“Running with Sherman” by Christopher McDougall

“Running with Sherman” by Christopher McDougall

book review by John M. Regan

The book is flat out tremendous! Beyond the exceptionally unique topic of racing with donkeys this fascinating non fiction work includes a variety of inspiring stories about human victories over personal tragedies. Written with a great sense of humor and empathy Christopher McDougall has produced another work of wonder. Basically, it is the story of how Christopher and his family rehabilitated a mistreated, injured little donkey that was brought to their small ranch. While rehabilitating the animal they became obsessed with the idea of entering an incredible event of a high altitude donkey race in Colorado that McDougall had learned about when writing his first very great book, “Born to Run.” He relates the challenges of his city life upbringing adapting to country life (something I definitely relate to) and a number of wonderful true life stories of human and animal relationships. It is hard for me to more emphatically recommend this book. Not only will you be tempted to get a donkey of you own after learning of their remarkable characteristics you will also learn about some utterly incredible physical achievements that we humans are capable of – and how our animal friends help us to accomplish those things.

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Olympic Game Farm

A small sample from big to little of the animals you will closely encounter, and get to feed, at the Olympic Game Farm.

The Olympic Game Farm in Sequim, WA is a unique wildlife experience; an experience I highly recommend. Located in a rural area of Sequim it can be a bit of a challenge to find without good directions but considering the directional capability of today’s cell phones that should not be much of a problem. Here is the address: 1423 Ward Rd, Sequim, WA 98382. The Game Farm is a drive through zoo but you will have surprisingly close up encounters with the animals you observe as you wind through the well designed pathways of the place. There are many animals such as bison, yaks, llamas, and alpacas that you will get closer to than you probably will in your life. That was certainly the case for me with the bison. For both adults and children it is a beautifully entertaining, educational experience. You simply stay in your vehicle, roll along at your own calm pace and occasionally pause to feed and enjoy the sight of the animals. The ability to feed the animals (wheat bread available at the entrance) greatly contributes to the uniqueness of the Olympic Game Farm experience, not something you normally get to do in zoological parks these days. It is also an ideal environment for picture taking. Settled in your car you get to hold your camera perfectly still and take time to focus. The Game Farm’s history is unique as well. As noted on the Game Farm’s website (https://olygamefarm.com) the Olympic Game Farm’s original title was “Disney’s Wild Animal Studio.” That’s because it was a holding and training facility for the “animal actors” of Disney movies. By 1973 it became open to the public and has been ever since. The Game Farm is entirely funded by the customers that come to experience the place but donations in various forms are accepted. It is now popular attraction so it pays to plan your visit. Early morning to early afternoon, just as in most zoos, is the best time to see the animals. This is the time of their highest activity. And just like any other tourist attraction weekends, especially holiday weekends, are the busiest times.  I recommend a week day visit if possible. No matter when you decide to visit, though, you’ll get to see a lot more species than the ones I mentioned above. Lions, and tigers, and bears – of course! But little guys like prairie dogs, rabbits, raccoons, and numerous bird species will make their appearance. That’s not all. Check out the Olympic Game Farm website for a complete list. Enjoy it!

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Water Striders and Daddy Longlegs – Fascinating Arthropods

Here are a couple of examples of these very interesting animals – a Brown Harvestman or Daddy Longleg, and a Water Strider. Here the harvestman demonstrates its climbing ability on the outside wall of my home, while the water strider shows of its unique water walking talent. Note the piercing designs of their prey catching anatomy on their heads. Both of these creatures will use their forelegs to initially grasp their intended meal and then stab it to complete the kill. 

They are animals from two different classes (arachnids and insects) and inhabit two totally different environments. One loves water, the other hates it. One is perfectly comfortable on outside wall of your home, the other would consider it a nightmare. One is an arachnid, the other is an insect. But they share some unique similarities. Both have a very obvious long legged, small bodied physique. Both have pretty much the same food preference. And they have one other important, not so obvious trait. That one, however, you have to look quite closely to see – the reason I took these pictures and wrote this article.

Daddy Longlegs, or Harvestman, as they are called are members of the arachnid class of animals and are often mistaken for large spiders. They certainly resemble spiders in physiology but differ from spiders in one very important characteristic – the way they capture their food. Like spiders the daddy longleg diet consists mainly of small insects. And like spiders they capture their prey using chelicera that stick out from their head. Unlike the chelicera of spiders, however, the chelicera of the daddy longlegs are not venomous. They just “stab” their prey and then eat it. They don’t stop there, though. They eat dead bugs and decayed vegetation as well.

Water striders, members of the “true bug” family (order Hemiptera), are considerably smaller than daddy longlegs and you won’t find them hanging out in trees or on the side of your house – they prefer water. The freshwater species are the most common and most notable, but some species of this animal inhabit salt water. In freshwater ponds and streams you may see dozens and dozens of them wriggling about on the water surface thanks to their long legs, the bottom of which are covered in thousands of microscopic sized hairs that utilize water surface tension very effectively. Like their arachnid friends they also prefer small insects as prey (mosquito larvae are a favorite) and will gladly munch on dead insects that pop up or fall down into their environment. And like their arachnid friends water striders often attack prey by grabbing it with their front legs and piercing it with their sharp mouthpart called a rostrum that also allows them to inject digestive juices into their prey.

