North on the Skyline Drive – March 25, 2017

We both had plenty of things to do at home, but given a very warm, overcast Saturday–and with rain in the forecast for Sunday–we decided to go somewhere.  A return trip to Westmoreland State Park or Smith Mountain Lake weren’t totally off the table at first, but finally we decided to drive out Rt. 810, get on Rt. 33 West, and go up the mountain to the Skyline Drive.

This plan almost worked, but about 10 miles into the trip on Rt. 810, we saw a sign announcing that the road was closed.  Really?  Okay, fine.  We backtracked, took some alternate routes, and still saw interesting things along the way.

The Skyline Drive runs for 105 miles (north/south) in Shenandoah National Park along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We got on the Drive at Swift Run Gap, and we were surprised by the amount of cars getting on at this entrance.  Fortunately, there wasn’t a lot of traffic, but many of the overlooks and hiking areas were quite busy.  What can we say?  It’s nice that people enjoy these spectacular views!

  

When we got to Big Meadows, we checked out the campground.  There were a lot of tents and a fair amounts of trailers and RVs, with more coming in while we were there.  I think this was the opening weekend for Big Meadows, but other campgrounds along the Drive are still closed.

THIS site in the campground was rather interesting…. It appeared to be right on the edge of a steep drop-off, so I sure hope that campers use their flashlights or lanterns when they’re stoking the campfire or going to their picnic table!

We went to the visitor’s center, and as we were walking around outside, I kept hearing a Bluebird.  I was finally able to spot it in a distant tree and get a half-decent picture.

After leaving Big Meadows, we continued north on the Skyline Drive, stopping frequently to take pictures.  The first picture below is the west side of Old Rag Mountain, and the second picture is of Crescent Rock.

  

At the Crescent Rock overlook:

  

Because the Skyline Drive is on the very top of a mountain, there are views to the west of the Shenandoah Valley, as well as to the east.  Both directions offer nice views.

 

There’s a short tunnel a little further north, as well as an overlook.  It was a nice spot to pause for a bit and count our blessings.

  

At Thornton Gap, we turned off the Skyline Drive and headed towards Sperryville.  If you get dizzy easily, you might not want to watch this video! 🙂

As we approached the town of Sperryville, we saw a “LOVE” trailer, and then a gift shop offering quilts.

  

A quilt outlet?  I wasn’t sure what that meant, so we stopped to check it out.  The prices were very, very reasonable, but I guess I was expecting locally made quilts and accessories.  Some were really quite pretty, but as a “sewist,” it was kind of disheartening to realize that there’s no way I could make/sell a quilt or quilted purse for the prices I saw on the ones offered in the shop.  Since I’d have that much just in materials, I’m not sure who makes their products, which are advertised as handmade.  After we left, though, I was kind of sorry that I didn’t buy one of the purses I liked in the shop.  Oh well, maybe NEXT trip! 🙂

After passing through the town of Sperryville, we drove towards Madison, VA on Rt. 231.  To our surprise, we were treated to views of the east side of Old Rag Mountain.  We’d seen the west side from the Skyline Drive.

  

We thoroughly enjoy our drives through the rural Virginia countryside, and we hope that you enjoy our travel adventures, too. 🙂

Interactive Trip Map:

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Riley: September 2001 – March 21, 2017

The loss of a beloved fur-child always hurts.  Sometimes it hurts like hell.  And sometimes it hurts so much that it brings you to your knees and breaks your heart….

Riley was a survivor.

When he was a kitten, he survived being lost–up a tree in a rainstorm.  My friend, Kim, rescued him from the tree, and took him home to foster.  I truly did not *need* another cat–I had three–but after I met him, I knew that he would be coming home with me.  Sweet-natured, energetic, and smart as a whip, Riley was my first boy kitty, and what a boy he was!

I wondered how he would adjust to my household, with its three other cats and two dogs, but I didn’t need to worry.

He was patient and gentle (well, most of the time…) with my ancient Siamese, Cica (who died in April 2002 at the age of 20)….

…he let himself be mothered by Cirrus…

…and he got along great with my dogs!

  

He was still young and rambunctious, however, and I never quite knew where I’d find him.  The top of my closet door was always a possibility….  For a while during his youth, I’m sure he thought his full name was, “Dammit, Riley!”

About 5 months after adopting Riley, I found “The Three Meezeketeers,” Kian, Kai, and Aja. (Their story is on my website: “The Quest for a Kitten”)  Once again–after some initial hissing and sniffing–Riley was adaptable and sweet-natured, and he soon adored the babies!

