The Common Grey Catbird

Most backyard feeders get catbirds in the US. But I noticed an interesting thing about the catbirds in my yard. Catbirds are aggressive and territorial hence the name. But the 3 catbirds that regularly visit my backyard are exceptionally aggressive towards starlings. Comically so.

Earlier in the week as I watched my feeders and worked on Stalker Dreams, I heard a commotion and it was super loud! I looked up and there was a catbird and a starling fighting on the ground under one of our feeders and the catbird was definitely winning. As the starling gave up and tried to fly away the catbird grabbed the starlings wing and plucked a large feather from it.

On Thursday morning, back outside I continued to watch my feeders while deleting the rabbit hole Aislinn fell down in Stalker Dreams and that took up 13,000 words and added nothing to the story, I noticed there were 3 catbirds walking the ground under the feeders. Just walking back and forth and not eating. I made a joke they were acting as sentries. However, they weren’t bothering the red bellied woodpecker hanging off the finch feeder nor the half dozen house finches eating from the feeders, nor the red-wing blackbird. In other words the feeders were busy with close to a dozen birds eating out of them. The catbirds were bothering none of them. And then the commotion started. My singing and chirping birds got quiet and the catbirds became loud and raucous. I look up and nine starlings have landed in the yard and those 3 catbirds are not having it. They were chasing the starlings even though outnumbered and the starlings were running.

I googled this phenomenon, surely there’s a reason catbirds hate starlings and the internet knows the answer. Not so much. The internet claims catbirds will chase off all birds in its territory. Except that isn’t happening. I’ve been watching for days and the only birds the catbirds get aggressive with are the starlings. Now, they will pluck poor Lola’s hair if she gets too close to them while they are sitting on the back fence, ditto Poor Kelly. Kelly goes after them back and nearly caught one, but Lola just runs away from them. Kelly has more hunting instincts.

The point is, I would expect the catbirds to go after the cardinals, woodpeckers, and the dozen or so house finches that seem to constantly be at the feeders if it was a territory thing and they don’t, they only go after the starlings. Also, unlike the cardinals and house finches, the catbirds do not seem to fight amongst themselves. Sometimes, I’ll get 2 pairs of cardinals at a time (two male and two female) and then it’s on! They fight so loudly and so brutally all the other birds, even the damn sparrows leave the yard and it takes a while once it ends for the other birds to come back. (I hate the sparrows… we had gutter guards put on the house when we had to replace the roof and the stupid tiny house sparrows have torn sections of the gutter guards off and are nesting in our gutters under the guards they left in place also they don’t eat at the feeders, they just throw gobs of bird food out onto the ground and then fly away, so I wish the catbirds would chase them off).

At any rate, I will continue to watch the catbirds chase the starlings out of my yard while the weather is nice and I can work outside. The starlings don’t bother me as much as the sparrows, they are an invasive species, but they aren’t tearing up my house like the sparrows.

