April 30, 2010

Dead zone

"An oil-soaked bird floats dead," victim of the Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco Bay, 2007. SF Chronicle photos [above and left] by Michael Macor.

Gut-wrenching: the Gulf Coast oil spill "could become the nation's worst environmental disaster in decades."

"The terrible loss of 11 workers may be just the beginning of this tragedy as the oil slick spreads toward sensitive coastal areas vital to birds and marine life and to all the communities that depend on them", said Melanie Driscoll, an Audubon bird conservation director, who is monitoring the situation from her base in Louisiana. "For birds, the timing could not be worse; they are breeding, nesting and especially vulnerable in many of the places where the oil could come ashore." [Source.]

From a must-read post, Complete and Utter Disaster:
We’re in the midst of spring migration, a time of year when hundreds of thousands of neotropical migrating songbirds are teeming onto our continent from parts south, many of them taking a route that famously leads them to jump the Gulf of Mexico in one swoop. It’s a flight that can take up to 20 hours and leaves birds completely famished and exhausted. To say that it’s difficult is an understatement. It’s one of the truly amazing behaviors in the natural world. And now at the peak of migration, for those birds taking a path straight across the gulf with a bullseye on, perhaps, crucial bits of coastal habitat like Alabama’s Dauphin Island or Florida’s St. Mark’s NWR, the last stretch of migration has to be through a sooty, black curtain of oil smoke several thousand feet high.
Updates at the International Bird Rescue Research Center's blog.

All links in this post via the most excellent Mike McDowell, who wrote on Facebook that "everyone who voted for "Drill Baby Drill" [should] start heading down to the gulf coast to help clean oil off of critters."

As old and jaded and cynical as I am, I still have trouble wrapping my brain around the fact that we [consumers, voters, Americans] allow this sort of disaster to happen. It shouldn't have happened. It shouldn't be happening.

Commenter Bill on Coyote Crossing writes: "For all of you out there who care please lessen your use of the oil based economy, and, at the very least, don’t do business with BP."

April 29, 2010

Helluva lobbying group, Wayney

Dunno what's worse — a puppy-mill victim with a vacant stare, or a man so freaked out at the thought of handling an animal that he has to summon his girlfriend to remove her pet cat from his chest.

What's worst, actually, may be the fact that the cat-averse individual in question is lobbyist-in-chief of the beleaguered Humane Society of the United States. Which shouldn't be confused with your local humane society, not that anyone ever does such a thing.

Brent over at KC Dog Blog has an excellent run-down of some of the HSUS's most flagrant abuses and current troubles. "Help us care for the Vick dogs," oy. With a friend like Wayne "I don’t want to see another dog or cat born" Pacelle, dogs and cats don't need enemies.

The most excellent Laura Sanborn rages against the machine [in a comment at Pet Connection]:
HSUS & PETA —> still raking in tens of millions of dollars a year despite the Great Recession. Again, their fund-raising models work because they effectively and misleadingly leverage our compassion for defenseless animals. I won’t use those tactics myself and don’t have an answer for how to ethically compete with it.


Here's a HumaneWatch.org guest column on the HSUS lobbying effort. [News flash: money talks!] Yes, I know HumaneWatch is a front for CAFO-lovin', environmentalist-hatin' extremists. It's just that they seem so much more... factual about the HSUS than the HSUS seems to be about unfunded mandates and wildlife management and such. The man who said, "The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest," never met a lobbyist. [I kid. He knew a few.]


Terrific post over at Lucy & Friends on puppy mill legislation. Did I first bookmark Lucy nearly 20 years ago? I did indeed :~)

I've said it before and I'll keep saying it: we dog lovers screwed up big time when we told the average pet owner to forget about breeding his friendly, healthy Lab to the friendly, healthy collie mix down the street. When we did our best to prevent that, with our spay/neuter campaigns and our lists explaining "how to identify a good breeder," we gave up much of our freedom to have the dogs we really want. We granted ideologues and politicians, puppy mills, rescue groups and AKC breeders of functional cripples the power to shape and choose our dogs for us. Which reminds me: where exactly am I supposed to find a nice puppy these days? Hey, let's ask Wayne Pacelle — he knows all about animals!

[Which Times gets it right...? Image: "With his cat, Libby, is Wayne Pacelle, the Humane Society president." Photo by Michael Temchine for The New York Times.]

