Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tasmanian Native Hen

Tasmania has a native hen which, unfortunately, has a habit of running across the road in front of cars. Interestingly, it is supposed to be really bad tasting and therefore the birds were not and are not hunted for food much. This has given them enough of an advantage to survive and they are still running around the island. I don't know whether or not they were ever domesticated for egg laying, but I found them interesting little birds.

This photo of a native hen was taken at an animal sanctuary where the birds were roaming around, and because they were a little used to people, I could get closer than in the wild.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cough Drops Can Be Toxic to Pets

Simon has always been one for foraging and eating things that he shouldn't, and he has a stomach of steel. So far the adventures have included a one pound bag of brown sugar, a box of raisins, grapes, horse manure, and dead things he finds in the pasture. (Once while he was being forced to throw up raisins he threw up some small bones, which is what clued us in to the dead things in the pasture). He will also steal anything he can in the way of cat food, and search the car for candy wrappers or the trash for anything at all.

Yesterday I came home for lunch to find that he had eaten the remainder (the bulk) of a big 80 count bag of Halls Cherry Menthol Cough Drops. It didn't strike me that those would be considered food, but after three days of ignoring them, Simon apparently decided they looked good. So he ate them, wrappers and all. I called the vet and found out that yes, they can be dangerous, and yes, he does need to throw them up.

Apparently the menthol can be toxic, and if you use sugar free drops, the xylitol can be too. These were regular, so just sucrose and menthol - but he did eat a huge volume of them. I didn't want to induce vomiting on my own and then leave him alone or take him to work, so I put him in the vet's care for the afternoon so he could vomit and then get monitored, particularly in case he needed fluids, a liver panel, or observation, since he could have ingested them anytime over a three hour period and I was not sure how far along in his tract they were.

Simon is good at looking at you in a way that makes you feel sorry for him even when he's in trouble. Those big brown eyes and the wiggly ears with the sort of 'What??" expression. He is a terribly annoying dog on many fronts, and although he is in many ways the least favorite and most trouble of any dog I've ever owned, I still love him. And I still take my obligation incurred when we adopted him to be lifelong commitment, for better or for worse. And he MEANS well, most of the time, he is just a pain - rolling in things, barking at things, defending against imagined threats, being unpredictable, and eating just about everything he can get his paws on.

So, $118 later, he has survived the cough drop incident and I have learned of yet another household item potentially toxic to dogs.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo

Recently a business trip took me to Chicago, so I checked out the Lincoln Park Zoo. This zoo is free - which is pretty amazing - since it appears to be nice, clean, well run, and have a decent selection of animals. They must have a lot of private funding, and that's nice, as making zoos available to all is a nice goal (though one I would have thought unrealistic).

Although it was hot and humid, it was still a pleasant day at the zoo. Most of the habitats were nice and the animals seemed happy (though of course, there are always a one lone zebra, why? Herd animals should be together even if the zebra has to be with some African antelope).

I enjoyed the African wild dogs - though their enclosure was smaller than ideal, they have shade and a nice place there. I have been to Africa several times now and never seen the elusive wild dog - though I sincerely hope one day I will. In "Out of Africa" Isak Denison describes a sight she saw of thousands of African dogs - and while I have never heard any explanation of why there would have been so many or why they would travel together as she described, the scene was one I've never forgotten. African dogs have a really interesting society and are neat creatures, so getting to see a couple up close was great. Two are pictured here. I still hold out hope that in my lifetime I can see some in Africa where they belong, but for now, nice to see them in Chicago.

I also enjoyed the Andean bear, pictured here swimming in a pool to cool off in the afternoon heat. There were alos lions, leopards, lowland gorillas, chimps, and a variety of smaller mammals. I saw, for the first time, a sand cat (several). This looks for all the world like a thin domenstic housecat with a rounder, puffier face. (Add a litterbox and some Friskies to the exhibit and I would have bet it WAS a housecat). These are very interesting and it's always nice to "meet" a new animal I've never even heard of before.

