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Spring fever

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Simon

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« on: June 05, 2007, 20:28 PM »
Just a few weeks ago the blessed rains gave an almost psychedelic intensity to the array of greens of the woods and meadows around the village. Now, as the wettest spring I can remember continues to its fruition, this sense of unreality continues as the trees, full to bursting already with new leaves, begin to flower giving their outline an odd distinctiveness; individual trees appearing clearly separate from one another like a photomontage. But as in any trip there’s price to pay in the come-down.  It’s one of life’s little ironies that while tens of thousands of nature lovers are confined to their lives in the cities I find myself effectively grounded a whole month in what is for me a hellish torment of pollination. As a hay fever sufferer of epic proportions, heaven for me in some dank archive, in preference deep underground where the air hasn’t changed for five-hundred years or so. Cathedral crypts are good. The vaults of Tarragona’s Roman remains are even better. And the palaeo-Christian font in Barcelona’s city museum, which is actually deep beneath its cathedral crypt, hidden among the foundations of the Roman temple, must be fantastic!
But no, while my wife enjoys herself decorating our tiny city centre flat (well, she can write her opinion on the Forum too if she likes – that’s the double sided nature of empowerment!) I’m stuck in the country babysitting our two huskies, with whose care we are cursed, blessed! While it’s an urban myth that huskies are really tame wolves it is true that they are not as other dogs. Their legendary stoicism, which originates in having to sit out the long Siberian winter storms, makes them remarkably well adapted to domestic life for such large animals. Everything has a price, however, and they can’t lie around with their noses stuck up their bums forever. So every morning, between the pre-dawn sneeze-burst  and the photophobic hell of sunrise itself I just have to steel myself, don my wraparound pilot’s shades, stuff my pockets with rags and take the plunge after the pack as they disappear into the waist high grasses of the flower laden meadows.
[/right]The poppies are just about finished and look rather jaded as are the daisies and other, shorter species. Now the big boys are out, a clump of foxgloves taller than me begin to display their flowers, one example in a wicked dark scarlet that really belongs in a Barcelona bordello rather than on the edge of a millennial olive grove. If following the dogs through the meadow was tough, ducking under the boughs of flowering olive trees is the ultimate torment. I suppose I’ve grown out of fairy tales of malevolent trees stealing the souls of children but I swear these olives were laughing at me as I just have to sit down and suffer. The dogs do their best to help, returning from their yomp and licking me all over. There’s no such thing as a loyal husky – it’s nearly breakfast time that’s all – and I count myself lucky to still be nominally in charge after a few close calls with the wildlife.
As a dog owner, driving nature before you comes with the territory, and in any event sighting mammals in the wild is a special treat in itself. But what amazes is how often we do encounter wild animals and, thankfully, how apathetic the dogs are to some of them. To their complete indifference we pass signs of fresh boar diggings almost daily and not too infrequently see whole families at the far side of a meadow slinking off into the undergrowth – which is just about right by me. After all, boars are about the only really dangerous animals in Europe, and I’ve seen the results of their handiwork on hapless dogs. But two close encounters are remarkable: one evening, standing in a field of storm broken wheat with the doggies, on long leads, snuffling around and generally chilling down for the night, a veritable hare leaps out almost from beneath my feet and makes off down the lane, clearly visible for about a hundred yards. Fortunately the dogs were obsessed with a hole in the verge frequented by badgers and didn’t see a thing – I wouldn’t fancy my chances hanging on to them without a pickaxe handy to improvise an anchor!
At the weekend, in company at last, we drive to the far side of the Conca de Tremp where olives are scarce and do one of our favourite easy walks around the Munt de Conques. (for locations, see the brilliant on-line maps of the Catalan Cartographic Institute: www.icc.cat/vissir/ ) As Streak does one of his four legged air attacks on a possibly imaginary lizard (he’s city born and bred and has only just discovered this pleasure) and Lucky gets into an obsessive sniff under a sage bush, a vixen pops out of the bushes onto the lane about fifteen yards ahead of Lucky and me, and only about ten ahead of Polly and Streak. There’s an odd moment of suspended time as the other three, completely oblivious of her presence, continue moving while the vixen and I both freeze and assess the situation. Everyone who’s seen a fox notes how cat-like their movements are, but any feline would arch his back, turn broadside-on and prepare to spit it out before fleeing. Faced with the combined glare of Lucky and Streak working as a pack (they do have some wolf like qualities), I’ve seen sensible dogs walk backwards very slowly to a safe distance before making off. Not so the vixen, after a moment’s thought she turns and retires into the undergrowth, whence she came. But it was the manner of the turning that struck me: it was more a morphological than a muscular movement, as if her entire body retreated back on itself without occupying more air space. Her back paws certainly didn’t move a step, nor did her brush sweep our behind as the turn was completed, like a dog’s would. Rather, it continued the same prehensile curl as the vixen’s spine had done. Stealth indeed; having given her a minute’s head start – confident that that would be ample – I led the huskies to the spot for a sniff. And? Not the slightest reaction at all!
After that drama we picnic at the hermit’s chapel of Mare de Deu de Les Espluges near the summit called the Tossal de la Cassola. The whole hill is really a mere tump compared to the surrounding sierras: the Montsec shuts off the whole southern aspect, Sant Gervaise stretches away in the distance to the north west and the pink cliffs of Boumort peek out between chinks in Sant Cornelli and the Sierra de Carreu above Abella de la Conca, hiding the peaks of the high Pyrenees which are still capped with snow after recent storms. Despite all this the walk has an air of the English countryside in summer. The South Downs Way in Sussex has that same quality of overlooking green meadows and villages dotted among patches of woodland. The occasional farmyard clatter, a car door slamming, dogs barking, making the isolation, so ephemeral, so much more affecting. We wind up with a visit to the spring fed lakes or rather meres, the Estanys de Basturs, where sense of Englishness is completed by the unusual presence of tall trees. The lakes and the surrounding wetlands have been ‘developed’ as a site of special natural interest due to the rarity of their habitat in this otherwise arid region. A small car park with information boards give access to a beaten trail that leads through and around the woods to the Estanys themselves. Countless frogs fall silent at our approach and a heron rises from the mere, invisible beyond its broad fringe of reeds. Returning to the car, Streak does his new leap into the shrubbery. This time there’s no lizard, real or imagined. He emerges triumphant, an entire, untouched and evidently fresh bocadillo de jamon in his mouth.

