Friday, April 15, 2011

"KIWI!!!!" Or Maybe a Woodcock

American Woodcock April 7, 2011 Phippsburg, Maine
This wasn't a rush, because it was  lone woodcock. One is a woodcock, two or more are still woodcock, like deer are still deer.  A group of woodcock is called a "rush," "fall", "flight", "plump," or "cord." Don't let anyone cheat you; a cord of woodcock measures 4 by 4 by eight feet.


Look closely at the back end of this bird. Naughty, naughty, naughty!

      My sainted husband is not a birder, but he does know what makes his little wifey happy - BIRDS!  Though he isn't good at identifying birds, he has developed a pretty good eye for the weird, odd, curious and standouts. That is why he is married to me, after all. He recently called me at home from his cell phone yelling "KIWI! There's a kiwi on Popham Road, come quick!" I didn't ask questions because that would slow me down. I jumped into the car and sped in pursuit. On the way, I pondered, "Kiwi?" What the hell was he talking about?
     The American Woodcock and the kiwi don't even reside on the same continents, so I was pretty sure that he was looking at a woodcock. But, an exciting thing about birding is, as the saying goes, "You just never know!" Distributions of species of birds changes as the environment changes (I'm trying not to say "global warming"), birds get blown around by weather events, and people obtain and release foreign species. So, most anything could be possible and is at least worth consideration. Birding allows every one of us to morph from the tweedy Professor Henry Jones, Jr. into Indiana Jones. That is, if you're willing to drop everything and take off in the pursuit of the living artifacts.
This is me hot on the hunt for the Phippsburg kiwi

      Of course, when I got there, the kiwi was gone. But, I could hear two of them in the woods. Body snatched by the spirit of Indiana Jones, I raced silently through the forest. My heart pounding, with breath quick, I could almost feel the coveted golden idol in my hands! My ancient Temple Of Trees was filled with booby traps entangling my feet. I stepped  unwittingly into a snare and was lurched by my ankles high into the canopy. But! From my boot tops, I grabbed my Bowie knife and cut the line, swinging from the end to the ground. Now, camouflaged in leaves and mud, I continued. "I must retrieve the golden idol before my arch rival, French ornithologist, Michuad Fahaydue!" Twice, I flushed them but was left with a ghostly whirring of wings through the branches. Light failing me, I would have to return to my University in Indiana, to search another day.
   Of course, I went back the very next day. Sure enough, it was an American woodcock. I do understand why my husband thought "kiwi."  The birds are not dissimilar in appearance to the untrained eye, the eye of one whose birding knowledge does not go beyond a can of shoe polish and his wife's undying gratitude for the effort. The kiwi and the woodcock have vaguely similar morphology, but that's where all similarities end.

Kiwis lay the largest eggs relative to body size of all living bird species on earth.

