News and Updates
Happy Thanksgiving,

Race 3 was a bit of a surprise with the speeds 100-150 YPM higher than I thought they'd be and the birds performing better than we could have asked for.  Overall I believe it was the best race so far of the series.  I arrived at the release point in NW Bakersfield (off Reina & Santa Fe) around 6:20 AM.  I drove I-5 down to the release point and I hit very little fog (only at the very end) of the drive but I was aware of some dense fog again on portions of the course.  At the release point itself there was a very light fog/haze that was trying to develop but fortunately with the sun coming up soon that little fog was going to burn off quickly.

Gary Berthiume (who lives 5 minutes away) met me at the release point and helped me water the birds.  I had originally hoped to go out around 7:15 but checking weather and traffic cameras along the course, there was some  thick fog starting around 40 Miles from the release point and extending for about 30 Miles to the north along HWY 99 in essentially the path of the birds.  This denser fog area was only around 10 Miles wide so the birds would have been able to go around it to the east or west if they didn't go above it.  Over the next half hour skies improved at the release point and when I checked the cameras in the foggy areas I was starting to see signs of the fog receding.  Skies weren't real pretty at release as the air has been pretty dirty along the valley portion of the course with so many of the agriculture fields being churned up daily and lack of rain/wind to mix out the air. 
Birds were released at 7:50 under cold hazy skies with a very light east wind.  They did really well at release and for the second race in a row took off quickly heading north.  I was filming them on my phone but my camera app froze up about 2 minutes in and I lost the video.  By the time I got it going again a minute later the birds were barely visible way out to the north.....nearly out of sight just 3 minutes after release.
I left the release point and took I-5 home.  Skies were nice and blue along I-5 and to the west but to the east towards HWY 99 I could see a lot of haze and dirty air.  The air quality in the valley wasn't very good but fortunately the birds likely ended up in the foothills and low mountains for a lot of their flight home.  As I drove to the west of Tulare and Visalia I could also see some fog banks way off in the distance.
Winds were really light to dead calm most of my drive home until I started seeing a headwind around Los Banos, Stockton, and Sacramento (along I-5).  The weather maps and forecasts indicated light winds under 5 MPH for almost the entire course.  I figured the birds would be in the 1375 to 1425 YPM range.  Back at the loft conditions were beautiful with blue skies and calm winds up until about 2:30 before it started clouding up and eventually turned to mostly cloudy around 3:30 to sunset.  I made great time taking I-5 home to Sacramento and figured I'd easily beat the birds home if I didn't stop.  To my surprise when I pulled up at 12:43 the first drop was already home, I had just missed them but right after I got out of the truck the second drop came in.
Jon was back at the loft and wasn't seriously looking for birds yet when he just happened to look up just after 12:40 and saw a small drop coming in high from the south.  A five bird drop clocked in at 12:41 for a speed of 1532 YPM.  Surprising speeds that were a good 100+ yards faster than I figured they'd be.  The early drops must have found just a little bit of help up high.  This was actually the second fastest race I've flown on the south course (including 3 seasons with my own birds).  I don't consider low 1500's a blowhome though.   It's a fairly typical semi-fast race on most courses however on this south course it's about as fast as they can get.
1st Place went to 13322-JEDD from BS Lofts (Bryan Schaller).  Congratulations to Bryan.  This pigeon has been steady in the earlier drops the first two races and is within range for contending for Overall Ace Pigeon going into the final.  Second in the clock went to John & Omelio of New Mexico.  This pigeon was also on the first drop in Race 2 and was just 6 minutes out in Race 1.  Omelio also had another pigeon on the second drop.
3rd in the clock went to 2514-PNW from Portland Loft (Michael Schiele) and what a tremendous pigeon this has turned out to be.  2514 is currently leading Overall Average Speed.  It has been on the first drop in all 3 Races.  Additionally impressive it was also 1st Drop on the 131 Mile Activation, 1st Drop on the 101 Mile, and 1st Drop on both 73 Mile tosses.  That's 7 races and long tosses in a row now and first drop in all of them!  No pigeon has ever done that here before and that's rare for any OLR.  Regardless of what happens in the final race, this is a tremendous obvious leader getting out front every race.  
4th in the clock went to Callahan Loft (Richard Callahan).  Richard has done well in many races including ours such as winning 1st Place in the final race just a couple years ago.  5th in the clock (last bird on first drop) went to 304-EK from E & K Lofts of Texas (Tino Santoyo).  This pigeon is currently sitting in 2nd Average Speed and has been nearly as impressive as 2514-PNW.  This pigeon (304) has been 1st Drop in all 3 Races and was also 1st Drop on the 131 Mile Activation.  Tino's other bird also did well placing on the 3rd drop this week and was on the first drop in Race 1 and Race 2.  Tino entered only 2 pigeons total and so far in 3 Races those 2 pigeons have 5 First Drops and 1 3rd Drop.   Both are already money winners and major contenders for Overall Ace Pigeon going into the final. 
