Archive for the 'Random nature stuff' Category

Summer of My Green Frog

Or, Kermit Sang the Truth, Y’all

I know normally this is a dog blog, but today it is a frog blog because I want to tell the story of a very special frog I had a connection with this summer. I also thought I’d share how I, and all people with MCS (and all living beings for that matter), have an important connection to frogs.

But first, the story.

We have had quite a number of frogs in the gravel around the house this summer. Most of them were leopard frogs — either Northern Leopard Frogs or Pickerel Frogs — but this is the story of one special frog who was not a leopard frog.

All around my house is gravel. I am severely allergic to mold, which is why I live in a house with no basement and gravel around it and lots of sun and air. The gravel supports good water drainage and prevents vegetation from growing near the house, which otherwise can be a source of wood-boring insects, mold, and other Things We Don’t Like. For some reason, frogs and toads really seem to like the gravel next to the house.

Every evening, when I’d take Barnum out, a slew of leopard frogs would leap under the ramp toward the house to escape our scary, big, noisy mammalian selves. When the weather got wet for a brief period, I asked people who walked Barnum to rinse off his feet in a basin before bringing him in so he wouldn’t get my bed all muddy or sandy. One day, the basin was left outside next to the ramp and then we had a series of thunderstorms. The basin filled up with water.

The day after the rains had ended, there was a frog in the basin. It was a little frog with a green head and a brown body. It was just hanging out, its head out of the water, and its body in the water, chillin’….

I thought it was fine, but one of my PCAs who cares about all living creatures, even wasps and yellow jackets and ants, was concerned that maybe the frog was trapped and couldn’t get out. So I put my hand under its legs and it leaped away, totally fine.

From then on we saw the frog in the basin every day. Usually it would hang out near the side, face out, body in. Occasionally, it would sit on the edge of the basin.

One morning, a large rock had appeared in the middle of the basin. I knew right away that my tender-hearted PCA had provided the rock for the frog so that it would have a place to rest safely in the water.

A rectangular tan basin surrounded by gray gravel. The basin is full of water and has some algae along the bottom. In the middle is a large brown rock, the top of which pokes out of the water. A little dark spot on the rock near where it pokes out of the water is the frog.

The perfect frog rock in the frog basin on the frog gravel.

The frog LOVED that rock. The frog spent all its time on the rock, which it blended in with so well that if you didn’t KNOW there was a frog living there, you would just walk on by. If you looked, you could see the eyes sticking out where the frog was pretending to be a brown rock.

Everyone was very fond of the frog. We always looked for it when we went in or out of the house and reported on what it was doing. It was never around at night. It spent its nights elsewhere, perhaps at a frog nightclub, drinking grasshoppers. And it spent its day in the basin/homemade pond on its rock. My tender-hearted PCA was concerned that the frog might be lonely or hungry because she never saw it socializing with other frogs or hunting anything. We kind of made fun of her a little bit about this. (My PCA, I mean, not the frog. We would never tease the frog; that would be cruel.)

I looked up the frog in my Audubon Field Guide. It looked like a Northern Green Frog, but was much smaller than the measurement given. I looked them up online and found out that their size can vary quite a bit. This frog was about one-and-a-half inches long. I decided it was likely either a juvenile frog or just a petite, svelte frog.

Northern Green Frog sitting on a lily pad.

Ha! This Northern Green Frog only *wishes* she had an awesome rock in a basin instead of this pathetic lily pad in a natural environment. Poser.

I also learned that male Northern Green Frogs have yellow throats, whereas the females’ throats are light tan. I tried to get a look at our frog’s throat, but it was difficult to tell because the frog was generally partly submerged (and on the rock) and the basin is a sort of yellowish-tan; I couldn’t tell if it was reflecting on its throat. But eventually I decided it seemed like it had a yellow throat. For quite some time we agreed the frog should have a name, but I didn’t want to name it until I knew its sex. (I know; I’m terribly old-fashioned, hung up on these binary gender distinctions in amphibians.)

Close-up of the frog, head-on. The frog is sitting on its rock with its body in the water and its head sticking out.

“I’m not here. I’m a rock.”

So, since it was a Green Frog, I wanted a name that started with “G,” and when I decided it was a boy frog, I chose the name Gordon Webfoot. I got some pictures of Gordon to post on my blog. We sometimes added water if it seemed like the basin was getting low, and when it got really gross, with lots of dead bugs and algae and leaves, we’d clean it out and put in fresh water. Everyone was happy.

One day, I managed to get a really close look at Gordon and realized that his throat was tan, not yellow, which meant Gordon was a female frog. (She had a bright yellow stripe along her jaw line on each side, and that had thrown me off.) So I changed her name to Gordana (pronounced as “Jordana”) Webfoot.

Overhead close-up of the frog on the rock. Her head is clearly visible sticking out of the clear water around her, even though her lower body, under the water, blends in with the mottled brown of the rock she's sitting on.

Gordana strikes a pose. She’s a friggin frogstar!

She was a confident, mellow frog. I could go rolling by in my big, noisy powerchair on the metal ramp, right next to her basin, and she didn’t move a muscle. I could take close-up photos of her, and she didn’t care. I introduced her to my parents. My mom thought she was cute. My dad said she was too small to be a real frog, but size isn’t everything. She had heart. Barnum mostly ignored her, except one time when he got up really close to sniff her; she jumped off her rock and landed under the ramp. But later she was back again. Gordana was a very cool frog.

The weeks went by. My PCA became concerned about fall coming. What would happen to Gordana? She suggested I look into a terrarium. I said absolutely not. She was a wild frog — born free and living free — and I would not subject her to a life of captivity. I had visions of Gordana returning each summer to her basin.

Then one morning, my PCA — Gordana’s fairy godmother — said that Gordana was not in her basin. She also said that a garter snake had been seen leaving the area. “But snakes don’t eat frogs, do they?” She said.

