Archive for the ‘Wildlife’ Category

Background Noise

June 26, 2019

Frippery Stalled At the Fence

In the background as I type this, I hear the steady sound of Jim putting up a rabbit fence.  Despite our best efforts to close gaps in our aging fence, Frippery Wigglenose Scamperbutt, the rapidly growing baby bunny keeps coming in to eat our bean plants, as well as whatever else he fancies.  Most recently, he tried some exotic Shock-o-Lat sunflowers, nipping them off where they won’t be able to grow back.  Given that he ignored wild sunflower plants of the same size, I admit to being a bit irate.

We actually have a new fence for the west side of our yard on order, but it won’t go up until sometime in July.  Until then, we’re learning what Frippery likes.  Bean plants are definitely on the top of his list.  Variety doesn’t seem to matter.  He’s sampled three varieties of teppary beans, Rattlesnakes, and Purple Queen.  He’s tried sunflowers.  He’s nibbled Swiss chard.  So far he doesn’t like tomato plants or squash plants.  He hasn’t tried the basil, which is a blessing, because he could mow down the row of seedlings in about three minutes.

We have another reason for wanting to keep Frippery out of our backyard.  Our two guinea pigs, Ziggy and Dandelion, have a hutch outside in the shade of the larger catalpa tree.  We don’t know if wild rabbits carry anything that wouldn’t benefit guinea pigs, but we don’t want to find out.  Ziggy, in particular, is a bit fragile.  She loves grass, which we don’t have much of at the best of times, and in this very dry late spring, early summer, we have even less of.  I don’t want Frippery to eat or contaminate Ziggy’s treat.

Still, at times I feel just a little like Farmer McGregor from the Peter Rabbit stories, although we’d never go so far as to have Frippery or PF in a pie.

On that cheerful note, I’m back to focusing on minutia and the like, as Wolf’s Search moves closer step by step to publication.

Take care!

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Frippery Wigglenose Scamperbutt (And Other Denizens)

June 19, 2019

Newly Hatched Baby Quail and Mom

This last week was particularly good for wildlife spotting in the nature preserve that is our not very large yard.   For the first part of the week, we had a family of newly hatched quail chicks and their parents living in our front yard.  Based on watching her herd the brood, Mama Quail was using the landscaping as a play pen to keep her youngsters from wandering too far.

Frippery Wigglenose Scamperbutt Under Cedar

We also had a baby bunny show up.  He was very visible for several days, and somehow acquired the name Frippery Wigglenose Scampbutt.  The picture doesn’t really provide scale, but I could have easily held him on one hand.

PF and Frippery

It’s unclear whether Frippery and PF—our more or less resident cottontail—are related.  Certainly, PF did not seem unduly enchanted when Frippery came bounding up, wanting to play.  Of course, since Frippery’s idea of a fun game is to run at someone with intent to pounce (something we saw him do to sparrows, doves, and even sharp-beaked Skinny the Thrasher), PF can’t exactly be blamed.

Skinny has continued to show up pretty much daily with a younger thrasher in tow.  Last Sunday, I moved the fence around our front flowerbed so I could transplant some of the volunteer tomato plants that had come up.  (Volunteer plants are a consequence of using grey water on some of our beds.)  I left for a minute to carry some of the transplants around back. When I returned, Skinny and Skinny Junior were actively investigating the changed landscape.

Maybe because they don’t have wings, the rabbits are less delighted by alterations to their surroundings.  When Jim left a coiled hose under the ash tree near the bird block, PF would not go near, not even after one of the white-winged doves had investigated the coils closely, up to and including stepping right into the middle of the largest coil.

PF was not to be fooled.  That was a boa constrictor, for sure!  Of course, if we’d put something interesting to eat on the inside of the coils, he probably would have let appetite overcome his apprehension.  I mean, we’re now pretty sure he’s the one who squeezed into our backyard to have a go at the bean plants.  This would have involved encounters with all sorts of new and potentially dangerous items.

