jayellebee's Blog

June 6, 2013

Small Wonder

blog pix           Ken and I watched an episode of “North America,” the local version of “Blue Earth,” narrated by Tom Selleck.  Two segments stayed with me.  One showed the annual bloom of May flies somewhere in the Great Lakes region.  When the water temperature reaches 63 degrees, these aquatic nymphs morph en masse into flying bugs with only 24 hours to hook up and mate before they die.  The insect equivalent of speed dating?

            Next, the program featured a mother peregrine falcon and her two hatchlings ensconced on Southern California cliffs high above the Pacific.  Ms. Falcon gathered and delivered dinner for her ever-hungry brood, again and again.  Then, without pausing, she dive bombed a snake slithering up the rocky face toward her babies.  The free-falling reptile plummeted to the beach hundreds of feet below.  Wouldn’t surprise me if Mom was humming  I Am Woman.

            Imagine my delight upon arriving at Clear Lake a few days later to discover the recent heat wave had given rise an infestation of Rice flies, also known as midges, cousins of that sex-crazed May family.  I grew up calling these pests “Dumb Bugs” because they land on you and wait to be squashed.  Droves race inside whenever a door opens.  Hoards cling to windows and walls.  As we ate dinner, I applauded a red-winged blackbird eating its way down a row of Rice flies queued up on the window sill. 

            Shadow and I walked once the evening cooled.  A friend joined us and we ladies chatted as Shadow smelled every rock, weed and bush we passed, discovering which of her guys had passed that way since our last visit.  When she stopped for the umteenth time, a mile from home, I tugged on the leash without looking back.

            Shadow’s weight became an anchor.  I turned to see her nudging a lump in the dirt with her nose.  I tugged again.  She resisted.  I approached the lump.

            A baby bird, naked but for a hint of downy feathers, stretched its yellow beak open as I bent down.  blog pix 133Its sibling lay inches away, a victim of the fall from their nest hidden in the branches above.  A car sped by, a few feet from the unforgiving avian landing pad.

            Shadow is mostly Labrador retriever and a bird-dog through-and-through.  But this baby bird, which could have easily fit in my rescue dog’s soft mouth, didn’t ring her instinctive bells.  My girl was curious, nothing more.   Paying her rescue status forward, perhaps.

            A quick check of our surroundings revealed a discarded Styrofoam burger box, just the thing for transporting the young survivor home.  Thank goodness for litter.

            “Look what Shadow found,” I said, opening the lid to give Ken a peek.

            “What are you going to do with it?”

            “Keep it alive overnight and then find a wildlife rescue center in the morning.”

            Simple enough.  Or so I thought.

            I headed to a neighbor’s landscaped yard and dug around looking for worms.  No luck.  Then inspiration struck.  Rice flies!  I grabbed a small plastic tub and headed back outside.  In minutes, scores of crumpled Dumb Bug corpses rested in the container.  The back of a fork mashed the bodies and I added a few drops of water.  Mmm, mmm, good.  My new buddy devoured the snack and screamed for more.

blog pix 138            The hunt for the next of what would become many courses began.  Archie (short for Archi-BALD) grew stronger and more insistent with each mouthful.  By 10:00 he had consumed more than 100 Rice flies.  His birth mother wouldn’t approve of him staying up so late, so I covered him with a tissue, turned off the lights and wished him sweet dreams. 

            In my dreams, his feathers all grew in while we slept.  In the morning, the bare truth proved his tissue-blanket wasn’t a good substitute for Mama’s warmth.  I could see he was breathing, but he wouldn’t open his beak and only managed a single breathy “peep.”  I cursed myself for not rising with the early birds.

            Ken suggested Archie might be cold, so I carried the refugee out into the sunshine in my cupped hands.  He began to move, and then to peep.  His talons gripped my finger.  Not exactly like an infant holding its parent’s finger, but I’d be lying if I claimed there wasn’t a connection.  Time for more Rice flies.

            Shadow was the second family member to be fed.  Then Ken and I downed some eggs.  (The irony was not wasted on me.)  After Archie’s fourth serving of flies, the last of which was seasoned with one small spider and a mosquito, I called the SPCA.  The woman there referred me to the Clearlake Veterinary Clinic. 

            Archie serenaded Ken and me with a steady stream of peeps during his first car ride.  The motto on the sign outside the clinic read, “Compassion and Integrity in Practice.”  Reassured, we presented our featherless friend to a vet tech.  She cracked the box, ooo’d and ahh’d, and transported her new charge to the office’s inner sanctum.

            The receptionist handed me a government form to complete.  Much to my amazement, the Feds keep track of how many and what kind of animals are taken in by wildlife rescue groups.  Much to my delight, the Clearlake Veterinary Clinic wanted as much detail as possible about where Archie was found.  They will release him close to home when he’s ready to fledge.  Our paths may cross another day!

            I called the next morning, anxious to hear if Archie was thriving.  He was.  The vet determined the chick is a robin.blog pix  Nice.  I’ve always been partial to robins.  Life is good.

