Sunday, February 24, 2008

Backyard Birds

Spent most of today cleaning house, with frequent looks out the window. Here is my list (with "stock" photos, since I didn't have time to set up the digiscoping gear.)

Canada Goose (1 fly-over)
Red-shouldered Hawk (A pair calling and perching together in a tree across the road)
American Woodcock (FOS = First of the Season. At least two birds were doing their flight display at 6:40am when I took the dogs out. Heard only)
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker
American Crow

Blue Jay
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Northern Mockingbird

Eastern Bluebird (1 M)
European Starling
Brown-headed Cowbird
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle (FOS)

Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal (high count 23. When I first moved here 10 years ago, I didn't have any cardinals.)
Song Sparrow
American Tree Sparrow

House Finch
American Goldfinch

House Sparrow

Saturday, February 23, 2008

More Pottery: Can you stand it?

Haven't had too much to blog about lately. Work, weather, and illness all have taken their toll on my blogging spirit. Still, the chance to play in clay and see the results can still pick me up.

Here are the latest things out of the kiln. I will try to tell their stories as well as show you their pictures.

This bowl is made of brown clay, which you can see from the side and bottom views below. All the pieces shown in this post were glazed by the dipping method. This bicolored effect was achieved by holding the bowl by the side, dipping it into a large bucket of glaze, letting the excess drip off and the pot dry, then repeating for the other side. I was hoping for a nice burgundy and dark green combo, and the view from the inner side of the bowl is close to what I was hoping to achieve.

Unfortunately, the side view shows that the burgundy glaze didn't take too well on the outer surface. When I got my piece back, I was told, "Oh, yeah. The reds tend to 'burn out' easily." Well, duh - then (a) Why do you have red glazes and (b) Why didn't someone tell me before I did this? Oh well, more notes in my photo album on what not to do next time.

By the way, this is an "S" crack on the bottom, a function of firing and not my fault, at least, I don't think it was. It doesn't go all the way through and the bowl still could be used to hold liquids of some kind. More importantly, look at that nice foot ring on the bottom. That skill is tough to learn, but I am getting it.

Now, this piece was also dipped in the same burgundy glaze, only over white clay instead of brown. This is the nice deep red I was looking for. I'm pleased with the shape of this pot, but the bottom is too heavy - I left too much clay at the base. I'm not sure what to use it for; perhaps a silk flower arrangement? It's about 4.5 inches in diameter by 2.75 inches tall.

The white clay tends to make the colors of the glaze show up darker and stronger, while the same glazes over brown clay are more muted. I'm learning. More notes taken ...

Symmetry - not quite there, but getting better. What the heck - "Symmetry is over-rated," as my instructor says.

This pot is also of brown clay, using the same green glaze as the first bowl.

Here, some blues appeared spontaneously, an affect I sort of like. The blue tones are especially obvious in the throw rings at the bottom.

Bad blogger that I am, I don't have any photos of these pieces while they were still wet clay or after bisque firing and before they were glazed. I will try to work on some step-by-step photos of my current project. My primary goal for this 6 week session is to make a mixing bowl with a pour-spout and a handle. To that end, I have thrown three bowls so far, one of which is about the size and shape of a small mixing bowl.

Also, this coming week, I am having a pottery party at the studio for my staff. I hope they will not be too shy to let me share their photos with you!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lone Cabbage Fish Camp

One last post from Florida to get us through the end of February. Soon, it will be time for flowering bulbs and early migrants. If we just hold on a little longer, spring will be here.
* * * * *

As I mentioned, one of the fun things I did in Florida last month was to take an airboat ride on the St. John River. The tour company took us to the Lone Cabbage Fish Camp for our adventure.

Lone Cabbage is a quirky place - when I told my uncle I had been there, he exclaimed, "That's real cracker stuff!" and my cousins told me Lone Cabbage was an infamous part of Florida history. ("Cracker" by the way, refers to the old Florida tradition of herding cattle through the sawgrass and palmetto by cracking whips, since you didn't have the open plains of the Old West to drive your cattle by sight.)

