The adventuresome life of a Great Pyrenees/Newfoundland dog in Northwestern Ontario

Posts tagged ‘birds’

Wild Goose Chase

Last Friday, I had an appointment with my vet friends. Elizabeth made it for late in the afternoon so we could go straight home when we were done. I haven’t been there for a long time so, I was looking forward to the visit. Even if it meant getting stuck full of needles, poked and prodded in inconvenient places, and showing the world at large that I gained two pounds over the winter.

We sat down in Dr. Celia’s examining room. The two-leggers talked while I checked out all the interesting smells, then made myself comfortable over by the nearest exit. Then my ears pricked up.

“How many lives has she used up now?” Dr. Celia laughed.

“Ummm… I’m not sure. I’ve given up counting. Twenty?”

“Doesn’t she know she isn’t a cat?”

I got up and gave them both a dirty look. Then I took a few steps over to the other side of the room and squeezed under the examining table.

Elizabeth looks up at Dr. Celia, “She says not to insult her. She’s no cat. Everybody knows cats only have NINE lives!”

“She looks pretty stiff. What are you giving her for pain?…”

Yes, I used up another life with my latest adventure. And, yes, I was a little the worse for wear for a couple of days.

Maybe getting older doesn’t always mean we get wiser…

A week ago Thursday was a lovely Spring day, if you like that sort of thing. I prefer snow and the deep chill of Winter, myself. Elizabeth decided it was time to do some work in the garden, which is still frozen solid once you dig down a couple of inches. But she gets excited about these things.

I lay just outside the fence guarding until it looked like she was ready to get me my supper. Then I wandered over to the back stoop and watched the last of the snow melt from behind the wood pile. Elizabeth was just about to open the door when I heard them. My friends, the long-necked flappers, were flying in low and calling me to say hello! I thought they were in England visiting my blogging friend Clowie, but I guess those were different long-necked flappers. They all look and sound very much alike, you know.

I’ve been working long hours at the bookshop so, when they invited me to play a game of tag, I was eager to join in for the exercise! Needless to say, I ran off to greet them.

The thing about long-necked flappers is that they have an unfair advantage in a game of tag. When they flap their wings, they rise off the ground. It’s a bit of a tease. Usually, I just stop and watch them play the game. Today, though, their advantage over the river was not so great. The splashy wet stuff hadn’t turned splashy yet. It still looked pretty hard, except where it had melted out to about a meter from shore. I ran back and forth a bit to find a place to get onto the hard surface.

It was a bit difficult to find a way onto the hard water…

Elizabeth was calling me. I ignored her. I could come and eat later.

I discovered that I could use Al and Joanne’s dock like a bridge. Its end was still firmly planted in the hard water. When I leapt out onto the hard water, the geese, who had landed to wait for me, took off, flying low over the hard water to Siggy’s Island. I almost caught up to them.

I was just at the end of our point when, suddenly, the hard water slivered and dissolved beneath me! I went right under into deep, cold, splashy wet stuff. I’ve never felt it that cold before! I found the hole and came up for air and began trying to get back onto the hard water or land.

I went in just off The Point, but there was hard water all around the hole I found myself in. The second and larger point is Siggy’s Island.

Elizabeth, who had been yelling frantically at me to come and eat stopped. Instead, she screamed, “I’m coming, Stella! Keep swimming!” My head went under again.

Later, she told me how frantic she was. She threw her gloves up at the living room window to get Kay’s attention, yelled for Kay to phone Dan on Siggy’s Island. He has a rice boat that uses an airplane propeller to go across water or ice. She thought if he had it going (they just got back from Mexico), he could get to me faster than she could. She had to run around our bay to get to where I was, and that’s a long, rough run for a two-legger. But off she went!

On the way she saw a long piece of driftwood with a big crook in the end, and she grabbed it in case she needed something to help her pull me out. It’s hard to tell from the house how far out from shore something is exactly. Best to be prepared. She could also use it to break a channel through the ice for me to swim to shore. Maybe. That’s what she was hoping.

Looking toward the end of the bay along the shore that faces south. This is the easy part of the trip, but it’s still faster to go through the woods.

Elizabeth is asthmatic. The woods are full of snow and leaf mould. She was breathing hard. She didn’t have her puffer.

But she kept coming as fast as she could and calling to me to keep trying!

Meanwhile, I dug deep and found my Newfie genes. I put them to work. Swim. Fill my huge lungs with air and float! Swim. Then I used my Great Pyrenees Mountain Dog genes. I’m swimming and climbing a mountain at the same time. Grab the hard water like it’s rock and PULL! Grab the hard water and PULL! And I used my back legs, spreading my toes so my webbed feet could push the wet water and help lift me up…

“I’m coming, Stella! Keep trying!”

