Monday, June 29, 2009

Breezy Hill Sheepdog Trial and Other Stuff

We spent the weekend at Roy and Debbie Johnson's Breezy Hill Farm in Gladys, VA, for the Virginia Border Collie Association (VBCA) Summer Trial. There was a really good turnout for the trial, and so both the novice field and the open field ran simultaneously. It made for some running around for those of us who were running dogs on both fields.

Actually I ran only Phoebe on the small field in the pro-novice class. Her first run (Saturday) was a little rough and we timed out as the sheep were going into the pen, but the good news is that Phoebe was being sensible and listening.

Pip ran first in the open ranch class. He had a nice gather, but was rather slow on his flanks. He still managed to make it around the course with a reasonably clean run to place third for the day. Lark had a terrible time. She was not listening to my whistles at all--uncharacteristically. It got so bad by the time we missed the cross drive panels that I decided to retire her rather than try to salvage a run gone really bad. We had missed the fetch panels (barely) and the cross drive panels, so it wasn't as if it was going to be a placing run anyway. I fussed at Lark and she promptly rolled over on her back with her feet in the air as if to convince any onlookers that I beat her on a regular basis.

Twist was my first dog to run in open. Roy decided to run sheep in groups of four at this trial and I think it made a big difference in the way they worked. The field still had the same pressures, and everyone had to contend with sheep who were really heavy to their right on the driveaway, drawing the dog way over to the right, only to require a fast, sweeping flank to the left to turn them for the cross drive before they bolted for the set out. I had been concerned about Twist because she's not as fit as she should be, and because the annual membership meeting was held in the middle of the day, we didn't run until around 3 p.m., even though we were 10th on the running order. It was sunny and hot, but there was a pretty steady breeze. Anyway, Twist went out and laid down and absolutely beautiful fun. We lost 3 points on the fetch for some bobbles just after the lift, and another 2 on our drive. The sheep were hesitant at the pen, but we got them in without too much trouble. Roy's sheep are notoriously hard to shed, but I thought it might be a bit easier with the fourth sheep, and we were to do a split. Unfortunately, my group had a sheep on either end who wanted to split off and then the two in the middle who clung to one another. Shedding is where Twist shines. I don't really have to say much to her; she'll just work the shed with me. Finally we had maneuvered the sheep to where we had a space less than a foot wide between the two clumping sheep. I knew I was taking a risk calling her in such a small hole, but Twist will come in like a bullet so I decided to chance it, figuring this may be the best I'd get as far as separating those two sheep was concerned. On command, Twist flew into that small space and took control of the two back sheep for a clean shed and a final score of 95, which ended up being the winning run of the day.

The photos below were taken before Twist's run by Barbara Shumannfang. Check out her Web site at I especially like this first photo where Twist is looking up (at me?).

Waiting to go onto the field.

Kat's open run wasn't too bad, but we had trouble penning. At one point, they were going in and I took my attention off Kat, who got up and flanked to the right, pushing the sheep back out of the mouth of the pen, and shortly thereafter we ran out of time and so never got a chance to shed and didn't get a placement.

Sunday morning it seemed like I did a lot of running between the two fields. Lark ran sixth in the ranch class, and Pip was scheduled to run last, with Kat running third in open. I ran Lark, but once again we had difficulties. The gather was fine, but on the drive away, I flanked Lark too soon, allowing the sheep to scoot to the inside of the drive panels and bolt high across the field in the direction of the exhaust. Lark was flying to catch them, but she also ran really wide, nearly to the set out, giving the sheep too much room and they made it past the cross drive panels, and the creek and all the way to the fence on on the right side of the field, where she finally caught them. Again, I retired her as any hope of placing was lost, and it didn't seem worth asking her to fight those sheep back over to the pen. It just wasn't Lark's weekend. She had a good time swimming in the pond after her run at least.

