Monthly Archives: May 2011

Bird nest with horse hair

Two bird nests with horse hair (May 2011).

When I cut the split tree down yesterday, I recovered two bird nests I had seen in the tree. The fledglings had already flown away and no new eggs had been laid. I would have continued to anchor the split tree if fledglings had remained or the parents were sitting, and then I would fell the tree.   All birds had flown away.

The nest on the left has more black horse hair than white.  Some sorrel hair is intertwined.  The nest on the right has more white hair woven in.  The black horse hairs came from Sweet Hija and Lilly.  The sorrel horse hairs emanated from Shiney, Fanny and Wild Flower Gal.  The white hairs came from Star.

Star remains on the ranchito.  Lilly is buried on the place.  Sweet Hija is in Canada.  Shiney and Fanny are resettled in Missouri and Wild Flower Gal is still in Texas.  Scattered as the horses be, their hair has remained in north Erath County, Texas,  for other creatures to use and as a memento for me to see.

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Noise and relativity

Felled tree in Corral No. 1 (May 2011).

In north Erath County, Texas, the south wind blew fiercely yesterday, its force bending high-grass seed tops to the ground in the arena pasture.  The sound of wind roughly soughing through live oak trees never let up during the day.  The temperature eased back to 93 degrees and I worked in the afternoon cutting down a split tree that threatened to topple onto a stable.  I chopped a large notch into the tree, lassoed the upper body of the tree with a lariat, tied a knot on the trailer hitch of the Case DX-55, pulled and brought the split tree down.  My step-father used the same axe as I did, chopping cedar and brush in Mills County, eighty-miles away and fifty-years ago.

A barn cat that I have not befriended — yet — watched from the stable while I worked out the physics of felling the tree.  Star fled from his feeding bin only when the tree fell, returning quickly to finish his block of coastal bermuda once the noise subsided.  Sweat stung my eyes and I opened up my shirt to cool as I sat in the shade of the barn alleyway, the high wind funneling through the alleyway more rapidly than in the corral.  The barn cat had eased his way into the hay and tools area, away from the wind.

I will clean up the tree debris in the corral today.

* * *

Deer and possibly quail returned to the far field, the Pecan Tree Pasture.  One reason is that mechanized noise has lessened in their habitat.  It is quieter.

My neighbors to the southeast, the Halls, are selling their home, stables and workshop.  Since they are dividing their time between here and Squaw Mountain near Throckmorton, much farther north of here, their off-road motor vehicles are silenced and they mow less frequently.  They do not fire pistols in training their horses to become accustomed to the noise.  To the west of me, on the Dooley place, the nephew has not target practiced in the adjacent pasture for several months.  And, finally, on my southern boundary the Old Bryant place, the deer stands and blinds have mostly been removed, only one remains.  I see deer browsing between my southern pastures and the pond, and on to a second healthy pond on the Blue place, to my east.  Blue takes care of his ailing mother and my rural route mail carrier sits with Blue’s mother so that he might go on errands or to church.  His place, his mother’s place, is quiet next to mine.

I labor under no illusion.  The noise might start again and the deer will flee.  I have no control over my neighbor’s behavior until my nose is bloodied or bone breaks.  I shall tend to my pastures and fields and allow all that is natural grow and browse.  The deer have not re-surged to levels six-years ago, but the deer are back.  The fawn prances again in the Grove.  The noise of mechanized activity, of gun powder and metal clanging has abated.  For now.

* * *

Several years ago, I almost purchased a place in northern New Mexico, up above Llano that bordered the Kit Carson National Forest.  The fifteen acres or so nestled up against an acequia that brought water to narrow fields below.  I envisioned building a small home, barn and corrals for horses.  A trail ascended into the national forest and I could ride Star for hours, even days into groves of aspen and high country meadows.  I did not buy the land.  I have no regrets for there are places like that near Taos and Rodarte still for sale.  If the need be, I will find them and resettle away from the clang of metal.

* * *

So much is relative; maybe all things are.  I am content that deer return, but in Australia the deer in places have populated so densely that the land is overgrazed and crops cannot be planted.  Yesterday, despite my focus on machine noise, I used a Case DX-55 tractor to pull down the split tree and a Stihl chainsaw to cut the trunk and limbs.  If I had continued to use my step-father’s axe, I would have had to soak the handle for the blade was loose.

Then, if I had moved to the high country of northern New Mexico, I would have the beauty of the land and resonance of diverse cultures, but jobs are few and the winters are bitter cold.  Yet, I could counter the cold with propane and wood, axe and chainsaw, sharpening files and good caulking about the quarters.

