Red-Tailed Hawk in Flight

I found these pictures that I had taken once we had just moved into our new home in October last year. I am enjoying them this week looking forward to such warmer days while we still have a dusting of the white stuff this morning.

We were tired from unpacking and so much had to be done back then. But in this one perfect and quiet moment of evening stillness, a beautiful red-tailed hawk began to circle the valley off our back deck. It seemed to stretch its wings to their fullest as if it were enjoying the moment and the warmth of the sun all by itself.

It was such a perfect scene. I followed the hawk with my camera, clicking frame after frame as it moved. I love revisiting these photos for the feeling they give me of standing on our deck and being an unobtrusive observer to what seemed like the happiest moment for this beautiful bird in the golden hour of a beautiful day.

Anyone who has ever stopped to watch a hawk in flight will know that it’s one of the natural world’s most elegant phenomena.

John Burnside

A New Weather Station

We decided to up our weather station capabilities here at our place. Our original weather station was doing alright mainly, but we could tell it was not measuring the wind speeds out here accurately. As in regularly being 20-30mph under the true wind speeds.

Based on the orientation of our house, wind speeds can easily pass 60mph on a normal day. It has been bothersome to not be able to tell what the biggest gusts really were registering. (When the house is vibrating from the pressure of the winds, accurate knowledge suddenly becomes very important to one’s peace of mind). So we upgraded and went for this new set-up from Ambient Weather.

So far this new station has performed top-notch with near-instant signaling between the station and our indoor display.

We didn’t realize before how important that fast signal between station and interior display is when measuring high wind. If it is a slow signal to your digital dashboard, you potentially miss measuring and seeing the peak of a gust and likely your station isn’t reporting back the true speeds. This is what we think was happening with our other model and were always seeing speeds of almost 20mph less than what it really was due to the slower latency.

We look forward to keeping up with our weather here now with better detail (and both staying safe with it while having some fun)!

New Bird Sightings: Mountain Bluebirds

Fresh-caught grub lunch.

You will have to pardon my lack of resolution and sharpness in these photos. They are taken from quite far away from inside my kitchen windows to trying to focus on the farthest boundary of our property. But I was too excited to not post and share them as the first sightings of any backyard birds since we have arrived here in October 2023!

I’m thrilled to get to see mountain bluebirds taking up residence hopefully, and finding food and bugs here. They are a most welcome sight of color and spirit to the drab winter grasses and plains of late. ‘

The prior homeowner left old bird boxes up around many of the fence posts, but I had no idea if they would be used or not.

Here’s hoping we see bluebird families taking up residence in the coming weeks. Next trip to town will include a few bags of mealworms to put out to hopefully help us appear as an enticing location!

Frozen Mordor

Towering cloud cover over Cheyenne in the distance viewed from our fence line.

Yesterday brought a fast-moving front across our place west of town and I watched it culminate into a towering cloud formation far and wide that slowed down and stalled over the populous of Cheyenne, WY. (Technically we are in Cheyenne also by zip code, but beyond the horizon in the photo is the city area).

The Hubs noted that driving into town for his night shift felt like entering “frozen Mordor” as per his description, the travel transported him into the dark and dreary setting of the dark and foreboding landscape of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings movies. The temperature can drop disturbingly fast out here so it’s not unheard of to see us go down 20-30 degrees in short order and things go pear-shaped quickly.

A few hours later I took a peek outside and found that at least from out here on our little ranch on a ridge, while the cloud bank was still there, it was softened by the pastels and sunset colors of the fading evening. Definitely a changed narrative looking back at the weather from the clear side of things from what it apparently looked like from within it.

Famous Last Words…Lets try a new Route

An added bonus to being married to a law enforcement officer who is familiar with every street in town is you never have to question what roads you are taking or why. He can visualize every intersection, street name, local business or landmark and map out in his mind exactly where the location under discussion is with pinpoint accuracy (sometimes with stories of having been to said locations to respond to calls there).

A few days ago he announced that he had a county road in mind he wanted to explore on our way to a neighboring town to have lunch at our favorite deli. Pondering this with some curiosity as to the “exploring” part and what that entailed, but still hungry and ready to get out of the house, I said let’s do it. We live on a county road but I do take pause sometimes as some are more traveled than others.

We piled into my Highlander and began our scenic drive. We ventured onto dirt roads surrounded by endless winter prairie views, rolling hills and the occasional hilltop rock formations. Occasionally I would be surprised with small clusters of homes further out from where I thought residential areas would have stopped. But everyone likes their privacy to varying degrees and the further out you go, the more savvy folks are at not needing to get to town every weekend and being without convenient services.

