Monday, June 29, 2015

The Elusive Male Calliope Hummingbird, Plus A Beetle

To my great surprise, on June 28, I observed the elusive male Calliope hummingbird at my feeder. In addition to his small size, his throat markings are diagnostic. During his three visits to the feeder, I studied him carefully with the binoculars that I luckily had in hand already. The female Calliope came first at her usual time, and I had pulled the binoculars out to observe her. She flew off then suddenly the male appeared. If you don't bird-watch, you may not understand the pleasure one gets when observing an "uncommon" species in one's own backyard. 

When I was making the daily poop scoop tour of the backyard this morning, I encountered this creature:

It is a banded alder borer; scroll down in link to find the entry. This bug eats dead wood on a variety of different trees. Despite its rather ferocious appearance, it doesn't eat living wood or kill trees. So after snapping a few pics, I left it in peace.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


I finally gave in and installed a hummingbird feeder in my backyard. I wasn't hesitating out of lack of interest--I've been bird-watching as a hobby for decades. I suppose it was the result of a sort of inertia, waiting until I knew what was going to happen with the vet school project.

Now that I've decided to stay here in Oregon (daily proving to be a good decision), I've also decided to stay put in the same house I've been renting for the past two years. The rent is rather high, the house is old, it has no AC, and the heating sources in the winter are expensive. These are compensated by two important things: I feel like the amount of space is just right, and the fenced part of the yard is enormous, a luxury in a rental house. Of course, the latter implies regular mowing duties, which in the Pacific NW begin in February, but the dogs just love all that space to run around and play.

Back to the point. I feel a bit more settled now. So I put up a hummingbird feeder.

In Texas, I had only one species of hummer visit my feeder: ruby-throated. The challenge there was to identify the number of mated pairs that visited. Here, I have FIVE species that frequent my feeder. Taking into consideration the males and females of each, you are potentially looking at ten variations on little, busy, buzzy, greenish birds to identify. 

To keep the feeder in shade as long as possible, I mounted it across the yard in a location that is visible from my kitchen window and back door. I keep a pair of binoculars and a bookmarked copy of Peterson's handy. 

So far I have definitively identified male and female black-chinned hummers, male and female Anna's hummers, male rufous hummers (they are the most shy of all the species), male Allen's hummers, female Allen's/rufous hummers (can't be distinguished in the field but I probably have both since I've seen males of both species), and most exciting of all, a female Calliope hummer. I've not seen her mate. Maybe he keeps watch while she feeds. She visits every day so I suspect he's around, just shy/vigilant. 

Calliopes are the smallest North American hummers and described as "uncommon". The first time I saw the female, I wasn't entirely sure of the identification. But after weeks of observation, there is no doubt that at least one Calliope female is visiting my feeder. She is significantly smaller than the other species, so small that her wingtips extend past her tail feathers when she is at rest, and she has to stretch from the perch to reach the feeder.

My little flock maintains regular feeding hours but there is never really a crowd and none of them seems to guard the feeder. I see birds land every few minutes throughout the day, with rush hours at dawn and dusk, but rarely see more than one at a time. Lots of people in this area put up feeders (for example, my next-door neighbor has one hanging outside his living room windows) so I think we can assume that resources aren't terribly limited for them. 

The species spatially segregate. The black-chinned hummers always approach from and leave in the same direction while the Anna's males arrive and depart from another direction. I can now usually tell which species is arriving simply from the direction of their approach!

Except for the rufous males, the birds have become quite bold, even cheeky. They check out the dogs all the time, and often perch in the forsythia inches above a dog stretched out in the grass napping in the sun. I did have to work a bit with Azza to convince her not to chase the hummers the same way she chases bees and moths and such. She's been very good and now barely lifts an eyebrow as they buzz right over her head.

Sorry, no pictures. No camera in my possession can take pictures of such small birds from such a distance. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

It's Like Night and Day

I'm learning all kinds of interesting things about small animal veterinary care, most of which I will never divulge here.

Here's something I can discuss. Perhaps you've been to the hospital for an illness or injury and been on an IV. What did you do when you needed to go to the bathroom? Hopefully you were mobile enough to wheel your IV stand into the bathroom with you.

