Friday, January 29, 2010

Learning About Animal Tracks

In a recent post, At the Bosque: Who Lives Here?, I wondered what animal had made these tracks at the Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park. Here are the photos once again:

I was guessing that the tracks in first two photos were made by a very large coyote; and I had no idea what animal might have made the tracks in the last one.

Ah, but that was before. I now have a little more experience in the tracking of animals, having taken a workshop on dryland animal tracking from wildlife biologist Kevin Hansen down at the bosque. Kevin is the author of Bobcat; Master of Survival and Cougar; The American Lion, and is one of the most fascinating speakers I have ever listened to.

When I say I am more experienced, I mean that very loosely. Having spent a few hours in a group led by an expert in biology and botany, I now know more than I ever imagined I might about the art and science of animal tracking, but I also know that to become an expert would take a lifetime. However, in the classroom and out on the trail, Kevin introduced us to some basics of tracking.

First, we learned that you need to know the local flora and fauna of your area. It's no use guessing what the tracks you are looking at come from without first knowing the range of reasonable possibilities. We learned that frequent visitors to the bosque area where we were walking included members of the dog family (gray fox, coyote, domestic dog), the cat family (bobcat), hooved animals (javelinas, or wild pigs; the occasional mule deer), the weasel family (4 kinds of skunks), raccoons, jackrabbits and cottontails, various squirrels and rodents, and many kinds of birds and insects.

By the way, we saw the tracks of the "resident" bobcat, and of a whole family of javelinas!

Next, we learned that it is best to track during the early morning or late evening, when the desert animals are, or have just been moving about. You want a good surface--soft, powdery dirt is best--and a low angle of vision. You must try to keep the tracks out of your shadow and in the sun. Above all, you must pay attention, concentrate, practice (practice, practice), and have lots of patience.

So, what did my tracks turn out to be? Remember, I had guessed that the first two were from a coyote. (A really, really big coyote!) Those photos, shown here again, were of tracks from the dog family, as I had first guessed. You would think it would be easy to distinguish the tracks of the dog and cat families, and it is, once you know that the cat's heel pad is larger in proportion to its toes than that of the dog; that the heel pad of the cat has three lobes; that the cat's track is more round and the dog's is more oval; and that dog tracks are symmetrical and cat tracks are asymmetrical.

However, we saw examples of coyote tracks in the classroom and they were much, much smaller than the ones in my photos. We learned that wild dogs have stronger foot muscles, and their tracks are therefore very compact, with the toes quite close together. The soft life of the domestic dog has weakened its foot and toe muscles over time, so the toes are more splayed.

My dog family tracks? They belong to Blondie, a golden retriever from up the hill who regularly trespasses in the state park. As Kevin said, in areas where domestic dogs go, wildlife will stay away. It is taking lots of education of the locals to get them to stop letting their dogs run loose and onto park land.

What about my other set of tracks? They look a little like human hands, don't they? They belong to the clever-handed raccoon, an animal with tremendous manual dexterity who is quite capable of opening doors and removing laces from shoes. Its scientific name is Procyon lotor: Procyon means "before dog" and lotor means "washer." For these and more raccoon facts, see Raccoon Tracks.

Monday's post: More interesting things we learned about animal tracking

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Red Morn" for Skywatch

Like a red morn that ever yet betokened,
Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field,
Sorrow to the shepherds, woe unto the birds,
Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.
~William Shakespeare, in Venus and Adonis

As the old saying goes, "Red sky at night, sailor's delight; Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning." While these skies weren't exactly red, and we don't have many sailors out here in the Chihuahuan Desert, they were certainly warning us of rains to come.

These photos were taken at dawn a day or so apart. If I had been able to move fast enough, I might have changed into street clothes and scampered down the road to a vantage point without wires and telephone poles. As it was, I was out front in my nightgown, hiding behind trees when possible, and grinning and waving to passing motorists when caught in their headlights. What can I say? It's what we do for Skywatch!

Rain falling from one cloud into another?

A few city night lights are still visible under this amazing dawn sky

For skies of all colors, be sure to visit Skywatch Friday. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Walk Around the Alameda-Depot Historic District: Part 3

You can read about this neighborhood, located in an older section of Las Cruces, in Part 1.

This little yellow house really captivated us, with its lace curtains, the outline of a missing vine on the side of the house, a mosaic reproduction of Frida Kahlo's Diego en mi Pensamiento, and its signs in French about the pets within (chien gentil; chat lunatique).

The former Las Cruces train depot, now a railroad museum

A mural across the street from the railroad museum

This home has a stamped tin roof

A folk art Virgin of Guadalupe

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Walk Around the Alameda-Depot Historic District: Part 2

You can read about this neighborhood, located in an older section of Las Cruces, in Part 1.

