Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Phenology: Flowers and Kittens

Spring appears to be here at last. Ornamental fruit trees are already past their peak in town; fruit-bearing trees on hill farms such as the Cat Sanctuary are starting to bloom. Also observed between the Cat Sanctuary and the computer center were white and blue violets, speedwell, celandine, forsythia, phlox, various lawn flowers like pansies and hyacinths, more maple blossoms, and a few early blooms on one brave azalea bush.

Birds observed include mockingbirds--appealing, but now we can forget about guessing what other birds are here by their calls--phoebes, bluebirds, robins, and of course the resident cardinals and sparrows. And crows. And the resident red-tailed hawk.

Meanwhile...yesterday I posted that my mother cat Candice had apparently been "rescued." After posting I put flyers, containing laughably bad drawings of her distinguishing features, on the doors of the people who might have tried to "rescue" her.

Candice didn't come home last night. The two smaller kittens died, apparently from starvation. The biggest kitten survived. Kittens' squeaking sounds mindless at first, but there are different sounds they make when they're in pain (from infectious diseases that cause adult cats to stop feeding them), when they're merely hungry, when someone has pushed or stepped on them, or when they're feeling sad and lonely. The kitten was trying to rouse his stiff, cold sisters and uttering sad and lonely noises last night.

In stepped his big sister Heather, who was just starting to look pregnant. Some people think cats have voluntary control of when they give birth. I don't know to what extent that's true. I know Heather chose a nest box close to Candice's in which to give birth to a kitten who looked premature, but was able to squeak, nurse, and crawl around the nest box. I know she was waiting and listening when I entered the house. I brought the kitten out onto the porch for a bath and to spare him from further emotional trauma. Heather was waiting for him--leaving her own kitten for the moment. She watched me sponge off his back end, then licked his front end in the friendliest, most sisterly way, so I set him down in the nest box. Heather climbed back into the box and offered her scanty supply of cat milk to her baby brother.

How did the tiny kitten react to suddenly having a new litter mate who looks four times its size? Preemie hardly even has fur yet. I watched with some anxiety as Preemie discovered that its uncle-and-foster-brother's thick, fluffy fur was warm.

Iris, Irene, and Ivy were not to be left out of this. Irene and Ivy seemed to be watching the birth process with sympathy and curiosity. Iris, whose growth was delayed by illness last winter and who seems not to have reached puberty yet, was running around soliciting attention and reassurance from everybody. Normal cats avoid each other when one of them is giving birth. Social cats are not normal. They are wonderful.

Will either of these kittens live to grow up? Who knows? Heather's doing her best for them.