Thursday, March 31, 2011

Miscellaneous March Photo Notes

The lovely squirrel that first began eating seeds in front of the barn in February and was featured in my "Spring Cleaning" blog as a Douglas Squirrel, isn't. It is, according to biologist Dan Gleason, an Eastern Fox Squirrel. They've been invading urban areas of the west. I've edited that blog to correct my mistake. We are nowhere close to an urban area and this squirrel seems to be all alone so unlikely to overrun our native squirrels. I still think it's a very handsome creature. Here are a couple more recent photos. I love that tail.

Another handsome creature is the Northern Shoveler, but not on our farm. These photos were taken at Baskett Slough Wildlife Refuge on our way home from last Friday's funeral. Nothing like birdwatching to lighten up a day. The female Shoveler is not nearly so colorful as her mate, but has just as big a bill.

Back on the farm, Polly, our Morgan mare turning 32 in April, was the highlight of the visit for the grandchildren of our friends and neighbors, the Werths. The littlest one, age 2 1/2, had to be pulled kicking and screaming off the horse. Polly just kept on grazing. She has had many, many children on her back in her lifetime... probably helping to create several more generations of horse-crazy adults. The oldest grandkid liked the llamas, too.

In the greenhouse, the yellow Clivia that Munazza gave me for Christmas opened. The normal orange ones with yellow throats are open, too, but a yellow was only developed a few years ago and is hard to come by. Thanks, Munazza!
March also saw a full moon at perigee, the closest the moon comes to earth in its elliptical orbit. So-called a "Super Moon", it just looked like a full moon to me, remarkable only for the fact that the March clouds cleared enough for us to see it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

L Program, Part C

Last weekend was the third and final session of the L Program for Learner Judges. At least, the last for us auditors. The candidates will have a D session sometime in the future where they'll have to actually judge classes.

The handout booklet was again excellent. Axel Steiner, a well known judge, was the presenter this time and offered several "Axelisms" as he called them, while explaining the "Collective Marks" that are given at the end of each dressage test after all the movements have been accomplished (or not) and scored. And, like the first two judges, he added little tidbits of "inside" knowledge.

Axelisms: "A counter canter is a true canter going the wrong way." "What you want to see from C of a halt at X is two legs and a smile."

Inside info: A meeting of long-time judges in January discussed the high scores that some dressage horses are now receiving, sometimes for spectacular but not necessarily correct movement. The consensus was that judges need to cool it.

Once again we had lecture and slides and videos in the morning with live horses performing dressage tests in the afternoon. Axel showed a video of some dressage horse prospects in Europe that had been auctioned at one of the premier horse auctions... for many thousands of dollars. He wanted to show us the quality that would earn a 9 or 10 in gaits so we'd know when we looked at the horses in the afternoon how to rate them. As he said, if you give a "nice" horse here a 9, you'd have to give one of those European horses a 15 and the scale only goes to 10.

Axel explained why the collective marks have been changed this year to give much more weight to rider scores (a coefficient of 3 instead of 1): "to address rider issues. Our development of horses has outpaced our development of riders." And to put less emphasis on the gait score because "you can buy gaits". Axel also emphasized that the rider can detract from the horse's gaits and lower its potential score. "When the test goes well, the rider deserves credit. When the test does not go well, the rider must bear the responsibility."

Sunday was the day we evaluated the rider scores for position and seat, effect of the aids, and harmony. I probably learned more from this portion of the L program than any other, at least I hope I learned it. Although I can review the handbook and my voluminous notes, it was really the videos and photos of riders in good and not-so-good positions that helped me understand the importance of "COM over BOS" (Center of Mass over Base of Support). Now if I can only accomplish that when I'm astride.

Unfortunately for my concentration and enjoyment, the 4 a.m. rising on Saturday and lack of regular meals (lunch break and lunch were late and I'd eaten early) started me on the perilous headache/ringing ears Meniere's Syndrome path. The drive home was pretty tough. I had not recovered by 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning and considered staying home. But I really wanted to see the rider position information so took food and ate at the ten a.m. break, again at the 12:30 lunch, and half way through the afternoon. Plus took a nap at the lunch break.

