Mar 032014
 

A few Sunday’s back I was able to spend a day at Loxahatchee NWR, and I had a wonderful time. It is a lovely place, and has some great wildlife.

Loxahatchee Boardwalk

Loxahatchee Boardwalk

I met a local who informed me that since the drought of 2011 that prey species, and hence “production”, was low … meaning less critter action. Still, for me it was wonderfully new, and engaging, so I wasn’t deterred. I found new (to me) birds, and other new and interesting species…

I started by walking the boardwalk. I couldn’t do it once only, I had to go around again. I found an Apple Snail shell, large, green and round … I see where the name comes from. I enjoyed the birds (Carolina Wren, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Cat birds and other LBJs) and loved the Lichens (Baton Rouge, Old Man’s Beard) but what really stopped me was a Spiny Orb-weaver (see photo.) As I left a Zebra Longwing Butterfly fluttered by with slow methodical wingbeats, quite eye-catching.

Before I visited the marshes I quickly went along to the boat ramp, access to some open water. A medium sized alligator was across the waterway, but most amusing was a huge alligator waiting patiently underneath the wooden dock, right below unsuspecting Fishermen; a savvy gator.

Once I started walking to walk around the marshes I immediately came upon a Limpkin, a mottled brown waterbird. A life-bird for me, this was an exciting start to a walk. Amongst other things, Limpkin feed on Apple Snails.

As I walked slowly around the park I found some quiet areas away from the other visitors. Wet dark turtle shells would surface in the weeds, snakes could be seen slipping through the water, dragonflies sunning on reeds and gators on the banks; there was life all around. Having spent the last few days in the bustle that is Florida it was good to slow down to the pace of these

One amazing treat was as I came around one of the far corners a couple of Snail Kites were hunting. Sitting on the bushes I initially wondered if they were Northern Harriers, but they didn’t have that wind dancer hunting style. Their facial features had a bit of a look of an Osprey, but were they seemed smaller, and were lighter and mottled. Despite binoculars I didn’t get a good look at a hooked beak, but the identification “felt” right to me (and so distinct from the lovely red-shoulder pair nesting nearby.) Snail Kites eat Apple Snails.

Probably the most interesting part of the whole trip was this final discovery. I’d never seen something like this in the field. Bright pink, large, and clearly eggs. Turns out they are Apple Snail eggs. What a wonderful thread to this whole day; the Apple Snail…

 

Apple Snail Eggs on a Stick

Jan 192014
 
Mountain Lion Active in this area...

Mountain Lion Active in this area. Sign in Coal Creek Canyon by Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Here in Coal Creek Canyon Colorado we’ve been having mountain lion problems.

According to Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW, formally Colorado Division of Wildlife) the deer populations are down in the area. Unfortunately that translates to these lions turning to other pray. So far the community has lost 2, 3 or maybe as many as 4 dogs to these lions.

One attack was early, 05:30 hours, where three dogs and two humans were out walking (a morning constitutional.) The lion took the older trailing dog.

Another attack was late, at 21:30 (9:30PM) at night. Another large dog was out, with it’s human around. The lion was difficult to scare off.

Here is what Colorado Parks & Wildlife say about living in Mountain Lion Country with the pets portions being:

Keep your pet under control. Roaming pets are easy prey and can attract lions. Bring pets in at night. If you leave your pet outside, keep it in a kennel with a secure top. Don’t feed pets outside; this can attract raccoons and other animals that are eaten by lions. Store all garbage securely.

Mountain Lion typically hunt at dawn, dusk and at night. The main lesson takeaway is to keep your pets safe at these times. Don’t let them roam, don’t let them out at these times unsupervised, and keep them close. If you are interested in some reading around this topic, this book is actually based in this area.

Now any Mountain Lion can be dangerous by itself, and they are typically solitary animals. That said, a mother Mountain Lion and her cubs travel and hunt together. What then when a mother has twins? Here are three lions photographed in Coal Creek Canyon recently:

Mom (the leader of the line.)

