November 30, 2008

First Snow!

No, not here at the WD, not even on Mt Glenn (7519 ft) in our "front yard", but on Mt. Graham (10,720 ft) in the Pinalenos to the north of us. We had a storm on Thanksgiving Eve and Day that brought more than 0.5" of rain (yeah!) to our place, but looking out over the horse playpen this morning there was snow in the distant mountains!

I took the picture with the greatest zoom option available so I could show it off. Here is what it really looks like from the horse barn.

This does mean that the trips to Riggs Lake, my favorite picnic spot, are over for the year as they close the road once it snows. We will have to go to the Chiricahua National Monument (in the mountains east of us) for a snow picnic as it will remain open year round. I do love picnics! Even in the snow.

November 29, 2008

Sandhill Cranes

Every year our Sulphur Springs Valley hosts large flocks of Sandhill Cranes in the winter. This past winter there were more than 36,000 of them! During the day the cranes pick over the now harvested corn fields and then either spend their leisure or night time at the Willcox Playa, which is a large dry lake northeast of the WD Ranch, or at the Whitewater Draw, about an hour south of us.

The valley is very popular with birdwatchers because we have a lot of other overwintering birds as well, among them the various kinds of hawks, and in the Chiricahua Mountains (the eastern border of the valley) are some rare birds such as the Elegant Trogon that people travel far and wide for to see.

On this holiday weekend we took our visiting friends to Whitewater Draw to view the cranes, and have a picnic. The Thanksgiving storm is now completely gone and the weather was clear and warm. Some cranes, and Snow Geese among them, had already arrived although it is still early in the season, and we also saw a Black Phoebe and Vermilion Flycatcher.

November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving ...

... to you, reading this blog. We celebrated with friends, and contemplated on how much we have to be thankful for. And we ate, a lot. The weather was blustery, but it made it a perfect day to hang around the kitchen, smell those wonderful smells, eat at leisure, and watch some really bad football games. These pictures should sum it up.

November 24, 2008

Kid Cody

I usually write about the "wild" animals around the WD Ranch, but today I want to feature one of our horses, Kid Cody, or Cody for short. He is the one I have ridden most frequently this year, and he and I are becoming a good team.

Cody is our youngest, tallest, and darkest horse. He was born in Oregon in the barn where we boarded Bueno, and where we were taking riding lessons. His mom was Dan's lesson horse, so we joke that Dan was already given cues to him before he was born. Cody is playful, and still looks like a colt although he is 8 years old now, but his best attribute is his temperament. He is laid back to the point of being lazy, always good humoured and very sociable. There is not a horse that goes by, or a horse trailer on the road that does not get greeted with a whinny. He gets along with any horse, never challenging the pecking order. He would just as soon get along with everybody, animal or human. He always touches noses with the dogs when they come to the arena fence, and he always comes to the gate when we are in the vicinity.

There are some things we do need to work on however. He is not the easiest horse to load into a trailer after the wind slammed the door shut on him once when he was about to be led out, and he does like to have "fun". He may be a bit lazy, but he does have moves. I have seen his hooves well above his head when he plays out with Buggsy and Bueno in the arena. This is spectacular to watch, but not so spectacular when you are on his back. Recently we trotted back to the barn after Bueno and Dan, and Cody decided that this was just jolly; he lowered his head and started bucking. Thankfully he did listen to me and came to his senses, but I think we have some loping exercises in the round pen in our future. That is what I like about having horses: there is always something to work and improve on.

November 21, 2008

Warm and cozy

Remember the eviction notice I posted for the wood rat who had made his home on the counter of the adobe oven? Well, he either cannot read, or he is thumbing his nose at us because he is still there. Seriously, I had thought he would be gone by now because we have had a couple of days with winds in excess of 40 mph, and the cover under which he is camped, and which protects the oven from erosion by possible rain, had been flapping to beat the band. Nobody could have put up with that for more than a day. Well, the wood rat did!

However, we have entered a symbiotic relationship of sorts. We are still finding wood rats around the place and continue to live trap them (and marking them to check for repeat offenders). The only bait we have found to be reliable are mesquite beans, but on the bushes the beans are all gone: eaten up by the various desert creatures, including coyotes. Our little "oven rat" has an impressive stash in front of his little cozy nest. So, now when we need some beans, we gently lift the cover, excuse ourselves, and take some of his supplies. He has not come for us yet, so he must be willing to pay his rent.

November 19, 2008

Arizona Autumn

It is difficult to believe that it will be Thanksgiving next week! Aside from the fact that time runs through my hands like water no matter how hard I try to hang on to it, it doesn't feel like the latter half of November. True, the tomatoes in the garden have just about had it, but we still have leaves on the trees! We have had a little frost and some high winds, but even the mesquites are still green. This morning a butterfly fluttered by, and a couple of hummingbirds continue to visit the feeder every day.