A small house with an even smaller casita (little house, or guest house) out back

Imagine how everything will look when the leaves come out and the flowers bloom in spring

Lovely lamp posts

Pioneer Women's Park

Mural on the side of a house

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Walk Around the Alameda-Depot Historic District: Part 1

Here is a whole neighborhood that is on the National Register of Historical Places, and it's right here in Las Cruces. I took a walk with Auntie Bucksnort on a sunny afternoon a week ago, and would like to share the photos with you.

The houses in the neighborhood were built between 1875 and 1949, and are in Mission/Spanish Revival, Late Victorian, Late 19th And 20th Century Revivals; all gathered around or near Pioneer Women's Park and the historic Santa Fe Railroad Depot, which now houses the Las Cruces Railroad Museum.

Peaceful streets

Sidewalks built by the Works Progress Administration

The gardens are as wonderful as the houses...

... and so are the trees

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hot Air Balloons for Skywatch

We woke up on Sunday morning to a sky full of hot air balloons. Well, there were nine balloons in all, instead of the usual much bigger Mesilla Valley Hot Air Balloon Rally which has been cancelled for the last couple of years because of ballooning costs (sorry, I couldn't resist a little word play). The big excitement on Sunday was that although they appeared to have taken off in the southern part of the Mesilla Valley, they were headed north and right for our neighborhood, landing in the field across the street.

I'm afraid that these photos aren't particularly impressive--it was a situation where you had to be right here on our patio to enjoy all the excitement.

For more photos of all kinds of skies all over the world, be sure to visit Skywatch.

Floating near a pecan orchard

Coming in for a landing

The chase car

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Joie de Vivre; Alegría de Vivir

Frozen fountain on our patio

We've all heard the stories. An older person finally retires, ready to rest and full of plans. Once faced with limitless leisure time they freeze up and don't know what to do with it. The next thing, we hear about them going back to work "just to keep busy."

During the first few months of my retirement, we were moving from New Hampshire to New Mexico, so my time was taken up with that chore for a while. Once the boxes were unpacked and the curtains hung in our Clovis house, I started doing all the deferred reading I had longed to do after years of being immersed in children's literature. Adult books! Library trips once a week! Books by the armload!

It took a while, but I eventually looked up, bleary-eyed, from the books and realized that I wanted to be with people. And so it went, step by step. I found some volunteer work, a wonderful women's group, and new friends.

Now that we are in Las Cruces, my list of things that I want to do keeps growing and growing. I want to learn more about:
  • Digital photography
  • Digital movie making
  • Speaking Spanish
  • Quilt making
  • Spinning
  • More knitting
  • More reading
  • Blogging
  • Bird watching
  • Star gazing
  • Animal tracks
  • Local geology
  • Desert gardening
  • Archeology
  • Local history
  • Oral history
I want to explore:
  • Las Cruces restaurants
  • Mesilla Valley wineries
  • The Rio Grande Theater
  • The Fountain Theater
  • Garden centers
  • Museums
  • Libraries
  • Art galleries
  • The University
  • Local parks
  • Ethnic grocery stores
  • Mountain and desert trails
  • Older neighborhoods
There's probably more on my list of things to do, but I'm just relieved to get this much written down for future reference. As I try all of these things, you'll be reading about them on my blog.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

64 Sweaters for Knit for Kids: Part 2

Here are photos of the rest of the latest batch of sweaters I am about to send off to Knit for Kids (the rest are here). The program was started in 1996 by Guideposts and to date over half a million handmade sweaters have been distributed in the U.S. and worldwide. I started knitting this simple pattern several years ago, with the seemingly unreachable goal of sending 100 sweaters. I think I'm going to make it!

The Guideposts people have recently turned over Knit for Kids to a group called World Vision, a humanitarian organization dedicated to helping children all over the world. If you have sent sweaters to Knit for Kids in the past, be sure to check their website for the new address.

Once at the website, you will be able to see photos of sweaters and kids, and to download the very simple patterns. Out of the many, many photos I have seen, I have yet to see two sweaters that look alike.

Please pass on the word about this organization and their work. Encourage your knitting and crocheting friends to make just one sweater. I'll bet they'll want to make more!

Monday, January 18, 2010

64 Sweaters for Knit for Kids: Part 1

It's time to send off another batch of sweaters--numbers 51 through 64--that I have made for Knit for Kids. You can see the last bunch that I shipped in October of 2008 here. It seems that I've slowed down on production a bit, but having our house up for sale last summer, selling it, buying another, and then moving to Las Cruces really threw me off. Hopefully, I can get back into the swing of things and speed up on the knitting once again. After all, there are always little kids who need a warm sweater. And, besides, I have a goal to reach!

Tomorrow: The rest of the batch, and a few facts about Knit for Kids