A Case Study

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Family treasures . . . .

I don’t recall when I became attracted to all the artifacts and memorabilia that my father’s family had accumulated over the years here on the ranch.  Some of it came on the train from Mishawaka, Indiana in 1919 when my grandparents and great grandparents decided to sell out, pack up and head west.  The rest was acquired over a few lifetimes of homesteading and ranching here on Dry Creek.

Over the years I found myself attracted to books, photographs and detritus left in musty trunks or outbuildings.  When I discovered this old lawyer’s bookcase that had been stacked in a pile in the bunkhouse, which had formerly served as lodging for a number of hired hands and in later years as a great place to pitch all the excess baggage from the main house, I was thrilled.  I was surprised to find it there, covered in dust.  I could remember seeing it in the main house many years earlier.  I assumed one of my siblings would covet the antique, which bore a stamp on the face of the top shelf that read “Gunn Sectional Bookcase, Dec. 5, 1899 – Jan. 1, 1901 – The Gunn Furniture Co., Cedar Rapids, MI, USA.”  But I knew I had to have it.

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That was almost twenty years ago.  I decided to bargain with my father to acquire the book case, offering to paint the house which was badly in need of it.  I hated coming home to see things getting shabby and by that time my parents were not able to undertake such a project.  I took a week of my vacation, bought the paint at Sears, and worked from dawn to dusk to transform the old house from a peeling, scruffy apple green (which I hated) to a pale gold called “Cactus” with dark green trim.  When I finished up on a Sunday afternoon, I asked if I could load up the book case, which stored nicely in the trunk of my car.  Dad came out to thank me for all the hard work on the house, then said, “you know, you didn’t have to do this.  I would have given you the book case if you had asked for it.”

IMG_0166As time passed, I filled the shelves of the old case with my collection of family junk which nobody seemed interested in but me.  And what a bunch of dandies!  The task of identifying all of it for the purposes of my blog seemed daunting, so I decided to take apart each of the four shelves, make a few notes about the contents, and take my time.

Case Study I 

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A complimentary packet of needles from Belger Furniture Company of Mishawaka, Indiana inscribed with a promotional gem–“We will let you do the sticking.  We’ll not stick you;” a Jews harp ( I have no idea how it was named such); my father’s infant silver spoon engraved with his initials, “WJU;” a couple old keys; an eye glass that my grandmother wore when working as a young woman in the watch factory in South Bend, Indiana; a pocket magnifying glass; and a sterling silver salt and pepper set featuring a Japanese man carrying two buckets (one for salt, one for pepper).  This was a gift to my grandmother from my Great Aunt Ellen, who traveled the globe and sent her sister gifts from around the world.

IMG_0112(1)A selection of old postcards accumulated by my grandfather Ernest Ullery during his time in the U. S. Army.  The card on top is from the Culver Military Academy he attended in Indiana.  The card in the middle is the soft ball team from Mishawaka sent from a friend to my grandfather.  The bottom card is  dated 9/28/1908 and is a photograph of the Presidio, San Francisco where grandfather was stationed for maneuvers before being sent to the Philippine Islands.

IMG_0114(1)A commemorative book on Japan and the Philippine Islands was one of my grandfather’s mementos he brought home after serving in the U. S. Army. there are a couple large volumes badly in need of restoration that I hope to get rebound.  I am not clear where his travels took him besides the far east. Below it is a program of the Christmas 1906 holiday celebration at the Presidio.

IMG_0115 The pipe collection is a curiosity.  I believe the plain round bowl wooden pipe was Dad’s, as he smoked a pipe when I was a child.  The other two are collectibles that arrived from who knows where?

IMG_0127(1)The two small journals above recorded daily weather and events by my great grandfather, Samuel Ullery.  The five-year diaries are his also, and are dated 1936 (red one) and 1932, Renohill, Wyoming.  The Ullery family homestead was just west of Renohill, where Samuel served as postmaster for a period of time.

IMG_0120(1)Two pocket watches, a thimble, a tie bar with agate boot, a lapel pen promoting Stubbs Mercantile Company, Kaycee, Wyoming, headquarters for Peters Diamond Brand Shoes.  My Great Aunt Alice was married to Bill Stubbs, a sheep rancher who decided to acquire the Kaycee Mercantile about 1920.  They employed my grandfather as manager until a severe drouth upended the agricultural economy and the store was sold.  Samuel and Ernest decided to take up homesteads nine miles northeast of Kaycee. The Masonic pendant would have belonged to my great grandfather, who was a Mason.  During his career as a building contractor in South Bend, Indiana he constructed the Masonic Lodge.

IMG_0128(1)This well-worn old Bible is inscribed “given to E. S. Ullery, May 1st, 1915 by Samuel Ullery.”   Below is written “this Bible was the property of Louisa Ullery for many years. E. U. ”  Louisa Benner Ullery was the wife of Jesse, parents of Samuel.

IMG_0126(1) An assortment of cameras were handed down from one generation to the next. In the background is a Eastman Kodak Co. printing frame.

IMG_0129(1)My grandmother Clara’s handwriting is on the background of the leaf she collected and saved.  She always loved her Indiana home but fate led her to migrate to the West as a young bride.  I am sure she treasured this reminder of her former home.

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A Montgomery Ward & Co. catalog from 1875 looked dramatically different from the catalogs of my youth, which weighed five pounds and served as door stops, paper weights and reading material for the outhouse.  An ivory cribbage game was likely a gift from Great Aunt Ellen, the globetrotter and the little plastic elephant came from a collection belonging to Michael’s mother.

Case Study Two

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A pair of blue boots I added to accompany the catalog of the Western Boot Company.  Dad ordered custom boots from this catalog in the 1940’s or thereabouts – date uncertain.  I still have the boots, Style No. 425, “Classy and stylish tulip and leaf inlaid design with three or more rows stitching.  Price $34.50.”  Also in this group, a wool sack needle; leather key holder; silver snuff box (a gift to Dad from someone); a mouth harp and box of sharpening sticks.

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A wooden barrel bung, silver napkin ring, and memento from the Pan American games, 1901, most likely my grandfather’s. An ancient pair of child’s scissors and a lapel pin missing the stick pin; pocket knife from Sloan Realty Company and a lock stitch sewing awl from the C. A. Myers Co., Chicago, Illinois.

