The Bird is the Word

Yes, that’s right, bird is the word for today. I used to underestimate birds. Maybe that’s because they’re so small and numerous. Oh, there’s another bird flying by… big deal. My ambivalent attitude ended when my husband started using a Nikon Coolpix Superzoom camera. Initially he bought it to photograph larger wildlife. But he needed some practice, so he started zooming in on birds. After all, birds are all around us.

Fast forward to our recent Colorado vacation. We attended our first bird watching event in Great Sand Dunes National Park. I discovered bird watching is a relaxing way to spend an hour or two. Of course, in order to see birds one needs to be an early riser, which might leave a few people out.

The main point of birdwatching is to identify birds. In order to accomplish this goal it’s important to pay attention and listen. Wow! Those two things might leave a few more people out. But if you challenge yourself to watch and listen at the same time here are the five elements necessary to identifying birds.

  1. Size
  2. Color (which includes individual markings)
  3. Habitat
  4. Flight pattern
  5. Song (when walking in a dense forest it’s hard to see birds in tall trees)

Resources are available to help anyone get started. Our guide recommended a book,  Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds, for either the Eastern U.S. or Western U.S. depending on your location. And as you can imagine, there are iPhone apps to help you learn the songs of birds. If you are interested read this review for more more information. Our guide recommended using bird call apps responsibly when you are in the field because they can disturb whatever birds might be in the vicinity.

IMG_4638
During our bird walk I learned to identify the call of a chickadee.

In addition to attending a bird watching walk, anyone can set up a bird feeder in their backyard to watch birds at home. During our trip to Colorado we saw numerous hummingbird feeders at restaurants and hotels. After several encounters, we identified different varieties of  hummingbirds and discovered some are very territorial. One kind, the Ruby-throated, hid in the bushes until the Broad-tail hummingbirds settled at the feeder. The Ruby-throated bird rushed out of its hiding place. It perched on top of the shepherd’s hook, then  buzzed all the other birds until it had the feeder all to itself.

Enjoy my video of the cut-throat competition among hummingbirds.

I must say my first attempt at making this video was cut short because one aggressive hummingbird buzzed me!

Bird watching is an educational family friendly activity. Now you know why the bird is the word. If you like birds check out my previous post Cardinal Virtues.

I appreciate you, dear followers. Please share my posts on your social media sites to increase my audience. For new readers, please sign up to follow me. You will receive  notifications by email of new postings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rescuing Big Cats

This summer my daughter Jenny invited me to visit  Big Cat Rescue in Tampa. I hesitated to go. After all, what would Buddy (our beagle) think? He and I share a common opinion; who needs cats anyway?

Jenny on the other hand, is the proud owner of two cats (the domesticated variety of course). In an effort to overcome my prejudice toward felines I joined her for a tour. In the process I gained respect for a cause I’d never really considered. Big Cat Rescue is a leader in the fight to stop the abandonment and abuse of exotic cats.

The main cause of exotic cat abandonment is the “pet trade.” This trade evolves around the misconception that big cat cubs make cute pets. People purchase lion, tiger, bobcat, leopard, or cougar kittens from breeders. The kittens are manageable for a year or two, but as they mature problems arise. Often the big cats only bond to one family member and are aggressive toward the rest of the family.

When the pet owners realize they can’t handle their “wild” cat who is growing bigger everyday, they may respond by chaining it up or housing it in a small cage. Eventually they might turn to Big Cat Rescue to take the animal off their hands. The sixty-seven acre property also houses big cats who have retired from performing acts, or were given up by roadside zoos.

IMG_3880

During our ninety minute guided tour I learned the sad story behind many of these beautiful animals. I met a tiger named Andy who arrived at BCR in 2016. Andy came from Serenity Springs, a zoo in Colorado which was closing its facility. The zoo was known for offering tiger cub petting sessions and used Andy to breed kittens.

I was impressed at the volunteer staff who work tirelessly to feed the cats and clean their living quarters. Although fenced for protection, each living space afforded plenty of room for the cats to roam. Andy’s living space included a large pool where he enjoyed a swim.

IMG_3967

Big Cat Rescue has its own animal hospital. A bobcat with numerous broken bones was discovered in Orlando laying by the side of the road on Christmas Day. She was taken to BCR and given the name Noel. BCR contacted a vet with the Tampa Humane Society who provided the necessary treatment. Noel spent six months recovering at BCR and was eventually released to live in the wild at Orlando Wetlands Park.