I said that yes, frogs are a favorite of snakes. (I know what garter snakes eat because I used to have one as a pet. Her name was Falstaff. That’s a story for another time.)

She said, “But it was a really small snake. I don’t think it could eat an entire frog.”

I said that snakes’ jaws can open really wide, and it would be no problem at all to swallow a small frog like Gordana. But I really hoped she was wrong. I hoped Gordana would come back. I went out to look for her from time to time.

For three days, we all looked for our froggy friend. We never saw her again. We were all sad. On the fourth day, we washed and emptied the basin and brought it inside. We miss Gordana Webfoot.

The end. . . ?

No! Wait! There’s more!

Don’t let Gordana Webfoot have died in vain! Were you deeply moved by the bond between a 40-something woman and her frog? Or even mildly amused? Would you like to give back to the frog community? Or would you like to, you know, not have the planet die? Then you want to know about Save the Frogs! — America’s* First and Only Public Charity Dedicated to Amphibian Preservation!

Logo for Save the Frogs! Black rectangle with the words Save the Frogs! in bright green and orange. There is a photo of an actual bright green frog with huge bulging orange eyes and a yellow tongue sticking out sitting on the ess and exclamation point. Underneath it says

You can help save the frogs!

Save the Frogs! is an awesome organization. They have a really fun, colorful, engaging website. They save amphibian habitat through education, awareness-raising, and direct action, like pressuring public officials not to destroy the habitat of endangered amphibians in their areas. They organize and advocate against pesticides and other chemicals that harm frogs. They sponsor fun events like Save the Frog Day, the Frog Art Contest and Show, Drumming for the Frogs, eco-tourism to help frogs in other parts of the world, information on how to build your own frog pond, and the annual Frog Poetry Contest. The have the frogblog and provide Cool Frog Facts. They are all about the frogs, dude!

A psychedelic ad for the Save the Frogs! Art Contest. All the letters and the background and the frog are in super bright colors, mostly purples, greens, and yellows. At the bottom it says


What do frogs have to do with people with MCS? Or people at all, for that matter?

I’m so glad you asked! People with MCS are often referred to as “the canaries in the coal mine.” Many MCSers call themselves “Canaries.” Canaries were brought down into coal mines because they were more sensitive to poisonous fumes than people. If the canary suddenly keeled over, the miners knew that the air was full of dangerous fumes and got the heck out. People with MCS react to poisons most people aren’t aware of; we are the warning bell of what is harming us all.

But frogs are the REAL canaries. Biologists call them “bioindicators.” From the Save the Frogs! website:

Most frogs require suitable habitat in both the terrestrial and aquatic environments, and have permeable skin that can easily absorb toxic chemicals. These traits make frogs especially susceptible to environmental disturbances, and thus frogs are considered accurate indicators of environmental stress: the health of frogs is thought to be indicative of the health of the biosphere as a whole. Frogs have survived in more or less their current form for 250 million years, having survived countless ice ages, asteroid crashes, and other environmental disturbances, yet now one-third of amphibian species are on the verge of extinction. This should serve as an alarm call to humans that something is drastically wrong in the environment.

That’s right, according to Dr. Kerry Kriger, founder of Save the Frogs!, “Amphibians are without a doubt the most endangered group of animals on the planet. There are six major factors negatively affecting amphibians, and all are due to human activity.” (Wonder what they are? Find out here.)

Yes, Gordana Webfoot is gone. But it is never too late to be inspired by her memory. Please check out Save the Frogs! And if you’re so inclined, make a donation in any amount to Save the Frogs! in Gordana’s memory.


– Sharon, the muses of Gadget and Gordana, and Barnum, service frog dog

*Although Save the Frogs works on frog preservation all over the world!

Feeding Two (or Twenty?) Birds with One Hand

Some twenty years ago, my friend Linda introduced me to the expression, “Feeding two birds with one hand.” I really like this expression. Not only is it kinder than “killing two birds with one stone,” but it’s more evocative. I can actually picture holding my hand out, full of bird seed, and having two birds land on it, whereas not only do I have no desire to imagine killing two birds with a stone, I really don’t know how you’d go about it if you wanted to.

So today’s post is about what I’ve been doing when I’m not here posting, and how this is an opportunity to bring diverse aspects of my life together and feed multiple birds — after all, I have two hands, so I should be able to feed at least four birds!

Many of my faithful readers know that over the last three months I have been working on a fundraiser for my Nonviolent Communication (NVC) teacher, Marlena. Marlena’s Teaching Fund takes the form of an online auction, which starts right this very instant coffee!

Bird 1 – Connection & Contribution

What’s great about this auction? It gives me an opportunity to give back and contribute in a meaningful way to someone who has made a huge difference in my life.

I’ve also gotten to “meet” a lot of wonderful people — friends of Marlena’s or friends of my NVC friends — who donated items to the auction. It feels good to be part of something where people are coming together in a spirit of generosity and love. Nothing to be sad about there!

Picture of a mourning dove on snowy, pebbly ground with lots of sunflower seed hulls around it.

It may be called a "mourning dove," but I was happy to get this picture of it looking at me.

Bird 2 – Increasing Access to Fragrance-Free & Nontoxic Products

Some of my most commented-upon posts here at After Gadget have been those in which I’ve discussed my MCS and/or how fragranced products affect me. Many of you, my beloved readers, have gone in search of nontoxic, fragrance-free products — for your own health, for the access and safety of those with chemical sensitivities around you, and in solidarity with me. This has been so surprising and touching for me!

I also know that many of you have limited budgets, maybe not much access to trying out different products, or live outside the US, which sometimes means different brands than I know about. I am pleased to announce that there are several small, family owned businesses (many of them owned and run by people with MCS) that make nontoxic, fragrance-free products who have donated products or gift certificates to Marlena’s auction! Some of them will ship outside the US! You can test out MCS-safer products while also helping out an MCSer! Check out these listings! (For those who want an inexpensive way to test out several fragrance-free products, I suggest the Magick Botanicals trial/travel kit.)