3+ Minutes after the first drop 2 more birds arrived from APC Loft and & Omelio Perez.  7 Minutes after the first drop, a big drop of 31 Birds arrived for the third drop.  They split the remaining prize money.  This thid drop contained several birds that had been leading the standings and had been on the first drop in the first two races.  Most of these birds are now filling the 3rd to 20th+ positions in the overall Ace Pigeon standings.  Two more birds arrived for the fourth drop and then another small drop.  At the 18 minute mark another big drop arrived.  White Arrow Loft (Robert Cole) had the first AOC Optional Color bird clocked in Race 3.  
Just about all of the drops were arriving from the SSE (online) or SW.  There seemed to be two obvious routes most of the birds were arriving from.  We did notice that a small number of the drops were really skittish, so I suspect one group saw or got hit by a falcon.  We even had one bird arrive alone flying real low through the trees like a rocket and then crash into the front porch area of the house.  I don't know if she was being chased by a falcon right down the road or if maybe it happened earlier and she still thought she had something on her tail.
Early returns were good with 138 birds (57%) home within the first 36 Minutes. Birds continued to return well for the first 2 hours before it started to cloud up after 2:30.  By 4 PM it was pretty much overcast at the loft.  We even had a few sprinkles around 9 PM so fortunately the clouds held off just in time to get the race in.  We ended up with 196 Birds (81%) home on the day which is a good percentage for a 250 in Late November.  Monday morning the sun was back out and second day birds arrived well all morning and into the afternoon.  At the end of day 2 returns were at 92.5%
I did notice late on Day 1 that about 10 birds that had been first drop in both Race 1 & Race 2 (and had been doing great on the 101 and 132 Mile  tosses) were still missing.  Some of those birds came back the next morning and a few not until Mid Day on the second day.  A few still still have not returned.  Appears that maybe one of the small lead groups got way off course and/or got hit.  Will be interesting to see if a few of these birds have a big rebound on the final.
Overall standings for Ace Pigeon (Average Speed) are very competitive going into the final.  19 Pigeons are within 8 Minutes of 1st Average Speed and 31 Pigeons are within 18 Minutes of 1st.  All of these birds have a realistic shot at winning 1st Ace Pigeon.  Overall Ace Pigeon pays 14 Positions, on the final race there will be a lot of action not only in the race itself but with birds moving up and down the standings.  Essentially a race within a race.  This in addition to the Nominated Point Bird standings that pays 6 Positions and there are currently about 10 Pigeons that all have a realistic shot at 1st Point Bird.  There are also a few smaller prizes for AOC Nominated Color birds on the line within the final.
Wednesday morning the birds went on a short 26 Mile toss and all of them made it home.  We didn't want to stretch it any further since several birds arrived late Monday afternoon.  Thursday (Thanksgiving) morning as I write this the birds are loft flying.  It's windy this morning 15-20 MPH at the loft and up to 30+ MPH in the foothills around here.  We will make a decision on the final race late today or early tomorrow morning but this may very well be the last loft flight of the 2020 season.
Final Race Info:
The final race will be flown this Saturday or Sunday.  As of right now we are leaning towards Saturday 11/28.  Weather looks similar both days with Saturday just slightly better.  I'm of the view that if the birds are geared up ready to go and you have a good day to race take it.........and don't run the risk of the following day's weather becoming worse.  We are going to shorten the final race slightly from 327 Miles to 320 Miles in Lancaster.  We are 3 weeks behind the original schedule and with the days becoming very short now that 7 Miles equates to about 10 Minutes which could be pivotal late in the day.  320 Miles is plenty with the birds being released on the other side of the Tehachapi's and having to climb 5000' mountain ranges in/around Tehachapi.  This will be the highest and most difficult terrain the birds have had to fly through so far.
Conditions are forecasted to be a light headwind at release, a 10-15 MPH east wind in the Tehachapi's (which should prevent them from venturing too deep into the Sierras to the east) and then very light winds the rest of the course.  Winds should be less than 5 MPH for the last 200+ Miles of the course.  Skies Saturday are forecast to be sunny and mostly sunny to partly cloudy on Sunday.  Temperature at release will be around 26 to 30 with highs at the loft reaching the low 60's this weekend.  WIth all the winds today I think air quality will be better this weekend in the valley along the course.  Should be ideal conditions for the final race.  Conditions are there I think for a 1375 to 1450 YPM type race but I'm not sure how much having to climb the Tehachapi's will affect them.  
As stated a week ago, due to surging COVID-19 cases and restrictions there will be no get together or BBQ for the final race.  Hopefully next year things will get back to normal and all of the OLR's can get back to hosting lunch gatherings for the final races.
Good luck in the upcoming final race that should see a lot of action with so many birds in contention for the overall standings.  Will update again tomorrow as to which day we will be racing the final.  - Matt

Race 3 will be released this morning around 7:45 to 8:00.  It's currently hazy sun at release point but getting better.  There is heavy fog in Tulare and Visalia though about 50-70 miles north of the release point.  I'm waiting a little longer to release to give the skies more time to improve in that area before the birds reach it.  Very cold right now at release area with temps in uppers 30s and light E wind.


