Wild Horses of Nevada

May 4, 2021 at 10:48 am (Nevada, Wild Horses of the Southwest) (, )

Wild horses of Fish Springs area, Gardnerville, Nevada.

I have had a deep love of horses since I was a girl, and even though I rarely got to ride one, I have been fortunate to spend time with the “wild” horses of Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area in northwestern Colorado when I worked as a seasonal park ranger at Dinosaur National Monument in 2014.

Wild horses of Fish Springs area, Gardnerville, Nevada.

The horses there have several Facebook fan pages, with people (generally women) who know every horse’s lineage, age, habits, and name. Yes, they all get names. I was pleased to discover that there are herds in Nevada which also have Facebook fan pages and the same love from hundreds, if not thousands, of people who may not have even seen them in person.

Wild horses of Fish Springs area, Gardnerville, Nevada.

I had a chance to finally visit the Fish Springs, Nevada herd (Gardnerville-Minden area) several weeks ago. I should have asked the FB admins how to find them, but figured people in the area would be happy to direct me. However, there was some hesitancy at the Chamber of Commerce, understandably, since not everyone is respectful of the horses, wildlife, or their habitat. (Just see what goes on in National Parks to see what I mean.)

Blue roans – among the most beautiful of the wild horses of Fish Springs area, Gardnerville, Nevada.

While I was there, an old man walked in with his wife. He sported a face mask that said “Trump Forever” and a hat that said some very derogatory things about Joe Biden. I bristled and almost said something to him. But when he heard I was looking for the horses he said he’d seen some up on Bald Mountain and told me to take the road past the town dump. I was grateful and said, “Thank you for helping a Democrat.” He remarked, “We’re all Americans.” I saw him a few minutes later in the parking lot. There were about Trumpian six ball caps on the dash. Nevertheless it was a friendly parting. I am so glad I bit my tongue.

I followed his directions and drove through a residential area where there were signs posted, “We love our wild horses.” The houses became more spread out in the sagebrush, then I entered an area burned by the Numbers Fire last summer. I saw some contractors taking a break. I asked about the horses and one was very knowledgeable. Told me the horses moved to another area after the fire and directed me to the road that led into BLM land of wide-open sage and grass hills.

I didn’t have to drive too far to spot them on a hillside just past the four watering tanks. Another vehicle was parked below, its driver observing them. I met him at the intersection and he told me there had been about 60 horses the day before, and that there was a black stallion among this herd. He told me to drive up the hill where I could see them better. The picnic table beside a lone juniper was the perfect spot to boondock, and I drove around a little ways and parked.

The herd was taking it easy, with most of the herd napping. This was high country, and very few deciduous trees down below were leafing out. Many wildflowers were scattered on the ground amid the new grass, though very few were in bloom. It was a comfortable afternoon and I took out my camp chair and my salad from dinner the night before, and ate while I watched and took photos through the heat waves.

Wild horses of Fish Springs area, Gardnerville, Nevada.

The black stallion was on the small side and tended to keep to himself. Black is one of my favorite colors in horses.

It took awhile to figure out the herd dynamics. There were plenty of bachelor stallions, sometimes getting up the energy to spar playfully. The bay horses tended to stay in a tight bunch. I figured them to be the mares, jealously guarded by the band stallion, who I think is the one called Blondie. I’m sure more knowledgeable folks will set me straight on their names.

I love open spaces with wide skies. Forests feel claustrophobic to me.

Wild horses of Fish Springs area, Gardnerville, Nevada.

As you can tell by the photos, I kept my distance from the herd. However, the next morning when I woke up in my bookdock spot there were horses very close by. One of them was a blue roan I don’t think was there yesterday – perhaps the one named Blue? He was with two bays. There was also another herd below at the water tanks.

Blue roan near me before dawn

The light was poor but the experience was magical. It seemed I was invisible to the horses, who are used to people watching them.

The photo above shows the blue roan and his companion on alert as two pronghorns ran by far below.

This is the one who appeared to be the band stallion. He did a lot of “snaking” movements to move mares where he wanted them, and to move out some troublesome young stallions.

Wild horses of Fish Springs area, Gardnerville, Nevada.
Wild horses of Fish Springs area, Gardnerville, Nevada.

The bachelor stallions were quite energetic in the cool morning air, and one of the blue roans engaged in mock battles with two others. There always seemed to be one or the other of them on the sidelines waiting to join in.

Wild horses of Fish Springs area, Gardnerville, Nevada.

Some of this horseplay came quite close to me, which was thrilling. Some of the band even came up to the picnic table about 30 feet away from me. Not sure what to make of their interest. I didn’t even eat on the table, so there was no food to sniff out.

A Roman-nosed stallion was also looking for a fight. He challenged the golden-maned band stallion at one point and they kicked up some dirt before the challenger was chased down the hill into the junipers.

Wild horses of Fish Springs area, Gardnerville, Nevada.

