By Stephanie Kroepfl
I was strolling around Columbine Lake with my amazing dog Gage and noticed how empty of people it was. Just a few short weeks ago, the lakes were crammed with canoers and kayakers, fisherpeople, paddle boarders, dogs fetching sticks, and my favorite, the kids obsessed with catching crawfish off the docks. The children have returned to their existence with their noses inches from electronic devices, but what happens to the crawfish when winter rolls in?
Other than experiencing the kinda gross culinary practice of sucking crayfish heads in Cajun restaurants, I haven’t given them much thought since I was one of those kids who spent the entire summer playing with the crayfish. I grew up in Buffalo, so I call them crayfish. They also go by the names of crawdads, crawfish, freshwater lobster, mountain lobsters, mudbugs and yabbies. According to the experts, there are between 200-330 species in North America. Given this surprisingly wide range, I suspect that I’m not the only one who hasn’t bothered to think much about crayfish. It’s about time they’re rewarded with 500 measly words about their importance.
Crayfish play a vital role in water purification. They feed on algae, bacteria, insect larvae, snails, small fish, and decaying plant and animal matter; hence, they help keep our lakes and streams healthy. When crayfish are present, it’s a sign that there is no severe contamination in the water. Plus, they’re a food source for raccoons, otters, turtles, herons, cranes, trout and anything else that can catch them.
They molt at the end of June and will often eat their own exoskeleton to reclaim its calcium and phosphates. Interestingly, on the sides of its stomach are two grains of limestone which were filtered from the water and serve to provide a calcium supply to grow their new exoskeleton. Crayfish walk forward, but swimming backwards is their fastest escape. They can live out of water for several days as long as their specialized gills remain wet. In humid places, they can survive out of the water for months (here, they’d make it maybe 3.2 minutes). They don’t hibernate in the winter; they move to the warmer, deeper waters and their system slows down like most of the fish in our lakes.
In Colorado, a fishing license is required to catch crayfish. They can legally be taken by hand, baited lines, traps, pots, nets or seins for food or bait, and the limit is 250 crayfish per day. One exception is in Aurora, for some reason. Also, on the Yampa River, all crayfish must be killed before transport because of an invasive species, the Rusty Crayfish, which is huge and kills the larger fish. As for technique, you can purchase something professional, rig up a trap made from a Gatorade bottle and a hotdog, or use a rotten, raw chicken wing tied to a string. And if you’re interested, an easy recipe is to boil a pot of water with Zatarain’s crab boil, potatoes, onions and the crawdads. Suck away!
The Colorado Creative Industries (CCI) was created through legislation passed in 2011 by the
state legislature. The goal of this program is to create hubs and clusters of economic activity,
promote a community’s unique identity, and enhance areas as appealing places to live, conduct business and attract visitors.
Grand Lake has just been notified that they will be invited to become a Creative District next
year. This is a significant achievement for Grand Lake. In the past, all towns were eligible to
apply for this designation which is awarded annually to qualifying towns. This process has now been changed, however, such that only towns invited by CCI are now eligible for receiving the designation. In 2018, only one other town besides Grand Lake is being invited to become a
Efforts to achieve such a designation within Grand County have been ongoing for several years under the efforts of DiAnn Butler. In our Department of Local Affairs designated region, only Steamboat Springs, Breckenridge, and Carbondale have previously achieved this designation.
Statewide, only 21 communities have been designated Creative Districts. What does it mean to be a Creative District? The benefits include: national and statewide marketing and advertising; CDOT signs on state highways; technical assistance from professionals for district-specific identified needs; customized economic impact data; training webinars by world renowned consultants; assistance with community asset mapping; access to capital through OED funding and CCI community loan fund; ability to leverage additional funding and partnerships such as Colorado Tourism Office, Colorado SBDC and National Endowment for the Arts; and mentoring and coaching from other Colorado Certified Creative Districts. CCI joins with the Boettcher foundation to administer the Space to Create program which
supports affordable live/work space for creative entities and individuals.
