Monday, March 30, 2009

September to October

Mid-September, 2004.
Mom came over one day, for a reason I don't remember anymore. She was quieter than usual, smiling in almost a sad way at 2 1/2 year-old Isabelle and 7 month-old Lorelei.
I asked her if something was wrong. And there was.

My Dad had chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

She explained it in the best way she could, but all I could hear was cancer. Cancer. Cancer.
I've never been so scared in all my life. I stumbled to Geoff's office and managed to choke out, "My Dad....has....cancer....".
Over the next few days, I learned all that I could about the disease. I was encouraged by the many instances I read about, the patients who lived with this for years, even decades.
Dad and Mom asked for a meeting with my brother and me, to discuss things my Dad wanted to talk about. Mostly the land and how he never wanted it split up and sold, estate stuff...that kind of thing.
Even as I talked with my family about the "what ifs", I refused to think that Dad might not win this fight.

October 17, 2004
A cold day found all of us (family, old friends, everyone) at a barn party. Delicious, bad-for-you casseroles, chips and dip, and the ever-present beer. Dad had begun his first round of chemo the week before. He seemed okay.
The chill and the kids forced us to leave before the party wound down. As we left, I walked up behind Dad, squeezed his arm, and said, "Bye, Dad". He half-turned, and said, "Bye, Sue".

October 18th, 2004
Mom called in the afternoon. Dad was pretty ill with a high fever and chills. He and Mom were at the hospital, and they were assured that this was probably from the chemo....that Dad had caught a cold or the flu because the chemo had wrecked his immune system. Mom was going home to sleep...nothing to worry about.
I remember chatting later with my cousin Mary Lou. About Dad. About the Northern Flicker in my backyard.

October 19th, 2004. 2:20 am.
The phone rang.
Mom's voice cracked over the line. "Dad's not doing very good. Can you come now?"
I was backing out of the driveway by 2:23.
The night was foggy, almost impossibly so. An Amber Alert was blaring over all the highway signs. The 50 minute drive took forever.
Steve, my brother, met me at the ER entrance. He didn't say anything.
We walked down dark, solemn hallways to a small room where Mom was.
I sat down and put my arm around her shoulders.
She looked at me, then at Steve. "You didn't tell her?"
Steve looked at the floor.
Mom gathered her strength from somewhere, looked into my eyes and said, "Honey, Dad died."

The world went out, like a blown light bulb.

*Dad's pre-chemo tests had shown that he had at least a few minor heart attacks sometime in the past. The doctor informed Dad that chemo would be a risk. Dad chose to proceed anyway.*

In halting words, Mom told me of the events that had transpired during my 50-minute drive. Dad had gone into cardiac arrest. The doctors and nurses had worked on him for at least 20 minutes. He died at 2:30 am, seven minutes after I had left my house.

The three of us walked deeper into the quiet hospital to see Dad. As we passed the nurses' station, I heard one of them say, "Poor thing. She didn't make it in time".
Dad was in a cold, half-lit room, with a sterile white blanket pulled up to his shoulders.
Steve went in first, and reached back to grab my hand. He hadn't held my hand since I was 5 years old.
Reality was warping around me. But I put a hand on Dad's forehead and leaned down to kiss him.

And a last whisper....."Daddy".

I wasn't going to post tonight, but Mary's post here turned the pitcher of my memory right over.
The ones we love can be here one day, gone the next. Or they can slowly disappear from us over the course of years. Either way, it leaves us an unbalanced equation. The thing that keeps us righted is removed and we stumble.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Julie blows into town, packing books and Bacon

Last night, Julie was in town, so I went to listen to her lecture (and see The Bacon, of course).

JZ signing books
The crowd was diverse...some young, facially-pierced University students, some bloggers and a large amount of older birder/nature-oriented types.
The talk was good, as it always is with Julie.
Afterward, Nina and I and a few women whose names I didn't catch, went for an official Audience with Chet Baker.
When I know Chet is going to accompany Julie on her trips, I come fully armed with dog treats and a toy.