Hairy woodpecker pecking at suet in a suet feeder on  small tree.

Hunting and pecking for the safe products in the scented aisles of a store? That can get downright hairy!

Bird 3 – Simplifying & Digging Out

I have too much stuff. My house is full of stuff! Stuff collects dust and mold and dander, all of which I’m allergic to. It gets in the way and leaves less room to maneuver my chair. But some of this stuff is perfectly good stuff. Stuff I can’t use, but that someone else could enjoy — brand-new books I was given but can’t read because I can’t read print books. Snarky posters I got as freebies when the company I ordered from messed up my order. Unused nontoxic/natural lip balm with peppermint oil in it. Inkjet office supplies I bought, forgetting that I now have a laser printer. It will feel great if I can give this stuff a new home.

Male red-bellied woodpecker digs suet out of a feeder with his long open beak.

This red-bellied woodpecker is chipping away at the fat, digging out. Inspiring!

Bird 4 – Bird Feeder as Blog Fodder?

I’m never short on ideas for blogs. In fact, my “Posts” folder has almost as many drafts as published posts, and that doesn’t even include all the posts I have in my head that I want to write! Still, now that I’m doing something with a deadline (the auction is only up for ten days), something I’ve invested so much time and energy in, something that’s so important to me, it pushes me to crank out a post to share with the world.

This gives me opportunities, such as to use several of my recent winter bird photos without writing the perfect Birding Thursday post.

I can carry myself with pride . . .

Tote bag in black and yellow that says Pride in big yellow letters on a black background.

This snazzy tote bag is made from recycled bird seed bags!

in taking an old idea like a signal boost and creatively transforming it into something new and different.

Colorful tote bag made from bird seed bags, includes a bright red cardinal sitting on a branch, and a sunflower at the base of the bag.

This tote bag is also upcycled from bird seed bags.

To think outside the box as a blogger . . .

Top of treasure box has head and shoulders of a brown hawk with red wings. There are feathers on teh side of the box.

This is quite some outside of a box!

can give me several different perspectives on something, depending on how I look at it.

A fabric-covered box. The top shows a blue jay in a green leafy tree with a blue feather attached to it, and the side shows a gorgeous white ibis about to take off over stormy waters.

Or how it looks at me....

It’s true that the tone of this post has been tongue-in-cheek and my objective transparent. Nonetheless, I am still appreciative of the seed Linda planted all those years ago of this kinder, gentler way to speak and act, which is part of the work of NVC, for me.

Especially because Linda remains one of my nearest and dearest friends. She’s the one who told me about Marlena’s NVC classes. Taking them together has deepened and strengthened our friendship. Maybe one of you will get to meet her, too?

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and a bored and demanding Barnum, SD/SDiT/hindrance dog

The Tale of the Magic Bunny

Yesterday I was visited by the brown bunny of happiness. This is like the bluebird of happiness, except that it slips into your garden and eats all the tops off the carrots, lots of the leafy greens, and an entire huge acorn squash. And it talks — but I didn’t know that at first.

I am familiar with the eating power of bunnies, as well as their ability to fit their bodies through tiny spaces because I had rabbits as pets when I was a kid. I started with a white rabbit when I was in kindergarten, and over the years had six others of various colors and sizes. However, this bunny was special!

We’ve been seeing this bunny all summer, suspiciously near the garden (which is fenced, but so what, says the rabbit), but not until yesterday did it stay in visual range long enough for me to get some pictures of it eating one of our blackberry bushes:

A small brown cotton-tail rabbit, ears up, stands on an expanse of gravel - rounded pebbles of gray, white, and other natural colors - nibbles on a long green vine.

Bunny nibbling on blackberry vine

Imagine my surprise when, after allowing me to take its picture, the bunny spoke to me (telepathically, otherwise you would, of course, see pictures of it talking).

“Oh camera-happy human, you have managed to catch me in the act!” The bunny announced. “You have totally lucked out! For managing to take a non-blurry picture of me, despite how I hop and twitch, and despite your hand tremors, I will grant you three wishes!”

As you can imagine, I was totally shocked! I had expected two wishes at the most.

“Oh adorable-yet-destructive bun-bun,” I replied. “I have been trying for over a year to get my lemon-of-a-powerchair fixed, to no avail. Then I asked for a refund. Then I had to get involved with the Better Business Bureau, the Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Affairs, and the related District Attorney’s office. It’s been a total fucking nightmare, because I just want to be able to get out and about, walk my dog, and be done with this useless behemoth. When I tried to negotiated with the vendor from whom I purchased the chair, all I got in response was yelling and accusations.

For my first wish, could you please get them to come to some sort of reasonable compromise with me?”

“Hm,” the bunny said, “let me think about that.” The bunny nibbled some grass, pondering.

A similar picture to one above, of the bunny on a background of gravel, except it is stretched forward, one ear up, one ear slightly tilted back, front foot in the air.

Bunny pauses to think.

“Alright,” the bunny said. “That does totally suck. The next time you talk to someone about coming to terms, he will offer you a partial refund for returning the chair.”

Thus, it came to pass that today, when I spoke to someone who had stepped in “to put out fires” for the organization from whom I bought my wheelchair, he offered me a two-thirds refund over a six-month period (because they are strapped for cash) in exchange for returning the chair. I was thrilled. I can’t wait to get that monstrosity — emblem of so much pain and stress — out of my house. I am going to use that money to try to buy a used chair that will better meet my needs.

“Great, bunny, thank you. Please excuse me if I’m skeptical. A talking bunny is one thing, but this wheelchair situation, well — I’ll believe it when I see it.”

