Winter Solstice 2015

Another year has passed and tonight at 9:48 (Mountain Time) winter will arrive.

 Photo Credit: VicWJ via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: VicWJ via Compfight cc

Now Winter Nights Enlarge
by Thomas Campion

Now winter nights enlarge
The number of their hours;
And clouds their storms discharge
Upon the airy towers.
Let now the chimneys blaze
And cups o’erflow with wine,
Let well-turned words amaze
With harmony divine.
Now yellow waxen lights
Shall wait on honey love
While youthful revels, masques, and courtly sights
Sleep’s leaden spells remove.

This time doth well dispense
With lovers’ long discourse;
Much speech hath some defense,
Though beauty no remorse.
All do not all things well;
Some measures comely tread,
Some knotted riddles tell,
Some poems smoothly read.
The summer hath his joys,
And winter his delights;
Though love and all his pleasures are but toys,
They shorten tedious nights.

Weekly Roundup 3/16/15

 Photo Credit: Mr.TinDC via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Mr.TinDC via Compfight cc

I’ve been spending more time with numbers than words lately trying to finish the taxes so I can get outside and enjoy the first days of spring.

From my desk I’ve noticed a robin hanging out at the birdbath, mostly standing on the edge, sipping, but late yesterday he waded in and had a good splash.

Anne Schmauss’s  recent column in the New Mexican had several tips to help identify backyard birds.  She advises taking the time to really observe the details—size, shape, markings— before opening the field guide.  Following her advice I spent a long moment looking at the robin, noticing for the first time his white eye ring.

Another sure sign of spring is all of the talk of basketball.  Since I don’t have a clue about any of the teams this year (I never really do) I have opted for a different bracket challenge—Mammal March Madness.  Stealing time away from my calculator I have been googling quokkas and numbats, making totally unscientific choices based mostly on cuteness.

Soon our local bears will be waking up and Albuquerque is one city where they are welcome according to this top-ten list of wildlife-friendly cities.  Austin, Texas was rated number one and New York City ten.  In between were some I might have guessed, Portland and Seattle, and a couple I wouldn’t have, Atlanta and Indianapolis.

And finally, do you know one thing that Steve Jobs and Charles Dickens had in common?  A love of walking according to this article touting the benefits not only to our physical health but also to our creativity and problem-solving abilities.

Have a great week and take a walk!






March Madness Mammals



Weekly Roundup – March 8, 2015 – Citizen Science

 Photo Credit: wplynn via Compfight cc

Phainopepla Photo Credit: wplynn via Compfight cc

Sitting in the backyard, drinking hot chocolate, and watching the bird feeder doesn’t seem like it advances the cause of science, but it turns out that it can.  I wrote last month about participating in the annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC)—a citizen science project based on thousands of bird watchers recording and submitting their sightings over a four-day period.

The final results have been tallied and more than 140,000 individuals in countries ranging from the United States to Chile to Saudi Arabia to India counted upwards of18.5 million birds, almost 5100 different species.  The data will be used by researchers to determine the status and health of bird populations around the globe.

In this Yale Climate Connections segment ornithologist Caren Cooper talks about the importance of citizen science, reporting that  “roughly half of the scientific papers she looked at relied on this crowd-sourced data”.

Tiger beetles are the subject of Sharman Apt Russell’s citizen science project that she writes about in her charming story Meet the Beetles (Orion Magazine November/December 2014).  Reflecting on  being middle-aged she writes, ” . . . I do not expect now to ever become a rock star or to go to medical school or to create cool television shows.  But wait, I tell myself.  Turn that idea around.  At every point in life there is still a long list of what we can be.  This is the clarion call of citizen science . . .”

If counting birds or tracking beetles doesn’t excite you, there are lots of other citizen science projects to get involved in.  Two I have recently come across are the great sunflower project which focuses on pollinators and the monarch way station project which helps create habitat for migrating monarch butterflies.

Have a good week and spend some time outside!

Coyote Stories

I was learning that coexisting with nature in all its wild forms is one of the gifts and lessons of this life, one that takes flexibility and creativity on our part. Coyotes are as clever and as driven as any human, and are simply adapting as people pave their world.
—Shreve Stockton in “The Daily Coyote”

 Photo Credit: yathin via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: yathin via Compfight cc

Coyotes are my neighbors.  They run and hunt and raise their young in the piñon and juniper woods just outside of Santa Fe. We all mind our own business, for the most part, but we keep a wary eye on one another.

Picking up my mail late in the afternoon a few weeks ago, I spotted one of the wild canines standing in the middle of the road—less than a hundred yards away.  He was focused on something in the trees and didn’t notice me.  I stood watching him until we were both startled by a passing car.

In New Mexico it’s legal for residents to kill coyotes without a hunting license—there is no closed season and no bag limit.  Two short sentences cover “unprotected furbearers”, a small category which includes only coyotes and skunks in the state’s 137-page hunting rules and information booklet.  This lack of regulation allows the coyote-killing contests for which New Mexico has become known.   Often sponsored by gun shops, the competitions reward the hunter who kills the most coyotes within a designated time period.