But what about your dog? Dogs on IVs need to be taken out regularly, usually every 4 hours, to potty. We have to turn off the pump, clamp the line at the catheter itself, unscrew the join between the main line and the extension and cap both ends, wrap the foot or so of extension line around the dog's leg and secure it with vet wrap, get the dog up, get a leash around its head, and get it outside. Once we have potty success, we have to perform all of those tasks but in reverse, and add in an additional step: flush the catheter with a milliliter or two of heparinized saline to make sure it didn't clot during the time the pump was off. I am getting much better at this task but it can still take 10 to 15 minutes. In the best case scenario, at the same time the dog is scheduled for a pee, it is also scheduled for a weight and vitals (temperature, heart rate, etc.). If you are unlucky, you have to go through all of that at 2am for a pee then again at 3am for the vitals. Now imagine doing that with a dog that wants to bite you. Tricky!

The clinic I'm working for is open 24 hours a day, every day. When I work (Thursday through Monday nights), there are two night nurses. We clean, we monitor critical patients, we clean some more, we deal with emergencies. In this setting, you have to be able to prioritize and be willing to change those priorities on a moment's notice. We also have to look after all cat and dog boarders (no feeding thankfully, just potty breaks for the dogs and clean litter boxes for the cats), and prepare the exam rooms and treatment stations for the coming day's activities.

Like any large vet clinic, starting at 7am, the place begins to fill up with staff. There is a nurse who assists with surgeries, another who monitors ICU patients, two more who handle regular wellness appointments, plus admin and reception and kennel staff. 

At night, there is just one or two of us to do all of those things, plus the endless cleaning. 

I've learned that there is a significant disconnect between the night staff and the day staff. I come in at 1am and often think, bloody hell, didn't the day staff manage to do even a single load of laundry? In turn, they apparently think the night nurses either sleep or sit around and surf the internet. I guess they also assume that fairies stock their treatment stations every night.

Oh, sorry, did you detect that slightly snotty tone? 

To be honest, I'm learning a lot by working nights. I've just been thrown into it--terribly stressful but the challenge is intense and exciting. I'm working with experienced vet techs who don't have any problems bossing me around but at the same time often take extra time to explain procedures to me. Their willingness to share their knowledge and experience with me will make me a better vet.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Truth Is Always Stranger Than Fiction

I started full-time at the vet clinic on Friday. I will work 1am to 8am four or five nights a week, usually Thursday through Monday, throughout the summer. I've had to shift my home routines but it seems to be working out okay for me and the animals. 

The work careens from intense to absurd to mundane. Emergencies can be emotionally intense but they can also simply present a lot of tough technical challenges for the veterinary care team. For example, I saw a dog come in with bloat that was literally dropping in front of our eyes. We had about 10 minutes to prep him for surgery, a task that can usually take half an hour or more. Absurd, well, a good example is my pee pad experience. We go through a lot of pee pads. They come folded up like accordions. I learned to my dismay that absolutely under no circumstances should you try to snap them open like you were unfolding a towel or opening a trash bag. The other tech walked in two nights ago to find me covered head to toe in pee pad stuffing, surrounded by a veritable drift of the stuff on the floor. She said, you didn't. I said, yep, I did. Don't worry, it won't happen again. And the mundane? There is always something that needs to be cleaned: kennels, floors, walls, laundry, exam rooms, counter tops, equipment.

On a typical shift, I rarely sit down for more than 15 minutes. That's seven hours on my feet, constantly on the move, bending down to lift animals or adjust their IVs, wiping walls, folding laundry, reaching up for drug vials or boxes of syringes for stocking. It is physically and emotionally demanding work.

The back office humor is rather grim and not for special snowflakes. Certainly a lot of that is a coping mechanism, and there is no disrespect to clients or patients. On our flow charts for patient care, one of the items that must occur every hour is "check on me, love me"--if you put your initials in the box, the expectation is that you did just that. But sometimes the absurd and the black humor collide and things get really weird.

An emergency call came in. A petsitter said that a dog had eaten maybe 10 ounces of brownies made with semi-sweet dark chocolate. Not good--chocolate is toxic to dogs. Of course, if the dog ate 10 ounces of brownies, she probably didn't eat 10 ounces of chocolate, but we still calculate toxicity as if she had eaten that much in order to determine the proper treatment. When he arrived, the petsitter told me and the other nurse that the dog may have eaten the brownies in the past seven hours. That was not good--inducing vomiting wouldn't be as effective as a lot of the material would have been digested and heading for her liver by then. The dog was listless and having problems moving. Her temperature was unusually low. We collected the basic data, then called the vet down (he was asleep upstairs). In minutes, he comes back to the treatment room with the dog in tow, announcing "this dog needs a movie and some cheetos." The other nurse and I looked at each other: huh? The vet said, "she's tripping balls." Ohhh. 

