Friday, June 17, 2011

Help Save the Sumatran Tiger

It seems to me that one of the primary reasons we are seeing so many species on the endangered species list is due to habitat destruction. The problem is so wide-spread it seems insurmountable, but there are small ways to help. The World Wildlife Fund has a petition you can sign online to encourage the Indonesian government to stop habitat destruction and help save the Sumatran tigers. If you are interested in helping these magnificent creatures, the petitions is here:

All Activists: Sign on to Save Sumatra's Tigers | World Wildlife Fund

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Love Those Grackles!

I love grackles. I love the sound they make as they scamper about the parking lot--that wild, squawking, tropical bird sound. I love watching them prance like royalty, lifting their feet high into the air. I love the way they follow me around my yard, waiting for me to sprinkle seed into the seed dishes, and I love watching them splash in the bird bath, then shake their feathers dry.

The Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) is in the blackbird family, though they are a bit longer in the body, and much more colorful and flamboyant. Common Grackles have bluish-purple on their upper body and head and their wings shimmer with shades of bronze and green. They have golden eyes. They have long legs, long tails, and longer bills than blackbirds.

Grackles like to hang out in large flocks, which can be rather pretty when you see a flock of fancy-tail grackles and the males are fanning their tails. They are often seen in fields, parking lots, and around fast food restaurants--they seem to enjoy cold french fries. They sound like a cross between a blackbird and a crow. Actually, they sound like a grackle. I can always tell when I'm listening to a grackle.

Yesterday, I sat in my dining room watching a Common Grackle high-stepping in the bird bath. I thought it was bathing, but it didn't do the usual dip, splash and shake. In fact, it stuck its head straight down in the water, then it came back up with a tiny grasshopper in its mouth and proudly pranced about the back porch before gulping it down.

Unfortunately, after completing both the Christmas Bird Count and the Great Backyard Bird Count, the National Audubon Society announced that the Common Grackle is number 14 on a list of twenty common birds in decline. I do hope their numbers rise back up. I cannot imagine walking through a parking lot without hearing their cheerful call!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Chic Chic Cicadas...

The sound fills the air on hot summer nights, like a deep breath, and relaxed sigh. Chic, chic, chic--it grows louder, then stops, louder, then stops. It's the sound of the cicada, a sound I know well as I've listened to it every summer since I was a child.

Cicadas are fascinating creatures, and I feel a little guilty about the way I have spoken of them in the past. I have frequently photographed cicadas in their exoskeleton stage (see photos) and entered them in my personal Facebook "Ugly Bug Contest." Well, the exoskeleton of the Cicada may be a bit creepy, I suppose, but they are all creations of God, and deserve my respect.

In 1933, Stanley Bromley wrote that East Central Texas, where we live, is "a veritable cicada paradise. I have never visited a region where so many species are as abundant." And if you walk around outside in the dark--which is not advisable, considering the millions of other strange creatures that abound in East Central Texas--you will hear this abundance of cicadas, like a choir of bugs filling the air with their, um, sweet, angelic bug calls! (I know, I know, but I said I was going to try to speak nicely about them now!)

Actually, Bromley describes the singing of cicadas more accurately when he says, "they may be silent for long intervals, when suddenly the whole population will burst into song simultaneously, resulting in an ear-splitting din which subsides as suddenly as it arose."

Cicadas are rather large insects that look like flies with very long wings. They lay their eggs in cracks in tree or tree roots. Nymphs crawl underground and feed on roots, but do no perceptible damage to plants. They can stay underground for years as their hard shells develop, then eventually, they crack out of their shells and the winged creatures emerge in a similar fashion to dragonflies. It is common for millions of cicadas to hatch at once, in cycles, like locust. There are 2500 different types of cicadas around the world--the world can be a very noisy place at times!

The male cicadas are the loud noisemakers. They have what are called "tymbals" at the base of the abdomen, like ribs, which they contract. The sound is created as the tymbals move inward, and when they relax, and the tymbals go back to their original position, a second sound is created. The body of the male is fairly hollow, which make the sound resonant. To me, it sounds as if the earth itself is breathing when cicadas sing.

I have seen the fully-grown cicadas flit about the yard, but I've only been able to photograph their exoskeletons, so photographing a winged cicada is now my personal goal...but I will display my photos of the exoskeletons to the right, and I cannot promise to exclude them from my ugly bug contests!

