On a recent walk along our trail, I tripped over a 10-pound frozen cow pie (I do not exaggerate) and very nearly did a face plant on the ground.  I had been scanning the tree tops for a glimpse of the owls and lost track of where my feet were headed.  As I re-focused on the trail I noted the various traces of frozen animal poop that have been accumulating over the winter.  Deer, rabbit, antelope, coyote, horse, dog and of course, cows.  It seems since we established a trail by mowing down the tall grasses, the four-legged creatures have taken over our scenic route.  But our flying feathered friends have also left their calling card on bird feeders, tree limbs, fence rails, and even windows on the house.

Then, of course, there are the barnyard variety of fowl who leave daily deposits.  Fred and Ethyl, the Chinese geese, are notorious and had to be fenced off the front porch where they like to gather around the heated bucket of water we leave out for the dogs.  If you have studied geese, you will note that water goes in one end and a strange, colorful deposit comes out the other end with great regularity!  It must be all the grass and plants they eat.  The guineas are much less of a nuisance in that department.

Perhaps I have become sensitized to poop since I took on the role of Mother Goose to four baby goslings.  For the past three weeks I have been cleaning out the rabbit cage thrice daily and laying down fresh newspapers–The Wall Street Journal, Casper Star Tribune, Buffalo Bulletin,  Wyoming LIvestock Roundup, High Country News–it is all the same to them.  I have not detected a preference among them for cartoons over the sports pages, financial news over politics.  But I digress.

It brings to mind a gift received not long ago from the Bighorn Mountain Forest Service.  It is called the Wilderness Waste Containment Bag For Solid Human Waste.  It seems so many humans have been transgressing into the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area and leaving behind piles of poop (along with Charmin blossoms) that drastic measures had

. . . if you poop it, you pack it

to be taken!  The bright yellow mesh bag comes with its own toilet paper,antiseptic wipe, foil liner and reclosable tabs which allow you to “zip shut to seal tightly, locking in the odor and waste.” You then carry your poop with you to the nearest trash receptacle or landfill.  Since these are far and few between in a wilderness area, you get the picture.  Hopefully the wilderness trekkers will not confuse it with their lunch bags!

Politics Is In The Air (even the barnyard)

. . . this GOP debate is getting rancorous!

This gaggle of geese talk non-stop whenever there is an audience, and do their best to stay ahead of the current frontrunners. They have decided to run for higher office to ensure better housing, a bigger wading pool, economic prosperity and liberty for all (the rabbit cage is getting pretty cozy).  These goslings have doubled in size in the two weeks since their birth and show no signs of slowing down!  The laundry basket lounge is also crowded and today we had the first escape.

Now that they have been formally baptized, you may vote your delegates to Lucy, Esmerelda (Ezy), Magilicutty (Gil) or Ricardo (Ricky).  May the best goose win!

Guinea Fowl Follies

The guineas have been unruly this past week!  All twelve of them normally travel in a pack, but this week they have been scattering in as many directions and making so much noise I have gone to check up on them repeatedly.  We are still in the grip of winter, so this cannot be spring mating, heaven forbid.  I dread the inevitable nesting that will place the hens in constant danger of predators ranging from raccoons, bobcats, foxes, skunks, feral cats, and stray dogs.  To survive, the guineas must be closed in their little coop at night.

This past summer, one hen made a nest under the propane tank, which was surrounded by tall grass that completely concealed her. Bart, the local bullsnake invaded the nest and made off with several newly hatched keets.  We were able to save five, which we raised in the house.  On another occasion two hens shared a nest in the garden, and Bart arrived on the scene again

. . . who's on first?

. We  were able to hatch three under a heat lamp in the laundry room (yeh, the same room and cage where four goslings now reside).  No room at the inn for more babies for awhile!

You cannot out-stare an owl!

We caught a great horned owl peering into the window of our home office yesterday.  This photo is taken through the window and we took several shots over a couple of hours.  The only movement we could discern in that time was rotation of the owl’s head to look different directions.

For several years, a pair of owls nested in a giant ponderosa pine that stands near the house.  One summer, they went about the business of raising their young in spite of backhoes, cement trucks, electric saws and nail guns from the construction crew who were working on an addition to the house directly below them.

Can this owl be considering that same ponderosa pine?  We have had several sightings of the pair in various locations in the cottonwoods up and down the creek bottom, but have not been able to pinpoint a nest as yet.  We are hopeful they will consider the pine tree once again.

Gang of Four

What are we doing in the laundry basket?

Fred and Ethyl’s babies are growing at a breathtaking pace. Each day they become more active, stretching their wings, splashing in their wading pool and whistling when I enter the laundry room.  I have tried making various sounds to communicate with them, and today I decided to whistle back.  I was pretty rusty, but finally got it going with a few pretty clear whistling sounds.  They grew very quiet and studied me carefully.  Did I finally make a noise they liked?  Disliked?  Did they think I sounded like them?   At any rate, it got their attention.