On November 7, a CCI team will be in Grand Lake to help us begin the process leading to final designation as a Creative District. This is part of our Blueprint 2.0 grant which was awarded to the town in August. The objective of this grant is to prepare a town to meet the 12 principles that define our readiness to establish a creative economy. The meeting will be held in the Community House with three sessions beginning at 9:30 with representatives from key
stakeholder groups in the town and surrounding area. A working lunch with town officials will
commence from noon – 1:30. Everyone is invited to attend the session from 1:30 – 4:00 to offer inputs and insights into our creative vision and ideas for expanding our creative economy. This is everyone’s chance to talk about what a creative economy is to Grand Lake. Is it a Chataqua, an expanded kitchen for the Grand Center, a revitalized Community House, a band shell along the lake front, or all of the above or maybe something else? It is a time to let the ideas flow because we are being given the chance to make it happen.
Please everyone come on November 7. Questions on the process or how to be involved if youcannot make the November 7 meeting can be addressed to email@example.com.
By Stephanie Kroepfl
My husband and I were taking a moment to enjoy/lament the snow on Mount Baldy when a moth landed on a frost-wilted flower in front of us. Given the recent below-freezing nights, I sent out motherly moth-thoughts to slurp as much nectar as it could to bulk up for its long migration to warmer climes. Or does it? The answer is, it depends on the 11,000 species of moth found in the U.S. - which is more than all the bird and mammal species in North America combined - or the 200,000 species that have currently been identified worldwide (although scientists suspect there may be as many as five times that amount).
Moths outnumber butterflies, their nearest relative, by more than 10 to 1. Both belong to the order Lepidoptera. Unlike butterflies, when perched moths’ wings lay flat. Also, they often have feather-like antennae and thick, hairy bodies. Their size ranges from the Atlas moth which has a wingspan of 10 inches, found in the tropics of Southeast Asia, to one yet unnamed species discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2012 that’s the size of a typed period.
Moths are vital contributors to the ecology in that they’re both pollinators and, when in the caterpillar phase, food for practically everything . . . including humans. More than 90% of people in some African countries eat moth and butterfly caterpillars because they’re packed with protein and healthy fats (given their sliminess, I can only hope they taste like chocolate). Since moths are at the bottom of the food chain, natural selection over eons has adapted their camouflage as a defense mechanism. Some moths look like lichen, tree bark native to their habitat or bird poo! It’s even been noticed that in cities with smoke pollution, the moths have darkened their coloration. Another moth defense is “mimicry” where they take on the appearance of larger or more threatening creatures. Think caterpillars with tails that look like venomous snake heads and wing markings that make them look like unpalatable wasps, tarantulas or praying mantis.
Back to the migration question. Given their diversity, it shouldn’t be a surprise that moths have a number of strategies to survive the winter. These include laying eggs in late summer/fall which don’t hatch until spring, spending the winter as hibernating caterpillars, wintering as a pupae in a warm underground cocoon, and hibernating as an adult. There’s even a few hardy species, aptly named the December moth and the Winter moth, who stay active all winter because of an anti-freeze-type fluid in their bodies. But these aren’t the scoundrels responsible for holes in your wool sweaters. Unbelievably, only two species in the U.S. damage clothing: the Webbing Clothes moth and the Casemaking Clothes moth. And blame the larvae for the holes, not the adults who don’t have mouths. A female moth is attracted to clothing made of animal fibers to lay her eggs because the larvae eat the Keratin it contains (a fibrous structural protein).
I’m not sure which moth species I saw, I only hope it knows which winter survival technique it’s supposed to follow.
Published September 30, 2017
By Stephanie Kroepfl
Last week, we were driving thirty minutes north of Kremmling (which is truly gorgeous country) when we came across a strange-looking animal alone in a field. I thought it was an alpaca, but later learned it was a llama. We all see them from time to time, but until then I hadn’t questioned why there is usually only one. There’s a good reason. In the western U.S., llamas are now used as guardian animals.
Llamas are naturally aggressive toward foxes, coyotes, dogs and other predators, and they patrol their territory and alert other animals if there is a threat. Sheep, goats or other stock that are frightened or skittish around dogs will accept a llama in their field. They’re able to guard sheep, goats, cows with calves, deer, alpacas and poultry. Males are more territorial by nature, but the maternal instincts of female llamas make them equally good guards.
