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Reading the Dog Newspaper

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


This is a video of Chet Baker reading the dog newspaper. He’s sifting all the scents and sounds of a moist cool August morning in 2013. I call what he's doing Bunny Nosin’. I wish I could smell everything he smells, hear everything he hears. I have not a tiny fraction of the vomeronasal scent receptors he does, so I never will. But I can get an inkling what he perceives by watching him. I love to see him plunging through grass, following his nose, taking sharp turns as his vaporous, invisible quarry turns.

I can only watch him bunnynose for so long without moving in for a little caress. If this dog knows one thing, he knows he’s cherished. I often wonder what it would be like to be the vessel for that kind of love. Where everything you did was OK, where nothing you did could offend or hurt the person who loves you. Where it’s all just pure love, untainted by resentment or jealousy or regret. Maybe dogs get and give that kind of love because they live from moment to moment. They don’t speak. They sign up to be your one true love and they give it all they’ve got until death doth part you. People make a lot of noise about doing that, but our attention spans, I think, are considerably shorter than dogs’. Maybe we could stay on task better if we only had twelve years to get it right.

It’s bittersweet, knowing that Chet, right now, is just my age in dog years. If dog years mean anything. And that come December he’ll be 63, and December 2014 he’ll turn 70. How can that be? Then again how can I, the eternal eight-year-old, be 55? None of it makes sense to me. Life just rolls on and the years toll on and I’ve no choice but to accept it all. And to love the stuffing out of this little black dog while he’s here.

From a hotel room high over Denver...JZ

Looking at a Red Bat, Part II

Sunday, August 25, 2013


We're examining a road-killed red bat found August 15, 2013 along County Rd. 11A in Washington Co. Ohio. 

Oh my gosh, the tiniest most perfect hind feet ever. The claws reminded me of a hummingbird's, and they were extremely sticky--like handling a teasel burr. They were so deeply recurved that I imagined this little beast could hang from almost anything, and red bats do...they hang, usually by one foot, from a leaf petiole amidst vegetation when they are resting. These are largely solitary animals, and their red fur makes them look just like a dead leaf when they're roosting.

I got lost in the tail membrane for awhile. It hooked into a curve to make a sort of pouch.

Ventral surface, the membrane curved toward you. That's the bat's tail in the middle.

Here, I'm holding the membrane open with my fingers--you can see them through it. I'm so impressed by the heavy fur on the membrane. You don't see that on other bats. This, of course, is the bat's insect-catching apparatus--they collide with and dump moths and beetles into the pouch of the tail membrane, then double over in flight to crunch them down. 
With all that fur, the bat probably uses the tail pouch as a poncho, too.

Very impressed by the length of the tail. It starts up by my thumbnail!

The tail, extended. I'm always disarmed by bats' tiny leg bones, the way they stick out at right angles to the body and are trapped in membrane all around. There's no walking or even shuffling for bats...when grounded they scuttle, hitching along with wrists and paddling with the hind feet. But boy, they can make time that way. It takes some getting used to, watching bats scuttle around your feet. I've had time with them in the flight tent, especially my two girls Stella and Mirabel who got too fat to fly and were reduced to scuttling for awhile.

 This is the bat's belly, or ventral surface, and by the tiny bat junk and its bright red fur I could see it was a male. Females are more silvery-brown than fox red.

There is so much that is marvelous about bats. The amazing elasticity and translucent nano-thin wing membrane, for instance. The crenulation of the lower margin, the way the whole thing puckers like seersucker when the membrane is not stretched into use.

those fine, fine finger bones
so breakable if improperly housed. Bats must always be in padded surrounds in captivity--most people use rubber drawer liner over glass tank walls, or house them in fine nylon mesh reptile enclosures, or nylon picnic shelters, like mine. The big brown bats I've had, though, have been chewers, and would never have stayed in a small mesh reptarium. I'm waiting for one to figure out it can chew its way out of the flight tent, because oh, it can. Shh. Don't tell them that.

