John Wilson photographed this osprey near Magdalena. It is not the first I know of– I think I have seen three over 30 years– but it is the first photographed.

But what is this semi- obligate piscivore doing 30 miles from any fish that is not in a freezer? “Lake Magdalena” (the sewage pond) has no fish, and it is a long way to any other body of water until you get down to the Rio.

Cat up in the Wyoming sage also has desert ospreys, but hers are all near rivers that run down in slots below the surface of the desert, rich ones, full of trout and other species. Nothing like that down here.

Of Dogs and Porcupines and the New West

David Zincavage’s tazi Uhlan (see below) and his basset got into a porcupine a couple of days ago in Pennsylvania, and the usual mayhem followed.

I never had a porcupine hassle here but had some pretty bad incidents in
Massachusetts and Maine in the old days; never lost a dog but I won’t
forget the trauma.

It put me in mind of an incident here in the early eighties, soon after Betsy Huntington and I arrived.

One of the first people we met here (at the Post Office) was the legendary (and actually rather sweet) ranch heiress Wilma Huggett. She was a large mannish woman with a near- brush cut who looked like a combination of WH Auden, Slim Pickens, and Calamity Jane, smoked Camels without ceasing, and had taken up (and put down) any number of New Age pursuits like intermittent vegetarianism, reflexology, and Chinese medicine in her old age, all combiined with old fashioned rancher mythology and a belief in her own original conspiracy theories  (Szechuan restaurans were a “Red Chinese” plot to steal her and her mother’s land; the Dia Foundation Lightning Field art installation in Catron County was a landing field for Polish UFO’s…)

So one day she comes in cursing our lovely vet (for thirty plus years now) Terri Gonzalez for “putting damn chemicals” in her dogs (three usually noisy blue anklebiters, now snoozing in the bed of her pickup).

Bets calmed her down and bummed a Camel and after a shot of Black Jack Wilma told us what had happened. She had been on a Vegan kick and tried to hold her cowdogs to it (she saw no contradiction in keeping cows of course). So the dogs had jumped a porky, I think to EAT, and gotten severely quilled. At the time we had a Venezuelan Chinese acupuncturist, Simon Wong, who was pretty good even though he spoke no English– not a problem here especially 30 years ago; ranch Anglos like my friend  Sissy Gianera Pound Olney, younger than I am, spoke Spanish first, never mind semi- fossilized 60- somethings like Wilma. She asked him to anesthetize the heelers so she could take out the quills. I  believe he attempted it, but the dogs rebelled, and he told her he had no proper dog charts. So, over to Terri who anesthetized them with CHEMICALS and extracted the quills, leaving Wilma cursing everything but especially, quote, “that damn Chinaman.” (Wilma was odd but also like Jeff Cooper could have perished in the Cretaceous Extinction Event…)

Anesthetize them, mind you, with NEEDLES.

When she left we both fell into an uncharacteristic fit of hysteria– Bets was nearly falling down. “I feel so for the poor dogs. It’s not really funny but– first she feeds them vegetarian lasagna. Then they get stuck. Then she drags them to that hapless Chinese doctor. What did he think? And what must they have thought when “that damn Chinaman” came at them with NEEDLES?”

Dumb Snake

I generally remove, rather than kill, snakes in the yard, even rattlers.

But this gopher snake that got itself stuck– braided– into the plastic anti- bird mesh in the garden yesterday tested my patience. Cutting a hot writhing largish snake which is trying to bite you out of plastic mesh with a nail scissors, using hands that only shake with PD tremors when called upon to do something intricate, is no fun at all, especially when said snake is hell- bet on two things: biting and going forward so as to enmesh himself more firmly. But we both survived. Photo by Libby who had no desire to do anything other than laugh at us and shoot the pics.

 I am ready for frost.

