Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"Fire On The Mountain...

...lightning in the air"
- Marshall Tucker Band

That's mostly what's been going on here on the High Plains.  It is DRY.  We haven't had any measurable precipitation since I reported it in my blog back on, what, June 4th?  Last year by this time we'd had 3"+ of rain.  Currently, we've had 1/2".   On the upside, storm clouds are beginning to build but on the downside, they're just bringing lightning.  Last night there were 4 lightning strikes in a single area and me and B2 got called out on our first jobs as new Volunteer Fire Department members.  I have trouble with the radio so I'm a grunt, which is fine with me.  I ended up manning our water tanker.  Field trucks come by and fill up and what I did was basically just hook them up to our hose.  It was a cool job, literally, as I ended up getting pretty wet from spilling hoses.  We started about 5 pm and I got home around 10 pm.  B2 was still in the field and spent the night at a neighbor's house.

The VFD is all about team-work.

Fire on the mounta...err... sagebrush.

B2 awaits action

Portrait of the Artist as a VFD Member
On the falcon front, training is in progress for "Wendy", the prairie falcon.  Her feathers are all in and so I caught her one night, put jesses on her and she's basically been hooded ever since.  She's taken to the hood very well, as you can see here:

Hooded and Sleeping

Falcons are easy to keep
The great thing about falcons is that they're so easy to keep since they poop straight down.  Hawks bend over and shoot their poo horizontally which gets messy, obviously. 

The idea of this kind of hood training is to only remove the hood when the falcon is going to be fed.  Everytime she sees the falconer, it's a positive thing. You can leave them un-hooded on a perch, but then the falcon risks unpleasant experiences and is basically tied down against its will.  They come to resent that.  When they're hooded, they just shut off and the result is a much calmer bird.  Again, every time the hood comes off, there's a feeding opportunity and a pleasant experience that benefits the falcon.  After awhile, after we're flying and hunting, she can be left unhooded more and more, but by that time she'll be well-trained.  Right now, we're training.

The peregrine chick is doing fine, too.  He's much smaller and younger and his training is different.  While I'm trying to tame and calm the prairie, the key with the peregrine is to not let him get too tame.  If that happens, he'll look to me as the source of food and start screaming and food begging.  He has to be taught to tolerate my presence but to search out food on his own.  His training will be me giving him opportunities to feed instead of me feeding him.  Therefore, what I do with him is provide him with a bowl of food at all times.  He feeds when hungry and seeks that food out.  It's almost like you need to make the chick wild and then tame it.  The older prairie is already wild and my job is just to tame her, or more correctly, create positive experiences for her.  When the peregrine gets older and starts flying, I'll take him to the field and create feeding opportunities for him using a lure and later on, pigeons.  In this way, he'll become a hunter and aerial predator instead of a bird looking to me to feed him.

The Peregrine Ledge

In the box
Stuffed peregrine
The peregrine lives on this ledge during the day.  It's filled with gravel and he has a little box he can hide in to get away from stuff.  There's a bowl of chopped quail on the ledge and he eats whenever he wants.  He'll go into the box for awhile and then sit out on the ledge for awhile.  Not much else going on with him- just feeding and some casual handling.  He'll start getting hooded before too long.

And finally, even though I haven't had many pictures of it, I do work on guitars quite a bit.  I just sent an early 60's D-18 home after some renovation and I'm finishing up a 50's 0-18 that got a neck reset and new nut.  The little guitar is a lot of fun to play and is just great for hybrid (pick and fingers) playing, swing chords, stuff like that.  

Original Martin bridge w/ my saddle

Martin 0-18

Friday, June 24, 2011

Peregrine success!!!