Once I finished exhausting the run after mine, I took Lark back to the van and got Phoebe, figuring if the pro-novice class had started I could squeeze her in and get back down to the big field for Pip's ranch run. Phoebe's sheep left the set out when she was between 10 and 11 o'clock on a left hand outrun. I stopped her (she actually took the stop) and flanked her hard back to the right to catch them and we had a pretty straight fetch. Once the sheep turned the post, they were heavy toward the exhaust, so I held Phoebe over to the left (she never even turned the post herself) and kept them on line through the drive panels. She held the pressure nicely back to the pen, and we penned with just one escape attempt by the sheep. The sheep on the novice field can be very sensitive to a fast, pushy dog, and that coupled with the increased pressures in a small field can make running in the two lower classes rather tricky, but Phoebe had her listening ears on, and her run was good enough for third place.

I gave her a moment in the tub and then went back to the van to trade her out for Pip. I got down to the big field to find that the run right before me was on the field. Then I got lucky, in a twisted sort of way, because one of the sheep in the run before me decided to go for a swim in the pond. That gave me just enough time to get a potty break for both me and Pip. Unfortunately for Pip, we had a group of sheep with one ewe who didn't want to stay with the others. She kept bolting off, making the entire run rather rough. When she bolted on the cross drive and the rest tried to follow her, Pip managed to catch them after they had crossed the creek behind the cross drive panel, but I could tell he was getting pissed and so I had to remind him that he wasn't allowed to take it out on the sheep. He got them back under control and we had a decent line to the pen, but that same ewe was a world of trouble at the pen as well. At one point she broke past me at a dead run with Pip in hot pursuit. Again I had to be quick to remind him not to vent his frustration by trying to pull her down. We timed out before ever penning (we might have eventually gotten them penned, but certainly not in a timely fashion), and despite Pip's clear frustration over some of what happened on the field, he still had some very nice work, so I wasn't too disappointed.

Since Kat was third up in open, I let Pip have a quick swim in the pond and then headed back to the van to get Kat out and let her walk some before her run. As I was coming from the van with Kat, a couple of people came over the hill and said "You're up!" Huh? There were two runs before me! Well, it turns out, the first run was Debbie's Abby, and as Debbie was still judging the novice field, she wasn't there to run. The second dog was given a re-run because of some problem I didn't see. So by the time I got down to the field, the set out crew was already bringing my sheep across the field. Nothing like rushing out with no time to think. But it turns out that maybe that was a good thing. Kat had a very nice run. We had a bit of trouble getting the sheep penned, but nothing serious, just a lot of wiggling and hesitation at the mouth of the pen, which cost us a point or two. Then on to the shedding ring. Kat is not a good shedding dog, and yet she's very fast, so we usually end up with a ton of time in the shedding ring to flounder around and try to get our shed. Her speed on the course can be handy, but it also tends to unsettle the sheep, and this can haunt us in the shedding ring. The time we have there often seems interminable, in fact. But lucky for us, the sheep were being pretty tolerant of her quickness. They split once, but I didn't have Kat in position to call her through. But shortly thereafter, they split again, and I called her and she came through very nicely. We lost a point I think because when she came through, she looked back at the sheep we were letting go before taking control of those I had called her in on. Still, in addition to the 3 points we lost on the pen and shed, we lost just a total of 4 more points, split between the fetch and the drive, for a total of 7 off and a score of 93. That score held for the rest of open to be the winning run.

Here are some older photos of Kat. This first one was taken when she and the rest of the pack were playing in the Cowpasture River at Don McCaig's farm. We were there trialing, but the river is so lovely that I always take the dogs for multiple swims on the weekends when we trialed there. The following photos are working shots taken here at the house.

My trialing curse (the one wherein I can't seem to do well with both open dogs on the same day at a trial) continued with Twist. The run started out very nicely, but once again on the cross drive the sheep took off and Twist was out of position to fix it. She caught them before they officially went off course, but they went up onto the dam, which left Twist no room to flank around them to get them back online (she will take flanks in the water, but had she gone in the pond they would certainly have gotten away from her). As it was, once they came off the dam, they skirted the pond, still not giving her a chance to flank around, until they broke for the exhaust in the barn. Twist was able to flank then, but the sheep were up a steep incline from her, so she could do little to influence them until she came around to their heads right as they got to the barn. Tommy Wilson, who had run before me, probably thought I was trying to run him over with the sheep. In fact, both times he exhausted on the open field, it seems the sheep had it out for him.... Anyway, at that point we were so far offline that I decided I couldn't really lose any more drive points, so I didn't try to get them back on the line from the cross drive panel to the pen but instead had Twist bring them straight from the barn to the pen. I knew our run was pretty much shot, but Twist had been trying hard, so I thought I'd give her the chance to complete the course. We had a clean pen and shed and ended up with a score of 80, which put us somewhere around 9th place.

