Sunday, June 26, 2016

My Little Squeaky Toys

Sunday June 26 2016

It's hard to believe (once again) I never found the screech owl nest along the creek, particularly since it fledged four babies this year.

In the evenings, they start squeaking and tooting away (they totally sound like dog squeaky toys), and I step outside and creep closer, and peer through the trees and spot one or two or three or four of them, and we stare at each other, bobbing our heads at each to get a better focus, and talk and toot to each other.

They sure don't sound like what you might think an owl sounds like!
A little down this page:
you'll find some screech owl calls (the adults sound like ping pong balls). The babies in my trees sound like the one labeled "Agitated bark and bill clap".

I actually saw one fly into the glass door one evening (!!!!) and was afraid/hoping I might have to rescue him. I've saved a few birds who have flown into the glass door or windows, though some hit too hard and were too far gone. He sort of ended up on the porch rail, and after he sat there a bit, he flew up into a tree. I walked after to watch him, and he just kept bobbing his head and looking at me.

I like to think of them as my own little live squeaky toys, glad they allow me in their presence as they are growing up.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Oreana–Where the Deer and Antelope Play

Friday June 17 2016

Coming to the high desert country of Owyhee County to visit fellow horseback riders, the author decided to make Oreana her home.

I've lived in really big cities, smaller cities, little towns, in the boonies, on the road, and you could even say a tent for a while. It's easy for me to shed one persona and slip into the other, rather inconspicuously and fluidly. I'm comfortable in all of them. But I do have to say that living in less than a town, out in the boonies, with horses of course, is pretty darn nice. 

I always say I live in Owyhee, which is the SW county of Idaho, but the 'town' I'm associated with is barely a blip on the map, and I live outside that town anyway. But it's home. I did a feature profile on Oreana in the June issue of Idaho Magazine. It starts out:

“Oreana—Population 8, Maybe 9.” That hand-painted sign tacked to a telephone pole greeted me as I drove down the hill into the little community of Oreana for the first time in 2005. I’d come to this fairly isolated corner of Owyhee County in southwestern Idaho to visit some endurance horse-riding friends for a week. I stayed on for a month. It took that short a time for the high desert sagebrush country to get under my skin, because two years later, I was back to stay…

And I must say that not all editors are so easy to work with, but I really enjoy writing for and working with Steve, the editor of Idaho magazine. 

You can read the rest of the excerpt here (and the whole article is available for purchase or subscription): 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

City of Rocks: Dudley's Pillow Fight

Wednesday June 15 2016

Some races people compete in endurance for the first place prizes. At the 3-day City of Rocks endurance ride, it was all about the Turtle pillows, for the last place finishers in each ride, made and donated by Tonya Stroud.

Connie and I planned to ride drag on Day 2's 50 miler, guaranteeing at least one of us a Turtle pillow. We'd be riding the two big (um… plump) black horses, Finneas (grandson of the Black Stallion) and Dudley (Belesemo Dude), pulling ribbons at Castle Rocks State park. Doing so would save us a day's worth of work on the after-ride cleanup/trail hiking/unmarking. Besides, Dudley is not the fastest horse in the barn, and Finneas does not need to be the fastest horse in the barn, so the two pasture buddies could do a more leisurely 50 mile ride while clocking in some work hours.

So on Day 2, the four of us started well after all the 50's, giving one gal, whom we knew would be riding her green horse slower, a good head start.

We even let the racing mules on the LD get out ahead of us before we hit the trail in earnest (mostly at a walk, then connie forgot her goggles and we had to go back, then Finneas was naughty so Connie got off to walk a while, etc), burning up the trail. Not.

Our trail took us on a loop through City of Rocks National Reserve, before heading down a dirt road to Castle Rocks State park. There we'd do a loop through the park once, stop for a vet check, then do the loop a second time (pulling ribbons) before retracing our trail through the Reserve back to camp and the finish.

We thought we'd so cleverly timed our departure and pace, thinking, once we climbed the park road, that we could finally pick up a bit of speed, when, only 5 or so miles out of camp, we came across Kathy of the Twisted Sisters on the 50 mile ride. Robert the vet was holding her horse while she replaced a shoe the gelding had thrown.

Dang! That threw a little monkey wrench in our plans. Now we'd have to either wait for Kathy here, or at the vet check some 20 miles hence. We did a little of both: we slowed our pace back to a walk (we had a long downhill stretch for a while anyway), then after some trotting along nice single track and two-track trails, we took our time at a water stop at Circle Creek overview. 

We happened to encounter a rattlesnake here - keep this incident in mind for later. But no sign of Kathy yet. Hmmm. We did a bunch more walking until we hit the road to Castle Rocks… still no sign of Kathy behind us. Hmmm. We walked and trotted the 6 miles of dirt road, always looking back, and pretty sure we still hadn't seen a speck of Kathy anywhere behind us. Hmmm. Should we zoom on to Castle Rocks, or should we putz some more? Dudley was mighty spooky on parts of this road, even when he was following Finneas. *I* couldn't see any horse-eating things, but he sure thought he could.

