A Horse Story

Once upon a time in the East Bay, a post-depression, pre-war family lived on five acres east of Livermore.

The son and grandmother lived with the gainfully employed mother and father. On the side the family tended almonds, bee hives and chickens.

A benefit for their teenage son was the ability to own a horse which he rode to Coral Hollow with his buddy whose family owned a ranch at the end of Tesla Road.

When the war came, the son enlisted and grandma passed away. The mother and father decided that they could no longer handle the chores that produced the income that made the small ranch worthwhile.

One issue became a problem. What should they do with the horse? They decided to purchase a 20-acre parcel close to town for $450. There the horse lived out his years, but after he died, the 20–acre parcel was retained.

When the mother and father reached retirement age, they spent summers camping in Plumas County where they set up camp from May to September.

As the years went by, they became cramped in a 19 ft trailer. To solve the problem, they sold the 20-acre parcel. In 1963 they received enough money from the sale proceeds to allow them to afford a lake-front summer home at Lake Almanor.

This was something they never dreamed they would be able to do.

Thank you Mr. horse.

Aleutian Geese Arrive

Spent most of yesterday at Mayberry Farms on Sherman Island. I’m refurbishing my Airstream trailer and the repair job is progressing. During the afternoon heat, I stepped out of the trailer often to cool down.

Overhead geese were calling. It was the sound of Aleutian geese.

Being early in fall, I was taken by surprise. But, after reviewing some material on the internet I now realize they were actually right on time. It is normal for them to arrive in the San Joaquin Valley during early October. Yesterday their migration flight took thousands of them over the top of Sherman Island.

They just kept coming. String after string of geese. It was a sight to see.

Although a few geese flew lower than most, it appeared that they all overflew Sherman Island, but they will be back.

When the Delta corn crop is harvested, they will return to feast on the spillage left by farmers. That will be some time during the months of November and December.

A Doe and Two Bucks

doe and two bucks DSC_0001[1]

These two bucks were bedded next to a doe on a few hundred yards off Ranch Road.

On a return trip from the ranch with a couple friends, we spotted a doe under an oak tree in the shade.

Curious, I pulled over and put the glasses on her. She had two bucks with her. The largest buck was laying in the deepest shade. Surprised?

There was something unusual about the big spike-fork. He was in velvet. A stag?

Probably. When I got home I blew the photo up.

cactus buck ranch road

Not only is this buck an old buck with heavy velvet horns. It looks like he is also a cactus buck – a term for a buck with a bunch of small protrusions at the base of the horn. See the mass around the base of his horns? It will grow larger.

He was too far away for certainty. I’ll be watching for him. Maybe I’ll get a closer look.

Here’s a link to some impressive cactus bucks.


Mayberry Wading Birds

Mayberry Farms is not what it once was. There was a day when we had a duck club with about 150-200 acres of shallow-flooded seasonal marsh. At times we had mud flats covered with dowitchers, stilts and avocets.

When the shallow ponds were converted to deep perenial ponds, the shore birds disappeared from our hunting territory. But occasionally they return to wade the shallow water in the fields adjacent to Mayberry.

Here are a few that were present on Sunday.

There were a few other birds around as well.


Track Ageing

Ageing tracks is a way to determine when an animal was present. This can be very useful if you are studying, photographing or hunting an animal. Here is a photo of a mountain lion track on which I now have some history.

IMG_3700 2-day old track

This photograph was taken on Friday September 22nd 2017 at 2:33 PM.

This track was made in deep dust on a little-used road. The dust is deep because it is in a portion of the road that is fairly steep and the soil is deeper than most of the area. Summer use tears up the soil and reduces it to fines of dirt and small rocks.

Here is another photograph of a track in the same series of prints. It’s not exactly the same track, as a truck ran over the portion of the track that I photographed two days earlier. Here is the first photograph.

mountain lion track IMG_3691 rotated CCW 90

This track photo was taken on Wednesday September 20th 2017 at 12:47 PM.

