With apologies to Poe

Since Birders On The Border doesn’t get as much traffic as LB&E, I thought I’d give my most recent post over there some additional exposure:

THE CHICKENS

Inspired by actual events.

Once upon a summer swelter, while I weltered in my shelter,
Reading backlogged emails, each more urgent than the one before,
As I toiled, resisting napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my kitchen door.
“‘Tis the FedEx guy,” I muttered, “tapping at my kitchen door –
Only this, and nothing more.”

The timing was inopportune, for in the midday heat of June
I hide indoors awaiting monsoon storms their cooling rains to pour.
Eagerly I wait and wonder, when will storm clouds roil and thunder,
Lightning tear the sky asunder, bringing coolness I long for,
Bringing long-awaited coolness that we desert rats adore,
And our peace of mind restore?

But the raps were not repeated, so I chose to remain seated
Avoiding summer air so heated by not going to the door,
There were emails to be sending, other business issues pending,
I should really not be spending time on phantoms at the door
Wasting Facebook time on chasing phantoms tapping at my door,
Though my butt grew numb and sore.

Back to my computer turning, my paycheck to resume earning,
Soon again I heard a tapping, lightly on the kitchen door.
“Surely,” said I, “that is someone who has braved the hellish noon sun
A delivery errand to run, and this knock I can’t ignore,
A package or a letter, too important for me to ignore.”
I rose, and strode toward the door.

Turning now the shining brass knob I was greeted by a small mob
Of hot chickens gathered on the porch before the kitchen door:
Joni blond and partridge Pearlie, brainy Grace and Bonnie burly,
Thinking they’d be let in, surely, if their Mom they did implore,
They gazed at me so pitifully, a ploy they hoped I would fall for.
And then they walked right in the door.

Through the kitchen four spoiled hens stroll, past the fridge and to the dog’s bowl,
Checking here and there for crumbs and morsels dropped upon the floor,
No rustic roost was ever finer than a La-Z-Boy designer
Plush and cushiony recliner Dad and Mom worked hard to score,
Soft recliners far more comfortable than carpet or bare floor,
Soon festooned with chickens four.

“Out!” I cried, “Before the pooping starts and I’m reduced to scooping
Guano from the furniture, the carpet and the hardwood floor!
You’re common barnyard fowl” I chided, “and you’re tragically misguided
If you think you’ll be abided as you foul my hardwood floor,
Foul my chairs, my tufted carpets and the oak upon my floor.”
Quoth the chickens, Brahk-ahk borrr?

Then these winsome fowl beguiling my stern visage into smiling
By the charm and innocence of the countenance they wore,
“Though you’ll no doubt make some crappies and you have no chicken nappies,
I do love to see you happy, though your messes I abhor.
I will let you roam a while until you start to soil the floor.”
Then Joni pooped upon the floor.

“Out!” I cried, my patience snapping, “Why such frequent need for crapping?
Oaks long dead don’t need your guano – take your butts back out the door!
You’re not princesses,” I berated, “so you shouldn’t look deflated
When you find you’re reinstated in your coop behind your door,
Safe from my wrath and coyotes, locked behind a sturdy door.
Quoth the chickens, Brahk-ahk borrr?

As I chased them toward the doorway, they began to act like wild prey,
Dodging, ducking hands, the chickens managed to evade me more
‘Round the living room we gyred until I became so tired
And so hot I near expired and flopped down upon the floor,
So tired and hot that I forgot what I was chasing chickens for.
They clucked in triumph, Brahk-ahk borrr!

And the chickens, never flitting, still are sitting, still are sitting
On the arms and backs of chairs I tried to keep them off before,
And their eyes are smug and gleaming as they ponder how their scheming
Did prevail against my screaming as I chased them ’round the floor.
And these fowl from off my chairs and out my house and out my door
Shall be evicted… nevermore.

