Thursday, October 29, 2009

Introducing: Benji

My apologies for lack of postings lately... I've been busy hanging out with my new friend, the flu. I'm feeling much better now, just the remnants of a cough left, which also seems to be on it's way out. The most painful part of this flu was sitting inside watching the beautiful last few days of fall foliage and not being able to get outside. It didn't stop me from picking up the camera a few times, and I've been outside for short times the last couple days.

And without further adieu, I would like you to meet my main man (other than my husband), Benji Roethlisberger, aka Mr. Ben, Little Ben, Little Man, My-Two-foot-long-hot-dog, and many others. Yes, he is named after the Steelers' Quarterback, "Big Ben" Roethlisberger, and has a jersey in his size.

Benji already had a name when I adopted him from the Belmont County Animal Shelter in Eastern Ohio. I was going to adopt a dog, and found an adorable little girl named Tia on their Petfinder website, she was a smiley Westie mix. I went to meet Tia and that cute smile in her photograph turned out to be a snarl and growl. Okay, well, maybe Tia's not right for me and my apartment. We kept looking, all around, small dogs, large dogs, puppies, seniors. No one I was completely sold on. Then my dad had me come back in the room with Tia to see the dog in the cage under hers. He was a dirty messy scraggly guy with a funny bark. He had been taken from his last family because they kept him tied to a tree outside all the time with no shelter "because the kids had allergies," yet they had a Lab that lived inside. I have allergies too, and am allergic to Labs, and have never once had a problem with Benji. The Dog Warden decided to take him away from them a week before Christmas. We got him out and walked around with him for a while. In my head, my biggest criteria was a dog slightly under 20 pounds so if I ever had to fly with him, I wouldn't have to put him in the belly of the plane, I would be able to carry him on. Benji was a little bit bigger than that, but the more my dad played with him and petted him, he was convinced that Benji was the little man for me. I played with him and loved him some before making my final decision that Benji would be coming home with me that night. I filled out the papers December 28, 2004 and the rest is history :)

Now I don't want everyone going on thinking "Aww, what a sweet dog, what a nice story." On our way home from the shelter, I took my new muddy, matted dog to Pet Supplies Plus to pick out his new collar, leash, kennel, bowls, food, etc. We were in the toy aisle and I was squeaking and tossing around every type of toy trying in vain to gain his interest and get him to play. Nothing. No interest whatsoever. Enter: Great Dane at the other end of the aisle. Benji locked eyes with this new dog and took off at a gallop toward the dane! At first, we were all thinking, aww, they want to play! NO! Benji! Stop biting the Great Dane! Unwrap yourself from it's neck! Cease and desist! "Oh no! my perfect new dog is going to get killed!" Luckily for all involved, the fully grown dane had a very good sense of humor, and in my mind I can still see him patting Benji's head with his huge paw and saying "There, there little dog. I know, you're big. It's okay." When we got the two untangled, Benji trotted off like nothing had happened. We were still standing there horrified, and the dane's owner just laughed and said they were more worried about Benji than their dog, one chomp could have seriously injured him. We thanked them for their candor and quickly shuffled out of the store. I learned that night that Benji's a tough guy. I've never seen him back down when feeling threatened (even when it's by an 80 year old man with a cane) but he doesn't usually actually attack, just growls to let you know he's the boss. He's still stubborn and always right, and if he doesn't want to do something, good luck getting him to do it. But at home, he's the most adorable loving licking and sometimes playful little guy. As I type this, he's curled up in his pink poodle blanket (it used to be mine; he claimed it. same as he did my fleece robe.) on the couch. He LOVES soft blankets and rubs all over them before forming them into a perfect Benji-shaped nest.

In March, we moved into our house and out of the apartment that kept the Little Man so cramped up. Now he has plenty of space to run and play in, deer to chase, chippymunks and squirrels and turkeys to hunt, and grass to fertilize. The great news for me: he couldn't care less about birds!

