Wednesday, February 27, 2008


High: 24° F
Low: -2° F
Conditions: snow showers with northwest winds.
Ari leapt from the bed just before the dawn. The alarm had not yet gone off; the house was asleep. But something, somewhere was moving. The caninaturalist ran to the window sill, standing on her hind legs, as silent as the world itself. There, on the railing just outside the window, perched our neighborhood barred owl (Strix varia). No more than a foot apart, they stood in communion—just for a moment—and then the owl was gone. Even still, the image stayed with Ari for the rest of the day. She looked in the trees; she remained at the window. Watching. Waiting.

I wrote about this same owl in a post almost a month ago, when it spent a day attached to my old ash tree. I called the post “Stillness,” because--more than anything--that's what the barred owl prompted in me. Now, as we lay in bed, we saw the same impulse in our dog.

It is simultaneously breathtaking and troubling to see an owl out of its nocturnal world. In truth, it’s probably a bad sign for the bird. Diurnal (or daylight) hunting usually indicates that a barred owl is food-stressed. This was common last year, when the collapse of a vole population in Canada sent a disproportionately large population of barreds south of the border. Scientists call this phenomenon irruption, and when it happens, it often creates a population explosion an ecosystem cannot support. Last year, an unusually large number of owls were the victims of accidents or starvation.

Owls this year haven’t faired much better. Fourteen days ago, a great gray owl (Strix nebulosa) arrived in our area.

This is a file photo found at "The Owl Pages," a really wonderful site with lots of great information. If you visit you'll see that our gray owl was both massive and well outside of his normal range. As such, he created a small media stir when he arrived and then perched each day in solemn enormity. He died a week after he arrived. Our resident expert naturalist, Dave Potter, says he thinks the gray owl came here to die. Alone.
We humans have a hard time with this impulse in owls and other wild animals. Given Ari's behavior all day, I wonder if we are really all that unique. Am I doing too much romanticizing, too much anthropomorphicizing, to wonder if Ari didn’t want our hungry barred owl to be alone? Probably. But I do know this: all day, and for whatever reason, she has wanted to be near this bird.

Monday, February 25, 2008


High: 38° F
Low: 19° F
Conditions: Partly cloudy with more snow on the way.

An unexpected snow squall brought a new inch of snow late last week. With it, came a renewed opportunity for caninaturalist investigation of the most sleuthy kind.
Winter is a time of sparseness in the animal world—of slinking and hunkering, rather than parading and lounging. This can make canine naturalism tough. At first glance, there isn’t a lot of nature to observe, especially since those animals residing strictly outdoors find themselves low on food and energy. Most of our walks the past few weeks have been studies in a kind of Taoist emptiness, and it’s rare for us to see any creature other than an intrepid bird or two.
Snow, however, makes our search a little easier. With it, an animal can escape our immediate notice while still allowing us to cross paths. And since each track includes enough skin cells to entice Ari’s expert nose, she experiences something at least as rich as locking eyes with an actual animal. In fact, the scent in these tracks seems to make her deliriously happy--moreso, sometimes, then seeing the actual species leaving the track. Her glee in turn pleases me. The hidden animal is no doubt relieved by the compromise, and all three of us leave the landscape happy, more or less.
When this new snowfall arrived, we knew we had to get outside and investigate. We suited up in cross country skis and skijoring harness and left for the 50-acre town forest down the road. There, we encountered some of our favorite footprints:
The serpentining trail of a single red fox (Vulpes vulpes) :
The deliberate hop of a snowshoe hair (Lepus americanus), located vulnerably nearby Mr. Fox:
The similarly proportioned, but more measured, pacing of a gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) :

