Hackee sack anyone?


I’ve been working hard all week, either on the computer or on the ranch, so this morning I played hooky and went for a three-hour photo excursion to some of my favorite places in our county. This sandhill crane was busy throwing a chunk of cow manure in the air, hitting it with his head and beak, playing with it like it was a hackee sack. I saw it as I was driving by, and I swung back around to try to get a photo before it quit. One photo was all I got, but mercy what a fun photo it is. Anyone out there still doubt that animals play?

A small segment of Sublette County, Wyoming has one of the largest nesting concentrations of long-billed curlew of anywhere in the world. They love flood-irrigated hay meadows, digging through cattle dung for bugs.

I saw more Swainsons today than any other raptor.


This bird seemed to be about to burst its chest as it cheerily sang the song of spring. The Meadowlark is Wyoming’s state bird, as it is for several other states.

As I headed home, it was starting to snow a little, and a badger appeared alongside the road momentarily before disappearing into a burrow.

Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus

Our latest Spring storm (17 inches of snow on Saturday) brought a visit from the first yellow-headed blackbird I’ve seen at our house. This fellow was the only member of his species in a large mixed flock of red-winged blackbirds and great-tailed grackles.

It was interesting to note how aggressive he was: he resolutely refused to yield position to any blackbirds and only occasionally to the much larger grackles.

Squirrel study, part 2

Janell concluded her Mama Squirrel nature study with a test of her hypothesis that Mama Squirrel would stuff an entire roll of toilet paper into her burrow. As background, Janell noted she had witnessed ground squirrels scavenging TP from the public bathrooms at the beach in the springtime. “I assume that they are lining their nests for babies-to-be. Two days ago, I presented a mother squirrel several 8-10 foot long strips of TP, each of which she eagerly stuffed into her facial pouches in their entirety. I then imagined that she might indefinitely collect and store toilet paper if given the chance.

“I decided to fashion a makeshift toilet paper dispenser for her to ease the process of bundling,” Janell reported, adding that she created the dispenser out of a wire clothes hanger, and headed back to the beach.

“As soon as I installed the dispenser, Mama Squirrel bee-lined to the goods. I swear she recognized me from the previous day. Oh! It’s the nice Toilet Paper Lady!

“She’d take as much as her pouches could hold, tear off the toilet paper very neatly, scamper off to store the cargo, and then she’d quickly return for another load.

“Her little hands would flail as she frenetically formed the tissue bundles.

“About 20 minutes into the process, she took a breather, ran off some other squirrels and then resumed.

“She worked the roll ’til there were just a few scraps left.

“I loosed the roll from the dispenser and she tore that up, too.

“So–the theory ended up being fact. Mama Squirrel DID take an entire roll of toilet paper into her burrow. It took her about 40 minutes to do the job, including breaks and a food search.

“I bet she would take a whole CASE of toilet paper.”

Squirrel study, part I

My friend Janell has done it again. This week, her nature study involves Mama Squirrel. Enjoy!

“Spring is here, spiders are making beautiful vaselike egg cases and squirrels are lining their burrows with … toilet paper.

“At the beach, I have noticed the ground squirrels filching TP from the public bathrooms and bringing it into their homes, where I am assuming they shred it up into fluffy white beds for their babies. So today I helped things along and offered Mama Squirrel a long strip of TP…

“She eagerly accepted, and rapidly began to cram the entire amount into her facial pouches.



“She quickly transported the goods to her cave, and came out for more. Kept putting out longer and longer strips, and she kept cramming and storing.

“I plan to come back and set up a full roll on a stand–and will film her response to infinite toilet paper.

“Stay tuned … There might be a lesson in all of this.”

A Regional Politics

A recent post by Crunchy Con Rod Dreher brings word from England that its conservative Tory party has aligned itself with the “great British institutions” of mom-n-pop shops against the global retail giants. In the larger picture, it’s a defense of regional autonomy and long traditions, two solid conservative values but ones that square off against widespread right-wing support of free markets.

Journalist Sasha Issenberg doubts U.S. Republicans could follow suit.

“The British brand of localism would probably be a tougher sell in American conservative politics, which depends heavily on the support of big business and can’t fall back on a shared local culture as strong as that in England.”

That may be true on the national scale. But if we broke the Union into “England-sized” geographic chunks (smaller if possible), it could fit well with a sort of regional politics.

I wrote in Comments at Crunchy Con: If the conservative icon of “small town America” has any meaning at all, it must refer to actual places. The existence and relevance of small American towns is not in doubt in Louisiana. I presume they exist and are of consequence in every state, even though they are ignored as much as possible in high seats of government.

A group of small towns, which includes and implies an interurban countryside to support them, is the right scale for a Republican version of Tory crunchiness. Most states could re-imagine themselves along these lines almost instantly; locals everywhere know what sort of “country” they inhabit and where its boundaries are, regardless the political realities.

Writer Henry Chappell of Plano, Texas (near Dreher’s neck of the woods) writes well about this regional sensibility. Taken a step further—with greater government support for regional economies—the idea of small town America could become a viable Republican platform.

That is, if the Democrats or Libertarians don’t take it first! It’s a concept so plainly valuable (and increasingly necessary) that any civic-minded person or party could champion it.

First one there gets my vote!

