Animal Encounters

Wensleydale has had a rough time this winter. His arthritis is acting up. He had some teeth pulled. And once the snow came he started peeing in a corner of the kitchen rather than asking to go out in the cold.

He’ll be 16 years old in March, which for Yorkshire terriers (the internet tells me), is the equivalent of 80 human years. The site only went up to 17 which made my heart stutter. I had to google “oldest Yorkie” to get some sense of what I could hope for. I found this article about a 26 year old Yorkie who died in a dog attack, which was helpful but distressing at the same time. 26 years is a lot, even for a natural death. I decided to focus on that fact and not the grizzly details of his demise.

We spent the holidays in California with Matt’s family. It worked out that a friend needed a house and pet sitter for our exact days, and they agreed to give us the keys in exchange for keeping their three-legged chihuahua with broken ribs and nerve damage alive. They also have a parakeet-like bird (technically, he is a green cheeked conure) and a half-dozen chickens.

We drove from Utah to California (a 12 hour drive) with Wensley in tow. He’s usually a pretty good traveler, but this time he struggled. Here he is resting comfortably early on in the trip.

Later in the day, he seemed like he couldn’t stay still for mor that a minute or two. He was on my lap as we traversed Donner’s Pass (location of the infamous Donner Party disaster) when Wensley emptied the contents of his bladder directly into my crotch. He peed on me several more times before we reached our destination outside Sacramento. Once I got him inside and he peed on the light tiled floor (and not on my dark jeans) I saw that he was peeing blood. I got him back in the car and rushed him to a 24 hour pet hospital, making an already long day insanely longer.

Wensley had a mild urinary tract infection and the veterinarian gave us antibiotics, but it was well after midnight when we finally went to bed. I changed clothes and went to sleep, leaving the pee soaked laundry in a pile for later.

I stayed behind the next morning when Matt and Ethan joined up with the fam for holiday bonding. I started the washer, gave Wensley a bath, and tried to get the chihuahua to eat something without success. I put the clothes in the drier and turned my attention to the bird, who was shrieking for attention.

I was told I could let him out of his cage and, while he couldn’t fly, he could climb to the top of the cage and see what the people were up to. I decided to try that and it did quiet him. Then I thought I might befriend him with food, even if it didn’t work on the chihuahua who seemed to hate me with an unnatural fire. I cut up a pear and offered a small bite to the little green bird, but instead of taking it, he hopped on my hand, ran up my arm and disappeared in my freshly washed hair. I reached up to move him back to his perch, but every time my fingers got close to him he bit me. Hard.

I took a selfie and sent it to Matt, explaining what happened. “I can’t get him off so I guess he lives here now.”

Not sure what else to do, I sat on the couch and waited for the drier to buzz. I pulled up a podcast and tried to forget that I had allowed my body to become a bird house and tree combo. Once I settled on the couch, however, the bird decided to explore my branches.

He ran back and forth across my clavicle a few times. Then he stepped down onto my right breast and, after a cautious few steps, began to bounce on it, like it was a double mattress at a Motel 6. I reached up to make him stop and he bit me and ran back into my hair.

“Asshole,” I said. “I just got #metooed by a goddamn parrot. Worst. Christmas. Ever!”

The clothes finished and Matt came back to rescue me. Together we got the mean little bird back in his cage and I was free. The rest of the pet sitting part of the trip was uneventful. I gave the animals their space and they gave me mine. Wensley didn’t befriend anyone, either. But he has completely recovered from his UTI.

That’s really the end of the story, but just for fun here are some photos I took from a separate animal encounter, back in Utah, shortly after New Year’s. It was Owl Day at the Bear River Bird Refuge and I got to meet these two cuties.

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Then we took a drive around the refuge and I took pictures of hawks. These two turned out the best.

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I have always loved raptors and have a fantasy of getting into falconry some day, maybe when I’m retired. I’m sure having a bird of prey would be completely different than having a flightless conure or parakeet, but this one experience has left me less excited about my fantasy. After all, if a red tail hawk decided to trampoline my tits, I might bleed to death!

