Musings with Camera in Hand

Belinda Greb – The Photographic Journey


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Back to Burns, Malheur and the Wild Horses

If I had the time and money, I’d make the trip to Burns at least once a month.  My heart is so attached to the wild horses that I see out there, in addition to the wide variety of birds to be sighted around Burns and at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.  It’s not a huge trip for me, four hours, but long enough to require at least one night’s stay, and better with two, since once you get out there, the driving doesn’t stop.  South Steens Mountain is about 50 miles south of Burns which will take you through Malheur NWR and the small historical town of Frenchglen.  To really see all the area has to offer is to take forays down gravel roads and I have even ventured at times onto deeply rutted dirt roads where I prayed that my car had the clearance to pass over boulders and ridges.  This last May trip, I also did a bit of walking by foot to reach the wild horses as the dirt road became impassable by my passenger car.  One note: I do try and stay at a respectable distance.  The horses will be aware of me from quite a distance, but I don’t want them to be uncomfortable with my presence.

This Spring the area looked generally much more lush than last year.  I stopped first to see the Palomino Buttes horses which are west of Burns.  I was looking forward especially to see a favorite, more approachable band, that as of Fall last year, consisted of the Palomino Stallion (some locals call him a Dunalino), his primary mare, Bella, two of her sons, Pallaton and Traveler, from prior years, and a filly from last year.  Also there was a bay mare and her colt, and another bay mare that had joined them sometime during the Summer or Fall.  (Some of the horses are named by the locals.)  I didn’t see any horses initially.  Then I spotted white spots on a very distant hill (both Pallaton and Traveler were white/light colored palominos).  When I walked out, I saw it was my favorite band with some significant changes.  Pallaton was not with the band.  This isn’t such a big surprise, since as a three year old, he would start to have conflicts with his father.  I was surprised this hadn’t started happening last year, since Pallaton had already started chasing fillies in other bands.  Instead, he and his father seemed to work as a team, protecting their band from another stallion on the couple of occasions I observed.  I also observed that when the band was on the move, Pallaton would the lead while the stallion brought up the rear; this year Traveler took the front spot.  Though Pallaton’s absence was expected, it was still a blow, as the bonds between the family, especially he and his mother, and he and Traveler, were affectionate and playful.  Even the bond with his father had been a special one.  I still don’t know whether the bay mare and her colt were with the band. I think so, but the horses coats change so much from season to season and this time I wasn’t in close enough to compare other markings from my earlier picture.  There were also two new foals and at least one other horse I don’t recognize at all.

Though I hadn’t made it over to Burns until May, I did see some Sandhill Cranes still in the area, one pair with two colts (what the “chicks” are called because of their long legs), along with various other birds.  I didn’t even see the colts until I reviewed the images on my computer.  The birds weren’t as plentiful as they would have been a few weeks earlier but they were much more plentiful than they had been last May.

While in the vicinity of Malheur I was excited to capture a couple mammals I had not photographed before in the area, including, not one, but two hares.  Last year the ones I saw had proven too quick for my reflexes.  I also saw the first marmot I had seen in Oregon as well – a yellow-bellied marmot.  These critters spend most of their time in their burrows (80%) hibernating or otherwise, so I was lucky to capture this one.  I had seen a flash of one about an hour earlier than this, so apparently the beautiful Spring day was too enticing to pass up.

I also saw the usual suspects, mule deer and pronghorn antelope.  Mule deer are distinguished from white-tailed deer as their tales are black, their ears are larger, and antlers fork rather than branch on the males.

Just past Malheur NWR, is the small historic town, Frenchglen, population 12, and continuing on Hwy. 205 you will find the south entrance to Steen Loop, a gravel road that loops around the mountain.  The road will usually be blocked at some point during Spring due to snow as the mountain rises over 9000 feet, although it does it in a fairly non-dramatic way.  If you’re lucky you will be able to view some of the wild horses in South Steens herd.  I’ve been lucky to see multiple bands together on two occasions and on other occasions, a small band by itself.  This time, I was not exceptionally close to them but it was wonderful to observe them – some playing, the more mature grazing or resting along with the foals.

