Archive for the ‘Wildlife’ Category

Bunny, Treecats, and More

June 1, 2022
Mei-Ling Dives into a Good Book

Let’s start with the saga of the bunny, and move to news about treecats and then a little more fun.

Last week, I told you about how a tiny bunny had gotten into our yard and was eating our seedlings, specializing on beans, but not hesitating to eat Swiss chard and sample eggplant (plants) as well.

Jim worked hard getting to critical areas of our garden beds fenced off.  Wednesday (after I had posted the WW), Jim’s hard work paid off in a really weird way.

The baby bunny was back in the garden bed, but had trapped itself.  Our guess is that it used the higher ground outside of the fence to jump over the fence, then couldn’t get out.  Jim had the bright idea of using one of our cat carriers to trap it, and between us we managed.  The bunny was small enough to fit in my hand, and very, very soft.

Jim then carried the little bunny off to a park/empty lot near of us that has a fair amount of cover.  I waited to post until today, while we waited to see if it had siblings, but we seem to be bunny free.  The fences, however, will stay in place until the seedlings are large enough that an opportune nibble will not kill the plant.

(We didn’t get any photos of the bunny this time.  The little critter was pretty scared, and we wanted to get it moved before it panicked itself to death.)

There are no treecats in our yard (at least that we’ve seen), but June 7 is the official release date of A New Clan, formerly known to dedicated readers of these WW as “SK4.”  It is the fourth “Star Kingdom/ Stephanie Harrington” book, written by me and David Weber in collaboration.  It picks up right after Treecat Wars.

If you’re interested in a sample, here’s a link to an advertisement that, in turn, will provide a link to a sample.

As for the “and more,” I’ve been doing a lot of interviews.  When Aurora Borealis Bridge came out, I had a request from Shepherd.com to do one about unusual portal fantasies.  I quite enjoyed myself, and found some good examples both past and more current.

In the background, as I type this, I hear Jim clicking away, trying to get some photos of the quail family (mom, dad, a dozen striped chicks) who are currently residing in in the big Russian sage in our front yard.  Keep your fingers crossed.  Maybe they’ll hold still long enough for us to share a picture or two!

Toads and Bunnies

May 25, 2022
Look on the Roof!

Interesting wildlife news from our yard…  Topping the list is this adorable toad sitting on top of the Toad House that our friends Gail and John Miller gave us many years ago after we expressed our enthusiasm that our little pond had attracted real, live toads!

For those of you who don’t know, I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is officially “high altitude grassland,” because we’re supposed to get 7.5 inches of rain a year.  Lately, we’ve gotten quite a lot less, but haven’t been reclassified to desert, yet.  Therefore, toads and tadpoles (of which our tiny pond is currently supporting quite a few) are very exciting.

Less exciting is discovering after several bunny-free years, a juvenile rabbit has gotten into our back yard.  So far it has eaten the newly sprouted Swiss Chard and arugula; two eggplant plants (which retailed at something like four dollars apiece, so definitely not cheap); and portions of two rows of newly sprouted tepary beans.  We can replant the beans, thank heavens, and hopefully we’ll be able to score more Swiss chard seeds, but I am less than enchanted—especially since I can’t find out how it got in.

I mean, just because my latest releases—Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge—are portal fantasies doesn’t mean I want my yard to be a wild rabbit’s magical kingdom of Lunch.

I’ve only seen the bunny twice, and maybe it spotting me will convince it to go elsewhere.  However, as a precaution, Jim is busy with chicken wire and trying to block gaps in the fence. We can hope, but hope can always use a little help.

Off to go look for it again…

Spring Brings

May 4, 2022
Mystery Lizard

We’re having a very dry spring here in our corner of New Mexico, but our little pond (128 gallons empty) is nonetheless home to a ridiculously large crop of tadpoles.

We also seem to have a new—to us, that is—type of lizard which has taken up residence in our yard.  It’s not either our two usual types: the blue whiptail and the fence lizard.  It’s featured in the picture above and I would love if anyone can help us out with figuring out the type.  It seems to have settled in on the west side of our yard, and even chosen a favorite basking rock.