When we finally arrived at Castle Rocks and passed through where the vet check was, we got word that Kathy had just called the ride manager and said she had pulled and was walking home because her horse had thrown another shoe. What!? That put us way behind as turtles on the 50. (And, we found out later, Kathy had encounters with not only the 1 rattlesnake we saw, but 3 more, almost stepping on one, that just put her over the edge because she's terrified of rattlesnakes.)

No worries, we'd pick up the pace in the park. However, that's when, during the climb to near 7000 feet, it got hot and breeze-less and Finneas needed a break (which Dudley used to eat, because he always needs eating breaks). Connie got off to walk much of the uphill. Downhill from the high point was a beautiful meadow redolent with flowers and more grass (good for eating) which we led the boys down.
I photobombed Dudley! He is not impressed

We were the last last last two into the vet check. My vet bag had already gone back to camp without me, but Finneas was happy to share his extra food with starving Dudley. 

We stuffed our pockets with food, and, with bags to collect ribbons, we headed out on the repeat loop of Castle Rocks, pulling the ribbons as we went along. On the places where we could trot, we tried to leap-frog each other, pulling every next ribbon, but any time I moved Dudley in front of Finneas, ohmigod, The Dude turned into a smart-ass spooky-balky-butt worse-than-a-green-2-year-old explosive bomb. 

Dudley was absolutely positive there was some killer horse-eating something in the bushes on both sides of him. At least he wouldn't spook too far to either side, because one side was just as scary as the next, and the very center of the trail was safest. Not to mention Finneas got mad any time Dudley was ahead of him, because Finneas always has to WIN. So Connie and Finneas pulled every second ribbon, and Dudley and I stayed behind her and pulled the ones they left. It's fun trotting by and grabbing ribbons, not slowing down. This doesn't work if they are pinned to sticker-y bushes though!

The skies had clouded over and a little breeze came up, so we were pleasantly cool. The boys got to eat plenty of grass as we walked down the rocky meadow pulling the ribbons and stakes marking the path.

By the time we got back to the vet check spot, all was quiet and deserted but for the bucket of horse feed I'd stashed for the boys to snack on. 

Then with some 18 miles or so back to camp, and with some pretty fresh horses, we boogied back down the road to the Reserve, and retraced our trails in the park there. Here Dudley led approximately 1 mile. He was still spooky, but it was uphill, and since Dudley was huffing and puffing away, it was too hard to spook big. So take note we followed Connie and Finneas approximately 49 miles of the ride.

Time was ticking down. It was going to be very close making it back to camp by 6:30 PM. The last couple of miles in the park are on the single track Equestrian Trail winding through a pinyon and juniper forest. Finneas was flying along in the lead, when suddenly around the corner, I saw ahead of me a flash of white and Finneas whirling an instant 180 degrees to face me and Dudley. Connie managed to stay on, and, athletically and skillfilly, Finneas did not whirl into the barbed wire fence right next to him.

"Holy ***!" Connie yelled. "A big horn sheep!!!!!" We all watched the startled big horn male trot up the hill among the trees. We did not know there were big horn sheep in the park!

But The Dude knew. THAT must be what he'd been spooking from all day, knowing there was one big horn sheep in the whole of the park that was bound to jump out in front of us some day, somewhere. Either that or a moose (a mama and baby were seen by some riders last year in the park), or a cougar (days earlier, Gretchen and Mickie had ridden by the head of a fawn. Just the head. Meow!).

But we didn't have time to slow down, so we bombed on down the trail again, ever more alert for any more surprises, but the trail was clear, and we raced homeward. Crossing the finish line, at the last second Connie yanked Finneas back so Dudley's nose crossed first, thereby securing the coveted Turtle Pillow award (don't tell Finneas he didn't win!). But I got to wear Connie's flower headband from Walmart for the evening, so I reckon that was a pretty fair trade.

We had arrived in camp right at 6:30 on the dot. A good ride was had by us all, and The Dude had a good night's sleep.

*The footnote is that after Twisted Sister Kathy had a rough day 1, helping a fellow rider through a crash-and-concussion incident on the 50, then pulling on day 2's 50 after 2 lost shoes, a lost easy boot, and 4 unnerving rattlesnake encounters, she finished day 3 on the 25 on her horse and got a well-deserved Turtle Pillow!

You can enjoy more ride photos and stories of City of Rocks here at this link.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Foiled Again!

Thursday June 2 2016

It happened again, for about the 8th spring in a row: the resident screech owl pair had at least one baby, and I could not find the nest.

Every year it's like this: beginning of the year, in winter, I start hearing the male screech owl, tooting away for his mate. He's very vocal. You can hear some screech owl calls here. I can catch a glimpse of him in the cottonwood trees just before dark. Sometimes I'll even hear him during the day, in which case I can usually spot him.

The female rarely pipes up. In fact a couple of springs I thought, 'Oh, poor guy, he can't find a mate.' And then months later I'll hear a screech baby or two.

I know this pair nests within a 100 yard radius, likely in a hole in a cottonwood tree on one of the creeks. And I can never find the nest.

I heard the male occasionally this winter/spring, and heard the female only once or twice. I knew they were nesting again. Could not find the nest again.