Our annual tribe of toads is now making regular visits to the teeny-tiny pond in our backyard.  Most nights, we fall asleep to the sound of their song.  The lizards are very active and, based on the clipped tails I’ve seen, several have had encounters of the not quite deadly kind.

Even if we do need to occasionally replant something, it’s worth it for the fun we have watching our co-residents…  I guess this just means we’re part of the circle of lunch.

The Mystery of the Stealth Bean Nipper

June 5, 2019

Un-nipped, Recovering, Nipped

Our beans have delighted us by sprouting and putting out their first sets of leaves.  However, now some mysterious creature has been nipping off the new leaves.  I immediately suspected PF, our resident rabbit, but Jim assured me that the fence was intact.

 Nonetheless, when the depredations continued, Jim went out and—at great risk of exacerbating his allergies—ventured behind the massive juniper at the southwestern edge of our yard.  There he discovered that the wind had knocked several boards just loose enough that an intrepid rabbit could squeeze through.

The fence slats have been nailed back into place.  As an added precaution, we’ve covered some of the bean rows with tunnels made from scraps of hardware cloth or chicken wire.

We’re especially protective of a rare variety of tepary bean we were gifted by fellow gardening enthusiast Ursula Vernon.  (You may know her by her other identity, that of an award-winner writer and artist).  Ursula supports Native Seed Search but, living as she does in the hot, warm, wet South, she could not use the Pima Beige and Brown tepary beans they sent her as a thank you.  Being devoted to saving of heirloom varieties, Ursula sent the seeds to us. We’ve been eager to see if we can get this particular variety to thrive in New Mexico.

We’re hoping that the nipped-upon plants make a comeback.  The interesting thing we’ve discovered about beans is that some varieties, even when clipped back to little more than where the first leaves formed, are capable of leafing out again. When you think about it, such versatility makes sense, especially for plants like tepary beans, which originated in desert regions where anything green screams “Salad!”

Now that we’ve fixed the fence and given the baby plants armor, we’re eagerly watching to see what happens next.

Next mystery: Figuring out what creature has been making those perfectly round holes along the soaker hose.  I suspect Skinny the Thrasher, myself.  His long and curving beak would be the ideal tool…

Isn’t Necessarily Right

May 29, 2019

Mama Gets Ready

Despite the picture, this Wandering isn’t about birds, it’s about writing.  Well, it’s about birds, too, because the birds are what started my thoughts wandering down this trail.

When I was a kid, everyone knew that animals—especially “simple” animals like the sparrows featured in these photos—were basically organic computers programmed by that mysterious force called “instinct.”  Simple animals didn’t teach their young.  At best the young “imprinted” and thus became organic photocopies of their parents.

Turns out, what everyone knows isn’t necessarily right.  Even sparrows—like the delightful family Jim photographed on our bird block—teach their children.  How well in this case is an interesting question, since bird blocks aren’t exactly natural, but we watched for quite a long while as Mama Sparrow taught her kids to feed themselves.

Isn’t That Delicious?

I hope those lessons will extend to encouraging them to sample the plants we have growing in the backyard, many of which we let go to seed to provide food for the birds.

It turns out that “bird brained” birds aren’t the only animals who teach or at least learn by example.  I’ve seen many guinea pigs teaching their young what is and isn’t safe to eat.  Even when they’re not related, younger ones will look to their seniors for guidance.  This can cause a few unintentional ripples down the chain.  We’ve had a couple very dietarily opinionated guinea pigs convince their associates that something perfectly fine—even beneficial for guinea pigs—is “yucky.”  Currently, it’s carrots.  Sigh…

Many types of wild canines not only teach their young to hunt, they take advantage of their ability to regurgitate at will to carry back live prey—small rodents are a favorite choice—so the kids can practice in the safely of the home.

Nonetheless, despite ample evidence to the contrary, humans continue to superimpose their preconceived notions on animals, rather than viewing the animals as distinct individuals.  Not all cats cold-shoulder their humans when they’ve been away.  Mine tend to follow me around, apparently to make sure I won’t do it again.  But who knows?  Maybe they’re more like teenagers hiding the pizza boxes and beer bottles so their parents won’t know they’ve had a party.

