Shallow Thoughts : : nature

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Tue, 17 May 2022

Time-Lapse Video of Pyrocumulus from the Hermit's Peak Fire

The Cerro Pelado fire that was threatening Los Alamos is mostly under control now (71% contained as of Tuesday morning), and the county has relaxed the "prepare to evacuate" status.

That's good, and not just for Los Alamos, because it means more people who can fight the much larger Hermit's Peak/Calf Canyon fire, currently 26% contained and stretching over a huge 299,565 acres.

For those of us on the Pajarito Plateau, that means we're getting views of enormous pyrocumulus clouds towering over the Sangre de Cristo mountains from Las Vegas to just south of Taos.

I keep missing the opportunity for photos, but on Sunday night I took a series of images and made this time-lapse movie.


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[ 12:25 May 17, 2022    More nature | permalink to this entry | ]

Sun, 08 May 2022

Earth, Wind and (Cerro Pelado) Fire

[tree cage tied to fence]
It's the windy season, and the winds are crazy here. I'm pretty sure I saw a house, some flying monkeys and a woman on a bicycle fly past the window twenty minutes ago.

I'm not sure precisely how crazy — our weather station is only showing a max of 18 mph, which mostly means there are too many trees around it, but the weather station at TA54 just up the road is reading 26 right now, with a max of 48.3.

The cage that I built this spring to keep the deer away from the apple tree (not that it ever flowers or fruits anyway) keeps wanting to slide into the tree or topple over on top of it. I had to jump up twice during dinner and run out to rescue it. So now it's tied to some big rocks and, if those lose their grip, it's also tied to the fence.

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[ 19:49 May 08, 2022    More nature | permalink to this entry | ]

Thu, 23 Dec 2021

Lost Some Trees to Bark Beetles

[Piñon Bark Beetles and larvae] This year's drought was fierce. We only had two substantial rainfalls all summer. And here in piñon-juniper country, that means the piñon trees were under heavy attack by piñon Ips bark beetles, Ips confusus.

Piñon bark beetles are apparently around all the time, but normally, the trees can fight them off by producing extra sap. But when it gets dry, drought-stressed trees can't make enough sap, the beetles proliferate, and trees start dying. Bark beetles are apparently the biggest known killer of mature piñon trees.

We're aware of this, and we water the piñons we can reach, and cross our fingers for the ones that are farther from the house. But this year we lost four trees -- all of them close enough to the house that we'd been watering them every three or four weeks.

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[ 18:38 Dec 23, 2021    More nature | permalink to this entry | ]

Sat, 09 Oct 2021

Yellow and Red

Sometimes it seems like yellow is the color of fall.

[Cowpen daisies] First, in late summer, a wide variety of sunflower appear: at the house we get mostly the ones with the uninspiring name of cowpen daisy (Verbesina encelioides). The flower is much prettier than its name would suggest.

[Snakeweed in bloom] Then the snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae) and chamisa (Ericameria nauseosa) take over, with their carpets of tiny yellow flowers. (More unfortunate names. Chamisa has a mildly unpleasant smell when it's blooming, which presumably explains its unfortunate scientific name; I don't know why snakeweed is called that.)

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[ 19:25 Oct 09, 2021    More nature | permalink to this entry | ]

Sun, 29 Aug 2021

Hurt Hummer

[Hummingbird with btoken wing] Yesterday afternoon, I stepped out the back door and walked a few steps along the rocky path when I noticed movement at my feet.

It was a hummingbird, hidden in the rocks, and I'd almost stepped on it.

Closer examination showed that the hummer was holding its left wing out straight -- not a good sign. He might have flown into a window, but there's no way to know for sure how this little guy got injured.

The first order of business was to get him off the path so he wouldn't get stepped on. *

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[ 08:34 Aug 29, 2021    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Thu, 27 May 2021

Backyard Wildlife Drama, with Chipmunk

[Least chipmunk] This year, we've been lucky enough to have a chipmunk hanging around our garden. I feed a lot of birdseed on the ground or a platform feeder: most of the birds here seem to prefer ground-scattered seed to hanging seed feeders. Sometimes the ground feeding backfires: this year I'm buying seed at a furious rate because a flock of about 25 mourning doves have discovered our yard. I thought I liked mourning doves, which in recent years have seemed to be losing out to the larger white-winged and Eurasian collared doves ... but 25 is really too much of a good thing.

Where was I? Oh, yes, chipmunks. Usually they prefer the canyon's edge, about a mile away; we get rock squirrels here, but no tree squirrels and seldom chipmunks. So we were very happy when one took up residence here earlier this spring and became a regular visitor to our seed station, as well as running along the brick wall outside my office.

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[ 18:02 May 27, 2021    More nature | permalink to this entry | ]

Sat, 15 May 2021

Squabbling Tenants

They keep telling us what a serious housing problem Los Alamos county has. Especially low-income housing.

Well, I just saw it for myself, from the landlord's perspective. I was awakened at six this morning by two tenants squabbling over a low-rent apartment.

It started when one of the ash-throated flycatchers, who just arrived this week, landed on the railing outside the bedroom, making its typical chip-chip-churrup call. But then it changed to a different call, one I'd never heard before, a low and insistent repetitive trill.

But the nest box on that deck was already occupied by a pair of mountain chickadees. The chickadees have been there more than a week and are clearly not interested in vacating, even for a flycatcher twice their size. They made their kissy-noise chickadee call right back at the flycatcher, and the flycatcher eventually gave up and flew away.

Fortunately, unlike the county's problem, this one is relatively easily solved. There's another nest box, which I think is still unoccupied this year, just below the garden fence.

I guess, like the county, I should consider adding more subsidized housing. I could have sworn I bought a third nest box when I bought those two, and never got around to putting it up, But I can't find it now. I guess it's time to buy or make another nest box or two.

It's a nice problem to have. When I first bought these birdhouses, I didn't really expect I'd get any takers. But in the six years I've had them, they've hosted at least one nest each year, sometimes two or three. in addition to ash-throated flycatchers and mountain chickadees, they've also Bewick's wrens also use them.

Although they're sold as bluebird boxes, I've never had a bluebird use them; bluebirds fly over and sometimes stop for a drink, but they don't hang around or breed. I know there are skillions of bluebirds over in Pajarito Acres, only a few miles away, but I'm not sure how to entice them to hang out here. They're bug eaters and not interested in seed. A few voices on the 'net suggest that commercial bluebird boxes are designed for eastern bluebirds, and western bluebird boxes should have a slightly larger hole. So far I've been too lazy to do anything about that, but I do have woodworking tools, including a set of hole saws and Forstner bits. Maybe I'll put that on the to-do list for this week. Meanwhile, I'll enjoy the chickadees and flycatchers.

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[ 09:13 May 15, 2021    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]

Tue, 16 Mar 2021

A Junco Goes "Umbrella Fishing"

One memorable sequence from Sir David Attenborough's stellar Life of Birds documentary is that of a black egret (or black heron -- I've seen both, but aside from color it looks remarkably like the North American snowy and reddish egrets), "umbrella fishing".

[grey-headed junco, 'umbrella fishing'] I never thought I'd have a chance to see that in person. But it turns out black herons aren't the only birds to do that. This winter, we saw a grey-headed junco doing essentially the same thing in our back yard!

This little junco performed its umbrella trick almost like the black heron from Life of Birds, though it didn't hide its head underneath. Still, it might some day: it was still perfecting its technique as we watched over the course of a couple of weeks.

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[ 14:38 Mar 16, 2021    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | ]