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Getting My Doolittle On: La Ensenada, Costa Rica

Saturday, February 27, 2016

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 Amazingly, I'm blogging from Costa Rica. I know, never happens. But I was fresh out of one-eyed deer and I have fast Net at Villa Lapas and hey why not. It's what's in front of me, and it's awesome!
I have the loveliest group this year (well, they're all lovely). But ohh these folks, so wonderful to be in the woods together.

A saman tree. Also known as a Raintree, this enormous acacia-like tree (Albizia saman) spreads four times wider than it grows tall. It's native from Mexico to Brasil, but has been widely distributed around the world.  I looked at the ring of cabinas sheltering under its canopy (I was in #2, which must've been the Presidential Cabin because there were three beds!) and wondered who'd had the foresight to plant this thing in the middle of them, and how they knew the way it would define the entire space. And how long ago that might have been. One in Venezuela is a national treasure, and is thought to be more than 500 years old, having been described by Alexander von Humboldt around 1800--and it was old then!!


The view from beneath, out my cabin door. I had to set my phone to Panorama to capture it.


You could lead an entire trip to Costa Rica just focusing on its
amazing trees. Any one of the hundreds of trees we've seen here could be a tourist attraction in the US. Mario says it's called Raintree because cicadas live in it and piss down liquid. He says sometimes it's still green beneath a raintree when everything else has dried completely up. Good to know, about the cicada pee, I'd think. Or maybe not. Maybe better to think it makes its own weather, no?



So La Ensenada has an open-air dining room as do most eco-lodges we frequent, and there are white-throated magpie jays freely stealing stuff off plates and out of bread baskets. It's very amusing, at least to American tourists; less so to the staff I'm sure.  See jay, second plate from front.

Blue jays on steroids...crows in leisure suits. WTMJ's are pretty darned cool birds, smart and bold and opportunistic to a fault.  Big as a magpie and twice as purty. I believe this to be an immature.


It posed prettily for me when I imitated its scraping chuckles. Here, we're talking up a blue and white storm. Rawwk! Oop! dok dok dok! I'm getting my Doolittle on on this trip.


Ol Mr. Bluejay, in them baseball clothes of his
Struttin' 'round the premesis...

Gotta love the head doo-dads. What a bird!

Meanwhile, down by the pool, SIX black-headed trogons were feasting on figs.
Here, a female gags one down whole. She'll choke up the pit somewhere else, maybe plant another tree. 


I was just trying to get a photo of one black-headed trogon eating a fig when five more swooped in.


File under: Costa Rica problems. Durn trogons! Gotta swat 'em away!


And then there are the mantled howlers, waking me up at 3:28 AM. It's OK. I love the sound, like thunder in the treetops. 


I think this is an adult male. Just a hunch.  I made a video of one walking and howling at the same time. So amazing and so funny. I just love observing howlers. 

There are horses on this dude ranch. I made friends with a shy gelding at sunset, scratching his withers and jawbars and brisket. 


Lucy and Jenny M. took pictures of the whole thing. I took one back, of tiny Lucy and big horse.


But my favorite shot from La Ensenada was the theft of a whole slice of soft white farmer cheese by a young magpie jay and its parent. Well, the adult was loading up on scrams. That interface of wildlife and people... I find it irresistible. 


Ellen: The Beat Goes On

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

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Two lady cardinals have a chat. You'd think there was a mirror.


And the purple finch wonders, "Does this cardinal make me look fat?"



One interesting thing about photographing these deer every chance I get is documenting changes in their appearance--seasonal and otherwise.

When Beck, Ellen's beautiful son, showed up on February 19, 2016, only his pedicels said he once wore a crown. I was surprised he'd dropped his antlers so soon.

At 2 1/2 years old, he's still slight enough to be mistaken for a big doe.


Oh how I would love to find the antlers that left those pedicel scars. I've looked. I'll keep looking. The snow queered my search.  They show up best on sodden leaves.


Tell me where you dropped 'em, Beck. Please. I'll give you a little corn.


Meanwhile, I keep shooting his little mama Ellen. 


and I've noticed a change in her bad eye.


 I don't think she has sight in it as yet, but it looks to me that the scarred corneal zone is smaller than it was when she first showed up injured in January.

Here she is on 1/31/16.



And on Feb. 17. Maybe healing. Wouldn't it be nice?


Of course, I would love to think she could regain sight in that eye, but I don't know enough about it to prognosticate.


And Ellen won't say.

I'll just love her as she is, and not hold back and hope for her to be any different or better. That's all we can do for the ones we love. Even, and especially, the ones we love most of all.



 Every time she stumbles back into the trees, I wonder if she'll show up again. And she always does.



Ellen, The One-Eyed Scrapper

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

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And then on January 24, our little Ellen showed up with her right eye all red. Oh my gosh.  What happened to you, dear one? 


I knew right away she could have no vision in that eye. And she didn't respond to my waving from inside. She'd occasionally turn her head to scan with the good eye, but it's clear to me she's using her hearing and the cues from contentedly feeding birds to listen for danger. Not that much different from feeding at night; safer, maybe, because she's got the birds as watchdogs. As long as the cardinals are cracking seeds and the goldfinches are chatting she's good. 

So...how did it happen? Well, I can only guess, and present a pretty obvious (illustrated) hypothesis. 


Ellen is not a dominant doe, thanks to her very small size. In fact, the first time I saw her in 2009 I took her for a yearling. Look at the difference between her and Boss Doe here. She's movin' on up to the corn.

And Boss Doe says NO. Baboom! 


And Ellen retreats, her trademark head tilt giving her away. 


