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Old Dog, New Tricks

Old Dog, New Tricks

Our ten year old miniature Aussie, (known here as The Disreputable Dog), is as puzzled by the effects of the pandemic as are the people. He is having a hard time with this weekend that never ends. All his people are home, but the Saturday / Sunday routine is not being followed! This is causing anxiety! And the mail and delivery people are constantly around the neighborhood and must be barked at. Clearly he needs some new activities. A canine Pandemic Project!

Of course he is of herding dog heritage, so one of the things we thought of first was agility competition! In agility competitions, dogs run through an obstacle course with poles to weave through, gates to jump over, ramps to climb, etc. There is specialized equipment you need – however, there are things that you can build. We had a number of PVC bits and pieces left over from a previous plumbing project, so building some new agility course structures was a simple matter of doing some research on the Internet, one trip to the hardware store, and some quality time with the tabletop circular saw.

We decided to build a two-level gate, out of 1 1/4″ PVC pipe, and a pole-weaving course out of 3/4″ pipe. We just stuck the pipe segments into the fittings without gluing them, to make it easy to disassemble and store or transport the gadgets. For the pole course, we will probably drill some holes through the fittings into the pipes and put some machine screws in there to keep the poles straight up and down, but for the most part this isn’t necessary. And, if we have an irrigation emergency that requires PVC fittings … they’re already here! Just kidding. Mostly. Finally, we had a folding ramp that we use to get the dog in and out of tall truck beds: with a support under the hinge it becomes a ^ shaped ramp.

Then of course we had to introduce the Disreputable Dog to his new toys. He immediately assumed that they were obstacles to be cirumnavigated, which he did, at speed. Well done. But no. Some training is necessary.

With considerable nudging from knee and lead, he made it through the weave course. Frankly, we don’t think he quite understands how that is supposed to work just yet. Maybe we’ll get him to watch some videos on Youtube.

The jump was a bit easier. We started him off on the low setting for now, should be a piece of cake. We’ll set it to the higher height later. First try? Around! No, wait, try again … over! Excellent form.

The ramp, however, he already knew what to do: after completing the jump, run at full speed to the ramp, then up to the peak, turn right and leap off into the air! Once again, Dog, your ability to make up new rules for the game is impressive. Most impressive.

Second time was more the charm, but he still is jumping off early. He considers it inefficient. It will take him longer to return to the starting point if he runs all the way down! Who would do that?

After a few more runthroughs of this short course, it’s time to take a break. Can’t have all the fun at once!

Did you say … TREAT?

Thank you for joining us as we do Pandemic Projects, meant to keep you energized, curious and learning!

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Tomato Times!

We love a good organic tomato; preferring a home-grown and heirloom variety or from the Farmer’s Market. Growing your own food is a great activity with kids, a satisfying way to teach organic gardening and the value of feeding the soil.

Do a little research to find out which plants do best in your climate. Our incredible propagating (plant growing) friends at “Island Seed and Feed” in Goleta, help us to figure out which tomato plants did well last year and what might be better this year. Of course, the amount of rain may be too much (fungus problems) or too little. We use a drip system linked up to a controller for reliable watering even if we’re busy or away.

Ask a few local irrigation companies if you’d like recommendations for setting up a drip-irrigation system with a controller. There are many ways to do-it-yourself and with help.

We use a good organic _potting_ soil in 15 gallon pots because the gophers will destroy our tomatoes if we plant in-ground. (Don’t reuse last year’s potted tomato soil to avoid transferring diseases; use that old soil with other non-tomato plants.) Be very cautious not to use contaminated soil or pesticides on your food plants.

Dr. N stirs in a few handfuls of organic plant food.

Then, hand waters with a B vitamin liquid + water to prevent “transplant shock.”

He leaves enough room at the top for an occasional deep watering by hand, and a sturdy tomato cage. He always puts the plant tag in the pot so we’ll remember which ones did well at the end of the harvest.

