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Groups of Mountain Bluebirds were scoping out birdhouses along this ridge.

E & I had planned a ski trip to the ranch in February, but Montana’s -20F arctic air and feet of snow had kept us homebound 530 miles due south in balmy Salt Lake City. Last weekend would be the last weekend for snow, so we drove out in a bit of a snowstorm that spanned nearly the entire trip, but only spat out a few white-out 4×4-only sections. We saw a huge herd of hundreds of Elk in the Madison River valley outside Yellowstone Park, as well as a Bald Eagle flying up the river. At Three Forks we saw Blue Heron’s and Buffle Heads (ducks), near where we spotted a Moose and her calf in fall. We made it over King’s Hill pass before the storm settled in, and I jumped back over the snow-blasted pass the next morning for powder skiing at Showdown before it closed for the season.  The rest of the week was spent sledding, taking Nora up Belt Creek canyon for a Nordic ski along a snowbound mountain creek, skiing the snowbound Kibbey Ridge road section of our bluebird houses, stomping about the hills in snow-boots, and keeping the wood-stove fed. As we diddled around on the snow, the Mountain Bluebirds began arriving in threes and pairs- or multiple singles.

Our overwintering Nuthatches had kept watch over the house and greeted us with enthusiastic antics. Mountain Chickadees had joined them and the ranch yard was a jungle gym of little birds catching bugs from the air. On a clear starry night standing out in the frozen silence, a sonar note repeated mechanically from midway up a hillside. It was emanating from a rotating platform, fading and growing more precise as it pointed in my direction, then past me and down the valley rotating around up the valley and down again. I hadn’t known we got submarines up this high, that, or it was a Saw-Whet Owl (it took two bird books to rule out the submarine). Coyotes sang at night and chirped from the hills during the day. The arrival of the Robins and the thawing of the yard creek signaled the slushing of the snow and the mushing of the mud, and we headed home a few days early in a truck more mud-ball than metal.

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Nora discovers what nothing smells like.

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E along the Kibbey Ridge road, our southernmost Bluebird line.

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E & Nora think this might be the last day for skiing, as Danger cleans a bbird house.

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View from the bbird house, down to the Highwood Mountains and Square Butte.

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Highland hayfield with the snowy pyramid of Iron Mountain.

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zoomed view…

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E & I while away the evenings with this 1,000 piece songbird puzzle in the shape of Western Bluebirds, while out in the hills the Mountain Bluebirds are arriving.

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Yesterday these ladies walked up here in a whiteout snowsquall while I was downhill skiing at Showdown ski area.

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Wishing we’d pulled the sled up here.

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Nora gives her lady a smooch.

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The north slope forest behind the house has gathered its snow. The barn is at the lower left.

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Wind and wan sun have already scoured yesterday’s snow from the hills.

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The yard is a thick drifted snowbank locking fast the gate.

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No squirrels to hassle the pretty new bird-feeder. None of the wild birds knew what to make of it.

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E completed this needlepoint over the winter, adding buttons (red berries and a white button sash) from her grandma Holder’s button tin. “A proper vest for a proper Rooster. Every Rooster greets the day dressed in his Sunday best, that’s what proper Roosters do.”, says E. with a giggle, adding, “No, I’m serious.” as we hang him in the ranch living room. 

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We were surprised to see groups of Mountain Bluebirds pinwheeling about, yet it was the day after the Spring equinox. Robins arrived a few days later.

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Floodgate Closed.

Ready for New Years’ Eve now that the Ibis is complete. Patina went well and he is a nicely layered French Brown toning from reds to golds to chocolate. He wandered around the yard and I took pictures as he explored.

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Floodgate Open.

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“Back” side.

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Twinkle in his eye.

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Skinny front view.

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Waterfall Floodgate; would be a perfect addition to the yard.

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A heart of falling water.

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Wings folded along his back.

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Strolling about.

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Nesting area?

Ibis Floodgate

Ibis Floodgate!

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Head sprouts overnight.

Last night’s snow squall convinced me to wait ’til things warmed up in the afternoon before rolling the shop door open for welding. 34 degrees and breezy was warm enough for the Ibis.

