Meleagris gallopavo

Yesterday afternoon I took Cash for a walk in the Hidden Mesa Open Space area located about 15 minutes southwest of us. We had a good time, or at least I did as I found five prehistoric sites as we were walking along the trail. Cash spent a lot of time giving me “Can we just go now?” looks while I was taking notes and taking pictures.

As we were driving home I spotted a flock of wild turkeys crossing the road. They were coming out of the bottoms of McMurdo Gulch, headed uphill into the scrub oak.

This young tom figured he had better pick up the pace and trot across the road to beat the oncoming truck. I counted 16 in this flock.

I don’t think we had gotten another two minutes down the road before we saw another flock of six come up the hill and across. This group was much more skittish than the first lot, who had actually stopped and stared at me for a few moments before taking off into cover.


More relatives; Daniela’s boys in part, Shunkar, showing the permanent damage the rattler did; thank God he did not lose an eye. Then, Monnie’s new pups, from John B and Vladimir; sweet Kyra, Tigger’s daughter, with her GSD protector Eden, and (the little red)  feisty Aeris, Taika’s neice and already a tiny tyrant who knows she was born to rule the world.

Kyra is already pointing pheasants 
 Really– I hunt with Ataika as a bird dog, though nobody believes it!

I’m Baaaack!

Returning to what passes as normal, granting that I am still working on a book thing, moving pigeons around, preparing for trustees meeting for the Sevilleta, taking up the falcon, writiing a new Neuroblog post, and more of the usual clutter. But at least a little blogging will resume.

First, a few images from last week: Deep Springs College, most unique and remote (4 1/2 hours on good roads from Las Vegas, 30- plus miles from the nearest bar!) small college/ cattle ranch in the nation, where Niki is now working, and a few by Jack of our visit to the grove of bristlecone pines nearby, where I was pleased to find out I can still hike up and down and walk around sans cane at over 10,000 feet– maybe I will yet hunt chukar out there. Only thing we missed was Deep Spring’s endemic toad— the road, in this driest of dry valleys, was flooded, and a hike 2 miles down and back up with Jack carrying Eli  in a broken pack did not seem like a bright idea…

The Valley

Blocked road to toads

The toad itself

Me contemplating bristlecone, and…

… hiking down the trail below, with Eli running in pursuit (last two by Jackson Frishman).

Range Sheep & Big Predators

I am weary of the snide, ignorant, and vicious comments made in response to last week’s death of 176 sheep due to a wolf attack in eastern Idaho (see stories here and here). Some of the sheep were directly bitten and killed, but the majority of the animals were killed in a stampeding pileup as they tried a hillside escape.

Range sheep are not stupid or defenseless animals. Our cull ewes weigh about 175 pounds, and will turn on a dog or coyote and try to stomp it into the dirt.

They flock closely together as a defense mechanism against predators. In response to a predator, they will bunch up, and flee in panic. A herd that has already sustained attack has high stress levels, and will remain nervous and flighty. Flee response is similar in many other ruminants and ungulates – everything from pronghorn antelope to domestic horses have the same response. We know that herds persecuted by predators sometimes experience ill health, even if those animals aren’t directly bitten. They suffer weight loss, and may abort their lambs if they are pregnant.

Deadly pile-ups aren’t unheard of. In a winter storm, the sheep will try to drift, and if they encounter a fence, they may pile up and die. It’s similar to what happened in that famous antelope die off with the Red Rim fence. But a panicked stampede in response to extreme danger isn’t unheard of in other species either – it happens with humans as well, with people trampling other people to death in attempt to escape. There are cases of mass trampling deaths around the globe, from walruses to wildebeest.

Range sheep are hardy animals that give birth to lambs in early spring snow storms, and those babies get on their feet to nurse, and thrive from there. They have much of the same life cycle as the pronghorn antelope they share the same range with.

Some have demanded to know where the herders and guard dogs were during the Idaho attack. It’s worth noting that three of this ranch’s guardian dogs had already been killed by this pack of wolves during this grazing season.

Do you expect the herders to hear a ruckus in the night, go outside and be able to ascertain what is happening in the dark? It might be plausible at the ranch homestead where there is outside lighting, but in a camp on the range, it’s not. A herder in the Bridger-Teton National Forest tried to do just that a few years ago, and he was mauled by a grizzly bear. Some faulted the herder for going out to find out why the dogs were in an uproar.

Montana rancher John Shuler got up one night to see what was causing the ruckus he was hearing from his sheep pens at his home and found three grizzly bears killing his penned sheep. When one of the grizzlies turned to him, rising on its hind feet and roaring, Shuler shot it. He was charged with a federal offense, with the judge faulting him for placing himself in danger, stating that he should have stayed in his house that night. It took nearly a decade for Shuler to be cleared of the charges.

