Monday, October 31, 2011

October Oddities

I went to the movies last Thursday evening.  It was raining when we went in, but when we got out of the theater, it was snowing!  (Our first snow isn't usually until December!) There was no accumulation and the next morning the streets were damp, but totally clear.  However, for the first time this fall (yes, it's still fall!) I had to scrape frost off my windshield.  I took a few pictures first though because nature had painted some interesting designs in the ice.

There were little rivulets of rain down the windshield that seemed to freeze in place.  Here's a view from the inside of the car.

Then there were little 'bird tracks' across the streaks of water.  It almost looks like birch bark.  The design on the side windows was totally different.

Not as interesting, but different.

That was Thursday.  Saturday also started with rain - and wind - then more snow.  We were again one of the lucky ones.  My friends in New Jersey were away in New Mexico, but came home Sunday afternoon to 19 inches of snow and a power outage.  Rhode Island only got a few inches of snow.  I woke up Sunday morning to see that even a little bit of wet heavy snow was enough to weigh down the branches of my butterfly bush which still has all its leaves.

As you can see, the other butterfly bush was hardly affected at all -  protected from the wind and snow by my neighbor's house.  There was also evidence of the outside kitties' presence - little paw prints in the snow.

By afternoon the temperature was up to 45 degrees and the snow was melting rapidly.  The butterfly bush (and my neighbor's house) was now decorated with tons of sparrows looking for food instead of that white stuff.

It's supposed to be down in the 20s tonight - the coldest temperature we've had this winter season.  Hopefully, my drive to work tomorrow won't be treacherous with ice on the road.

I was still in the process of getting pictures of the fall leaves before the snow, but don't know what's going to be left after this.  We'll see.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sweeping Swans

Geese aren't the only ones flying the skies these days (see my Gathering Geese post).  The other morning I was outside feeding the cats and glanced up to see three white birds in the sky.  They were much quieter than the clamorous geese, but still made more discreet sounds as they flew past.  I'm pretty sure they were swans.

Photo by Duncan Shaw   Source:  Science Photo Library (if you didn't already guess!)

Of course, by the time I ran in to get my camera they were gone.  I have yet to get a photo of the geese either because by the time I hear them, grab my camera and get out the door, it's too late.

The swans I saw were most likely Mute Swans, an introduced species that is native to Europe and Asia.  No, mute swans are not actually mute.  They are just less noisy than some other species of swans.  One of the noises they are most famous for is the sound of their wings as they fly, which I think is what I heard that made me notice them.  The largest member of the duck family, swans are basically vegetarians, feeding on both land and in the water, but may eat small critters caught up in the aquatic plants they eat.  This is a familiar sight of feeding swans.

Source:  Wikipedia

Not very pretty, but that's the only way they can get at those underwater goodies.  This is the much more familiar and preferred view!

Source:  Wikipedia

As lovely and graceful as swans are, they also have a reputation of being fairly aggressive.  They are very territorial and won't hesitate to go after an intruder.

Just like the ballet Swan Lake, there are also black swans, mainly found in Australia and New Zealand.  But they're not entirely black.  They have white flight feathers which, as the name suggests, are only seen when they are in flight.

Source:  Wikipedia

The other southern hemisphere swan found only in South America, aptly called the black-necked swan, just has a black neck.

Source:  Wikipedia

Swans can have a wing span of over nine feet and weigh over 30 pounds.  Getting off the ground and landing takes some skill, and some swans have had more practice than others.  Graceful is not the word I would use in some cases, especially for those landing on ice.  For videos, click here and here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Humorous Harbor Seals

Did you know that we have seals here in Rhode Island?  Even a lot of Rhode Islanders are not aware that harbor seals that normally live in along the coast of Maine and Canada during the rest of the year, come to Narragansett Bay for the winter.  While the folks here think the winter water temperatures are pretty darn chilly, it's all relative when compared to Canada. Even though harbor seals have a layer of blubber to help maintain body temperature, they must think they have something to gain by making the trip.  And it's probably not all the excited hellos from Rhode Islanders who take harbor tours just to see them.

Source:  Wikipedia

Harbor seals can have various colors of brown to gray bodies, but each has a unique pattern of spots to complete their furry outfits.  They can be up to 6 feet long and weigh over 200 pounds.  Just as in human society, females generally live longer than males.  Their diet is mainly fish, but an occasional shrimp cocktail or crab salad is also on the menu.  Their affinity for congregating in harbors is where they get their name.

Rhode Islanders can also see the occasional grey seal...

Source:  Wikipedia

hooded seal....

Source:  Wikipedia

or, more rarely, a harp seal.

Photo by Brian Skerry  Source:  National Geographic
(photo NOT taken in Rhode Island!)

One of these days I hope I'm one of those people on a seal watch tour.  Maybe this season.  For a couple of videos taken right here in Rhode Island, click here and here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Leonine Leonbergers

Ever heard of a Leonberger?  No, it's not some kind of gourmet hamberger.  It's a double-coated working dog from Germany.