“I hear you,” the bunny said. “I get that all the time. Let’s move on to your second wish, okay? I’m feeling twitchy out in the open like this. I am a prey animal, after all.”

“Good point,” I said. “For my second wish, will you show me that my work with Barnum has been paying off, and that we have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being a public access team?”

“Silly human!” Said the rabbit. “Don’t you remember Saturday, when you took Barnum to your town’s Old Home Day, and he was able to loose-leash walk some of the time, in the face of great distractions, and even — after hours — lie down quietly? And then when you took him with you into the Town Hall, how he did a working walk and then did a down-stay in the extremely tight space of the stall (with you and your powerchair and your oxygen) despite having no experience inside other buildings before?”

“Yes, that’s true,” I said, “but he also did a lot of pulling on leash and jumping around, and when I left him with Betsy so I could go dance, he barked.”

“Well, you asked for wishes, not miracles. Give him time.”

“True,” I said, feeling a little let down.

“What about the next day?” The bunny asked, with a touch of irritation. “When you took him to the local food coop, and he did a default sit upon exiting the van, and then gave you great and continuous eye contact, along with sits, downs, reverse, and a very nice working walk? And you felt so pleased with him that you took him inside the store, where he did remarkably well at staying in position, giving you eye contact, following cued behaviors, and in general astonishing you with how happy, ‘in the game,’ and attuned he was?”

“My god, you’re right!” I said, smacking myself in the forehead, practically sending my glasses flying. “He did super until the end, when there were suddenly lots of people, including one person talking to him and petting him, ignoring that I was telling him, ‘Leave it!’ and pulling him away from her, and then he also was obsessed with trying to sniff another woman’s butt.”

“Yeah, that sounds a tad embarrassing. You will have to work a lot on stranger zen and ‘interesting smells in new places’ zen.”

“Exactly,” I concurred.

“On the other paw,” the bunny continued. “After you left the store, when you were going back to the van, he gave you eye contact and followed cues while ignoring a barking dog behind him! Did you forget that? And what about how he pooped on cue before you left home in the first place?”

“You’re right! Wasn’t that amazing?” I almost squealed in delight at the recollection.

“Well, it’s not my thing, really,” said the rabbit. “But whatever floats your boat. Anyway, I think I have pretty clearly shown you that you are Barnum are totally kicking service-dog-in-training ass, so can we move on to wish number three?”

“But you didn’t do anything,” I griped. “You just reminded me of things I already knew.”

“Do I have to remind you about the lesson from the Wizard of Oz? That Dorothy just had to be reminded that there’s no place like home?”

“Wow, you’re a very literate bunny,” I said, impressed.

“I am part of a great tradition of children’s literature,” it replied. “The Velveteen Rabbit, for instance. I do my homework.”

The bunny scratched behind its ear. “Man, all this talking is making me hungry. It doesn’t usually take this long. It’s usually, ‘Gimme a pile of money, a big house, and someone to mate with,’ and I’m outta there.” The rabbit sighed. “I need more blackberry vine. I have an extremely high metabolism. I have to keep my energy up.”

Similar to two pictures above, except that the rabbit's tail is visible, and it's reaching for the blackberry vine while sort of looking behind itself.

"Nothing in life is free," sighs the rabbit. "Not even blackberry vines, apparently."

Was it my imagination, or had the rabbit just rolled its eyes?

“Well, um, okay,” I said, feeling pressed for time now. “The Five Minute Fiction contest is tomorrow again. It’s being guest-hosted and guest-judged by a speculative fiction writer, and he’s already said that it will be a science fiction/fantasy prompt. It just seems like everything is SF/fantasy these days, and that’s really not my genre. I’m quite nervous about it. Can you help me out?”

“I would think that having just written an entire blog wherein you are speaking to a magic rabbit who telepathically grants you wishes indicates that you have some clue about the fantastical.”

“Oh, yeah,” I felt my face turn red. “This is different though,” I explained. “I have been imagining talking animals since I was four. What if the prompt involves some totally weird worlds and names that I don’t grok at all? It’s very hard for me, with my cognitive impairment, to grasp and connect with seriously hardcore SF and fantasy.”

“Alright!” The bunny stomped his hind feet, cutting me off. “Tomorrow, even though it will be a prompt that will completely throw you and confuse you, you will just go with the first idea that pops into your head, relating to one of your favorite writing-related themes–”

“You mean like food, humor, sex, or animals?”

“Do you want this wish or not?”

“Sorry,” I bit my lip.

“Anyway, you will just do your best, and even though you will be impressed by the other entries and feel completely outclassed, you will still manage to get a piece in on time, and you will be a finalist, again, okay?”

“Really? A finalist? Two weeks in a row? Will I win again?”

“That would be a fourth wish. Besides, that’s up to the voting public. You’re done!” Announced the rabbit, and hopped away. I thought I heard him mutter something about “writers” and “divas,” but I was probably just imagining it. After all, we writers have excellent imaginations.

“Wait!” I called after the bunny, its white tail bobbing toward the underbrush. “Where do I tell people to go and vote?”

Just tell them to click on this sentence!” He yelled before disappearing into the greenery.

I wasn’t really sure about that third wish. And the second one was kinda a “gimme,” too. . . .

“I’ve changed my mind!” I shouted after him. “Can I change one of my wishes to a new computer that doesn’t constantly crash, freeze, and run as slow as molasses? And that won’t outgas horrible fumes and make me sick? Or how about for more people to follow my new writing blog?”

From somewhere in the underbrush, I thought I heard the sound of two hind feet pounding the ground, very  hard.

I’ll have to look up Eastern cottontail rabbits in my Audubon guide and see if they ever grant a second round of wishes. . . .

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT

P.S. Woops! I forgot. I’m doing a little trivia game. After reading my entry, guess who my biggest SF influence is? I’ll post a hint after each guess in the comments.