Both Ruth and I left early... she to get to the airport in time for her flight home and me to drive home before I got too dizzy. I cleared my head by stopping at favorite birding spots on the way home and happily found a pair of White-tailed Kites at one and a Bald Eagle at another. I did chores early and slept late on Monday.

But throughout my travails I considered how lucky I am to be able to do all that I do. Walking to the barn in the morning is a privilege, even when it's at 4 a.m.. After the funeral that Johnny and I attended on Friday I know that even breathing is a privilege. The funeral was for a friend my age whose two daughters went to school with our sons. Her husband, another friend of ours, had died years ago of Muscular Dystrophy. He happened to have a rare inheritable type and both their daughters inherited it. These lovely girls, near the age of our two boys, are now both confined to electric wheelchairs and one breathes with the help of a respirator. My little dizzy ear disease pales in comparison. But what love and caring and strength they both exhibited at their last parent's funeral. And Bonnie, the younger one whom I knew the best as a girl, is a self-published author with more books on the way. She can't walk, but she sure can write. Bonnie's tribute to her mother, which her husband read for her at the service, was beautiful.

How incredibly fortunate are the riders and candidates and auditors at Devonwood to be able to follow our dreams, ride our horses, and muck out our barns with limbs that move where we ask them to. I swore after Friday's funeral that I would never complain again about my aches and ailments.

Of course, that didn't last. But maybe I'll at least complain less.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Shopping for Jeans

Shopping is one of my least favorite activities, coming just barely ahead of cleaning house. The thing I hate most to shop for is clothes. So I tend to wear my jeans (which is what I wear 99% of the time) until they are no longer good even for rags. But eventually, I must shop.

Years ago, a person could buy things from a catalog and be reasonably sure they would fit. A size 10 was the same everywhere. No more. Now clothes are made all over the world and every country seems to have a different idea of what a size 10 is (and every other size). I thought by following the measurements in the catalog I ordered from a couple years ago, I would get jeans of those dimensions. Wrong. They were considerably longer and bigger at the waist than the stated measurements. I gave them to Johnny. They don't fit him either but at least they don't fall down.

Now I buy jeans only from Good Will. It's on the way to the feed store, the only store I don't mind shopping at, so not too painful. Even at Good Will, as at any store, I must try on the jeans to find something that fits. Trying on clothes is something I hate at least as much as cleaning house. The only reason I had a dress to wear for our oldest son's wedding was because his fiancee took me to a store, sat me in a dressing room, handed me dresses to try on, and told me which one to buy. I think she was afraid I would show up to the ceremony in jeans. Or a dress from the 60's, back when I wore the occasional dress.

But Jessica lives in Seattle and I live here so it's up to my good friend Velta to pore through the racks at Good Will with me. Thanks to her, I learned how to tell the hip huggers from the normal jeans (the zipper is shorter on the silly hip huggers). 99% of the jeans on the rack are hip huggers. Those are now the "normal" jeans, apparently. In catalogs, they call jeans that fasten at your waist, where pants should fasten, in my opinion, "vintage" or "high-waisted". In my day, "vintage" was 1930's and earlier, "high-waisted" was right under one's breasts and reserved for nice dresses and nightgowns.

I am, at the moment, wearing a pair of hip huggers that I bought at Good Will on a trip before Velta taught me how to check the length of the zipper. Why I didn't realize these had a low waist when I tried them on is a mystery. Probably because I was in a terrific hurry to find something and get out of there. The only way I can keep them up is to stuff my shirt and sweatshirt inside, then put on a pair of coveralls so they can't fall any farther than my crotch. How in the world do young folks keep these things up? Actually, I can answer that, having watched one of the guys at the feed store periodically hoisting his pants back up as he loads my feed. Does he know his butt crack shows half the time? Does he care?

