Archive for February, 2015

Washington Families’ Outdoor Heritage Resolution

Written by Jim Huckabay on February 27, 2015. Posted in Uncategorized

Just three years ago, I returned from the International Sportsman Expo in Lost Wages, Nevada, armed with information about the Nevada Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights. With the Kittitas County Field and Stream Club (the oldest organized sportsmen’s group in the state), County Auditor Jerry Pettit, Commissioner Gary Berndt and a number of others willing to play, we set out to create and establish a Washington Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights.

The whole idea, of course, is to get kids and their families into the outdoors, safely recreating in the ways that bring them pleasure and satisfaction – and affirm that they have the right to do so.

It has long been argued that children who have developed a real connection with Nature are more grounded and better able to navigate difficult times. We figured that making sure children know that they have a fundamental right to connect with the natural world, and can be exposed to the range of ways those connections can be made, is a huge step toward a better future for humanity.

This is what we took to potential sponsors in the State Legislature a year ago: “The children of Washington have the right to discover and experience the outdoors through activities including the following: Create an outdoor adventure; Explore a trail; Camp under the stars; Go fishing; Discover nature; Explore Washington’s heritage; Go on a picnic; Play in a park, in the water, in the snow, on the rocks; Go hunting; Learn to be safe around firearms and other outdoor tools.”

To be carried as a resolution, it needed a great deal of work on form, so over the past year, we carried out more research, and added a number of appropriate “Whereas” sections. We presented it to Kyle Lynch, the Legislative Assistant to Senator Judy Warnick, who wanted to sponsor the Senate Resolution. Kyle discovered early on that creating a Washington Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights was making policy – not done by resolution. So he went back to the drawing board and created a resolution with enough of our elements to give us a solid start.

Thus, this morning, Friday, 02/28/15, at about 9 a.m. Senator Judy Warnick of the 13th District rose in the Washington State Senate to address our resolution. After a few words about the value of family outdoor activity, and acknowledgement of the groups which brought it forward, she commended the following resolution to the Washington State Senate for adoption.


“WHEREAS, this Resolution encourages Washington families and children to participate in outdoor activities and discover their heritage, developing a connection with nature and building a foundation for a lifelong environmental stewardship; and

“WHEREAS, numerous studies have shown that children who regularly and frequently participate in outdoor activities are healthier, perform better in school, possess better social skills and higher self-images, and lead more fulfilled lives; and

“WHEREAS, the health and well-being of the children of Washington are vital to the future success of the great State of Washington and the United States of America; and

“WHEREAS, embracing Washington’s natural beauty and outdoor heritage can play a significant role in encouraging families to increase levels of participation in outdoor activities which bring them satisfaction and appreciation for our state’s natural wonder; and

“WHEREAS, it is in the interests of the citizens of Washington State to encourage families and children to explore and enjoy those outdoor activities which interest them; and

“WHEREAS, more than 13 states (including California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Wisconsin) have adopted, or are in the process of adopting similar resolution in recognition of the importance of outdoor activities to the future well-being of their citizens; and

“NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Washington State Families’ Outdoor Heritage shall honor the tradition of engaging the vast wealth of Washington’s natural beauty and affirm that the children of Washington greatly benefit by discovering and experiencing the outdoors through activities such as hiking, adventuring, camping, fishing, hunting, family picnics, community parks, beach combing, and many more activities; thereby developing a relationship with Washington’s great natural resources; and learn respect and safety for the tools of outdoor recreation and exploration.”

Was the resolution approved? Given that this was written a day or two ago, I can only hope so. With wide and growing support, we now start here. Next year, we will have a broadly sponsored bill in the Legislature creating the Washington Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights. Thank you, Senator Warnick.

All about Our Robins

Written by Jim Huckabay on February 20, 2015. Posted in Uncategorized

According to Annenburg Media (its “Journey North” site), the first American robins were reported around Paradise during the past couple weeks. These may be some of the mostly-male birds which spend the winter wandering around the region, following food and getting a jump on staking out territories to show potential mates. Still, given that I have been expecting spring for a couple months now, and the song of robin brings spring, I’m ready.

