Monday, December 31, 2007

Snowy Sunrise

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

White Christmas

We rarely get snow on Christmas day here in the Pacific NW. Our Australian visitor was thrilled when the white stuff started falling. The rest of us were thrilled when it looked like it wouldn't stick. I discovered on my drive home that my area had more snow, and it had decided to stick around.

My animals are less than thrilled the day after Christmas, when their world is white, wet and cold, and food is under 4" of snow.

The chickens, reconsidering the whole "free range" concept.

Muscovy, trying to keep her feet warm.

Charlie, playing in the snow. The dogs are thrilled. Millie is loose in the lower pasture, thoroughly enjoying this white world.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Drying Out

Several of the chickens take advantage of a rainless spell to dry out.

The turkey hen dries out on the picnic table, while looking in the window to see what's keeping breakfast.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Boston Dogs At Work

Babe stands at full alert, protecting her acre of woods in Boston, with Hannah watching carefully in the background. No one gets in their fence unnoticed!

And when some critter manages to sneak through, Zoron and Babe avidly chase it down. "If I can just move this log..."

These lovely Anatolian Shepherd Dogs protect their woods, house, and Audrey Chalfen (Shahman's Tales of Anatolian Shepherds : A Turkish Dog). Will there be puppies in Babe's future?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Happy Millie

With three major wind and rain storms in a row, Millie has been unhappy living in her kennel. I couldn't bring her in the house during the storms because I already have two alpha bitches in there, along with the other 4 dogs, and just can't upset that balance.

I've rigged a tarp inside the kennel that is keeping most of the rain off, but Millie's sleeping crate was filling with water, and she kept pulling out anything I put in. She didn't have a safe place to go.

I decided something had to be done. I put an old wool sweater in the low back end of the crate in case water gets in, a door mat on top of that, and a small rug over the mat (more comfortable, you know). Then I took an old raincoat and draped it over the back, to keep wind and rain out of the air holes.

Finally, something Millie likes. No, something she loves. She went in and didn't want to come out again. In this picture I've just come in to take her for her morning walk down to the very fun critter area while I feed. Usually she's jumping on the kennel door to get out. Today she deigned to stick her head out. "What? I'm busy!"

Even after I talked her into coming out and got the leash on her, she was trying to go back in. You can see layered look and her comfy carpet.

The dog bed just outside is one that had been inside the crate, and she pulled it out. The previous dog bed she pulled out and destroyed. And the dog blanket. But the carpet she seems to like. Cosy home. Happy Millie.

Destruction From Above

I'm sure everyone has heard of the devastation in Washington and Oregon states from rain and winds. I-5 is closed for 20 miles. Ten feet of water on the freeway. Coastal communities were blasted with hurricane force winds, and many are without power and, ironically, drinking water is in short supply.

I live right in the midst of the closed freeway area. Fortunately I live on a ridge high and, well, not dry, but not flooded. Also fortunately I was working at home Monday (I work in Olympia, on the other side of the closure), so I'm stuck here but that's OK with me. It seems Lewis and Grays Harbor (and probably more) counties are closed - can't get in or out for a while. We had terribly strong winds and lots and lots of rain, but my power is on so I'm happy. Meanwhile people in the western part of the county are being evacuated by boat and helicopter. People are being plucked from housetops. We don't usually get this extreme weather.

My sister lives by the coast near Montesano, and is without power. Lots of downed trees. They expect to take up to 8 days for power to come back on. Yikes! The main city of the county - Aberdeen - was isolated for a day. No roads open in or out, and I believe no one had power.

I haven't been off my property since Sunday, but I understand it's a real mess out there. They expect the freeway to be closed until Friday. Sure glad I have what I need to work from home.

My sister and I were going to pick up her son and his wife on Thursday - they are arriving from China. Now it looks like neither of us can make it. Fortunately a good friend in Seattle will do the airport run, and my other nephew in Seattle can put them up.

Life is interesting in the winter.

