The Echo of the Call of the Wild

I have been procrastinating writing this post. I wasn’t looking forward to sharing the update that the chestnut-sided warbler we took for rehabilitation was not victorious in the good fight.  He died as a result of his injuries.  Wildlife rehabilitation often boils down to simply giving an animal a second chance that it wouldn’t have otherwise had.  Sometimes this means that release back into the wild is a joyful reality, and sometimes it means a humane end to suffering; at the very least, it means a safe place to slip away from this realm.

I have worked with wildlife in a volunteer capacity, and each loss is a sad one, but it’s the lift you get from occasionally setting a healed animal free that makes the risk of heartache worthwhile.  And you remember every animal, regardless of the outcome.  It’s times like this when my propensity for turning things over multiple times in my mind actually propels me forward, instead of hindering my progress as it sometimes can. The experience of finding this song bird, and being able only to administer the simplest first aid while scrambling to find someone capable of doing more, has led me to take steps toward achieving something I’ve been wanting to do for several years but could not make time to commit to.  There never seem to be enough wildlife rehabilitators to go around (I’ve seen this in the last three states where I have lived), so I am going to be the change I want to see in the world.

I am currently studying to take my New York State licensed wildlife rehabilitator’s exam.  After apprenticing for a year, I will be eligible to apply for a federal license that will permit me to rehabilitate and transport migratory birds.  There is a lot to learn, much work to be done, inspections to muster for, costs to be incurred (wildlife rehabilitators are not paid by government agencies), some reality to face, and hopefully some success stories to share.

My membership is official!

I’ve said it before: life is serendipitous, and I am grateful to everyone – human and otherwise – who joins the ride with me.   Thank you for coming along!

Brother Can You Spare an Aphid?

Temperatures have been well below freezing for over a week now, and in these parts it’s dipped below zero with double-digit negative wind chills.  The springfed well that went dry in late summer, prompting the owner of the property to drill a new well, has caught up with itself, the pristine water rising to the surface to saturate the driveway.  It continuously runs down to the road and freezes, layering itself, creating a sheet of ice inches thick.  The best I can do when leaving in the car is aim in the desired direction and hope to stop at the bottom of the driveway instead of shooting across the road and down an embankment.   Treachery!

Ice in driveway
Frozen spring water: Enter top, exit bottom, freeze, repeat.
Ice in street
This is where the spring-generated ice meets the road and continues the path of least resistance down the road.

However, inside this old house, spring seems to be abloom!  Thanks to the unseasonably warm fall and fluctuating temperatures, I have been living in the midst of an ongoing ladybug infestation.  I like ladybugs and I don’t mind them flying around the house, but I was first concerned for their survival. They like a measure of humidity, of which I have little inside, and the aphid population registers even lower since I gave away most of my houseplants before moving.  Aphids, along with some mites and scale insects, are the only things ladybugs will eat, and while I’m into feeding the world since humans are consuming nearly everything there is, I won’t be importing mites to my home.

On the flip side, it can become a little tiresome having so many ladybugs around.  They have landed in my food prep areas while I am cooking, and also on the dining table during meals.  There are worse things in life that could, and do, happen, but it’s unappetizing when even a nice insect drops from the chandelier and plops next to my plate.  Kitchen activities require heightened vigilance.  The beetles have occasionally buzzed my head, landed in my hair, and turned up in my folded canvas grocery bags.

On warmer, sunnier days in the late fall, literally hundreds of them swarmed the south facing side of the house, doors and windows; penetrated the structure through cracks; and occupied every room on both levels of my home as they vied for hibernation space.  I have since learned an interesting equation:

southern exposure + light colored house + clapboard = ladybug beacon

I saw a congress of eight of them high along one vaulted bedroom wall, and over the course of a couple of days, they moved closer and closer to each other until, with my uncorrected vision one dusky evening, they took on a menacing form.  They like to cluster together while hibernating, which I get, but seeing them amassed on the wall over a bed troubled me.  Not being able to reach them for eviction, I left them alone and eventually they dispersed or, more possibly, died.  I have since learned that affixing a stocking to a vacuum cleaner hose with a rubberband can be a harmless way to capture and release them.

I was aware that the United States is home to an invasive type of ladybug, so I consulted an expert on the subject,, to confirm my suspicion that these were my interlopers.   I think what I have here are Asian Lady Beetles (Harmonia Axyridis), a breed that was imported to the US from Asia in the early part of the 20th century for crop pest control.  Over the last decade or so, they have been released around the northeastern United States to protect our hardwood trees.  Both of these initiatives were successful, and hey, no chemicals were used other than, I suppose, the fuel to transport them to release point.  I am given to understand that the releases are no longer taking place in this region, which is probably a good thing since I have enough to at minimum protect the state of New York.  This particular type of ladybug reportedly will sometimes bite if frenzied for a place to hibernate, but I can’t bring myself to swat them.

When we moved into this home, the owner surprised me with the suggestion to set off insecticide foggers, if we went away for a few days, to thwart returning to a maelstrom of lady beetles.  She also crinkled her nose as she cautioned that they smell terrible.  My perplexity at the time had to be visible, but I have since read in several places that, when stressed, ladybugs release a yellow substance that stains and emits a foul odor.  My unscientific mind likens this defense mechanism to that of an octopus or squid releasing ink.  Evidently, a prior occupant disturbed a cluster of ladybugs, and the consequences have outlasted both of their tenancies.

