Wednesday, February 23, 2011

To treat or not to treat...

Dakota enjoying a walk in the woods in November 2010
We almost lost our dog three and a half years ago and at the time wondered if we were doing the right thing spending a good amount of money on a 9 year old animal. Dakota has done very well since then and other than increasing stiffness in his joints, has been healthy and happy. Over the past few days we noticed him scratching his face and thought he had a skin problem. The Becka called me at work yesterday to say his face was swollen and bleeding so we took him to the vet for an assessment. It turned out to be an abscessed tooth and we had to consider our options for a now 12 year old dog.

Infections of the 4th premolar (carnassial tooth) can cause problems for older dogs. They often appear as skin sores and can spread to the eye as well. To leave the infection untreated would be cruel so we had the choice of extraction under general anaesthetic or euthanasia. I asked for a complete blood screening in order to assess Dakota's liver and kidney function. Surprisingly, his results were near normal and much improved from his blood work in 2007. (We now feed him a primarily home made diet and no longer give him heart worm medication.) So we booked the surgery for today and he came through it very well. He had two infected teeth removed, the area was well irrigated, a dose of IV antibiotics was administered and he is on oral antibiotics for 10 days. And doggie dental work is no cheaper than human dental work.

Groggy, but glad to be home today
Time will tell if we made the right decision, but for now he is more comfortable and happy to be home. I wish dogs lived as long as cats or ideally as long as people. We have had several dogs over the years and it is always hard to lose them.

This week the spring on our automatic garage door opener broke and the dog developed this infection. Both events took time from our work day and money from our bank account. And they are totally irrelevant to many people in the world who don't have a car, garage or money for their own dental care. I look at the news and see the losses suffered by people in New Zealand and the countries where poverty and repression have spawned revolutions. How fortunate we are to have the choice to give our aged pet good medical care.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Flowers and Kathie's Poems

I have thoroughly enjoyed the two amaryllis plants my husband gave me for Christmas. Their blooms peaked this week and so these are the last pictures I will share. Once they are done I will be tempted to buy potted tulips and daffodils until my garden starts greening in April. This winter has been long, grey and white for the most part. Now we are coming to its bipolar days of teasing warmth followed by yet another blast of arctic air.

Kathie Brown is a blogger I have followed for a few years now. In Sycamore Canyon, she shared warm and inviting pictures of life with her husband Gus in Arizona. I envied her winter bird counts, her beautiful patio and desert jaunts. Last year they moved to Massachusetts and have endured cold and record snowfalls for weeks on end this winter. But she donned her winter woollies and worked very hard to count birds in January and is making the best of their change of circumstances. She now posts about life and birding at Kathie’s Birds

Kathie also writes poetry, simple verse, artistry with words - the kind of poetry I understand and appreciate. Here are two recent poems posted on her blog Kathie’s Poet Tree. Do stop there and read more.

This Winter White

When the winter dark and dreary
makes me feel, oh so weary,
and my eyes get oh so blurry,
from looking at all this white!
I start to think of sunny things,
pretty flowers, birds with wings,
hiking on a sunny day
through grasses green
and fresh mown hay,
it lifts my spirits and my mind
and mentally I leave behind
this cold white cage that quells my song,
this winter white and deep and long.

~Kathie Adams Brown (2-5-11)


Abundance is more than food
or drink,
It is a fullness of heart,
a thankfulness,
a contentment in the soul,
a serenity.
It is a warm and quiet place to eat your breakfast
On a cold winter’s day.

~Kathie Adams Brown (1-20-11)

Happy Friday with flowers and poems, warmth and friendship...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Weather Forecasters Eat Crow

For two weekends in a row our weather experts have missed forecasting significant weather and we received unexpected snowfalls. Fail!

On Groundhog Day we were told we were going to be hit by the biggest winter storm in three years and many places closed in anticipation of the bad weather coming our way from the American midwest. It missed us.

This Saturday we planned to travel 100 km west to visit our daughter for the day. We were supposed to get a dusting of snow overnight but awoke to several fresh centimetres and gusty winds. I checked online satellite pictures which showed a narrow band of flurries coming toward our city from Lake Huron. The area around was clear and our daughter assured us it was sunny at her place.

We set out on snow-covered roads and the divided four lane highway was only track bare. But visibility was good, the sky was clearing and traffic was light. As we continued west, the gusts of wind picked up and blew snow across the pavement but travel was still reasonably safe.

Half way to London, we came upon a large murder of crows. They lined the roadway, filled the trees and covered a parking lot. I have never seen so many crows in one place. And just as we passed them, the weather turned wickedly dangerous with heavy snow and wind. There was nowhere to stop, no place to turn around and had I stopped, the car would have been stuck. The Becka started the GPS unit to help us navigate and I followed hydro poles along the roadway.

We didn't drive out of the snow streamer for over 30 km and I was very, very thankful for four wheel drive even though it drops my gas mileage in a big way. My family in the north of Mexico and in the UAE experience sudden sandstorms which are equally unexpected and dangerous.  Here, we have had so much snow this winter that snowbanks in the country are higher than most vehicles. Wind gusts decrease visibility at eye level even if it is not snowing.

