Wingspan! Great board game for birders, and board game enthusiasts

Wingspan Game - Review

We had a very nice relaxing day with the family at home today for Easter. A delicious meal of cheesy shrimp risotto, some coconut cream pie, and a day of games. Today was the day we broke out the new “Wingspan” game! The game has gotten incredible reviews and quickly sold out the first few printings. When I saw a new printing becoming available, I ordered right away.

I’m glad I did! The game is a 4-round strategy game, where you’re stockpiling birds on your “network of wildlife preserves”. There are 170 different birds, with cards for each detailing that species food needs, nesting capacity, habitat needs and “special abilities”. It’s a turn-based game, where a player chooses whether to:

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  • Gather food from the “feeder”, making sure to select food items that support the bird species in your preserves (if that food is available). The different categories of available food include “invertebrates”, “seeds”, “fish”, “fruit”, and “rodent”.
  • Select new bird cards, providing additional species options for placement in your preserves
  • Place a bird in your preserve, making sure that you have the proper food to support that bird. Birds require anywhere from 1 to 3 food resources, and you must have those food items in your possession to be able to place the bird.
  • Having an individual species in your preserve lay eggs
  • Carrying out any actions. Some species provide rewards as the game proceeds, depending upon the action the player takes that round.

The game itself is deceptively simple once you understand the rules. Your choices don’t go far beyond the options outlined above, but once you play it you realize the need for strategy right from the start. For example, the game is played in four rounds. Each round has a specific scoring goal. For example, Round 1 may focus on providing points to players who place the most wetland habitat birds in their preserve. Round 2 may focus on cavity-nesting birds that lay the most eggs. The priority for each round is chosen at the start of the game, so long-term strategy comes into play. You want to maximize your points for the current round, but if you don’t also set yourself up for scoring priorities in future rounds, you’ll likely do poorly.

By the end of the game, scoring is tallied as followed:

  • Individual round scoring. During each individual round (4 rounds total), you are ranked against your competitors. In the first round example given above, for example, the player who had the most birds in their preserve who used wetland habitats would have gotten the most points for that round. More points are awarded in later rounds than in the first round, so the fourth-round 1st place scorer gets more points than the first-round 1st place scorer.
  • Points from birds in your preserve. Different birds are worth different scores. For example, I placed a Bald Eagle in my preserve, which was worth a very healthy 9 points (the highest point total for a bird, I believe). Point values for each species are partially related to how difficult it is to place that bird in the preserve. For example, to be able to place that Bald Eagle in my preserve, I had to stock up on 2 fish resources and 1 rodent resource before I could place him on the board. Other, lower-point birds are easier to place, with some birds that are only worth two points only requiring one food resource for placement on the board.
  • Eggs – Players receive one point for every egg on their final board.
  • “Bonus” cards – During the game, each player collects unique bonus cards. Bonus cards include titles such as “photographer”, “prairie manager”, “wetland scientist”, “backyard birder”, and much more. Each card rewards points at the end of the game based on certain characteristics of the birds in your aviary. For example, there are four types of nests birds build in the game: 1) platform nests, 2) bowl nests, 3) cavity nests, and 4) ground nests. My bonus card provided +4 points for having four different birds who build platform nests in my preserve.
  • Food on bird cards – Some bird species “cache” food on their cards. For example, the American Kestrel can collect rodents! If you can use it during a turn, it can collect one or more rodent tokens that are placed on the species card. Each cached food item counts as a point for the final scoring.
  • Tucked” cards – Some birds can form flocks! For example, the American White Pelican can effectively form a flock, with other bird cards tucked behind the pelican card in your preserve. Each bird in a flock counts as a point.

After four rounds, you add up the final scores using the 6-category scoring system. From what I’m seeing online, final scores for a winner are typically between 65-85 points.

At first it’s a bit confusing, but once we watched this short YouTube video on the rules of the game, it really is quite straightforward. Straightforward, but rather elegant! While the rules themselves may be straightforward, there’s definitely quite a bit of strategy involved! In the first game we played, the winner ended up with 65 points…on the low end of a winning score from what I’ve read. But now that we understand the rules and the strategy more, I’m sure our next game will be higher scoring.