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Is it hard to see why I’m in love with this place?  If you travel out there, don’t expect luxury. You will get the most basic of accommodations and a very limited assortment of restaurants.  In fact, you will need to be sure that you fill up on gas before you leave Burns to go exploring.  During summer, the temperatures can get quite high, so it would be advisable to carry water for both you and your car.

I’ve hoped you’ve enjoyed this post.  To see more of my work, please visit Belinda Greb Photography for all of my published work.  My next post will be on some of the beautiful Oregon waterfalls I’ve visited in mainly Silver Falls State Park.

 


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Wild Horse Family from the South Steens Herd

I love horses. I have ever since I was a little girl. I didn’t have Barbies, I had model horses and stuffed animals. But although I rode horses occasionally, I’m not a rider and have never had the opportunity to own horses.

When I played horses as a little girl, playacting with a friend with our numerous model horses and speaking for them in faux horse language, (English with a neigh sound), we played them as wild horses, always escaping the clutches of man. So here I am, gobs of years later, and I’ve had the opportunity to watch and photograph wild horses, and it is a dream come true.

On my recent trip to Harney County, I saw horses from both the Palomino Buttes Herd and the South Steens Herd in Eastern Oregon. Another blog will  be done about the Palomino Buttes herd.  On the day I saw this family, I had been up Steens Mountain to the point where the road was closed due to snow and I had seen about 19 horses grazing in the far distance. As I came down the mountain and started to drive back to Burns on Hwy. 205, I saw another herd, about 7, including a foal, also in the distance.  Well, I thought, that’s about as close as I’m going to get. But in the next five minutes, I saw two horses quite close. I stopped the car. The first was a beautiful Palomino stallion and behind him, or north of me was a gorgeous pinto mare.

The mare was so striking, that I decided to work my way to another position to catch another angle. I moved slowly until I was parallel with her, and then moved beyond that to get a clearer view. Both horses watched me.

Imagine my delight when I saw what a sagebrush had hidden, a foal lying at her feet. I took a few shots of it, though it still was largely hidden by the sagebrush.

However at that point, its mother decided it was time to move her foal further away. She put her nose down to it, then started walking slowly away. The foal got to its feet and followed.

Once the foal was following her, they broke into a trot and then a lope. The stallion waited until they moved past him and began to circle around. Then he ran to join, As they slowed, he fell back and let the mare and her foal move ahead where they stopped at a distance that was about 20-30 yards further but parallel to where they had been initially.

When they came to a rest, the foal started to nurse.

The bonds between a horse family are very strong, but within the larger herd, stallions can lose their mares to other stallions. Colts will be kicked out of a band after a year or two, and fillies will eventually join another stallion’s band. But should they meet again, the affection and bonds last. When horses are domesticated, you don’t often get to see the families together.  Even horse breeders often separate the foals after a certain time from the mares.

What a joy it was to watch this family running together, and to see the protectiveness of both the mare and the stallion.  I could have sat and watched them the rest of the day, but I decided to leave them in peace.

My complete photography catalog can be found on my main website through Fine Art America http://bit.ly/BelindaGreb and more wild horse images can be seen here: Wild Horses Gallery. I also have at more limited numbers of my work at Photo4Me (UK), Crated, Society 6 , Redbubble and Zazzle. My Etsy shop is currently undergoing a revamping, but look for availability of signed work up to 16×24 prints in the near future here: RadiancePhotos


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The Need for Public Lands

God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and
a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools. – John Muir

Two American White Pelicans

Two American White Pelicans at Malheur NWR (©Belinda Greb)

Lately my heart and mind have been in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a wild gem of Oregon taken over in early January by armed militia. This takeover was in response to the arrest of Hammonds, two ranchers who intentionally set two fires that spread to public lands endangering lives, (in 2001 of the young relative who was instructed to set the fire and  in 2006 of firefighters who were in the area). Bundy and his followers purported to take over the refuge for the purpose of returning the land to the people – a ridiculous proposition since the land already belongs to the people, as in “We, the People”. They didn’t want the government to manage the land and instead unilaterally decided that they would be the ones to do so. Malheur NWR is one of numerous  public lands that have been set aside by our forefathers who wisely saw the need to preserve natural habitat and wildlife for future generations. I suspect most of us consider this a blessing, but sadly there are those that consider it an overreach of the government.