Had to have a look at the teeth, a bewitching shade of lavender. Don't worry. I used a pen to pry its lips apart.

There's that coloration on the wing again. Gorgeous.

The fur was minutely spangled with silver tips, like a dusting of stars across its nape.

And now, just so you don't think this sad little wreck is what red bats look like, just so you know what a difference the spark of life makes, the only red bat I've photographed alive, in Clermont Co. Ohio on a beautiful October day. Well, Hello, darling!!

A more perfect, winsome and endearing (furred) creature I've never seen before or since. (I am excluding my two children as newborns from this paradigm).  The story of how he was found, and what a difference he made to many young lives, at this link.

Yes, bats are always better alive than dead. But when we get the chance to sit down and look at one that's dead, we look.

Looking at a Red Bat

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I opened Blogger to make a new post tonight. It said that I've written 1,700 posts since December 2005.  I'm trying to get my head around it, that I've sat down 1,700 times to do this, that I've had that many things to share. And yet...

My mild frustration these days is that I can't get to it all. Every single day I see or do or experience something I long to share. I often take several hundred photos in a single day. Videos, too. I squirrel them all away, wishing I could show them all to you. I'm keenly aware that the kinds of things I find where I live simply aren't available to everyone who enjoys this blog, and that's part of its appeal.

Or maybe they are, but you wouldn't pick them up with your bare hands. That's OK. I ain't skeert. Had my shots.

Serendipity: Unless I'd been jogging early in the morning along my county road, I likely never would have recognized the tiny bundle of russet fur on the asphalt as a red bat, freshly killed by a car. And because I am the Science Chimp, and to me certain roadkills represent a pearl beyond price, I picked it up and folded it gently into the cargo pocket of my shorts, saying a fervent prayer that I would remember there was a dead bat in my shorts before oh, I don't know, rolling down a hill or cooking dinner or putting the shorts in a drawer or sending them through the wash. 

 Look at that furry red tail membrane, folding up over his body!! It's his take-along blanket; he comes with his own pouch he can fold himself into.

I was so very sad to find it a past bat. The red bat is perhaps my favorite (although any bat I get to see is my bat du jour and de facto favorite ever). It's one of eastern North America's largest bats, but even so it's absolutely tiny by mammal standards.

 That's an average size facial tissue, and the wingspan is maybe 9" fully extended. The literature says it goes up to 13". Hmm. Maybe this is a pup? It seemed teeny to me, the body not even two inches with the tail folded under.

  I was taken by the sooty black and pink-trimmed wings, and by the cream colored stripe along the shoulder

and the two little headlights of white fur on the thumb joints, as well as the subtle necklace of white around the neck. He looked as if he were wearing a costume head.

Note the rounded ears, set well into the fur. This, like many other of the features we'll see, is an adaptation to cold temperatures. You wouldn't want long delicate ears sticking up out of your fur if you're a northern animal, and you're active in cold winter temperatures, as is the red bat. Here, too, you can see the tragus, a process in the ear opening. It was so diaphanous as to be translucent. This bat's eyes were tiny, smaller than those of a big brown or little brown bat. But that's mostly because it was dead. As you'll see in Part II, a live red bat has very bright eyes indeed. 

One of the things which impressed me most, and which I wasn't expecting, was the thickly furred wing membrane. All along the wing bones is soft silver-buff fur, another cold adaptation.  

The wing bones, so very birdlike, until you realize that the bat's fingers extend into and are connected by the wing membrane. In birds, the fingers are all fused into one sort of paddle, including the stubby bony alula (that little thumby thing that sticks up on a chicken wing) and feathers grow out of that bone, and take the place of membrane. With bats, the hand bones extend out to the perimeter of the wing.

This post has proven to be a hogchoker, with more than 20 photos, so I'm going to give you more bat bits on Thursday. 

Which will be
Post #1,702. Gack! I could do this full-time, you know, and never run out of inspirato. The problem is I have other stuff I have to do. Don't we all.

