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a belated goodbye

Juniper Grace

Born March 2007. Adopted from the Dearborn Animal Shelter in December 2008 by Julie and Darrin. Loved so very, very much for 14 years. Released from her suffering on January 11, 2023 after a short but rapid decline from pancreatic cancer.

Juniper came to us after the loss of our cat Kady as company for our remaining cat Sophie. She was the first dilute tortie either Julie or Darrin had ever seen, and her coloration reminded them of a juniper berry. Combined with the season of her adoption, “Juniper” seemed like the perfect name. She was also known as Junebug, Junie, The Bug, Panda Cheeks, and, by Julie, as My Beautiful Girl.

From the moment she arrived, Juniper was a curious explorer. In her earlier years she especially enjoyed getting on top of things. We would find her in the basement window wells, on top of bookcases, the freezer, and any high furniture. We even had to tuck boxes on top of the heating duct runs because she’d find a way to get between them and the ceiling rafters. Although she eventually climbed less, she always loved getting in boxes, baskets, bags, or sitting in any small defined space. Any open door, drawer, closet, or cabinet would be entered, explored, and often used as a hiding place. She loved chasing toys and in her youth could leap several feet straight up in the air. Even as a senior, she would run full speed through the house. Every morning, she would race up the stairs and jump onto Julie’s dresser to roll around to get pets and give head bumps, then race downstairs again for breakfast.

For months after she arrived in her forever home, she did not respond to her name or any other attempts to get her attention. Her purr was only perceptible as a subtle vibration when touching her throat. We thought she might be deaf and mute! She did not like to be brushed and was not particularly cuddly and was quite independent. No matter: we loved her bright-eyed curiosity; her goofy, happy antics; her zoomies; and her sweet, playful personality.

She warmed up to Sophie first and they would often share a bed or tower perch or groom each other. It took months before Juniper would sit on the couch or chair with us, or on our laps. After about a year, she not only recognized her name, but loved being brushed, made biscuits galore, and purred loudly.

In 2013 we lost 16-year-old Sophie. It deeply saddened all of us, including Juniper. Within a couple of months we got another cat, Libby, because we thought Juniper was lonely. Juniper and Libby never bonded, but Libby quickly bonded with Darrin, and Juniper became much more attached to Julie. Juniper slept next to Julie’s hip in the same place that Sophie did, eventually preceding her curling up to sleep by making biscuits on Julie’s chest. If Juniper didn’t receive enough cheek rubs, she would reach out and touch Julie’s face with her paw or give her chin a head-butt. The same appeal for affection was followed any time Julie laid on the couch or recliner, or even leaned back in her office chair. Although this made it inconvenient to look at or talk on the phone, type, read, or perform any task seated or prone, who could complain about this kind of devotion?

For over 10 years, Juniper had food allergies, occasional respiratory issues, and a mysterious bladder ailment that required diligent monitoring of her diet and symptoms.  Julie was grateful her retirement coincided with finding the right care routine that helped Juniper thrive, even though mornings required a rather elaborate ritual of specially-prepared treats with medication and supplements and four pieces of wheat grass hand fed one at a time — all before Julie’s morning coffee.

Without Juniper, we no longer have to make sure drawers, doors, and cabinets are closed, or that we do not leave any plant matter unattended. We no longer have boxes and cardboard scratchers strewn throughout the house. We don’t have to create spreadsheets of tummy upsets or bladder problems or food ingredients, or drive all over three counties to find her special food when it goes out of stock. We don’t have to worry about being home at scheduled feeding or medication times. So, life in many ways is more simple without Juniper.

But while our lives may be more simple, they are much less rich, and we would gladly take on all the bother again to have her back. For Julie, especially, a light has gone out and there is a hole in her heart. Juniper was very special, and we will miss our sweet, funny, inquisitive, affectionate, smart, soft, beautiful girl forever.

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my year in birds: 2022

Not much happening worthwhile in 2022.

  • Total life birds: 1115. An armchair tick with taxonomic changes.
  • Total ABA-area birds: 589. Ditto.
  • Total state birds: 333. No change. Plenty of opportunity, though. Michigan hosted two Limpkins, a Variegated Flycatcher, a Southern Lapwing… but even chasing birds was just not really feasible for us this year.