Offline Technopat

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« Reply #1 on: June 05, 2007, 22:25 PM »
Greetings Simon,
Thanx for your snapshot of spring and the map link.
From my Madrid vantage point, I will skip over the various pros and cons of a partner who is willing to decorate the nest while one repairs to the country to sport with the dogs  :-X . Likewise, the sunrise. Likewise, the ironies of life, in general. While I'm at it, will also overlook the more-than-passing ref. to the South Downs (where I spent just about every weekend of my youth - p. ref. only).
The reason for such magnanimity is that I'm fascinated by Lucky and Streak not being in the slightest interested in wild boar or foxes. Could it be that their Siberian genes - and corresponding receptors in the nostrils - are not in tune with local, Ib. Pen., nature? Or more especifically, to bichos they have not been trained to avoid or snarf? Apparently, certain insects only see the colours of the plants they pollinate, so maybe certain mammals only smell what they have been programmed to smell. On the other hand, maybe extreme temperatures make sniffing less of a need for huskies than for other dogs. So how sensitive are they odours in general?

Oh, well, rambling on as usual (while you're out rambling and sneezing, some of us just have ramblin' on our minds).

Regs.
Technopat
Technopat's disclaimer: If this posting seems over the top and/or gets your goat (Sp. anyone?), please accept my apologies and don't take it personally - it's just my instinctive tendency to put my foot in it whenever/wherever possible. See also:
http://www.iberianatureforum.com/index.php/topic,266

Simon

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« Reply #2 on: June 06, 2007, 10:15 AM »
Thanx Technopat for you comments.

The huskies are just as olfactorily active as any other dogs, more so if anything. So I think it’s a case of nurture over nature: Lucky was born and raised in the village (hence the name, I won’t go into what happened to her siblings! Streak is so named because of a streak of white fur stretching from the top of his head to his shoulders, the ‘lucky streak’ bit didn’t occur to us until later. All of our Spanish friends think they were named after Lucky Strike cigarettes!) So I think Lucky simply takes wild boar snarf for granted as she evidently smells code for ‘big, inedible animal’ and doesn’t waste time on it. In addition, several of our neighbours adopt baby boars and keep them until they reach adulthood, our shepherdess even takes hers out goat herding with her! So Lucks might have become accustomed to the smell via that route.

 On the other hand, we have reason to believe that Streak was brought up exclusively in a city apartment and only went outdoors briefly to do his ‘business’. When we adopted him from the rescue centre he couldn’t even understand a staircase! So he’s learned all he knows from Lucky’s example and in the smell department he simply does what she does, hence he’s only just learned about lizards after three years! In fact as far as I know he hasn’t yet tried to eat a wriggling jettisoned tail – a lesson never necessary to repeat. They must taste absolutely awful given what dogs do eat!

