7:10 a.m.

I step out onto the front covered porch. Arthur pulls on the lead in my hand. I am warm enough in my pajamas and robe on this mild winter morning.

Arthur stops at the edge of the porch. I always think he sees, hears, or smells another animal when he does that. Maybe he’s just being sure.

I look around also. It is dark, but my eyes adjust and I can see the silhouette of the branching arms of the locust tree. Four porch lights glow across the front of the vacant house to my left around the bend of the lane. Straight ahead a series of small bright lights from the homes on a neighboring street shine through the winter woods barren of leaves. I’ll not see those lights come spring.  The new neighbors’ house to the right, at the corner, is brightly lit on both the back and the left side that are visible from where I stand, perhaps to discourage burglars. I wonder if our motion-detector security lights around back where it’s near the woods still work. The new neighbors’ strand of Christmas lights sparkle across their back porch rail.

Arthur tugs and pulls on the retractable dog leash as he steps off the porch and meanders through the foliage in the landscaping that stretches across the front of the house and along the bend of the sidewalk to the tree.

I notice a drip, drip, drip from the rain spout to my left. Otherwise I hear nothing except the steady drone of distant traffic. The juvenile owl, with its awkward squawk must not be visiting this morning. Ah, now the soft whistle of a train miles away breaks the silence.

Arthur is taking his time.

The sky is beginning to lighten to a dark gray-blue, as the place where I stand, on this glorious planet we call home, turns towards the sun and the dawn of a new day.

 

20100114 - Sunrise
January 14, 2010

Baby hippo swimming lesson

A video crossed my Facebook news feed this morning of a horse teaching a filly to jump a short wall. That reminded me of our trip to San Diego’s zoo where we witnessed a mother hippo teaching her baby to swim. It also reminded me that  I have yet to post photos from that trip to the zoo. I hope you enjoy them.

The San Diego Zoo has a reputation for being one of the best zoos in this country, so we knew we wanted to fit it in when we planned a trip to California in April to visit our son who lives in Los Angeles. He met us in San Diego.

I noticed a lot of similarities to the zoo here in Cincinnati, which also has a great reputation.

There were beautiful and exotic flowers and trees. You probably recognize the Bird of Paradise flower. This tree looked like it had huge cotton, or maybe popcorn, balls hanging on it.

San Diego zoo flamingosA convention of flamingos welcomed us near the entrance.

San Diego zoo bearWe saw lazy bears lounging,

San Diego zoo macaqueMonkeys climbing (actually a Lion-tailed Macaque pronounce Mak – ack),

San Diego zooa graceful couple posing for portraits,

and small critters popping their heads up here and there.

 This gorilla was sitting, contemplating life or maybe her fingers. We watched her drag a burlap bag across the enclosure to the window, then promptly sit down on it with her back to us. I can’t say as I blame her.

Also like the Cincinnati Zoo, the one in San Diego cares for endangered species and makes education a priority, as  pointed out by our son Mark Joseph.

San Diego Zoo

I thought the Cincinnati Zoo was hilly, but its hills are mild compared to some of the inclines we walked up and down in San Diego. Overall, the zoo there is well-established and has some great walking trails.  The Cincinnati Zoo has a jungle trail, but the many of the walkways at San Diego are landscaped and make you feel as if you are walking in a natural habitat not on a sterile roadway. This was a feature that I particularly liked.

San Diego zoo tiger trailThis is the Tiger Trail that sits up above the enclosure. Our son is pictured in both of the above pictures. I was not stalking some random guy in a plaid shirt, in case you’re wondering.

San Diego Zoo sky ride

Cincinnati also doesn’t have a sky ride, only a little train. This is a tree-top outdoor cafe that we enjoyed during our visit, also a very nice feature of this zoo. I think we had to walk up about three flights of steps to reach it.

But the best part of our visit to the San Diego Zoo was watching the mother hippo teaching her baby how to swim.

Mother and baby hippoWhen we first saw them, they were both resting in the sun.

Mother and baby hippo

Then the baby started climbing on the mother, like, “Hey, I want to play.” And the mother was like, “Really? So soon? Give me a break. You’re wearing me out, kid.”

Mother and baby hippo“Okay. Alright. We’ll go for a swim.”

Mother and baby hippo swimmingThen they went under water and that mother hippo started pushing the baby around in a circle.

Mother and baby hippo swimmingThe baby didn’t seem to know exactly what to do. The mother kept pushing him around in a circle.

Mother and baby hippoI don’t take a lot of video, but this is one case where I wish I had taken the time to switch from still photos to video.

Mother and baby hippo swimmingAfter some period of time, the mother would get her nose under the baby and push him up to the surface.

