Thursday, June 26, 2014

Snake Valley Festival

Last weekend we had a very busy weekend at the Snake Valley Festival, held the third weekend of June in Baker, Nevada. It was three busy days of events. Here were some of the highlights.

The Snake Valley Slither 5k/10k trail run and walk has begun! But a couple slitherers in the middle of the starting line are getting a slow start--you might recognize one of them!

Post-race Orange Julius--yum!

Desert Boy approaching the finish line with family and friends.

Desert Girl running the little kids' race.

Playing on the water feature, that was brought in to celebrate the birthdays of two special boys.

The parachute--a special treat for the kids to play.

The water fight lasted all day for some of the kids.

Desert Boy doing a magic trick for the pageant and talent show. It earned him the title of Mr. Junior Snake Valley!

Desert Girl enjoying some ice cream at Friday night's ice cream social.

Kids' music workshop with Trotta and Ronstadt with Dalton.

Horses in the parade.

Loved this sign!

Aw, sweet music! The Ely Cheatgrass Brass Band played in both the parade and later in the afternoon during the free entertainment section.

The kids joined the kid float in the parade.

The Snake Valley Festival was great fun and will be held next year on the third weekend in June. Come join us!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Bird Nests in the Yard

Well, in my last post I noted that we had skunks and worried about the chickens. For good reason. The skunks burrowed under our run and killed all our chickens! We are very sad. I never thought it would be so hard to raise chickens. There sure are a lot of things that like to eat chickens, and they can be fairly ingenious about getting to them. I also never expected to get so attached to the chickens. They are quite a fun pet. (We are in the process of getting rid of the skunks, but it is taking some time.) Sometime in the unknown future, we will try again.

One silver lining is that instead of sitting in a lawn chair and watching the chickens peck around our driveway, this evening I sat out on the front lawn. I noticed a cacophony in one Lombardy poplar and took a closer look. I was hearing American kestrels, and I suddenly realized it wasn't just one or two kestrels, but three little ones, with two adults nearby!
 The baby kestrels tried out their wings and took short little flights from branch to branch. Wow, I had never seen baby kestrels before!

In the catalpa tree above me, I heard quite a bit of noise from Western Kingbirds. I knew they had a nest there, but I didn't realize that the eggs had hatched. The parents took turns flying out to get insects to feed to the young. They were always very careful to have one parent close to the nest (a rather flimsy looking thing) at all times.

While I was looking at baby birds, I saw the cliff swallows flying in and out from their nest by our door. I timed one in and out of the nest, and it was only eight seconds. Some were even faster, while some were longer. Both parents flew out to get insects, sometimes with both hunting at the same time.

Another noisy bird like the western kingbird, but a bit brighter, made an appearance in a Lombardy poplar tree to the west (meaning this was the fourth nest, each in one direction, with me in the middle!). In a moment I saw the nest, a loose, hanging affair. Do you see it below?

This is a Bullock's oriole, a very pretty bird. The orioles had a very different parenting style than the kingbirds, leaving the nest all alone for a long period of times. When a parent came back, I could hear the babies chirping for food!
What a blessing to see so much diversity all around me.

I will miss the chickens, but I will also try to make the most of what is in my life, including the amazing natural beauty and beginning of new life I was able to witness tonight.

I realize that probably in other years there were many nests around the yard, but I never took the time to really look at birds in detail in the yard. Thanks to Desert Survivor's Backyard Bird Challenge, I've paid a lot more attention this year (and need to update our list in the sidebar!).

If you're doing the backyard bird challenge, how is it going? And if you're not, it's never too late. Simply keep track of what birds you see in your yard!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Baby Birds

Our yard has felt like a wildlife bonanza recently. Two afternoons ago I was sitting outside, keeping an eye on our quickly-growing chickens, when all of a sudden I noticed a quick movement in the air. I looked up and saw an American Kestrel dive bomb a collared dove, taking out a big chunk of feathers that soon rained down near us. The kestrel wasn't successful, though, and soon a western kingbird chased it back.

Two nights ago, while Desert Boy was putting the chickens into the coop, he ran into the house telling us excitedly that he had seen a skunk. We ran out, worried, but the chickens were fine. For the moment. Under a nearby building we discovered that we had not one skunk, but a mom and several young. Oh my.

Another wildlife sighting came last night, when I was walking in the driveway and heard the birds making a lot of noise. I looked up and saw a Great Horned Owl fly away with a kingbird perched on its back. Wild!

