Monday, April 5, 2021

Herons, Raccoons, and Dogs?

Heron at the water's edge

 Maggie and I have a new favourite place to go while the beaches are closed to dogs for the Brant Geese migration.  It is Craig Bay heritage lands - a protected area of which 12 acres is designated parkland.  It is at the other end of Parksville from our usual beach and home, so necessitates a short drive to the trailhead, but there we can wend our way down a short pretty trail to open fields and lightly wooded landscape that follows the low beach coastline.  It's not a long walk - about an hour return at Maggie-pace (ie, dawdling, with many photo stops), but it is a perfect length for Maggie, and gives us both what we need - sea air, light open spaces, mountain views, and a good dose of Mother Nature's flora and fauna.  

There are no signs indicating dogs are prohibited from this beach at the moment, but Craig Bay  is a bit rockier and muckier than our usual haunts, so while we might sit on a rock or a log at its edge, we don't head out across the sand.  At low tide, that sand spreads a good half mile out, and I do see people out there.  Perhaps in summer, when heat and lower high tides pervade, it will be more tempting for Maggie. 

Ootgoing tide - by no means the lowest we've seen recently

But for now, we watch the herons fishing the water's edge.  There are several benches to rest on and very few people about - it is peaceful and calming and good for the soul. 

Good benches fer dogs too, Mama!

The area is full of signs of spring - we have watched snowdrops and crocuses come and go, little pools of daffodils appear in the meadows, some small blue flowers like periwinkle but with the wrong leaves, spreading widely along the trail, and trees of unknown species (unknown to me) blossoming throughout.  

Beautiful crocuses bloomed here a month ago

Maggie among little blue flowers

The eagles are busy mating, the crows are busy cawing, the Brants Geese are busy swimming, and the little Bewick's wren is busy flitting through bushes and peeking at us from tree trunks.

Crow in tree

Migrating Brant Geese

Bewick's Wren

Herons are in the grass too - this one was so still, and at exactly the same spot two days in a row, that I had to watch for nearly half an hour for a sign of movement to ensure he was real!

Amid the brush, I spy two eyes spying on me - a raccoon!  We have seen him a few times now, feeding from a bird feeder on a neighbouring property.  He is young - likely last year's brood - and cheeky, playing peek-a-boo from behind a tree trunk.

There are bunnies also - we see them hop across the trail and into the underbrush on numerous occasions, but too quick for the camera to catch.  However, Maggie 'volunteered' to impersonate them in their locales.  What a good sport she is! Who knew there were Easter Shelties in the park?

When we return home, there is another little Easter Dog.  This is Bailey, and he has been staying with us for the past three weeks while his mama is dealing with health issues.  

Bailey is 13, and gets lots (lots and lots and lots) of walks in the neighbourhood, but doesn't care for car travel.  So Craig Bay heritage lands are just for Mags and me - our one-on-one time - with the herons, racoons and bunnies and birds...and the seasonal Easter Sheltie.  I hope you had as nice an Easter weekend as we did!! 

Monday, March 8, 2021

A Day with the Wild Ones

 North Island Wildlife Recovery Association (NIWRA) is a ten minute drive away from me and one of my favourite places to spend an afternoon in nature when I have no hiking buddy available.  NIWRA is both a rehabilitation and release centre, and a permanent sanctuary for those that cannot be released. 

One of the permanent residents there is Sandor.  He is a bald eagle who obtained a serious wing injury when hit by a vehicle and cannot fly.  He has been glove-trained and is part of NIWRA's Education Program.  

As I'm still struggling with camera and photo-editing problems, I just took along a little old backup camera I bought from a pawn shop a while back - a Canon PowerShot SX210 IS.  It did the job admirably, its light weight and small lens enabling me to catch a sharp image standing two feet from the enclosure and carefully lining up the focal point to avoid the wires of the pens for those critters without an unobstructed view - that is, when the animals cooperated by standing still at just the right spot. Sandor, the eagle mentioned above, did just that.  The Wild Turkeys did not. 

The wild turkeys were very friendly and talkative, and whenever I squatted down to get a photo, they came running up to the fence, gobble gobble, gobble, to say hello.  Hence the wire in the photo. 

I did get one, however - not as crisp a shot, but I love the fine little 'hairs' sticking out of his head and the layers of dark feathers on his chest.  