There is no doubt that coyotes can be troublesome, raiding chicken coops and preying on livestock.  In my neighborhood their primary diet consists of rabbits and rodents, but more than one house cat has gone outside to nap in the sun or to take a stroll never to be seen again.  Even so, I don’t like to think of coyotes being hunted for sport and many of my fellow New Mexicans seem to agree based on this editorial published in the Albuquerque Journal.

For a moment it looked like our state legislature might pass a bill this session to outlaw the contests.  The proposed law easily cleared  the Senate with bipartisan support, but died in the House Agriculture, Water and Wildlife Committee when, by an overwhelming margin, they voted to table the bill, effectively killing it for the year.

In a few weeks it will be spring.  The adult coyotes that saunter through my backyard in broad daylight will be less visible, busy raising new litters of pups, keeping such close tabs on the youngsters that I’ve never seen one.   But sometimes late at night when their chorus of yips and howls drifts on the breeze that flutters the lace curtains, I’ll listen closely certain I hear the high-pitched voices of the pups chiming in.

Love them or hate them, coyotes continue to adapt to our rapidly changing world, thriving in spite of all efforts to thwart them.


Field Notes – Great Backyard Bird Count

February 13, 2015 7:08 am
Clear and Calm, 35 Degrees

Photo Credit:  P. Nixon

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

Sunrise and I are not well acquainted, but nevertheless, I set my alarm for that early hour on Friday morning.  In the Audubon presentation about bird watching last week, Cheryl advised that the best way to see birds was to follow their habits.  I had my doubts, but dragged myself out of bed to find two cats thrilled that, for once, they would get an early breakfast.

I do most of my birdwatching from my desk, but in the spirit of the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) set up a lawn chair outside, a distance from the feeder and bird bath.  Notebook, field guide, binoculars, steaming cup of hot chocolate—I settled in. My first sighting was my favorite.  The canyon towhee, perky and cheery with his rusty crown, discovered the sprinkle of millet I had put out for him the night before.  He did his little hop, scratch, and bob dance in the dirt up until a spotted towhee shooed him away.

The morning quiet was broken when a western scrub jay registered my presence, swooping in low and squawking loudly as he landed on a nearby piñon tree.  Overhead ravens, or were they crows, glided by.  Unable to tell for sure I left them off my official list.

Thirty-five minutes later I had noted only four species, six birds (the jay had friends).  I doubt that my entry does much for the cause of science, but it was a lovely way to start the day.

Note:  There’s still time to participate in the GBBC.  It runs through Monday, February 16th.  They have apps for cell phones, but I had trouble with the Android version.  I found it much easier to register and submit my count from the website using my computer.  Don’t worry if you can’t identify every bird—I had two at the feeder  that I could not positively identify and left them off my list.


Weekly Roundup – February 8th

Encuentro Beach, Dominican Republic Photo Credit:  Steve Nixon

Encuentro Beach, Dominican Republic
Photo Credit: Steve Nixon

It wasn’t quite beach weather last week, but it was too warm for New Mexico in February.  I watched with alarm as the piles of snow from the prior week’s snowstorm evaporated within days.  The recent drought summary from NOAA indicated that conditions have slowly been improving.  We’ll see if that trend continues.  After all,  Punxsatawney Phil  predicted six more weeks of winter on Groundhog Day.

New Mexico has gotten a lot of press for its coyote-killing contests over the last few years so I was pleased to see a new billboard on Interstate 25 between Santa Fe and Albuquerque (visible from the southbound lanes near Algodones) that says, “End wildlife hunting contests.”  This week the state took a step toward that goal when a bi-partisan bill (SB 253)  cleared the Senate Conservation Committee by a vote of 6 to 3.  The  Albuquerque Journal  voiced their support of the bill in this editorial.

Next weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science project that helps identify and track bird populations around the world.  Last year observers in 135 countries identified nearly 4300 different species.  The count takes place February 13th -16th and is open to birders of all ages and levels of experience.  I attended a presentation on Saturday by the Santa Fe chapter of  Audubon New Mexico  to brush up on  identification of our local birds and to learn more about the count.  It sounds easy enough, fifteen minutes (minimum) observing and counting and then, submitting results at  More detailed instructions are provided here.

Have a good week and take some time to go outside!




Weekly Roundup – February 1st

What are you going to do with what time you have left?
-Robert Redford

Photo Credit:  R. Gartner

Photo Credit: Richard Gartner

After a week in warm, dry California, I didn’t relish coming home to Santa Fe to find  I needed to don my puffy jacket and get out the snow shovel.  It  was heavy and wet, perfect for making a snowman, but I was too tired by the time the driveway was clear. This morning  blue skies have returned; the storm has lumbered off, headed to the Midwest.

