Thursday, August 16, 2007

Fighting fire with helicopters

We saw the smoke from the Pend d'Oreille fire earlier today. During supper, some helicopters flew so close that the windows started to rattle. There seems to be a fire nearby, but I don't think it is the Pend d'Oreille fire. From the highway, it looked as though the flames were coming from a clearcut on the mountain behind the old Atco Saw Mill.

The Champion Lakes Golf Course was the water stop for the helicopters for fighting this fire. Several people went there to watch-- including us. Right click the picture below to see the web album on Picasa.

BC fire fighting

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Learning about Raptors

As a sporadic birdwatcher, I was drawn to two stops during my vacation:

  • If you right-click on the picture or caption below, you will see pictures I took at the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho. This seems to be a well-run, well funded facility. Volunteers, most of whom seemed to be retirees, ran the gift shop and gave guided tours through the exhibits. The tour did not include visits to breeding or rehabilitation facilities or the library.

Raptor Education

  • If you right-click on the picture or caption below, you can see pictures I took at a Rocky Mountain Raptor Program facility in Fort Collins, Colorado. Because of road construction, I was not able to visit the main facility. I was rerouted to another facility by someone who answered the office phone. I arrived shortly after the volunteers. I really enjoyed the casual early morning routine and discussions with the volunteers.

Raptor Rehabilitation

The World Center for Birds of Prey is very involved in breeding and release to try to prevent extinction and has the backing of the Peregrine Fund for funding research and library facilities. What I saw of the Rocky Mountain program emphasized the rehabilitation and release of injured birds. Both programs are concerned with educating the public about dangers to raptors. As I was leaving the Rocky Mountain facility, a local TV station was preparing to interview the program director about bald eagles being removed from the Endangered Species list.

I learned that raptors live much longer than songbirds-- up to twenty years in the wild, and almost twice as long in captivity. What a tremendous organizational and financial commitment it is for these organizations to maintain the resident birds! Many of the birds that I saw at Rocky Mountain Raptor Program had only been one-to-two years old when first injured. The advantage of rehabilitating and releasing a young bird is that many offspring may be born over the next two decades.

At the Birds of Prey, I heard that birds that are bred in captivity, then released, seem more adaptive to non-traditional habitat and food than birds that have been relocated. Apparently, one of the largest populations for peregrine falcons is now in New York City. These birds seems to have substituted skyscrapers for high cliffs as a habitat.

A few weeks later, I watched a nature show about the red wolves of Ethiopia. These animals live in a small habitat with a limited diet. I wonder if mammals could benefit from a similar breed-release program to new locations...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Wyoming wanderings

This is my first trip through southwestern Wyoming. I had not expected to encounter this harsh desert with its petroglyphs, fossils, dunes, and one-of-a-kind rock formations. Until I approached Laramie, the countryside outside of the towns was dry and without trees. I wonder where towns get their water- Green River? Snow melt? I crossed the Continental Divide twice today. The highest crossing was over 7000 feet.

The weather must be harsh in summer and winter. There are frequent road signs to check weather conditions on radio stations, signs to warn that there may be a road closure x feet ahead, and signs to warn motorists that the next five miles might be very windy. On entering the state, there was a sign about a Wyoming law that motorists on Wyoming interstate must move to the lane farthest from a parked emergency vehicle. I noticed that most truckers moved to the left lane when passing any vehicle on the shoulder. (When I was driving in Washington, I noticed big trucks in new colors-- fuschia and pastel-like. I didn't see any of those today.)

The Sweetwater County Museum charges no admission and packs many interesting displays into a relatively small space. I learned a new word: trona. Doing some surfing later, I read that this area of Wyoming provides about 90% of the US supply and 30% of the world supply. The Native American exhibits include quotations from a speech by Chief Washakie. He very eloquently chided the white man's goverment for breaking promises. The law and order exhibit talked about Butch Cassidy. The Great Auto Race went through Wyoming in 1908. I wonder if there will be centennial events along the route next year.

There are lots of snow fences alongside I-80. I was surprised to see miles and miles of them, so I did some research. When the highway was built, there were no snow fences. Over the years, many have been constructed. There have also been studies on the effects and benefits of the fences. They prevent snow from blowing onto the highway, minimizing snow removal cost. Visibility on the road is improved. The road stays warmer and less icy. All of which leads to fewer days of closed roads, fewer accidents, and less loss of life.