And finally, the well-packed superhighway of our local whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) herds: .
At each set of footprints, Ari stopped our progress immediately (sometimes causing me to tangle my skis and come crashing down in the underbrush. Thank goodness for the padding of layered clothing and too many Valentine’s Day cookies). While the perennially clumsy human tried to right herself, the caninaturalist plunged her nose deeply into the track, savoring the bouquet of woodland animals.
This process makes for a pleasant pace, assuming I’m not late for class or on my way to a meeting. And for the most part, Ari is a good sport about restricting herself to a few deep breaths before willingly moving on. But halfway through our early morning ski, all of that changed. A new track appeared on the trail:
With four round front pads and a thick center heel, this track matched Ari’s in length and beat it in width. It would be tempting to classify it as canine, were it not for the breadth of the pads and the noticeable absence of claws. This was a cat. A very big cat.
Ari took a few tentative sniffs and registered wary concern. The smell was probably a little reminiscent of her housemates, Mouse and Leila Tov, but it was much gamier and considerably more intense. These were not tracks left by pampered house cats.
So what was it? According to my colleague, wildlife professor Jim Nelson, the size and distribution of the tracks suggests we were either following a very big bobcat (Lynx rufus) or a not inconsequential lynx (Lynx canadensis). Either way, this was a serious feline—at least according to Northeast standards.
We skied on, following the tracks closely. The caninaturalist, no longer interested in bounding ahead (and thus making herself an easy snack), trotted close to my hip, tangling us both in the jore line. I think she was hoping any predator would choose to nosh on the more visible human before feasting on timid dog. Even teasing her cowardice and threatening to destroy her street cred back home wasn't enough. Ari was insistent: we would head into the woods together. No ifs, ands, or buts.
We hobbled the way around the rest of our ski loop, tripping one another and arguing about who would go first around particularly tight bends. And then the plot thickened even more.
As we neared the start of our course, we both stopped. There, just ahead, were the tracks we had left skiing the mile from the car to the start of our loop. And there, on TOP of our ski tracks were more giant cat tracks. We were being followed.
Ari smelled the ski tracks, her own petite prints, and then the overlayed feline paws. She flattened her ears and raised her hackles. This would not do. I have to admit I felt my own shiver of mortality as I watched her assess the scene. Neither bobcats nor lynx share the predatory aggression of mountain lions and other big cats—at least when full-grown huskies and humans are concerned. Even still, I couldn’t help realizing: we had become theoretical prey.
We made our way back to the car quietly and with more deliberation than necessary. As Ari kept her nose peeled down near the ground, I craned upwards, looking for a telltale paw slung over a deciduous branch. There were none that I could see. Even still, one thing was certain: for all the slinking and hunkering we were doing, we were not going unnoticed. As we know all too well, snowy tracks don’t lie.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Birds do it, bees do it. . .

High: 27°F
Low: 7° F
Conditions: Partly cloudy with light northwestern winds.
Ari always loves digging in the snow. But this past week, she’s been strangely diligent in her grubbing. What’s even more unusual about this new project is her approach: instead of burrowing her snout deep in the drifts and flinging snow with cavalier delight, she hovers near the surface, tweaking the ground cover now and again with Thoreauvian deliberation.

The locus of her interest? This:

Fascinating specks, no?
Certainly not at first glance—or even second or third glance. But here’s the thing: these specks move. And not only do they move, they launch into the air, fling themselves about, pirouette, then fall back to the ground, only to become an inert speck once again.

The first time this happened, caninaturalist and human were equally perplexed. The second time, said human began to question her sanity. But the caninaturalist knew better. She stopped and scrutinized. And then she discovered that simply applying a little paw pressure was all it took to reanimate the specks. Snow fleas. Fantastic!

Now make no mistake about it, we’re no fans of most fleas. Two years ago, we had an outbreak of the more provincial version of this critter, and no one in the house found much charming about the springing, the itching, the bugging of it all. Happily, this species is different. A member of the Collembola family, the Hypogastrura nivicola is referred to in some parts of the U.S. as a "springtail." And not without good reason: the snow flea actually has two coiled tails underneath its body. By springing them, it can leap over a foot into the air. We found this artist’s rendering of the tiny arthropod on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources home page:
Just a millimeter or two in length, the snow flea is a mostly omnivorous arthropod who isn't even really a flea. Maybe that's why it turns its nose up at dog flanks and human ankles. Instead, it seems to much prefer forest litter like bark and downed leaves. And, unlike its insidious cousin the common flea (Ctenocephalides felis), Hypogastrura nivicola does perfectly fine outside in a cold Maine winter. All it takes is a little sunshine and relative warmth for him to surface and start a bacchanal dance. And that, I have learned, is all it takes for my caninaturalist dog to begin her own two-step. If these twirls and jigs get us a little bit closer to spring, I'm happy to join in too.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Stand up and be counted

High: 48° F
Low: 26° F
Conditions: Winter weather advisory. Sleet and freezing rain changing to all rain by afternoon.
Today is the last day of Audubon’s Backyard Bird Count, and we’ve slipped into a structured rhythm here at the house. Each morning, Ari takes her place at the north-facing dining room window, where she surveys the bird feeders.