Fat Bluebirds!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

You may be wondering how the orphaned bluebirds, whom we call The Babies or sometimes if they're being particularly pushy, The Stinkies, are doing. Well, they're doing just great, thank you. In this video, made August 16, they are 65 days old. It's been a real trip to see them through the entire postjuvenal molt, to see their first adult basic plumage come in slowly but surely. It started with a red waistcoat, fine strips of soft terra-cotta red feathers coming on on their sides, and has progressed to their backs. Last to molt will be the head and upper breast, followed by flight feathers of the wing. By mid-September they should be looking quite amazingly spiffy sleek. This is Ida.

You'll remember that there were three. Toddy, always the innovator of the group, took off when she was around 52 days old. She just stopped needing mealworms, tapered off her visits, and came alone when she did come in. Then she stopped coming in. My guess is she joined up with another group of bluebirds somewhere on our road. In eastern bluebirds, females are the ones who disperse from their natal territories, so Toddy was doing what she was meant to do. These two, dunno. The lure of the dinner cup is too strong. They are often gone for six or eight hours at a stretch, and once even 24 hours! And when they poop it's often full of pokeberries

 and we see them foraging for insects all over the yard. So they're becoming bluebirds. They just feel compelled to keep their weight up, that's all.

In this video I'm kind of excited to be getting good footage of them eating, and this is the first time I've gotten a good shot of their brand new blue back feathers. So I get bungled up and call Elsa, the bird who remains and pigs out, by Ida's name. Ida is the shyer of the two. She's the one who flew off first. Elsa always stays and eats until she can't fit any more mealworms in her crop. And often flies off carrying one. She's too cute.

You will also notice me admonishing the birds for being so fat. This is not because I am fattist. No, far from it. I tell them they are fat with the kind of admiring tone that one uses on a good stout baby, the kind with deep creases around wrists and ankles, as if someone has put rubber bands around her. I looove a fat baby, be it human or bird. Kind of Polynesian in that respect. A fat bird is a healthy bird, a wealthy bird, a prosperous bird.

Phoebe tries to fill them up. Note how mealworms are kept--see below for details.

They are pretty hard to tell apart, as being in heavy molt changes their appearance day to day. But Elsa has all her primaries, and Ida busted most of hers off in the flight tent somehow. Those are the only feathers that haven't been molted, so I have to look at their wingtips to distinguish them. I noticed today (8/19) that Ida's new primaries are pushing out from beneath the tertials, so she should be getting a lot more lift with less work very soon.

Just this evening, as I'm writing, the Babies figured out to come and perch on the hanging basket hooks just outside the kitchen window and peek inside to stare us down. It is quite disarming to look out your kitchen window and find two bluebirds waving their wings at you. It's terrible, in fact. Harrible. How we put up with them I do not know.

Note on mealworms: I get them, 5,000 at a time, from the excellent and affordable Nature's Way. Here's their website:   Tell Tim Vocke, Proprietor, that Zick sent you. Best worms available, healthiest, cleanest, biggest, fattest. Fat=Good.

I keep the mealworms in UNmedicated chick starter which I get at the feed store. You have to tell them you don't want the stuff that's full of antibiotics, or they may automatically sell you that. For moisture, I give them baby carrots. Lots. Keep them in an open plastic shoebox (no lid). See photo of Phoebe, above, for a visual. Some people refrigerate their mealworms, but if the worms are refrigerated, they stop eating and go dormant, and thus have less nutritional value.

 Keeping them in chick starter and feeding them carrots is called "gut loading." This is a lovely term that means the bluebirds eat what the mealworms eat and thus get better nutrition than if they were kept in plain wheat bran or old-fashioned oats.

It also describes what I do in BLT season.

If you have a good old-fashioned feed store in your town, they should sell you the chick starter in bulk. I usually buy 10 lb. at a time. Don't really want a 50-lb. bag of that stuff hanging around. It's the same stuff I used in my Improved Zick Dough. And that is all I have to say about mealworms for now.

Jane Goodall, Jimmy Carter Speak Out Against Crane Hunting

Sunday, August 18, 2013

An August 13, 2013 story in the Tennessee Tribune had an arresting headline: My jaw dropped when I read it. 

