Friday, April 30, 2010

Don't Tread On Me

Thursday April 29 2010

The horses had wandered into the back pen - somewhere they don't often go, even though the gate is open and there's a bale of hay in there. I was hanging out with them, watching them, petting one here and there, when I saw a killdeer streak across the ground, start its chittering distress call, and start its broken wing display to distract me from where I was walking - a sure sign she (or he) was on a nest.

I stopped and looked away from the bird at the ground, searching for eggs. Her display got louder and more wounded looking - she'd run at me, and when I'd look at her, she'd turn and flash her bright orange and white tail at me, and drag a wing and limp away.

After much scrutinizing of the ground, I spied her nest - 4 spotted eggs in a little indention on the ground!

On the ground, with 9 horses roaming about picking at slim blades of grass. At one point, looking at the closest horse, I lost the location of the nest briefly, because the eggs are so well camouflaged - and Sunny had all 4 legs on either side of the nest when I found it again.

I stood guard near the nest to keep the horses off it, and watched the killdeer. She was most worried about Jose, who was closest - she tried distracting him with her display. It worked at first, he stepped toward her to investigate, but went back to eating when she ran away and flashed her tail at him.

Mac and Smokey both were interested in the bird, thinking maybe she was a toy, and followed her for a few steps... but lost interest when she ran away. But it worked - she'd lured them away from her nest. She was a bit harried, with all these giant creatures about, not knowing which to worry about most.

We've worked around the killdeer at our endurance rides - one had a nest in the parking area that I roped off, and one had a nest right at the finish line (we moved the finish line for the bird!)

The male and female will incubate the eggs for 24-28 days.

I've gone and put up a little fence around the nest, so the horses won't tread on it.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gearing Up

Thursday April 29 2010

Crysta at Go Diego Go just did an entry, "Ride Preparation Checklist," for her endurance ride coming up this weekend.

We have another local ride here on Saturday (the Owyhee Spring 30/60/75), just down the road.

I'm packing the same amount of gear that I would take for a 5-day ride halfway across the country (minus the sleeping stuff). Is this rational?

It's all about the weather, not any neuroses I may or may not have. (I think.)

So far, the forecast says: "A 20 percent chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 49. West northwest wind 6 to 9 mph increasing to between 15 and 18 mph. Winds could gust as high as 30 mph." (Oh, wind gusts - yuck! boo hiss!)

Rain, cold, wind. And the weather's always changing here. But even when it's cold, I can get awfully hot, and I hate to be hot. Riding is a workout, and I tend to like to start out cool because I'll always warm up. But deciding on what to wear is a rather scientific thing, and can't really be done until right before I get on the horse in the morning.

I'll be taking: several pairs of tights (2 fleece, one non-fleece), 2 pairs of gloves (1 thick for warmth, 1 not so thick), several long underwear long-sleeved shirts of various weights, 1 short-sleeved Tshirt, 2 sweatshirts, a flannel long-sleeved shirt, 2 vests (a light one and a heavy one), at least 3 jackets of various warmth/wind-breaking ability (can be layered if it's deadly cold), a raincoat, several bandanas, 2 pairs of riding shoes, 2 pairs of chaps (which I wear will depend on the temperature and precipitation). Maybe I should throw in my full-length chaps too, just in case it gets down to polar temperatures...

And, by the way, none of this stuff matches. So it's not about the color scheme or looking sharp!

Chapstick, eyedrops, sunscreen, sunglasses, bug net (for me and Jose), snacks for the trail and lunch, extra water, (preferably frozen the night before, so I have cold drinks - yes, even if it's freezing outside), gatorade, bottled Starbucks.

And of course my reins and and helmet and camera and the Raven.

Did I mention the ride was just down the road? Literally. So close we are driving there in the morning to vet in and ride. I'm still taking the same amount of gear in my duffel bag.

Good thing all Jose needs to bring is his wonderful personality!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Doctor Visit

Wednesday April 28 2010

It's that time of year: spring shots.

Stormy got his 3-way today: Western Encephalomyelitis, Eastern Encephalomyelitis, and Tetanus, plus West Nile.

