Desert bighorn sheep – Part 2

The obvious feature of the desert bighorn sheep is its big horns.  Rams have the largest horns, which are curled and weigh up to 30 pounds (including the skull, according to Mark Jorgensen, in his book and slideshow, Desert Bighorn Sheep: Wilderness Icon*), and become especially important in dominance rituals* during mating season.

DSC_0259 Resting ram & annular rings)

DSC_0263 Resting ram (2)

The ewes have smaller, spike-like horns that help protect themselves from predators such as coyotes.

DSC_0244 Ram and ewe

DSC_0290 Desert bighorn ewes

Mark writes (page 73) that ewes use their horns to strike other ewes in competition for food and water, and that they also use their horns to expose the fleshy fruit of cactus, which is then picked out by their lips.

DSC_0140 Cactus chewed by bighorn sheep

Agua Caliente Regional Park was once occupied by residents that planted oleander for its durability, flowers, windbreak and privacy features.  Unfortunately, this non-native plant is toxic and one oleander leaf ingested by a bighorn sheep can be deadly (page 116).  Efforts are underway by the State of California to eradicate oleander from Agua Caliente County Park within the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  The plants were cut down and chemicals applied to the stumps, but last month we spotted an oleander regrowing at Agua Caliente site #80.

DSC_0068 Oleander poisonous to bighhorn sheep

Peninsular bighorn sheep were listed as an endangered species in 1998 and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife now monitors their recovery* by briefly capturing, testing, counting, radio-collaring and tagging sheep.

DSC_0301 Desert bighorn sheep close-up

While the sheep socialized, I imagined them “talking” to each other, but according to Mark, the lip curl (seen below) is actually the ram’s testing of the hormonal levels and receptivity of the ewe (page 77).

DSC_0303 Bighorn sheep lip curl

DSC_0302 Large horns on rams

Not only did the sheep appear contented, I was definitely contented and feelin’ groovy* with our special time together and am looking forward to the next meeting when our camping season in the desert resumes next fall.

DSC_0284 Contented ram

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Agua Caliente stars

Fasten your seat belts, its going to be a bumpy night* and a wild new year,” I thought as we returned to Agua Caliente at the beginning of the Mardi Gras season, to enjoy clear, cool nights under the desert stars and to discover new stars!  Howdy Doody was already celebrating* while sitting on the picnic table next to publication stars, Mardi Gras colors of purple (justice), gold (power), and green (faith), and behind the mask, a Buddha’s hand (fingered citron) symbolizing happiness, longevity and good fortune.

DSC_0021 Mardi Gras stars

Good fortune came to our early morning wildlife stars, first the white-winged doves, followed by Purple finches, as they feasted from wild bird seed held by our vintage, rustic feeder from home.

DSC_0115 House finch & rustic feeder

Our local roadrunner passed by, so we threw out some breadcrumbs, but the roadrunner disappeared, probably because a hungry, young coyote was lurking nearby and soon made its bold appearance.  (Its mother made her appearance last month, resulting in the permanent disappearance of a chihuahua!)

DSC_0028 Agua Caliente coyote

Driven by hunger, this coyote came into our campsite, while keeping an eye on us and our dogs!  (Larry held corgi Tasha while I crouched and photographed by the rear of our truck.)

DSC_0038_2 Coyote eating crumbs

While hiking, I came across a more natural food for coyotes, a 3-inch Coyote melon, Curcurbita palmata, which when ripe, yields seeds that have been found in coyote scat.

DSC_0060 Coyote melon

At the beginning of my hike, I saw a new sign warning of recent mountain lion activity.  The rangers told me that around Christmas, a bighorn sheep carcass was found with marks and covered with sand consistent with a mountain lion attack near the seep area of Moonlight Canyon Trail.  Cameras were set up around the carcass for four nights, which turned this puma into a poster star!

DSC50 Moonlight Canyon mountain lion

More wildlife drama occurred the following day at camp when Larry spotted a white-winged dove dangling by its foot attached to the top of a  20-25-foot Agave deserti dead flower stalk by entangling string.

DSC106 White-winged dove entangled

DSC107 White-winged dove & familyLarry notified Camp Host Dan and Ranger Melinda.  Dan quickly arrived in his utility cart, assessed the situation, and returned with appropriate tools, such as a saw, large lopping shears, chainsaw chaps, and needle nose scissors and tweezers.  Since the stalk had already bloomed and died, it was permissible to cut it down in order to rescue this bird.  Dan donned the chaps to protect from nearby thorns and sawed three quarters into the trunk, while I supported it with the reacher.  He then supported the trunk as I made the final cut with the lopping shears.  We rested the stalk on the utility cart and Dan folded back the dove’s wings and calmed it while I cut the many threads that were wrapped around the foot, toes and branch.  Photos were then taken and the dove was released and flew off to our delight.  Camp Host Dan saved this bird’s life and is a star in my eyes!