Ill fares the land?  No, not yet.

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Quail and deer lease my field

Deer skull with prairie grass (2011).

Temperatures reached 102 degrees yesterday.  Work slows or stops at 11:00 a.m.  Winds blew fierce, reaching 40 m.p.h. in gusts.  Yet, the pastures are green, the grass not browning for the moment.

* * *

Two days ago I shredded several narrow paths about the pastures.  I do not shred fields or pastures.  As I shredded a narrow path around the edges of Pecan Tree Pasture, I flushed a bobwhite quail.  Just one quail, but it is significant for quail habitually cluster in coveys.  Quail have disappeared in large portions of the area from hunting, shredding pastures, cropping and the spread of fire ants that kill young chicks.  I have reseeded the Pecan Tree Pasture with native grass and allowed the field to remain fallow for several years.  If I see more quail — the late sighting proving to not be an isolated occurrence — I will conclude I have done well in partial restoration of a native habitat.

* * *

Yesterday I sighted three mature deer and a fawn between the grove and the stock pond.  It is odd that their color is so pale brown, almost yellow, against the greenery of Spring.  Deer return, quail flush.  The fawn pranced.

* * *

As I sat on the back porch yesterday afternoon, a cattleman from Gordon knocked on the door.  He wanted to lease the pasture that I had flushed the quail and seen the deer — a monthly lease depending upon the number of cattle he would place.  I refused.  I told him that I would probably run a few head myself.  He stated that he had seen no cattle on the pasture and that’s why he had inquired.  I took his card and he said he was looking for pasture within ten miles of Gordon, so that if I heard of any land available for rent, please let him know.  I politely said I would.

Other inquires will follow this Spring.  They always do from cattlemen or harvesters of grass.  And, I always refuse and politely explain that I have the pasture for horses or a few head of cattle.  I have not run any cattle for four years.  I may put a few on the land this Spring, but not many and they will not disturb either deer or quail.  In the field, the Big Bluestem grass will be higher than the withers of horse and rump of cattle.

* * *

I had to kill a copperhead in the barn two days ago.  I knelt down to air up a tire and moved a salt block receptacle to position myself and a copperhead lay under the receptacle.  I will be cleaning out the barn early next week.  I had planned to do so — in fact I had moved six boxes of books to my office in Abilene a week ago –, but the danger of snake bite spurs me sooner to glean the barn.  My air conditioner repairman and contractor lost part of a finger last year from a copperhead bite.  For some reason, we have more copperheads in this portion of north Erath County, Texas, than most areas.

* * *

The photograph at the beginning of the post was taken over at Pecan Tree Pasture about where the solitary bobwhite was sighted.  I was observing the growth of native grasses a month ago and happened across the deer skull with horns.  I consider myself keenly observant of objects in my field of sight, but the grass has grown so high, secrets are undisclosed unless one tramps the land.  The skull remains in situ.  I like the simplicity, the complexity intertwined: deer, native grasses, treeline.

The field wholly remains in situ, lightly touched, deeply felt.

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Dickcissel on Bluestem for Mother’s Day

Dickcissel (Spiza americana), the bird perching on the stems, Flying Hat Ranch, north Erath County, Texas, May 8, 2011 (see photograph below for closeup).

Closeup of Dickcissel on Big Bluestem, Flying Hat Ranch, May 8, 2011.

This morning I drove over to the Pecan Tree Pasture to check on the spring growth of grasses.

The Big Bluestem erupts into the old clumps of Bluestem from last season.  I heard a bird, a familiar call, that I vowed I would photograph and identify.  I walked fifty yards into the field and looked in the direction of the call.  I saw nothing.  Looking at several Bluestem clumps, I finally spied the bird and fixed it with the sound.  (If I had had my wits about me, I would have recorded the sound.)  The sound was a rendition of its name (I found out later), dick-ciss-ciss-ciss.

I focused the camera on the bird and it looked like a meadow lark, but smaller, yet yellow.  I took several shots and walked closer each time.  A sudden movement way across the pasture near the Hall’s place caught my attention.  A deer bounded through the high grass, gracefully jumped the fence and disappeared into the Grove.  I was pleased and I’m sure the deer was also that grass and trees provided foliage and food.  That was the first deer I’ve seen on the property in months.

Returning to the ranch house, I got down the Peterson and Audubon field guides to identify the bird I saw.

It is a Dickcissel (Spiza americana) male.  The species was on the 2005 Audubon Watchlist, but it has since been taken off.  The Dickcissel used to inhabit the eastern coastal states, but it now resides in the Midwest this time of year.  It had been placed on the Watchlist because in Venezuela its feeding habits damaged crops.

