Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Meet Pete

Our chicken coop is a necessary evil of sorts. We would rather allow the chickens to roam the yard freely, but we quickly discovered that was a death sentence for the tasty birds. So for a number of years we have kept them contained in a clean, spacious enclosure, free from the threat of owls, eagles, bob cats, coyotes, fox or numerous other dangers. In the summer they get a fan, in the winter they have heat and, I have to say, overall they appear pretty content. The coop has a totally enclosed inner area that contains the roosting boxes and a spacious outside area that is accessed through a windproof tunnel. The interesting thing about the chicken coop is the number of visitors it receives besides the resident hens. It is really amazing to see a full grown cottontail move back and forth through the chicken wire as if it isn't even there. The baby chukars often find their way in, although they seem to have a harder time getting back out, and we often have to rescue them at the end of the day. The pigeons will not go through the chicken wire. They just won't. They will, however, squeeze their way under the plywood door to the interior of the coop on occasion.

I tell you all this so you can picture the situation of Pete.

About a week ago Ken and I were in the llama corral when Ken pointed to a pigeon on the ground nearby. "I don't think he can fly." said Ken. I walked closer to the healthy looking bird only to have him move slightly away where he stopped again. After several times of performing this dance step I declared Ken's statement to be accurate. Throughout the day we watched the bird as he hung around the corral, carefully moving aside when the llamas got too close. He was easy to identify as he has a different coloration than most of the other pigeons. The bird books call it a "checkered" pattern. That evening we decided we needed to do something. We knew he would not survive a night on the ground and there was another, more insidious danger. One somewhat unique feature of pigeons is the amount of water they need to survive. They are heavy drinkers and we knew this guy had no place he could go to get the needed liquid. He didn't look sick so we decided to see if we could put him inside the chicken coop for the night. It really wasn't too hard to pick him up, although he made it clear he wasn't thrilled about the process, and I placed him inside with the bigger birds. We were able to put an extra water container on the ground just in case he couldn't figure out the system and we knew he could always slip under the door if it was too unbearable for him.

The next morning I looked in the coop and there lined up on the roost were three hens and Pete the pigeon. He tolerated us adding feed and water and later that morning we saw him walk out of the pen like it was the easiest thing in the world. As I got close to him he sort of fluttered away and I thought "Hmmm, I guess he's cured!" The next morning I went to feed the chickens and what did I see? Three hens and Pete on the roost. He had let himself in the night before. As he has done every night since. He comes out and walks around all day and then tucks himself in at night. He is welcome to stay as long as he wants. I know he doesn't lay eggs but he makes up for it in the smiles he brings each morning!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Birthday Fun

Yesterday was my 50th birthday. As a general rule, I don't pay a lot of attention to the annual passing of time, but there is something about marking a half century that makes it notable.

I received some wonderful gifts: a "tabula rasa" journal from my sister-in-law and her family (something I have been quietly coveting for a couple years now), a digital photo frame from my sister and her family, a shirt and a set of coasters printed with the image of one of my quilts from my mom and dad and a beautiful outfit from Ken.

Ken's other gift to me was a trip to Red Lodge for dinner and a visit to the Nature Center. I have wanted to visit the Center for some time but always seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere else when I was in the area. It is a sanctuary for wild animals that were injured or abandoned at a (usually) early age and were unable to survive in the wild. They have a large number of creatures ranging from black bear and elk to sandhill cranes and a grounded magpie.

All the animals are safely enclosed behind wire fences, but I found if I focused the camera just right, I could minimize the appearance of the wire in the photo.

The wire is pretty obvious in this photo of "Bob" but it was such a great pose I decided to show it to you anyway. His yawn makes it obvious why I worry about Frank the cat running into these guys in the yard. Two nights ago we had an exact repeat of an incident that occurred three years ago except that in this case it was Ken who was involved instead of me. Ken was outside at about 4pm and just happened to look up and see Frank in the front yard nose to nose with the bobcat that has been hanging around. Ken jumped up which made the bobbie take off. Instead of running for the house like an intelligent kitty, Frank took off after the much larger animal, delighted to see he had him on the run! Ken chased the both of them up the hill until he and Frank collapsed on the ground out of breath and exhausted. The bobcat never even slowed down. One of these times Frank is going to meet up with a cat that isn't going to run and then he will be in real trouble!

