Tag Archives: Roger Tory Peterson

Fur, crane and juniper berries: field log

The Scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so.  He studies it because it takes pleasure in it; and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful.  — Jules Henri Poincare

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[These are primary field notes taken today.  Time entered in UTC or Zulu time, i.e. 1759.  Post-field note commentary bracketed and italicized.]

12/27/2011

Flying Hat Ranch, North Erath County, Texas, Lat 32.43 N, Long -98.36 W, elev. 1,086 ft. Turkey Creek Quadrangle map.

1759.  51 deg. F.  [Cold enough to start into the field with line jacket, but by the time I got to grove, I shed the jacket, putting it on the fence post.]

1805.  Three or more ducks on pond.  No identification.  Woodpile near pond has been reduced by rain and natural deterioration.  Tree limbs and logs have settled in earth.  [Erath County has taken the burn ban off.  I’ll not burn the pile because it houses several critters.  The ducks are three and they make little noise.  They paddle to the far side of the pond as I stride by.]

1817.  Barbed wire between grove and arena pasture broken, 5 T-posts from the gate, towards the west.  Apparent deer tracks on the ground, no sign of struggle, crawling under, deer popped the strand.  Fur on ground.  Photos taken.  [I have seen juvenile deer scoot under the fence; hence, I think they broke it.  I looked carefully for signs of an entanglement in the wire, but found none and also went over to the creek embankment to make sure no deer had fallen.  I’ll repair the fence later this winter.  I wonder if it is deer “fur” or “hair?”  According to Scientific American, mammalogist, Nancy Simmons, there is no difference between fur and hair.]

1828.  Juniper berries on tree to the east of brick pile.  Tree is 20 feet high, 20 feet across  at lower crown.  Five juniper trees in immediate vicinity.  One large juniper 30 feet to east-southeast of the little grove.  This juniper is 30 feet tall, trunk is 2-3 feet in diameter.  [I had never stopped to count the number of junipers in the small grove, nor estimated the height of the tallest tree.  My recent post on junipers has prompted my focus.  I thought about picking the berries and consuming them, reenacting my Zuni experience.]

1843.  Red oak leaf falls.  I think it a floating butterfly.  Then I see the red oak.  No butterfly.  [What tricks our mind plays.  I thought for a moment that a Monarch might have roosted and emerged in the sun.  The leaf floated like a butterfly, not a swaying back-and-forth manner like a leaf.]

1849.  Two burrows near east water gap, one looks inhabited.  [Skunk, armadillo?  Other?]

1853.  Remnants of deer-stand ladder.  [I have dismantled all deer stands in the trees that I can find.  This ladder will be dismantled soon.  I hate it when nails are driven into trees.]

1855.  Bull bellows on Dooley Place.  [The Red Angus bull bellows.  ‘Twould be interesting to take field notes at a certain point for just sound, not images, just sound.]

1858.  Harris hawk ascends into tree at about 10 foot level, watches me approach, then flies low out of tree towards north.  [I have typed the Harris before.  There are two of them that soar and predate in the grove and surrounds.  They’ve been here on Flying Hat for two years.]

1908.  Scare 4-7 turkey vultures from dead mesquite tree at southwest part of grove.  [I hope Ethan Connell has checked the turkey vulture on his Life List in his Peterson’s.]

1917.  Flock of Sandhill Cranes overhead, flying north to south, catching wind currents.  [When I first heard the Sandhills,  I looked too high, gave up and then found them at a lower altitude.]

1930. Turn around at northwest corner of far field and return to house. Star whinnies at me.

1938.  White-crowned sparrows fly low in brush about arena at southeast end.

1942.  Scare up the resident jack rabbit while searching for stone tool in situ.  [I cannot find the stone tool.  I do have it located, however, on the GPS and I can locate it later.  I had placed a yellow surveyor’s flag at its place, but the elements have blown it down — or possibly, Star.]

1946.  At pasture-house gate.  [Log entries conclude.]

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My dog chewed my Peterson’s Field Guide!

