There is something I hold dear

There is something that I hold dear
It’s a roomy black matron that I revere

Rugged, but feminine is this beast
Extremely adaptable, to say the least

It’s the Angus cow of much renown
There is no equal to be found

She’s maternal and fertile, and easy to calve
A quality that is certainly good to have

Her calves are vigorous and jump to their feet And when fed-out, yield high quality meat
She’s easy to care for with maintenance minimal
And contrary to belief, she is very gentle

On what she is fed I’ve seen other types try
Their competition lags – Of that I don’t lie

But this cow, comes through with great zeal
Does it with ease and preserves eye-appeal

If you ask why it’s Angus I feed
It’s basically the cow – She’s the strength of the breed!

(Recalled from the years when I bred cattle in Montana)

 

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The Bobcat – A Surprise in the Grass

My wife and I have often mused about how one of us could say: “I wish we would see a ——-.” Often that animal would suddenly appear around the next corner. Such was the case one California evening. We were hiking and scouring the area for animals. I made the comment: “I wish we would see a Mountain Lion” and my wife said: “Well, there’s one”. It was a cat all right, but not a lion. It was a Bobcat hunkered down in the grass, waiting for us to pass it by. It must have felt hidden, because it allowed me to stalk quite close.

Lynx rufus is the size of a raccoon and looks like an overgrown house cat – except for the ear tufts and bobbed tail. Its color is usually a yellowish-brown spotted with black, gray, and white. While not as big as its cousin the Lynx, it is more tenacious. It is strong for its size and will attack larger animals. However, most of its prey consists of ground birds and small mammals. These are caught by careful stalking or by ambush. Rabbits and hares are especially preferred. The availability of prey species dictates its range, which can be anywhere between 5 and 50 square miles.

Bobcats will den in dense thickets, hollow logs, or in trees. They have a gestation of 50 to 60 days and usually give birth to two litters a year. Two kittens per birth is average.

It is an excellent tree climber and climbs to escape danger. If you come upon Bobcat tracks, note that the hind print will partially cover the fore print. Like all wild American felines, it is solitary, nocturnal, and secretive. We were very lucky to see one.

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Trying to hide in tall grass

Turkey Vultures: Environmental Clean-up Crew

When out in the sage, mountains, grasslands, or other wild places; you may notice large birds circling far overhead. Most folks would probably think that they were seeing some form of hawk. But the more likely scenario is that a most important scavenger is riding the thermals – the Turkey Vulture – a bird that feeds mainly on carrion and refuse.

This is a large bird (27”), larger even than our Red-Tailed Hawk. High in the air or at a distance, it has somewhat of a resemblance to an eagle. It has a black body, white beak, and a fiery red head. When in flight it holds its wings upward in a shallow V, with the wing-tip feathers spread like fingers. When in the air, the silvery wing under-sides are visible. Vultures roost in large trees and even on tall structures. Because they depend on riding thermals, they don’t leave their roost until the sun has heated the air.

The red head is devoid of feathers. This is a sanitation adaptation. It must stick its head into rotting carcasses and the baldness prevents “goo” from accumulating on the feathers. The suns rays are then able to shine on the skin, playing a disinfecting role. Also, their beak is not strong enough to tear open the hide. They must wait for the animal to rot or another scavenger to rip it open. However, their tongue is “rasp-like” and this aids in removing bits of flesh from inside the carcass.

Vultures are widespread over our continent, and though many people would find these birds to be ugly and possibly disgusting, they have an extremely vital niche. They rid the countryside of dead animals, thus, keeping the environment clean.

While not my favorite bird, I still find this species most interesting and easy to appreciate.

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Early morning & waiting for a thermal before lifting off

Orioles are “Sugar Daddies”

Spring and early summer are exciting times at our house. This excitement is caused by the arrival of BULLOCK’S ORIOLES. They nest in our yard. We are also excited by the Western Tanagers that stop-over, while waiting for more favorable conditions in their mountain-summering areas. We have developed a very “bird friendly” yard, but there is an added attraction that satisfies both of these species “sweet-tooth.” We place quart fruit jars, inverted on baby chick watering dishes, upon platforms. These platforms are mounted on pipes and each has a “slinky” (toy) hanging and encasing the pipe. We have found this to be the most effective method to keep squirrels away from the feed. The jars are full of sugar-water, mixed at a ratio of 6 parts water to 1 of sugar or even sweeter. It is readily accepted. Two quarts of this solution is consumed every day when the baby orioles have fledged.