April 28, 2010

Coyotes: "We will dance on your graves, puny humans"

Great photo of an amazing predator: Northern Alberta coyote, by ru 24 real on Flickr. [Click to embiggen.]

It's coyotes in the news week here in Bloglandia. A round-up of the good, the bad and the ugly:

The bad would have to be news of 18,000 coyotes killed by hunters in five months, brought to you by the Saskatchewan, Canada bounty program. Just cut off the paws and collect $20 per animal, and if it's easier to kill a few dozen coyotes in neighboring Alberta and chop their feet off and dump their bodies in front of someone's farm, well, keep in mind that there's a fine for littering. Littering is bad! [Photo of the carcasses by Rick Price, who wasn't anticipating a truckload of dead coyotes when he set off to photograph local wildlife last week.] Trevor Herriot has more about the consequences, intended and unintended, of coyote control here, on his excellent Grass Notes blog.

The ugly: that would be the let's-all-shudder-at-a-hick-and-his-dogs article by Juliet Macur of the NY Times. Quote: "Dogfighting became a felony in all 50 states in 2008, in no small part because of Michael Vick, the N.F.L. star who went to prison a year earlier for his involvement in a dogfighting ring." Seriously, that's an actual quote from the article. It's inaccurate, and of course dogfighting is actually nothing like hunting coyotes with greyhounds, but whatever. I really, really, really hate Macur's lazy mash-up of ignorance and condescension. I don't think it's journalism — it's just crappy writing.

By way of contrast, consider how Ms. Macur might have gotten along with the folks at the Master of Fox Hounds Association’s seminar, which brings us to the good:
In the months leading up to the Master of Fox Hounds Association’s biennial hunt staff seminar, we’d already heard a lot about Dr. Stanley Gehrt and his urban coyote presentation. He’d done this presentation at an MFHA meeting in January that had everyone talking, so we were especially curious to hear it ourselves. And, boy, was it worth the price of admission.

Gehrt is an assistant professor and extension wildlife specialist at Ohio State University. His urban coyote study in Chicago started in 2000 and is the longest-running coyote research project in North America. Using radio tracking collars, the study has followed 440 coyotes in 10 packs and revealed fascinating details about their lives, including how they form packs, which ones don’t pack up, how they develop their territories, what they hunt, and how they adapt to living in an urban environment. The results, as presented in his lecture “Uncovering Truths and Debunking Myths about City Coyotes,” were eye-opening.
Read the whole thing — a fine and fascinating read — over at Full Cry: A Hound Blog. Definitely beats suffering through a 1200-word mock-the-Okie piece in the NY Times.

MFHA hunt staff seminar, part 3: The Old Guns
Texas ass hat Gov. Perry shoots coyote [Makes me wonder how I ever manage to get a bunch of dogs in and out of the cabin, after dark, with coyotes dodging around in the shadows night after night, and me without a .380 Ruger. I don't pack a pistol when I hike in snake country, either. Daredevil is my middle name -- right, peeps?]

April 27, 2010

Pacific Flyway

These Ross's Geese winter in California, raise young in the Arctic. Thanks to groups like Ducks Unlimited, the species is thriving and extending its range. Photo by NDomer73 on Flickr: click for big.

Migration is so awesome. Arrivals, departures... I'm missing these handsome little souls, who wintered in the backyard brush pile, and these busy gents, who wintered here too and have also headed north. [As a wise woman said: "Remember that someone else is waiting for them, and will be happy to see them arrive."] Great photos by The Digiscoper, Mike McDowell. And look who just showed up! A heart bird:

Western Tanager, by Phae on Flickr. Click for bigger.

This coming weekend I'm planning to bird Big Morongo, which is Pacific Flyway Central at the moment. Migrants everywhere you look.


An extraordinarily moving report on an 18,000 mile migration:
“I just did a talk yesterday for some colleagues at the U.S. Geological Survey,” Gill told me not long after E7 had been tracked to New Zealand. “And I showed these graphics of E7’s flight and said, ‘Okay, the flight is nonstop, no food, no water, no sleep as we know it, flying for eight days,’ and there was just this silence in the room, and I could see their minds trying to wrap around this—as does mine. I try to be objective as a scientist, but this just . . .” Gill’s sentence trailed off as he seemed unable to summon up the right word to describe his reaction.