The sister cats settle for the east-facing windows above the bookcase, where there is better seating but no feeders and, thus, considerably inferior viewing.

The humans mostly mill about, sipping hot tea and listening to “Morning Edition” on NPR (who said one must suffer for science?).

This routine all seems very tidy and casual, until someone tries to improvise. Ari will not tolerate anyone sharing her window. When Mouse tries, she is punished by having her entire head engulfed in Ari’s mouth. When Leila Tov signals with her tail that she has seen something interesting, Ari tries to evict her from her stoop to take over. This prompts the humans to scold the dog, which makes Mouse meow in gleeful retribution. The ruckus sends the timid Leila Tov scurrying, taking the candles with her and invariably scaring all of the birds in the vicinity.

So it’s not a perfect system. But it has still allowed continued avian viewing. And we’re beginning to realize that a very similar social pecking order is taking place just outside these very busy windows. There, the hairy woodpecker is always the first to alight. He’s also the first to be spooked and leave. Soon after, he is followed by the only slightly more intrepid nuthatches (both red- and white- breasted), who are then shooed away by the brassy redpolls. These birds are ruthlessly pack-oriented, and think nothing of pushing one another off the feeder.

Their aggression makes for messy eating, which in turn delights the red squirrel, who lurks in the crab apple tree, just waiting for an excuse to stuff his cheeks with dropped seed.

If there is one thing everyone in our house can agree upon, it’s that the red squirrel has no place at our feeders. In an instant, the cats convert into military special operatives: every pore seems to shout killing machine as they try to figure out how to unlock the window and eat the squirrel. Ari, not nearly so focused in her animosity, simply barks her objections (or maybe her glee?).
The only creature not disturbed by this interspecies racket is the black-capped chickadee (Parus atrica). The chickadee is as common a bird as you’ll see in Maine, which may be one reason why it’s also our official state bird. This prevelence used to disqualify the bird from our list of interesting species, but lately we’ve had to reconsider. The chickadee is the only bird brazen enough to stand up to the redpolls, the squirrel, and the racket inside our house. Each day, we’ve counted them by the dozens. And in truth, they’re hard to miss with all of their lively chatter.

Their presence delights Ari, who likes nothing more than to be engaged by little creatures in trees. Sometimes, we think this is craziness on her part. But when it comes to the state bird, who greets us in any weather and under any circumstance, we can't help agree.

A special thanks to all of our blog friends who have sent in their sightings! Khyra reported a Khoopers Hawk in Pennsylvania, and Tubey eyed an eastern bluebird down in Missouri. Zim gazed at geese in Kansas; the D'Azul Siberians even counted chickens! But the winner of our bird count challenge is. . . . Marigold, the Goat Philosopher! Check out the email we received from her:

Hi! Here is a count from 'Marigold' on the Olympic Peninsula in

A male and female Mallard (they had 9 ducklings in our pond last year and they just reappeared, so spring must have sprung! :))

~ 30 dark-eyed

Juncos (regular winter residents at the feeder)

3 Red-Breasted Nuthatch

A large flock of ~50 Pine Siskins (they have good years and bad years, so this must've been a good year :))

4 Spotted Towhees6 Stellar Jays

2 Douglas squirrel (okay, not a bird but at the feeder :))

~8 Purple Finch

2 Varied Thrush

2 Northern Flickers (red shafted)

1 Mourning Dove

3 Red-Winged Blackbirds

3 Starlings

~30 - 40 Robins (at one time, no kidding)

2 Chestnut-backed Chickadees

1 Red Breasted Sapsucker

1 Cooper's Hawk (attempting to 'raid' the bird feeder)

1 Great Blue Heron (looking to land in our pond, but either saw the pair of ducks or me feeding the goats and decided to go work on the neighbor's goldfish :))

2 Canadian Geese (that flew over just after the Heron)

and last and most incredibly 3 Trumpeter swans!
(Overwinter here and live in the pond across the highway from us).