Although there were some really awful parts to some of our runs (especially poor Lark's runs), there were also some very bright moments. Both Lark and Pip managed near-silent gathers on Sunday, even with sheep who were not at all inclined to stay on line on the fetch--they had to work to hold them on a straight line and they did it with practically no help from me. Pip kept his cool better with that difficult ewe than he would have in the past, and Phoebe was responsive and working as a team member instead of following her own agenda (which is usually along the lines of an out-of-control freight train). I was very pleased with both Twist and Kat this weekend, for obvious reasons.

Willow Medical Update

(Photo by Dan King)

Willow had a vet appointment last week to follow up on her prednisone treatment for the mast cell tumor. All looks good, and she finished the prednisone yesterday. She'll go back on furosemide for her heart in a week. Dr. Redding had several staff members listen to her heart because the murmur is so loud that it completely obscures the typical lub-dub heart sound. Even though she's got a bad murmur, her heartbeat is slow, which indicates that her heart isn't having to work overly hard to move blood. It would seem that the Enalapril is doing its job in that regard. Dr. Redding also checked both knees and said both joints appeared fairly stable, so we are leaving them along for now. We did prolo therapy on her one knee last year and he showed me how it had created a thickening in that joint compared to the untreated knee. We may eventually go ahead and do the prolo therapy in her other knee, but he thought it was okay to wait until I am in a better financial situation. Willow turned 12 in mid-June, but she's still going strong, and is still the Queen of the Household Dogs (though Jill often disputes that).

Finally, when Dan came by the week before last after picking up a camper from Joan, we all got together and worked dogs over the weekend. Here are some photos he took of Lark, as well as some other stuff around the farm.

One of the karakul ewe lambs.

Twist bringing the group up to hold them for another dog to practice outruns.

A chorus line of roosters perched on a stall divider. Can you spot the lone hen?

How much suffering should one Maremma have to endure? Actually Maia is fearful of electric shears, so this was the easiest way to trim her mats. She may have looked rather moth-eaten when I was finished, but I'm sure she felt better and it did help me find any ticks she had picked up on her (mis)adventure away from home. Of course I don't think Darci will be offering to teach me to groom any time soon after seeing this most excellent trim job!

And last but not least, JellyBean is the lord of all he surveys....

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Fox and the Mockingbird

That sounds like it could be the title from a fable by Aesop, and certainly some of those fables can take a pretty dark turn, so the stories I relate here now would fit right in.

During "the week that was" last week, a couple other sad events happened. You may remember me posting about the crazy mockingbird who built her nest in the butterfly bush just off the front porch. One morning last week I went out to check on the four little mockingbirds (still downy) and found the nest dangling and the chicks gone. It didn't take much imagination to figure out the who of that story. The next day, Jimmy made a comment about how I should keep an eye on JellyBean, who had apparently thrown up a few times. Well, you'd probably throw up too if you had just eaten four baby birds on top of all the regular food you're fed! Sigh. I was really hoping I could keep them protected from him, but it's not surprising that in the end I couldn't.

He looks pretty innocent and is a really sweet fellow. And a killer too.

(Photo by Dan King)

But that's not the end of the carnage here at Willow's Rest. Last Monday I was working on my job search and waiting till closer to the time for Pam to arrive to work her dog so I could go sort sheep. Suddenly the dogs started a barking frenzy in the front yard. They were facing the front corner and I assumed that the neighbor's labs must have wandered through since I didn't actually see anything. Shortly after that, I heard chickens squawking like they do if the dogs run over them while racing around the yard. A few minutes later it was time to go out and sort sheep. I needed to feed the rams, so I walked into the ram paddock and realized why the barking and why the squawking--a grey fox was in the corner of the paddock with a struggling Rhode Island Red hen. I yelled at the fox and ran toward it waving my arms. It looked at me for a second and then went through the fence. I turned to go see about the chicken, which was still alive, when the fox came back and grabbed the chicken again, trying to take it back through the fence with him (the hens don't easily fit through the field fence). I threw a stick at him, and once again he retreated, but I could see that he was watching me from the tall grass on the other side of the fence.