    Kiwis, are from New Zealand and not even remotely related to woodcocks. The kiwi is flightless, while the woodcock is not and the kiwi is endangered. American woodcock, sometimes called "Timberdoodles,"  are not endangered. However, their numbers have been steadily decreasing by about one percent a year since the 1960s. When young forest was plentiful, woodcock were abundant. But many brushy areas have grown into mature forest, where woodcock do not live. And human development has destroyed much of the birds' former habitat. In true action movie form, The National Fish And Wildlife Foundation has a "Woodcock Task Force" which targets woodcock populations for conservation. "Save the woodcock!" Do you suppose they wear camo. to their meetings?
     Like the snipes they are related to, the woodcock are a popular game bird. They present a particular challenge to hunters because they are so hard to see on the ground. They are elusive targets; when startled into flight, they bely their portly shape, quickly zigzagging through the trees. Some species, especially those endemic to islands,  have been hunted to near extinction. Artists value the woodcocks' pin feathers used for fine painting work. The woodcock are a group of seven or eight very similar living species. But, there are only two woodcock that are widespread, most of them found in the Northern Hemisphere. Indiana Jones would groove on the notion that eight species of woodcock are known only from their fossil records.
     As the name implies, woodcock are woodland birds that live near wetlands, streams and rivers. Oddly, they are actually a sandpiper, and a wading bird! They are unusual in this group (sandpipers, dunlins, curlews, etc.) of birds as the only members that live, nest and breed in the woods. They are one of the few shorebirds widely hunted for sport.
     Like all wading birds, they have a very long middle toe. For wading birds, the middle toe acts like a snow shoe, distributing the bird's weight over a greater area so they don't sink into the mud. They have eyes set wide apart on their heads which gives them 360 degree vision. With their long, slender bill they poke around in the dirt for worms. Unlike most birds, the top of their bill is flexible at the tip. The guess is that they actually feel the worms underground with their tongue and bill tip. But, no one really knows what's going on under the earth. A woodcock rocks its body back and forth without moving its head as it slowly walks around, stepping heavily with its front foot. This action may make worms move around in the soil, making them easier to detect. The woodcock in these photographs was doing just that while maintaining a sideways eye on me.
     I waited a long time, hoping that the bird would do something a little more interesting than humping along the ground, walking like an Egyptian in search of supper. Suddenly, it hunched up, extended its neck, then ruffled its feathers. Camera trained and ready, I squealed, "Oh yeah!, It's gonna do something and I'm ready!" It arched its back slightly then shot out a load of poo, as you can see in the second photo. Oh, well, action is action in the wildlife world. Be careful what you ask for. Woodcock are mostly nocturnal wandering around in the wooded dark looking for food. In the day time, they rest like the one you see here.
     Though they are a common bird, they are often hard to find because of their cryptic plumage. They blend into their surroundings of usually fallen leaves. You may actually nearly step on one in the woods or, as is the case, on the grass and never know they are there. Had I not been on a quest for this particular bird, I would have  missed it entirely.
     Woodcocks in North America are migratory. In Maine, they start appearing in mid March.


A spring freshet, Phippsburg, Maine April 2011
This is the very sort of habitat woodcocks love!

     My earliest sighting was February 12th here in Phippsburg a couple of years ago, but that's early. They become conspicuous when they begin to mate. In the spring, they often begin mating on lingering patches of snow. Where the woodcock displays is called a "singing ground." In the elaborate display called "roding," the males begin to call on the ground, "peent! peent! peent!" It's a high, nasal sound with a slight buzz that you might have heard and mistaken for spring frogs or insects. One of my gardening customers has a solar powered gizmo for warding rodents from his stone walls. It emits an electronic peenting buzz every fifteen seconds which sounds exactly like a woodcock. I've been foiled more than once skulking around his property looking for the hiding bird.
     Once peenting, the bird  flies upward in an ever widening spiral for two to three hundred feet! As he rises, his wings begin to twitter. Once descending, he chirps and starts a zigzagging, diving pattern to the ground. Nearing the ground he silently lands near a female if there is one. On the ground, he starts peenting again. The displays are usually at dawn and dusk and can go on all summer, long after mating is finished, but they're most common in spring. 
     Having completed this doctoral disertation, I must be be off in search of an emu reported to be near, or was that the fog horn on Seguin I heard? Now, if only I can find my bullwhip..........


For some of the information, thanks to:

wikipedia.com
allaboutbirds. org
whatbird.com

Elphick, J. in The Golden Age Of Lithography: 1850-1890, BIRDS - The Art Of Ornithology 2008, Scriptum: London (2004), pp 241

Tudge, C., 2008. In The Bird - A Natural History Of Who Birds Are, Where They Came From And How They Live, Tudge, C. PLOVERS AND LAPWINGS, SANDPIPERS, SNIPES, CURLEWS, DOWITCHERS, PHALAROPES, AVOCETS AND STILTS, JACANAS, PAINTED SNIPES OYSTERCATCHERS, THE CRAB PLOVER, STONE CULEWS, PRATINCOLES AND COUSERS, SEED SNIPES, THE PLAINS WANDERER, SHEATHBILLS, GULLS, TERNS, SKUAS AND JAEGERS, SKIMMERS AND AUKS: ORDER CHARADRIIFORMES, Crown Publishers: New York (2008), pp 136-37

Sibley, D.A., The Sibley Guide To Birds, 2000, Knopf: New York (2001), pp 192

Keppie, D. M., and R. M. Whiting, Jr. 1994. American Woodcock (Scolopax minor). In The Birds of North America, No. 100 (A. Poole, and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

62 comments:

  1. Great post. Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

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  2. Robin, you had me from the 1st written word on this post Well done. What a great great post. I'm glad you were able to free yourself from the upside down predicament you found yourself in. Thank goodness you had your Bowie knife.