Mother and Two

Mother (look into the dark) and Two “Cubs”

Jan 132014
 
Screenshot of the Daily Bird App showing the frontscreen

Daily Bird App from BirdsEye Birding

Disclaimer: I played a part in developing this mobile app for BirdsEye Birding. :-)

There is a new birding app out from BirdsEye Birding, it is a virtual Daily Bird Calendar. Is pulls data from their large database of bird facts and photographs, and challenges the birder with an unidentified photo ripe for bird identifications.

If you are not comfortable making an identification you can ask the app by tapping to get more details. One tap and you’ll see the common and scientific names, any bird codes (e.g. PEFA for Peregrine Falcons), some information about the species and details of the photographer and photograph (such as f-stop, exposure, ISO settings, etc.)

If you are a Birds Eye or Bird Log user it will quickly take you to the real-time information from eBird, or allow you to submit to eBird.

This app is good way to learn more about birds, improve your bird identification skills, and have some fun.

Daily Bird App

Check out some of the bird identifications made on Twitter:


Aug 172013
 

I took the opportunity to hike to Devil’s Thumb last Thursday. (No, not the Devil’s Thumb in Boulder that everyone seems to think about, but the one at the Continental Divide above Hessie Trail near Nederland.)

First … oh my gosh, what a gorgeous trail! Open, nicely maintained, awesome variety, great scenery, wonderful wildlife and a spectacular destination. Well worth the 13+ mile round trip, and the aching afterwards.

Second … I am a fan of weasels. I’ve not had much experience with them, but each encounter has been special & I admire their tenacity as a deadly hunter. My encounters have been at altitude, mainly where the Weasel seemed to be hunting Pika.

This little guy was hunting at dawn, many miles back in the Colorado backcountry. The weasel had prey in it’s mouth and was in it’s white winter coat. It hopped across the snow and disappeared into a hole in front of me. Not a great photo, but an wonderful memory.

White weasel in the deep snow of the mountain backcountry.

Weasel in the deep snow of the backcountry.

On this hike recent I came upon a talus/scree field about halfway up the trail and saw what I imagined for a moment to be a baby weasel, it seemed so small. This is what I saw:

Again, not great photos … but I photograph more for later identification and memories with no aspiration to art. These photos don’t convey the critter bouncing around the rocks, but it is because of that incessant movement that I am grateful I even captured these. That and it was very early light.

I felt spoiled by this encounter, so am failing to mention the full pleasure of the many Pika and Yellow-bellied Marmots, the Mule Deer and the Coyote that I met on the trail, or the baby Red Foxes at the bottom. Wonderful wonderful hike.

Aug 172013
 

This summer in Colorado has been spectacularly rainy. That doesn’t comes without it’s downsides, but one upside are the fungi.

A week ago I took an early morning hike around the Snowshow Hare Trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park (from Rifleman Philips to Dude’s fishing hole and back.) When I got to the moist area below the fishing hole … I started coming upon these guys.

All photos are taken by a phone, and were taken from the trail:

Note: Do NOT eat wild fungi. Some can be harmful and worse; irreparable liver damage & death. Enjoy the looking, but don’t touch.

Aug 052013
 

15 years or more ago I was out in the Colorado woods when I stumbled upon a Nighthawk. Normally I see these birds flying high overhead, doing us all a favor by clearing the skies of bugs. This bird was down, in amongst the trees, and was feinting a broken wing … along one log, up into on a tree branch. Quite fascinating. Moments later my attention was drawn away from the bird (and it’s impressively pathetic progress from tree to tree) by a chick at my feet. This chick was slowly walking away, hoping to go unnoticed. I’ve never forgotten that brief but enjoyable encounter.

Broken Wing Feint

Mother Nighthawk feinting a broken wing to distract from her nest / chicks.

More recently, when bat monitoring by a nearby pond down on the flatlands, I get a treat as large numbers of these birds fly overhead. Sitting quietly next to the water’s edge I not only get to enjoy the birds flying low over the water, but they casually breeze mere feet over my head. Most people I try describing this to don’t even know what a Nighthawk is, and I feel very lucky to have this uncommon experience.