More about this amazing flight here, from the USGS Alaska Science Center Shorebirds Research website.
The last leg of E7's journey is the most extraordinary, entailing a non-stop flight of more than eight days and a distance of 7,200 miles [...]

Since they are land birds, godwits like E7 can't stop to eat or drink while flying over open-ocean. The constant flight speeds at which E7 was tracked by satellite indicate that she did not stop on land.

Godwits do not become adults until their 3rd or 4th year and many live beyond 20 years of age. If 18,000 miles is an average annual flight distance, then an adult godwit would fly some 288,000 miles in a lifetime. [Source.]

E7's tribe: Bar-Tailed Godwits, by nkenji on Flickr. Click for big.

April 19, 2010

Stay classy, Brampton bureaucrats

For real.

The Brampton dogs are back home at last, safe and sound. Check out the happy photo of Ines Branco with her dog Brittany, the, um, so obviously not a pit bull, from the Brampton Guardian:

An independent veterinarian took one look at the two mixed breeds and said to the geniuses at Brampton Animal Control and City Hall, "Holy crap, anyone with enough neurons to make a synapse can tell these dogs aren't pit bulls. They aren't purebred anything. I can't believe you had to pay an 'outside expert' to tell you this. You must be dumber than a box of hammers. Give the dogs back already. Oh, and get over yourselves. Mean people suck."

Of course, the officials of Brampton couldn't just hand over the dogs and say, "We screwed up. Sorry." For pure spite, dishonesty and a last-minute dollop of abuse of power, it's hard to beat this:
Despite the vet’s ruling, as part of the agreement with the city, the owners had to agree to allow the dogs to be designated “potentially dangerous” and they must wear muzzles when out in public.

Branco paid the $50 for a license and picked up Brittany, but was shocked when he found out he would have to post a big red sign on his fence declaring a “dangerous dog” lives at the home.

“I have never seen anything like that in Brampton before,” Branco said.
Remember, these two dogs were never, not once, accused of running loose, accused of bothering neighbors, or accused of harming or threatening to harm a soul.

Do the Brampton bureaucrats have any idea how this makes them look? News flash, Brampton officials: whenever people see the sign [and I hope it's photographed and shared around the world], they'll be thinking about how cruel and stupid and malicious you are.

Here's a blank, folks. Feeling creative? Knock yourselves out ;~)

Click to embiggen.

April 18, 2010

Tweets from the past

Hasn't changed much since White's day: the village of Selborne, by Mockney Rebel on Flickr.

Ebert rouses his followers on Twitter:
Has ANYBODY noticed I've been starting each day with Gilbert White's "Natural History of Selborne?"
White's journal entries, as it happens, often make perfect tweets — and now I have another book to buy. From Ebert's link, The Natural History of Selborne:
Gilbert White (1720-1793) was the curate of the village of Selborne in Hampshire, England. He was a fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, a farmer in a very small way, and a passionate gardener. From an early age he was fascinated by nature and recorded his observations, and in later life began to correspond with several prominent ‘natural philosophers’. These letters were eventually edited and compiled in a book, The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789). It has never been out of print since its publication and established the genre of nature-writing in English. Gilbert White’s commitment to close observation of the mundane and everyday in nature– what we would now call ‘field study’– was pioneering and inspired Darwin; his influence felt in pastoral English writing from The Mill on the Floss to The Wind in the Willows.
Trivia: one of White's correspondents was the Welsh naturalist Thomas Pennant, first to describe the fisher [Martes pennanti] for science in 1771. I love fishers.

Here's the Penguin Classics edition of Gilbert White's book at Amazon. Honestly, Roger Ebert's Twitter feed is the reason God created the computer.

The Summer-Maker. [Check out these beautiful shots on Flickr.]

Related: Pacific fisher [Martes pennanti], at Sierra Forest Legacy.

I'd adopt him if I could

Beautiful markings and a gorgeous expression on this pup. He's about 6 months old, and said to be friendly with people and other dogs. Whoever cut off his ears should be arrested. [Screen grab from Pet Harbor.] See below for adoption info.