Mother and baby hippoThey’d break surface, breath for a minute or two, and then down they’d go again.

Mother and baby hippo swimming

They repeated this cycle several times before they climbed back out of the water and the mother got to rest again. This was one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever witnessed at any zoo.

If you ever make it to San Diego, try to fit a visit here into your itinerary. It’s well worth it.

Facing my Fears – Starting small

I am tired of my  gigantic fear of certain small creatures. I fail to understand why, at the age of 58, I continue to cringe, jerk back, jump up, or respond in an aggressive and sometimes violent way, to particular little creatures. So I’m undertaking a campaign to conquer my fear of spiders.

They say we fear the unknown. I am going to attempt to learn my way out of my fear.

First sighting - Monday, August 24
First sighting – Monday, August 24

As good luck would have it, nature presented me with the perfect opportunity to observe that which I fear. We found this creation installed on one of our deck’s shepherd’s hooks upon our return Monday from a short trip to St. Louis.

Somebody was busy while we were gone. The web is one of the reasons I do not have an affinity for spiders. Can you imagine accidentally wandering into one of these, face first, or even getting your hand in it? Not a pleasant experience.

Perhaps a change of perspective will help.

Spider and web
Spider and web

This is an absolutely amazing structure. I’m not sure you can tell from the photo, but it’s not flat, or located in one plane (to use a term from my geometry class too many years ago to remember). It reminds me of the structures they build to provide shade above an outdoor performance stage where a fabric is stretched taut between various anchors creating a three-D effect. I don’t know how this little spider managed it all my him- or herself and undoubtedly without a compass, or protractor, let alone a computer, to boot. There’s some pretty cool geometry going on here.

And just in case you missed it. The spider is all curled up, looking something like a benign blob of mud, on the top of the shepherd’s hook, making me realize that without the legs a spider doesn’t look all that ugly, or menacing at all.

Maybe if the granddaddy long-leg that was plastered on the brick wall, right beside the handle to the sliding screen door, had had his or her legs curled up tight, I would have had less of a start when I spotted it. Maybe then I wouldn’t have had to contort my hand as I was opening the door to keep the maximum space between my fingers and the giant, I mean little, invader.

Spider
Web maker

Just to be certain it wasn’t a blob of mud, I got a closer shot. See, that spider doesn’t look so frightening after all, does it?

Spider
Spider’s new hiding place

On Tuesday, I noticed the spider had found a new hiding place, which I have to agree, was probably a smart move. His or here previous position made him or her pretty much a sitting duck for the all the birds we have around here. (I’m switching to the feminine pronoun because I’m tired of the whole he or she thing. And I suspect if we did a scientific study of it, we would find out that the male pronoun has been much more overused through the years. Just saying.)

I thought it was also interesting that she seemed to build a lot of web around where she sat. I don’t know whether she was hoping for easy snacks within arm’s reach, or was somehow trying to hide or disguise herself.

Spider and cicada
Spider hits jackpot

I noticed something relatively large hanging from the web Tuesday afternoon. I got my camera and shot a picture from the safety of my kitchen window. Jackpot! When I cropped in to magnify the picture I could clearly see that the spider was in for a feast with this cicada.

She does look just a little bit evil in this pose, don’t you think? But I guess the red fox running across the yard with a squirrel in its mouth didn’t exactly look like Little Bo Peep. And I still like the red foxes. Do I detect a double standard?

spider and cicada
Spider and cicada

I cropped in for a closer shot, just so you could see what is going on and learn about this fascinating, and friendly, little creature.

The web was pretty well trashed by the end of this event. It was hanging freely and kind of swaying in the wind.

Spider web
New web

But no worries. I woke up this morning and found this brand new shiny web constructed. I don’t know how the spider got rid of the cicada refuse, or inedible parts. They’re probably lying in Mark’s garden directly below the web. I also don’t know how she got rid of the old ratty web. Did she disconnect it from the anchors and let it drop to the ground? Did she systematically roll it up and reuse it like stitches torn from a knitting mistake and rolled back into the ball or yarn? It’s a mystery to me.

spider web
New web

But this web is looking good, ready to go. Although upon closer examination, I see it may have met with a few casualties already.

Our little friend, hides and waits above. Sneaky little creature, isn’t she? But industrious and creative.

What do you think? Can it be done? Will I be able to overcome my arachnophobia? Or is my irrational fear of spiders deep-rooted in my DNA, or evidence of, or artifacts from, a past life?

Stay tuned.

Spider
She waits

What are these creepy crawling critters?

This post is not for the squeamish or faint of heart.

But I’m hoping someone can identify these insects for me, at least I hope they’re insects and not spiders.