It took Chet maybe 5 minutes to kill it and dismember it.

Bacon and the toy

Poor toy. We lined up some of the pieces and marveled at their resemblance to rib bones...
Took less than 5 minutes

Chet and his Southwestern Ohio Harem:
Chet and his groupies

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


This awaited me when I cleaned out the bird carriers after today's program.

Hearts in feather

Anyone want to guess at the owner of this perfect feather?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bye bye, Coop!

I've said it before, but releases are the BEST!

I don't know the story behind this Cooper's Hawk, like its injury or where it was found.
So let's not dwell on my boring lack of details and focus instead on the happiness of the occasion.

The Coop was released by a new volunteer, and the woman let the bird go with joy and awe, a huge smile on her face. I think the bird was happy, too.
Coop release 032109

It happened so fast, in half a second it had cleared the barn....
Coop release 2  032109

...and sliced in between the mew gate and a parked car (and right by Dee, standing in the barn doorway!).
Coop release 3  032109

Another bird who needed help and received it.'s just what we do.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Our local Mamma Owl is busy with at least one owlet....

Mamma Owl waddles around chick
To make sense of this photo....The big mound is Mamma Owl, with her tail sticking up. (The grassy stuff is grass, blown in there during our Big Windy Day, back in September.
I ran into Jack Verdin again, (a local wildlife photographer), and he has been watching closely...he described the ritual of the owl standing up, turning and waddling around the chick. And then the owl demonstrated. Jack and others used an infrared camera to look through the bottom of the nest can and they saw at least two warm circles. Hard to tell how many babies are in there until they are big enough to peer over the top. And that nest can must be FULL of stuff, for the Mamma to be sitting up so high in the nest. Ewwww.....rabbit skulls and mallard feet and pellets!

At least one sweet little future-predator is up there, food-begging and growing.
Ahh. Life is good.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Signs, signs....everywhere are signs...

Tomorrow is the first day of Spring, in case you didn't know that.

The signs have been coming for quite a while....birds more interested in chasing each other than eating, grass starting to look green again.
At RAPTOR, every year about this time, a huge patch of these start to pop up.
Can anyone tell me what they are? The flower hangs from the top of the stem and looks like an upside down trumpet.
Bluest blue flowers
Whatever they are, they are just the bluest blue flowers I have ever seen.

In just about a month, a whole passel of bloggers will be converging on West Virginia for the New River Birding and Nature Festival. And we have Kathi to blame for that.
She could be their sole PR staff.

The current list of bloggers who will be whooping it up in the mountains of WV next month:
Susan M.
Jane *
Beth the Delurked Comment Queen
(* staying at the Farmhouse)
Yep, that's 8 women in one house. That house has two bathrooms. We are so toast. Well, at least it has Wi-Fi.

Oh, and Julie, Bill, Liam and Phoebe will be there. And Jim McCormac.
And The Bacon.

I'm looking forward to this trip like no other. It will be a glorious reunion with "old" friends, and a glorious meeting of "old but un-met" friends. And a whole seven days of sweaty, fast and dirty birding!

I was thinking of West Virginia as Lorelei and I were eating at McDonald's today.
And what greeted me from the McNugget box?

My West Virginia Chicken McNugget
A Chicken McNugget. In the shape of WEST VIRGINIA.

Signs. They're everywhere.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Twenty four years ago, I got to investigate my first computer. I was 12, in the sixth grade, and it was the only computer in the whole school.... ONE computer for a whole school. We each got 3 minutes on it to play some word game or something. I seem to recall it was an Apple.
My first personal computer was in 1993, some geezer IBM, with all of 4 MB of memory. It whirred and wheezed and had a dial-up connection.