DSC111 Camp Host Dan & dove

Larry and I celebrated the season each evening by turning on a string of LED light bulbs that Larry had covered with Mixed Pepper Light Covers, which was wrapped around a wreath of homegrown red trumpet vine encircling enameled laser-cut steel in the shape of the sun – our star given to us by friends!

DSC101 Holiday wreath, Mardis Gras colors

A wild beginning of the new year, yes, but I think everything will be OK because here comes the sun!*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

A desert homecoming

The “promising new site” mentioned a year ago in my article “Grazing and gazing at Agua Caliente” has become our desert home-away-from-home where we can set up camp and enjoy the desert in relative peace and quietness and hear the hum and chirping of hummingbirds* darting to our feeder or ravens circling and calling overhead.*

DSC_0265 Morning at Agua Caliente

One of the features of this site was a lush growth of Nerium oleander that provided beautiful flowers, windbreak and privacy that we cherish.

DSC_0095 Nerium oleander bloom

But, alas, a California State Park mandate required its removal because oleander is a non-native plant with toxic foliage that can have a negative impact on bighorn sheep that frequent the area (a temporary exemption was lifted on May 25, 2015).  “A single oleander leaf ingested by a bighorn sheep can cause death,” states former Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Superintendent, Mark C. Jorgensen, in his book, Desert Bighorn Sheep: Wilderness Icon, Sunbelt Publications, Inc., 2015, page 116.  So we were not surprised to find stumps instead of lush plants when we returned earlier this month…

DSC_0297 Oleander cut & poisoned

… and a lack of privacy (compare the photo below with those seen in my article noted above).

DSC_0261 Our site without oleander

Fortunately, we have very nice and friendly neighbors, so our celebration of the season and our return to the desert was not diminished!

DSC_0189 Holidays in the desert '15

Our day at Agua Caliente typically begins before the sun rises as ever-changing soft pastel colors of red, orange, and yellow bathe the nearby mountains.  The early morning is chilly, but Larry is already outside, enjoying this peaceful, magical moment as I crawl out of bed in a comfortable Airstream trailer kept toasty by a quiet and efficient Vornado AVH2 Whole Room Vortex Heater that can “heat an entire room without using intense heat and remain cool to the touch.”*  Larry hears me move about and comes to the door to take the dogs down their ramp for their morning walk.  (Corgis’ long backs make them prone to injury. Tasha has made a full recovery after her $6000 laminectomy for a ruptured spinal disc 2 years ago.)  I enjoy the moment by seeing and smelling freshly brewed coffee steam swirl about over the coffee filter as I listen to NPR’s Morning Edition, and then take time to savor the flavor of rich coffee and mellow out.*

DSC_0245 Early morning coffee

After morning chores (and eating homemade cookies and apple slices), I take the Nikon camera along for a hike.  I enjoy the textures of the desert…

DSC_0234 Desert textures

… and look for signs of wildlife, such as coyote scat…

DSC_0217 Fresh coyote scat

… and whatever else comes along…

DSC_0233 Ocotillo, cholla & barrel cactus

After a midday shower, I enjoy one of Larry’s delicious sandwiches, and sometimes a roadrunner* drops in.

DSC_0291 Roadrunner

The days are now short and it’s not long before the sun sets, the air chills and the splendor of a desert night sky reveals itself.*

DSC_0197 Under desert night sky

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Mobile-friendly mountain happiness

History Safari Express is now seven years old, got a facelift, and is now mobile-friendly, which should make users of mobile devices happy when they visit this website that brings history alive as Larry and I continue our Airstream adventures in San Diego’s beautiful mountains, deserts, and along the coast.  The push to go mobile-friendly came from Google’s changing its search algorithms on April 21, 2015, which will favor websites that are mobile-friendly.  Mobile-friendly means that users of mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets can read and navigate website content, which is important since millions of Internet users access and search the Internet with mobile devices.  According to the CBS News story, “Google search shake-up favors mobile-friendly sites,” 29% of all U.S. search requests in the last three months of last year were made on mobile devices.

History Safari Express is now happier and happy to report that we and our Airstream Safari, now eight years old, were happy to return to the cool, refreshing Cuyamaca Mountains now that our local desert is heating up.  We returned to our favorite non-hookup campsite at William Heise County Park near Julian, California, where we were surrounded by fragrant Palmer Lilac bushes, pine and oak trees, and plentiful wildlife.

DSC_0005 Palmer Lilac around Safari

Temperatures at night were in the 30s and 40s so we were happy that our Mr. Heater, using 16.4 oz. propane canisters, warmed the trailer without needing to use the energy inefficient and loud trailer furnace.  Per the manual, this heater requires a vent area of 9 square inches, which was easily supplied by our 5″ diameter bathroom vent that has an area of 19.6 square inches.  As seen in the photo below, the bathroom door could be kept closed because it has a bottom opening, 1.75″ by 26″, and an area of 45.5 square inches.  One canister lasted us 5 hours, set on “LO” setting.

