. . . and a few cat photos from Dobrzyn

March 17, 2023 • 9:45 am

Andrzej took two photos of me with kitties in Dobrzyn, and I took one of Paulina. There’s no other place to put them but in a short post.

First, Paulina, one of the two lodgers upstairs, is the daughter of the man who tends the cherry orchard, Jacek.  Paulina is married to Mariusz, and she is a BIG TIME cat lover.  Three people were involved in The Taming of Szaron, who as you know is The World’s Sweetest Cat.

Szaron was feral, and Andrzej spotted him in the garage. Andrzej and Paulina decide to feed him, but he was so timid that he wouldn’t even eat if humans were around. He gradually got tamer, and the Malgorzata had the bright idea of luring him inside the house by making a line of cat treats going from the outside to the inside—much like Hansel and Gretel.  Sure enough, Szaron took the bait and, I’m told, once he discovered how nice it was indoors, he was instantly domesticated. Now he’s a purring furball who won’t stay off your lap, and demands head and neck rubs. Since Szraron was rescued by all the residents, he’s shared among them: twice a week or so Paulina comes downstairs in the evening to take Szaron upstairs for her fix of Szaron sleeping on the bed.

Paula rescued Kulka (which, again, means “ball” in Polish), because she heard mewings in the woods near her workplace in Wlockawek. She found the source: a very tiny, wet, and sick kitten, near death. She brought her home, took her to the vet, and fed her up, and now Kulka is more or less a permanent resident upstairs. But she does come downstairs when Paulina and Mariusz are at work. Many times there were three cats in the downstairs, all of them willing to be picked up and petted: a feline paradise. Sadly, now I’m catless.

I asked to photograph Paulina with her rescue cat Kulka—no longer a baby. You will remember Paulina from the great photos she takes of the cats when they’re outdoors—especially Kulka playing in the snow.

Hili on my lap. She still loves me, but Szaron preempted that space most of the time!

But Szaron whose name means “gray” in Polish and “rose” in Hebrew, was always eager for a cuddle and a nap.  I think he must have been deprived of affection as a kitten. It was hard to work with him in my lap, as he would simply sit on the book or keyboard and repeatedly thrust his head in my hand, as he’s doing in this photo.

Porcupine parents protect babies from hungry leopard

February 23, 2023 • 1:30 pm

As NBC News says before the final (and always upbeat) segment of their evening program: “There’s good news tonight!” The good news today is that a mother an father porcupine band together in this vieo to save their two babies from a hungry leopard.

Note how the parents work together, not only keeping themselves between the leopard and the babies, but by keeping their formidable quills facing the leopard.

This was filmed in Kruger National Park in South Africa, a place I’m planning to visit. And here are the YouTube notes:

A family of porcupines fighting a leopard in an attempt to save their two young. Who will emerge victorious? Mfundo Nyambi, a 31-year-old field guide in the Kruger National Park, was fortunate enough to witness this entire sighting on foot. He shared the incredible moment and sighting with LatestSightings.com.

“As a guide in the Kruger National Park, I have had the privilege of witnessing some incredible wildlife sightings over the years. However, one particular experience stands out. I was preparing to take a group of guests on a bush walk. We had just left Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp when one of my guests informed me of a leopard that had been seen in the area earlier that morning. With a slight bit of anticipation, we headed in that direction.”

“After searching for a short while. We decided it was best to leave the leopard and instead prepare for our morning walk. I stopped the vehicle on the roadside and informed the guests that it was safe for them to disembark from the vehicle. Whilst I was conducting the pre-trail brief on the safety and procedures of the walk, a deep sound echoed from the culvert that was a few meters from us.”

“On the road in front of me, a porcupine mother emerged from the culvert with two youngsters. They were shortly followed by the male porcupine. Then a leopard! The same leopard we had been searching for that morning had now found us and was in the middle of a hunt. I hurried my guest to the safety of the vehicle and watched on in awe.”

Porcupines are typically mute creatures and are not frequently observed vocalizing. The deep grunt that was audible was a definite warning of danger and a sign that the porcupines were under the stress of some kind.