Fall Color

Last weekend Ken and I went up into the Beartooths for a late summer hike. We opted not to take the llamas because the area we wanted to visit sits in a section of the '88 burn and the downfall is prevalent. We have been to this particular lake several times and there is no trail that gets you there. It is a steep bushwack over varied terrain which makes it hard for even humans to navigate. The reasons for going to this spot are its solitude, its incredible beauty and its fat, hungry cutthroat trout.

The colors in the undergrowth were amazing. We are not used to seeing a lot of red in the fall trees here, but the huckleberries more than made up for it. The crop must have been especially good this year because we were still seeing the berries hanging off every bush. We were deep in grizzly bear territory and signs of the large bruins were everywhere. The picture to the left is of a bear scat that is much larger than the length of Ken's boot. You can see by its color and consistency that the griz are eating all the huckleberries they can stuff in their bellies before the snow flies.

One of the amazing things about the lake we went to is the presence of an ancient wikiup, probably a remnant of the Sheepeater Tribe. It is in much worse shape now than it was last time we visited. I think it has reached the point in its demise where it is deteriorating rapidly. I feel honored we have had the opportunity to see it over the years before it totally disappears.

The rain started just as we were finishing our dinner of fresh trout and rice and continued all
through the night. We were dry in our trusty two person tent, although it felt pretty close seeing as how we have been spoiled by having the llamas carry a bigger tent for most of the last decade. We got pretty wet on the trip out the next day but I was still glad we had gone.

A side note - After my last post Annmarie asked about Quatro's name. I'm afraid the answer is that I was lazy. Ken and I usually make a game of naming each new baby llama that comes along but since he wasn't home when Alexis had her newborn, I decided to name him for the order in which he arrived - the fourth baby of this year.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Introducing Quatro

Alexis lived up to her reputation for hanging onto her babies just a little longer than everyone else. Quatro, our fourth and last baby llama of 2008, is a male born on September 10 at 4pm in the middle of a cold fall rainstorm. In the photos he is about 18 hours old. You can see he has figured out how to nurse because he has milk on his mouth in the first picture.
Since the first three babies were all pretty much solid in color, this little guy comes as quite a shock! He definitely takes after his father. He is going to be much woolier than the other three as well.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Whooo's There?

For a few minutes last night, I thought I was in the middle of a Harry Potter movie! I had gone to bed, turned off the TV and the lights and was drowsing off into neverland, when suddenly, at the edge of my consciousness, I heard an unidentifiable sound. Unidentifiable sounds are not generally a good thing when you live miles from your nearest neighbor and have a bunch of animals you care for. I threw on my shoes and ran for the door, grabbing the giant flashlight along the way. As I opened the door the noise became much more distinct but no more recognizable. It was a loud, repetitive shriek but not the scream I associate with mountain lions. My first thought was that one of the baby llamas had been injured somehow. I stepped outside and pulled the door closed behind me, worried about Frank the cat following me into the darkness. As I took a step forward I realized the noise was not coming from the llama enclosure, but rather was directly in front of me and headed my way. I turned on the flashlight and couldn't believe what I was seeing. There, not 25 feet away and coming straight at me were not one, but two great horned owls, one behind the other and slightly to its side, both with wings fully outspread as they seemed to be coming in for a landing on my head!

No doubt the smart thing to do would have been to dive for the door, but I was totally frozen in place, completely mesmerized by a sight so beautiful I was having a hard time taking it in. They angled upward as they reached me and landed on the roof directly above where I was standing. I took a few steps forward to look up at them, turning off the flashlight so as not to blind them with the light. The security light from the pole by the llama pen allowed more than enough light to see their giant silhouettes on the roof. One of the two took off almost immediately and resettled on top of the llama shed 100 feet away. The other sat on the roof for several minutes while I looked up at it until it also flew off only to land close by on top of the hay pile. The whole time this was taking place they never stopped screaming back and forth for a second.

