Saturday, June 30, 2007

Whose nest is this?

Images from my collection of photos of bird nests with eggs. See how many you can identify.

A: Eastern Bluebird

B: Canada Goose

C: Purple Martin

D: Killdeer

E: Tree Swallow

F: Red-winged Blackbird

G: House Wren

H: Song Sparrow

Friday, June 29, 2007

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Story of Grace

Grace came to me in October of 1999 as a 6 month old stray, picked up by the Cincinnati Police Dept. and brought to the veterinary emergency hospital where I worked. I had recently lost my Rott puppy, Raven, and the emergency practice had retired our blood donor, Kayla, also a Rottweiller, so we were all primed for a new dog. She was bad, though, and my first order was "Call the Humane Society and get her out of the building!" She was protective of toys and food, had no training, had to be muzzled for any kind of restraint, and had the pinched, suspicious look in her eyes that I attribute to a fear-aggressive dog.

By the end of the shift, I could see some potential in her, and volunteered to foster her for 6 months, until she was old enough to take her place as the replacement blood donor.

After six months of living with Holly and I, lots of
hard work, and 3 levels of obedience training, Grace blossomed and turned into a great dog. My fellow emergency vets refused to let me give her back to the practice, so she became mine, not that I minded at all.

Every time I blog, this is what I deal with -
85 lbs of Rottweiler under the desk, with no place for my feet and legs.

From those rocky beginnings, she has become a very special dog. She raised one of my cats, Manny (short for Katmandu) who was taken from his mom too young, and allowed him to "nurse" on her belly hairs until he was 8 months old and she decided he should be weaned.

This is Grace with baby Manny. I swear, she is just cleaning him up, not eating him - he survived many of these Rott tongue baths!

I trust her with kids of all ages. She is very gentle, and patient, too. Here she is teaching Susan's daughter Isabelle how to play with the Chuck-It toy.

"Throw it, kid. C'mon, throw it already!"

Along with Holly, Grace and I went through Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced Obedience classes. Each of these were 8 week classes, and during the third session, we also took Beginning Agility (both dogs) so for 4 months, I had two dog classes a week and for the last 2 months, I had 4 dog classes a week. Whew! I still can't believe I survived it.

Grace loved her Agility class. During our last Obedience class, she was constantly missing the cues I was giving her because she was looking over her shoulder at the Agility ring. "I wanna go THERE, Mom. I wanna do what THOSE dogs are doing," she was obviously thinking. Obedience gave her roots, but Agility gave her confidence and let her soar.

In 2003, Grace developed a mass on her left front leg. I could tell by feeling it that it wasn't good, and I made a decision. I could be her Mom, or I could be her vet. I couldn't be both. So, I had a veterinary oncologist friend aspirate the lump, to confirm my suspicions that it was cancerous, and a veterinary surgeon friend operate on it. It was a hemangiopericytoma, a soft tissue sarcoma of the cells surrounding a blood vessel, and it was so tightly wrapped around the vital structures of her leg that it could not be completely removed.

Soft tissue sarcomas like this one are locally invasive (keep coming back at the same site) but slow to metastasize (spread to other organs or tissues.) Our choices were amputation or radiation therapy. She was only 4 years old at the time, and I couldn't bear to take her leg off without considering other options. So, Grace went to Columbus for a month, to live with my sister and to receive radiation therapy at Med-Vet. She had 19 treatments, every Monday through Friday for 3 weeks, then 4 days the last week, and she had to be under anesthesia for every session. After the third week, the skin over the radiation site began to slough off. I don't have any photos of that awful time, but I do have a picture of her radiation site after it healed:

In RT, they call this white patch a "Badge of Courage."

My veterinary radiation oncologist, Dr. Deb Prescott, told me that RT had an 85% success rate for this kind of cancer. If she went three years without recurrence at the site, she could be considered cured. Memorial Day weekend, 2006, was the big day, the day we passed the three year mark. Dr. Prescott said if she survived that long, she could live a normal life span.

To celebrate her cure, we enrolled in the Clermont County Dog Training Club's
Agility program, taking Beginning and Intermediate level classes, just for fun. [I don't have the time or personality to compete.] Grace's eyes lit up when she walked into the ring and saw the various jumps, tunnels, and other apparatus. Even though it had been 6 years since her first Agility class, she remembered it and couldn't wait to get back into action.

I love this picture of the two of us from our graduation from Intermediate Agility. The only things not moving are my foot and the tire jump. Grace is a blur, but you can make out her streamlined shape, front legs tucked up, back legs together and off the ground. Her head is turned toward me, watching my hand as I point towards the next obstacle. And, you can see her "badge of courage," proving that there is life after cancer.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Magic of the Sassafras

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of attending church camp each summer, and of those memories, the strongest ones are of our naturalist, Lindy Vickers. As I remember him, he was a thin little old man with a soft voice and a gentle manner. He taught me some of my earliest lessons on biology and nature, lessons that have stuck with me to this day. If I had known that "naturalist" was a real job, and not something you did as a volunteer camp counselor, I might have become a naturalist instead of a veterinarian.