Last week, I knew I had to buy two pair of jeans. I won't be able to wear enough clothes in warmer weather to keep this pair from falling down and I only have one other for "good" (going to town to buy feed, auditing clinics, out to dinner, etc.) The good pair I bought at Good Will some time back and I love them. Wanting to find another just like them, I googled, only to find they are no longer made but sold occasionally on ebay for a zillion dollars as "vintage jeans". This is why Good Will is such a good place to shop. People donate really good items from back when clothes were made to fit people.

Having no luck with google, I enlisted Velta's help and we found two pair of normal ("high-waisted") jeans at Good Will. Velta found one of them on the 50% off rack. I guess not too many people like vintage jeans.

I will wear these hip huggers until they're filthy, then wear one of the "new" pair when I throw these in the wash. And hope they all last a very long time so I don't have to go through the torture of jean shopping again any time soon.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Goat Palace Progress

Every afternoon when Johnny's sciatica pain eases, he works on the new goat barn. Above he is putting a handle on the feed room door. Notice the windows. I asked for windows everywhere. The views are lovely out of all of them. But it recently occurred to me that I'll have a lot of glass to wash.

Below are the milk room windows from inside.

And below is the feed room window. How could I wall off a view like that?

Even the loft has a view. I didn't ask for a loft window but Johnny thought we needed light and he found a window cheap that fit where he wanted it. Look one direction out the window and you see the carriage house and riding arena; look another and you see Spirit Mountain.

From this view, standing in the loft looking at that window (with a construction ladder in front of it), you can perhaps pick out the wooden staircase against the wall to the right of the window. That goes up to the level of the Barn Owl nest ledge and box, which are above the window on the left. So far, no owls have moved in. Perhaps after construction ceases... or after the old barn is torn down and that nesting area no longer exists.

The goat portion of the barn is yet to be equipped with feeders and kidding pen dividers, etc. But it will be delightful when finished. Meanwhile, this year's baby goats have to put up with less than palatial quarters. One kid is playing king of the mountain on an old, unused feeder while another is playing king of McCoy. He loves the baby goats and lets them jump all over him.

The babies in photo below are playing amidst Mister McCoy's stash of toys: large sticks, bones, a ball and an old sweatshirt. Unfortunately, I'm sure he'll move his grungy toys to the elegant new barn when the time comes.

It's beginning to look like next year's baby goats will be able to play king of the McCoy mountain in a lovely new Goat Palace.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Shirley's Prize

A week ago, I spotted The Black Dog (also sometimes known as Shirley Puppy) licking or eating something way out in the back of one of our pastures. I went to investigate. Shirley left before I arrived, heading for her home in the llama/sheep covered area behind Johnny's shop. What Shirley had been licking was a stomach, intact, but very nicely cleaned off. I didn't know whose stomach it was... I wasn't missing any goats or sheep or llamas.

Later that day, the mystery was solved when Johnny called me out to the llama/sheep covered area. Being guarded by Shirley Puppy was the head and front quarters of a yearling deer. Something, I suspected a coyote, had killed the deer and Shirley had found part of the uneaten remains and hauled them home... along with the stomach that she left in the field having licked everything worthwhile off of it.

The next day I hiked down to the lower field, beyond the stomach field, with The Big White Dog (also known as Mister McCoy), to see if I could find any more of the poor creature and possibly determine who the murderer had been. McCoy, unlike Shirley, does not have the run of the neighborhood but is locked in with the goats except when I take him out. Unlike Shirley, McCoy is too big to squeeze through the fences that Shirley slithers through.

The Big White Dog has a marvelous sense of smell and found every coyote scat along our way. He followed the scent to the fence, which he could not get through but which the coyote obviously had as the stomach was no longer in the field. Then McCoy traced the coyote's path to a nearby tree, where lay the stomach contents but not the stomach, which the coyote apparently found tastier than Shirley Puppy had.