Great game! It’s also very well put together. Materials are solid, and the artwork on the cards is absolutely beautiful. I love the “bird feeder”, a device you construct that allows you to roll dice that represent foods available in the feeder. A few times I caught myself just looking through the cards, as it’s fun not only to look at the beautiful artwork, but to see the special attributes and abilities the gamemakers assigned to each species. A really enjoyable game, and I can see a lot of replay value, given that each game’s goals and birds will be different.

Highly recommended, if you can get a copy! And hey, if my non-birding teenage son can get a kick out of it and ask to play again tomorrow, it’s a great indication that the audience for this game goes far behind just birders!

Wingspan Game - Closeup
A closeup of the game. Note the eggs on the gameboard here…did you know the Yellow-headed Blackbird laid such shiny eggs? Well, it WAS Easter Sunday! We did happen to have some candy “glimmer eggs” laying around! So we augmented the game with candy eggs, and some liberal rules about when a player could raid a nest and eat those eggs. ūüôā

Bird sounds in cinema – Confirmation I haven’t just been hearing things!

Someone on Twitter pointed this story out from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I’m glad they brought it to my attention, as I was almost wondering if I was just hearing things all of these years!

There is nothing quite like the calls from a loon. Hollywood can’t get enough of them, either.

Evidently I’m not the only one who has noticed that Hollywood LOVES to use certain bird songs in movies…whether or not it’s appropriate. Common Loon (any kind of “wilderness), Red-tailed Hawk (the default vocalization for ANY raptor they show in a movie), and Laughing Kookaburra (pretty much in any “jungle” movie scene) seem to be the three that I notice the most.

This piece in the Star Tribune provides a nice list of movies where the Common Loon pops up. I’m glad I wasn’t imagining hearing a Common Loon cry at the end of Avengers: Infinity War!¬† That one takes the cake as most ridiculous, given that it was happening not just in inappropriate habitat, but on another planet!!¬† I missed some of these, as in Game of Thrones!

“Infinity War” – Spoiler Free, Bird-related PLOT HOLE!!

Common Loon - Gavia immer

A Common Loon in breeding plumage. Are Common Loons truly alien visitors to our planet? Does Hollywood know something we don’t, because they certainly use Common Loon calls in pretty much any possible movie situation. Even when the setting is on an alien planet.

My son and I just got back from Avengers: Infinity War.  No spoilers here, other than we both really enjoyed it.  But as I SO often do for movies, I have a beef.  A BIRD-related beef, as always.

So…end of the movie, pretty much the last scene.¬† I won’t say who is in the last scene or what it’s about. I WILL say it’s set on an alien planet.¬† And when the scene first fades in, what sound do we first hear in the background?¬† THE CALL OF A COMMON LOON!!!¬† WHY, Hollywood….WHY!?!?!¬† Why are you SO freakin’ enamored with the call of the Common Loon that you feel the need to put it into practically any situation, no matter how ludicrous!!?!?

Outrageous!¬† A travesty!!¬† Ok, no, I really don’t get too worked up about such things, but as a birder, you DO notice!¬† C’mon Hollywood, out of an entire universe worth of sounds out there, surely you can broaden your scope a bit and stop always relying on the same sounds, no matter the situation!

Birds in Movies – “Gamenight” gets it right!!

Common Nighthawk Drawing - Chordeiles minor

Drawing of a Common Nighthawk I did a few years ago. They have a VERY distinctive call when flying around at dusk or at night, something that really stands out on the soundtrack when watching a movie! Kudos to “GameNight” for the correct use of a bird call, in the proper time and context!

As a birder, one major pet peeve of mine…Hollywood’s (mis-)use of birds in movies! It seems that Hollywood typically has about 3 different bird vocalizations that are used in any situation a bird is present. One is the ubiquitous Red-tailed Hawk screaming cry, something they use for ANY raptor that happens to even tangentially appear on a screen. Conan O’Brien wasn’t alone when making this erroneous use of a Red-tailed Hawk call, but he WAS called out by birders for his actions!! Bald Eagles are often shown in movies and TV, but the more iconic Red-tailed Hawk call is usually used instead of the real Bald Eagle cry.