Golden Days of Summer – Part I

Although the payback has begun, Barnum and I have had a couple of terrific days. I’m very grateful. Finally, we’re getting a chance to enjoy summer together!

It started Friday, when I finally got a sunny day and male goldfinches at my feeder, allowing me to take a “golden days of summer picture” of the view from my window. I guess you will just have to take my word for it that these are goldfinches in the foreground, because they are in shadow, so their beautiful yellow color does not show up on the photos.

Framed by window panes, a clear lucite feeder on the window in the foreground has two birds in it, though they are in shadow and not identifiable as to species. Outside the window is lush, tall green weeds and wildflowers, especially gold flowers that resemble very tall black-eyed susans. The sun is shining brightly, casting a golden glow on the greens and yellows.

Gold flowers and gold finches in the golden sun.

Of course, somebody had to see what was so interesting. . . .

Very similar image as previous, except there is one bird in the feeder instead of two, and Barnum's head is at the bottom right of the photo, looking out the window that is open. Just the silouette of the back of his head, ears, and neck are visible.

What are we looking at? Is there a squirrel?? Is there a chipmunk?? I don't hear one...

But after ascertaining that there were no exciting rodents to watch, he got bored and went to his crate.

By the way, I have not yet definitively identified these flowers. They are not black-eyed Susans or Jerusalem artichokes. One of my PCAs says they are brown-eyed Susans; she’s probably right. I need to look them up.

Anynoodle, later that day, Betsy drove Barnum, me, and my revitalized Jet powerchair to the pond, and we had a great time. Barnum ran around sniffing, peeing, and running some more. He was quite good, overall, at keeping within visual range, visually checking in, and coming when called. He did not come promptly every time I called, but he did always come eventually, even when there was an interesting person or dog to follow.

There were a few times my chair made worrisome noises, or that it jerked a bit, which makes me suspect wheel-motor issues. However, it did get me safely from the van and down the trails to the pond and back again. I don’t know how long it will last, but hopefully at least until the rest of the summer or fall, and maybe by then I will have a replacement for the purple chair.

Betsy went into the water, and Barnum had a terrific time bounding into the water to her, then running back to me for a treat, then back to Betsy again. This was a great way for us to practice recalls and also to ask for behaviors (sit, touch, chin, down) when he arrived before receiving his treat.

Betsy was able to entice him to let his feet leave the bottom for just a moment to get a treat from her. This is good, because if I ever get my PICC line removed and am well enough, I would like Barnum to provide swimming assistance for me, as Gadget did.

He got the zoomies and ran around and around the beach, in the water and then out. He certainly is entertaining to watch!

Amazingly, he tuckered himself out enough that he was very interested in working for treats. On the way up the path away from the beach, he actually walked next to my chair, as if doing a loose-leash working walk, even though he was off-lead. He eagerly responded to cues for sit, down, stand, touch, chin, etc. We even did a couple of short sit-stays!

Then, this morning I was able to get a video of a training session. Barnum is now picking up the dumbbell from the floor! Short video of that is below. Link for captioned version is below that, and for transcript below that.

In the video you can see that he sometimes nose-nudges or paws the dumbbell before picking it up. So, I will have to eliminate that part of the behavior before we move on to combining the “take” with the “hold.”

This is the captioned version of video.

This is the transcript of the video.

Part II will cover Saturday’s adventure, when we spent the day at our town’s annual celebration. Public access galore in a super-high distraction environment. Stay tuned!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT and beach zoomer

Birding Thursday: Barred Owl (Audio Edition!)

I remember after I first moved to the country, in 1998, being awoken at dawn by an unearthly sound.

“My god!” I thought. “What the hell is that? And will it ever shut up so I can go back to sleep?”

The answers turned out to be

  1. A pair of barred owls, calling back and forth to each other, and
  2. No, they will keep you awake for hours.

Eventually I discerned, amongst the sometimes chimpanzee-like shrieking, a hooting suggestive of an owl, and I looked up their call in my bird books and discovered it was a pair (or more) of barred owls. Over time, I became used to them. Even though they still sometimes woke me up, I was able to go back to sleep, despite the screeching and calling and hooting.

People think the country is so peaceful. Yes, sometimes it is. And sometimes you are trying to help make a documentary in your driveway and a pileated woodpecker keeps hammering during what is supposed to be your deeply meaningful parting line. But that’s a story for another time. Rather, it’s two posts for the future: one on pileated woodpeckers, and one about participating in a video to educate the public about health care access for people with disabilities.

Back to barred owls!

So, I was familiar with their calls. In fact, about three years ago, we even had a barred owl living near our house. We saw her during the day, because barred owls are sometimes active during the day, as well as night. She’d be in a tree nearby, or sitting on the bird-feeder pole, just hanging out, presumably waiting for some rodents to come looking for the seed spilled on the ground. (Barred owls don’t eat other birds, according to my bird books. Yet, the song birds stayed away while she was around.) We called her “Hedwig.” We were very fond of her.

We didn’t see her after that year, but at night I often hear barred owls calling to each other when I take Barnum out to toilet. The calls seem to be coming from my neighbors’ yard across the street. Indeed, my neighbor recently sent me this photo, saying, “We’ve been seeing this pair all summer.”

(Yes, they are as big as they look. As you’ll read in the Audubon description of them, they are almost two feet tall, with a wing span close to four feet!)

Night-time picture of two barred owls sitting right next to each other on a large, horizontal tree limb. Around them are leaves. They are highlighted in the center in light, and all around them is increasing darkness. One is looking down. The other is looking slightly down and to the side. They are clearly "a couple."

Aren't they adorable?

For the description, I’ll turn to my Audubon guide: “Length, 21 inches. Wingspan, three-feet-eight inches. Dark brownish gray with black spots above; heavily striped underparts; dark bars on upper chest; facial disk gray, ringed in black. Eyes brown; no ear tufts.”