Update:  Birds were released at 7:50 in cold hazy/sunny skies with a very light east wind.  They took off very quick and we lost sight of them in less than 3 minutes.  They were headed due north.  There was a section of fog 10 miles wide that extended for about 20-30 Miles North to South from Tulare to about Selma that was narrow enough for the birds to go around it to the west or east.


Release video posted below was shot by Gary Berthiume who lives in Bakersfield and came over to watch and help with the release.  He sent me the video via text/email which is why the resolution is low.  I was 2 minutes into making my own video when the camera app on my phone froze up and I lost the video.  By the time I got it going again the birds were so far out of view that I could barely see them anymore.


Gas Receipt Buttonwillow


Release Video:




Pending any last minute changes in weather and too severe of fog......... Race 3 will be flown tomorrow from either the NW or NE side of Bakersfield.  I have 2 or 3 different spots picked out in the 253 Mile range.


Fog is the only concern for tomorrow morning as it was pretty foggy just north of the release points this Saturday morning.  However the sun did break through in most spots by 8:30.  Latest National Weather Service forecast discussion and model runs indicate less fog for tomorrow so we'll hope they are right but fog is a tricky thing to predict.  For a 250 I would really like to get the birds out no later than 8:45 and preferably before 8:00


16% of the total prize pool and over 11,000 is allocated to tomorrow's race and of course being the race before the final this is where a lot of birds start to make their move (for overall ace pigeon) with the distance increased.


Good luck and will update tomorrow morning as to the time, location, etc  -   Matt




Race 2 proved to be a bit of a challenge as a result of heavy morning fog but ultimately we were able to get a race off albeit 3 hours later and 10 Miles shorter than planned.  The race itself was decent overall and I'd say a good race for the first 175 Birds or so.  Some of the later birds just ran out of daylight with the late release but it also appears a significant group of them got off course somewhere.