Next to the wild turkey pen were some Silkies. While they are a domesticated chicken as far as I know, I do recall that NIWRA decided to take them in for a very specific role - I think to provide eggs to help meet the dietary needs of some of the wild residents?  Regardless, I love to visit them and I call them 'bedroom slipper chickens' because of their ridiculously fluffy feathered five-toed feet.  Like the turkeys, they were overly friendly and active, so the only shot I got was this floofy girl shaking her pompadour and hiding her feet. But I like the shot anyway. 

The owls always fascinate me.  My favourite is Elsa, a snowy owl who I swear has the sweetest smile, but she declined to be photographed today.  Farley is a close runner up, a Great Gray Owl who looks directly at me and doesn't mind the camera. Farley was hit by a car and has irreparable wing damage so cannot fly. His enclosure has a nice open, unwired spot that facilitates a clear view.

The enclosures for the permanent residents are generously sized and designed with as much natural habitat as possible.  While I didn't photograph Raye and Knut, the bears, today I did watch them lumber around their huge grounds with its dens and brambles and logs and water sources.  They were having lots of fun playing together but two barriers of small-spaced wires made getting a shot difficult. 

The ravens have more toys and enrichment activities than most five year olds.  Trickster was playing vigorously with a long dangling rope to which a bell was attached, and either Ralph or Lonan was persistently tapping away on what looked like one of those dog puzzles that lets out a reward for opening the right flap.  He lifted a flap with his claw, then stuck his beak in a small square on the other side.  When that proved unsuccessful, he lifted the handle in his beak and hopped-flew around the enclosure carrying it to another corner like a kid with a basket of Easter eggs.  It was hard to capture a clear photo of him, but he provided me with a good 20 minutes of entertainment and, like most ravens, plenty of conversation too. 

I also love that NIWRA includes information boards on each of the permanent residents which tells not only about their species but also why they are a permanent resident.   Too often it is because of human interference, where humans have taken a young one from the wilds as a pet and it can not fend for itself.  The raven above (or possibly his enclosure-mate)  was raised in captivity and never learned to find food on its own. 

Information boards also give visitors advice on what to do when encountering animals in the wild, such as young animals that appear to have been abandoned by their parent or orphaned.

I walked through the short trails at the back, where plant and tree species are clearly identified, and checked out the enclosed garden and pond for signs of the frogs or lizards I've seen there on other occasions. I wandered on to see the ducks at the Quack Shack - they always give me great pleasure, especially the runner ducks with their upright, penguin-like waddle. 

I said hi to many of the other birds, like owls Eyegone and Oneeye (shouldn't be hard for you to guess why they live there),  or Elvis, the Swainson's Hawk who someone took from the wild and tried to raise as a pet until a neighbour reported it to the authorities after seeing him tied to a rail.  He had already imprinted on humans and never learned to hunt. Yuki and Baylis, the Great Horned Owls, blinked at me from a perch at the back of their enclosure.  Wobbles held sentry near the eagle flight building where eagles to be released  practice their flight and hunting skills,  visible to humans only through narrow slits on the second-story landing.  I spend a few minutes watching the three cubs visible only through closed circuit video, who will also be released when big enough to fend for themselves. The recovery, rehabilitation and release part of the centre's mandate is dear to my heart - it's wonderful to visit with the permanent residents, but such a thrill to know help is there for those who will be able to survive on their own. 

I said hello to Boris, Vladimar, Igor and Anastasia, the turkey vultures who were shot in their wings and cannot fly.  They decided to play shy, but it's hard to hide with that colourful head.

And my favourite place to photograph - the turtle pond.  It frequently attracts wild ducks and geese, like the Canada Geese floating on it yesterday.  

The native Western Painted Turtles didn't make an appearance (they may still be wintering way down in the mud) but several Red Sliders (bought by people as pets and then dumped) were enjoying some sun bathing (cloud bathing? It was overcast) on the logs near the water's edge.

My annual membership fee has already paid for itself   - not just financially (this being my third visit this year) but in the enjoyment and entertainment it provides on an otherwise lazy afternoon. 

A combination of rescue/rehabilitation of wild animals, life-time sanctuary for those that cannot be rehabilitated, and education centre - all in a setting of trails, gardens, interesting rock and root features, and ponds - it appeals to all my senses and on a weekday afternoon during covid is a quiet and safe place to be.  