We live in fertile territory here, and I have spent many moments enjoying nature and the young life that springs forth. I’ve thrilled to the sound of baby birds chirping with seemingly insatiable hunger; I’ve adored infant and juvenile fawns as they skamper through the yard; I was entertained by fox kits and a juvenile owl. But I guess I’ll have to say that infant insects is where I draw the line.

What are these things?

Zelus longipes - Milkweed Assassin Bugs perhaps?I was about 90% of the way through chopping down a volunteer yellow-flowering plant in our garden when I noticed a bunch of tiny red spots on a stem. Upon closer examination, I could see they were tiny insects.

Black ant

The only other insect in close proximity was this black ant. There were several other black ants on the plant as well, which isn’t really a big surprise as we have a lot of them here. A grand-daddy long-legs spider was also on the plant. We also have a lot of them. Ants I can tolerate, spiders, not so much. If these were baby spiders, I might have to do a nature intervention.

Zelus longipes - Milkweed Assassin Bugs maybe

I went inside and got my camera with my extension tubes for a macro shot. I can see I got those tubes just in the nick of time. Magnifying what I was seeing really didn’t make me feel much better. Then I started wondering if the other stems I had chopped off the plant and put in the trash receptacle also had the red invaders.

Sure enough.

Here’s the important question, did any get on me?

I hope not. And I think not. I’m pretty careful how I handle refuse and live plants in the garden because of the aforementioned abundance of spiders.

Zelus longipes - Milkweed Assassin Bugs maybe

I tried to count legs, but there seemed to be a lot of black thin things sprouting out of the bodies. I looked online, and think they might be Zelus longipes – Milkweed Assassin Bugs.

Apparently they’re predators of bad bugs, and are good to have in gardens. I hope I didn’t upset the eco-balance here because of the number of them that went the way of the refuse pile.

I think they’re creepy and and kind of spider-esque.

Please let me know if you can confirm or refute my identification of these little creepy crawlers.

Magical, winged, woodland creatures

In preparation for hand-feeding the hummingbirds, the ranger at Lake Hope, Ohio said, “Bees will be attracted to the sugar water. Let them be. They don’t want to sting you, they want to drink the sugar water. If you flap your arms and carry on, you will never get a hummingbird to come.”

Hummingbird feeding

This woman was the picture of patience, and it paid off. I wish I could have reached her before she left. I would have sent her the photo.

Hummingbird

Whoah. Incoming. She sure kept her cool. I’m not sure I could have.

Hummingbird

When the first hummingbird I ever saw, years ago, as it was zipping through my garden, buzzed by me, I ducked, thinking it was a very large insect.

Hummingbird

What do you think? Insect or bird? Maybe insect.

Hummingbid

No, definitely bird.

Hummingbird

Or maybe magical, winged, woodland creature dancing with the fairies.

Hummingbirds, photoshopI suspect she thinks so. I thought she deserved a hummingbird or two or three, even if she wasn’t patient enough to ever get one without a little help from Adobe Elements.

Kit wish comes true

I didn’t have to take my 10-pound hunting dog, Arthur, into the woods to search out the fox den after all. The kits cames to me.

Red fox kits

They were a little bigger than I imagined, but then I don’t know how old they are.
Playful red fox kitTheir playful behavior left little doubt that they were kits.

Red fox kit

And the fact that they hung out on our driveway for at least fifteen minutes,

Two Red fox kitsscratching,

Red fox kitsitting in the sun,

Two red fox kits

apparently completely carefree and relatively unconcerned about me and my camera staring out through the kitchen door.

 Red fox kits

They knew I was watching them.
Red fox kitBut they weren’t too concerned about that. One sat down and scratched some more,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAa little scratch here,

Red fox kita little bite there.

Red fox kit“I see you watching me.”

Red fox kit in garden

One enjoyed the garden,

Red fox kit

and tried out some of the decorative grasses.

Red fox kit

“Uh oh. I think I’m going to have to sit down and scratch some more.”
Red fox kit “Dog gone it, something is driving me crazy.”
Red fox kit
The red fox activity has been high around here lately. They have become Arthur’s latest arch enemies. It used to be the neighborhood feral cat.

 Little White Peek-a-poo

My little hunting dog, Arthur, alerts me to their presence from his view out the study or kitchen windows. He is armed and ready. He doesn’t know it, but he is never going to step foot one foot outside while fox are visible in our yard. He also doesn’t realize he’s never going to catch a squirrel, but that doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm.

Red fox in garden

“Can you see me now?”

Red fox.“Can you see me now?”

Red fox vixen

About 45 minutes after they left, the vixen came trotting by. She doesn’t look too good. It kind of reminded me of how I looked some days when I was raising babies.