The Accidental Founding of BCR

Founder, Carole Baskin states, “I never set out to start a sanctuary. It happened partly by accident, then largely through a process of evolution.” Carole’s journey with exotic animals began at a llama auction in 1992. A man walked in seeking a home for a six month old bobcat on a leash.  Carole’s heart went out to the young bobcat. She named her Windsong and brought her home.

True to her natural instincts, Windsong only bonded with Carole. Her husband wanted his own bobcat kitten and the couple set off for Minnesota to buy one. They found a fur farm which sold a few bobcat kittens for pets, but slaughtered any they couldn’t sell to make money in the fur trade. Carole and her husband were outraged to realize the kittens might be slaughtered and bought all fifty-six! They loaded all the kittens in their vehicle and drove them to their home in Florida. It was difficult to care for the bobcats in their home, so Carole and her husband moved them to the property where BCR is presently located.

Carole admits she and her husband made a lot of mistakes. Although they were trying to save bobcats from destruction, the couple was actually supporting the pet trade by buying bobcats and reselling them as pets. Their interest in rescuing bobcats grew to include additional species. Like many in the big cat pet trade, Carole believed she was preserving endangered species. Over time she realized she was dooming the animals to a life of captivity and abuse. Although she thought she placed kittens in “good homes,” many were returned to BCR when they were no longer cute.

A New Purpose

Since 2004, BCR no longer breeds or buys big cats and is a non-profit organization. The mission statement of BCR is to give big cats the best care possible and educate the public on the plight of these animals so that someday there will be no need for a sanctuary to exist.Today Big Cat Rescue has become a voice in support of increased legislation to insure that lions, tigers, and other dangerous big cats do not live in abusive situations or threaten public safety. For more info go to this link. 

IMG_3958

After my tour I can say I have a real sense of appreciation for the work of Big Cat Rescue.  But rest assured Buddy, you are still number one with me.

 

 

 

 

Sweet Land of Liberty

Like many of you, I’ll celebrate Independence Day this week. When I think about America I value the foresight of those who preserved our national parks. I never tire of exploring the natural beauty of the western U.S. From the rain forests of Olympic to the rock formations of Canyonlands, each park preserves treasured natural landmarks for future generations.

IMG_3444

My reflections on America connect me to the pioneers who settled it. When I look at these wagons I imagine the creak of the wheels as they slowly rolled through the tall prairie grass. I think about the brave families ready to tackle anything life threw at them. Once they found a place they liked, the pioneers spent weeks chopping wood for the construction of their new home, usually a rustic one room cabin.

IMG_3325

Can you imagine a life working from sunrise to sunset to survive? This settler had to walk to a stream to get water. Somehow the land doesn’t look quite hospitable to farming. Maybe he had mining for gold on his mind.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When I think about America I remember growing up in Ohio. I picture farmers plowing the land and producing a great harvest. I think of county fairs that celebrate the biggest pumpkins, best jars of jam, and beautiful patchwork quilts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As a student in Ohio I reaped the benefits of a good public education. I’m thankful for teachers who taught me how to read and write. I’m thankful for the opportunity to attend The Ohio State University.

IMG_4349

Go Bucks!

 

IMG_7935

My feelings of thankfulness take me to my present home in Orlando.  I picture the busy city streets.  I see the millions of ordinary people who do follow the traffic laws and I am amazed when I realize most Americans are just out there trying to do their best. I’m thankful for the workers who designed and built the roads we all drive on.

DSC01075
A replica of the Mayflower, Plymouth Mass.

America began when a little group of Pilgrims sailed across the Atlantic in search of freedom to worship God. I marvel that the same freedom is available to me today. I have the freedom to travel where I want. I have choices about what I want to buy, eat, and wear. I appreciate the freedom to read what I want, and think what I want. As a child born in the 1950’s I have never experienced what it is like to live in a combat zone. Unlike many countries, no wars have been fought in my homeland during my lifetime. I have never known what it might be like to go hungry.

IMG_1569

When I think of Independence Day, I picture neighbors getting together for backyard barbecues and kids running three-legged races in the park.  I imagine bands playing patriotic music while I wipe the watermelon juice off my chin. When night falls I ooh and ah at spectacular fireworks.

IMG_9944 (2)

All of this is America to me. Happy Birthday America.

 

 

Have You Abandoned Cursive?

On Father’s Day my family had an interesting discussion about cursive handwriting.  My husband said he practiced cursive with a fountain pen.  This laborious method involved dipping the pen in a bottle of ink. He continued to write in cursive throughout grade school. Now his handwriting is practically illegible. He tells me, “I can read it right after I write it, but if it sits there awhile I can’t understand it.”

