Attack Dog

Our dog Ellie sleeping on a homemade dog bed with one of her favorite stuffed hedgehogs in May 2012

When we first adopted Ellie a few years ago, it seemed pretty clear she hadn’t been in an urban environment before as she wasn’t particularly good on her leash and she was much worse when off it, at least in open areas. Inside the house, or in a fenced backyard, she was in top form, no worries there.

In the hopes of one day being able to let her off leash at the nearby dog park, I began working with her in the backyard on learning to heel & stay & come, even when excited, and eventually she got the hang of it. I got brave enough to try her in the dog park and she did well, but we also started a little game where I would sprint from one side of the park to the other and, if she stayed by my side the whole time, she got a treat.

We still run wind sprints together whenever possible, even though she has long outgrown the need for the training, because she just loves it. But the other day as she caught me from behind she bumped into my legs and sent me sprawling face first into the mud. I had been running pretty fast so I hit hard and as I tried to sit up, found it hard to breathe. It was hard to tell exactly where the pain was coming from, I suppose that must have been the adrenaline kicking in, useful for when you’re trying to escape a lion but not so much when you’ve been attacked by a giant goofball and only want to know what is broken. I forced a few deep breaths and was relieved there were no sharp pains in my chest.

I was also relieved when I could stand and put weight on both my legs without shooting pain, so my streak of never having broken a bone stays alive. Once I got home and a little time had passed, a bruise the size of a dollar bill appeared on my thigh with a matching silver dollar bruise on my knee. All from an accidental bump.

Although word around the house is that it may not have been so accidental but payback for having had to smell ribs cooking all day and then I didn’t even share one bite with her during dinner.

Lately she’s been sidelined not by my leg but by hers, she somehow hurt it so she’s been on bed rest but I think we’ll start up short walks tomorrow, because boy howdy is she ready. I lost count of how many times she pelted me with hedgehogs today. Here she is curled up with one of her favorites (as you can tell from the stuffing that is escaping) on the dog bed in my office.

Lifer

A male horned lark

During the winter horned larks can be found in large numbers in the Northwest, but mostly on the eastern side of the Cascades. There are a few resident populations on the western side where I live but I had never seen a horned lark until this January when I found a male foraging near Schwartz Lake at Ridgefield.

I use Northwest Birds in Winter by Alan Contreras when I want to get more specific info on the distribution of one of our birds during the winter than you can get out of a general purpose field guide. I bought my copy in 1997, about a year after I moved here, when I met Alan at an Audubon event and he signed my copy. It’s definitely not a field guide and not useful for identifying birds, but a nice complement to my army of guides when I want to dig a little deeper.

A close-up view of a male horned lark

Skittish

A close-up view of the face of a female northern flicker

I loved the little woodpeckers in the woods behind our house when I was growing up but I didn’t discover flickers until I got into birds & photography in graduate school. I put my neophyte bird guide skills to the test as I tried to identify the bird making a ruckus in the tree outside my apartment. I found my mark and have loved flickers ever since.

The race we typically see in the west, the red-shafted flicker, is slightly different from the race I first met in the east. I have long hoped to get a close-up of the red-shafted male with his spectacular red mustache, and one was calling out from the nearby trees when I photographed this female at Ridgefield, but he never joined her down in the grass. She gave me great looks as she fed in the rain, however, and I was thankful for the opportunity as flickers are usually pretty skittish.

We even have them in our yard, they are a particular favorite of our resident bird-watcher Emma, and she and Sam and I got a great look from my office this afternoon as a male bathed in our birdbath. No way to get pictures without disturbing him, I can’t park my car in the backyard and photograph him Ridgefield-style. But he gave us a nice long look at his feathers as he splayed them about in the water and seemed nonplussed by his furry fan chirping at him from the cat tree.

Visibility

A close view of the face of an eastern cottontail

As a fan of small cars, I’ve been thinking my next one should be in a bright color to make it more visible to other drivers, like the metallic red on the Chevy Sonic or the orange on the upcoming Subaru Crosstrek (although as much as it pains me to say it, perhaps it is too orange). But when I look at my tight animal close-ups and see my car reflected in the eye, I wonder if these brighter colors would also be more visible in the picture?

For some reason car reviews don’t touch on this sort of thing.

Not that I’ll lose any sleep over it since it could be fixed in post if necessary, plus for the most part I do prefer calmer colors like a nice sky blue or maroon or green or — oh wait, am I talking about cars again?

Room to Snuggle

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Heretofore the only real place to sit in my office has been the Throne of Kings, the recliner we bought when we moved here a decade ago to replace my beloved window seat from the previous house. It’s a Scandinavian style recliner, incredibly comfortable, yet small and lightweight and easy to move about, perfect for my small office. But it has a fatal flaw — there’s no room for a sixty-five pound lap dog.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to re-arrange my office to be able to both have something large enough for Ellie to curl up beside me, yet where I could still recline so that Scout and/or Sam and occasionally Emma could curl up on me as well. A visit to Ikea this weekend appears to have solved the problem. This Kivik loveseat is big enough for Ellie & me, while the footstool on the left is big enough that I can recline on it and the cats can sleep on me as before.