The big difference between huskies and ordinary mutts is that that at heart they are still feral, like cats, and can, and sadly do, return to the wild at the slightest whim. The theory is that while dogs, who descended from the wild dogs of east Africa, took up with homo sapiens it was a one way trip, so although you do get natural feral dogs species like the aforementioned and Australian dingoes, you don’t see domestic dogs forming breeding groups and surviving completely independently of humans, they just carry on existing as strays, otherwise Europe would be teeming with them! Huskies, which indeed are related to northern wolves, do exist in a completely feral state around the Arctic Circle, as Siberians, and Alaskan Malamutes (there are also variants in China and Japan). The key is that they only hang around tribes of homo sapiens when it suits them, i.e. in the severe winters and even then only if said tribes happen to be around. As soon as something more interesting comes along, like the springtime, they are off! For this reason the former soviet states rather teem with ‘Leicas’ and you will often see Russian or Ukranian immigrants in Spain shrinking away from huskies as back home they are considered dangerous.

Hence the characteristics of huskies, well know to all us ‘owners’: they have no real loyalty to either people or places, they are very amenable and amiable around the house and, like any polite guest, are always willing to help with the chores, especially hauling the trash and clearing up the leftovers! They also form packs or killing groups very readily. The behaviour of these groups is quite different to the family life of the group, with its hierarchical structure. When they are in hunting mode a different ‘leader’ takes charge. In contrast to the ‘family’ group this leader is often a male, which are much larger than the females (up to 25% heavier), so presumably there is a specialised ‘killer’ in the pack for hunting large animals (the ‘prey’ role falls to me when out ‘playing’!!!). It’s my belief that they use their distinctive facial features to identify each other during an attack. This idea of the ‘lead dog’ is used as the basis of husky sled pulling teams. The teamwork when they are in hunting mode is really quite splendid, although rather alarming to see and, as I mentioned in the diary, ordinary dogs often recognise this and won’t approach a functioning ‘pack’!

I also understand that huskies are terrified of wolves, so you don’t see much interbreeding, whereas specialised ‘dog’ dogs, like mastiffs, will guard people and livestock to the point of death. I’ve heard that ‘dogs’ are known to interbreed with wolves, but I’m not sure if this isn’t an urban, or rather rural, myth. On a final olfactory note: whereas Ol’ Streaky is a nincompoop in the country, that mutt could smell out a discarded bocadillo on the surface of the moon! So you may imagine, Techno, that we rarely do walkies in the city around five pm Monday – Friday!

On a final matrimonial note: just don’t ask about the jobs that I get delegated to do – you really wouldn’t want a dog’s sense of smell in the places I often find myself! :P

Woof woof

Simon



Offline lucy

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« Reply #3 on: June 06, 2007, 22:36 PM »
Hi Simon, I used to find it unsettling how fashionable huskies suddenly became in Spain, or at least in Catalunya.  The fashion seems to have died away – where have they all gone, I wonder.  How do they cope with the climate here? Can they adapt to the heat?  When staying once in a casa rural in Leon, whenever we set off for a long walk, the house dogs – a mixed bunch, including a huskie – used to accompany us, and the huskie would flop down in any water he found.  The shallowest puddle would be taken advantage of, and the weather wasn’t even especially hot.  Then, if we tried to lie down, he’d try and hug us, completely soaked and muddy.  As you say, his allegiance lay where it suited him.  Since his owners were too busy working to go on excursions, he decided we were more fun.  The day we were leaving, he had to be locked up, or he’d have galloped after us on our bikes.  We could hear him howling as we pulled away. 

About wolves and dogs - stopping in an isolated rural bar in Asturias once, there was a large, stately alsation type dog who ignored our offer of a piece of chocolate.  The owner said, quite matter of factly, that the dog was too noble for chocolate, being half wolf.  The dog’s offspring snaffled it up, however, as it was apparently a mere 25% wolf!

I suppose the village boars get eaten when they grow up?



Offline Technopat

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« Reply #4 on: June 07, 2007, 01:46 AM »
Greetings Simon and Lucy and All,

Maybe someone braver than I/me (as you all know, the tolerance level of the powers-that-b. has reached an all-time low :-X) could set up a thread on Iberianatural behaviour (well, we have one on Natural Selection) and use it as an observatory on the spiritual/light-hearted side of life, a sort of day-to-day account of the anecdotes of everyday animal/plant behaviour as we observe it here on the Ib. Pen. - including mother-in-law stories/gripes, etc.

