Friday, June 25, 2010

Who's Hammering Out There?

I heard a hammering sound out in the back yard, and realized it HAD to be a Pileated Woodpecker just by how loud it was. So I grabbed my camera before I even went to look for the source. It was hammering away at a big hole in the huge, old Sugar Maple in the back. It's the biggest tree ever and must be at least 100 years old. Two people would have a hard time getting their arms around it and holding hands.

It was really frustrating as although the Woodpecker was fine with me there once I got into position, I could NOT get a decent picture to save my life. I don't know why that happens. I know I just have a point and shoot camera but sometimes the most unlikely shots turn out great, but when the opportunities are all there, it doesn't work out. Anyway, of the many, many shots I took, only two turned out. Finally in frustration I just turned on the movie portion of the camera and took a little clip, I knew I wasn't getting the pictures I was trying for. I'm glad at least I got something useable. Watching these guys is a rare treat, so I enjoyed seeing him anyways.

Here he is on the Sugar Maple, working away at it.

There is a little red squirrel with a nest in this tree, all of a sudden she came flying out of her nest and raced down the tree towards him yelling her head off. She took us both totally by surprise. He screeched in fright, jumped off the tree trunk and landed on a limb. The funny part was how his red hair goes all "mohawk" when he is surprised:

Hair standing on end.

A short clip of him pulling a pretty gigantic white grub out of the tree. Ummm...worth it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

CSSA Regional Specialty - Ontario East & Quebec Region

Yesterday, our beautiful 11 1/2 year old Tiffany won her 11th Specialty Best in Kingston, Ontario. Tiffany isn't a fan of hot weather so we were lucky with really nice weather for her, overcast, cool with a light breeze. She responded by bringing her "A" game, she showed and moved out beautifully!! I was so proud of her and happy as always to be along for the ride.

BIS/11 x BISS Am./Can. Ch. Laureate Fifth Avenue winning BISS under breeder-judge Nancy Tibben. The show was the Canadian Shetland Sheepdog Association Regional Specialty show. (Ontario East/Quebec Region). Lovely venue! I wanted to try a non-traditional angle for the show photo, and I really like how it turned out.

Terry came along to enjoy the day, and took a couple of ringside candids of our girl.

Showing off for the judge after a perfect down and back!

Thank you, Miss Wiffany-Woo. I couldn't ask for anything more.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Having A Cow

New birds showed up this year, turns out they are Brown-headed Cowbirds. Yet another species named solely for the male. When I looked these guys up, I found out they're the deadbeats of the bird world, they are "parasitic brooders". They don't build nests ever, they don't sit on eggs, they don't raise their own young whatsoever. They lay an egg in the nests of most any other bird, often destroying some or even all of the host's eggs or even the hatched babies already there. That's it, they leave all the effort and responsibility to another. Don't we all know of people like this? A good gig if you can get it, I guess!

A brown-headed cowbird couple. "She" is the grey one.

Their freeloader methods are quite effective. One cowbird female can and will lay an egg a day for 40 days and parasitize 40 nests doing so. Cowbird eggs hatch faster than other species' eggs, so that gives a head start to the cowbird baby. Not to mention the host parents are often smaller, and sometimes really a lot smaller, than the "foster" kids. So if you see a tiny bird frantically feeding a Baby Huey-esque fledgling, chances are, it's a cowbird baby. Chances are also that it was the only survivor of the clutch. This reproductive method works so well for them, they've severely damaged songbird populations in some areas. Nice!

Brown-headed Cowbird female.

Brown-headed Cowbird male.

As opposed to my favourite larger bird, the Cardinal, who are not only nice to look at, but affectionate with each other and great parents.

I know Cardinals are pretty common in many places, but we have just the one pair here and I cherish them. They come by every day, no matter what the season. They are always, always together.

Cardinals are one of the few birds that mate-feed. During the breeding season the male will feed the female, even though the food is RIGHT there in front of both of them. It's sweet.

My Cardinal pair mate-feeding in the Spring.

Last year this pair had just the one male fledgling. There is nothing cuter than a Cardinal fledgling, they're just like a little comic book character. Here he is getting quite grown up:

I have been anxiously awaiting this year's "crop" of Cardinals. When I noticed the male Cardinal heading to a baby who was doing the typical frantic fluttering of wings "feed me, feed me" I was excited to see what he was bringing out!

Ack! I was so disappointed to see him feeding this COWBIRD baby!! They got to my Cardinals' nest!!!!