The second iconic call that’s heard ALL the time is the haunting call of a Common Loon. Occasionally it’s used in the proper setting and context, but there are SO many times when movie characters are out “in the wild” and the call of a Common Loon is dubbed in the background.¬† What’s that?¬† Your favorite character is roaming the forests of the Appalachians? Perhaps it’s a wild setting, but NOT EVERY WILD SETTING SHOULD HAVE LOON CALLS PLAYING IN THE BACKGROUND!! This site notes several “misplaced” birds in TV and movies, including the mis-use of Common Loon calls in Murder She Wrote and¬†Raiders of the Lost Ark (presumably while in Peru!!). The Common Loon has also been mis-used visually…something I noticed IMMEDIATELY when watching Finding Dory. “Becky” is the loopy Common Loon that plays a role in the rescue scenes in Finding Dory, along the California coastline. The presence of a Common Loon along the California coast isn’t out of place IN WINTER.¬† But “Becky” in Finding Dory is a Common Loon in full summer breeding plumage…NOT LIKELY!!

The third call that’s heard in EVERY jungle scene is the laughing call of a Kookaburra. They’re a bird found in Australia, but listen to any jungle scene supposedly set in Africa, South America, or southeast Asia, and you’ll STILL likely hear the wild calls of a Kookaburra.

Given how often birds are mis-used in movies, I always get a bit of satisfaction when I see a movie that gets it right!¬† Tonight my wife and I went to see “GameNight“, starring Justin Bateman and Rachel McAdams.¬† It’s a really funny movie!!¬† We both greatly enjoyed it.¬† The only time birds were evident (and surely ONLY to me, among the movie crowd) was a scene late in the movie.¬† It was a setting in a relatively dense urban setting, on a bridge over a large river and fairly out in the open. Large buildings could be seen in the surrounding area, and it was night. As the scene played out (I won’t spoil the movie for you here!), I could CLEARLY hear Common Nighthawks giving their typical flight calls.

PERFECT!! You often DO hear Common Nighthawks as they fly through the night skies in and around urban areas, picking off flying insects in flight with their massive, gaping maw.¬† One of the places I’ve heard them the most is at the airport here in Sioux Falls. They typically use rocky areas to breed, and the rocky roofs that many urban buildings use work perfectly for their purposes.

WELL DONE GAMENIGHT!!  You get a rare GOLD STAR for proper use of a bird in a movie!!

Free at least! GOODBYE, StartLogic…

Statistics on Domains Served - StartLogic

From webhostinggeeks.com, a graph of how many domains StartLogic has served over the years. I think I sense a slight downward trend!! Given my recent interactions with them, you can now also add my site to this declining trend. GOODBYE, StartLogic.

HOLY.¬† COW. I’ve had my main website, sdakotabirds.com, for nearly 20 years now. It’s a massive, sprawling, out-of-control website with literally thousands of photographs, and hundreds of pages of information on birds of the United States.¬† It’s been a labor of love over the years as I slowly add to it, but I’m not exactly a web programming wizard.¬† I still rely on some basic, simple tools to make my website (primarily Microsoft’s Expression Web, so old it’s now freeware), and over the years have struggled to keep up with new web standards.¬† But despite my lack of technical expertise and lack of any direct “help” on my website, I’ve managed to maintain my site in good working order.

Over the 20 years, I’ve only had two web hosting providers. The first was “Tripod”, back in the days when things were quite a bit a bit simpler.¬† I don’t remember the exact reason I switched from Tripod, but know I had outgrown what they were providing, and I wasn’t happy with the technical support.¬† For someone like me with no real training in website or blog development, I NEED that technical support!¬† So about 12 years, I switched to StartLogic.

For many years, StartLogic was…OK. That’s about as high a compliment as I can give them, because I’ve always had occasional issues with their support of my website.¬† Over the last few years, that “support” has become worse and worse.¬† Three or so years ago, someone somehow hacked into my website, and inserted a ton of malicious code that was forwarding my traffic to seedy locations, particularly from my blog.¬† StartLogic couldn’t have been LESS helpful during that time, to the point that the only way they said I could “save” my site was to permanently delete much of the content!! In the end, I ended up deleting my blog and starting fresh with the new blog you see here.But I stayed with StartLogic, as the technical challenges of changing hosts was more than I wanted to tackle.

