and I was pretty much freaking out because I was worried they were too close to a main road. All was well in the end, but I really did lose sleep about this. Um, sometimes I would go check on them in the middle of the night to make sure the babies weren't hanging out in the road. 
I'm not sure what snapped in my head-brain recently, but holy hell. The last couple years, my attachment to ANYTHING animal, and anything remotely sad involving animals, habitat loss, etc...I just can't do it. I can't. I cannot. Ever since I was a wee goofball, it's always been a very emotional ride when animals are concerned. But I'm surprised I am not perpetually dehydrated (probably helps I drink 7 liters of water a day, but not the point) from crying constantly about all the sad crap in the world. It kills me. No really, I  think it might actually be killing me.  I've always been an animal lover and always been much more attached to them than most people, but whoaaaa, guys. I cannot keep my emotions in check these days (I'm too young to be going through menopause, so shut your mouth).

I cry when I see pikas (it's true! I've got issues!) - partly, because they are so goddamn cute. And also because, well, they are not thriving and that bums me out. Who wants to live in a world without pikas (or pandas, or...take your pick). The thought of this crushes me. It totally annihilates me. I do not want to live in a world without pikas or pandas, no thank you.
Here's a downer story for you (sorry): I recently witnessed an unfortunate member of society and his 11-12 year old grandson shooting rabbits while on their white trash ATV.  I'm going to save this entire rant for another post (because, I WILL GO ON AND ON), but this was almost a month ago now, and I have been having nightmares, pretty much every night, about this situation. I can't get over it. I won't get over it.

The Soda fire in southern Idaho? No. I just broke down earlier this morning because it's burning up so much sage-grouse habitat and it's at almost 280,000 acres and only 10% contained. The lion incident (excuse me, murder, I mean) from a few weeks ago? No.The fact that NPS shot and killed a grizzly and threw her cubs into a zoo this week? No no NOOOO. My need to curl up in the fetal position and just cry about all these things is out.of.control. I'm a Highly Sensitive Person (no, really, it's a legitimate thing. Click that link.). I know a lot of people are upset about these things, but I lose sleep over them every single night. I have nightmares, I wake up thinking about them. It's sort of taxing, really. I take all this stuff very personally. However, I'll take my insane emotions over apathy any day. APATHY! Don't even get me started on apathy. So gross, that apathy. Apathy has destroyed our planet.
But back on point. These great-horned owls fledged and they were fun to watch. They kept going back to the nest  at night, for about 10 days or so, but then I'd hear them near the trailer (about a mile and a half from their nest). There were also a bunch of short-eared owls around, who I worried about much more than the great-horneds because they would forage in the road at night and didn't flush from cars as easily as they should have. More posts on the short-eareds to come (I had some pretty fantastic close encounters with those guys!). 

Oh! Here's a link to a gofundme site, if you don't mind checking it out and maybe sharing it. I am still so grateful to everyone who helped with my car funds last year and know that site can be a game changer. A good friend of mine, along with some more wonderful people, helped rescue a circus lion in Argentina and the sweet thing just touched grass for the first time in 8 years, after being confined in a cage for years. Hopefully this link to photos will work:  Really, look at the before and afters- she is already so much happier and healthier! 

Friday, August 7, 2015

End of the Season Blues

Birds? I still like 'em, I still take pictures of them. I am now back in civilization, society. There are 2 positive things about this:  The internet, and my cats have a house to run around in again, not a wee trailer. I'm already feeling clausterphobic after less than 24 hours though.  Oh boy, not a good sign. Johnny just doesn't thrive in the city.  Gross. Hold me. (Above: Western Kingbird fledgie, below: Sage Thrasher stare down)
The field season was a good one, though I still prefer songbirds. Sage-grouse rock it, but the actual field work isn't quite as thrilling. Lots of driving, not enough wandering. I was pumped to do veg work this season because it actually meant I'd get to hike a few miles. Whaaatt? Bird people, you know what I mean. We don't necessarily get all gushy over veg measurements.  (Below: Western Meadowlark and Brewer's Blackbird fledgie)
I really love southern Idaho, much prefer over the Moscow area. Those wheat fields up here are a downer. The sagebrush world is underrated. Lots of wildlife sightings this season.  Off days were spent in a secret spot in the mountains, where I'm pretty sure I'm going to retreat and set up camp permanently as soon as I can get away with it. Drool, that place makes me drool. I'm definitely behind on the blog, as usual. I've got some ridiculously cute pika pictures coming your way. Wait for it.