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  3. Robin,

    Thanks for writing about this and sharing your photos!
    WhistleBerries
    April 15, 2011 02:20 PM

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  4. Gary, Blair and WhistleBerries (I'll have to look that up, what are 'whistleberries?'), thank you so much for reading, looking and commenting. I'm glad you liked the story, Blair. What a thriller!

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  5. Beautiful pictures.

    Down here in Florida, the crane babies have hatched and now are about the size of chickens.

    They are golden brown and fuzzy and always with their parents.

    I'll try to get some pictures of them for you this weekend.



    R
    Will Azeperak
    April 15, 2011 02:49 PM

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  6. hee hee..I am imagining with you as Indiana Jones..good luck with the Emu!

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  7. Thanks, Dawn. I'm still looking for my whip.

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  8. I'm an Indiana Jones fan so I was gripped from the start Robin. Super post and glorious images of an extreeemly well camouflaged species.

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  9. I love all your posts and photos, Robin. Here you show an excellent example of a form of camouflage, which I remember as 'blending' from my ecology course. The first picture demonstrates how well the Kiwi can look like part of its background to the predator's eye, and the last one shows why the woodcock would favor that particular type of habitat.

    ♥R
    FusunA
    April 15, 2011 04:40 PM

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  10. Great pictures (again!).
    AtHomePilgrim
    April 15, 2011 06:07 PM

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  11. Frank, I'm so happy to have hit a reader in the old fan base! Double header, too with Indiana Jones and the woodcock! Thank you for the read and comment and compliments. You rock!

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  12. Dawn, I'm still looking for my whip. And, I'm finding the whole swinging from a vine thing a tough act in my bathrobe! Thanks for the read and comment. I'm happy to make you laugh.

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  13. FusunA and AtHomePilgrim, Thank you!You guys keep hanging in there reading and commenting and giving me compliments and I can't find the words to thank you enough.

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  14. Informative AND entertaining AND visual aids.... my kind of presentation!!
    Chrissie Pissie
    April 15, 2011 06:12 PM

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  15. These were absolutely beautiful. I love birds also. Every evening when we walk we love to hear the Meadowlarks. Congrats on the EP. -R-
    Christine Geery
    April 15, 2011 06:37 PM

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  16. They both have the letter K in them.....
    Congratulations on the EP!!
    Great information!!
    rated
    Susie Lindau
    April 15, 2011 08:22 PM

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  17. Love the photos and subject. R
    Sheba Marx
    April 15, 2011 08:33 PM

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  18. You tell that doofus with the thingamajig in his stone wall to straighten up pronto. The rodents have just as much right to his pretty by gardens as he does. What an idiot!

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  19. The Woodcock is a cutie! I guess your next trip is to New Zealand!
    HG

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  20. Thanks, Robin. I've been trying to hear and see a woodcock all spring in my neighborhood, but so far, no luck. Be sure to remember that wikipedia is a place anyone can post anything, they do not have to have a phd or anything close to it. I did not know that woodcock peent all summer. That's not what I learned in ecology class. SUPER photos of our little well camouflaged friend. Great photos. You've taught your husband well. He may not know a kiwi from a woodcock, but he knows he needs to call you when he sees an interesting species!

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  21. Merrylyn, Thank you for the read, comment and compliment. I do know that about wikipedia. That's why I use all those other resources and often more than what I site. Glad you are reading.

