Winged Wunderkammer

A wunderkammer is a collection of objects much like a curiosity cabinet of old. Some of these collections as gathered over the years have been left to museums such as the Tate or MoMA. Consider this a tiny cabinet of curiosities of moments of movement and of rest.

Gotta wing it: LIFE is calling.

All photos are free images from morgueFile.

Vulpine Adventures Anew

My earlier post about the Gray Fox was eaten after publication by WordPress. If you saw a notification go by, now you know what happened.

I’ll start over again.

The word “vulpine” means like or having to do with foxes.

I’ve loved foxes ever since I saw one darting across our field in the dead of winter, a flourish of color against the drab background of the Irish countryside. I was mesmerized by it as I watched from my window, and hopeful it would run far and fast, for though it wasn’t hunting season, it would be soon.

Many years later, when my son was little, we bought a copy of Run With the Wind by Irish author Tom McCaughren and thus ensued a shared interest in foxes. On fall afternoons, I would cover the kitchen table with an enormous mound of sand-colored, homemade playdough and read McCaughren’s beautiful stories about foxes and their struggle to survive as my son made burrows and dens, planting fake deciduous trees into miniature forests as he organized fox families from his large collection of Schleich and Safari molded plastic fox figures.

Now he’s eighteen and I wonder, does he remember? How hard I had worked to instill in him a love of nature, a respect for the land, a reverence for books and words. I probably overdid it. I overdid many things back then, but not love.

I got up from the computer just now and went to look for the box of foxes. They are somewhere here, hidden among the cartons and tubs of toys awaiting a playroom for grandchildren, the planned work of the upcoming year in which I’ll face everything I was too busy to look at as parenting ran its breakneck course from the start to maturation of one, once small boy. He’s too stressed today with coming AP exams, finals, and graduation for me to ask do you remember? It’s a bad day for sentimentality, even as the box it’s contained in has burst its seams from too many years stored under stacked weight.

The post I shared earlier was about the Gray Fox. Unlike the Red Fox, vulpes vulpes, the Gray Fox is descended from a different line, one in which just one other member exists: the diminutive Channel Island Fox. Red and Gray foxes belong to different genuses altogether.

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Red Fox, vulpes vulpes

Though all foxes are canids, the Gray Fox is native to both North and South America and has the proper name (Urocyon cinereoargenteus). Once the dominant fox in America, it has been displaced by the more adaptable Red Fox and it is now concentrated mainly in the western states. Its closest relatives are the east Asian raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) and the African bat-eared fox (Otocyon megalotis).

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Gray Fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus

The word cinereoargenteus means ‘ashen silver’, but the muzzles, necks, and tails are tipped with darker fur in the Gray Fox. Its eyes are rounder and lack the slit-like appearance of the Red Fox, and its legs are shorter and lack the distinctive “black stockings” of red foxes. Its paws are smaller, too, yet stronger and uniquely capable: Gray Foxes are the only canids which can climb vertically and dens have be found thirty feet above the ground in the hollowed out sections of trees. This is also explains the scat I found on my chicken coop roof. Gray foxes leap from branch to branch and descend backwards from trees like cats. In many respects, canid though they may be, they seem feline and even their young are called kits.

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Gray Fox, Palo Alto Baylands. Source: Bill Leikam, Wikipedia

 

I took the following pictures during the mating season of 2016 using my Reconyx Hyperfine HC600 .

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This fox lives under our deck and likes to eat layer crumble

 

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Here, it seems to be calling out

 

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Even though the infrared camera is supposed to be silent, many pictures suggest that foxes can hear it just fine.

 

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Cat food is always the first choice by discerning foxes it seems.

 

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Prim feet, eager mouth

 

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An egg is a mouthful yet this fox seems to know how to grab one without breaking it.

 

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And a duck egg is an even bigger challenge!

 

If you’re interested in beautifully written stories set in Ireland, I recommend you check out Tom McCaughren’s work. The first three books in this series are ranked among the top 100 books in Ireland and are published by Penguin Books. They are available through Amazon here.  Should you decide to read them, pleasure consider leaving the author a review.

They Came, They Saw, They Nibbled…

My first experiment with my new toy, the Reconyx Hyperfire HC600 Trail Cam, has come to a close.

In that time, I was able to attract (in order of prevalence): Finches, a Stellar’s Jay, and some other bird I can’t identify–we’ll call him Feathered Friend Unknown #1.

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Stellar’s Jay with peanut

Despite the generous helping of Cheetos, the crows avoided my feast. Apparently, Cheetos are like crack for just about everyone, but crows have very long memories, and I imagine this one might remember (or have been told by his father) about the epic drubbing one of their kind received years ago when he snuck in our chicken coop to steal an egg and was trapped there for several hours. FYI, chickens can kick the stuffing out of other birds!