If you've been following my blog, then you know I've been checking peregrine falcon nests all spring in hopes of taking one (completely licensed, of course.) Well, today, after thousands of miles of driving, hours of rappelling practice, disappointments, and hopes, it happened!  Arrangements were made with NM Dept of Game and Fish, BLM, and a couple of other falconers and we all met at the meeting spot.  After a 1.6 mi hike in (carrying a 32 lb pack stuffed with ropes, carabiners, webbing, helmet, stakes, etc), us "top dogs" were in position, guided into place over the aerie by the "under dogs" down there at the cliff base.  I threw the rope once... was told to move it a little... pulled it up... and ouch!!!  It was covered with small cactus spines.  And of course I'd left my gloves back at the truck.  I had to toss and pull the rope 3x before the under-dogs were happy with the placement.

After getting the rigging done- I tied to 2 trees at the rear and picked up a 3rd tree a few feet farther, something I'd previously practiced- it was over the side for me.  Up to now, no one on the ground had actually seen chicks and there was a possibility that this whole thing might be a dud.  Indeed, as I leaned out over the cliff (roped in, of course), I could see the ledge, but no chicks.  A few feet down, though, I saw them- 3 little chickies all huddled together on the ledge.  Yee-haw!!!  NMDGF requires before and after pictures, so I took them before I landed on the ledge.

The Three Musketeers...
...suddenly becomes the Dynamic Duo.
The new addition

After taking the chick, I ascended back up the cliff.  It was a pretty easy ascension and  I just had to be extra careful not to knock rocks off.  I left my shunt connected to the rope on the ascent for extra safety and it was no extra trouble, so I'll probably continue to do that.  I was really happy with the shunt's performance as, once again, I let go of it at the nest ledge and it held me there as I got the chick and attached all my ascending gear.

Back on the ground, it was high five and congrats time.  Taking a wild peregrine is kind of a big deal and it definitely was an accomplishment for me to go from searching to monitoring to the final take.  And now, it's time to raise and train.  Fortunately, the prairie and the peregrine are different ages so I'll be able to work with each differently to keep things interesting.  The peregrine's got about 3 more weeks before he gets his feathers and starts to look like a real bird.

And now, off to feed the prairie falcon!

Dust Bowl Days

Well, not quite, but it is incredibly dry out here on the plains.  It is the driest I've ever seen it and a lot of old-timers are calling it the driest they've seen since the early 60's.  And here's a really bad situation: hot, dry, and no wind.

No wind = no water

As you can see from this picture (if you click on it, it'll go full size), the windmill's not turning.  If it doesn't turn, it doesn't pump water.  That's not good.  Note how dry it in this shot, too.  Now part of that is because it's around a mill and that's a high traffic area.  There are some patches of good grass out in the pasture- the trick is getting the cattle to them.  To do that, I'll feed the cattle over there and put salt block in those areas.  Anything to let them know there's grass there.  It'd be fantastic to get water to those sections, too, but hauling water isn't feasible. 

Feeding cattle
While we wait on rain, we're just feeding the cattle and doing the best we can.  It's tough all over and the only reason we're able to stock any cattle is because we've grazed conservatively over the years, thus leaving a good stock of grass.

"Hard times, hard times, come again no more!"

On the upside, this was yesterday and the wind IS blowing today...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Driving My Life Away

We had a lot of fun these past few days.  The easiest thing to do here is quote my dear wife (I've added a little bit):

David had his 3rd transfusion today.  We received the results from the blood tests sent to the Mayo Clinic.  Apparently, David does NOT have thalassemia or Hemoglobin F issues so those are scratched off the list.  He is still shedding lots of prophyrins in his urine and that's a whole other set of hemoglobin issues but the hematologist is still scratching his head since David doesn't have the other symptoms of these disorders.   So....

....they are talking with a Dr. at Sinai Hospital in NY.  The UNM Dr is hoping this new dr. will be so intrigued by David's "weird" symptoms that he'll do the blood test genetic sequencing for free.  That's what the Mayo Clinic had done so maybe this Dr. will too.  By doing the sequencing they can see if and where there are mutations.  So at this point they are saying he has an idiopathic hemolytic anemia since his bone marrow is producing red blood cells but something is destroying them.