The county road thought to be the scenic route to lunch in the next town.

Then we lost all cell service. Not the end of the world for this part of the country, but I was paying more attention to where we were now.

After a few moments we passed a random set of train tracks seemingly in the middle of nowhere with a lonely train car covered in graffiti. He mentioned he had been called to recently to manage the “artists”. It’s moments like this I look around the miles and miles of isolation and imagine my spouse out there with no connectivity with dispatch and only his wits and training to keep him safe dealing with sometimes unruly individuals. I have these thoughts a lot.

As we kept motoring on wondering if we were indeed on the right path, I began to check our gas levels out of the corner of my eye. He caught me and confirmed “we are fine”.

The road took us to a dead end after another fifteen minutes of travel.

Because my father trained his daughters in the value of always having a road map despite whatever technology is out there, out came the ancient Rand McNally spiral book of all highways in the United States from under my seat. We checked ourselves and of course, this county road map appeared in the faintest of gray lines on the well-worn map near to where we were. Back we turned to see where we missed it. Of course nothing had a clear sign posted anywhere.

Signage would just be too practical.

Another fifteen minutes and we found ourselves on the correct country road next, despite the no trespassing signs posted on both sides of the road. My husband assessed carefully and determined this was indeed the right road but the owner of the surrounding land has posted signs to keep people off the land, rather, while the road was free to travel on.

Honey, are we sure we are on the right road?

We passed beautiful ranching properties and then we began to climb into muddy and higher ridges. This is where the warning signals and instinct began to kick in as while a Toyota Highlander is a fantastic SUV for meandering about, it does have its limits when dirt becomes muddy and a larger and heavier truck would be better suited.

Thus the marital questions began: “Are you sure this is the right road?” and “On a scale of 1-10, what is your confidence level that we’re on the right path?” and so forth. We finally pulled up over the highest point on the hill we were driving and were faced with a small overflow of water covering the way and snow as far as the eye could see thereafter. Clearly no one had been that far in ages.

And in true husbandly fashion, as that the situation now pointed with certainty to a no-go of the situation, he announced we were not going to make it and turned us around to re-start the trip back again to return to the traditional highways. Thus another forty-five minutes back to the paved world and the roads we knew. Having lost all interest in the deli now at least an hour away west, reverted to a closer restaurant thirty minutes away east. I think we made it to lunch around 2 or 3 o’clock at that point.

I gave him a hard time about this one, but true to his word, we did get to tour some beautiful land and we did find out where it led to. (And in fairness to the hubs who is knowledgeable in all things outdoors and safety-related, he would never take us anywhere unsafe – this was a fun drive now that I’ve seen where it leads to and what land it covers). Hopefully in spring we’ll try again and see the rest of this mystery road when it’s fully passable. I will absolutely be posting those pictures because it looked gorgeous!

And we will be taking the truck.

The Trouble with Magpies

Magpies scavenging outside my laundry room window.

The title of this post sounds like a good name for a book, if one does not already exist. But in this case, it is meant quite literally. We have a magpie problem.

Ever since we moved here, I have wanted to set up my bird feeders and begin putting seed and feed out for whatever was willing to stop by. The magpies, however, have other ideas.

Scavengers by nature (they are part of the corvid family), and smart as the dickens, they voraciously will eat us out of house and home if we let them. They fly inside of our trash dumpster and peck our trash bags apart looking for snacks. Their presence pushes away any small sparrows or juncos that occasionally stop by as well.

I truly want to leave my feeders up but it’s nearly impossible with the magpies about. Has anyone else had this difficulty with magpies or other similar birds, and if so, how did you deal with it?

The Wind is Not My Friend

The view is serene. The winds you cannot see here were anything but.

I purposefully took this photo yesterday during the peak of some high winds we have been receiving here at our little ranch house. The scene in the picture is very deceiving as the wind was fierce despite how calm it looks. In fact, for the last two days, we have been taking a pounding by stronger-than-normal winds:

Ambient Weather station wind charting today in mph from our home weather station.

I tried to step outside onto our back deck through a sliding patio door to take the above photo of the western view. On inching the door open it was clear by the roar of the winds that I was about to see all of my worldly possessions go scattering across the floor, so I quickly shut it. The photo was instead taken through a window.

Now that’s wind, friend.

And it really is getting difficult to live with. Powerful winds once in a while is one thing. But this week’s our top gusts have hit over 87mph. That kind of wind makes one’s mind go a little stir crazy when it keeps going.

