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Ice bark

Some the trees have ice on their bark from the little bit of rain and sleet we had:





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I came across some coyote tracks in the snow.



Their size next to a nickel (US five cent piece):



One foot stepping where the other was.  This is very common in coyotes. They walk almost without wasted movement.



And for comparison, here are some of Miley’s:




There is no hard and fast rule from telling dog tracks from coyote tracks, but in this case, there are no other domestic dogs running loose on this road. Golden retrievers have round “cat feet,” which gives them a pretty compact track in the mud or snow. Coyotes have pronounced center toes on their front feet. There aren’t many dogs that have that particular foot morphology, especially around here where sighthounds really don’t exist (except on the race track).

Miley is also at least 1/3 larger than any coyote that lives here, and because her legs are proportionally shorter, she tends to dig in more when she runs.

That’s how I tell them apart.


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chauvet cave

Last night, I watched Werner Herzog’s film on Chauvet Cave. It is called Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and it is an exploration of the art of a Paleolithic people, who drew amazingly lifelike depictions of the great beasts that once roamed Europe at the edge of the vast ice sheets. In true Herzogian style, it is a mixture of the scientific findings about the images of the cave and deep romantic speculation about the artists and hunters who made them.

Chauvet Cave, though located in southern France was once home to hordes of megafauna, including bison, aurochs, woolly mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses, reindeer, red deer, and primitive horses. The artists also included images of European cave lions, revealing that male cave lions did not have manes, and they also included the only known image of an ancient European leopard.  There was at least one image of a cave hyena, a cold-adapted relative of the modern spotted hyena, which crushed bones with its massive jaws and likely lived as a hunter-scavenger as the modern species does today.

And yes, they also included images of cave bears, now extinct relatives of the brown bears that are slowly making a comeback to several countries in Europe. There is some evidence that bears were of spiritual significance to these people, for there a place in the cave where a bear skull sits atop what appears to be an altar.

Many of these creatures were food and clothing for these people. Others, like lions, hyenas, and leopards, would have been enemies and competitors for the game species.

Their minds must have on animals almost constantly. They were true naturalists, for their lives depended upon a detailed knowledge of zoology, ecology, and, yes, ethology.

There is some debate in the literature about the exact age of images on the cave. Radiocarbon dating of the rock art,  animal remains, and charcoal in the cave suggests that the most ancient images of the cave are between 30,000 and 32,000 years old.

The cave was not known to modern science until 1994, and in the intervening millennia, the great beasts have gone. There are no more cave lions or cave bears or cave hyenas.  Leopards and the European lion that replaced the cave lion lived in parts of southern Europe into historical times. They are also both gone.

Wild horses and aurochs exist only in their domesticated forms. The Hereford and the thoroughbred descend from the fell beasts whose images grace Chauvet’s walls. Domestication has worked its ways on their kind to the point that neither creature seems like it could have come from the wild at all.

The geography is vastly different. The vast sheets of ice that covered the Alps and most of what is now Germany no longer hold up the sea level. Great Britain is now an island.

Temperate forest replaced the taiga and then modern humans turned that forest into cultivated fields. Villages were built, the roads, then cities, then ancient empires of Europe.  Over the centuries, the wildness receded more and more. To a North American like me, most of Europe resembles a cultivated garden that is totally devoid of most raw nature. We have d deer-hunting Eastern coyotes and massive black bears. They have red foxes and badgers.

The images of those long-lost people must have burned something into my psyche. When I went to bed, I dreamed of animals. I saw a white-tailed doe standing along forest path as she nursed two dappled fawns that nuzzling hard against her teats. I saw mallard hens with scores of fluffy ducklings waddling their way to the nearest pond.

And I dreamed that I got a bear on my trail cam. It was not the common black bear of the East either. It was a brown bear with a shaggy brown hump and a silver mane.

Never mind that no brown bear ever lived in this part of the country. Dreams are without reason or knowledge.

They are mere the expression of what the mind has absorbed and wishes to express.

When I awoke, it occurred to me that I am not so different from those Paleolithic hunter-artists of 30,000 years ago.

My knowledge of nature does not feed me the same way it did for them, but it feeds me another way. Without nature and animals, I don’t think I could survive.  My spirit just couldn’t take that deprivation.

So that which feeds my spirit I pay homage to on my cave wall.

But my cave is not made of limestone. Mine is of the digital age.

On my blog I post the animals that I see or capture on my trail cameras. I get coyotes, two species of fox, Virginia opossums, raccoons, black bears, two species of squirrel, bobcats, and white-tailed deer. I’ve captured wild turkeys, red-tailed hawks, American crows, ravens, and turkey vultures.

White-tailed deer are among the oldest extant species of ungulate. Virginia opossums don’t differ greatly from the earliest of mammals that once scurried in terror from the predatory dinosaurs. The coyotes that roam the forests here are not too dissimilar from those of the later Pleistocene or from the ancestors of the wolf-coyote-golden jackal lineage that first evolved in North America during the Blancan Stage.

American bison once thundered across these hills, and where the coyotes now let loose their high-pitched howls, one could hear the deeper and more eerie refrains of the wolf known by the Linnean name of Canis lupus lycaon. The white-tailed deer played second billing the vast herds of wapiti, which English-speaking North Americans called “elk.”  The bobcats slinked below the gaze of the great cougars that stalked the deer,

New casts of characters play the story of life. Extinction and extirpation vs.  colonization and introduction. Predator and prey. Plant vs. herbivore. Mutation. Natural selection. Genetic drift.