Pot brownies. The dog was high.

Double whammy because marijuana is also toxic to dogs! If the petsitter hadn't admitted this little fact to one of the three of us, we might not have treated the dog properly. I didn't get a chance to ask the vet why he suspected this, but my guess is that he'd probably seen it before, or maybe the petsitter felt he could admit something to the doctor that he was not willing to tell either of us nurses--which is actually a fairly common thing.

We promptly induced vomiting with an injectable drug (holding her head over strategically arranged pee pads, of course). For starters, way more than 10 ounces of chocolately goodness came out of her. There were large, unchewed chunks that alone would have been close to 10 ounces, discovered as we poked around in the vomit pile with a tongue depressor. And secondly, the brownies must have had some frosting or fudge filling because there was a much darker fudgey goo mixed in. That's why you assume the entire amount consumed was actually all chocolate. Better to err on the high side. Heh.

This was a true emergency requiring prompt action on the parts of both nurses and the vet. Set a catheter, draw blood, run tests, get the numbers to the vet. Prepare the IV fluid line and bag. Draw up some drugs and get those into her. Prepare her admit paperwork. Get a kennel set up, get the IV fluid bag onto the pump, get the pump programmed. A lot of small but individually complex tasks that needed to be done in a certain order and completed without delay.

But. How could one not appreciate the absurdity of this? She was a chocolate lab--oh, my, the material was writing itself. She was high. She vomited up an enormous mound of chocolate goo (take it from me, the combined smell of dog kibble and brownies moistened with gastric juices is not very appetizing). And orange cheeto dust on face and fingers is not a good look for anyone, really. The jokes flew fast and furious even as our three-person team buzzed around (ha, see what I did there?) taking care of her.

Black humor indeed but at no point did I hear judgement or criticism. This is a very interesting job.

Monday, June 08, 2015

We Are Hot! Squirrels Are Observed!

It's been 100F here the past three days. Even the Saudi-born dog and cat think it's too damned hot!

HellBeast is a furtive little fucker so when he comes out of his various hidey holes to lay under the ceiling fan, you know it's hot!

On a completely unrelated topic, two days ago while trimming the grass along the fence, I noticed a divot under the fence between my yard and that of my neighbor. I thought, that's new. Why is there a bare patch of dirt worn under the fence? To my astonishment, this afternoon when I was washing up, I saw from the kitchen window a sqwerl skulking along the fence line, eventually diving through that very same divot. It appears that he has discovered my compost pile.

He will not be happy when the dogs discover him. We already know that Mimi and sqwerls do not do well together (sqwerl death and a large vet bill were involved). I suspect Azza will be no more forgiving.

Thursday, June 04, 2015


I've been through all of this before: the defense, the last minute edits (which became an entire redo and rewrite of the stats for my second feeding trial), collecting signatures on forms, running around campus from one building to another. It was almost anticlimactic on Monday when I clicked the "submit" button to send a digital copy of my thesis to the grad school's website.

For some reason, none of that got me as nearly excited as when I picked up the three printed copies of my thesis from the library today. Why three? My advisor gets one, I get one, and the company that provided my scholarship money for the past year wants one. In the best of all possible outcomes, that company will also pay to have all those copies bound nicely in faux leather. Printing the thesis cost nothing; it is a service provided by the university. 

Theses and dissertations have signature pages. In this modern digital world, the signature pages are left blank on the official copy that I submitted to the grad school. But for those bound copies, well, I need signatures!

Here's a picture of me and the department head. Today was the end-of-term department party so I hunted him down, handed him a black pen, and said, let's get this done!

I am so excited! I am very proud of my "little" MS thesis (only 204 pages--I just checked my dissertation: it clocked in at 215 pages, thank dog).

Somehow, I managed in two years to take the classes I needed to apply to vet school, complete classes and research for a master's degree, and get accepted into vet school. That's some pretty serious long-range planning come to fruition.