Winds have been high, and temperatures all over the place, so other than a bit of transplanting, we haven’t yet put the garden in.  However, we’re getting ready.  I’ve started some tomatoes from seed.  We’re going to try two new, to us, varieties this year, both of which we acquired from Native Seed Search, and which are supposed to handle high temperatures well.

Now that the excitement (and considerable extra work) related to the releases of Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge only two months apart is ebbing, I’m segueing into more writing. 

Whenever I need to think, I wander outside, weed a little here, water a little there.  It’s definitely nice to have a chance to spend more time outside. Be well

Shy Mei-Ling and the Invader

December 29, 2021
Who’s Coming Down the Hallway?

My mom came for Christmas, our first overnight house guest since 2018.  Mei-Ling came to live with us in August of 2019, as a very shy fourteen-week-old kitten.  She had just begun to entertain the idea that people other than me and Jim in the house might be a good idea when the pandemic shutdown hit and she had the luxury of over a year to renew her opinion that visitors were not to be befriended, but to be waited out.

This was her tactic when Mom arrived on the 22nd.  Mei-Ling dove into the closet in our bedroom and refused to emerge, even for dinner.  When Mom settled down in the guest room, behind a closed door, Mei-Ling emerged, which is probably a good thing, since the litter box is not in our bedroom closet.

Roary, who also had never dealt with an overnight guest, was also uncertain.  At first, he hid in the closet with Mei-Ling, but by later on the 23rd, Roary (probably taking his cue from Persephone, for whom Mom is a longtime friend), began to join the party from a discreet distance.  By the morning of Christmas Eve, he even let Mom take his picture.

Maybe this is why, by mid-day on the 24th, Mei-Ling was at least up on our bed, and then, by evening, when we settled down to play mah-jong, actually came out to the front of the house.  It’s not as much fun to lurk and hide all by oneself as with another cat, and she and Roary are great friends.

Christmas Day, Roary came to look at the boxes and wrapping paper, while Mei-Ling lurked at the edges.  Coming out of the back of the house had advantages, especially since if she skittered fast enough, she could go out on the porch, which she loves, and watch what went on in the kitchen from behind the security of a closed sliding glass door.

By the 26th, both Mei-Ling and Roary were behaving relatively normally.  When we settled in for our evening mah-jong game, Mei-Ling actually started meowing, trying to get either Jim or me to come into the living room and play with her.  She’s really quite out-going when she forgets she’s shy.

And on the 27th, Mom departed for her home.  Now we’re waiting to see how Mei-Ling will behave when we have guests next time.  Will she have learned that “stranger” does not equal “danger” or will she try to wait them out?

We’re going to be playing mah-jong later this week with our friend Michael Wester.  I wonder if the clatter of tiles will encourage Mei-Ling to come out and try to tempt us to play with her instead of with those noisy plastic tiles.

And Roary Up in the Tree

December 22, 2021
Stealth Roary

The tree has stayed standing to this point, although Roary has been up in it repeatedly.  Putting on ornaments definitely helped, since they were placed to block inviting openings.

Thus far, Persephone has been viewing the tree with the calm insouciance of a nearly ten-year-old cat who has seen it all.  Shy girl Mei-Ling thinks that it’s terrific that we’ve decided to give her a new place to sit under and feel safe.  She carries her treats onto the tree skirt to dine in secure comfort.

Since the tree is artificial, Dandy and Coco, the guinea pigs, have no opinion.  They would prefer we made a tree out of kale with a celery stalk trunk, and ornaments cut from various vegetables.  Carrot strips could serve as garland.

I made a lot of cookies this past week.  I’m shooting for a total of ten: cookie press butter, butter and walnut balls, pecan/maple, sugar, gingerbread, hermits, fudge, meringues, sesame balls, and…  I’m forgetting the last one…. Got it!  Linzer tarts.

The sugar cookies and gingerbread will be decorated in stages.  It’s more fun that way than doing a marathon.  My collection of cookie cutters is wildly varied, so in addition to the more usual trees, wreathes, stars, bells, reindeer and the like, we have buffalo, bears, rhinoceros, stegosaurus, rocket ships, and, of course, wolves and coyotes.  And cats and guinea pigs.  Can’t forget the cats and guinea pigs.