Lone Cabbage Fish Camp started as a fishing camp,
named for the single cabbage palm at its original site. Now it is the most famous "dive" bar ("dive" as in questionable reputation, not as in scuba diving) in central Florida.

Its location halfway between Cocoa and Orlando has made it a convenient stop for motorcyclists and travelers, and its position on the St John River (really more of a shallow lake than a river) has drawn the airboating crowd.

Lone Cabbage - motorcycles parked in front,

airboat dock at the back.

They have a bar, a kitchen, and entertainment on the weekends, including live music on the "stage" and dancing on the concrete slab floor.

The "bar" at Lone Cabbage Fish Camp.

What more could you ask for, you say? How about deep-fried alligator nuggets? Yum, yum!

"Tastes like chicken!"

Monday, February 18, 2008

Would You Be Interested in This?

The WISDOM Panel MX is a blood test to tell you what dog breeds make up your mixed breed dog. From their brochure, the test: "Uses advanced genetic science to detect more than 130 American Kennel Club (AKC)-recognized breeds in mixed breed dogs."

I haven't considered making this service available to my clients yet, mainly because I don't see the advantage. Other than the "gee, whiz" factor, I can't perceive any way to use the results. The company line is that it "may offer insights about a dog's unique personality" or that it "may help veterinarians develop a care plan specifically tailored to your dog," but I'm not so sure I buy that concept.

The "personality" thing seems geared to blow up in your face. "Well, of course she (barks/bites/steals food/digs up the yard), after all she is a XXX mix," is just another way to excuse bad behavior, if you ask me. "Train, don't complain," people, and don't use a dog's breed, gender, or coat type to let them get away with misbehavior.

As for the "care plan tailored to your dog" concept, well, all I can say is "Hooey!" Yes, purebred dogs are genetically prone to certain diseases - cardiomyopathy in Boxers and Dobes, allergic dermatitis in West Highland White Terriers, hypothyroidism and hip dysplasia in Golden Retriever, eye and ear disease in Cocker Spaniels, etc. One of the benefits of being a mixed breed dog is "hybrid vigor."
A mixed breed dog comes from a wider gene pool, because it has not been closely line-bred to get just the right top line or ear set or coat color. When you select for a specific phenotype (look) you also select for a specific genotype, and as well as bringing out the best in a dog breed, you may also bring out the worst genetic weakness. Good breeders screen their dogs to try to minimize these risks, but mixed breed dogs have done that job for us. So, knowing that Fido is a Golden Retriever-Australian Shepherd crossed with a Standard Poodle-Labrador mix doesn't mean he is any more prone to anything than Fluffy, who is a Shi-Tzu/Maltese/Cairn Terrier cross.

This has all been, as they say, my humble opinion. If you want more information, go to their website and read for yourself.

I would be interested in the opinions of mixed breed dog owners, though. If your vet offered this test, would you have it done? What would you be willing to pay for this information, and how do you think you would use it? I'd really like to know if I should be providing this service.

* * * * *

Edit, February 21:

I have done a little more investigation into this test, and can update you a bit. The cost to clients is a suggested retail price of $150 (varies among practices.) There is a cheek swab test, as Kathy mentions, which is cheaper, however, it can detect only 30 breeds, not 130 as the blood test does. It may be this cheek swab test that was offered to people at Chrissy's shelter for $60. The blood test costs the vet's office more than $60, so I doubt the shelter could offer it for that price, unless the company was writing-off part of the fees as a donation.

I have always wondered about Holly's ancestry. She is supposed to be pure Labrador, but her
lean body has me wondering if there is some Greyhound in her. Personally, I might pay $40 or $50 bucks to run this test on her, just for the fun of it.

Mostly, I agree with Sara and others - I would rather spend my money on preventative health care, like premium foods, parasite control, and wellness screening tests, and would council my clients to do the same.