This is the story that was played out before we came, and it is the story that will be played out so long as living things exist on this planet.

I wonder if my digital cave art will last as long as those as Chauvet Cave. A piece of me hopes so, but I know that this electronic age is a much more tenuous existence that that of the Ice Age hunters. Nuclear weapons hold the possibility of wiping us out in one fell swoop, and climate change could set off a mass extinction event that might even wind up dooming us all.

A limestone cave, hidden from the wages of modernity for thousands of years, has a much better chance of surviving that a bit of digital artifact that exists only on the ether of the internet.

I don’t think this will be The Blog of Forgotten Dreams. Not the least of which is that I lack the skill of the artists of Chauvet. I can barely write my own name legibly.

So my art is what I type and what images I can capture on digital devices.

And while I dream,  I shall remember.

When I go, the story of life will go on.

And there I rest my hope.







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We used to call these “wild canaries,” even though they are an entirely different species. If you ever see a male its summer plumage, you can see why.

This is an American goldfinch, which is also a distinct species from the European goldfinch.

It is poking down the snow, so we’ll see what else shows up today at the feeder.


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Acorn diggers

When I came across this massive excavation site, I thought it was the work of turkeys.



But the tracks around the excavations in the leaves reveal the true culprit.



This has been a remarkable mast year. The acorns that fell in October fell in such plenty that the deer are still eating them into the second half of February.

And the deer are fatter than I’ve ever seen them in winter.



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Cammie is visiting! Not quite as warm as Baton Rouge.

2015 2 14 030

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From the Friends of Guisachan:


This image is of “Belle,” the Tweed water dog that was bred to “Nous,” the yellow wavy-coated retriever, to found the Lord Tweedmouth strain of yellow retrievers.

The Tweed water dog, often referred to as a spaniel, was actually a dog that belonged to market hunters on the North Sea coast of England and southern Scotland– from Norfolk to the mouth of the River Tweed.

These dogs were basically the equivalent of the Chesapeake Bay retriever in Britain. They were owned by men who shot ducks and geese (often with punt guns) and needed a boisterous water dog to collect their catch. They also would catch ducks during the molt, when they couldn’t fly.

Veterinary surgeon Richard Lawrence wrote about the Tweed water dog in his 1816 book, The Complete Farrier and British Sportsman. He claimed that water dog had “Newfoundland” blood, which means the dog was basically a rougher form of curly-coated retriever:

Along the rocky shores and dreadful declivities beyond the junction of the Tweed with the sea of Berwick, water-dogs have derived an addition of strength, from the experimental introduction of a cross with the Newfoundland dog, which has rendered them completely adequate to the arduous difficulties and diurnal perils in which they are systematically engaged. These stupendous and inaccessible cliffs and precipices are so favorable to the propagation of soland geese, sea-gulls, and wild fowl of every description, that the coast may be said to be covered with them, from one extremity of the northern district to the other, and the necessitous and laborious class entirely support themselves and families, during the greater part of the year, by patient attacks whenever there is a probability of success, (otherwise they never discharge a gun) and by the persevering exertions of their dogs. Those clifts, or recesses, are selected which, from their situation at certain angles, or points, afford the most promising expectations of success: in each of these, (but not at a less distance than one quarter, or the third of a mile from each other) huts are so curiously constructed with sods, intermixed with loam, marl, and other applicable articles, as to form, when finished, a seeming part of the rock itself. To each hut is a door, or shelf, within, for the convenience of depositing provisions and ammunition, as well as three circular openings of four inches diameter, (to the right, the left,and the centre,) for the discovery of the fowl on their approach, and the subsequent discharge of the gun, when they, fortunately, were within shot, but which is never discharged except the magnitude of the birds promises a profitable hit; the smaller tribe are permitted to pass unmolested. In this sequestered situation, remote from every human eye, accompanied only by his faithful dog, the adventurer takes his seat at the very dawn of day, his success depending more upon the fluctuating favor of the elements than upon any energetic endeavours of his own. This occupation (for by the happy and enlightened part of the world it cannot be termed a sport, or amusement,) requires more patience and philosophy than any other in which the dog and gun are conjunctively concerned (pg. 405-406).

A very similar breed was bred in Ireland, which was called the Northern Irish water spaniel or “Irish retriever.

Unlike the nobles’ retrievers, which were almost always selected for black color, market hunters’ water dogs were selected to be camouflaged.  Nobles were hunting with retrievers at a heel over game driven to them or pointed by non-retrieving pointers or setters, while market hunters were out in hides after truly wild birds that were flying over hides or boats.

The Tweed water dog is also in the Labrador retriever. The Dukes of Buccleuch crossed their smooth retrievers with Tweed water dogs when it became too difficult to import water dogs from Newfoundland. They were also crossed into the standard curly-coated retriever, and there was at least one strain of yellow curly-coated retrievers, which may have descended from these dogs.

I am glad that Marcia Schlehr, who is North America’s leading golden retriever historian, decided to do this depiction of Belle, and portrayed her as looking more like a retriever than a sort of mongrel Irish water spaniel. Elma Stonex, the golden retriever breeder whose research essentially debunked the Russian circus dog origin story for the breed, thought that John Carlton’s painting of a water spaniel was the closest thing to a Tweed water dog.

But we know what the Nous and Belle puppies looked like.  There were paintings and even photographs of them. They were yellow, and if you saw them today, you would think they were just regular golden retrievers.

So it would make sense that Belle would look more like a retriever than an Irish water spaniel.







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