“At first, I thought the leopard would quickly overpower the porcupines. As I watched the scene unfold, I was in awe of their determination and bravery. The porcupine couple worked together, using their sharp quills as a weapon against the leopard. The leopard tried to pounce, but each time it did, the porcupines would turn their backs and raise their quills. Successfully deterring the leopard from attacking.”

“The parents made sure that the two youngsters were always in the middle and out of reach of the leopard. After a few minutes, the leopard eventually gave up and retreated into the bush. The porcupine family was able to continue on their way, safe and unharmed.” Moments like these serve as a reminder that we share this beautiful land with a diverse and fascinating array of wildlife. It’s up to us to protect and preserve it for future generations.

Spot the mouse!

February 15, 2023 • 7:30 am

Reader Pradeep sent me a drawing of a gazillion felids of several species. But hidden in it is a drawing of a mouse. Can you find the rodent? (Enlarge the photo.) I couldn’t until it was pointed out to me.

Don’t give the location in the comments as it would be a spoiler, but you can say “found it” if you did.

I think this is medium hard, but on the hard side. I’ll post a reveal at noon Chicago time.


My theory (which is mine) about artists, actors, cats, and dogs

February 11, 2023 • 12:30 pm

This is both a speculative theory and a speculative explanation, but it came to me when I was preparing today’s “Caturday felid” post.  Whenever I see a photo of an artist with a pet, it’s almost always a cat (very often a Siamese cat as well). In contrast, whenever I see an actor with a pet, it’s very likely to be a d*g.  I can think of tons of artists (I mean those who paint, photograph, or draw) who had cats, artists like Klimt, Matisse, Warhol, Picasso, O’Keeffe, Warhol, and so on.

And my feeling is that actors have dogs more often than do artists.  I can’t name many, but here are a few. I don’t think this is due to confirmation bias. Cat photos do tend to stick in my mind, but it’s irrelevant whether the cat is with an actor or artist.

Yes, there are artists who had dog and actors who have cats, but I’m making a statistical argument here. You could do a 2 X 2 table with the cells labeled “cats” and “dogs” at the top and “artists” and “actors” on the side.  To do this right, you’d have to get several people to make a big list of actors and artists, not knowing about their pets, and then look up whether they had cats, dogs, or both. My guess is that artists would be significantly more cat-heavy than are actors, and you could test this association with a Fisher’s Exact test. (I suppose some people have both, so you’d have to add another cell and do a 2 X 3 chi-squared test.)

I have predicted this in the absence of known data, but here is my theory for such an association if it exists.

Here it comes: I am about to expound my theory.

My theory, which is mine, is that artists have cats because they admire their grace and beauty, which art is largely about. Cats are, in a way, living sculptures.

Actors, on the other hand, live for approbation and immediate and constant love.  You can get that kind of affection from dogs, but not from cats, who are more aloof.  If you want someone to tell you how great you are all the time, you’ll want a dog. If you want to simply admire the beautify of an animal, then a cat is where you should go.

This immediately suggests that politicians, who want obsequious followers, would in general have dogs more often than cats. I don’t know if Trump has a pet, but if he does, you know it would be a dog. Wikipedia’s list of “Presidential Pets”, which you should look at, suggests that, in general, I am correct. (Some presidents had pretty weird pets that were neither cats nor dogs.)

And that is my theory, which is mine. You may attack it if you will, and you’re welcome to do so in the comments. But you can’t refute it merely with anecdotes: by citing actors whom you know have cats and artists who have dogs. We are looking for a large-scale statistical association to test my theory, which happens to be mine.

I have no theory about musicians, except that I know Taylor Swift has several cats—the only thing I like about her. Oh, and Freddy Mercury had cats, too. If musicians tended to have cats more than dogs, though, that would refute the psychological underpinnings of my theory, for musicians, even more than actors, need immediate love. Actors often do their work onscreen where the love comes later, at the box office, but performing artists crave immediate gratification in the form of cheers and applause.

I was brought up imbued with science, so I’ll be glad to be tested, and will freely admit it if the data show I’m wrong.

Readers’ wildlife photos

February 1, 2023 • 8:15 am

I urge you once again to send me some good photos. Thank you very much!