Well, we just got home and it's after 11 p.m. We left the house at 5 a.m.  Our Suburban transmission went out between ABQ and SF this afternoon on the way home from the doctor. [the transmission refused to shift down, causing the RPM's to go sky-high]  We limped to Bryan's mother's house in SF and "borrowed" her vehicle.  The suburban took up so much room in the garage that we left the trash bin locked in the entry porch.  We plan on taking a trailer to pick the truck up and bring back home to get it repaired.

And sure 'nuff, Friday morning found us heading back to Santa Fe where we loaded our crippled 'burbie on the trailer and hauled it all home.  A new transmission is going to cost between $3,000 and $4,000.  I'm really debating on whether to just call it quits with the Suburban and put that money into a new car (something actually car-like that gets 25+ mpg).  The 'burbie does have 182,000 mi on it.  However, as-is, it's worth nothing and a Suburban with a new transmission (100k mi and 3 yr warranty) IS worth $4000, esp since the engine is not giving any problems, we have new shocks, and new front end stuff.  It still gets close to 20 mph on the road and has tons of room.  The paint's in great condition and there really are no other issues.  

Plus, our cattle season is way behind and income may be an issue this year.  And then there's David's medical expenses to consider as insurance only covers some of it.  I would not want to spend $10k on a newer car and then hit a financial wall this fall.  So, I guess the plan is to fix it, but start looking and saving and if we survive the summer and fall finds us okay financially, then we'll move to a newer car.  I still think the Suburban would be useful for a lot of things, even if we get a car.  I mean, if it's worth only $4000, I'll turn it into a hawking truck or something!

Chevy towing Chevy
My new falcon is doing really well.  We're just working with her in the hawk house and she's jumping down off her perch and coming to us for food.  That's a great start for a bird I've only had since Tues night.  I spent all day Weds hustling to get my hawk house back up and it's still only partially done.  It's really ugly right now, but I'm waiting on some metal which I'll use to cover the outside.  When I do that, I think it'll look pretty sharp. 

UGLY!!!  But just wait...
More panels waiting to go up.  When done, it'll be 8' x 24' long.
Wendy in her new home
Here's a little video that David shot with my phone:
Video of falcon training

I'm hoping to take my peregrine this Thurs or Friday. 

In other activities, we're slowly getting cattle in- about 600 on the ground.  We normally have close to 2,000 by now, but this is the driest spring I've ever seen.  I'm taking a lot more active role than usual in moving the cattle to places with grass and so far, we're doing okay.

We're also getting ready for the 58th Annual Camp Meeting.  This is a preaching, eating, fellowshipping thing that goes on at a nearby ranch.  I've been chairman for 3 years.  Attendance has been dropping steadily for the past 10 years and there's thoughts of quitting, but so far, we're still doing it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Better Blood, Beef on the Ground, and A Bird in the Hand!

It's been a busy week!!! Last Tues, David had his blood checked and his platelets came back at 26k.  At 20k, a person can spontaneously bleed internally so the doctors were understandably concerned and asked for another test on Thurs.  If he hadn't improved, then it would be off to ABQ for a platelet transfusion.  Thurs, though, his platelets were up to a whopping (for him) 44k.  That's basically the highest they've ever been for him.  Me and him celebrated by going to Dairy Queen where I had a Blizzard for supper.  I actually only blew my daily calorie count by about 50 calories, too.
David got to check his own blood!  This is the machine that does it all.

On the falcon front, my goal this year was to take 2 birds- a peregrine and a prairie falcon.  I want to fly them in different ways and I want the prairie to be a female (they're larger) and the peregrine a male.  It's been harder finding prairie falcons this year than peregrines!  I have 3 sites near me and 2 came up blank.
On Sunday, I visited my last hope and was greeted by a chick standing on the edge of the nest.  Alas, there was only one.  It's legal to take the sole chick, but the ethics of it bother me as the parents don't finish the nesting cycle and may consider it a failure.  On Monday, I checked a new site where we saw a male flying around and screaming over a new cliff, but repeated visits have turned up blank.  I really wanted to find birds, but after 3 h of seeing nothing and me climbing to the top of the nest cliff, I had to call it a dud.