Love and Chihuahuas

“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” --Mother Teresa

Chihuahuas are an interesting breed. They can never seem to get enough affection. I write for ten to twelve hours a day, and the entire time I am working, Chewy is sitting on my lap, nudging my hand with his nose, begging for love. There seems to be no end to the love and affection Chewy can give, or for what I feel for him, and the other little creatures God has brought into my life.

The chihuahua is the smallest breed of dog, named after the State of Chihuahua in Mexico. Its history is a mystery. It has been traced to the Techichi, companion dogs to the Toltec, according to the American Kennel Club. It is also believed that the appearance of Chihuahuas in Europe began in the time of Christopher Columbus.

Chewy, our chihuahua, first made his appearance last year, creeping out of the forest during a thunderstorm and walking up to my stepson, shivering in the rain. We were convinced that he was lost as chihuahuas are very popular in this area, but we tried for over a month to find his owner and finally concluded he was abandoned. Abandonment to dogs is an unforgivable act of cruelty as dogs want nothing more than to love and please their owners, as Chewy demonstrates from the time he wakes up until he goes to sleep.

Chewy thinks of himself as a big dog, and I have read that most chihuahuas do believe, in their minds, that they are larger than their actual size. I like to tell people we have our two chocolate labs for companionship and the chihuahua for home protection. They supposedly attach themselves to one person--and that would be me, though Chewy does show affection to my husband and stepson, and eventually warms up to others. Because they are fiercely protective, they are known for being temperamental, but this is just their protective nature. Chewy's alternate names are Chewchewcabra and Chichihuahua.

Chihuahuas are long-haired and short-haired, but Chewy is short-haired. This does not, however, prevent them from shedding. (Insert sigh here.) Their fur can be any color normally found on dogs. Chewy is fawn, but we refer to him as the "yellow dog," since he compliments the chocolate labs so well with his coloring. Chihuahuas are also prone to eye injuries because of their protruding eyes, and to hypoglycemia, particularly when puppies, because of their size. They live to be around 17 years old, and sometimes older.

Chihuahuas like to burrow. Chewy loves to wait until we are sleeping, then he jumps onto the bed and burrows beneath the covers. I find him on my feet every morning. Sometimes, if I get up in the middle of the night, he will jump onto my spot, slide beneath my pillow and pretend to be asleep.

Our little Chewy has brought a tremendous amount of joy into our lives. Adjusting to a small dog has been a challenge to a family more familiar with large breeds, but the love and affection shown by chihuahuas is contagious. I believe God's creatures instinctively love until it hurts, then love some more, and as their pets, we learn to do the same.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Flamingo

My son and his family visited us this weekend and we spent our time at the local Marriott resort in Horseshoe Bay near Marble Falls, Texas. They have a stunning botanical garden with rivers, waterfalls, ponds and lakes, turtles and frogs, and one beautiful pink flamingo.

At first, when I saw the flamingo, I thought he was fake. He held very still, standing on one leg in the middle of his pond, his beak tucked into his chest. Then he slowly raised his head and changed position. I glanced down at my grandson, and when I raised my head again, the flamingo had turned its body around. I was wondering if it would put down its leg to turn around. I didn't see it happen, so I don't know! We walked around the gardens and I photographed some turtles and frogs, and when I returned, the flamingo was, once again facing us.

It looks like cotton candy. It has some red on its body, but these are under-feathers and more like highlighting on a work of art, accents to bring out the softness of the pink. Its feathers swirl around its body as if perfectly placed by a painter, or feather-stylist. I think it has a pink eye, too, from what I can tell in the photographs.

It made me sad, in a way, to see it standing alone as flamingos are gregarious wading birds. In other words, they love to socialize in large flocks, standing along the seashore, hanging out with their friends. I think this one is a Chilean Flamingo because it has gray legs and pink knees. If I am correct, and it is a Chilean Flamingo, its species is considered Near Threatened, most likely to human encroachment and habitat destruction, which are the two main reasons animal species are threatened, but flamingos are also threatened due to egg harvesting by humans.

No one really knows why flamingos stand on one leg, but in the pictures I have posted beside this blog, you can see the second leg tucked underneath. They eat shrimp and algae. They are usually about five feet tall, weigh six to seven pounds, and have a wingspan of 55 to 65 inches.

It is possible this flamingo is not alone. I plan to call the hotel tomorrow and try to find out more information about the animal and its care. It looked healthy and very content, but I am curious as to whether or not it has a mate. If it does have a mate, the mate could very well have been hiding in the gardens somewhere.