We’re off to find our long lost friend, Dirty Harry. He was our constant companion, begging for three squares a day and then some. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, and would plant his feet on the railing, glare fiercely, shake his head and squawk out a major scold. Then he would squat and leave his calling card, which after a few days, had to be scraped off. Which is how he came to be known as “Dirty Harry.” He seemed to know our comings and goings, and as we returned from an outing, Harry would alight on the railing within minutes. He knew what time to show up for breakfast and dinner, and would wait patiently (or impatiently), shifting from one leg to the other, fluffing up his feathers and bobbing his tail. We’re on our way, Harry, and we’ve got a stash of granola bars, just for you!!!
Rosie crawled up into the flower pot on the porch recently to catch some rays and take a break. She doesn’t like to be photographed, but she didn’t seem to notice the camera pointed at her through the window. She is a constant companion and believes it is her job to take care of the people who live here. She watches the doors and windows to detect any movement inside the house that might mean “we’re going for a walk,” or “they’re coming to feed me,” or “it’s time to do chores.” She is a border collie- Australian shepherd mix, and is an obsessive/compulsive herder who makes it her job to nip at any person or creature who tries to come between us.
The first time I saw Rosie, I was smitten. She reminded me immediately of a dear old friend, a paint mare that was my childhood companion. She has the black and white markings, as well as blue eyes, that Pintopaint had. I guess you could say we bonded immediately. She was the last of a litter of pups to be claimed, presumably due to her pink nose and right eye that did not meet breeder standards. And her poor pink nose sunburns and peels in the summer. I asked the local veterinarian what I might do to protect her nose, and his response was “get her tatooed!” I don’t believe he was serious, just letting me know my options are limited.
Rosie’s best pal is Lady, our ancient black labrador retriever who tolerates Rosie’s jealousy and herding insticts fairly well. Between them, they patrol the outer reaches of the yard and alert us to any varmints that approach the guinea house or goose quarters. Lady has a fierce bark and terrified the Schwann man so completely that he vowed he was never coming back. He hasn’t to date. The UPS and Federal Express drivers bring treats and have figured out how to get in the gate without being assaulted.
As fearless as she is, Rosie has learned to never tangle with a deer. She barks and holds her ground, and if someone comes out to assist her and give her courage, she’ll give chase. Otherwise, the deer have the upper hand. Between their horns and hooves, they are formidable pugilists, standing on their hind legs and striking with their front feet. The other critter Rosie won’t tangle with (again) is a porcupine. When she was quite young, she and Lady went after a porky. Lady had the good sense to bark and raise a ruckus, but not to get close. Rosie lunged at it and drew back a face full of quills. The local vet loved getting that call at 8:00 p.m. on a Sunday evening.
The care and feeding of animals is an awesome responsibility. When you become the sole source for their nourishment, sustenance and protection, you make a commitment to see it through. And the rewards are astounding.
Fred and Ethel, our Chinese geese, came to us by a circuitous route. They were dumped on our pond by a neighbor, who rescued them from another neighbor who had moved away, leaving two ducks and the geese behind to fend for themselves. We discovered them on our daily walk past the pond, and began leaving a little corn for them. It was late summer, and they seemed to be doing alright, however I had reservations about their long-term survival. The ducks had puffy little crowns on their heads (I have not yet learned what specific category of duck they were) and they came to a sad end. First one, and then the other disappeared, leaving only a trace of feathers and speckles of blood on the ground. We could only speculate about the predator that caught up with them. Coyote? Fox? Bobcat? Racoon?
This left just Fred and Ethel to circle the pond and greet us for a daily ration of corn. Soon Mickey and Minnie the muskrats joined in the fun, and pushed past the geese for corn, creating quite a skirmish, but that is another story. After the loss of the ducks, I noticed in the evenings the geese left the pond and wandered into a nearby pasture where they settled in for the night. They seemed lost and forlorn in their search for a safe harbor, and I listened in the night for sounds of distress, certain they would meet the same fate as the ducks.
Fred and Ethel perservered. Autumn and then winter came. In November, a cold spell convinced us they were not doing well. The pond had frozen over, and the geese stopped eating their daily ration of corn. They sat on the ground, looking cold and entirely miserable. We researched the Internet and learned their breed are unable to tolerate extreme cold below 20 degrees F. There was only one thing to do. We caught them and hauled them home. The garden shed became temporary goose quarters, and with a heat lamp, they survived the winter.
In the spring we created a makeshift home for them in the calf warmer. They settled in nicely, and we walked them to and from the pond each day. Ethel tried to nest down below the pond, but we had to gather her and her eggs and bring them home. She was highly offended and refused to acknowledge her eggs. Her next attempt was close to home and she hatched one little gosling. It did not survive, and suffered severe lacerations about the head and neck which could only have come from Fred, the jealous father. And then she did something nuts. She hatched four babies this January in the coldest, most miserable weather. We were aware she was sitting on a nest, and we were reluctant to disturb her after all her previous travails. We just didn’t think she would be able to keep her eggs warm enough for any of them to be viable. Ethel fooled us, and the story of her babies has been well documented in previous blogs.
Yesterday, we moved Ethel’s four goslings from the house to the garden shed with a heat lamp. Maintaining housing for baby geese is a challenge. They initially out-grew the rabbit cage, and then the sheep tank, and finally had to be moved to larger quarters in the same shed where Fred and Ethel first established residence. We were able to pound metal posts into frozen ground to create an outdoor fenced area adjacent to the shed where they can wander around and get some exercise. We were satisfied that we met this next challenge of raising baby geese as well as could be expected. The next big question in our minds is how and when to incorporate them with Fred and Ethel. How do we transfer the “imprint” from Mother Goose to their real mother, and how can we be sure of Fred’s behavior when left to his own devices?