Might be best to invest in a longer lens and stick with photography. That way I can stay in my car, where it is safe.

Dark Wings, Dark Words

Things that have been getting me down, in order of least importance to most importance:

1.) It has been raining a lot.  Like, A LOT.

2.) Game of Thrones is over.

3.) I haven’t seen Owlbertson in weeks and I’m starting to accept that something has happened to him.

Yes, I know. We need the rain. Shows come to an end. And it is never a good idea to name a wild animal. One must accept these physical laws or face certain heartbreak. But… still.

I have one of those constitutions that is susceptible to influence of dark weather. The winter ended some time ago and tomorrow is the first day of June, which I consider “real summer,” not just the technical summer that starts after the equinox. And yet, you wouldn’t know it.  Here is a photo I took of a parking lot a few days ago:

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I’m not kidding.  Those ducks are floating in parking spaces. It’s been intense. And I live in a desert, so… not what I signed up for. But I heard a report on NPR yesterday that our reservoirs are full for the first time in years and that’s good for both urban and wild ecosystems, and so I’m dealing.

As for the Game of Thrones thing,  I won’t give spoilers or bore you with my assessment. There is nothing original left to say. And it wouldn’t matter anyway.  Let’s say that I loved the last season and the finale, and it gave me everything I was hoping for. It’s still a bummer.  Remember the last time you turned a page on the last Harry Potter novel and you knew that was it? There was no more? It’s like that. There are no new twists or reveals coming from that world; it’s done. And I’m mourning it like the loss of a long followed but never known personally celebrity. You didn’t care about me, but I cared about you, and I’m sad that you are gone.

The owl is a completely different matter.  The owl is someone that I knew personally, if not intimately. In fact, I’m pretty sure he or she didn’t like me very much. But once I spotted that owl the first time about a year ago, I became obsessed.  It was the highlight of my walks and I looked for it every time I went passed that tree. It was so exotic and amazing to be able to see an owl in the light of day! And it was something that I looked forward to during the sometimes very lonely hours of working from home.

It is fortunate, therefore, that – after many years – I was sent in to my company’s headquarters in New Jersey for a few days this month. I had a chance to interact with my real co-workers face to face and I underestimated just how much I miss that, working from home. I was delighted to see that, coincidentally, my coworkers have their own wild companions attached to their wing of the corporate office.  They call it the raven’s nest.

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This is the story that I heard while I was visiting.

Our company’s CEO, who doesn’t have a name (weird, right?), but let’s call him Maximilian Von Richypants for the story, also has an office in this building. One day, he came to work after months of jet-setting and big-deal-making, and discovered that two besotted ravens had begun to build their honeymoon home outside the window of his office.  The nest is one thing… the poop which accompany’s it is quite another. There is also a considerable amount of noise. Maximilian snapped his fingers and a butler in a tuxedo appeared (I don’t actually know what happens at my company). The butler was instructed to “deal vis zees birts!” (My CEO is actually not a German commandant.) The butler clapped his hands twice, causing a flurry of activity, and then used the pristine white cloth draped over his arm to blot the sweat of Maximilian’s brow, telling him that everything would be alright, “sir.”

Some version of this happened. Then, the following Monday, my lowly co-workers came to work to discover that the birds, reacting to the destruction of their nest, had decided to rebuild on the other side of the building.  They rebuilt quickly and soon there were eggs.  I had heard about the ravens and the “baby watch” on a few of our conference calls. There was quite a celebratory mood on the line when the two hatch-lings made their first appearance. Any yet, seeing it for myself was special.

By the time I arrived the “babies” were four weeks old and indistinguishable from the parents, each of which was larger than my Yorkshire terrier. Ravens are quite intelligent and one of my coworkers demonstrated this by tapping on the glass, spurring the “baby” (seen above) to tap back in imitation.