Birders On The Border: With apologies to Poe

Mountain-Gem Arts update

Lucifer Hummingbird Heart I

Lucifer Hummingbird Heart I

Wow. My polymer clay jewelry has been really well received. Most of what I’ve added to the shop in its first few weeks has already sold, and to fill demand I’ve made new versions of popular designs, including four Lucifer Hummingbird Hearts (so far). I’ve received other special orders, too. This is truly gratifying, and I thank everyone who has made a purchase from the bottom of my heart(s).

The holiday shopping season is the perfect time to start something like this, so I don’t expect this run to continue, but that’s just as well. I do art in part as a way to keep burnout at bay, so I wouldn’t want it to turn into drudgery.

There is one major but hopefully temporary change in the shop: I’ve disabled the shopping cart by marking available items as out of stock. You can still buy them, but only by contacting me directly. I regret adding this extra step to what should be a seamless process, but I no longer trust PayPal with my money. The company has a nasty habit of putting holds on customers’ accounts for extremely flimsy reasons (too few transactions, too many transactions, transactions not marked as shipped, alleged violations of the TOS, etc.), all to earn more interest off the money before its rightful owner can withdraw it.

I never used to worry when I used PayPal only to make payments. Since the Regretsy Secret Santa debacle, though, I live in fear that the company will freeze my account and deny me access to funds I need to pay for supplies and postage, buy groceries, pay bills, etc. This is predatory behavior and a serious burden to microbusinesses like mine that depend on electronic payments. Until PayPal changes the way it does business, I choose not to do business with PayPal.

At present, PayPal is the only payment option available from my storefront host, Storenvy. If that doesn’t change soon, I’ll be looking for an e-commerce alternative. In the meantime, I’ll be setting up accounts with other electronic payment services and will accept prepayment by personal check.

One positive development is that my sickly laser printer has received an overhaul and is working again. That clears the way for the next version of the Supplement to A Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America. I’ll be busy through the end of the year with jewelry orders, Christmas Bird Counts,  field trips, etc., but watch this space early next year for the announcement that the new edition is ready.

Goodbye, Charlie

Another sad event to report from the blogosphere: Julie Zickefoose recently lost her bird buddy Charlie, a captive-bred Chestnut-fronted Macaw, just 10 days short of Charlie’s 23 hatchday. Sending healing thoughts to Julie and the rest of Charlie’s family at Indigo Hill, from someone who knows all too well the pain of a bird-shaped hole in your heart.

RIP: Cinnamon the Disapproving Rabbit

Just read the heartbreaking news on Facebook that Cinnamon, the original Disapproving Rabbit, has passed on at the age of 13. Deepest sympathies to Birdchick Sharon Stiteler from a heart that knows the pain she’s feeling all too well.

I hate Bank of America

Apologies for digging this deep into the “everything” category, but I need to vent.

I’ve been wrangling with Bank of America since Saturday over a screw-up in their system that caused my checking account to be overdrawn. I had set up my checking account to pay my credit card bill automatically, with e-mail alerts telling me 1) when these payments had been scheduled and 2) when they were posted. Money has been tight and cash flow erratic, so I tried to cancel the automatic payments to pay manually as finances permit. Turns out I only canceled the auto-payment for October.

Saturday at 1:26 PM an e-mail arrived that said an automatic payment had been posted the day before. meaning that it was too late to cancel the payment. Knowing that this had overdrawn my account, I immediately logged into online banking to transfer money from another account to cover it. The system wouldn’t let me, something about maintenance. After several tries and failures, I started calling customer service numbers. After 20+ minutes, I finally selected a random menu item that seemed most likely to get me a real human being.

The rep that answered couldn’t help me because of the system maintenance issue, but he said that final processing of automatic payments doesn’t take place until the end of the day. If I made a transfer into the account the same day as the payment was deducted from it, I should be able to avoid the overdraft charge. That’s a problem, I explained, because the transaction was yesterday, but I didn’t receive the alert until today. And I never did receive the payment-scheduled alert or I could have taken care of it days ago. The alerts go out the same day as the transaction, he said, so I should contact my ISP about why my messages are coming through late. Oh, it’s my ISP’s fault? Really?? That’s not what the message headers say.