His favorite kitten, however, was the little sealpoint female, Aja, and this mutual love affair between Aja and Riley continued throughout his life….

  

We added another kitten, Niko, in 2003, and again Riley was gracious and welcoming….

When Niko was about a year old, however, he developed a serious condition known as “stomatitis.”  Feline stomatitis is an incredibly painful inflammation of a cat’s mouth, gums, and throat. While the cause of this disease is not fully known, one thought is that cats contract this through the spread of a virus.  Is that what happened here?  I may never know….

One of the last-ditch efforts for the treatment of stomatitis–as radical as it sounds–is the removal of a cat’s teeth. Niko had full-mouth dental extractions in 2006, and he adjusted pretty well.  Riley had three separate dental surgeries beginning in 2010 to try to combat the disease–but there were complications….

As a result of not being able to eat due to the stomatitis, Riley developed feline hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease) in 2010.  A total of 4 separate surgeries to insert (or re-insert…) feeding tubes kept him alive during this time.

And then, due to long-term steroid use (for the stomatitis) which damaged his pancreas, Riley became diabetic.  When he developed diabetic ketoacidosis–yet another life-threatening illness–I essentially brought him home from the vet’s to die.  Simply put, I was out of money for further treatments, and I was also unwilling to put this brave, beautiful cat through anything further.  I couldn’t make the decision to euthanize just then, but I also knew I wouldn’t let him suffer if the end did not come quickly or easily….

When the vet called the next day, inquiring in somber tones about Riley, I said he’d just run up the stairs and he was asking for food.  There was a long pause on the other end of the phone line, and the young vet said, “That shouldn’t be happening….”  I guess Riley didn’t know that! With diet changes, and with the support of insulin injections 2x a day for about 6 months, his blood glucose levels stabilized and he was no longer diabetic. Once more he’d survived, against all odds.

In the Fall of 2016, Riley started having more health issues.  A vet visit in October (with minimal diagnostic testing, at my request), was inconclusive.  At that point, my goal shifted to monitoring his quality of life, and keeping him as happy and as comfortable as possible, for as long as possible.  By January 2017, he was having good days and bad moments….

During some of the bad moments–times when I thought for sure I was losing him–I would have sent him on his way to the “Rainbow Bridge” right then if I’d had the means (or a resident vet!) to do so.  I’d sit on the floor beside him and I’d tell him it was okay to go. I’d ask both of my parents to watch for him, and I’d tell him that I would always, always love him.

But 15 minutes or so after each “episode,” he would sit up, gather his wits, and walk into the kitchen asking for food.  (Dammit, Riley….) And I would feed him. And he would eat.  Like I’ve said, he was a survivor.

By mid-March, the “episodes” were not happening as frequently, but he was simply slowing down.  As much as I dreaded it, I knew that his time was getting short.

On the evening of March 21, 2017, I knew it was time–actually, truthfully, past time….  And even though I knew, logically, that I needed to free his amazing, strong spirit from his tired and worn out body,  emotionally, in some ways, it felt like a betrayal….

After spending so many years, so much money, so much time, so much energy, and so much love trying to keep this wonderful, old cat alive and in a good place (I’m thankful that he was able to enjoy the too-early, warm Spring days out on the screened porch, which he loved), it seemed so wrong to make the decision to end his life.

He went peacefully, and as he took his last breath, through my tears I told my Mom (who died in 2012) that she was getting herself one hell of a fine cat.  The very best cat.  Ever.

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Feral Update: Some Successes, Some Good News, and Some Mysteries Solved!

I’ve taken a lot of pictures of “my” feral cats since I started this crazy mission in December 2016.  Between images I’ve gotten from my classroom window with a telephoto lens, and images captured by the trail cam that my friend, Tonya, has generously allowed me to borrow, I’ve not only been able to learn the cats’ routines (such as they are), but I’ve also been able to better identify who’s who by their markings from a variety of angles.

A lot has been going on since I last posted about the ferals towards the end of February.  For starters, I became aware of a new cat–most likely a male, given its size–when he (?) showed up on the trail cam on the night of February 28th.

  

I’m not sure if it’s white or a very light orange, but it appears to be a solid color with no noticeable pattern in its coat.  (My co-worker spotted him in a tree one night when she was picking up the food bowl, and she said he was huge.  Her first thought was “white jaguar.” 😉 )

On March 2nd, White-Calico #2 showed up for breakfast.  She’s one of the “regulars” at the feeding station, and some mornings I’ve seen her waiting for me at a distance when I drive up to bring the food.

  

In addition to the cats, however, other critters show up, too.  Even if the food bowl has been picked up (which we try to do each evening, but can’t always do due to schedule conflicts), they can usually find something in one of the dumpsters.

  

On March 4th, a Saturday, I got another look at the large male with the injury behind his left ear.  I was very glad to see him eating, and I knew I would have to figure out a way to trap him as soon as possible….

  

Things were then completely quiet until later in the day when White-Calico #1 came for food.  I consider her another “regular,” and I’ve seen her at all times during the day.

The long-haired kitty with the poofy tail that I’d seen on the trail cam previously showed up a little after 6 pm on March 4th. I’ve never seen her in “real” time, but I guess her tail is just made this way!

Late that evening, the light-colored male (pretty darned sure it’s a male now) came to the feeding station.  I hadn’t seen him for several days, but of course I know that these cats have other food sources.  No idea where they are when I don’t see them…

With our school on Spring Break–and after the trash service emptied the dumpsters on Monday, March 6th–I knew that the cats who rely on the food from our dining hall would be getting hungry.  I set out the traps during the afternoon of March 8th–and I waited….

I was delighted to see the white and orange male, but he showed absolutely no interest in the food in the traps.  At one point, he had the audacity to lie down and bathe near the traps, and all I could do was watch in frustration!

But finally, finally around 6:15, he walked towards a trap and followed the trail of food to the trip plate.  TRAPPED!

  

Because it was so late in the day–and the SPCA was closed–I had to keep him confined over night.  He was SO scared and SO bewildered, but I shut him in a secure area, covered up the trap and wished him all the best….

The next morning, March 9th, I got him to the SPCA when they opened.  I told the intake crew that I was pretty sure he was Sienna’s father, and based on his markings, they said that was likely.

Remember Sienna, the cute little fuzzball I trapped in January?

  

She’s a proper young lady now, socialized, spayed, and recently adopted!  In other good news, I learned that all four kittens from the first trapping in December have been adopted, too.  This makes my heart happy. 🙂

After leaving the SPCA, I went back to school and set up the traps again, hoping to catch one of the other “new” kitties.  Sadly, I caught no one, and the only cat I saw the whole afternoon was the orange and white girl.  I was sure she was going to get herself trapped for a third time (sigh), but fortunately that didn’t happen. (I also came close to trapping a young ‘possum, but she ran up a tree when I drove around to pick up the traps after dark.)

Meanwhile, the male at the SPCA was neutered, his wounds were treated, and he was given an injectable antibiotic in addition to a rabies vaccination.  He weighed in at 12 pounds–quite a big boy, especially for a feral!  I didn’t pick him up until mid-morning on Friday, March 10th (due to having traps set up until dark the day before), and I talked to him during the whole drive back.  I recorded this short video when I released him:

After he bolted out of the trap, I watched him slowly make his way down the hill towards the woods.  He stopped to sniff several times (no doubt checking to see what had been going on since he’d been so rudely abducted…) and then he reached what must be his favorite fallen long, sharpened his claws, and streeettttccched.  As I’ve felt with each release, it’s not a safe world, but it’s their world; you do the best you can….

When I put food out for the cats on Saturday, March 11th, I set up the trail cam again, hoping to catch a glimpse of the big TNR boy, just to make sure he was doing okay.  While I didn’t see him, there were other surprises in store for me when I downloaded the pictures off the card on Sunday morning.

White-Calico #1 had visited.  No surprise there.

The orange and white girl had visited, too.  No surprise there, either, but my goodness this cat is so beautiful…..

Saturday night, the long-haired black kitty–trapped in mid January–stopped by.  So nice to see her!

Floofy-Tail also made an appearance just before 8 pm on Saturday evening.  I’m assuming this is a female, but I won’t know until I trap her.  (Or him….)

And then, early on Sunday morning, March 12th, THIS picture showed up on the camera!  Oh, wow–happy tears!  It’s the original “Mama-Cat” that I trapped back in December and hadn’t seen since releasing her!!  With her distinctive face markings, I knew it was Mama, and I confirmed it by comparing it with my other pictures of her.

  

At that point I made the connection… Remember the cat surrounded by raccoons in the feeding station?  It wasn’t a new cat–it was this cat!

  

As a final non-surprise, but something nice thing to see, White-Calico #2 was the last picture on the trail cam before I picked it up on Sunday morning.