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Blending in the weld from bird to square tubing.

I laid it all flat on the table, and aligned the head/neck and tacked the neck in place then stood it up to double check. Then it was on to welding with the Argon tank showing empty, but hissing along for all the day’s welds. With the weld line finished, it was on to metal chase. Still some finessing left on that front, but well enough for today.

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This view offers the trademark curve of the Ibis bill.

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Chasing the sun.

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Skinny bird.

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Nora frisks about to ask if it can finally be walkie time, then waits impatiently as I snap off a few pictures after shutting things down.

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Gate skinned with bronze tubing.

Monday and Tuesday were spent welding the stainless watergate together, then adding the outside border of 1″ bronze tubing. Cutting the tubing from an 8′ length down to all the paired sets was a bit woozy for how close the math was vs. how expensive a mistake would be. Then I welded the pairs together, then welded them to the gate. Today I stood the legs up after welding on their anchor pins for installation, went back into the watergate to capture a slew of tweaks, then brought the gate together with the legs.

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1″ square tubing, doubled. The open ends will be resolved tomorrow.

 

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Before welding the legs to the gate, I weld in the anchor pins for basing and tack-weld the pins to a platform of stainless and wood.

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I used all the leftover parts from the watergate!

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From this side it levitates.

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Spent awhile putting a bevel on the top L edge (allows the backward bend of the neck) and welding the ends closed, then fixing pinch-points for little fingers, plus a few last structural overkills.

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The headless birdman.

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Narrow front view.

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Walking out the studio would be foolish funny bird; snowstorm out there.

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The “back” profile. Tomorrow is chasing the connective weld, and seeing if I run out of Argon gas while trying to fit the head.

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Stainless Steel Waterman Floodgate.

The floodgate for the Ibis is a Waterman C10 in Stainless Steel and cast iron. Tweak #1 was cutting it shorter. Tweak #2 (after complete disassembly) was repainting the 5 cast iron parts. Tweak #3 was grinding all the Stainless to a clean surface, then cutting the threaded SS lift rod and cleaning it’s nose and end. Then reassemble. I ordered bronze square tubing from Denver that is waiting out in the studio for the next step: cutting it to fit and welding it to the stainless (also welding all the stainless parts together and tack-welding all the bolts). Eventually the bronze Ibis head and legs will weld on as well.

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Gate sized down and refitted.
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Nora stands in for scale.

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SS ground clean and cast iron parts repainted.

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Lift rod cut to size too.

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A chilly day in the shop with Orange Air Quality (pm2 @ 141, nearly Red).

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Living room art installation?

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Last summer I took out a florescent tube apparatus from the 1950’s, quite a contraption, and put in a ceiling fan. I forgot the ceiling paint then, so now it becomes a project.

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Plaster and sand, this is layer 1 of 2+ of tinted Killz paint to cover the tobacco brown spot of the old fixture.

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Smoothing out summer triage from a mouse nest that burst through the kitchen ceiling.

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Dave also put in a new trough in the horse pasture.

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E & Nora stand upon an old wall of a long forgotten building that served a long ago Gerhart.

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This Spruce tree was planted by my Grandfather in the 1960’s. It got a root down to the stream in the late 1980’s and hit a growth spurt. It perfectly obscured the machine shed from the house. One million acres of Montana burned this summer; standing dead forests of beetle kill exacerbated by flash-drought conditions of Global Weirding. This one tree in the yard represents hundreds of millions of trees now gone from the biosphere, probably never to return.

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Bark Beetles have infested it, so I grab an axe and 1,

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2

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3 (tree fell perfectly backwards…lets review the why/how)

