Of Birds and Puppies

by Mark Stash

Animals play a big part in our lives – probably more than we think. According to the ASPCA, “it is estimated that 70 to 80 million dogs and 74 to 96 million cats are owned in the United States. Approximately 37 to 47 percent of all households in the United States have a dog, and 30 to 37 percent have a cat.” And this doesn’t include other animals that can be pets – such as birds, horses, snakes and turtles. The list goes on and on. But even beyond pets, humans clearly have a love affair with all kinds of animals.

For example, bird watching is a popular hobby in the United States. As photo technology continues to improve, the number of people taking pictures of birds is increasing. I have a lot of Facebook and Instagram friends that love taking photos of birds – and many of the images are simply amazing!

In this issue, Jon Ulrich writes about woodpeckers in the Finger Lakes Region (page 72). There are six varieties common to this area, and they are fun birds to watch. The pileated woodpecker is actually quite large, almost as big as a crow. It flits from tree to tree and has an interesting call. And then there is the tiny downy woodpecker. This is the most common woodpecker. You have probably seen one near your bird feeder recently.

We go from pretty songbirds and woodpeckers to an animal that most people think is vile and disgusting. The turkey vulture is a much-maligned bird that serves an extremely important role in the ecosystem. They clean up the carrion that litters roads, woods and fields. They’re like garbage men – essential members of society, taking care of things that most people don’t want to think about. Numerous times I’ve seen them soaring majestically through the sky, sometimes being mistaken for a more regal creature, like a bald eagle. Read more about this amazing bird in Derek Doeffinger’s article on page 24.

Fishermen look forward to the spring, when trout season gets under way. In this issue, we highlight 10 great spots to fish for trout. The article on page 42 is excerpted from J. Michael Kelly’s book “Trout Streams of Central New York.”

Another aquatic animal that doesn’t get much press is the lake sturgeon. It’s native to many waters in New York State, among them Cayuga Lake and the Seneca-Cayuga Canal. Lake Ontario and the Genesee River are also systems in which the prehistoric fish lives. Its status at the moment is threatened, but there is a successful restocking program currently in operation in the Genesee River. Go to John Adamski’s article on page 14 to learn more about this resilient fish.

We are interested in these wild animals, yet we love and cherish our pets. On page 30, Cindy Ruggieri shows us that raising puppies can be for more than pure pleasure. These dogs will assist people with visual impairment. The group Guiding Eyes for the Blind assists trainers in raising dogs that are not only workers, but also loving and gentle companions.

As I  contemplate life in the Finger Lakes on a regular basis, I am reminded, through these articles, that animals play a big part in the lives of many people. I know I will go home tonight and spend a little quality time with my pet.

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