all roads lead to OH-235 and at the end of the drive…pigs

Yesterday, Anne, Laura and I took half the day and drove south to Yellow Springs. Rowan’s there, engaged in a major of Environmental Sciences at Antioch College. It’s a great place to visit, even a groovy place, Yellow Springs having never entirely given up on hippy culture.

On the way, we crossed OH-235 and Laura made the comment that, seemingly, no matter where you’re going, there’s OH-235. We’d been on it just a few days before, coming back from a funeral, and here, unexpectedly, it was again.

Anne and I arrived home to a message from Laura Zitzelberger, the face and mind behind Nature’s  Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Education. It seems that a potbellied pig had arrived uninvited at someone’s home and they’d called NN to see what could be done. Laura, in turn, called us and we closed the loop by calling June, the woman with the uninvited guest. She provided us with her address and we agreed to pick up the pig the next day (today, as I write this), Sunday.

In the morning, I input June’s address into mapquest. The recommended route sent me north on OH-235 for roughly an hour.

Go figure.

in the carStepping out of the car, I could hear him, the pig. He was quietly grunting, standing at the gate of a small outside kennel; behind him, a thick blanket that had served as his bed for the night. He trotted out, allowed me to scoop him up and we settled into the car for the drive back.

This is the second potbellied pig in less than one week to simply turn up, wandering without direction, without oversight and without hope. And while nowhere near one another – the first was discovered stumbling along State Route 65 in Columbus Grove and the second some 50 miles north – the trend is disturbing. It is, sadly, also not surprising. Visit any domestic animal rescue site and the sheer number of pigs up for adoption is staggering. RescueMe (what is, for us, the preeminent site for finding families and animals in need) is overburdened with people seeking new homes for pigs; not simply in Ohio, but all across the nation. And these are the people who are making an effort to re-home their companions.

Pigs are smart, strong, curious and obsessive. Left to their own devices, pigs will find a way; and, while cute and cuddly when little, most pigs don’t stay small. A low weight for a miniature potbellied pig is 60 pounds, but, while minis can maintain weights below 100 pounds, seeing pigs in excess of 100 pounds isn’t unusual. So, rather than the Chihuahua they were expecting, they wind up with an animal closer in size to a Labrador, or something even larger. All too often, these pigs that have grown bigger than anticipated are simply abandoned, turned out and left to fend for themselves. Within months, even the most docile and diminutive of pigs may revert to a feral state: growing tusks and thicker hair and becoming leaner and more muscular. Pigs returned to the wild, intentionally or not, within three generations will assume the physical attributes of their boar ancestry, no matter their ancestry. This is just as true of potbellied pigs as it is of Chinas and Polands.

But not this pig. He’s here for the long haul, or in another, similar environment.. He’s an intact adolescent male, but that condition won’t last long. Tomorrow, we’ll contact The Quarry Farm’s veterinarian and arrange for a bit of a snip. Tomorrow we’ll also contact the Wood County Humane Society and let them know he’s here.

Just in case someone’s interested.

getting to know you

bending the rules

Earlier this week, we received a call from a friend of ours, Natalie, at Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Education. It was, she informed us, time for a release, something that we’re always up for. So Nat came down with four Virginia opossums, a woodcock and a juvenile blue jay.

The release of the opossums went off without a hitch (though one did cling to the top of my shoe and hiss at me for all he was worth before finally scrambling off toward Cranberry Run). The woodcock’s release was equally uneventful, but exciting, even so. We regularly see and, more often, hear them here in the spring. But, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time we’ve released one at The Quarry Farm.

The blue jay, on the other hand…

jay bird 3A release, in most cases, is a relatively simple affair: you transport the animal to a suitable location, open the door of whatever is containing the animal, the animal exits its containment and then, ideally, it has the whole of the world to explore,  or at least as much of it as it can reach. It is free, beholden to and dependent on no one and nothing. The jay nearly made it. Nearly. He was brought here, the door was opened, he flew out and…he stayed.

Blue jays are corvids, cousins to crows and ravens, and like their cousins, they’re complex, intelligent birds. They’re also communal, living in extended family groups in the wild. Both of these factors, their intelligence and their sense of community, help them to survive Out There. Both of these factors also make them easy to imprint, particularly when they’re raised alone, as this jay was. With no family to turn to for help, he stays in the only community he’s ever had, with the only company he’s ever known: people.