Llamas (and alpacas) are members of the camelid, or camel, family. Llamas are natives of the South American Andes. They were first imported into the U.S. in the late 1800s for display in zoos and for private animal collectors. Today, there are roughly 158,000 llamas and 100,000 alpacas in the U.S. and Canada. Llamas are divided into two groups: short coated, called Ccara, and medium coated, called Curaca. They stand six feet tall, weigh between 280-450 pounds, live between 20-30 years and are herbivores. More reasons why they make great guardians.
They are very intelligent and are considered more trainable than most animals. They were first domesticated and used as pack animals 4,000-5,000 years ago by Peruvian Indians. A 400 pound llama can easily carry 100 pounds for 10 miles, but if it feels its load is too heavy it will lay down and refuse to move until some of the weight is removed.
A male llama is a sire, a female is a dam and their baby is a cria (pronounced kree-uh). A group of llamas is called a herd. They don’t have hooves; instead, they have two toes with toenails and a leathery pad on the bottom of their feet. They’re also spitters – usually only on each other when they’re fighting. According to the Pittsburgh Zoo, when one llama has an issue with another llama, it will stick its tongue out at it. But they’re not typically aggressive; they have a strict hierarchy in their social structure, and fighting and spitting llamas fall to the bottom tier.
Interestingly, llama poop has almost no odor. It makes great fertilizer and the Incas burn it as fuel. Llama farmers refer to it as “llama beans.” There are two ways to determine if a camel-like animal is a llama or alpaca. Alpacas are much smaller, weighing in at 150 pounds. Also, llamas have much longer, banana-shaped ears that stand up at attention while the alpaca’s ears are short and spear-shaped. So next time you see a llama hanging out in a field, you now know that it’s doing a very important job.
Published September 15, 2017
By Stephanie Kroepfl
A friend mentioned hearing coyote howls coming from just outside of Columbine Lake. The only up-close-and-personal experience I’ve ever had with one is when we were living in the heart of Denver. I was hanging out on our front porch with a girlfriend and my perfect dog, Gage. The first coyote I’ve ever seen in the ‘hood ran across our yard and Gage took after it. Then, she got hit by a car. According to the vet, my Chesapeake Bay retriever’s tank-like body is what saved her. I still shudder when I picture it. Anyway . . .
The word coyote is derived from the “coyotl,” which is an Aztec word meaning barking dog. Native Americans consider them to be the smartest animals on earth, calling them “God’s dog,” while ranchers and farmers curse their existence. They’re found throughout North America in every type of environment: deserts, mountains, forests, plains and now the big cities. A large part of the reason is they’re opportunistic hunters and will adjust their diet to the available food. They’ll eat just about anything, from mice to watermelon to garbage to dead animals to beloved pets. Coyotes may be the most adaptable animal out there, which is why their population continues to grow.
Even though coyotes play a vital role in the ecosystem, since 1861 an estimated 500,000 coyotes have been killed by the U.S. government in order to hamper their population growth. In Colorado, coyotes are classified as a game species and may be hunted year-round with either a small game or furbearer license. Landowners may kill coyotes without a license on their land if a coyote threatens their property or livestock. But, let’s take a moment to appreciate their finer points.
First, coyotes are rarely a threat to humans. The Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife reports 25 coyote bites in the Denver area since 2007 while there were 6,000 dog bites on the Front Range in a two-year period. Coyotes mate for life, which is pretty darn admirable. And, the male has an equal role in raising their pups. Coyotes can mate with wolves and dogs. A coyote-dog hybrid is called a coydog, but there’s not many of them because they tend to have their pups in the winter, which lowers their survival rate. Also, if the male is the dog, it doesn’t realize its job is to bring food to Mom and the newborns for the first few weeks.
Coyotes are digitigrades, which means they walk on their toes. Interestingly, other digitigrades include felines, birds, elephants and dinosaurs! (I’m actually having a hard time picturing tiptoeing dinosaurs). This style of movement makes them quicker and quieter than us flat-foot walkers, officially called plantigrades.
