home on the range

Pronghorns may have been the highpoint of our sightings on the high desert range lands of southern Oregon, but we enjoyed others as well. We encountered many groups of cattle and occasionally stopped to shoot a few photos. Most would stand quietly, a bit aloof, a few paces off the road. The individuals above and below are among my favourites (click on photos to see larger versions).

Also seen was an American Badger (Taxidea taxus) — another “first” for me — but unfortunately, it was a road-killed individual. Still, it was cause enough to stop so that I could examine it more closely and photograph its powerful head — beautiful even in death (see below). Also seen were many Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) soaring above the roadway and over the range. Northern Harriers (Circus cyaneus) were another common sight, skimming and swoopiing as they coursed above the sagebrush. At one point, we noticed a huge, dark bird walking about on the road ahead. Thinking it was a vulture, as we approached, we realized that “it” must be a Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) as it was surrounded by vultures that looked as diminutive as small crows next to this behemoth. It seems to be great country for raptors. Next trip, I’d like to return to spend more time birding.

I should also say something about the flora of the region. Unfortunately, I’m sadly lacking in knowledge about the plants that I saw. I did buy a copy of Sagebrush Country – A Wildflower Sanctuary, by Ronald J. Taylor, and put it to some use, but I’d like to have more time study the ecology up close. One thing I can tell you is that the scent of the sagebrush is wonderful, especially after a bit of precipitation. It’s one of the memories that I will carry with me for some time, much as the scent of California Bay Laurel and the Redwoods remind me of other places I have wandered in the west.

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12 Responses to “home on the range”

  1. Duncan Says:

    Massive animals those cattle Bev, must do well in the sagebrush. Great views of the country too. That Pronghorn buck in your previous post was a beauty too, have often read about them.

  2. LauraH Says:

    That top pic is so nice.

    Nice to finally see what sagebrush looks like – I’ve read it mentioned so often.

  3. burning silo Says:

    Duncan – Yes, most of the cattle that we saw in that area were quite large and nice looking. I’m not sure how much of the vegetation they would eat — not too sure that sage is on the menu, but there are a lot of grasses that grow around the sage and other plants. Also, the population density of the cattle seems quite low — just a few scattered here and there across the landscape — so probably enough for them to browse on.

    Laura – I like that top picture too. Sagebrush is an artemesia, so is quite strongly scented. I happen to like the smell, but I expect it might not appeal to everyone. The tall yellow plants in that top photo are, I believe, all a plant called Rabbitbush (Chrysothamnus species).

  4. Duncan Says:

    Bev, in the arid country over here there’s a plant called saltbush that the sheep browse on, and apparently there’s quite a market for the meat due to the flavour imparted by the saltbush.

  5. burning silo Says:

    Duncan – I did some checking around for saltbush and found a reference to Atriplex amnicola that says it is a member of the Amaranthaceae family. Also, I see what you mean about sheep that browse on it. Several references mention that sheep that graze on it have meat that is very high in Vitamin E – that the meat is very red and stays fresh looking for longer, etc… Interesting that a type of browse would do so.
    I also did a bit more checking on sagebrush to see how much food value it has for cattle. This Wikipedia reference says that the leaves contain similar nutrient levels to alfalfa, but that the oil in the leaves are toxic to rumen bacteria and can have an adverse effect on cattle — I guess they can eat it, but it has a negative effect on ruminant digestion. Apparently, the only large mammal that can consume a large part of their diet from it is the Pronghorn. This is all stuff that I didn’t know, so very nice that you commented on the sagebrush in the first place as it got me looking around for some information!

  6. robin andrea Says:

    The cattle in that magnificent sagebrush country, really sets off the immense space and distances that can be seen out there. There is something about the high desert that is so other-worldly and beautiful.

    Sad to see that badger a roadkill. What a fine creature, even in death.

    We saw our first northern harrier the other day. At least that’s what we believe it was. Quite a dedicated hunter, flying low along the cliffs above the bay. It had a very distinctive white band above its tail. I’d be glad to send you a slightly indistinct photo, if you’re interested!

  7. burning silo Says:

    Robin – Seeing the cattle against the background really does help to give some sense of scale when you’re in the high desert regions. I actually found myself feeling a quiet excitement whenever we stopped and I stepped out of the car to shoot a landscape scene of the sagebrush and the distant mountain ranges. The colours are wonderful — soft sage greens, a range of yellows, lavender, soft blues and violets. And, as I’ve mentioned above, the scent of the sagebrush and other plants, especially after there has been some rain, as was the case when we were passing through. I’m already giving some thought to when I might return to spend more time on birding and photography (won’t be for awhile though!).
    It does sound like your bird was a Northern Harrier. They have a very distinctive white marking — a conspicuous white patch – on the back above the tail. Also, they tend to fly along looking down at the ground — coursing low above the area where they’re hunting, but occasionally rising up and down. We often see them hunting here at our farm – flying along the trails through the fields as they watch for prey. And yes, do send the photo along if you like and I’ll take a look at it, although it sounds like you’ve already got your ID.

  8. KerrdeLune (Cate) Says:

    Skies without ending and desert sagebrush – absolutely wonderful. It may have something to do with the amount of time I spend hanging over my neighbours’ rail fences in Lanark, but I found myself wondering what strain of cattle these are. They certainly look contented and well nourished. Texas longhorns perhaps? The horns (particularly in the first photo) are impressive.

    It has been years since I was able to partake of the fragrance of sage after rain, but oh how that fragrance lingers in my memories.

  9. burning silo Says:

    Cate – It truly is “big sky country” out there. I’m not sure what the cattle would be out there. Actually, there seemed to be many strains and I suspect there are all kinds of crosses as some that looked like Angus, Salers, Shorthorns, Brahma, Limousin, etc… Many were either polled or had been dehorned, but we noticed a few that had horns — seemed to be mainly the older cows, so the horns may have been let grow for a good reason. Whatever, we saw many beautiful, healthy-looking cattle throughout the region.

  10. Leslie Says:

    I like the badger photo. Many would not have posted it because it’s roadkill but I like it. I’m enjoying all your recent travel posts quite a lot.

  11. Wayne Says:

    Like LauraH I first gravitated to the sagebrush and rabbitbush. And the soft colors are very soothing.

    (I have to say though, that those cattle look a lot smarter than ours!)

  12. burning silo Says:

    Wayne – the colours are very soothing. That’s one of the things I most like about being in the desert or similar habitat — another being that there always seems to be so much going on — birds, reptiles, insects, mammals. It’s not how so many people seem to imagine it to be. The first time I was in the Sonoran desert, I spent an hour or two thinking that it seemed such a hostile environment. Then I started to see it better and saw that it was teeming with life. Now it and other desert environments simply blow me away.
    As for the cattle, they do look like rather savvy creatures, as I suppose they might well need to be in that environment.