I was so pumped up by the whole thing I didn't get back to sleep for at least an hour after coming inside. I was also trying to make sense of what I had seen - for one thing, I have heard great horned owls before and they make the normal "hoo, hoo, hoo" sound you expect them to make, not the ear-splitting screech I had just heard. Also, my understanding is that it is rare to see two of the giant birds acting together like that. Then, in talking to Ken this morning, he came up with the most likely explanation. What I had witnessed was not a pair of owls hunting together, it was a fight for territory. That is why they were so unconcerned with my presence and focused on each other instead. With the number of bunnies and rodents we have around here, this must be considered a prime location for an owl and they don't want to share.

Last night's visit was actually my second amazing bird sighting of the day. Earlier I had been on my way across the yard to my studio when a prairie falcon suddenly came up out of a cedar bush right in front of me. I ran back to the house and grabbed the camera knowing there was probably a freshly killed pigeon in the bush and hoping the falcon would be back to finish his meal. As I went back to the studio I glanced in the bush to see if I could see the target and there, instead of the pigeon I was expecting, was a headless baby chukar (the first thing falcons do is chop off the head of their prey). Falcons will only take their victims in the air so the poor baby must have been spooked enough to fly rather than his usual mode of running away from threats. Little did he know his flight would be his downfall. The falcon must have been sufficiently scared by me because he didn't return. I felt badly about the kill for two reasons - first, I'd rather see the predator bird stick to his usual menu of squab and second, I hate that he didn't get to eat his prey after managing to kill it.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Here Kitty Kitty

I wasn't planning on posting this morning because I have a busy day ahead with lots to do and not a lot of time to do it. But I couldn't resist adding my latest photos of an early morning visitor. I had a feeling he was around last night just by the way the llamas were acting but I didn't actually see this guy until this morning. He is quite small - probably this year's litter, but with the three baby llamas around, the older llamas are incredibly protective right now and they chased the poor thing into a hole in the rocks where I was able to get a couple of nice shots. I would have liked more light but I will take what I can get with these elusive cats.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


When I was chairperson of the Yellowstone Quilt Fest five years ago, I was trying to think of a way to raise money for the event that wouldn't put the burden all on one or two people. The typical solution for quilting groups and events is a raffle quilt, but it is often a big job that falls to a few hard working individuals. About that time I read a post on quiltingarts.com that talked about a block challenge. Ah Ha! A way to share the work - at least the task of creating the pieces for the quilt top. The quilting and finishing is still usually the work of one generous volunteer. To get people to participate we offered prizes for the top three blocks based on "people's choice" of the displayed blocks during the show. The concept worked and the challenge has continued to this day. Every year I say I am not going to make a block because I don't have time, and every year I find myself scrambling to get one done at the last minute. This year is no exception. I finished my 12" (finished) block this morning and I will put it in the mail to this year's chairperson tomorrow. The theme this year was "Cowboy Christmas" and I thought it might be a perfect chance to use some of that "barbed wire" trim I bought a few months ago. It should lay flat once it is quilted.
I haven't seen the mule deer hanging around for a few days so it was with surprise that I opened my blinds to discover a group of five standing right outside my window yesterday. They did a great job of trimming the weeds and pruning the cedar bushes before making their way over the hill.
I sometimes feel I am a prisoner in my own home these days. It is totally self-inflicted. I just can't bring myself to open the door when there are 20 or more baby chukars milling around my front yard. And it seems like there are always 20 or more babies milling around my front yard! The exception is the early morning when they are tucked away in the rocks from the night before. I would never claim the chukars around here are tame, but there is no doubt they are trained to my voice. As soon as I go out in the morning and say "hello" to the llamas, I hear the instant "chuc, chuc, chuc" response from the comical birds. They know full well I always have an extra scoop of llama feed that will get thrown on the ground for them to share (not always graciously) with the cottontails. The group in this picture is one family that lined up this morning waiting for me to finish with the llamas so I could get to the all important task of providing them breakfast!
One more baby llama picture, if you can stand it! This photo shows the complete unpredictability of color results. Licorice is rubbing noses with her sister, Dusty, born to Jake's Girl a year and a half ago. Neither one of them resembles their mother or the father and they obviously don't look much like each other!