As I write this, I am sleeping in a tent alongside my own sheep herd as it grazes private pastures near the Wind River Mountains. We’ve had bear incidents in two of the last four nights. The first incident involved a bear coming into the pasture, only to be confronted by the guardian dogs, which then chased the dark blur up the fence line and past me as they chased the bear back up the draw and deeper into the mountains.

The second incident involved the dogs chasing a bear from the nearby cattle herd. I was concerned about both the sheep and dogs, so I walked around in the dark, using a headlamp and carrying a firearm, as I checked the herd and inspected the dogs upon their return. Had I been mauled or bitten by a predator, some would have faulted me, staying I should have waited for daylight. At the time, I didn’t know what species of predator was involved in the night’s chaos.

My point is that while it is easy to sit back and pass judgment on others about what they should have, or should not have, done in a moment of crisis, it’s generally not helpful and is really only self-serving. What is the right thing to do isn’t always clear at all. There is no consensus about what herders should do in response to predation at night, but it’s best to err on the side of human safety – no amount of dead livestock is worth a human life. Some herders don’t carry firearms, and some aren’t proficient with them anyway, even if they could pick out a predator in the dark.

We as humans try to do the best we can, and different people will respond differently. I simply advocate more compassion for fellow humans. I do also recognize that the nasty comments about the Idaho sheep pile up probably have little to do with what actually happened. Instead, it’s about the ongoing polarization of those still bickering over wolves, predator control, and over public lands livestock grazing.

We who tend to herds in large carnivore country have our own opinions on those issues as well, but those views take a back seat to our actions on the ground. Day by day, we take action to protect both ourselves and our herds, but always work with the knowledge that when large carnivores and livestock share the same range, some livestock will die, as will some predators. It’s not a perfect situation, but it is reality.

More Blackfoot Cave

Weekend before last I spent both days excavating at Blackfoot Cave that I posted about last month. The find of the weekend was this section of what appears to be a bison mandible. If you look closely you can see the top surfaces of the teeth pointed down toward the photo scale. It hasn’t been officially identified as bison, but sure looks like it to me.

It was found at a depth of 70 cm in one of the units close to the overhang. Earlier this season, a couple of bison vertebrae were found at about this depth in a unit less than a meter away – maybe part of the same barbecue around 3,000 years ago.

Here you can see happy excavators and mandible admirers lined up to take pictures. Excavator Rosalie in the middle of the picture was the discoverer.

In my first post on this shelter, I said I was looking forward to seeing the results of radiocarbon assays taken from a depth of around 2m. Two came in right before we started work that weekend and both appear to be good dates from about 5,000 years ago. That deposit appears to be going strong under 2m and maybe we can push to a Paleoindian occupation before the season ends.


“I hate vacations.”– travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux in a recent interview.

We are off for  a week to see Deep Springs– more a mini- adventure than a “vacation”– besides, I will be working on my proposals. Internet access is at best intermittent there– it is far more remote than Magdalena — so do not expect too much blogging or email til next week…

Bird Changes

For a while there we had around 20 hummingbirds a day coming to our feeders. Tweaking the formula for nectar appears to have have a real effect. It seems though that the rufous and calliope hummingbirds have left for Mexico and we just have a few broad-tailed hanging around.

I have been finding that it is quite a challenge to set up shots where I can get the lighting right to get their feathers to light up.

Some chickadees returned last week. I have neighbors who claim they have black-capped chickadees that stay around all summer, but ours seem to leave in early June and don’t return until about now. I assumed they moved to higher altitudes in the mountains, but maybe they just go visit our neighbors.

This fellow is in one of the locust trees off the deck, but he looks like he is lost in the jungle.

Red Rubber Ball

Late last week we had a lot of smoke haze here that the USWS said was coming from fires in Utah and Idaho. It certainly made my eyes sting, but we did get a bonus with one of these apochalyptic-looking sunsets.

More images; Tazis east of Turkey

If  (as I think) “Tazi” and “Saluki” are linguistic rather than biological distinctions, reflected where Arabic turns to the Turkic and Persian tongues, the title is redundant.

The pics are not, and even clinal change admits some differences. Iranian tazi, stolen weeks ago, returned to its horse archer partner this week, a friend of a friend (“it”  only because I do not know “its” gender).

It is BLACK, not tanpoint, as is this one on the other end of the Salukiverse, in Xinjaing, taken by Sir Terence Clark. You don’t see real black in the Arab countries, only east of the tazi line.

Even in the early 19th century some Afghan tazis had BIG coats.