Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Mobile Blogging

I joined the world of mobile bloggers today. I configured my camera phone to be able to post photos directly on my blog. The image below was submitted from my phone (this text was added later).

On the bus I noticed the new ashtray posters that I provided to the bus service. They have put two of them in each bus in the Boise system. I suggested it as I continue to see bus riders and drivers throwing their cigarette butts on the ground before getting on the bus. My contacts indicated that if I provided the posters, they would be put up. That's what I did. Hopefully it will have some impact. The artwork came from

Mobile blogging!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Idaho Snowpack

In Idaho we spend a fair amount of time talking about the snowpack. As Idaho is a mountainous state, our rivers and all of the wildlife dependent upon them, survive based on a snow melt of water from the snowpack. You might recall last year I posted about how we had an above average water year, but the snow melted off 3 weeks faster than normal. In fact, it has melted off noticeably faster over just the past 10 years. See my report on Non-Scientific Global Warming Observations.
After a fairly wet early winter, January dried up with only a single day of precipitation.  It was the second driest January on record. We quickly fell 20% behind the normal snowpack. Of course, the last 10 days has been non-stop wet and snowy weather.  I thought I would look up just where we stand at a popular central Idaho location Banner Summit.  Here is the graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the USDA.
There are a couple of interesting facts about this. 1) We are still 11% behind the 30 years average for snowpack (Blue line to Purple line). 2) precipitation for the water year is normal (Red line to Yellow line)(implies that we have received the right amount of precip, but it has fallen as rain and not snow.).
If we stay behind normal snowpack and what we have comes off early like last year, it could be a very dry summer in the mountains (and the valleys).

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Kestrel Porn

Well it is definitely that time of year. The early raptors are starting to mate. The Great Horned Owls have mated, the Redtailed Hawks are working on their nest, and the Kestrels are paired up. The non-raptors are starting as well - the male Red-winged Blackbirds are starting to claim their territory, although I haven't seen any females yet..
While we were out bird watching in the snow today, Karyn captured this sequence of photos of a Kestrel couple mating. 

Isn't there any privacy in the world?

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

One, Two, Three, Four...

This past weekend was the annual 4 day Great Backyard Bird Count.

"The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. The Great Backyard Bird Count is led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, with sponsorship from Wild Birds Unlimited."

This was my first time participating in the count. The process is very easy. Watch in any location on any of the 4 days for at least 15 minutes and then submit an online form indicating the maximum number of each species that you see at any one time during you watch. This is slightly different than normal bird counting where you count all of the birds that you see, here you only count the maximum number that are all visible at once for each species. You can submit multiple reports from multiple locations.

I got off to a slow start as I worked on Friday and did not have a break to get outside. Karyn covered for me by performing her own count and submitting it. On Saturday, Sunday, and Monday I was in the wilderness first aid course. Since the first aid course was at the Hull's Grove Foothills Learning Center, I counted on my way in, at lunch, and my walk home each day.

This year was a record year for participation. Across the US and Canada, 65,175 checklists were submitted (up from 60,000 last year) with 598 unique species observed (down from 623 last year). In all, volunteers counted over 9 million birds in 4 days (probably many more as you only submit the highest seen at one time).

My species: Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Great Horned Owl, Northern Flicker, American Robin, European Starling, White-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, Mallard, Redhead, Great Blue Heron, California Quail, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, House Finch, House Sparrow, Wood Duck, Black-billed Magpie.

Update 2/26/2007 - Checklists are still being collected. The new total is 75,699 checklists including 621 unique species!

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Wilderness First Aid

While everyone else was out enjoying the three day weekend, I was participating in a 27 hour wilderness first aid course led by the Wilderness Medicine Training Center (WMTC) and sponsored by Boise State University.

I decided to take the course as I and my friends spend a fair amount of time in the back country, often participating in somewhat dangerous activities - hiking, mountain biking, scrambling, etc. It has been over 20 years since my last first aid course, so it was about time for a refresher.

The Wilderness first aid course differs from a standard first aid course in that it requires greater improvisation, and removes the assumption that professional help will arrive within 1 hour. In the back country, professional help may not arrive for a day or more. A large part of the attention is paid on determining what type of evacuation priority is necessary or warranted for a given condition. Almost half of the three day class time was spent in simulations where we were forced to practice the proceduresand make critical decisions. It was a very effective format.

The Wilderness Medicine Training Center has in my opinion a very effective program for patient care. Assess the situation, provide critical life support, then stop, think, and plan. It was amazing how much difference this step made in our simulations. Documenting what the patient condition was, what it could turn into, what you had to monitor to know if it was digressing, and what the appropriate evacuation priority is for the condition. Once complete, you can continue by executing a plan - monitor, clean wounds,monitor,split, monitor, etc.

I would highly recommend the class, even on a three day weekend!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Driving to Work

I drove to work today for the first time in many weeks. Balancing a tax appointment, an important meeting at work, and grocery shopping convinced me to borrow Karyn's car and drive.  In hind sight, this was a bad idea. I wish I would have worked harder to balance my schedules.

