Sunday, May 24, 2009

Icelandic Ponies On Orcas Island

Islands In Springtime

Bliss and Joy and Orcas Island

Another gorgeous day of Island Bliss. I am going to make this short, as my entries have been pretty long so far. Today was another amazing day of sunshine, and perfect weather. I enjoyed a delightful brunch of Huevos Rancheros at Artworks Cafe which is a shortr one mile walk from where I am House sitting. The food was yummy, yet I could definitely do without a crowded cafe. Oh yeah, I forgot it is a holiday weekend, so everyone and their brother is here. The cafe, although quaint and filled with local island artwork, is small, so when it is crowded it can feel somewhat claustrophobic. In any case it was enjoyable and I feel blessed to say I live here. I came back and with book in hand, took a catnap in the Hammock, watching all the little birds at the feeder.

I just now returned from a walk up the road visiting a neighbor, and her two wonderful Icelandic Ponies, Gandhi and Jupiter. I helped her brush them, and was in Horsey love for awhile. Icelandic Ponies are so endearing and have the sweetest faces. They were both molting their winter coats, so they looked so shiny. I love the bangs on Icelandic Ponies, it makes them look even more sweet. Anyway, twas another incredible day of Island bliss.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

All About those Brainy Birds, A bit of Raven Talk

gilly Gal at Raptor Center

I guess it's about time I actually walked my talk, Raven Talk that is. There is actually a story about how I got my name, and in case you are wondering it was from a very special indeed Brainy Bird.

My fascination and or obsession with those Brainy Birds began around 15 years ago. I had just signed up to volunteer at a local Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in San Rafael, California. For years I wanted to work with Wild Animals, and I was thrilled when I found out that there was a Wildlife Center not too far from the city that had a great Volunteer Program. In order to volunteer you had to take the basic Wildlife Rehabilitation course over a weekend and once you passed it you were assigned to a specific area of the Center. I chose the clinic since I could be exposed to a variety of animals and learn a variety of new skills. On my first day of work my supervisor was not there, so I asked the Intern on duty what I should do? She said, well, you can clean Edgar and Lenore's enclosure as well as feed them. Edgar and Lenore were the resident Ravens who were actually flighted birds, yet they had been raised by a human so they were imprinted on humans. Ravens are at the top of the Bird intelligence chart, so when people try to raise them, they become quite dependent on this and therefore cannot be released successfully back into the wild. She also warned me that Edgar had an eye for pecking peoples heads, so she suggested I should wear a hat. Well, not taking any chances I took her advice and found a hat and promptly put it on. I gathered my cleaning bucket and rags, as well as preparing their daily diet of chicks, and some yummy fruit to feast on. The job consisted of collecting their table scraps and various carcasses that could be lying about, and hosing down the enclosure. So, I happily set out to do my new job. I must admit I was a bit nervous as Edgar and Lenore were quite large and impressive and I wasn't used to being in such close contact with these gorgeous shiny Black Flighted friends. When I first went in, Lenore flew up to a high perch and pretty much ignored my presence, Edgar on the other hand decided that it would be fun to follow me around, and chased my feet and try to peck at my feet... so much for the hat, what I needed were foot guards. I realized he was merely checking me out, and after a little talking to he settled down. I guess after I was done, and placed their new luncheon plate down, that they figured I was okay. This day marked my new obsession with the largest Songbirds we have known as Ravens. Ravens are a member of the family of Corvids which are part of the Passerine group of birds, otherwise known as perching birds. This family also includes their close relatives, Crows, jays and Magpies, Clark's Nutcrackers, Rooks and the lesser known Treepies who are mostly in Asia and Africa. Ravens being the largest of this family and I must say quite the colorful characters. Ravens have over 40 different types of calls which are primarily used to communicate with their mates and other Ravens. Ravens mate for life and they are usually seen in pairs or by themselves. They are very private Nester's, and usually nest in more remote mountain areas, as opposed to Crows who live in large family roosts, and are more urban. That is not to say a Raven will not take advantage of an opportunity and pay visits to your local McDonald's for a tasty bag of leftover french fries. After that first day at the center, I wanted to work more with Lenore and Edgar as I found them quite entertaining and fascinating in a very Bird like way. After that fateful day I was forever in amore with these incredible birds.

