Recently there was a least weasel, the smallest of the weasel family and only about seven inches long, was running around the swimming pool very anxiously. When we looked into the water we discovered six baby weasels, each about three inches long, “weasel-paddling” and barely afloat. Justin Howe, the Ranch manager, got the pool net and began scooping them out one at a time. As he set the bedraggled baby on the pool deck the mama ran over, chased him briefly and then snatched the baby up, putting it behind one of the whiskey barrel planters then watching as Justin retrieved another. Each time she fearlessly chased him briefly and snatched the babies by their neck skin, carrying them away to safety, one behind each of the whiskey barrels. Once all were out, and she seemed to be counting because she kept up her frantic chasing until all six were saved, she then turned to her goal of chasing Justin away. She wasn’t aggressive but did run at him, coming within two feet and ignoring it when Justin stamped his feet to chase her back. He quietly backed away and re-hung the net then went into the dining room to watch as she retrieved the babies and carried them off to safety.Â Mother love had kept her chasing an animal easily a thousand times her own weight and size. What bravery!
Archives for August 2009
August 8, 1804
The Lewis and Clark expedition had been underway for about four months and had seen very few waterfowl of any kind. Imagine their surprise when they saw a raft of white feathers some sixty yards wide and three miles long floating down the Missouri River. They eventually arrived at the source, a large island that contained, among other things, about three acres of pelicans, in numbers too huge to even estimate. Clark fired at random into the crowd and hit one. When the two men measured the pouch, they discovered that it could hold five gallons of water. Of course they named the place, Pelican Island.
We don’t have anywhere near that number of pelicans, but all summer there are some two dozen of the huge white birds floating down the North Platte. Today there were eighteen sunning on a rock midstream when a little flotilla of teens in inner tubes floated into sight. The birds stayed in place until the tubers were about a hundred feet away then took flight.
White pelicans don’t dive like their brown cousins, but instead work as a team. I saw them fishing yesterday. At first they floated in a line down the center of the river then gradually pinched together the two ends of the line, getting closer together and forming a “U.” At some signal only they know, each bird began thrashing the river with its wings and probing the water with their beaks as they drove the fish toward shore. In the shallows they filled those huge beaks with some of our trophy trout.
When I told one of the guests about it at dinner time he told me that a few years ago he’d been fishing and spooked a flock that had just finished their hunt. They scurried upriver and took off then flew over the fisherman. In its panic, one of them lost its grip on a sixteen inch trout. The fish fell only a few feet from the fisherman. It was still alive, so he helped it into a deep pool and watched the frustrated pelicans flying upriver.
The day began with thick cumulus clouds that, instead of growing, began to fracture. By ten the sky was glowing with cottony clumps. It’s interesting to watch the parade of cloud types out here in the mountains. These were shrinking, so the air must have been dry. Fish like the unsettled weather and “fisherfolk” were grinning as the trico mayflies began to rise from the river at nearly ten o’clock sharp.
At noon a couple met to check their messages. She wore her riding gear and he his fishing equipment. Each had spent the morning with one of their boys, doing the parent’s favorite activity. Tomorrow they’ll switch so both get quality time.
After lunch, in the warmth of the sun, a dozen kids and parents climbed into the vintage 1953 farm truck that was already loaded with inner tubes. Two miles upriver they gingerly edged into the cold currrent for a noisy, laughing trip back to the Ranch, joining the lines of bubbles and waterfowl in the river. When they floated under the bald eagles’ nest they looked up, but no one was home at the moment. On the shore a family of blue grouse chortled noisily to keep together as they hunted in the reeds and rushes below hundred year old cottonwood trees, looking for bugs and seeds. Cliff, barn and tree swallows were already out seining the air for mayflies, but especially for mosquitoes â€”go swallows!