Wow. Now THAT’s caninaturalism (and from a ruminant, nonetheless)! We have a special thank-you surprise for Marigold and her human friend, Maryann. And you dog fans out there will want to be sure to check out their blog soon. Rumor has it Marigold has a new puppy. Thanks to everyone who participated in the count: we had great fun, and hope you did too!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

1, 2, 3, 4 . . .

High: 23° F
Low: 2° F
Mostly sunny with falling temperatures throughout the day and into the evening.

Day two of Audubon’s Backyard Bird Count, and the nation has been busy. Already, over 1.5 million birds have been recorded and sent to Audubon. Here at "Out With Ari" our numbers are not nearly so inclusive, but we've had some great sightings nonetheless.

Jane in Peoria,IL reports a hearty flock of goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) and dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis), who spent part of the morning at her feeders. They were rudely interrupted by three blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata), who bullied their way into the neighborhood. “They’re nasty,” says Jane. “No social niceties at all.”

Rusty the Squirrel Chaser is also looking for more adherence to the great chain of being out in avian land. He says a mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) attacked his nemesis, Bob The Mean Cat. His mom even managed to get a picture of it. We’re hoping she’ll post it soon.

Mack the Boston Terrier wrote to tell us that he has a family of woodpeckers living behind his Houston home, and our good friend Dakota (who always, always does the homework he is assigned!) in Maryland says he saw 2 of Shakespeare’s favorite bird, the starling (Sturnus vulgaris), a cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), and a bunch of birds in V-pattern. He didn’t say which way they were flying, but I’m guessing they were Canada Geese on their way home. Maybe they’ll buzz Maine later this week?

Down the road from us, Dave—our naturalist guru—observed 32 evening grosbeaks (Hesperiphona vespertina). We’re green with envy.

But the real color of the day for us was definitely red. Some of our sightings:

Two pine grosbeaks (Pinicola enucleator)

A male and female cardinal

Seven warring redpolls (Carduelis flammea)

Four hairy woodpeckers, complete with red tuft (Picoides villosus).
And one very determined redbreasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)

Lovely! Now all we need is a partridge (Dendrortyx barbatus) in a pear tree (Pyrus communis).
Don’t forget: there’s still time to send us your tallies. The bird count continues through Monday, and we have a prize for the blogger with the most tallies sent. You can email us your sightings ( or include them in the comment link. Good luck--and happy canaturaling!

Friday, February 15, 2008

It's Better in My Backyard

High: 40
Low: -1
Conditions: Winds 15-20 mph with wind chills approaching -15

The Audubon Backyard Bird Count has begun!

We’ve spent the past week or so getting reading for this weekend. By getting ready, I mostly mean bribing birds to alight on one of our feeders long enough to be counted. This is considerably more challenging than one might think.

When I was a student, I always prided myself on my ability to reject peer pressure and social trends. This was no doubt compensation for my inability to catch onto trends—or peers—as they happened. But I remained stalwart in my opposition to those in the flow nevertheless. The same held true for my 20-something life. Then I got married and bought a house (or bought a house and then got married, to be precise) in the upland forest of Central Maine. And that’s where my personal resolve shattered.

People move to places like Waldo County because they want to be close to nature. But, in truth, we want more than that. We want to be able to see nature living close to us. We work hard to crane our necks in the direction of corn fields, to walk quietly through the woods, or (in extreme cases) to follow a juvenile dog on a tour of the landscape. When we’re too lazy for these measures, we lay food traps in the hopes that wildlife comes to us.

The minute Greg and I bought our house, one of my first acts was to hang multiple birdfeeders from the decrepit pole outside our kitchen window. I poured a hearty supply of mixed commercial seed called “Flyer’s Choice” that I selected from the elaborate display at the local hardware store. How could any self-respecting bird turn its nose up at a brand like that? Birds fly, right? So they’ll choose this feed, right?

Throughout that first year, I waited. And waited some more.

No birds.