My friend (and fellow writer) Walter Jon Williams once pointed out to me a minor error in one of my novels.  I sighed and said, “Well, I guess that makes this an alternate history, then.”  He laughed and very kindly replied, “It’s not what you know you don’t know that’ll get you; it’s what you don’t know you don’t know that gets you every time.”

That’s a good piece of advice to remember when writing.  Next time you start writing a standoffish cat or an eager-to-please dog or a faithful steed or a stupid cow or…  Well, you get the idea.  Next time you start to write what everyone knows, take a closer look.  It’s highly likely that what everyone knows isn’t actually true.

Now that I think about it, that’s good advice for life as well.

Skinny Has Friends!

May 15, 2019

Skinny Shares Lunch With A Friend

Our co-resident Skinny the thrasher has been expanding his social circle!  As I told you in a Wandering about a month ago, we first met Skinny when he was using our bird block as a source of food during his struggle to survive after being orphaned.  He has since claimed our yard as his territory.  Until this spring, Skinny didn’t seem to have many friends, but now things are changing.

Last week, we saw Skinny not only sharing “his” bird block with another thrasher, but actively feeding it.  We think, but aren’t certain, that Skinny’s friend is a juvenile.  However, some courting behaviors mimic parent/child behaviors.  Our guess is based on how, in the photos Jim took, the bird being fed seems to have a shorter, less curved beak, which is one of the few ways young thrashers differ from fully mature.  If so, then Skinny may have a family.  Adult thrashers take turns minding the nest and the young, which might explain why we haven’t seen two adults foraging together the way we did the two thrashers we assume were Skinny’s parents.

Skinny has also come to something of an agreement with P.F., the cottontail who likes to hop up on the bird block and stuff himself.  Possibly because an earlier incarnation saved his life, Skinny considers the bird block “his.”  Although he has never seemed to mind sharing it with the sparrows, finches, quail, and doves, he was not happy to have this large, furry creature plop himself on top and munch away.

However, last week, Jim got pictures of P.F. and Skinny sharing the bird block.  This doesn’t mean they don’t still compete from time to time.  We’ve seen Skinny sneak up on P.F. and poke him right on his fuzzy rump.  And we’ve seen P.F. launch himself for the top of the block, never mind who else is there.  All in all, Skinny seems the more territorial, while P.F. is simply opportunist.

Skinny and P.F. Have A Lunch Date

Our toads are also back, and our teeny-tiny pond is once again hosting both nightly singalongs and copious quantities of tadpoles.  We saw one of last year’s tadpoles perched on the edge of the pond, contemplating whether he could manage to leap down into the water.  Hey, four inches is a long way when you’re only about half an inch tall!

Wolf’s Search is now off to the copy editor, and I’m reviewing Wolf’s Soul before moving along to writing the conclusion.  Time to curl up with a stack of paper and a red pencil or three.  Catch you later!

Easter Bunnies and Beta Readers

April 17, 2019

PF As The Easter Bunny

First, a follow-up to last week’s WW about Skinny the Thrasher.  The day after I wrote about Skinny’s rivalry with PF the Cottontail Rabbit for access to the bird block, we spotted them both eating from the block at the same time.  If we see them again, we’ll try for a picture.  In the meantime, as we lead into Easter, here’s a picture of PF as the Easter Bunny!

As some of you already know, last week a short post on my FB and Twitter feeds accidentally triggered something I feel is only courteous to address in more than a few sentences.

When I posted a brief comment about how I’d just realized that I’d forgotten to put chapter breaks into the manuscript of Wolf’s Search that I’d sent to my secret beta readers, I expected to be teased about my forgetfulness.  What I didn’t expect was the outpouring of requests for information about how to become one of my beta readers.  Some requests were from people I recognized as long-time readers, but others were from people for whom this was the first time I remembered seeing a comment.