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  22. This was very informative. I know it took me a long time to find out the name for the grackle. I kept thinking it was a crow, but it looked too small. Finally, I saw a photo of one a book on birds, so I know how your husband feels. R
    Trudge164
    April 15, 2011 10:24 PM

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  23. Geez, Flight! kinda touchy aren't ya? Wasn't that a little harsh? maybe the poor guy feels over run by rats or something. Maybe he thinks the gardener has it coming. Ever think of that?

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  24. HG, Thank you! I wish I could pack up my honey and go to New Zealand. But, instead, I'm going to BElgrade tomorrow and see if I can't find a crane. No kidding. Wish me luck.

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  25. Now that was Great Fun Robin and served to snap me out of my melancholy created by your last post. You do know how to bring out the emotional side of me, both the highs and the lows. Sign of a good writer I'd say! (nice photos too)

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  26. Gee Robin,you don't have to go to Belgrade to find a crane there are 4 or 5 at the Iron works in Bath.(joke). Great story,I'd love to see a woodcock.

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  27. Thank you, AnnieO, I guess you are right about that sign of resonably good writing. If I can have that kind of emotional effect that's all I can every expect from whta I do. Thanks for the read, comment and compliment!

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  28. love this .. the first time I saw an American Woodcock I was at my new cottage on a lake in Ontario Canada I thought it was an Alien!!!
    andrea marcus
    April 16, 2011 03:39 AM

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  29. A great post, Robin! I enjoyed your sense of humour. I have not seen a woodcock yet but maybe someday.

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  30. Andrea, thank you!They do have a kind of alien life form quality, I agree.

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  31. eileeninmd, Thanks for that. Keep looking. Maybe they are under your feet. :) Glad to be able to make you smile.

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  32. Congrats on the EP! You deserve it! I've never seen a woodcock, but I've never looked for one, I'll have to add it to my list. When it comes to bird watching, I don't quite have the spirit of Indiana Jones ( more like Sallah, "Poison Ivy, very dangerous, you go first")
    A Simple Shutterbug
    April 16, 2011 08:21 AM

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  33. There truly is such a thing in America as a kiwi.
    You can find flocks, gaggles, murders, rushes, falls, etc of them in the produce aisle at the local market.
    XJS AND ME
    April 16, 2011 01:56 PM

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  34. You are so funny, SimpleShutterbug and XSJme! Sure 'nuff, saw some of those rare kiwis on my way home at the local market, not even moving they weren't nor well camo'ed, either! SSb, add to your list Sand Hill cranes, saw my first today! Yippppeeee! Thanks for the reads and comments.

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  35. YES!! We MUST be careful of what you ask for. You got Poop! I got COLD weather including an April Fool’s day snow storm!! It was so hot and humid in Belize that I wish to get home to cooler drier weather!! Cool, I wanted, not COLD!! Which is what I have been treated to until yesterday since I returned on March 11th! Our husbands are alike in that they know when to say’ Come look, I haven’t seen that one before!! “ He was the one who noticed my last new yard bird – a white-winged crossbill – on my feeders last December!! Our guys are great to have around, even tho they don’t share our passion for the birds!! Marie

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  36. Great shots of the woodcock. I only saw one once and it was a fleeting glimpse. Very funny post. I have lots of friends thata re non birders and they say the cutest things don't they. Things like "I saw a Red Cardinal today." And I said "A male cardinal" To which they responded like I was an idiot... "I don't know how to tell the genders apart, but this was a Red Cardinal, not a Brown Cardinal"

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  37. Robin,

    Once again, Oh Yeah!!! Nice story on the blog. Congratulations on the Open Salon, for the 6th time.

    Jim

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  38. You know Robin, if David said he saw a Kiwi, then he saw a Kiwi!

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  39. Robin!

    What a find and WHAT a PICTURE!!!!!!!!!

