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Sluggo, You Have to Eat!

Sunday, July 31, 2011


One of the scary things about reptiles, at least to me, is that they can go a very long time without eating. And they do. It's never good when a patient won't eat. For someone like me, who loves her charges and her babies, her friends and family with food, it's doubly upsetting.

Every day for two weeks I put tempting food right in front of that turtle. Twice a day. He'd look at it, sometimes even crane his neck, but he stolidly refused to take a bite. I tried bananas, peaches, watermelon, mealworms, earthworms, black raspberries, blueberries and slugs. Slugs are like candy to box turtles.

I went out with my headlamp, breathing the clouds of midges and gnats who were attracted to it, and hunted slugs at night. I put melon rinds out as bait and gathered them, keeping them in a little slug farm in the living room. You have one, don't you? I feed mine lettuce and spent daylily flowers.

These are Arion subfuscus, an imported European slug. Don't ask me why we have imported slugs here. We just do. Not surprisingly, they vastly outnumber our old gray slugs. 

And the turkle would look at them and let them crawl right by. Until the day when I offered two slugs on a nice piece of bark from the forest floor, which was covered with fresh earthy-smelling loam. The turtle's head shot out and he craned his neck and bam! he grabbed a slug. And then a second.

I was so excited I took these photos from across the room with my 300 mm. lens, just to document this Gandhi of turtles, digging in. He was so skittish I couldn't let him see me.

After that magic moment, no slug was safe around Sluggo. My theory is that the scent of fresh loam reminded him of home, and stimulated his appetite. 


I was one relieved turtle nurse when Sluggo finally lived up to his name.

Meet Sluggo

Thursday, July 28, 2011


I have kind of an unusual Ohio wildlife rehabilitator's permit. It's for songbirds, bats and reptiles, specifically box turtles. Boxies get on the wrong end of our machines more often than I'd like to see. Cars, well, they usually don't survive an argument with a wheel. Lawnmowers are bad, too. Turtles' shells often save them, but lawnmowers can inflict some truly grievous injuries.

This handsome older gentleman came to me in late June 2011 from a wooded yard in Athens, Ohio, where the caller had accidentally hit him with a rider mower. I hate getting turtle calls because it's so hard to gauge how badly hurt the animal is from a verbal description. Is he bright? Crawling? How big is the wound? Where is it? Any limbs missing? That kind of thing. I still shudder when I remember the female boxy a couple of sweet young hippies brought me. They were very vague on the phone. Her shell was in pieces, apparently. "Yes, all the pieces are there." What they neglected to tell me, because they wanted so badly for me to somehow wave my wand and magically fix this hurt animal, was that the pieces were no longer connected to the turtle. They were rattling around in the shoebox with her. 

I could instantly see that this turtle had a better prognosis. Hey, he had a prognosis. What you're seeing here is not exposed flesh but pink shell bone, crushed and compressed, with the colored scutes knocked off. Oh, it had to hurt. The callers had done just the right thing--cleaned him up with some disinfectant and put Band-aids over the wound until they could bring him to Marietta. I took the Band-aids off and soaked a paper towel in Betadine, and let him crawl around  while the disinfectant soaked the grass and dirt loose.

Part of the protocol for turtles with bad shell wounds is eight days of Baytril (antibiotic) injections, at about $10 a day. Ouch for turtle and rehabber. These are administered in the back legs, one every other day, with a very fine needle. Still, it hurts, and the turtle purely hates it. This is the second boxy I've had who learned within a day to keep his hinders tucked and to crawl away from me using only his front legs.  That's what he's doing in the photo above--booking with his hind legs tucked.

I picked all the grass and dirt off, washed him, disinfected him again, and let him dry. I couldn't even budge the smashed-in shell pieces so I decided to let them heal as they were. He still had control over his back legs, though they and his tail were quite bruised, and I thought I could probably do more harm than good by messing about with the shell. 

Time for some spackle.

The white Crisco-like substance is Silvodine cream, an antibiotic cream for burns and deep wounds. I packed the wound with cream and got some Tegaderm, which is a surgical membrane that acts a bit like skin. Silvodine, unfortunately, needs a prescription, but Chet's veterinarian, Dr. Lutz, was happy to help with that and the Baytril, too.

Peeling off the white backing and laying the clear Tegaderm over the cream. It's adhesive.

Smoothing the Tegaderm.

Better. Not all better, but on the road to recovery without risk of infection.

Next: Sluggo, you HAVE to eat something.