The description my Audubon guide gives of their calls is pathetically inadequate. Here are some calls (and also some images) of adult barred owls from a youtube video. (I’m not providing a transcript or closed captioning because it’s really not possible to get across the sound.)

Okay, so I’m used to that.

Then, several weeks ago, I started to hear a strange, repetitive, loud, annoying animal call at night, all night. I could mimic it when I heard it, but by the next morning, I’d forgotten how it sounded, and couldn’t reproduce it. Finally, I posted to my town’s list-serv, describing it as sounding sort of like a slide-whistle, or someone sucking in an incredibly deep, long breath until they were about to gasp. I said it was repeated all night.

Someone on the list suggested that it was the call of one or more baby barred owls. Someone else in town called me to play me a recording of a barred owl pup juvenile, and yes, ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! They win the prize! That’s what it was.

Apparently, the baby owls call very persistently whenever the parents fly off to hunt, to let them know, “Hey! I’m over here! And I’m hungry! . . . Hey! I’m over here! I’m hungry! . . . Hey! . . .”

You get the idea.

One night, recently, it occurred to me to take my camera outside when I took Barnum out to pee to try to get a recording of the call. It is below. There’s no video — you just see black. I was only trying to capture the sound.

I believe I made the young owl nervous, rumbling toward it on the ramp, so it only called four times in these 37 seconds, which is not as frequent as usual. Also, I know it doesn’t sound that loud  and annoying on this recording, but this is a pretty old, crappy camera, not an audio recording device. In real life, they are much more piercing! (Crank up the volume to listen to it.)

Now, if you ever hear these calls, you will know who you are enjoying . . . as you lie awake past dawn. (Because,  yes, they continue hooting and caterwauling past sunrise!)

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I never even noticed the owl calls), and Barnum (who doesn’t pay the owls much mind in real life, but when I played the youtube video one night, started barking in alarm!)

Some Snaps of a Turtle

Last Wednesday, Betsy told me there was a turtle in our yard, so of course I grabbed the camera and zoomed out to snap some pictures.

This is a painted turtle, a member of the box turtle family.

Small turtle from the front and above. Dark olive shiny shell with thin yellow lines making squares, yellow-orange inner shell visible under its head, which is mostly drawn in is dark olive with yellow stripes. Front feet are out, dark olive with bright red stripes. It does not look happy.

Our visitor.

Most of the turtles we see around here are big snappers. I would never have gotten so close to a snapper — they are vicious. When approached by people, a snapper will generally choose “fight” over “flight” or “freeze.”

Painted turtles mostly go with “freeze,” which is what this lady did. When Betsy first saw her, she was next to my ramp, digging in the wet sand with her hind legs.

When I came out to take pictures, she just struck this pose and held it, pretending to be a shiny, slightly colorful rock.

I say “she,” because most probably what she was doing was preparing to lay eggs: dig in the mud with back feet, lay eggs, cover them up, head back for the swamps.

Side view of the turtle, showing her hind feet, which are leathery-looking and sort of flat with long claws, and a long, pointy tail. From this angle you can also see more clearly the yellow of her inner shell at her front, and the pattern of red squares all around the rim of the upper shell, which is quite lovely.

She's really digging our yard. (Nyerk.)

The problem with this plan is that the location she picked is inside the fenced yard where Barnum runs loose. Barnum’s favorite food is egg. As far as I know, he has only sampled chicken eggs, but I feel confident that if he came across a delicious clutch of turtle eggs, he would be eager to diversify his diet.

Thus, I planned to pick up Ms. Turtle and carry her to a safer location, which Betsy would photograph (for this blog, of course). Before proceeding, we decided to call our local reptile and amphibian advocate (Hi, Mary!) to find out where the best place to put her was. Once I got that information, Betsy and I went outside, prepared to rescue our guest — and discovered the turtle had disappeared!

Clearly this turtle was not aware of the stereotype that turtles move slowly. We didn’t find her.

My theory as to why she took off so fast was that she was offended by my rude, intrusive behavior. Here’s what I imagine her saying.

“Hey! I did not give you permission to take my picture!

Who said you could get all up in my shell when I’m digging my nest? Oh, man, there she goes, clicking away.

Hey! Those pictures better not end up on the internet!”

Every turtle’s worst nightmare come true.

Actually, I think a worse nightmare would be having an 85-pound high prey-drive bouvier charge you down, flip you with his snout, stomp on you, bat you around with his paws, chew through your shell and maul you — leading to your slow, painful death — which would be followed by the devouring of your young.

So, I think she made a wise decision.

This was supposed to be a “Birding Thursday” post, but I think if an occasional, inspiring, non-avian siting occurs, I will include those, too.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT(?)  (denied a new raw food experience)

Through My Window: A World of Birds

This post is mostly about birds. Now that I’ve admitted that, I can just hear the eyelids drooping, the yawns starting. Sigh.

Birds are fascinating! How come every kind of geek is now cool, but not bird geeks?

I learned bird watching growing up, with my family, and they have usually been the only people in my life who have shared this interest with me. Often, a friend would visit, and I’d say, “Ooh! A rose-breasted grosbeak!” and point toward the feeder. Instead of being delighted by the beauty and striking variety of colors on this bird (the fat yellow beak, the splash of raspberry red on the chest, the contrast of white on the belly and black on the back), they’d be like, “Yes, it’s a bird.”

I haven’t had one come to my window (nor has Melissa Etheridge) this year yet, but here’s a photo of one (taken by, and copyright of, Terry Sohl, used with her kind permission):

Male Rose Breasted Grosbeak sitting on a branch. As described above, with two white wing bars.

How can you not get excited seeing this bird at your feeder?

The one wonderful exception to my anti-birding friends is my friend and former roommate, Laurel, who took an ornithology class at Mt. Holydyke Holyoke, which got her into bird watching, too. That was fun, because we could get excited about birds together, in the same household, and call each other over if one of us spotted something neat outside.

