Archive for February, 2013

Profound Quote of the Day

“Women are like Labrador Retrievers. They all have their quirks. You just have to learn to live with their quirks.”

–Phil Robertson


Labrador retrievers are easier to live with, though.

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Dead oak

dead oak

This is what remains of the old forest.

It’s a decaying old oak tree that was standing here when most of this land was pasture. My guess is that its acorns were used as pannage for the hogs, but when the farmers left in that great Appalachian exodus in the 1950’s. The pasture was left to grow up and become woods again.

This tree was a “den tree” to countless generations of gray squirrels, and now its trunk is being devoured by the larvae of several species of beetle, a fact that has not been lost on the local woodpeckers, who have pock-marked the trunk from top to bottom.

Eventually the decaying trunk will crumble to the ground, and it will rot away, providing nutrients to the forest floor from whence it sprang.

Most of the trees in this forest are young. They are among the first colonizers of what was once pasture land.

West Virginia’s tourist motto is “Wild and Wonderful,” and one might be deluded into thinking that all this forested country is something that always was.

The truth is that its current forested condition is a very recent phenomenon.  The destruction of the agrarian economy following the Second World War that was then followed by a decline in timber prices in more recent years has meant that the land is once again holding forest.

Forest is good habitat for many species.

But we’ve traded the species in some cases. We now have ruffed grouse and woodcock instead of bobwhites and stocked pheasants. The gray fox is the most common small canid now, whereas in most of the country, the red is far more numerous. White-tailed deer now graze the ridges where once flocks of sheep were turned out.

The farming civilization that was once here is now no more. Farming is now an industrial practice. Back then, it was a way of life.

Once the whole region operated under a very strong Gemeinschaft.

That culture is now mostly gone. The older people still care about each other, and they remember the old times.

But now the houses along the country roads are more likely to have meth labs operating in them than simple farm families.

John Boy Walton has moved onto the big city.

And if you can leave, you might as well get high.

This old tree once stood where people made their living.

Now it will stand where the wild beasts do.

Nothing in this world remains static.

The only thing that is constant is that things constantly change.

Nature is really the story of chaos, then the semblance of order , then more chaos.

The truth is that human civilization is very much like nature in this same respect.

Constant change– chaos, order, then more chaos.


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Miley jumped a flock of about 30 wild turkeys this afternoon. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the camera on when they flew, and when I tried to get a perched bird in the telephoto lens, it must have thought I was armed and flew away.

turkey dog

There was actually snow on the ground. All of those overturned leaves were the result of the turkey excavating in the leaf litter. These oak trees have produced a very good mast this year, so the wildlife is well-provisioned this year.

The surplus mast is also why deer hunting was so difficult this year.  The deer could forage deep in the woods and out of shooting range. They also didn’t have to move as much between stands of trees. They could just remain where the eating was good and the bullets weren’t flying.

Miley’s behavior and that of the turkeys is somewhat reminiscent of the old way of hunting them. In the old days, a man would go out with his dog. Breed didn’t matter. The dog merely had to have the instinct to hunt.  The dog and man would go off, and when the dog found the turkeys, it would flush them.  When turkeys are spooked, they fly into the trees, and that actually makes them quite vulnerable to the hunter’s gun.

In the days of market hunting, the wild turkey was wiped out. Right now, the numbers of this bird are on the increase, not just in West Virginia but throughout their historic range in both the United States and Canada.

Things are going well for this bird. Even though the species almost went extinct, it has made a remarkable comeback thanks to scientific management programs.


I may not have been able to get a good photo of a wild turkey, but I did capture this image:


It is incontrovertible proof that dogs and dinosaurs live at the same time!




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Great PBS documentary. Check it out here!

(If you’re in the US!)

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queen of the mountain

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dog of note

The answer to the question I asked nearly a month ago is that there are three correct answers.

This dog is Jock of the Bushveldt, not to be confused with Jock of the Bushveld, which is a novel by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick that details the life of a bull terrier type dog in the South African bush.

This dog was born in England in 1910.  The dog in the novel lived in the 1880’s.