Thanks to all who participated in this survey. You have validated my opinion that, while this test sounds cool, it probably isn't very important.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Great Backyard Bird Count

This weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count, sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It is a chance for all of us - hard-core birders, backyard birdwatchers, or brand new birders - to become "citizen scientists." Simply watch and count birds, then submit your totals to Cornell's web site and you have contributed.

Just remember, when you count, you only count the highest number of birds you see at one time. In other words, if a chickadee flies to your feeder, flies away with a seed, and flies back 25 times, it is only one bird, not twenty-five. If you see one at your feeder and one on a tree waiting its turn, then you can count two chickadees. (Chickadees are the hardest birds to count, if you ask me, because of this feeding style. I know I have to have more than two, but I only ever see one at a time!)

The count goes on all weekend, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and you can participate for all or part of that time. I worked Friday, and it looks like Sunday will be a cold, wet, windy day, but here are my numbers for Saturday:

Turkey Vulture- 1
Mourning Dove- 20
Red-bellied Woodpecker- 2
Downy Woodpecker- 3
Blue Jay- 6
Carolina Chickadee- 2
Tufted Titmouse- 2
White-breasted Nuthatch- 2
Carolina Wren- 1*
Eastern Bluebird- 1
Northern Mockingbird- 1
European Starling- 7
Song Sparrow- 1
White-crowned Sparrow- 1
Dark-eyed Junco- 3
Northern Cardinal- 6
Brown-headed Cowbird- 5
House Finch- 30
American Goldfinch- 30
House Sparrow- 6

* Yes, I saw a Carolina Wren in my "bluebird-style" feeder today, leaving with a chunk of suet dough. It is the first one I have seen in my yard since this time last winter. Whoot!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Friday Funnies: The Oviedo Chickens

When I e-mailed my cousin Nancy about my up-coming visit to Florida, I told her I wanted to do some birding while I was there. Her response: "Then you have to see the famous Oviedo chickens." When I arrived, I asked her to explain. It seems that several years ago, the Oviedo feed store had a shipment of spring chicks that got loose. It wasn't clear to me whether the chicks escaped on their own, or whether they weren't selling and so were set free.

No matter, the chicks survived and thrived. Now, they range all over town, and are protected by law.
You can actually be fined for harming or killing a chicken.

jay-walking chicken

I saw chickens hanging out behind the Popeye's Chicken fast food place (bad idea!),

in the drive-through lane at the bank (getting cash for Popeye's?), and even a broody hen nestled in the ground cover outside the library.

Oviedo loves their chickens, as this T-shirt clearly shows.

"crazy about Oviedo chickens"

More gratuitous chicken photos, for the chicken-lovers out there (Zick, this bird's for YOU!)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

My 200th Post

And, it's a rant. No pretty pictures of birds and flowers, no slightly irregular pottery pieces to giggle at, not even any yucky photos of X-rays and incisions. So, if you are looking for something cheery, funny, or educational, you've come to the wrong place today.

Today is Valentine's Day and it is my least favorite day of the year. No, I take that back. It is my second least favorite day. My least favorite is Sweetest Day, because that "holiday" is totally the invention of the cards and flowers people. I give a very slight edge to Valentine's Day.
At least it has its roots in some sort of history and tradition, depressing though it may be. Hearts, flowers, Cupid, chocolates - I hate it all. OK, not all the chocolates, just the ones in heart-shaped boxes.

For the terminally single among us, the days and weeks leading up to VD serve only to remind us of our aloneness. Store displays and TV commercials promote twosomes. Single people are made to feel like second class citizens as we microwave our Soup for One or our Healthy Choice frozen dinner entree while couples dine out on love and champagne. One is indeed the loneliest number in mid-February.

The curse of VD is one of the two reasons that February is my least favorite month of the year. The other is the weather. After some teasing days of temperatures in the 40's and 50's, even flirting with a near-record high in the low 60's, February has taken that downward swing it always does. Snow, sleet, freezing rain, rain, and back to snow again. The roads are a mess, and I have a cramp in my shoulders, a combination of shoveling slushy snow and hunching tensed up behind my steering wheel, wondering why I live so far from civilization.