Remnants Roger Tory Peterson's Field Guide

Yeller, my Australian Shepherd-Labrador mix, chewed and swallowed several color plates of my Roger Tory Peterson, A Field Guide to Western Birds, ninth printing of the 1969 edition.

Here is Yeller with snow several winters ago.  He’s a good dog!  Yeller has a habit pattern of wanting to play at about 6:30 p.m. in the evening.  Sedate most of the day, when that time rolls around he will seek me out in the office and pester me until I play with him.  He is most fond of me wrestling with him on his huge pad, a 3×4 foot mattress-like dog pad, until I give up.  Yeller will lead me to his pad, pick up a toy and challenge me to play, “Take Away!”

I am not always a good play companion for I get too busy with very important things like writing a blog and will command, “Lay down.”

Yeller retrieves 25 lb. sacks of dehydrated goat milk and children’s toys from about the countryside when I used to let him run uncontrolled.  I’ve found rubber Daffy Ducks and Pluto the dogs in my front yard, carefully placed by Yeller after rambling through neighboring pastures and juniper groves.  I keep him indoors now and will let him out on a “field leash,” a twenty-five foot yacht rope leash I used to train bird dogs.  In most cases, the toys he brought back to the ranchito were abandoned by insensitive little primates in the veld.  He is a rescue dog, sort of St. Bernard-like.

This fine, courageous dog chewed my Peterson’s one night last week.  When I arose at 5:00 a.m., I found my field book that I have carried in field packs, backpacks and floorboards of many pickups scattered into hundreds of pieces on the floor of my office.  Many of the color plates had been consumed.  He was especially hungry for the quail and duck color plates.

Punishment?  No way.  The act of destruction occurred in the middle of the night and if I had chastised Yeller he would not have connected the “event” with my scolding voice that I hardly ever use because he is such a fine dog, good dog.  Besides with all the scents attached to that field book, carried in my sweaty hands, dropped in a bog, stuffed in field bags with Trail Mix and held in my possession since 1972, I could hardly blame him.  My fondest remembrance of referring to the Peterson was when I was up in the Sangre de Cristos, near Truchas, New Mexico, and I identified my first Black-billed Magpie (Pica pica) that flew about the trail I ascended into the Pecos Wilderness.

That’s okay, Yeller, I understand you.  I can always get another Peterson’s from Amazon.com, but there never be another dog like you.  Now, go fetch your toy!  It’s playtime!

Yeller is looking for Peterson.

 

 

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Clouds with Mourning Dove

Pre-dawn clouds in Texas, north Erath County, August 2011.

Yesterday in mid-afternoon, August 10, 2011, a weak squall line walked through my ranchito in central-west Texas.  Blue-gray rain clouds edged and staggered to a halt south of my place.  A few drops of rain fell.  The power of the squall line churned up dust clouds, obscuring the Nowack barn across the county road in a microburst downdraft.  East of me, seventy-five miles away, Fort Worth had rain falling on Sundance Square, the heart of downtown commerce and entertainment that coarsely promotes the city as, “Where the West Begins.”  I disagree, but that argument will have to wait for another day.

The squall line with thunderclouds failed to bring rain on my land yesterday, but one weather change in the future will bring drops and sheets of rain.  I looked at the weather charts yesterday afternoon and saw thundershowers, sixty-miles north, let loose rain, then dissipate into nothingness but a void of mirages, quavering silver lakes far away.  No mirage here, the juniper trees in the ranchito grove threw off a luscious scent with the rise in humidity, dispelling summer for a time and bringing a promise of better days.

This morning, clouds remain to my east and as the sun rises, I see remnants of yesterday’s storm over Sundance Square.   I count three, perhaps five, sun rays through the cirrus and cumulus debris.  In all of this — the dust clouds, wind, scarce drops of rain and the sun’s rays — I look at yesterday’s date, August 10th, and know that Fall is forty days away, and that the sun rises later and sets earlier each day upon the earth’s northern hemisphere, Sundance Square and my hacienda. 