Berry Greedy Pickers

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

 I can tell you that $41 worth of blueberries will just about break your arm. So we bring auxiliary containers  (plastic buckets) to dump the booty into so we can keep picking with our light little Easter baskets.

I wanted a shot of Liam walking his berries up to the garage to be counted.  But I had to stop in the middle of shooting. "Don't swing a full basket, Liam!"


  And here goes Phoebe with hers.

 Not until I got this shot on the screen did I notice I'd captured a priceless moment in Liam's sweet life. Craack! Whump! Dump!

Classic! Look at his mouth, wide open. Ohhh! Dang!

Phoebe, of course, stopped to help him recover his fruit.

There was a little fellow at the cash register who was only too happy to ring us up. His mom had a terrible time keeping those fingers at bay. He wanted to punch all the keys at once, and he came at that little adding machine like a baby octopus. "I try! I try!" And she let him punch in our sale.

 Needless to say the Thomas the Tank Engine PJ's, worn all day long, endeared him to me forever. Not to mention his passionate desire to help his mom. I remembered Liam always punching keys on the credit card machine at the grocery store. He'd get so frustrated when nothing happened. His momma's a cash type.

 Too soon, it was time to turn for home. We could have picked until nightfall, but I was out of money. And truth to tell, I made a cobbler with the last of the frozen berries from June 2010 to make room for 2011 fruit in the freezer!  That's what happens when you have helpful kids (one of whom once wore his Thomas pajamas all day long, too)

and beautiful blueberries, with the greenywhite promise of more to come. Ahh, Summer. Could you just linger awhile longer, spread out your gifts through the long dull winter?

21st Century Hunter-Gatherers

Sunday, July 24, 2011

 I believe I was a crazy good hunter-gatherer in another life. I love to pick things and I'm fast at it. My kids have inherited the gene, although they tend to look for the premium fruit rather than mass volumes of it. They pride themselves not on having the most berries, but the biggest and fattest.  I pick three times faster than they do, but their berries are Super Premium.

The blueberries at Rolling Ridge Berry Farm are more the size of grapes this year. 

And they are sooo beautiful. I love the ones with the heavy bloom, like these:

They remind me of the powdery sheen on a pigeon's feather. 

All around us the songs of Baltimore orioles, scarlet tanagers, robins, cedar waxwings and yellow-breasted chats rang out from the woods and blueberry rows. You won't see crop netting here, or hear cannons or nasty recordings of starling distress calls. The Winders grow enough for the birds and us.

View from the backmost berry row, where I like to pick and bird at the same time. It's alive with yellowthroats, white-eyed vireos, chats, robins and the like.
The habitat all around is rich and birdy to start with and then this farm sets a smorgasbird. You can imagine. Lots of parent birds bring their fledglings to the farm to fatten them up and get a break from the babies' incessant demands for food.

Phoebe and Liam noticed that the sweetest berries were most likely to have a couple pierced by the triangular pecks of birds. They know where the best ones are.

So seduced were we by the abundance and ease of picking that before we knew it we had FORTY-ONE BUCKS WORTH OF BLUEBERRIES. Yiiikes. Which would have been well over $100 worth in the grocery store, only not even a tenth as fresh and delicious. To those of you who are wondering what you do with that many blueberries, we gorge on them fresh and freeze what we can't eat. We give them to friends and family, make cobblers and throw blueberries into smoothies and yogurt and over cereal. We have a blueberry ball. I'm thankful for Rolling Ridge Berry Farm. A visit there is the perfect way to spend a summer afternoon with the kids.

LIttle Towns, Narrow Roads and Old Houses

Thursday, July 21, 2011


People who visit us for the first time often comment that we live in the middle of nowhere. No, we don't, but you can see nowhere from here. And that's exactly how we like it. Every single day I thank my lucky stars that I get to live in the middle of nowhere.

Sometimes there's a day when the sky's intensity matches the land's, and somehow my Canon G-11 is able to capture the vivid blue of the sky and the shapes of the clouds without making the landforms too dark. This was such a day. A perfect summer day.  I was so happy that my photos were coming out as beautifully as the day was.
 As you can see, Bethel Twp Rd. 340 is not much more than a little driveway. That's how I like my roads. Doesn't this make you want to snoop around, see what's up there? Or more importantly, what's not up there? I've been doing that lately, taking country roads that have heretofore only been names or numbers to me. And I am never disappointed. Sometimes there's a sandhill crane or a fox or a bobcat waiting for me down these roads.

Lucky to live here, that's all.

