Sunday, October 17, 2010

Birds and Things at the Zoo

I attended a birthday party at the Cincinnati Zoo on Saturday. This has got to be the greatest idea for a birthday party ever! The food was good, the setting fabulous, and a zoo person brought around live animals for us to see and touch. It was lots of fun.

First up was this cute little Eastern Screech-owl, named Van Gogh because he only has one ear. Actually, he does have two ears; what we call "ears" are really only tufts of feathers. He is not a baby, he is a 3 year old adult. I never heard what happened to the feathers on the left side of his head. And no, we couldn't touch him.
Next was a Dwarf Rex rabbit. A Rex has fur like a chinchilla - all soft, downy undercoat, no outer guard hairs. Very soft!Some people got the shivers when the next animal was brought out to us - this little American Alligator. Isn't he the cutest?I liked him so much I had to include this close-up of his "smile."Finally, what I considered to be the coolest of the four critters - this armadillo.It looked just like a pillbug, all curled up so tightly. I would have loved to have held it. Even better would have been for her to put it down, so I could watch it trundle around the room.

As the party was winding down, I took the opportunity to wander around the zoo a little. I saw these flamingos outside on one side of the building which houses the Treetops party room
and got these Impressionist-style photos of the koi in the pond on the other side of the building.

Since there was only an hour before closing time, I was limited in how far I could go. I decided to check out the bird house, and found these guys waiting for me in a cage outside.The sign said that Kookaburras are members of the kingfisher family. When I read that, I thought, "Of course - that big head and huge bill are typical of kingfishers. Why hadn't I noticed that before?"

Inside, we had a wide variety of birds, including:

Rhinoceros Hornbill
Pesquet's Parrot
Louisiana HeronHarlequin Duck
King Penquins getting a meal
(with a Marconi's in the background)
and Least Auklet.
Trust me, that's what this is. The thing was more flitty than a kinglet. It never sat still - not on land or water.

There were more birds in the bird house, plus many more outside as well, but I wanted to end with this Mystery Duck.
I know it is not one of our native wild species, but couldn't decide if it was an exotic or some sort of hybrid. A "helpful" zoo guest told me, "I'm a duck hunter; that's a Hooded Merganser." I answered, "I'm a birder, and I've never seen a merganser that looked like that."

Anybody got an idea what this might be?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Planning ahead

I have an unused acre of land on the east side of my property. I call it my meadow. Once a year, before the rains of November, I have it bush hogged to keep it in check, but otherwise, I let it go wild. It probably makes the neighbors angry, to see this messy, unkempt field next to their carefully manicured, but woefully sterile, lawn. Hey, folks - we're in the country. Get over it.When I first moved in, I mowed this acre regularly, to keep up with the neighborhood standard. It was never used by anything or anyone, including me. Now, it is full of meadowlarks and butterflies, sparrows and all manner of wildflowers. This summer, I found myself frustrated when I was unable to get into the heart of the field, to examine a flower or chase a butterfly. Next year, things will be different.

Since the field was just bush hogged, and the day was bright, warm, and dry, I decided to carve some walking paths through my little meadow. One long, swooping, lazy "S" runs from top to bottom,
and a second, twisting windy trail crosses the first at several points. I added a couple of extra accesses and a connecting spur, then seeded the meadow with some common milkweed, from pods I picked up this fall.I think I have the basis for a nice little nature trail.The dogs inspected my work and pronounced it satisfactory. To be specific, it rates "Two Sniffs" on their Smell-o-meter. Deer or rabbit poop would have given me more points, I think.I am already excited to see how this area developes next spring. I hope to be able to bring you updates as the seasons progress. All I have to do is keep my pathways mowed and let nature do the rest.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Taking a walk with Holly

I feel like I have been neglecting Holly lately, in favor of the baby. Panda demands a lot of time, and of course, she is very cute and photogenic, but that is no excuse for ignoring the older, better behaved dog.

Actually, it started in the winter, during the terrible last part of Grace's life, when I wanted to savor every moment with her and took Holly for granted. She and I clung together for a while after we lost Grace, but when spring arrived, full of birding trips and a new puppy, my attention was divided between activities. Then came summer's heat, puppy training, and too many hours spent working. I was tired, too tired to devote any leftover spare time to my sweet, patient old girl.

Dogs, of course, are the most forgiving souls on the planet, always understanding, never blaming or accusing. Still, when those soulful brown eyes kept looking up at me every time I left the house, I began to feel guilty.

This week, I vowed to take Holly out for some one-on-one time with Mom. The enthusiasm she showed when she realized we were going out together nearly broke my heart. She pranced down the sidewalk and waited eagerly by the car door. Going for a ride is always fun for Holly, but this time the destination was more than just the post office and the IGA.

Crooked Run. My own little private sanctuary. Despite the fact that this nature preserve actually belongs to the Clermont County Parks Dept., I feel very possessive of this wooded spot on the Ohio River. There is a pleasant loop trail about a mile long, as well as some meandering paths that criss-cross the preserve. It is quiet and peaceful, and we rarely see another human soul. Holly knows it as well as I - it is our favorite morning walk. Come along with us.
We walk slowly, at the pace of a dog's nose. I have no particular agenda this morning, so am content to let Holly take her time, soaking in an incredible world of scent that I will never know.I find that this allows me the freedom to fiddle with the camera settings, trying to render the dappled sunlight and shades of green and brown into images that reflect what I am really seeing. When none of the factory presets work, I reach deep within myself for the courage to go to Manual mode, and discover I can take a picture, now and then.I'm carrying my binoculars, but hardly using them. Instead, I am hearing the birds rather than seeing them, identifying them almost without thinking about it. I'm not chasing or working these birds, not listing or counting them. Instead, I am breathing them in, absorbing their essence through my skin. I am birding by osmosis. Zen birding - I like it.

Neither am I using the leash draped around my neck. I carry it for form's sake, in case we meet another walker or a park official, but I really don't need it. Holly and I are tethered by something stronger than a nylon collar and a leather lead. We have a bond unbreakable, forged of love and understanding, tempered by time. She knows not to leave the trail or run off. She doesn't even chase the rabbit we flush from the edge of the path. I know I can trust her implicitly.

She wanders ahead, but always at a respectful distance.
If I fall too far behind, she stops and looks back, checking for me and maintaining eye contact. When I don't move quickly enough to keep up with her, she turns and trots back, encouraging me to move along.If I do happen to lose sight of her, I'm not worried.
I know she will wait for me, and when I come around the bend, I will be greeted by this face.
As we near the end of the trail, Holly's slowing down. She's more likely to be found at my side or even trailing behind a few paces, and it strikes me that my high-energy Lab mix is nearly 12 years old. She doesn't quite have the stamina she had in the past.

She is willing to sit and waitwhile I snap pictures of wildflowersand seedpodsand fishermenand weird galls on leaves.She even lies down to restwhen I take forever getting my exposures right.Fortunately, she is still able to serve as my scout and my protector. She checks that the bridge over the pond's overflow is safe for me to cross, even though the water, which is usually level with the boardwalk, has dried to crust.Too soon, the walk was over. The heat and humidity were taking their toll on us both, and it was time to head home. It was only an hour walk, a brief time to spend with my old friend, but such a special time, and one that we both needed. Devote an hour of uncomplicated time to your dog today - you won't be sorry.