Perhaps not as crazy, but definitely exciting for the kids, was the discovery of a baby robin in the grass. This is the second baby robin we've found this spring.

Desert Girl decided it was hungry and got some worms and tried to feed the bird worms.

The bird opened its mouth, but wouldn't actually swallow any of them. However, it started hopping about and looked better than we thought at first. We eventually lost track of it and hope that it found its parents. It seemed to have a better chance than the dead magpie chick we found nearby.
It's nice when you don't have to go far to see so much!
Desert Girl's insect pets (which change from day-to-day) also have us appreciating the tiny creatures around us. More on that later!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

An Evening Kayak

 One warm summer evening we decided we should go out on the water. We loaded our inflatable kayaks and headed down to Pruess Lake. Henry came with--we couldn't leave our water dog behind! While my husband and the kids tried their luck fishing, I went for a solo paddle.

 I interrupted two great horned owls. They separated and watched me go past. The grebes kept preceding me until I got too close, then they dove underwater and came up far behind me.

I stopped at the dam, constructed in the 1800s. The water levels on the rock showed that the water used to be much higher. It's never gotten high enough to use the overflow, as the porous limestone rock proves to be a little leaky (much to water developers' chagrin over a hundred years ago). I stuck my paddle in the water and found that it was only about five feet deep.

After I got back, Desert Boy went for a paddle with me in the opposite direction. We made some rocks our destination, with cool clouds overhead.

The setting sun made everything especially scenic.

Desert Boy celebrated his paddling prowess. He did well enough we paddled quite a bit more.

My arms were sore, but he wanted to continue.

Meanwhile, Desert Girl was delighted to find a cupful of shells on the edge of the lake. It was a really pleasant evening for all of us.
Here's to enjoying summer evenings. Only a few more days until the longest day of the year for the Northern Hemisphere!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Life on the Ranch: Branding

 We found out that a branding was happening, so I packed up and took the kids to it. We had missed some previous ones because I was out of town, and I enjoy seeing the cowboys in action.

Brandings usually occur when the cattle are moved off the winter range. The calves were born in March and need to be marked so that they can legally be sold next winter. It's possible to just process the calves through a chute, as I wrote about in 2009. However, the cowboys much prefer the old-fashioned method, which involves roping the calves, separating them from the rest, and then processing them. The roping allows the cowboys to hone their skills and also provides a social function, as friends and neighbors often come to help.

We watched some excellent young cowboys rope calves and bring them back.

Sometimes it can be tricky to keep the calf down, especially if the special gadget to keep them confined doesn't get attached. Once they're down, they're vaccinated and have their ears cut. Instead of branding with a red-hot iron, ear cutting is what the ranch uses (but the whole get-together is still often called branding). If it's a male calf, a rubber band is applied to his delicate parts to cut off blood flow (in effect castrating it, but without Rocky Mountain oysters flying all over).

Here's an overview of what the process looks like: the cowboy and horse pull the calf into position, while other cowboys move in to do all the tasks necessary.

Cowgirls are very much a part of the whole operation.

It takes a lot of skill and communication to make sure that the calf is held at just the right tension.

This little cowboy was one of the best ropers out there. He made it look easy. Yet when I try to lasso something that's not even moving, I have a hard time.

Now, for some of the details.
The lasso.

The spur, stirrup, and chap fringe.

The wannabe cowboy (aka Desert Boy).

Chaps are just way too cool.

Getting new eartags ready. These have insecticides on them to help keep the flies from bothering the cows.

My nephew. The mountains in the background are something we almost take for granted. 
The high desert of the Great Basin is such a breathtaking place.

It's time to rope!

The lasso goes out...

And makes contact! The calf is pulled.

A beautiful horse.

 One thing the photos don't quite show is how hot and dusty it can all be. My camera was coated with a dust layer (of course lying on the ground may have contributed to that!). When you're right up there with the animals, it's even dustier.

A well-warranted drink break. But only if you're wearing chaps.

 Lasso up...

Nice try!

This one's a keeper. This cowboy was a great roper, even with a broken arm.

The kids got worn out fast, but I was still glad to have the chance to watch for awhile. The skill these cowboys show is amazing, something that takes years to hone.

And if you'd like to see even more photos of ranch life, A Handful of Dust Documentary has some terrific ones.
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