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Beach at sunset

Sometimes weather and tides and time of day cooperate to create an interesting landscape.  This was Parksville Beach during our late afternoon/sunset walk the other day: 

Friday, February 5, 2021

Teaching an old dog new tricks

Practicing 'Four Paws Up" on short stumps

Okay, they are not really 'new' tricks, but adaptations of some of her previous activities.  And we don't really know how 'old' she is - somewhere between 11 and 14, but some days she acts like a child and some days she acts ancient.  Kinda like me.  😁

Shortly after Maggie had surgery for a mast cell mammary tumor, she started having mobility issues - difficulty standing, difficulty walking, holding her back right paw close to her belly, having the right leg stick out at weird angles and have to be massaged back into place.  

Mah feets hurts!

Xrays revealed some issue with the hock/tarsal joint - the doggy equivalent of the human ankle.  I'm still not sure exactly what the problem is - in these covid no-contact days, the vet reports over the phone and most of what she says I either can't catch or don't remember.  I've asked them twice to email me a written report of the findings but to no avail.  Anyway, the long and the short of it is that, in addition to weekly cartrophen shots and some other medications, she is no longer allowed to participate in her favourite non-beach activity - parkour.  For those not familiar with the term, it is rather like outdoor (often urban) agility with constantly changing obstacles.  The dog uses whatever is in the environment to balance on and move over, under and onto obstacles.  Positive reinforcement starts the process and then that little lightbulb goes on and they learn to think for themselves, problem solve, and use muscles in different ways.  

Maggie weaves through posts in empty parking lots, climbs up retaining walls, figures out how to jump onto craggy boulders and stand tall without losing her balance, jumps up on logs three times her height and runs along to the other end, goes under and over fallen trees, scales large stumps and makes like DiCaprio in the "I'm Flying" scene of Titanic. 

So, since ordinary walking is just plain boring according to Maggie, and jumping is forbidden, we have had to improvise  by looking for other, similar but safer training activities to keep her little brain and body busy. We started by ordering a balance ball (or wobble ball) and using her familiar command of 'two paws up' from parkour, got her practicing balance and stretches.  

What is this thing?  Looks like the licky mat I get my dinner on, but rounder and wobblier!

You want me to do what???  

Like this, Mama?  Treat, please!

After a few days of very limited exercise, we set off to a quiet part of a local campground. There we found wide logs sunk into the ground so they were low enough for Mags to step onto without jumping, but still fun enough to race along to the other end without falling off.

She did catch me unawares in one section of the park when she spied this circle of stumps and flew around them on her longline before I could stop her.  

Next visit to the park, we bypassed that section and went to the day use area  where tree stumps were cut off at ground level.  Two paws up and four paws up were doable here, but involved another challenge - bunnies!  Dozens and dozens of bunnies!  Bunnies are very exciting to a herding dog who thinks of them as mini-sheep to be rounded up, usually accompanied by very loud sheltie barking.  So we threw in an extra component - learning to be calm around the rabbits.  She already knew the word 'settle' for when I want her to sit or lie quietly rather than engage in a roadside brawl with another dog, but multiple rabbits hopping about really got her adrenalin pumping.  So first I had her settle from some distance away.

I see bunnies!

Lots and lots of bunnies!

And pretty soon, she was practicing two paws up on a short stump with bunnies just 10 feet away:

It wasn't long before Maggie was able to figure out her own activities.  We walked past a huge log which she had previously jumped up on (to my amazement), and by this time she had learned  a new command "walk past" for when we passed benches or boulders that she'd previous been allowed to climb.  When we came to the log, she looked at me and then (I swear she had mischief in her eyes) she suddenly popped inside the hollow end and sat down!  This dog knows how to recognize a photo op.

Now she checks out the ends of all fallen trees of a good size to look for hollow trunks to pop into!

But of course, the beach is still her Number One favourite place to go, and there is nothing happier than a happy sheltie:

Soon we will face the challenge of finding other places to have fun - dogs are going to be banned from the day use area of Rathrevor park come March 1st until October, and the two beaches near us close to dogs from Feb 15-April 15 (Rathtrevor area) and March 1 - April 30 (downtown Parksville area) while the Brant Geese migrate through.   Hopefully Covid restrictions will start to ease soon so we can return to urban and rural parks in other communities. 