Because this track has not been deformed, I concluded right away that it was  at most  hours old and possibly only minutes old.

When ageing tracks one looks for deterioration caused by the forces of nature. Weather is a key. Wind reduces clarity of the track. The September 20th track is very clear and the edges are sharp. It has not been disfigured by wind.

Rain is another important weather element. A heavy rain may wipe tracks out completely, but it will also create the beginning of a new time line.

Gravity also has an effect, but it takes longer for gravity to take effect. Other tracks also can be used in aging. For example, cars will eliminate many tracks. On heavily used hiking trails, people may eliminate all wild animal tracks by day. Animals will replenish their tracks at night.

If you want to find a bear track on a mountain hiking trail, the best opportunity will be first thing in the morning.

I know that it was quite windy on Wednesday evening and there was also a very light rain. These are major sources of the deterioration that took place between Wednesday and Friday.

If the weather had been perfect with no rain and little wind, the Friday track could have looked much closer to way it did on Wednesday. However, additional truck traffic might have completely wiped out all the tracks.

The conclusion is that the key to good track ageing is the creation of a time line that records the timing of any activities that could cause deterioration or complete elimination of the track.

Here is one last photo. Look at it closely and you’ll see a leaf in the front track. You can tell that the leaf was blown in, not stepped on, by the lion. The strong winds blew on Wednesday evening before sunset.

IMG_3700-1 track with leaf

A heavy summer rain can create a track pattern that can be deemed to have been made within a short time frame for as much as several weeks. A track in mud can only happen while the ground is very wet and the palette for a mud track created following a summer rain is often only receptive for about half a day. Once created, a mud track often lasts until the next heavy rain.

Snow is the very best palette for ageing tracks and one can learn a lot about animal tracks if they are blessed by living in a region with frequent winter snow – something we don’t have here in the SF Bay Area.




Big Cat

While driving dirt roads, I often look for tracks. When I see something that looks interesting, I roll down the window for a closer look. Today I rolled down my window and beheld the best series of mountain lions tracks I’ve ever seen.

The site was a steep slope where I always grimace when towing my trailer. The road snakes into two quick switchbacks. The dust is deep in summer and the mud scary-slippery in winter.

These tracks were deep in dust and very clear, giving the impression that they were freshly minted. Nothing makes a better track imprint than deep dust.

The lion had walked along the side of the road for a considerable distance leaving a perfect imprint of every step. Here is what I saw and photographed.



My Swiss Army knife is 3.5 inches long. The lion had a trail width of about four inches and a stride of about two feet. Because the lion was walking down hill, the cat’s rear foot did not directly land on it’s front foot as it normally would when a wild feline is on level ground.

The single set of tracks gave me the impression that they were those of a big tom with a pot belly – maybe full of venison.

Note: Thirty minutes ago I made this post. Something bothered me so I decided to pull out my trusty references, most important is the Peterson’s Guide to Animal Tracks. After spending a few minutes re-evaluating, I concluded that my interpretation of the tracks was incorrect. Should have checked sooner.

Yes this was a big cat and it may have had a pot belly, but it was not walking. It was trotting. This leads me to believe that that cat may have been in the road ahead of me as I drove down the hill and it began to trot when it heard me coming. That’s the reason it didn’t direct register.

Nobody had driven the road since I departed yesterday at dusk. This is an area with little travel. In fact the section of ground where I saw these tracks is owned by the East Bay Regional Park District and the parcel was purchased to protect a known mountain lion den nearby.

Something that I did not say earlier was that about twenty yards further down the road, the cat did a 180 turn. In retrospect, I believe it decided to reverse course and then move off the road.

Maybe it was watching as I photographed it’s tracks. Mountain lions are very sneaky.

Sorry about the confusion, but tracking is always a puzzle and I should practice more often.

Deer Hunt

Critters were out yesterday. I was so into the deer hunt that I missed some good photo opportunities. Did manage to get a few good shots as light was fading.