When these requests continued, even after I’d responded in the Comments, I decided I’d better explain.

Here’s the short answer.  You probably cannot become a beta reader for me.  Unlike some authors, I don’t solicit comments about my work from the general readership.  I never have.  I am not likely to change.  My first reader has always been my husband.  After Jim, I usually ask a few friends for feedback.  Who these are varies widely, according to the project.

(If you’re still interested in why I work this way, read on…)

For example, one of the people I asked to read the manuscript of Asphodel was Alan Robson, with whom I collaborated on the Thursday Tangents for close to seven years.  From our many discussions, public and not, I knew that Asphodel was the sort of book Alan didn’t usually read.  When he read it and liked it, my feeling that I had something special in Asphodel was reinforced.

For Wolf’s Search, you’d probably be surprised to learn that none of my secret beta readers were fanatical about the series.  One hadn’t even read the last several books.  This was because I wanted to make sure that Wolf’s Search could serve as a “gateway book” into the series.  (Admittedly one with some spoilers, but still more a stand-alone novel than otherwise.)

Yes.  I do know some authors regularly send out copies to beta readers who are strangers or rabid fans of the series.  For some authors, especially those writing long series with long, long books, this helps them to catch continuity errors so they can focus on the new material.  For others, I am sad to say (based on hearing them say this), soliciting beta readers is merely a marketing ploy – an attempt to make readers feel they have been part of the writing process, even if they have not.

Maybe my attitude toward showing a book before it is polished was influenced by my relationship early in my writing career with Roger Zelazny.  Roger generally didn’t share his completed manuscripts with anyone except his editor.  When he did, he usually had a specific reason, up to and including impulsiveness.  (Full disclosure: I read the manuscripts of his last several novels well before publication.)  Roger also didn’t belong to any writers groups.  Hard as it is to believe in these days when social media makes it seem as if every writer shares everything, including deleted scenes and false starts, there are many writers who want their readers to see only the finished story.

More likely my choice then and now to keep unfinished drafts to myself is simply one of the many ways that Roger and I were alike.  Writing for me is not a collaborative process.  I don’t belong to writers’ groups because comments on a work in progress would stall me, not encourage me.  Even Jim doesn’t hear much about a story until it has been completed.  And after the work is completed, a very few readers are all I need to assure me that I haven’t missed some really obvious error.

Writers are very different in what they need.  I am the type of writer I am.  I hope you will not be offended if I continue as I have for these twenty-five or so years that I have been offering you my stories and unveil my works only when they are complete.

Skinny the Thrasher

April 10, 2019

Not Quite So Skinny Skinny

The last thing we expected when we impulse-bought a bird block at Costco was that we would save the life of an orphaned thrasher.

When I first spotted him tearing into the block, my first thought was “That’s the skinniest bird I’ve ever seen!”  My second thought was “Could that be a thrasher?  It’s too small!”  But the bright eye and the distinctive curved beak were visible, as was the energy and enthusiasm that we’d noticed in the pair of thrashers that had frequented our yard for some years.

That’s when I realized that we hadn’t seen “our” pair for a while.  Curve-billed thrashers nest relatively close to the ground on cactus or in shrubs.  It seemed possible that a predator – for example, a roadrunner – had taken out the entire family except for this one young survivor.

Skinny’s determination to get enough to eat overcame any shyness he felt about living so close to humans.  After a while, he would only make a token retreat when we came in or out of the front door – usually up into the branches of the ash tree that the bird block is under.  After a while, he took to greeting us when we came home.  Or he’d come over to watch from a safe distance what we were doing when we were working in the yard.

This spring, when I was weeding, Skinny perched on the peak of our roof and started making a variety of very conversational sounds.  When I looked up, he posed and then started up again.  Clearly he was saying “Don’t we have a nice yard?  I really like it.”

Thus far, Skinny has not established a family.  He (courtesy pronoun; thrashers are  not markedly sexually dimorphic) hasn’t seemed to welcome any of the other thrashers we’ve seen coming through.  However, he’s far from lonely.  He shares our front yard with any number of sparrows, finches, and doves.  He doesn’t seem to mind the quail or robins, even though they’re closer to his size, eat similar diets, and so could be considered competitors.