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My grandmother’s button jar, which I explored in an earlier blog is a treasure trove of interesting little items she collected over the years.  The Brand book has receipts for sale of cattle bearing the Ullery brand, which identifies the brand and location on the animal.  The Grange Initiative, dated 1943, certifies E. S. Ullery (my grandfather) as a member of Powder River Grange, No. 68.  The Grange was a farm organization and at that time was the “oldest and strongest” farmers’ fraternity in the world.

Case Study Three

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Books, more books . . . .

Bartlett’s History of Wyoming (volumes I – IV) and the Encyclopedia of Wyoming (volumes I and II) have some family history enclosed.  The hand tooled wallet was Dad’s and doesn’t look like it got much wear.  The various bones, skulls, etc. are things I have a fascination for, don’t ask me why?

 

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‘dem bones . . . .

My great grandfather, Samuel Ullery was a building contractor and these books were his.  “Encyclopedia of Architecture, Carpentry and Building” Vols. I – X have instructions and illustrations for building everything from a complicated church steeple to a large or small building.  More from my bone collection, and a wooden rhinoceros of unknown origin. But what about the leg?

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The mysterious leg . . . .

The tiny red book is “Reeds Lilliput Dictionary,” Maori-English, English-Maori.  Publisher is A. H. & A. W. Reed, 182 Wakefield Street, Wellington and includes Proverbial Sayings.  Must be another gift from Great Aunt Ellen?  The small block of wood with reversed Indian Pipe brand was a letter stamp used by my father and grandfather.  The pink leg was pinned in between the shelf and back wall of the book case.  I had to pry it out and do not recall ever seeing it before.  It is a promotional letter opener from a manufacturing company, S & S. Mfg. and says “Shape Up Your Sales With.” Hmmm.

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Volume II of the Encyclopedia of Freemasonry likely belonged to my great grandfather, Samuel.  I have searched high and low for Volume I, to no avail.

IMG_0308 (2)The large book on bottom is the Ullery family Bible with entries from the late 1800’s.  I had the bindings redone and it is holding up fairly well.  The book directly above it was also re-bound and was Samuel’s, as well as the leather-bound “Spaldings Treatise.”

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Most of these I presume belonged to my great grandfather’s extensive library.  I must confess, I have not read any of them and don’t know that I possess the intellectual capability (or patience) to try to absorb them.  There is more.

Case Study Four

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Postcard from the edge . . . .

This tattered album contains a wonderful collection of post cards collected by the Ullery family in early times.  Some are delightful.

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Ernest send this upon arriving in Manila, Philippine Islands December 3, 1909.  He still had a sense of humor after traveling by ship for 27 days.

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This, and all the other postcards in this old album are truly family treasurers.  A previous blog on my grandfather’s time in the Philippines details his experience in more detail.

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Cards for holidays, and just whimsy are included.  Ernest wrote to my grandmother Clara using a mirror to write backwards and I guess he wanted his messages to her to be a secret.  They are simply delightful.

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Heavy reading for bedtime.  These, along with a group of hymnals, rounds out the fourth shelf, reserved for the most “weighty” of subjects. Also of interest are two bookkeeping journals dating from around 1921.  In them are names and sums of purchases, which must have been customers in the Kaycee Mercantile.  Ernie managed the general merchandise store for the owner, Bill Stubbs.  I know I have overlooked some of the treasurers in the old book case, but I don’t believe there are any more surprises quite as interesting as the pink letter opener!

Boundless Beauty

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Hazelton Peaks . . . .

There are many beautiful places in the Big Horn Mountains, but my favorite is the south end.  This view looks northwest, and the peaks in the background are beautiful, but the broad shoulders and high mountain plateaus with open prairie stretch before us in a grandeur that is only found in the south mountain range.

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Grazing paradise . . . .

A few Angus cattle graze below and what a pasture they enjoy!  In the early 1900’s more sheep than cattle could be found here and now it is a mixture of both.  This is private land, not national forest.  The ranchers that have grazed their livestock over the past 100 years have, for the most part,  been good stewards.  Earlier homesteads in the late 1800’s gradually evolved into larger parcels to provide a livelihood.

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Evening . . . .

As dusk approaches the light changes from golden to a muted color.  Rugged country, it seems empty to some who feel the need to be surrounded by settlement or ranch houses.

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Life on the range . . . .

An old camp tender’s cabin is flanked by a more modern version, a camper trailer.  Star filled skies here are quiet except for an occasional coyote.

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Where sheep may safely graze . . . .

Once the predominant herds on the mountains, sheep are now far fewer in number, replaced by cattle.

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Clouds . . . .

That old refrain, “where the skies are not cloudy all day” could not have been about Wyoming.  The clear blue skies are usually a combination of impressionistic cloud formations that can lure the observer into daydreaming.

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Fixer-upper . . . .

A more primitive living quarters for the camp tender.  This old sheep wagon has seen better days but serves as a reminder of what life was like before the more modern mobile home or camper trailer arrived on the scene.

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Prairie chicken . . . .

Many parts of the Big Horns are heavily covered with sage, which is where these sage grouse call home.  Wyoming has the greatest population of these birds of any state, and we go to great lengths to preserve them.

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Transportation . . . .

Steep slopes and rugged terrain dictate the terms of transportation.  The horse is still seen as a vital partner in the gathering of sheep and cattle on the mountain.

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The Red Wall . . . .

The drive down the face of the Big Horns on the Slip Road affords a view of the red wall country and a stop for a cold beer, seated on a flat rock we favor.  The view differs from season to season and due to changes in the weather but is always magnificent.  The grandeur of the open west never ceases to fill me with wonder.  I hope it stays that way.

 

Drought 2020

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Not too tasty . . . .

We are suffering from what the “experts” describe as “severe drought.”  The last rains came the end of June, with one inch over a week and nothing since.  We watch each day as clouds build, threaten, and move on.  Scattered thunder storms have brought some relief around us, along with hazardous lightning which starts grass fires that have burned in all directions.  Most recently a fire started just a half mile away and fortunately the highway served as a barrier to keep it from moving toward us.

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Stunted bunch grass . . . .