Ready or not, spring can’t really arrive until I hear that half-hour-long rising and falling “cheery-up, cheery-me, cheery-up, cheery-me” song of daylight and warmth. Since I was a kid in East Wenatchee, for some reason, that song makes me want to dig worms and offer them up. I just haven’t heard it – yet. We will probably have to wait until we begin seeing the larger flocks of birds returning from wintering grounds (as far south as Guatemala) over the next few weeks.

You can track our robins, by the way, along with dozens of other birds, at the Annenburg Media site, The site is created to support teaching and learning, and anyone can come play. On the site you will be able to hear robin songs and sounds, keep track of what they are eating as they work their way north (reports of kelp, seaweed, dried berries and small fish this year), and check up on any of a couple dozen critters on live cameras across the globe. Even in the midst of the dozens of exotic and rare animals and birds you will find on the site, our American robin is somehow unique.

When it comes to food and habitat, robins are generalists, like us. They eat a variety of stuff (found by sight) and occupy about any habitat in Washington below timberline and outside marshes. They are pretty common breeding birds in Upper County spruce‑fir forests.

On our lawns or in our trees, robins seem pretty tame, with easy lives, but in more remote alpine and wilderness areas they are often extremely wary. We don’t think much about it these days, but only a few generations ago robins were widely hunted for food, and related thrushes (European blackbirds, as in “…baked into a pie”) still are eaten in parts of Europe and elsewhere. Then, too, just forty years ago robins were in deep trouble because of DDT spraying. Earthworms digested the sprayed leaves and the poisons ended up in the robins. Hundreds of thousands died outright, and reproduction failed for others because DDT causes shell thinning of eggs. Post-DDT, the birds quickly recovered.

Now, we await those March and April courtship rituals, often reminding me of the young people I see on campus each spring; groups of males chase a given female until she takes a shine to one of them. Once the field has been narrowed, the male struts around her with his tail spread, throat inflated and wings shaking.

After all the proper vows are made, the female will build a soft‑lined nest of mud and grass. It will be in the crotch of a tree or on a building – generally fairly low. The adults will belligerently defend the nest, which may hold half a dozen inch‑long turquoise blue eggs. The female will set the eggs, but hatchlings will be fed by both parents.

Once the first brood fledges, the pair may build another nest, into which the hen will lay more eggs. If the fledged young are not yet independent enough, the male will care for them while the female incubates the second clutch of eggs. Rearing baby robins is no small job, since a brood of just three may eat 95 or 100 meals a day. Sometimes, the robins have help; observations have been made of house finches helping adult robins bring food to young. Finches have also been seen sitting nearby and singing as another adult feeds the insatiable youngsters.

In keeping with the wishes of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association’s Science Education Committee, I include the following. Robin’s scientific name is Turdus migratorius. It may reach ten inches in length, and makes its living mostly off grubs, insects (and their larvae), earthworms and fruit.

I urge you to spend some time on the Annenburg Media site. You and your whole family will find pictures, videos, wild cams, songs and cool new things at

I love watching these fascinating birds. They bring me hope for a good gardening year, for spring, for summer. I need that song, though…

Just Something About Afrika

Written by Jim Huckabay on February 13, 2015. Posted in Uncategorized

I spent last weekend in Portland, hanging out with my South African friends, Richard and Ruth Lemmer. They were hustling their Safari Afrika wares at the Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show in the Portland Expo Center.

You may recall that I dropped in on their home turf, near Mokopane in Limpopo Province, last July. At one time or another, we chased blue wildebeest, grey duiker, steenbok, warthogs and bushpigs, but mostly we looked at game farming a la South Africa. We laughed and ate and moved wild critters from one farm to another and looked for a big warthog. At one sudden moment, I was reminded how uncertain day to day life can be.