There a definite signs of fall though: the days are considerably shorter, especially in the evening when the sun now sets behind Mt Graham at 4:30. And because we live on its bajada, we are in shade while the rest of the valley is still basking in sunlight. Shorter days also means fewer eggs from our hens: we are currently averaging 8 a day as opposed to a dozen in the summer. I have started to stockpile eggs because we are having house guests for Thanksgiving, and I will be cooking breakfast for 6 for a couple of days. I am looking forward to it!

November 18, 2008


I come across a lot of interesting foot prints on my morning walk. It's all dirt road for 1 1/4 mile to get to our house, and the "roads" to access other properties around are all dirt tracks. The first part of the walk is a bit boring because it is along the road, but most of it is either just track or trail.

I am the only one that walks there it seems, but there are lots of animals that leave their marks. Horses for one, and sometimes I can judge which of my neighbors has been riding (Cheerio has large feet, being part draft horse). The other day somebody ponied a foal: small hooves and no shoes. But mostly it is tiny feet: cotton tail and jack rabbits, kangaroo rats (who also leave tail marks), javelina (sometimes with babies). I can't tell coyote from dog prints and of course there are lots of those with Emma and Shawna accompanying me every day.

Yesterday I found a track that I have not seen before, and I have not been able to identify it either. It looked like a raccoon to me, but we don't have those here. Perhaps it is a badger? I must admit, I would not know one if I came across it.

November 17, 2008

Out the back gate

We are truly living a dream. How many people are in the position, like we are, to walk out the door on any Monday morning, like today, in sunny weather, saddle up two of our good and reliable horses, and ride out our back gate to go exploring in the Coronado National Forest?

We dreamt it, but I for one did not believe it would truly ever happen. What have we done to deserve this? I can only think of one price I have paid for this privilege: I have gotten old. Old looking I guess I should say, because I feel as I did in my 30's. What has happened to that face in the mirror? Too much sun exposure without sunscreen is the answer, but I grew up where too much sun was not an issue, and if I ever did get the opportunity to soak it up, by golly, I did! I guess I should look at those wrinkles as the fabulous vacation memories of my young years.

Our rides are generally not eventful, just relaxing, and we try to make them fun for the horses as well as ourselves. We do not have any pasture at the WD, so we give our boys plenty of opportunity to graze at good looking grassy spots along our way. It relaxes them, lets them be a horse, and gives us a chance to look at the spectacular scenery. We are generally just gone for a couple of hours, a couple of times a week. It does not get any better than this!

November 11, 2008


We are still live-catching the occasional pack rat, but the marking experiment with the nail polish was only partly successful: pack rats don't sit still for the procedure. Nonetheless, we have yet to find a repeat offender.

Unfortunately, we are catching other critters in the live trap, mostly in the potting bench. Granted, it is a wonderful potting bench; the potting bench to end all potting benches and a standard by which any potting bench should be measured. It houses all the garden tools, pots, anything one needs to keep a garden and landscape in tiptop shape. It is, however, not the most secure of places: the pack rats love all those nooks and crannies, and I have found a bird in there from time to time.

Yesterday there were pots toppled over again, and some clothes pins had been strategically placed on the floor as a nest foundation, so Dan set the trap around lunchtime. When he came out a few hours later, Emma was keen to investigate some rustling in the potting bench and lo and behold, a Canyon Towhee had found its way into the trap! Dan said that when he released it, it flew off with an offended "tweet". Then again, maybe it was "thanks".

So, to prevent a repeat performance, we left the potting bench door just ajar. Even if a bird got in through a crack in the roof, it would be able to get out. This morning I checked the trap, and it was sprung, but when I lifted it to the bench it was awfully heavy. A rabbit had gotten trapped, and it was none too happy about being in such a confined space!

Of course we let her go immediately, after taking a picture, and she sped away behind the shop/shed and hid in one of the left-over downspouts. The dogs were inside when she was released but it took them no time at all to find her, safely in the middle of the tube. I wonder if she is the same bunny that the coyotes tried to get out a few weeks ago. See here: wild night

The dogs were called off and I gave the bunny lots of time to find its proper burrow.

November 4, 2008

Those packrats! ("white-throated woodrat" is their real name)

People probably think that we are nuts: live-trapping packrats. But I have a difficult time killing an animal that large, and that cute, just because he wants to have a nice place to live too. Besides, who moved into whose territory anyway?

We have been very successful catching them recently: we are 5 for 5. We are setting the trap in either the tackroom or the potting bench, which ever shows signs of having been visited. The best way to entice them to step into the trap is with a mesquite bean or two, although the one this morning did not turn up his nose at a homegrown carrot.

However, Dan thinks he recognized our catch this morning. Until today he has walked them out to the end of our 20 acres and released them on state land, but if they are tracing their way back... One suggestion has been to cover the cage while he is being transported, maybe turn around a couple of times...

This morning we had to run an errand, so we took him in the car and released him way down the road. Next step is to mark our catch so we know that we have trapped a repeat rat. I will just put a drop of specially-bought nailpolish behind their head. Now what to do when we do find repeat offenders; perhaps take them out to the National Forest (0.25 mile away)? So what exactly is the range for a packrat?