The view from on high.  VERY dry this year.

Portrait of The Artist As a Disappointed Falcon Seeker.
Monday night I decided to re-visit the single chick and make a decision on the take then.  I wasn't too happy about taking the sole chick, but in the long run of the scheme of prairie falcons in the West, it wouldn't make any difference.  I still wasn't happy about it, though.

But, before I could do anything, we had cattle to deal with.  A truck with 84 fresh head arrived and once the ladies got back from Vacation Bible School, we put the new beeves out.  The move went very well, with me on an ATV and Brianna riding my horse. 

Cowdogs and a Cowgal.
The View from an ATV
 We got all that done and then dealt with a minor horse issue.  Seems that our geldings are a bit jealous of who gets to pasture with the mare.  Sandyman (my horse) is out in the big pasture and we'd really like him in the small trap because it's easier to catch them for work.  Ross is in the small pasture and we'd like him in the big pasture.  B2 tried to switch but the two geldings immediately started fighting over the fence.  So, we had to do a little re-re-shuffling.

Then, finally, it was off to the prairie falcon cliff.  Upon arrival, I put my new spotting scope on the nest and whoa... there were two birds on the nest!  I went up to 60x (I love this scope!) and really thought I could see a 3rd bird laying down on the nest.  It would be unlikely for the parents to be sitting on the nest with the young at that age, so we almost certainly had at least 2 young.  Hallelujah!!!  I shouldered my pack with ropes and gear (24 lbs!) and started up the slope with B2 carrying a smaller pack.  Tie-off points are scarce on the rocky slope and my plan was to tie to a rock I'd previously scouted, pound a stake for a 2nd tie-off, and then use B2 herself as my 3rd anchor.  Our friend Shane joined us up on the slope and I put him to work, too, sitting on the strap tied to the rock to make sure it didn't pop off.

With all that done, over the cliff I went.  Imagine my joy when I landed on the nest ledge and found 3 chicks.  There were 2 males and 1 female and I grabbed the female and gently put her in my backpack.  Then I rappelled on down to the bottom.  Shane and B2 cleaned up the gear on top and joined us all on the bottom.  Everything went perfectly and my shunt was great as I just let go and it locked me in place on the nest.  I felt pretty comfortable on the rope.

Adult falcon overhead

Starting the rappel.  It was only 6' or so to the nest.
At the nest.  The males were hiding in a crevice to my left.

Chick in the bag, heading down!

Everyone gathers 'round to see.

Our new friend- "Wendy"- a pun on "Windy".

And, on the way home, we saw this:

A bull elk!
And that was our day!  Everyone's pretty tired, I think.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Bad News, Good News.

Good news.  It rained!!!  We got between 0.25 and 0.5" on the ranch, which is great.  Bad news is that it soaked up like a sponge and we need more of the same to get the grass growing.  But for a few hours there, it was great.

Rain, Oh Rain, Oh, Let It Rain!!

Bad news:  My peregrine pursuit has hit a snag.  One of my nest sites was the victim of a forest fire.  It was crazy really, as the fire started at the base of the nest cliff!  I mean, of all the places in New Mexico to have a fire, why at my falcon site??  The road was closed for several days and I couldn't get in to check on it, but things finally cleared up and I took a trip to the 2 sites I've been watching.  At one, I watched the female on what is probably very young chicks.  It'll be another 2 weeks before I can take one, so I left there and drove to the other place. 