Just planted.
The original four tomato plants at 3 weeks and a new one on the right, at 2 weeks! Happy growing times.

Thank you for joining us as we do Pandemic Projects, meant to keep you energized, curious and learning!

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Game Design Challenge!

Inventing games to Reuse Before Recycling.

Designing games with recyclable materials has got to be one of the best ways to engage the mind, invent an “interactive” that entertains the household, helps provide Environmental Awareness and gives the challenge of designing for many ages.

Give yourself and your fellow designers a few guidelines. 1) materials should be safe, clean and unbreakable, 2) games should reuse items around the house, 3) try to design for multiple ages and physical abilities, 4) games should encourage players to cooperate and provide learning times.

We love a good Treasure Hunt! Take turns hiding so younger players aren’t competing against each other (learning cooperation and caring). Choose items that won’t spoil if lost behind a cushion and can be reused several times. Avoid using sweets, which could attract vermin and may cause health problems down the line. Ask the chef which spice jars you may use- it’s an aggravation if the cardamom goes missing when it’s needed!

Line the hallway with flattened boxes to reduce the noise and impact of balls hitting the wall. Don’t block doorways if you can help it, and, make your back board low enough that family and housemates can step around it on the way to the bathroom, kitchen or living area.

A) Bowling with empty water bottles and a softball. (Easy does it!)

B) Bounce a Ping pong ball into Strawberry baskets.

C) Bounce II- Egg cartons are easier for youngsters to be successful. But laugh with each other as the randomness of the bounces creates playful not competitive times.

D) Bounce Basketball– Clean coffee K-cups give a bigger thrill under the red ‘basketball’ backboard. Plus, the balls may get stuck in the red cups. Empty yogurt cups make for an easier target.

Clean up, Clean up, Everybody Does Their Share

Encourage your players to neatly stack their recyclable games against one wall. Remember, household safety is important. If these games will be stored for awhile, “flag” the ends with something bright white or reflective (visibility at night time) and remind housemates there’s a bit of a tripping hazard.

Thank you for joining us as we do Pandemic Projects, meant to keep you energized, curious and learning!

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Birding from Home

Enjoy this picture of a cheeky fellow visiting our neighbor’s tree.  He is a Hooded Oriole who, with his mate, like to set up a nest in the Spring.  This orange flowered tree is a favorite of the Orioles and the Hummingbirds.

Sometimes we take birds for granted.  We think they’re always there, all the time.  Unfortunately, songbirds are in decline due to serious predation by house cats, air pollution and various avian diseases like the West Nile virus.  Habitat loss is another serious problem.

However, many bird species are seasonally occurring.  Whether they are migrating through, stopping over or searching for nesting habitats you can study who’s here this month and who is coming soon.  Sometimes fellow birders will tip you off that a rarity or unusual visitor has been spotted.

Local birders said there was an unusual Mexican Red Egret at the slough.  It taught some of our local egrets to flap their wings while wading, herding little fishes into the shallow waters to become an easy dinner.

If you’d like to investigate your avian (bird) neighbors you’ll be more successful in the very early morning and late afternoon as birds are feeding.  You may find them going about their business any time especially when their preferred food and fresh water is available.  But, be careful not to set up a feeder or water dish where cats can attack. There should be a good 6’ clearance from shrubs or other cover where cats can hide.

A pair of binoculars (binocs) are very helpful and so are local bird guides. 

Ask family and family friends if they are birders and can help you get started.  Birders are great friends to have!

Here are some of my favorite guides and some of my favorite college level books.

Front and center:  Dr. Joel Carl Welty’s famous “Life of Birds”, 3rd ed.

