Connecting with wildlife from home

This post is as much for me as it is for you. I hope you are all coping as well as you can right now. With spring approaching, I had been looking forward to seeing spring arrivals and migrants in the bird world. The swallows, who are honestly my most looked-forward-to birds, osprey returning to their mates and nests and everyone else looking to breed this summer season. I’ve signed up to monitor bluebird nestboxes this summer and have been eagerly awaiting seeing and learning more about them while contributing to a long-term scientific study.

A lot of these things, plus a trip to southern and south-central Oregon have been affected, but I know things could be a whole lot worse. I’m looking forward to rescheduling my trip and trying to remain optimistic in the meantime. Amid all the gloomy news barraging us each day, it can be hard not to get lost in anxiety. However, we can still connect with nature from home. We’re fortunate to have a number of webcams to watch life unfold before us and I thought I’d recommend a few.

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juvenile Bald Eagle perched just outside the nest

If you want to watch Bald Eagle nests, I’ve found two excellent cams hosted by the Hancock Foundation in the Vancouver, BC area. For me, its nice to watch some webcams from familiar places; it makes me feel more connected to my region. There are cams in Surrey and Delta; both nests currently have eggs and should be hatching eagle chicks any day now! Remembering the plight Bald Eagles faced 30 years ago, its uplifting to see them able to successfully nest today.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a huge number of bird webcams from all around the world hosted on their site. My personal favourite is the backyard FeederWatch cam at the Cornell Lab in Ithaca, NY. I love the audio on this one, too. Today when I checked in, I spied Black-capped Chickadees, Mourning Doves, Red-winged Blackbirds, a Hairy Woodpecker (I think!) and possibly a Rusty Blackbird, but I’m not totally up on the east coast birds which is part of the fun. I’ve seen nuthatches and cardinals before, too. My cat can enjoy watching this one, too. Bird-watching is one of her favourite past-times.

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Amber watching birds out the window

I was very excited to find a webcam at the Royal Albatross colony in Dunedin, New Zealand at the Cornell site. Being autumn there, the parents are currently feeding the chicks at the nest and I watched a chick begging their parent for food, who honestly seemed somewhat disinterested. Read about Royal Albatross lifecycles here. Its pretty amazing that we have the opportunity to watch something like this from afar, without disturbing the birds, giving us a chance to see a part of wildlife we would likely not otherwise have. For me, its extra special because Dunedin has to be one of my favourite places on earth and it makes me feel a little bit nostalgic and homesick for a city surrounded by such beauty and wildlife.

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Osprey will be busy rebuilding nests soon

One of the most entertaining birds to watch at their nest, osprey, ought to be arriving soon. I’m not sure if the webcam on the nest I used to watch at the University of Victoria will be live or not, but I did find one from Cowlitz County Public Works in Washington state. I suppose we’ll have to stay tuned.

Back to B.C., we can watch the Great Blue heronry at Stanley Park in downtown Vancouver. It was hard to tell what stage they’re at and I haven’t seen any eggs, but it appears there are heron sitting on, or at, nests, so perhaps they’re still getting ready.

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Common Murre juvenile at the Oregon Coast Aquarium

I also had fun checking in on the seabirds at the Oregon Coast Aquarium where you can watch Tufted Puffins, Rhinoceros Auklets and Common Murres. Its nice to see what my neighbours to the west are up to. If you’re looking for something a little different and want an even more nautical experience (or perhaps feel like a James Bond villain) tune in to their fish and shark tank and forget all about pandemics and quarantine.

If you want something truly uplifting, check in with the rescue cats at the TinyKittens HQ streaming on YouTube. Also based in B.C., this group rescues feral cats. Pregnant cats are often featured and you can watch them give birth and see their kittens grow up, as well as some of the challenges they face along the way.

