WHAT WOULD THE BIRDS DO? – Marilyn Armstrong

I didn’t take pictures today. When I was ready to shoot, the birds were off in the boughs of trees. Sleeping, I presume. They probably had a later dinner, but I was tired and I have a lot of pictures already taken. This is a sort of “best of birds” from the past week.

A pair of Mourning Doves

So today, just pictures. Tomorrow is a feeder filling day. Which may mean I can shoot — or not. It depends on how terrified they are when we fill the feeder. Thursday I’ve got my cardiologist and that’s just outside of Boston so I won’t be doing much that day.

And we are supposedly getting snow Friday and Saturday. So we’ll so how the rest of the week goes.

SERVICE DOGS FOR VETS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I’ve always been fascinated by service dogs. I can barely get my dogs to sit, stay and come on command. So the idea that dogs can be trained to do complex tasks for the disabled seems like a miracle to me.

The Guide Dog Foundation For The Blind expanded in 2003 to include America’s VetDogs. This organization gives assistance to wounded veterans to help them return to a normal life. America’s VetDogs still shares staff and resources with the Guide Dog Foundation.

VetDogs provides service dogs to veterans who have a wide variety of disabilities and issues which prevent them from getting around independently. Service dogs help those with physical limitations, those who are blind or have low vision, those who are deaf and those who have PTSD.

Veterans who are paired with dogs go to the VetDogs ten-acre campus in Smithtown, New York, for a two-week, residential training program. The student and his or her dog bond and learn to work together as a team. The classes are small and there are lots of individual attention and instruction.

VetDogs has a wonderful Prison Puppy Program that allows prison inmates to train potential service dogs from early puppyhood. The prisoners also get invaluable benefits. I used to watch a TV series about prisoners training puppies and it was a joy to watch.

The inmates developed a sense of responsibility toward the dogs and a sense of accomplishment at their dogs’ progress. Puppies also create a calmer climate in correctional facilities and bring some normalcy to the prison environment.

Puppies get sent to the prisons at eight to nine weeks old. They live in the handler’s cell where the inmate works on house breaking and other basic skills. The dogs attend classes with their handlers, participate in recreational activities and even go to meals with their handlers. An American VetDogs instructor comes once a week to provide training instructions and monitor progress.

The inmates learn about canine socialization, puppy development, behavior theories, grooming, and canine first aid.

Prison handlers do more than teach basic obedience skills. They also train the dogs for service dog tasks, like retrieving dropped items, opening doors and refrigerators and providing support and balance on stairs. The prisoners also acclimate their dogs to objects in the outside world, like umbrellas, skateboards, and battery operated toys.

But a prison environment is limited. So the puppies go to the home of an outside family on weekends, often prison staff members. Here they learn house manners and they become familiar with cars and traffic noise. Dogs are taken to stores, restaurants, and hospitals so they can confidently go wherever their future veteran partner will take them.

When the puppies reach adulthood, the dogs go back to VetDogs for assessment, final training, and client matching. Statistics show that prison-raised dogs go through these final phases in half the time as home-raised dogs.

One dog trained in the prison program has become an overnight celebrity. His name is Sully and when he was two, in June of 2018, he was matched with former President George H.W. Bush.

Sully with Bush and Clinton

Bush, Sr. was always a dog lover and he welcomed Sully enthusiastically into his home and his heart. Sully helped Bush, who was in a wheelchair, pick up dropped items, open and close doors, push an emergency button and support him when the 94-year-old former president stood.

Sully developed a following on social media. His own Instagram account had more than 98,000 followers. Since George H.W. Bush’s death, Sully has become even more popular. A photo of Sully forlornly lying in front of Bush’s casket in the Capitol Rotunda went viral. Sully seemed heartbroken, but also seemed to still be keeping watch over his partner. His devotion exploded the internet.

Sully’s service to President Bush is over, but his career as a service dog is not. America’s VetDogs will send Sully to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. There he will assist with physical and occupational therapy for wounded soldiers. The Bush family found comfort in knowing that Sully would continue to help veterans for many years to come.

The relationship between President Bush and Sully has shined a spotlight on the amazing things that service dogs can do for people with physical and emotional limitations. Maybe Sully’s fifteen minutes of fame will result in more money being donated to training more dogs for civilians as well as for veterans.

It costs over $50,000 to breed, raise, train and place one assistance dog. And dogs are provided to veterans free of charge. America’s VetDogs is a non-profit organization so funding comes exclusively from donations.

So please donate to America’s VetDogs by going to their website. It’s a wonderful cause.

RELAXING WHILE THE BIRDS HIT THE FEEDER – Marilyn Armstrong

Relaxing With the Birds – 12/28/2018

I love watching the birds. I peer out of my bathroom window to see what they are doing when I’m getting up in the morning, but unless I’m getting up unusually late, there’s usually not much happening.

Birds are on a schedule.

They come by for breakfast just after sunrise. I’m not usually awake at that hour unless the dogs have been unusually noisy, in which case I might be awake. I might even take a few pictures, though I’d really rather be in bed.

Nuthatch and Chickadee

The shy birds — the ones who avoid people and barking dogs — visit the feeder early in the day, so unless I happen to be up, I don’t see them. By the time I’m ready to take pictures — about midday — it’s the usual suspects. Warblers (several kinds). I still can’t tell which is which without a photograph and my book). Tufted Titmouses, Chickadees, Nuthatches and depending on luck, one of three different woodpeckers — the Hairy, Downy, and Red-Bellied varieties all come to the feeder. Not to mention the Juncos — all those who live in the area.