Check out the references below for more about these very interesting animals:

Online:

Nature.org

Encyclopedia Britannica  

Hard Copy:

Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America – Arthur Evans

Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders – Lorus and Margery Milne

Bugs of Washington and Oregon – John Acorn Ian Sheldon

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White Marked Tussok Moth

Despite their vegetation vandalizing reputation caterpillars are fascinating creatures, especially the colorful uniquely designed species like this White Marked Tussok moth larvae. This colorful little fellow recently dropped by my home and instantly caught my attention. I had to share it. Somewhat disappointing, however, is the fact that it will develop into a bland gray colored adult. Oh well, you can’t have everything.

Hidden Wildlife for the Kiddos!

Let’s See What’s Under There!

Please check out my book folks. I wrote this for young children but with parents, grandparents and teachers in mind. Loaded with close up photographs it gives you and your family a chance to discover a wildlife adventure in your own backyard. During this stay at home environment that we are in this book will direct you to the excitement hiding right under your feet on your own property. It is available on amazon in ebook form or hard copy. I recommend the 8.5 inch by 12 inch hard copy for maximum enjoyment of the photographs. Everyone I have shared this book with simply loves it. Covering all kinds of wildlife from rabbits to salamanders and slugs, and even “fun with fungi” I guarantee you will love this very unique book. As a bonus I can provide a picture loaded power point presentation ideal for a young audience.

Otter? Beaver? Muskrat? Nutria?

Muskrats are energetic swimmers often stopping to gobble up aquatic plant; note the hairless, laterally flattened tail. Otters usually swim with their head up. Otters are predators preferring fish, frogs, crayfish or other similar sized prey. Ducks disappear when otters show up. Nutria often expose themselves from head to tail while swimming and display very prominent white whiskers. They eat aquatic and terrestrial vegetation. Then you see the obviously flattened, scaled tail of the beaver. (I got lucky with this shot out at Northwest Trek some time ago.) But if beavers are around it is hard to miss their assaults on the trees in their domain. For more on nutria go here: Nutria -Invasive Species Master on this website or just type in Nutria on the search space.

Often in ponds, streams, and rivers we see a swimming mammal that looks just like a what? The first instinct is to call it a beaver. But unless that sighting was very early in the morning or well into the evening that guess was probably wrong. You are much more likely to see a muskrat, otter, or nutria during the bright daylight hours. But even then, how can you tell the difference? Most wildlife resources point out the differences in the appearance and posture of their bodies and tails while swimming. Beavers have the obvious and famous flat tail which they tend to keep underwater when swimming while exposing their head, neck, and back. The much smaller muskrat exposes its body in the same manner but its small round tail sticks out. The nutria or coypu very much looks like a beaver when swimming due to its size but its rounded tail that sticks out of the water gives it away. River otters tend to swim with just their head above water and it has a much thicker tail than the nutria and muskrats. Head shape and whiskers are other identifiers. Just the same, these animals are difficult to differentiate at a quick glance. In my experience, behavior is another key. Beavers are just about nocturnal animals; your best chance there is to get up well before sunrise and head out to the water just as the sun begins to rise. Otters are out during the day but immediately pop back under water when frightened and stay there for a long time; enough to make you think it has disappeared. Muskrats get frightened by human appearances as well but do not stay underwater nearly as long as otters. They also like to munch on aquatic plants. The introduced nutrias I have observed seem less alarmed by humans. They also do not stay underwater for as long as otters and are noticeably much bigger than muskrats.

Wildlife for WA National Guard Children!

Coming soon (10 June at 4 p.m.) I will be doing a wildlife presentation in honor of the wonderful women and men of the WA National Guard and their children based on my book “Let’s See What’s Under There!” I am doing this thanks to a great organization – the WA National Guard Child and Youth Services. This will be a live presentation featuring numerous photographs of many amazing animals; mostly the fascinating little things living right under your feet and often in your own backyard. But you are going to see them in a way you’ve never seen them before.

Golden Crowned Sparrow

Just in case you’re wondering how they got that name. Beyond the obvious, though, the sun has to hit their noggin just right to get a good look at that gold patch, not to mention a photograph. Their trademark is sported by both female and male of the species.

Happy Mom Day from Northwest Wildlife Online!

God bless all Moms out there no matter what your species! None of us would be here without you.

Wildlife Springing Out in Spring

As our spring weather moves in a lot of animals move out and into view. Swallows are out in huge flocks but are seldom seen sitting still. I was lucky to stumble upon this mating pair. There seems to be a lot of possums out and about all of a sudden, many of them unfortunately on the roadways. But that made this turkey vulture very happy.