Things just went downhill from there.¬† Issues with my website were incredibly difficult to resolve through StartLogic. Online tech support was weak or non-existent, and often DAYS would pass between communications attempting to resolve problems.¬† This past week was the last straw.¬† Over the past 8 years or so, I’ve used a specific piece of software to “crawl” my site and automatically generate a sitemap. That sitemap helps Google and other search engines to map and index my site.¬† I’ve always used the same piece of software, and hadn’t run into any problems, until this past week.¬† I updated a number of pages on my website last week, and wanted to re-run the sitemap generator to get a fresh sitemap.¬† The sitemap generator ran for about half an hour, pinging pages on my website as it generated the sitemap. It finished, and I uploaded the fresh sitemap to my online site.

And then the fun began!¬† Within minutes I got an email from StartLogic, notifying me that they had shut down my site!¬† They cited “resource abuse”, noting I was on a shared server, and that “abnormally heavy traffic” on my site resulted in some automatic bot flagging my site as “abusing” those shared resources.¬† StartLogic told me to inform them when the problem was corrected, and that they’d then review my site and consider restoring access.

I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, given the horrible support offered by StartLogic over the last several years. I responded in their online support “ticket”, telling them that the “problem” was undoubtedly the sitemap crawler I had just run.¬† I told them I’d run the crawler countless times in the past without any issue, but begrudgingly ALSO told them that in the interests of avoiding such a site shutdown in the future, I would stop using that sitemap crawler.

I waited. StartLogic responded a day later, saying they were temporarily restoring website access while they reviewed the case.  Indeed, for one day, things seemed back to normal. But less than a day later, when trying to access my own website from my home computer, it showed the site was down.  I tried different browsers. I tried logging on from my desktop, laptop, my iPhone, and my iPad, to no avail. I could not access my site from my home WiFi and IP address. I COULD, however, access my website from my work computer.  Clearly StartLogic had blocked access TO MY OWN SITE from MY OWN IP ADDRESS.

I again went to their online help.¬† FOUR TIMES over the course of a week, I initiated an online chat with a “help” representative.¬† The “help” is in quotations, because StartLogic’s online support had been degrading for years to anything OTHER than real support. I explained the situation to the online chat support.¬† Four different times, I explained the sitemap crawler, and that in the interests of avoiding future issues, that I would no longer use it. Four different times, the FUCKING CLUELESS StartLogic “support” said they’d forward my issues to…whatever higher-up authority that could actually do something about it.

Meanwhile, DAYS had passed where I could not access my OWN FUCKING WEBSITE from MY OWN COMPUTER. In addition to initiating online chats four times, I updated the online “support ticket” several times.¬† Finally, two days ago, I received an email. It simply said that StartLogic had flagged my IP address as a “security risk”. They said that once something had been flagged, they had no mechanism to remove the block of that IP address.¬† Their “solution” they proposed?

They laughingly told me the only way I’d ever be able to see my OWN SITE from my OWN HOME HARDWARE would be if I went to my internet service provider, and had THEM change my home IP address!!¬† In other words, instead of simply removing the IP block on THEIR end, something THEY initiated in response to a “problem” i said would never happen again, they washed their hands of the issue.¬† One more interaction with them on a chat, and they said sorry, they just cannot remove any security block once it had taken effect.

GOOD…FUCKING…BYE, StartLogic!!¬† Given my lack of technical expertise, I dreaded moving to another hosting provider, but enough is enough.¬† With just a bit of online research as to a reputable and reliable hosting provider, I purchased the services of InMotionhosting.¬† I was prepared for a struggle in trying to move my site over to InMotion, and was particularly apprehensive that it wouldn’t be possible to transfer my blog (and long blog history) over to the new provider.¬† However, I was easily able to figure out how to transfer most of my site, and for a very small fee, InMotionHosting very quickly (less than a day) backed up my blog databases from StartLogic and successfully transferred them to the new host.

A hosting provider that actually provided wonderful, FAST, and efficient service!! After struggling with StartLogic for so long, I had no idea such service was even possible!¬† I’m now happy to say ALL content from StartLogic has been successfully transported to the new host. The main website content, the blog, and even security components like SSL and the like….all transferred quickly and painlessly, and the site is working just as it should.¬† And may I say, much FASTER than it ever performed when hosted by StartLogic.

In a rather funny conclusion to the story…despite StartLogic saying that security policy made it impossible to unblock my home IP address…within HALF AN HOUR after going out to their online support one last time and basically telling them (more nicely than they deserved!) that I was DROPPING their wretched service….they suddenly unblocked my home IP address!¬† Followed up with a pathetic email stating the issue had been “resolved”!!