And this, of course, leads to a lot of stupid debates on the internet. Many people actually believe the South African Jock was a Staffordshire bull terrier, because his father was purebred from England. However, in the 1880’s, the only bull terriers that were being registered and show with the Kennel Club were the Hinks-strain of bull terrier.  These were the white dogs that eventually became very popular throughout the world.  Jock’s mother was just a bull terrier, which means that she may have been derived from just generic bulldog and terrier crosses– which are also the source for the “pit bull” and “staffie” type dogs.

However, the dog in the photo is of more consequence than Jock.

This dog was actually a first cross between a brindle bulldog and a Manchester  (“black and tan”) terrier.

So the first correct answer is that he was a bulldog/Manchester terrier cross.

The second correct answer is that he was a Staffordshire bull terrier, for dogs derived from him became part of the Staffordshire bull terrier breed.

The third correct answer is “colored bull terrier,” for he was also an ancestor of the colored variety of bull terrier.

Black and tan and tricolor– often with brindling in the tan– are pretty common colors in bull and miniature bull terriers.

One of the Hinks-type bull terrier’s ancestors, the English white terrier, which was basically a white Manchester terrier, became extinct because deafness was so common in the breed.

And although the original color for all of these bull terriers was white, it was well-known  that breeding for the white color alone was clearly linked to increased deafness.

So it was decided to allow in blood from rougher strains of bull and terrier.

This was almost without controversy in the United Kingdom, but when it happened, many members of the Bull Terrier Club of America lost their minds.

For decades, American bull terrier fanciers refused to allow in any color but white. However, they eventually relented, but only if the “colored” dogs were show as a separate variety.

“Colored” is also a word that has a clear racial meaning, so I have often wondered if the distinction for “colored” bull terrier is actually meant to be some sort racial slur.

The white dogs bred by Hinks were meant for gentlemen.  All gentlemen in those days were white, so they should have a white dog to back them up. The dog’s nickname from that era even reflects a member of the white gentry– “the white cavalier.”

Cavaliers, of course, were the landed gentry who supported the king during the English Civil War. The Virginia planters, who themselves were actually rabble that rose to the status of gentlemen through their tobacco enterprises, backed the king in that war, which is one reason why the University of Virginia’s mascot is the cavalier.

The Staffordshire bull terrier type was pretty common long before James Hinks came along. They are really what you’d get if you crossed an old type bulldog with some sort of terrier. They are the basis for the pit bulls– which were usually called “bull terriers”– that have been in America for hundreds of years.

But they were the dogs of unrefined peasants and colonials.

They weren’t white cavaliers.

This same sort of bias exists in many parts of the country with BSL.  Pit bulls and staffies get the legislation; the egg-headed pig dogs usually don’t.

It is really amazing how class and race get mixed up in our discussions about dogs.

They are really reflections of what people were thinking about each other than the actually dogs themselves.


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European starlings.



European starlings were introduced to New York’s Central Park in 1890.

It was an intentional introduction.

In the nineteenth century, introducing species was actually deemed a virtue.

The French zoologist Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire wrote a book on how wonderful an idea it was for different species to be introduced across the world.

He founded a society in Paris in 1854 called La Societé Zoologique d’Acclimatation, and its sole purpose was to breed and introduce foreign species to France.

A similar society was founded in New York in 1871, and one of its prominent members was Eugene Schieffelin.  A pharmacist by trade and an amateur naturalist and Shakespeare buff, Schiefflin thought it would be a grand idea to introduce European birds that had been mentioned in Shakespeare’s works to the United States.

Although he tried to introduce nightingales, bullfinches, chaffinches, and skylarks to the, only his release 100 starlings proved successful.  He turned out 60 birds into Central Park in 1890,  and then he released an additional 40 the following year.

It’s possible that all starlings in North America derive from these 100, but I would like to see some DNA analysis of some sort to confirm it.

The starling is unbelievably common in most of North America now.  It now competes with all the native birds that nest in holes in trees, and it has  implicated in the recent decline in purple martins in this part of the continent. When I was a child, it was not unusual to see intricately designed martin boxes in backyards, but it didn’t take long before they became starling boxes.

So now the horde feeds in the snow.

In the spring, they will expand.

And conquer more.





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I don’t know if this is a Carolina or black-capped chickadee. I’m in the area where both species overlap. I can’t tell them apart.


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