Home county

  • Total birds, Washtenaw County: 247. Black Tern and Short-billed Dowitcher.
  • Total birds in my home township of Lodi Township: 208. The tern, along with Merlin, and Ross’s Goose.
  • Yard birds: 167. The Merlin, and a flyover Lesser Yellowlegs.

Former work county. Again, I don’t get down there much, but am always looking to add to the county total.

  • Wayne County: 274. Stilt Sandpiper.
  • Total Dearborn birds: 231. No change.
  • Total birds at work: 203. No change.


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the pets of popes

A recent opinion piece by Frank Bruni in the New York Times pointed out the absurdity of the Pope’s recent castigation of childless pet owners: we are selfish and our lack of procreation diminishes our humanity. Whoa.

I am years past any outrage at the Catholic church, especially on the topic of reproduction. However, something did catch my eye: Bruni’s description of the many papal pets, in particular the tidbit that “Pope Pius XII had a pet goldfinch.” A goldfinch in Rome can only be a European Goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis. For about 20 years, I’ve been tracking this species as it has become established in the western Great Lakes. While a pope’s pet bird is hardly relevant to my research and no readily apparent way to work this fact into the paper I’m writing came to mind, I was still curious enough to learn more about this bit of avian trivia.

The Salon article Bruni linked to said Pope Pius XII (we’ll call him PP for short) rescued a female goldfinch, later named Gretel. This story is retold many times in the media, with the most frequent version describing the bird being found with an injured wing by a gardener at the papal summer palace Castel Gandolfo. Typically these stories mention the bird was initially cared for and named (Gretel or Grethel) by a PPs long-time associate, Sister (later Mother) Pascalina/Pasqualina Lehnert.

When PP died in 1958, the New York Times reported that Pasqualina departed Rome with two suitcases and six warblers. However, within a couple of paragraphs the birds were described as canaries and “Gretel, a goldfinch found as a fledgling in the gardens…some years ago.”

A 1967 National Catholic Reporter article provides another version. Rather than being rescued in the gardens, it reports that the goldfinch flopped with a broken wing into the bathroom window where PP was shaving.

The book Pius XII: Hound of Hitler provides still another alternative, that a goldfinch was a gift from a bishop made a cardinal by PP in 1953.

One way or another, it seemed PP did have a pet goldfinch. The plot thickened, however, when viewing the many photos showing the pleasant papal pet ownership.

Here is the most widely distributed photo of PP and a bird. There are a few versions of it, with just slightly different poses or crops. The typewritten caption dates the photo November 1955 (which corresponds with dates when it was published in various newspapers) of Gretel, a bird acquired “18 months ago”. But it describes the bird as a chaffinch.

The same photo in an article by the Catholic News Agency identifies the bird as a canary.

If this Gretel, Gretel was not a goldfinch. While juvenile European Goldfinches are somewhat streaky and lack the red and black head pattern of adults, they still show a bold yellow and black pattern on the wings. Since Gretel is always referred to as a female, it must be from some obviously dimorphic species (another strike against European Goldfinch). This photo is also not a chaffinch or canary (unless one of the unusual duller color mutations). In fact, I’m not entirely sure what this bird is if it is a wild, native species. There are surprisingly few candidates for tiny brown, streaky, Italian songbirds, even if we allow for it being a migrant (having been, if we believe the original photo caption, found in May during migration). My best guess might be a female serin.

Just to add to the mix, here’s a photo of PP holding a bird, described as a bullfinch. I’ve seen a similar photo in color, and can confirm that identification is correct. Nonetheless, the book Soldier of Christ: The Life of Pope Pius XII shows the photo with the caption that it’s a goldfinch, and describes his relationship with Gretel.

To summarize, Pope Pius XII was photographed with a bullfinch, some doves, and the little brownish bird above. He also certainly had canaries, which are often mentioned as his pets, with a personal favorite being named Gretchen. In her memoirs, Pasqualina describes Gretchen as a white canary.

I’ve yet to find a photograph of PP with a goldfinch. In May 1952 (predating both the bishop’s goldfinch gift and the 1957 acquisition of a bird in the garden), the cover of an Italian paper did feature this piece of art of PP shaving and a holding bird — finally, a goldfinch!