Jane Goodall and Jimmy Carter Join Advocates in Opposing Crane Hunting

Photo by Cynthia Routledge

Whoo! This is BIG. 

It's one thing for someone like me to make a fuss about crane hunting. But when a former president and the world's most eminent primatologist/conservationist speak out, people sit up and listen.
And yet, it makes so much sense that Dr. Goodall and President Carter would oppose a crane hunt. 

Tennessee is the midpoint in the migratory path of eastern whooping cranes from Wisconsin to Florida, and is one of the best places to see these towering, critically endangered white birds. 

President Carter wrote a letter to the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission, saying: 

“I am an avid hunter of quail, dove, turkey, geese, ducks, and other game fowl, but have for years been a strong vocal and financial supporter of the effort to protect Whooping Cranes and to reestablish the flock that flies over our farm in southwestern Georgia – and also over parts of Tennessee. I understand that your commission is contemplating opening hunting for Sandhill Cranes in Tennessee, and it is obvious that this will make it highly likely that Whooping Cranes might also be killed.”

Why not shoot the mottled one? It's a little different...
Juvenile whooping crane feeding with sandhills. Photo by Cynthia Routledge

To me, the voice of an avid hunter, coming out against hunting sandhill cranes, carries even more weight than that of an average citizen. When he's a former president who happens to be a birder and conservationist, it would behoove TFWC to listen hard.

A full 62% of Tennesseans oppose hunting sandhill cranes. Why, then, would TFWC try to push this unpopular hunt through, the way Kentucky did? I've made the point in past blogposts that sandhill cranes are worth infinitely more alive than dead. Just ask the director of the Lillian Annette Rowe Sanctuary on Nebraska's Platte River, where sandhill crane tourism brings 15,000 visitors from all 50 states and 46 foreign countries; brings more than $10 million into the local economy of Kearney, Nebraska every year. All without firing a single shot. 

A typical roost gathering, as viewed from a blind. Photo by Cynthia Routledge.

Jane Goodall wrote this in a letter to TFWC:

“For many, cranes are symbols of peace, a message they carry around the world. The idea that these birds could be hunted for sport is distressing to me, and would be to many others...It is clear that the Sandhills foraging and roosting in freedom during their stay in Tennessee, attracting visitors to view them and other local species, offer a good deal more all round than if hunters are permitted to kill them.”

It feels good to know that Jane Goodall and Jimmy Carter are behind those of us who think a sandhill crane hunt is at best ill-advised and at worst obscene. This isn't about controlling crane populations. It's more about putting something new and different on Tennessee's menu of shootable wildlife. Well, the majority of Tennesseans, and a lot of hunters, think sandhill cranes make very poor game birds. If just 39% of nests raise just one colt per year, a pressing need for population control is hardly the driving force behind this hunt. 

photo courtesy International Crane Foundation

In fact, population growth has stopped in seven out of eight Wisconsin nesting areas, and crane nesting success is extremely poor in marginal habitats. High nest predation (cranes are ground nesters, vulnerable to coyotes, raccoons and foxes ) and high juvenile mortality take care of most cranes before they ever get a chance to grow up and make the flight south with their parents.

photo courtesy International Crane Foundation

 And TFWC is proposing to let people shoot into those tight-knit family groups, shattering longstanding pair bonds and making orphans of inexperienced crane colts.

Share this post; email, call or write TFWC; show up at the meeting in Knoxville on August 22 and 23, 2013; voice your opposition. Yes, the "official" deadline for comments has come and gone, but that doesn't stop us from making our concerns known. Here are some contacts:

Governor Bill Haslam
State Capitol
Nashville, TN 37243
Business: (615) 741-2001 

Ed CarterTWRA Director Ellington Agricultural Ctr.
PO Box 40747
Nashville, TN 37207

Dr. Jeff McMillin (2012-2017), TFWC Chairman  (Statewide)
 1705 Edgemont Avenue
Bristol, TN 37620-4307
(423) 968-1933 
Thanks to Cyndi Routledge for her invaluable help with this fight and this post.