After McCoy had licked every bit of whatever he could find that was edible around the area of the undigested stomach contents, I convinced him to keep looking, or rather, sniffing. He followed scents toward the woods and found several tiny pieces of deer hair along the way... and more coyote scat. Once in the woods, McCoy led me to a brushy area which must have been full of delicious scents as he spent a long time checking them out, including trying to nose his way under the nearby brush pile where the dead dear had probably been stashed and where Shirley had probably found the head with shoulders and front legs. Not much was left except a few pieces of hide with hair which McCoy promptly ate.

While The Big White Dog was occupied cleaning up the evidence, I walked a bit farther on a critter trail and spotted a few slivers of bone, one still with a small amount of flesh on it, and more patches of deer hide and hair. McCoy arrived but I hauled him off before he could clean up this area as I wanted to put the trail camera there and see what might return to the site. Later that day, Johnny and I brought the camera. McCoy accompanied us and tried again to tidy up.

What came the first day was, predictably, Shirley Puppy, looking to see if there was anything else left. A few days later, a neighbor's dog arrived checking out the scene. We have yet to catch a coyote in the camera but other woodland creatures came browsing at night. Here are videos of two of them.

I took a photo of Shirley's deer head but decided it was too gruesome to share. I felt badly about the death of the yearling that is no doubt one of the twins that grew up in our neighborhood... and who have been pruning my blueberries and roses nightly. The deer pellets in my garden and nightly prunings have ended since this deer met its demise, so I am not as sad as I might be. And obviously quite a few creatures have made use of the carcass: nothing in nature is wasted. But I would really like to get rid of the deer head that is all that remains, now, of Shirley's prize. I'll bet the llamas and sheep would like it gone, too.

Today, January 30, 2013, I reread this post and realized that this deer was likely killed by a bobcat or cougar, not a coyote. Coyotes don't stash their kills in brush piles. A coyote may well have eaten the stomach after the cat had taken the rest away. The deer head disappeared from Shirley's area behind the shop, never to resurface. I suspect something that Shirley did not want to tackle reclaimed it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lexington Horse Country: Memories from WEG

To make myself stop looking at photos of the devastation in Japan and stop worrying about the nuclear plant dangers, today I revisited some happy memories of my trip-of-a-lifetime to Lexington, Kentucky, for the World Equestrian Games last fall. While in Lexington, friend Ruth and I did more than immerse ourselves in dressage. We also took the Three Chimneys Stallion Tour offered by Blue Grass Tours. Wow.

Our tour guide had that soft, slow Kentucky drawl that I love and the wonderful southern courtesy. "Y'all having a good time?" He narrated the trip to and from 3 Chimneys, pointing out famous Thoroughbred farms along the way. I took photos while Ruth took notes and later sent them to me, bless her heart. Thanks to her, I can identify at least some of the pictures I took. We passed Bradley Farm, where Seabiscuit was born. Between 1920 and 1940, Bradley Farm, then known as Idle Hour, had four Kentucky Derby winners. Three Chimneys owner Robert Clay bought part of Bradley Farm for his mares and foals. So did Darby Dan Farm, connecting to another portion of its property by building a tunnel under the road.

It was thrilling to see so many famous Thoroughbred farms where horses I'd only read about or seen racing on television... or now via youtube.., had been born and raised. We drove through mile after mile of lovely rolling green fields lined with board fences and dotted with lovely barns and stately homes. Lexington is in the heart of bluegrass country and, for an exciting short time, so were we.

Then we arrived at Three Chimneys Farm. Oh my. Ruth and I were fascinated by the architecture as well as by the stallions and the history of the farm. The buildings were modeled after a farm in Australia that the owner had seen and admired. And some were built by Mennonites, without modern tools or nails.

Even the insides were beautiful. I loved the ceiling of this stallion barn.

But perhaps my favorite was the octagonal building housing a hot walker to keep the stallions in shape. I love octagons.

As westerners, we were thrilled to learn that Seattle Slew was the horse that made Three Chimneys famous... and rich. After retiring from racing, he stood at Three Chimneys for 17 years... with a fee of $800,000. His statue is the centerpiece of the farm.

Three Chimneys prides itself on how they manage their stallions. The studs are given 18 hours of turnout a day and have a personal groom who attends to their every need. Here is Smarty Jones who won two of the three Triple Crown races.

