Animal Kingdom in the Suburbs

Lucy loves sniffing and tracking the different animals that appear in our backyard.

Growing up in suburban Baltimore, I saw my share of squirrels,

chipmunks,

deer,

moles,

and raccoons.

And although they weren’t seen much, skunks made their presence known.

I had no idea that suburban New Jersey–directly west of Manhattan–would be home to all those animals and more. Recently, we received a new “visitor” to our backyard. It wasn’t this cute raccoon resting in a tree,

I spotted this raccoon high up in a tree and ran to get my camera.

or the opossum that chatters at night, 

or the groundhog that tunnels under our yard,

or the wild turkey that displays its feathers for the ladies,

or the Box Turtle that gave me a kiss, 

This box turtle showed up in my garden.

or the Red Fox we see at dawn and dusk, 

but–drumroll please–

a COYOTE!

At first I thought it was a fox because it looked more like this, but redder.

I told my family, “It’s strange, I saw a Red Fox at ten in the morning.They’re usually asleep by then.”

The next day, Hubby said, “Come quick! There’s a coyote in our backyard!”

I said, “That’s the fox I saw!”

He said, “It’s a coyote!”

“A fox!”

“A coyote!”

“A fox!”

“It’s a coyote! I know from watching Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote.”

Hon, do you see the resemblance? 

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Top Ten Cool Facts About Plains Lubber Grasshoppers

Plains Lubber Grasshopper

In my last post, Tarantula Territory, I lamented that I didn’t see any tarantulas on a hike but, guess what I did see? A Plains Lubber Grasshopper! The approximately five-inch insect caught my attention–how could it not?–and I had to get a closer look. I looked at her and she at me. We bonded.

I can’t believe I got such a clear photo of her awesome exoskeleton, which protects her against predators and prevents dehydration. (Come to think of it, that could be a great pick-up line. “Excuse me, but you have an awesome exoskeleton.”) Plains Lubbers are native to southern and central USA and Northern Mexico.

Top Ten Cool Facts About Plains Lubber Grasshoppers

  1. A Plains Lubber can’t fly because its wings are too small.
  2. A lubber has a pod that holds approximately 20-35 eggs. After incubating in the ground during the colder months, or for as long as two years, the eggs hatch in May or June.
  3. It uses two pairs of eyes (simple and compound) to see.
  4. It uses its bluish-brown antennae to feel and smell.
  5. The tympanum, or round membrane located on either side of its body near its legs allows it to “hear” or detect sound waves.
  6. To breathe, it has spiracles, or tiny holes located all along the abdomen.
  7. A lubber is capable of jumping from several inches to several feet using its oversized hind legs.
  8. A young lubber will molt its exoskeleton five times at roughly 15-day intervals before reaching adulthood.
  9. Bright coloring and patterning on a lubber’s shell warns predators that it’s unpalatable to downright poisonous. A lubber ingests substances in the plants it eats that, although harmless to humans and the lubber itself, are toxic to many predators. These chemicals may kill smaller creatures such as birds or leave larger animals quite ill after ingesting a lubber.
  10. To protect against predators, a lubber can secrete a noxious foam while making a loud hissing sound. It can also regurgitate a dark brown liquid (commonly called tobacco spit) as a defense.

Hon, which category are you in? Cool or ewww?

For all of the ewww’s, consider the photos below as visual palette cleansers.

Peace along the path.

I “heart” hiking.

 

 

 

 

 

Reaching for the sky.

Sources: The Big Zoo, American Orchid SocietyWikipedia, 

Jekyll and Hyde Doggie

Lucy hypnotizes us with her “people eyes.”

Don’y let Lucy’s cutie cuteness fool you.

I am an accessory to aggravated assault and I blame Lucy!

My former sweet, little angel has never shown an interest in birds. Chipmunks? Yes. Squirrels? Definitely. Groundhogs? Think fatality. In the animal kingdom-also-known-as-my-backyard, she saves growling and running around the yard 30 mph for small, skittish mammals. Birds are barely worth a low huff, wet nose, or tail twitch.

Our vet thinks Lucy is a part Border Collie, part Black-Lab (aka. Labracollie), which explains why she loves to retrieve tennis balls and herd young children. When Lucy herds, she uses a “soft mouth” and wet nose, bonking and nipping as if to say, “Hey, you sheep, you cows, cluster!”