Nowadays, computers are everywhere and kids are as tech-savvy as the adults are (sometimes more!). Isabelle's school (and nearly every school I have visited) has computers in the classrooms and also a Computer Lab. Lots and lots of computers.

With my recent gift, I started taking stock of all the technology I have in my life.
*Computers: I have a desktop PC, Geoff has a desktop PC, the family has a lap top and I have another lap top for RAPTOR. Peripheral devices include speakers, flash drives, paper printers, photo printers, and scanners. Also attached is a wireless cable modem so we can all talk to each other. The RAPTOR lap top also has a digital projector so that I can WOW children around the Tri-State area. All these things have chargers or cables or peripheral gizmos.
My computer is probably my favorite gadget, because it connects me to the Internet, and all of you.

*Our TVs. High-Def flat screens, with digital cable and DVD players.

*My digital camera. My baby. My microscope for the natural world. That one camera requires that I have a battery, a charger, a cord for uploading and software on my computer.

*My cell phone. So I can make calls and check Facebook constantly. : ) Oh yeah...also has a charger.

*My Garmin. Lets me find my way in the world. Talks to a satelite in space. That includes a charger to keep it juicy and also a USB cable so that it can talk to my computer.

*My iPod. A super fun little gadget to carry the soundtrack of my life and bird songs, so I can talk to the birds and learn their languages. That came with a speaker and a cable, so it can charge its little heart and also talk to my computer.

Anyone else feeling a bit "tangled"?

Monday, March 16, 2009

One to call my own

I must have whined enough. I must have looked pitiful enough when everyone else used theirs.

Lynne, possibly the sweetest person I have ever met, got herself a new iPod recently. And her old one, complete with birdJam, (Hi, Jay!) needed a home.
She might be embarrassed by this post..she's the type to do something wonderful for someone and then flap her hands and say "Oh, no no no..." when they show their appreciation.

It arrived today...
I was expecting a little iPod with a tiny black and white screen. What I got was a big iPod with a big color screen.

iPod! ! !
And an iMainGo speaker carry-case thingy.
Now I won't be the dummy in the group who doesn't know any calls except for owls, hawks and falcons.
I have a month to learn some warbler calls so I can impress Kathi, our By-Ear-Birderess, on our trip to West Virginia.
And speaking of West Virginia, Lynne should plan on relaxing on the porch of the Farmhouse as I massage away all the aches and pains in her feet from hiking and birding. And when she grows weary of all that walking, I will be carrying her on my back.

Now I can go outside, blast barred owl calls and annoy my neighbors.

Love ya, Lynne. Thank you.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Laverne (June 10, 2006-March 10, 2009)

It's inevitable. Love and care for a houseful of animals, every once in a while you have to say goodbye to them.
Laverne, the last of Penny's babies, developed a mammary tumor just like her mother and sister. Penny and Shirley were euthanized.
The word is that spaying female rats between 3 and 4 months of age will reduce the chances of them developing mammary tumors by 75%. But spaying a rat (who weigh in at 350-450 grams) is very risky and we opted not to do it.

Penny got into Nic's cage and in about one and a half seconds, she was pregnant.
21 days later, she gave birth to just two little pink girls:
babies 1 day old
(Laverne and Shirley, June 10, 2006)

In six days, they had already grown the sweetest, softest dark fuzz, indicative of their adult color.

close up 6 days old
Laverne, 6 days old.

To give you an idea of what a mammary tumor can do to a rat, here's Shirley on the day we euthanized her (Laverne's tumor was twice as large as this):
Shirley 062307

See here and here (cute baby rats and my girls!) and here(really cute pics!) for a few back posts about our baby rats.

Laverne was our escape artist. Once when she was just a few month old, and again when she was about a year old. She was sweet and gentle, she groomed me often (a very big compliment in the rat world), she knew her name and came when called.
There were plenty of times that I thought we should put her down. But I would open her cage and pick her up and she would brux (a grinding sound they make with their teeth when they are happy) and my heart would melt some more. When the tumor got too large for her to groom herself, I brushed her with a Barbie brush. When she couldn't reach her food bowl anymore, I rearranged her cage so she could get to everything she needed.
Yesterday, she was just laying on her side quietly. I knew the end was near, so I gently stroked her head and ears and whispered, "It's okay, Laverne. It's okay...."