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February 16, 2012

Nature vs Nurture

Filed under: Musings — Joanne @ 3:27 pm
Tags: , ,

Identical twins, separated at birth and reunited as adults, make psychologists giddy.  How are they alike?  How do they differ?  Can the triggers for any divergence be pin-pointed?  Which has more influence on human development, nature or nurture?

Recent news stories of a convicted serial murderer directing officials where to look for his victims’ remains makes sane people wonder….  What possible cause could result in one person taking pleasure from killing others?  Was he genetically programmed to mayhem?  Did his mother potty train him too early?  Was his father too strict?

My three sons have three distinct personalities.  One is introverted, content to have one or two close friends, talented but adverse to drawing attention to himself.  Another enjoys being a team player, maintains close friendships with former classmates living in different states, and pushes himself to excell.  As a child, the third was the “peer” about whose pressure other parents warned their kids, doesn’t much care what the world thinks of him, and has the kindest heart I’ve ever known.

Considering all my guys have the same parents and  grew up in the same house with the same rules, I tend to think Nature has more impact than Nurture.  I offer my dog, Shadow, as Exhibit  A.

Shadow came to live with Ken and me when she was six months old.  She is the poster girl for obedient canines.  She  doesn’t bark other than to alert us when someone approaches the front door.  She doesn’t lick.  She doesn’t jump up on people.  She doesn’t chew on furniture or shoes.  Gentle, calm Shadow rests at our feet, radiating affection.

Well, most of the time.  She does have this one … “thing.”  The sweet girl thinks she’s a bird dog.

Keep in mind my hubby isn’t a hunter.  The dog has not been trained to flush birds or fetch downed prey.  But let a covey of quail cross our path, Canada geese honk from above, or the neighbor’s hens forage in their own front yard, and Shadow becomes transformedTransfixed.  Transfigured into a transgressor.

In these instances my faithful companion no longer hears my voice.   I believe a veterinary ophthalmologist (if there is such a person) would confirm she cannot see me, or anything else for that matter, because her entire world shrinks down to the feathered fowls in her sights.  Her brain ceases to process all extraneous input.  Nothing matters but the chase.

And so it was a few days ago.

In our rural neighborhood with little traffic, Shadow takes most of her walks off-leash.  However, due to an embarrassing event a few months ago, there is one short stretch of road where the leash is required.  Our neighbors occasionally allow their flock of Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rocks to hunt and peck outside their fenced-in coop.   One such day, Shadow discovered chickens will run around like, well, “like chickens with their heads cut off” when she chases them.  Ever since, I have not trusted her to pass the property in question unleashed.

Saturday I hitched her up some 50 yards before passing the Hen House.  We walked in the company of friends that day, and Shadow hardly gave a sideways glance as we passed her new favorite sprint site.  We walked another 50 yards without suspicious whining, pulling or any other indication the dog was plotting.  But the instant I un-clipped the woven tether from the tagged collar, she reversed course and ran faster than I would have believed possible.  Straight back to harass the egg-layers.

I am sad to report a beautiful black-and-white chicken lay motionless at my dog’s feet by the time I arrived at the scene of the crime.   Downy feathers clung to Shadow’s muzzle and front paws.  She plucked away, crazed by the thrill of the kill.  I needed all my strength to separate her from the lifeless body

No one was home to witness the murder.  For a moment, I fantasized about escaping undetected.  But then my conscience spoke up, reminding me of the distinction between right and wrong.  I marched Shadow up the hill in record time, holding her leash mere inches above her head, forcing her to keep pace, making sure she knew I was not pleased by her actions.  Once home, I wrote a note pleading shame and horror over what had happened.  The signed note, taped to a large bag, went onto the backseat and I drove back downhill.  As I lowered the still-warm bird’s body into the bag, the homeowner arrived.

“I’m Joanne,” I greeted him as he stepped from his car, the shopping bag heavy in my hands.  “We met last fall.  You might remember I have a Black Lab.”

He nodded, reaching back into the vehicle to unbuckle a toddler’s seat belt.

“Maybe you’d rather take your son inside first?”  I held the bag out, letting him consider what might be inside.

“No,” he answered.  “It’s all right.”  A second little boy leapt out of the car.

The two-year-old climbed from bumper to hood with ease, then scaled the sedan’s roof.  The young father’s demeanor told me this was common behavior, of no concern.  I had Dad’s full attention.

“I’m so sorry,” I began.  “I’ve tried to protect your flock from my dog, but she doubled back on me.”  I raised the bag, letting the evidence finish my apology.

My neighbor is a class act.  He put my discomfort aside, assuring me he understood the dog was following instinct.  We parted without harsh words or warnings regarding future encounters.  My head spun with relief.

Nature or nurture?  And, more to the point, do humans act out of instinct, too?  Yes, of course.  We protect our young.  We physically react to loud, unexpected noises.  But we also think on a higher level than Labrador Retrievers.  At least, most of us do.

Sad to say, there are some very real, very scary dogs among us.

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