Introducing Bolt . . .

Bolt

Bolt

It has been over 18 years since we’ve had a kitten in our lives. It’s also been that long since we adopted an animal solely as a household pet, and not a “working” pet as part of Teaching Creatures. For almost a year, our son has been asking for a kitten, having only experienced older cats, and wanting something youthful and exuberant to play with. Our sweet cat Small turned 18 in August, and prefers to spend his days quietly lounging on the furniture, nibbling a few morsels, and getting snuggles, NOT playing.

I am a firm believer in serendipity, and many of my animals have come to me in fateful ways. Bolt is no exception. Our first opportunity to adopt Bolt came back in early September, shortly after our cousin found him under her deck in Brooklyn, NY. The pictures she posted on Facebook were adorable: He was a perfect mix of two of our beloved cats, Slyder (8/17/1992 – 3/29/2010) and Small. It seemed meant to be, but in the end we decided we weren’t ready for a new kitten yet, and Bolt was adopted by another family.

Small (l) and Slyder (rt.)

Small (L) and Slyder (R)

Slyder and Small shared a special bond.

Slyder and Small shared a special bond.

Fast forward three months. Once again, our cousin posts pictures of Bolt on Facebook, explaining that the family that adopted him discovered an allergy and need to give him up.  Kismet!  This time, there is no doubt in my mind that Bolt is meant to be ours.  And so our Christmas this year has been blessed with a wish come true in the form of a little black and white ball of energy and fun. Stay tuned for the continuing adventures of Bolt and Small. Happy Holidays to all!

Bolt and Small. New bonds to be made!

Bolt and Small. New bonds to be made!

 

 

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Turtle Time

A couple of years ago, a good friend gave me this beautiful photograph of a hatchling snapping turtle, framed with a quote from Lao Tsu: “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

I was reminded of this today as I slowed my car down to watch and carefully pass a large flock of European starlings and brown-headed cowbirds that kept flying down, in graceful concert, into the road in front of me. The woman driving the car behind me immediately moved to pass me, and though she decided against it, I watched her throw her hands up at me in exasperation and impatience.

Nesting leatherback sea turtle - Culebra, PR 1987

Nesting leatherback sea turtle – Culebra, PR 1987

The holiday season can bring out the best, and sometimes the worst, in our species. For many, it is a time of frantic hurrying, piqued anxiety and immeasurble stress. I myself get caught up in the hustle and bustle of it all, and when I do, I try to remember  to take a lesson from the slow, sure, steady lives of the amazing turtles I’ve worked with over the years. I take a deep breath, and find comfort in the knowledge that it will all get done eventually.

In the words of the wise old turtle Master Oogway from Kung Fu Panda, “Yesterday is history, Tomorrow is a mystery, but Today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.” Here’s to slowing down and enjoying the moment this holiday season!

Douglas, the ornate box turtle Oct. 2013

Douglas, the ornate box turtle Oct. 2013

Wonders of Winter

It comes as no surprise that watching birds is a regular activity in my family. My mother-in-law holds a Ph.D in Ornithology, and her passion for our feathered friends has seriously rubbed off on my son, who has become quite an accomplished birder over the last few years. Our love of birds has taken us to Costa Rica, Ecuador, and many spots in the US (posts on these amazing trips to come!). We maintain bird feeders and bird-friendly habitat in our yard, and participate in several citizen science projects involving birds.

A white-breasted nuthatch on the suet feeder

A white-breasted nuthatch on the suet feeder

House finches and a field sparrow on the tube feeder

House finches and a field sparrow on the tube feeder

One of these is Project FeederWatch coordinated by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. FeederWatch runs from mid-November through early April, and engages us in identifying and counting the different species of birds that visit our yard in a 48-hour period, along with recording some basic weather data.  In addition, we provide a profile of our yard including number and types of feeders we put up, the size and vegetative composition, and the presence of important resources like water and cover.  The data we and other FeederWatchers collect help scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in the distribution and abundance of birds.

Today, we are in the middle of our second watch period of this 2013-2014 season, the 27th season in FeederWatch history.  We look forward to many more days of observing the types and numbers of birds that visit our yard in the coming months.

A fox sparrow in the forsythia bush

A fox sparrow in the forsythia bush

A beautiful Carolina wren

A beautiful Carolina wren

The highlights for today were one brown creeper (a first for our yard in the 11+ years we’ve lived here), three fox sparrows (we’ve only ever observed one before), 43 dark-eyed juncos and a favorite of mine, a Carolina wren!

The beginning . . .

People often ask me if I grew up in a home of “exotic” pets.  Did I have a snake, turtle or lizard as a kid?  Did I bring home frogs and newts from the local pond ?  Did I keep bugs in jars in my room?  The honest answer is “no.”

I had cats and a dog.  I caught grasshoppers and fireflies in my yard, but always released them by the end of the day.  I did try to “keep” a wooly bear caterpillar for a while, but other than that, I had pretty run-of-the-mill pets.

Isis, a snow corn snake

Isis, a snow corn snake (1992-2006)

I didn’t adopt my first snake until I was well into my 20s.  He came to me as “Elvis,” a name given to him by his previous owners.  “Elvis” quickly turned into “Isis”, when I discovered that he was a she.  Isis was a two year old corn snake, and she remained my only exotic pet until I started acquiring animals for Teaching Creatures in 2003.  She was one of the original Teaching Creatures.

Terra, a ball python

Terra, a ball python

Another was Terra.  Terra was a four-year-old ball python when I adopted her in August of 2003.  It was a classic story:  A family had purchased her at a pet store for their 12 year old son, and after three years or so, his interest in her had waned.  He was driving, working and otherwise occupied with his high school career, and his parents noticed he wasn’t taking her out, cleaning her cage or feeding her on a regular basis, and decided it was time they found a new home for her.  She was the first animal I adopted for Teaching Creatures, and after 10 years, she remains a very active part of my programs.  With good care and a little luck, she will continue to be so for years to come.