I didn’t understand the cause of this predicament until I visited our nearest neighbor, Risto. Risto doesn’t bother with mixed seeds. Instead, he puts out premium sunflower seeds. Hulled sunflower seeds, so the multitudes of birds landing at his feeder don’t even have to bother with the shells. They love it. Forget flocking to his feeder, they stampede. Why settle for takeout when haute cuisine is right around the corner?
So you can understand my problem. If I was going to woo these birds, I needed better seed than Risto. I needed seed that represented the coolest-car-hottest-new-outfit-all-the-rage-hairstyle seed. I finally found it last month—and paid more for it than I do a bag of Ari’s food. On the mornings when I replenish the feeder, Ari follows me to the hall closet. She puts her snout deep in the bag of extra-super-premium sunflower seeds and inhales deeply. She eyes the suet, complete with freeze-dried insects, with what I’m certain is a twinge of envy. There’s black gold in that closet. She knows it. And probably resents it.
I'm not proud. But I am determined.
Is my campaign to one-up our neighbor working? I think so. This morning, two humans, two sister cats, and a caninaturalist spent the breakfast hour peering out the dining room window. And happily, our daily special finally seems to have rivaled Risto’s.

Below is our count for the day. We'd love to hear about the birds in your neck of the woods (so to speak). Don't forget to send your tallies, stories, or trendiest bird food our way--we'll keep a list compiled here for the duration of the count!

7 Common redpoll (Carduelis flammea)
5 Black-capped chickadee (Parus atricapillus)
1 Hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus)
1 Red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)

1 White-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)
1 Blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
3 American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
8 Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


High: 34° F
Low: 20° F
Conditions: Heavy rain, freezing rain, and snow. Total accumulation around 8 inches. Coastal flood watch is in effect.

The Audubon Society Annual Backyard Bird Count begins this Friday, and we’re ready! This morning, Ari and I braved the weather to scope out the best spots for viewing in the fields around our house.

Our brazen rescue cat, Mouse, relegated against her will to indoor life, nevertheless found a good viewing spot near the dining room window. There, she catalogues the comings and goings of birds, no doubt with malicious intent.

Her more reserved sister, Leila Tov, has smartly decided to pace herself for the long weekend, and is currently catching up on sleep near the fireplace.

Hopefully, that will mean she has more energy for blogging. We might need it: each day, we’ll be compiling reports from around the area and from the blogosphere. Regardless of where you live or whether you’ll be participating in the actual count, we’d love to hear from you! Send any observations or sightings to us by email (, or post them on our comments page. Our crack team of pundits, expert sources, webmasters, and production managers will be working around the clock to keep track of the weekend bird blitz. And don’t forget, we have a prize for the blogger who contributes the most bird sightings!

In the meantime, we thought we’d post a little information about the man for whom the Audubon Society is named. And I have to admit, we’re a little conflicted.

John James Audubon (1785-1851) loved dogs. Although the above sketch show him with a setter, that was not his preferred breed of choice. Like many naturalists of his era—including explorer Meriweather Lewis and park planner Frederick Law Omstead—Audubon shared his fieldwork with an affable Newfoundland. Audubon’s was named Plato, and the naturalist wrote regularly of the Newfie’s intelligence and wise demeanor. Local legend suggests that the two of them actually wandered not far from our house, looking for boreal forest birds. That appeals to us.

So, too, do his field sketches. In fact, some of Audubon's most beautiful paintings are of representatives of the canine family, including this rendering of Eskimo dogs. Look familiar?

The real controversy in our house concerns Audubon’s means of ornithological study. Whenever possible, he’d shoot and stuff the birds so that he would have ready access to them whenever he needed to confirm a detail about their physiology. Mouse and Leila Tov have no qualms about killing birds, though they don’t quite see the point of doing so only to stuff them. Ari has never been one to kill anything—even when the opportunity presents itself. But she’s famous for eviscerating every stuffed animal she can find. Why someone would want to waste their time putting stuffing inside a creature is beyond her. So too, I have to admit, is Audubon’s approach to science.

Even still, we thoroughly appreciate his love of the outdoors and his general approach to naturalism: long, slow walks in beautiful places. And we can’t wait to see what new friend will alight on our feeder in the coming days. Stay tuned!

Monday, February 11, 2008

On Your Mark, Get Set . . .