DSC_0013(2) Mr Heater

We and our solar panels were happy when the sun came up.  A portable radio helped to conserve electrical power.  At night we enjoyed votive candles.

DSC_0018 Grundig YB 305 receiver

Of course, our corgis, Mac and Tasha, were thrilled to go on walks.  We paused to admire a flowering Western redbud.

DSC_0039 Larry & corgis by Western redbud

DSC_0030 Western redbud

We are happy that this San Diego County Park allows dogs on trails, and our corgis couldn’t wait to get on the Cedar Trail.  (Dogs need to be kept on a six foot leash.)

DSC_0089 Larry & corgis on Cedar Trail

Mule deer* were nearby.

DSC_0002 Mule deer

And Rio Grande Turkeys feasted during a 40 minute photo shoot while I imagined Senator Robert Byrd playing, “Turkey in the Straw.”* (See more close-up views of this tom turkey and his two hens and how this opportunity arose in my post, “A Rio Grande turkey interlude,” History Safari Expresso blog.)

DSC_0316 Rio Grande Turkey feasting

 

DSC_0343 Rio Grande Tom Turkey

We are currently enjoying our garden near the coast, while preparing for our return to the bluffs over the Pacific Ocean next month.  In the meantime, see more photos of deer, turkeys, Acorn woodpeckers, Stellar jays, and read and hear meditations, and find out what is so special about four pebbles in my post, “Mountain gleanings,” and see my updated post, “Spring flowers, leaves and end of life options,” all in my new History Safari Expresso blog, which just went mobile-friendly, and now I’m really feelin’ groovy!*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Celebrating independence from pay TV

We are now home for the summer and celebrating Independence Day by celebrating our independence from pay TV, which will save us $900 per year!  A 12% increase in our cable bill this winter motivated us to take stock of our TV viewing habits, preferences, and the costs for pay TV, which led to an exploration of alternatives.

We are happy with the high-speed internet service provided by our cable company, but we were not happy to pay $75/month for cable TV and TV fees for the 75 or so channels that we mostly don’t watch, except for a few such as PBS, CBS, and MSNBC.  We first explored the possibility of selecting a more economical package, a lower tier of channels that included our favorites.  I was surprised that our cable company told us that to go to the next lower tier, we would need their cable TV box that would filter out channels that we would not be paying for.  But we did not want to rent a cable box, especially after recent reports that they are high energy users.*

We then explored the over-the-air (OTA) TV option by using TV Fool’s TV Signal Locator tool to determine what broadcast TV signals are available in our area. Once we realized that we could watch PBS via KPBS-HD, CBS via KFMB-DT, and other high-definition channels for free (and our favorite MSNBC shows, such as The Rachel Maddow Show could be viewed the next day on the internet), we used AntennaWeb’s tool to determine the proper antenna type for our viewing preferences, which turned out to be a small multidirectional antenna.  We chose the Mohu Leaf 50™ Amplified Indoor HDTV Antenna.*

DSC_0414 Mohu Leaf 50 amp

The test was to see if we could actually wean ourselves from cable TV, so we disconnected our cable TV coax and connected our Mohu Leaf antenna that was hung high on our living room window.  We were thrilled that this antenna picked up OTA high-definition broadcasts that often had better quality images than seen via our cable TV service, such as SpongeBob SquarePants broadcast by XHGC-HD.

DSC_0378 SpongeBob via XHGC-HD

Of course, it helps that we are on a hill and not far from one of three local TV broadcast towers.  We kept the antenna connected to our now cable-free TV for a month to prove to ourselves that we were not addicted to cable TV before actually discontinuing our cable TV service.  It was easier for us since we are not avid sports fans and can be satisfied by content provided by PBS, CBS, and other local TV stations.

DSC_0395 KPBS-HD OTA (Over the air)

DSC_0408_2 CBS, OTA, via KFMB-DT

We then discontinued our cable TV service and bought another Mohu Leaf antenna and a Mediasonic HW180STB Homeworx HDTV Digital Converter Box for our older, analog TV in the bedroom.  (The converter box is turned off when not in use to keep it cool and to save on energy costs.  It can also be brought into the trailer to enable our older TV to receive digital broadcasts.)

DSC_0386 Mediasonic HomeWorx converter

We now enjoy TV for free as it was meant to be when I was growing up and watching The Howdy Doody Show.*  Howdy Doody is always on (or nearby) the TV in our Airstream Safari trailer!

DSC_0371-2 Howdy Doody on TV

Declaring independence from pay TV is a liberating experience!

And, as Whispering Jack Smith sings,

The best things in life are free“!*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.