I left the loft at 2 AM and skies were clear with stars all the way through Sacramento.  Once I got into Elk Grove and Lodi I started to encounter some fog but nothing too bad.  However upon entering the south end of Stockton the fog was really bad.  I was down to 25-30 MPH on the freeway with almost zero visibility.  It was pretty unnerving for about 10-15 minutes and probably the second worst fog I've ever driven in.   After that just moderate fog and I again hit really dense fog in Turlock and Merced that was just slightly better than Stockton.  Surprisingly the skies then opened up with the stars out in Chowchilla, Madera, and the north side of Fresno.  I was hoping that was a good sign but by the time I got to the outskirts of south Fresno and Selma I was again driving through fog.  The fog in Selma and Visalia wasn't bad but as soon as I got to about 6 or 7 Miles from Tulare it got really heavy and wet.  Tulare itself was dense mist with little visibility and soaking wet ground.
I hung around Tulare for over an hour but it didn't show any signs of improving so I decided to head back to Visalia (just 12 air miles north) as the fog wasn't bad there on the way in.  A couple miles from Visalia I was starting to see breaks in the fog with the sun trying to peek through.  So I sat in Visalia for 20+ minutes and the fog was showing signs of burning off.  I figured with Tulare being only 12 air miles away that the same would hold true so I decided to get back on the road and give Tulare another shot.  About 6 or 7 Miles down the road I went right back into the dense mist that hadn't improved at all.  Crazy how the skies could be so different in less than 10 Miles.  I then went back to West Visalia in the same area our club flew a good old bird race from a couple years ago.  By 9 AM Visalia itself was already pretty sunny but you could see the big fog blanket just a few miles south and I could also see there was still fog NW and W of the release point.  
We were also in communication with Clay Macbeth the hauler for FVC Club in So. Cal and he released 600+ Pigeons from Fresno at 9:00 AM.  Clay reported that Fresno itself was pretty nice and that they're birds would either go over or around any fog that was left (south of me) by the time their birds got there.  As a result of the FVC birds being pretty close by and possibly swinging by Visalia on their way home, I decided to hold the Gold Country Challenge birds until 10 AM so that there was no way the two groups got together.  Conditions were good enough that I could have gone out at 9:30 but wasn't worth the risk with another large group set to go right by me around that same time.
I ended up releasing the birds at 10:02 under beautiful mostly sunny skies and a light south wind.  I could see some fog off in the distance especially to the NW but due north and especially NNE was fine.  The birds took off great and much better than they had on the prior race and the activation.  They got very high and last I saw them they were headed to NNE where the skies would have been the absolute best.  Not quite online but in order to avoid fog this would have been the way to go for them, towards the foothills and then straighten out.
The forecast was to have some 5-10 MPH headwinds on the middle portion of the course for the birds flight home.  On my drive home I saw almost nothing but calm flags but the birds also would have been east of HWY 99 where I was driving.  For the first 90 minutes of my drive home I could often see fog in the distance to the north but it seems each time I reached that area it had just burned off.  The same should have been true for the birds, most areas would have burned off before they got there.  Back at the loft conditions were beautiful with clear skies, calm winds, and cool temps.
Going into the race I figured the birds would be in the upper 1300 YPM range based on the conditions.  This meant If I didn't stop on the drive home that I might have a shot at beating them home.  Both ended up being true.  I pulled up at the loft at 14:02 and there were no birds.  2 minutes later the first drop arrived, I was fortunate to get home just in time.  Initially only about a dozen birds appeared super high like little dots way up in the sky.  They started to spiral down lowering their elevation and every time they'd take a loop to lower themselves more birds would join in from above them.  It was a cool sight and by the time they lowered to a normal level to start to land there were 50+ pigeons.
Clocking in 1st at 1378 YPM was 587-GENS for Gordon Meng of Genesis Syndicate.  Congratulations to Gordon who had 4 birds on this first drop.  This first place winner was also on the first drop last week.  Gordon is no stranger to success here as he won 1st Place in the final race last year and has had multiple equal 1sts in other races.  2nd and 4th went to Sierra Ranch (Steve Sterchi) and the 4th bird in the clock is currently leading 1st Overall Ace Pigeon after two races.  Also of note, A-Lo/Nemelka clocked the same 3 pigeons as last week up towards the top of the drop again and these three pigeons are sitting 2nd/3rd/4th Overall Ace Pigeon and 1st/2nd/3rd Nominated Point Bird.  Very impressive with 3 series contenders all on the same team coming in unison.  Congratulations to all of the breeders with birds on the first drop, there are too many to list.  
In total I believe 31 or 32 pigeons on this first drop were also on the first drop last week.  Most of these birds also did great on the 132 Mile Activation and 101 Mile toss. It's pretty apparent these are the lead group so far that's getting out in front.  Of course it remains to be seen how many of them can keep it up to the end and how many birds that haven't been able to keep up, start to rise up as the distance increases.
After the first drop a single bird arrived a few minutes later and then another two bird drop.  The 4th drop was another big drop of about 50 birds arriving 9 minutes after the first drop.  This group also came from really high.  Over the first 32 Minutes or so several birds arrived including some more nice drops but nothing real big like the earlier drops.  Most of the early birds were arriving from either the SE or the SW and seemingly a similar number of birds coming from both directions.  Later in the day we did start to see some birds coming from the E or N and I assume those are ones that got too deep into the mountains and then must have swung around.  One common theme among all the early drops is birds arriving really high.  We also noticed some birds were arriving very skittish and many looked fine.  I suspect one of the groups got hit by a falcon but not the first group (they all looked fine).
At the 32 minute mark we had 172 birds (59%) home which is pretty good for a 1300's YPM race being well above half at the half hour point.  After that the returns really slowed down as we got late into the afternoon.  We ended up with 197 birds (68%) home on the day.  This is too low and I would have liked to have been around 75-80% but it's hard to figure what is a normal percentage when you don't release until 10 AM and the days are short.    I suspect a lot of the birds went down early once they realized they may not make it on the day.  We lose the sun around 3 PM going down the other side of the hill and by 4 PM it's usually pretty dim here so the birds tend to start thinking about sleep here earlier than other areas where they can see the sun much later.  We're actually keeping the lights on till 7 PM now and I think this will help keep the birds clocking up until dark on the final two races.
Returns were actually pretty good on the second day with several birds arriving all day.  On Tuesday (Day 3) 4 more birds came in (including 1 in the rain).  In total 244 Pigeons (84%) of 291 Shipped made it back from Race 2.  Not a bad race by any means but would have liked to have had another 8-10% make it home and be in the low 90% range for returns.  I think like last week some of the birds drifted too far up into the mountains and got into some trouble.  With my own birds I generally experienced better returns in the shorter south course races (than these first two races).  I suspect this group of birds overall isn't dealing with the mountains well.  With a much larger flock size than our club birds they tend to break off into more groups and more groups equals more opportunities for groups to go the wrong route.  We're also dealing with unplanned variables as a result of all the smoke and having to start the races later.  Flying this deep into November is not ideal.
Tuesday we loft flew all of the Day 1 returns but left the clock in race mode.  Tuesday night and all day Wednesday we had a lot of rain so all the birds were left in the loft.  Thursday morning we loft flew all the birds and they flew well, especially a group of about 140 that flew for well over 2 hours.  Friday they will go on a 32 Mile toss to Ione.  The plan is to fly Race 3 on Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday.  I'd like to go Sunday but as of now Sunday looks the most likely for fog.  The plan is to go 250 to 254 Miles so a release any later than 8:00 AM would not be ideal.   Unfortunately with multiple storms producing moisture the last couple weeks and being well into November........fog is going to be an issue in the valley on the race course.
Fog is very difficult to forecast as well and most of the weather websites such as Weather.Com, Wunderground, and don't even acknowledge it until it's too late and already happening.  I did find a forecast model (NAM) that is an optional alternate model within that is known for being accurate in predicting fog.  This model did accurately predict last race's fog while all the other models and websites falsely forecasted (the night before) sunny conditions at 7 AM.  So I'll be using this NAM weather model to better predict when to fly Race 3 but it only forecasts out about 2.5 days in advance.
Last piece of news is very important and also unfortunate.  Due to surging COVID-19 cases and further restrictions we will NOT be hosting a BBQ and guests for the final race.  I'm sure some of the breeders will be disappointed but the timing just isn't appropriate to have 20-40 people over.  A month ago would have been a different story but as most of you have noticed things have got quite a bit worse in the last couple weeks.  It's possible we may have a couple local breeders come over from within a county away just to act as witnesses for the race but that's it.  The good news is the race itself will happen and ultimately that's what this is all about the pigeons in competition.
Will update again the day before we fly Race 3.  16% of the overall payout is allocated to Race 3 so there will be some decent prizes in Race 3 especially if the first drop is smaller.  Good luck to everyone in the next race.  - Matt