Note to my readers:  With covid restrictions, I have been taking a lot less photos and going a lot fewer places, and therefore have little blog fodder.  I mean, how many photos of Maggie on the beach or Maggie in a park do you need?   Also, I am less than enamored with my latest camera - my fourth Sony, but definitely not the quality of the first two.  It's hard to get sharp images and good colour. Unfortunately, my photo editing program is no longer available and the new one that has replaced it is ridiculously complicated and I am cancelling my subscription to it. So my photos are not up to snuff as far as I'm concerned. Today I found a free, easy-to-use program to watermark them and will likely upgrade to the paid version once I see what else it offers. Now that I've found that, I do have a few more posts almost ready to go as soon as I add the watermark to the photos.  Patience, my friends! 

Friday, January 1, 2021

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

This quote from Dickens kept popping into my mind this past week - every phrase so perfect for a description of our world in 2020.  As we once again came to the end of one year and the beginning of another, there were likely many who say 'good riddance' to 2020, who think of it as the worst year of their lives.  And for some, perhaps it was - those who lost loved ones, those who suffered unbearable economic hardship, those who are exhausted from caring for others in hospitals and homes.  

But before we frame 2020 as a year of strife - political strife, racial strife, pandemic strife, personal strife - let's not lose sight of the good that it brought.   Household members spent more time together, parents played with and taught their children, kids spent more time with siblings, neighbours helped neighbours. Employers found ways to accommodate customers and employees, while keeping them safe; and communities showed appreciation for essential workers in health care and trucking and essential retail services.  Beyond Covid, we saw increased awareness of and activism around racism, and consciousness-raising on the fragility of democracy as our southern neighbours faced one of the toughest political fights in history. 

Let us not lose sight of  ways in which we have grown as individuals - reading more, learning new online skills, thinking outside the box in order to celebrate virtually with others, being able to give and to receive with graciousness and understanding, doing things we may not like (like cancelling travel plans or wearing masks) for the greater good of the community.  

On a personal level, I had to cancel a long-overdue trip to the States to visit my daughter. It was scheduled for just days after the March 2020 border lockdown.  But the rest of March, and the rest of spring and summer, afforded me some amazing hiking adventures on our relatively covid-free (at that time) island.  Looking through my photos, I see I hiked at least thirty different trails and parks that spring and summer, several of them new to me and more challenging than I had done for some years. 

And, perhaps because of cleaner air due to less traffic, or perhaps because being in nature is such a wonderful antidote to Covid restrictions, I saw dozens of plants and birds that I hadn't seen before or had seen only rarely and spotted wee familiar creatures too.

It seemed like we saw barred owls almost every hike this spring and summer! 

A cute little mouse nibbles at some seeds

We saw lots more red-breasted sapsuckers this year too.

This was a first for me - Gnome Plant!

Turkey Tail fungi

My favourite and rarest sighting was a wee little Northern pygmy owl - no more than 6 or 7 inches tall - perched in a tree on the top of Little Mountain, near home.  They are one of the most elusive birds on the island, and 'blue listed'  (meaning of special concern).  

The tiny Northern Pygmy Owl.
What you see on the branch beside him is an "owl pellet" - regurgitated dinner.

And while I was photographing him, I heard the beautiful strains of violin music drifting through the trees, acoustics enhanced by the steep cliffs framing the valley below and the hills that rose on the other side.  I followed the sound, and to my surprise there was a young man taking violin lessons on the top of a cliff.  I couldn't resist sneaking a couple of shots as I listened to the amazing sound:

With Eldercollege and Art Classes cancelled  (online courses hold no appeal to me), I had more 'downtime' - to bake, to read, to walk, to wander the beach, to sort and tidy, to reflect.  Despite the fact that most of my pre-covid obligations were self-imposed (like classes or organizations which I chose to join), it was a relief to be free of such obligations, to have fewer decisions to make, and thus to enjoy - for a while - a smaller world. 

And that smaller world came with many  more surprises.  As I wandered my city, using both familiar routes and discovering new ones,  I learned so much that I didn't know about my own neighbourhood - oases of beauty, snippets of history. I found a 'rain garden' next to the firehall, complete with signage explaining its significance.  I saw a flourishing community garden beside a walkway I'd never explored.  I read about the history of our Arts Centre and the origins of the huge trees along Memorial Avenue.  I spent time in the Arboretum, learning about the many varieties of trees planted there.  I explored back lanes, dead end streets, and walkways that provided glimpses in interesting back yards. 