As a parent, I forced my son to practice cursive every day for a whole summer, yet none of those exercises improved his penmanship. I remember being embarrassed during a parent teacher conference. A middle school teacher described his handwriting as primitive. Today he’s a successful attorney who signs documents electronically with an x.

Prior to the adoption of Common Core Standards, cursive was a large part of the third grade curriculum. My featured photo is from a worksheet I distributed every year to my third graders. Prior to retiring in 2013, I loved teaching cursive. Most of the children were excited about learning it. I remember spending hours grading their handwriting. I proudly displayed their excellent work on a bulletin board. Today I wonder if any of them still write in cursive.

For most schools, cursive is out and keyboarding is in. My husband and son think cursive should not be taught and view it as a waste of time. I can’t imagine living without cursive. I journal, take notes, make grocery lists, and sign my name in cursive. I think of it as a more efficient way to write.

My mom, age 85, joined our discussion. “What about people’s signatures? Isn’t that important?”

“Not anymore, Grandma,” my son responded. “Who writes checks? I pay all my bills online.”

Grandma shook her head. “Not me.”

In the distant past, cursive was considered a trademark of literacy. Mastering this skill meant you could not only write, but read other’s cursive. If cursive is no longer taught, future generations won’t be able to read historical documents. Journals and letters written by family members who’ve passed on will not be understood by their children. I imagine technology already exists to scan cursive and turn it into print. And the reverse, creating script from print. This seems so impersonal. A person’s handwriting used to say a lot about themselves.

What will become of people who analyze handwriting? According to graphologist, Kathi McKnight, cursive gives a good indication of our personalities. She asks people to write a simple sentence in cursive. A right slant means you’re open to others and like to socialize. A left slant means you like to work alone. No slant at all indicates you tend to be logical and practical.

I guess graphologists will be out of a job. Too bad, Kathi.

I’m afraid cursive has become an ancient artform. Its continuation now relegated for parents to teach at home. By the way, Amazon sells workbooks for adults and children. But what child wants to spend their summer vacation practicing cursive? Ask my son. It didn’t work for him.

Have you abandoned cursive? Do you think teaching it in school is a waste of time? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. I’m growing my audience and would love to have you as one of my followers.

 

 

Coquina and the Castillo de San Marcos

Try to imagine what the city of St. Augustine, Florida was like in 1565. The little Spanish colony constantly suffered from Indian attacks, pirate raids, and foreign invasions. Every wooden fort they built to defend themselves either burned, collapsed in storms, or rotted away from damp conditions.

Finally, somebody discovered an amazing substance on nearby Anastasia Island. Enter, Florida’s rock of ages, coquina. Coquina is a sedimentary stone composed of tiny shell fragments cemented together with calcium carbonate. The Spanish colonists might not have known the composition of coquina, but they knew they’d found a rock. They were excited! At last they had a building material that might endure. (Maybe they heard the story of the third little pig and wanted their fort to last whenever the big bad wolf came to call. After all, bricks worked for him.) The colonists petitioned Queen Marina of Spain for funds to build a new fort. She authorized the construction of the Castillo and large scale mining began on Anastasia Island in 1671.

IMG_3333 (2) Looking at a piece of coquina, it’s hard to believe a rock comprised mostly of shells would be very strong. The Spanish learned that although coquina is soft when first quarried, the stone hardens as it dries. Construction of the Castillo began in 1672. There are over 400,000 blocks of coquina in the fort, all cut and set by hand. The people of St. Augustine weren’t playing around this time. They had one goal: survival.

IMG_3394 (1)

The fort was designed by Ignacio Daza using a bastion system. Four diamond-shaped bastions project out from a walled courtyard. Each bastion contains a tower where guards can see in every direction. The second floor gun deck mounted over sixty cannons. The outer walls of the fort vary from fourteen to nineteen feet thick. The coquina rock was covered with plaster to seal out rainwater.

CGGD9783 (1)A drawbridge provides the only entry. Standing on the bridge, a person might think it once crossed a moat filled with alligators. Not so, the low ground around the fort was used to graze animals. The Castillo was built  as a place of refuge for the townspeople of St. Augustine. Most Spanish soldiers lived in town and shared guard duty. In a sense, the Castillo was a castle, built to protect the community in times of war.

IMG_3389 (1)It’s amazing to think that the small courtyard housed 1,500 soldiers and civilians for fifty-one days when the English attacked St. Augustine in 1702. The rooms around the courtyard housed food and military supplies. Enemy cannonballs bounced off or got stuck in the coquina without breaking it. Their defense plan worked.

The Castillo protected St. Augustine for over two hundred years. Today the fort remains as a national monument to human determination. The monument is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Plan your visit to the Castillo de San Marco soon.