We had the usual concerns when we released him and began the process of moving him toward self-sufficiency, predation being at the top of the list. Blue jays are slow fliers and as such, easy pickings. Along with a number of cats that treat The Quarry Farm like their own private larder, there are the wild things that prey on jays: raccoons and Cooper’s hawks and screech owls, primarily, but weasels and even the blue jay’s cousins, the crows, as well. We’re even a little concerned about the chickens; a few of the Jersey giants have developed some unusual feeding habits…but that’s a different story for a different day.

What we didn’t see coming, though, what has proven to be this jay’s greatest challenge, are the cedar waxwings.

calling waxwing

accusing waxwingThey found him nearly right away, the waxwings, and they’ve kept an eye on him, and occasionally a beak or talon, ever since.  When one spots the jay in the open, it will call the others with short trills, glaring all the while. They harass him in groups of two or three or four. It’s startling to watch. Where jays are slow and somewhat awkward fliers, waxwings are sleek and fast and the coordination that they exhibit as a flock is nearly military in its precision. But the jay is smart and takes cover in the dense foliage of apple or coffee trees, hugging the trunk and keeping branches between him and his attackers. Which is not to say that they don’t occasionally get to him, that he doesn’t sometimes need help, protection. Three pinpoint spots of blood on his neck and face tell tales of brief melees that haven’t gone his way. So I watch, now, a little more closely and step in when the odds are too dramatically out of his favor. Either I drive them off, or he comes to me, alighting on my shoulder and hiding in my admittedly thinning hair.

hiding jay

This is where the gray area of my participation in this wild thing’s life has the potential to turn black. Because it’s beguiling, this trust he shows in me, this faith. When he sits on my shoulder, when he tucks his head behind my ear, I am, in some small way, connecting with the heroes I read about as a boy. Jean Craig Shepherd’s Sam Gribley and the peregrine falcon, Frightful. Ursula LeGuin’s Ged and his otak companion. Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli with his family and mentors: Raksha and Bagheera and Baloo.

jay bird 2Even so, contrary to what some conventional wisdom suggests, what some rehabbers would insist on, I refuse to drive him away. And not only do I refuse to drive him off, I encourage him to stay. I call him to me and present him with food and, when necessary, I protect him. I justify my behavior with the knowledge that, if he’d been raised by other jays, the adult birds would still be a part of his life, defending him from predators and competitors and helping him find food. The fundamental truth is that he’s a young juvenile in a strange place with no other means of support. As rationalizations go, this one is exceedingly rational. Because he needs it, support. Without it, his chances for survival drop alarmingly.

Just like Cat Stevens said, “It’s a wild world.”

jay bird

 

a different perspective

For the moment, let’s say you’re driving down a two-lane highway at night when, off to the side, your headlights pick up a misshapen bundle. You slow down to get a better look at whatever’s laying there, something that’s almost certainly dead, when, suddenly, part of the bundle shakes itself loose and skitters away into the dark…

Or it could be that there’s this cat that’s been hanging around and it’s pretty obvious that it’s had it more than a little rough. So, because you feel sorry for the poor wee thing, you’ve started leaving food out in a little dish by the back kitchen door. You hear it rustling around and turn on the light to give it a once over, see if there’s any improvement in its condition, only it’s not a cat, nothing like a cat, crunching down kibble. Nothing like a cat at all…

Or maybe it’s the night before garbage pick-up and you’re hauling the last bag out to the curb where you’ve already placed your recyclables and one half-full can. You reach for the lid, but it’s not in place. It’s lying, top-down, in the grass next to the can, and that’s odd because you’re more than kind of certain that you actually did put it in place before heading back to the house for that one last sack of trash. And that’s when you see it, furtive and menacing all at the same time, perched in the ripped-open Hefty bag at the bottom of the garbage can…

Whatever the scenario, what happens next is almost universal: you see those black eyes and all those sharp, glinting teeth in that gaping maw and your flight reflex kicks in. Before you’re even aware of turning, you’re burning rubber down the road, racing up the stairs, or dead-panic, brainless sprinting back to the house. And if your ears weren’t already full of the THUD, THUD, THUD of your own pounding heart, you know – I mean, you just know – that you’d hear it scrabbling along behind you, hissing and growling and keening for blood…