I saw baby quail race after their mother along a walkway that I hadn't known existed.  I watched spring burst forth, fearing nothing, sending flora and fauna out in the neighbourhoods, the yards, the lanes, the forests.  I saw doe and twin fawns check out the front porch of a house down the road, and baby bunnies nibble greens along the pathways.  I heard the call of the eagles that nest near a ravine alongside some little-used steps off a rocky section of beach, heard Northern flickers pound their mating call on the metal electrical box near our complex, watched murmurations of sandpipers flash their white bellies as they moved from tidal pool to tidal pool on the beach. 

Mama quail keeping an eye on me
after shepherding her babies into the brush.

Maggie benefitted from our city, beach, and park walks too - not just physically, but mentally as she increased her repertoire of parkour skills, jumping higher than I would believe possible, learning to weave around empty parking lot posts or hop from stump to stump and log to log in a local park.  She strengthened her back legs while challenging her brain and conquering some of her anxieties. 

There's lots for dogs to do on a city walk besides peeing and sniffing!

Hey, look at me Mama! 

It must have been 'Tongue Out Tuesday'

On our walks I saw and heard evidence of  a caring community - a table in front of a house offering free food for those in need, a tub of apples at the end of a driveway,  tributes to our essential workers through hearts in windows and  noise making at 7 PM and signs at intersections reading "We see you, we thank you, we appreciate you!" 

As our world grew smaller, neighbours in my 22-unit complex became closer.  We helped each other with errands to reduce exposure to strangers in stores, we started a monthly newsletter (to which I am a contributor - back to the world of writing!), we had physically-spaced garden parties (when that was permitted) and celebrated each person's birthdays.  Our oldest resident, who turned 90, received a visit from the firefighters - their gift to the city was to drive by with siren and lights for children's and senior's birthdays.

More downtime meant more time for following the news and reading background material to better understand racism, to critically analyze political issues, to reflect on the trajectory our world seemed to be taking - both positive and negative. And it meant learning to recognize when I felt stressed from information-overload, when it was time to shut down the computer, to turn off the TV or radio.  I spent a lot less time online this year than any previous year since the advent of the web.  And I'm thankful for that.  It made for more beach time, more forest time, more new authors to discover, more recipes to try, more sunsets and sunrises.

I love watching the eagles walk - 
they stomp around like "someone's gonna be in trouble"

Watching the birds feeding at low tide is always fascinating.  
This gull is eating a small crab.

Another first for me - an egg yolk jelly! 

And yet another first - squid eggs!

Sunset from my front door

In the fall and on into this winter, some of my outdoor pleasures came to a grinding halt.  An accident while camping ended the fall hiking for my hiking/camping buddy. Then  spiraling covid cases brought in new restrictions to movement outside our communities and reduced the size of our social 'bubble'  from six to just one or two people for those of us who live alone (and no visitors for two or more person households).  Further restrictions on outdoor gatherings put an end to our garden parties.  

But the community still finds ways to connect, to help, to cheer, to appreciate, and Maggie and I are still able to walk around town and on the beach, to visit with one neighbour on either side, to talk to family and friends via phone and internet.  And, yes, I even attempted to 'zoom' with my family on Christmas day - I was able to see and hear them, but they could not see me as my computer apparently doesn't have the right video program. Blech - I still hate technology. But I tried.  I miss my friends and family, and Maggie does too.

No more walks with Pat and the Poms for the moment -
they live in a different community from Maggie and me.

And so we move into a new year, still restricted by covid, still concerned about global political struggles,  still aware of the ever-present social inequalities in our world, still missing friends and family and hikes beyond my community.  But spring is but a few weeks away.  Spring, who cannot be contained or quarantined.  Spring, who will provide an everchanging kaleidoscope of colour, making each walk an adventure.  Spring - a promise of the future, like a phoenix rising from the ashes of winter. 

These are from last spring's walks.....but it won't be long before we see them again.

 And with hard work and cooperation and wise leadership, our world will emerge from covid restrictions and covid deaths, from political mayhem and violence and fear, and keep the best of what they've learned and experienced,  while leaving behind the worst of it.  We shall enter this new year eager for new opportunities, new possibilities, filled with new hope for the future.

Let's go with that.  Hope. Possibilities.   New Beginnings. We can make the Best of times out of these Worst of times.  We can do it. 

Chalk drawing in a local parking lot when the first wave of covid hit the island.

Stay safe, my friends, and stay positive.  Happy New Year.