When cutting down a tree I’ve learned 3 key tricks to making sure it falls where you want it to. (1) Wedge-cut to 1/3 of tree and at the correct angles to the ground (or @ 80 degree angle to 1/4 of tree is even better); (2) a sly slip-in bore-cut starting a bit higher than the wedge cut and stopping at least an inch from the clean singular line of the wedge cut and; (3) The Tag/Triggerleaving a skein of wood to the outside/back to anchor the tree (steps 1 & 2 create a tripod of sorts that keep the tree standing securely till the Tag is released, and alignments of the slip-in to the wedge-cut keeps the falling tree from kicking back, rolling, or the dreaded barberchair). Stop at each point and check yourself before going on to the next. If at the last step everything is in place, i.e. no pets (in the house is best) and no people on the fall line, pop the Tag with an axe blow or the saw. A good indicator that you have screwed up is if the tree moves mid sly slip-in back-cut and traps the chainsaw. You probably didn’t pre-check for tree lean or counterweight branches, which should always be step (0). You probably didn’t stop after the wedge cut and make sure the line met clean, or remember to start the second & inward cut from near-to-far to ensure a clean line and just came in from the face like a newbie. You probably didn’t align the bore-cut just above the wedge cut, or leave a perfect inch-thick line of uncut tree between the two cuts because you didn’t back-cut first, then move forward to establish the inch-thick line and the saw jumped too far forward. While you were at it, you likely took too much from the back of the slip-in leaving mostly bark to keep the tree in place, and you certainly didn’t use a logging wedge to assist the Tag from spin or back-pressure. You probably didn’t review your process that you keep in writing with your chainsaw gear (including unused chainsaw wedges), as you don’t fell trees much at all any more and need to keep the engineering aspects certain. Doing any 1 of the 3 correctly can make a pretty decent fell, screwing them all up (while hilarious) requires knowing where to run. The chainsaw bar is stuck fast mid tree and may be bent, the tree is nearly cut clean through (and all “caddywhompus” as my stepdad would have pointed out), with a sturdy Tag being just a bit of bark-covered wood holding it from toppling.  One way forward at this point to free the saw and topple the tree, is one clean hit to the Tag with the axe; the recommended method at this point of “caddywhompus” would be to drive in a few felling wedges first for a mitigated safeguard. We can assume no wedges were employed… and E yells “RUN”. When standing right next to a falling tree you can’t really tell where it is going, just that it is going- if your spotter yells run then something has gone wrong and you dash for safety. The part before cutting with a saw, more important than parts 1-3,  a part I’m pretty fussy about, is clearing low branches and making clear paths for escape. And having a good spotter that stands well clear and can yell RUN in a such a way that you just wind up running to safety- like stealing a base in baseball. E was in charge of RUN command without even knowing it was her job, and I got the running to base part right.

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Then its just A

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B

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C (with E hauling the branches far afield)

 

 

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Just a bit off the top.

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The logs are moved to the ice-house.

First thing this morning, after arriving back in Utah last night, was ordering two 24 packs of Mauget Tree Injectors to treat the 3 remaining Spruce trees for bark beetle, each massive tree is 30′ and higher- each tree like a giant sequoia version of the little runt that bested me. There is one behind me here, towering over the tool shed and obscuring perspective as I am far in the foreground.

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I stack them in plastic wrapping inside the ice house to contain the beetles.

 

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Leaf blowing with help from high winds.

A usual late November storm would bring a few feet of snow and daytime high temps in the single digits with night time lows dipping toward -20 or even -40. In Thankgiving of 2005 I had to wait a few days for the county snowplow to arrive before I could head back to the Utah day-job. This year Global Weirding brings 60 degree day / 50 degree night temps (that is 80-100 degrees higher than is healthy for the forests), and 60 mph winds with 80mph gusts. It won’t matter how much snow falls if it all directly evaporates into the wind…

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Nora gets a hint of what summertime is like here.

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A few days ago this was snow and deer beds atop a dense layer of fallen leaves.

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The stream through the yard thaws completely by nightfall.

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Last summer’s tree triage is all holding true.

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This little nuthatch was our exotic yard bird, acrobatically catching resurrected flies.

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This spring bog had an old failed springbox; replaced this fall by our lesee.

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We hope things can now dry out a bit.

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The climb up the narrow valley was choked with snow over slick mud, and E turned back.

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Climbing out of the valley onto the high grasslands.

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The wind drives the snow up the hill, pushing the grasses over in an uphill direction. It is that windy right now, but I’m in a T-shirt.

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60 degrees with 60mph wind.

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This far north, this is about as high as the sun gets.

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Shadows sprawl out in a perpetual Evening.