It’s Super Bowl Sunday.  Since I don’t have much interest in either team and am not a Katy Perry fan, watching the commercials seemed to be the excuse I needed to serve beer and Buffalo wings for dinner.  But it turns out you can watch those on YouTube–at least some of them.

This beer commercial has been heating up my Facebook news feed for several days.  Wildlife advocacy groups have taken exception to the snarling wolf threatening the puppy and have urged people to sign a petition asking Budweiser not to air the spot (it worked to get the GoDaddy commercial pulled).  Late yesterday the New Mexico Cattle Growers weighed in asking folks to let the beer giant know that they supported it.  I am focusing, instead, on the recent enthusiasm for “Je suis Charlie.”  I don’t like the spot and wolves don’t need more bad press, but if that’s the way Budweiser chooses to sell beer, so be it.  I will not be serving Bud Light at my Super Bowl party.

The Sundance Film Festival ends today.   Last week “Democracy Now” devoted one of its shows to an interview with Robert Redford, the founder of the festival.  He spoke about global warming, the Keystone Pipeline, and politics.  In this segment he talks about his new movie “A Walk in the Woods”.  Based on Bill Bryson’s 1998 book with the same name it tells the story of two middle-aged guys (played by Redford and Nick Nolte) walking the Appalachian Trail.  I remember laughing out loud when I read the book years ago and I look forward to seeing the movie.   It’s the East Coast counterpart to Cheryl Strayed’s book, “Wild“, about walking the Pacific Crest Trail–another movie I have yet to see.

And finally, my favorite story of the week.  A rare fox has been spotted in Yosemite National Park.  Biologists estimate there are only about fifty of the Sierra Nevada red foxes left.  This is the first time in one hundred years that one has been documented in Yosemite.  Thanks to my friend Lori for sharing this good news story.

Have a good week!












One Hundred

 Photo Credit: Kurayba via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Kurayba via Compfight cc

Yesterday’s post about the California drought was my one hundredth.  A little late–I had planned to reach that goal by the end of 2014.

No matter.  I’m there now.

Thank you. Whether you subscribe, or follow on Facebook, or just check once in awhile to see if I have posted anything new, I appreciate it.

Your comments and observations are welcome and I’m still looking for guest posts.  Let me know if you have a story, or poem, or photo that you are willing to share.

Next up:  my cousin James and his backyard chickens!

The California Drought and the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

I spent the last week traveling in California.

On the drive from San Diego to Sacramento through the San Joaquin Valley no sign of blossoms on the fruit and nut trees, but the fields and hills were green.   Near Wasco flocks of sheep grazed, knobby-kneed lambs staying close to their mothers.   Dave made a u-turn so I could get a picture of this wary ewe and her baby.

Heavy autumn rains had started to ease the drought in some parts of the state until the spigot shut off in December.  Why did the rain stop?   This story on Friday’s edition of The California Report says it could be due to the return of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge or Triple R, a high pressure system trapped over California that keeps conditions dry.  This atmospheric phenomenon was identified and named by Stanford PhD candidate, Daniel Swain, in 2013.  He says in a recent post on his blog that this year’s condition is not quite the same . . . yet.

Whatever the reason it looks like California could be headed into a fourth year of drought.






Weekly Roundup – January 18th

Photo Credit:  Eli Nixon

Photo Credit: Eli Nixon

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
–Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m off to a very slow start in the new year, but the news keeps on coming! I will try this for a week or two:  a roundup of stories and photos,  most nature-related, some as follow-up my prior posts.

It was hard to miss this story– 2014 was the warmest year on record according to both NASA and NOAA.

In northern New Mexico we had a couple of cold, foggy days early in the week along with two or three of inches of snow helping, I hope, our new piñon trees put down roots.  But according to this article in the Santa Fe New Mexican the long term outlook for the Southwest’s piñon forests is dire.  As temperatures continue to warm the prediction is that we will experience longer droughts and the loss of our trees along with wildlife, like the squawking jays at our backyard feeder, that depend upon them for sustenance and cover.

The other big news in our region was this press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) about changes to the management of the Mexican gray wolf recovery program.

Some of it was good news.  The wolves, a subspecies of the gray wolf (Canis lupus), got their own separate listing as an endangered subspecies (Canis lupus baileyi) which will allow them to receive continued protection under the law even if the gray wolf is delisted.  The bad news is that the lobos will not be allowed to roam and  establish territory north of Interstate 40 in areas like the Grand Canyon where prime habitat exists for them to live and hunt.  This editorial  favoring more robust protection of the wolves, as I do, was published at  and covers more of the pros and cons of the new rule.

In California a few days into Tommy Caldwell  and Kevin Jorgeson’s barehanded climb of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, their story was covered on NBC Nightly News, capturing the world’s imagination.  I thought about them each day and was thrilled to hear that they succeeded.  Here is the New York Times article about their adventure.  And for another take on it, this poem published at

And finally, how lovely is this soaring golden eagle captured on camera by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Have a good week!