So when in the woods recently and a large bird flew up from the ground I knew to stop dead. Nighthawk? Chick? I looked down, and for a while I saw nothing. Eventually my eyes came to this nest, right below me. I call it a nest, but really it’s nothing more than a scrape, a clearing in the duff.

Nighthawk Nest with Eggs

Nighthawk Nest with Eggs. Nothing more than a scrape.

I didn’t want to cause the mother stress, so I left as soon as I’d taken the photo. She was coming back around, and trying to distract me with her broken wing feint (above). I wanted her to beleive she’d succeeded, so I followed her away & left.

A week or so later I went back to the site. What a pleasure to see these two little fur-balls within a foot of the original scrape. As I’ve watched them I’ve enjoyed the striking difference in their color. I don’t know if they are different sexes, or if the color is something else.

Young Chicks

Furballs aka Nighthawk Chicks

Yet another week or few, and look what a difference! Now feathered, and looking less like fur-balls and more like small Nighthawks. See the color difference? Size difference? I think they are in the same position as the photo above.  These guys are starting to show that wide bug-swallowing mouth:

Nighthawk Chicks

Nighthawk Chicks starting to look like small Nighthawks…

Another week, and they were gone. That said, they could’ve been feet away and maybe I wouldn’t have been able to see them.

What an experience to treasure. Fascinating birds, wonderful behavior.

May 222013
 

Unfortunately the Boulder County Fairgrounds Osprey Camera suffered another outage, and it’s season is over. That said, it presents the opportunity for those in the surrounding area to go visit it, and share updates. Here is one…

Osprey at Cattail Pond, Longmont, Coloardo

Because in the real world these Osprey are easy to find, it was harder than expected to do so online. After finding reference to the Osprey being at Cattail Pond in some news articles, we found that on the Boulder County Fairground map. That said, when driving along Hover Road we easily spied the nesting structure and could park very close; just North/East of the Outdoor Arena.

After weeks (almost months) of watching these birds only from the perspective of the camera it was fun to see their pond, and the whole structure (including solar panels.) The first thing we learned was that while one bird is on the nest, the other is likely hanging out on the pole at the far end of the pond (see that pole/bird far right in the photo above?)

We were treated to a nest exchange and so got wonderfully close views of both the male and the female. They seem so much smaller off camera. Clearly they are incubating. I wonder how many eggs they are sitting atop now.

This is a small (and urban) setting, but was well worth a visit. Great Blue Heron, Geese (with Goslings), Huge Carp, Swallows, Red-winged Blackbirds, Robins, Butterflies and Dragonflies … and, of course, Osprey.

Male Osprey

Female Osprey

Female Osprey

Apr 222013
 

I’ve been having a lot of fun watching the Boulder County Fairground’s ospreys this season. The web cam is trained right on the nesting platform.

First it was waiting expectantly for the first bird to return, and then waiting (less patiently) the full week for the second, and now waiting for eggs (and hoping they time things well, given the deep snows we’ve been having.)

It finally dawned on me that it would be interesting to know which was the male, and which the female, and that this was a time where I could figure it out. Right now the birds are copulating regularly, with the male on top.

Here is what I’ve observed:

Female has a larger (wider) back-of-the-head marking…

From behind, you can see the female has a larger/wider marking on the back of her head; it is like a black diamond. The male’s marking is much smaller/thinner; it is closer to an inverted T. This makes identifying the birds relatively easy from the back.

Female Osprey on the left, Male on right

Female Left, Male Right

Female has speckled breast….

The female’s breast is heavily speckled with markings. The male’s breast is pretty much pure white.

Female osprey has a speckled breast, male is white.

Speckled Female

 

White-breasted Male

White-breasted Male

 

Additionally

The female is larger, but (to my eye via this camera) only barely, such that it would be hard to use this when they are together and next to impossible outside of that.