Stud fees are based not on a horse's racing career, but on the careers of his offspring and their offspring. Thus Smarty Jones stands for $10,000, while Dynaformer, who didn't begin winning until later in life and whom most of us have never heard of, stands for $150,000 because his son Barbaro and many of his other get have been big dollar winners.

We then saw the elaborate building for breeding mares. All precautions are taken to insure the safety of the mare and of the stallion, since all Thoroughbred breeding is done by live cover. One member of our tour asked why artificial insemination wasn't used. I have often wondered the same thing. The member of the stallion management team who gave the tour explained that the genetics of stallions like Dynaformer would be lost since everyone would want to breed to the race winners, who may or may not turn out to be the best sires. A stallion can only breed so many mares a year with live cover but could service many times that many from his semen. Thoroughbred stallion owners believe A-I would destroy the industry.

After our tour bus brought us back to the Convention Center in Lexington, Ruth and I spent the afternoon exploring the big horse expo going on there. Lexington was capitalizing on all the horse fanatics visiting from around the world for WEG. I'll save those memories for another time when I need to get away from world news.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Bad Week and a Bit of Sunshine

My friend Toni has a wonderful outlook on life. She has had her share of health problems and personal heartbreak, yet always finds something to be thankful for. On a stormy March day she wrote: "One moment there is rain or hail pounding ferociously on the windows, carried along by gale-force winds and water is running an inch deep across the sidewalk. Just as suddenly as it began, there is a lull in the storm, the wind dies and rays of sunlight dazzle the eye--for about three seconds--then the whole thing starts again. I love it! That way, if someone asks about the weather, I can truthfully say, 'Well we had some sun today.'"

I've tried to emulate Toni but it's been difficult this past week. It all started when I left a baby buck in too long with his mom and the other milkers last fall. By the time I realized he was breeding the does, he already had. In the last week, five does bred by little Gin Rummy freshened (had kids)... and all but one had problems. Some kids were turned in impossible positions to get out, one had been poisoned by a fetus that had died months earlier, and others were just plain too big. Most years I never have to help a doe give birth and rarely lose a kid. With these four does, I had to help all but one doe and I lost 3 kids out of 12, a pretty terrible percentage. Trying to think of this in Toni's terms, the mothers all are fine.

But there were other dark skies. My senior buck, only seven years old, was sick one day and died the next. I have no idea what was wrong with him. On the plus side, we managed to get him buried before company arrived. And the company was definitely a plus. Kit took Johnny to the hospital for the MRI of his back while I did chores, Suue washed dishes, and then Suue and I moved hay and brought in firewood. It was great to have help and friendship.

Things were brightening up... until the earthquake happened in Japan. When I heard "8.9" I thought perhaps the whole country was destroyed. I was terrified that our Japanese family -- Yoko and her children, their spouses and her grandchildren -- had been washed away in the terrible tsunami that followed. But when I saw the map, I knew that Yoko and two of her children were on the opposite side of the island from the tsunami. Her other children live near Tokyo, also out of tsunami range, although certainly not out of earthquake damage range. I emailed and hoped Yoko could send email even though I'd heard that much of Japan was without electricity or phone service and the aftershocks, themselves strong enough to cause damage, were nearly continuous. This morning, Saturday, a message arrived. Yoko and all her family are safe! A dazzling ray of sunlight, indeed, in the midst of all that horror.

There's nothing like a disaster to make me realize how fortunate I am to have nothing more serious to complain about than goat problems. Johnny's back woes are not so serious he can't get out and do things... at least in the afternoon when the sciatica eases... and there is hope that the specialist he saw last week will be able to help. So here is a bit of the "sunshine" on our farm during this week of rain, goat woes, sciatica, earthquakes and tsunamis.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Last Raptor Run of the Season

Yesterday was the last of my Grand Ronde to Sheridan raptor runs for the winter of 2010-2011. This season's excitement was the pair of Red-shouldered Hawks that have been hanging out since at least January on one of the private lands I survey. January is when we first found them.