And I have an extra bag of dog food, and raw bones in the freezer. Lots of food supplies, and lots of water stored (I have a well with a pump! - no power, no water). Something EVERYONE should have - you just never know. I still need more work on my emergency plan, but I'm sure glad I've done what I have. I don't need to leave home until the devastation is repaired some. I'm definitely one of the lucky ones.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Duck in the Headlights

When Berna chased the bantams, the Muscovies were with them. The ducks flew off as Berna ran down the hill. When I finally left for work, I noticed a duck across the county road from my lane. A very shell-shocked duck, looking just like a deer caught in the headlights at night. I pulled into the closest driveway and walked back up to her, talking softly and encouraging her to cross the road and head up to our lane. She did seem to know who I was, and slowly - very slowly - headed in the right direction. Once I got her on the gravel lane she took off flying about 2 feet above the road. Assuming she could find her way from there, I went on to work.

The next morning I realized that only 2 Muscovies were lined up for food. The third must of flown out of her known territory fleeing Berna. Sadly I counted her as gone. The other two wandered around aimlessly for 2 days, obviously missing their friend.

This morning as I was feeding the sheep I heard the susurration of happy ducks. I turned to see three Muscovies doing their greeting dance. They then Egyptian line danced to the next kiddie pool, formed a new circle, and chattered some more. Tails flaired, crests up, and heads moving back and forth they made a happy trio. I'm so glad to have them all home.

Berna in the morning

Berna is my house guardian. She has this job because her prey drive is too strong for guarding poultry. Ursa, who spent the summer as an outside dog, has decided that 13-year-old bones do better in the warm, dry house. She still needs to patrol the front yard and upper bird pasture regularly, however.

I was headed out to do the morning feeding, and Ursa wanted to come along. Unfortunately she takes much longer to get up and moving than Berna. Bear took one look at the open front door and went from flat on her side snoozing to loping down the stairs in about half a second. First she chased all the bantams back into what was once a dog yard, and then dashed down the hill to see who else was chaseable.

For the next 10 minutes she ran after chickens and I ran after her. Then she ran down a rooster, grabbed him by the wing right at the shoulder, and took off. She pranced all around the woods, the buildings, up and down the hill, holding a bird bigger than her head. Finally her hearing returned, and she heard me suggesting we go back in the house. She looked at me - dazed bird in mouth - suspecting a trap, but thought her house was the perfect place to further examine this full-grown rooster prize. She trotted up the stairs and waited for me at the door.

I grabbed her collar, gave the "drop it" command, and with a little prompting she released the rooster. He took that opportunity to disappear, and appeared to be uninjured. Berna got lots of praise and some really good treats in trade. I got 20 minutes of serious aerobic exercise.

While the "come" command obviously needs a lot of work, I was pleased that "inside" and "drop it" were both (eventually) recognized and obeyed. I am also pleased that Berna, while loving the chase, doesn't seem inclined to actually hurt the birds she runs down. But I don't think she's in danger of a job description change any time soon.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tree Shadow

This sunrise was so interesting, because it looks like the tree is casting a shadow on the sky. Lovely mornings seem to follow stormy ones. 

Wind, Wind and More Wind

I woke at 5:30 to the sound of wind and metal. Hmm, metal bending isn't a good sound. The predicted storm arrived a bit early down my way, and had done its damage while the radio was still predicting "worst winds at 10." It's still blowing, but not as hard as this morning. The only thing on my hill with a roof is my house.

The left shelter is where my bantams and geese spend the night. The carport was Charlie's favorite shelter, and the poultry all hung out there on rainy days.

Poor Millie was inside this kennel when the roof came down. She was very happy to see me and go for a walk. Agile girl thankfully wasn't hurt, but she was eager to be gone. She's now in the smaller kennel by my bird building. That area is somewhat protected and is so far undamaged.

This quonset sheltered Jesse's day crate and the cusions he and Ursa love to use during the day. Note Charlie still on guard in spite of wind and rain.