We have as many as three pair of orioles building their hanging nests in our yard and raising their broods. As the young fledge, the yard comes alive with harsh calls, and orioles are everywhere you look. This orange, black, and white bird is a western version of the Baltimore Oriole and is actually a member of the Blackbird family. It is most definitely a “heart-stopper!”

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BULLOCK’S ORIOLE at sugar-water feeder

CARDINAL COUSIN

PYRRHULOXIA (pie-rue-lox-ia) is a bird that looks as if its throat has been cut and the result is spread over its head, face, belly, legs, and tail. It is a species found in the thorny brush and mesquite lands of our south-west. This bird will feed in low shrubbery or along the ground where they can utilize the shadows. If you are well hidden, you can get quite close. It is sometimes confused with the female Cardinal but its short, thick, curved beak is diagnostic. A beak that allows them to utilize hard shelled food items.

PYRRHULOXIAS are eight and three-quarter inches long with a soft gray and red coloration scheme that makes a very pleasing contrast. Their song is a liquid whistle.

Since first seeing this species, it took on a high priority on our photography “must list”. During winter months, when we have been in the southern climes, we have worked to lure it to our hastily put up feeding stations. This specimen was in Catalina State Park – north of Tucson, Arizona.

If you visit Arizona or other surrounding states, look for this species. Seeing one will brighten your day!

The photo is of one feeding on black sunflower seeds scattered on the ground.
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Nutcracker & Pine: A healthy relationship

CLARK’S NUTCRACKER has a symbiotic relationship with White Bark Pine, or in our mountains – Limber Pine. These two, high-mountain tree species can be identified by their needle bunches, which come in groups of five. There are many Limber Pine trees at Lake Cleveland. A symbiotic relationship is one in which both species benefit from each other. The nutcracker is adept at opening the cones of these two trees. The nuts from these cones are the main staple of the bird’s diet. The bird not only benefits from the food source, but the trees benefit by having their seeds spread. The tree populations are re-generated from seeds hidden in the ground and forgotten. Wherever you find these trees, you will also usually find this bird.

This is a big (12” to 13”) gray bird. It is trimmed with black wings, a white bottom, and white in the trailing wing edges. It’s voice is a loud, nasal “kra-ah-ah”. As a member of the Jay family, it (like all Jays) is raucous and opportunistic. They will readily come to a campsite that provides food. Seeds, suet, peanuts, bread are attractants that are readily accepted.

Nutcrackers lay three eggs and incubate them for 18 days. The young will fledge in three to four weeks. The bird is blessed with a pouch under the base of the tongue – just behind the lower beak. It can gather up a large quantity of seeds to either feed the babies or to store for a later date.

It is “neat” to arrive in the high mountains and to hear this bird, as it flies its circuit, making the morning air ring with it’s resounding calls.

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Sage Grouse and a “March Madness”

I know the location of a SAGE GROUSE lek (strutting area). These skittish birds are difficult to approach, and thus require extra planning and preparation to get near them.

My wife and I, one March evening, drove to the lek in our truck/camper. I set up my portable blind on the strutting area and retired for the night. At 4:30 A.M., I entered the blind to wait until dawn. There must be no disturbance when the birds arrive. It was quite cold and uncomfortable, but my anticipation was great.

Soon after entering the blind, the birds came in. I could hear them “booming” all around me even though it was still too dark to see them. The sun finally came up, and there they were, practically at my feet. I could see many “white ruffs” randomly spaced over a large area. Sometimes, adjacent males would come together to display to each other. This was especially true if a hen happened to arrive in their proximity. I excitedly shot 3 ½ rolls of film. Finally, a curious Pronghorn came running up to inspect the blind, staring right into my camera, and that scared the grouse away. Thus, ending a very productive morning.

This large bird, with two yellow air sacs encased in a white bib, fans his tail and struts – making bubbling, popping sounds. Courtship takes place in March and very early April, but the prime time is late March. The leks seem to be situated where the sage is less dense. Sage is not only protective, but is also an important food source. The hen lays a large clutch of eggs that, when hatched, yield precocial chicks (well developed, feathered, able to run, and to feed themselves).

Current populations are struggling to survive because of decreasing habitat.

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