High: 14° F
Low: 3° F
Conditions: Partly cloudy with gusting, arctic winds

President’s Weekend is also race weekend in Maine. We thought about heading southeast to Camden for the U.S. National Toboggan Championships. There, over 300 teams—many decked out as celebrities, astronauts, and barnyard animals, hurl themselves down an iced luge shoot and onto a frozen pond. The spectacle of the event appealed to all of us, but when we told Ari she wouldn’t be allowed to pilot our sled, she seemed to lose interest.

Not to worry. Just to our northeast, the Moosehead Lake region was preparing for their annual Greenville to Brownville 100-mile dogsled race. We’ve been making great progress on our new skijoring project, and I was certain that watching the professionals would be just the inspiration we need.

To be sure, professional is putting it mildly. Each year, around 20 teams from the U.S. and Canada compete in this grueling race.
The race begins on the iconic Moosehead Lake at 9:00 a.m. Teams are started at 2 minute intervals; they then run up the frozen lake and turn onto a series of trails that lead them to the town of Brownville Junction.
There, the dogs are checked by a vet, have a snack and mandatory 2-hour rest period, then they make the return trip to Greenville.
Last year, the winning team crossed the finish line in just under 7 hours. The last place team finished in 10 hours 35 minutes, meaning they were mushing until well after dark.

These are serious athletes. One musher told me that, even with our long winters, there isn’t enough annual snow cover to keep a dog in race shape. His team spends the summer swimming laps. Others pull 4-wheelers, mountain bikes, and everything short of a bigwheel.
The dogs live to run, and this was more than apparent when we arrived at the race site. We could hear the yodeling dogs long before we reached the lake. And, when we did finally arrive, we were greeted by a squirming chaos of eager racers lunging in their harnesses.

I was overwhelmed. Ari was orgasmic. Here were hundreds of leaping, woo-ing, prancing dogs. Athletic. Strong. The Brad-Pitt-meets-Lance-Armstrong of the canine world. Ari didn’t know what to do with herself. Neither did I. We stood for over 30 minutes watching the race preparations: one of us in jaw-dropped reverie for the complicated logistics of harnessing an enthusiastic team; the other chortling and flirting like a drunken banshee. We just couldn’t take our eyes off these dogs.

That is, of course, until a young couple from Providence and their very fetching dog, Jack, walked out onto the lake to watch the race. Jack was a nice enough guy, but he was no Olympian. His owners admitted that he regularly falls off of sidewalks. When he was a puppy, he'd tip over when he lifted a leg to pee. Still, Ari was beyond enchanted with poor, clumsy Jack. The two dogs wrestled for over an hour and didn't stop until they were a tangled, slobbery, exhausted mess. I don’t think they saw a single sled team start the race.

Apparently a friend in the hand is worth 200 in the mush. Or something like that.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Be Mine.

High: 22° F
Low: 14° F
Conditions: Six inches of new snow cover with more on the way!

Even though Valentine's Day is still a week away, love is in the air. Outside, ravens, bald eagles, barred and great-horned owls are courting. We can hear the latter two species flirting during Ari’s night-time bathroom break: a piercing shriek, a pause, and then a shrill response. Even knowing the cause, this eerie sound sends chills down our spines and hurries both of us back inside.

When it comes to bird dating, Ari much prefers the hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus). This time of year, the males puff up the crest of feathers on top of their head, then straighten up their bachelor pads. Once self and home are in order, they begin their rat-a-tat-a-tatting on hollow tree trunks and limbs.

The caninaturalist has been looking everywhere for hairy woodpeckers. They’re the highlight of her walk, and when she finds one, she will sit for what seems like an eternity, cocking her head and watching the woodpecker do its pecky thing. While inside, she perches by the window, watching them snack on suet.

I can’t say for certain, but I think it's the hairy woodpecker’s casualness that most appeals to Ari. Woodpeckers are famous for their laissez-faire approach to life: they wake early and spend a good part of the morning sunning themselves on a branch. Even their mating practices have a certain leisureliness to them. This time of year, a male will drum throughout the day, sending out the specs on his tree cavity—how many bedrooms, its location, whether or not it’s gone co-op. He can be a reluctant suitor: scouting out a female, only to decide he’s not all that interested. For her part, she’ll make her way from tree house to tree house, sizing up the various males and deciding if she’s interested. And if she doesn't like the dating pool, sometimes she'll do her own drumming--just in case she might catch the ear of a visiting male passing through.