Sense on guns

I don’t post on political issues too much, because I have strong beliefs but no partisan litmus tests for friends and ideas. I would rather discuss other things (i.e. almost anything else). But this is  a good summing- up on guns, one that people I know who differ on other issues agree with, so I think I will make an exception.  I am tired of being told we can have a simple “fix” for this “problem” in the US, and still have any vestige of privacy or respect for law:

“… If there is a more “gun free” zone in the United States than a Washington, D.C.–based Naval facility that houses non-combat groups such as the JAG Corps and the Navy Band then I would like to know where it is. Washington, D.C. itself is now so locked down that there isn’t even a (legal) gun store within the city limits (one has to get one’s firearms through a dealer who works out of the city’s police headquarters), it remains the last place in the country without a concealed-carry regime, and it inexplicably limits its residents to buying weapons that have been approved by the states of California and Massachusetts. At the Navy Yard, meanwhile, most military personnel are not armed, and neither are the civilians who make up most of the workforce…

“The first and most important question to ask those who reacted to today’s shooting with the predictable call for more laws — or, more amorphously, “outrage” — is, “what exactly would your desire changes do about this?” The most likely answer, as so often when unpredicable and imperfectable human beings are involved, is nothing. The federal Toomey-Manchin gun-control bill failed earlier this year in part because the American people instinctively oppose gun restrictions but also because none of the included proposals would have done the slightest thing to have prevented the abomination in response to which it was allegedly contrived — and everybody knew it. It is no accident that crime has dropped consistently over the last two decades while gun laws have been loosened in most states and at the federal level…

[ LARGE snip full of factual information- RTWT ]

.. ” Leaving to one side for a moment the constitutionality of gun control, it should be remembered that America is a nation with around 300-million-plus privately owned guns and a much-cherished constitutional amendment protecting the right of the people to keep and to bear arms. It is, in other words, like neither Britain nor Australia…  In Britain, the 1997 gun ban prompted around 2,000 people to protest; in Australia, critics were a little louder, but they still allowed themselves to be disarmed without much of a fight. In the United States, conversely, it is neither hyperbolic nor unreasonable to predict that any attempt at either confiscation or prohibition of common weapons would start a second civil war.

“… How naïve do you have to be to look at an event like this in a nation with hundreds of millions of privately owned guns and an explicit constitutional amendment that protects ownership and conclude, “let’s pass a law!”?

” Earlier today, David Frum inadvertently demonstrated where the authoritarian mindset goes in the face of evil when he called for doing just that. On Twitter, Frum wrote sarcastically:

“Rule 3: All gun owners are to be complimented as responsible and law-abiding until they personally have hurt themselves or somebody else.

“Aha, a Minority Report-style Pre-Crime system! Perfect.

“I understand that David Frum considers this to be amusing. But I do not. In fact, his suggestion should be taken literally. Treating “all gun owners . . . as responsible and law-abiding until they personally have hurt themselves or somebody else” is precisely how one should treat free people in a free country.

Me again. I think it a basic American and even Western precept that all law-abiding members of a society are legally and morally innocent until they do something wrong– is this now under fire?

David Frum considers himself a conservative Republican, but he is also a Canadian immigrant from Toronto. And it was a large percentage of Democrats who determined the fate of the Colorado reps, especially Ms Giron. Being unreflectively urban may mean more than any party label. Ask Jim Urbigkit.

Morocco Part Two

More from Sir Terence Clark: this time, muzzleloaders, used in a horse “Fantasia” show. He writes: “For lovers of antique guns, Morocco has some amazing weapons still in common use. These muzzle-loading rifles with their silver chased barrels are used in the Fantasia, when a group of horsemen charge full tilt at the audience and at the last minute stand up in their stirrups, drop the reins, swing their rifles around in a circle and fire blanks into the ground with a deafening crash before pulling up short in a cloud of dust. “

 I am betting they are just shooting wadded black powder sans shot, but that muzzle flash in the dark is still impressive. To paraphrase a friend who wanted to know just one thing about how Kazakh eaglers man their birds (“How do they train them not to eat their kids?”): how do they train the horses not to bolt when they fire off those rifles?* Double or right click for big.

This kind of decoration on rifles, from muzzleloaders to semi- modern (I have not yet seen an AK done up this way, but expect to), is common from North Africa to at least Central Asia. Here is an unusual one owned by a friend — if he OK’s or wants his name,  I’ll post it later.

muzzleloader Kent Madin is firing below in western Mongolia sports a more
Buddhist (!) kind of decoration. (And there is a whole lot more to say later about Asia’s “Horned Rifles” , which range from snaphaunces to Mosin Nagants and SKS’s).