Last night, her breathing was almost imperceptible. I covered her with a towel and put her in a dark quiet room. She was gone about an hour later.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

An Open Letter to Stupid and Lazy Person

Dear Stupid and Lazy Person,

I wanted to thank you personally for not returning your cart to the corral at the fabric store today. And I am concerned about your welfare, since you must have been in such a hurry that you couldn't walk 10 feet to the place that the carts are supposed to be returned. Maybe you are a heart surgeon and got that call about a transplant. Or you had to get to that sale at the Gap. Or you just had to pee really bad.
Even though the winds were blowing at higher than 40 miles per hour, something kept you from securing that cart. So I hope you are okay.

Never mind that the wind pushed your unsecured cart and made it roll down the slanted parking lot and was observed by a man sitting in his car, and said man watched it slam into my new Subaru. That man must have thought it was such a spectacular sight, that he had to come into the store and find me to tell me of the incident. That story really made the remainder of my shopping visit a pleasure.

I went out to survey the damage, which compared to your uber-busy schedule, really is trivial. Only three huge dents in the driver-side door. Of my new car.

You will never see me, or hear my tale. But that's okay, right? You are so busy and important that it's beneath you to think of other human beings and their property.

Have a nice day*,

*What I mean by that is... "I hope a bucketful of screw worms infests the crack of your a- -."

Friday, March 06, 2009

East of nowhere, with lots going on

Here I sit, in beautiful rural Adams County Ohio. Tomorrow morning is the Adams County Bird Symposium, and a tradition of mine is to come out the night before and get a nice quiet hotel room. The birds sleep in their carriers and I get to sleep in a bed by myself.
Another tradition is the "Open Curtains". The first year I came out here, I took a picture of my tiny hotel room, and Swami, my ever-vigilant father-in-law commented on the curtains.
I took a picture last year, too.

This year, I continue the tradition:

open curtains 2009

(I'm on the second floor, just as I always am. Nothing out there to peer in, except....)

While unloading my car, I heard some killdeer. And some spring peepers. Then some sounds that I have only heard on bird websites...WOODCOCKS!
(Whistling and 'peenting', the males show their stuff to the females as they perform aerial displays. )
This video didn't pick up a lot of 'peents' but if you listen closely, you might be able to hear some of the whistles and a few peents:

From what I have read, the dusk displays last about 30-40 minutes, while the dawn displays can last for an hour. Maybe I will get up early and listen for them. Or maybe I won't.

It's quiet out there now. I guess they are all having sex down in the mud.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A new program bird for RAPTOR (and for me)!

Name: Angel (SO 08-23)
Gender: Unknown
Height: 8 inches
Wingspan: 20 inches
Weight: 6 ounces
Date admitted: November 27, 2008
Age at arrival: Adult, unknown
Injury: Right wrist fracture, dislocation
Came from: Lynchburg, Ohio
Story: Found in yard, unable to fly
We came up with the name Angel (Angelo, if it turns out to be a male...waiting on DNA test) because of a light-colored halo on the back of its head. This was reinforced by the bird's gentle nature, calm attitude and seamless transition from glove to carrier and back again. This may very well be the "perfect" program bird.
That said, screech owls are the "Great Pretenders". They mask pain and stress, and they are also very good at playing dead. Try to hand-feed one, and it may fall over in your hand with its mouth hanging open, hoping you will drop it and leave it alone. :)

My initial observation though is that this will be a good avian ambassador.

