Well, we got up dark and early this morning. Wasn't easy, but we did it.
The maskless heeler refused to load up in the truck. Absolutely refused. She's never done that before, not in the four years of her life. Don't know if she's getting scared of being in the "boonies" like her mother always has been, or if she thought it too cold (she shed into her summer coat weeks ago, way ahead of her Mom and sister), or if she just didn't want to miss the milk leftovers from the boys' cereal breakfasts. Maybe she has decided she can't handle the 40-60 minute long drive early in the morning without a potty break. But either way she didn't want to go. So I and her masked sister headed out to check strutting grounds.
Decided to try going northwest, into the true desert. But the only place you could drive was the paved mine road. Everyplace else was covered with at least a half-meter or more of crusted snow. Passed several of the "ranchettes" that have sprung up in this country, mostly since the last major earthquake in California. Little 40-acre "survivor" homes in the desert. Nobody survived there this winter. Not a single track in the snow since October. The desert is still full of trailer skeletons from the 1983-84 winter, and now we'll have another crop. But I'd rather have the trash piles out here than the people.
Checked one lek that's just a half-mile off the road, but nobody was there. Except an eagle, sitting on a ridge a couple hundred meters to the east. Suspect she was there the same reason I was, looking for grouse. But for breakfast. Pretty clever birds, golden eagles. Don't know how many mornings I've found them roosted just east of a strutting ground. They don't fly at night, so they have to decide the evening before where they might find breakfast. Then when the sun comes up, boom! those white grouse breasts just stick out like rosy neon lights. All the eagle needs is a little breeze and she's got easy hunting.
No wonder no one was out strutting. Would you walk out into the middle of the snow, with no cover for hundreds of meters in any direction, fluff yourself up and say "Hey! Here I am! Look at me!"
With an eagle on the ridge just above waiting for a grouse breakfast? Talk about the last great act of defiance.
So I gave the masked heeler her break. She made the usual dash out the door and went barreling down the road behind the truck. Normally she and her sister would drag race down the road several times before settling down and getting their business and snooping done. But there was no sister. Mask came back and looked in the truck like "where is she?"
You dim bulb, didn't you notice who wasn't sitting next to you in the cab? Apparently not. She bowed down and looked under truck, and then around the front. No sister. Then I got the dirty look. What did you do with her? Mask kept trying to crawl into my lap as we drove away, certain I was leaving Maskless behind.
We went further west to the mine and the end of the asphalt, and continued on. There were frozen pools all across the road, and deep ruts. We got out and checked. Yep, the sandy road was saturated, but frozen. In about 20 minutes it would be pure slush. Not in the mood to dig my rig out of mud today, thank you, nor tear up the country with 6" ruts, so we turned around.
Halfway back to the highway I spotted a mob of eagles and ravens just off the road, Gotta be something dead. We stopped and hiked over to see.
Had to be the neatest snow I'd seen in a long time. The soft snow had a hard icy crust on it, but not hard enough to hold my weight. But instead of just falling through, the snow would crush down for one to two meters out from your feet, like you were wearing giant snowshoes. Neat. Maybe common where you are (or maybe not), but I've only seen that once or twice.
Turns out we had a golden eagle and four, yes four, adult bald eagles. We're a looonng ways from a river. The balds are kind of rare here. Haven't seen one for months. Cool.
They've all been feeding on a couple dead feral horses. Mostly just hide and bones now, just recently being melted out of the snow. One horse by itself could be winter loss, but two within 20 meters of each other are probably poached, part of the dozens of horses shot last fall. Anyone who knows me knows I have no love of feral horses, but this was criminal. Anybody who'd shoot horses to waste would just as easily shoot an antelope or elk, something I do care about. But they're not a total waste. The eagles are enjoying them, and will be back about 10 minutes after we leave.
Not a terribly productive morning, but we did get out. The maskless heeler was all apologetic when we got home, apparently feeling guilty over abandoning us. Her sister ignored her.
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