Falling Light on the Marsh

Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (Falling Light on the Marsh ©Belinda Greb)

Public Lands

In 1864, Abraham Lincoln ceded land around Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove Area to California for use as a state park in response to Galen Clark and Senator John Conness who argued that with the increased tourism since since the mid 1850s, unregulated commercial interests were becoming a threat to the area. This would set a precedent for establishing Yellowstone as the nation’s first national park, Meanwhile after 11 years of trying, Ferdinand Hayden, was finally able to put together a geological survey in to the Yellowstone Area. This resulted in an influential report, that included pictures by William Henry Jackson and paintings by Thomas Moran, and in 1872, Ulysses Grant signed the Act of Dedication which made Yellowstone a national park. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowstone_National_Park)

Waiting for Wolves in Lamar Valley

Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park (Waiting for Wolves ©Belinda Greb)

There was opposition at that time to the establishment of the park. Local settlers in Montana worried that the economy would suffer from federal prohibitions and so numerous bills were put forth to reduce land-use restrictions. There were those that wanted the land for logging, mining, and hunting. Sound familiar?

The entities in charge of public lands need to balance the needs of interested parties while protecting the land. While hunting is not allowed in National Parks and many Wildlife Refuges, on other public lands, hunting is allowed. There are guidelines for the logging that takes place on public lands, and there will always be controversy about whether these guidelines are too strict or not strict enough. Ranchers were allowed to continue grazing their cattle on public lands and charged a nominal fee. Grazing fees per AUM (animal unit per month) was raised in 2015 to $1.69. Of course fees for grazing on private or state lands is much higher. In Oregon, the state fee is $5.60 in 2016. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grazing_fee) How many of you can feed your pet dog or cat for that $1.69 for even a couple of days?

William Finley Refuge

William L Finley NWR (William Finley Refuge ©Belinda Greb)

In addition, as opposed to owning the land, the ranchers are not responsible for the financial cost of purchasing the land, maintaining or paying taxes on it like other property owners would be. But apparently some of these occupiers, like Cliven Bundy, feel that they should not have to pay any fees at all, and for years he has gotten away from this, refusing to pay the fees or remove his cattle from federal lands. After a court order allowed officials to remove his livestock from federal lands in 2014, armed supporters advanced on collectors resulting in a standoff. The cattle were not removed by BLM due to their concern that employees might be harmed or shot. So now Cliven Bundy owes the people over $1 million dollars and continues to graze his cattle on public lands. If our society continues to give in to this type of behavior, we will have anarchy.

Flight of the Great Blue Heron No. 2

Seen at Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (Flight of the Great Blue Heron ©Belinda Greb)

There’s certainly a right to question how the land is being managed, but trying to bully your opinion across via intimidation and guns is not it. The government entities that regulate these lands are not above reproach, but they are trying to balance the rights of the community along with the special interests of ranchers along with the wildlife advocates and environmentalists. How can this be an easy task? And of course the administrators are also going to be have their own personal opinions and beliefs. But dissenters should take any issue with that management to our legal system or the media.

Pete French Long Barn No. 2

Malheur NWR (Pete French Long Barn No. 2 ©Belinda Greb)

Malheur NWR

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1908.  The land was initially occupied by the Paiute Indians. Settlers then came in and took over much of it, relegating the natives to a reservation. How ironic is the world view that rages against the government but really isn’t talking about returning the land to the original inhabitants.