As if I needed any more natural substantiation that the season is turning — I do — Mourning Doves (Zenaidura macroura) sustained their ooah, cooo, cooo, coo this morning for over an hour, sitting on power lines and in the mesquite brush of the Dooley place to my west.  The Mourning Dove with hot mornings and brutal afternoons of heat on the ranchito does not coo earnestly, but quiets in sorrow for the lack of rain.

The Mourning Dove is in the lower-left photograph, a White-fronted Dove is pictured in lower-right (Audubon Society Field Guide, 1977).

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Notes, corrections and additions:

The call of the Mourning Dove comes from Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to Western Birds (1969), my constant reference and field guide that is tattered and torn.  But I would not have it any other way.

Photographs of the dove are from The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds (1977).  This reference guide from Audubon was in the small library of my parents who grew up in the country of central Texas and were always cognizant of wildlife, thunderstorms, cattle and horses.  I inherited the library and treasure each volume of field manuals that they thumbed through.

Several species of dove reside and pass through the ranchito. 

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Widgeon flying

American widgeon (Mareca americana) or baldpate species.

 

 

By the analysis of Jay Miles of Wells, Maine, the featured duck in the last two posts is an American widgeon (Marcea americana) or baldpate species.  Several months ago I posted “Gray Sky with Duck,” concerning nine ducks I scared from our pond when I drove down the pasture road after feeding the horses and scattering corn in the grove for deer.  After reading my post, Jay commented that he would help in identification of ducks.  I looked at his Kicking Bull Gallery website and he knows ducks!  He sculpts ducks, he sells vintage and antique duck decoys.  He has five lists (each list is several pages) of duck decoys on his website of  “Antique old vintage decoys, hunting decoys used in old times past to hunt ducks in the marshes and the sea.”  Jay has his ducks in a row.

 

Kicking Bull Gallery

 

I wrote Jay an e-mail several days ago asking for his opinion since I was wallowing around in factoring duck morphology.  I may know cacti and sagebrush, but I don’t know ducks.  Jay responded this morning by e-mail.  By this time next year, I will be a bit more versed in duck identification.

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Roger Tory Peterson writes in A Field Guide to Western Birds that the female American widgeon voices qua-ack.  I noted this two-part voice pattern many times before as I stood out of sight near the pond’s embankment.  I often thought that the duck had been bumped into by other browsers, eliciting a two-part sound of frustration.  No, that wasn’t the case despite my attempt at personification.  The widgeon winters from southern Alaska to Central America.  Its habitat is in fresh marshes, irrigated land, ponds, lakes and bays.  Some widgeons, we now know, winter or pass by north Erath County, Texas, and spend time on the Flying Hat pond.

An interesting nexus emerged in my previous posts asking for assistance in identification.  Bill of Wild Ramblings opined, so did Laura of A Number of Things, Caralee of Built by Hand Strawbale Housing and Jay Miles of Kicking Bull Gallery.  Bill hails from Massachusetts, Jay is from Maine, Laura of London and Caralee of Utah.  The five of us that took an interest in the duck are attuned to nature.  Caralee added her observations about the difficulty of typing birds in flight — she is working on typing hawks that swoop down upon her.  I opened Peterson to pages about duck profiles in flight, something I had never done before.  Bill added the difficulty in typing waterfowl and steered me away from it being a Canvasback because of the beak feature.  Laura apologized for not identifying, but pointed out that the title of the post, “Typing duck in flight,” made her think of a duck carrying a typewriter while in flight!  I find it fascinating that a digital photo of duck taking flight from a Texas pond could provoke a response from Utah to New England to London.  We are all curious about birds, and, moreover, the infinite wildness of the natural world.

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Notes:

The Kicking Bull Gallery logo is from Jay Miles website.

Photograph of American widgeon in flight is J. Matthews, March 2011, Mingus, Texas.

Illustrations are from Roger Tory Peterson, A Field Guide to Western Birds, second edition, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1969.

American widgeon from Roger Tory Peterson.