The Mystery Bird, A Herniated Disk, and Kindle Quality Control

I’ve mentioned before that when the weather is nice, I work outside in my backyard where we have six bird feeders… and with bird feeders comes bird watching. I get a variety of birds that I see all the time; house finches, goldfinches, cardinals, doves, red-wing black birds, stupid house sparrows (I hate them), downy woodpeckers, red bellied woodpeckers, chickadees, blue jays, titmouse, a few warblers, grey catbirds, ruby throated hummingbirds, and occasionally an oriel. Several years ago I downloaded the Audubon app and began keeping a bird sighting record. I love the app because you can use it to help identify birds. This year though, a mystery bird showed up. I’ve seen it a couple of times now and I have no idea what it is and neither does the internet or the Audubon app. It is hummingbird sized, so smaller than a warbler or finch… the back is black as is the belly, but the throat is bright bright yellow. I at first thought it was a ruby throated hummingbird, because it moved like a hummingbird and was small like a hummingbird. I have a ton of irises near my hummingbird feeders and irises produce yellow pollen, so I thought maybe the hummingbird had been feeding on the irises and that accounted for the yellow throat and maybe I just didn’t see it in enough light to distinguish the back feather colors which are dark green on ruby throated hummingbirds. Then a few days later, I saw it again on a sunny day. The back feathers are black and not dark green or brown. Also with the second sighting the throat was absolutely yellow and not the result of pollen from the irises. Except there is not a black and yellow hummingbird as far as I can tell and I spend enough time watching the birds that I don’t believe I would confuse a hummingbird hovering near a feeder with a warbler. However, I concede there are two warblers that match the color pattern I saw a yellow-rumped warbler (although it seems to have more white than the bird I saw) and Goldman’s Warbler. The Goldman’s warbler is not a migratory South American bird, so it couldn’t have been that, but it actually matches what I saw better than the yellow-rumped warbler simply because as I said the yellow-rumped has more white than the bird I saw. There is also the problem of the warbler being a much bigger bird than what I saw. I’ve tried to get pictures of it each time I’ve seen it, but it’s fast (like a hummingbird) and skittish (like a hummingbird) and I can’t zoom in close enough with the camera on my phone to get a picture. So a friend of mine offered to loan me one of her trail cameras, because her cameras take pictures of birds, even hummingbirds all the time. I’m hoping I can get a picture of the mystery bird as well as have a photographic record of all the other birds I get at my feeders using it.

I have herniated my L1 disk in my spine. I’m supposed to be on minimal activity as a result, but that’s been hard to maintain. I have been writing quite a bit though while letting it heal. I need about 40,000 more words to finish the next Dreams novel. I have two non-D&R and non-NN related books in progress as well.

Did you know if you are reading an ebook on a Kindle device, if you find a mistake (spelling, grammar, plot) in a book, you can flag it and report it to the author? If a book has enough errors flagged by readers, Amazon creates a report and sends it to the author (otherwise the errors just show up on a quality control dashboard Amazon provides to authors). I have received 2 during my time as an author one for Dysfunctional Dreams and one for Oh My Wizard. I’ve had other errors appear on my dashboard and I always fix them immediately and reupload the revised copy of the book when they happen. No there is a caveat to that, I didn’t realize what it was until recently (the quality control dashboard) and so didn’t fix the 9 reported errors in Demonic Dreams until a few days ago. So if you read my books on a Kindle device (paperwhite, Kindle Pro, whatever) and you come across an error that jerks you out of the story don’t be afraid to flag and report it! I attempted to report an error using the PC Kindle app and couldn’t, I also can’t report the error in the iPhone Kindle app. Editors are human and make mistakes and miss stuff, so if something breaks into the story for you and you are using a Kindle device to read on, report it so it can be fixed.

Not Just About Choice

As the Supreme Court readies itself to strike down Roe v. Wade many states are about to pass strict abortion laws, including my state Missouri which would prevent even medically necessary abortions illegal.

In the US roughly 110,000 pregnancies a year are ectopic… Ectopic pregnancies are dangerous for mother and fetus. As the fetus grows in the fallopian tube, the tube not designed for growing fetuses expands until it ruptures. The rupture of a fallopian tube is a medical surgical emergency. Side effects of an ecoptopic pregnancy include infertility and death for the mother. Even before the Roe v. Wade most ectopic pregnancies were ended by doctors. In a number of states that will no longer be allowed. Doctors who perform them can go to jail.

Many years ago, I was told not to get pregnant because I wouldn’t survive it, due to a blood disorder. Now, I’ve added “getting pregnant will be even worse because a caesarean section is not an option should you need one and giving birth with the nerves of your groin, hyperactive as they are will cause extreme pain.” Now if I get pregnant, a terrifying thought… I will not have the option to end the pregnancy even though the doctors do not think I will survive it.

So if my birth control fails, I will become an incubator for an unwanted child. I married my husband because he wasn’t interested/didn’t want kids and neither did I. As of June, if birth control fails…. Chances are good I’ll die and leave my husband with an unwanted child, so that’s exciting. And with my neurological disease, sterilization of me is not an option.

