Wednesday, December 25, 2013


We traveled there for Thanksgiving.

(These are the Crazy Mountains. No, really, that's their name)



We didn't bring our dogs on this trip, so I had to borrow some when I went for a walk.



There were about 60 elk in this herd, most of them aren't visible here.

A smaller herd about a quarter mile away.

Sunset on the Gallatin river


Monday, December 23, 2013


Western Hazelnut  provides some fall color under a canopy of big leaf maple, red alder, and douglas fir. Every plant visible in this photo is native to the Pacific NW.

Rough skinned newt female

This is the forest I grew up in.

Alder leaf

Big leaf maple

Sunday, December 22, 2013


Earlier this month we saw some very cold temps - the lowest I saw was -18F with wind chill.

I've never seen the birds hit the feeders as hard as they did that day.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Local species debate

 Rocky Mountain elk near Manhattan, MT.

A few months ago a bow hunter in Oregon (who also happens to be co-worker of my dad's) killed a possibly record setting trophy bull elk near the town of Sweet Home, Oregon. My dad says when the skull rests on the ground, the antlers tower over his head.

It hasn't been published in any hunting magazines yet because the official antler score depends on which subspecies of elk it is, and that is under debate. There are two subspecies in Oregon: Rocky Mountain (Cervus elaphus nelsoni the most numerous and widespread subspecies in North America, also called American Elk) and Roosevelt (Cervus elaphus roosevelti a relatively rare species found mostly in the Coast range mountains and foothills. Supposedly darker in color, larger, with shorter, thicker antlers that often have an extra tine near the top that sticks out at an angle. I say supposedly because, really, if you stood two average specimens next to each other, you probably couldn't tell the difference.)

Likely, it will be determined to be a Rocky Mountain elk because  Boon and Crockett use the I-5 freeway as a subspecies boundary. According to them (and other hunting organizations), Roosevelt elk are only found West of the freeway, and everything to the east is Rocky Mountain territory.

I'm sure this was an arbitrary choice on the part of Boon and Crockett - I-5 convienently runs almost straight north-south and bisects the Willamette Valley, and it's probably true that Rocky Mountain elk won't be found West of the freeway. But Roosevelts are definitely found on both sides of the freeway.

The red line is I-5, the orange line is the crest of the Cascade mountains. The red circle is the area the elk was killed. The mountain range is most likely the true subspecies boundary, if we can draw such a thing. This elk was smack in the middle of territory where both subspecies mingle, though you'd be hardpressed to find that information anywhere official.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife doesn't have their own boundary per se, but they do have management units. The trophy elk was taken either in the Santiam or Mekenzie unit, and both of those units are considered "Western Elk" not "Eastern Elk".

It's OK, though. No one really agrees about the ranges of the elk subspecies.

 Most of the maps you see online look something like this. Which is interesting in a couple of ways. One, it implies there's no overlap between the Roosevelts and rocky mountain populations, which is obviously wrong. Two, the ranges are too small overall. Not only are elk found throughout the Cascades, well into Northern California, they also are on both sides of the mountain range. Here is a photo of some elk in Bend, OR, which is located well to the East of the Mountains and well outside the range for either elk species. Here's another in Malheur, also well into a "white zone".

Hunters report elk throughout the entire state of Oregon, though most range maps show large empty white areas in the east and south.

This map from California Fish and Wildlife at least shows the ranges of the Roosevelt and Rocky Mountain touching. But I took this photo of some elk about 80 miles northwest of Sacramento, quite a few miles farther south than the official Tule elk population.

It makes sense - like their cousins the white tailed deer, elk habituate to humans fairly well. They do well in a wide range of habitats and eat a wide variety of plants; they breed fairly quickly and reach sexual maturity quickly. Though I doubt we'll see the same explosion in urban and suburban populations like we had with the white tail, elk populations are just going to go up.

And the boundaries between subspecies are probably a lot murkier than most people realize. I have no doubt subspecies are interbreeding in the Cascades and foothills on either side. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if northern populations of Tule are mingling with southern Roosevelt. Big whoop, subspecies interbreed all the time. But it'd be nice if someone besides the locals were tracking this kind of thing.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

How to Remove Your Dog's Stitches at Home

I've recently had to do this with my dog Zelda, and out of curiosity I looked online. There is terrible advice out there. I thought maybe I could improve on it a little... and have illustrations!

