Loaner dog Henry’s time with us was about to end, so Janene and I made one last run with him to SE Oregon to search for birds.
Rome, Oregon (population a couple if you don’t count customers at the gas station/cafe) is the last town of any sort in this vast area until you reach Nevada seventy miles to the south.
Galliformes is an order of heavy-bodied ground-feeding birds that includes turkey, grouse, chicken, New World quail and Old World quail, ptarmigan, partridge, pheasant, junglefowl and the Cracidae. Wikipedia
Anatidae: a large family of chiefly aquatic birds (order Anseriformes) having relatively heavy bodies, short legs, webbed feet, a bill with a hard horny nail at the tip and transverse toothlike ridges on the biting edges and including the ducks, geese, swans, and related forms.
Just off Highway 95 east of Rome the gravel public road passed through a working ranch with about the nicest gate I’ve ever seen.
First destination: Juniper Ridge, a five mile long, basalt, fault block mountain. The flat parts of the “high desert” of eastern Oregon are generally around 4,000′ elevation. Juniper Ridge tops out at 5,200″.
The line of yellow grass far below marks Antelope Reservoir’s high water mark in a good runoff year. Hunting would be so much easier if chukars would just stick to the flatlands. But chukars generally live on high rocky ridges like here on Juniper Ridge, and when shot they invariably fall down in the cliffs below making for tough retrieves.
Henry is a fine pointer. But while retrieving he has developed what is euphemistically called a “hard mouth.” That means he chews the hell out of Galliformes before bringing them back. I dropped this pair of chukars (Alectoris chukar) from the same flock. I’ll let you guess which one I retrieved and which one Henry found.
Bighorn sheep live in the Juniper Ridge area. While searching for those downed chukars in the cliffs below I found an old bighorn sheep skull similar to this one I found in Idaho. Taking it home would be illegal in Oregon, where the the only skulls that may be possessed are those taken by legal hunters. In Oregon one may possess shed deer and elk antlers, but technically one may not possess any part of any game mammal unless it has been tagged by a hunter. No skulls, no bones, no teeth. Not even an eyelash. No matter where you found it, no matter how it died, and no matter how old it is. In Idaho, all is OK. Such finds in the field are bonuses that I would never make without the bird search. Just as I would never have found Juniper Ridge were it not for chukars. Without birds to hunt, I would never come exploring out here, never find cool treasures, and never see such lovely vistas. These public lands belong to all of us. This Idaho bighorn skull is part of our patio wall skull and bone collection in Boise.
This country is full of reservoirs. Spring water piped to little Cantor Corral Reservoir will slake the thirst of cows next summer.
Water from larger reservoirs like Round Springs Reservoir also serve as summertime cattle drinking fountains. But spring run-off water will also flow through miles of canals before watering alfalfa fields to grow feed for the cattle herds the following winter.
What a great name. Gulch Pit. Going to be hard to attract customers if you build a resort here. Who would want to come to a tiny place chock full of aquatic weeds, surrounded by brush, isolated in the middle of nowhere?
Migrating Anatidae, that’s who. Like this pair of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) that I jump shot. Henry’s skill set does not include quietly sneaking up on waterfowl. I have to leave him behind in Moby when I go after ducks, which makes him very unhappy.
A daily limit is seven ducks. If these unlucky seven look a bit deflated it is because they have already been gutted and boned out. The majority of a bird is not edible. For those who buy their meat wrapped in plastic at the store this may come as a surprise. And be a bit gross.
No, this is not an example of a retrieve by “Hard Mouth Henry.” It is an example of a mallard minus breast meat, thighs, and drumsticks.
My niece Lindsay is a big fan of organic, natural , unprocessed foods. So I save all the offal for her. She makes offal stew and other delights with it. My mom calls it awful stew. Some people don’t like duck meat, saying it tastes like liver. I’ll bet they really wouldn’t like duck liver.
Each mallard yields about one half pound of meat. The little legs I usually slow cook in a big pot of BBQ sauce. Breast meat is best cooked on the rare side, like a red and juicy steak. I smoke a lot of breast meat, which is enjoyed even by people who say they don’t like duck. Janene concedes that the breast meat tastes fine, but she has a mental block about eating duck that she can’t get past. Oh well, all the more for the rest of us.
On upper Parsnip Creek we came across an old line shack.
These tiny line shacks, generally just one room, served as short-term shelter when far from the main ranch house during seasonal activities such as branding or round-ups.
The previous cabin shot was taken mid-day, with the sun overhead. This shot was taken many hours later in the low light of the setting sun that photographers love so much. No digital enhancement needed at this hour.
This line shacks had a nice view, bunk beds, and a wood stove. These were big upgrades in cowboy camping life compared to bedding down on the open range.
The pine board interior walls served as a guest register of sorts. Loretta was here almost exactly 80 years ago.
My quick Google search revealed that the US census of 1940 registered Antone Icaran (born 1922) as a resident of Jordan Valley, which is about 20 miles from this line shack. The census reveals that his mother, the widowed head of the household, was Antonia Icaran, born in Spain in 1896. Same folks I’ll bet, and a classic story in these parts. Sometimes referred to as the I.O.N. region, the border triangle of Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada was home to a large Basque population. Young Basque men were recruited from the mountains of Spain to herd sheep in this vast barren region of the west. Once established, they frequently sent back home for a young Basque bride. Basque surnames are still common throughout this region.
Bob exhibited nice penknifemanship.