Chet Baker's Morning Bunneh

Thursday, August 15, 2013

There's this bunny who chewed his way into my vegetable garden, through a double thickness of nylon crop netting that we thought would suffice for our door, and has over the past few weeks laid waste to my Swiss chard and sweet potatoes. I would love to go all Mr. MacGregor on his a-s. Scare the bejabbers out of him, make him tear his best waistcoat and lose his brass button and one of his tiny slippers so when he gets home his mama whups him with a willow wand.

So far the bunny is winning. I'm banking on his getting too fat to squeeze back out the fencing, which he seems to be able to do so far.

So it is with great pleasure that I daily sicc Chet Baker on him. Though he is young this bunny is nobody's fool, and he keeps a watchful eye on the front door. Here is a typical morning bunneh session. Chet had been standing, trembling a little, observing this rabbit for a couple of minutes when I decided to break the tension with a little goading.

We don't call him Black Lightning for nothing. That's an 8-year-old dog, folks, and ain't nothin' slow or flabby about him. 56 and feeling fine.

In the background you can hear, in order, 

ruby-throated hummingbirds chittering overlain over a
downy woodpecker rattling (descending chatter)
eastern towhee (Yer tea!! Drink yer tea!!)
more hummingbirds 
fledgling Carolina wrens (Squick! Squick!)
white-eyed vireo (chickperweeoo!)

Good boy, waiting for ribeye scraps.

The new charcoal grill is so very slow. I preferred Daddeh's gas grill. I predict he will go back to gas. I certainly do. Regularly.

A New Bat! or maybe not...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


I took a walk with Bill on August 12, 2013, out our goldenrod-spangled meadow. It was a misty, dewy morning and everything was shrouded in moisture.

There's an old slot box standing three quarters of the way out the meadow. It's made of Nebraska barn siding, raises two broods of bluebirds each season, and when it's done with that the bats have a chance at it. Opening that box in late summer and fall is way better than Christmas morning for me. 

It just looks like a place a bat might hide, doesn't it? 
"I'm going to peek in this box and see if there's a bat in there," I said to Bill.

And there was. I am forever suppressing screams, and this was one of those times.

For there was a quivering, perfect, pink-faced, wide-eyed batlet inside. Silent SQUEEE!!
The white mass is probably a jumping spider egg case. Ooh, he was tiny!

A distinctly mousy look to this face. I knew I'd not seen a bat face like this before. With bats, it's very subtle. Identifying characteristics include color of facial skin, the degree of inflatedness of muzzlepuffs (big browns, for instance, have very inflated looking muzzlepuffs, while little browns don't). Ear size, color and contrast of fur--see the whitish underparts? You don't see that on either of the brown bats.

Bill took the above photos with his iPhone and we moved some way off to squee and hug and high-five and jump up and down. I had my suspicions that we'd just nabbed a life bat, for us and for the sanctuary. 

I thought about that bat all day. Did some riffling through field guides, and finally decided it must be an eastern pipistrelle, with that pink muzzle and bare eye skin, those long, upswept ears and that multicolored fur. As much as I hated to disturb it twice in a single day, I was afraid that it might be a one-day wonder. Bill said, "Better go back before twilight and get more pictures." Right. Because when does the Science Chimp get a chance like this?

Perimyotus subflavus, the eastern pipistrelle, is the only member of its genus. It is not a true pipistrelle (Pipistrellus), but rather something different, and the monotypic genus reflects this. Science Chimps love monotypic genera.

I headed back out the dimming meadow. Early goldenrod abloom everywhere. Or maybe it's tall goldenrod. I have little conversance with goldenrods. Too busy with birds, bugs, bats. If forced, I can key them out. Mostly I just look at them.

Tall ironweed has been competed out by sumac in this dynamic meadow, but a few persist.

I approached the box with great excitement. Opened it and found the bat in a classic head-down roost position. Oh, perrrfect!