Since that fateful day I have stayed true to my heart and to this day I am still in love with these birds. I have had them follow me on hikes, talk to me from high perches and I must say I have greatly improved my raven talk and can talk back to them now. Four years ago, I moved to Alaska to work in Denali National park. I had heard that everything in Alaska was bigger, and when I arrived this theory proved itself true. Once, I was on my lunch break, and I saw a huge bird soaring in the sky. At first I thought it was a huge Raptor, perhaps a Golden Eagle or a large hawk, the bird continued to soar and then all of the sudden began a slow descent down close to the area where our garbage cans were, not to my surprise at all, it was a huge Raven, probably around 27 inches long and I was amazed. So yes, this theory proved most definitely true. Later that summer I was about to embark on a hike and a Raven was perched on a sign. As I began my hike four of these Ravens followed me the entire way there and back as well.. you see Raven is steeped in folkloric myth throughout times, and many cultures believe Raven is a messenger, and I wondered what type of message these Ravens were sending me. I have studied various Indigenous cultures over the years and love the relationship between animal and human and the lessons they teach us. In the Cultures of the Pacific Northwest peoples, Raven is a Trickster and also a Creator. For many Raven has created the animals, he has stolen the Sun and the Moon, and is a symbol of transformation. Some of the Northern cultures, such as the Inuit, believe that Raven began actually as a white bird, and through his ability to shape shift and change he turned into a black bird. In this translation I see the part of us that is both the darkness and the lightness. The darkness which is often sad and or negative, and the light being that of joy and happiness. Raven has the ability to help transform the consciousness from the Darkness to the light. I later found out what Ravens message was to me. I realized after four months in Denali that I wanted to stay in Alaska, so I applied for a job at Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka located in the Southeastern part of the state. My volunteer work in Wildlife Rehabilitation, plus experience in a Veterinary Hospital and several other related volunteer jobs surely helped me get this job. When I arrive at the Center, I found out that they had a resident Raven who had no left wing, she had been shot and lost most of her wing from the Humerus down. Gilly Gal as we affectionately called her had once had a partner, however he had died, so now mostly through boredom she was starting to display boredom behaviors, so I was elected or I should say self appointed as her primary keeper. This entailed spending extra time with her every day, devising various food games and other forms of enrichment work so she would not be so bored. Well, this experience totally benefited both of us, as I learned so much from her, and in turn helped her have a better life at the center. Ravens and Crows really do adore shiny objects, so at the local thrift store I found various toys of the shiny variety that I could use to hide food in and place throughout her enclosure. Hiding food was always fun, and it gave her the opportunity to work for her food and not expect only handouts. I would hide things under branches, in corners, in holes in the trees and she always seemed to have a good time of it. During the fall Blackberry season, I would pick the Branches and hang them all over her enclosure and in no time they were gone. One of her favorite snacks were meal worms.. sounds so yummy hey? So, I came up with this idea of taking empty toilet paper rolls, and wrapping the meal worms in paper towels, and then stuffing them in the roll. I would hang them on various branches and she really had a blast. First, she would pull out the paper towel, rip it apart and literally suck down the worms, after that she proceeded to tear up the towels and throw them everywhere which was always fun to watch. On one occasion I decided to ad an extra treat and wrapped a mouse separately, we only gave the Corvids mice once a week, since we needed the mice for the smaller raptors that were either residents or Rehabilitating. In any case, the mouse was wrapped up separately at the opposite end of the Toilet paper roll, she realized that there was yet another tasty treat left for her dining pleasure, so she pulled it out, unwrapped it very carefully, and I could see how excited she was.. then she totally caught me off guard, she jumped off her perch and walked over to her water pan with the mouse in her foot, then she carefully washed the mouse off before devouring it.. I was amazed that I was witnessing her clean her food. Ravens and Crows are known to use tools, so this to me was priceless. So you see, they really are Brainy Birds.

Last fall I was awarded a scholarship for a Course at North Cascades Institute on Diablo Lake in North Cascades National Park. The class was taught by Professor John Marzluff who wrote the book In The Company of Ravens and Crows, The class was Corvid Ecology and other Corvid Brainy Birds. It was a wonderful weekend and we spent it on various field trips throughout the park looking at Gray Jays, Yellow Billed Magpies, Stellar Blue Jays, Clark's Nutcrackers and of course my fave, the Raven. The Lake on which the Institute is located has a mating pair of Ravens, so we spent a great deal of time setting up food booby traps in hopes of capturing them. Well as I mentioned these are very intelligent birds, and the Ravens were suspicious of our food traps, so no such luck. In a way I was glad, as I did not want to catch them, yet Biologists do this as part of their studies. Apparently they have been monitoring the pair for several years, so this was part of the study. I learned so much from John, and I was so grateful for having won the scholarship. He showed us an intelligent chart that ranked various species, and ravens were way on top, just a tad notch below a parrot. They have huge brains, and as I mentioned both Ravens and Crows have the ability to use tools. Another study was done several years ago with New Calendonian
Crows on this ability and I will attach the link to the website with the Video on Betty The Crow which is a must see.