Here Henry pointed a flock of Hungarian Partridges, aka Huns or Gray Partridge (Perdix perdix).
Another exotic, non-native Galliforme, Huns generally prefer less rugged habitat than chukars. But their territories do overlap, and inexperienced hunters have a hard time telling the two birds apart, so in a daily bag limit of eight birds, hunters are allowed a mix of the two species. I have shot many hundreds of chukars, but only a handful of Huns. Of course they both taste like chicken.
As we headed south in the fading light, the “road” became so faint it really was more of a lightly used cow path.
Known as “two-track” roads, these routes have never been improved by a bulldozer or road grader. Instead they are just a pair of ruts worn down by cowboy pickup tires. But as sunlight turned to moonlight on this route, the center lane worn down by the cow commuters was much deeper than the tire ruts.
GPS maps based on satellite photos sometimes confuse well worn parallel cattle paths for roads. For many reasons a GPS cannot be trusted out in these remote areas. Google never sends any cars out here to verify their maps, nor is “street view” available here in the high desert on Google maps. I think it will be a while before self-driving cars take over the driving from the cowboys.
Our campground for the night in Moby often is wherever we are when the sun goes down.
After another hard day of hunting Henry cares more about his cozy nest in Moby than about the sunset views.
The following sunrise wasn’t bad either.
Dawn sunlight from underneath made for a crazy cloud texture.
Probably never any crowds here at Parsnip Creek Reservoir, even on holiday weekends.
The vast majority of this country is public land, our land, administered by the BLM. All of it unwanted back in early 1900’s. But there are bits of private land here and there. These plots are most anywhere there is a bit of decent flat pasture land, or a spring, or anything that could be farmed or developed. Family ranches held on out in these remote areas until after WWII. But without electricity and many other niceties it was a tough life. Changes in ranching practices and transportation enabled ranchers to run cattle out here without having to reside year round, and the old homesteads were abandoned.
I’m not sure what the R-Value of a two-foot thick rock wall is, but I’ll bet it wasn’t enough on bitter cold high-desert nights.
So much work to stack these walls, but gravity is slowly taking its toll.
You can’t find wide window casings to match these in stock at Home Depot.
Desert winds have slowly torqued the outhouse.
Most baby boomers grew up in homes with only one bathroom, but the concept is tough for younger folks to wrap their heads around. Imagine their consternation if they had to share a two-holer like this with their siblings!
Next stop, the Owyhee River. This thirty mile stretch of river between Three Forks and Rome is a legendary whitewater run.
This canyon can only be floated during high spring runoff flows. This rocky stretch pictured here is known as “Widowmaker Rapids,” one of the most feared on the entire river. Seems benign enough here at low water.
Fat snowflakes fell in the night to give us a white dawn landscape. We were at the end of the road, so I did not have to worry about the heavy morning cowboy commuter traffic wanting to get by.
The male Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) is one funky feathered fellow during the spring mating season. They gather every year at breeding grounds known as leks to strut their stuff for the females. They are the largest grouse in North America, reaching up to seven pounds.
The Greater Sage-Grouse has already been extirpated (gone locally extinct) from Kansas, Nebraska,Oklahoma, Arizona, and New Mexico. Habitat loss has caused the Greater Sage-Grouse population to decline from 16 million 100 years ago to between 200,000 and 500,000 today.
This Owyhee upland region is one of the last strongholds of the Greater Sage-Grouse. We saw several flocks while hunting here. They are a protected species and have a very limited hunting season. Henry pointed, chased, and flushed a number of flocks of these big Galliformes. He was no doubt confused as to why we weren’t shooting them.
One big reason for the decline of the Greater Sage-Grouse population is wildfire. You can’t have Sage-Grouse without sagebrush. Here you can see the boundary between burnt and unburnt sage habitat from a fire in 2016. Increasing global temperatures lead to more frequent and bigger, hotter fires. The Owyhee upland region has been hit with unprecedented fires in the last decade.
Another big reason for the Sage-Grouse decline is habitat loss due to invasive species takeover. To the untrained eye this might look like a lovely field of grass .
But it is actually a blight on the land called medusahead. Generally it gets started where the land has been overgrazed or burnt. This Eurasian grass outcompetes native plants for moisture. As it grows it accumulates silica, which makes it unpalatable to livestock and wild animals alike. Old silica filled stalks are slow to decompose, so over time it builds up a dense ground covering layer that suppresses native plant growth while encouraging germination of its own seed, and after a few years it creates an enormous load of dry fuel that can lead to wildfires. And the cycle continues.
There are few juniper trees in this area, but somehow this one managed to grow big.
Shooting from the canyon edges. . .
. . . means the birds fall somewhere far below.
Janene stays up on top while Henry and I climb down to search for the dead chukars.
Henry keeps an eye on the chukars just in case one makes a break for it.
A daily limit of chukars is eight birds. Like shooting par in golf, it is theoretically possible every time you go out, but is rarely achieved.
The long weekend over, we head north toward Jordan Valley on what for the Owyhee country is a superhighway. A veritable Owyhee autobahn. But in the middle of this long straight stretch our onboard GPS told us to take a right turn . . .
. . . onto this two track. We ignored the suggestion. This is how people get in trouble when blindly following the advice of their GPS.
A final sunset as we head for home in Boise.
This trip brought an end to Henry’s time with us. When we told him he was headed home, he said he’d prefer we let him out for another hunt.