Given my level of “dissatisfaction” (to put it kindly) with StartLogic, I’ve also taken the opportunity to provide reviews of their services to several online web-hosting review sites.¬† One of those, webhostinggeeks.com, provide a summary of recent reviews, and also provided a graph of how many domains StartLogic has serviced over the years. Not surprisingly, the number of websites using StartLogic has been declining for years.¬† If by chance you’re reading this and happen to still be using their services…stop. Just stop. You can do better…

“She had a dream” – A Christmas story

There once was a beautiful princess, born in a tiny village in a place far, far away, called “Nebraska”.¬† The princess was loved by all, and had a wonderful childhood. As she grew, the villagers asked what she wanted when she grew up. “I have a dream…I want to marry a prince, and live every day as if it were a celebration!!“.¬† The princess was particularly fond of Christmas, and grew up surrounded by lights, glitter, and merriment. “As long as you live in our castle, sweet Princess, you’ll always have the brightest and best Christmases!”, declared King Roger.

The princess at her wedding

The princess at her wedding to Prince Humbug

But the Princess knew she couldn’t stay in the castle forever. She left for a life far, far away, 3 LONG miles from the castle where she grew up.¬† It was there that she met a Prince, and fell in love. Prince “Humbug” was young, dashing, and captured the heart of the princess. They were married on a fine spring May Day, and left for a new adventure in Big City, half a continent away.

Prince Humbug wasn’t rich.¬† Prince Humbug couldn’t afford to give his princess a castle.¬† For two years they lived in squalor.¬† At Christmas, there were no vast expanses of shiny lights.¬† There was no glitter. Missing their friends and family and merriment, Prince Humbug and the Princess left for the Great Frozen North, and moved into their first castle.

The castle was small and humble, but they were happy.¬† At Christmas, the Princess dreamed of her Christmases growing up, and asked Prince Humbug if she could have lights, glitter, and merriment as when she was a child. But as the years passed, Prince Humbug was inflicted with a terrible case of the Grumbly Grumpies.¬† Prince Humbug scoffed when the Princess asked for a castle lit up with lights and glitter.¬† “There are more important things to worry about,” groused the Prince.

Years passed, with the Prince and Princess having a perfect young son, and eventually they moved into a larger castle. “This is the castle of my dreams!”, said the Princess.¬† “If only we could decorate it like the castle from my childhood!”.¬† Prince Humbug couldn’t resist a bat of an eye from the Princess, and for a few years, despite the Grumbly Grumpies, he grudgingly obliged the Princess. At Christmas, the exterior of the castle was often lit with colorful lights and glitter, and the Prince tried to provide the merriment the Princess had as a young girl. But as he got older, Prince Humbug fell deeper under the spell of the Grumbly Grumpies.¬† When Christmas time came and the Princess asked if the castle could be decorated with lights and glitter, the Prince said “BAH!!!¬† Humbug!¬† Why spend hours putting up silly lights that will just have to be taken down again when the Holidays are over?!”¬† Even a bat of the beautiful Princess” eyes couldn’t sway the Grumbly Grumpy¬† heart of the Prince.

Dark times fell on the land. Evil Orange Overlord took control of the land, and the people were afraid. Up was down, down was up, news was fake, science wasn’t real, and deception and hatred became commonplace. As the darkness spread, Prince Humbug’s heart became ever blacker. The Princess did everything she could for their son the recreate the glorious Christmases of old, and despite the Grumbly Grumpy Prince, they were happy. But the Princess was afraid she would never again have the lights, glitter, and merriment from her youth.

As Christmas approached, Prince Humbug still was under the spell of the Grumbly Grumpies. “Christmas lights??!? BAH!! HUMBUG!!” he shrieked.¬† ¬† “It’s silly!!”, he thought. “It’s a lot of work!”, he thought.¬† But deep within Prince Humbug’s black heart were two shining stars, the stars of his love for the Princess and their beautiful young son. He knew what he had to do.¬† He now knew that the lights, glitter, and merriment may not have mattered to him, but they WOULD make the Princess and their son just a little bit happier. And in a dark world, Prince Humbug decided to do anything he could to make things a little brighter.