Ladybug Ink
This is moulding alongside a ceiling beam. The staining is “reflex bleeding” left by distressed ladybugs. When they ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

I wouldn’t set off foggers to kill ladybugs, but having pets inside the home would preclude me from doing so just the same.  They haven’t bitten me, so I don’t whack them.  As long as they stay out of my food, I can catch and release them outside where they crawl back under the clapboard, hopefully to reorient themselves to torpor and not just reenter the house through another crevice.  If I can steward them through the winter, the gardens this summer will be lovely.

Echinacea in winter

Mistaken Identities

Walking into a shopping mall department store alone with one thing on my mind (miniature Italian bittersweet chocolate bars at Lindt), I was mildly distracted from my mission by the sound of a man’s voice rising above the din.  I glanced casually toward him while weaving through people and racks of clothing; he was young with a slight build and dark hair, one arm waving frantically overhead as he careened through the crowded store in my direction.  I hastened my already brisk pace to get out of his way, but his voice grew louder instead of distant.  His course had shifted with mine, and he surged toward me, calling, “Wait!  Wait!”

I stopped, in case I might be the one millionth customer to enter the store that day, or possibly my belt loop had hooked a high-security item that I was unwittingly dragging toward the exit into the mall (seriously, these were my thoughts at the time).  He loomed out of the garments on my left, placing a hand on my arm.

Jekyll Hyde
Photo credit

He started to gush something enthusiastically, but stopped abruptly, his face morphing from joy to puzzlement and settling into shock.  “Oh my god, you’re not Caroline!”  He released my arm and recoiled, apologizing profusely, but then lingered to gaze into my face with wonderment.  “It’s uncanny, you look exactly like my friend Caroline, even now that I know you’re not her…” he said, shaking his head as he retreated back into the garment racks.

This happens to me with surprising frequency.  I’m not always accosted, but I have been mistaken for various people’s cousin, daughter, niece, colleague, and on one really fun excursion in Chicago, a barista stared me down because he was sure I was Julie Delpy (I should be so lucky) until I placed my order in a clearly American voice.  In every case, I was well met by the strangers, each wanting to share something or extend a kindness toward me.  It’s strange being a doppelgänger, and I’ve never worked out a way to use my commonly arranged features to my advantage.  I can be understanding of the situations, though, having made similar errors in recognition, just not with people.

For example, one rainy fall night, driving home from a 14-hour work day, my eyes scanned the roadsides as they always do for dark forms that might leap out in front of my car.  As I rounded the corner onto my street, my headlights glaring off of the slick pavement, the silhouette of a small animal emerged from the right side of the road and scampered across my headlights.  I had seen two kittens recently but hadn’t been able to catch them for safe keeping, and I knew the temperatures were going to plunge that night.  I braked and looked around for the other kitten.

When the animal stopped and turned its head to look back, I opened my car door to call to it, but it trotted further up the street away from me.  That is an ugly kitten if such a thing is even possible, I thought to myself, and it’s weird the way it scurries on those long legs.  The ears were disproportionately large and the face was broad across the cheeks, but I attributed these features to water-drenched fur.  The poor thing!  It was cold and I had to catch it before it froze to death or something ate it.  I got back into my car and rolled a few house lengths to turn into my driveway, and as I did, the kitten darted across my headlights again, back to the other side of the road and down the hill into the next door neighbor’s front yard.  Perfect!  I could lure it close, scoop it up in my arms, and carry it inside for warmth.

I parked my car in the driveway, slowly opened the door, and softly called to it while it studied me guardedly from the deep shadow of the neighbor’s house.  I crouched down in my suit and heels, extending a hand toward it, making the classic “here kitty” call, which for the uninitiated sounds like, “Spss spss spss.”  The kitten started toward me, picking up speed until it was in a dead run directly for me.  It was about that time I realized that this was, in fact, not a kitten, and I catapulted to my feet as I vocalized the comprehension with an involuntary expletive.  My back was against my car and I didn’t know which way to move, but the animal made a split second 90-degree turn before coming into the porch light, paws kicking out behind it, and disappeared into the woods behind my house.

I went inside, breathless and bewildered, and recounted to my husband what had just happened.  My stepson walked into the room just as I was describing the animal, and they agreed it sounded like I had tried to bring a coyote pup into the house.  I had never seen a coyote, but I was sure they were mistaken until a few days later when someone at work circulated an email cautioning everyone to be attentive while hiking with unleashed dogs because a large coyote was seen with pups along a hiking trail in nearby woods.  These are the same woods that extended to my home.  A quick Google search offered photographs that supported my family’s assertion that I was the mistaken one.

Coyote pup
Photo credit –  Ugly kitten or cute coyote pup?  My judgment is faulty.  You decide.  

There are far worse cases of mistaken identity, and I’m lucky to have not been hurt in mine.  For the most part, the experiences turned into humorous circumstances for everyone, the only possible exception being the coyote event.  I will never know if it thought I was offering food from my hand or my hand for food, but while I am charitable, I have to draw the line somewhere and this is as good a place as any while I still have two hands with which to do it.

Until we meet again, be generous and kind, use caution around strangers, and keep your hands inside your vehicle at all times.  Unless, of course, you see a legitimately stray animal in need of a figurative hand, or can call a local wildlife rehabilitator for wild animals in need of help.