Today we continue with part 2 of reader Kevin Elskin’s trip to Scotland (part 1 is here). His captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

When we left off I was munching a delicious sandwich in the village of Lochranza on the northwest coast of Arran, Scotland. We soon boarded a ferry for the short trip across Kilbrannan Sound, the western arm of the Firth of Clyde, to Claonig on the Kintyre Peninsula. A view from the ferry back toward Lochranza and Arran. Gotta’ get back to Arran.

As one heads north and west in Scotland, the Scottish Gaelic language is spoken more frequently and information signs are often given in both English and Scottish Gaelic. I took a photo of this sign on the ferry. They certainly use vowels and consonants in interesting combinations!

Our destination was the village of Machrihanish, which is on the western shore of Kintyre. The drive was about an hour [note: we did not drive a vehicle once on this trip, thanks to my good friend Dick Smith who organized this mayhem and found drivers to haul us around. Not an easy task when you head to remote areas of Scotland, and especially after the pandemic shut down the tourist trade and many taxi companies and private drivers went out of business. No Uber or Lyft out here!].

After dinner I took a brief walkabout and immediately ran into one of the locals. Look at the beautiful stripes on that kitty. Friendly boy, too!

A common sight in Scotland, old stone walls and sheep.

A view of the bay on a summer evening.

The next day we continued our golf adventures at Machrihanish Dunes, a modern course located on the dunes just north of the village. Below is a photo of the course looking back toward the town.

The origin of the term ‘Links’, as it relates to golf, is that the original courses were laid out on the ‘links land’, i.e., the land that linked the town to the sea. This land was unsuitable for farming, and was use to graze animals, mostly sheep. Early golf courses were not so much built as they were discovered, using natural features to create courses that fit into the environment, because they were the environment. Machrihanish Dunes has done a good job of matching the course with the environment, and they have been recognized for their sustainability efforts. Here are some of the locals on the course:

The next day we played the original Machrihanish Golf Course, which was laid out by Old Tom Morris in 1879. I am not sure when I became aware of this course, but the opening tee shot, which is played across the ocean, has been dubbed the best opening shot in golf. So getting there and having a chance to play that shot was a long held ambition. Here I am on the first tee at Machrihanish sporting a hot pepper shirt lovingly made for me by my better half (and my tee shot found the fairway!). It was a great day for golf.

Below is either a photo of Shai-Hulud or deep-fried haggis. We had haggis three different ways on this trip: on a burger, on nachos, and deep fried (all were quite tasty).

But back to the other reason to visit Scotland: whiskey. We toured the Springbank Distillery just across the peninsula in Campbeltown. [JAC: Springbank has long been my favorite single malt whiskey.]

As you might recall I had shared a photo of some lovely two row barley, which is the base for making whiskey. Before barley can be mashed and fermented, it must be malted. The malting process involves soaking the barley kernels in water and allowing the germination process to begin. As germination proceeds, enzymes are developed; and later in the mash these enzymes will break up the starch molecules in the barley kernel into simple sugars that yeast can consume and turn into alcohol. Traditionally, barley was floor malted, meaning that after it was soaked in water it was spread out on the floor and turned regularly to be sure that the germination process continued without excessive heat buildup or spoiling. I think most barley is malted in drums today, but at Springbank they still do things the old-fashioned way. Here is a photo of the floor malting process, note the marks of the special rakes used to turn the barley:

Once the maltster has determined the germination has proceeded far enough, the malt is kilned, which is to say heated and dried.  But in this part of Scotland there is a twist: the kilning process uses peat smoke, and this gives the whiskey a distinctive smoky flavor. Here is the peat:

In case you would like to distill your own, here is a diagram, as Arlo Guthrie might say, with circles and arrows to indicate motion:

And you can just bury me here:

Our visit to Kintyre finished with a visit to Dunaverty golf course on Mull (south end) of Kintyre. I have shared one photo from here previously, but since this is a travel story there is more to tell. The small peninsula in the foreground was the location of Dunaverty Castle, built in 13th century and for the next 400 years it was the site for Braveheart-level mayhem – I will refer you to the story of the Battle of Dunaverty.