The Prince traded some of his gold for some colorful Magic Glitter Twinkles.  While the Princess and their son were away, the Prince placed the Magic Glitter Twinkles about the face of the castle.  After all the wonderful years married to the Princess, he knew exactly what she would like. Straight!! Orderly!! Without a hint of sloppiness!  The Prince carefully arranged the Magic Glitter Twinkles, placing each Glitter Twinkle in a cradle of its own to make sure they were straight.  He then awaited the arrival of the Princess.

The Princess’ face lit up when she arrived back at the castle. “My Grumbly, Grumpy Prince, what have you done?! I had never dreamed of again seeing the lights, glitter, and merriment of my childhood!”.¬† The Princess and their son was happy.¬† “They are so straight!¬† They are so perfect!”, exclaimed the Princess. The Prince knew he couldn’t recreate the exquisite displays from the Princess’ youth, but upon seeing the Princesses’ happy face…he now realized he didn’t HAVE to.¬† The Princess didn’t need the World’s Best Glittery Display.¬† She just wanted a hint of the dreamy Christmases she had as a girl.

And by obliging his beautiful, beloved Princess, Prince Humbug realized that perhaps the world wasn’t QUITE as dark as he had believed.

Castle Lights

It wasn’t the biggest castle in the world. It wasn’t the brightest and most glittery Christmas display. But it was all the Princess needed, and she was happy.

A day of sanity (no, not the science march)

 

3 very nice northern pike, just a perk on a great day with my son.

Today was the Science March, and we actually had a March in Sioux Falls. I didn’t participate. Ever since the election, I’ve been in a funk. Particularly living here in very “red” South Dakota, it’s hard to avoid the conservative mindset, a mindset where greed is good, helping others is bad, and,yes, science isn’t to be trusted. When your career is focused on trying to help people through science, and that involves assessing the impacts of climate change, it’s hard not to let America’s anti-intellectualism get you down. I’ve tried to do what little I can to fight back. I’ve stood up for science. I’ve let my voice be heard. But I just can’t keep letting it dominate my existence. Hence my decision not to march today.

Part of the reason also is based on my continuing battle with Sjogren’s Syndrome. It seems like every time I “solve” one issue, or at least learn to live with some fun symptom, another thing pops up. The dry eyes and resultant vision impact has been addressed with my scleral contact lenses, something that’s saved my career, my sanity, my spirits. But in the last few months the arthritis part of Sjogrens has unfortunately started to make itself known. It’s only minor right now, but I was hoping that part would never show up, because chances are it will just keep progressing. My hands/fingers are already feeling stiff at times, and my knees getting awfully cranky at times too.

As all of this had been going on, I’ve had to do some hard thinking about how I want to cope. The whole feeling-sorry-for-myself thing isn’t a great long term strategy! Neither is the negativity I’ve felt since the election. Put it all together, and today I decided to focus on what’s really important, and that’s not the Science March. It’s my son and family. So today was a wonderful day with my son!

We headed up to Lake Thompson to do some fishing. It’s a place we usually have some luck, but it’s 1 1/2 hours away. Today that drive was actually a blessing. I LOVE that my soon to be 14-year old son still loves hanging out with dad and being goofy. The drive up to the lake was filled with music! ¬†And goofy singing and air guitaring along! ¬†Another thing I love is how he’s taken to some of the music I love, and hence some of the tunes playing included AC/DC, The Beach Boys, Elton John, ELO, and Chicago.

The fishing was great as well! ¬†We were actually trying to catch walleye, until the first big pike attacked my bait. All we had were light poles and 4-lb test line, and we had no steel leaders to protect the thin line from the pike’s sharp teeth. But after that first hit (and break off) we started using a long, thin Rapala crankbait, one where the pike would hit it and get hooked up, but where the line was away from the pike’s mouth. It certainly worked, and with plenty of open water and nothing for line to get caught on, we were able to just let the pike run for a while before bringing them in on the light line.

Scrambling on the rip-rap (rock) along the shore wasn’t fun at times for my increasingly arthritic knees, but the music on the way up, the silly conversations with my son, the excitement and sheer joy of seeing him land some really nice pike…for a while today, I was largely able to forget about the Sjogrens. I was able to forget about the political bullshit going on. I was able to forget that I live in conservative hell with bigoted, greedy people.

In short, I had a wonderful day, focusing on the most important things in life. A day well spent, despite missing the March for Science.