And, somehow, I found some really hard water, and I managed to get up onto it. I woofed to let Elizabeth know I was okay, and I ran to find her. When she saw me, she just sort of sat abruptly on the shore, while I ran toward her.

“Stella! Go Home!”

But I wasn’t going to go home until I was sure she was all right.

I just got to her when I heard a strange growly beast on the other side of the house. So I didn’t stop. I just kept on running back the way Elizabeth had come overland. I left Elizabeth sitting on the shore, waiting for her lungs to settle enough that she could make the walk home. She was thinking, Why would Dan come that way? That can’t be Dan!

Kay had phoned 911 and told them, “Stella’s gone through the ice!” (Kay had a stroke in November. I’m not sure just what that means, but it has made it harder for her to get around, and it has made her hard to understand sometimes, especially when she is tired or upset about something).

The fire chief, who lives about a mile down the Big Gravel Path, was on his way home when he heard the call out, and he rushed to help us. Then the police arrived…

Elizabeth could hear snatches of conversation, “We don’t rescue animals when they go through the ice…” Then she saw me on the far shore, back at Al and Joanne’s dock, looking for my long-necked flapper friends again. I was afraid that they might have gone through while I was intent on my own struggles. I ran back out onto the ice to find them.

Elizabeth tried to call over to the fire chief and Kay, who were now chatting, him on the lawn, her up on our balcony. “HONK THE CAR HORN!” Elizabeth couldn’t get enough air into her lungs to support her voice, and they couldn’t hear her. She knew that if I heard the growly beast horn, I would run home. Nothing trumps a ride. Nothing. And the horn sounding means we’re going to go for a ride. When I hear the horn, I stop everything and race for the ride.

She got up and started to head for home. She knew I was too wound up to listen to anything but (maybe) the growly beast’s horn. So, that became her focus. But by this time, she was having so much trouble breathing that she was also having trouble walking through the woods.

About halfway home, she tried calling the two-leggers at the house again.

“WHAT DID YOU SAY?” The fire chief had heard her.

She took as big a breath as she could. “HONK.” Another breath, “OUR.” A third breath, “CAR.” And another, “HORN!” She slid down a rock face to the mud flats at the end of our bay.

She heard the fire chief tell Kay what she had called, and a few seconds later, HONK, HONK, HONK, HONK!

OUR car horn, she thought. Our car horn, not yours…

I heard the horn, though, and it caught my attention. That’s strange, I thought. I’d better go check that out!

By that time I was back on land again, some distance east of where Elizabeth was. I met her as she was crossing the mud flats. I got close enough to her that she was able to grab my collar. That’s when I realised that she needed help if she was going to get home.

We got to the other side of the mud, then I pulled her up the bank to her trail. We would walk a bit, then she’d rest, then we’d go a bit further up the hill toward the house. When we emerged from the woods, I led her to the bench by the gardens and she sat down.

But by this time, Kay had remembered that her daughter might be having trouble, and told the fire chief that Elizabeth had asthma. So he’d gone off looking for her!

Elizabeth was still having trouble talking. “I… can’t… go,” she said. “Honk… the car… horn.”

And that’s what Kay did. Amazingly, it works for fire chiefs, too!

The hard water looks much more rotten now, and for the last week, Elizabeth won’t let me go outside unless I’m on the leash. She does that every spring and autumn when the river isn’t safe. This year has been a bit strange, and the change happened very quickly, so she wasn’t aware that the time had come to be more cautious.

Yesterday at work, Elizabeth got a message from Karin, Dan’s wife. “Are you at home?” it said. A sneaky deer had gone through the rotten hard water and was struggling to get to safety. It was almost exactly where I went through the week before. It’s a bad spot, Elizabeth said, and reminded me that she went through there in January a couple of years ago – just one leg, fortunately, and she was able to roll out to the thicker ice on the snowmobile path nearby. I should have remembered that…

The deer almost got to shore when it turned around and went back through the channel it had cut. It was so close to the end of the point. So close. But it didn’t make it. Today the big white-headed black flappers and lots of croaking and cawing black birds are feasting.

A raven (on the rotten hard water) and an immature bald eagle on the rocky end of the point this morning. The raven is actually standing on the bit of deer carcass that is above the water line.

Watching the activity through our window I feel a little unnerved. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

There isn’t much left that the birds can reach now.