When Lucy’s outside, she surveys the meadow (umm, yard) from the porch, alerting us to cars and passersby. I’ve read that Border Collies hypnotize herds with their intense, brown eyes, and I believe it. Lucy stares at us intensely with her “people eyes,” hypnotizing us with her inner thoughts. (“Give me meat.” or “Play ball with me.”)

A few days ago, we spotted a Blue Jay fledgling on our driveway. It was all fuzzy down and short feathers. I was fascinated. (Hon, do you know me at all?) I squatted down. It stared at me. I inched closer. It squeaked. I came a little closer. It hop hop hopped down the driveway. Adorable! Lucy was indifferent. Since birds were never a cause for maniacal barking or hypnotism, how was I to know she was secretly Jekyll and Hyde?

The next day, Lucy and I spotted the fledgling on the sidewalk. “There you are,” I said. “Aren’t you cute?” I said. “We won’t hurt you,” I said. Lucy lowered her head as if to sniff the bird, so I let her get a bit closer. All of a sudden, she lunged and grabbed the bird!

After yanking Lucy’s collar while screaming, “Bad dog!”, I picked up the baby bird* who wasn’t bitten or bleeding but limp-ish. Oh no! Did Lucy break its neck or pick it up with a “soft mouth?” Was the bird was just shaken up, stunned and going to come-to later? I searched the internet to find out if birds play dead, and found that some people witnessed this phenomenon, but without confirmation by an expert, it seemed like a wish.

When I returned to the scene of the crime later that day, the baby bird was gone. Did a cat find it? Or a fox? Or–maybe, just maybe–as soon as we left, it perked its little head up and hopped away?

One can only hope.

Adorable Baby Jay.

* It’s a myth that if you touch a baby bird, the mommy won’t take care of it anymore. Click here to read more.

Source: Live Science

I’d love to hear if your “sweet little angels” are harboring killer instincts.

Top 10 April Fool’s Pranks, Part 1

Hon, pulling pranks on April Fool’s Day may not be a tradition in my house, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a good one. After scouring lists of news reports, advertisements, and videos, I came up with a list of my favorite…

Top Ten April Fool’s Pranks

1) The Tasmanian Mock Walrus, 1984

In 1984, The Orlando Sentinel ran a story about a creature known as the Tasmanian Mock Walrus (or TMW for short) that it said made a perfect pet. The creature was only four inches long, resembled a walrus, purred like a cat, and had the temperament of a hamster. What made it such an ideal pet was that it never had to be bathed, used a litter box, and ate cockroaches. In fact, a single TMW could entirely rid a house of its cockroach problem.

Reportedly, some TMWs had been smuggled in from Tasmania, and there were efforts being made to breed them, but the local pest-control industry, sensing that the TMW posed a threat to its business, was pressuring the government not to allow them in the country. An accompanying photo showed protestors picketing outside the offices of the Orlando city government to call attention to the plight of the TMW. Dozens of people called the paper trying to find out where they could obtain their own TMW.

Skeptics noted that the photo of a TMW accompanying the article showed a creature that looked suspiciously like a mole rat.

Tasmanian Mock Walrus or Mole Rat?


2) UFO Lands Near London, 1989

On March 31, 1989, thousands of motorists driving on the highway outside London looked up in the air to see a glowing flying saucer descending on their city. Many of them pulled to the side of the road to watch the bizarre craft float through the air. The saucer finally landed in a field on the outskirts of London where local residents immediately called the police to warn them of an alien invasion. Soon the police arrived on the scene, and one brave officer approached the craft with his truncheon extended before him. When a door in the craft popped open, and a small, silver-suited figure emerged, the policeman ran in the opposite direction.

The saucer turned out to be a hot-air balloon that had been specially built to look like a UFO by Richard Branson, the 36-year-old chairman of Virgin Records. The stunt combined his passion for ballooning with his love of pranks. His plan was to land the craft in London’s Hyde Park on April 1. Unfortunately, the wind blew him off course, and he was forced to land a day early in the wrong location.

UFO or hot air balloon?