Once again, I called my iPhone into play, because its macro capabilities simply outstrip my beloved Canon G-12. I had to have a camera that would reliably focus on the bat, flash free, in a low-light situation, so I wouldn't come away with a sharp picture of the edge of the box, for instance, with a blurry brown mass inside. You can touch the item of desire on the screen of your iPhone, asking it to focus just on that. So I pointed the phone camera at the bat, touched the bat's image, and the camera focused on the bat. Boom.

I was delighted to get some detail on the tragus, the process in the ear that helps baffle wind and channel sound. Eastern pipistrelles have a broad tragus, unlike the sharply pointed tragus of a big brown bat, or the rounded one of a little brown. All that bare skin on the face and around the eye is a pipistrelley thing.

Do not be alarmed by the white dust on the batlet. It's feather dust from a recently fledged brood of bluebirds. There are probably also some mites in there. Itchy!

This is a video in which nothing happens, except some whispered endearments, ear swiveling, and rapid breathing. That's enough for me. I thought you'd like to see an eastern pipistrelle, alive and quivering, and hear the crickets and katydids in our autumnal meadow.

So come on. Squee with me!

UPDATE: Facebook is a marvelous thing. For instance, I'm Facebook friends with the person who wrote and illustrated Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Field Guide to Mammals of North America. Her name is Fiona Reid. And after I posted a link to this blogpost, I got this comment from Fiona.

Fiona Reid Hi Julie, sorry to burst your bubble 'n all, but that ain't no pipistrelle, It is definitely a Myotis. Could be little brown or northern Long-eared (which tends to be a bit paler around eye and underside, but it is quite hard to separate these two species in hand let alone by photos). Pips have much pinker faces and ears, plus they have tricolor fur, light/dark/light, the wing bones are pinkish and thumbs also pinkish.

And it did burst my bubble, a little, not because it's not a new species for me, but mostly because I despair of ever being able to tell one durn bat from another. This bat's forearms and face look really pink to me. I can't really say whether the fur looks tricolored. The tragus looks longer than it probably should be for a pipistrelle (here, the Kaufman Focus Guide to Mammals of North America shows that better). But I gladly yield to Fiona's expertise. Whether it's a pipistrelle or a Myotis, it's a little gift and a miracle, and it's in our bluebird box. It will be loved and welcomed no less for being something other than a pipistrelle. It's a bat and I'm still all asquee!

Dog-Bombing. Again.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

If this little corner of southeast Ohio isn't the most beautiful place on earth, it's darn close. Sure, there's Fiji and New Zealand and Antarctica, there's the Swiss Alps and Taos and Greenland and oh I don't know how many other places much touted for their beauty. Maybe it's just that this is the kind of beauty I need, crawling with bugs and popping with blossoms. Plus, I love the skies and the clouds we get here.

So I try to capture it. I was working with this butterfly weed swarming with swallowtails. And there was this one impudent stalk of Queen Anne's Lace determined to spoil my composition. I didn't want to frighten the swallowtails, nor did I want to bend that stalk down, because it made me smile.

What if I were to frame this composition vertically? Would that work?

Wow. That's cooool. By George, I think I've got it! Wait. What's that in the background?

It appears to be an animal. Black.

And white. With a white face.

And it's taking a long loop around and headed directly for the subject of my photos, which is a butterfly weed all aflutter with swallowtails.

I have come to recognize the unique way this dog, whom I now recognize as my own Chet Baker,** apologizes for a small intrusion. He puts his ears back and sticks his tongue out. He does this when he knows he is doing something he shouldn't, but is compelled to do it.

You will not mind if I get into your composition, will you?

The problem was not the Queen Anne's lace. The problem is that there were too many butterflies. It was too busy. So there. I have gotten rid of the butterflies for you. They will not bother you any more.

I am sure you will wish to engage my services on your next photoexpotition. I am always available. Just yell BACON! and I will come running. Or you can try to sneak out without me. But you will not succeed.

**Truth be told I knew it was him all along.
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