More reasons to be cranky- an anticipated visit from a friend this weekend has had to be postponed. And, I am getting a cold.

So, as you can see, I have good reason to be in a bad mood, and I don't see any chance of recovery for the next 24 hours. Beware the bad-tempered blogger.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Newest Pots

Time for another peek at my pottery. These two pieces are made of white clay. They are each about 3 1/2 inches tall, and both are glazed with Winter White on the inside.

The smaller one is 4 1/2 inches wide and is glazed with Everglade. It is the perfect size to act as a "cache pot" for an African violet.

The larger one is 5 inches in diameter. This glaze is called Meadow. I'm not sure how to use this one - ideas, anyone?

Pontoons and Airboats

When I travel to veterinary conventions, I usually take a half day off to see the local sights. In Florida, it was a convention-sponsored tour called "Dolphins, Manatees, and Alligators - Oh My!"

We took a bus from Orlando east to Cocoa, crossed the St. John's River onto Merritt Island, then on to the marina for our pontoon ride on the Banana River.

Here is Cap'n John, giving us the required safety lecture. The water level is so low outside of the canals specifically dredged for boats that the rules if you fall out are: "See if you can sit up. If you can't sit, see if you can stand up. If you still can't touch bottom, swim a couple of feet towards
land, then walk to the shore."

This is our tour guide, Don, demonstrating the use of his loaner binoculars. (I have my own, thanks anyway.) Don knew a lot about Florida history and the area, but he wasn't the greatest birder. I had to "help" him out from time to time, in my own special, annoying, know-it-all way. (And Susan, I didn't jinx the birding!)

Although one of the stated goals for this trip was to see manatees, the "cold snap" (highs in the 50's that day) had driven the manatees to warmer waters. We struck out.

At least I hadn't been on the kayaking trip in search of manatees the previous day. I saw those people when they returned and they were blue with cold.

This was the closest I got to a manatee the whole time I was in Florida:

mosaic manatee fountain, DeLand, FL

We did get a brief glimpse of dolphins, too quick for me to get any photos. Despite the lack of advertised mammals, we did get in some great birding.

The trees were dripping with Brown Pelicans, and we often saw them perched on docks or pilings, or flying from place to place and diving into the water.

Osprey were everywhere. I even saw one flying through the shopping district of Cocoa, like you might see pigeons in town in Ohio.

This plant is called Brazilian Pepper-tree, also called Florida Holly. It is a noxious invasive alien, one of the worst pest plants invading Florida. It is very aggressive, especially along waterways, and is crowding out the natives. Like many plants, it is spread by birds eating the fruit and distributing the seeds. Robins are big fans of the fleshy fruit.

Coming back to the marina, we passed under the only privately-owned drawbridge in Florida.

Next, it was back to the St. John River for an airboat ride at the Lone Cabbage Fish Camp.

If you ever get the chance to take an airboat ride, do it. It is like riding a motorcycle on the water. The speed and the wind in your face take your breath away.

You have to wear ear protectors to muffle roar of the engines, and your boat driver will probably be a crazy young man who takes the corners on "two wheels," making you feel like you will tip into the murky water. Since our target species for this trip was the American Alligator, not being dumped out was high on my list of priorities.

I absolutely could not take any photos while we were speeding along, but we flushed lots of good birds. Great Blue, Little Blue and Tricolored Herons, and egrets (probably both Great and Snowy, but I was in no position to ID them for sure) abounded. A flock of Blue-winged Teal were the only ducks I saw.

cypress trees

We slowed down as we came around a bend, and the driver cut the engine to an idle. Drifting along, we scanned the shores for 'gators.

Again, the colder temperatures and brisk winds had these cold-blooded creatures looking for warmth. No gators.

We hit the turbo-rockets and jetted on. Once again, we slowed to a crawl, and there he was, in all his glory. A 9 foot American Alligator, hauled out on the bank, catching a few rays.

Isn't he a beaut?