I may need to relocate my camera to a crow-safe location…

In terms of food popularity, here are the rankings:

  • Puffed Cheetos
  • Dried Pasta
  • Bagels
  • Peanuts
  • Hard boiled eggs (nobody finished this)
  • Turkey Bologna (nobody did more than poop on this)

We know Americans LOVE carbs, but even our birds seem to prefer them. In fact, they ate the Cheetos so quickly I’m concerned that the woods are filled with the winged and obese, their branches bending under the added weight of the plumped and plumed. Note to self: next time try Pirate’s Booty.

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My initial success attracting crows ended as soon as I set up my coop cam. Out of 2,136 frames, my avian feast earned me a mere fly-by.

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This is the dream, not the reality.

As I swept the peanuts from the top of the coop late last night, I was niggled by the recollection that crows cache their food, have better long term memory than some undergrads, and are able to find their hiding places months later and without an iPhone. I have visions of my husband years from now, working his tractor, pulling the auger from post holes, revealing those peanuts germinated, that a tangle of vines the size of a roll of barbed wire with the complexity of the London Tube now lies beneath the driveway undermining the very structure.

Since removing the sugar from my diet, even the birds have benefitted. I reloaded the roof with healthier snacks (cherry tomatoes, three Newman’s ginger cream cookies, a plain bagel, a bag of ranch-flavored kale chips, and birdseed) and reset the camera.

In the first few hours of the morning, I had less than 1% of the visitors who usually fly in for breakfast. I expect Coop Cam will next show my little guests giving me the feathered finger.

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The “feathered finger.” A little fuzzy but you get the point.

Working out the kinks in the system, I discover the combination of a ready food supply (peanuts and roof scraps) and Tristram Shandy–“the turkey formerly known as Steve”–has drummed up some local color. A wild tom turkey appears from somewhere in the scrubby undergrowth of the woods near Comptche.

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Conan the Comptche-rian

The two toms stamp, gobble, and peck to establish territorial dominance and the air is fraught with tension. Like a scene from the Ok Corral, everyone else has run and waddled to safety.

Separated by a fence, I can nonetheless see that the newcomer is intimidated. He is trying to work out in his head how big Tristram really is and if he really does, “move like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” Not only is Tristam’s snood longer, pinker, but his plumage is also far more glorious. Plump, privileged by diet, breeding, and five inches of packed sand beneath his feet, Tristram impresses by size alone.

Stamping feet and feinting heads and a fence keeps anyone from real harm, but the intent is palpable. One of the barred rocks runs for cover in an old dog house. “I’ve gotta go, I’ve gotta go,” she seems to cry. A few seconds later, I hear the distinctive “bock-bok-bok” chorus she begins which is soon picked up by all the others, an instinctive gambit used when a hen is vulnerable and laying an egg. It confuses predators who don’t know which way to turn. The noise grows like a flashmob. Even the toms do their bit, punctuating their gobbling with the occasional “bok, bok” noises to reinforce the message,” Hey, these muscles aren’t just for show, baby.”

Moving closer with my camera, I note the spurs on the wild turkey. My husband had warned me, “better carry a stick in case it attacks you.” I remember our first rooster, Sawyer, and the ongoing battle for dominance as Steve walked the yard, stick in hand. His lecture on “which comes first, the sticken’ or your leg,” was met with my dismissal.

Like Saint Francis of Assisi, I carry no sticks..

On the downhill side of the coop, the battle reaches its conclusion.

I swear I hear a worried gulp as Conan the Comptche-rian assesses Tristram, sees his remarkable snood, his impressive wattle, his resplendent barrel chest reminiscent of the Kaiser Wilhelm. From his lowly position in the ditch, Conan can’t help but experience his inadequacy, despite my entreaty: “his spurs are tiny, you can take him.” Sadly, he runs for the woods like an overwhelmed voter before the primaries. I remind him of David and Goliah, of Winston Churchill and WWII, and I hope he regroups, brings his cronies, faces fear with fact.

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Compare…
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…and…
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…DESPAIR
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Trumped by a Strong Display of Bravado

Thinking of Donald Trump’s reaction last night in response to Marco Rubio’s comments on Trump’s “hand size,” I wonder when this boorishness and bravado became a standing part of public discourse, am reminded once again that everything I need to know about humans, I learned from an animal.

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Scaring is glaring–don’t fall for tomfoolery!

I love audiobooks, and though this isn’t one, if you’d like to listen rather than read this post, click here: