10 Ways to Annoy a Wildlife Rehabilitator

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10. Show her a leaf, and ask her what kind of bird it came from. Laugh uproariously.

Hahaha – no.

9. Be shocked when you discover she isn’t vegan/vegetarian/pacifist/shamanist/communist/(insert political or religious view here)

Honestly, the only safe thing to assume is that we’re doing this because we feel responsible to help alleviate some of the pain humanity unwittingly visits on innocent animals by hitting them with our cars and cats and windows. Even that is an assumption, but it probably won’t result in items thrown at you.

8. Tell her how you love animals. Except for rats. Oh, and raccoons. And opossums. And bats. And coyotes. And squirrels. No wait, you like squirrels, just not when they’re in your yard. I mean, after all, they belong in the forest.

What you meant to say is you like convenient, photogenic animals. Like eagles. Everyone likes eagles, right? Oh, except they might carry Fluffy away if you were to let him out without a leash… so no. No eagles either.

7. Talk about how you could never hurt an animal, so you relocate them instead.

As well-meaning as the relocation was, it probably just killed that animal. Our rehabilitator is wondering if she should do her civic duty and tell you that, or if she should go ahead and enjoy her salad with the guilt dressing… Ah, but duty never sleeps.

6. Ask if you can adopt a bear. Laugh uproariously (or don’t, that’s creepier).

No. No you can’t.

5. Ask her how to solve a wildlife conflict, and then spend an hour trying to get her to say “ok, it sound unsolvable, you’re justified. Call the removal service to come kill it – oh, and I know one that does it for free.”

You asked, and you got an answer. Probably several. The truth is wildlife conflicts often have easy solutions, but even easy solutions require some amount of work from the human. The animal certainly isn’t going to do it. The definition of crazy is doing the same thing and expecting different results – and crazy isn’t something a rehabilitator is trained to cure. That’s a psychologist. Now let the poor rehabilitator eat her sandwich.

4. Tell her you know she’s just in it for the money. Laugh uproariously. Then ask when she’s going to get a real job.

Don’t you just love it when you’re chasing your dream and people tell you it is worthless/childish? Sooooo uplifting.

3. List all the animals your outdoor cat kills. Use the phrases “in his nature,” “just birds,” and/or “he’s meant to be outside.” Also tell her how you always let the animals go, because you “didn’t see any blood.” Expect praise.

This is like describing your crack habit to your doctor and expecting him to be happy/accepting about the horrific things you’re describing and optimistic about your future health. Since that poor rehabilitator would just like to continue peacefully eating her lunch, I’ll bring you up to speed:

First, cat trauma is sneaky and devastating. Not only are they adorable, furry little killing machines, the majority of cats carry a bacteria called pasturella in their mouths. Pasturella kills most animals within days, sometimes hours. All it needs is a teeny, tiny little opening in the skin. So though there might not be blood, if the cat’s sharp-incredibly-sharp teeth or claws left even one tiny mark, the bird is dead.

Second, the epidemic of non-native predators (cats) is incredibly damaging to our native ecosystems and the cats themselves! Thus, outdoor cats are a one-two punch to animal-loving, ecologically-minded people.

2. Describe how you once “put a mouse out of its misery” by smacking it with a shovel. Repeatedly.

I’m pretty sure smacking things with shovels – or any other blunt instrument – adds to their misery. And maybe I don’t want you around when I’m eighty.

1. Tell her all about the animals you illegally kept and raised

Every person seems to have a story about how they found baby raccoons/birds/bunnies when they were kids, and their parents let them raise them. And every single person seems to be incredibly shocked to find that not only was that irresponsible, it was illegal. Even more shocking is that these stories don’t seem to bond them with the people who spend incredible amounts of effort to raise wild animals the right way – having obtained the necessary permits and education. I mean, it isn’t like you just told them that a) their jobs can be done by children and b) the laws and ethics they base their lives around are more like… guidelines. Stupid guidelines.

All joking aside, I don’t want to discourage questions, or the free exchange of ideas. Nor is anyone condemned because of misconceptions or past mistakes. That’s how we all learn, after all – and when you become a rehabilitator, the most important part of your job is educating people.

It’s just that sometimes, I find it frustrating how prevalent certain beliefs are in our society. And even more frustrating how often I am cast into the role of “nut” so people can continue to cling to their ignorance. To me, rehabilitation isn’t about “animal rights” – it is about our responsibility to the planet God gave us, and the inhabitants He gave us power over.