At that point I called Jimmy to see where he was, since it was just after 6 and he and Josh could conceivably have been back from work. I told him the situation and his first response was "Stay away--a fox shouldn't be out in the daylight." I told him that I didn't think the fox was rabid--it probably just had young and was bound and determined to get that hen and take it back home. His next response was, "Shoot it." Okay. I'm a good shot, but I've never hunted, and even I am not foolish enough to think that being a good shot when aiming at a paper target in any way equates with shooting at a living, moving target. Besides, I have this weird dichotomy that goes on in my mind when a predator takes one of my critters: part of me is of course outraged at the death of one of mine (in this case, it's always one of the chickens) but another part of me can't help but think that the predator is just doing what predators do and if I, the human, have my animals out where they might be easy pickings, then can I really blame the predator for doing what comes naturally? And it's that very thought that makes me squeamish about doing something like shooting the fox. Jimmy has no such qualms. Since he was at Josh's place just a few minutes away, he came on home and staked out the dead chicken waiting for the fox to come back for it, and sure enough the fox did just that. Jimmy had warning of his return to the corner fence--the purple martins started circling the fox and setting up a fuss. Did two deaths that day really solve anything? Well, it made me feel really bad for both the hen and the fox, but at the same time, I don't want to keep losing hens, especially not in the near broad daylight. But I also wonder about that fox's mate, whom I heard barking (calling to him?) right before he made the mistake of trying to come back through the fence for the hen. Did they have kits? If so, how is she managing to feed them? Did the one death doom them all to death as well?

If there's a downside to rural living, I think this is it. I raise animals and I feel that it's my duty to protect them in the best way I can. I just hate that protecting them sometimes means a really bad end for some other animal--who is just trying to survive. Oh, and Jimmy did point out where he keeps the shotgun, because really any fool ought to be able to hit something with shot at close range. The question is: Would I really be able to do it?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Odds and Ends (More Odd Than End)

Last week was the week that was. Actually the past couple of weeks have been pretty busy, but last week takes the cake for mishaps and accidents and the like. So let me fill you in.

Hair Sheep?
Whenever hair sheep producers tout their chosen breed, they mention good feet, easy keepers, parasite resistance, and the fact that hair sheep shed out in the spring, so there's no need to deal with finding a shearer, who are becoming as scarce as hen's teeth anyway. Sounds good, doesn't it? What they don't tell you is that many hair sheep don't shed completely, and some don't shed at all. I'll say this for Crazy Red, the katahdin x St. Croix I got from Darci: Apparently the crazy gene brought along shedding genetics with it, so CR actually did shed out this spring. The others did not. So one day the week before last I grabbed the Shearmasters, a handy dog, and my fitting stand and went to work. The young wether didn't require much as I had already stood out in the pasture one day when I was supposed to be working a dog and plucked a goodly amount of his hair off. It clung to his sides and hind legs, though, so I did have to shear that much. Anyway, I took some photos for a pictorial essay on a border collie forum I'm on, so I'll share the before and after shots of one of the ewes here.

Yes, this is a hair sheep!

And here she is nicely shorn.

The Week from, Well, You Know
So last week was a bad week in many ways. And I don't even count the fact that lately it seems we're living in something akin to the Pacific Northwest, with near constant rain. That drought from two years ago? Gone. Long gone. Even this spring the weather forecasters were mentioning how many inches we were still behind, but not any longer. It seems we've had the wettest June in some time, and we're now ahead of normal rainfall by more than 3 inches. So enough already. (Even so, Greensboro is asking its residents to conserve water because the reservoirs are overflowing and the city will actually have to release water back into the streams and rivers. Huh? This is a bad thing?)