[Previous photo removed]

It's hard to see, but that's my nest cliff and that's smoke on the ridge line.  The fire burned up this slope, then crossed the road and burned north.  It mostly burned understory and some of the pine needles and doesn't really look all that bad.  I watched the site for about 20 minutes and didn't see anything but I couldn't hike the opposite slope because it was still smoldering and the forest is closed.  I'll check back on this in a few weeks just to see what I see.

The good news, though, is that my captive peregrine deal also fell thru.  Why is that good news, you might wonder?  It's good because it means that my 2nd falcon can now be a wild taken prairie falcon and that means that I get to rappel into another aerie!  And prairie falcons are local to me, so I won't have to make 8 hour trips just to get to them.  On Sunday, in fact, we saw a falcon enter a cavity on a nearby rock and Georgia heard a screaming falcon.  We'll check that site ever week and when they're ready, I'm ready.

Back on the ranch, we're getting into the Feed 'n Count groove.  It's still extremely dry here- the driest since 1900, actually- and so we're supplemental feeding.  That costs money, but it also results in very tame cattle and it's much easier to find and count them that way, as they come running to the feeder.  I use an ATV to play "rover" to the feed truck, going out into the pasture corners, down the creeks, and etc, counting cattle the whole way.  It's important to count to verify that the cattle are there and haven't strayed or been rustled.

34.2 mi and I'm not done
 This puts quite a few miles on the ATV.  We started around 4 pm and by 6 pm, I'd already put 34.2 mil on the bike.  I hit 44 before I was done at 7 pm.  Horses are great for a lot of things, but ATV's rule when it comes to covering a lot of country quickly.   ATV's are mostly a good thing except when they break and I have to work on them.  Then they are Bad ATVs.

The bad thing about being on the ATV is the nasty wind.  It was blowing 30 mph today and when you're going 30 mph into it, that's a 60 mph wind.  It's hard on the eyes and hard on the ears.  Today, though, I did something different.  I wrapped my head in a bandana.  I probably look like Mother Hubbard, but who cares?  The bandana kept the wind out of my ears and kept my ear buds in so that I was able to listen to 3 hrs of music while riding around counting cattle.  My count came out good- just 2 short in each pasture.  260 head in one, 175-ish in the other.  I'll keep track of my counts and see if I can't a perfect count next time.

Self Portrait of the Artist as an Upper Middle-Aged Man
After getting my count, I stopped on the edge of the canyon to glass with binos to see if I could pick up any more cattle.  I didn't but I did find 5 mule deer bucks grazing about 200 yards away.  Enlarge the picture and see if you can spot the little reddish streaks- one is just above my boot.  The wind was blowing from them to me and ATV bothered them not one bit, not even when I started it and backed out.  I'm going rifle hunting for deer this year, Lord willing.

Teeny Tiny Little Deer

That's the ranch.  On The Davidic Front, we got a call from the doc's office today with news that some tests had returned from the Mayo Clinic and the doc wants to see us next week.  We did a CBC today and found that David's hemoglobin is only 8.0 in spite of a transfusion 10 days ago.    Even at that low level, he's twice what he normally is.  But on the "kind of alarming" side, his platelets have dropped and are approaching dangerous levels.  Dangerous in that he could actually start spontaneous internal bleeding.  We'll probably do another CBC on Thur and if things are worse, it'll be off to the doc on Friday for a platelet transfusion (which typically only lasts a few days so it's a real stop-gap thing).

I suspect this is kind of like my skid steer.  I had some oil leaks fixed finally.  When I did, the skid steer ran great for about 5 hrs and then started leaking worse than before.  The problem was another blown O-ring and it's likely that the improved pressure from the other repairs caused this one to fail.  As David is infused with good blood, it's possible that his bone marrow- which has been working hard for 10 years- will take a vacation, resulting in low platelets.  Or his spleen might get alarmed at all the fresh blood, work over-time in its misdirected attempt to blow his blood cells up, and get enlarged even further.  It's all just a mess, but hopefully the doc will have some news for us.