It occurs to me that I make cookies the same way I write: a lot of variety, not one type of cookie, or theme or motif.  Variety definitely fuels my creativity.

Now to go put jam between the layers of the Linzer tarts.  Last year I used cactus pear, the year before, raspberry.  This year will be cherry.  All three red, all three different.

May these crazy days leading up to the Christmas weekend be filled with fun for you, whether you’re travelling or home, being a guest or having guests, or simply enjoying some peace and quiet!

Seizing Opportunity

July 14, 2021
A Opportunity Accepted

Many thanks to all who helped Jim decide which photo to enter in the little local contest.  With your prompting, he chose “After the Dustbath.”  Responses overall were interesting, but this one seemed to hit people both on an artistic level, and on an “awww-so-cute” level.  It also seemed to appeal because of the sense of motion it contains.

Several comments (as well as e-mails) asked me about Jim’s photography.  So, here’s my very amateur attempt to reply.  First of all, all four photos featured last week were hand-held, no tripod.  Jim used a long telephoto lens for most of the photos, although “Cedar Waxwings” was taken with his regular lens.

None of these photos were taken at a zoo, aviary, wildlife preserve, or any location where the birds’ freedom of motion was restricted.  Three, in fact, were taken in our yard.  The sandhill cranes were photographed at a facility created as a rest stop for migrating wildlife.

In the case of the photos taken at our house, Jim often had minimal time to prepare.  The set-up was likely something like this:

“Hey!  Quail out front!  With chicks!”

Camera is then grabbed, pointed, focused, and photos are taken.

Jim doesn’t have any of those fast clicky devices used by professional photographers who specialize in action shots.

The photo accompanying this piece was taken in our back yard, by flashlight (held by me), for no other reason than that we’d never seen a toad actually sitting on the lily pads of the miniature waterlily in our teeny pond.  The toad knew us so wasn’t scared.  In fact, he started singing, and thus the photo.

This brings me to the value of seizing opportunity.  So often I’ve encountered people who refuse to do something because they don’t feel sufficiently assured in advance that it will be worth their while or “pay off.”  The recent trend of self-publishing and the related one of “monetizing” crafts has added to the sense that no one should do anything for any reason except to make money.  That’s such a pity.

The two novels I recently sold (Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge aka “The Over Where Duology”) were written without any promise of anything except that I’d really have a great time writing them.  And I did.  Even if these books had never sold, nothing could have taken that joy from me.

The Firekeeper books, my most popular series to date, come from the same happy place.  I wrote Through Wolf’s Eyes because I wanted to, even though I was surrounded by people who held forth that a professional writer like me, who already had several published novels (including some like Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls and Changer, which had received a lot of critical acclaim) should never take on such a big project without a contract.

But I did, and in addition to making me happy, I made a lot of other people happy, too.

So, seize the opportunity, whether to write or craft or dance to your favorite song…  Or join our toad friend, and sing for no other reason than that you feel like doing so.  Joy is its own reward.

The Value of Unlearning

June 30, 2021

In many ways, I live on an alien world.

Last Thursday, our eighteen-day streak of temperatures over a hundred (usually with highs between 103F and 108F) finally broke.  Okay.  Our high was still 98F, and the next day we went back to 100F but, as many people in many locations unaccustomed to these highs are learning the hard way, there’s a lot of difference between 108F and 98F.

(We’ve had a high this year of 112F, and I’m really hoping not to top that.)

Our weekend actually was, for us, cool, with highs in the high eighties, and lows in the sixties and even, one astonishing night, the high fifties.  We’ve even had clouds, although, as of this writing, no rain that wasn’t in the form of individual, nameable drops.

People often think that my part of New Mexico is like the stereotype of Arizona: hot, no “real” winter, towering cactus, like that.  Leaving aside that the stereotype of Arizona doesn’t apply even to Arizona as a whole, it certainly doesn’t apply to my part of New Mexico.