But the rain hasn't just been any old rain. No steady, life-giving drizzle or gentle spring showers. No, it's been coming down in the form of deluges and thunderstorms, and bad ones. Rainfall over a matter of hours measured in inches. Rain gauges overflowing before one can venture out to empty them. Tuesday of last week is a good example. Thunder rumbled, the heavens opened, and hail the size of marbles rained down. Creeks were overflowing and many areas were facing problems with flooding. But the really bad part for me was that Maia disappeared sometime between when I fed her Tuesday evening (before the storms) and when I went out to feed Wednesday morning. My fencing is pretty darn dog proof, or so I thought, but Maia sure did find a way out. Maia getting out is problematic because she's not exactly people friendly.

I'll spare you the details except to note that Laura and Kelly, troopers that they are, spent several hours combing the surrounding woods and fields with me, hoping to scare her up or find some sign of her, to no avail.

Then early this Tuesday morning the phone rang. It was my neighbor Marjorie (the alpaca farm) calling to say that Charles had seen a Pyrenees looking dog out at Red Cross on his way to work. I leapt out of bed (ugh, not feeling great, but more about that later) and hopped in the van and headed toward Red Cross. About a mile up the road was Maia, walking along the verge and headed in the direction of home. Okay, I'll admit now that I was not a Boy Scout in some former life. I rolled out of bed and went to get my dog, but I was unprepared. I know Maia won't get in the van, so why did I stop in the middle of the highway and put a slip leash on her and try to get her in? I knew it wasn't going to happen. So here I have my wayward (and difficult-to-catch, thanks to a semi-feral period before I got her) maremma on a slip leash, which she's threatening to chew through if I keep trying to get her in the van. I realize at that moment that I am going to just have to walk her home on a leash. But my van is parked in the middle of the road and I can't just leave it there. Fortunately there was an access driveway to a hayfield right near where I was, so I walked Maia up the road and tied her to a tree. Then I went to back the van into the drive. As soon as I backed in I realized that Maia had chewed through the leash and was heading across the hayfield to the woods. Gah!

I put my brain in gear and decided to go back home and let the dogs out so I could come back and stay a while if need be, get some food for Maia as she likely hadn't eaten in the week she'd been gone, and to change out of my pajamas and into some real clothes. All that done, I headed back down the road and there was Maia pretty much in the same spot. When she saw the van, she headed into the hayfield again. I got out and although she wanted the feed, it was clear she didn't want to come to me as she knew I was going to catch her. So we started a slow walk across the hayfield. She finally realized I was going to persist and sat down facing away from me and allowed herself to be caught. Once I had the (new) slip leash over her head, I gave her some breakfast and then proceeded to lead her the mile back home. I put her on a cable tie out where I had tied her when she first came to me, got Pip, and walked the mile back to the van. It was thundering while I was walking and I kept thinking, "Please don't let her panic again and pull out of her collar and take off." Someone was watching over me: Pip and I made it to the van and ensconced ourselves safely inside before the deluge that seems to have become part of daily living here.

Once back home, I set Maia up with a new Dogloo with a tunnel entrance, thinking she might feel more secure if she could scrinch back into the back and well out of the weather. Maia's not talking, so I don't know where she was or what she was doing for the week she was gone.