Tilly’s paddock will usually support 1-2 horses throughout the summer with grasses so tall and coarse that I try to mow some sections so she will graze the shorter, finer grass.  This summer she is subsisting on hay and while we have creek bottoms with grass up to my chin, she won’t partake when I turn her out.  But that is another story.

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Fuel for fire . . . .

After a very wet early spring (March/April) grass in some areas took off.  Now it stands waiting to burn and is fueling the fires all around.  The volunteer crews working the blazes are nearing exhaustion as they try to put up hay and keep up with the routine operations of managing their ranches.  The more serious fires have required planes to drop fire retardant but persistent winds have made it difficult to put out the flames.  One has to wonder what lies ahead for fall and winter weather.

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A little shade . . . .

We planted cottonwood trees on the west border of Tilly’s paddock.  These, along with others we have planted, are surviving on drip systems which use very little water and keep the trees alive through the drought.  A fast-growing tree, these will bring shade and shelter in the coming years.

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Someday a shady lane . . . .

These cottonwood trees (right) were planted several years ago and suffered many disasters: the local deer population eating the leaves and smaller branches; Feed Lot, the longhorn steer tearing up fences and breaking branches just for fun; and grasshoppers stripping them bare, robbing them of nutrients for the winter.  The drip system we installed needs annual maintenance and new emitters because any extended loss of water to these trees in a drought means losing them and starting all over again.  But I won’t give up.  My family began this shelter belt 60 years ago and many trees were lost in dry years.  Russian Olive trees (not pictured) made it through, barely, but they are now quite old and I want to be rid of them.  They are invasive and no longer desirable.

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Babies . . . .

Twenty new chokecherry trees are slowly putting on growth and will need new fencing to protect them from the deer in spring.  The older chokecherry trees in the background were part of the shelter belt we planted back in the 1960’s but many have died off due to little rain  and too many deer foraging for the new growth each year.  They have been included in the drip system and hopefully will continue to flourish.  Growing trees in Wyoming isn’t for the faint of heart.

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Dry Creek is dry! . . . .

After flooding and then running continuously from February to June 1, Dry Creek has all but dried up.  Lots of flood debris waits to be cleaned up when we can safely get vehicles into the area without sinking in the mud.

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Pond scum . . . .

The last remaining section of the creek that holds water is now ripe with algae and not a very pleasant sight.  It too will likely be dry by the end of August.  Good-bye to the mosquitoes that have plagued us all summer.  That is the only positive development that will come with the current drought.

A Touch of Autumn

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Arbiter of change . . . .

Walking from the barn this morning, I rambled down into the lower pasture and directly in front of me was this low-hanging limb with shimmering, golden leaves.  It jolted me as a reminder of the date, August 11, and the reality of the end of summer approaching.  The weather has been intensely hot and dry for several weeks.  Not the kind of weather I look forward to each year as I anticipate autumn, which is my favorite season.

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Cottonwood eye candy . . .

After autumn, spring is my favorite, followed by summer.  Then I try to forget that August actually exists, as it brings heat, grasshoppers, and the Big Dry when very little rain falls.  I am usually desperate for September to arrive with crisp lovely days, cool nights and fall colors.  For now, we are actually in what I call “deep summer” as the equinox is yet to arrive.  But these golden leaves are telling us what Mother Nature has decided and our determination of the autumnal equinox is a construct based on daylight and dark being equally divided on September 22nd when the sun crosses the celestial equator.

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Soon to be many . . . .

More small patches of golden leaves will begin to show in the coming days.  It grows dark earlier now and as sunshine diminishes, so does the deep green chlorophyll pigment in leaves diminish.  Autumn will bring with it a little sadness as the season closes and another year winds down. People the world over have found ways to celebrate the passing of seasons and I shall celebrate too as my favorite season arrives.

 

Clouds

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Cumulus Congestus . . . .

The Wyoming sky is an artistic creation of clouds that vary from day to day and season to season.  I am attempting to learn more about the theatrics in the sky and have begun to identify the various types of clouds.  I have a vast canvas to observe and learn from, but for now I am happy to try to photograph them.

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Sunset . . . .

Beautiful sunsets are common in Wyoming,  however it is hard to capture the breathtaking beauty with a camera lens.  I keep trying.

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Storm coming . . . .

Warm weather months find us scanning the sky, usually in the afternoon, for an indication of what the clouds have in store for us.  This day we are in for some weather.  These are “precipitating” or Cumulonimbus clouds which are quite common during summer.

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Renoir, perhaps . . . .

If I painted, I would try to capture the colors in the sky.  Since it is an ever-changing palette it must be done with photographs which capture a moment in time.

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Dante’s inferno . . . .

A glance at the sky is an omen that Mother Nature is going to have her way with you.  It could be rain, hail, or even a tornado, which is not uncommon in Wyoming.

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Twilight time . . . .

“Heavenly shades of night are falling. . . ”  Looking north and west from the ranch house, this evening rewarded me with a marvelous sunset to photograph.

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Heavens’ Gate . . . .

Imagine an opening in the sky that allows you to fly up into the atmosphere.  If only we had wings.

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Trouble . . . .

Traveled this day to an area of pre-historic rock art and a perfect spring day began to change dramatically.  I knew what was coming, but had barely begun to explore the area.  I paid no heed to my instinct telling me to pack up and leave.

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Fury building . . . .

Not too long after I took this photo, lightning bolts appeared on the horizon, followed by the crash of thunder that shook the hills.  A patter of rain turned into a torrential hail storm that left us hovering under rock outcroppings to keep the sting of hail off our heads.

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Maho Bay . . . .

Moon rising and sun setting over Maho Bay, St. John, Virgin Islands.  What great memories we made on a few visits here.

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Somewhere, over the rainbow . . . .

To capture a rainbow is magical and one of nature’s beautiful gifts that never ceases to amaze me.

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Monet . . . .

Nothing that we create can compare to the images in the sky overhead on a daily basis, if we observe.

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Mirror . . . .

The sky reflected in water is enhanced by the faint ripples from the breeze.

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Now you see it . . . .

If not for the sun’s late rays, these clouds would not appear to be visible to the naked eye but floating along on the breeze.

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Farewell . . . .

Exit stage right, enter a new line of cloud formations on the left that portend a change in the atmosphere.

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Leaving on a jet plane . . . .