While the three stallions I was watching continued to play, the rest of the herd slowly disappeared. Before I knew it, all were gone. I had been up there for about 21 hours total, and that was my cue to move on. I had planned to continue toward Carson City to visit the Pine Nut Mountains Herd Management Area, but I didn’t think I could top the experience I had just had.

That morning was the highlight of my entire week on the road. I saw only one half-grown foal that was still nursing. The people that oversee the herd have been darting the mares with contraceptive, so there were no new foals. This is to keep down the population so the BLM doesn’t conduct round-ups which take many of them off the range.

Wild horses of Fish Springs area, Gardnerville, Nevada.
Wild horses of Fish Springs area, Gardnerville, Nevada.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
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Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com
Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America
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Channel Islands National Park

March 22, 2021 at 5:00 am (Birds - California, California, National Parks, Nature, Nature photography) (, , )

Island Fox

I had two critters in mind when I visited Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park in early March, 2021. The Island Fox was one.

Santa Cruz Island Scrub Jay on manzanita

The Santa Cruz Island Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma insularis) was the second. It is found ONLY on Santa Cruz Island.

It was a bright overcast day, perfect for wildlife photography. I didn’t have to go very far to find these guys. I only went a short distance on the Cavern Point trail above the picnic area and a pair of Island Scrub Jays seemed to be bringing nesting material to a Monterey cypress. I sat and watched.

This variety of scrub jay is a bit different than the California scrub jays that visit my yard. They are more intensely colored, especially the blue. They are supposed to be larger, but I couldn’t tell the difference.

They became curious about me, too, and both came closer on a manzanita to study me.

I walked a short distance up the hill and the Island Fox was in plain view, nose to the ground, sniffing the rodent tunnels through the lush green grass.

Occasionally he raised his head just enough for a decent photograph, but never once looked at me while I watched, though he knew I was there. He came with in about 20 feet of me at one point, and I’m just standing on the trail. Everyone else had gone ahead awhile earlier, and I had the spectacle all to myself.

I sat on the bank overlooking the ocean and along came a pair of peregrine falcons.

Hawks are sometimes confusing for me – this one seems more like a Swainson’s but the red-tailed juvenile is possible, too.

Sparrows made great subjects, too since they posed so sweetly for me. Although the Park Service website says the Channel Islands Song Sparrow sub-species is not found on Santa Cruz Island, either it is now, or it is the more common form.

The spotted towhee was trickier, as they tend to want to hide.

Spotted towhee

A pair of loggerhead shrikes may also have been scoping out a nesting site near the picnic area. They were the least shy shrikes I’ve encountered anywhere and allowed the best images I’ve ever made of this species. Matter of fact, apparently they are also an endemic sub-species.

As I said, I didn’t make it very far up the trail since I spent so much time with these critters. But I was more than happy with the trip.

Both on the way over, and on the way back, we saw migrating gray whales!

Gray whale diving

There are quite a few oil platforms offshore, as you can tell by the photos.

Brown pelicans in breeding plumage
Brown pelicans Ventura

The Common Dolphins that met the boat going out were playful, some swimming right alongside the boat. To visit Channel Islands go with Island Packers. They stop for whales and slow down for dolphins. You can also hire guides to go kayaking or exploring as well. With COVID-19, many services are minimized, and wearing masks is a requirement on the boat, especially since it is impossible to social distance. I sat in the open in the stern for best access to photos, best ventilation, and for reduced chance of seasickness. (Two Bonine tablets were indispensable for that.) This is definitely a trip I’d like to take again.

Leaving Santa Cruz Island

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
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Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com
Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America
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Santa Barbara

March 21, 2021 at 7:49 pm (California) (, , )

Mission Santa Barbara

I went to Santa Barbara enroute to the Channel Islands National Park (next blog post.) At the top of my list were Old Mission Santa Barbara, and the Botanic Gardens. I just happened to be standing front and center at the mission when the Franciscan friar appeared in the doorway. Soon he brought out a folding table and lectern and other items to celebrate Mass outdoors, due to COVID-19.

The inside was closed to visitors, but the exterior was, for me, the most beautiful part.

In the adjacent olive garden was a beautiful mosaic Stations of the Cross. A Spanish-speaking family was devoutly praying their way along all of the stations, in the way I used to do as a Catholic schoolgirl during Lent.

Stations of the Cross mosaic

I actually started at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden before I went to the mission. My GPS insisted that the San Marcos Pass Road (St. Route 154) was the fastest route, even though I could have stayed on U.S. Rt. 101 the entire way from my home in Paso Robles. It was a two-lane, winding, heavily-traveled road and I vowed I would never take that road again. (On the way home I stayed on the 101 and it was a breeze.)

There is limited parking at the Botanic Garden but there were folks there to guide us into a newly vacated spot. I didn’t realize that the garden featured ONLY California native plants, which was a real bonus.

California poppies and verbena

Meeting this gopher snake (at least that’s what I think it is) was a highlight. It was an extremely lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ng snake covering the entire trail even though it was doubled up. When I moved to go around it, it slowly moved off.

