Sunday, June 26, 2011

Saturday in the park

Miro wishes for a longer leash.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Today's fave

Today at the wildlife center the most fun birds were two tiny bushtits, feathered fluffballs with beady eyes and big mouths. As soon as I lifted the cover off their basket, they looked up and opened their beaks wide, going, "Eeep eep eep." Food, food, food!
Here's a photo of an adult bushtit by Dennis Paulson. It's from the Seattle Audubon's Birdweb where you can hear their call and read more about them. Bushtits are sometimes described as drab gray birds. Gray, yes, but I wouldn't describe today's fluttering, hopping youngsters as drab.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Stinky crows

In the temperate rainforest that is Seattle, crows occupy the niche that parrots occupy in tropical rainforests. They’re the smarter guys in the room, the mischief-makers. They learn to recognize people they see regularly and they know who’s a potential threat and who isn’t. Knowing I’ll leave them alone, they’re untroubled when they hop on the roof of the main floor of the house and I appear at the window of my second floor study that overlooks part of that roof. They simply go, “Oh, her again,” and get back to throwing twigs out of the gutter. If only they’d dig more thoroughly at the gutters, I wouldn’t have to clean them at all.

Last week, hearing scratching, clattering, and muttering in the bathroom next to my study, I walked over to see two crows on the skylight right above my head. It’s a flat, glass skylight with no special reflective coating; but apparently the crows couldn’t see me standing below them because they kept slipping around and pecking at bits of whatever stuff flies off trees in the spring and sticks to skylights. They were helpful about cleaning up the skylight and not pooping on it while I watched. When you stand right under a crow, you can see how large and pointy their beaks really are. They can’t bite like a parrot but I don’t think I’d want an argument with an adult crow.

We get a lot of young crows at the wildlife center. I suspect that’s partly because their size makes them easily visible, as compared to a young nuthatch as small as a marble. Some of the crows are injured; some are brought in because they’re too young to survive on their own. Along with baby bird formula squirted down their throats, they get a special corvid mix consisting of seeds, chopped fruit, balls of soft food, and chopped smelt.

At feeding time, I open the covered door to their cage and unleash a gust of ripe fish. I look at the dish of jumbled food and see a silvery eye gleaming in the mess. I look up at the crying crow whose blue eyes are focused on the hemostat (forceps) in my hand. I pick up the food with the hemostat and either offer it to the crow or shove it down the bird’s throat, depending on the crow’s stage of development--a clump of the soft stuff with tiny sunflower seeds stuck on like cookie decorations, a bit of apple, a smelt head that looks back at me. If the crow is screaming at me, it means his beak is open and he’s willing to eat. The crows around my house don’t know what they’re missing.

You can read more about crows at

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Grooming Alanis


The "please don't do this to me" look.

The "partly done but this is all we can stand" look.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

inspiration award

We received an inspiration award from What Dogs Do, a London-based blog about two greyhounds, their behavior and training. It's very timely because my son is about to go visit a friend in London. Thank you for including the farm house and its critters.

I get to pass it along to others. These are the rules:
If you are here to pick up your award, there are a few simple rules that go with accepting this award.

1. Thank and link back to the person who awarded this to you.

2. Link posts by you and ten fellow bloggers that you find inspirational.

3. Forward the award to those ten fellow bloggers.

In no particular order:

1. I admire The Teacher's Pets for the energy and variety of her blogging. With her huge number of followers, she unites a large community of animal lovers. It's the blog to see for a chuckle on Saturdays where she runs the Silly Saturday photo caption contest.

2. Then there's The Japanese Redneck. You know she's got a sense of humor with a blog name like that. She writes about living in the countryside in Mississippi. She's also a competitive rider; and if you keep checking the blog, you'll find photos of her clever, creative crafts.

3. A special thanks goes to Maggie and Mitch Airedales. When I first started blogging and didn't know anything about the pet blog community, they found my blog and invited me to join in. That was truly an inspiration. You just never know what those Airedales will be up to, from building to gardening to eating ice cream (the ice cream inspires Miro and Alanis).

4. Baby Rocket Dog and Hootie inspire by being an Airedale and Welsh terrier united in total cuteness. And who could resist names like that?

5. An important blog is The Beak Whisperer. Michelle is just down the road in Portland and is slowly and patiently socializing a rescued Timneh African Gray parrot. She makes toys for parrots, does beautiful crafts and is a brave cancer survivor who never gave up. But it's Timmy the Gray who makes the blog special because Michelle truly understands what a slow process it is to befriend the intelligent, high-strung creature that is a Timneh Gray. Each tiny increment of progress is a celebration.

That's all I have time for today--must go feed baby birds at the wildlife center. More to come!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Great expectations

Ever since the mad rat scramble (June 4), Miro hopes to find another prize in the same place.

The view from inside.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hamster news of the world

I haven't thought seriously about hamsters since I was a kid. Hamsters don't provoke serious thought while stuffing their cheeks with food; running on their squeaky exercise wheels; and above all, sleeping all day.

Your ordinary pet store hamster, descended from a hamster found in Syria, according to the Lousiana Veterinary Medical Association.

The Court of Justice in Luxembourg has brought serious news about hamsters to the world's attention.  First of all, who, other than hamster fanciers, knew there were native French hamsters? These are not ordinary hamsters. Called the Great Hamster of Alsace, they can grow up to 10 inches long. Very classy-looking critters, their faces are marked with white and reddish-brown and they have striking black bellies, as if they've been running through soot.

The Court of Justice ruled that France has not protected this endangered hamster, of which there are only 800 left alive in the wild. Considering that hamsters breed like mice, that's not many. Also like mice, they're mostly considered as a pest in the farm areas where they munch on grass and hay. Instead of obligingly planting fields with hay or leaving plenty of grassy areas, the farmers have been planting corn, resulting in very hungry hamsters ranging far from home--and getting killed-- in search of food.