A jet trail picks up the evening sun before dissipating in the atmosphere.  The glorious colors are due to scattering of different wavelengths of sunlight.

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Indigo Blue . . . .

Not all sunsets are red and gold, some are deep shades of blue and purple.

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Lavender Blue . . . .

It is a “dilly dilly” of a sunset.  What more can I say?

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Abstract . . . .or Impressionism?

Interpreting the clouds is a great way to spend some time.  Is this white fluffy cotton? Are the dark images feathers mixed with goose down?  Does smoke cloud the picture’s edge?  A few seconds in time, and then it changes and is gone.  Poof!

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Homestead . . . .

A dark layer of grey sits on these Cumulonimbus clouds beginning to form on the horizon.  On this day I was touring the site of the old family homestead at Nine Mile and watching the clouds form, thinking it would not be good to be caught on the open prairie in a storm.  Deeply rutted dirt roads make for a wild ride.

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Harbinger of spring . . . .

A young mass of Cumulonimbus clouds erupting through the trees.  The trees appear budding out but have no leaves, which would indicate the potential for rain showers in early May.  Warmer spring temperatures bring these “thunder” cloud formations that we are always watchful of, as they often produce hail and sometimes even tornadoes.

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cotton candy . . . .

A dreamy sight in the late afternoon sky filled with Mammatus clouds reminiscent of cotton candy.  What could be more beautiful?

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A fiery sunset appears to be burning in the late day sky.

Spring Things

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Time out . . . .

Young lambs take a rest across the fence in our neighbor’s pasture.  It is great fun to watch them and brings back memories of my involvement with sheep as a youth.  Each spring we would end up with a dozen or so “bum” lambs whose mothers refused to nurse them.  We assumed the ewe’s reaction was to having too many if she had triplets, or for a variety of reasons only she knew.

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Where sheep may safely graze . . . .

The survival rate of bum lambs is not great, and my heart was broken over each and every one that died.  We fed them with soda bottles with a specific black rubber nipple attached.  We mixed up their feed from a powder mixed with water that was formulated for infant lambs and they were always so eager to suckle.  As they grew, they would jump up and practically knock me off my feet trying to reach the bottles I held.   Their little hooves were sharp and left a mark.

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Looking for mischief . . . .

On mild spring evenings I would let the lambs out of their pen and take a walk with them.  They would follow closely behind, stopping to nibble green grass and ramble around.  I am certain they were so happy to be out of their pen to explore and play, which was hilarious to watch.  Similar to young goats, they love to frolic, leap and jump in the air, calling out to one another.

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Time to grow . . . .

Getting a jump on the garden requires a strategic early start as the growing season here is very short.  Inside this tent is lettuce, kale and spinach, cool weather crops that will mature early in the season in time for another planting.  Spring is our busiest time of year and gardening requires a major commitment and chunk of time if we are to be successful.

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Tucked in the rocks . . . .

Volunteer pansies peep out from a rock-lined path on the east end of the house.  They arrive early to remind me that they are tough enough to endure our spring weather, which means they will likely see snow and frost into June.  I recently planted a couple of flats of pansies in large pots around the house, confident that my volunteers know what they are doing and I will follow suit.

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On duty . . . .

Great Horned Owls live in the cottonwoods in the creek bottom and each spring they keep a vigil in the tree tops. Beginning in January nesting pairs will begin to serenade each other in a lovely duet each evening, with the male uttering five or six resonant hoots: Hoo!, hu-hu-hu,Hoo!Hoo!  The females’ hoots are shorter in sequence and may just be a single Hoo!  In March and April one owl can usually be heard singing softly in the early morning, and in May the piercing “scrawk” of baby owls can be heard overhead.  If all goes well, the young owls will fledge by the end of May and move away from the nest.

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First grass . . . .

A group of does and yearling fawns hang around the yard checking out the forage.  Before long the does will hide in the sage and pockets of scrub in the area to have their fawns and we won’t see them for awhile.  The yearling fawns will appear a little disoriented and scatter about, looking for a new connection while the does give birth. I love seeing the baby fawns when they come out of hiding.

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“What’s for lunch?” . . . .

A pair of Mallard ducks have adopted the pond that has formed in the creek bottom.  They appear each day to swim and browse, and we believe they have a nest nearby.  Spring brings forth new growth, new life and new expectations.

 

Rites of Spring

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Firewood . . . .

Each spring during March and April we gather dead-fall from 100 or so cottonwood trees along the creek bottom.  This year is far worse due to a deadly storm last July that brought hurricane-force winds and amazing destruction.  We have been cleaning up since that storm, but the tall grasses that grow in summer inhibit a very concentrated approach.  We decided to wait until winter and try again once the snow had subsided.

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Not full yet . . . .

Many of the larger branches and stumps had to be cut with the chain saw to make them manageable.  We concentrate on those first, and then gather up the smaller branches and twigs.  It is tedious, scratchy work.  We dump each load into a burn pile and dispose of them in that manner, keeping the larger chunks for the wood pile and the fireplace we burn in the cold months.  Smaller branches are cut to a shorter length for our outdoor patio stove which we burn in late spring and early autumn when we can avoid the mosquitoes.

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Aching backs . . . .

We attempt to mow these grassy meadows in summer and my ambitious plan for a private nine-hole golf course is still a dream in the distant future, however the cleanup has to occur first.  Even the brush hog pulled behind the tractor cannot deal with this kind of mess.  It is cut, bend and stoop, load on the trailer and haul away to be burned.  Like it or not.

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Sir Winston and Maud . . . .

We have lots of helpers who want to get in on the fun.  Maud attempts to grab onto the end of the limbs while we are carrying them, and Sir Winston gets tangled up in our feet while he tries to give us a friendly rub.  We couldn’t do it without them.

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Dry Creek? . . . .

The Not So Dry Creek has been running since mid-February.  Flood stage had subsided and most of the snow had melted one week ago, but this week we have had another 8-10 inches of snowfall and bitter cold.  Trying to get tractor, trailer and other equipment in to some areas is a challenge that will not go away soon.  And when this latest snow melts, we will be back up to some level of flooding again.  Ethel will be in heaven.

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A goose’s favorite pastime . . . .