I returned to the Web site to register a complaint, triggering a pop-up window inviting me to chat with a support representative. I cut and pasted the rant I had just written into the chat window. The rep, who might actually have been a real person and not software, told me that the system would be down for another hour and a half but that I should be able to log in after that. He couldn’t help me otherwise, so he provided a direct number to another support department. I was so mad by then I decided to deal with it on Monday and not ruin the rest of the weekend (but I did log on later and successfully made the transfer).

My memory was jogged this afternoon by an e-mail alert that my account was overdrawn (approximately 46 hours after the transfer that brought it back into the black), so I called the support number provided by the chat rep. The first rep I talked to was not very helpful. She did assure me that the automatic bill pay had been canceled, but things got a bit heated when she kept insisting that e-mail alerts were available only if I made payments through e-Bills, not Bill Pay. Total BS, since I had been receiving alerts from Bill Pay for almost two years. She also contradicted Saturday’s rep, saying that alerts go out within one to three business days of the transaction. Business days?? “Computers don’t take weekends off,” I snarled. “But the bank does,” she insisted, as though the absence of humans from a building would affect an automated process.

With no suggestions for how I could avoid penalties if the Bank of America computer system doesn’t send alerts in a timely fashion, she transferred me to another rep. After a long conversation that included me restating my problem, telling her repeatedly that a $.99 online debit card transaction on a different account was not the issue, and ranting about how her employer was screwing its customers at every possible opportunity (“I’m yelling, but I’m not angry at you“), she finally gave up and said she would refund the overdraft charge, because that seemed to be the issue I was most upset about. It hadn’t been a stroll in the park up to that point, but that remark really got to me.

Yeah, I said, thirty-five bucks is a lot of money to me right now, but I’d still be pissed on principle. What I was angriest about was being exploited at every turn by a soulless financial giant that my tax dollars had bailed out. All the stress and inconvenience dealing with this issue cost me far more than $35, so it really was the principle of the thing. By the time I hung up the phone, I was a wreck.

This incident followed repeated mailings from Bank of America threatening to “escalate” on our second mortgage, even after my husband made a payment by phone and received assurances from a rep that our account was current. He paid a visit to the local branch this afternoon to make sure that BoA wasn’t about to illegitimately foreclose on our home (as happened to Angela Iannelli—the bastards even took her parrot) and let the staff there know that we would be taking our business elsewhere. No reflection on them—they’ve always treated us very well.

There aren’t a lot of banking options in our little town if you want a local branch, but with online banking and ubiquitous ATMs that’s not as much of a problem as it used to be. If our new bank will take over our loans and transfer balances to new credit cards, we might never have to give the greedy bastards at Bank of America another penny. And that would make me very, very happy.

SourceWatch: Bank of America

Consumerist: Bank of America

Anarkhos: Bank of America Sucks

Bank of America Sucks

At least BoA has paid back its $45 billion bailout.

“Managing” feral cat colonies: kindness or cruelty?

Bart, a former stray that rules our house

At left is Bart, Prince Among Cats. Ordinarily my husband and I adopt from shelters, but Bart found us first.

He showed up in our driveway one scorching June afternoon in 2004 to scrounge from our garbage. When I arrived home and let our dog out of the car, she made a beeline for the trash cans and stuck her nose between them. A high-pitched keening rippled through the air like an audible heat wave. Pulling Josie back, I peered into the shadows to find the source of the noise: a tiny, terrified brown and white kitten.

After a brief struggle I managed to get the little guy inside, locked up Josie and our other cat, put out some water and food, and left him alone. Within 30 minutes he’d refreshed himself, taken a short tour of the kitchen and living room, and curled up to sleep atop the couch cushion behind my head. When Tom came home, he rolled his eyes at my foundling, but within 24 hours we both had abandoned any thought of sending the little stray to the shelter and an uncertain fate.