Jesse doesn't care that the shelter's gone. It's his place and he's using it. He must realize it's raining, but you couldn't tell from his attitude.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Visiting Ducks

The Muscovies have discovered the upper pasture and house. They now come up each morning, test all the water, eat bugs and slugs, then fly on the roof so they can soar back down to the bird area. They also particularly like this stump.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Autumn Lace

In the fall spiders seem to appear out of nowhere, creating beautiful webs in unexpected places. Overnight frost outlines every strand, highlighting the exquisite patterns of the webs, and all the transport strands. My world is covered with sticky, strong silken strands of glistening spider string. The spiders are nowhere to be seen, presumably hiding in a warm corner, waiting for the sun to clear the frost and wake the bugs.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Millie Learns the Ropes

Millie has spent her first month here just getting used to the sights, sounds and smells, and realizing that she is here permanently. She has become less concerned about the other dogs, and is feeling much more secure.

Millie is in a temporary pen overlooking the pond. It's much more open than the kennel she's living in. Charlie oversees. The ram-who-thinks-he's-a-dog is pleased to have a dog to hang with.

Millie spotted or heard something of interest in the woods.

When her barks changed intensity, Charlie went to check out the situation. Given time, I think these two will work well together. Millie needs to learn more about not chasing roosters and hens first, however. She's learning self-restraint, but is still too excited by the new smells, sounds and movements of the poultry areas.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Even Brown Dogs Get Muddy

Berna, 2 yrs old, lays down next to Ursa, 13 yrs old. Ursa has finally decided to come in out of the rain and mud, and Berna is ensuring she can rest and dry unmolested by the rowdy herder dogs.

Real Dogs Aren't White

I was recently accused of having white dogs. You know, dogs that are clean, well groomed, pristine. Just so no one thinks that working dogs don't get dirty, here's Charlie after a rainstorm.

"Hi, I'm Charlie. I like to dig for moles."

Jesse thinks Charlie has been given food better than his. He is growling to tell Charlie to move on. Charlie is a Great Pyrenees weighing 120 lbs. Jesse is a Samoyed with bad knees, topping the scales at 60 lbs. Charlie protects the world for a living. Jesse's job is to be my best friend.

Charlie, just as clean on the back side as the front, walks away from Jesse's challenge. Part of being a Pyr is to know you don't fight family members.

That doesn't, however, mean you have to be happy about it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

First Storm

The wind was rattling the windows as I woke, trying to get in. The radio said winds 20-30 mph with gusts 40-60 mph were expected. As I stood facing the wind I thought, “What does it mean to blow at 30 mph?” I spent the morning filling every receptacle I could find with water, changing all the animal waters, and fastening down anything that might blow away. The wind increased steadily.

I got to Tumwater (50 miles north) about 10 minutes before the wind. It pulled at my hair and snuck into my coat as I walked from the parking garage to work. When I went out at 3:00 for an appointment the wind was at full roar. I was driving at 30 mph when I was passed by an orange leaf. That made “30 mile an hour wind” mean something real to me. The wind was going faster than I was as we both raced north.

Leaves of all colors and sizes galloped down the street, racing and tripping one another at the corners. A few seagulls hung in the wind, trying to move forward, losing ground. More were nestled into the grass in the park - gone to ground. When a man and dog walked through the park the seagulls moved to the edges, looking like a white and gray highlight strip on the green square. The dog was obviously not as scary as the wind.

Power was out in parts of town, and in some rural valleys where trees fell on the power lines. I drove home surrounded by the usual spots of light, and felt warmly greeted by my brightly lit aviary. First storm, no damage. Power on. It wasn’t even raining when I took Millie for her nightly walk.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Autumn Beauty

Some days I wish I had a wide angle lens. This double rainbow reached across the sky in a graceful arc. The breathtaking end of a blustery day.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Wind Season

Charlie, nose into the wind, watching over the lower field. The ravens have been hanging in the wind all morning, and need to be watched.

What do you do if it's very windy and you are very small? Hide in tall grass, of course. I couldn't find my flock of Seabrights or my hen turkey until I went into their field and noticed some things that weren't green.

Brave Millie

As I got out of the shower this morning two sounds grabbed my attention: the wind trying to overturn the house, and Millie's constant "something's wrong" barking. I quickly dressed and went outside. One of the kennel roof panels had fallen into Millie's kennel, and she was barking and snarling at it. She was very glad to see me.