She withdraws and thinks a moment.


Comes right back. Here's the windup


And here's the pitch. Look at that pure nastiness on Boss Doe's face. 


Ellen: Yeah yeah. Kick me.


 My Ellen is a scrapper.


She comes back around.


And gives as good as she gets.  Baboom! take that, Boss Doe! 

Another altercation, this one quite telling. Boss Doe again, on another day. (You can tell Boss Doe by her cinnamon face markings).

Ellen, clearly telling her to honk off.


and Boss comes in with a face kick. Dirty dancing, Boss Doe.


Think I figured out how Ellen was blinded.  She even seems to be flashing back as Boss finishes her lashing kick.


Lest you blame Boss Doe for being mean to Ellen, who is mean right back, know that this unfortunate incident could well have occurred because of the feeding setup I've created here. What food resource in nature would evoke such angry spats? I doubt they'd tussle over a dogwood branch or pine needles. Corn is a powerful attractant, perhaps constituting a supernormal stimulus. So good they have to kick for it. I'm reminded of when I learned as a Bio Anthro major that honey is the only resource peaceful hunter-gatherer Kalahari Bushmen would fight over.

I'm feeling a bit guilty about this. Without corn, though, I wouldn't know any of them. Jane Goodall had to start putting bananas out at Gombe Stream to see anything more of the chimpanzees than a black blur in the treetops. And what that simple action and her resulting study opportunities gave to the world, who could ever estimate? I don't in any way mean to compare myself to Jane, lest Corey Photoshop my head onto her lithe tan 30-something body (please do!) 

But there are parallels.  To know the deer well enough to be able to say anything about them, I must bring them out of the woods. And Ellen may have paid the ultimate price for my thirst to know more about deer. 

In animal behavior, one must consider that what happens in our view might be happening because we're there.

Snow Deer

Sunday, February 21, 2016

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I am feeling almost as smug as this doe looks, sitting in Charlotte airport with a belly full of cheezy grits. We both like corn, just take it in different forms. I'm headed to ten days in Costa Rica. If that's not good enough, TEN of the twelve travelers I'm accompanying are cherished friends from my prior Holbrook Travel trips or my festival work.  Guess they're gluttons for the kind of Zick Overload Mario Cordoba and I love to dish out. Only two strangers in the group. And that won't last long. I kinda feel for the new couple, because there will be so many inside jokes flying back and forth and so much cackling they're going to think we're all daft.


I thought I'd better post some awesome snowdeer photos while I still can, because by all indications spring is racing toward Ohio. Yes, I know they're predicting another Snowmageddon. I plan to miss her clean. Ha. Ha. Hahaha. I've left the homefront in Bill and Liam's capable hands. Stoked up the seed and corn and suet,  cleaned the fishtank, kissed them all goodbye six times and I'm off.

As for spring--I took a delightful birding excursion at Pickerington Ponds Metropark on the eve of my departure. There, a short jump from Port Columbus airport, I saw and heard and drank in sandhill cranes, ducks of seven species, and thrilled to singing red-winged blackbirds, killdeer and woodcock. Oh yes. Spring is on its way. Didn't hurt that it was nearly 70 degrees and I  had to break out a sleeveless shirt. There's hope. It's coming.


Flight of green-winged teal. There were ring-necked ducks, northern shoveler, American wigeon, blacks and mallards, redheads, wood and hooded mergansers, too, for a total of 8 species. Pickerington Ponds is a beautiful gem, an oasis in urban sprawl. And floating from high overhead, the sonorous croaking bugle of cranes!! Overlain with the winnowing wings of ducks, and the happy conk-a-ree! of redwings. A-oh, way to go Ohio!


 And the birds and animals find it. A pair of bald eagles, skeins of ducks and geese, four calling sandhill cranes, and chickarees! I hadn't seen one for years. Amazing what joy a little red squirrel can bring.


 Back to Indigo Hill...

Deer roam our meadow, eating pine needles, which I read are high in Vitamin C. It's nice to know they can eat that. The tiny pine seedlings Bill mowed around in 1993 have become deer feeders. 


That's how they get snow on their faces.



Grabbing these moments when a doe comes sneaking up from the orchard.


The deer have learned my rhythms, know when I'm going to throw a scoop of corn out. They're gonna miss me when I'm gone. They listen for me and now even go so far as to stare me down when they visit and the corn is all gone.
Boss Doe says HEY ZICK. What the hell? She studies me as I sit at the drawing board, a guilty grin on my face. Well, Boss Doe, you're late. Take that.





Oh how I love grabbing those moments.

When the snow goes blue in the afternoon, taking all the color from the sky


and she pauses, seemingly lost in thought.


And why couldn't she be thinking about last October, and a buck she knew? And wishing she weren't already pregnant and growing bigger by the day. We don't know what deer think, but it's a mistake to assume they can't reminisce, ponder, mull or worry. Why shouldn't a deer have up days and down, miss last year's tryst or last spring's fawn? Why do we think humans are the only ones with emotional capacity? Oh wait. We know dogs and cats have emotions, because they're our open books. But do we think about the emotional capacity of deer, or cardinals? We must learn to connect all we learn from our pets to the rest of the natural world. 

And Ellen--what of Ellen? Here she was in October 2015.  And we didn't see her again for a couple of months. But that's her pattern. We felt very lucky to have an autumn sighting of our crooked little doe.


Where did she go? Well, she came back on December 9, 2015. And she looked great. Fat and clear-eyed. 


The reason I take photos of these deer every time I see them is because each one has a story.  And the story goes on...Ellen's been with us since 2009. More of Ellen's story is coming up.


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