My first question, once I found their booth among the hundreds upon hundreds of outdoor dreams at the show, was “How is Esther?”

Esther has worked with Richard and Ruth for 25 years. She manages the house, keeps clients’ rooms and clothing ready and helps with cooking. Without her behind the scenes, Safari Afrika would not enjoy the success it has.

Richard has been reestablishing nyala and impala on his farm, and sold the last of his cattle to Esther. She hired a guy to bring his two-wheel drive Toyota pickup and trailer on a Saturday to move them to a corral – boma – on her place at a village a few miles away.

Richard and I, with tracker Jimmy, spent that Saturday morning finding and tracking a very nice grey duiker ram. Once the ram was back in the skinning room, Richard suggested we take a run to Mokopane (about twenty minutes away) to pick up some groceries and exchange currencies.

Mokopane is a couple or three hours south and west of Kruger National Park. Probably about the size of Ellensburg, it is filled with blaring music and Indians and Africans of every shade. Here or there, street vendors might give way to a modern grocery or old office building. Almost everywhere you walk, you are surrounded by loud voices, music and laughter.

At any rate, during our drive Richard was educating me about proper terminology for various species of antelope. Nyala – about the size of a mule deer – were his baseline. “Nyala are bulls, ewes and lambs. Above (bigger than) nyala they are bulls, cows and calves. Below nyala, they are rams, ewes and lambs,” he said. In keeping with his responses to nearly all of my questions about wildlife and the land, he added, “And there will be a quiz later.” We were almost to town when his phone rang.

As we quickly turned around, he was visibly upset, talking about a conversation with the guy who was moving Esther’s cows. “I told him,” he said, “not to put all of those cows in his little trailer for one trip, but he’s always in a hurry.” It only took us a few minutes to get to the mess. The driver and a buddy had been up front in the pickup; Esther was in the bed. Coming downhill to a “T” intersection, the driver lost control of his light truck and its heavily overloaded trailer. As it left the road, his passenger bailed out the side door. When the whole thing hit a cross-berm head on, the trailer pushed up into the back of the truck. The driver was shaken, two of the five cows were slightly injured, and Esther – lucky to be alive in my view – had a shattered ankle.

Once Esther was in the ambulance, Richard located a trailer, we reloaded the cows, traded rigs with Ruth (so she and Jimmy could take them back to the farm) and we went on to Mokopane.

In and around regular calls to the hospital, life settled down again. We chased critters, watched baboons, ate great meals and laughed around the evening fire. I marveled at new things.

While checking out some leopard habitat, Richard broke off a branch of a plant that looked like dry sagebrush. He put it in water. A bit over a day later, we watched the leaves on Aaron Staf, the “resurrection plant,” turn bright green.

One evening, just at dark, Jimmy pointed out the galagos, or “bush babies,” leaping from the palm trees in the yard. The little primates (about the size of a small squirrel) can leap up to 80 times their length, and can be seen against an evening sky, the way we might watch bats flying. They are “nagapies” in Afrikaans – little night monkeys. They appear and are gone in an instant, and I took several photos of empty night sky.

At any rate, my Portland weekend brought good news. Esther is back in the household and doing well. All-around aide and tracker Jimmy – I call him Eagle Eye (“Mattho antshby” in his native tongue) – is on his way to becoming a Professional Hunter (PH).

Richard and Ruth have offered ten days of Safari Afrika time to the Kittitas County Field and Stream Club for its Chukar Run auction at the end of March. The safari could be for photos or hunting or both. More information is coming, of course, but if you are the winning bidder will you please take me with?

Exploring the Mysteries of Snow

Written by Jim Huckabay on February 6, 2015. Posted in Uncategorized

A year ago, right about now, I headed for a weekend at the Pacific Northwest Sportsmen Show in Portland, and a visit with South African friends Richard and Ruth Lemmer. You may recall the intense snowstorm which knocked a lot of travelers off their pins and locked up a fair amount of the Pacific Northwest. Through hours and miles of amazement at the physics of snowflakes and temperature and wind and icy roads, I made it to Portland’s Expo Center and our reunion.