Release video from today's (Sunday) 190 Mile race is at the bottom of this post.  I drove through a lot of heavy fog in the wee hours of the morning and arrived in Tulare (202 Mile) to some of the heaviest fog of all with mist all over the windshield.  I hung around Tulare for a while and it showed zero sign of improving so I headed north about 12 air miles to Visalia.  Once I got into Visalia the fog was lighter and started to see sun trying to come through after 8 AM.  Once the Sun was starting to peak through I thought I'd try going back to Tulare.  6 or 7 Miles down the road going back to Tulare at 8:45 it was completely socked in again.  Amazing what a difference less than 10 Miles made in the amount of fog. 


So I went back to Visalia and by 9:15 the sun was out and directly above me it was beautiful.  There was still a lot of fog on parts of the course though (including due North), so I decided to wait for skies to further clear up.  FVC had also released from Fresno at 9:00 AM and waiting until 10:00 ensured the two flocks of birds would't get together.  By the time the birds went out at 10:02 the skies were beautiful in Visalia and were improving on most of the course.  It's possible the birds still encountered a little fog along the way but not much.  The beginning of the race went very wel with a big drop arriving just about when we thought they would but returns were not very good late in the day.  67% are home now.  Some of the birds were really skittish on return others looked normal  Hopefully the lack of daylight and shorter window to clock birds was the reason and we'll see good returns in the morning.  When you don't go out until 10:00 AM it's hard to say what good returns would have been but I would have liked to have seen 75% on day.  In any event sure beats not having a race at all and many birds that did great last week repeated their performances today.  


Full Race Recap will be posted in a two or three days.


Race 2 Release Video:


Race 2 is scheduled to be flown tomorrow morning (Sunday 11/15) from either Tulare or Woodville (201 to 210 Miles).  Fog is a strong possibility Sunday morning at the release point and early part of the course.  Good chance I may have to hold the birds a couple of hours for it to burn off.  FVC and the Southern California clubs are also releasing in Fresno about 42 to 52 Miles away from our release point.  This is why I probably will go to Woodville instead of Tulare to get the birds further apart and on wider paths apart west to east.  At this point the fog is of bigger concern though.

Aside from fog, skies are predicted to be mostly sunny along the entire course until the very end it may cloud up a little at the loft and to the north.  Winds are predicted to be light around release and same thing around the loft with a 5-10 MPH headwind along the middle part of the course.  I'd think an upper 1300's YPM type of race based on the projected conditions.
First drop splits $1400 for Race 2 but if there are more than 14 birds on the drop then the first 14 birds in the clock win $100 Each.  There will of course be much larger prizes in Race 3 and especially Race 4 and the Overall Ace Pigeons.
The 2020 Prize Payout is complete with all 318 Birds who competed in Race 1 being paid.  Click Here to see the 2020 Prize Payout with a full accounting breakdown of all the prizes and how the money is distributed.  One shpuld probably question why several OLR's are not providing full accounting breakdowns of all the entry fees being taken in and paid out.  I'd also question why some of the races have many birds flying Race 1 that end up not being paid for.
As mentioned in the Race 1 Recap, the largest prize in our Race is for Overall Ace Pigeon (Average Speed) and there will be 14 prizes paid out to the Overall Ace Pigeons, so once again what your bird does in Race 2 does matter quite a bit at the end.  Race 4 does have a good payout though just not stacked so top heavy.
Good luck in Race 2 tomorrow and hopefully I can get the birds out early and not be stuck waiting in the fog.  Will update again in the morning.  - Matt

Race 1 (169 Miles) was flown Monday 11/9.  Overall it turned out to be a good race, with some massive drops and birds just piling in for the first 15 minutes.  However the end of the race was kind of a letdown with returns just grinding to a halt for the last 30 birds or so.

