Sunday, August 31, 2008

Miyoko - April 2, 2006 - May 8, 2008

This is a small tribute to a special dog, Miyoko, and her adored human, Andy. I don't know the full story of Miyoko, but I do know that Andy got her as a pup and put his whole heart into giving her the very best life anyone could possibly imagine for a dog. He taught her street safety, and did such a fine job, she never required a leash. Not a ball, not a squirrel, not someone calling, could tempt Miyoko off the curb, unless she had Andy's permission. This is not to say she didn't have a mind of her own, but as Andy said, "She was just being a woman." Miyoko and Andy were seldom apart. They went to work together at the race track, and they spent countless hours in the forest and along the riverside of Bridgeman Park. They also dropped by Hamersley Park in the evenings, which is where Black Jack and I first met them when I moved to North Vancouver. Miyoko had unbelievable joy in her; she could play with the best of them without ever losing her cool. She was the diplomat of the dog park, eager to meet and greet both dogs and humans. When she wasn't there, people would look for her. It always seemed to be more fun when she and Andy arrived on the scene. In spite of Andy's best efforts, and huge veterinarian bills that he's still trying to pay off, he was unable to save her when she became ill a couple of months ago. He doesn't even have the comfort of a clear answer as to what happened to her. It's a heartbreaking story except for one comforting fact. Miyoko had more love and joy in her short life than many dogs have in a much longer time span. My heart goes out to Andy, but I believe that Miyoko's beautiful spirit will stay with him forever, changing the course of his life in ways that will only become clear as time goes on. In the mean time, those of us who had the opportunity to witness and marvel at the closeness of their relationship will keep them in our thoughts, as Andy does his best to carry on without his best buddy.

Arriving at Hamersley Park
Buddies at Bridgeman Park
Aha!  There's my ball.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A bit about Black Jack

Time to account for the "beasts" part of this blog.  Today, Black Jack's story.  

The first picture I saw of her.
It was on - if you haven't heard of this site, it's worth a look.
It had been two years since Scott, my last dog, had died.  As with my dog before him, I said, "Never again."  But this time, I was really serious.  I even moved into a "no pets" building.  When I found myself wandering up to complete strangers on the street, asking if I could pet their dogs, I began to read the pet forum at Craigslist and that took me pretty quickly to the petfinder site. Craigslist also found me a pet-friendly apartment building near my job (Bill wasn't part of my life at that time) in North Vancouver.  Then, the three-month search for a dog began in earnest.  My experience with rescue organizations is a story for another day, but for now, I'll just tell you about "Ginger's Deathrow Rescue" in Seattle.  Ginger drives down to California every couple of months to a high-kill shelter where they kill about 50 dogs every other day.   Small dogs are the most unwanted - there are kazillions of them.  She selects a dozen or so from the ones slated for that particular day, and brings them back to Seattle.  She has foster people that help her out, and after the dogs are vet-checked and neutered, she posts their photos on the internet.  Look back for a sec at that picture of Black Jack.  Now, take a look at my last dog, Scott.

Scott, a month after he was adopted from the Montreal SPCA
   My choice was made.  Black Jack (that was the name she had been given) appeared to be a miniature version of Scott.  I had had only two requirements when I went to petfinder.  They both had to do with size.  I wanted a dog that I could carry on my bike (Scott was a greyhound-X and 70 pounds), and I wanted a dog that could fly in cargo with me, should I want to travel.  After a long series of e-mails to Ginger, neither of us were sure that Black Jack was small enough to go in cargo, but by that time, I was in love.  I decided to drive down to Seattle to meet her. That was more of an adventure than you might expect.  I had been in Vancouver for almost ten years, and had only driven once, and that in my first year here, when I had rented a car to show my visiting mother around.   So, it had been at least 8 years since I had driven, and added to that was the fact that I hadn't been across the American border since leaving Montreal.  I had kept my driver's license though, so it was no trouble to rent a car.  In fact, my perfect driving record:) made it very easy.  I got the car on a Friday night, drove around town a bit that evening to get the feel of driving again, made a stop at the dog bakery on Denman street to buy a $200 bed (I told you I was smitten) and left at six the next morning for Seattle.  I stopped on the way to buy a pet carrier, a dish and some treats, and my next stop was at the foster mom's place on a rural road a half hour or so past Seattle.  I sat down to have a cup of coffee with Tawnya and her husband.  She has to be one of the hardest working ladies I've met in a while. There were oodles of dogs running around, some in pens outside and another dozen or so inside.  She brought Black Jack into the kitchen and she immediately jumped in my lap and settled down.  From that point on, I knew I wouldn't be leaving without her.  As we went down the steps of Tawnya's house, Black Jack took off running and the leash flew right out of my hand.  There were a heartstopping few moments, as she crossed the road and looked to be heading into the forest.  Instead, she dashed under a huge parked truck, and I finally managed to get to the other side of the truck and she ran right into my arms.  No more mistakes after that.  I knew that I had a little escape artist, and prepared myself accordingly.  Once in the car, Black Jack settled into her new bed and went to sleep.  No need for the carrier.  We were off.  