On a related Why-Scotland-Is-So-Fascinating note, it turned out that one of our caddies for an earlier round was the greenskeeper at Dunaverty Golf Course for 30 years. He was born at and to this day lives at a house adjacent to the course. His family has lived in the area since the 1600s. Everyday stuff in Scotland.

The last photo is just a random, but typical, house located down the street from Dunaverty. But it is so typical of so many houses in Scotland – neat with beautiful little flower gardens in front, just a pleasure to behold. Which bring me to an observation about Scotland versus the USA. I have lived my entire life in basically two places – Northwest Arkansas and Southwest Pennsylvania. When you go out in the country there you invariably see a house that looks as though the inhabitants have tossed every bit if trash they have ever generated right into their front yard. Appliances, cars, clothes, sheets, what have you. In all the travelling we did in Scotland, I never saw such a sight. Not every house had a flower garden, but they were always neat, at least. Is this a real thing, or I am I just being too tough on my fellow countrymen? Please comment.

Next time: Aquaholics take us to Ireland.

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 31, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today we have something new: thermal imaging by Peter Nothnagle. His narration and captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them:

Seen in a Different Light

A couple of years ago, as a sort of cheer-myself-up-during-lockdown gift, I bought a FLIR C2 thermal camera. That’s a pocket-sized camera that detects infrared light and displays it in a variety of false color schemes. It covers a wide temperature range and it’s very sensitive to differences in temperature.

Cameras like this are marketed to plumbers, electricians, and HVAC technicians – and indeed I’ve found it useful in those pursuits, but it’s also a lot of fun to play with. I don’t really need this thing, but it’s loads of fun to walk around and see what energy is emanating from everyday objects. Take, for example, this manhole cover (are we allowed to say “manhole” anymore?):

Can you tell how much water is in my rain barrel just by looking at it?

I like exploring obscure old cemeteries in the Iowa countryside:


Those were taken just before Halloween, but disappointingly there were no ghosts. They must have been busy elsewhere.

And now for a little wildlife. The other day a couple of deer (Odocoileus virginianus) spent much of the day in my back yard. Spot the deer!

Here are the deer!

[The blob on the left is the heat signature of the neighbor’s back window]

Bare tree against a winter sky:

And finally, a thermal cat (Felis catus)…

… and where the cat had just been sitting on the floor. You can even see the heat left by her paws as she walked away.

Spot the cat!

January 24, 2023 • 8:15 am

Readers’ wildlife will resume tomorrow while I conserve the contributions I have. Keep sending them in, as I can never have too many. Thanks to those who already answered the call.

Reader Stephen sent me this photo of a woodpile, and there’s a cat in there somewhere. Can you spot it?  You can say whether you succeeded or not in the comments, but don’t reveal its location there so that other readers have a chance to find it for themselves.

I’ll put the reveal up at noon Chicago time.

I found it really hard to spot, but a few other people found it readily. Maybe there’s some kind of mental dichotomy in people’s ability to spot camouflaged critters.

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 23, 2023 • 8:15 am

Get those photos in, please; I always need more.

Today we have some swell wildlife photos from Matthew Ware. His captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them:

These photos of Lions (Panthera leo) are from South Africa, in or near Kruger National Park, early last year.

The male head of the pride. I was thinking as to why only the males have manes and thought it must be to show potential competitors how healthy and vital they are. The Park Rangers suggested that it was more likely that when they fight, they often go for the neck/throat area and so the mane acts as some form of protection.

Two of his cubs.

The next four pictures are of lions from the well-known Hamilton pride in Kruger. This was their fifth day without a kill and they were getting rather hungry (they also didn’t kill this night). Apparently, a pride never starves to death, they always find something to eat (under normal circumstances anyway).

Adult females:

A youngster:

3 females/juveniles involved in some familial grooming:

Last five photos: At one of our safari lodges the Rangers had learnt that one of their prides had brought down a giraffe in the morning. We arrived mid-afternoon by which time the lions were pretty full. The females were still fighting over access to the carcass though more for status than because they were hungry: