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Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif., Gary Bogue Column: Gary Bogue: Hey, Do We Have Penguins Around Here?

June 25, 2008

By Gary Bogue, Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif.

Jun. 25–a late bloomer

in the heat of summer

one purple iris

— haiku by Nona Mock Wyman, Walnut Creek

Dear Gary:

My husband and I were walking on a beach up by Stinson/Bolinas and we saw what truly looked like a small penguin!

It had black webbed feet. The usual black face and back with “wings.” But its chest down to his feet was snow white. Its bill was black and more pointy than the so-called African penguin. It also looked clean-cut with its white, WHITE, and its black, BLACK.

My husband and I couldn’t believe it, so he moved closer and it waddled away when he got within 3 or 4 feet of it. It never tried to fly or do that “running/flying” maneuver most seabirds do.

What on earth did we see? Are there any natural sea birds that look THAT close to a penguin up by the Marin Bird Sanctuary?

Kathleen Downey,

cyberspace

Dear Kathleen:

“Look at the penguins!”

I said that in 1971 when I was curator of the Lindsay Wildlife Museum. There was a big oil spill in the Bay and we’d just received some oiled birds to clean. That was my first introduction to the common murre (Uria aalge).

As you saw, common murres look a LOT like penguins, but they’re not even related to them. They are pelagic seabirds that spend 8-9 months out of the year at sea, using their wings and feet to dive up to 200 feet deep after fish. Because they’re in the water so much, murres are very vulnerable to oil spills

and getting caught (and drowning!) in fishing nets.

The rest of the time they breed and nest in huge colonies on land (around here at Point Reyes National Seashore and just off the coast on the Farallon Islands).

Murres can’t do that “running/flying” seabird thing on land. Their torpedo shapes with feet at the back ends of their bodies makes them beautifully designed for zipping around through the water after fish, but clumsy on land.

That’s the bird you saw.

Dear Gary:

We are owned by a 15-year-old female calico cat.

Several months ago she started making the most awful yowling noises after coming back into the house through the cat door. I think it started around the time my husband found a raccoon in the kitchen, happily munching on her food.

She will sometimes do this in the wee small hours, and it seems to be getting more frequent. Often the only way to quiet her is to give her some food or cat treats (are we reinforcing bad behavior?), or to pick her up.

Carol, sleepless in Oakley

Dear Carol:

There are a lot of reasons that might cause an older cat to start yowling in the middle of the night.

Just to name a few: Going deaf, going blind, becoming senile, anxiety, disoriented, confused, neurological problems, pain.

So the first thing you need to do is to take your kitty for a checkup with her veterinarian to make sure there isn’t a medical reason behind all this noisy nocturnal activity. If it is a medical problem (bad vision or hearing, senility, pain), then you and the vet can deal with it accordingly. If it’s a behavior problem, then you have to deal with it.

If it’s not a medical problem, your cat may just have found out that yowling gets her what she wants — food, attention, etc. So you might want to give her that food and attention just before everyone goes to bed and before she starts making all that noise. Play with her and exercise her just before bedtime to tire her out so she’ll be more inclined to sleep through the night.

And don’t reinforce her yowling with rewards. Try earplugs — for yourself — until she figures out it isn’t working and shuts up.

Find more Gary in his blog at www.ibabuzz.com/garybogue or write Gary, P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596-8099; old columns at ContraCostaTimes.com, click on Columns; e-mail garybug@infionline.net.

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