The magic of the sassafras tree has fascinated me ever since those early days. Do you know what it is?

Can you guess now?
How about now?

Does this help?

OK, if you haven't figured it out by now, here it is laid out for you. The sassafras tree has a variety of leaf shapes. You can have right-handed mittens, left handed mittens, mittens with two thumbs, or "mittens" with no thumbs at all.

All four of these leaves came from the same sassafras tree in my back yard. Isn't Nature wonderful?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Toxicology Tuesday, June 26

You guys are too good at this game, so this week's question is one you may not have considered before. See if you are up for the challenge.

Toxic or Not?

Answer: Not toxic.

Silica gel packets found in shoe boxes or Sorb-It cans of silica gel found in pill bottles are there are adsorbents, in order to adsorb moisture and protect the product from spoilage. They are generally considered to be non-toxic. If ingested, silica gel would only cause a mild GI upset, which would most likely resolve without treatment. There is a slight possibility of GI obstruction if a small pet were to eat a large volume of the material. Watch for vomiting and call your vet if this occurs.

[Source: ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center, in their news bulletin April 21, 2006]

Monday, June 25, 2007

Purple Martin Report, June 24

Purple Martin groups like PMCA and PMS,NA recommend checking the nests of your martin colony every 5 days, counting eggs and young, looking for problems like signs of parasites or predation, and just monitoring their status in general. Many people don't check their colonies, for fear of scaring the birds away, but research shows that monitored colonies produce more offspring than those that are left alone.

I am used to monitoring bluebird boxes, and raising bluebirds has always been easy. It is rare that I have any problems. Once I had a house wren pierce the eggs and toss them out of the box, building a nest of little sticks on top of the bluebird nest. One year, a house sparrow destroyed 5 bluebird eggs from a second clutch, causing the bluebirds to abandon me for the rest of that season. (This was when I began trapping HOSP.) Aside from those two instances, I never have any trouble. Rarely, an egg doesn't hatch or a nestling vanishes, but I have a pretty high success rate, if you leave out the wren and sparrow attacks.

I do my Purple Martin nest checks on Thursdays and Sundays, because I am off those days and can do my checks in mid-day, when I am least likely to disturb the birds. While they do circle overhead squawking at me and occasionally dive-bombing me, they don't seem too bothered by what I am doing. I am finding a number of things I'm not used to in my bluebird monitoring. I'm learning that Purple Martins are high-maintenance birds!

Six eggs from an adult pair of Purple Martins

On June 14, I had a total of 50 eggs in 11 nests. After my nest check on Sunday, it is obvious I am not going to have 50 babies fledge. I found some problems. Most of my colony, all but one pair, are SY (Second Year, or Subadult) birds. These are the "teenagers," having babies for the first time, and smaller clutches with more losses are the norm for them.

One clutch of four eggs should have hatched on June 17. Now, it looks like that pair is building a new nest over the unhatched eggs.

I found several other unhatched eggs, including this one in a clutch
of three day old nestlings:

The saddest thing I found was in this nest of 6 young that looked fine on June 21. On Sunday, there were 5 strong six days old nestlings and one dead one. Don't know why, especially because this is my one ASY (After Second Year, or Adult) pair. In theory, they should be more experienced and have larger clutches with fewer losses. Maybe the drought we have been experiencing is decreasing the numbers of flying insects?

Can you see the ear holes on these chicks?

I pulled out the dead baby and an unhatched egg that has been there for a week. I left the two unhatched eggs in nests with 3 day old young. If they are still there on Thursday, I will remove them, too. I probably should have pulled the 4 eggs that are a week overdue. I guess that is another job for Thursday.

Martins are a lot of work!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

On the Trails at CNC

Today's report is a summary of images from various CNC trails I have been on this week. I had hoped to get my post up before Susan, who met Holly and me at the nature center today, but Blogger has been conspiring against me and it has taken me all day to upload these photos. I hiked Redwing Trail last Sunday (by way of Edge Trail and part of Whitetail Trace), Lookout Trail on Wed for my field study, and Edge Trail/Whitetail Trace today with Susan.

The Redwing Trail at the Cincinnati Nature Center is the longest trail on the property, officially 2.6 miles long. To reach it, you must walk about 1/2 mile out one trail, and return about 1/2 mile along another trail, so the total distance is about 3 1/2 miles. If you add this to the fact that in the spring, the trail can be very wet, nearly impassable in places, and recognize that adverse weather conditions in summer and winter can be limiting factors, you will see why I don't hike this trail very often.

Not ashamed to admit that I took the shorter, alternate path.