World’s most expensive dog bowl

Our two beloved spaniels, Oscar and Felix, are rather quirky. Given that they were originally found living by themselves in the wild, they were used to trying to find food, shelter, and water in the outdoors. ¬†In the couple of years since we got them, they’ve become truly wonderful, sweet, loving pups, although they’ve maintained several of their original quirks.

The most maddening to deal with…their refusal to drink water if it’s inside the house. One of the two will sometimes drink from a water bowl inside the house, but strongly prefers drinking “outside water”. ¬†The other? ¬†There were a couple of days¬†last fall, after I’d put the birdbath away for the winter, before there was any “delicious” snow to eat for a water source, where Oscar was refusing to eat much. ¬†Even offering some of his most decadent, beloved treats…like some fresh cooked chicken breast…resulted in a turned up nose. ¬†Wondering if the issue might be water, we placed a pan of water outside. ¬†When we let the two outside, Oscar timidly approached the water, and then proceeded to guzzle the entire pan. ¬†We let them back in the house, tried food again with Oscar, and he downed an entire bowl full.

It’s been maddening to try to get them to drink water, but my bird bath outside has always been their preferred drinking source, from the very first day we got them. However, that bird bath recently broke. ¬†The only solution? Replace it with what’s got to be the world’s most expensive dog bowl (video at the bottom)! ¬†I truly love this fountain…it’s from “Henri”, called their “Phoenix” fountain. It’s got a unique, modern style, has a big deep reservoir that holds a lot of water, has a wonderful shallow pan on top that the birds love to bath in, and most importantly, it’s very low and accessible for the pups! ¬†And expensive, and back-breaking solution to get the dogs a reliable drinking water source!

Oscar and Felix - Birdbath

This is from the very first day we got Oscar (left) and Felix (right) from the rescue group. Almost immediately they found the joys of the bird bath, and for the last 3 years, it’s been their primary summer drinking source. Alas, this is the same bird bath that recently broke, requiring a replacement with the NEW world’s most expensive dog bowl.

Pipe Spaniels sing “Hallelujah”!!

We’re bored. ¬†And by “we”, I mean our two pups, Oscar and Felix, and myself. Just as at the house at the moment, and we were feeling a bit musical, so the pups decided to accompany me on the piano. ¬†This time to a little Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.

3 years later – Rescued “Pipe Spaniels”

Oscar and Felix - The Pipe Spaniels

Oscar (at the bowl) and timid Felix, sneaking up to the farmer’s deck for some food that was left out for them. This was the start of the saga of the Pipe Spaniels.

It was three years ago in February when a farmer near Lawrence, Kansas found that two small spaniels were on his property, and using an old auger pipe as shelter. The farmer was¬†worried about the two pups, especially given the snow on the ground and impending heavier snows. ¬†The farmer started to put food and water out on the deck, and while the two spaniels would sneak up to eat, they wouldn’t allow the farmer or his wife to touch them or even approach them. Finally, when the snows were very heavy, the farmer trapped the two pups on the porch. ¬†Thus began the saga of the “Pipe Spaniels”.

The farmer and his wife weren’t “dog people”, but didn’t want to leave the pups on their own. ¬†Below is a letter the farmer wrote to a friend, hoping to find someone that would come and take care of them:

Date: February 2014

Subject: Two spaniels dumped at my farm…..

About two weeks ago, two spaniels were dumped (I think) at my farmstead. Looking on the web, they seem to be King Charles spaniels. (See attached pictures). They set up residence in an old auger pipe near my pole barn. I have been feeding and watering them, and insulated the pipe as best I could. Though they don’t seem afraid, they are quite wary. I have never been able to touch them, pet them, or examine them. I think they might both be females, in that they squat to pee, rather than lift a leg. One may be the parent of the other. The texture of their fur is a little different, one being more puppy-like. They seem inseparable. They had neither collars nor tags.

 

When it started snowing heavily last Tuesday, we trapped them on the deck when they were eating, and I brought them in the house, which they did not like much. We have kept them in the house since then, as their pipe is buried under about a foot of snow, and the depth of the snow at our place is well over their heads. Since then, they have been hiding under my bed, and will seldom come out, except when alone, though they do seem to be taming down a little, but only a little. The older one is more likely to come out, but the younger one is very wary. They have developed a taste for my shoes.