Overall I give this zoo 4 out of 5 stars - a very pleasant day and easy to walk/cover in a half day trip. They have a Safari ride that was fun and made me laugh, and we rented a paddleboat and cruised around for a bit overlooking some cows in the Farmyard part of the zoo.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Staying in the Dog House

Cottonwood, Idaho is home to an unusual B&B, built in the shape of a giant beagle. The owners of Dog Bark Park have a business on site where they carve dog shapes with chainsaws and sell their wares. At night, though, you have the place to yourself if you book the B&B. I booked it recently as a joke (would my husband possibly foresee a weekend in a giant dog's stomach?) and they allow dogs, so we could bring ours, making a nice weekend outing from Boise.

The B&B has an okay breakfast with home made pastries and a variety of other items. The room offers a mini-fridge and coffee pot, and there is an attached bathroom and an upstairs in the dog's head where kids could stay (though the ladder up there is steep). The room is comfy and without a TV or phone, offering instead a variety of games. (I recommend Quiddler, a card game).

About 5 hours north of Boise, Cottonwood itself doesn't offer much to do. However, there are places in the area for hiking, and on the way up and the way down, we saw some great things. we turned onto Seven Devils Road south of Riggins and drove 18 miles up to a trail head where we could do a short hike and have an incredible view of the Seven Devils range, pictured here from that viewpoint. Here, the dogs got to play in the snow in mid-July and the hiking weather was sunny with a cool breeze. We also stopped and got out to play in the Salmon River here and there, and saw two very huge fish hanging out in the river current.

If you stay in Cottonwood, you can also visit the Wolf Research & Education Center in nearby Winchester. Take a tour morning or evening to try to get close to the remaining two members of the Sawtooth pack, or see the new pack rescued from the crazy woman in Owyhee County recently.

We were also lucky enough to see some deer and a wild coyote on this trip. We ate dinner both night sin nearby Grangeville, which also offers an old time drive in. Overall, a nice (kitchy, humorous) relaxing weekend with the dogs, in a giant wooden dog.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Little Penguins

We had the chance to see Little Penguins, also known as Fairy Penguins or Blue Penguins. We saw them at a colony they have at Bicheno on the east coast of Tasmania. Apparently, penguins come back to the same colony where the males were born, and the females follow the males they mate with. Brothers, fathers and grandfathers end up nesting on the same turf they were born on. The colonies have been around hundreds of years, but unfortunately, some have been completely wiped out, by man or other predators. I read something in Australia that was very sad indeed - one night a pack of dogs wiped out all of the penguins in an entire colony - in a single night.

Cats are also big enough to take penguins. These penguins are mighty small, about the size of a human foot, and of course the babies are smaller.

There is a lot of hatred of cats in Tasmania, and greater Australia. Although this was hard to listen to, I can understand how and why this came to be. Dogs and cats, beloved pets back home, were foreign to Australia and when introduced by man had a profound impact on the local wildlife. Hardly fair to blame the cats or dogs and not the idiots that brought them, but so it goes. Feral cats are shot on sight and it is definately a place that you should have cats indoors or not at all. If you saw cats killing off little quolls and other marsupials, and penguins, etc it would be hard not to dislike them.

I do think some creative options could be used to protect penguin colonies. I don't see why a great pyrenees could not be trained to protect the colony from cats and other dogs. The local people do seem to be trying - they have a program of providing nest boxes and relocating (or more likely killing) predators.

The colony we got to see can be quite large, but we were there at the time of year when we did not see that many penguins. ou can't use flash and so only one of my photos came out - this is it. did get to hear the penguins at night, which was cool.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tasman Peninsula Coastline

Walking along the coast of the Tasman peninsula offered fantastic views of the rugged coastline. As usual, the Aussie time limits on how long the walk would take were off by about half, but all the same, these were easy walks and a pleasant passage of time. There were incredibly high rock sea cliffs, supposedly the world's tallest in some places. In several places the rock was carved into archways, a few of which we explored the next day on the Tasman Ecocruise of yesterday's post.

In addition to the cliffs, the beach offered some interesting and new formations. There is rock that is naturally carved by the water into what looks like tile - nearly perfect geometric shapes of rock with water running off the crevices that create tile like lines.

There were also spikes of rock standing where the waves had carved away softer rock, and some of these spikes were 200 feet tall - which looks pretty cool. The Tasman peninsula was one of my favorite parts of the trip. While we didn't see much wildlife here except the marine life on the ecocruise, we did see that and the stunning coastline was very memorable, and so pretty it was like being in a movie.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tasman Peninsula Ecocruise II

Southeastern Tasmania's rugged coast was a great setting for a three hour ecocruise along the Tasman peninsula. We saw two kinds of fur seals, cormorants (pictured), a swimming penguin, albatross and some seabirds. The night before, we could not get the Gilligan's Island theme song out of our heads.