Virginia opossumExcept we’re not talking about some Jurassic Park raptor here, nor a great white shark or a freakshow hybrid of a government experiment gone awry, either. Nope. It’s an opossum – a Virginia opossum, to be precise – and it poses about as much threat to you as the neighbor’s Pomeranian. (You know, the one that they spritz with stink-pretty every other week after it’s been to the salon? The one that wears the pink Hello Kitty sweater as soon as the temperature drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit? Yeah. That one.) So instead of chasing you down, that opossum’s busy either trying to put as much distance between the two of you as it possibly can, or making itself as small as possible, hoping against hope that you just won’t notice it.

Understand, I’m not saying that opossums can’t seem scary. They have more teeth than any other North American mammal and when their jaws are gaping wide in abject terror (yeah, mate, they’re positively terrified of you) it can be a little intimidating. But here’s the rub. Opossums aren’t predators. They’re scavengers, eaters of the dead and the overripe. See, they’re not interested in taking a bite out of you, unless, of course, you’re dead; in which case you have considerably bigger things to worry about than the chance that a wandering opossum just might stop in for a nibble.

mother and babies

So, no, opossums aren’t predatory, but they are seriously cool. They’re nomadic marsupials, have opposable thumbs on their back feet and they have prehensile tails. They’re the most primitive mammal in North America and, when threatened, “play possum.” The word “play,” though, is more than a bit misleading. It’s not a conscious act, not something that they choose to do. Nope, it’s something that happens to them when they get overexcited. Their hard drives crash and there’s absolutely nothing playful about a crashed hard drive.

Keep all this in mind the next time you scare up an opossum, because “scare,” my friends, is truly a matter of perspective.

Give Us a Hand and We’ll Give You a Shirt

If you’ve been following us for any time at all, you’ll know that, while we focus on assisting domestic animals, we also work with the occasional wild, but native, animal, as well. Most are just passing through, either on their way back to the wild or off to a rehab center. Sometimes, however, as with the two American crows and the Canada goose that live here, this is where they’ll stay from here on out. These native animals aren’t eligible for release, either because they have some physical defect that will prevent them from a successful return, or because they’ve developed a certain affinity for their most significant predator, humans. Such is the case with an opossum that recently came to us from Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Education.

No Name OpossumThey told us right up front that he seemed a bit on the friendly side, and he was. Even so, we treated him with the same distance as we treat all such animals we’re tasked with fostering. Several days ago, after nearly six weeks here at The Quarry Farm, we decided it was time to give him the opportunity to go it on his own. Sadly, rather than march off into the woods or even just into the tall grass near the banks of Cranberry Run, he decided to follow us back to the house.

After discussing the situation with the powers that be at Nature’s Nursery, it was decided that responsibility for him should be transferred to The Quarry Farm, where he will live out his days and serve as an ambassador of his kind to the folks who visit us here, on-site, and to those whom we visit in their classrooms.

But, Houston, we have a problem. We can’t seem to come up with a suitable name for him. We’ve labeled him a host of different monikers, but none of them have stuck. So we’re throwing it open and asking for help. The person who comes up with an appropriate name (and, yes, we’re the ones who decide what’s appropriate) will get a Quarry Farm T-shirt.

So, have at it, boys and girls, men and women.

And thanks. Here’s another quick study of the little guy, should that prove inspirational.

No Name Opossum

doors and windows

Change is inevitable. It happens, sometimes precisely as we’ve designed. More often, though, it simply comes about on its own and without invitation. We’re obsessed with it, change, and have been for a very long time. Heraclitus, who died in 480 BC, said, “Nothing endures but change.” Well, what he actually would have said was, “τὰ πάντα ῥεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει,” which, more accurately translated, reads, ”Everything flows and nothing remains still.” But all things change, even quotes from ancient philosophers. So, what it boils down to, then, is how we approach change. There’s an old adage that, particularly recently for us here at The Quarry Farm, defines how we cope with all of that, how we accept this inevitability: when a door closes, a window opens.