The major threat to Dickcissel comes from its wintering grounds in Venezuela. Because of the species’ propensity for gathering in enormous flocks and feeding on cultivated plants such as rice and sorghum, it can be a serious agricultural pest for Venezuelan farmers, who have sometimes taken to trying to poison flocks. Dickcissel flocks in Venezuela can number over a million birds, meaning that the wintering population can become highly concentrated at certain favored roosting sites. A single “successful” poisoning event of a large flock of roosting birds could significantly reduce the world population of Dickcissel.

On its North American breeding grounds, Dickcissel faces several additional threats: cowbird parasitism, the destruction of nests and nestlings by mowing machines, and loss of habitat due to changing agricultural practices and succession [1].

I have neither mowed nor shredded the field for six years.  In 2007, I ran twenty-seven Angus stocker calves in the field, but did not let them overgraze the pasture.   Other than Hija, Star, Lilly and Fanny, no livestock have been placed in the field since 2007.  In 2004 and 2010, I reseeded the field in native grasses.

I did not make a count of how many Dickcissels I saw or heard.  A very rough estimate is about 10-12 within the western half of the 35 acre field.

Of the Dickcissels nesting habits, the female lays 4 or 5 pale blue eggs in a cup of stems and grass set on or near the ground, often in alfalfa and clover fields [2].

Happy Mother’s Day, Ms. Dickcissel!  My field is your home — our world together.

______________________________

Notes:

1.  http://audubon2.org/watchlist/viewSpecies.jsp?id=72

2.  The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds Eastern Region.  Also references to Peterson’s field guide.

The ecology of the Dickcissel as stated in the Audubon Watchlist link above is as follows (for Wild Bill and others):

Dickcissel nests in grasslands, meadows, savanna, and hay fields. Its nest is a bulky, loose cup of woven grass and leaves, usually placed in a grassy field. Males arrive at breeding territories about a week before females, and may have more than one mate. Females are responsible for nest building and incubation, usually of a clutch of four eggs. Young birds fledge a week to ten days after hatching, but are not capable of flight until a few days after leaving the nest. The diet of breeding adults is 70% insects and 30% seeds, while for young birds, it is the reverse: 70% seeds and 30% insects. Outside of the breeding season, Dickcissels feed mostly on seeds, including weed seeds and cultivated grains. Dickcissels migrate in flocks, sometimes gathering into groups of several hundred birds, and on their wintering grounds in the llanos of Venezuela, they are extremely gregarious, forming flocks that can number over one million birds.

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Frank Waters and The Man Who Killed The Deer

Frank Waters (1901-1995), photo via In The Grand Canyon – John Jauregui.

I have read most of Frank Waters’ work and I find him spot on for southwestern life and lore. In college history classes, I have used his novel of Pueblo Indian life as a literary example for the internal conflict people have when born and reared in the center of conflicting cultures. This excerpt I have is not about cultural conflict or diffusion, but about the web of all living things as Silence spoke about the Pueblo Indian, Martiniano, killing a deer out of season and failure to give proper respect.  The Pueblo council of elders contemplates:

Nothing is simple and alone.  We are not separate and alone.  The breathing mountains, the living stones, each blade of grass, the clouds, the rain, each star, the beasts, the birds and the invisible spirits of the air — we are all one, indivisible.  Nothing that any of us does but affects us all.

So I would have you look upon this thing not as a separate simple thing, but as a stone which is a star in the firmament of earth, as a ripple in a pool, as a kernel of corn.  I would have you consider how it fits into the pattern of the whole.  How far its influence may spread.  What it may grow into . . .

So there is something else to consider.  The deer.  It is dead.  In the old days we all remember, we did not go out on a hunt lightly.  We said to the deer we were going to kill, “We know your life is as precious as ours.  We know that we are both children of the same Great True Ones.  We know that we are all one life on the same Mother Earth, beneath the same plains of the sky.  But we also know that one life must sometimes give way to another so that the one great life of all may continue unbroken.  So we ask your permission, we obtain your consent to this killing.”

Ceremonially we said this, and we sprinkled meal and corn pollen to our Father Sun.  And when we killed the deer we laid his head toward the East, and sprinkled him with meal and pollen.  And we dropped drops of his blood and bits of his flesh on the ground for Our Mother Earth.  It was proper so.  For then when we too built its flesh into our flesh, when we walked in the moccasins of its skin, when we danced in its robe and antlers, we knew that the life of the deer was continued in our life, as it in turn was continued in the one life all around us, below us and above us.

