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    A COMPENDIUM FOR THE DRY GARDEN

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Hawk and Eagle day

My neighbor called the other night.  They own a horse camp for teenagers.  The kids were doing volunteer work, stacking timber in piles that the forest service had recently cut down for a fire break alongside their property when they found a young red-tailed hawk on the ground.  The hawk was large yet too young to have yet fledged and was starving.  Probably the FS had inadvertently cut down the nesting tree.

My neighbor called me because I volunteer at the Buffalo Bill Museum of the West in the Draper Lab and know the person who runs a bird rescue program called Ironside Bird Rescue.  The young red-tailed was in bad shape, holding its head under its wing.  But my neighbor was able to feed it some elk meat and brought the bird over to my house that evening in a large box.  Since I was going to work in the morning, I brought the bird to Ironside.  Susan Ahalt of Ironside took the bird inside–weighed it, handed the Red-Tailed to me so she could find some food.  The bird was so weak it didn’t even struggle.  But Susan found it three mice which she cut up and the Red-tailed gulped them down.

At the Rescue center

At the Rescue center

Susan said that if the bird survives, then she will first test whether it can feed itself on it’s own.  If it can, then she will release it back in Sunlight area where it was found.

The young Red-tailed

The young Red-tailed

Red Tail baby in its cage.

Red Tail baby in its cage.

Cutting up mice for the young Red-tailed

Cutting up mice for the young Red-tailed

I had to rush off because today was a great field trip with the Draper lab folks.  Chuck Preston, museum curator, has been conducting a five year Golden Eagle study, locating nest sites and documenting how many chicks are produced and what food they are eating.  Today we were off to band a young fledgling.

The museum purchased a drone and we were going to try it out.  The drone sounds like a hive of bees. Unlike a regular model airplane, the drone has a GPS, can hover, has a camera that sends back real-time film to a laptop, and essentially looks and acts like something from ‘Back to the Future’ movie. We were going to use the drone to try and scare the young bird off the nest and onto the ground where it could be banded.

Drone over nest with Heart Mountain in background

Drone over nest with Heart Mountain in background

The drone and the laptap where the live feed comes out.

The drone and the laptap where the live feed comes out. You can see the camera eye down below

Since there were several of us there, we all got into positions on the cliff near the nest in order to track where the bird might fly.  The young fledgling can’t fly far, and will invariably fly downward, but it could go up to a mile or two off before landing.

I hiked up to the cliff edges and could see the drone hovering above the nest.  Apparently, it didn’t bother the bird in the least.  Meanwhile, mom was flying around high overhead wondering what all these people were doing near her baby.  In good years the parents will have two young.  In lean years only one chick or they won’t nest at all.

Finally, our intern Nat hiked to the nest and the bird flew down about a quarter of a mile downwind.  This was a feisty male and certainly didn’t like being handled, a good sign he was in excellent condition.  But Chuck is an expert handler and brought the bird into the shade.  He measured and weighed the chick, then banded it’s leg.

Weighing the bird

Weighing the bird

Measuring

Measuring

Banding the bird

Banding the bird

He released it as close to the nest as he could, knowing it would climb it’s way back in, but in a few days would be off on its own.

What a great day for raptors!

Chuck Preston with chick after banding

Chuck Preston with chick after banding

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The Emergence of the New

Today was just one of those glorious days, the kind of day I’ve been missing and forgotten what it feels like.  A day that is the harbinger of spring. Warm in the sun, no wind, the body just responds and feels good, happy.

I’ve spent the last few weeks, in a random way, making 4 new bluebird houses.  I’ve gotten attached to MikethehowtoGuy whose simple guidelines I’ve followed, with a few modifications since I don’t attach my houses to poles.  Two years ago I made an observation house and took photos of eggs to babies.  That house was cruder but did the job.  The first year no birds used it, but then I heard it sometimes takes 2 years before they take up residence and sure enough it did.  These houses have a clean-out flip-out side door and are not for observation.  They take about 2 hours to make and are easy for a beginning carpenter like myself.

My new bluebird box

Another new box 5' up on a tree

Today as I was putting the finishing touches on my last house, last years’ pair of bluebirds came to inspect their old house.  What a welcome sight!  I greeted them and asked where they’d been, what mysteries they’d seen, how they’d fared on their long journey.  I felt a kinship with them for I too spend a few months in the winter working in California.

Old observation box that is in use

Just last week I saw a bluebird in the desert and my heart jumped, for I knew they’d be up here soon, the first heralds of spring.  Then I heard a chorus of Sandhill cranes, yet another indication that our long and cold winter is coming to a close.

In another month the hawks and eagles will begin nesting, along with my pretty bluebirds.

Golden eagle nest from last year with cliff swallow nest below.

The elk will move up country to calf in the Lamar; the wolves and coyotes will have their litters and settle into their dens; and the earth will be renewed once again.

Having lived all my life in California, the appreciation of new life isn’t quite as obvious there. Their seasons are wet and dry, and liveably warm all year.  The best time to plant is in their winter, and the time to rest is in the dry heat of the summer.   So I’m appreciating this obvious renewal.