The one co-resident of our little bit of wild kingdom Skinny does resent is PF the cottontail rabbit.  As noted elsewhere, PF enjoys foraging from the bird block.  While Skinny is happy to share with the other birds, he does mind PF.  The other day, we watched from our front window while Skinny sulked, making occasional darting forays at the bird block in an attempt to get PF to move along.

So far, it hasn’t worked, but somehow I don’t think Skinny is going to give up!

Cedar Waxwings! Flickers!

March 6, 2019

Cedar Waxwings Outside My Office Window

Sometime this last week, my little corner of New Mexico decided that Spring just might be a good idea.  For those of you who don’t know New Mexico weather, let me clarify…  This doesn’t mean we won’t have more snow.  Since I’ve lived here in Albuquerque, we’ve had snow as late as May.

It doesn’t mean we won’t have frost.  One year, after I planted my seedlings, in early May, we had a cold enough night that all the leaves were nipped off my peppers.  Oddly enough, the stems were fine.  I babied the shorn plants along, and we ended up with a good harvest.

Spring in New Mexico is not a gentle season with drip-drip-drop little April showers.  It’s a season of violent winds, dust storms, hot days, and freezing nights.

The signs of spring are subtle, but no less exciting for that.  One of my favorites is when the migrating birds start passing through and our summer residents return.  Just this week we saw our first quail, possibly the couple who routinely use our yard as one of their foraging areas.  We also saw the flickers (a sort of woodpecker) who have been co-residents of our yard for years.

Our winter resident juncos haven’t moved on, but we’re seeing some of the early migrants coming through.  In addition to the tough gang of juvenile robins who usually move in for a few weeks to take advantage of free water and great bathing facilities, we had new visitors.

When I first saw the cedar waxwings drinking from the pond, what clued me in that these slim brown birds were not our usual house sparrows and finches wasn’t the brilliant spots of red on their wings or the fact that the tips of their tails looked as if they’d been dipped in a bucket of bright yellow paint.  It was the way they drank: dipping in their beaks, then tossing back their heads with the enthusiasm of college students doing shots.

Then I took a closer look and saw the bright splashes of color, grabbed our favorite quick-ID bird book (Birds of New Mexico by Stan Tekiela) and made an identification.

Although most of the native trees and shrubs have the good sense to wait until later to start putting out leaves, the weeds and ground covers are starting to leaf out.  Wild mustard is a pain, but I do like spectacle pod and some of the other weeds which will give us our first flowers.

The calendar indicates that several more weeks must pass before Spring officially arrives, but the promise is flying through and splashing down in my birdbath.

PF Discovers the Bird Block

November 28, 2018

PF, a Junco, and the Bird Block

I’ve known for a long time that squirrels will poach from bird feeders, but I never realized that cottontail bunnies would.  Then PF came into our lives.

We first met PF early this summer when he’d sneak between loose boards on our fence to graze on the native plants that make up a good portion of our landscaping.  This was fine with us.  Native bunny.  Native plants.

Then PF discovered string beans.  This was not so good.  We grow the string beans for us.  The guinea pigs get an occasional treat, but if PF kept eating the better part of a plant at a sitting, then no one was going to get any string beans: not us, not the guinea pigs, and not PF.

By this point in our relationship, PF was nearly tame, so finding out how he was getting into the yard was very easy.  I would walk out into the yard, then PF would hippetty-hop slowly toward the closest exit: usually a part of the fence with a loose or missing board.  I would then block the opening and, if a new board was needed, Jim would put it in that weekend.

It turned out that PF had numerous ingresses to our yard but, through process of elimination, he showed them to us one by one.  The hardest one to fix was the gate, where he proved able to squeeze through a space that seemed far too narrow for such a robust cottontail.