Right now the female is spending most of her time at the nest, with the male bringing her food.

See some #fgosprey tweets

These ‘Fairground Ospreys’ are discussed on Twitter with hashtag #fgosprey.


Jan 242013
 

It’s coming up for that time again … Peregrine Falcons (PEFA) monitoring for Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP).. Later in the year it’ll be bat monitoring, but I’ll write about that later.

Timestamped Field Notes turns your iPod, iPhone or iPad into a tool for easily taking notes and recording observations in the field. Given how the species that you are doing behavioral observations upon doesn’t wait for you to write down the time, or type out the  actions they took, this application is design for speed of capturing that record. Speed, and (even better) not having to look too closely so taking your eyes off the subject as little as possible. Timestamped Field Notes allows the observer to configure buttons to represent the expected events allowing a single click to record time/event.

Timestamped Field Notes allows you to customize the button text, group buttons into color groups (to easily locate them.) Upon button click a timestamp is created and a (configurable) timeout begins that will automatically commit the record for you unless you add more to it. You can view (and edit if needed) the records.

The buttons (and you can have pages of them if needed) are for quick access, however there is always full text editing capability if needed for those unusual occurrences. The application has a facility to learn about commonly entered text words and will propose buttons.

Export the data using text cut-n-paste into another application, or e-mail to a remote system. Seconds are available. Further you can import and/or export button configurations for sharing with others.

See more about how to use Timestamped Field Notes for Behavioral Observation recording, or check it out int the Apple App Store.

Here is what I’ll be doing with it

Jan 192013
 

The short version: Hack attempts were made (like they are regularly) but no hack/penetration occurred. No user data was at risk, no security breached. Not quite a false alarm, but it checked out okay.

The long version:

I believe that if/when a hack appear possible take action: immediately (1) shut the server down, quickly (2) communicate with interested parities, then (3) diagnose (4) repair and learn lesson (before bringing the server back up) (5) communicate. I took my time on (3) and (4) and here is (5).

When I believed that a hack might have occurred I took steps (1) and (2) via blog post and tweet.

I remotely viewed the disk (without booting it) and investigated the 3 clues.

#1 Hacked links to www.china101.com

This was the first sign I saw. The front page of WildObs linked to china101.com instead of itself. Not right. I assumed this meant that the hacker had gained write access to the file system. They had NOT.

WildObs uses rails page caching on some pages, one being the index.html front page. I believe some hacker had forged an HTTP request to wildobs.com, sending it to the correct IP address but spoofing the DNS name in the query. The wildobs code (incorrectly) respected “it’s host” and write it into pages. Not sure why it wrote absolute links not relative links, but both these two things will be resolved in a future update.

Yes the file was written, yes the hacker managed to alter it’s contents, but there even a possibility the hacker never even knew. It was an obscure side effect, that gain the hacker nothing, just gave me one big scare.

#2 Unable to connect to WildObs.com

This is what sealed the deal for me that this was a “hack”; I was locked out of WildObs.com. I assumed, having read this account of a hack, that the hacker was “buying time”. This turned out to be nothing but a bad coincident. I used an awesome product called Little Snitch which has one small weakness in that it is (at times) verbose, and can pop-up  questions, and can react to unintended keystrokes to store a rule. A stray local rule coincidentally disconnected me from WildObs.com, not a hacker.

#3 Failure in the database

This might have been due to me  rebooting the system, but it cleared itself up. I don’t like not having a definitive explanation for some clue, but I cannot find a malicious purpose. I took the database down immediately, but when I brought it up again the error was not there. It was some obscure column missing of some obscure valueless table, it cannot have value. I’ll keep thinking about this one, but I feel it had to be more bad coincidence.

Diagnosis:

One small hack-let and a couple of coincidences, plus one over active imagination.

Prevention:

WildObs has always been as secure as I can make it, and very locked down. That said, I’ve read/researched more, and I’ve made a few more changes to tighten security further. I will keep vigilant and communicate if I ever suspect a hack.