I released the birds from Selma in the Cattlemen's parking lot at 7:10 AM under mostly clear, calm, and cold skies.  There was frost on the ground in Selma and most of the course with temperatures falling into the upper 20's to low 30's overnight (unusually cold for early November in the valley).  I much prefer racing in the cold than the heat though and it made for a great day for a race.  Other than a very slight haze (from the cold and moisture) in the air, the skies were clear and smoke free for the first time in several weeks and you could actually see the mountains to both the east and west.  
I figured since the birds could finally see the horizon that they'd leave the release area quicker than they had been lately.  That wasn't the case and they still fell into the same pattern of lingering around the release area for a while.  Right as I was letting the birds out a group of about 20 feral pigeons came flying over from Home Depot next door.  Perhaps they affected the birds leaving the area but it's hard to say.  The flock spent the first few minutes heading NE in sort of the right direction but then for several minutes just flew around to the east going back and forth (not circling but not leaving either).  I stopped filming as I was losing sight of them about 10 minutes after release.  A couple minutes later as I was getting in the truck to leave, they came back over out to the north of me.  This time they actually seemed to be focused, leaving quickly heading due north.  It did seem the flock was slightly smaller when I saw them this time around and I'm thinking they either got rid of the 20 ferals and/or maybe 20-30 of the GCC birds had continued to head east up into the mountains.
Winds were calm to very light for about the first 100 miles or so of the course.  There was a slight SE wind along the last 50-60 Miles or so of the course and at the loft we did end up with a 5-10 MPH SE breeze most of the morning.  Going into the Race I figured conditions were there for a mid to upper 1400's type of race.  That's exactly what we got but I was a little surprised when Jon called at 10:31 that the birds had just got there since they had wasted some time at release.  Had they left the release area in a more typical 3-4 minutes, I think we would have been in the low 1500's.
As mentioned the first drop arrived at 10:31 and they came right online out of the south.  It was a huge drop of 70 birds but it turned out it wasn't even the biggest drop of the race.  They took a few circles, Jon threw a dropper and they all came right now.  However with the cold morning and so many birds on the drop they were pretty amped up and looked fresh.  Cocks were cooing and chasing hens right after they landed.  Most trapped in under a minute but it took 2 minutes total to get them all in.  First in the clock at a speed of 1471 YPM was 1125-FSC for Kereru Whare (Tom Bishop).  Congratulations to Tom who had a tremendous race placing 5 of his 9 birds on this first drop.  Several breeders were represented on this drop and multiple breeders had multiple pigeons on this drop.  Of note A-Lo/Nemelka had 3 birds in the Top-9 placing 3-6-9
Many of the birds on this drop had been doing really well on all of the long tosses including the 101 and 131 Mile, so I'd imagine many of the top contending birds for the series will come from this drop.  A single bird arrived for the second drop and then a couple minutes later another massive drop of about 85 Birds arrived at 10:37.  Most year's for us (and for other races) a more typical large drop size is in the 20-50 bird so this was pretty exciting to get two huge drops like this about 6 minutes apart.  So Jon was even more surprised when the 4th drop arrived at 10:41 being the biggest yet with nearly 90 birds.  It was quite the show at the loft and very rare for any race (of our size) to be getting multiple massive drops of birds like this.  All of the birds on these drops looked super on arrival and not at all worn out with several cocks cooing.
15 minutes after the first arrivals we were already at 77% Returns.  Over the next 15 minutes several more birds continued to arrive (albeit mostly singles and small groups).  At the 31 Minute mark (after first arrivals) we were at 84% returns.  It appeared we were well on our way to an easy race with something like 97-98% returns but then things got weird and returns really just slowed down and spreadout.  Birds continued to arrive throughout the day but slowed down late.  We were down 32 birds overnight and we figured we'd get around 12-15 back the next day.  The next morning ended up being really strange in that conditions were beautiful and for 4 hours there were no second day returns.  We've never had that happen before.  Finally about 11 AM a second day bird showed up and during the afternoon 3 more showed up.  All 4 looked and felt good which even makes it stranger.  One more came back Wednesday morning and that's it.  Overall 291 of 318 birds (91.5%) made it home from Race 1 which is a solid percentage but a bit of a letdown since the race started so well.  My only couple guesses for most of the 27 missing birds is that they ventured way too far east up into the mountains and got into some nasty terrain/canyons that also had fresh snow in it (first time they would have seen snow).  Or perhaps something in Fresno (such as the large airport) on their way home bothered them.  I've flown the south course with my own birds for 3+ seasons total and the only real terrible race we ever had actually came from the 'A' Release at Fresno ('B' Race did fine).  On that 'A' release only about half of the birds we shipped ever made it home and the winning speed was only 900 ypm.  I'd say the more likely scenario is at the start a small group of birds just continued to head east and got way up into the mountains.  In any event what more can you say about those birds when over 80% of the birds got it right and had a pretty easy race.
Going into Race 2, over 80% of the birds are still in contention for Average Speed (Overall  Ace Pigeon).  Remember our largest prize is for 1st Overall Ace Pigeon of the entire series and we also award a significant number of prizes and percentage of prize money to the overall ace pigeons.  What the birds did in this first race and all of the races matters when the results are stacked up at the end.  We are not one of these races that claims to be a "multiple race series" and takes the entry fees early only to treat average speed like an afterthought and only pay 2 or 3 positions.  Granted we still have a pretty good and fair payout for Race 4 (and Race 3) but the real goal is to find those pigeons that are good in all or most of the races.  Still waiting on a few checks to clear but I should have a payout figured by Saturday and posted by the end of the weekend.
Thursday morning I took the birds on a 32 Mile toss to Ione and they did well with just about all of them arriving in the first 5 minutes (some stayed out a while) and all of the birds made it home.  Friday afternoon a storm and a little more rain is arriving and that may linger into early Saturday morning.  As it stands right now we are planning on flying Race 2 (200 Miles) on Sunday or Monday.  Depending on which forecast you check and when the days keep flip-flopping as to which will be sunny and which will be mostly cloudy, so will probably have to wait until Saturday morning to make a decision.  I am preparing the birds as if they were going to Race Sunday and then will adjust if needed to wait a day.  Fortunately the forecast for both days (and Tuesday) improved dramatically as just a few days ago they were showing rain for all 3 days.
Congratulations to all of the winners from Race 1 (there were many) and good luck to everybody in the upcoming Race 2.  - Matt