Other good news is that I got my hearing aids fixed.  I wear BTE aids and I'm almost totally dependent upon them.  When they don't work well, I can't hear.  I had them adjusted last June by a new doc who finally got them working really, really well.  All was peachy until about Jan/Feb.  When we went on the train trip, I could hear well going to DC, but while there and on the way back, I just wasn't hearing well at all.   I thought that maybe my ears had taken another dip.  At the urging of my dear wife, we finally made the trip to CO Springs.  After some discussion, the doc said "let's reset them to the last good setting and see what happens".  The instant he clicked the Program button, my hearing world came back and I immediately heard people talking in the next room, fans in the room, and the doc's voice.  I had my guitar with me and tested the aids against it. was all there again.  That was Thurs.  Since then, I've been asking my dear wife and beloved children to please quit shouting at me.  I turn the TV down.  I turn all the fans in the house off.  I play my guitars and listen to the harmonics.  It's great.  And now we know that the aids' programing will drift and needs to be reset every 4 months or so.

Well, that's enough for now!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Blowin' in the wind

One of the "features" of living on the high plains is the wind.  Not only do we live in one of the windiest parts of New Mexico, but this spring seems like it's been particularly windy with day after day after day of hard gusty winds.  Here's an example:

We had a peak of 58 mph but I didn't get a picture of that.  And it did this for 2 days solid.  It was nasty.  I have to keep my music room humidified and when the wind's smoking along, it's hard to keep the humidity up.  I ran 2 Bemis console humidifiers and couldn't get the humidity up past 35%. 

Dirt blown in from wind

However, over the years I've noticed something.  If the wind doesn't blow, we don't get rain.  It doesn't rain until the wind stops, but if we have a calm spring, then the rains never come.  And so, while it's nasty now, I think there's hope on the horizon:

Indeed, today's weather report has us up to 40% for "severe thunderstorms".  As I type this, it's cloudy and dark with a mild 10 mph breeze.  We're hoping for rain.

I spent yesterday out on the ranch checking things.  Fixed a broken connector on the pipeline which was letting water spew all over the place.  Fixed a section of broken fence with large dark hairs in the wire.  Dunno what happened there- maybe an elk, maybe a bear, maybe even a steer but it wasn't broken last fall when we shipped cattle and it's along a rocky spot.  I suspect a bear.  I also fixed a gate that my dear wife broke about 10 years ago.  We'd just wired the section up, but yesterday a steer got out into the lane and broke a fence wire in the process, so instead of just fixing the wire, I decided to fix the whole thing.

Here's the interesting part: the old post had broken off at ground level and I wanted to pull it up and put a new post in the hole.  Now, these posts are 6" in diameter and sunk 3-4' down into the ground- they're not easy to pull up.  I dug around it enough to put a chain around it and then hooked my "Post Popper" up to it.  The post didn't budge.  The state is doing some work on that road and, even though the road was completely empty and had been all morning, I thought to myself "Wouldn't it be great if a front-end loader came down the road and we could pull this post out with it?"  As I leaned on the Post Popper again, a state highway pickup pulled over.  He came over, I told him what I was doing (being on a state road, this fence really is the state's responsibility anyway!) and he said "Well, there will be a front end loader coming by here in 15-20 minutes.  If you want to wait until then, I'll have him stop and pull that post."  LOL.... Sometimes prayers are answered.

I went back to the house for a new post and a few minutes after I returned the front-end loader came over the hill, we hooked the chain up, and pulled the old post out of the hole, clean as could be.  I dropped the new post in, packed it down, and commenced to fixin' the brace.

The pulled post
A gate in progress
In the above shot, I have the posts in the ground with the cross-brace in position and I'm wrapping this with wire.  I'll put a piece of rebar thru the wire and twist it tight.  This pulls the two posts against each other to both hold them in the ground better and hold the cross-brace in position.

The finished gate (the next day- note clouds)

I hope to have pictures of rain soon.