Three weeks ago tomorrow, Gertie, the first pig to come and live here, died. She had uterine cancer and, tough as she was, it was time (if you missed her eulogy, such as it is, scroll back a couple of posts and you’ll find it). Three days later, The Quarry Farm received two new admissions: potbellied pigs from the Humane Society of Allen County. And it was only fitting that Bob Barker and Alphonse should come from there, since the HSoAC brought Gertie to us, as well.

Bob and Alphonse were among nearly fifty animals seized from a single site by the HSoAC on the coldest day of this past brutal winter. The conditions in which they were living were minimal at best. The pig we have come to call Alphonse was free of any pen, but still trapped within a maze of three-foot deep gullies he had worn in the accumulated snow. Of the pigs, Bob knew the worst of it. His only shelter was a fifty-gallon blue plastic barrel that was all but drifted shut. Megan McCoy, a friend and key member of the HSoAC staff, estimated that he’d been trapped in the barrel for days without food or water and was mired in his own excrement. He was terrified and starving and rather than force him to leave what little sanctuary he had come to know, deputies of the Allen County Sheriff’s Department and HSoAC staff members pulled Bob free from the drifting snow, barrel and all. It was only later, when they’d managed to transport him back to the HSoAC building, that Megan was able to encourage Bob to leave the barrel and take up temporary residence in one of the organization’s cleaning rooms. Weeks later, once the case had worked its way through the courts and the HSoAC had acquired legal custody of the animals, Bob and Alphonse were moved here.

Alphonse, shortly after arriving.

Alphonse, shortly after arriving.

Alphonse is a bit ticklish about company, less inclined to share space. He has his own fenced-in area, along with a shelter house and an igloo, adjacent to The Quarry Farm’s goose pen. The fence is there to keep others out, not Alphonse in; pigs, we have learned, are found of a space they can call their own. In fact, insofar as Alphonse is concerned, the fence may as well not even exist. He comes and goes as he pleases, slipping through a small space in one corner when he has an itch to explore and root and generally run rampant. Then, when it’s time to eat or sleep or simply get away from the other residents here, he reverses course and slips back in.

Bob on his kitchen bed.

Bob on his kitchen bed.

Bob, on the other hand, while still somewhat gruff, prefers his digs a bit cushier. There are several mounds of blankets and pillows within our home that Bob calls his bed: in a hallway, in the sun by our kitchen door and, his favorite, in Rowan’s room. He’s also not shy about borrowing the beds of his housemates, should the mood take him. The one exception to his marauding ways is with anything that belongs to Beatrice. Though we fondly call her Little Pig, she’s anything but, and Bob made the mistake of strutting in and presenting himself as the macho male. While that worked for him initially, Little Pig quickly let him know all about women’s suffrage and the proper way to treat a lady. The two now grudgingly share space, though it’s best if there’s a fence between them.

There we have it, then. Change, best put in this case, though it is still painful to think of it, by: The King is dead, long live the King. Or kings.

Or pigs.

Postscript: The two other pigs seized at the same time as Bob and Alphonse haven’t been abandoned. Friends of The Quarry Farm (and Anne’s cousins), Bruce and Beth and their daughter Erin, have agreed to take them in. The pigs’ names are Greta and Grits and we expect to make a day trip down to their forever home sometime this month. Eight chickens were transferred  here shortly after their rescue. One, a large white rooster, died within a week of his arrival. The other seven are living large as part of the free-ranging Quarry Farm flock. The ducks all found homes on property where they had access to ponds, while the horses and ponies were welcomed in by equestrian families. As for the dogs, they’re all in residence at the HSoAC. For more information, visit their website: http://www.hsoac.org/ While you’re visiting, please consider supporting their efforts. The work they do is important, necessary and under-appreciated.