This is Benji's Kingdom.

Until we put in our fence, we keep him on a 30ft tie-out which gives him lots of room to sniff and hunt for chippymunks, and a little hillside he can climb up on to see the neighbor's yard and watch for more critters. Then sometimes his tie-out chain gets stuck on the stumps of the multiflora rose bushes we took out in the spring and he gets the pitiful "Mommmeeeee? Please help me" look.

But most of the time, he just lays around and chills and enjoys the grass.

Last March, right after we moved in, our front porch was looking pretty bare.

"Mommee will probably be along shortly... I'll just keep being patient."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Pileated Morning

Yesterday morning as I was getting ready for work, I noticed something large fly across in front of my bedroom window and land in one of the cherry trees just out of sight. I quickly grabbed the camera and ran (then creeped slowly) into the living room to take pictures straight out the front window of this beautiful male Pileated Woodpecker! I don't think their novelty will wear off from me for a pretty long time. I know that I see them usually once a week or so, and hear them nearly every day, but there is something magnificent about this almost comically large bird with it's wild red punk hair style and facepaint and it's wild calls into the forest.

I will eat you from the right...

I will eat you from the left...

And now to eat some berries.

Time for preening!


Fluffy bunny

 Then his bride flew in to nag him check on him.

You'll have to click this one to see them clearly, but he's on the bottom left, and she's on the top right, about 10-15 feet apart.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Daily Mutts

Everything natural - every flower, tree and animal - has important lessons to teach us if we would only stop, look, and listen. ~Eckhart Tolle

Thursday, October 15, 2009


September 2007

My sister was on the quad of her college campus and saw some students gathering around something and watching intently. As she got closer, she noticed the baby bird they were teasing hopping around and looking very scared. She got a box and loaded him up and brought him home. A nervous ball of fluff peered up when she opened the lid for us. We knew it wasn't one of the usual suspects for our area (like a robin, sparrow, or blue jay), so she took it up to the Schrader Center at Oglebay Park to have it checked out. They said he was a baby cedar waxwing, and his normal diet should be fruit, mostly wild grapes. He definitely couldn't fly enough to release, and their usual bird rehabber was out of town, so she brought him home and put him in a large cage with some wild grapes she'd picked from the vines at the park.

We had blueberries and grapes out for him, he walked over a small blueberry and squatted down on it like he was incubating an egg! Low quality because the only camera I had with me was my cell phone.

Back view, you can see how short his wing feathers were and why he couldn't fly yet.

He took that big chunk out of the grape already.

My sister and her little perching friend.

Sitting on a pinecone trying to avoid eating offered the dogwood berry. He was successful.

This is his Christmas card photo.

Getting a little bigger, mouth still dirty from all the grapes eaten earlier.

Click this picture to make it bigger... check out the detail inside his mouth. Very neat.

Squaaaak! I want more grapes!

She kept him for a couple weeks, eventually needing a bigger cage so he could practice using his wings. He would practice flying from branch to branch, getting steadier and better aim with each passing day. When she thought he was big enough and could fly and feed on his own, she took him back up to see the wildlife rehab people, and they agreed. There were several flocks of Cedar Waxwings that frequented the wooded area behind the Schrader Center, so that's where she released him. She desperately wanted to band him to be able to pick him out if she saw him, but the banding person was out of town, and Sparky was too big to keep in captivity anymore. Some birds weren't meant to be caged.

"Some birds aren't meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And
when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does
~The Shawshank Redemption

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Almost Paradise

My family has been visiting Venice, Florida since before I was born. My grandparents bought a condo right on the beach which became our biannual vacation spot. When I was really little, there was a great blue heron who visited us when we were in town. We think he would notice the big mess of plastic beach toys and seashells on the porch, because Papa said he didn't visit as much when we weren't there. Chopped up hotdog, shrimp, turkey, and one interesting time, a pizza crust, were all on the menu when Freddie would show up. We were amazed at this animal who was at least as tall as we were, as there certainly wasn't anything like him on our porch in suburban West Virginia! Perhaps this is where my interest in birding was piqued. We'd sit on the porch or just inside the sliding glass door tossing small pieces of leftovers to him, playing a game to see how close we could make him come without scaring him away (or losing a finger!), and trying not to stir up too much of a ruckus which would make the seagulls and pigeons and starlings swarm the porch. Grandma isn't much for bird poop, and pooping is a seagull's main job.