As I type this post, my house is vibrating. I use a small Dell XPS laptop and the screen is actually shaking here on my dining table where I am seated. As are the floors, the furniture and if I stare at my windows long enough, I can see them flexing and vibrating as well.

Now, is it always this windy? No. But it regularly is over the 50mph+ range and the descriptions above still occur even if not quite at the intensity we are at this holiday weekend here in the US.

Just the act of bringing in the groceries from our detached garage becomes a physical feat of prowess to not lose everything to the wind. I’ve learned to use zipper grocery bags as if the bag is open it’s likely something is flying out.

I’ve lost my sunglasses off the top of my head once (found them later).

I nearly injured my wrists trying to wrangle fly-away pegboard sections when having to face the wrong direction of the wind.

Even today, my husband had to run across the prairie land to chase down a runaway METAL BARREL that had been upended from inside a fenced in loafing shed. As in he had placed inside of a wooden fence and somehow, the winds today took it up and over. Granted it was empty, but still!

There is no choice in what waste container you use out here – everyone uses heavy metal dumpsters. But why in the name of all that is smart in this world are the lids plastic? We keep trying to get one with a heavy metal lid but so far no luck. Currently we use sandbags to hold down our dumpster lids but the wind still blows the lids off and back.

Let’s think about that one: We sandbag our trash dumpster. And it doesn’t hold.

And the house. We have one of those two-sided propane fireplaces which is really quite pretty to see it run. But on these windy days, the entire inside of the chimney right down to the logs becomes its own wind instrument with loud bass tones you can hear from every place in the house. How we haven’t broken some part of it yet mystifies me.

I sleep listening to music and audiobooks every night (a habit I had before we moved here). I use what I like to think are pretty nice earbuds with noise-cancelling features. And yet the wind still wakes me up a lot of nights.

By now if you’ve made it this far in the blog post, you are probably wondering – why did you buy this house then, if the wind is so bad? Well dear reader, this is because there was no wind when we found the house and toured it. Not one gust or any indication of what was to come in the winter months. Just a lovely little current that softly blew through the house in the remaining weeks of August and September when we toured and made our offer. We thought it was quite nice, actually.

Oh had we known.

The next time we look to purchase a home in a rural setting, we’re checking local weather trends and history. I will be asking our realtor for a PowerPoint presentation, thank you.

For the foreseeable future though, you’ll find us holding firm here on our little ranch against the legendary southeastern Wyoming winds. And here is hoping that this is really just seasonal and we get to enjoy a calmer spring, summer and autumn soon!

Cat Nap Nooks & Crannies

Fury finds the warmest little nooks and crannies to curl up in and catch a cat nap no matter where she is. Yesterday I found her trying to nose into the opening of a insulated grocery bag so I took her cone off and let her enjoy nearly an hour of supervised “no-cone time” in the bag.

It makes complete sense: It is small, enclosed and warm. Not to mention it gives a crinkly sound and feeling to her little black beans when she walks on it. (Fury LOVES things like this – tissue paper, packing paper…anything that crinkles).

Photographing Fury can be difficult in shadows as with all black cats, unless she is in direct light, she is her own little black hole that all light and contrast disappears into.

But difficult photographs and all, she’s our little cutie and we adore her for the sweet love she brings to our family every day.

A Majestic Avian Encounter

A few times since we have been living on our little ranch atop this knoll/plateau (I have no idea what the appropriate geologic term would be for where we are), I have thought I glimpsed a pair of golden eagles. There have been 2 huge birds of prey that briefly soared by our back deck and it has been an uncertainty for quite a while as to what I saw.

Today found my husband and I sitting in our family room with very gray and overcast skies when he startled me by saying “Look!” and indicating out the large windows overlooking our valley. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I realized just what glided by our porch railing. There was no mistaking this winged visitor.

For the very first time in my life I was in the presence of a real bald eagle.

By the time I had jumped to my feet, grabbed my camera from the side table and taken a few steps to the window it was already hundreds of feet higher than our deck.

Unfortunately, no detailed or close-up shots this time. It was only luck and a 200mm lens that got these “barely there” pictures. These are edited, cropped within an inch of their life and zoomed in as far as I could reasonably go.

But what a treat to see this majestic bird in person for the first time. Strong and solitary, it glided up the air currents of our hills and valley as if it had been flying here since the beginning of time.

After I snapped as many pictures as I felt worth trying for, I stood barefoot on our porch stairs with temperatures in the thirties taking in the moment. Who knows, it could be years again until I see another one.

Maybe never.

What an encounter. I hope it returns someday and I can record this beautiful creature with the kind of visual representation the emblem of our country should have.