Ethel, our one remaining goose has been waiting in a dusty, dry poultry house all winter for a bath and a good meal of roots and mud.  She is in her element and spends the entire day fishing and bathing in the water.  The chickens like to pick along the creek bank although it is a mystery what they are after – still too cold for bugs and worms!

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A creek runs through it . . . .

My fondest dream as a child was for Dry Creek to run again all year long.  I spent the spring flood season splashing around in the water up and down the creek.  My bum lambs would join me for a nibble of green grass.  Alas, by July the water was gone and I was back to being a dry-lander.  Underground springs are found for several miles along the creek bottom and we have a nice pond that is spring fed.  In the early part of the last century, homesteaders built dug-outs in the creek banks and utilized water from seeps.

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Not so deep . . . .

The water makes its way downstream to eventually join the North Fork of Powder River.  Reservoirs that hinder its progress have been overflowing and the underground water still makes its way to join the river, which flows into the Middle Fork of the Powder.  Who knows, perhaps climate change will bring my dream into reality and Dry Creek will run once more!  I’m not buying a fishing pole any time soon.

 

Minnie Pearl, Guinea Hen

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Just a lonely girl. . . .

The numbers of our guinea flock have fluctuated over the years from an over-abundance to so few we worried we might eventually not have any due to attrition.  A neighbor who had successfully raised too many little keets called late last fall to see if I would be interested in adding to our dwindling flock of five adult guineas.  I agreed to take six young ones from her, including four of the pearl, or light colored ones.

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A bug-eater . . . .

Guineas are different from chickens in that they don’t bond with newcomers to their flock.  This is a lesson we had heard from others, but learned first-hand with our six new guineas.  Once placed in the “big house” with the other chickens and mature guineas, the little ones were ostracized and pushed aside.  Attrition began to occur at an alarming rate and over a few months, we were left with one young guinea who I named Minnie Pearl.

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Keeping her distance . . . .

Guineas love to graze far and wide and Minnie Pearl tried to stay on the fringe of the group hoping to be accepted.  She was always by herself in a corner of the poultry house when I came in to feed and gather eggs, and she did not roost with the rest of the chickens or guineas at night.  We believed that over time she would fit in with the older group but over the winter months it became evident that she was still an outcast.  On several occasions I observed one or two of the older guineas picking on her.  Was it just her pale color they did not accept?

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So near yet so far . . . .

A few weeks ago there was a fracas out in front of the poultry house that ended up with Minnie Pearl on the roof.  She had flown up to escape her tormentors and would not come down.  It was bitter cold and snowy and the metal roof offered little protection.  Toward evening it was apparent Minnie Pearl intended to stay where she was.  We reasoned that if we tried to get her down she would likely fly into the nearby poplar or elm trees, which would leave her equally as exposed to the cold.  As darkness descended I decided to try one last time to coax her down.  I went out with a broom and aimed the brush end at her.  I let fly several times, getting closer with each throw but not close enough to dislodge her.  Finally my broom stayed on the roof, leaving me frustrated.

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Her mind was made up . . . .

I gave up and headed through the gate when I noticed a large tree branch about 4 foot long and an inch in diameter sticking up from a snow bank.  By now it was almost dark and I was determined to try once more to get Minnie Pearl down from her icy perch.  I pulled the branch out of the snow, backed away from the poultry house far enough to get a good sight-line of her, and hurled the branch as hard as I could, hoping I would not hurt her.  WHAACK!!!  I nailed her and down she fell on the opposite side of the poultry house, into the yard.  Maud the wonder dog was all over it and chased her under a spruce tree, where she lay paralyzed with fear.  I made it through the gate as fast as I could run in the snow, sighted her huddled under the lower branches of the tree, and grabbed her in my arms. She was cold and shaking and I ran to the house with her.

Michael retrieved a cat carrier from the garden shed and we placed her on a towel inside and locked her in.  She spent the night in the bathroom in front of the heater. Next day I called a friend who also raises chickens and pleaded with her to add Minnie Pearl to her flock.  I could not bring myself to put her back into the hostile environment that she had endured in our poultry house with the older guineas.  Our request was graciously received and Michael loaded Minnie Pearl up and delivered her to Joyce, who has been caring for her since.  We are grateful that her chickens don’t mind, and that she took pity on one of God’s little creatures.  Minnie Pearl is thriving in her new home and roosts with the chickens at night.

 

A Winter’s Tail

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Pete the Wandering Peacock

A male peacock which belongs to a neighbor is perched up in the cottonwood tree and on this particular day, we are having a winter storm complete with wind, drifting snow and all around misery for our feathered friends.  I was headed to the barn to care for Tilly, our mare and Feed Lot, our Long Horn steer when I got a tug from Maud’s leash.

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Maud, Wonder Dog

At 50+ pounds, when Maud decides on a direction she is hard to resist.  More often than not, she drags me along or worse yet, pulls me off my feet in a mad dash for a deer, rabbit or some other imagined chase.  On this day, she sighted the peacock up in the tree and wanted to investigate. We have been watching and caring for the peacock for about a month in the hopes he will head home on his own volition.  He evades capture so we are left with few options.  It seemed odd he would be up high in a tree in a storm.  A feeding bowl at the base of the tree had blown full of drifting snow.  I planned to check on it when I came back from the barn, but with Maud’s insistence, decided to dig it out and re-fill it in case a frozen bird needed a bite of sustenance and could not wait.

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Still snowing . . .

We walked back to the garden shed where the bird feed is kept, filled a small bucket with seed for the peacock, and before I could open the gate to leave , there was another tug on the leash.  Since we were still in the yard, I let go to see what Maud was so interested in.  She raced to the fence nearest the chicken house and barked ferociously.  The snow was blowing and swirling so hard I would have overlooked two of my favorite Welsummer chickens huddled and half frozen by the chicken house door.  These hens wander up and down the creek bottom foraging until the other chickens have gone in for the day.  I had overlooked them and locked up leaving them out in the storm all night.  Poor girls, I had to pick them up and carry them inside to warm up.

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Maud knows best . . .

Meanwhile, there is still a very hungry peacock perched high up in a cottonwood with the wind and snow swirling around him.  I dumped the bucket of seed in the bowl where I have been feeding him and kicked the snow back in the hope it would not drift over before the peacock decided to come down and have a bite.  I have been feeding him at two locations, but the snow is badly drifted up along the grove of Russian Olive trees that he travels back and forth between.  I doubt he’ll be doing much travel today and my worry is that he will suffer frostbite if he doesn’t come down soon.