3) The Taco Liberty Bell

On April 1, 1996, a full page ad appeared in six major American newspapers (The Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, and USA Today) announcing that the fast food chain Taco Bell had purchased the Liberty Bell. The full text of the ad read:

Taco Bell Buys The Liberty Bell
In an effort to help the national debt, Taco Bell is pleased to announce that we have agreed to purchase the Liberty Bell, one of our country’s most historic treasures. It will now be called the “Taco Liberty Bell” and will still be accessible to the American public for viewing. While some may find this controversial, we hope our move will prompt other corporations to take similar action to do their part to reduce the country’s debt.

Response
Taco Bell’s announcement generated an enormous response. Thousands of worried citizens called both Taco Bell’s headquarters and the National Park Service in Philadelphia to find out if the Bell had really been sold. Elaine Sevy, a Park Service spokeswoman, was quoted as saying, “We were shocked. We had no idea this was happening. We have just been getting hammered with phone calls from the public.”

The Philadelphia branch of the National Park Service arranged a midmorning news conference to assure the public that the Bell had not been sold. “The Liberty Bell is safe. It’s not for sale,” a spokeswoman announced.

In fact, the Bell could not have been sold by the federal government, as the ad implied, because the federal government did not own the Bell. It was the property of the City of Philadelphia.

At noon on April 1st, Taco Bell issued a second press release in which they confessed to the hoax, describing it as “The Best Joke of the Day.” The company also announced that it would donate $50,000 for the upkeep of the Liberty Bell.

Even the White House got in on the joke that same day when press secretary Mike McCurry told reporters that, as part of its ongoing privatization efforts “We’ll be doing a series of these. Ford Motor Co. is joining today in an effort to refurbish the Lincoln Memorial. It will be the Lincoln Mercury Memorial.”

The Liberty Bell or the Taco Liberty Bell?


4) Flying Penguins, 2008

The BBC announced that camera crews filming near the Antarctic for its natural history series Miracles of Evolution had captured footage of Adélie penguins taking to the air. It even offered a video clip of these flying penguins, which became one of the most viewed videos on the internet.

Presenter Terry Jones explained that, instead of huddling together to endure the Antarctic winter, these penguins took to the air and flew thousands of miles to the rainforests of South America where they “spend the winter basking in the tropical sun.” A follow-up video explained how the BBC created the special effects of the flying penguins.

 


5) Amazon, 2017

Amazon has created an Alexa-themed joke, with a new “Petlexa” integration, that purports to make your Echo capable of understanding queries from your pets. It mostly just consists of this video, since Amazon (understandably) didn’t build a functional version of this.

Part 2 of the “Top Ten April Fool’s Pranks” will be posted tomorrow. Which one was your favorite so far?

Related Post: Top Ten April Fool’s Pranks, Part 2

Sources: Hoaxes.org, The Verge.com, Washingtonpost.comYoutube.com

Mousse Mouse

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This was one of my kids’ favorite books.

Lucy's toy bucket.

Lucy’s toy bucket.

There is a mouse in my house!

Even if I weren’t living in a historic Victorian built in 1882, I might have a mouse in my house. But an old house has lots of great places for a mouse to come and go at will: fissures in the foundation, chinks in the brick, fireplaces, wood beams and an attic. Cute little field mice have made their presence known for years, mostly in the winter. When Polar Vortexes plus long winters equals long-term stays, I set friendly traps baited with typical mouse fare. Say cheese. Our visitors usually high-tail it outside in warmer months.

One year, my cat cornered a cute, little field mouse in the bathroom. Kimba announced her prize and the mouse sat in stunned silence. It was squeak-less.

Another year, my cat discovered a tail trailing back and forth under a kitchen cabinet toe-kick. Note to mouse: pull in your tail!

Hon, if you think my ambivalence towards cute, little field mice is due to my love of children’s literature, you would be mistaken. I’ve always loved animals, even–gasp–rodents. Just ask Hubby or my kids. They think I’m crazy when I say I bond with wild animals, but I actually do! We make eye contact. We “speak.” Either I’m Dr. Dolittle or I was a Cute Little Animal in a past life!

Do you think I should add “Bonds with Animals” to my cover letter bios? Maybe if I do, agents and editors will know that when I write from an animal’s perspective,  I am being authentic. But, I digress!