We knew the deer knew this and was satisfied.

But this deer’s permission was not obtained.  What have we done to this deer, our brother?  What have we done to ourselves?  For we are all bound together, and our touch upon one travels through all to return to us again.  Let us not forget the deer.

(Frank Waters, The Man Who Killed the Deer, pp. 24-25.)

William Lattrell of Wild Ramblings Blog has written of the respect that is needed for the kill.  When I sent twenty-seven Angus calves to market, I sent them with words to the effect that they hopefully would become the essential nutrition for scientist that would discover a cure for cancer or a person that would perform a great act and get the Nobel Peace prize.  Chris Clarke of Coyote Crossing Blog has written post after post and started pressure groups to slow down the terrible effects upon the tortoise and wildlife in the Mojave Desert with the construction of the huge solar complex.  Hundreds of others in the blogosphere write similar pieces and attest to the preciousness of all living things.

It sounds primitive and mystical, “But this deer’s permission was not obtained.”  But it’s not.  The kicker in this whole excerpt of Waters is, “What have we done to ourselves?”

Things need not fall apart, but we have to keep the connections vibrant or they will indeed fall apart.  For those of us that buy at the supermarket, the first step toward keeping connections vibrant is to realize that we do not obtain our food from the supermarket.  The earth provides food, not H.E.B or Central Market.  Thinking that in all its ramifications will have us doing good things to ourselves and others.

______________________________

Notes:

The Frank Waters Foundation of Taos, New Mexico, provides grants for writers of Southwestern genre.  Frank Waters was nominated for a Nobel Prize during his lifetime.


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Prairie Sagebrush Award 2011: preview n. 1

In June 2011, I select posts and photographs from my blogosphere that I think are fine examples of creativity. As a preview of the 2011 Prairie Sagebrush Award, I am posting a photograph by Montucky from his blog, Montana Outdoors. The current focus of his blog is photography. I’ve selected his picture of a female Rufous hummingbird as an example of his three foci areas of shutterbugging — landscapes, wildlife and close-up photography of plants. In the final awards, I will probably include all of his foci areas in the listing.

I quote from his blog, Montana Outdoors:

I am privileged to live in western Montana, close to the wilderness and roadless areas that I love so much, and I’m thankful that I am still able to venture up into them and spend much of my time there.

Most of the photos that I post are of scenes that cannot be seen from from roads or highways. There is a very beautiful world out there in the wild country and it is my wish to make it visible, by words and photographs, to those who are interested in enjoying it.

It seems that many folks have all but forgotten that we are part of that natural world and that ultimately it sustains us in both body and spirit. My hope is that we will have the wisdom and the discipline to preserve it for future generations, for once the wilderness has vanished, mankind will soon vanish as well. [“About,” Montana Outdoors, Montucky.]

Female Rufous hummingbird, photograph by Montucky of Montana Outdoors, August 8, 2010.

Montana falls within Northern Rocky Mountains. The Rocky Mountain system makes up the eastern flank of the great Cordillera that extends from New Mexico to Alaska. The Northern Rocky Mountains lies from Canada into Montana as a series of parallel ranges such as the Lewis, Flathead and Selkirk mountains.

Notes:

Montucky’s Montana Outdoors utilizes a full-grid reproduction of his photographs. The link for the photograph above is female Rufous hummingbird by Montucky of Montana Outdoors, August 8, 2010.

The link for last year’s award:  Prairie Sagebrush Award 2010: the full anthology with links.

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Sound: 54 seconds of Sunday afternoon rain

Sage to Meadow Blog. A narrative of people living with the land in the American Southwest. That’s the short description of what this blog is about. I want to expand it a bit today with a video and especially the sound portion of rain, the weather change we’ve been waiting for here in central-west Texas. The fires are all out at Possum Kingdom. I saw U.S. Forest Service trucks on Thursday rushing towards west Texas and Arizona, accompanied by Highway Patrolmen with red lights turning. There must be problems farther west for them to rush. I hope my friends in west Texas, New Mexico and Arizona will see an end to the dry spell and conditions.

Here in central-west Texas, we have the rain. The view is towards the south, looking at the arena field and round pen. Star is in his stable. He whinnied a few minutes ago because I was tardy in feeding him. The rains have come in rhythmic bands throughout the day. In the video, you can discern St. Augustine grass, planted by the previous owners. I like the buffalo grass. You can see tufts of it and Queen Ann’s Lace on the first terrace.

I am running a test on a new format for my blog. The format is called Basic Maths. I’m not so sure I will stay with it. I have thirty days to test its application.

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