Digital art, by J. Patterson
Mouse-busters: whooo you gonna call?
Owls captivate the imagination and charm the eye. They appear and
disappear at will and when they do appear, they can startle even
the calmest person. Awesome in flight and in action, owls are incredible
hunters and caring parents.
Found on all continents except Antarctica,
owls cover the globe. There are one hundred-fifty species worldwide,
nineteen species in North America, and fourteen species in New Mexico.
Of the species found in New Mexico, eight are common in the Sandoval
County area: the barn owl, the flammulated owl, the western screech
owl, the great horned owl, the spotted owl, the burrowing owl, the
long-eared owl, and the short-eared owl.
All owls hunt at night except for the snowy
owl (which is not a resident of New Mexico). Night hunting allows
them to stalk prey more effectively, as the darkness facilitates
a sneaky swoop and an easier catch. Conversely, they often use their
shadows on moonlit nights to flush prey into the open.
One of the owls’ secrets of success is
their feathers, which help them see, hear, and, most importantly
for hunting, help them fly silently, allowing them to pounce without
Owls mate for life and often hunt in pairs.
The females are larger and heavier than the males and blend into
the scenery better. They generally lay three to five white eggs
Owls are raptors, meaning they hunt things
for food. Occasionally, the bigger owls will hunt animals as large
as rabbits, skunks, and, less commonly, cats or small dogs. As a
rule, they prefer food that does not fight back, like mice, small
birds, and insects.
Owls reduce the rodent population significantly.
Great horned owls weigh about four pounds and can eat more than
their body weight every night. If you figure a mouse weighs around
one ounce, that adds up to around sixty-four mice gone by dawn—and
owls hunt in pairs. A cat can’t do that in a night! This rodent
control is important, especially in areas where people die of hantavirus
and the plague. If our feathered friends did not control the rodent
population, we would have a real problem.
Unfortunately, owl populations are shrinking
due to climate change and habitat loss. Efforts are being made to
set aside space for the birds in both grassland and riparian environments.
Despite the bad reputation owls get from small animal lovers, it
is not hard to lock up the felines and mini-canines, and know that
we are blessed to have such useful feathered neighbors.
For more owl information, check out the Nature Conservancy web site
Roaring new 4-H club
The Placitas Mountain Lions, our new 4-H club, is roaring to life.
There are already twelve children participating in activities, ranging
from photography to raising rabbits. Anyone between the ages of
five and nineteen is encouraged to join, and all you have to do
is sign up, free-of-charge. “We’ve had several meetings,
but we finally got it going,” said Sandy Espinosa, owner of
the Placitas Mini-Mart and one of the founders of the club. “We
still need volunteers, kids, and leaders.”
Meetings begin at 5:30 p.m. on the third
Tuesday of every month at the Placitas Elementary School. “It
doesn’t take much time since it’s only once a month,”
Espinosa said. “Right now we have mostly elementary-aged kids,
but we would love to have older kids join too.” People who
are involved with other 4-H groups are encouraged to sign up as
Sandy Espinosa and Juliet Jones got started
with the idea of the club in the fall. Thanks to the help of Sandy
Taylor and Steve Lucero, who oversee all the Sandoval County 4-H
clubs, it only took a few months before the Mountain Lions were
up and running.
Many of the kids have chosen their projects
already. Current projects include rabbits, poultry, horses, lambs,
dogs, photography, and target sports. There are countless other
activities the 4-H club could have, according to participants’
interests. The mottos of the 4-H are, “To make the best better,”
and “Learn by doing.”
The new 4-H club officers are: Edward
Fontaine, president; Garrett Greene, vice president; Elizabeth Davila,
secretary; Jade King, treasurer; Lula Sosa, reporter; and Brinli
Longley, music/recreation coordinator.
Prey at the waterhole
I came around a corner and there was a mountain lion. It was a big
male, tail longer than my arm. I stopped in dappled ponderosa shade.
I was close enough that I could have tossed a pebble and hit the
lion’s tawny block of a head. He was facing the other way,
lapping water out of a muddy hole in the Blue Range near the Arizona-New
I lowered to one knee—not what you should
do around a large predator, especially a cat—but it was what
immediately came to mind. The first thing I wanted was to have the
upper hand, which for me meant being invisible.
I had wanted to see a mountain lion this way
for a long time. So often I am the one who is watched without knowing
it, perking ears I never know are there. Now, I was crouched on
the ground staring at a lion that had no idea I was here, carefully
studying the way its head grazed the water, how its shoulder blades
lifted like shields as it drank. I was traveling alone in the wilderness,
seven days of gear on my back. I let my pack off my shoulders and
rolled it gently to the ground. Any thoughts I had been thinking
floated away unfinished. I became a shadow, a ghost, something not
When it was done drinking, the lion turned
its lithe, muscular body and looked around. I took the faintest
breath, my body light as a leaf. The lion ’s bright, glassy
eyes passed over mine, and I let its gaze wash through me. I was
nothing but a shape among stumps and rocks. The lion did not see
me. It walked away from the water hole with fluid authority. It
slipped into the forest and was gone.