Here's a  video of a pet European hamster; she doesn't appear to be fond of meal worms. And here is the place to read the full story.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The mad rat scramble

Last week a teenaged rat went on a shopping spree in the chicken coop. When not stealing food, he snugged up beneath the nest box next to the feeder where I discovered him when I lifted the box, actually a remodeled plastic tub. The rat dashed out the entrance, through the chicken pen and, with Miró in pursuit, across the yard and out a gap in the fence to the neighbors’ yard—like Peter Rabbit but not as cute.
nest box and feeder

Knowing he’d be back, I lifted the nest box daily to peer underneath, something I can do while standing outside the house and lifting up the hinged roof. The other day, there he was, peering up at me with startled, rounded eyes as I peered down at him with the same expression.

This time, I ran around the side of the coop and into the pen where I blocked the coop door. Out again and around to the side of the coop where there are cute little doors that slide up for you to stick in your hand and steal eggs right from under the chickens—if you put in the right kind of nest box in the right place, which I have not. Sliding open one door is useful, however, for giving a rat only one exit where a terrier awaits with big, black nose snuffling in the coop. If Miró had just stood there with his mouth open, events might have been simpler.
hiding place (bottom)

The rat scurried along the side of the coop and into the cinderblock on which the feeder rests. I lifted the feeder out of the coop and jiggled the cinderblock. The rat ran to the other side of the coop, only a few feet away but I was not about to reach in with my bare hands to catch him. I ran around to the other side of the coop and lifted the roof by way of a threat—he wouldn’t know I didn’t want to touch him—and he ran back to the cinderblock. After some more scrambling back and forth, poking, and swearing, he finally ran out the door and past the dog to the play area covered in wood chips.

signs of the chase
A person would stand there a moment thinking, “The expletive rat got past me;” but a dog simply acts. Miró and the rat ran in merry circles around the play area, throwing up wood chips as they skidded like a couple of cars in a movie chase. When Miró caught the rat by its head, I thought he’d break its neck the way terriers are supposed to do. No, he has having fun. He tossed it and caught the tail. The rat wriggled free, got caught, tossed, escaped.

feeder top/planter
 By this time, Alanis noticed something was happening. She joined in and both dogs chased the rat across the yard to the line of arbor vitae near the fence. When the rat bit Miro’s lip and hung there for a moment, I thought unprintable things, directed at myself for getting us into this. I grabbed top cover of the chicken feeder (a bowl-shaped planter with holes) and popped it over the rat, holding the cover down while dogs circled like sharks and dug at the ground around the plastic top, which sharks can’t do.

I squatted there a while trying to figure out what to do. If I lifted my hand, the rat could squirm out and/or the dog, who was unconcernedly dripping blood over the feeder top, would get the rat again. I pointed toward the trees and yelled, “Go get it!” While the dogs ran in one direction, I ran in the other to fetch the nearest heavy objects: the waterer from the chicken pen and a brick.

For unknown reasons, I felt it necessary to clean off the plastic planter. That, I explained to my son later, is how the rat got wet; it wasn’t all dog slobber. I decided to lift the edge of the planter and, if I got lucky, whack the rat with the brick. If the rat got away, fine.

size 12 boot
The rat was not as smart as I thought. It ran toward the fence, chased by two Airedales. At the last moment, it veered away toward the house, taking shelter beside my son’s black rubber size 12 gardening boots. Never leave your boots lying sideways; anything might crawl in.

I popped a boot, sole side up, over the rat and we all stood there a moment, panting. When I tipped the boot, I didn’t see anything underneath; but when I picked it up to peer inside, there was a tail sticking out from the toe of the boot. It was time for reinforcements, which had been indoors all this time talking on the phone to a friend in London, as I discovered when I carried rat and boot, followed by two muddy-pawed dogs, one dripping blood, around the side of the house and into the kitchen. I held up the boot and mouthed, “Rat.”

Choking a bit, my son said, “I’ll have to call you back. My mom caught a rat in my boot.”
He put the rat into a plastic storage bin in the garage while I fetched peroxide to swab around Miró’s mouth. The bleeding had stopped and I could barely see where he’d been bitten. Marty reported back that rat was still alive but wet. “I can explain that,” I said.
We discussed rat disposal. Marty said too bad it wasn’t a fish. You can kill a fish quickly by whacking its head on the dock. I wondered about carbon monoxide.

“In the lab, we put mice in a plastic box and ran carbon dioxide through it,” Marty said. “I don’t think it’s safe to mess with car exhaust.”

“I could drive it to the park and let it go,” I offered.

Marty said the rat seemed injured and it would be cruel to leave it. I said something would surely eat it quickly. Finally we had to agree on the whack-it-with-a-brick idea, except with the sledgehammer.

Fetching the hammer, he said, “I’m not going to wear that boot again.”

“Sure you can; I’ll disinfect it with bleach,” I said.

“It won’t be the same.”

“In the Southwest, people have to shake out their boots every morning because scorpions and all kinds of stuff crawl inside.”

He just shook his head and politely invited me to leave the garage while he dispatched the rat. He was only thirteen when his father died, but I guess that was old enough to imbibe the lesson that killing and disposing of vermin is a man’s job. Gratefully, I left him to it and went to feed the dogs. I wrestled Miró into a headlock while I searched his lip; there was only a tiny mark to show the skin had been broken.

When Marty came back inside a while later, the dogs were happily snoozing off their adventure and the laundry room reeked of bleach as proof that the boot was now perfectly clean. “Well, I said briskly, “what would you like for dinner?”

“Not meat,” he said.

the final resting place

rat catcher