Oh, Farleigh
In the meantime, there was yet another thunderstorm Wednesday night, so of course in addition to have lost my livestock guardian dog, I have to deal with several very thunderphobic border collies. My first mistake? Yelling at Farleigh for jumping on the couch when I was trying to replace the throw that one of the other dogs had dug off (why do they start digging at bedding and stuff during a storm?). So Farleigh hid in a crate as he usually does during a storm. I stayed up late waiting for the storm to pass and gave it another good hour before throwing the dogs out to go potty before bed. Farleigh didn't come out of his crate. I'm sure you know where this is headed. For those of you who don't know, Farleigh is fear aggressive. Never, ever try to grab his collar when he's afraid of something. It's a good way to get bitten. But Farleigh and I have come to an understanding. I can usually take a slip leash (or leash looped back through its handle) and carefully reach in and toss it over his head and he'll come out. In fact, sometimes all I have to do is step in front of his crate with such a leash and he'll come on out. Because I know him well, I think in the nine years I've had him he's put his teeth on me maybe three times and he's always managed to exhibit bite inhibition too. Until that night. I reached in with my slip leash and before I new it, he had grabbed my hand and clamped down. And he wasn't planning to let go. I knew it would do no good to try and pull away. It hurt bad enough having his teeth sunk into my hand without pulling on it too. So I squatted in front of the crate and thought about what to do. Whatever I did had to succeed in making him let go while not letting him grab again. Finally, I called to Jimmy in the other room. At this point I was thiking that he might have to go get a stick and pry Farleigh's mouth off my hand. Jimmy walked in and I told him to move slowly as I didn't want Farleigh to react by biting down even harder. Once Jimmy bent over to look in the crate, Farleigh glanced up and him and in the process let go of my hand. Blood was pouring. Sigh. I scrubbed my hand as well as I could, put the only antibiotic I had handy--silver sulfadiazine--on it, bandaged it, and finished all my nighttime stuff and went to bed. And didn't sleep because of the pain. I knew I'd be visiting urgent care in the morning, but no way was I going to make an emergency room visit that night--not in my currently uninsured state, thanks to my recent unemployment.

Long story short--the doctor flushed out the worst punctures on the top of my hand (talk about painful!), gave me a tetanus shot, and sent me off with prescriptions for two antibiotics and a recommendation for probiotics. I asked him to try to stick to the $4 meds at WalMart as money is tight. He even cut me a break on the office visit, dear man, and told me that if I wasn't better in two days I would have to go to the hospital, but since he would be on duty Saturday, I could go back to the urgent care and they'd call him and he would admit me directly to the hospital, thereby avoiding the emergency room and its associated fees. Nice guy. At WalMart, it turns out that the Clindamycin cost $82 (!) for a week's worth (14 pills). No wonder medical insurance is insane. The girl behind the counter told me I could opt out of that particular prescription. Yeah, right--I have puncture wounds in my hand and I'm trying to avoid hospitalization and IV antibiotics, so I think I'll cough up the money and take the antibiotic that will work on anaerobic bacteria.

I'll spare you the details of my recovery. Suffice to say my stomach has never burned so badly while on medication, and I spent the week being overly tired, but by Monday the swelling had started to go down, and today my hand looks pretty normal. I can also make a fist today, at last, but some of the dexterity is still lacking. I guess Farleigh managed to bruise things up pretty good while he was at it.

As for Farleigh, he's been sucking up to me ever since. I can't really blame him, though the first thought that always goes through one's mind is that "this is it; this is the last time." But no, I recognize that I was careless and did the very thing that I knew could set him off. Although he's never drawn blood before, my yelling at him earlier had just increased his arousal and anxiety and so getting bit was at least as much my fault as his. We've managed to co-exist mostly peacefully for the past nine years, so I guess I'll just be extra careful in the future.

And it's getting late, so the fox and mockingbird stories will have to wait till tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Real Work?

I'm a member of a discussion forum that has a section devoted to photos of border collies. One thread in that section is themed "real working dogs" and is meant to include dogs working livestock (vs. all the other things that people like to call work, like agility and other dog sports). So folks have been posting all sorts of photos of dogs working stock. And then someone comes along and posts that she'd really rather see dogs doing "real work" because clearly nearly all the photos up to that point were somehow not real work. In this person's mind, real work requires dirt and dust or could just be a photo of a dog holding sheep off a neighbor's veggie garden (one of the photos this poster annointed as being real work).

So in the evenings, I have been letting GlenGrant, the BFL ram, and the tunis ewes he's supposed to be breeding out in the yard to graze the abundant grass there. Because there's a bank of azalea bushes along the front porch and azaleas aren't good for sheep to eat, I have to sit vigil out there and run the sheep off when they come by and start nibbling. Actually, the sheep won't run from me, so I have to have a dog to do the job. It goes like this: I take the book I'm currently reading and park myself in a chair on the porch (or perhaps on the porch steps if the setting sun isn't too awful). Pip sits or lies next to me and snaps at the occasional fly buzzing around. If we see sheep heading into the garage (why they feel the need to check the boat or junk in there is beyond me) or toward the azaleas or other flowerbeds, I ask Pip to walk out there and move them away. I guess I should get my housemate to take a photo of us sitting on the porch, no sheep actually in sight. Because sure that picture of real work is much better than one of dogs, say, moving sheep or cattle around a trial field or training on the home pasture, don't ya think?