In fairness to my CEO, the poop streaks are no small distraction. And there is more than just poop. You can make out parts of rats and mice, for instance. There is nothing sterile about it. And in pharmaceuticals, sterile is the name of the game. Imagine having the owner of a startup company over to your office to discuss a buyout and having that mess behind you while you try to convince her that her brain child and labor of decades of love will be in good hands here.  There’s comedy value there, but it’s not very practical in this world.

Except imagine the delightful Forbes article about the CEO who actually loves science and biology, to the extent of keeping a rookery outside his office! I would read the shit out of that.

I went for a walk in the park yesterday and enjoyed a few minutes with the new Canada goslings. They are ridiculously cute.

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I hope that Owlbertson migrated or found a better tree without a mega-fan watching his every move. But it is good to be reminded that life goes on. The rain gives life and there is also death, and it is all they way that it is supposed to be.  I’ll find new wonders in my environment and remember the importance of keeping those human connections alive, also.

Now, let us all join hands and sing “The Circle of Life” together.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

I just got a new computer for work. It is the first update I have had in many years, so I’m working my way through my files to make sure I remove any personal stuff before I surrender it to the Smithsonian. Mostly I’m just deleting notes for blog posts that I never finished (and don’t intend to). Then I found this great video that I almost forgot about.

Matt and I went hiking last fall.  He suggested a trail that I hadn’t done in a small mountain range that is just over the Nevada border.  He told me that Hawkwatch International, an organization dedicated to preserving birds (raptors in particular), had a camp set up at the top of the ridge.  They have a number of biologists and students that stay up there through the migration season to count the birds that they see and to band the ones that they can catch in their traps (designed to be as harmless to the birds as possible).

What he didn’t tell me was that there was a chance that I would get to release a bird back into the wild after it was banded. He had been before and he saw that they let visitors to the camp come and help count birds (which I tried to do, but I’m not very good at identifying a bird from more than 100 yards away, so I wasn’t very useful) and he got to release a raptor on his first visit. He probably didn’t want to tell me so that I wouldn’t get my hopes up. Which would have happened. And they only caught one bird while we were in camp, so it almost didn’t happen.  But it did! And the surprise of it just made it that more exciting.

That might not sound romantic to most folk, but to me, being led up a mountain only to learn that I would be holding and releasing a bird of prey back into the wild? It just doesn’t get any more swoon-worthy than that.

This little guy is a sharp-shinned hawk. Isn’t he gorgeous? He doesn’t seem too excited about his new jewelry, unfortunately.  In these photos the biologist is showing me how to hold him without hurting him.  Then in the video I get to send him back on his migratory path.

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Flickers are F^ckers

Matt and Ethan were out of town last week. As I’ve mentioned, I work from home, so when I’m alone I’m truly on my own. I made do by carrying my camera with me on my walks and spending a little extra attention on my wild neighbors. I got a cute shot of one of the Northern (Red-shafted) Flickers in my area. I hear them a lot but it hasn’t been easy to spot them. Last week, I figured out why. They have built a nest inside one of the sycamore trees. I was walking past and I could hear pounding coming from inside the tree trunk. Here is the male peeking out of the sunroof to call to his mate.

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And here is his girlfriend looking down into the hole to tell him he’s doing it wrong (I assume). I kept hoping she would look back so I could get her face in the photo but no such luck for me.

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The next day, I was in my house, sitting on my couch, which is next to the fireplace. I was working on an essay for my writing class and deep in concentration. Suddenly, I was startled by a booming “BAM! BAM! BAM!” sound that came from the fireplace. I jumped to my feet with a theory and grabbed my camera before ducking out the front door to get a view of the roof without making any sudden movements.

There he was, the little dick. Sitting on the metal capped roof of my chimney.

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I felt like he was saying, “how do you like it when people stalk you at your home, huh? BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM! How you like me NOW?”

Ug. Flickers. I was loving on them for a minute there, but now I’m just grateful I live in a brick house instead of a wood paneled one. It doesn’t hurt the chimney when he drills on it, after all.  And I have other rooms I can write in while he tries to punish me while giving himself a migraine.