In our modern world, we seem to always be on the road to ‘elsewhere’, that elusive moving target of completion of tasks, errands, or even our well-being and happiness, somehow always lies in the future.  But these little bluebirds today, back from their long sojourn, happily checking out their old home, reminded me:  Go slow, for life is a circle and all comes to pass in good time.

Bald eagles, coyotes and a kill

An old cow elk broke her leg trying to get over the fence when a car drove bye.  Didn’t take long for the predators to bring her down.  Yesterday early morning I drove up the road and found 5 coyotes on a kill.  Usually coyotes can’t bring a large elk down, but they might have in this case.  She was an easy kill.  Since I didn’t see any wolves around and the carcass was less than half eaten and still warm, not frozen, I assumed they were the culprits.  I watched them for over a good hour. One dominant coyote was chowing down.  Another bold coyote kept slinking around, trying to get in a few bites, but the big male wouldn’t have it.

Once the male got his fill, he’d go off somewhere, leaving the carcass for the secondary prowler.  She or he started tugging and pulling off the meat.  She got in about five or ten minutes before Mr. Big Man came back who then, with some posturing and fighting, threw her off.  Three other coyotes, not so bold, hung out in the trees.

Coyotes waiting their turn

Two beautiful Bald eagles waited in the trees, along with several Golden Eagles.  I watched a Golden and a Bald tug at each other in mid-air before going to their respective perches.  Of course, tons of magpies and crows waited.

It was cold outside, about 5 degrees.  I came back in the late afternoon, hoping to get some closer photos of the Bald eagles.  By now it was hovering near 0 degrees.  A beautiful Bald Eagle sat in a leafless aspen along with a Golden and some crows.  I zigzagged closer and closer.  I kept shooting and wondered how close I could get before she took flight.  I’ve actually seen this pair of Balds hanging around the valley a few weeks ago.  I knew the dog could get real close without disturbing her.  After all, the dog is essentially like the wolves or coyotes that she tolerates around kills.  In fact, I’ve watched coyotes eating a carcass with the crows around, or even a Bald eagle chasing a coyote off a kill.

Just when I saw her get a little ruffled and ready to fly, I backed away.  My hand on the camera was freezing!  Numb.

I drove up the road, watched the elk for a time in the beauty of the chilled sunset, then drove back home.  It was getting dim.  The birds, all of them, were gone.  The kill still there.  I wondered–where did those eagles go at night.  They’d been sitting out there all day, in fact I’d watched them for over an hour without them moving.  The cold didn’t bother them.  But they’d gone somewhere to bed down.  Where does a bird that big go to rest for the evening?

0 degrees sunset

Elk, Eagles, and an equinox moon

I took a hike up Little Bald Ridge to see the Bighorn Sheep.  They’re usually there in the winter.  On the way I spied a herd of about 700 elk grazing on the hillside.  It was a gorgeous day after a light snow.  The trek up there can be hard if the snow is deep.  Usually in March it is.  But we’ve had so little snow this year, interspersed with warm days where the snow has melted off, that only a few inches were on the ground.

Elk herd resting mid day

Large elk herd

(Here’s is a video I took from inside of my cabin the other day when the herd came through at dusk)

By the time I got to the top of the ridgeline, there were no sheep to be found.  I walked and glassed all along the top without any luck.  They must have gone elsewhere.

An immature Golden Eagle played on the currents.  I’d seen a nesting pair last year up here.  The Eagles like these cliffs to nest in.  I supposed this was one of their offspring.  Hope he finds a mate this year.

Valley after a light snow

Although I found no sheep, I did find an elk kill in the valley. The kill was made right at the fence line of the local ranch.  At first I wasn’t sure if the elk had gotten caught trying to jump the fence.  This happened last year.  But the ranch manager assured me it was a kill, although we don’t know from what.   He hadn’t seen any wolves on it, and the last kill I’d seen the wolves had been there all week, nibbling.

I parked at dusk close bye and watched, wondering if any wolves might come around.  The crows and magpies were going to town on it.  Suddenly, the immature eagle swooped in and all the smaller birds flew away.  I watched the eagle pick at the remains.

Eagle on kill

Then an odd thing happened.  A group of 5 yearling cows came trotting over.  The eagle, feeling threatened, fled.  The young cows edged slowly over to the carcass and one by one, sniffed at it.  A big mama cow walked over.  Standing right by the carcass, she mooed at the yearlings, over and over, as if to shoo them away.  I liked to imagine her as the wise cow elder, telling these yearlings “If you don’t watch your p’s and q’s, you might end up like that.”

J__, the ranch hand, and I chatted on the road as the crescent moon rose in the equinox evening.

“I saw those cows going over towards the kill and thought I should check on what’s going on with them.  I used to take care of a herd of Bison and I’ve seen them do the same thing—go sniff out a carcass.  Strange.”

Immature Golden eagle

It was a perfect equinox day and night, or is that redundant?