 

Setting Up The Quarry Farm at Toledo Botanical Garden

Photographing a nymph

Photographing a nymph

One of the programs offered through The Quarry Farm is something we call Small Streams. The program gives us the opportunity to talk about aquatic insects and other macroinvertebrates and their importance to all living things, water quality and what each of us can do to help keep Ohio’s waterways healthy. Small Streams can be as complex as setting up a freshwater stream

First look at a crayfish

First look at a crayfish

microhabitat in a classroom, or as simple as a plastic bucket half-filled with water and teeming with clams, snails, crayfish and the larva of dragonflies, damselflies, mayflies and a host of other insects with larval forms that start their life cycle in the water. This past Saturday, June 15th, we had the opportunity to take our show on the road to Toledo Botanical Garden as part of Nature’s Nursery’s Walk for Wildlife.

coupleTo be honest, this is the kind of presentation we like best. While a classroom setting provides the chance to really get in depth about some very important issues, it frequently lacks spontaneity. That’s never a problem when we set up in public and have people from all walks of life wander up and ask us what we’re doing there. And while we love the kids, the adults who have never seen a dragonfly nymph, never held a hellgrammite…well, they’re our favorites. Most people never completely lose their childhood curiosity and when it’s piqued, the child they were comes instantly to the fore. We were lucky enough to witness several such transformations as parents found themselves just as fascinated as their children.

nymphThe only down-side to an event such as Saturday’s is the inevitable loss of at least one of the insects in our charge. Typically, when we’re standing at a folding table with a couple of buckets, there is no electricity available. No electricity means no bubble stone. No bubble stone means that the only oxygenation the water these insects are trapped in is what’s provided when we stir the bucket. So, as is typical at one of these events, we lost two of the dragonfly nymphs we took along. But, since our primary goal is education, we took that calamity and turned it into a teaching opportunity.

See, there’s this thing about dragonfly nymphs…Have you ever seen any of the Alien movies? The monster in these films has a unique feature. It has this mouth within its mouth that shoots out and chomps the unsuspecting. Well, that’s not entirely true; it chomps the suspecting, as well. While not exactly like that, dragonfly nymphs have a similar set up. Their lower jaw are hinged and fold up under their heads.

Lower mandible of dragonfly nymph, extended

Lower mandible of dragonfly nymph, extended

When something tasty wanders by, the nymph is able to extend its jaw well out and away from its body, snatch up its soon-to-be dinner and pull it back in. Getting a live nymph to cooperate, to actually extend its lower mandible out to its fullest, is pretty much impossible. The dead, however, know no fear. So, with a couple of dozen people looking on, we were able to pull that jaw out and show people just exactly what we were talking about. That’s when the Alien and Predator conversations started, culminating in the question, presented by a man of roughly my own generation, “I know this sounds strange, but how do Predators kiss?” (For those of you with more highbrow tastes, who are confused by the nature of the question, try this: http://www.alexvisani.com/monstergallery/predator.jpg

Chris and the crayfish

Chris and the crayfish

Nature's Nursery's  Linda and Icarus

Nature’s Nursery’s
Linda and Icarus

We’d like to extend a special thanks to Chris,a Natural Resources student in the Toledo Public Schools system, for all of his help. We’d also like to thank Nature’s Nursery for inviting us to participate in the event.

Sixteen Chicks and a Kit

It’s only Tuesday and it’s already a busy week.

On Monday, we received a call from the Pandora branch of the United States Postal Service.

“There is,” a woman explained, ” a package for you.” Long pause. “And it’s talking.”

Chicks TiredThe chicks we’d ordered late last winter had arrived: five Black Australorps, five Black Giants and, as it turns out, six (though we only ordered five) Buff Orpingtons. Now ordinarily we don’t buy the animals that live here. There are more than enough domestics out there in need of a different situation that we don’t have to. But chickens? Well, they hold a special place in my heart and, frankly, they feed us. Not with their bodies; we’re vegetarians. But we have absolutely no issue with eating the eggs they produce, Chicksparticularly since the eggs they lay are infertile. This is not to say that we don’t take in wayward chickens. We do and have: Barbara the Australorp, Karen the Rhode Island Red and Big Girl, the Ameraucana,  just to name a few. But there’s something about raising a chicken from virtually her first breath. At least, there is for me.

Then, on Tuesday, today, we received a call from Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Education. A couple in our county had found an orphaned red fox kit and were looking for assistance. I met Rachel and Andy in Ottawa in the parking lot of the local Rite Aid. They explained that they’d found him huddled next to a dead sibling and kept a watch out for the mother. 003When nearly two days had passed without an appearance, they took the kit in and contacted NN, which in turn called us. We provided him with a little watered down formula, which he gladly drank, and, since he was severely dehydrated, gave him a subcutaneous injection of sterile saline solution. So he’s here for the interim. Tomorrow, we’ll try him on a slurry of soft cat food and formula.