 * On well- trained horses: John Davila to a bunch of Germans in a Berlin pub who doubted he was an actual cowboy, first because he said he preferred Glocks to Colt single action Armys, and second because he didn’t like mustangs unless they were… unusually trainable. “I told ’em I’d dogmeat any son of a bitch that wouldn’t load good in the back of my truck”

Using “dogmeat” as a verb is as far as I know an original John Davila- ism.

Moroccan Hawk ID

Terence Clark has been in Morocco for the Festival of Traditional Hunting, where he photographed some hawks. Most were Peregrines of the migrant race that they call Shahin Bari, “Bari” meaning “of the sea”– probably the far- northern Falco peregrinus calidus, which may have flown from as far as Siberia.

But the young man on the right in the second pic has what Paul Domski rightly calls “an immature, a somewhat odd Accipiter”. At a quick drive by it looks like a Gos, but its skinny bottle shoulders and longish head and legs and even neck don’t look quite right even for a small male– and in relation to the Peregrine, it doesn’t look that small, nor are calidus small Peregrines. I thought to check the not- quite – Accipiters Melierax, the “Chanting goshawks”, one species of which does live in Morocco, but all add barred rather than pale bellies,

Surely this is something Q’s readership can solve. I know, it is probably just a Gos sitting funny. But Paul and I have seen and flown a lot of Gosses– he has at least two these days.

Right or double click to enlarge for detail– these are big.

Of Livestock, Predators, & Guardians

This summer, our sheep have been grazing a series of private pastures in the foothills of the southern Wind River Mountains – pastures that have been used by domestic sheep herds for more than 100 years. This small herd is protected by the three burros that are always present, and by livestock guardian dogs. The range here is fluid and complex, with thousands of sheep and their guardian dogs coming and going, as well as the shepherds that accompany them. The sheep herds carry the same genetics, and I’ve raised many of the dogs that use this rangeland that covers many square miles, some of which is divided into pastures, while others are allotments that include public land.

Last weekend, there were about 1,000 sheep grazing in about a two-mile area, with at least six livestock guardian dogs. The sheep may spread out to graze during the day, but bunch up together to bed at night. Where each dog was located with what bunch of sheep at any given time is fluid. We’ve had a lot of bear activity, and the dogs have done a fantastic job of keeping the bears out of the sheep in this area.

One night last month, when a bear got into a nearby cattle herd, two of the dogs from my bunch raced to the rescue, as did another guardian dog that came from the south. The two dogs returned to my bunch within about 45 minutes, and the other dog returned to the south. Rena (a five-year old Akbash female) had stayed with my sheep – the only reason I know this much is because I was sleeping on the ground next to the herd that night. I had believed that if we had problems in the sheep, it would probably be with wolves. When both black bear tracks and grizzly bear tracks were found the next morning, I gave up sleeping under the stars, and started using a tent as a more visible sign of human presence. The only wolf tracks that were found were old, but it quickly became evident that bears were a constant presence. Two particularly enthusiastic dogs (Luv’s Girl and Tigger) are excellent at hazing bears away.

Back to last weekend: Saturday morning, there was a combination of Akbash and Central Asian Ovcharka dogs guarding the herds, which were divided into two pastures, with the sheep bedded close to each other, but with a fence line between two main bunches. Some of the dogs were back and forth on patrol, and others stayed inside the flocks. I don’t know what happened Saturday night, since I wasn’t there and the herder camped on the hill to the south couldn’t see anything in the dark. They next day, we found dead sheep, and walking wounded sheep that had to later be put down. One dog was missing, but later returned. The big herd in the adjacent pasture had been moved into the next allotment (still abutting my bunch), and we made plans to move Monday morning since there wasn’t enough time on Sunday to do all that needed to be done. We checked all the sheep and hiked around both inside and outside the pasture, trying to find all the dead sheep, looking for tracks, and covering up some of the carcasses lest they be destroyed by ravens or other scavengers. In total, there were nine dead sheep (two 90-pound lambs and 7 adult ewes weighing about 175-200 pounds each). I notified federal wildlife officials that we had a problem and needed an on-the-ground assessment. That would happen at first light on Monday.