It is a selfishness like any other when we know what the right choice is, but we don’t make it because of pride (we can do it, and we’re willing to stake an animal’s life on the accuracy of an internet search), or because the solution is inconvenient (but then we’d have to buy a chimney cap, and who’s going to install it? Not me), or because the right decision deprives us in some way (if we give it up, we won’t have the cuteness in our house anymore).

So if you do care about animals, I encourage you to do what you can to help them out. The things that make the difference aren’t hard. Try planting native plants, using appropriate bird feeder hygiene (if you have to have one). Use humane conflict resolutions instead of removal, and keep Tiger inside (yes, inside). Take injured or orphaned wild animals to your nearest wildlife rehabilitator – no matter how cute they are. Teach your kids how to love animals with their actions, as well as their words, and help spread the knowledge. And if you really want to make me proud, volunteer at a wildlife rehab center – we always need the help!

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Roseate Spoonbill and a Milestone

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Well, this is one of my last wildlife videos from Florida. I hope to be able to gather some more soon! They probably won’t be from Florida though 🙂

Anyhow, this is a Roseate Spoonbill (and you should recognize his Wood Stork companion), feeding in a pond in the Everglades. You can see his spoon-shaped bill – you’ll never guess how it got its name. It uses the flattened part of its bill to sift through mud and muck to catch little aquatic invertebrates and hunts mostly by touch, like the Wood Stork. The bald head is something else they share, and although there are several theories, no one knows exactly why this is beneficial for them, although we suspect it has something to do with how it sticks its whole face underwater. The side-to-side movement is a very typical feeding behavior for this species. Like flamingos, the pink coloration is a by-product of carotinoid pigments (specifically canthaxanthin and astaxanthin, if you want to get all scientific) in its diet.

They’re beautiful birds, and I was really lucky to see a few!

I hoped to have excellent news this week on the writing front – and I do! I’ve finished my list of changes for the King’s Mark revision, and I’m on to the final polish. I plan to have it complete by the end of the week, so my dad can read it on the plane when he heads overseas next weekend. However, all this work means I haven’t been doing much thinking about other things, like blog topics… so here’s an alligator!

Distracted yet? No?

Now?

On Pressure and Story Scope

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This is a great blue heron, who happened to pose right next to us on Anhinga Trail.

Same heron, even closer. Isn’t he beautiful? And just a tad of a show-off?

And on to writing news!

I’ve had a couple days off work this past week, which has given me a chance to focus on writing. I’ve got two more days off, so I’m hoping to speed through my planned changes. If I can manage it, that will leave only the polish/line-edits. I got an actual deadline yesterday (instead of the fake ones I keep setting myself) of March 16, which is when I need to get it to my father for his comments before he leaves the country. I always work better with an externally set deadline, so I’m very hopeful.

I’ve also had some time to work on Thieves of Moirai, and I ran the first two chapters through critique group yesterday. I received some good feedback from the Wordslingers. So far, it’s pretty encouraging. Also, they gave me some stuff to work on – which is, of course, the point. Thieves is in first person present tense, which is completely opposite of King’s Mark. There are some limitations that come from this, one I’m still struggling with is fitting description in without screwing up the narrative.

In reality, the biggest challenge I’m facing right now is myself. For some reason, I’m feeling the pressure to write Thieves well. I never really felt this for King’s Mark, probably because I just wanted to make it all the way through the story.

I set out to keep King’s Mark small (although small is a relative term, and applying it to KM is somewhat debatable). I kept the history to a minimum, although it is there. Cultures and geography are simple, and rather than spend tons of time world-building I used existing cultures and places as a base. The magic system was contained. I wanted it to be a stand-alone book, with room for a second, and by the time I finish revising that’s what it will be. I’ll admit, having 4 POVs did not make for a “simple” book, although I started off with a very simple plan for each of my 3 main characters. That part grew beyond my expectations, but still. Overall, small.

Thieves is a much larger undertaking, although it only has one POV (which I haven’t worked with much before now) and takes place in one city. The world is completely my own, with predatory plants of my devising and a completely alien culture. The magic is common and widely used, and has complicated applications (although the rules are simple enough). My main character knows about things I don’t and has a personality vastly different than my own. By the second chapter, she’s already wrapped up in family problems, the criminal world, and politics. She’s lying to everyone, the very setting is hostile toward her, and she’s just discovered murder victims. And I’m pretty sure this is a trilogy, at least. So… bigger.