Bart will never know how lucky he is. Though still in the prime of his life, he’s already outlived the average homeless cat. He’ll never be ripped to shreds by dogs, eaten by a coyote or bobcat, shot, hung, set on fire, or skinned alive by a sadistic teenager, or crushed under the wheels of a car. He’ll never again go hungry, nor will he ever suffer from malnutrition, parasites, communicable diseases, insect or scorpion stings, snakebite, or abscessed wounds from fighting. I expect to have another eight to ten years to enjoy his company and cater to his whims. If the consequences of quantity of life diminish his quality of life beyond reasonable limits, we’ll do the responsible thing and allow our vet to put a quick, humane end to his suffering.

Millions of other cats die each year simply because there are too many pets and not enough caring, responsible homes. The lucky ones are euthanized at shelters or veterinary clinics. The unlucky may spend weeks, months or years scrounging on the streets or in the wild before dying from disease, starvation, predation, accident, or malicious acts. Thousands of self-identified cat lovers compound this cruelty by supporting programs to “manage” colonies of free-ranging homeless cats, which only prolongs these animals’ misery, jeopardizes the health of people and pets, and results in the needless deaths of neighboring wildlife.

I give most feral cat defenders the benefit of the doubt for good intentions, even though an obsession with prolonging the lives of as many cats as possible even at the cost of millions of other animals’ lives seems more like hoarding than humanitarianism. I’m equally certain that some leaders of this movement manipulate big-hearted but naive or emotionally vulnerable people into doing their dirty work: wasting their own time and money subsidizing feral cat colonies, badgering humane organizations and animal control agencies into promoting and conducting in situ feral cat “management,” agitating against cat-control ordinances, etc.

Rather than plow into the growing mountain of evidence demonstrating the damage free-roaming cats do to wildlife, their threats to human health, and the ineffectiveness of TNR (Trap-Neuter-Release, also known as Trap-Test-Vaccinate-Alter-Release) in controlling, much less eliminating, populations of feral cats, I’ll refer you to the excellent resources compiled by the American Bird Conservancy:

“Managed” Cat Colonies: The Wrong Solution to a Tragic Problem

Domestic Cat Predation on Birds and Other Wildlife

Impacts of free-ranging domestic cats (Felis catus) on birds in the United States: a review of recent research with conservation and management recommendations

Cats, Birds, & You (PDF brochure, excellent for handing out to people who let their pets roam)

There’s more on this issue at Making Tracks, the blog of The Wildlife Society.

This scientific study debunked some of the common claims of TNR advocates.

Another summary site that includes critiques of TNR-biased research studies: TNR Reality Check

I’d also like to send a National Feral Cat Day message to the ostensibly respectable “humane” organizations that support TNR:

If you really care about feral cats, the only truly humane, ethical, and environmentally responsible alternative to euthanasia is TAPPIES:  Trap, Alter, and Permanently Place In Enclosed Sanctuaries.

“Out the Window” preview

Here’s a snippet from the latest installment of my “Out the Window” column in the November/December 2010 issues of WildBird magazine:

Every year they make their way south. Some are impatient, departing before the first frosty flakes fly. Others seem reluctant to leave, toughing it out until their summer homes are buried in snow. Many return to the same spot every winter, often flocking with their summer neighbors from the same northern communities. A few aren’t so predictable, roaming far and wide wherever winds or whims carry them.

Though they don’t all have feathers, they all qualify as “snowbirds.”

Not a subscriber yet? This link to Amazon.com will get you a full year (six colorful, information-packed issues) for just $12.99, and your purchase will benefit the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory. You’ll find this and other birding magazines, field guides, feeders and accessories, seeds for hummingbird-friendly plants, and more at SABO’s online shop, The Trogon’s Nest. Single copies of Wildbird are also available at newsstands and bookstores.