Day II – Minus 3 degrees last night, storm and winds died down and today it is sunny.  Pete the peacock is still in the tree where we believe he has been ensconced for about 36 hours now.  He is still alive, perhaps he can no longer fly down?  I expected to see a frozen, dead bird on the ground this morning, but he is still hanging on.

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“Where’s lunch?” . . . .

An update is in order.  Pete’s travails are no less than temperatures that have dipped to -21 degrees, combined with several additional snow storms, and he is still managing to stay alive.  Taken Feb. 22, this photo captured him near one of his feeding stations at the base of some Russian Olive trees.  We were traveling for several days and wondered how he would manage without his daily rations.  Fortunately for Pete, our animal caregiver took pity on him and dumped some wild bird seed for him.

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“Where’s lunch?” . . . .

As if Pete didn’t have enough trouble, a herd of deer that hang around all winter have discovered his feeding bowl and scooped up most of the cracked corn and sunflower seeds, leaving Pete with the crumbs.  What is a guy to do?

Birds of Dry Creek

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Mourning Dove

Over a period of years I have attempted to capture the birds that we see at the feeders, in the meadows, perched in trees and flying overhead.  It is a tough assignment as anyone who attempts to photograph birds can attest.  Rarely do they sit still or pose for you with the possible exception of owls.  I had to comb my photo files dating back to 2012 when I received my first digital camera and dared to keep snapping away knowing I could just delete my wasted shots and retain a few (very few) good ones.

I do not believe we see the volume of birds that I recall from my childhood.  Early mornings then would be filled with a cacophony of melodious bird song coming from the cotton wood trees that could literally awaken the household with the clamor of competing birds.  The cotton wood trees remain, but the roar of birdsong has subsided.  This is not a scientific appraisal, just my personal testimony to the state of birds along Dry Creek.

I chose my favorite bird to begin this series–one which my mother favored–the Mourning Dove.  A “hollow, mournful coah, cooo, cooo, coo” could be heard high in the cottonwoods above the old ranch house and used to be quite soothing as we lay down to nap on a hot summer day.  (My mother did the napping, I would sneak outside and find something interesting to do.)  These birds will always remind me of Mother.

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Crested Blue Jay

We don’t see many of these showy, noisy jays.  The white spots on wings and tail, and the black necklace differentiate it from Stellar’s Jay.  They are widespread throughout eastern Rockies and according to my bird book, expanding northwestward and hybridizing with Stellar’s Jay.  Whatever brought him to the old elm stump in the yard only he knows for sure.  We would love to see more of them.

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Blue Grouse

Locally known as “fool hens,” these gentle, trusting birds show no signs of fear and can be easily approached.  I photographed this female at my brother’s cabin in the Big Horns and included her in my collection because I admired her so.

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Turkey Vulture

The Rodney Dangerfield of birds, vultures clean up the remains of dead animals and for this they get no respect.  They have a wing span nearly as large as an eagle (6 feet) and roost up high in the cottonwood trees.  Their small red head, somewhat similar to a turkey, must be how they earned their name.

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Turkey Vultures

This gathering of vultures overhead one evening was quite unusual.  Typically we have two to three roosting on a continual basis over the summer and the congregation of these big birds was startling.  What did they know?  Was there a massive die-off somewhere nearby?  It remains a mystery.

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Pyrrhuloxia?

Another mystery is this bird sitting above the feeder one day.  It sent us to the bird book and we still haven’t figured out precisely what it is.  Our best guess is the Pyrrhuloxia.  The grey back, buff breast and touch of red in the wings and crest separate it from the female Cardinal which has a black patch at the base of its bill and around the eyes.

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Pyrrhuloxia vs. Northern Cardinal??

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Rough Legged Hawk

We were walking and came upon this hawk in the grass.  He seemed stunned and uncoordinated, as though he had struck a branch overhead and fallen to the ground.  He is very similar to a Ferruginous Hawk and may very well be one.  We left him and when we came back to check on him, he was gone.  Whatever his ailment, he apparently overcame it and was back in flight. We see many hawks sitting atop fence posts and power line poles.  Their habitat is prairie and plains.

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Yellow Warbler

More yellow than other warblers, this female has olive coloring across her back and lacks the rusty  breast streaks of the male.  Her song is a bright, cheerful tsee-tsee-tsee-tsee-titi-wee and caught my attention.  I finally located her and she remained still for a few moments, long enough for me to catch a so-so photo of her.

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Black-Headed Grosbeak

My brother’s old camping skillets laid around for years until we decided they would make a nice perch for the birds.  Seeds drop from the feeders above and the skillets make a great place to open sunflower seeds or catch a nap.  These two male Grosbeaks appear to be juvenile birds just out for a good time.  Their breast, collar and rump are dull orange and they can be recognized by their prominent broad bill.

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Rufous-Sided Towhee

Easily confused with a grosbeak, this towhee’s head and tail are black, sides Robin-red, belly white, back heavily spotted with white and eyes fiery red.  Arriving in early spring, the towhee rummages in dead leaves and hangs around the feeders.

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Ring-Necked Pheasant

These handsome gamecock-like birds get all the breaks.  The females are mottled brown and have none of the splendor of color or exotic markings these guys enjoy.  I know, I know, it is to camouflage them from predators while nesting and caring for their young but the ladies like to have fun too!

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American Gold Finch

Typically seen in groups on the lawn (they like dandelions) they gather in the spring and are a colorful sight.  They are distinguished from Warblers by their short, conical bills.  They frequent the feeders and entertain us with their song and bright color.

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American Gold Finch

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American Gold Finch

Perched in the grass, on the fence or at the feeders, these pretty little birds arrive in spring to brighten our day.

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Lazuli Bunting

Prettier than its cousin the Indigo Bunting, this little turquoise-colored finch visits us in the spring and can be seen at the feeders or in the meadow.  The two white wing bars distinguish it from a Bluebird.  It migrates to Mexico for the winter.