I leashed her up and we walked around the property for awhile. She's doing much better on the leash, and is no longer acting aggressively towards the other dogs. She even initiated some friendship sniffs to Charlie. Once she'd calmed down I tied her to a post and went to work getting the roof back in place. I put in a crate in case she wanted a den for a bit more protection. When I filled up her food dish she got excited and went happily back in with me. She ran in and out of her den a few times, then settled in to eating her breakfast.

I thought she would not want to go back into the kennel, but as long as the panel wasn't directly attacking her she didn't seem to care. The scraps on the ground are the remains of her comfy pillow. I wonder how long the new one in her crate will last.

Saturday, October 06, 2007


Welcome Millie, a 2-year old Pyr from a shelter in Oregon. With her is Ilene, who was generous enough to drive to Oregon to pick Millie up, and meet me for the handoff in southern Washington. As you can see from the sunshine, this was one of the last summer days of the year.

Millie was spayed and had her dewclaws removed (!), then placed into a new family. She didn't work out there and went straight back to the shelter. We are both glad that my needs and hers coincided, and she now resides with me.

Rescue dogs are a reminder of how uneducated people are about dogs. No one taught Millie to walk on a leash, not jump up, and not mouth. She still has all her puppy behaviors - which should have been corrected when she was 3 months old. Now, at 80 lbs, it's much more difficult to teach her not to pull on a leash, and much more inconvenient when she jumps up!

Besides learning basic manners, Millie is living next to geese, turkeys and chickens, so she can learn their behaviors and hopefully figure out that these are her critters to care for. She can watch Charlie do his patrols, and the way he interacts with the animals. She can see the sheep, and get used to them. Once she's comfortable with the leash we'll walk amongst the chickens, sheep and goats, and click for good behavior.

We have a lot of work in front of us, but she's a smart, sweet girl and I'm sure it will all be worthwhile. For both of us.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Fish Saga

Two weeks after I released two dozen small goldfish into my pond, I noticed white spots of Ick (a fish parasite) on several of them. My fish expert friends assured me there was nothing I could do for them in a "wild" pond. Some ponds just aren't meant for fish.

I was so depressed by this news I didn't visit the pond and fish for a week. I didn't want to watch my fish dying. On Monday I steeled myself and followed Charlie to the pond.

Where I immediately saw a cluster of bright red-gold amid the cattails.

At least 10 fish survive, all plump, all noticeably larger than when released. None of them have Ick. They are healthily wary, keeping to the safety of the plants, keeping a distance between critters on the shore and themselves. They sink when birds fly overhead.

Perhaps my pond is a good place for fish. Now to get some waterlilies...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Peafowl Puzzle

Monday night a half-grown peahen committed suicide by flying head-first into a window. She must have been frightened by an owl, raccoon, or other predator - she'd been sleeping outside the Charlie-protected perimeter in a tall fir. My neighbors found and buried her Tuesday morning. Her mother was pacing in front of the house crying. This is very sad, we were looking forward to having another hen.

Tuesday afternoon they saw a hen and half-grown chick walking through the tall grass.

We only have 2 hens. One has one half-grown hen chick, the other has 3 younger chicks.

I saw Mom and Chick this morning. I saw them tonight, in their usual nesting place, along with her daughter who has 3 chicks. Another hen must have moved in with her baby. I didn't see her tonight, I hope she's still here.

I haven't seen or heard any peafowl except my own all summer. Where could she have come from, with a young chick? Puzzling Peacocks.

Alex in the NY Times

Even up through last week, Alex was working with Dr. Pepperberg on compound words and hard-to-pronounce words. As she put him into his cage for the night last Thursday, she recalled, Alex looked at her and said: "You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you."

He was found dead in his cage the next morning, Dr. Pepperberg said.

NYTimes story]

Monday, September 10, 2007

In Memory of Alex

Alex the African Grey died September 6 at the age of 31.

Quoting from the Alex Foundation website: "Dr. Pepperberg’s pioneering research resulted in Alex learning elements of English speech to identify 50 different objects, 7 colors, 5 shapes, quantities up to and including 6 and a zero-like concept. He used phrases such as “I want X” and “Wanna go Y”, where X and Y were appropriate object and location labels. He acquired concepts of categories, bigger and smaller, same-different, and absence. Alex combined his labels to identify, request, refuse, and categorize more than 100 different items demonstrating a level and scope of cognitive abilities never expected in an avian species. Pepperberg says that Alex showed the emotional equivalent of a 2 year-old child and intellectual equivalent of a 5 year-old. Her research with Alex shattered the generally held notion that parrots are only capable of mindless vocal mimicry."