And look who shows up 2 nights ago. 

This year's adult, staring at me, telling me the baby has fledged. It's nearby. I can hear it, but I can't see it. Where is he hiding his babies?

*and... last night - I heard 2 babies!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tevis Cup Magic: Taking on the World's Toughest 100 Mile Endurance Ride - New E-Book!

Thursday May 26 2016

It is not for the faint of heart: a hundred hard-won miles of rock, dust, elevation, uphill (19,000 cumulative feet of climbing), downhill (22,000 cumulative feet of descending), imposing mountains, plunging canyons, wild rivers, wilderness, extreme heat, suffocating humidity, extraordinary effort, and luck - good or bad, all in various doses, riding your horse across the Sierra Nevada mountains, in the dark and the light and the dark, all done within a 24 hour time limit…

With the 2016 Tevis countdown at just over two months to starting time comes the release of my new ebook, Tevis Cup Magic: Taking on the World's Toughest 100 Mile Endurance Ride.

It's my account of my monumental, magical, marvelous Tevis Cup adventure in 2009. It's not a story of a Top Ten finisher; it's not a story of someone who spent weeks, months, years strategically planning to conquer the Tevis trail. It's one of those adventures I had never, ever planned on; another one that just fell in my lap and I just had to fly by the seat of my pants. It's an epic story with a bit of excitement, tension, slight madness, humor, and that ol' Tevis Luck doled out by the Tevis Gods - good or bad. And, of course, it's with The Raven.

Some of you may have originally read it as a series of entries on my blog, but I've compiled it into an ebook short story, enhanced with additional material, and a few photos, edited by my co-conspirator and brilliant writer and editor friend, Marsha Hayes.

It won't be available as a hard copy book - only an ebook!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Owl Haven

Wednesday May 11 2016

What a great owl spring it is.

It's been years since long-eared owls inhabited the upper crick, so it was a treat to finally see a pair back. Used to be there were half a dozen that day-roosted in the thick vine-draped cottonwoods along the crick. I even found a nest one year, with two babies on it.

These owls are quite skittish. If they weren't - if they wouldn't flush away from me, I likely would not have noticed them. Even with very careful searching, if they don't move, it is unlikely you're going to spot a long-eared owl. They are very difficult to see when they want to look like a tree. You almost have to train your eyes to see them before they materialize in front of you, kind of like those 3-D drawings where you have to let your eyes focus on another dimension before you see the picture in the patterns.

After flushing this pair a couple of times, and after searching carefully up the crick and spying what I thought *had* to be owl nests, though I could not see owls on them, I picked a cloudy day (for better lighting), grabbed my binoculars and camera, and crept up the crick hunting for owl nests (while keeping my eyes peeled for a cougar!).

I snuck up the crick (though really, with owls, there is no sneaking. They see you long before you might see them) to where the owls usually hang out. I'd take a few steps and stop, look with my eyes, peer through the binos, and think like an owl. Creep a few more steps, search, think owl. 

The thick vines are sometimes impossible to see into or through. So I studied spots which could possibly be long eared owl nests. Which should be owl nests. I found a forked tree trunk draped with vines that even 20 feet away from, using the binos, I could not see into. But it felt like an owl nest - had to be an owl nest - and after 5 minutes of studying this drape of vines from different angles, I realized I had been looking at a long eared owl on the nest the whole time!

Incredible how camouflaged they can be. 

Once I figured out for sure this was an occupied nest, I moved away. Heading further up-crick, I wanted to see if I'd flush her partner. There's a tree limb that's covered with owl poo, so obviously an owl roosts there. I crept up to that one very slowly, trying to see a perched owl, but despite my intense searching and gazing, I did not see the owl before he flushed. I found it very odd that he flushed upstream, instead of downstream to the occupied nest. Then it crossed my mind to check a couple of the possible nests I'd seen there earlier.

And sure enough - with the good lighting - I was staring right at another occupied long eared owl nest! I was only 20 feet away from this one so as soon as I snapped a few pictures, I left her alone. 

And today, mama owl still sits on this nest, but on the first one, look at what I found peering at me, sitting above his nest! There may have been more than one spud, but this one was obvious. I didn't hang around long, because mom was distressed, flying away and trying to lure me away from the nest. (This little spud is pictured up top also.)


More owl news is the pair of BARN OWLS day-roosting in a neighbor's empty barn. Eight years here and I have never seen barn owls here. This pair is also very skittish. They don't seem to be nesting in the barn. We tried to creep up on these owls one day, but one flushed into some trees along the crick - and I was lucky to spot him. We searched the barn, and peered in and around some large stacked hay bales, and other nooks and crannies that barn owls like, but didn't find a nest. I'll have to do more snooping around.


There are also some great horned owls nesting up the other crick.


And I'm sure the resident screech owls are also nesting, but after 8 years I have still not found their nest! The male toots at night, and some days he'll roost in a big tree in the back yard. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Come A Running

Monday May 2 2016

I love it when the herd answers my whistles and comes thundering down from the canyon when I call them back for the night.

Here Jose leads the gang, with the still-snow-covered Owyhees as a gorgeous backdrop in the evening sun.