Again, not wild animals this time, but if you’re looking for an idyllic farm scene, check in with the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glens, NY to see what the alpaca, sheep and cattle are getting up to. When I checked in at the Cattle Pasture, a herd of White-tailed Deer greeted me instead.

nz newzealand sheepOf course, if you’re lucky enough to have a backyard, spend some time in it! Get to know the locals and appreciate the little things you might normally overlook. If you want to bring some wildlife to your yard, put up a bird feeder (please read important tips before starting) and see who comes to visit. Take care of yourself and enjoy what nature you can right now!

A snowy hike at Vancouver Island’s Strathcona Park in June

Back in mid-June, when we weren’t in the grip of a heat wave and summer was still at its start, I finally went on a trip to Strathcona Provincial Park that I’d been hoping to do for some time. I wanted to hike part of the Forbidden Plateau lakes trail. My partner and I had thought about stopping to do it on our way back from the North Island last April, but decided the weather wasn’t quite right yet.

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Path through the woods early on the Forbidden Plateau trails at Strathcona Provincial Park

Our original plan was to head up to Lake Helen Mackenzie then continue on to Kwai Lake, taking take a loop trail past a number of others lakes back to the start. We arrived early and were ready for a big day. It was nice to arrive up in the mountains, where it had to be about 10 degrees cooler and even the air smelled fresher. We set off on a very well-maintained trail through alpine marshes alternating with forest trails.

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I imagine in a few weeks’ time, this marsh will be overgrown with beautiful wildflowers of all colours.

For the most part, it was quite silent in the still mountain air; a refreshing silence. But as we stepped onto one of the many boardwalks that cross the marshes along the trail, we heard a very loud cry in the distance.

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An inquisitive Canada Jay (Gray Jay or whiskeyjack – a bird of many names).
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A fledgling Canada Jay learning from parents.

Suddenly, a family of curious Gray Jays (or Canada Jays) landed in the trees around us and loudly advertised their, and our, presence to the whole forest. With them was a very demanding juvenile bird. I’m sure the whole family would have loved a nice treat from us. Once they seemed to understand that we weren’t those kinds of humans, they eventually moved off into the woods, hopping from tree to tree until they disappeared and silence reigned once more.

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intelligence in the eyes of a Canada Jay

Crossing a creek, we glimpsed a lone Black-tailed Deer upstream, so different from the urban deer we frequently see. I wonder how many people this doe encounters in her daily life. After a pleasant walk, we reached Lake Helen Mackenzie, its calm, clear water stirred only by the gentle wind. On the far side of the lake, snow touched down to lake level and I could imagine this place snow and ice-covered in the winter.

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Black-tailed deer in natural habitat.
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Lake Helen Mackenzie

After lunching at the lakeside, we assessed our energy levels and opted to continue on to Kwai Lake. From here, the trail became less well-defined and more difficult, with roots and branches threatening to trip you underfoot and a steady uphill climb, sometimes across little ephemeral creeks.

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Small cascade coming down the hillside along the trail

A loud chorus of frogs croaked in the near distance; I could glimpse just bits of a lake somewhere below us. I don’t think I’ve ever heard frogs quite so loud! We continued on until the path became even less defined and covered in more and more snow as we climbed up.

Thoughts of turning back began to creep into my mind as we kept going until we reached another hiker who opted to turn around because he lost the trail beneath the snow. He wished us luck and we kept on until we, too, lost all sign of the trail beneath the snow now blanketing everywhere. After a brief discussion on the pro’s con’s and possibilities of each choice, we decided to turn back for safety’s sake. We could have pushed on, but I felt safer and more comfortable turning back, knowing I’d be safe at my campground that night.

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An early spring flower in the mountains

We passed by the loud chorusing frogs again and passed Lake Helen Mackenzie, now much busier than it was when we’d arrived earlier, and followed the trail loop back to the trailhead past Battleship Lake. As it turns out, we ran into another hiker who’d turned back and changed plans, too, which reassured me we made the right choice.

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Battleship Lake and Mt Washington in the background

Though disappointed we didn’t make the full hike, it was still a beautiful trip. For me, it is more about the journey and what we see and experience along the way than the end destination.