The caption begins: “Il cardellino del Papa” — The Pope’s Goldfinch. (The book Shepherd of Souls: A Pictorial Life of Pope Pius XII tells the story of Gretel the goldfinch and reproduces this cover including the caption, and yet right below it the author provides her own caption as “Gretel, the injured canary Pius XIII found in his garden and befriended…”!)

There were apparently no birders or ornithologists in the realm of the Vatican during or after the reign of Pius XII. A fair number of articles and blog posts I’ve read describe PP’s pets as canaries and goldfish — even more taxonomically astray.

So, in conclusion, the Vatican doesn’t know a lot about the birds and the bees, or even just the birds. 

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my year in birds: 2021

Well, here we are, it was 2020 all over again due to the covid-19 pandemic — at least for us. We did not travel, but we did a little birding close to home.

  • Total life birds: 1114. Two armchair ticks with taxonomic changes. There were actually a few losses but more gains, although I confess to no longer remembering what they were.
  • Total ABA-area birds: 587. Same (thus, the lifers were world birds).
  • Total state birds: 333. The most unexpected was a Roseate Spoonbill that appeared at a roadside pond and later a retention basin only a few miles from home. Although we heard about it within an hour or so of someone posting a “what is this?” to social media, there were mobs of people there. We got to see it right from the car, and did get to lean out the window and talk to an old friend. A Neotropic Cormorant in Wayne County was one of several in southeast Michigan this year (one pair attempted to nest in Macomb County). Only slightly less strange, but much less attractive, than the spoonbill. A LeConte’s Sparrow was the final expected pickup.

Home county

  • Total birds, Washtenaw County: 245. The spoonbill, plus a flyover Mississippi Kite from the back porch!
  • Total birds in my home township of Lodi Township: 205. The kite, along with Common Merganser and Sedge Wren.
  • Yard birds: 165. The kite.

Former work county. Again, I don’t get down there much, but am always looking to add to the county total.

  • Wayne County: 273. The cormorant, and Wilson’s Phalarope, which was the first nesting record in the county in many decades.
  • Total Dearborn birds: 231.
  • Total birds at work: 203.
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my year in birds: 2020

Well, here we are, mired in the stay-at-home covid-19 pandemic. I know a lot of people did a lot of local birding in 2020, for lack of travel and other safe activities. I was home, but pre-occupied with other stuff.

  • Total life birds: 1112. Nothing new, although I think the recent split of Mexican Duck may be an armchair tick…I’ll revise next year.
  • Total ABA-area birds: 587. Ditto.
  • Total state birds: 330. Black Vultures have been becoming more and more common in Michigan the last number of years. Finally picked one up in my home home county.

Home county

  • Total birds, Washtenaw County: 243. Black Vulture and yard Northern Saw-whet Owl.
  • Total birds in my home township of Lodi Township: 202. The vulture, the owl, and a Solitary Sandpiper in our wet woods, and a singing Prairie Warbler (which I initially thought was on the soundtrack of a movie on television) in the backyard.
  • Yard birds: 164. The owl, sandpiper, and warbler.

Former work county. I don’t get down there much, but will leave my totals here because I’d certainly add to it if I can. With the awesome flight of winter finches this season, I was really hoping to add Evening Grosbeaks. They seemed to move straight through southern Michigan. While we did get them in the yard a few times and we made 2 trips to Wayne County to look for them, no luck. Maybe on the return flight!

  • Wayne County: 271.
  • Total Dearborn birds: 231.
  • Total birds at work: 203.
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my year in birds: 2019

Well, I did do a little traveling in 2019: to Wisconsin for my sister-in-law’s birthday, and to Montana for spouse’s old friends reunion. I’d been to both states before, so no lifers on these trips. My life bird this year was Whooping Crane, in my home county.

  • Total life birds: 1112
  • Total ABA-area birds: 587. Note this is two more than last year, and I think the bird other than the crane may have been an armchair pickup of a bird added to the ABA list from a split.
  • Total state birds: 329. The crane and Brewer’s Blackbird (also in my home township).

Work county. Alas, now that I have left my long-time job, my former county, city, and workplace lists will likely not grow much, although if something really interesting shows up I might run over there and take a look.

