Saturday, 15 July 2017

Flight of the Condors

Sunday 9th April   Pete was round early in the morning with his son Will and foreman to round up stragglers (cattle)from the hills, so they were able to give me a send off. 

 Lto R  Will, Petra, Me, Pete in front of the ranch-house. Many thanks for your generosity Pete!

Riding along by the lake, these two enormous birds flew down onto the fence line and I managed to snap a couple of photos before they took off again....
 What are they?  The most likely identification is that they are young Californian condors, the largest species of land bird in North America. If that is so I have been very privileged to see them, as at one point they were extinct in the wild.  Following a catastrophic decline in numbers due to human activity, in 1987 the remaining 27 birds were captured. Under a conservation programme their numbers increased in captivity, and beginning in 1991 they were released back into the wild, although the first sighting of condors actually nesting in Northern California was not until 2006..  There were 276 recorded in the wild in North America in December of last year, including small populations in Arizona and Utah.

Pete had warned us that he had been held up by a triathlon taking place on the other side of the lake, and it was not long before I ran, or rather walked into competitors running to and fro along the road...
 Just to prove that I was not whinging when I complained about my freezing hands coming over the Blue Ridge, apparently thirty triathlon competitors had been treated for hypothermia the day before.  It was even reported in the Daily Mail!

Glassy-winged or not, it seems the sharp-shooters ate not too happy about this notice......
In fact this sharp-shooter would not have been fund raising for the Friends of NRA on April 1st as it is a large invasive leafhopper which is classified as a pest due to the fact that it can spread several plant diseases. This constitutes a serious threat in this area which is part of Napa county and near the world famous wine growing Napa valley.

Crossing Pope Creek in the Pope Valley, another important wine producing area though not with the kudos of the Napa valley.
My spirits plummeted when I rode into the hamlet of Pope Valley to find the little store had literally just closed, and was then warned that my intended route was too dangerous for a horse due to the narrow winding road with fast traffic. On top of this I tripped and crashed down onto my side on the road, bruising my arm and grazing my elbow. It was a rather sorry and sniffling figure that knocked at the door of a smallholding with a grassy paddock by the side of the road.  But Keith Kirkpatrick was happy to take Lady, and wife Sarah turned out to be a nurse. I ended up being patched up, fed and offered use of a shower, and Keith's father Brad let me sleep in his camper. It is so often when I am feeling at my most miserable that the kindness of random strangers completely turns things round.
Keith and Sarah with daughters Livvy and Caitlin...
Keith was a mine of local information and told me a lot of farmland is being bought up  Pope Valley by the Chinese and other large concerns such as Fosters to practise viticulture.  As the area is in Napa county it can take advantage of the Napa prefix. In fact Keith told me that as long as it contained a certain percentage of grapes grown in the Napa valley, a wine mixed with wine from  the Sacramento valley can be marketed as a Napa Valley wine!
Following general advice, the following day Monday 11th April I took a longer but quieter route up the Ink Ridge road, winding up a pretty road through woods and secluded vineyards clinging to steep hillsides...
 After making our way through the hills and vineyards of Howell Mountain, we came to the famous Napa Valley.   About to descend into the valley down Deer Park road...
 This was quite a sizeable and busy road with a hairpin bend, so I was glad Lady was clad in her fluorescent rug.
A typically well-maintained Napa valley vineyard...


I was heading north to Diamond Mountain Stables near Callistoga, where I was welcomed by the hardworking Macella O'Neill and Charlie White, to the right of the photo below... 
Macella is a very talented showjumper and hunter-jumper trainer, and Charlie runs a thriving hay supply business. They have both been over to Europe on horse buying trips.  These lovely people found time in their busy schedule to look after me, and I was treated to supper and given the use of a very plush and comfortable trailer.

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