Race 1 from Selma, CA (169 Miles) will be released this morning at 7:10

Release video will be posted later this morning after it uploads to Youtube and I have a chance to edit this page.  

Conditions at release and along the entire course are mostly clear skies and cold (frost on ground at release point). High temperature will only reach about 49-50 today at the loft. Winds are expected to be light and variable across most of the course.

 Release Video:





Barring any last minute changes in the weather, tomorrow 11/9 we will fly Race 1 of the 2020 Gold Country Challenge Series.  Right now the forecast is for cold mostly sunny skies with very light winds.  The only concern will be fog tomorrow morning around the release point.  Hopefully it doesn't develop or burns off quickly.  Most of the forecasts are not showing fog but it's difficult to predict.

We've had some pretty active weather the last 16 hours or so with some heavy hail last night and on/off again rain and hail today.  It's supposed to clear out here late today and along the course it's forecasted to be clear in Selma/Fresno by midnight.  Smoke will not be an issue (at least for a few days) as the last two storms blew all of the smoke out and dropped some snow on the Creek Fire.  Air quality is currently great along the entire course.  We'll see mid week if the fire flares up a little.  Fortunately another storm is coming later in the week which should finally put the fire out for good.
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were difficult days at the loft with falcons/hawks being a real problem and causing us to lose 4 birds in advance of Race 1.  Thursday we trained 38 Miles from Lake Pardee and the birds arrived super skittish and broken up showing signs of an obvious falcon attack.  We ended up losing 2 birds from that toss including a pure white bird that had been doing really well, so we can imagine the white fell victim to a falcon somewhere along the way home.  Friday we loft flew late morning (after early morning rain) and we had 2 peregrine falcons going after the birds for over and hour making things really chaotic.  After a few birds came out of hiding we are still down 2 so it appears they killed 2 birds.  I don't think these are local falcons but ones migrating from the north and a flock of 300+ pigeons is something they are going to take notice of if they happen to be in range.  Saturday we had a new female cooper keeping the birds up for a while but fortunately she didn't get anything.  At this point the birds will actually be safer on the race course since they start in the valley and will break into smaller groups by the time they get into the foothills/mountains.
There will be 318 pigeons competing in Race 1.  All of the entry fees have been paid (we did have to sell 5 unpaid birds to new owners).  After all of the most recent checks clear, I will post the official payout next Friday or Saturday.  Refunds will start being issued middle of this week for birds that were paid but did not make it to Race 1.  
A little frustrating to be at 318 being in that we were at 322 just a few days ago before the falcons.  We did end up with more birds and especially a higher percentage of birds going to Race 1 this year.  This is with flying both a 101 Mile and a 131 Mile Activation toss.  Training return percentages were better on this new south course as opposed to the old east course.  
Looks like about 117 birds in the Optional Champion Point Bird Category which will result in a good payout and 6 total prizes.  I did make some small revisions to the point system today (updated on website) based on number of birds going to the races this year and to better enhance the system.  I believe there are only 21 Birds entered in the optional Color Bird category.  Unfortunately there just wasn't a lot of interest in this category despite 65+ birds that were eligible.
Will update Monday morning with release time and hopefully we were able to get the birds out early (with no fog).  Good luck to everyone in this 2020 Series and thank you for supporting the Gold Country Challenge.  - Matt
Reminder:  Entry Fees Are Due by this Saturday November 7th.  If not yet sent, please expedite on Wednesday.