After encountering more Gray Jays on our return, we made it safely to our campground for the night. By the river, it was much warmer and it was hard to believe that we’d been stopped by snow earlier in the day. But that is part of the fascination of the mountains; they are like a world apart.

That night, at our campground, I heard something that sounded like a raptor for sure. When I got up to investigate in the nearby trees, I found two Barred Owl owlets perched up high being watched over by their parent. Though our trip hadn’t gone quite according to plan, if you open your eyes and ears, and observe what’s around you, remember what’s important, you might not care so much about the unexpected.

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juvenile and adult Barred Owls

 

Finding a sanctuary of serenity in nature

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When I start feeling down, its time for a walk. Sometimes, I spend a lot of time thinking about why the world is the way it is and how it came to be that way. I think about all the worst things; people who cheat and lie, who corrupt and take advantage of others. The way the world revolves around money, the fragmentation of the habitats with cookie-cutter houses and cement. I start to hate the very pavement I am walking on and again, that part of me wonders if I could just run away and leave it all behind. I wonder if I am the only person who thinks this way. Why does everyone else seem to just accept the world as it is?

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I go to the beach, where I can watch birds and feel the sun and listen to the leaves swishing in a gentle breeze and lose myself in nature. At least for a little while. It helps me forget the imbalances and injustices.

I can see the simplest beauty that we are surrounded by in nature. Its so much better than the manufactured thing. When I reach the beach, a lone Great Blue Heron stands on the shoreline. He looks small somehow with his neck is hunched down as he stands still, then lurches forward to catch a fish every now and again. And for a while, its just him and me.

In the distance, I can hear bald eagles making noise at their nearby neighborhood nest. Just as I am about to go check them out, I see a swirl in the water and a head pops up. Its a river otter. Then, another head surfaces and I stop to watch the pair for a while. Off to my right, I notice a large crevice in the rocks I’d never seen before and I wonder if they take refuge and nest there or not.

I watch them for a while as they bob up and down, swishing their long tails and head towards the rocks before turning back again and swimming away out of sight. I move on to the bald eagle nest, where the juvenile is perched on a branch alone; the parents must have just left. I head down to the nearby beach and sit on a rock.

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my Purple Martin pair

Suddenly, a pair of Purple Martins start circling low in the air around me, making me a centrepiece. I am amazed to be so close to one of my favourite birds and I watch them, enraptured. But soon I start to worry I am stressing them if they have a nest nearby (though I see no nestboxes or even good-looking spots for them nearby), so I move away and give them space, just in case.

I find a bald eagle parent across the water, perched on a rock. He returns to the nest, then comes back again. There’s a rush of emotions that comes with watching. As the bald eagle parent leaves the nesting tree and flies low over the beach, the purple martin pair chatters loudly, perhaps agitated, and fly in circles, swooping and diving. Is this to distract a predator from their nest or to warn their young? I don’t know, but it seems somehow connected. Black Oystercatchers chitter and fly away in a tight group and ravens squawk and dive-bomb the eagle as soon as it perches atop a tree.

Its funny to think all of this happens within a mere few moments as one bird flies out to fish. Does anyone else take notice or I am watching my own private nature documentary? I want all of them and their young to survive; I can’t possibly pick sides. They each have a value and a purpose in the balance of nature, predator and prey.

In the quiet morning, with just the gentle swish of waves and the sound of the birds, the serenity is contagious. In between, the moments of action are exciting. Sometimes, I wish these moments could last forever.

 

Saying goodbye to the kitten who stole my heart

Just about a month ago, I said goodbye to my little foster kitty, Zip. She was my first one and she absolutely stole my heart. It was bittersweet saying goodbye between losing this little girlie I had come to know and love but happiness knowing she was going home to a wonderful family.

In fact, I am so grateful and overjoyed that she found a family who will look after her with love and care, and give her everything she needs. Because of her special needs, I worried she would never find a good home. Well, I was wrong, because obviously they could see how sweet and lovely she is!