Source:  Wikipedia

Similar to the Bernese Mountain dog (see my Benevolent Berner post), it began as a guard dog and 'draft' animal being adept at pulling carts.  It's also a great family dog and has been used in search and rescue work, as well as service and therapy dogs.

Bred in (wait for it) Leonberg, Germany, hence its name, the Leonberger's family tree includes a Landseer Newfoundland, St. Bernard and Pyrenees.  With its black mask it looks like it could be part raccoon too.  With its Newfy heritage, the Leonberger is also a natural for water rescue.

Source:  Wikipedia

Their double coat requires a lot of brushing and their size (they weigh more than 100 pounds) requires lots of TRAINING and exercise.

For a video and more information, click here.  And they're a very talkative breed too.  Check it out here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Nimble Nuthatches

I glanced out the door the other day to see what the 'outside' cats were up to and who was around.  None of the cats were, but caught a glimpse of a nuthatch on the patio looking for seeds.  I hadn't seen any nuthatches in ages.  I used to see them when I put bird food around my tree during the winter.  There was a little table out there and the cats would hide under the table waiting for the birds to come down for the food.  Needless to say, I stopped the practice.  Even though they were around, I've never seen them by the bird feeder or suet I put out.  But they are getting closer.

I have the white-breasted nuthatches around here. There are several subspecies, but is found in one form or another throughout the majority of the U.S., southern Canada and western Mexico.  The red-breasted nuthatch is more commonly found in the western U.S., northern New England and ranges further north into Canada.

Source:  Wikipedia

Nuthatches mainly eat insects in warmer weather when they're available and seeds in the colder months, and, of course, nuts whenever it can find them.  It gets its name from its habit of sticking a nut in a tree bark crevice and 'hacking' at the shell until it gets the nut out.

Nuthatches are called songbirds, but that term is a little doubtful because the call of a nuthatch is not all that musical.  Nuthatches are one of the few birds that can go down a tree trunk head first.

There are over 20 species of nuthatches and they are found from southern Europe, India, the Middle East and throughout Asia.  Other species found in the U.S. are the Pygmy Nuthatch...

Source:  Wikipedia

which is only about four inches long, and this striking little Brown-headed nuthatch.

Source:  Wikipedia

To see a video of a white-breasted nuthatch, click here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Silly Shenanigans 5

Once again it's time for a Silly Shenanigans post - some of my favorite captioned photos.  I'm not sure where the first one came from; it was sent to me by a friend.  But the rest came from LOL Cats and LOL Dogs website.  Enjoy!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Last Gasp of Summer

Sunday, the 9th of October, it was 85 degrees F outside and I sat watching NFL football games with the blinds down blocking out the hot autumn sun and the air conditioner going full blast.  There's definitely something wrong with this picture.  Even the outside cats headed for the shade.

And Miss Kitty was not pleased at being disturbed during her late summer reverie.

Just a few days ago we had highs in the 60s and lows into the 30s with heat pouring out of the vents.

Where I am in Rhode Island the leaves haven't even started to turn yet, except for a few trees here and there.  There are still a few flowers blooming in my garden.  Several petals linger on my hydrangea.

Most of the flower clusters on my butterfly bush have died, but a few blooms struggle through their last hurrah.

This small bushy-like plant has little lavender flowers in the spring, but red berries replace them in the fall.  I'm not sure what it is - it just started growing in my front yard.

Even my clematis still has a few procrastinating flowers, although quite a bit of the plant looks dead or dying.

Tomorrow it's supposed to be in the 80s again, but the rest of the week reverts back to more normal temperatures in the 60s with flannel-pajama evenings.  So I guess I need to enjoy these final warm days while I can before reality sets in.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Tall Tails

A lot of the pictures you see of people catching huge fish are of saltwater sporting fish like sailfish, swordfish, or marlins.  However, one of the largest freshwater fish in the world is the taiman.  The world record catch weighed 231 pounds.  Here's a photo of a rod and reel catch at a mere 110 pounds.

Where do you have to go to catch one?  Taimen are found only in the faster moving rivers and streams of Russia and Mongolia.  These fish can be up to 6 feet long and are identified by their red tail, black spots, huge head and mouth and white belly.  They eat smaller fish, small mammals and birds.  There was one story of a huge taimen that had died and washed ashore; it still had a small dog in its stomach.  The biggest threat to smaller taimen?  Bigger taimen!  Yes, they also eat each other.

The taimen belongs to the Salmonidae family which includes both salmon and trout.  The taimen is also known as the Siberian salmon, but I've also seen it referred to as a trout.  It does spawn in the spring, but only migrates short distances to shallower streams and tributaries.

It takes decades for taimen to reach record size and the larger fish are getting more rare.  They are on both Russian and Mongolian Red Books due to threats that include overfishing, habitat loss and pollution.