One settler amassed with his employer, Dr Hugh Glen, over 140,000 acres.  He also restricted access to water to other fellow settlers and in fact was murdered in 1883 by one settler whose access to water he denied. Not a pretty story.  Some of the land was sold to pay of company debts, and after being resold, nearly 65,000 acres was incorporated into the refuge in 1935. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P_Ranch)

Great-Egret

Great White Egret seen at Malheur NWR (Great Egret ©Belinda Greb)

In the late 1880’s bird populations were being decimated by plume hunters who used their feathers for hats or  vanity wear, as I like to say in regards to fur coats. In 1908, photographers, William L Finley and Herman Bohlman noticed both the diversity of birds and the horrible effects of plume hunting. Finley successfully personally lobbied President Theodore Roosevelt for federal protection for the area. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malheur_National_Wildlife_Refuge) The William L Finley National Wildlife Refuge, also in Oregon, was named after him in 1964.

I find myself getting so upset and angry by the Malheur occupation. First I’m angry at the nerve of other people coming from out-of-state with their guns, taking over the buildings, government vehicles, blocking roads, and causing so much damage, not least of which is the emotional damage done to the community around Burns. This is an invasion. There were threats to people and their families who worked for BLM or USFWS, and there has been a huge financial cost to the county.  I am also angered at this threat to a beautiful refuge and the wildlife that is there.

Private vs Public

If these protections were not in place, we would not have our system of: 58 national parks; 560 National Wildlife Refuges and 38 wetland management districts; 155 national forests and 20 grassland areas; and other state managed wildlife areas. These are open to people to enjoy, but more importantly to conserve natural resources and habitat for wildlife. How would these lands have fared had they not been under federal protection? Look around – how well have mining, privately owned logging companies, corporate farms served the land or the interests of the general population? In addition, there’s a wealth of information and recent discussion about how cattle grazing impacts environment and climate. Google it.

Cows

Cattle on Public Lands in Harney County (©Belinda Greb)

“Why should we protect this lands? How will it benefits humans, or really me?” some may ask.

  • Deforestation results in global warming. Trees absorb greenhouse gases and return moisture to the air. Once they are cut, the land will dries out quickly.  Clear cutting results in loss of habitat for many species – 70% of animals and plants live in forests. (http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/deforestation-overview/0).
  • Loss of habitat results in loss of species. Just think what would happen if there were no birds and how that would affect the insect population. How would that affect crops or the spread of insect transmittable diseases…and so on? What about the disappearance of a predator that helped keep the rat population in control? It’s all about balance. The loss of one species can result in the overpopulation of another. There is a fine balance between prey and predator. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver is a novel that clearly explains this issue.
  • If there were no regulations, there would be no limitations on the type of chemicals that are used or other safety regulations that exist for a reason. Even with regulations, there are not enough controls and we’ve seen the impact of the chemicals on bees which are so important pollination and agriculture.
Surveil

Red Shouldered Hawk seen at Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (Surveil ©Belinda Greb)

If resources are not managed, there is no sustainability. This affects us directly in regards to food and shelter. Would you really trust Ammon Bundy who represents his own interests or the interest of like-minded individuals over a government department that while cumbersome is still subject to the interests of many, including: legislators, citizens, and businesses?

Those are the self-interested reasons for preservation and conservation.

Acorn Woodpecker

William L. Finley NWR (Acorn Woodpecker ©Belinda Greb)

Being a photographer, and spending a lot of time observing animals, I am on the side of the wildlife. We do not occupy this land alone. We share it with animals and flora. We have already created an environmental imbalance that threatens not only our future, but the future of all living beings. We have used our lands and water as a huge trash can that we think we can keep pouring our waste into without consequences. Those consequences are catching up, and it is the poor and the animals who will suffer first.

These public lands are also important in that for many that is the only place that many will see life in a near natural state. The beauty and understanding that come from being in nature to those that are open to it can give one a profound respect for life, its vulnerability and its resilience. Nature can make us better human beings by connecting us to the the larger natural world that contains a multitude of life outside the “me.” It can teaches us that life is not ego-centric but all-encompassing.

Love your public lands and protect them.

Resilience-w11x14

Wild Horse seen in Harney County (Resilience ©Belinda Greb)

Photographs taken at: Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Harney County, William Finley National Wildlife Refuge, Yellowstone National Park,  and Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (run by Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife). belindagrebphotography.com