If I did post such a picture, it might look something like this (but with greener grass):

But really what we do is spend most of our time sitting on the porch waiting for the sheep to do something wrong, with only the occasional foray out into the yard to turn sheep back. That's my kind of work!

And speaking of sheep in the yard, if I don't see them for a while, I'll get up to go see where they are. The other night, JellyBean followed me around the corner of the house to see what there was to see. The sheep were grazing over by the chick pens, so I went back to my seat on the steps and my book. Next thing I know I see JellyBean coming around the corner, trying to be nonchalant, but hurrying all the same, followed by a steady sound of hoofbeats. Yep, GlenGrant thought turnabout was fair play and if JellyBean wanted to check him out, then why not go see what that small striped critter was all about. The small striped critter wisely parked himself safely under the van, and Pip got to do some real work by sending GlenGrant back out into the yard where he belonged.

Bird Brain?

I always thought mockingbirds were pretty smart. That is until the other day when Robin was here and I happened to notice a big nest in the top of a butterfly bush right off the front porch in a high-traffic area. The nest contained one blue egg speckled with brown. I commented to Robin something along the lines of "What idiot bird would put a nest there?!?" I got my answer the next morning when I saw JellyBean calmly sitting by the rock wall there seemingly doing his Zen thing while keeping a weather eye on the butterfly bush. There sitting on the nest was a mockingbird. Ove four days she laid four eggs. She's quick to fly off the nest if anyone passes by, which happens quite a lot because this is right next to the porch steps. Someone else said to me that as soon as she has chicks she'll be dive bombing cat, dogs, and humans. There's only one problem with that. Her nest is maybe two and a half feet of the ground. The only thing she might really successfully dive bomb is the cat, and she won't get much speed from that height, which gives JellyBean plenty of opportunity to take a swipe at her. I'm trying to figure out a way to build a cage around the bush to give her at least minimal protection. What I'd like to do is ask her "What were you thinking????"

Reading Corner

Recently I have read In Hovering Flight, by Joyce Hinnefeld; The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch and Say You're One of Them, a collection of short stories by Nigerian Uwem Akpan. Currently I am working on The Family that Couldn't Sleep, by Daniel T. Max. Here's a description of In Hovering Flight from the author: "[The book is] the story of the struggles and triumphs of bird artist and activist Addie Sturmer Kavanagh, ornithologist and musician Tom Kavanagh, and their daughter, poet Scarlet Kavanagh. It’s a novel about mothers, daughters, and art; about illness, death, and burial; about fragile eco-systems and tenacious human relationships—all explored through characters who are inspired by the lives, and particularly the songs, of birds." As a former rabid birder, who still enjoys birds but without so much drive to chase them down, binoculars and spotting scope in hand, I quite enjoyed this book.

Akpan, who is a Jesuit priest, tells stories of poverty and violence in Africa--vivid and real, and you just know as you read them that he has likely seen and experienced these very things. Many of us know intellectually about the hardships faced by those living in extreme poverty in Africa, but Akpan's stories make it real.

Max's book is especially interesting for the science-minded (others may find it a bit too heavy, though I think he does a really good job of putting the science in digestible terms) and anyone interested in prion diseases (including those of us who raise sheep). The basis of the book is a noble Venetian family that has lost a large number of members over two centuries to a disease no one could understand--one characterized by insomnia that eventually kills, but only after causing great suffering of the affected individual. To tell their story, Max takes us through the stories of all prion diseases, including scrapie, BSE (mad cow), Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, kuru, and others, including the disease of the Venetian family, fatal familial insomnia (FFI). He does an excellent job of relating the story of the disparate and seemingly unrelated diseases occurring in various species and in far flung areas of the world, the research leading up to the discovery of prions, the politics that drove decision-making on the epidemiological front, the eventual connecting of the dots between those diseases, and the researchers who contributed. I haven't finished the book yet, but it has been quite a spellbinding read so far.