For some areas of Oregon and particularly California, these hawks are common. But they are just now moving gradually northward into our territory, as are White-tailed Kites. If "my" Red-shouldered Hawks stay to breed, it will be a first for Yamhill County. The pair posed at some distance for this less than stellar photo. We (birder friends Carol and Marilyn who helped on my route) were surprised at the great difference in size between the big female and little male. All raptor females are bigger than the males but I don't think usually this much bigger.

The pair of White-tailed Kites we've seen each month at another private site were missing yesterday. I had hoped they would stay to nest as the pair by Sheridan did last year. But we did find a pair near the Oregon Wildlife Center, so perhaps they'll provide the area with more of the beautiful white hovering hawks.

The more common Northern Harriers were not as plentiful as last month. Perhaps some are starting to head north to breeding grounds. There was a pair in one site with the brown female eating something on the ground while the gray male hunted by air nearby. She is more colorful than most female Harriers I see. Since these two birds are already paired, they'll likely stick around here to nest.

Although we don't see our resident Barn Owls during our daytime survey, I add two at night if I see them. The female is currently sitting on seven eggs (but I can't count my owls until they hatch). I also get to count our resident Red-tailed Hawk pair. And the marauding Cooper's Hawk, if he puts in an appearance on Raptor Run day, which he did yesterday (and has daily for weeks.) I like having our farm part of my survey route.

At the Oregon Wildlife Center, we saw, as usual, more than raptors. This giraffe seemed to be trying to help us spot distant hawks. He has a considerable height advantage on us for surveying the territory.

I love my raptor survey but it will start again next November. Meanwhile, there are plenty more bird surveys coming up this spring and summer. And I'll be keeping an eye on those beautiful Red-shouldered Hawks and White-tailed Kites to see if any nest here in the northern limit (so far) of their range.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Trail Camera Trials

When the bears were visiting nightly this fall, we thought it would be nice to have a trail camera to take their photos at night, without having to leap out of bed, turn on the flashlight, and try to get a picture. The cameras have infrared flashes that animals cannot see. Or so the people who sell the cameras say. We finally bought one for Christmas. It then took several months to get around to figuring out how to work it. We finally installed it last week. Of course, the bears are no longer around so we set it up on the culvert crossing over the little creek between two fields.

The photo above shows the camera in its protective "bear box" in the first of the two positions that we've tried at the culvert crossing, where we're reasonably sure that wildlife, as well as our dogs and horses, pass from one side of the creek to the other. So far, our success rate at capturing critters is rather dismal. Mostly we get my horses.

The first wild thing we successfully photographed was this raccoon. At least, we think it's a raccoon. It was right at the edge of the range of the camera. The photo on the right is cropped to show just the critter. We could have had a much better photo of a raccoon the next night when Mister McCoy, the young guard dog, treed one next to the pond. But I wasn't quick enough with my Nikon before the raccoon escaped.

We then set the camera to video and captured quite a nice sequence of a coyote walking by. It stopped for an instant, stared right at the camera, and then walked on.

But mostly, we've captured wet and muddy horses.... sometimes just a rump and tail as they fly past faster than the camera can catch. This day time video shows a muddy Polly leading the herd, as always, followed by her granddaughter, the black (and dirty) Nightingale, then Polly's palomino (and filthy) daughter Jessie Anne, and last the grungy Mr. Smith who took his sweet time following the girls. I really do occasionally groom these horses but it's hard to tell from this footage.

Polly, the leader of the herd, spotted the camera in the first location and stared hard at it. She apparently didn't trust this strange thing strapped to a tree trunk, as she kept the other horses from crossing the culvert for two days before she decided it was harmless. The video of the horses crossing above was taken from the second location. I then reset the camera to take still photos again. Polly made quite sure this contraption, that she must have known was doing something, was not dangerous. The sequence of snapshots showed her grazing her way gradually closer to the camera until she put her nose right on it.

The directions say best image quality is at fifteen to twenty feet. I guess Polly doesn't care if she's a little out of focus.