Finally, we closed all the gaps.  PF was not pleased with us.  When I discovered he had been trying to dig through the gravel and under the gate (a task that proved impossible because the gravel bed is too dense), he earned his nickname: Persistent Forager or PF.

PF did not abandon us, returning repeatedly to eat the grass that grew up through the landscaping gravel in the front yard.  I appreciated this.  It saved me weeding.  I even worried a little about what PF would do when the grass was killed back by the cold.

PF Takes a Closer Look, Supervised By a Ring-necked Dove

I need not have worried.  A few weeks ago, after we put out a bird block for the winter birds, we noticed an odd sculpted panel along lower sections.  We figured it was caused by smaller birds that could perch on the edges of the concrete birdbath we used as a pedestal for the bird block.  Then we noticed PF was coming by, and soon after we caught him in the act of, once again, persistently foraging.

PF Takes a Bite

The birds don’t seem to mind, and we find PF’s company amusing, so we don’t plan to create any barrier to his enjoyment. That’s probably a good thing. PF, the persistent forager, would probably find a way around it.

 

What the Cats Think

November 7, 2018

Kel and Ruby: Supervisors of PT

Many thanks to all who sent Jim good wishes for his knee replacement surgery.  I’m happy to report that overall things have gone well.  He’s up and walking again (with a walker) and diligently applying himself to his PT.  Sure, there have been rough times, and there are certain to be more rough times, but he’s doing as well as could be expected.

Before the surgery, Jim and I did everything we could to prepare our household for the disruption that was certain to follow.  We stocked up on groceries.  We did lots of laundry.  We made up the bed in the guest room, just in case one or more of us would need it.  (We have.)  But there was one important issue we couldn’t deal with in advance: We couldn’t prepare the cats for all the changes to come.

(This is not to slight the guinea pigs but, although they interact with us, as long as someone shows up with treats and rotates them through their various domiciles, they’re not too picky as to which of their humans it is.)

Halloween night, when I staggered in from more than twelve hours at the hospital, the immediate question of “Where’s dinner?  In fact, now that we’re on the topic, where was lunch?” rapidly changed to “What did you do with Jim?”

The most immediately upset was Ogapoge, who thinks Jim is his personal property.  However, when I crawled into bed, I felt every cat take a turn walking up the bed and inspecting where Jim should be.  When they didn’t find him, they came and poked me, as if I might be hiding him.  However, they weren’t overly upset.  The last few months, Jim has had to be away for several days at a time, and they figured that this was more of the same.

They were more indignant when I vanished again on Thursday to spend most of the day at the hospital with Jim.  I work at home, you see, so I am supposed to be available at all times.  It probably didn’t help matters that I came home with Jim’s scent on me.  I found myself imagining the cats conferring, wondering if I might be keeping Jim imprisoned somewhere.

When on Friday I brought Jim home, the cats’ initial jubilation changed to consternation.  Jim smelled wrong.  He was walking funny – and never without this horrible rattling thing in front of him.  Again, Ogapoge was the most upset.  His pet was back but changed.  Kwahe’e was fairly mellow about matters but, at sixteen, he’s seen the world.  He came over, buffed Jim’s shoes, then went back to his basket.  Keladry was watchful, while Persephone – who is the most social – was mostly concerned because Jim would not let her jump up to sit on his lap from the right (the surgical side), only the left.

By this writing, the cats have all adjusted to the change.  Keladry has appointed herself Supervisor of PT.  Ogapoge forgave Jim when he learned Jim could still play with him and feed him – and that the rattling monster didn’t seem inclined to do anything without Jim’s supervision.  Kwahe’e figured out he could get up on the guest bed to check on Jim, so that was fine.  Persephone decided that the amount of time Jim spends sitting means there is more lap time available.

So we’re settling into a new normal here.  I’m not back to writing yet, and I probably won’t be for a while more, since my creative energy is going into finding new ways to do old tricks.  However, like the critters, I’m relieved to have Jim home again – and I appreciate how the rattling of the walker lets me know when he’s up and about and might need my help.

I hear it now.  Later!