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She’s positively angelic.

I spent lots of time with her while she was in my care. I got to know her different mews, where she liked to be scratched and what games and toys she liked the most. She cuddled up to me in bed every night, purring like a nonstop motor, sometimes licking my hair and wrapping herself around my head. She grew so much under my care and got a lot healthier being in a home.

She has such purr-sonality and she is so gentle, but equally very playful and excitable. Every night around bedtime, she’d get her energy and run back and forth and jump on all the furniture. She jumped like a fox on all fours, pouncing unseen prey.

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So bright and beautiful and always ready for the camera, my inquisitive little one.

Just like every other cat who seems to come into my life, I will love her forever. I think of her often, some days more than others. I will never forget her and cherish my memories. We celebrated her first Christmas and her 6 month birthday! Her family has updated me to say she is very happy and I think fondly of her at home with her family and new kitty brother, who is her newfound b.f.f.! She always loved other cats, it was a shame my own cat did not get along with her.

Looking back, I’d do it all again the same way even though it stressed out my poor Amber so much, she lost weight during the time I was fostering. The good news is, once Zipper went home, Amber gained her weight and returned to normal very quickly! I won’t be taking any more fosters for her sake, but if you are able, I highly encourage you to do so! Especially for those senior kitties or ones with special needs. They need you the most, and they often give the most love back in return. ❤

A different kind of post: some ramblings of the inner mind…

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Even on a cloudy day, Hobbiton looks a most appealing place to live a life in peace, surrounded by green grass, trees and cozy homes.

“The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.” – Gildor, The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien

Solitude. The woods. Silence. Golden. Words that run through my head. Sometimes I fantasize about running away to the woods. Living in a cabin. Off the grid. In harmony with nature, lush green trees surrounding me and the singing of birds to wake me as the sun lights up the room. Just me and my partner and my cat in the quiet and the calm, living slow and peaceful lives…wanting to fence the world out (like a hobbit).

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To live beneath the earth, below a grand tree, to look out on a garden abounding with life!

“You cannot always be torn in two. [Frodo told Sam] You will have to be one and whole, for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do.” – The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien

Other times, I feel the fire of the unjustness I see around me and I want to fight. To stand up and say: this is wrong, you are wrong, this is unjust. The system is corrupt. How can we fix it? What can I do? If I do nothing, will nothing change? But I feel so small.

How do I choose between the two halves and find balance? Like a hero of mine, I think of “Ultimate freedom. […] No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild.” (Chris McCandless, Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer)

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Did Chris McCandless feel as immensely small as I did at the Grand Canyon? I was amazed at its never-ending reach and well, you couldn’t put it better, grand size. It is a place I will never forget!

But I think, too, of another hero who said “We have the choice to use the gift of our life to make the world a better place–or not to bother.” (Jane Goodall) and I wonder is it ever enough? What I try to do to make the world better. Do I give enough every day, or does the exhaustion of the 9-5 overwhelm the soul until I become like all the other capitalistic monkeys driving to work and coming home and doing it all again every day?

How do we choose? How do you choose? Do you ever think about the world in such a way or am I alone in these ramblings? In times of these immensely overanalytical, over-sensitive and self-indulgent(??) thoughts, the beauty of nature helps find my center of balance.

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The cheerful robin reminds me to always slow down to enjoy nature (even in the city), to always enjoy and treasure the little, lovely moments.

In watching a wild bird sing and dance and forage for food, I feel at once, connected to the world around me. Rooted to the ground beneath my feet. And yet, I feel free and entranced completely in watching, ignoring all other sounds, movements and people. Perhaps completely vulnerable to surprise, but centered on that one bird brings me more peace and clarity than anything else might.

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Remember to rise above and be the best self you can be. Treasure the little moments of joy, immerse yourself in nature when you can and be kind to one another (whether they have 4 legs or 2!).