Birds not of one feather

A Cardinal came, looked around. So did a few Blue Jays. When I buy expensive bird food, I also get a variety of finches. They eat different food than other birds. The current food selection is (alas) not to their taste. A pity because the finches are a colorful and adorable group of little birds.

The squirrels must come early in the day. I know they’ve been here because a lot of food is missing from the flat feeder. Sometimes they drop by in the late afternoon, just before dark. I don’t always see them because when they are around, I’m tired. I’ve already done my shooting by then.

Landing Chickadee with a sitting Warbler

I realized today that at least part of the reason my arm hurts is from holding the heavy lens still and ready to shoot. When the birds are busy and I’m waiting for them to settle down, I keep the camera up and ready. There’s a Murphy’s Law involved in this. I know the second I lower the camera, half a dozen birds will be all over the feeder and by the time I get the camera back in place, they will be gone.

Not all the birds perch on the feeder. Many of them fly by. They dive to the feeder, grab a seed, and fly off. It’s hard getting pictures of diving birds, but I got one this morning.

Yay me!

Coming in for a landing

So all the typing and working on the computer is only part of the problem. The rest of my problem is hoisting the big camera into position than holding it at eye level, trying to keep it steady.

This is difficult with a long 2.5-pound lens. I try to wedge my butt against the dining room table and prop the camera up by doubling my right arm and pressing it against my chest. Today, I felt that old familiar ache and realize “Oh, there’s that pain.” It was a revelatory moment for me. Suddenly, I understood why — out of the blue — my arm was bothering me. It was all about the camera. My wrist is an old, familiar pain. The arm problem is new.

I’ve known a lot of camera people (Garry used to hang out with the tech people). They all had shoulder and arm problems. Of course, television cameras are heavier than my camera, even with a heavy lens, but the camera people were younger than me when they were working. It all evens out.

Woodpecker and Warbler

It made me remember being a kid and going bowling — duckpins rather than the bigger balls for tenpins — and two days later, I thought I was going to die. Every inch of me hurt. I had no idea what was wrong with me.

No fever, just pain. Until my uncle said “Hey, remember we went bowling a couple of days ago? I bet that’s why you hurt.”

Chickadee landing

I’m a “two days later” sufferer. I feel fine the same and following day, but the next day … oh boy. I don’t know why my body delays the pain for an extra day but apparently, it isn’t so unusual either. It does give me extra time to take a couple of hot showers, and with luck get some sleep.

If I know what’s coming, I can “do stuff” to take the edge off.

Tufted Titmouse

I knew I was becoming a pretty good rider (of horses) when I could ride for a couple of hours and even a few days later, I felt fine. I developed muscles in places I didn’t know you could develop muscles. Interesting muscles.

Just saying.

I have not developed any special muscles for hoisting a 5-pound camera and holding it steady for an hour a day. I’m not sure I will, either. What can I do?

There are the birds and there’s my camera, right at the end of the table with the lens in place. How can I not take pictures? The birds are waiting. The feathery flutterers need me. I need them.

The world is waiting! Isn’t it?

A SQUIRREL’S INTRIGUE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Intrigue

It’s not as complicated with this squirrel as it was with Moose and Squirrel. They had opponents, Boris and Natasha. This squirrel’s only concern is whether the birds are going to attack him if he sits down and has some brunch in the flat feeder.

I’m thinking. Where are Boris and Natasha when I need them?
I think I need an agent!

He’s been in and out of it all morning, but the little flock birds, especially the warblers, are getting a bit aggressive about a big furry guy plunked in the feeder and they dive bomb him as he munches. But Owen refilled the feeder this morning, so there’s plenty for everyone. They only seem to get possessive when the quantity drops kind of low … which take 3 days, by the way. These birds are very good eaters.

Pssst, birds. I’m hungry too!
I can smell the corn and the sunflower seeds! I’m gonna make a run for it!

He eventually made his way into the feeder where he stayed quite a while, but these were taken while he sat in the oak tree trying to make up his mind: to feed or not to feed? THAT is the question!

THE EYES OF BEASTS: A PHOTO A WEEK – Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: Eyes

READY FOR MORE FEATHERS? – Marilyn Armstrong

I’m having a lot of fun with my new lens.

When it functions properly which is not all the time — sometimes it has a fit of “macro-ness” and decides that it just can’t figure out where to focus. It’s annoying but overall, it is a wonderful lens.

It is sharp, crisp, has excellent color. I’m really enjoying it!

Most of the time it works very well. Razor sharp. However, at its longest length, sometimes it can’t quite decide what item it should focus on and even though, in theory, I am focusing manually, it’s electronic and has its own issues.

An elegant take-off. His tail looks like a Chinese or Japanese fan.
Blue Jay, watching, waiting in the trees. I wonder if he will ever come to the feeder?
A very healthy looking woodpecker … much better than last week.
Chickadee-dee-dee …

Owen refilled the feeder today. I was surprised we didn’t have our usual volume of visitors, but it was sunny and I notice that a lot of the birds were ‘working the woods’ for leftover goodies of warmer days, like seeds, dried berries, and any insect that (so far) survived the weather.

Nuthatch!
Playful woodpecker?
Junco

I finally saw my a Blue Jay today. They were such common visitors to our house in New York, it’s strange how rarely they show up here. They are not feeder visitors, usually, so this guy sort of hung around. I believe he was considering coming to the feeder, but Jays are suspicious and he kept his distance.

SPEAKING OF SQUIRRELS, A LITTLE DIY FOR YOUR SPARE TIME – Marilyn Armstrong

Need something to do with all that spare time?

This one was a beer advertisement!

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