So how come it is Scout curled up on it in this picture (and Sam & Emma are sleeping there now), and not Ellie? Well, she somehow hurt her rear leg and is limping a bit, so she’s confined to bed rest in the basement for now. Not that she’s at all happy about it.

Soon, Ellie, soon.

Rest Lake

A coyote stands in a marsh

The picture above of a coyote hunting in the marsh is deliberately like this bittern picture, both taken at Rest Lake. The lake is the largest on Ridgefield’s auto tour and has water in it year round, but the marshy areas that ring the lake are my favorite places to watch. To survive in these areas is to avoid being eaten not just by coyotes and bitterns but herons and hawks and harriers and eagles and otters and mink and weasels and raccoons and snakes and bullfrogs and …

A coyote with wet fur walks along the edge of Rest Lake

The Softest Alarm Clock

The paws of our cat Scout in her cat bed in May 2012

Many mornings I wake to these paws poking softly into my cheeks. It’s so adorable I can’t be angry. Plus it’s Scout, The Cat Who Can Do No Wrong. She’s tried a variety of techniques over the years but sticks with the ones that wake me in the best mood. Another technique I love are her gentle little headbutts. She crossed the line when she started flipping my lower lip, thankfully that phase didn’t last too long.

(Almost) Missed You

An American bittern sits in dried grasses

As you know by now, one of my favorite things to do at Ridgefield is to photograph bitterns. After having such great success last winter and spring, this year I’ve seen them mostly in glimpses and rarely had a chance to photograph them. I was tickled to have the chance to photograph this one in January, showing how well it’s coloring matches that of the dried grasses in which it loves to hunt.

I took the picture below last winter with my iPhone, just wanted a quick shot of my favorite place to look for bitterns, I took it with the phone since the view is similar to what I see with my eyes as I drive along. It’s a bit hard to see but there’s a bittern almost dead center in the picture, on the opposite side of the channel a few feet up from the water line.

Suffice it to say they’re hard to see but I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Once I get to my favorite bittern areas, I wait until there’s no traffic behind me and then let the car creep along as slow as possible as I scan the grasses for these elusive birds. I normally take our Subaru to the refuge but this spring I’ve been taking our Civic, mostly to see if I could tolerate driving a stick shift at the refuge.

The biggest problem I encountered is exactly this scenario. At these speeds, the car is right at the stall speed and it requires a lot of pedal work to keep the car front stalling out. It’s doable, but annoying, and probably not so great for the clutch. So my preference for the next car will be an automatic, although if the stick is a particularly good one, the irritation at Ridgefield might be balanced out by fun on the commute.

And honestly, I’m done talking about cars, starting now!

By the by, the body of water on the other side of the the berm is Rest Lake, and those white dots are tundra swans that winter at the refuge in the hundreds. The bittern above was also at Rest Lake, but at a different spot than this one.

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A Good Year

One of a Pair

I knew it was going to be a good year for coyotes.

During a two week stretch in mid-to-late January, I saw a coyote pair frequently and took some of my best coyote pictures ever. But not long after I jammed up my ankle and took a two month sabbatical from Ridgefield. Even after the ankle healed, I’ve only been back to Ridgefield three times this spring with not a coyote picture to show for it. While it’s been an extremely wet spring here in the Northwest, many of the weekends have been sunny. The refuge gates are locked until well after sunrise and before sunset at this time of year, so the best light on sunny days is lost. And sunny days bring out the crowds, so I prefer to stay home and get in some extra hedgehogging.

I did see a young coyote on my visit a week ago. It was so close that getting a picture was going to be difficult from my angle without risking spooking it, so I just pulled over and watched as it hunted beside the road. But I saw a Subaru coming up quickly down the road, a car I recognized since we have one just like it. I knew they had seen the young coyote, and I also knew what was going to happen next. The coyote watched them approach and as they got on the brakes on the gravel road, the coyote bolted at the sound.

In the real world they weren’t going fast at all, just Ridgefield fast, and even a tolerant coyote won’t tolerate that.

This adult is one of the pair that I watched with such success in January, it’s coat drenched on a wonderfully wet winter’s day. And I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about cars anymore, but this is why I’ve been on the hunt for a quiet car. When I’ve worked to earn an animal’s trust, the sound of the gas engine firing up feels like a betrayal of that trust.

Disturbance

A young bald eagle takes to the skies

This young bald eagle was perched on a tree overlooking Canvasback Lake, watching the waterfowl below, when it suddenly took to the skies. Normally I would have liked more empty sky in the upper left corner of the picture but the eagle bolted with no warning, disturbed by the sharp retort of a shotgun blast, so I had no time to properly compose the shot. The birds aren’t normally so perturbed by the blasts, but I do prefer the off-days during duck hunting season, not because I have a problem with hunting per se but because I prefer the quiet.