We finally reached our destination safely and the sun was shining brightly. My daughter and I walked along the Thames River at Greenway Park where the discharge from a water treatment plant keeps ice from forming. I didn't see a single crow, but there were Mergansers, Bufflehead, Goldeneye, Longtail, Black and Mallard Ducks on the river along with two Bald Eagles overhead. And did I mention Canada Geese?

The trail was plowed but no one bothered to clear the park benches. I think we have had enough snow for a winter and no one will convince me that global warming is a reality around here. We brought our aging dog along and he was less than impressed with being sent outside to do his business in snow that was a deep as he is high. His look coming back to the house summed up my feelings concerning three and a half months of winter...with at least another month to go.

 I continue to listen the weather forecasts with some scepticism, but if there is another murder of crows along the highway, I will seriously consider a U-turn or a full stop. Perhaps the weather forecasters need to get away from their computers and tracking systems once in a while and learn to talk crow rather than eat crow.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Complete in Love

Our Sunday School lesson was from John 3, the story about Nicodemus trying to understand Jesus' assertion that he must be born again of the Spirit. This was a hard teaching for an adult to grasp with Jesus as the teacher, yet it is a pivotal Christian doctrine. My mind travelled back to our trip to Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles where I noticed John 3:16 signs held above the crowds gathering to watch the enormous annual Halloween parade. People pushed past, ignoring offered literature, their attention focused on the present buzz.

The group of elementary aged children in my class are equally focused on their "now". They chat about Justin Bieber's new movie, take pictures under the table with their iPod cameras, giggling and wiggling as I set up.

I talked about our body, soul and spirit. The body was easy for the children to identify, that physical form they bathe, dress, feed, exercise and rest each day. And the concept about soul and humanity, our thoughts, emotions and actions, was grasped quickly. When does a child learn that a heart represents love, not the organ moving blood within their chest?

We moved on to define spirit, spiritus or breath. How can one identify something often hidden by our focus on the physical and emotional aspects of life? Even some religious institutions have squelched the inner spirit with an over-emphasis on rules, physical appearance and the playing of emotions, namely fear and guilt, in an effort to control people. Prayers come easy when we have a physical need but what happened to our awareness of the breath of God which brought life and a day by day spiritual relationship with mankind in the Garden of Eden?

Spirit...the God-sized hole in our being, the part of us that longs to connect to God whether we recognize it or not. To whom do we give control of our conscience and intuition? What speaks to us and with whom do we commune when all is silent, or when we observe the vastness and beauty of the earth and the heavens? What sustains us when body and soul are assaulted by the inevitable decline brought by age and illness?

We made valentines and put heart cookies with God-sized holes in them together with jam. Jesus taught with simple illustrations and the children grasped the lesson at the child level where faith is found. I pray it sticks, like the jam on fingers and table, and sustains them as they grow.

God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.  
 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Flowers: February Reds

The plants in my kitchen window thrive on the light which grows longer each day despite the harsh cold and snow on the other side of the pane.

Amaryllis buds swell red with promise of beauty worth waiting two months of development to see.

My tired old Christmas cactus produced three buds a year and only one or two would go on to full flower. I moved the plant to the basement in late November and left it in a dark corner without water for six weeks. After the holidays it was covered in buds which are now opening bright each day.

I sit at my desk at the hospital, my feet on the wall heater, and look out the window at the red of frozen crab apples against white snow. I keep hoping to see a flock of Waxwings land on them as they have in years past. Where are they sheltered in this deep cold?

“Keep your faith in beautiful things
In the sun when it is hidden
In the Spring when it is gone.”

Roy R Gibson

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Winter Bird Banding- Part Three

Impressive talons

Nancy lives a short distance from the Snow Bunting banding field. Her husband is also a bird bander and while she was busy in the van, her son called to say they had captured a Rough-legged Hawk. Rick encouraged us to leave the Buntings to him and we raced over to see the big bird.

Rough-legged Hawks are yet another species which breed in the Arctic Tundra and are found here only in the winter months. I have seen many from a distance and find them to be a striking, easy to identify raptor, especially in flight.

The bird was very calm and allowed Mike, who is an experienced handler,  to inspect it closely as he measured the wings and determined its age and sex. (male, greater than 2 years old).

After a final round of photographs, the hawk was released and soared to a nearby tree where it rearranged its feathers before it took off again. It was certainly an unexpected bonus for the day!

I posted this video on YouTube with some of the stills and a movie clip I shot at the Snow Bunting field. The Rough-legged Hawk is not included in this less-than-two-minute presentation. I wish I could have anticipated and filmed the Merlin attacks but some things just have to be seen and remembered.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Winter Bird Banding- Part Two

A Merlin fantasy- two superimposed images
The cold weather and recent heavy snowfalls have made it difficult for raptors to hunt for prey. I have seen more hawks around feeders than usual lately and they are working very hard for each meal. A trap of captured birds in a field is going to attract some attention. The Ruthven banders have reported a good number of unwanted visitors as they band the small birds. When I arrived, a Merlin and an American Kestrel were watching the proceedings with great interest. The Merlin flew off its perch in quick pursuit many times after a bird was released from the van window. The Snow Buntings always avoided capture and the aerial chases were quite exciting. The banders were not trying to put the birds at risk and kept a close eye on the predators. I was able to get very close to the Merlin who was not at all interested in me and eyed me with some disdain.