This weekend, I am headed for a similar reunion in Portland. So far, the weather is cooperating, but after a bit of snow falling around Paradise, and a few dicey moments on Snoqualmie, I think a primer might be in order. Then, too, there are my responsibilities as Science Education Chair of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association.

As moist air moves off the Pacific, up the west side of the Cascades or up the Columbia and Yakima, it lifts and cools below its point of saturation so that excess water vapor condenses. Our clouds will have billions of tiny water droplets formed around microscopic nuclei of dust or chemical particulates, all floating in saturated air. The droplets may not be much larger than two microns (two millionths of a meter) in diameter and may remain liquid to temperatures far below freezing. (Most clouds in our latitudes are such “supercooled” clouds.)

Enter Tor Bergeron and W. Findeisen (who suggested the process in the 1930s). They theorized that, until an actual ice crystal forms, the water in most clouds will remain as liquid.

Bergeron first, then Findeisen and others, found that the vapor pressure of water vapor around ice is lower than the vapor pressure of water around a liquid droplet – even at the same super cold temperatures. Ice may form if the supercooled droplets jar each other (causing them to fuse into ice), from an ice nuclei passing through, sudden cold, or even (according to some) from the vibration of a nearby lightning bolt. Once an ice crystal forms, the water vapor almost instantly flows from the vicinity of the droplet to the vicinity of the ice crystal. The ice crystal grows as the water droplet evaporates. The movement from that process seems to trigger more ice crystal formation, and an entire cloud can change to ice crystals in seconds.

Thus, common forms of cloud seeding involve shooting or dropping dry ice or phony ice nuclei such as silver iodide into clouds of supercooled water droplets to force ice crystal growth.

Through sublimation of the water vapor onto the ice crystals, or bumping, or both, the ice crystals may grow big enough to fall. If it is cold enough at ground level, we get snow; if not, then the ice crystals melt as they fall and we get rain. As we commonly see the cooler foothills get snow, while we get rain down here where it is warmer.

Got kids? Keep a metal tray in the freezer. When the snow starts, take the gang out and catch flakes. Then explore the mysteries of the flakes you have captured. A magnifying glass makes it a simple, rich process.

Japanese scientist Ukichiro Nakaya raised the study of ice crystals to an art form in northern Japan in the 1930s. Snowflakes are hexagonal, and Nayaka found a huge variety of forms. He demonstrated that individual flakes often grow concentrically, one six‑sided ring after another, beginning at less than 1/100 inch across.

Almost anything can happen with an infinite number of temperature and moisture combinations, of course, but Nakaya found somewhat predictable patterns.

In general, colder air holds less moisture and produces smaller, more perfect crystals. In high clouds, we may find tiny hexagonal plates at -35°F, and similar quarter-inch plates at ‑5°F in lower clouds. Tiny six‑sided, hollow needles may occur at or below ‑39°F in high cirrus clouds.

Moderate temperatures (-5° to 12°F) give us individual dendrites (leaf- or fern‑like). Stellar crystals are the tiny stars, with six long points or arms, sometimes called “diamond dust.”

Relatively warm air (14° to 28°F) holds more moisture and produces the biggest flakes( and the most slippery snow). The largest single-crystal flakes on record exceeded five inches across, reported in England in the 1950s, and in Virginia in spring of 1900. With this much moisture, we may find needles or cones a half-inch long, or even hollow, six-sided columns, capped with hexagonal plates.

Aggregations of crystals happen in relatively warm air, occurring from collisions and/or electrostatic charges. Huge aggregated snowflakes, as large as 38 centimeters (15 inches) across, and 10 centimeters (four inches) thick, fell on January 28, 1987 at Fort Keogh, Montana. They were said to look much like milk can lids.

Check the web for more – you will find an almost limitless supply of photos and beauty. We owe it to the skies to make the most of whatever snow they send us this winter.