This year, our cute, little visitor seems to have moved in permanently. I heard ch, ch, ch, ch under the fridge and shone a flashlight so I could see him. I placed the open end of a friendly trap adjacent to the fridge with a bit of bait. No luck.

The next night, he moved to the linen closet.

I repeated my flashlight shining and friendly trap setting routine, switching out cheese for peanut butter. No luck.

When he moved to the laundry room, I tried to entice him with dog food. Still no luck!

Not only was this mouse disinterested in ordinary mouse fare, he was brave. My daughter ascended our creaky stairs to find the cute, little field mouse sitting in the hallway, perky as a bunny at dusk.

About a week later, Hubby was hanging out in the kitchen when you-know-who scurried out from underneath the fridge. The mouse looked at Hubby with his small, dark eyes and twitched his nose and whiskers. Hubby asked, “Who invited YOU into my kitchen?”

If creaky stairs and encounters with people couldn’t scare him away, could our dog Lucy?

When we’re in the yard and Lucy sees chipmunks, squirrels, and groundhogs (see Lucy versus Groundhogs), she either wants to make friends with them or eat them. There was evidence that the mouse had played in Lucy’s toy bucket, which sits right next to the dog bed. Lucy is also known as The-Dog-With-Bionic-Hearing-If-Deli-Meat-Is-Being-Unwrapped. Since the mouse had evidently roamed freely unscathed, I can only assume this rodent is not only a gourmand, but a hypnotist as well!

We finally called in the big guns (a pest control person) who put out more friendly traps. Still, I heard ch, ch, ch, ch under the fridge.

Since the cute, little field mouse hasn’t been interested in cheese, peanut butter or dog food, I wonder if he might like mousse. Chocolate mousse. I like chocolate mousse. I bet we would bond!

 

Kindness in Kids Literature

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World Read Aloud Day’s theme this week is Kindness.

I admit it. I’m not always kind. If I’m picking up or dropping off kids and I’m behind the only-person-on-the-face-of-the-earth who slows down when driving through a green light, or lets ten other cars go so that I miss a left turn arrow, or is holding a phone (illegal in NJ), or drives below the speed limit, I may honk my horn, may say things not appropriate for a G-rated audience, and may have a bit of road rage. May, I say. It’s not pretty.

Hmm, it sounds like a good time to answer LitWorld’s prompt this week: “What kindness role models have you met through reading?”  

Top Five kids’ books where kindness is key. 

  1. Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel
  2. Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne 
  3. Matilda by Roald Dahl
  4. Ginger by Charlotte Voake
  5. Ella the Elegant Elephant by Carmela and Steven D’Amico

 Hon, in which books do you think kindness plays a large role?

Animals and children always bring out kindness in me. This sweet goat got a nice neck scratch.

KIND KID: Animals and children always bring out kindness in me. This sweet goat trotted over to me and got a nice neck scratch.

 

Friendships in Kids Literature

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World Read Aloud Day’s theme this week is Friendship, and friendship in kid’s literature is one element that keeps us reading. I have so many favorites, but here are the Top Five Friendships in kidlit that make me care and make me cry.

  1. Watership Down by Richard Adams, Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig and Silver.
  2. Henry and Mudge by Cynthia Rylant, Henry and Mudge
  3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, Lucy Pevensie and Mr. Tumnus
  4. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, Despereaux and Princess Pea
  5. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger

Who are your favorite friends in literature, kids or adults?

Hon, of course I have to add one more friend to this post. She’s a best friend to everyone in our house.

My Plus One and Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds--everyone's best friend!

My Plus One and Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds–everyone’s best friend!

Top Ten Cool Elephant Seal Facts

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When Hubby and I went to California in October, we stopped at Elephant Seal Beach in Big Sur and saw these fascinating sea mammals.  I could have watched them all day! If you want to read why I Turned Into an Elephant Seal click hereI hope you enjoy the slideshow of my photos, along with…