After a while I stood. I grinned; I’d
gotten my wish. Now, for the tracks. I left my pack behind and headed
for the water hole. In case the cat was still around, I clattered
rocks as I went, knowing that it would turn suddenly, surprised
to hear me, affronted perhaps to have been watched, and then would
sprint away, leaving me far behind.
At the water hole I found fresh tracks in mud,
round lobes of paw pads and toes. I was just leaning down to dip
a finger into one of the prints when I thought — this is where
animals are caught: bending down at a water hole, spine exposed
to all the world. Just in case, I glanced around. There I saw the
lion. It had doubled back behind me and was reclined in juniper
shade, watching me as if I were its morning show, tail looped across
I did not move. I thought this was as close
as I would ever get and I burned the image of this lion into my
memory. How long would it stay? How long could I just stand here
Not long. It rose from the shadows. It stepped
out and began walking straight toward me. Fear gulped through my
blood. I was prey at the waterhole. Wait a second. This isn’t
supposed to happen. I’m a watcher, an observer. I am human.
And it, I realized, is a cat. This is what
cats do. Evolution has designed a hunting family of animals able
to digest meat and little else, the strapping blueprint of its body
so perfect that the cat has hardly been added to or subtracted from
in 30 million years.
The lion’s pace came slowly and deliberately,
yet very quickly it was 20 feet away. I pulled a knife from my hip,
unfolded and locked a blade five inches long — one claw against
eight claws; the advantage was not mine. I swallowed all of my fear.
There was nothing else I could do with it. The lion was already
10 feet away, and my world was nothing but its grey-green eyes.
It looked straight into me. I was being gutted.
The mountain lion began circling me. Its body
was so uniformly sculpted that I could see where muscle gave way
to bone in its face, whiskers hanging under their own weight. Its
tail waved back and forth like a fencer’s sword.
There are so many rules about animal encounters,
about barking or bluffing, standing tall, putting hands in coat
pockets and spreading out so you look bigger. But there was no time
for these tricks. Everything happened too fast. I now had only the
trick of confounding the lion’s attack pattern. I followed
it with my eyes, with all of my body, not giving it any glance behind
This went on for minutes, hours, days. My entire
Then it let go of me. The lion turned and moved
away. I don’t know why. I wasn’t the right shape. I
didn’t run, giving it my back, as it expects of prey overtaken
by fear. As quickly as the lion had approached, it was gone. I stood
there, feeling as if I was made of porcelain, as if everything—my
body and the world around me—would break the second I moved.
Every loose end, every frayed thought I ever had was gone. For that
moment I had been no more than a shadow standing in the presence
of the absolute.
Craig Childs writes from Crawford, Colorado.This
article originally appeared in High Country News (www.hcn.org),
which covers the West's communities and natural-resource issues
from Paonia, Colorado.
Sandoval County residents inducted into New Mexico
State University 4-H Hall of
Two Sandoval County residents, Don Leonard
and Karin Vallo, are among fifteen 4-H leaders and supporters who
were inducted into the state 4-H Hall of Fame recently at New Mexico
State University. An unveiling of new nameplates on the Hall of
Fame plaque followed the ceremony.
Sandoval County Commissioner Don Leonard
has had a tremendous influence on 4-H in Sandoval and Bernalillo
counties. He has also impacted the New Mexico State Fair. With more
than 20 years of service and support, Leonard has been instrumental
in recruiting buyers for the county livestock sales in Bernalillo
and Sandoval counties, as well as being a junior livestock buyer
himself. He has served on the livestock rules committee for six
years and the Sandoval County Fair Board for ten years. He also
sponsors 4-H events by giving of his time and providing financial
"In his position as County Commissioner,
Mr. Leonard has been instrumental in securing funds to improve the
4-H facilities and fairground. Improvements such as a new livestock
barn, pens, wash bays and rodeo arena lights have become a reality
due to his efforts," said Phillip Zuni, NMSU freshman and state
Karin Vallo was nominated for the 4-H
Hall of Fame by the Sandoval County 4-H Council because of her twenty-five
years of commitment to the program. She started the first 4-H club
in Sandoval County and has continued to serve 4-H ever since.
"Whether in her role as club leader
or as a fair board member, Ms. Vallo supports and encourages 4-H
youth throughout the county," Zuni said. "She donates
poultry and rabbits for youth to raise as projects, and assists
with fundraising for members and leaders to travel to forums and
conferences. She not only serves as a junior livestock buyer, but
formed a buyers’ club to expand the support of 4-H members
with livestock projects."
Vallo was one of the original founders
of the Rio Puerco Basin Fair, which evolved into the Sandoval County
Fair. Her family's construction company has been responsible for
building much of the infrastructure at the fairgrounds.