Jim had to work on Monday, so we raced back to the house to drop him off, and I threw my gear in the truck and went back to the herd. Hud the herding dog helped me bunch the sheep and drop them in a corner of the pasture where I would hold them all night. I stayed outside with Hud, sitting on the ground nearby in a soft drizzling rain, until after dark. I parked my truck about 100 yards from the herd, and slept in the cab with Hud, with the window down so I could hear and check the herd through the night. The last I saw that night with my spotlight was Rena patrolling from the truck toward the far end of the pasture where the kills had happened the night before. I knew the burros were on that end as well, but couldn’t see that far with my spotlight. I could see Luv’s Girl (Rena’s nine-year old mother) sleeping with the herd in front of me. It was very dark, with the drizzle from the rain and the clouds completely hiding the crescent moon that was finally visible a few hours before sunrise. There were a few ruckuses during the night, and I could hear guardian dogs barking in various directions at infrequent intervals. Only once during the night did I see the sheep stand up from their beds, but Luv’s Girl was still visible in front of them. They settled down and I went back to sleep. About 4 a.m., I kicked Hud out of the cab of the truck, and found Rena sleeping on her side next to the truck, with fresh blood on her tail. I talked to her and she responded, but quickly went back to sleep. I spotlighted the sleeping herd, with Luv’s Girl still present, and waited for daylight.

When darkness started easing, I could hear the neighboring sheep herd as the animals started rising from the hillside to the south and I saw two Ovcharka guardians between that herd and my bunch, as well as Luv’s Girl still bedded with my herd, and Rena next to the truck. When I saw a pickup truck driving in, I went to meet it, and within minutes, a federal animal damage control airplane flew in, breaking through the morning fog, shooting two wolves as they fled to the east. From her wounds, we know that Rena had tangled with a wolf or wolves during the night, but the wolves never made it to our herd because of her efforts. I don’t know how many other dogs or wolves were involved, since I didn’t see the confrontation. We also don’t know what role, if any, the burros played.

When Rena tried to stand and walk, she labored to work her hind end. I found two major bite marks – one near her spine and the other on her tail, both deep punctures through her long hair and undercoat. I never tried to assess further damage, but backed the truck up to the ditch so she could load up, with me helping to lift her back end, her crying when I lifted her. She collapsed in the bed of the truck, into an exhausted, wounded sleep.

There was a flurry of activity from that point, much of it involving other people coming to the rescue while I turned my attention to Rena and getting her to the vet clinic an hour away – my herd was moved to the south, and the carcasses picked up while I was driving to Pinedale. There would be at least two other large range herds exiting the mountains in the next few days (each herd with up to 11 guardian dogs), and they had been slated to rest and transition in these private pastures for a few days before they would begin trailing to the south. The plans were changed to speed the herds through this area. I learned that another guard dog was brought off the mountain with his throat slashed by a predator. He’s not expected to live.

By the time we got to town, Rena was unable to get up on her own. I climbed into the back of the truck and lifted her onto the gurney, with the help of two other women. Rena was very sweet about it all, as she was strapped down and rolled inside the vet clinic. The clinic staff let me stick around for a few minutes to comfort Rena, as they checked her vitals and began preparing a plan of action. First would be fluids and sedation before they would shave her to find the damage underneath.

When I returned to see Rena in the late afternoon, she was still groggy from sedation, but her numerous wounds had been cleaned and stapled. She wagged her tail at me, which gave me hope that she’ll pull through. The vet clinic staff said that the tags on her hind end had probably saved her life. Much hair had been pulled out, but cushioned the bites. On Tuesday afternoon, the clinic released Rena to come home, where I could help keep her wounds open and draining, and feed her painkillers and antibiotics. She’s not out of danger, since the greatest threat is infection.