Before the 1960s and 1970s pregnancy was the number one killer of women in the US. I expect that to be the case again in the next few years, because even though medicine has progressed, it hasn’t progressed enough to prevent all blood clots or save most women who have ectopic pregnancies. Thankfully, not all states are passing this stupid abortion bans, so women in states like Washington, California, New York, etc have better survival chances than those in states like Missouri and Oklahoma. Also those states have said they will not be banning abortion just because Roe v. Wade has been overturned.

Which brings me to another point, Missouri is adding in that women who travel out of state for an abortion, even if it’s medically necessary can be arrested and doctors must report if their patients terminate their pregnancies. This means my OB/GYN is now a spy for the government as well as being forced to watch me die if I get pregnant. I wonder how long OB/GYNs will stay open in Missouri? How long before the stress of their new jobs force them out of women’s health and into something else or before they flee the state.

These draconian laws, turn women into nothing more than disposable incubators for the next generation of children.

Someone sent me a tweet recently proclaiming that with the number of people who are pro-choice, the statistics of abortions performed must be wrong because all those pro-choicers would have had multiple abortions. What? That’s beyond ridiculous. Being pro-choice doesn’t mean the people are out intentionally getting pregnant a dozen times a year just so they can have abortions. Thanks to modern day birth control, most of those pro-choicers will never have an abortion and many do want children of their own. I do not, and I didn’t even before I was told not to get pregnant because of an issue with my blood or the reiteration of the sentiment when I developed CRPS spread to my hip/groin nerves. It really is about having the choice.

It is much better to return women to the status of disposable incubators for unwanted children, most of whom will enter the already overburdened foster care system.

Summoning Trouble

Beta Readers: If you found nothing that needed changing in Summoning Trouble please open the document and on the title page write No Changes and save the document. Remember to have them back to me by 11:59 pm tonight May 6th.

I hope to have the book available for purchase by Tuesday May 10, 2022. Once it has published, I will create a blog post with the links in it.

Dogs Nature v. Nurture

As everyone who has read my blog for a while knows, we have 2 dogs: Lola and Kelly. My best friend sent me an article on dog genetics and behaviors the other day that triggered me to think about nature v. nurture in dogs. We theoretically know more about Lola’s genes than Kelly’s, although I hope to do a genetic test on Kelly this year. When my nephew got Lola he was told her dad was a retired German Shepherd police dog and her mother was a rough collie that lived on a farm (Lassie from the TV show) is a rough collie in case you need a picture of this in your head).

This makes Lola half German Shepherd and half rough collie. While I say it myself, Lola is a very attractive dog with her lion-like mane and fluffy chest with golden red hair. As a puppy she had the black saddleback of a German Shepherd but as she got older it went away and the only black left on her is her tail which is decidedly German Shepherd looking while her face, mane, and fluffy chest is definitely collie. At 6 years old, Lola’s personality is well established. By 2 years old she had a mostly grey muzzle, which is a genetic trait that shows up in German Shepherds.

Interestingly, Lola is terrified of more things than most people. There’s the normal dog afraid of loud sudden noises (gun shots, fireworks, storms, etc), but she’s also claustrophobic – I didn’t even know dogs could be claustrophobic – and she really hates change whether that be major changes to the house or a deviation of her routine and new things make her panic. So, her father would not have been a skittish and stressed out German Shepherd, Lola went the opposite direction and is afraid of most things. I had some concerns this anxiety in a German Shepherd came from us and our nurturing of Lola but as the vet reminded me German Shepherds swing from one extreme to the other; some afraid of nothing, some terrified of everything like people are and they think it’s genetic induced. The article didn’t seem to track the fear genes in German Shepherds (but that would be a good study), but did imply genetics in dogs may play less of a role in their behavior than we think.

Interesting, because when I tell people Lola is half collie the next question is inevitably “is she a biter?” What? Why would she be a biter? I have countered that question with “why do you think she’d be a biter?” suspecting the herding instinct in collies which will make them nip at animals and people to move them along might be influencing this idea that collies are biters because and the person informed me no, nipping is not biting and they’ve always heard collies are biters. Okay, well I’m on my 3rd collie (I had a border collie in my teens), Lola who is half rough collie, and the vet thinks Kelly has some border collie genes (because she also has a small mane with black and white fur) and I’ve never had a collie who was a biter. So why does this idea that all collies are biters persists? I don’t know but given the way it’s said to me and the frequency, most people think it’s a genetic behavior. Of the three collies listed: Frisky the purebred Border Collie of my teens, Lola who is half rough collie, and Kelly who is probably less than 10% border collie, Kelly is the one most likely to bite.