The easiest way to determine which dog-like animal you’re observing is coyotes run with their tails down, domestic dogs run with tails up and wolves run with tails straight out. I’ve gotta respect coyotes ability to survive in today’s world, just stay away from my dog.
by Stephanie Kroepfl
My birdfeeder has evolved into another phase. The first to appear were the sparrows, soon followed by a wider array of birds. After that came the pine squirrels, then the chipmunks and the golden-mantled ground squirrels . . . and now the crows have arrived. Three huge black dudes have been ominously marching back and forth along the deck railing, and even though they’re omnivores, I’m fairly certain it’s not the bird seed they’re after. Smartly, the critters have decided to move under the deck to scavenge on the seeds that fall through the cracks.
Given these birds annoying “caw-caw” call, I think they’re American crows and not the common raven, which has more of a hoarse croaking “kraaah.” But then again I could be wrong because both birds are great vocalists and like to vary their calls. Other ways to tell them apart is that ravens are larger and they often travel in pairs, while crows are seen in larger groups. Also, when they fly, a crow’s tail feathers are the same length and spread out like a fan. Ravens have longer middle feathers in their tail so it appears wedge-shaped when open. Either way, they’re cousins in the Corvus genus, along with the rook.
Crows are extremely intelligent birds known for their problem-solving and communication skills. For example, when a crow encounters a mean human, it will teach the other crows how to identify that person. Warning: research has proven that crows don’t forget a face. Ever! Almost all corvids have been observed using tools, and they’ve been known to drop things like stones and pine cones on people they don’t like from the air. A test conducted in 2004 revealed that crows are cleverer than Bonobo chimpanzees, which makes them the most intelligent creature after humans.
When a crow dies, the other crows will surround it and work together to figure out what killed it. Then, they’ll band together and chase the predators in a behavior called mobbing. A group of crows is called a murder because if a crow is dying, the others will surround it and aggressively quicken the deed. Another unique behavior is crows will stand on anthills, let the ants climb all over it and then it’ll rub the ants into their feathers. The purpose of “anting” (seriously, that’s a scientific term) is to ward off parasites. Ants can also cause the birds to get drunk from the formic acid released from the ant’s bodies.
The crows and ravens in our area don’t migrate in the winter. Like us full-timers, they prefer the frigid beauty over sweating in the south. But should Berthoud pass stay closed for an extended time, crow meat is edible. In fact, crow meat is considered much healthier than pork because it contains fewer toxins.
I know I’m observing the circle of life, but that doesn’t make encountering a dead chipmunk any easier. Nevermore. Stinkin’ crows.
Published August 18, 2017
By Stephanie Kroepfl
Lately, whenever I hear my husband chuckling, I know he’s watching the tiny chipmunks vacuuming up seeds that the birds have scattered, and stuffing their cheeks to a ridiculous size. According to experts, their cheeks can extend to three times the size of their head! It’s taken all summer for them to discover our birdfeeder, and now I’m replenishing seeds at such an astounding rate I might as well rename it a chipmunkfeeder. That’s okay. Watching their cuteness is worth the price of seeds.
Chipmunks are the smallest members of the squirrel family. There are twenty-five chipmunk species and only one, the Siberian chipmunk, lives outside of North America. The ones that hang out here are the Least Chipmunk, which often gets mistaken for the Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel. A Least Chipmunk can be identified by the five stripes on its back and sides, and two of the stripes extend onto its face. They’re also quite twitchy. According to the National Wildlife Federation, there are three chipmunk calls: the chip, the deeper chuck and the startle call. They got their name from their “chip” sound that often sounds like a bird.
Unlike pine squirrels, chipmunks create burrows in the ground. Their tunnel system can be ten to thirty feet long, and it’s quite the swanky setup. They are known for their extreme neatness and they create different chambers for different functions. Typically, there’s one for sleeping/hibernating, one for giving birth and raising the babies, and then there’s a storeroom that can hold up eight pounds of food—where all my seeds can undoubtedly be found. They line the chambers with grass and leaves for comfort and warmth.