Throughout history Ravens have been steeped in Mythological legend. During the Middle Ages in Europe, Ravens and Crows were considered a bad omen, yet not such the case with the Native peoples of this country. For the Native peoples of the Plains Tribes, Raven is considered a messenger and since the Bird is Black, Raven represents going into the Darkness of the Void. This is a place in your mind, that when you allow yourself to go to that dark place and have the answers come to you, thus transforming your consciousness. In the Northwest Raven is a Religious Symbol and represents both the Creator and Trickster. Raven has stolen the Sun, the moon, and also has created all the Animals. Raven is depicted in all types of art and particularly the Totem Poles of Southeastern Alaska and Canada. The Tlingits of the Southeast also have a symbol called the Lovebirds, which shows both a Raven and an Eagle. The Tlingits have clans, and cannot marry within their own clan, yet a Raven can marry an Eagle. Raven is also revered in the Celtic Culture and there is an Ancient Goddess associated with Raven known as the Morrigan. She was a triple Goddess and a Warrior as well. Raven represented transformation with the Ancient Celtics as well. So Raven is steeped in Folklore, even the British have folklore, and tradition says that when Raven leaves the tower of London, the Tower will come down. She even helped Noah carry the flood waters during Biblical times. No other Avian creature in history has so many legends, and you can understand why when you spend time with these amazing winged Spirits. watch this video on Betty the Crow

A Birds Eye View

What a Glorious day it is. After finishing a morning shift at the Salmon Hatchery , I came back to where I am currently Pet and House sitting. With the sun shining brightly and only a few clouds in the sky, it has truly been a day of perfection. I made myself some lunch, then opted to lay outside in the Hammock and watch the birds at the feeder. With guide book in hand I was in awe with the eclectic diversity of little birds at the feeder today. Mind you, my songbird knowledge is pretty minimal, however over the course of the last few years I have learned a great deal more, and with the trusty turn of the Bird guide book page, I am learning more. Brightly colored feathers fluttering about and anxious little beaks gathering all the seeds they could. My favorite of the day was the Black Headed Grosbeak, what a pretty little guy. I also enjoyed the Goldfinches who are Washington's State Bird. Of course their was Mister Gregarious, The Stellar Blue Jay, whom completely takes over the feeder and everyone else leaves. Bird feeders are such a great way to learn about birds, and you can watch them from a safe distance without scaring them away. I really do feel grateful and blessed to be able to have the great advantage of living in a place where I can enjoy this, and live in harmony with the nature around me.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Afternoon with the J's

I suppose you are wondering what I mean by J's? Stellar Blue Jays? Gray Jays? or the J family down the street? Well none of that is correct...

Today was a glorious afternoon spending time with J-pod, one of the Resident Orca pods here in the San Juan's.

We left Deer Harbor at 1:00pm
with seven Passengers, I was the Naturalist on duty today. Last night I received a phone call from Tom at Deer Harbor Charters he needed a Naturalist today, so after going to work at the Salmon Hatchery this morning, I headed out to Deer Harbor, of course that was after clipping over 1500 Baby Salmon Fry's, This would be my first day out this season, and I was really looking forward to seeing our Residents for the first time this year. After a long absence of 44 days, J-Pod along with some members of K-pod returned last week. Everyone who is involved in the Whale Watch Industry here gets very excited this time of year for the residents to return. J-pod being the most resident of the three pods, sticking around for a great part of the year. This is only my fifth time out total in the two years I have lived here, so for me it was particularly thrilling.

The Day started out very slow. We were in close touch with the other operators, and as of noon, there had only been one reported siting near Discovery Island. Yet we kept our hopes up high, and in the long run our faith and trust paid off. The trip started out with several sightings of Harbor Seals, a few Bald Eagles and then some Harbor Porpoise. We were heading towards Canada, via Spieden Island to view some of the very unusual Wildlife They have on Spieden. Back in the 1960's, Speiden Island was purchased by two brothers for a reputed 10,000 with the intention of starting a Game Safari Resort. This was quite odd, considering we are in the Middle of an Inland sea in Washington. They imported several types of exotic ungulates from such places as Denmark, Japan and Africa. Fallow Deer, A type of Mountain Sheep called Mouflans from Corsica and a little Deer from Japan. People would come and stay on the Island to hunt the animals.. which I think is totally strange. The idea never did prosper and was eventually sold. After leaving Spieden we were still continuing Northwest I believe towards Turn Point and closer to Canada. Finally we began receiving some new reports that the Orcas had been heard on one of the Hydrophones, one of which turned out to be false. Yet, Tom preserved and never gave up hope and finally around 4:00 some of J-pod was sighted. Excitement definitely came over me as I really wanted to see the Whales before I leave for two months to work at Mount Rainier in June. The whales were very spread out, which has been more common lately with the lack of available food prey, nevertheless a welcome site. First we spotted J-30 also known as Riptide. He was born in 1995, so he is still quite the young male, Males have a more impressive Dorsal fin that grows with age, and can get up to 6 foot high. Ruffles J-1 appeared and he has a very distinguishable Dorsal fin at 6 foot with the potato chip design on it. We also saw one of the new calves J-45 belonging to J-14, Samish. The Babies are so cute with their Yellow/orange coloring still. When they are infants they have more of a jaundice coloring to them. She was traveling very close to her Mom. There was some fun behavior and I saw a breach or two . When they feed they go down to around 150 feet where the Salmon are, so you have to be patient to wait for them to come up to the surface again. Once they fed, they were in traveling mode again, so we spent around 1/2 hour with them, which was great! Even with the water a bit choppy it was well worth the patience we endured to see them today.

Photos are from Center for Whale Research site
Whale Museum site
and google royalty