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  40. Marie, Thank you. I wouldn't trade mine for the world for that reason, and many more. Years from now, he'll see another woodcock and still tell me he saw a Kiwi. He know's I'll know what he really means, too. Besides, you can't really have two Indiana Jones in one house and expect things to go well, now can you? Don't I look good in that hat with the bullwhip? I have found swinging from the trees in my bathrobe with the bullwhip in one hand to be a challenge though. Like getting better at birding all good skills require practice. :) RRR

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  41. You got that right!! Birding is a lifelong learning curve which continues forever – as long as we are around we will be challenged – and enjoy it. M

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  42. Hi Robin,
    Greg Dawes commented on your note ""KIWI!!!!" Or Maybe a Woodcock".
    Greg wrote: "Wonderful... now I know more about woodcocks than what gauge shotgun and size of shot to use. So far I have only photographed one on the ground. When they are not moving they are almost impossible to spot. If you ride the dirt roads this time of year after dark you will spot them in the headlights. Their eyes shine bright red like little tail lights up ahead. Very nice photographs and a job well done sneaking up on the little devils."

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  43. Thanks, Greg. Maybe those nightime, beedy eyed apparations you are seeing are the ghosts of Woodcock past, those shot, perhaps? I've never seen one at night.

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  44. Hi Robin,
    Roberta Lane commented on your link.
    Roberta wrote: "Very amusing!"

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  45. Well Robin,

    I walked around the neighborhood with my camera and didn't see one crane baby. I have seen them for the past two weeks and this weekend they are all gone.

    We have a panther in the neighborhood and I fear he may have found them.

    I did get some pics of just the cranes walking around, alligators and rabbits--that's about it.

    sorry--I'll keep a look out.

    Will
    Will Azeperak
    April 17, 2011 01:12 PM

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  46. Don't ya just hate when that happens, Will? Long ago, I made a vow to myself that I would take the shot when I saw it, no matter what it might cost me (late to appointment, dinner, etc.) and not wait until later, because, well.........you know the rest of the story!
    Robin Robinson

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  47. Birding is the most popular past time in the world. I know how magical it is to spot a kiwi-- and how people seek it out their entire lives.
    Lea Lane
    April 18, 2011 09:45 AM

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  48. Great story! American Woodcocks are really uncommon in my part of the country, and I still haven't ever seen one. Your photo is great--the bird's plumage is rather elegant, in a preppy paisley scarf kind of way.
    Felicia Lee
    April 18, 2011 01:46 PM

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  49. A MOST splendid post chock-full of interesting information, beautiful images and creative narrative. Last week, I was at a bird sanctuary and a fellow birder spied a Woodcock. I was all excited with high hopes of viewing my first Woodcock ... to no avail. So glad I was able to read you blog and view your fantastic images. I've learned something new today. An absolute joy to visit your outstanding blog!

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  50. Felicia, thank you. I loved your description of the bird's plumage, "rather elegant, in a preppy paisley scarf kind of way."

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  51. Julie G., I'm non plussed by your comment! Wow, what glowing praise for my work. I'll tell ya what: next time I see a kiwi, I'll have it come to you so you can see it. Just send it back, okay?

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  52. A wonderful post Robin... stunning images and a great read.. Thanks for repeating it.

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  53. It's such a lovely post, Robin!!!!

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  54. Great post. I really enjoyed this! At first I wondered why anyone on your side of the world would think "Kiwi" - then - of course - the shoe polish!!

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  55. Andrew, I 'm glad someone is paying enough attention to know it was a repeat. Thank you! Joo, I'm delighted you enjoyed. Mick, thank you, too. Someday, maybe I'll get to Australia and widen my horizons of associations. But, for now............shoe polish it is! Thank you.

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  56. A most entertaining post and informative about the woodcock as well, A great read indeed.

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  57. Arija, thank you so much for the thoughtful comment. It's a thrill for me to be able to capture people's attention and amuse them.

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  58. This dissertation was well worth reading - amusing and informative at the same time! The pictures of the Woodcock are excellent, especially the action shot! :)

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  59. Pat, thank you. I should have been a school teacher. Well, maybe not. I probably would have been bounced for being inappropriate! Ha ha!

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  60. Great post and a very good read thank you.

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  61. Neil, thank you. Glad you enjoyed it. Now, I'm off to tell about porcupines..........

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  62. Good post and Smart Blog
    Thanks for your good information and i hope to subscribe and visit my blog Ancient Greece and more The Story Evolves thanks again admin

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