The hamlet of Lebanon. There are several Lebanon, Ohios. This happens to be my Lebanon Ohio. It's probably the littlest one. That's how I like my towns, too.

 I think this old house is still being lived in, though I'm not sure. Maybe it's just storage. But it's untouched from how it would have looked fifty years ago. I like my old houses like that.

 It has a little shed friend. Oh how I would love to have a shed like this, a place to store the lawnchairs and bicycles. I've asked for one for my birthday. It will be a new one, but we will love it no less.

From the back porch of the old house, this is the view:

 Yucca and lilac: the two steadfast friends of little old buildings, keeping them company through the decades.

And across the road stands another shed, with a beautiful old water pump. Looking at it took me right back to the breathless anticipation of pumping my grandma Ruigh's creaky old pump, waiting and waiting for the rush of cool, iron-tinged water to come gushing into my tin cup. I didn't much like the taste of the water, but I loved that I could bring it up all by myself if I worked hard enough.

The sky was moody and blue, but our spirits were undampened. Speaking of breathless anticipation, all these vistas were ours on the way to Rolling Ridge Berry Farm, our favorite you-pick establishment of all time.


On the other side of this field lay Berry Valhalla.

Chet Baker and the Mystery Box

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Years ago, my friend Shila gifted me with a mysterious box which, when turned upside down and then righted again, makes a delightful pinging sound at random intervals. The mechanism is a sticky ceiling, a bunch of BB’s, and three miniature brass cymbals. When you turn it upside down, the BB’s stick on the ceiling, then release randomly, pinging on the cymbals as they fall.  I really like it.

So one day I turned it over and left it there on the floor where it attracted the immediate attention of Chet Baker, who was sure there were hoodoos or perhaps very small animals inside playing the cymbals. 

Because dogs trust their noses more than any other sense, Chet tried to smell whomever might be making music in the Mystery Box.

His trusty nose providing no information whatsoever (metal has very little smell), Chet listened and looked.

He sniffed and sniffed again. Nope, no clues. But the musical pinging kept occurring, randomly. If it had been a regular sound he'd have found it easier to ignore. 

Our muffled snickers notwithstanding, Chet kept at the mystery, as a bulldog will. He doesn't give up easily. Just ask the chiptymunks he corners under a big flowerpot near the Bird Spa. 
He's good for a couple of hours of waiting. He's like an Eskimo waiting for the harp seal to come up for  a breath of air.

My favorite photo of him listening. He looks like Ferdinand the Bull, sniffing flowers.

Finally he'd heard enough. With a thoughtful look, he turned on his heel and was done with the Mystery Box.

Eastern Kingbird Nests

Sunday, July 17, 2011


 So I'm floating along with my camera, marveling at all I've seen in a few hours of doodling around in my lil' peapod canayak. I just can't get over the array of active nests I've found. Just goes to show you what birds can accomplish when mammalian and reptilian predation is controlled by oh, four or five feet of water.

This snag intrigued me, just because the Virginia creeper framed the cavity so beautifully. I didn't see a vine running up the tree, and because it was standing in several feet of water, any vine coming from the ground would be drowned. I figured the creeper had rooted in the cavity. I circled the tree, shooting, and it wasn't until I saw the photo on the camera screen and blew it up (trying to figure out where that vine was coming from) that I saw that the tree hid another treasure.          
There was a nice nest inside the cavity, which could have belonged to a robin, but I suspected it might have been built by an eastern kingbird, because there were gobs of them around. Would a kingbird build in a cavity like that?

Well, would you?

I might.

More discoveries: I saw some stuff sticking out of the top of a rotten stub, which resolved into nesting material, and a setting kingbird. Well!

Well, hello, Missy! I'll pass by--don't you worry or get up, OK?

Luckily for you, she did leave the nest for a moment. I say that because this gives me a chance to tell you how to sex a kingbird.  See the gray wash on her breast? That's a female. Males have a clean white breast. Nice of them to have a little dimorphism, just enough to make it fun for a birdwatcher.

But my favorite kingbird nest of the day (and this was more kingbird nests than I'd seen in my life, for goodness' sake!) was the last one. I saw a beautiful kingbird fetched up on a snag, and shot a photo of it.

We bird photographers can have tunnel vision--we're trying so hard to get the bird in focus and framed that we often overlook what's around the bird. See anything interesting in this photo?

Yeah, it took me awhile, too. Sweet! There were two little heads bobbing in the nest. 

 It was a beautiful end to an incredible day on the water. All I want to do is go back to West Virginia's North Bend State Park. You can lose yourself at a place like that.

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