We get cold temperatures well below freezing.  The only reason we don’t get more snow is because on the whole our climate is too dry.  And, as mentioned above, we get hot enough that we could probably (although I’ve wondered why anyone would want to try) fry eggs on the sidewalk.  Our rain comes in seasonal monsoons, the establishment of which watched for with a fervor that goes back long before the arrival of colonists from Europe.

The opening photo illustrates the extremes that our yard has to deal with.  On the left is our pomegranate shrub.  If you look carefully, you can see the dead limbs poking out of the green.  That’s cold damage, a result of our nighttime temperatures in October dropping without warning from the high forties to well below freezing for four nights.  It also hit our ash tree and apples, as well as killing a couple of established shrubs.

On the right you can see our squash plants.  The yellowing on the leaves is not a result of insect predation or disease; it’s from dealing with temperature extremes.  Even with only a few days of temperatures below a hundred, we are seeing indications of recovery.  If we’re lucky, the zukes will start setting fruit.  The plants only twenty feet or so further east, that get less sun, grew much more slowly, but seem to be setting.

When I first moved to New Mexico, back in mid-1994, I came from a very pleasant area in south central Virginia, where growing things was almost ridiculously easy.  Here I had to learn a bunch of new skills, new plants, and face new challenges.

Of course, there are bonuses, too.  One of Jim and my dreams was to create a habitat that would invite quail to come into our yard.  When we achieved that goal, we hoped that someday they’d actually bring their chicks to visit.  As the picture below shows, we have achieved that goal, too!

In a way, my move to New Mexico gave me a lot of insight into what it would be like to be a colonist on a planet ostensibly “hospitable” to humans.  The ability to adapt would be as important, maybe more important, than any suite of technological skills or access to a databank of knowledge.  Unlearning would be as crucial as learning.

On that note, I’m going to enjoy every breath of cooler air while I dive into the final push to address the editorial notes on the second of my forthcoming “Over Where” novels, Aurora Borealis Bridge.

Sparrow Time

March 17, 2021
Buddy, Can You Sparrow Time?

This past week was one of reorganization of thoughts and activities. This current week began with me being a bit under the weather. Therefore, I offer you a sparrow with attitude to spare.

I’ll catch you Friday with an update on what I’ve been reading. Meanwhile, remember, I’m always open to questions.

Now for a dose of sunlight and another cup of coffee.

Microcosmic Drama

June 17, 2020

Teeny-Tiny Toad (actual size 1/4 inch)

Jim and I have a very small pond in our yard: 125 gallons empty, a lot less water when one accounts for displacement from plants (blue pickerel weed, aquatic plantain, underwater grass) and the dirt they hold, creating a little marshy section at one end.

Nonetheless, it has become the key element in the miniature ecosystem that is our yard.  One of the many native creatures that benefits from it are New Mexico Spadefoot toads.  This year, we have an ebullient population of tadpoles that are in the process of turning into toads.

The toadlings are super tiny (less than a quarter inch) and easily mistaken for insects.  Until we started watching them go through the various stages from black dots to “Hey, I have legs!”, I never realized all the hazards they face.

Monday morning, I saw a teeny-tiny toad hopping from boulder to boulder that is the small gravel around our pond.  I scooped it up, intending to either to either place it back into the water or into shelter under one of the spreading squash leaves.  To my horror and astonishment, I discovered that it was being attacked by ants.

Not big ants either.  Two really little ones.  One ant each had grabbed each hair-sized hind leg (actually, hair-sized is probably too large) and was holding fast.  Being on the side of the toads, I dropped the toadling into the pond, where it succeeded in kicking loose the ants and diving under a lily leaf.

I think I’ll lower the water level a few inches to keep ambitious toadlings from hopping out until they’re a wee bit larger.

Yeah.  I can’t save them all or the world.  I know ants need to eat, too, but there’s plenty for the ants to eat without eating toads.

Silly?  Sure.  But then, I write books for a living.  Do you expect me not to be silly?

Saturday Snuggles

May 23, 2020

Mei-Ling and Roary

Some folks have wondered how shy-girl Mei-Ling and her new kitten pal, Romping Roary, are doing.

A picture speaks a thousand words….