They are delightful and soft to hold, although I have learned to wrap their bottoms in a paper towel.  Typical geese!  Based on our observations of Fred and Ethyl’s habits, we searched in the refrigerator for something green to offer them to eat.  (Ethyl had to be fenced out of the grass in front of the house, as we learned the hard way that a dripping hose or water spill of any kind would lead to an excavation of turf, roots and soil that resembled Boston’s Big Dig!)  We made the mistake of trying a little watercress, and they loved it.  They absolutely devour the stuff–living hydroponically grown gourmet watercress with roots attached— to the tune of $5 for a small bag.  And it’s 75 miles to the nearest grocery store that sells it.  This is going to be a real adventure.

An interesting variety of names have been suggested, and we’re evaluating personalities before the formal baptism.  Thanks to our readers for great creativity!

The Little Gosling Who Could

Is it good news or bad?  Clearly the scholarly type.#4 got off to a rough start.  We discovered him quite by accident as we were returning from a trip to town.  Fred and Ethel were approaching their bathing tubs in the yard, and we noted Ethel’s absence from her nest.  She had four remaining eggs in her nest that would surely freeze in the grip of a winter storm that was blowing in.  As we hurried to the house, something else caught our eye.  A tiny gosling was struggling to keep up with Ethyl, and Fred was jealously guarding his entourage with hissing and frontal assaults.

#4 was only hours old, and had somehow managed to climb out of the goose house and travel with his parents a great distance over major obstacles for one so tiny.  As Ethyl bathed, he seemed at a loss.  He was too small to climb into the tub with her.   He huddled nearby, shivering with cold. Fred, who was doing his usual attack, hiss, squawk, retreat, and attack to keep us at bay, did something very cruel.  He attacked his baby with a glancing blow to it’s tiny head.  And the war was on.

Our indecision and reluctance to steal yet another of Ethyl’s babies was gone in an instant. We moved in to retrieve #4 and pandemonium ensued: geese were screeching, squawking, honking, flapping, and splashing, which drew the attention of Rosie, our dog, who joined in the fray. My husband was finally able to grab Fred and restrain him, and I was left to try to catch a terrified little goose and restrain Rosie from making a real mess of things. Ethyl was circling frantically, feathers flying and furious.  She managed to stay between me and her baby, as I flailed on my hands and knees, holding Rosie with one arm and trying to grab the gosling with the other.

I was finally able to clutch the tiny creature in my hand and tuck him inside my jacket.  We headed for the house, but not fast enough to escape Fred, who had been released on his own recognizance.  Several sharp bites on my backside caught me by surprise.  I yelled for assistance and Rosie came to the rescue as I beat a hasty retreat.

#4 was cold and exhausted, but received a warm, fuzzy welcome from his brothers and/or sisters (who knows which is which?)  Ethyl has returned to her daily routine, along with her jealous and devoted husband who, by the way, flunked fatherhood on a previous occasion.  Last summer, Ethyl’s first and only surviving hatchling succumbed to Fred’s attentions, and he won’t get another shot at harming his progeny.

Good Grief, Ethel–Babies in January?

Our Chinese geese, Fred and Ethel, became parents today.  In the dead of winter.  What were they thinking?  When Ethel began to sit on a nest in mid December, we shook our heads in wonder.  Her dilligence was rewarded today with three gold and brown babies, with the possibility of more to come!

We had little faith she would have a successful outcome, and panic ensued when we heard the sounds of little peeps at feeding time (Fred and Ethel do not make little peeps — try loud honks and squawks).  We knew her time was near, and a cracked remnant of a shell was our first clue. Upon closer inspection, we saw one downy head poking out from under Ethel’s wing.  Now what?

Fred and Ethyl live in a converted calf warmer, which is used to revive baby calves suffering from the cold. It is constructed of plywood,  warmed with a heat lamp suspended from the ceiling, has an entrance door, a small hatchway at one end to supply food and water, and a ventilation slot that is covered for the winter to keep out the cold and snow.  It has no insulation, and an electrically heated bucket keeps drinking water from freezing.  It was the best goose housing  we could come up with on short notice, but that is another story.  It is no place to raise baby geese in January in Wyoming!

With a minimum of chaos, we gathered up the three babies and headed to the house.  Fred had to be restrained, but Ethyl graciously surrendered her offspring without biting me and clung to her nest where more eggs needed her attention.  The laundry room is now a nursery (again), and a wire rabbit cage is home to baby fowl (again).  And I am Mother Goose.

Photos to follow.


Great Horned Owls Are Back!

The great horned owl serenade at dusk and dawn has come early this year. Usually arriving in early February, the hooting of two owls singing their love songs echoes through the bare branches of the cottonwoods these bitter January days. There have been a few sightings of them on our daily walks, even though they are well camouflaged in their winter plumage of grey and white.  They peer down at us, completely motionless. If there is plentiful food, they will nest and raise their young.  We are very hopeful and will follow their progress from a distance.