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Prairie Falcon

Similar to a Peregrine Falcon, this handsome bird was sitting on a post overlooking the vegetable garden and appeared to be taking its time to survey the grounds.  I ran for the camera expecting it to take flight before I could capture it, but it just sat quite still for me.  I have never seen another hawk or falcon perch in the yard, and this was a special treat.  Prairie Falcons range in the western U.S., Canada and Mexico and are found in mountainous grasslands, open hills, plains and prairies.

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Baby Great Horned Owls

Each spring we have been delighted by the arrival of baby owls.  Nests usually have two babies, but one year there were three, which did not end well.  One of the babies fell from the nest (or was pushed?) and languished on the ground for a couple of days.  It was heartbreaking for us to watch and we knew we could not interfere.  We prayed that the parents would care for it and help it back into the nest, but we saw no indication that they attempted to come to its aid.

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Sad little owl baby

The little owl stayed close to where he fell, huddled up in his downy feathered coat and awaited his fate.  I did a search for a bird rescue facility but came up with nothing within a day’s drive.  We could do nothing to save the little creature.

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Time to fly

On this occasion, we watched as the mother owl leads the fledgling to a perch for its first flight.  She seems to be saying “watch me, you can do this.”  They would do touch and go flights over to a nearby hill where they would rest, explore, and then fly back to the nest.  This goes on for a couple weeks, and then the family moves on to a greater range of tree tops nearby.  We spent many evenings listening to the juvenile owls call out to the parents from the tree tops.

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Female Downy Woodpecker

The male Downy Woodpecker has a red patch on the back of his head, which this female lacks.

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Downy Woodpecker

It is a delight to capture these colorful little birds, which do not visit that often.  Their range extends  from Alaska and the western U. S.  Quite similar to the Hairy Woodpecker.

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Meadowlark

Wyoming’s state bird, the Meadowlark, is my other favorite of all the birds we experience here on Dry Creek.  Their melodious song of 7-10 flutelike notes is a welcome to springtime.  They can usually be seen sitting on fence posts as they sing, typically in the morning or evening and what a wonder it is to listen!

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Blue Heron

This is a rare sighting of a Blue Heron on our pond.  We occasionally see them on the North Fork of Powder River a couple of miles south of us, but it is unusual to catch them here.  They stand about 4 feet tall, so it is hard to miss them!  We have tried adding minnows and even goldfish to the pond and likely that would bring a few more of our feathered friends to stop in for lunch.

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Black Bird Babies

About six babies were in this hole in a Cottonwood tree, all vying for attention and tumbling over each other.  The adults appeared to be common, or Brewer’s Blackbirds and are tireless parents.  Feeding this hungry group is a full-time job!

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Black Birds

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Sharp-Tailed Grouse

Just as their name implies, these grouse have long, pointed tails.  They are similar in coloration to prairie chickens, with pale chest and speckled brown backs.  During breeding season the male displays a purplish neck sack.  These grouse have been spotted in a row of Russian Olive trees along our driveway and we believe they hang out in a pasture nearby.  I am hoping to get a better shot of them.

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Brown-capped Rosie-Finch

About six of these little roley-poleys landed in the snow underneath the feeders one recent winter day.  They were puffed up against the cold, but appear to be broad-chested naturally.  We have searched the bird reference guide, but the answer came from a friend – thanks, Marilyn!

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Bald Eagle

America’s national bird, the Bald Eagle migrates from Canada and Alaska to winter in our area.  They can be spotted throughout the year, but their numbers increase during winter.  They are a massive bird, with a wing span of 7-8 feet.  The mature Bald Eagles have a white head and tail.  We see them along the highway, usually with a cluster of ravens, lunching on road kill deer, rabbit or other unfortunate animal.  They perch high in the bare branches of  trees for a vantage point to spot prairie dogs, rabbits, voles and whatever else they can make a meal of, including spring lambs which make them unpopular with local sheep ranchers.

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Golden Eagle

Try as I might, I can never get these giant birds to sit still for a photo.  Taken while we were doing the eagle survey for the Bureau of Land Management, he saw our Jeep arrive and soon took flight from his perch on a power pole.  Oh well, next time!

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Wild Turkeys

I seem to recall Ben Franklin thought the Wild Turkey should become the national bird, but the turkeys lost out to the Bald Eagle.  We used to get seasonal visits from a flock of wild turkeys who would roost high up in the cottonwood trees.  Dad kept a sack of corn around to feed them and made pets of them.  For some unexplained reason they stopped coming, perhaps due to predators.  They do still thrive in the area and I photographed these recently while we were conducting our eagle survey.

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Pygmy Nuthatch

These little birds climb down the tree headfirst and scamper around searching for bugs in the tree bark.  They are entertaining to watch as they circle around and climb up and down the tree.

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European Starling

Considered a garrulous creature, this unfortunate Starling flew down our chimney and raised a ruckus in the fireplace.  It took some time to sort out where the noise was emanating from or what was the cause.  Fortunately for this bird, there was no fire when it decided to make an entrance in our living room.  It created a considerable amount of chaos before we were able to capture it in a plastic bag and set it free outdoors.

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Starling Songfest

The heated birdbath seems just right for this gathering of Starlings and they appear to be having a good time drinking, bathing and singing.

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Prairie Sage Grouse

Somewhat reclusive, sage grouse live in sagebrush country and Wyoming has the largest concentration of them in the western U.S.  Not long ago one flew into the yard, barely missing Michael’s head, and landed in the grass.  A hawk was in pursuit of the grouse but soared up and away once its prey escaped. The grouse was stunned and disoriented, so Michael gathered it up and set it free on the hill above the house.  We hope it made it home before the hawk returned.  In spring, the sage grouse gather at leks to mate and the males display fine plumage and make a “booming” courtship call to the females.

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Immature Bald Eagle

This immature eagle hasn’t reached the age for his head and tale to become white.  A keen hunter, he will wait patiently for an opportunity to materialize.

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Rufous Hummingbird

We hang feeders around the end of June and have quite a few little Hummingbirds pay us a visit.  I am always amazed at how many we see in the mountains early in spring when there is nothing blooming and we have so few down below with flowers and fruit trees covered in blossoms.  They migrate to Mexico in winter and for such a tiny bird to cover so great a distance is one of nature’s miracles.

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White Crowned Sparrow

A little undecided on this identification, but this is our best guess.  There are many types of sparrows and we get a variety at the feeders.