Except, now there is a member of my household, for the first time since Laurel, who is just as fascinated by birds as I am: Barnum. I have a window feeder up, as well as a suet feeder in a lovely flowering ornamental tree outside my window, and a decorative bird bath, and it’s just a parade of birds all day.

Gray carved stone birdbath, the trunk resembling a tree trunk, with 3 little statues of birds and chipmunks around the basin's edge. It seems among old brown leaves and new green shoots coming out of the ground, overhung by a small ornamental tree with pale pink flowers that is just beginning to get green leaves and buds. one green vine is snaking up the bird bath's near side.

Isn't this lovely?

I put a stool next to the window so Barnum can watch the birds without having to jump on my bed or on the windowsills. He used to try to eat them — snapping at the birds in the window feeder — but he has learned that is a pointless endeavor, so he just watches, and yearns. Oh, how he yearns.

One of my favorite moments this spring, when the feeder was newly out, and Barnum and the birds had not yet completely gotten used to each other, was when there was a tufted titmouse at the window feeder. Barnum was looking at the titmouse, up and to the left, his snout pointing at it, with his head titled in that way he does, like when a dog is really trying to grok something.

And then the titmouse — I know, it sounds unbelievable, but it really happened — saw Barnum, and hopped over to the edge of the feeder and looked down at him, tilting its head to the side, with his beak pointing down. So, they were like mirror images of each other. They just looked at each other in fascination. One of my PCAs witnessed it with me, and it was hilarious and magical and adorable all in one.

I wish I could show you a picture of it, but alas, I did not have my camera at hand. Here is a reenactment that totally does not do justice to that marvelous moment:

Barnum standing on my bed, looking at a female purple finch in the window feeder on a large picture window.

"Mom! Look! Isn't this a female purple finch, distinguishable from the female house finch by the white eyebrow stripe. Can I eat her?"

Anyway, I’m all atwitter (pun totally intended), because I just saw and identified a bird I’ve never identified before — in my life! That’s saying something, as I’ve been bird watching as long as I can remember, and I’m fortymumble years old. It’s not a rare bird. I’ve just never seen it before and gotten a good look and then found it in my bird book. Probably because it’s a ground feeder, and I’m usually looking out my window into the trees.

It is . . .

The Eastern towhee!

An eight-inch long bird, black on head, chest, and long tail. Sides rufous (rusty red), belly white. Red eye. In this picture, perched on tree branch.

Male Eastern towhee, photo copyright Terry Sohl, used with permission.

How many different birds have I seen out my window this spring (not counting birds I saw last year or down the street or birds I’ve identified by call, such as the barred owls, which are unbelievably loud, or the drilling of the pileated woodpecker, also very loud!)? I’m glad you asked!

Here’s the list of birds I’ve seen in May 2011, all from my bedroom window (with the exception of a couple from the backyard):

  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Tufted titmouse
  • Chipping sparrow
  • Pine siskin
  • Eastern towhee
  • Junco
  • Goldfinch
  • House finch
  • Purple finch
  • Cardinal
  • Mourning dove
  • Blue jay
  • Cowbird
  • Raven
  • Crow
  • Robin
  • Phoebe
  • White-breasted nuthatch
  • Red-breasted nuthatch
  • Downy woodpecker
  • Hairy woodpecker
  • Sharp-shinned hawk
  • Magnolia warbler

The last one, the magnolia warbler, was also a really exciting find. I’ve never seen one before. It was hopping along on the ramp railing one day, and I had to try to memorize its distinctive features so I could look it up. I knew it was some sort of warbler, and not a yellow-rumped warbler, which I used to see quite often at my previous home, but almost all the warblers have yellow on them, so they can be hard to identify. Fortunately, I was able to memorize “two white wing-bars on black wings” and that turned out to be unusual among the warblers. Here’s what one looks like (again, this photo is courtesy of the kind and generous nature photographer, Terry Sohl, used with permission):

Five inch bird with long, pointy, narrow beak. Black mask across eyes, white eyebrow, bright yellow throat and belly, black back with white wing bars. Sitting on narrow tree branch.

Adorable and gorgeous little male magnolia warbler.

I’ve also seen red squirrels, gray squirrels, a rabbit, and a red fox, although I don’t think we can count these as birds, can we?

I’m hoping to do a regular “Birding Thursday” post where I post a photo of a bird from outside my window. It’s all part of my diabolical plan to convert some of you mammal snobs. Heh heh.

Here is the first of my Birding Thursday photos. A male yellow goldfinch in my window feeder:

Closeup side view of male goldfinch. He is bright y ellow, with black wings, except for two narrow white wing bars, a black cap on his head, and a whiite rump and tail feathers. He has an orange beak. He's bent down, grabbing a sunflower seed.

Please ignore the schmutz on the plexiglas.

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget (dreaming of wild turkeys), and Barnum (bird watcher more than bird chaser anymore)

Squirrels Gone Wild!

I haven’t been able to do much of my usual blogging this week because I’m spending basically all my energy on my friend Heather’s auction. In fact, I wrote this post a few days ago, and am only not publishing it. Ack!

I posted about why it means so much to me and what’s up for grabs at my other blog a few of days ago. It ends tomorrow (Sunday) night, and then After Gadget will resume its regularly scheduled dogness.

However, I want to take a moment to offer huge thank yous and kisses from Barnum and me to those who have bid or donated! (I know of four of you, for sure.) I have additional clicks and lures set up now! Please read this post, “How Biddable Are You?” at! Reinforcers await you, people who have already or intend to bid!

Anynoodle, I thought I’d try to do some short, fun little posts, trying to squeeze them in when I can until the auction comes down this Sunday night. So, here is a silly blog, for your entertainment (I hope!).