Thieves is my second attempt, and for some reason it seems important to do it right. Not to mention, I’m extremely excited about the story idea, and I’m a little afraid to screw it up. As silly as it is, I’m nervous that the general approval King’s Mark received was a fluke, or beginner’s luck. And for some reason, the positive feedback on the first couple chapters of Thieves intensified this feeling rather than diffused it.

So I have to keep reminding myself that I can’t write it perfectly. That’s what revisions are for. Plus, I’m a discovery writer, so if I don’t give myself leeway to play with the story, it will never grow into something I can shape. I have to have faith that I will make good decisions or be able to fix problems when the time comes. And I should remember all those other common writing gems – ideas are cheap! The story in your head is always idealized! Give yourself permission to suck!

Next week, I hope to have made significant progress on revisions AND Thieves, and I will definitely have a video of a Roseate Spoonbill foraging. In the meantime, here’s another pretty ocean shot.

Mockingbird Shenanegans

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Well, I’ve been typing my fingers to the bone this week, working on King’s Mark revisions, and also on the first draft of Thieves of Moirai. I’ve made a lot of progress, especially this weekend, but my brain is now mush.

So rather than leave you with no exciting blog update, I thought I’d do a short one. Below is a video from my recent trip to Florida. It’s a Northern Mockingbird doing some sort of display. It’s a little odd, because although it looks a little like she’s drawing our attention away from something (many birds do this to protect their babies or their nests), it is both too early in the season for her to have a nest, and not an entirely typical display. Anyway, you can judge for yourself!

Interesting, isn’t it? Here are some random pics for you, also:

And here is a green anole – they are native, unlike the brown anoles that were introduced to the state.

This is taken just after a bottlenose dolphin jumped beside our boat. It was amazing to see wild dolphins up close, but they were surprisingly camera shy, and we couldn’t get video or a pic.

And this is a green heron, which are normally very shy small herons. This particular bird was right out in the open beside a boardwalk. He’s in his hunting position, ready to strike, and he didn’t so much as blink when I took this picture.

And that’s it for today! Hope you have a great week!

Anhingas Galore!

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Anhingas are one of my favorite birds, and we saw plenty of them during our trip last month. The video above shows one we disturbed during one of our walks, and that awful croaking noise is his vocalization.

Like cormorants, anhingas lack the waterproofing that other waterbirds possess. When they dive underwater to hunt, their feathers become soaked through. This and their particularly dense bones (for birds) helps them remain submerged without effort, allowing them to hunt in shallow areas and to stalk their prey. When they surface, their bodies remain underwater with only their long necks sticking up – their sinuous movements make them look like snakes in the water, which earned them the name “Snake Bird.” Getting video of this is harder than I expected. We managed to get the video below, but you have to hang in there – the bird pops up twice, once around 20 seconds and once near the end.

Because they get so wet, their time underwater is limited by heat loss. They spend an inordinate amount of time drying off and sunning themselves – the main reason you won’t find these birds in Seattle! This female is drying off after a swim.

And last, here’s a video of an anhinga dealing with a fish slightly too big and alive for it to swallow:

8 Life Lessons from Music & Writing… and a Bittern

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This is an American Bittern, a secretive bird related to herons. The way it sways is a defensive behavior, in this case he’s responding to being spotted by my dad and I. With its beak stretched skyward, the vertical stripes on its neck and chest help it hide in the tall grasses. The swaying makes its camouflage more effective, mimicking the way the reeds move in the wind. This bittern either wasn’t completely sold on the danger we presented, or thought stretching its neck would be more dangerous than holding still. At the end of this post, I have a photo of another bittern we saw in a more typical defensive pose.

I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to be involved in so many extracurriculars in my life. From dance to pottery to softball, they all taught me something. But of the myriad things I’ve tried, writing and music have had the greatest impact. Surprisingly, the elements for success in music and writing are very similar – and helpful in real life, too!

1. No one else can do it for you

You play the instrument, you put your own words down on the page. Others can have an impact on what you’re doing, but in the end it’s all you. You get all the glory when things go well, but you also can’t blame other people for trouble. For good or ill, we alone are responsible for our stories, our performances, and our lives.