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White Crowned Sparrow . . . .

A later shot confirmed our identification of this pair of birds who paid a visit to the feeder recently.

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Cassin’s Finch

Very similar to the Purple Finch but less red on chest and back.  We see these fairly often at the feeders.

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Northern Flicker

Wearing his black bib, this “Red Shafted” Flicker is a beautiful bird with a red patch under his bill and at the tip of its tail.  Brown spots along a white chest, and black stripes across a brown back lend a richness to its coat. They make their homes in tree trunks or wherever they can use their long beak to drill a hole – sometimes in the siding on a barn or house.

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Killdeer

Named for its loud, noisy kill-deeah song, this leggy bird can be found near reservoirs, streams and, in this case, our pond.  They nest on the ground and will go to great lengths to divert any disturbance from their young, prancing down the road or path to capture your attention.  Wide ranging, they can be found  in So. Alaska, Canada, Mexico, W. Indies, also coastal Peru and, of course, Wyoming.

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American Robin

Known for its brick-red breast, the American Robin is also a favorite.  They are the first to arrive in spring, and some winters we have sighted them as early as February.  The last bird song at the end of the day, I often walk down the creek bottom in summer to listen to their clear caroling at dusk. They signal their goodnight with sharp, staccato chirps and then it grows quiet until the owls begin their conversation.

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American Robin

Robins love to bathe and will frequently jump in for a splash.

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Western Tanager

The first Tanager we have sighted, it was an exciting discovery underneath the feeders in July, 2019. The males are most colorful, with red heads.  My bird reference book says the red disappears in autumn and winter.  This is the only U.S. tanager with strong wing bars.

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Wren

Small in size, these little wrens dart quickly from branch to branch, making it hard to photograph them.  We usually hear them singing before we see them.  It is our hope they will nest in some of the bird houses we hung designed for small birds.

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Peacock

Whoa, what’s this?  Not the usual fowl found along Dry Creek.  This fine fellow is a visitor from next door who has not found his way home.  He has been managing to survive in the tall grasses and cover provided by Russian Olive trees.  He enjoys a snack of seeds and will allow me to come fairly close if he is truly hungry, but otherwise he is very elusive and impossible to catch without a major effort on the part of maybe half a dozen determined bird catchers.  He has survived the cold, snow and wind without shelter and refuses to go in with the chickens and guineas at night.  Hard to predict how this story will end.

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A few months later, the peacock still survives, and this day he brought his date to lunch.  The white P-hen lives nearby and apparently escaped from her pen to have a little excitement.  The male drifts up and down the creek bottom, eating here for a day or two then returning home for a spell.  He has obviously been able to overcome weather and predators and is enjoying the good life.

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Ringed Turtle Dove . . . .

Near the size of the Mourning Dove, this species has moved into our area only recently and seem to have replaced the Mourning Doves to an extent in the habitat.  Considered a nuisance bird, they coo much like a pigeon and hang around the feeders close in to the yard.  They have a distinctive “ring around the collar” and a paler beige color , with a band of white on the underside of their tail feathers.  Occasionally some of them will show up in the chicken house which creates pandemonium as they try to escape and they raise enough dust to quickly become one of my least favorite birds.  This one is enjoying a soak in the heated bird bath and creating quite a display.

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Pinyon Jays . . . .

 

A bird my father declared as a “damn nuisance” arrived here in winter in the early 90’s soon after we hung feeders for my mother to enjoy outside a large window in the living room.  They made fast work of the sunflower seeds in the feeders and Dad became so frustrated with empty feeders he perched himself outside with his shotgun to scare them away.  That strategy was dubious from the start.  Mom protested when he scared all the birds away, and when he lost his balance due to the mighty kick of his old shotgun, things got interesting.  He landed against the stub of an old radio tower still embedded about 10 feet from the edge of the house and bruised his hip quite badly.  He hobbled around for a few days, muttering at the jays.  His next  venture was to tap on the window with a rock he prized and kept on a shelf nearby, thereby spooking the birds for at least a few minutes.  He chipped and nicked the glass in a variety of places – thankfully he didn’t break the window!  We subsequently replaced it with a bay window where we can observe the birds along with mom.  We lost her in 2007, but she is still here in spirit watching the birds with us.

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A pair . . . .

These Canada Geese are having a blissful afternoon floating across our pond.  They didn’t seem to mind my presence, which is unusual as their typical behavior is to fly as we approach.

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Mallard Ducks . . . .

We have been watching this pair of Mallards for a couple of weeks.  One or the other, sometimes both visit Dry Creek for a swim and browsing for food.  Our hope is that they have a nest in the area, however their odds of raising young ones are against them.  A fox, coyote, or feral cats will likely have the advantage but we will enjoy them  as long as they stick around.

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Stranger in our midst . . . .

This bird arrived recently and began causing a stir in the sagebrush and on the open meadows.  At first I could see no bird and mistook the short, pwit, repeated over and over, as a prairie dog or other rodent wandering through the sage.  The sound was moving over the ground quickly and on the second day, I sighted a couple birds sitting on a sagebrush very briefly but at a distance I could not see clearly enough to identify them.

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Pipit?

Another day passes and we were standing near a pasture replacing emitters in a drip system when I heard the repeated pwit of a bird calling, moving fairly rapidly over the area.  I could see half a dozen spread along the ground, moving forward and walking, rather than hopping, which is normally how birds move on the ground.  We decided they were hunting grasshoppers, which have arrived in a horde lately, and we welcomed any help from the birds. I immediately headed back to the house and grabbed my camera, hoping to catch a photograph to help with identification.

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A thorough review of the much worn and tattered copy of Peterson Field Guide to western birds revealed only one candidate, although none of the illustrations is exactly the same as the bird identified.  We settled on Pipit and the Red Throated Pipit seemed the closest.  My sense is these birds are traveling through and I hope I can continue to photograph them before they leave us.

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The flashy colors of the Rose-Breasted Grosbeak who arrived in early May was a delight to see and remained calm as if posing for his picture.  His range is southern Canada and central United States.

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A world traveler, he winters in West Indies, Mexico and Peru.

 

There are many more birds to add to this story, and hopefully I will be able to add better photographs of some of these and find new subjects to include.