He really is the best patient, he's never minded shots, and I can worm him without putting a halter on him. He brings to mind a racehorse we used to have in our barn, a big and fierce stallion, who was so terrified of shots, that if he needed one, his groom had to put blinkers and a lip chain on him, point his nose in the back corner of the stall, the veterinarian literally had to get straight out of his truck, go straight in the stall with the shot, give it to him and get out of there. Otherwise there would have been human body parts laying about the stall.

But Stormy is a Gold Star Patient. And it's all better anyway, when you get The Big Treat at the end from the doctor.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Whiskey Traverse

Tuesday April 27 2010

Beginning humbly in western Wyoming at 9500' as a little river running into Jackson Lake, the Snake River loops through the southern part of Idaho before emptying into the Columbia River in Washington.

When Lake Bonneville in the Great Salt Lake, Utah area breached its natural dam 14,000 years ago, its waters tore down the Snake River, slicing gorges, stripping sediments and debris, and throwing "melon gravel" about - huge, car-sized boulders so named because of their resemblance to big watermelons. Rolled and smoothed and polished and tossed around by the great powerful floodwaters, the boulders now litter various places along the river, planted in limbo until the next Great Flood comes to move forcibly evict them to their new homes.

Some of them served as art canvases for the Native Americans that wintered along the Snake - some of the petroglyphs have been dated back 11,000 years. The Snake escorted Lewis and Clark's expedition along for 6 days in October of 1805; it became a major water source for an estimated 400,000 pioneers that used the nearby Oregon Trail in the 1840's to 1860's.

Today the Snake shadowed us on our mission: the Whiskey Traverse through a 'melon gravel' field along the Snake River, to find a connector trail between Celebration park and the Petroglyphs Trail we follow on some of the Owyhee endurance rides.

It's called the "Whiskey Traverse" because Tom Noll and his Owyhee mustang Whiskey first followed the footpath on horseback (well... they probably weren't the first, but they were the first to convince Steph a loop could be made for an Owyhee endurance ride).

The spring flowers were in riotous bloom, and the grass mid-cannon-bone high (i.e., high enough to grab the horses' noses) along the river as we made our way along a trail below the classic Snake River cliffs and buttes. The Snake was flowing wide and fast, and Jose was not so sure about it. In fact he was really uneasy about it the whole ride, eyeballing the rapids and deeper pools suspiciously from above and staying very close to Batman and Suz, and often getting goosed from behind.

Entering the boulder field, our horses twisted and turned and wove their way along a faint path. Some places were overgrown by tree branches and we had to flatten ourselves over our horses' necks; one part of the path was choked with thick willows and tumbleweeds that our horses bulled their way blindly through. When the going became questionable, Steph got off to scout the trail ahead on foot, while Carol and I and the three horses waited and got a taste of what it would be like to be eaten alive by buffalo gnats. They weren't bad when you were moving, but stop and you had a blinking "Fresh Meat!" sign on you.

Steph was gone scouting long enough we thought she might have jumped in the Snake and ended up in the Columbia 314 miles downriver, (Jose was looking for her), and long enough for half our blood supplies to be drained, and long enough for all the grass in the surrounding area to be eaten down to the bone by grass-starved horses (they hadn't had any grass in a couple of hours).

When scoutmaster Steph returned in one piece we mounted and rode boldly onward through the boulders, with only a few places being a bit sketchy, where the horses had to carefully look and think before placing all four feet, or step up onto a slab before picking their way over a spot, or (like superhero Batman) artfully balance on their hind legs and pick a spot to place his front feet. It brought to my mind the regular trails I always rode our pack string over when I packed for the Forest Service in the Sierras, and never thought twice about. My sure-footed steed Jose did make me think how lucky I was to not be driving a wagon through here back in 1860 and realize I took the wrong path and have to find a place to turn it around.

We successfully emerged from the other end of the half mile of melon gravel (I like that label), and connected up with the Petroglyph trail. Looks like this loop could be part of the Fandango ride.

We turned around and retraced our steps through the boulders, then rode 3 miles downstream along the Snake to Celebration Park, Idaho's only archaelogical park, established 1989. Celebration Park has thousands of petroglyphs on the melon gravel below the canyon rim on the north side of the river.