From there, thanks to Rachel and Andy, the sky’s the limit.

A Long Overdue (but brief) Introduction

If you have ever had an affinity for writing, someone at sometime has said to you, “Write what you know.” It’s good advice. But what they don’t tell you is that sometimes what you know is what you love and, on occasion, you are so close to what you love that writing about it becomes more than simply difficult. Your love becomes a chasm that words can’t bridge. I’m going to type a word now that, to me, embodies this whole concept.

Crows.

It’s a little word and they are a common bird, but even so, I have been enamoured and fascinated by crows for decades. By those who study animal intelligence, they are widely considered the most intelligent of birds. They aren’t simply tool users, but meta-tool users, designing tools by which they can get a tool to accomplish a task. They raise their young in multigenerational family groups, teach specific lessons to their young who, in turn, teach their own offspring these self-same lessons, communally avoid areas of known danger and may even use the same insecticide (formic acid deliberately obtained from the crushed bodies of ants) they use to rid themselves of lice and other pests to attain a state of inebriation.

That’s right. Crows may get loopy on ant juice.

And here’s the rub: I live with two of them. Literally live with them. In my house. And have done so for over a year. Their names are Blackie and Jo. Both came to us through Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Education. Blackie first and then Jo. Over that time, a day hasn’t passed that one or the other of the two hasn’t done something noteworthy, engaged in behavior that wasn’t worthy of mention. Even so, getting the concept of them down, the enormity of their impact on my life, has proven overwhelmingly difficult. So, although I’ve tried, and there are literally dozens of drafts on this site that support my claim, I haven’t passed along a single anecdote.

Until now.

To get to the meat of it, though, I have to seemingly stray away from the subject. Be patient.

Recently, we took in an additional fourteen hens. We acquired them locally from a pair of farmers who found themselves swimming in chickens. As I understand it, they were told by their supplier that their order of 150 chickens couldn’t be mailed, that they would have to drive to the hatchery and pick them up. Which they did, only to receive, a few days later, a shipment by mail of another 150. They were completely unprepared for so many birds, didn’t have the facility to house them all, although it appeared that they had tried. When we picked up our fourteen, the most the farmers were willing to part with, there were easily 200 hens and several roosters housed in a building no more than ten foot by fourteen. The birds had pecked each other raw, stripping the feathers from one another until many were half-plucked. To make a long story short, two of the chickens we took in have died, the (hopefully) last of them either late last night or early this morning. And now we get back to the crows.

Jo in WindowOf the two crows that live with us, Jo is my girl. We bonded immediately. She greets me each morning, and I, her. It’s a complex thing involving specific crooning vocalizations. We visit with each other and preen one another. And when I’m outside where she can see me, she caws loudly and sits on the windowsill, watching me as I go about whatever task is at hand. Today, the one she watched me perform was the disposal of the body of the chicken that had died sometime during the night. As I was coming back up to the house, in the window of the room where the crows stay, I saw a small blob of brown bobbing in the window. It was obvious that Jo was in the window waving something around, but it took me a moment to figure out what it was.

As I mentioned earlier, crows are highly intelligent and they need a variety of stimulations to keep themselves occupied. We give them puzzles to solve and simple objects that they find interesting. One of Jo’s favorite toys is one of those tiny little plastic ducks, and by little I mean just a couple of inches long and maybe an inch and a half high, that you find all over the place. I’m sure you’ve seen them: little plastic ducks dressed like firemen or doctors or executives or sports figures. At the very least, you get the picture.

Jo's ChickenIn this case, the little plastic duck looks like a little, brown, lifeless chicken.

And she was waving it in the window after watching me walk down the path behind our house with my own little, brown, lifeless chicken.

Think of it what you will. Maybe Jo was just showing off one of her favorite toys, trying to entice me back into the room for a little play time (which, by the way, she succeeded in doing). Maybe it was simply coincidence. It’s possible.

But I don’t think so.