As I’ve said before, when large carnivores and livestock share the same range, some animals will be killed – some wild, some domestic. It happens across western rangelands routinely. It is not pleasant, but it is reality. There’s no compensation for our recent losses, or our vet bill, and our priority is always to stop the depredations. You won’t hear our family calling for eradication of any species, but you will hear us advocate that dangerous predators be killed when there are conflicts, and we do support sport hunting as a wildlife management tool. We share the range with many other species. We share.

This is really only a story because rather than it being some ranch that you don’t know, you do know our family, and some of the animals involved. Rena is famous because she was the runt of a litter of Akbash pups that was featured in my children’s book, The Guardian Team: On the Job with Rena and Roo, and in my adult book, Shepherds of Coyote Rocks: Public Lands, Private Herds and the Natural World. Thousands of Wyoming children have met her through school and library programs. Many of you have seen pictures of our sheep, burros and dogs through my Facebook posts over the last few years.

Some readers will want a more satisfying conclusion to this story – something that tidies up all the loose ends – but I can’t give it to you. This is not an automated system, with predicted events and outcomes. There is no magical number or breed of dogs, or combinations of breed, age or sex, or set acreage, or fence design, or terrain, that allows a livestock producer to follow a formula to safeguard their herds from predation. I can’t tell you how many black bears, grizzly bears, and wolves are in the area, let alone how many of these animals the guardian dogs come into contact with. This is a fluid system, with livestock, predators and guardians sharing rangeland at random times and spaces, sometimes in conflict, but with varied outcomes. It’s never perfect, but it works really well most of the time.

What I do ask is for more compassion for fellow humans. The blame for the recent sheep deaths, dead wolves, and Rena’s injuries is directly on me, since it is my responsibility as a shepherd to protect my flock. But don’t expect me to take any crap from someone not working alongside me to minimize conflicts on the ground. Further polarization of those passionate about ridding the rangelands of something (either wolves or domestic livestock) does no one any good.

I am thankful for those who offer understanding to others involved in difficult situations, well wishes for the critters we share this earth with, and hope that peaceful days outnumber all others.

Hunt & Doggish News

Not a dove on the plateau here— though major elk season is started. But Daniel Riviera is coming down through Montana after training in ND…

With Bailey & ancient hammer Purdey, a happy man…

(Last photo by Katherine)

And though it is still hot in Alpaugh, it is almost time to run. John Burchard still has a couple of Russo- Arabian pups to go– nice examples of the breeding theories below, with Kazakh Semirichenia and COO Arab hounds genes wedded in their ancestry.

Situationist Graffiti

The Situationists were a sectarian bunch of heretical commie hippies who came to the world’s notice in Paris in ’68. They were led in part by Guy Debord, a philosopher so contentious that he “excommunicated ” everyone in his group, and finally himself.

But, unlike their counterparts here, they had a gift for slogans that don’t make you turn away your face in embarrassment when you encounter them 40 years later.  The best seem more like witty Zen aphorisms than an ideologue’s dogma, more laughing monk than Commissar. This reactionary curmudgeon had the old news photo below stuck on up on my bulletin board for years, until I lost it in a renovation. I found it on the ‘Net recently, and put it up again, partly as a warning never to waste a moment’s ever- shrinking time.

When I showed it to my friends Jean- Louis and Catherine Lassez, a French couple who have lived out here on an old ranch to our south for almost as long as I have, they laughed– they remembered the “Soixante Huitard’s” slogans well, but had never heard an American cite one. Jean Louis found me an entire book, and to my amusement, many are still quotable and refreshingly un- ideological even by today’s polarized standards.

We should also see some of the art parodies JL works on these days…

Two Quotes

Another Marcus Aurelius, quoted by Philip Caputo in Ghosts of Tsavo:

“When Thou risest reluctantly in the morning, let this thought be present: I am rising to do the work of a human being.”

And one from Federico Calboli:
“… Stuff is eaten by dogs, broken by family and friends, sanded down by the wind, frozen by the mountains, lost by the prairie, burnt off by the sun, washed away by the rain. So you are left with dogs, family, friends, sun, rain, wind, prairie and mountains. What more do you want?”