What made this special was that all FIVE of my TNR girls were captured on the trail cam in one 24-hour period. 🙂

Obviously, there are still “known” cats to trap–these:

    

Due to too many things going on during this last week of my spring break (impending snow, vets at the SPCA out for a conference, dentist appointment, etc.) I’m not sure when I’ll have the opportunity to try to trap again.  For now, though, I am thankful to know that all of the kittens I’ve trapped have been adopted, and that all of the adult females I’ve trapped are still alive and well.  I am so very appreciative of and thankful for the use of this trail cam.  Thanks again, Tonya! <3

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Rt. 151 South, Piney River & The Blue Ridge Parkway

It had been a while since we’d gone on an adventure, and while we both had tons of things to do, it was a pretty day–not too cold–and so we headed towards Nelson and Amherst Counties.  We didn’t have a specific plan, and sometimes that works out perfectly!

We took back roads to Rt. 151 South in Nelson County, and followed it to the community of Piney River.  As much as we’ve traveled around the state, this is one area we hadn’t visited!  We passed a sign that said something about a trail, so we turned around and went back.

Very pretty trail, indeed!

Unfortunately, we quickly learned that pretty places are not always healthy places…  According to a sign on the trail, a chemical company operated in the Piney River community for 40 years.  While it was good for the local economy, it ultimately caused an environmental disaster.

Chemicals from the company leached into groundwater and into the Piney and Tye Rivers.  The EPA designated it a Superfund Site in 1982, and another company related to American Cyanamid took over cleanup efforts in 1990.  After a decade, these efforts were considered complete, but the area is still monitored and tested.  (We passed “burial mounds” and other “containment” units along the trail behind tall fences–pretty creepy).

Over the years we’ve traveled along many of Virginia’s rivers, and the Piney and Tye Rivers aren’t the only ones that have been contaminated by industrial waste.  Unfortunately, the damage that has been done to rivers–especially before stricter EPA regulations took effect–isn’t something that can be completely reversed.  EVER.

Case in point, these are signs we’ve seen along the Maury and Shenandoah Rivers, as well as along all the James River…

  

  

As we read the signs along the Railway Trail about the Piney and Tye Rivers, we had to wonder.  What will happen if the EPA is, indeed, intentionally gutted for the sake of economic growth under our current political administration?

At any rate, the Piney River seemed to be a good place for one of our “blessing the water” crystals….

  

   

  

After we left the Railway Trail, we continued on Rt. 151 South until we reached Rt. 29 South.  After a short drive on 29, we turned onto Rt. 60 West in Amherst, VA.  Oh my–what wonderful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains!

  

Our plan was to follow Rt. 60 West until it met the Blue Ridge Parkway, just east of the town of Buena Vista.  When we saw signs about a couple of parks, however, we impulsively turned onto Lowesville Road to check them out.

Enroute to the parks, there were beautiful pastures surrounded by mountains.  Rural Amherst County is really quite lovely….

  

  

Our first stop was Stonehouse Lake Park:

  

Funny story to tell about our visit to this park….  We could see a couple of boats out on the water across the lake, but as I was looking toward the left, I caught a flash of something white and blue diving into the water to my right.  What was that?!

A few minutes later, I saw it again, and my first thought was that it was some sort of small bird dropping down to grab a minnow or bug.  But I didn’t see it come back up!

I mentioned it to Wayne, and he said he saw it drop into the water, too, but thought he saw it quickly fly back up.  We were totally puzzled.  What kind of bird would do this?  And if it wasn’t a bird, what was it?  Was something falling (at an angle) from a tree into the water?

We finally (and I do mean finally) noticed that there was a fisherman up on the bank behind the trees, casting his line into the water with its weighted white and blue bobber. Oh, geez…!  No idea if he heard us discussing this “strange phenomenon” or not, but if so I guess he had a (well-deserved) laugh at our expense!  Fortunately, we’re able to laugh at ourselves, too. 🙂

After leaving Stonehouse Lake Park, we went to Thrasher’s Lake Park.  Another man-made lake (along the Buffalo River), it is 36 acres in size, and it was completed in 1977 by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA.  The views here were simply stunning.

As I walked up on the earthen dam, this is what I saw, looking to my left, and then to my right:

  

  

Unfortunately, the wind started picking up while we were at Thrasher’s Lake, which made it pretty darned cold.  Wayne opted to stretch out on the side of the dam in the sunshine, and I put the hood of my sweatshirt up.  Brrr!