2. Enjoy your muse, but don’t trust her

Give yourself permission to go with it when you feel inspired. It can be tons of fun, a fulfilling, thrilling feeling. Besides, sometimes real creativity requires you to let go and try something just for the heck of it. But remember that having fun doesn’t always have the best results – after all, we all love belting out a song at the top of our lungs, but it usually isn’t something other people want to listen to!

3. The basics matter

Scales, arpeggios, grammar, vocabulary. If you don’t have the basics, you don’t have a foundation. Everything you try to build will just end up a mess. And you can’t stop practicing scales just because you’ve already learned them. Even when your muscles know the movements so well you don’t even have to think, you still have to practice them. These things are the heart of your craft, neglect them and your efforts will be inefficient and generally futile.

4. The first time is never the best time

Sight-reading can be fun, so can your first story or first draft. There is always a first time, you should go for it with gusto. My band teacher always said, “If you’re going to make a mistake, make it worth it.” But it’s not the best you can do. Don’t settle.

5. Practice, practice, practice!

Write the words, play the music. Recognize and then focus on the things you don’t have down, over and over, even if it means driving your house-mates or critique group mad with the repetition. Try new approaches, new embouchures, new fingerings. Use the tuner, the metronome, and feedback from your beta readers to help figure out what to fix. Work hard – you get out of it what you put in. All the talent in the world can’t make up for laziness.

6. Listen to other people

The conductor makes sure the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Your private teacher encourages you and makes sure you keep growing. Your trusted readers make sure you are communicating what you hoped to communicate. From your performance at work to relationships to your grand masterpiece, there is literally nothing in life that doesn’t benefit from wise counsel. The human mind is finite, and nobody can do it all themselves. Find other people to help you!

7. Recognize mistakes, but don’t dwell on them.

Only pay enough attention to your mistakes to learn from them. Otherwise, you paralyze yourself, and you can’t grow when you’re paralyzed. In writing, there’s always another draft and a new book. In music, there’s another piece of music and another performance. In life, time charges ahead.

8. The audience matters

You play to be heard, you write to be read. If neither of these things happen, you have not achieved your goal. Strive to give your audience something valuable, and they will give you their attention (note: valuable things don’t have to be what they ask for or what they’ve gotten before). If you want others to care about you, you have to care about them.

American bittern, in alarm stance

Wood Storks and Audio Dramas

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Wild Literati Pictures presents Wood Stork Foraging for Food

This was cool to see for several reasons. First, Wood Storks are endangered. They have beautiful feathers and nest colonially, which made them a target of the feather industry (for hat feathers). In addition, humans destroyed large portions of their breeding habitat when we changed the way water flows through the southeastern states to create more land appropriate for agriculture and human habitation.

The way this species forages for food is very interesting, and you can see it in the video above. It holds its bill partially open under the water, and snaps it shut when it feels prey moving. This is called tactolocation, and allows the stork to hunt in the dark or in murky water. You can see the bird stir the water with its foot, disturbing prey that might otherwise hide until the stork has passed.

Awesome, isn’t it?

On to other things. I rarely offer actual writing advice, as I’m still new at this and don’t feel particularly qualified to tell other people what will help them succeed. But there is one thing that I haven’t seen or heard anyone in the writing community talk about, but I think has helped me significantly – audio fiction.

I love old radio programs, audio books, and fiction podcasts. Partially, I have trouble doing only one thing at a time. But mostly, I just love stories, and if I can listen to a story while driving, that’s all the better.

How does this help me write? They say “great writers are voracious readers,” and I’m sure the additional exposure to professional-quality fiction doesn’t hurt. But I think it is more than that; I think it helps develop the inner ear.

Too often, we writers become too insulated, and forget that other people have a different voice inside their heads. We read our sentences a particular way and expect everyone else will as well. Having beta readers and critique partners is a great way to spot some of those places in a particular piece. But hearing a story read to you, hearing someone other than yourself interpret the phrasing and rhythm of a story, forces a different perspective. When I read a story, sometimes I catch myself mentally rearranging sentences in a way that is more pleasing to me, or how I would write them. But when I’m listening, I accept the way it is told without meddling.

So I’d encourage you to listen to some audio fiction, if you don’t already. It can help train your ear for voice, dialogue, and style.

Or it seems so to me, anyway!