The first time I walked it, I took every field guide I owned, a film camera with TWO lenses, a pair of binoculars on a neck strap, and 1 small bottle of water. I was totally ill-equipped for the Redwing Trail. Over the years, I have wised up, planned for every contingency, and come prepared for the challenge. This trip, I had plenty of water, a straw hat for the sun, a light weight digital camera, my binoculars on a harness instead of around my neck, and my dogs for company.

Holly: Hot, tired and happy

When I think about the trails at CNC, this is what come to mind:

Mulched, shady paths along ravines are typical of CNC trails.

And this is a part of the Redwing Trail. But, I can get this on nearly every trail at CNC. What I walk Redwing for is the meadow.

A vast, wide meadow with flat, grassy paths, full of Indigo Buntings and Common Yellowthroat, butterflies and dragonflies, and easy, level walking.
Lots of things are blooming all over the place, despite the dry conditions.

Pasture rose, Rosa carolina, Redwing Trail, Sunday, June 17

Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa, Lookout Trail, Wed., June 20

Purple Loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria, Edge Trail, Sunday, June 24

Yes, we know it is invasive and a noxious weed. It's still pretty.

Wild raspberries, Lookout Trail, June 20

I saw rabbits, raccoons, squirrels, and deer, as well as many birds, but the only things I can get photos of are things that don't move (plants) or move very slowly (herps.) Here is a lovely female box turtle I found along an old farm lane the bisects Lookout Trail:

Box Turtle, Lookout Trail, June 20

Isn't she beautiful? I spotted her from a fair distance away and was curious to see how close I could get without frightening her. She retracted half-way into her shell when I got too close, so I laid on my belly and extended the camera as far forward as I could to get this shot of her. (Need a longer lens!)

Green Frog, Spring Pond, Whitetail Trace, June 24

Snuck up on this green frog covered in duckweed off the boardwalk on Spring Pond. Still need a longer lens!

Bench marker, Whitetail Trace.

It seems as though this couple dedicated this bench for their marriage. I love how they came back later and added their child's name to the plaque.

Pileated Woodpecker holes, Whitetail Trace, June 24.

These are really fresh, and I don't remember seeing them
when I was on this trail last week.

Slug grazing on moss, Whitetail Trace, June 24.

I tried to find out what kind of slug this is, but no luck yet. Anybody have any ideas?

(Off to see what Susan has posted...)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Life Bird #273 Today!

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

I apologize for the poor quality of these photos. I know it isn't what you all have come to expect from the good birding sites out here on the 'Net. I'm so excited by seeing these birds that I have to share them with you, and these are the best of a bad lot of pictures, so bear with me.

This is a Yellow-crowned Night Heron nest, and it is in a sycamore tree in a suburban area of Columbus, Ohio. There were a total of 5 chicks in this nest, with another nearby.

Yellow-crowned Night Herons are listed as threatened in Ohio, and breeding pairs are especially rare. We are on the extreme northern limits of their range. Dayton (along the Great Miami River) and Columbus (near the Scioto) are the only two known places to find colonies. They are messy nesters and the directions to this site said "Look for obvious guano," so it is amazing to me that Yellow-crowned Night Herons have been nesting in the upscale Columbus neighborhood of Bexley for 11 years. The residents not only tolerate their avian neighbors, but also the birders who flock to their quiet street to see the rarities. Thank you, Bexley-ites, for putting up with both of us!

One of 5 juvenile Night Herons I saw today. The young are branching, like owlets do - moving around in the nest, walking out a bit on the
supporting branches, flapping their wings and hopping around, then returning to the safety of the nest. Soon, they will fly, and Bexley residents can wash off their streets and sidewalks for another year.

Friday, June 22, 2007

No Rules Fetch

I think I have mentioned that Holly loves to fetch. She will retrieve tennis balls, sticks, or her stuffed hippo and bring it back to you to throw again and again as long as you keep throwing it. When you are tired of throwing the thing and try to hide it, she finds something else for you to throw, and brings that thing to you.

Holly also loves to swim. If there is nothing in the pond to retrieve, she is content to swim around and around in circles, but she would much rather combine her two favorite games and retrieve something by swimming after it.

Grace, my Rottweiler, also loves to retrieve, but she does not swim. Absolutely refuses to. So, here is how every game of "Fetch at the Pond" goes:

Step 1: Throw the stick as far as possible. See the ripples at the top of the photo? That's where the stick landed. Holly is heading out for it, Grace is standing at the shore, annoyed because I have not thrown the stick into the shallows.

Step 2: Holly brings the stick back. Sometimes, I throw more than one stick, and she won't come back till she's rounded them all up.

Step 3: Grace lurks at the water's edge.

Step 4: Holly comes out on shore ...

... and Grace pounces.

Step 5: A struggle ensues for possession of the stick.

Step 6: Grace usually acquires the stick, through fair means or foul, and tries to shred it.

Step 7: Holly shakes off and begs me to throw the stick again.

Steps 8 through 800: Repeat