An interesting thing I have noticed in some field guides is the description of the different color morphs of screech owls. Most guides list three morphs: Red, gray and brown. Some guides ignore "brown" all together and just describe the red and gray. In my opinion, you could describe a hundred color morphs in screech owls...some are very red or very gray, sure. But there are plenty of screech owls who fall somewhere in between gray and brown, and brown and red.
This bird falls smack dab in the "brown" slot, but we have a rehab SO right now who could be a "red" or a "brown", depending on the way the light falls on it. Some are brown with reddish primaries...some grays are also full of brown....I could go on and on.

One thing that is pretty accurate: Northern screech owls are more likely to be gray and the Southern ones are more likely to be red.
Evolution fascinates me...northern woods are mostly dark hardwoods, while the southern forests are full of pines. Hardwood bark and cavities are...wait for it...brown/gray. The bark of a pine tree is reddish....coincidence? I think not.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Merlebleu de l'Est

Every day, if we look and try to be present, signs of Spring can be seen.
For me today, it was the sight of 2 male/2 female bluebirds flitting through the woods at Lake Isabella. I watched for an hour as they curiously peered into tree cavities and noodled in the leaves for vittles.

Male bluebird stretching
The male is an impossible blue. Anyone ever read The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier?
I imagine that blue when I look at a male bluebird. And his chest makes me hungry for mango chutney.

female bb 2
The girls are not as flashy, not as bright. But the fresh peach of her chest and the favorite- faded-jeans hue of her back just speaks in a different palette.

A sweet pile of bluebird
Just a sweet pile of bluebird.

This one added for a sialis-phile that I know.....
Bluebird tocks
Mary, here's lookin' at you, kid.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A sort of okay day of birding...

We have an unusual bird at RAPTOR....a species that we have only seen and treated 5 times in the past 30 years. While the Saturday volunteers were cleaning, I squeezed in and got a photo:

A Long-eared Owl.
Yes, he looks like a great-horned owl. But he's only half the size. Very cute. And seems to have some head trauma with resulting vision problems. Everyone keep those fingers crossed.
(He's supposed to have ear tufts, but he wasn't interested in showing them to me.)

Now. My day today.
I heard that the Oxbow had a bald eagle nest on some adjacent private property. I wanted to see if I could get a peek (without trespassing!).
I wandered back to an overlook and stopped.
I saw a large dark bird across the lake...hmm. Too mottled to be a vulture. Maybe a juvie bald eagle?
And damn tootin', it was.

Juv Bald eagle
And a very large flock (100 + ) of unknown gulls were swirling about. And about 30 crows.

This was very cool. I love eagles and don't get to seem them very often.
It got better. Another juvenile eagle joined the first one.

Two juv bald eagles
This is nice. Two eagles at once? I've never seen two at once.

To explain the suckiness of my photos, this is how far away I was:
Where I was watching the eagles
See that faaaarrrrr shore? The eagles were past that in another lake. I need to start saving my pennies and got a really LONG lens and a new camera.

I scanned with my binoculars in time to see a third juvenile join the first two.
Three juv bald eagles
Holy Mackerel. Three. Freakin'. Eagles.
I then scanned the whole shore, and counted at least SEVEN juveniles. SEVEN.

At this point, I was talking to myself....
"Holy s**t. Seven. Seven? Oh, wow.....wait. Oh. OH. OH!!!! Adults!!!!"
Three adults were flying in. That made ten.

Oh, and a pair of Northern Pintails landed in the lake in front of me.
northern pintails
Huh. Cool.

Let's look at the eagles some more.

Here's two of the adults:
Two adult bald eagles Oxbow

I can hear Dave rolling his eyes all the way from Alaska. Baldies are like trash birds up there.
But ten bald eagles in southeastern Indiana....that's just spectacular.
Never did see the nest.

On a totally unrelated note....Kenn Kaufman Friended me on Facebook. Maybe he just is looking for Friends because he's new to Facebook. But you all know that there will be no living with me now. I'm Kenn Kaufman's Friend.
: )