I took several pictures to make sure I was right, but unfortunately, I was, here is the Cowbird baby waiting for him to bring her something from the feeder. (Grey on grey, sorry). At least this baby isn't too big for them.

How disappointing! How unfair that he does all this work for another bird who does nothing, and in fact probably destroyed some of the Cardinal eggs in the process.

However, I was so much happier when I spotted Mom feeding a second fledgling... a little Cardinal girl!!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Rest of the Neighbourhood

I really enjoy feeding the birds. It's still new to me, less than a year in. I enjoy watching them through the different seasons, with their babies, and seeing new and different birds showing up.

But of course, putting out food attracts more than just birds. There's the chipmunks, who can do no wrong in my eyes, and the squirrels. Okay, squirrels are annoying, but you don't have much choice but to put up with them. Especially at this time of year, many of the squirrels are obviously nursing like this one. They seem to just eat what they need. Everyone is just trying to get by.

We have two feeders in the back, one's a hummingbird feeder, and this one that the squirrel is sitting on.

Sizzle playing one of her favourite games, get the squirrel to run back up the chain. I think she inherited her grandmother Netta's hunting instinct.

When a squirrel gets caught out on the ground and can be treed, everyone joins in. Mother and daughter blue girls, Sizzle and Sugar (Sizzle in foreground), Mason (tri) and Roxy (sable).

The turkeys will also eat under the feeders, which caused a problem in the front because they were tearing up the plants in the gardens. They claw at the ground when they eat, they're big, so they really do a lot of damage. So we had to enclose the garden out front with the most versatile of dog equipment, the x-pen. Since turkeys are as bright as a brick, and that's a compliment, they can't figure out how to get over the pen, so they stand outside it and stare at the seed on the ground. For once, something works. Every other critter and bird has no problem getting in or out. This does limit the bird pictures, as while I don't mind feeders in pictures, I draw the line at x-pens.

Ever since we started with feeding the birds, we've had to bring the feeders in every night, summer or winter, as otherwise raccoons get into them and not only empty them, but break them. It's a royal pain but has become just part of the routine.

Lately, we've been going through a ton of seed but the birds have actually been more scarce than at any other time of year (nesting). It didn't take too long to figure out where all the seed was going.

Raccoons, although nocturnal, are smart, so now.....we have an every day, daytime visitor. Because that's when the feeders are out.

This green feeder contains only black oil sunflower seeds, which she just stuffs into her mouth whole. Yuck! Can't be good going in, or coming out!

She sees me alright....

So time to really pack it back...

When she arrives, I have to go out and take the feeder in, she will empty the whole thing.

No problem for her, she'll just try out the two feeders close to the house, and no x-pen will stand in her way:

Either going in...

Or coming out.

So all the feeders have to come in when she shows up. They must be a stomach with eyes because they can eat an incredible amount in one sitting! (Like 10 turkey eggs!).

The animal lover in me is being truly tried. I'm starting to understand why farmers shoot them. I'm getting tired of the wildlife management involved just to feed birds! Then Terry mentions that a raccoon seems to have come out the loser with a car out front...could it be? Was....was it her? He thinks so, but...they kind of all look the same. He didn't tell me sooner because he thought I might be upset. Hey, as long as I didn't have anything to do with it...I am A-okay with fate. I don't mention that I've already suggested to her a few times that she go play on the highway. Truth be told, I'm all but singing out loud "ding, dong the witch is dead, the wicked witch..."

The following afternoon I hear a string of expletives coming from Terry who's in the vicinity of the kitchen window, and I know that she's baaaaaaccckkkk.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Back On Track

After our bad week of a comedy of tracking errors, Sugar and I are completely back on track. I resolve to learn from all my mistakes and try to think about what I'm doing all the time. My dog is amazing so I have it made in that department!

We had our last tracking lesson and I'm sorry they're over. Now it's up to me to get out there and keep it up on my own. I'm not sure when we'll be ready to try for the TD title but I'm thinking next year. I'm hoping there will be another session of lessons available before then.

For our last class we met at our regular field but it was a hot day, no moisture at all even at the base of the grass, lots of grass seeds and the grass was REALLY long. So we moved to an overgrown schoolyard as we wanted the dogs to have a hopefully successful last day.

These are sequential shots of Sugar's last track at school:

Harnessing up.

Sniffing the start scent pad.

And she's off...

Coming to the left turn.

Going past it.

I stop at the turn and let her eliminate the possibilities of the direction of the track.

Circling back.

Got it and gone!

The find! The praise! (The butt!)

I so love this dog. She's got everything I could want. Smart, beautiful, affectionate, endearing, wants to please, personality plus. She is special!