  

We left the lake and made our way back to Rt. 60, and then to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  As many times as we’ve driven this road along the crest of the mountain, we never fail to be awed by its beauty….

View in my passenger-side mirror as I was stopped at an overlook:

      

  

As we got closer to the north end of the Parkway, we saw ice on some of the rocks.  Yes, it was definitely getting colder….

  

In the early evening as the sun began to dip behind one of the distant ridges, everything was bathed in a warm, orange light….

  

Such a nice day!

To view an interactive map of our route, click on the link: https://drive.google.com/open?id=16hBIQ8_Amty8SFdNcvv0cVH1oIc&usp=sharing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Familiar Faces + New Cats

Things were quiet (TOO quiet) for a couple of weeks when we had the unseasonably warm, Spring-like temperatures.  I hadn’t seen the white & calico girl at the feeding station for over a week, and the most regular participant–the orange and white girl–hadn’t show up for several days.  My co-worker, who picks up the food bowls most evenings, said that some nights there was food left in the bowls.   That information–combined with reports from members of the maintenance staff who said they’d seen coyotes moving closer and closer to the main campus–left me feeling quite concerned.

To try to find out if the cats were still visiting at all, I set up the trail cam on Friday, February 24th and let it run through Monday morning, February 27th.  When I had a chance to review the pictures on the card, there were some big surprises!

First up was the orange and white kitty.  She apparently noticed the trail cam when she came to the feeding area a little before 5:00 pm on Friday.  I love these pictures of her, and I was so happy to see her!

  

Shortly before dark on Friday, the girls (who are helping with the ferals on the weekends) picked up the food bowl.  A little later, at almost 7:30 pm, an unfamiliar cat showed up on the trail cam.  I’m not sure what’s up with the bottle-brush tail, but I guess something (the flash of the camera?) startled it.  I wish more of its face was in range of the camera, but the mark of white on the back right foot may help to identify it in other pictures.

I was absolutely DELIGHTED to see pictures of the white & calico girl in pictures from next evening, Saturday, February 25th.   She, like the orange and white kitty, intently checked out the trail cam, and this made for some nice “selfies.”

  

As I went through more pictures, however, I realized that THIS white and calico was the first one I trapped, and not the one (white & calico #2) who regularly comes to the feeding station!  Well, whatever–I was very happy to see #1, too!

The food bowls were picked up again before dark on Saturday evening (thanks, girls!), and shortly before 2:00 am on Sunday morning,  there were some totally crazy happenings at the feeding station.  Yikes!!

  

I don’t know who this kitty is….  I thought it was the gray cat I first saw in late January, but the markings don’t seem to match, especially with the dark patch under the throat in the pictures above.  Edited to add that I HAVE seen this cat before–saw it on the trail cam on February 1st:

At any rate, the cat apparently escaped safely, because the next image just showed the raccoons!

About a half hour later, at 2:16 am on Sunday morning, the raccoons were gone, and the camera captured a cat investigating the feeding station.  Is this the same cat as the one with the bottle-brush tail in an earlier picture? Notice the white mark on the back right leg….   I don’t know!!  (BTW, if you click on the picture, you’ll get a much larger view.  Just be sure to click back instead of x-ing out of the picture.)

A little before 9:00 am on Sunday morning, the orange and white girl was back….

  

The next surprise–HUGE surprise!–was an image on the trail cam Sunday afternoon.  I think I know this kitty!  Several weeks ago, my co-worker and I saw this cat and a gray cat down over the hill, some distance from the feeding station and the dumpsters.  My co-worker had said they were being “noisy,” and at the time I wondered if it was possibly two males getting ready to fight.  Well, this is pretty obviously a male, given the big, fat face with the injuries on the left side, and it’s the first time I’ve seen it near the feeding station.

  

On Monday, February 27th, shortly before I got to school, the other white and calico girl (my regular visitor) had her picture taken, too.

  

While I was so relieved to see 3 of the 5 TNR girls over one weekend (the orange and white girl and both white & calicoes) I’m again made aware of the number of cats on campus.  Just because I haven’t been seeing anyone during the school day, they’re still out there, but following a different routine for some reason.

I’m going to set the trail cam out for another day or two to try to get a better idea of who’s visiting and when they’re most often visiting.  I may have to try trapping during the late afternoon over Spring Break, but obviously it will have to be before dark to avoid trapping raccoons….

Posted in Animals & Wildlife, Feral Cats | 2 Comments