Some other early blooming flowers made my day, too.

Path through redwood forest

Tomorrow: My visit to Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
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Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com
Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America
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Double Rainbow

January 30, 2021 at 1:16 pm (California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, San Luis Obispo County) (, , )

Double rainbow, Paso Robles, California

You might have heard, but we had a really intense winter storm this week. It rained for at least 48 hours straight from early morning Wednesday through early morning Friday, and then off-and-on showers. Very un-California-like weather. They called it an “atmospheric river.” We needed the rain, but it’s better spaced out from October to April. Even with nearly five inches in Paso Robles, and a foot in Cambria right on the coast, we are still behind our normal rain totals for this point of the rainy season.

So just as I had quit telework, I was going to pick up my Talley Farms produce box down the street when I saw a sliver of this rainbow from my yard. Of course, I chased it, looking for just the best spot to see both ends. Fortunately, it lasted for at least an hour, giving me a chance to find this place, just down from where I live.

I love how it seems to emanate from this oak tree. I took quite a few photos with my iPhone and the rainbow was just as intense – no editing necessary.

I cropped and intensified the glow for this one.

Dozens of people stopped to take photographs of this amazing display of nature. The storm did some damage to homes and streets, and took out a huge chunk of the Big Sur highway (again.) Last time two parts of the highway were covered with a mudslide. This time a part of it in the Dolan Fire burn scar is just gone, slid into the ocean. Not sure how they can fix this one without building a bridge.

By CalTrans

So a double, intense, long-lasting rainbow seems to be nature’s way of apologizing for the havoc. I was even able to post a couple of photos to the KSBY weather guy’s Facebook page and it made the TV weather report!

One of the first spots I found – power lines, ugh!
Double rainbow after intense winter storm, Paso Robles, California.

Even with a wide angle it takes two photos to complete the panorama, stitched in Photoshop.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
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Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com
Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America
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2021 Begins with Birds

January 9, 2021 at 5:04 pm (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, San Luis Obispo County, Wildlife) (, )

Winsome blue-gray gnatcatcher

I didn’t realize the above photo of the gnatcatcher at Morro Bay would be so popular on the Birding California Facebook page. Last count it had 1200 reactions and 83 comments. It’s reminiscent of the Angry Bluebird that was popular several years ago. This little fluffball was uncharacteristically cooperative, as they are generally in constant motion catching, well, gnats.

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Even the surfers wouldn’t ride the waves

January 8, 2021 at 8:29 am (California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, San Luis Obispo County) (, , )

Morro Bay, California

A huge storm far offshore generated HUGE waves that we don’t often see here in Central Coast California. I went out to Morro Rock on Sunday and then to Estero Bluffs just to the north and marveled at the beauty and power of the ocean. Enjoy these images!

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Birds Birds Birds

December 20, 2020 at 6:13 pm (Uncategorized)

Morro Bay State Park boardwalk

It was Christmas Bird Count Day for the Morro Coast Audubon Society Dec. 19, and I had an easy but somewhat uninspired plot assigned to me at Cuesta College, so it didn’t take me long to finish. I ended the day at Morro Bay State Park looking for the no-show zone-tailed hawk (moved on, I fear). It was a much birdier spot.

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Redwoods and Other Treasures

November 20, 2020 at 5:00 am (California, National Parks, Nature, Nature photography, Photography) (, )

Sunset in Oregon through a smoky haze

On my late summer trip to join my son and his family in a camping trip in Eastern Washington, I made several stops at volcanic parks. I had to miss one near Bend, Oregon because it was late and I just can’t fit in everything.

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Mt. Rainier

November 18, 2020 at 5:00 am (National Parks, Nature, Nature photography, Seattle) (, )

Mt. Rainier and Reflection Lake

I came to Tacoma to get married when I was 20 years old. I left 18 years later when the marriage ended. But while I lived there, Mt. Rainier (Tahoma, to the Native peoples, which meant The Mountain That Was God) was a common hangout. We hiked and backpacked there, and when I was 35 I backpacked the Wonderland Trail solo. (Read about those adventures starting here.)

It’s almost 30 years to the day and I’m back at this iconic Cascade volcano, and it feels so different. I’ve seen so much, done so much, felt the roller coaster highs and lows of six-plus decades, and now I seem to be looking at this place with an emotional distance. It’s almost as if I’m watching it on a screen or looking in a book at the photographs I took decades ago.

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Mt. St. Helens

November 17, 2020 at 5:00 am (National Parks, Nature, Nature photography, Photography) (, , )

Mt. St. Helens, August 2020

As with many shocking events in our lives, those of us who were affected by the atavistic eruption of Mt. St. Helens on May 18, 1980 remember what we were doing when we heard the news.

I lived in Tacoma, Washington at the time, and when the mountain rumbled to life a couple months earlier, I visited the former Mt. Fuji of the Northwest to get a close-up view of the mudflows dribbling down its snow-white slopes like chocolate topping on a vanilla cone.

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