The other side of the Snake River. To get there, we had to cross Guffy Bridge. Originally built in 1897 to carry ore from the mining town of Silver City in the Owyhee mountains, to Nampa to be smelted, it's been preserved and renovated to allow foot and hoof traffic.

If Jose had been uneasy about following the Snake River all day, now he had to walk way above it! He was quite worried as we followed Batman and Suz, his eyes wide and alarmed, his hooves clumping on the wood, as the steel girders passed us by, and the river ran far below. He kept looking worriedly between the river and me - the river and me. There was something just not horse-right about all this.

When we emerged unscathed out the other end, Jose licked his lips like crazy, and we all enjoyed the view a while. Jose stayed very close to me when we crossed back over the Snake on the bridge, though it wasn't quite as scary this time. He still kept close to Batman and Suz on the path back to our starting point.

Along this trail are a few remains of old stone cabins, originally built by miners in the late 1890's to early 1900's. They were searching for the very fine "flour gold" - gold so fine it floats - of the Snake River canyon. Along this section were also a pair of Canadian geese sitting on a rock in the river, honking perturbingly at us, which made Jose worried about a goose attacking from behind and pecking him on the butt.

It was a beautiful day in which to be among the endurance horse pioneers of the Whiskey Traverse - a fun, challenging trail... but don't call Jose a river horse. He prefers his familiar route along the Snake River (by Wildhorse Butte) or, better yet, he prefers scouting and exploring the dry desert canyons.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Monday April 26 2010

When the big old guy arrived back here in Owyhee a few weeks ago, after being gone for 5 years, the former Owyhee herd leader found himself at the bottom of the herd pecking order, and a bit bewildered.

We felt sorry for him, but, as one reader pointed out - maybe Krusty doesn't want the responsibility anymore of being the Big Boss of the herd.

And anyway, Krusty hasn't had the last word yet. Things are changing within the herd, and Krusty is no longer at the bottom of the totem pole. (I think Stormy's back down there : ) .

He's moved up a few rungs on the ladder already, and he's biding his time.

Come mid-summer in Owyhee, we'll just see where he is.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Barbecue Birdies

Sunday April 25 2010

Six nights ago, John went out to barbeque some steaks.

He found a European starling had started building a nest inside the barbeque. (Look at the artwork!)

The starlings don't have the best nesting record right around the house. Two springs ago, a pair built a nest in a hole in the eaves in front. We eventually heard several babies - at their most noisiest when mom and dad were approaching with food. One day we suddenly heard them no more - no way they could have fledged that fast... and we saw a bull snake coming out of the hole. No more baby starlings.

Strike one.

Last spring, a pair of starlings tried the back of the house - an opening in the wall that went behind the house water heater. Ah, nice and warm and protected for the birdies. The parents were harried and hurried, feeding their hungry noisy babies during our busy endurance ride in May, dodging and trying to sneak around all the people coming and going. Then one day suddenly, we heard the babies no more. No way they could have fledged then, either. We finally took apart the wall and found only feathers and skin and a few bones: packrats got them. No more baby starlings.

Strike two.

This spring: it seemed like a great spot. Nice protected, roomy space with 2 little subtle entrances. Except for the human barbequeing factor. John removed the nest and barbequed his dinner. Two nights later, the birds were back and the nest was back,

and by morning, it was awfully big and comfortable looking.

The National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America says of starlings, "Bold and aggressive, often competes successfully with native species (I guess that would be us humans) for nest holes."

But we can't go 5-6 weeks without the barbecue. (And the thought of bird poo, feathers, mites and maybe baby bird pieces left behind in the barbeque is not so appealing).

Strike three. They're outta there.


TENACIOUS, these Owyhee European starlings are!

I had cleaned out the nest again and taped up the holes with duct tape ... and next day by noon another nest was half built

(such art work! Such a shame to dismantle it, AGAIN).

I removed the nest once more, told Ma and Pa starling (the male initiates the building of the nest, and the female completes it, adding lining) to GO FIND ANOTHER SPOT! and left the barbeque open... and that has seemed to stop the nest building. They can join the ranks of other starlings building nests in the eaves of the barn.