We had seas that I expect were not considered too rough, but that said, we both were nearly seasick by the end. Taking photos was hard with the roll of the ship and the presence of other people. The sea spray and wind were chilly. The roll of the boat was rough - granted we sat in row three and got a lot of action - but it was nearly too much even with anti-seasick meds.

The cruise was gorgeous though - stunning rock cliffs and rock formations, little tiny rocky islands, huge booming waves, blowholes, marine life. The cruise operator was high on safety and worked to get us all a good view. In addition to these wildlife photos I posted two scenery pics below, and tomorrow I'll post the same coast from land so you can see a different view. Really gorgeous!

Tasman Peninsula Ecocruise I

A blowhole along the Tasman Peninsula and a view of Hell's Kitchen from the boat.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Army Puppy

My friend serving in Afghanistan currently sent me this photo of the Army camp dog. The guys love the dog, and I am happy that they have an animal to comfort them and connect to when in such a stressful place and time. Previously he served a year in Iraq, and there was a camp dog there as well. Every care package I sent contained some dog treats, of course. Some of these dogs find a way to come home to the US with soldiers, courtesy of a lot of agencies and people.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Wombat Cuddles & More

Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary was an Aussie trip highlight for me. Located in Tasmania, the sanctuary was the location of "Growing Up Marsupial," an episode in the Animal Planet series on babies being raised. It featured two Tasmanian devils, a wombat and a quoll. I was looking forward to getting to see the sanctuary and get up close to some of the animals there.

I had a chance to cuddle an eighteen month old baby wombat being hand raised due to her mother being killed by a car. Trowunna rehabilitates animals like these and then releases them into the wild gradually. It appears that they do very well, but to my surprise, no one has funded a study to determine how long they survive or how far they range or how well they do. Basically they raise them, teach them, and leave the gate open and eventually the little guys wander out - much like they'd leave mom eventually in the wild. Sometimes they come back and say hi.

Wombats are super cuddly and they love to be held nice and tight. They also follow you almost touching your feet as you walk, as that is how they stay connected to mom in the wild. Here's me holding her, and then a close up of her face as she is napping. I could have held her all day! What a treat to raise such babies.

Also at Trowunna I got to pet a koala, and even more exciting, a Tasmanian devil! One of the keepers held a growly little female devil he had raised and I got to pet her and see her pouch up close. That was fascinating! There were also many happy kangaroos and wallabies to pet and interact with.

The sanctuary spends it's resources on the animals, not on marketing or posters or uniforms. It's what I think a sanctuary should be. They do good work, pioneering in fact, on devil reproduction and have a high success rate. It's cool - to breed, they let the female devil chose the male by having the males in enclosures and she can press a button to open the door of the one she wants to go into! The devils here look happy and healthy, and enjoy each other in captivity though they would live alone in the wild. (Interesting that they take comfort in their own kind in captivity).

Overall, I enjoyed my visit to Trowunna, I could have stayed longer, and I look forward to going back someday. Recommended if you are in Tasmania!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Rafting the Payette, Once Again

Every year I try to do at least one whitewater raft trip, since it's sort of a shame to live in Idaho and not go rafting when we have such great opportunities here. I like Cascade Raft & Kayak, and I always request my favorite guide, Dustin, who is very safety conscious but also a lot of fun to go with.

This year, we did the evening ride, at 5:00pm, instead of the afternoon - and I would have to say, it is shadier and cooler, and I prefer the afternoon a little bit. The water was a little higher than when I've gone later in the year and that made for some good whitewater. We did the Lower South Fork, my favorite. The biggest splashes came on Slalom, where there was a big hole. These photos are just going into it, and in it! It was a great trip and I'm very glad we did it, and I hope to go back again soon.

Banks is a short drive from Boise and well worth the time if you live in or visit the area.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Brush Tailed Possums and More

Brush tailed possums are common in Tasmania, and they sure are cute! Nocturnal marsupials, they raise one young at a time. The mother possum has the hair sort of worn off her back end from the baby rising around on her back as she moves around. Eventually the little kid moves off on its own. They also come in a rare golden color, and every local animal sanctuary seems to have a golden possum.