Left front: “Life of Birds”, 4th ed.; Dr. Welty and Dr. Baptista

Left upper row: National Geographic “Birds of North America”

Upper row, center: “Audubon Society, Field Guide to North American Birds, Western Edition”

Upper row, right: The Shorebird Guide”, O’Brien, Crossley and Karlson

Lower row, right: “The Birds of Lake Los Carneros”, Millikan and Lewis

Why am I recommending “old” editions of Dr. Welty’s book?  Because it’s a classic college textbook and the old editions are more affordable!  Dr. Welty was my mother’s college professor.  He and his wife, Susan, were wonderful and caring people.

If you read older editions, please understand that names and classifications may change or be updated as new information is discovered, but, the beautiful line drawings are priceless. Many functions, parts or situations can’t be photographed clearly enough for viewers to understand.  (I used to be a Natural Science Illustrator!)

For the new birder, the color index and color photographs in the Audubon Society Field Guides are wonderfully helpful. Buy the guide new or used for your region! Often, you’ll see photos of both male and female breeding coloration which can be somewhat different than their round the year plumage. There’s plenty of information about the range where certain birds can be found, their preferred habitat, feeding habits and lots more.

I recommend that you start an informal field journal.  A simple “Composition Book” with wide-ruled lines is fine.  Practice your handwriting to be legible and neat so you can write your observations with an indelible (permanent ink) pen.  Keep that pen and a good number 2B drawing pencil with your Field Journal and binoculars at all times.  Wildlife biologists in earlier days would have used Acid-free paper and India ink in their field journals, so you’re off to a good start!

Find a good location where you can sit, comfortably, and observe the birds in the environment around your home.  Call this space your “field station” or “blind” (staying hidden so birds or animals are not disturbed by your presence).  

Tell your family that you are doing Science at a particular time of the day and to please not distract you as you are taking observations.

Among the many things you may want to record is the date, time of day, weather, wind and temperature.  You should try to be observing at the same time of day.  Note which birds are present, note what they are doing.

Start drawing as much as you can.  A quick impression is just fine, birds are rarely still.

Whether living in an apartment, in the city, in the suburbs or a more rural area, your home is essentially your habitat.  You are part of the local environment.  Lucky city dwellers in high-rise buildings may get to see Peregrine falcons “stooping” on pigeons, catching them for dinner.  Lucky hikers can sometimes see Peregrines in the windy habitat of the Chimney Rock Trail on Point Reyes, or, see Ospreys nesting on new nest platforms along Tomales Bay, CA. 

Don’t be too upset if you see a bird of prey (raptor) eating its dinner.  As I say to my kids, “Everybody needs to eat.”

During my ornithology (study of birds) course at University of California Santa Cruz, I didn’t see a lot of species (types) of birds at my field site as it was late in the year (no nesting going on).  I was patient.  One day I saw a huge dark raptor at the top of a redwood.  It could only be a Golden Eagle! My classmates doubted my observation, but on later days, I saw two Golden Eagles- one flying and another on a telephone pole at sundown.

In that class, we took field trips to the Point Reyes Bird Observatory (PRBO)and the California Academy of Sciences.  This was a chance to see mist-net capture of live birds, measurement and banding of their legs at PRBO.  The Academy had fixed (stuffed) bird specimens.  Your local Natural Science Museum will give you the chance to see fixed specimens on display.  Ask if you may sit, study and draw them!  

Here are some drawings that I made of a California Condor specimen at the Carrizo Plain Visitor Center, and, sketches I did of live juvenile condors at the Santa Barbara Zoo.  I guess I was hooked on Condors since my early teens when I saw a giant bird with wings wider than a picnic table flying in the wild over the Central Coast of California.

Last year, we noticed folks with binocs and cameras with long lenses staring down toward a remote beach. We stopped and these friendly birders said there are Condors on the beach!  Larger than big turkeys, they were walking on the beach then flying overhead!

If you get the “birding bug” you’ll have fun the rest of your life.  We have friends who travel the world trying to complete their “life lists” of birds seen and heard.  You can help with the Christmas Bird Count, helping observe and tally up all the species in your area.  

Thank you for joining us as we do Pandemic Projects, meant to keep you energized, curious and learning!