Monday, June 7, 2010


We had noticed a turkey hen in the backyard (which is inside the 5 ft. fenced area) most mornings, but that isn't all that unusual (they CAN fly if they want to and they do get over the fence). Sugar had even chased her over the back fence a few days ago. Now we realize she must be the mother of the eggs in the nest just found. When I see her breakfasting on the back lawn, I know I can go around to check her nest without her knowing about it.

So the morning after the dogs found the nest, it now looks like this:

I knew the scattering of the eggs we saw the night before couldn't be right, how would she sit on them? So that was what the dogs had done to her nest. She's now fixed it all up again. All ten remaining eggs are still there. We figure the one egg off to the side must have been damaged and she knows it but we can't tell from looking at it, and we don't want to touch anything. Still not much of a "nest", but definitely neater today than how the dogs had left it:

Later on, from the outside the fence I could see she was sitting on the nest, and could take this picture without bothering her. If you didn't know she was there, you'd never notice her.

So now what. How are we going to protect the nest from the dogs for a month or more, and then if that's successful, how to manage getting the mother and babies out of the fenced area? There is no way the little ones could get out themselves. We decide to cross that particular bridge when/if we come to it. For now our best plan is to use ex-pens to enclose the area the nest is in. When the dogs are out, we will shut it, when they aren't we'll open up the 10 foot wide part across the front so she can get in and out easily. The 10 foot part is a short 2.5 ft. puppy ex-pen. She could also easily get over any of these since they are all much shorter than the fence. At least that's our thinking.

The nest is near a corner of the fence, so that makes it easier to attach one pen to each fence, run them around but away from the nest, with the third pen attached to those two and that one we will open and shut as needed. None of the pens are closer than 10 feet to the nest, so she could even stay in that ex-pened area if she wants, and the dogs can't get in.

So we put it all up (she leaves while we do this), close it up, and the dogs have their run. Two hours later, dogs away, we open up the 10 foot wide front area. She hasn't tried to get back in by going over, and I can see her waiting in the distance. I check several times and she is NOT going back to the nest through the large, open area. I'm worried because after watching turkeys for all this time, I know one thing for certain, they're pretty stupid. Plain and simple, they are as dumb as they come. I'm thinking if she usually gets to the nest by route A, if that route is now blocked off, even though there is an totally open route just 3 feet away, she won't figure it out enough to just move over the three feet to the opening and run right to the nest. So after an hour and she is still not back, I decide to take the entire thing down.

The elapsed time is 3 hours off the nest, everything is now all back the way it was. She never comes back.

At first I feel really terrible! I thought our solution would work well. Our intentions were good! Then I'm annoyed...what is wrong with you, turkey, that dogs can play around in your nest, completely scatter your eggs, carry some off and you come back, but we humans don't come within 10 feet of your nest, put up a fence much shorter than what we know you can manage easily, then we take it down after just three hours and you never come back? What kind of a mother are you anyway?

It's not like the turkeys don't see us all the time, I can be gardening and look up and there are turkeys 10 feet away from me. Anyway, that's it, that's all, she didn't come back to her nest. After one overnight with no mother I'm sure it's too late now anyway and after another overnight abandoned, the raccoon got the eggs. It would've been nice to work this out and see the little ones, but it's also nice not to have to go through all the hassle and just go back to normal.

Once again the cruel but effective rules of nature at work: Pick a bad spot for a nest? Lacking in mothering instinct? Give up too easily? You're out of the gene pool because your babies will never survive.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

What Have You Got There?

Terry is sitting out on the porch with the dogs, they are all running loose as is usual in the evenings when it's nice outside. He's noticed that Sizzle and Sugar seem to be preoccupied in one out-of-the-way corner of the property, where a small area is overgrown and dense, very forest-like.

Sugar comes running up onto the porch with something fairly big in her mouth, and drops it delicately into Terry's hand. A huge egg! I know that this must be a turkey egg, slightly cracked now, unfortunately. Wow! This means there has to be a nest and it must be within our fenced property or else the dogs wouldn't be able to get to it. So now to find it.

The turkey egg that Sugar brought home. Slightly cracked on the underside. She carried it quite a distance!

Comparison of the turkey egg to a hen's egg, large size, from the fridge. Considerably bigger, heavier too!