Here are just a couple of pictures to show you Black Jack does travel great on my bike, and she's even learned to play ball.  I'm really sorry that none of the pictures enlarge when you click on them.  A few of them do in my first two entries, but I can't figure out any rhyme or reason as to when they will enlarge and when they are only thumbnails.  (If anyone has any helpful advice for posting pictures, it would be greatly appreciated.  I'm trying to use both Flickr and Photobucket, and taking the pics from IPhoto on my IMac)  Here she is, when Bill and I took her on our cycling trip to Vancouver Island, a couple of weeks ago.  This is our first night in Beacon Hill Park and she has just sighted a squirrel.  I love the way she's sitting up so straight.  

Squirrel sighting, in Beacon Hill Park, Victoria. 

 And here she is two days later on the Galloping Goose trail, on the way to Sooke.  We stopped every 45 minutes or so to let her out of the carrier for some run-around time.  She loved the trip every bit as much as Bill and I did.  I highly recommend this for any of you who love cycling but want to relax and enjoy the scenery too.  It's a flat trail with beautiful lookout points and the most peaceful surroundings you could ever ask for.

Riding the Galloping Goose trail

 Finally, one picture of Black Jack playing ball.  It's a huge accomplishment for us.  First of all, she couldn't be allowed off her leash at all for the first 8 or 9 months with me.  Secondly, the ball held no interest, nor did any sort of play initiation, for a very long time.  Each time I took out the ball, her posture said as clearly as could be, "You go chase that thing if you think it's so great." 
Whoops!  Overshot it again.

She does catch a good number now, and just to mention some of our guesses as to her breed background.  I was told she was probably a Chihuahua and pug combination, but I would add some sort of terrier to that mix.  You may wonder about the pug part, but when she is relaxed, her tail is a corkscrew.  It uncurls somewhat in the passion of the chase but kinks right back up the moment the ball is in her possession.

More about Black Jack and the other beautiful beasts in my life another day.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Stanley's adventure on the ground

One day, I arrived at the heronry to find Stanley on the ground.  He didn't appear to be injured and he showed no fear of me or my camera.

Stanley inspects his new territory.
His feathers did ruffle up once..
And he played one game of Peek-a-boo..
But he went for a walk..
Managed to get his wings together..
Tried a test flight..
Executed a shaky landing on the fence..
Stood up proudly and took a look around..
Flew back to the ground to check out a tennis game..
Showed off his beautiful yellow eye.. 
And finally took a challenging flight to a ringside seat.
(Your challenge is to find him:)
Meanwhile, Sue watched from the nest..
Remembering all the times they had hung out together.
Sydney looked on as well.  He was planning a flight soon,
and hoped to pick up a couple of tips.

That about wraps up my story of the herons for Summer 2008.  I left Stanley that day sitting on the fence watching the tennis game with what seemed to be full concentration.  The next day when I arrived, he and Sue were both gone, and Sydney was sitting quietly in his nest.  The day after that, he was gone too.  I hope and believe that the three of them are flying safely to wherever they go.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The herons have gone

I've named it Sydney.  Sydney was in my favorite tree, to the left of the tennis court path at Stanley Park (Vancouver, BC), gazing toward the open sky, as if to say, "Is anyone coming for me?"  The light was poor, but I felt it was the end of the heron-watching season, so with my 18-zoom Lumix, I snapped this so-so image using the auto-intelligence mode.  Some day, I've promised myself to read the manual.