Dunno what human impulse leads us to rush past the plain, friendly, no-drama dogs on our way to scoop up the pup with a sad story. The dog on the left, for example, was five years old, active, friendly with people and other dogs, an owner turn-in [divorce, "I'm moving and can't take him"], and was reportedly a purebred Lab. Past tense. Absolutely no individual or group locally or from a moderately extensive social network was interested in adopting/fostering/rescuing him. [That's "social network" as in, "his widget was on my blog forever"/"a friend with loads of contacts posted his picture on Facebook and begged people to save him"/"we have experience flying rescue dogs across the country."]

I wasn't interested in fostering or adopting him, either. He was a nice, generic dog, and now he's gone. Too ordinary? Not "rescue-y"-looking enough? As I say, I dunno.

But back to that pit bull pup with the beautiful eyes and choppy ears: I've posted an appeal on Facebook and am now posting one here. Save this dog! I wish I had room for him [and the time, and the money]. When I called Devore this morning, he was still available, and will be, the lady said, until the 21st. Here's his info:
For more information about this animal, call:
San Bernardino County - Devore Shelter at (909) 887-8055
Ask for information about animal ID number A454508

Cosmic volcano photo

"Reportedly not photoshopped," tweets the most awesome and excellent Roger Ebert, and that's good enough for me. Photo by Marco Fulle, via Stromboli.org.

Volcano + lightning: awesome. Volcano + migrating birds: not good. Not good at all.

Also: Coachella loses "maybe a dozen bands." Good thing I decided to stay home this year!

April 4, 2010

Working dogs in the news

Two stories: one hopeful, one skeptical.

First up, from the NY Times: For the Battle-Scarred, Comfort at Leash’s End. Excerpt:
Just weeks after Chris Goehner, 25, an Iraq war veteran, got a dog, he was able to cut in half the dose of anxiety and sleep medications he took for post-traumatic stress disorder. The night terrors and suicidal thoughts that kept him awake for days on end ceased.

Aaron Ellis, 29, another Iraq veteran with the stress disorder, scrapped his medications entirely soon after getting a dog — and set foot in a grocery store for the first time in three years.

The dogs to whom they credit their improved health are not just pets. Rather, they are psychiatric service dogs specially trained to help traumatized veterans leave the battlefield behind as they reintegrate into society.

Because of stories like these, the federal government, not usually at the forefront of alternative medical treatments, is spending several million dollars to study whether scientific research supports anecdotal reports that the dogs might speed recovery from the psychological wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Full story and audio slide show here. Photo at top left by Stephen Crowley for The New York Times.

Next: can dogs follow a six month old track? And if they can't, how is it that two search dogs — a yellow Labrador and a German short-haired pointer — came so close were driven to a site two miles from the place a murder victim's body was hidden?
The handlers, Sarah Platts and Julie R. Jones, partners at Virginia-based VK9 Scent Specific Search and Recovery Unit, say their highly trained dogs possess specialized skills that have made believers of many families and police agencies.

"It's a revelation for some folks," said Platts, 48, adding that her volunteer organization has helped authorities gather evidence on numerous murder and missing-person cases.

Dog handler organizations are skeptical. Their profession, members say, has been undermined over the years by handlers claiming amazing crime-busting abilities who were later exposed as frauds. They say Quincy and Jack's work was an incredible coincidence or a calculated hoax.

Attributing heroic skills to lovable dogs is natural but invites false hope, said Roger Titus, a trainer with the National Police Bloodhound Assn.
The article is online now, and will be on the front page of Monday's print edition of the L.A. Times: Dogged faith in these trackers.

There have been a few more

More aftershocks. [Click for big.] This is a screengrab from a site bookmarked by just about everyone in the Golden State: Recent Earthquakes in California and Nevada. Real-time updating goodness, and all you need to know about the magic of plate tectonics.

According to the L.A. Times, the fault responsible for this quake was south of the San Andreas. One man died when his home near Mexicali collapsed, and "at least six homes were destroyed by fires caused by the quake."

In this KTLA news video, Caltech's most excellent Dr. Lucy Jones answers everyone's seismic, if not seismically sophisticated, questions. [As TJ Sullivan tweets, "Hearing Dr. Lucy after an earthquake is like hearing Vin Scully call a Dodger game. She's the real deal." Another classic from TJ: "What did we learn from today's quake? That hundreds of people in SoCal are constantly shooting video of their pool water."]

