Great-horned Owls

April 19, 2010

Part-one of a two-part series

Text and photos by Marcia Warwick

Great-horned owls occur throughout North America as well as Central and South America.  They are one of the most widespread species of owls, residing year round in their territories, with the exception of the ones farthest north, who will move southward in fall and winter.

These owls have feathery tufts, which are sometimes mistaken for ears. They can be found in woods, coniferous mountain forests, desert canyons and riparian habitats, marshes, city parks.  Here, at the Tanque Verde Ranch, we have two pair that reside in separate riparian habitats that are within a comfortable distance to take our guests on nature and/or bird walks to listen to them calling, find them and view them.

they are calling to each other, their calls are great for identifying male from female.  The female’s call is slightly higher than the male’s. During mating season, which is January or February through April, their calls are almost constant. If they are in close proximity, you can ID the male and female by size. The female is larger than the male. She weighs approximate 4  1/2  pounds to his 3 – 3 1/2 pounds. They mate for life.

Great-horned owls roost (perch) during the daytime. They are nocturnal, becoming active hunters at night. They have incredibly sensitive hearing. These owls have feathery tufts, which are sometimes mistaken for ears. Their ears, which are on each side of their head, are asymmetrical, i.e., the right ear is slightly facing up and higher than the left, which is lower and slightly facing down. This is truly “surround sound”.  Also, the facial discs around their eyes aid in hearing directing sound to their ears. By moving or tilting their heads until the sound is of equal volume in each ear, the owl can pinpoint the distance and direction of the sound.

Their eyesight is amazing. They can see at night as well as we can see during an overcast day. Contrary to popular belief, owls cannot turn their heads completely around. Their eyes are fixed; they cannot move their eyes up, down, or side to side. The owl has to move its whole head. They can rotate their head 260 degrees.

More to come… Watch for info about Great-horned owls Hunting, Breeding and Nesting, with photos of baby owls nesting in one of the Tanque Verde Ranch’s Riparian habitats. So cute!

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by Rick Hartigan

photo by Roni Ziemba

ANTICIPATION

The winter rains are a memory. Fat with their absorbed moisture, the cacti wait. The temperature has begun to rise. Unimpeded by clouds, the desert sun warms the hills and valleys for the coming pageant. The stage is set for the annual flower show.

The icon of the Sonoran Desert, the saguaro cactus, is preparing for its leading role in the production. Standing over ten feet tall, those saguaros mature enough to flower await the signal to produce their buds, blossoms and fruit in the weeks to come. Their tops and arms show no hint of it yet.  But it’s coming. Every spring, like clockwork, the flowers appear. But for the moment, we wait.

Anticipation is the first in a seven-part series following the cycle of one particular Saguaro cactus at the ranch. We will watch the buds form, the flowers bloom and then die. Then comes the fruit and its stages. We hope you enjoy following along!

by Steve Shaw

photos by Roni Ziemba

Build this picture in your mind as you read these lines…. “They moved so smoothly that it was hard to tell who was leading except that the pair of large horses walked ahead of the man. The horses matched his speed, as well as each others, in a calm, yet watchful, stride. The man’s touch on the lines was as soft and subtle as his voice when he spoke, thanking his working friends for making his own efforts easier and pleasurable.”  These words were spoken by L.R. Miller, an accomplished teamster about driving a horse under harness power.

Here at the ranch, we use a work harness rather than a buggy harness for our hands-on demonstrations. The biggest difference between the two types is that a work harness is of a much heavier construction and uses a collar and hames (a pair of curved metal (or sometimes wooden) pieces lying on the horse collar of a horse harness, taking the pull from the traces) instead of a breast collar. The collar and hames must not only fit the horse, but must fit each other as well. Proper fit can make the difference between a comfortable, happy horse, or a sore horse that may get choked down. The collar is made of leather and most are filled with animal hair or straw. The collar should fit against the horse’s lower neck and have the thickness of a hand between it and the horse’s neck, allowing room to breathe and swallow. The hames can be made of hard wood or steel and fit in a groove built into the collar and are secured into place with leather straps. The tugs are attached to the hames and reach about three feet behind the horse with tug chains attached at the ends to hook the horse to the load being pulled. The other parts, such as the harness body, brichen, quarter straps, pole strap, yolk strap and back pad all serve a purpose, but only secondary for pulling. A work harness consists of 13 main parts an comes in 5 basic sizes.

Now here is the really interesting part: You imagined that the horse pulls the load, didn’t you? In fact, the design of the harness converts the push into pull. When the horse pushes against the collar, pull is created. But it is the pushing that drives the outcome.

If you’ve never driven a horse under harness, it is an experience you will long remember. Until you feel the raw horsepower that you control in your hands, you can only imagine it.

Steve Shaw is Programs Director at Tanque Verde Ranch. He moved here from Nebraska where he owned and operated a carriage business in downtown Lincoln.

2,000 Mile Trail Ride

April 5, 2010

English riders to follow Western pioneers’ 2,000-mile cattle trail

12:26 PM CDT on Sunday, April 4, 2010

By ERIC AASEN / The Dallas Morning News
eaasen@dallasnews.com

The English may be prim and proper, but they’re just wild for America’s Wild West.

They yearn to escape their congested roads and hop on a horse and roam where the land is wide open and the big sky seems endless.

For some, seeing old Western movies isn’t enough. They have to explore it like the pioneers did back in the day.

And for a lucky few, that westward journey starts Sunday – after training for weeks in Frisco.

They’ll saddle up at Fort Belknap, a couple of hours west of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. There, they’ll travel by horse and follow in the footsteps of two Western pioneers, Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving, who blazed a cattle trail nearly 150 years ago through Texas, New Mexico and points north.