Top Ten Cool Elephant Seal Facts

  1. Types: There are two types of elephant seals:  Northern seals are found in California and Baja California; Southern seals populate the waters of Antarctica.
  2. In the Sea: Seals spend months at sea diving deep to forage. Southern elephant seals can dive over 4,921 feet (1,500 meters) deep and can hold their breath for over two hours, which is the longest of any water-based mammal.
  3. Food:  Seals hunt for squid, eels, octopus, small sharks, rays and bottom dwelling fish.
  4. Lifespan:  Northern seals live an average of 9 years while Southern seals live about 20 to 22 years.
  5. Size:  The largest Southern seals grow up to 20 ft (6 m) and weigh up to 8,800 lbs (4,000 kg).
  6. Noses:  Seals aren’t called “elephants” because of their size. They take their name from their trunklike inflatable snouts. The seals we saw on Elephant Beach were young males whose snouts hadn’t grown yet.
  7. Staying Warm: To keep warm in freezing cold water, seals not only have thick skin and fur, there is a thick layer of insulating blubber under their skin. Since their skin molts every year, the seals have to find land in order to molt.
  8. Aggression:  Males battle each other for mating dominance.
  9. Alpha Males:  Male seals claim breeding territories and defend them.  They collect huge harems of smaller-sized females–about 40 to 50 females to one male.
  10. Birth:  After an 11-month pregnancy, females give birth to a single pup. In the one month that the pup nurses, mother seal doesn’t eat—mom and pup live off the energy stored in mom’s reserves of blubber.

What did I tell you?  Fascinating! Hon, have you ever seen elephant seals? Have you seen any fully grown with trunk-like snouts? 

Sources: National Geographic, a-z animals

Happy Dolly-Day!

Dolly, my aunt's cat.

Dolly appeared on Bmore Energy before. Click here to read about this rescue kitty’s history. In this photo, her tilting ears, slightly lowered head, and curling tail show that she is wary of the visitor (me). 

I’ve always loved animals but, before we adopted a dog, I considered myself a cat person.

As a child, I spent hours playing with our cat Sugar. In college, my roommates and I had several cats, and Hubby and had two beautiful Himalayans, Katie and Kimba. So, even though I now know what a dog is saying–trust, me I narrate Lucy’s thoughts much to Hubby’s annoyance, I also know how to read a cat. When my aunt’s cat, Dolly, came out of hiding to inspect the me, she talked with her body language.

Here’s the translation.

"You might be friendly, but I'm watching you."

“I’m watching you.”

"My mommy's here which makes me feel safe, but so are you, and that doesn't!"

“My mommy makes me feel safe. You don’t.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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"There's a box I must get to."

“I am temporarily ignoring you while I explore the jungle!”

"Don't look at me! I'm trying to hide."

“I am a either a wild cat hiding in tall grass or a city cat hiding behind files.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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"I really want to go inside the box, but I haven't fully committed because you are here."

“I’ll go in the box as long as you don’t make any sudden movements.”

"Boxes are awesome, but you're not."

“Boxes are awesome, but I’m still on alert.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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"This is as close as I'm getting.

“Whew! Safe! I made it in the box…but I’m keeping my eyes on you!”

Hon, do you narrate your pet’s thoughts?  I can’t be the only one!

Previous post on Dolly where you can read about her rescue.

I Turned Into An Elephant Seal

Elephant Seals resting in Big Sur.

Elephant Seals resting in Big Sur.

On a recent trip to California, Hubby and I stopped at Elephant Seal Beach in Big Sur where hundreds, if not thousands, of Elephant Seals snoozed. It was an amazing sight! A guide informed us that the beach was covered mainly with young males, who were resting after spending months in the ocean. He said seals swim 24 hours a day and dive to great depths in search of food but, when they stop on the beach, they don’t eat anything at all.  Which brings me to why…

…I turned into an Elephant Seal after Thanksgiving!

You know I love to cook and entertain, and I was thrilled to have all of my kids under one roof,  in addition to my parents and a daughter’s friend. It was wonderful to see sisters, brothers, grandmas, grandpa, nieces, nephews and cousins. I was on adrenaline overload. So, at the end of the holiday, when I collapsed on the couch for an entire day, all I could think was, I am beached like an Elephant Seal! I  could not move. One big difference between me and a seal, however, is that I still ate.

Hon, there was leftover pie.

Isn't this seal adorable?

Isn’t he adorable?

Two snoozers. They scratch themselves with their flippers.

Two snoozers. They scratch themselves with their flippers.

Have you been to Elephant Seal Beach? What month did you go? The Elephant Seal Beach web-site says what the seals are doing on the beach each month. Fascinating!