Winging Through Wednesday

With the shorter days and cooler temperatures, a lot of our summer flappers are disappearing. Elizabeth says they go south where it is warmer, brighter and there is still plenty of food crawling around for them to eat. We still have a few around, though, and of course there are some that stay with us all year. I asked Elizabeth if we could try to get some pictures of them for you to look at. You know… since there aren’t very many new flowers to show you.

Last year, the Robin family decided to try nesting on the house. They built a nest right over the spot where the telephone line meets the wall. The eggs hatched and their puppies fledged. For the most part, they were very well behaved youngsters. They only got rowdy when one of the parental units came with food for them.

Elizabeth took a photo of the robin chicks last year. I don't know why we didn't write about them then. Here they are, quietly awaiting their earthworm supper.

Elizabeth took a photo of the American Robin (Turdus migratorius) chicks last year. I don’t know why we didn’t write about them then. Here they are, quietly awaiting their earthworm supper.

 

The next day these little fellows were flying out of the nest. That was a very good thing, because the very night they were gone, a huge storm blew in. Five trees fell on the telephone and hydro lines, not breaking them, but pulling over the hydro pole. This in turn pulled the wires  the nest was built on right out of the wall! The nest fell to the ground.

This year, the Robins came back in the spring. They decided that maybe that spot wasn’t the best location for a nest. They built a bigger nest in a more sheltered place: right behind the attic fan cover, just under the eaves of the house. It was a smart place to build because the crows and jays were too big to rob the nest, and the fan’s motor drowned out the peeps of the babies. They were ultra secure there.

Papa Robin had a few anxious days when another male started hanging around the nest. Wouldn’t leave, even after Papa made a few threatening dives at the intruder. Elizabeth heard Mr. Robin at the bathroom window one morning and ran in to see what all the ruckus was about. It turns out his adversary was not another Robin, but rather his own reflection in the glass. Elizabeth shooed him away and he seemed after that to realise his mistake.

We saw one of the elder Robins with its juvenile the other day:

They look pretty cold, don't they. I think maybe this cold morning was enough to push them into following a warmer thermoclime south. They eat a lot of insects so, after a frost, food get scarce fast!

They look pretty cold, don’t they. I think maybe this chilly morning was enough to push them into following a warmer isotherm south. They eat a lot of insects so, after a frost, food get scarce fast!

By the way, our European readers will notice that what we call Robins here are a type of Thrush and not at all like European Robins. But the red breasts reminded immigrants of those little European flappers, and the name was passed on…

The Magpie has been back several times. It is still finding lots of grasshoppers to eat. It is extremely shy, however, so we have no new photos to show you.

We have other migrant insectivores that will be leaving very soon, too. Elizabeth captured one such on Sunday as it watched the surrounding area from a Paper Birch:

This Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) is watching for lunch on the fly. BOL

This Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) is watching for lunch on the fly. BOL

Not all flappers eat insects. Some eat other types of food that are only available in the summer.

This is a Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina). They are one of the first birds to come back in the spring. I think these seed-eaters follow the bird feeders North!

This is a Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina). They are one of the first flappers to come back in the spring. I think these seed-eaters follow the flapper feeders North!

Some flappers stay with us year round, though.

Elizabeth told me earlier this Summer that she was feeling sad. For almost a year, there have been no Nuthatches around. Nuthatches have a special place in Elizabeth’s heart for some reason. They seem to like her, too. As she was trying to get a picture of an elusive warbler of some sort, a Nuthatch flew in and landed right on Elizabeth’s backside! It stayed perched there for a few minutes, listening for insects. Then it, too, headed over to the more productive Paper Birch.

The Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) is a pretty little bird...

The Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) is a pretty little flapper. From its latin name, you can see that it must make a habit of sitting on Canadians.

It is also a voracious insect hunter.

It is also a voracious insect hunter.

It seeks them here, it seeks them there, it seeks those insects...

It seeks them here, it seeks them there, it seeks those insects…

everywhere!

everywhere!

They have specially adapted toes that allow them to climb up and down trees. In the winter, they find the insects sleeping just under the tree bark. I guess they hear the insects snoring.

While she was busy celebrating the return of her old friends (these little fellows can live for over seven years), someone else decided to join the party for at least long enough to discover whether there was any kibble on offer.

No kibble for the Kibble Snatcher family this time. And no. Cameras are not edible! Fly away, you silly clowns!

No kibble for the Kibble Snatcher family this time. And no. Cameras are not edible! Fly away, you silly clowns!