  • Wayne County: 271. For whatever reason, I had somehow missed Common Gallinule in the county.
  • Total Dearborn birds: 231.
  • Total birds at work: 203. The last bird for these 2 categories was a Yellow-crowned Night-heron at work.

Home county.

  • Total birds, Washtenaw County: 241.
  • Total birds in my home township of Lodi Township: 198.
  • Yard birds: 161. Coolest was an Eastern Whip-poor-will that was around for a couple days; it was also a township and county bird for me. Alder Flycatcher was an expected species. Several others were flyovers: Caspian Tern, Trumpeter Swan, and Greater Yellowlegs. The tern was also a township and county bird. Yard list is now 176 species.
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my year in birds: 2018

“Birding” in the sense of really spending time in the field looking for birds has largely fallen by the wayside. My work over the past few years expanded into broader ecological endeavors, heavy on botany and entomology. But in keeping with tradition, here is my catch up post.

  • Some new life birds since the last update: Elegant Tern and Red-breasted Sapsucker (2017 on a visit to California) and Spotted Redshank (2018, in my home county), and Slaty-backed Gull (2018, in my former home county).
  • Total life birds: 1111.
  • Total ABA-area birds: 585.
  • Total state birds: 327.

Work county. Alas, now that I have left my long-time job, my former county, city, and workplace lists will likely not grow much, although if something really interesting shows up I might run over there and take a look.

  • Wayne County: 270. Last two were notable. One was the first confirmed record for the county for Say’s Phoebe, found by my other half at his work place, a big corporate campus, in December. The other was the above-mentioned gull.
  • Total Dearborn birds: 231.
  • Total birds at work: 203. The last bird for these 2 categories was a Yellow-crowned Night-heron at work.

Home county.

  • Total birds, Washtenaw County: 237.
  • Total birds in my home township of Lodi Township: 194.
  • Yard birds: 156; my better half has seen more species, so the yard list is actually 169. After 16 years, our yard list in Dearborn was 138.
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10 years with “the bug”!

Juniper (a.k.a. Juni, June Bug, The Bug, My Beautiful Girl) has been with us for ten years now. At nearly 12 years old, she is still as goofy, sweet, and playful as ever. We lost our beloved Sophie in 2013 and it was devastating for all of us, including Juniper. She was clearly depressed for some time, and when she finally came out of it, her personality was much more affectionate, and she became much more attached to me. Thus, she spends more time in my lap than ever before (and she sleeps in exactly the same place beside me as Sophie used to), but still gets the wild zoomies on a regular basis. We now also have another cat, Liberty (Libby). More on her another time, as this is Juniper’s special day!

We love you June Bug!


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still with me?

Did you think I had just given up, abandoning bootstrap to the graveyard of dead blogs?

The last few years have been a crush of winding down my university job, taking an offered premature retirement, and transitioning to more freelance work and more free time (in theory, at least). Although I have kept several of the outlets for my previous gig functioning, I’m going to rechannel my continued research output and outreach to other venues, including right here. I’m not sure if I will ever get back to the level of productivity of personal essays here that I used to, but we’ll see what happens.

You haven’t heard the last of me yet.

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my year in birds: 2014

My traditional compilation, after the second full year in my new home and home township.

Once again, due to many (expensive) house projects, we did not travel.

  • New life birds: None.
  • Total life birds: #1100. No change.
  • Total ABA-area birds: 579. No new species this year.
  • Total state birds: 315. A Western Kingbird showed up a few miles from home. We found out as we arrived home after running a lot of errands, and (to give you an idea of how little I chase birds anymore) I took a nap instead of going to see it with Kingfisher. It hung around, and I saw it the next day.

Work county

  • Wayne County: 265. New species this year was Wild Turkey (finally).
  • Total Dearborn birds: 226, new was Glaucous Gull.
  • Total birds at work: 197, that Glaucous Gull was there.

Home county– as I’m catching up here, I won’t start annotating these lists for a year or so.

  • Total birds, Washtenaw County: 217
  • Total birds in my home township of Lodi Township: 164
  • Yard birds: 141; my better half has seen more species, so the yard list is actually 156. After 16 years, our yard list in Dearborn was 138.
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