Chipmunks hibernate differently than most animals. They go into torpor, and it can seem like they’re dead. Their heart rates can drop from 350 beats per minute to 4 beats per minute, and their body temperature can drop from 94 to 40 degrees. They wake every few days to eat from their food cache for energy and to relieve themselves, and then they go back into torpor. A new study found that as winter temperatures have heated up, chipmunks in the warmed areas are starting to be less likely to hibernate in the coldest months. Normally, a chipmunk has an 87% survival rate in the winter, but those that remain active because of the warmer winter weather are almost certain to die by spring. Luckily, I doubt our chipmunks here in frigid Grand Lake blow off hibernation.
Chipmunks eat mushrooms, berries, nuts, seeds and grains, but they’re actually omnivores and will also munch on insects, baby birds, frogs and bird eggs. When you see a chipmunk with those crazy fat cheeks, they’re using them as grocery bags to carry the food back to their burrow. There was this article about how it’s becoming fashionable to keep a chipmunk as a pet, and the biggest drawback was that they’re great escape artists. Aren’t we blessed that we have enough of them scurrying around outside to amuse us that we don’t need to keep one in a cage?
By Stephanie Kroepfl
The answer: To give me inspiration for this week’s article! As I watched the little guy waddle into the safety of the high grass, I realized that this was the first time I’ve seen a skunk up here. Then it occurred to me that I’ve also never been hit by that oh so pleasant aroma of skunk spray while driving with the windows open, which used to happen quite often when growing up in the farmlands outside of Buffalo. Time to learn about these distinctively colored creatures.
Skunks’ Latin name is mephitis, which translates to noxious gas; pretty judgmental considering the Romans thought vomitoriums were a brilliant solution to staying svelte. In Colorado there are four species of skunks: the striped skunk, which is the most common and the one that Pepe le Pew was fashioned after, the western spotted, the eastern spotted, and the white-backed hog-nosed skunk, which is extremely rare in our state.
The accompanying photo is a western spotted skunk, and they’re unique for two reasons. First, they climb trees. Second, when the other nine types of skunks feel threatened, they’ll stomp their feet and slap their tail on the ground as a warning to stay away before lifting their tail and blasting the poor victim. The western spotted skunk, on the other hand, does a handstand and commences to wiggle and walk on its hands with its legs splayed out on either side. If I ever get the chance to see that, I’ll be laughing so hard I’ll probably forget to back away. So now I have a new bucket list line item: I want to see a western spotted skunk’s warning dance.
A recent study found that animal species that choose fight over flight when faced with a predator often have markings that draw attention to their best weapon, which explains the skunks’ stripes or spots that point to its butt. Likewise, that’s why wasps and bees are striped. And talking about bees, skunks are one of the primary predators of the honeybee. It’s not for the honey like bees’ other main predator, the bear. Skunks love to eat the bees themselves. They’ll scratch at the front of a hive to draw out the guard bees and gobble them up, and their thick fur protects them from the stings. Another weird thing is that skunks are immune to snake venom, so deadly snakes are also a delicacy.
Should you or your dog be unfortunate enough to get sprayed by a skunk, don’t bother with the tomato juice. It just masks the scent. According to my vet, this is the best way to get rid of the stink: 1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup baking soda and 2 teaspoons of liquid dish soap. Since a skunk can spray their oily, sticky Sulphur compound ten feet, if I plan on getting close enough to watch a western spotted skunk dance, I guess I’d better stock up on these items sooner rather than later.
Published July 21, 2017
I was driving past the Blue Bird motel (sorry new owners of the Timberline Inn, but it’ll take us locals a bit to make the mental shift) when I spotted a glorious sight. A huge squadron of white pelicans were hanging out on Shadow Mountain Lake. I just had to stop and take the accompanying photo. I moved to Florida as a teen and have spent endless hours in awe, watching Brown Pelicans dive bomb into the Gulf to snatch up fish, so I got curious about the American White Pelican. One of the most interesting tidbits is that these pelicans are newcomers to Colorado, only first arriving in the 1960s, which of course got me wondering why. The Great Plains is geographically noteworthy for its absence of large bodies of water; therefore, Colorado used to be a place where white pelicans only caught a breather before moving on. Then our predecessors decided to build dams to create reservoirs, and stock them with fish. Within a few decades, white pelicans began to summer here. Grand Lake is a huge draw because Shadow Mountain is unique. It has islands. Nestlings are completely helpless for weeks, and coyotes, foxes, and raccoons could easily wipe out an entire colony, so white pelicans only nest on islands. Unlike most places with water in our state, the white pelicans that live here breed.
