Sunday, April 26, 2015

Fun at the Farm

John, the dogs and I returned last Wednesday from nine days at the farm.  I’m happy to report that all the cattle, including Moon Pie, are doing well.

Much of John’s time has been spent on the skid steer clearing cedar.  I worked in our yard and applied herbicide to several species of invasive plants that threaten to overwhelm the native grasses and forbs in some of our pastures.  But that’s not the fun stuff.  In between we visited with family, including our niece, Erin, and her family.  Noah and Rachel showed us the rock village they have made, and Rachel demonstrated her tree-climbing ability.  

Both kids promise to be outstanding rock climbers as well.  They scaled the caliche cliff above the barn in a heartbeat.  

We took some lovely walks among the wildflowers.  The prairie verbena, more commonly known as sweet William, were more plentiful than I have ever seen.

We also have a good crop of Blackfoot daisies, which grow on the caliche hillsides where almost nothing else will.

There are antelope horn milkweed as well.  This is a host plant for the monarch butterfly, and we'll be looking for caterpillars and chrysalises later in the year.

And, of course there are the bluebonnets...not only the blue ones, but a few of these unusual white specimens.

As usual, the dogs had a great time.  Dog cousins Clover, Molly and Kaia joined our three for some great chases and swims in the pond.

The weather was wonderful...remarkably cool with nice breezes.  We also had some welcome showers during our stay, and on Saturday just before sunset we were treated to this spectacular double rainbow in the sky to the south.

The bird-watching was good as well.  Last week I saw flocks going over on their way north, but they didn’t look or sound like geese, ducks or cranes.  Finally they came close enough for me to get a good look…at flocks of (of all things) seagulls!  I’m not sure what they were doing so far from the Texas coast, but there were a lot of them and they seemed to know where they were going.

We were happy to see that our bluebird nest boxes are being well utilized.  First there were the lovely blue eggs, and now most of the boxes are filled with fledgling bluebirds.

Of course, other small birds use nest boxes as well.  At the corner of our yard is a box occupied by what we think is a titmouse.  On another fence post nearby, I counted eight eggs that I think belong to a wren.  I hope mama bird has good help when they hatch.  Eight is a lot of mouths to feed. 

Wednesday when the dogs and I were out for our walk, this lovely red-tailed hawk kept circling overhead.  he/she was quite high, but the light was right and I got several good shots.

And then, when I went to check on the nest below our barn that has for several years been used by a pair of hawks, I got a surprise.  There, high in the big elm tree was something decidedly un-hawklike.  

When I got closer, my suspicions were confirmed.  There, peering over the edge of the nest was Mrs. Great Horned Owl.  

She watched, seemingly unconcerned, while I spent a couple of hours nearby applying herbicide to the fast-growing crop of gum bulimia seedlings.  We look forward to seeing the owlets when they hatch in a few weeks.

There is never a dull moment when we're at the farm.  This year, the bluebonnets were lovely.  Several patches, like these, just begged for photos...and the Bagley dogs were happy to pose.

There were not as many flowers as some years, but in a way that's a good thing.  When range conditions are good and grass is plentiful, there are fewer places for wildflowers to grow.  This year, we have good grass, and therefore fewer flowers.  The ones we have, though, are spectacular.  There are also surprises.  I stopped to snap a picture of this tiny yellow flower beside the path.  It was hardly an inch wide, but when I looked closely I saw an even teenier insect perched on its petals.  

What a treat!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Lessons Learned

After returning home from our Easter trip to Lake Jackson, the following Friday Rue and I traveled to Helotes to participate in the San Antonio Highland Games Sheep Dog Trials.  My long-time friend, Keyes, whose home is only a few minutes from the trial site, was gracious enough to put us up for the night.  This selfie was taken on his upstairs balcony.  Rue was there, too, but my arm wasn’t long enough to get her in the picture.

We enjoyed catching up on each other’s news, and pigged out on some great hamburgers and fries at Bobby J’s on Bandera Road.  (I highly recommend it if you’re in the neighborhood.)  

Keyes took these photos of Rue in the bluebonnets when we took her out for her evening run.  He did a great job with her portraits…

…but I’m not sure he captured my best ball-throwing form.

On Saturday, we were at the trial site early, and watched a lot of very good dogs and handlers working the sheep.  

Though you wouldn’t know it, these yearling ewes are “woolies.”  However, they had recently been sheared, and I’m quite sure they were embarassed by their very bad haircuts;  they seemed to bolt for the exit at every opportunity!  They are also what are called range sheep.  That is, they had spent most of their lives far from humans and most of the “dogs” they had seen previously were probably coyotes.  It made for some very interesting runs, but the experienced dogs and handlers did a great job moving them around the course, 

through the “Maltese cross” and other obstacles, 

and into the pen.

When the Novice class was called, it was Rue’s and my turn to work.  I was cautiously optimistic, but it turns out I shouldn't have been.  

The sheep came bursting into the arena like popcorn.  After they had settled down at the far end of the arena, I sent Rue to fetch them.  

Rue had never worked in an arena before, and did not hug the fence and come in behind the sheep as she should have.  They were startled by her approach and came racing down the arena toward the "exhaust" gate they knew led out to grass and water.  After I made Rue lie down, they slowed their pace and approached the pen but went past the gate.

Rue turned them back toward the pen and I thought we had a chance to get them inside.  

However, a couple of failed attempts to pen the sheep sent them back toward the other end of the arena with Rue close behind, trying to turn them.  I could see what was about to happen, but in the heat of the moment she was past listening and I was powerless to stop her.

As the ewes fled, Rue charged in and tried to take a bite out of one of them.  I heard the dreaded but much-deserved “Thank You” from the trial judge, and our run was over.  

I had asked my friend Karen, who was announcing the trial, to take some photos of our run.  When I looked at these pictures, I felt like I should apologize to my dog.  I had made almost every mistake in the book.  Contrary to what my coach has taught me, I watched my dog instead of the sheep.  The timing of my commands was terrible.  I didn’t react nearly fast enough, and by my actions (or lack thereof) literally set her up to fail.  Rue was doing her best, but I didn’t do my part.  I learned some hard lessons last Saturday.  Clearly, we (and especially me) have a lot of work to do.  

On the bright side, I had a great time watching the other dogs and handlers and visiting with good friends.  I very much appreciate the supportive and constructive comments from the other participants.  They have all been where I am, and I hope to one day be where they are!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Happy Easter

After a flying trip home from the farm on Saturday morning, I dropped the dogs at Shertom Kennels and John and I quickly packed and left for Lake Jackson to celebrate Easter with John's mother and her husband, Maxine and Vic Johnston.  We arrived around 4:30, tired but glad to be with family on such a joyous occasion.  

We relaxed on their back patio with a chilled beverage and some of Maxine's famous deviled (Easter) eggs.  The flowers in their yard are spectacular, especially these amaryllis.

Vic and Maxine treated us to dinner on Saturday night at a new (to me) restaurant, The Grape Escape.  The food and wine were a real treat, as was the company!  Then on Sunday, Easter services at First Presbyterian Church were followed by a scrumptious lunch at Columbia Lakes Country Club.  Here we are on Easter morning ready for church.

The flowers coming and going were beautiful as well, and we enjoyed our short visit.