It's an addiction, watching herons.  Two summers ago, the first view of open wings caught and held me.  Maybe, we all dream of flight at some point in our lives.  I don't know.  All I do know is that the power and beauty in the wings just about takes my breath away.  My best picture from that summer was taken with a 10X-zoom Lumix, and again, with the "for dummies" mode.

My "Best Blue Heron" from Summer 2006
Last summer, I moved over to North Vancouver, and lost touch with the herons.  Instead, I discovered a pair of bald eagles, and watched them and their one offspring almost every day.  I snapped at every opportunity, but they were just too high up in the tree to get much of a view. Still, watching the juvenile in one of its first flights made my summer.  More about bald eagles in another entry.

This has been the best bird summer ever.  I moved back to this side of the water, and was drawn once more to Stanley Park.  After a few weeks of biking to the heronry and craning my neck in nonstop circles, I had to find a better way to take photos. I finally settled near the end of the season on one tree.  Two juveniles were in a nest close to the edge of the branch on the right side of the tree.  I named them Stanley (usually to the right and much more active) and Sue (generally waiting to Stanley's left).  Stanley was spending a fair bit of time flapping his wings in preparation for flight.  He was my easiest subject, but Sue gave me a few photo ops too.  There was also a third heron in a nest on the left side of the tree.  That's Sydney, the one you see at the beginning of this blog.  The branch with the little clump sticking out at the end was my Stanley and Sue locator.

 Stanley, having a bit of a bad hair day.
There doesn't seem to be much size difference between juveniles and adults at this stage, so it's difficult to identify what's happening in the next picture

Stanley, on the left, demanding food from the parent.
Or, are Stanley and Sue fighting?

A rare shot from another tree, so no name for this beauty.

I tried for hours to catch an adult (the male and females take an equal role in looking after their kids) flying in for home duty.  It was unbelievably frustrating.  I would stare off into the sky, just like the kids, wondering when Mom or Pop would arrive.  It was a given that the moment I took a few seconds to massage my aching neck, I'd feel a shadow overhead and know that I'd missed my chance again.  I never did get a satisfactory photo.  Even on the days when I saw the adult flying in from quite a distance, I couldn't seem to get it centered in my viewfinder.  The photo below was the best I was able to manage all summer.  I sure hope the herons will give me another chance next year.  They've been coming to Stanley Park for several years now, so there's always the chance they'll choose another place for 2009.

Either Mom or Pop coming in to feed Stanley and Sue.  
And to confess the full extent of my addiction, these next photos were taken around seven a.m. on the morning I was leaving for a cycling trip on Vancouver Island.  There was, in my inexperienced photographer view, incredible light.  

Stanley, on his personal branch in grey morning light.  

He began to call for food, as the sky cleared.

The light on his wings and legs was magical.

The wings, oh, the wings.

The next time I saw Stanley was after the bike trip.  It had been three days, and I was sure he would be gone, but I was happily wrong.  He was downright funny that morning.

An indignant look, somewhat foiled by the right wing hanging out.

And then the left wing.

Stanley and Sue hanging out together.

Stanley, Sue and Sydney's stories are not quite finished, but I've come to the end of my very first blog entry (ever) for now.  I promise to finish their story soon - maybe even tomorrow.  Can you guess which one of them made a break for ground, and hung around, letting me take pictures for a couple of days, before disappearing forever?  

By the way, I jumped into this blog, without so much as a hello, or a bit about who I am.  The bikesbirds part of the address will give you a hint.  Beasts (think Beauty) refers to all the other loves in my life, two in particular being a little black dog named Black Jack and a beautiful man named Bill.  More about them soon, too.  

Finally, I was inspired, at age 61, to attempt a blog because of an incredible one that I've been following for quite some time.  Check it out.   Her photography, insight and humor give me food for thought as well as stellar entertainment, and a goal to shoot for.

Until the next time.