Horned Larks and Lapland Longspurs were also attracted to the ground traps. The larks were very cautious and were rarely captured even though good numbers of them were around. Lapland Longspurs were a new life bird for me and it is doubtful I would have spotted them in a flock of buntings without assistance. I had to opportunity to release one of them.

Lapland Longspur
I wish I had taken an picture of the extended rear claw for which it is named. This is another bird of the Arctic tundra but it is seen less commonly in our area in the winter even though it is not a species at risk. The picture below shows at least two Lapland Longspurs in a flock of Snow Buntings and it was not until after I downloaded the picture that I noticed them.

The picture below shows a Horned Lark between two buntings. They are much easier to pick out in a crowd. All the birds were quite vocal and their chirping and calling made pleasant listening.

Birds seen in the immediate vicinity of the banding operation:- 9 species of note

Snow Bunting, Lapland Longspur, Horned Lark, Merlin, American Kestrel, Coopers Hawk, Northern Mockingbird, Wild Turkey, Northern Shrike, plus the usual rural birds like doves, pigeons, etc.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Winter Bird Banding- Part One

I wrote a few posts about my visits to the bird banding station at Ruthven Park last fall. For the second winter, hard-working volunteers are trapping and banding Snow Buntings near Caledonia, Ontario. I follow the Ruthven nature blog and admire their persistence in the face of bitterly cold winter temperatures as they work in the field while parked in a van for hours at a time. 

A flock of Snow Buntings approaching the ground traps
 My visit was on a beautiful winter day with comfortable temperatures around -5C and no wind to speak of.  Snow Buntings breed in the high arctic, far above the tree line but migrate south in the winter. Large flocks are seen in area farm fields in the winter where they forage for fallen grain.

Banding started this day before sunrise, a little after 7AM. I had a 75 minute drive to get there and left about the time they started, pulling in on the lightly travelled secondary road around 9AM. Notice the lack of washroom facilities (even bushes) out here so my thermos of hot tea remained untouched. 

Nancy and Rick set out ground traps baited with cracked corn. In this picture they are removing birds from the traps and putting them in cloth drawstring bags. 

A portable banding lab was set up in a van and all necessary tools were between the two front seats. I sat in the back and watched as each bird was taken from its bag, measured, sexed, aged, its fat stores and muscle analyzed and weight taken. 

I saw first hand the difference between male and female plumage. First year male birds are somewhere inbetween and it takes special skill and experience to determine the sex of younger birds. They are very pretty sparrows in my opinion.

Parts two and three to follow....

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Big January 2011 Totals

The last two birds of my January 2011 count were found near a water treatment plant where warm water is discharged into the Grand River. It is one of the few spots left with open water after the recent deep freeze. This is my second year finding a Belted Kingfisher in January.

Beavers have been working the area too and have undertaken the felling of a large willow in the floodplain.

The usual crowd of ducks and geese, including Common Mergansers rested on the ice or paddled around in the shallow water. A juvenile Bald Eagle soared overhead. I have seen several eagles in various locations this year.

The trail was flooded and as I watched from the edge of the temporary lagoon, a Great Blue Heron flew in and landed in the trees in the middle of this picture. It huddled on a branch, its head tucked in from the cold, likely wishing it had joined others of its kind in flying to Florida for the season. It was my first January Great Blue Heron.

So my total number of species for January 2011 was 52, down from 56 last year and 61 the year before. But I saw five new January species and two of them were life birds. (The Varied Thrush was actually first seen in December 2010). Each winter is different and the birds pick and choose places most favourable for food. In the past three years I have counted 75 different January species within an hour of our home. Here is this year's list:

*First January sighting
  • American Black Duck
  • American Coot
  • American Crow
  • American Goldfinch
  • American Robin
  • American Tree Sparrow
  • Bald Eagle
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Blue Jay
  • Brown Creeper
  • Bufflehead
  • Canada Goose
  • Canvasback Duck
  • Common Goldeneye
  • Common Merganser
  • Common Raven
  • Coopers Hawk
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Great Black-backed Gull
  • Great Blue Heron*
  • Greater Scaup
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Herring Gull
  • House Finch
  • House Sparrow
  • Long-tailed Duck
  • Mallard Duck
  • Mourning Dove
  • Mute Swan
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Harrier
  • Northern Mockingbird*!
  • Peregrine Falcon* (life bird)
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Redhead Duck
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Rough-legged hawk
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Snow Bunting
  • Trumpeter Swan
  • Tundra Swan*
  • Varied Thrush*(life bird)
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Wild Turkey
Other birders I know who participated in the January count are Kathie of Kathie's Birds and Larry of The Brownstone Birding Blog.