 

I can‚Äôt keep them. My wife and I both travel a lot for our jobs, and my travel season is rapidly approaching. Do you have anyone who could take care of these two until somebody will take them permanently? They seem to be really sweet little dogs, but my wife in not an animal person (to say the least), and these two deserve a permanent home. They might be outside dogs ‚Äď they certainly aren‚Äôt housebroken ‚Äď and don‚Äôt every go to a door to be let out. They would be perfect barn dogs, but my barn is a pole barn ‚Äď open on all sides, providing no real shelter.

 

Any help would be greatly appreciated. At some point, I’ll have to take them to the shelter. I’m working two other avenues of people who are trying to place them, but, so far, not luck. One person is my neighbor, Dawn Barnes. Any relation?

 

Anyway, I’m just spreading the word.  Please help if you can. I would drive these guys somewhere if necessary. They need a home.

Sincerely,

Daniel

Oscar and Felix

Oscar and Felix, the “Pipe Spaniels” soon after they were rescued and were staying with “Suzy”. . At this stage, they’d huddle together in the far end of their enclosure, trying to stay as far away as possible from any human contact.

The dogs found their way to “Suzy”, who worked with them for a few months to try to get them acclimated to people. ¬†It was slow going, as the dogs refused to be touched, refused to let human beings close to them. Slowly, Suzy got them to trust her, to the point where they’d start to let her touch them and pet them. ¬†During this time, a group interested in spaniel rescue became aware of the two pups, who were quickly dubbed “The Pipe Spaniels”. ¬†Given their story, and given their lack of trust in human beings, the group became very emotionally invested in the outcome of the two pups. ¬†Suzy decided the best way to continue rehabilitating the dogs was to find their forever home, someone who could bond with them and continue to work with them.

Suzy responded to an inquiry from a family 300 miles away, in South Dakota. ¬†After vetting the family, Suzy believed the right fit for the Pipe Spaniels had been found. Free of any cost and on her own time, Suzy drove the two pups up to their new forever home, in July of 2014. ¬†The small family, with a mother, father, and young son, had recently lost their precious “Cooper”, a Cocker Spaniel that was also a rescue dog and who lived a long, happy life with the family. ¬†The Pipe Spaniels seemed like a wonderful fit, a chance fill the void in the home that had existed since Cooper passed, and a chance to provide two lost souls with a lifetime of love. ¬†Suzy was very emotionally invested in the two little spaniels, but did the hardest thing any rescue person ever has to do…leave the two with their forever family. ¬†Many tears were shed as Suzy left the dogs and drove home, and so began the new life for the Pipe Spaniels.

If you haven’t figured it out, these two wonderful, sweet, perfect little souls became “Oscar” and “Felix”, our two little love bugs who have enriched our lives so much over the last 3 years. Until today, I’d never seen the photo above. ¬†Until today, I’d never seen the original email the farmer sent, looking for someone to rescue the two dogs. ¬†Oscar and Felix were clearly quite young when they were found by the farmer, and we’ve started celebrating their “birthdays” right around Valentine’s Day, near the anniversary of when the farmer found them. We believe they were 1 year old or perhaps less when found, which means Oscar and Felix are now celebrating their 4th birthday, with the last 30 months of their lives spent with us.

Felix

Felix, lounging on the couch. Yeah…I think it’s safe to say that this once incredibly scared, shy pup is now feeling pretty comfortable around the Sohl household.

It’s been a challenge, particularly during the first several months! ¬†At first, the two were curious, but incredibly shy and jumpy. ¬†They’d prefer to sleep under or behind a chair, somewhere they felt “safe”. ¬†They started to tolerate our presence and touch, but were clearly nervous and shy. ¬†Slowly, in LARGE part to the wonderful, tender love of our young son, Oscar and Felix began to break out of their shell. ¬†It started with them trusting us enough to nap or even play out in the open, away from the protective cover of a chair or table. ¬†It progressed to sleeping or napping next to us, or even on top of us! ¬†There were struggles along the way, such as trying to teach them to walk on a leash, or learning to tolerate visitors in the house.¬†But they continued to progress.

Three years after the Kansas farmer found them, Oscar and Felix are happy, healthy, and loved as any pair of dogs have ever been loved. ¬†It’s been an unlikely set of circumstances that led to their arrival in snowy South Dakota, but we’ve been blessed with two of the sweetest, kindest, gentlest souls on the face of the earth. ¬†Happy birthday to Oscar and Felix…the Pipe Spaniels!!

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