Birthday & Other News

Friday was my Birthday! I turned five years old (That’s two-legger years. According to the chart at the vets’, I’m about 42 dog years old.). We aren’t much for celebrating birthdays around here, but I did get some extra treats, an extra walk and a whole lot of love. I always get a whole lot of love.   ~|o}=

I did have to work at the bookshop on my birthday, though. I didn’t mind at all. As it turned out, we had some interesting two-leggers in to say hello – two-leggers from far, far away. We had a couple Elizabeth knew from her university days drop in to say hello. They were from a place called Victoria, the capital city of Canada’s westernmost province, British Columbia.

There was a couple of motorcycle dudes from Lac du Bonnet, which isn’t that far away, but it is in another province, too: Manitoba. Elizabeth says that Lac du Bonnet is also on the mighty Winnipeg River, some distance down from us. I could swim there if I really wanted to. But I’m more Great Pyrenees than Newfoundland Dog, so, I’ll be keeping to my end of the River, thank you! Anyway, these bikers were wanting a better view of the road than they’ve been getting from their motorcycles, ’cause they asked for books on aviation… bush flying in particular. Elizabeth had several, but they didn’t buy any.

Then a couple came in from Geraldton, a town in Northwestern Ontario. Why mention that, you might be thinking. Well, Northwestern Ontario is a very big area, and these folks had travelled even farther than the biker dudes from a different province. Geraldton (now called Greenstone) is almost 750 km away! That’s a long way to come shopping for books. But then, our bookshop is the biggest bookshop in all of Northwestern Ontario, so they knew what they were doing!

Some local regulars came by, too, including a man who’s father was an author (he wrote about naval history). Just after he left, Elizabeth was emptying an incoming box of books. In it was one of the two books this man’s father had written! That’s a bit spooky considering just how many books we have to deal with in here…

But it was on the way home that I had my biggest birthday surprise. We were driving around the famous Kenricia corner in Kay’s Growly Beast. Two men were standing on the corner waiting for the pedestrian light. Elizabeth knew them, and she waved hello. They waved back, and one of them, someone I’m sure I’ve never met before, called out, “Hello, Stella!” to me through the open backseat window. He must know me from coming here to read my stories! A fan!

I’m going to have to get me some sunglasses…   ~:oD=

OTHER NEWS

Interesting goings on on the ‘Estate’, too. All of the flapper puppies are fledged and learning how to survive in the world. This makes for some interesting viewing from my station on the front step. Robin pups are learning to pull worms from the ground. Phoebe pups are learning where to catch the best insects for eating and how to despatch them. Hummingbird pups are learning which flowers have the tastiest nectar. And the Kibble Snatchers are back teaching their pups to trust Elizabeth to hand-feed them tasty chow.

On Saturday, though, we had some flapper visitors that I’ve never seen before. Elizabeth says she’s seen them here once before, when she was a child. Kay was the first to see one this time, and she called Elizabeth to tell her what it was. Elizabeth ran for her camera. There was no time for a tripod, and they are shy flappers, so she wasn’t able to get close. But she did manage to get some photos that weren’t too bad so that I could show you what they looked like.

The Magpie looks like a colourful, long-tailed version of the Black Cawing Flapper.

The Magpie looks like a colourful, long-tailed version of the Black Cawing Flapper.

They are a bit smaller than Black Cawing Flappers, though, Elizabeth thinks. But they are from the same family as Crows and Whisky Jacks and other Jays.

They are a bit smaller than Black Cawing Flappers, though, Elizabeth thinks. But they are from the same family as Crows, Whisky Jacks and other Jays.

They're rather beautiful, we think. Some two-leggers consider them nuisance birds. They are more common to the west of us, in the prairie/parkland. Maybe they interfere with crops.

They’re rather beautiful, we think. Some two-leggers consider them nuisance birds. They are more common to the west of us, in the prairie/parkland. Maybe they interfere with crops.

Sometimes I’ve heard Elizabeth say that she is a bit of a Magpie. She means that she likes picking up pretty, shiny things when she sees them on our walks. She’s particularly vulnerable to this habit, she says, when she walks along beaches.

This Magpie wasn't interested in shiny things, however. He was hunting Grasshoppers! And he's welcome to all he can catch - both Kay and Elizabeth said so!

This Magpie wasn’t interested in shiny things, however. He was hunting Grasshoppers! And he’s welcome to all he can catch – both Kay and Elizabeth said so!

AND FINALLY…

I have one last item of good news to impart before I go…

There has been rain all around us for the last week, but all of that has avoided us. Our lawn is brown and the woods are very dry. But yesterday, it finally decided to rain on us!

There has been rain all around us for the last week, but all of that has avoided us. Our lawn is brown and the woods are very dry. But yesterday, it finally decided to rain on us!

 

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