One night in Tasmania our guide, Craig, from Pepperbush Adventures (aka Sassafras Dundee, as he was dubbed) took us to his cabin in the woods near Scottsdale, Tasmania. We were lucky enough to have a gourmet meal he cooked using local bush ingredients, such as sassafras leaves, pepperbush leaves, and other local ingredients like Tasmanian cheeses, salmon and wallaby. After dinner, the scraps were set out for the night animals, on the lawn. Craig was a great guide - very in touch with local wildlife, the environment, and very conservation minded. His family is from Tasmania for generations, and he loves everything about the place as near as I could tell.

First on the scene after darkness fell were a mom and baby possum, pictured here enjoying strawberries. (The mom is the darker color). Several possums came out, and one even walked right up and checked out my hiking boot. We also got to see spotted quolls. Their eyes would shine in the flashlight beams as they bounced around, which was very fun to watch. We saw pademelon, Bennett's wallabys, a wombat, and a banded bandicoot too. It was a great night and by far the best meal of the trip.

Dinner began with local Tasmanian fruits and cheeses, then "swamp rats," which were liked herbed pancakes with sun dried tomato, blue brie cheese, and pepper honey. We had mushrooms stuffed with parmesan cheese, and amazingly good red peppers roasted with mayonaise and tuna inside. Then wallaby, and trout, and venison meatballs. Cookies (aka biscuits down under) for dessert.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Trip Highlight: Tasmanian Devils in the Wild

Tasmanian Devils are nothing like the cartoon character "Taz." They are amazing creatures, closer to canines than felines in shape and size and manner. They are scavengers but can also kill. They have incredible jaw strength, like hyenas, and they can crush and eat bone easily. They are communal feeders and help each other tear up and break apart kills into manageable, edible pieces by more or less playing tug of war with the carcass and pulling against each other until it tears. They have a really loud cry/call they make when feeding that sounds awful - sort of like a howl, a roar, a growl and a cry all in one. And it's loud. That noise attracts other devils, which helps with the whole community feeding thing.

Because devils compete for food, the devils in the wild often have bite marks on their faces. During mating, the female can be pretty rough on the male's face, and bites can be severe enough that a piece of lip, jaw, cheek or nose can be missing. Amazingly, the devils seem to keep on going without these either totally healing or getting infected.

Tasmanian devils used to live on mainland Australia, but got wiped out by the dingo, introduced by man. Now they live only on the island of Tasmania. And, they happen to be in a lot of trouble. An endangered species to begin with, devils have been suffering from a form of cancer known as Devil Facial Tumor Disease. You can research and learn a lot more about the disease easily, but the main thing is there is no cure, it is always fatal, and it has wiped out roughly half of the devil population to date. It's believed to be spread during communal feeding. The good news is that it hasn't spread to the whole island yet, captive breeding programs are underway, and some immunity in a few devils has been found. Additional bad news though: devils only live until 5 years old or so and don't breed until they are two. Although they give birth to many little rice grain sized babies, only four can attach to nipples and usually only two live. So these little guys are in trouble survival wise.

The little devils are very cute. We were lucky enough to get to see them in the wild, thanks to Geoff King. Mr. King had a family cattle ranch and he decided to turn his part back to nature and let the natural vegetation and wildlife return. He got some flak for this but stuck with it, and now he has a gorgeous piece of coastal heathland. On it live some devils. Once in awhile, not too often to alter the devil's ability to live in the wild unaided, he stakes out some roadkill and lets people like us sit with him and watch the devils come and consume it.

We saw a total of eight devils come to eat a dead wallaby. There were male and female, large and small. Some entered noisily and left hurriedly. One little girl entered with silence and was shared with without comment. Geoff (aka Joe) had seen some of the devils before, but not all. I was able to get some photos of the devils without disturbing them, and a few are here. You'll see later in the blog how these wild devils compare to those in captivity - the ones in captivity don't live alone as those in the wild do, and they don't bear the same facial scars.

When devils are raised in captivity they are affectionate and bond closely with their human. I was lucky enough to get to pet one and see her really up close. I liked how she had a little sneeze when she was happy and a little growly complaint when she wasn't, much like my Lizzie the Cat.