The other thing we hear a lot is “oh it’s a good thing you don’t have kids, collies and kids don’t get along.” What!? I am going to take serious exception to this. We got Frisky the year my oldest nephew was born (1993) and Frisky LOVED my nephew. When Michael started pulling up, Frisky would stand in front of Michael and let him grab his fur and would help pull the toddler to his feet. Even when we would get onto Michael for using the dog for this purpose, Frisky would continue to let the toddler do it and when he started walking, we didn’t need baby gates…. Frisky would follow the toddler around and if Michael attempted to walk out of the room with the adults, Frisky would herd him back into the middle of the room. Frisky never growled at Michael and he certainly never nipped him or bit him. And now there’s Lola and Kelly. Lola is a year older than Jude the great nephew and Lola let Jude do whatever he wanted to her. When he started walking, yep Lola would let him use her fur to pull himself to his feet and more than once, we found the two of them curled up on the floor together with Jude using Lola as a pillow. I once caught Jude (he was about two) sticking his finger in Lola’s eye (and he was doing it hard enough I could see her eyeball move!) and I got on to Jude, but Lola was just lying there letting him poke her in the eye. She didn’t growl, she didn’t bite at him or nip at him. Now that she’s 6 years old, she’s less excited about kids, especially babies, but she still loves them in her way. With Kilian the great nephew, she stalks up behind him, sneaks in and licks him, and then she runs away because she doesn’t want his unconditional and overly attentive love in return. But she’s still not nipping at them or biting them, she just gets up and goes where they can’t get her.

Based on my experiences with collies (border & rough), collies are not biters by nature and they don’t have a genetic predisposition to hate children. Kelly isn’t a biter and she also loves children, she’s not as patient with them as Lola and Frisky were, but Kelly was abused and neglected. Given Kelly’s puppyhood, I am not surprised Kelly isn’t as patient with kids as Lola or Frisky, there’s a lot of things Kelly isn’t as patient with as Lola or Frisky, but it isn’t because of genetic predispositions for “bad behavior” it’s about her puppyhood or how she was nurtured as a puppy (and it wasn’t good).

The point being, how many of these “genetic behaviors” are actually based on the nurturing of the dog? I’ve never had a collie that was a biter or wasn’t good with children, but everyone expects Lola to behave a certain way because of her breeds and yes some of it applies, but the majority does not. With Kelly being a mutt and looking like a mutt, people have fewer behavioral expectations for her. However, I will say Kelly is not eager to learn or listen to people. After being told she probably had border collie in her, I thought “oh she’ll be easy to train” she absolutely was not and she still does her own thing even when we are giving her orders. But as the vet pointed out, for Kelly, the nurture left scars (physical and mental) and some behaviors (like jumping on people) may not be something we can train out of her regardless of what we do. The vet wasn’t wrong; even putting Kelly on a shock collar, we were not able to break her of jumping on people. She just gets so excited anytime someone comes to the house or yard, she can’t contain herself and she has to jump on them. It is annoying and I know it (which is why I try to warn people), but we tried positive and negative reinforcement and she still does it… if not even shocking her would break her of jumping on people, nothing will.

Echo Chambers

I used to believe social media was a good thing, it could bring together families with significant distance between them and unite like minded people. In the last 2 years, I’ve changed my mind… Social media is an echo chamber affirming our beliefs and allowing us to force anyone with a different belief away from us and this is very bad.

For example if you believe the Earth is flat, you can discover other people who believe the same thing and ideas are generated by discussion so during your discussions of the Earth being flat who knows what great ideas might be generated. Yet we have taken this to the extreme and if you believe the Earth is flat, discussions within the group reinforce that belief, but we have begun excluding all other information. And as someone who doesn’t believe the Earth is flat, if I ask for the details that inform your belief that the Earth is flat it becomes viewed as a personal attack, not a request for information. Eventually, the person who believes the Earth is flat fills their friends list with like minded individuals to the exclusion of everyone else creating an echo chamber for their personal beliefs and history has shown us this is a dangerous thing.