If you were lucky enough to catch one of these big guys, you would definitely have one whopper of a fish story.  For a couple of videos, click here and here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Vicktory Dogs

No, that's not a typo.  This post is about all the pit bulls that were confiscated after Michael Vick's arrest for animal cruelty and running a dog fighting ring in 2007.  Normally, dogs involved in fighting rings are automatically put down because they are deemed to be too dangerous.  Because of Vick's celebrity, there was a public outcry that these dogs should be given a second chance.  Over forty Vick dogs were given that chance; only two were put down because of behavior and injuries.  After a herculean effort by so many people and a lengthy stay in a shelter for evaluation, the dogs went to various pit bull rescue groups and 22 of the worst cases went to Best Friends animal sanctuary in Utah.

We all know what happened to Michael Vick.  He served his time in prison and is now back on the football field with the Philadelphia Eagles.  The move by the Eagles was very controversial, but I suppose the argument could be - if the dogs were given a second chance, why not Vick.  With Vick back in the spotlight and the NFL football season in full swing, perhaps it is time to put the spotlight back on those dogs that were saved.  Vick wasn't the only one to make a comeback!

So where are they now?  Would you believe some are now certified therapy dogs???  Meet Jonny Justice.

Jonny, whose original name was Jonny Rotten, is now part of a library program helping kids become more comfortable reading aloud.

Hector, also a therapy dog...

Source:  Huffington Post

bears deep scars on his chest from his time as a fighting dog.  Hector now visits the sick and makes appearances in schools.

And Leo, yes, another therapy dog, visits hospitals and nursing homes.

Source:  Huffington Post

All of the dogs that did not go to Best Friends have either been adopted or are in foster homes.

And the Best Friends dogs?  Even the worst case dogs have made a lot of progress, many having passed their Canine Good Citizen test.  The problems of the majority of the Vicktory dogs was aggression or avoidance because of fear - OF US.  And just about everything else.   Most of those sent to Best Friends are still there, but even a couple of them have been adopted.  Like Cherry who is seen here with his human Melissa and cat buddy, Walker.  He also shares his home with another dog.

Source:  Best Friends

Mya has also come a long way and now helps to socialize puppies at the sanctuary.

Source:  Best Friends

Shadow was so terrified of everything, he would belly crawl on his walks.

Source:  Best Friends

He now loves walks and visitors and anything that involves having fun.

Perhaps the most notable of these dogs is Georgia, who you might say has become an ambassador for pit bulls everywhere having appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres show and ESPN.

Source:  Best Friends

You can see Georgia's past in her scarred face, but her willingness to become a totally different dog than the one that arrived at Best Friends in 2008 shows in her toothless smile.

The Michael Vick saga has changed the way shelters see pit bulls and a lot of places are now judging each dog as an individual instead of making a blanket assessment of those that have been involved in dog fighting through no fault of their own.  They too are Vicktims.

Click here to read more inspirational stories about each of the Best Friends' courageous Victory dogs.  Click here to see a wonderful video from the Early Show about some of the other Vick dogs.  Ten of the dogs went to Bad Rap, a pit bull rescue organization in San Francisco.  Click here for more information about that organization.  The Vick dogs are not the only dogs involved in fighting that they've helped.

Jim Gorant has written a book that came out last year about the Michael Vick dogs, 'The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's Dogs and their Tales of Rescue and Redemption'.  Click here to see more about it on Amazon.

Because of their celebrity, both the Vick dogs and those that cared for them had a lot of pressure put on them to succeed and prove that these dogs (and pit bulls in general) do not deserve their vicious reputation and can be rehabilitated.  The show 'Dogtown' on the National Geographic Channel even followed the progress of a couple of Vick dogs at Best Friends.  Both people and dogs have come through with flying colors and surpassed everyone's expectations.  If we've learned anything from this, it's that humans are not the only ones with an indomitable spirit for surviving and beating the odds.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Troubled Titmice

The birds are starting to come to the feeder on a more regular basis now that the weather is getting a little cooler.  The titmice, which I didn't see much of during the summer, are getting more active - lining up for their turn at the feeder like airplanes lining up on the runway.  Or maybe more accurately like cars lining up at the takeout window.

The titmice never just sit leisurely on the feeder and eat like the sparrows or cardinals.  Titmice are more of a grab and go type eater which means that they fly back and forth to the feeder probably 20 or 30 or more times a day.  Here's a titmouse with a seed in its beak getting ready for takeoff.

The titmouse will occasionally take a seed or nut to the butterfly bush and peck at it to crack it open.  For a video (not taken by me), click here.

The tufted titmouse is only found in the eastern half of the U.S.  During warmer temperatures titmice eat mostly insects, but will also eat seeds, berries and nuts.  Titmice are hoarders and will stash food for future use.

There is also a black-crested titmouse that lives in Texas, Oklahoma and along the eastern coast of Mexico.

Source:  Wikipedia

Titmice have several different calls; the song most talked about is a several note version of peter-peter.  However, around here I mostly hear high pitched whistles and their harsh scolding call.  It's probably because there are so many cats around.  Whenever I do hear a rare peter-peter, I have to stop and think what bird it is!  To hear what they sound like, click here.

Source:  Wikipedia

Titmice are supposed to be somewhat shy, but I can be standing fairly close to the feeder and they come anyway - scolding all the way, of course.  No matter how raucous their calls, they are always welcome visitors.