Bola spider

My friend Janell Cannon, a wonderful children’s book author and illustrator, sent me an email detailing her recent encounter of a bola spider in the apple tree on her property near Carlsbad, California. It was fantastic, so I asked, and received her permission to share. Janell loves to study animals, and was the friend who accompanied me to Mongolia last fall. She has several great books in print about such things as snakes, bats, hyenas, and other such desirable species. Enjoy her bola spider (Mastophora cornigera) encounter!

“The mama bola spider has three egg packets. She suspends the globe-shaped packets (one on upper right) in a stiff web network between branches, and she is hidden in the dry leaf that she secured to the underside of the branch. Never mind that the entire tree is devoid of foliage. Nobody will EVER be able to see her! (wink-wink)

Here’s a close up. Her camouflage is designed to make her look like bird shit. Her front legs are folded up top left.


Went out at night to watch her activities. Found her weaving an egg packet.


Went back in the morning and saw that her new packet was finished. It looks like a fine vase.


It is speculated that the knobs and holes in her large body are the pheromone factory with which she attracts her prey close enough to snag with the sticky bola. Moths are her favorite. The next night, caught her hunting with the bola.


I think the tiny spider at bottom right has hatched from one of the egg packets. I imagine each packet holds several spiderlings.


Haven’t yet witnessed an actual strike, but the next night saw she already had a well-bundled moth and was going for more.


The following night, on my way to check in on Mama Bola, I found a quivering, nearly-lifeless moth that had been damaged somehow. It was on the porch deck, so I think That Cat may have swatted it. I was overwhelmed with curiosity whether or not Mama Bola would accept and eat it. I touched the moth ever so gently to the bola, and its antenna instantly fused. I let go of the moth, and the line stretched and held. Mama Bola effortlessly held the line, but did nothing.



The grip this material has on the antenna is fascinating–and stunningly strong.I decided that she was not quite comfortable with this anomalous situation, so I went away for about an hour. Came back to find the offering had been rejected.


Close inspection of the gripped antenna showed no evidence of residue. Had assumed that if the bola was gluey, that the delicate antenna would be gummed up.


Am wondering by the shape of the globule, when it is holding an object, if it creates the sort of a dynamic like those funny old woven tubes that would grab one’s finger when one attempted to pull it out of the tube.



Am now curious if the grip is developed not by sheer viscosity, but by some interesting molecular tension/compression when the glob is pulled. In order to find out the consistency of the glob and to test the theory, I would have to annoy the spider by tampering with the bola.
Also am curious about the maximum weight capacity of the bola. Am imagining attaching increasingly heavy objects…

Poor Mama Bola. She has piqued the curiosity of a giant hairless primate.”

Janell added that Wikipedia has an excellent article explaining how the bola grabs the moth.

Livestock in the living room


Every year during lambing, I end up with orphan lambs (although husband Jim claims I am just as likely to steal a lamb as to wait for one to get lost). I love having bum lambs – they are lots of work, but it’s all good. If they are ewe lambs, I keep them and put them in the herd when they are old enough. I swear I have one of the calmest, gentlest herds on the planet. A few ewes still in the bunch are bums from 10 years ago.

We had a big snowstorm hit at 4 p.m. yesterday, just before the bums were due to be fed, so I grabbed them out of the kennel and threw them in the house while I made bottles. Of course, the dogs had to come along as well. So this is what my work area/office looks like.

Rant, the yearling Aziat stud dog, has gone nuts over these lambs. If I make him get out of the kennel while the lambs are inside, he frantically tries to dig his way back in, crying the entire time. Fantastic natural guardian behavior.


Can you tell these are happy dogs? One of the lambs just loves Rant, and follows him around constantly. Rant hates to cuddle, but did tolerate this little one sleeping by his side:


After everyone had full bellies, it was nap time:

What’s wrong with this picture?

We don’t normally start lambing until May, but last fall, our four rams broke through two fences and went underneath the highway bridge so they could pay a visit to the ewe flock south of the highway. They were only in overnight, but so far I’ve had about a dozen ewes giving birth in the last five days. The weather has been okay, but for new babies and cold nights, I bedded them in piles of hay in the corral with their mothers.

I had four more sets of twin lambs born this morning. Since it was such a nice day, I opened the gates for everyone in the corral to get out and join the herd in the pasture if they wanted. Some did, but others seem to enjoy the comfort and quiet of the corral.

Once the new babes join the herd in the meadow, sometimes the lambs forget who their mamas are. They are quickly recovered, but it can be fairly entertaining. This lamb thought her mother was a cow, but her real mother promptly reminded her that she already had a sheep family.

We combine the cattle and sheep herds in the winter because it makes for easy feeding, and provides added protection from predation. Most of our cows have horns and don’t like intruders, yet are pretty gentle with their sheep companions. We usually have the herds separated out before calving and lambing, but with early lambs, we’re having a new experience. So far, so good. The livestock guard dogs keep really busy, cleaning up birthing materials for both cows and sheep; keeping coyotes out of the pasture; and not letting ravens land near newborns.


This little ewe and lamb have the right idea – enjoying that spring sunshine.

Light pronghorn


It’s been a long, busy day, since we are calving (as planned) and lambing (oops – not planned for another month). Anyway, things are going well, but we’ve got lots of new babies on the ground. Jim and I drove to Boulder, Wyoming, for lunch and a beer, and on the way back to the ranch, saw these pronghorn next to the county road. Very, very pretty. It is obviously not albino since it has black eyes and nose. We’ve now seen two of these really light colored pronghorn within about a 10-mile radius in the last few years. What a privilege.