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Soaring Heart

I suppose one of the great observations I make from day to day is the soaring hawk, a Red-tailed (Buteo jamaicensis).

The hawk is above the debris, the remains of daily chores.  Yes, I know that he or she must come down to earth, but as I watch the hawk, I think it plays and flies for the sheer fun of it, the pleasure of flight.  Who can say?  I personify the hawk more than I should, yet, it gives me pleasure to reach out and extrapolate the behavior in familiar terms, a kinship formed.

Two Red-tails inhabit the grove on our place, a riparian swatch that I am keen on developing.  Harris’ hawks also migrate through this area, soaring closer to the ground and smaller in physique.  I hear their voices: karr from the Harris and keeer-r-r from Red-tail.  Cris-crossing, floating, the swiftness with which they predate holds my attention.  It is said that the hawk will dance on its kill.  I have not seen that and do not look for that vintage behavior, but rather I am open to what the hawk displays.  And, in the fields and grove, soaring becomes the rule for display.

To the field we should go daily.  To the field and look and listen, especially to the sky when Red-tails fly.

It is no wonder that Lame Deer, the seeker of visions, would say, when happy: My heart soars like a hawk.

Thou art that: the hawk, the soaring heart.

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Notes:

For voice and bird identification, Roger Tory Peterson, A Field Guide to Western Birds, 2nd ed., Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969.  I have kept a life list of birds I have seen.  I’ve become interested lately in the voices and calls of birds.  The voice translation of the hawks come from Peterson.

One of the excellent sources of Native American life and biography is John (Fire) Lame Deer, Lame Deer Seeker of Visions: The Life of a Sioux Medicine Man, with Richard Erdoes, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972.  My paperback copy of Lame Deer is old and full of markings.

“Thou art that,” is an ancient Asiatic perceptual insight in meditation.  What you see (and other senses), you are.  Basically, it is an insight that breaks down boundaries among objects and creates a unity.  It is a Vedic formula for enlightenment.  One source is the Chandogya Upanishad.  I teach world civilization and some of the most interesting classes among undergraduates is trying to understand the Orient.

Banner photograph taken by J. Matthews.  It is an enlargement of the Red-tail hawk in the first thumbnail.  Nikon D300 with telescopic lens is the camera.

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Field Log 3/21/2010

North Erath County, Texas, 32.43 lat., -98.36 long. Elev. 1,086 ft.  Turkey Creek Quad.

Prepared one acre of pasture for seeding native grasses, 3/19/2010.

Received shipment of native grass and wildflower seed, 3/17/2010

Scattered deer corn in The Grove.  Note:  find article on supplements to corn, move low steel feeding trays to The Grove.

Definite typing of hawk.

Harris' Hawk (Parabuleo unicinctus) Peterson's Field Guide

Harris' Hawk (Parabuleo unicinctus) Peterson's Field Guide

Field surprise (always).  As I sat listening to the wind in The Grove, the hawk flew within fifty (50) yards of me, displaying flashy white rump and white band on the tail. White banding very conspicuous. Black and chestnut colors on thighs and shoulders. He flew extremely fast back and forth three times in front of me, then angled over to the pond. Fast. Peterson writes that the Harris’ Hawk resides in c.-w. Texas south into Mexico. Habitat is river woodlands, mesquite, brush. Nesting of sticks in yucca, mesquite, low tree. I have been looking higher for a nest. Must look lower. One hawk.

Take photo of Harris’ Hawk in field.

Cleaned out stalls, hay bins.

Addendum, 3/22/2010, here is my 1969, Peterson, A Field Guide to Western Birds, and the plate with identification factors.  It’s well-used and a treasure of mine.