Whenever there's a quake over 5 or so, for days afterwards I always put a little flashlight in my jeans pocket and keep it close pretty much 24/7. Because earthquakes in total darkness are not cool.

Note to self: train dogs to duck, cover and hold.

Mashable has rounded up some earthquake photos from Twitter. This has to be high on everyone's "there but for the grace of God" list:

Evacuating Disneyland, by ms_kristin.

Protect Yourself During an Earthquake... Drop, Cover, and Hold On! [and forget that "Triangle of Life" BS].

We felt that one, all right

Eep. I usually don't do much of anything when I feel a smallish earthquake [the series of three point this and four point that we had recently, for example], but I stood up for this one. It felt like the house was on a boat. Gentle rolling, then slightly stronger shaking, then it subsided. Birds at the feeder did nuthin' — kept eating. [You wild things are supposed to warn us by freaking out! Did you not get that memo?] The landshark was worried. Bounce slept through the whole thing.

Ten miles south of Mexicali/Calexico. Damn. Looks like it was right on the San Andreas... Hope folks are safe down there. If it shook the way it did here, 170 miles from the epicenter, I can only imagine what the shaking was like for the people in Guadalupe Victoria. My thoughts are with them.

Pattern developing...? Boy, it's a kick living on the San Andreas. [runs off to complete the "Did you feel it?" form]

Birds of Pleasantville

Bird of Paradise [plant] on right, and Hooded Oriole [bird] on the left at a friend's feeder, April 3, 2010. Click to embiggen.

This coming Friday will be the last day to count birds for the 2009-2010 season of Project FeederWatch, and I'm hoping for an oriole. I know they're in town. This most excellent Hooded Oriole was at a friend's home a few miles south of my place. Must rethink feeder placement...

Hello, tiny naked hatchlings! These little guys were in a nest hidden in a box in my friend's garage. Mom [a Bewick's Wren] was raging, so I left in a hurry.

Saturday was the Inland Orange Conservancy's Celebration of Citrus. [Yay, Old Grove Orange!]

House across the street, all pretty and spring-like:

And when I got home, there was a Black-headed Grosbeak in the feeder tray. I could only photograph him through the screen and into the sun [weeps], but still — first one this year for me. A good way to end a good afternoon. Fly north, orioles...!


April 3, 2010

Midnight links: rabies/vaccines/titers

Austin - stream of bats at sundown. Photo by Wordyeti on Flickr. "A single little brown bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in a single hour, while a pregnant or lactating female bat typically eats the equivalent of her entire body weight in insects each night." [Source: Bat Conservation International.]

It all started when the most excellent Julie Zickefoose rescued a young bat. And then another bat. Julie has forgotten more about nature and about wildlife than most of us will ever know, and she took all the standard precautions and figured the rabies risk was smaller than negligible.

Then things got complicated. There are bat strains of rabies as well as canine strains, and scientists don't know much about the bat strains. "Certainly these kinds of viruses, under the right conditions, can establish very persistent latent infections. I personally don't agree that we know that an asymptomatic bat cannot transmit the disease."

Good news: the bat turned out not to be rabid. Sad news: in order to test the bat for rabies the little creature had to be killed. Super-helpful news: Julie was thoughtful enough to share all kinds of bat and rabies information with her readers. A good thing, since I'd like to sign up for this.

Vaccines are a special area of interest and concern for dog people, and on Thursday Pet Connection's Kim Campbell Thornton reported on the latest vaccine news from the Rabies Challenge fundraiser in San Diego.

In light of which, I'll quote Julie Z:
The deal with the [rabies pre-exposure] shots is you get your titer checked every two years (about $40), and if the rabies antibodies are still high, you're OK. One woman I know says hers has held for 15 years and counting.

15 years! Nice to know, if you're interested in safely extending the required interval for canine rabies boosters [and I am]. Thanks to Julie for the great blog posts, and may her pre-exposure vaccinations not hurt a bit.

American in Africa gets away with murder

"Elephant Skull, African Safari 2009, Botswana, Africa." Photo by godutchbaby on Flickr.

I love when I read something and think it's terrific, and a writer I admire like mad reads it and thinks it's terrific, too. The piece is The Hunted, by Jeffrey Goldberg, in this week's New Yorker.

To quote TNC: Check it out. It's a ripping good time.