Ari and I are both enchanted by this whimsical courtship. In fact, the only species who isn’t love-struck is our pernicious friend the red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). All the pounding, the flirting, the feeding makes him even more grouchy than ever. He stands at the base of the bird feeder, scowling, or races up the woodpecker’s tree, cheeping his frustration at the top of his little squirrel lungs. This only delights the caninaturalist more, since she now has two boisterous friends to keep track of, instead of just one. She positively swoons with enthusiasm. It’s an unconventional kind of love, but I think this dog is a romantic all the same.

Speaking of loving birds. . .

The Audubon Society's annual BACKYARD BIRDCOUNT begins next Friday (February 15-18). It’s a great opportunity to help the Cornell Ornithological center and Audubon get much needed data on bird populations in your area. We’ll be keeping track of birds at our feeder throughout the weekend, and we challenge you to do the same. All you need to do is tally the birds at your feeder or in your yard over a 15 minute period. Email ( us your results and any observations (canine, goaty, or otherwise), and we’ll post them on the blog. We’ll even send a prize to the blogger who logs the most birds! Click here for more info.

Monday, February 4, 2008


We’ve been tagged by our new friend, Fay Our charge: to reveal seven quirky (and previously unknown) things about us. Ari and I have been talking it over, and we’ve decided that we’ll share the task. Here’s what we’ve come up with so far:

1. Most of you know that Ari’s father is a rescue husky. Her mom is a Jindo, a little-known breed in the U.S. that is actually deemed a cultural monument in their native Korea.

2. In honor of Ari’s mixed lineage, we named her “Mitten” in Korean: Bung Ari Jan Gab. Literally translated, that means “glove without fingers.” So in other words, Ari’s name is “Without.” I love the postmodernism inherent in this name; she could care less. She just knows she's either in trouble or about to get to do something fun.

3. We're both die-hard foodies. Ari’s biggest weakness is slightly-aged fox scat. Mine is samosas with cilantro sauce. We both agree the best thing to ever grow on a tree is an avocado.

4. Even though we both act like Mouse, our rescue cat, really bothers us, we secretly love it when she curls up and sleeps next to either of us.

5. We failed our first “basic behaviors” class because I forgot to make us practice. This thrilled the unruly caninaturalist.

6. Ari is afraid of things that go bump in the night. A lot of the time, I am too.

7. We both have tattoos.

Quirky? You be the judge. Now, though, you can claim you know seven of our deepest, darkest secrets. Okay, maybe not really. We’ll save those for another post.

As per Fay’s instructions, our job is now to tag seven friends. We’re going to borrow a page from the venerable Marigold, goat philosopher, and issue a general tag to our readers in the hopes that seven of you will respond. If you do, just follow these simple rules:

1. Once you are tagged, link back to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Post 7 random or weird facts about yourself on your blog.
4. Tag 7 people and link to them.
5. Comment on their blog to let them know they have been tagged.

We’ll stop by and see what you’ve decided to reveal about yourselves. Hope you play!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Groundhog Day

High: 33° F
Low: 15° F
Conditions: partly sunny with increasing winds.
Saturday was the 121st Groundhog Day. For the eighth time in the past 10 years, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and predicted six more weeks of winter. We’re big fans of spectacle, so we can’t help but appreciate an event in which thousands of people turn out to hear a proclamation made by a rodent. Groundhogs (Marmota monax) are actually part of the squirrel family. But unlike many of their bushy-tailed relatives, they spend a good part of the winter hibernating (sorry for waking you, Phil!).

Groundhog Day originated out of the medieval custom of Candlemas, which marked the halfway point of winter with the distribution of candles in European villages. Here in Maine, people still echo a colonial couplet, "Farmers should, on Candlemas Day /Have half their wood and half their hay."

We’re more gardeners than farmers, and our wood supply looks pretty good. Try as we might, we couldn’t find any groundhogs in our area either.

So, undeterred, we went in search of our own shadows instead.

First we found the shadow of Ari’s totem tree, the white birch (Betula papyrifera).

Then my favorite tree, the balsam fir (Abies balsamea):

Next, we found the shadow of Ari’s house:

And our house.

Then, at long last, we found our own shadows.

We’re not scared, Winter. Six more weeks sounds just fine to us. Bring it on!