I realized as I sat paused at light after light that driving is much more stressful than the bus. I missed the 15 minute walk each way to the bus, I missed the concentration that I put on the podcasts and books on tape that I listen to during my normal commute. Many say that the bus is just not convenient. While this is true on a number of fronts, driving a car is not that convenient either once you get used to the alternative.

I try to convince people to give the bus a try. But to start realizing the benefits you have to stick with it for a while.  Maybe a week or two. I think it took me a couple of weeks before I was convinced, but from that point forward the benefits grew and the alternative (driving) became much less attractive.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Owl Porn

Yesterday was Valentine's day. While most of the world was dressing up for a fancy dinner, or some other traditional activity, Karyn and I decided on a slightly different approach. We chose to celebrate our valentine's day with some real love birds.

The Great Horned Owls in the Hull's Grove area (about a mile from our house), have been starting their nesting behavior. We decided to go check on them near dusk to see if there was any "action".

We arrived near the nest, a large hole in the sand cliffs, to find one of the owls sitting on the ledge. She then flew over to a nearby wire (I assume it was the she). I had never seen them sit on a wire before. We listened as the two love birds hooted to each other across the small valley. Suddenly there were two. Her mate had flown over to perch nearby. They continued to hoot at each other, but the hooting changed to more of a rolling purr sound. The two flew down to a small clearing and "did the deed".

The two separated for a while, then reconverged near the nest. It was getting fairly dark but we believe they might have engaged again. After this second interaction, the male flew away and the female flew to the nest. What a night!

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Sunday Birdwatching

It was a stormy day off and on Sunday. We managed to make it out in the morning to work out and in the afternoon to birdwatch, all without getting wet. On each occasion, we returned home less than 30 minutes before the downpour.
On the morning run, we only found the male Great Horned Owl. Maybe the female is in the nest??? We will have to wait for a sunny morning so that we can see into the hole in the sand cliffs.
The afternoon walk along the river was very fruitful. We captured the following photos.

This female downy woodpecker entertained us for minutes. I took about 50 photos. It was hard to pick the best.

The common mergansers were out, illustrating their various mating displays.

I looked up to just in time to see this Northern Flicker crawl in the hole in the tree. I had to wait for her to stick her head back out. Once she did, I realized the battery in the camera had died. I quickly switched batteries, but she was gone. Waiting a while longer was rewarded with this shot.

Back to the Mergansers.

Number of species: 20; Canada Goose 40; Mallard 60; Hooded Merganser 2; Common Merganser 12; Great Blue Heron 2; Red-tailed Hawk 2; American Kestrel 1; Rock Pigeon 2; Mourning Dove 2; Belted Kingfisher 1; Downy Woodpecker 1; Northern Flicker 4; Black-capped Chickadee 1; American Robin 4; White-crowned Sparrow 2; Dark-eyed Junco 10; Red-winged Blackbird 4; House Finch 2; American Goldfinch 2; House Sparrow 1.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Hull's Grove Owls

The Great Horned Owls are regularly seen together in the same tree in Hull's Grove. It shouldn't be too long before they start laying eggs. Last year we took our first photos of the chicks on April 5th. The chicks were good size by then. The couple (I assume they are the same pair) have succesfully fledged 3 chicks in 2004, 3 in 2005, and 4 in 2006. How many this year?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Boulder Mountain Tour

This past weekend brought the biggest cross country ski race of the year.  At least, the biggest that I participate in. The Boulder Mountain Tour is a 32km skate ski race that draw about 900 competitors. I have entered the race many times and I generally suffer. I have always suffered more in this race than other more difficult courses. Part of the reason is the start. With so many people starting the race, there is great incentive to go out hard to ensure a good position when the course narrows (about 2km in). Last year I decided I was not going to do that.  I would start out relaxed and slowly increase my intensity.  It worked well allowing me to finish hard with a good finish time.

This year, my strategy was the same. Due to my result from last year, I was placed in the third starting wave, up from the 4th wave last year.  The snow was firm and very fast. Just before the start I was introduced to a new friend in my wave. Bill had ridden a bike tour with a number of my friends.  He flew out from Chicago for this race. 2km into the race, I crashed right in front of him. A few kilometers later, I passed him only to crash right in front of him again. Hoping not to repeat a third time, I passed him again but this time stayed on my skis!

I felt good in the middle part of the race. I was able to ski hard and keep the intensity up. The small group I was in continued to pull in other skiers. At about 5km to go, I was really starting to tire. I caught and passed one small group of skiers with 4km to go. From here, I had to keep the intensity up.  I lead the group I was in all the way to the finish.  Realizing the group would sprint the finish, I had to work out my strategy. I am not the fastest sprinter, so I decided to ramp up my speed from 500 meters. As the lead skier it was my choice which lane to pick for the sprint. I picked the fastest lane (one where most of the previous skiers had used, it was firmer and faster). I gave it all I had.  At about 100 meters to go, I was way over my red line. I was able to hold on to the lead through the finish. I finished 167th with a time of 1:27:29. This was 9 minutes faster than my previous fast time, although I did drop 41 places from last year.

In all it was a great race.  I felt good, I finished strong, I finished ahead of the people I generally calibrate myself against, and I had a fun sprint finish. I could have done without the two crashes!