Monday we flew the 131 Mile Activation Toss from North Madera.  Release video is at the bottom of this post.  It went ok although a little tougher than we would have wanted.  Continued smoke haze around the release point and some significant smoke in the path of the birds for the first 50-60 miles made the flight more difficult than it otherwise would have been.  The smoke conditions were just barely good enough to release in with AQI in the 120-130 range.  We're already a few weeks behind though with all of the smoke delays this fall and it's time to get the races going.  We'd like to avoid racing well into December before the weather really turns.  The good news is that the smoke should finally be dissipating by the end of this weekend with two storms expecting to put some moisture on the fire and blow the smoke out.

I released Monday at 7:10 in partly cloudy skies with calm wind.  Skies straight above me were pretty blue (as you will see in the video) but when you pan out to the horizon it was smokey in all directions.  The smoke layer in the distance has actually blocked out the mountains to both the east and the west.  The birds struggled at release for the third toss in a row not leaving for 6-7 minutes and having a hard time getting their bearings.  It finally dawned on me why this has become a pattern the last couple weeks.  I believe it's because the low smoke layer on the horizon is blocking out all their reference points.  The birds can't see any of the mountains in the distance.....just this ring-like layer of smoke in all directions.
The birds started out so bad the first two minutes heading south to where I actually stopped filming and waited for them to get it together.  They then came back over the top of me so I started filming again. They circled again for a while and then slowly started to move out to the NW and finally the north which is the correct direction.  In total it took 7 minutes after release to finally lose sight of them.    When I got back on the freeway and headed north, the first 45 minutes or so of my drive the smoke was fairly thick (something that's difficult to tell when you're driving through it in the dark).  The birds had to fly through poor air quality for the first 50-60 Miles then light smoke for another 30-40 Miles and finally nice blue skies for the last 30-40 Miles.
Conditions at the loft were very nice but it was a warm morning with temperatures reaching the mid 70's on arrival of the first birds under a very bright sun and zero wind.  Winds were remarkably calm almost the entire course with almost every flag I saw not moving at all.  That's been part of the problem the past week we've had so little wind that the smoke just doesn't go anywhere.  The Creek Fire is still burning in the mountains due east of Madera and with the current high pressure weather pattern you get a light downslope east wind at night that blows all the smoke down the hill into the valley and low foothills (and then just not enough wind to blow it out.)
First drop of 20+ birds made good time and arrived out of the south right at 10:00.  Congratulations to Alex Bieche who had both 1st & 2nd on this drop.  Right away Jon noticed something unusual in that all the birds on this drop were cramping up breathing heavy with wings hanging.  This would be the trend of pretty much all the drops over the first hour with wings hanging and the birds very thirsty.  It seems breathing in the smoke dries them out quickly. These are the same birds that had been loft flying 2+ to even 3+ hours a few days before (but in blue skies) and landing full of energy cooing.  Fortunately they bounced back quick and the birds looked good again in the loft a couple of hours later.  
Unlike the 101 Mile toss where 300+ Birds poured in 10 Minutes, on this 131 Mile toss the drops were smaller and more spread out.  The early returns were still good though with 80% home within 1 hour.  After that it got pretty warm and I think many of the remaining birds went down for water as a result of the warmth and the early smoke.  We ended up with 312 of 337 back on the day and 10 more came back today (Tuesday).  I expect we will get 1 or 2 more back Wednesday morning while the main group loft flys again.  Remember any bird with entry fee paid and not making the actual first race.......the entry fees will be refunded for that bird.
Birds will go on a short toss Lake Pardee (38 Miles) on Thursday.  Friday through Sunday looks like an active weather pattern with rain likely here at the loft on both Friday and Sunday morning.  This will be the first rain we've had in several months.  Will try to still loft fly on Friday and then loft fly or a short toss on Saturday.  As of right now I think Race 1 will probably be flown Monday or maybe Tuesday depending on how well Sunday's storm clears out.  As mentioned at the beginning of this update, it looks like the Creek Fire (burning due East of Madera and Fresno) will finally get some weather relief this weekend.  I expect most of the smoke will be gone by early next week and we'll be flying Race 1 in clean air.
Entry Fees are due by this Saturday November 7th.  If you have not sent them yet you need to expedite them with USPS on Wednesday or pay with Zelle.  Email me for info on how to pay with Zelle.  70% of the entry fees are already in with probably another 10% arriving tomorrow.  Thank You to all the breeders who sent their fees on time or even early.  With that said there are still a handful of breeders who make this process difficult every year.  It's not's real simple actually. Pay your fees on time or lose possession of your birds.  Unpaid birds by the end of Saturday Nov. 7th will be offered up to new buyers to pay the entry fees and take over ownership.  There are a couple buyers already lined up who are interested in any unpaid birds.  Everyone has had plenty of notice to get their fees here on time.  When I post the entry fees within WinCompanion it does generate email receipts but please note the optional $50 Categories for Nominated Point Bird and/or Colored bird are not listed as fees within receipts.  I received those fees if the birds have Green or Pink dots next to them in the columns on the right.  If you want to add or change birds in those categories email me in the next few days.
Good luck in in the upcoming race series.  I will be updating this page again in the coming days.
Release Video from Toss 28 (131 Mile Activation):
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