Red fox vixen

No wonder she’s tired if she has to chase these kits down every day.

Do you know where your children are?

The Red Fox are busy around here

The first time I saw a red fox in the wild, or anywhere for that matter, was shortly after we moved here in January of 2010. I was looking out the kitchen window at the snow-covered, wooded hillside beyond the creek that runs across the bottom of our backyard hill. The red fox was jogging through the bare trees of the woods, parallel to our yard. It crossed the creek, and then jogged back across our yard. It was beautiful and stunning against the white winter landscape. I was afraid to leave the window to get my camera for fear of losing sight of it.

Redfox_Blog-01-20120121
January 21, 2012.  Notice the bushy tail, and how slim the fox is.

Over the next couple of years, we had the occasional surprise visit by a red fox. One morning as I sat at our kitchen table, I saw one in our garden right below the deck outside our kitchen door. It was moving towards the front of the house. I grabbed my camera from the kitchen shelf and raced through the house to the study where I caught a shot of the fox before it disappeared from sight. They’re usually on the move and don’t stay around very long.

September 2, 2014. This red fox was lurking behind a bush in my garden. A doe and fawn were nearby.
September 2, 2014. This fox has a much longer tail than the fox in the first picture.

This red fox was lurking behind a bush in my garden. A doe and fawn were nearby. I had heard from neighbors that we had a fox family with kits in the area last summer. I never saw the family. In the fall I was lucky enough to see two young foxes right outside my study window one morning. They looked more like young adults to me, than kits.

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January 24, 2015. The long-tailed fox.

This year the fox activity has picked up even more. According to National Geographic, “Red foxes are solitary hunters who feed on rodents, rabbits, birds, and other small game—but their diet can be as flexible as their home habitat. Foxes will eat fruit and vegetables, fish, frogs, and even worms. If living among humans, foxes will opportunistically dine on garbage and pet food.”

Should I put out some of Arthur’s food for it? Probably not.

January 27, 2015
January 27, 2015. The bushy-tailed and long-tailed fox.

One day in January I got lucky when I happened to look up from typing on the computer where I sit in my study. Outside the window, in the wooded hillside across the drive, I saw these two foxes. I watched for a while, thinking I didn’t have time to retrieve my camera from the kitchen. But they were just kind of hanging out over there so I took the chance, ran and got my camera, and shot a few pictures.

One of the foxes has a bushy tail, and the other a long one.

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January 27, 2015

If you look at the bushy-tailed one, you might notice that it looks a little thick around the middle. My theory is that this is the female who may already be expecting babies at this point.

Red fox
January 27, 2015

According to All About the Red Fox, “Red Foxes are often mates for life. Mating occurs between mid-January and March, depending on the climate they live in, and the babies (called kits or cubs) are born about 58 days later.”

Red fox
June 3, 2015

Does this look like a tired papa to you? He’s starting to look a little gaunt.

A fox can have from two to ten kits in a litter. According to National Geographic, “Both parents care for their young through the summer before they are able to strike out on their own in the fall.”

The mother stays with the kits constantly for the first two weeks and the father hunts, bringing food back to the vixen. After a few weeks, the parents give the kits regurgitated meat to eat. Then later they bring them small, live prey. (All About the Red Fox.)

Redfox_Blog-12-20150705
July 5, 2015

One evening, Mark and I were sitting on our screened-in porch, that looks down on our back yard from a second-story level, when Mark taps my leg and points down to the yard. A red fox was trotting past with a dead squirrel in its mouth. Arthur started barking. The fox dropped the squirrel and ran into the woods. “That fox will be back for the squirrel,” I said. I had my cell phone in my hand, and sure enough, the fox came back out, grabbed the squirrel and high-tailed it across the yard.

A short while later, we saw it run past again with what looked like a small rodent in its mouth.

Then we saw the stubby-tailed fox jog by a little later. Arthur barked at it. It ran faster. Then it stopped, looked up to see where the noise was coming from, and stared at Arthur. After a short while, it turned and went on its way. This one seems a bit more bold than the other.

They sure are busy. They must be trying to feed hungry babies.

That hard-working fox just ran past the front of our house as I sit here typing this.  I believe it was the male.

A couple of days after the squirrel incident, I saw a fox in our garden. Looking for a nice juicy chipmunk, no doubt. I am convinced there is a den nearby with kits in it. When I take Arthur out on our screened-in porch some mornings he stares at a point in the woods where it seems he senses something. Dogs have a good sense of smell.

I think Arthur is a hunting dog.

Maybe I should take Arthur for a little hike in the woods to find the kits. I’ll be sure to take my camera if I do.