The other day, my PCA was outside, putting out the trash, when she heard a strange sound coming from the room next to mine. She went to investigate, and what she was hearing was a gray squirrel trapped in the window, totally freaking out! The noises were it scrabbling around (presumably trying to get out).

Apparently, it was caught between the screen and the glass — I’m really glad the inside window was shut! — and it was completely frantic.

This raised a number of interesting questions:

  1. How the hell did the squirrel get in there?
  2. Why the hell did the squirrel get in there? (I looked, later, and there were no nuts or seeds inside the window, and it was trying to get into my office, which is just filled with books and papers, nothing edible.)
  3. Why hadn’t Barnum started jumping around and barking and whining from the sound or smell of a nearby squirrel trapped in a nearby window?
  4. How was I going to get it out?

Question four turned out to be a non-issue: when I went into the room to attempt to deal with the situation the squirrel was already gone. As was part of the screen. Just in time for black-fly season!

An open window, showing the screen, with a large hole teared open at the top and a smaller one at the bottom. In the background, what is visible out the window, a stone bird bath, and an ornamental tree, just starting to bud tender little pale green leaves and a few small pale, pink flowers.

Holes at top and bottom of the screen.

That doesn’t look like much of a hole, right? That’s because I’m not a very good photographer — because my hands shake.

I wasn’t aware of the jiggling hand issue until I recently was taking a lot of pictures (to be featured in forthcoming posts!), and discovered that unless I braced both arms against something very firmly, all my pictures come out blurry. (I have had tremors on and off for years, and most severely when my Lyme disease was at its worst, but I thought they’d gone away except for occasional episodes. Now I realize I’ve just gotten used to accommodating them.)

Anynoodle, the photo above is not blurry, but to get that steadiness I had to find a good place to stabilize my arms that also allowed me to shoot the whole screen, which I was not able to do, so the full extent of both holes on either end is not visible.

Nonetheless, here are a closeup of one part of my freshly super-ventilated screen:

A close-up of a large agged tear in a screen, mostly horizontal , about 3 to 4 inches across and about as tall in various places.

A pronounced squirrel-hole in the screen. I pronounced it, "Oh, shit!"

Back to my questions, which included, why wasn’t Barnum on the job, preventing squirrel mayhem? Ever since he was able to see them, Barnum has been fascinated by birds and moths and leaves blowing in the wind, and shoelaces, and anything else that moves.

As a result, I have been pretty careful not to introduce him to squirrels because, well, you can just imagine. But lately, with my bird feeders up, and the squirrels raiding them (because that’s what they were put on this earth to do), it’s been kind of sad for me, for the first time in my life, not to have a dog who knows the word, “Squirrel.”

In fact, I’m so used to dogs knowing the word “squirrel” better than they know, for example, “car,” or “walk,” or “sit/down/stay,” etc., that when I first said “squirrel” within Barnum’s hearing, and he reacted not at all, I was shocked. I unconsciously believed, apparently, that all dogs just emerge from the womb knowing the word, “Squirrel”!

In fact, it has been the job of all my previous dogs to periodically chase the squirrels away from my bird feeders — a job they all relished!

So, I decided, what the heck, let’s consider this a training opportunity. I will let him watch squirrels, but he’ll have to control himself and not bark, lunge, jump on the window sills, pace, etc. And this week, while I am glued to my computer trying to get folks over to the auction (it’s only up till Sunday! Thank goodness!), he really does need Dog TV.

Back of Barnums head and back, with his ears perked forward, looking out a large window. Lush greenery and a silver SUV in the background. On the window above and to his left is a plexiglas feeder with a tufted titmouse in it, and on a small ornamental tree is a suet/seed feeder, with a gray squirrel showing just its butt and tail, finishing off the feeder contents.

Big-screen Dog TV, with split-screen: The Bird Channel showing, "Titmouse," and The Squirrel Channel showing, "Butt and Tail." Canine risque.

Starting yesterday, when there was a squirrel at the feeder, I’d say, “Squirrel!” and point excitedly out the window. At first, he didn’t get it. But, eventually, he started to catch on.

He has been watching The Bird Channel quite a lot since spring, but that’s just basic cable. The Squirrel Channel is a premium package, like HBO or Showtime. Hell, it’s probably the Playboy channel!

Back of Barnums head and shoulders, ears perked forward, as he stares out the window at a squirrel wrapped aroud the bttom of a wire feeder and a blue jay perched a foot above, on an ornamental tree.

"Squirrel or blue jay? Squirrel or blue jay? Definitely SQUIRREL!"

He doesn’t know the word yet, which surprises me. I thought a couple pairings of the word with the excitement of seeing a squirrel in action would be reinforcing enough that he’d learn the cue within one or two repetitions, but I’m sure it won’t be long.

Meanwhile, once he is watching Squirrel TV, he is really into it. He just stands there, with his nose pressed to the window, for hours, without making a sound. Isn’t TV a great babysitter? Isn’t it great that I’ve taught him such excellent self-control?

Close-up of the back of Barnums head, stairing at a squirrel hanging by its tail, white underbelly exposed, as it empties a wire seed and suet feeder.

"Waaaaant squirrel. So hot. Luscious, delicious squirrel...."

Any day now, I’ll say, “Squirrel!” and Barnum will leap up as if he’s been electrocuted and scrabble to the window, practically drooling with excitement, just like the old days.

That will be especially useful for when one comes into the house through the pre-shredded window screen, don’tcha think?

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (Who said squirrel?!?!?), and Barnum, SDiT squirrel watcher

P.S. To all my blogging/tweeting friends, if you would please include a note about this excellent cause, or tweet it, with a link: in your next post (by tomorrow, because it closes Sunday night), I would be so grateful! Thank you!

Don’t forget: I’m offering a variety of lures (enticements) and clicks (reinforcers/rewards). Of course, I am setting certain criteria (rules). See my other post, for more details. Thank you!

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