Meanwhile, re. husky fads in Spain, one of my umpteen brothers-in-l. (village in Toledo - scorching summers) appeared one summer, fifteen years ago, with a beautiful blue-eyed husky he'd bought for a small fortune. The poor creature was literally unable to go outdoors during the day and was last seen, 1 month later, jumping into the back of a very expensive BMW which had disappeared into the distance before anyone was able to get the number.

As for Streak's staircase problem, I knew a guide dog who was terrified of going down stairs and had to be led by his blind owner (same dog was unable to prevent owner from falling into two separate zanjas and breaking her wrist the first time and her collarbone the second time.)

Regs.
Technopat (veggie-cat owner)
Technopat's disclaimer: If this posting seems over the top and/or gets your goat (Sp. anyone?), please accept my apologies and don't take it personally - it's just my instinctive tendency to put my foot in it whenever/wherever possible. See also:
http://www.iberianatureforum.com/index.php/topic,266

Simon

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« Reply #5 on: June 07, 2007, 06:07 AM »
Hi all, and especially Lucy and Techno,

We too were appalled by the 'fad' for huskies, which does indeed seem to be over. The lucky ones ended up with people like us or perhaps the various semi-professional racing teams. But most, I fear, are lying on the roadsides decomposing. There are, however, various specialised husky rescue organisations (see www.siberianrescue.org), which emphasise the dogs’ special requirements of the owners. I once tried to link up with a Spanish husky group but there was something very weird gong on with the administrators; you had to play a silly game in order to enter the site, which I couldn’t do a) because of the browser I was using and b) I just couldn’t! So I gave up on the geeks in the end I’m afraid.

The ‘market’ for huskies seems indeed to have matured, with reputable breeders offering ‘good’ pure breeds for sale with at least a bit on consideration for the dogs’ welfare, unlike the early days. Theft is still a problem however, Lucky’s dad was stolen so she’s the end of the line! Personally, I’m not very keen on all the Kennel Club stuff, only in that it is useful to be able to predict how your new pooch is likely to turn out. Lucky is in fact a bit of a mixture and we only got her as a gift from our neighbours, who’d had the rest of the litter drowned. We got Streak from our local rescue centre and weren’t specifically looking for a husky as such, but you know how it is, those eyes! Back to the ‘trend’ for huskies, we first encountered the rescue centre when we delivered a lost husky to it. This was in about 2001 and at that time they had a whole wing of the cell-block full of huskies. By 2005, when we got Streak, he was the only one, so perhaps things have changed for the better

There’s lots of information sites about them, my favourite is www.sibes.org which is based in Australia. Which brings me onto the subject of heat, the most FAQ of all! In fact one huskies are adapted to the broiling sub-arctic summers too; they have a woolly undercoat which is shed (and how!) during April/May and a deposit of blubber, especially around the neck which I think served as a heat store and insulation of the exposed carotid blood vessels, which are otherwise close to the surface and thus lose heat to the atmosphere, as well as being a nutrition reservoir. The trouble is it takes work to help this seasonal metamorphosis; the ‘wool’ is deep within their hard ‘guard’ coat and they have to be groomed and groomed and groomed! Likewise, like any fatty tissue, the only real way to lose it is to work it off. I suspect that in the wild the huskies will rub their own insulation fur off on trees, etc. and of course they will quickly burn off the fat. Having said that I recognise that they still do suffer when it’s very hot, so we take them out before dawn in summer and don’t let them run free on very hot days. But as they get lots of exercise normally they’re not too fussed about this.

I’m all for the spiritual, light hearted side of life, Techno, I don’t know if it should be relegated to a corner of its own in the Forum though, just kept in proportion. I’m very aware that this post is going away a little from life in the raw, tooth and nail, etc., so lets’ bring it back: the point I was making about the indifference to the fox’ scent was just that; did the fox leave any scent at all? Do they only leave the notorious strong scent by rubbing scent glands, like in marking territory, and, as stealthy hunters, can they avoid doing this?

I’m not sure about the fate of the shepherd’s baby boars when they grow up. But our other neighbour, who gave us Lucky, releases them. He also manages to find he had some ploughing or chain sawing to do whenever the hunters arrive in our village. He’s a bit of a saboteur on the Q.T. in this and many other areas of life. This is a long story in its own right and probably doesn’t belong anywhere near this Forum, as he’s also a dab hand at rescuing people!

By for now, Simon (ex-cat owner!)