If you’re wondering, like me, why I haven’t seen our beauties use their nine-foot wing span to hover and then dive head first into the lakes, it’s because their fishing technique is different than their brown cousins. White pelicans are scoopers. They often fish in groups, forming a line to chase schools of fish into shallow water, and then they all scoop in unison. They can hold as much as three gallons of water in their bill, and they consume about four pounds of fish each day. They weigh thirty pounds, so four pounds doesn’t seem unreasonable. Until you start doing the math: 100 pelicans x 3 trout x every summer day. You can see why some places that spend a lot of moola to stock their lakes aren’t as enthralled with these newbies. A few groups have wanted to do something about it, but American White Pelicans are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Although, sometimes things work out. There’s this great story about how there used to be 4,000 goldfish in Boulder’s Teller Lake No. 5 because someone decided that their pet Bubbles and her male suiters needed to be free. All types of eradication techniques were debated, including having to drain the lake, and then the goldfish suddenly disappeared. Yep, Boulder is grateful to a visiting gang of white pelicans. There’s now talk of using these birds to help out in other similar fish-out-of-control situations. I couldn’t resist ending with a poem I found. “Behold the mighty pelican. His beak holds more than his belican. I don’t know how the helican.” Thanks for the chuckle, Dixon Lanier Merritt (1879-1972).
Published July 7, 2017
If you’ve been eavesdropping in on the local chatter (like maybe I have), it hasn’t been as focused on the influx of tourists or moose sightings or even all the dirt work going on in Town. It’s been about . . . mosquitoes. Those rainy spring days have provided us with amazing wildflowers, but they’re also responsible for the crazy amount of mosquitos we’re battling. As I scratched at the welts on my ankles, I got to wondering about these little buggers. The most disturbing fact I learned is that mosquitoes are considered the deadliest creature on Earth. Over one million human deaths per year are contributed to their bite, which can inflict fun diseases like malaria, yellow fever, West Nile virus, and don’t forget about heartworm in dogs. Mosquitoes aren’t bent on destroying humanity, it’s just that the females need the protein found in blood to produce their eggs. And unfortunately for us chics, the female is the culprit here. Male mosquitoes don’t bite; they’re perfectly happy relying on fruit and nectar for their dinner. Not every one of the 2,700 mosquito species are hunting us and our dogs. One kind bites exclusively on birds and another prefers to feed on reptiles and amphibians. So if it’s any conciliation, it seems that everything that breathes is scratching a body part. And actually, it is our breathing that attracts them. The females have a receptor on their antennae that can detect the carbon dioxide we release when we exhale—from 75 feet away. Another attractant is dark clothing because mosquitoes are drawn to heat. Also big people and fidgety people are more likely to get bit because they produce more CO2. A female can drink up to three times her weight in blood, but they’re not going to suck you dry. It would take about 1.2 million bites to drain all the blood from your body. After getting her dose of protein, a female lays up to 300 eggs at one time, and she’ll lay eggs up to three times before she dies. Just think, every time you smoosh one, you’ve just saved humanity from 900 baby mosquitoes. The two main mosquito predators are fish and dragonflies. Bats eat them, but not enough to make a significant dent. So what can you do?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list only four chemicals as being effective for repelling mosquitoes: DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or its synthetic version PMD, and IR3535. Bug zappers are useless; studies have shown that less than 1% of insects killed are mosquitoes. They actually kill more beneficial insects like moths, which are pollinators. Electronic repellers have also proven ineffective. And is it any wonder? Mosquitoes have been around since the Jurassic period, which means they’ve had 210 million years to figure out how to outsmart us. Since it takes just a few inches of water for a female to deposit her eggs, experts say that the best prevention is to be vigilant about dumping standing water. That sounds good, but it’s our lakes and reservoirs that attracted us here. I guess it’s time to buy my first can of bug spray since I moved here.
Published June 23, 2017