 

 

 

 

Cardinal Virtues

This spring a cardinal family visited our enclosed patio. The parents were fussing because their baby couldn’t fly above the fence to make an exit. The baby would flap its wings, rise a bit, then fall back to the ground. For a few minutes I debated whether or not to intervene. Should I pick the baby up and carry it somewhere?

I knew the nest wasn’t in our courtyard. I sought out my Facebook friends, who responded with a number of ideas. “Cover it with a towel and take it back to a grassy area.” Another person told me, “Don’t move the baby without a clothes basket on your head because the father cardinal will attack you.” My husband told me to wait and see what happens. (That’s usually his advice about most things.)

I watched the cardinal family for an hour through the back door window.  Finally the baby cardinal made it to the top of the table. Encouraged by his mother, he managed to fly from the table to the top of the fence.  My husband got a terrific photo of him preparing for final take off.

OPSLE3934

This event sparked my curiosity. I wanted to know more about cardinals. I discovered they were named after the red robes of the cardinals of the Catholic Church. Immediately the term “cardinal virtues” came to mind.  I applied the seven virtues to a cardinal’s behavior.

Faith: Believing the promises of God. Cardinals stay in the same general vicinity twelve months out of the year.  God provides for them through the cold, grey winter months. The male cardinal’s red color reminds us to “keep the faith” during bleak times.

Prudence: The ability to use foresight, knowing when it’s the right time to take action. Since cardinals do not migrate, they grow extra feathers and eat more to prepare for winter.

 Hope: Cardinals sing cheery songs which lift our spirits and encourage us to persevere through trials.

Love: Male and female cardinals mate for life and share the duties of child raising. The female cardinal calls to the male who responds by bringing her food when she’s nesting.

Justice: Male and female cardinals sing together. Both compliment one other. Each gender has a “voice” in cardinal matters.

Temperance: Both male and female cardinal parents restrain themselves from exploring other interests when they are raising their young. Cardinal babies hop around on the ground for a few days until they learn to fly. The parents stay close by to feed and protect their young.

Courage: A male cardinal is a fierce defender of the nest. He will attack other birds, cats, dogs, and snakes who intrude upon his territory. Males are know to even attack their reflection in a window (side-note: Intelligence isn’t one of the seven virtues).

I’m impressed. After I shared the extensive list of cardinal virtues, my husband asked, “What about the seven cardinal sins?”

I guess that’s one cardinal matter I’ll never know.

 

 

 

The Majestic Marigold

Welcome to my garden. Like other city dwellers, I have a very small space to work. Consequently when plants die, it’s a great loss. Last fall I planted marigolds. My mom is a terrific gardener and told me they are easy to grow. I agree. However, the stems become woody and their fresh green leaves fade after awhile.

Since Florida experiences a year round growing season, I replace my flowers every few months. But something different happened this spring. During March we had a few cold snaps. I didn’t want to replant my garden, so I let it go. By the time I took a closer look, I noticed the weeds were taking over. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “Those aren’t weeds. The leaves look like marigold plants.” The dead blooms from the parent plants fell to the ground and new marigold seedlings were starting to grow. I ran in the house to tell my husband, “Honey, we have a second generation of flowers out here!”

IMG_E3321

Check out these interesting facts about marigolds:

Marigolds are versatile.  They like full sun and hot days. They need little care. Water them twice a week and they’ll do great. Dead head the spent blossoms and the plant will produce more blooms. You can save the spent blossoms and replant your next crop. They are perfect for Florida gardeners who replant often.

Marigolds are good companion plants.  I don’t mean for people, I mean for other plants. They actually repel pests like beetles and snails. (And I’ve fought many battles with snails.) If planted as a border for your garden, their aroma discourages rabbits and deer from eating vegetables.

Marigolds are edible.  This was new information for me. Hybrid varieties can be added to salads, teas, stir fries, soups, and any dish that needs color.  If you have ever tasted one, let me know. I’m a little hesitant.

Marigolds can be used to make dye for cloth.

Marigolds were named after the Virgin Mary. Native to the Americas, the plant was treasured by Aztecs for its medicinal value. Spanish explorers brought them back to Europe and referred to them as “Mary’s Gold.”

I didn’t know marigolds were so valuable. Long live marigolds! I spread more of the seeds from the parent plants on the soil in my garden and they took root. As they grew I removed some of the parents and replaced them with seedlings.  Now there are only three parent plants. They rest of the bed is new growth. Have you ever stumbled onto an exciting discovery by accident? Leave a comment and let me know.