I don’t know when it was decided being exposed to different beliefs was a bad thing, but social media has determined it so. But the best ideas come from exposure to other beliefs and ideas, because people have different experiences and different ways to view things. For example, I don’t believe aliens built the Great Pyramid at Giza, but I understand why some people do. It is an engineering feat, particularly for a society that supposedly hadn’t invented the wheel yet. I feel conventional wisdom is incorrect and we have underestimated our Egyptian ancestors… but I can definitely see why someone looking at the available data would decide the pyramid must have been built by aliens, which stimulates me to think the Egyptians had carts with wheels on them for moving those massive stone blocks and we just don’t have evidence of it because the wheel is not exactly a thing of greatness like a pyramid and so it wasn’t significant enough to be written about and we need to continue to do research on this matter. Or hell, as ridiculous as it seems maybe it was aliens, we will only know by continuing to learn about it.

By shouting into our echo chambers, we shut down our ability to learn, because our ideas are always being parroted back to us which requires no thinking on our parts. Yesterday I read a news article about round worm infections increasing in both frequency and intensity. Uh, that’s weird. We know how to prevent round worms and it’s a basic hygiene thing, so why would they be making a comeback? I also read about a hepatitis infection that is leaving children with damaged livers, the suspected cause is an adenovirus. Wait, adenoviruses are not rare… they are one of the viruses responsible for the “common cold,” definitely prolific. Why has this particular adenovirus mutated to cause liver damage (and in some cases failure) in children? Or have we done something to our immune systems to make them less effective against adenoviruses? And as a 41 year old woman who has experienced the immune system damage caused by the measles virus, my perspective is slightly different than the 41 year old woman who has never had measles because they were successfully vaccinated against it, because my thought upon reading it was “is there another virus we haven’t identified damaging the immune systems of children that then makes adenoviruses more dangerous?” Could a rhinovirus (another virus responsible for the “common cold”) have mutated in such a way that it doesn’t just cause the common cold but also compromises the immune system in some children that makes it more likely that a later adenovirus could then cause liver damage or failure? I admit this scenario is unlikely, but as someone who understands a virus can cause lifelong damage to the immune system, it’s one of the things I think about when I hear a virus has become more dangerous. The chances are someone without the personal experience, would consider a secondary virus might actually be the problem and not the adenovirus.

However, if you are shouting into your echo chamber (and ignoring me because we disagree on something like the Earth being flat), you will not be exposed to my ideas, and my ideas though contrary to yours might stimulate an idea that changes the world. Furthermore, if I’m only listening to people who agree with me, then I may miss something that is life altering. I’ll provide a more “down to Earth” scenario; someone in my life believes chronic pain is caused by demonic possession and has asked me if I would be willing to undergo an exorcism to try to cure CRPS. I do not believe in demons and by extension demonic possession. But if I did… an exorcism to alleviate my pain would be an idea worth exploring because even if I am not possessed by demonic forces, the placebo effect could result in exorcism curing my chronic pain. I have been researching whether the placebo effect works in non-believers because if it does, than an exorcism to treat my CRPS could be worth it. However, if I ignored everyone who had beliefs contrary to my own, I would not even know about the possibility that an exorcism may alleviate my pain, even though I have read a great deal about the placebo effect.

I think we should all evaluate our social media circles and see if we are shouting into our own echo chambers and preventing us from seeing the forest for the trees.

Kelly & Other Updates

Our pooch Kelly is having some health problem. We thought it was probably a UTI, but that is not the case. She does next week for more tests. It could be bladder stones (which would require surgery) or a handful of other things that my mom couldn’t totally remember after she spoke with the vet. So we wait.

My niece’s mother who disappeared December 28,2021 was discovered deceased on March 20, 2022.

I hope to start going through the second round of edits on Summoning Trouble soon.