We go off to search in the general direction the dogs had come from, they are trailing behind us now. We look around for a while, nothing. It occurs to me to try some of the training I've been putting into Sugar, not thinking it would really work, but worth a try, so I say "find it!, find it!" my tracking command for her. Doesn't she stick her nose down immediately and take us directly to the nest! Honestly! I pull my jaw up off the ground and follow her and this is what we see:

"Nest" is a loose word for this. Basically, eggs dumped on the ground at the base of a Birch tree. Ten of them. We had the cracked one Sugar brought us plus we found two more damaged ones the dogs had carried out on the path back to the house, for a total of 13. 10 left in the nest though. We don't touch them at all, of course. Thinking about it later, something about this nest isn't right. What's wrong with this picture?

It's dusk now so we have the night to figure out what we're going to do about this nest and the dogs. I mean, really, of ALL places. Build a nest within a fenced area with dogs in it, instead of using any of the ideal 75 acres surrounding our property. Meadows, woods, it's all available. Perfect turkey pasture! Why here?!

Now that the dogs have found the nest we know they won't leave it alone. But it isn't fair to the dogs to confine them to only using the dog run for 4-6 whole weeks (turkeys sit on their nests for at least a month) and not be able to run the property every day like they're used to, especially now at the most ideal time of year when we are outside a lot. They enjoy it so much and we want to have them out with us, so that we can enjoy them too. What to do?

Continued tomorrow...

Location of the nest at the base of the Birch tree. Only about 6 feet from the fence, but on the inside (dogs's side) of the fence. Picture taken outside the fence from the side front yard.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Birds And The Bees...And The Turkeys

We've had wild turkeys coming here on and off for several years. They will stay for months on end (I fed a flock for one whole winter) and then disappear for many, many months. We are always happy to see them return. When they come here, they are here every day. I have seen them in every season. I have seen them soaking wet in the rain, drying themselves in the sun, huddled on the lawn with big humps of snow on their backs during a snowstorm. I've seen them lifting their feet up in turn to keep them warm in the winter. They have brought their babies here, and I've watched them play. I've watched the males strutting around all puffed up and gobbling so loud they have woken us up in the morning. I've posted many pictures of them.

But when I glanced out my kitchen window recently, I saw something I've never seen before, and apparently, what very few people have ever seen, and even fewer have captured:

My camera was right there on the kitchen table, I grabbed it and had time for just three shots, between the camera recovering. It was over that quickly. What is amazing is all three shots, all through the window, turned out great. I hope no-one is offended by this piece of nature, that's not my intention.

This all seems to be invited by the female as I have watched the male strutting around endlessly and most of the time, the females completely and totally ignore him.

It's turned out that this is just the beginning of this story. Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Lucky Seven, Not Lucky Strike

June 3rd has rolled around again, and this 2010 version of the day marks my 7th year as a non-smoker!!

I am most definitely free from it all. I don't think about it much anymore. When I do, it's mostly when I see a smoker struggling. Smoking outside in the freezing cold, the desperation of the flying smoker searching out somewhere to smoke in a non-smoking airport. I'm just so glad that's not me anymore. All gone, all done, all over with.

Do I still get cravings after all these years? Yes I do, but not often and they're very easy to ignore. Not the grab you by the throat and throw you up against the wall cravings that were oh-so-hard to resist. No, just maybe twice a year, a little tiny tickle that comes when you least expect it and not at all when you might expect it. I just smile, wow, a craving, who would think? .... and it's gone just as quickly. It's finally easy.

I love it when people say "You used to smoke? I can't picture you as a smoker." That always surprises me, in a good way. This was a hard fought and hard won battle. Am I going to continue to mark this day every year ad infinitum? Yes. Yes I am.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Blackbird Fly

Red-winged Blackbirds are nesting at Palgrave Pond, where there is plenty of the marshy, bull rush type of habitat they like. We get male Red-wing Blackbirds at our bird feeders, both under them and sometimes even on them, but I've never seen the females come to the feeders at all.

I had a hard time getting a decent shot of a male, kind of like trying to get a good picture of a bi-black Sheltie! I visited the pond three times before I got lucky and got the three pictures of a male below, some of the best I've taken, I think.

The Red-winged Blackbird is one of those birds where the females appear about as different from the male as they can get. Even the name of the species has nothing to do with her. She does have the same very pointy, sharp beak as him, and squawked at me in pretty much the same way as he did, I'm sure I was probably close to some nests. I wonder how long it took before the very first person figured out "oh, they're together!".

Yes, definitely close to some nests, she has 4 lime green worms in her beak....mmmmm

The nest must be lower down in the bull rushes, that's where she headed with the meal. Palgrave pond is in the background of these shots. A serene spot to raise babies.

One of the most common birds in North America in a pretty typical pose.

The female and male together.