There are many reasons to want to do this at home. I'm a stay-at-home mom, and even if I had a car during the day, it would be a pain to pack up kid and dog and drive to the vet for a five minute procedure they'd just have an assistant do.

My vet offers suture-removals as a free follow-up procedure. They don't even require an appointment for it. They often tell pet owners that they can remove sutures themselves if they feel up to it. It's probably going to be less stressful on the pet if it's done at home by familiar people.

Other reasons you may not want to bring your pet back to the vet for this simple procdure: They get stressed by travel or being at the vet; they don't like strangers touching them; you live a long distance from the vet, or work during their open hours (my vet is open on the weekends, but they're also super busy during this time).


 ...its for a major surgery like a spay. Modern surgery techniques include "buried" sutures which dissolve on their own and MUST NOT be removed (even if you can see them peeking out of the skin a little). This guide is for simple lacerations of skin/muscle. Your vet will tell you specifically when and if sutures need to be removed (usually within 10-14 days)

...your vet wants to re-check the sutured area. Bring your pet in.

...the area is swollen, hot, and/or painful to the touch. Bring your pet to the vet ASAP if these signs appear.

...there is excessive bleeding. A small amount of blood can be normal when pulling out a suture, but if it's dripping, STOP and consult your vet. Sometimes it means the area has not healed enough yet, and sometimes it means something is wrong.

DO NOT USE hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol.

These harsh disinfectants can damage tissue, plus they're needlessly painful. If the wound is ready to have sutures removed, a disinfectant is probably unnecessary. If you feel the need, use betadine soloution or a triple antibiotic paste.

How to Remove Sutures

Step 0: Assess your pet

If they (like my dog) trust you and are used to being handled, this is a one-person job. If they unused to being handled, are nervous, young, and/or wiggly, get someone to hold them still. If they are terrified and will struggle, scream, claw, and/or bite you, leave this to professionals who, at the very least, will get the job (and stress) over with quickly.

Step 1: Assemble your stuff. You'll need:

  • Good lighting
  • Something to snip the suture. They make special suture scissors for this; you can also use small scissors; one of the small tools on a Swiss Army Knife would probably work; I used fingernail clippers
  • Tweezers (optional)
  • Damp rag or paper towel (optional)
  • Treats or other reward

Step 2: Clean your instrument(s) with soapy water

Rule of thumb: make them as clean as you would a food utensil. If you're dealing with an otherwise-healthy animal and the wound is almost healed, sterilization or disinfectants are not needed.

Step 3: Dampen the area with water or betadine solution

(Optional if scabs aren't in the way) Gently loosen and remove any scabs that block your access to the suture (it's normal for scabs to completely cover sutures). If this is painful for your pet, get them good and damp and give them 10-15 minutes to soften before removing.

Step 4: Count the sutures

This sounds silly, but take it from someone who's done this countless times on a variety of different wounds that it's surprisingly difficult at times to tell if you've missed any, especially if they're hidden by scabs. You can also call your vet and ask - they should note in the chart how many sutures they put in.

Step 5: Pull up on knot

Using tweezers or your fingers, grasp the knot or one of the cut ends and gently pull up slightly. This will reveal part of the loop of suture buried in the skin.

Step 6: Cut the loop. 

Cut just one side of the loop, and try not to cut the knot itself. This is the trickiest part as it requires steady hands, good vision, and the pet to hold very still

Step 7: Gently pull the entire suture free.

It may take a bit of tugging to get it out. If it's painful, leave it for a couple hours and and pull it out later.

Step 8: Reward your pet.

This thing you just did probably weirded them out. A little praise and bit of hot dog will go a long ways to letting you do this to them again in the future.

Other notes:

There are many types and sizes of suture. If it's semi-translucent purple, blue, or brown, and is plastic-y (a bit like fishing line) then its the type that will dissolve over time. If it's white or cream-colored and flat and fiber-y like a ribbon, than it will not dissolve and may be harder to snip.

If you accidentally leave part of the suture in the skin and are unable to pull it out, don't panic. If it's the dissolvable suture, it will slowly absorb over the next few months. Monitor the area daily for signs of infection. If it's the non-dissolvable, still don't panic. Call your vet for advice.

I've seen dogs try to eat the sutures/their own scabs. It's gross, but nothing to worry about.