For six months and almost 2,000 miles, these English men and women expect to venture through dust, mud, heavy rain, hail and lightning storms. They may encounter a horse skull or two and snakes.

James Locke and a team of riders make plans for a 2,000-mile journey along the cattle trails.

They couldn’t be happier.

The inaugural trek, called The Long Ride, is a chance to sit on a horse in the middle of nowhere and ride the way riding was meant to be done, said James Locke, who is leading the expedition.

“The ride is honoring your heritage and the memory of the people who made this country what it is today,” he said.

About a dozen riders, almost all English, will be rotating in and out throughout the expedition. They’ll be roughing it – it’s the Western way, after all – camping under that never-ending sky. A truck will accompany them, carrying feed, water, food and other essentials.

“If they get a shower, they’re going to be lucky,” Locke said. “A bucket of cold water on the back of the truck when nobody’s looking, and that’s it.”

The Long Ride was sparked a few years ago at a dinner party, when one woman who had seen Rawhide declared that she wanted to ride a trail across America.

Locke, who has been leading expeditions around the world for nearly 30 years, said he had a better idea. He wanted to follow the Goodnight-Loving Trail. He was intrigued about the trail after reading about the trailblazers and watching the Lonesome Dove miniseries.

“The American West is alive and well in England,” said Locke, 66.

In 1866, Goodnight and Loving drove longhorns from Fort Belknap in Young County. The trail continued through Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos River, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming.

The Long Ride, however, plans to travel beyond the trail, ending in Montana.

As Locke planned his trip through the American West, he was introduced to Robert Liner, who operates the Horse School in Frisco. Liner was intrigued and volunteered to host the riders and help them train. He rounded up horses and other supplies.

Liner hopes the trip inspires others.

“The horse is a silent steward to teach us of our own compassion,” he said. “I’d like to think the spirit of the horse unifies people.”

Traveling companions

Locke and his riding partners wouldn’t be able to venture west without Ranger, Peppy, Dancer and Gentleman.

Ranger is the boss horse who’s even-tempered and gentle. Dancer is a chowhound – point him to the horse feed and he’ll be fine. At first, Gentleman was afraid of everything. Now, he’s a softie. Peppy loves to be by Dancer’s side.

Last week, they rested along a fence, enjoying a breeze, as their riders stood nearby.

Horses are free spirits, said Emma Payne, who’s riding with Locke.

“You watch them running and you wish you could be like that,” said Payne, donning a bandana, jeans, chaps, boots and an Australian bush hat. “They run for miles, and they don’t seem to get tired.”

But before hitting the trail, the English riders had to learn how to ride horses American style.

“We’re very stiff and uptight,” Locke said. “Your riding is much more laid back.”

In England, riders put more equipment on their horses, making it restrictive for the animal. Riders perch on their horses, making it difficult to stay on for long periods of time.

“In America, there’s a better partnership with the horse,” said Lisa Waller, another English participant in The Long Ride.

When Payne wants to ride in her home country, she has to walk a horse down a busy road, with cars flying by, to a small patch of precious earth.

That won’t be an issue on this American trek, where she’ll roam the empty land for miles and miles and miles.

“The horses, the camping,” she said, “it’s heaven.”

FAQ’s of TVR Fishing

April 1, 2010

by Rich Stanton

photo by Roni Ziemba

What kind of fish are in Lake Corchran?

Largemouth bass, the top predator and most popular warm water fish species in America;  channel catfish, fast growing and hard fighting;  bluegill sunfish, prolific breeders and fairly easy to catch, preyed upon by the bass;  redear sunfish, closely resemble bluegills, harder to catch;  grass carp, also known as white amur, a vegetarian fish named after the Amur River in Asia, used to control aquatic vegetation, very difficult to catch; and last but not least, gambusia, also known as mosquitofish because they eat mosquito larvae, a small minnow which is an important part of the diet of young bass, bluegills, and redears.

What’s the biggest fish in the lake?

The grass carp are by far the largest species.  As of this writing the largest ones are approximately thirty six inches in length (That’s three feet!) and weigh about eight pounds.  They are capable of eating two to three times their weight per day making them invaluable in controlling the aquatic grasses.

How big are the other species?

The largest bass caught and measured was twenty inches.  The biggest catfish was twenty-two inches and weighed about three and a half pounds.  The jumbo bluegill was nine inches and fat.  Only one redear has been caught and it was only a few inches long.

What do you use for bait?

Oddly enough, cheese is the favored bait, and recently small pieces of breakfast sausage have been added, thanks to Steve Lee, an expert angler from England.  Both baits work remarkably well. They are easy to put on a hook, unlike worms which can be tricky, and some folks find impaling worms onto hooks distasteful or cruel.  Also, the fish have shown no preference as to which kind of cheese they like best.  Some of the ranch guests prefer to use artificial baits, especially for the bass, and a small assortment of plastic baits are provided.

Is Lake Corchran a natural lake?

Nope, it’s man-made just like almost all of the other lakes in Arizona.  Only Mormon Lake and Stoneman Lake, both near Flagstaff in northern Arizona, are natural lakes.  The water in our lake is pumped in from wells on the ranch property.

Do you stock the lake?

That seems to be a simple question, but the answer isn’t so simple.  Stocking of fish is used for a few reasons, the most common one being for anglers to harvest fish, especially in waters where the fish will not reproduce.  Another reason for stocking is to get a fishery started.  The fish have to come from somewhere.  Finally, stocking is used as a fishery management tool, sometimes to create a better balance of species sharing the same waters.  At Tanque Verde Ranch we have stocked to get the fishery going again and to balance numbers.  Since we practice catch and release we don’t need to stock for harvest.  The fish population will reproduce naturally and continue to provide excellent angling opportunities in the future.