Lucy, Ricky, Esty and McGill send you their love on Valentines Day! They have had a big day so far, as it was warm enough for their second visit to the lawn outdoors. They had a bath in their wading pool and primped and groomed a bit for their photo shoot. The little goslings have grown ten-fold over their initial size as hatchlings, and will move later this week into new digs with a little more headroom. The wire covering the sheep tank is too low, and they can stick their heads up through the openings and survey their world, which has moved from the laundry room to the basement. Fortunately, our housecat Bleu hasn’t pounced on them just for fun. I cannot ascertain if Bleu is just bored with yet another cage of fuzzy critters in the house, or if he is slightly intimidated by them. We are grateful that so far, the animals have co-existed peacefully.
Tomorrow the goslings will be one month old. We are amazed at how they have grown compared to the baby guineas we have raised. And there is universal concern that they have imprinted on Mother Goose. When they hear my voice, they rush to the side of their pen and stick their heads up to greet me and nibble on my clothing. When we take them outdoors to the lawn, they have no interest in anything but clinging to me. If I step outside the fence, they frantically run up and down the fence and poke their heads through in an attempt to reach me. They ignore their food bowl, but will nibble on something from my hand. Now what? How will they learn to forage and fend for themselves away from the house? Will they try to follow me every time I step outside?Ethel had better have some ideas!!
The recent view from the living room window included a young buck deer who decided to join us for breakfast. A frequent visitor, he seemed not to notice he was getting his picture taken. We have an abundance of deer year ’round and until we completed a taller fence this past summer, they munched on the bushes, flowers, and trees in the yard. Forget geraniums, petunias, tulips, pansies and all the usual floral displays in your landscape. If it has a flower, they will eat it. If they don’t like the flavor of a particular flower or plant, they will jerk it from the ground and leave it lay!
The new fence took some getting used to. At first the deer managed to jump over the steel gates, which are a foot lower than the top rail of the fence. One very dark night as I went to lock up the geese and guineas, the backyard came to life with bouncing, leaping deer springing through the air in a panic trying to find their way out. After a couple whizzed past me too close for comfort, I retreated to the side of the house and waited until the yard was cleared of crazed ungulates crashing into the fence, bouncing back to the ground and crashing again.
We remedied the openings above the gates by stringing a fine wire and hanging CD’s from it to remind taller homo sapiens to duck as they go through. It didn’t work on my very tall brother, but that is another story. At any rate, he wasn’t seriously injured. But I digress. For now, after a few very bad experiences, the deer have elected to graze outside the fence or along the west side of the house along the creek bottom. And I became so confident in the new fence that I once again dared to plant tulips and a variety of bulbs last fall. I cannot wait for spring!
A mild, sunny day was the perfect opportunity for the four goslings, who were now three weeks old, to get a taste of the outside world. Lucy, Ricky, Esty and McGill took a ride in the laundry basket to a little plot of ground in the front yard, where the winter grasses still had a few traces of green. Rather than grabbing a bite and grazing a bit (something Fred and Ethel do routinely) they seemed more interested in following “Mother Goose” along the temporary fence that enclosed them. They whistled, chirped and peeped, racing back and forth as if trying to stay as close as possible. This drew the attention of Fred and Ethel, who were in the outer reaches of the yard. Then things got really exciting.
The baby geese seemed not to notice the squawks and honks of Mom and Dad, who by now were on the other side of the fence, racing up and down looking for an opening. Ethel flew at the fence trying to climb over, and the mayhem drew the attention of the guineas, who decided to join in. (A dozen guineas can create a cacophony that, if measured, would exceed the decibels of a jack hammer or jet engine). Then the dogs got in the act. Rosie was beside herself, trying to herd everybody in some direction, while the goslings, Fred and Ethel and the guineas all went back and forth and round and round in circles.
The whole scene was becoming unmanageable, so back into the laundry basket went the goslings. Their freedom ride from the six-foot sheep tank they call home (they outgrew the rabbit cage) had come to an end. Whether they enjoyed their brief visit to the outside world is hard to fathom. What was apparent was Ethel’s determination to join her babies. Later we observed her circling the yard again and again, trying to find a trace of the goslings. She called out in her low alto voice that reminds me of a cello, and we felt sad for her loss.
The neighbor’s herd of sheep were observed displaying some interesting color preferences recently as they napped on a sunny hillside. Not known for being individualistic, sheep tend to run in a flock and will follow like lemmings wherever the lead sheep decides to go. So what gives with this distinctly divided flock?
Having raised a fairly large number of “bum,” or orphan lambs as 4-H projects, I don’t recall seeing them in segregated corners in the shed we housed them in. We gathered them up in early spring from the neighboring ranches who wanted to find them a home. My little “flock” was usually comprised of a variety of breeds: Hampshires and Suffolk were sometimes all black, but mostly had black faces and feet; Columbia and Rambouillet were all-white.
The “bums” were always hungry and happy to see me, and would stampede for a pop bottle with a feeding nipple attached that they could suckle for warm milk. When the warm spring days brought a little green grass, we would travel en masse to the creek bottom to graze. A black border collie kept the lambs from straying from the flock and helped round them up to go back to the shed. It was a harmonious little family of sheep with no tribal divisions whatsoever. Now if only the world could follow their example!
The owls appear to have settled in for the season in the cottonwoods along the creek bottom. Our first sighting was early in January, and they have made their daily presence known since then. The walk today was accompanied by an owlish serenade, which was unusual for midday. We normally hear them singing before dawn and at dusk. And lo, both owls were sighted peering down on Rosie and me as we walked the trail.
Photographing owls is a tricky business, but we had some success with one shot. I worry they will find my telephoto lens threatening, as it stares right back at them.
After observing us these past weeks, it is our hope they are growing confident that we mean them no harm.