Offline lisa

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« Reply #6 on: June 07, 2007, 06:16 AM »
Hi Simon and All,
also on the subject of dogs and wolves:
When our old dog B.B.D. (Big Black Dog, Pyrenean/retreiver cross) was in her prime and out walking high in the hills near the village, she studiously avoided a deer carcass lying near the track. We had recently heard, from our house, wolves howling distantly at nightfall. This from a dog who is not averse to rolling in the smelliest thing she can find ie. fox pooh, dead animals etc. and also bringing home assorted bones and, once, a very young, deceased fawn. Too horrified to identify whether Roe or Red, I like to think it was already dead when she found it as there were no signs of blood. The poor little creature could possibly have died of exhaustion or, more likely, fright however as B. has chased anything mobile in the woods including boar. (Her yelps and sudden returns to us suggest that when standing their ground, boar will be left well alone.)
Simon, are 2 huskies enough to form a pack?
Re. nurture/nature, mountain breeds of dog such as mastiffs/mastines are put to suckle with the sheep/cattle they are going to be protecting from predators such as wolves, so defending to the death what they perceive to be their own.
I also wonder where all the Spanish huskies have gone. We used to see lots on holiday with their fashionable "owners" whereas now they're a rare sight.
To illustrate dogs interbreeding with wolves, here's a (rather sad) photo from loboiberico http://www.loboiberico.com/index.htm
« Last Edit: June 07, 2007, 06:22 AM by lisa »
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Offline lisa

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« Reply #7 on: June 07, 2007, 06:24 AM »
Good morning Simon. Thanks for the info and links. Sorry my pic was first too small and now too big  ::)
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Offline lisa

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« Reply #8 on: June 07, 2007, 06:40 AM »
I've just read Lucky's and Strike's stories from Simon's last link. Simon, maybe you'd like to post it here?
http://www.iberianatureforum.com/index.php/topic,128.0.html
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Offline Technopat

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« Reply #9 on: June 07, 2007, 11:34 AM »
Greetings All,
Simon's weird neighbour certainly deserves a place of his own on the iberianature forum - at the very least as an honorary member of the 'Shroomey Squad. Has he always been so inconsiderate to the poor hunters, or is it the result of years of intense training/indoctrination/ear-bending by the even-weirder guiris next door?

I'm notoriously bad at reading body language - as in end-of-the-tether warning signs emitted by mothers-in-l. and/or would-be muggers, etc. - but I don't reckon the wolfdog Lisa's posted looks all that sad. More of a "Just the one (photo) and then beat it!" sort of look to her/him.

And Lisa's right - I'm off to the Domestic Iberian Fauna board http://www.iberianatureforum.com/index.php/topic,128.0.html

and re. Simon's musings on whether the stealth hunters can turn their scent glands on and off at will over to the fox thread http://www.iberianatureforum.com/index.php/topic,11.0.html .

Regs.
Technopat
Technopat's disclaimer: If this posting seems over the top and/or gets your goat (Sp. anyone?), please accept my apologies and don't take it personally - it's just my instinctive tendency to put my foot in it whenever/wherever possible. See also:
http://www.iberianatureforum.com/index.php/topic,266

Offline lucy

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« Reply #10 on: June 07, 2007, 17:43 PM »
I'm intrigued by Simon's neighbour too.

Simon

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« Reply #11 on: June 08, 2007, 16:27 PM »
Wow, what a lot of issues, questions, interest, et al!!!

I'll have to address all these when I get back home over the weekend. In the meantime, a big thanx!

Ow ow Owwwww!

Simon

Simon

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« Reply #12 on: June 19, 2007, 13:19 PM »
Hello everybody,

I've finally been able to reply as the posts from Lisa, Lucy and Technopat deserve, but I'm putting it up as a new post in the charlas section

Simon
« Last Edit: June 19, 2007, 13:30 PM by Simon »

Simon

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« Reply #13 on: June 29, 2007, 20:06 PM »
Hello all,

This is perhaps the last word (or the first!) on the subject of taming wild boar piglets. It comes from the Dutch writer Alexander Exquemelin’s description of the ‘boucanniers’ of Hispaniola in 1678:

‘The wild swine (sic) can be tamed, as I know from experience. We have caught piglets in te forest, and brought them up on meat. When they were grown up , they used to follow us like dogs. They would run a of us into the trees, and when they met with any wild swine, they would start grunting and squealing, and the hounds rushed up directly. When the wild boar had been killed, the tame pigs would eat the raw flesh like the hounds, and then they would follow us again.’

The Buccaneers of America (translated by Alexis Brown, 1969)

OK, Exquemelin was a Dutchman writing about the lives of French squatters, but the boar were Spanish, being the ‘property’ of the Spanish crown under Carlos II, so the refernce is a bit tenuous here. But what the heck!

Caio for now

Simon