Alex was also learning to read.

For parrot enthusiasts, Alex was rather a hero - the symbol of parrot intelligence that we all understand but that the scientific community scoffs at. Dr. Pepperberg has continued her work for 30 years in spite of lack of peer support and funding problems. She has two young Greys she's still working with, who will hopefully step into the very large footprints left by Alex.

We can help. Go to and make a donation. There is also a tape you can buy on how to train your bird to communicate "the Alex Way", three publications by Dr. Pepperberg, and many other items. Check it out.

Dr. Pepperberg has supported the Avian community in many ways. It's time for us all to return the favor and support her research and her projects.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

More Lovely Seniors

One of my favorite email lists is LGD-L (Livestock Guardian Dog List), hosted by Listserv. It started years ago with a small group of LGD owners, including the owners of these two Caucasian Ovtcharkas. I feel we "grew up" in LGDs together - along with the owners of Ursa's family members featured earlier.

Mishka is the beloved companion of Cissy Stamm, living in New York state. She has recently retired from being Cissy's service dog in NY City. Mishka is a beautiful 11 years young. She went through several homes before she found Cissy, and her perfect place in the universe. Mishka turns 12 September 6.

Nushi also lives in New York state. Originally imported from Budapest as part of a breeding program, her Hungarian birth name was Feleghazi Hetordog Aida (Hetordog means "seven devils"), and the breeder's call name for her was Garra (Claw in Portuguese). At 4.5 months Nushi had other ideas, and instead found her way to Pamela and Joel Rose where she has been their joy and delight for 11 years. She diligently protects her home and family, including the cats.

And, since this is my blog, here's another picture of Ursa, taken a couple months ago. The huge tumor on her jaw is now getting smaller - since I've been putting raw honey on it. Very odd, but very wonderful if it continues. Ursa wasn't a rescue but was rehomed to me at the age of 5. It took her some time to adjust to country life (she grew up in Boston), but she now loves it, and spends most of her time outside helping Charlie protect their world. My life has been richer since Ursa has been in it.

Monday, September 03, 2007

All in a day's work...

On days that I'm home I like to let the sheep, goats and donkey out to do road work; that is, to eat down the excess vegetation on the sides of the lane. They tend to agree that this is a good job for them, and are happy to oblige.

It's late afternoon, and the goats and some of the sheep think it's time to come back inside. Charlie - perhaps the only one who truly dislikes the flock going to work - greets them at the gate.

There's always a treat when the flock gets back into the field - I want them to be eager to go both directions - and intrepid hens claim flock membership.

It's difficult to get a picture of a donkey that isn't either all nose or from a great distance. It took a lot of coaxing to get Polly to come close without trying to eat the camera.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Heady Scents

Each night as I walk into my bedroom I'm met by a heavenly scent. My night-blooming jasmine is in bloom.

This lovely plant has been blooming for the past week. The one in the living room hasn't bloomed this year. That may have something to do with the heavy pruning it received from the sheep when I left it outside to get some fresh air. It's so fast growing, within a week it was again covered in new leaves.

I love flowering houseplants. I need more with scents. The ones below are some of my favorites - even if they don't smell pretty, the blooms make up for it.

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House Guardian

Berna was feeling left out, and I had to agree she hasn't been getting a lot of camera time. I decided to take a couple of pictures of her doing what she does best - actively guarding the house and all of its contents, including me and the herders.

A working dog needs to conserve energy for the moment she is needed. Berna can make it from this position in the middle of the house to any threatened area in a nano second, and in full roar.

Sometimes it makes more sense to guard from the living room, on the cushion.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Family Portrait

Ursa is from one of the most beautiful Caucasian Ovtcharka families I've seen. Here's a partial family album; all of these dogs are over 12 at the time of the pictures.

Stately Blanche, mother

Ilka, proud sister

Ursa, wanting only belly rubs

Brother Slava, the largest of the litter and one of the most beautiful