Plate 15, Peterson, A Field Guide to Western Birds, 2nd ed., 1969 (click to enlarge)

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Sandhill Cranes Going North

Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) Flying North, Hannibal, Texas, February 28, 2010 (click to enlarge)

Yesterday, February 28, 2010, as I came back from feeding the horses at 5:50 p.m., I heard the tuk-tuk–tuk-tuk–tuk-tuk of the Sandhill Crane overhead.  The cranes were heading north, about 1,500 feet above ground level.  I first saw them over Hannibal, Texas, six miles to the south of us, and after I got the camera and starting taking pictures, they had flown over the ranch and were two or three miles away to the north.  They were circling and moving north at the same time.  Thirty minutes later, another flock of cranes, this group shaped in a V configuration, were flying faster in the same direction.  Their tuk-tuk calls were less frequent.  I suppose they were intent on catching up with the crowd ahead of them who had found, most likely, a good marsh to settle down for the night.  Preferring flight than chat, they sped quietly into dusk.

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Winter Photographs at Flying Hat

Winter 2.11.2010, Poprock Pasture

Poprock Pasture and Arena In Winter

Yucca and Fence

Shiney and Star Playing Gotcha

Shiney Galloping to Corral

Remuda at Well House Corral

Mountain White-crown Sparrows Above Stables (Zonotrichia leucophrys oriantha)

Stable Alleyway with Panels

55 Horses by Case Farmall

Flying Hat Ranch House

Schools in Abilene and Fort Worth, Texas, were canceled this morning.  I went out to take some photographs of Flying Hat.  If you click the photographs, you get a full-size picture with detail.

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Quail in the Texas Panhandle

Bobwhitequail

Bobwhite Colinus virginianus, Photograph birdsofoklahoma.net

In the late 1970s, I began to train Brittany spaniels to point, hold, flush, and retrieve quail.  My Uncle Adolph Kampen of Amarillo kept a Brittany as a house dog and hunting companion, and I sought to have Brittanies, train them to the hunt, and find good homes for them.   My intention was to keep a brace of Brittanies as house companions.

I first obtained pigeons for the Brittanies to flush under blocks of hay that I scattered on the neighborhood school ground.  The pigeons would fly back to their cages when flushed.  It was only three blocks away.

I purchased  fifty quail chicks to use in the training of Brittanies.  I lived in the city and would eventually move out to the country.  Bobwhite quail were available by mail order, like chickens.   A quail chick is about the size of a large human thumb, quite small and yet, not fragile.  Roger Tory Peterson writes that the Bobwhite is  “a small, brown, chicken-like bird, near size of Meadowlark.  The male shows a conspicuous white throat and eye-stripe (in female, buffy).  Tail short, dark.”

[Peterson, Roger Tory.  A Field Guide to Western Birds. Boston:  Houghton Mifflin, 1969.  See pp. 86-91.]

The quail chicks arrived in boxes delivered by the postal service.  I divided the quail into three coveys and I placed chicks in large cardboard boxes  in a spare bedroom on _____ Street in Amarillo, Texas.   At night, the coveys would settle in and sleep, but during the daylight hours, they would feed, water, and utter quiet “peeps.”

Within a month, the chicks had outgrown their cardboard boxes in the bedroom and I placed them in quail pens in the backyard that I had constructed.   Quail pens have compartments that allow all quail to be released, but one or two quail are retained in the pen so that they will call the covey back together.  It is a remarkable display of covey unity that the quail will scatter, but when their penned-up covey mates call, the group will come back to the pen and enter the pen through a funnel trap.

One day as I parked the car into the garage, I heard the loud call of quail in my backyard and in the neighbor’s yard. There were quail calls all over the neighborhood.  The latch on the pen door had come undone and a covey of quail had scattered about the neighborhood, flying over fences, going into garages, scratching in backyards, and checking out new and wondrous things up and down the block.  Within the hour, my neighbors called and told me that they had quail in their garages or screen porches and would I come and retrieve them?

I rounded up every escapee quail, placed them in portable cages and reset the latch on the main pen more securely.  Without a doubt, the time had come to buy land outside of town and start training the Brittanies on the quail.  The quail needed the space.

South of Amarillo, on the highway to Palo Duro Canyon, I purchased ten acres of land, moved the quail, pigeons, and Brittanies to the pastures with kennels and pens, and borrowed my parents’ recreational trailer.

My life in the country began.

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