Over the years, I'm certain there have been many different Freddies, and other species have come to share and leave memories burned into our minds with a gulf-coast sunset backdrop. These are some pictures from a trip in January 2008 with several of the species who have watched me grow up on that beach.

Bald Eagle resting on the airport radio tower by the beach

Brown Pelican... the COOLEST to watch when they're fishing from the sky... Kamakaze!

A pair of Osprey nesting in a tower over the state police barracks, right next to the Venice Rookery.

A motley crew... (please correct me), but I'm pretty sure (based on my Sibley book, but if it's wrong I'm not blaming the book, just my identification skills!) that on the left is a Ruddy Turnstone, then a Snowy Egret, and I have yet to pin down the one on the right.

One of my favorite pictues I've ever taken; three Great Blue Herons nesting at the Venice Rookery. The bottom one has a boyfriend that flies to the shore in search of the perfect stick for their nest. He brings it back, she examines it and places it carefully in the perfect spot in the nest, if she is happy, then they make some baby herons. I have video proof, but it's pretty graphic! Not for young eyes :)

A single heron on the other side of the rookery's island.

This was my first Black Crowned Night Heron... I was completely stumped at the time because it was so dark, all I could see was eyes and the white breast against the dark background; but come home, add photoshop and lighten up those shadows and he jumped right out!

Here he is again cropped in a little closer.

This Great Egret visited every day we were there; not my best/sharpest photo of him, but definitely the coolest angle.

I like the composition and color of the sky in this one.

One of many beautiful sunsets we have been so lucky to see for so many years.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Small Sit

Today was Bird Watcher's Digest's 15th annual "Big Sit," a tailgate party for birders. It's free to participate; pick a spot, and within a 17 foot diameter circle, count as many bird species as you can see or hear in 24 hours. I don't have that much patience (24 straight hours?) so I was playing with a new camera this morning and watched for a few hours and counted 15 species through the living room window, not counting the ones I couldn't identify for sure (a couple hawks and some crow/raven/blackbird types in flight). I don't think it's too bad for a newbie, and a nice way to spend a morning.

Song Sparrow
White breasted Nuthatch
Eastern Phoebe
Tufted Titmouse
Black Capped Chickadee
Red Bellied Woodpeckers
Northern Cardinal
Eastern Towhee
Blue Jay
Nashville Warbler
Mourning Dove
American Robin
White Throated Sparrow
Carolina Wren
Wild Turkey (a nice little family of 14!)

Mommy and Daddy

Migrating Nashville Warbler

Toe-Touch Tufted Titmouse

I think every color is in this picture.

Baby Birder

Welcome to the first post of the Baby Birder! I have chosen the name because I'm just beginning to bird. I end up spending as much time watching as I do looking up what I've just seen, but you've got to start somewhere! That being said, I am completely open to suggestions if you think I've identified something incorrectly, or have ideas of what it may be! I welcome the knowledge. I love photography, and chances are, if I don't have a picture of it, I'm not going to identify it correctly... consequently I have my camera with me at all times, and take way too many pictures. I'm currently shooting with a Nikon Coolpix S10, 6.1mp 10x optical zoom, but hopefully soon will be upgrading to a Nikon D80 DSLR (though I do borrow one now from time to time.) I love to go naturing in the woods (or adventuring as my dog Benji calls it) and we find lots of neat stuff adventuring. His favorite are the chippymunks and skwirlls and deers, I tend to go for the birds, moss, mushrooms, and trees. To each their own :)