Lisa and CHB CH Angel Kiss The S’Kai De Ariosa CD BN RE CAA CGCA at Madison Square Garden

Portland Dog Wins Best of Breed

by Elizabeth Regan, Rivereast News Bulletin, February 23, 2018

She’s the most perfect representative of the Spanish Water Dog breed in the United States: Angel Kiss the S’Kai de Ariosa.

But you can call her Kai.

The Best of Breed honor was bestowed upon the 3-and-a-half-year-old dog with a distinctive curly coat at last week’s 142nd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Handler Lisa Harper of Portland [Connecticut] put Kai through the paces first at the Piers and then at Madison Square Garden amid cheering crowds, bright lights and the constant buzz of television commentators.

Harper said the decision to recognize Kai as Best of Breed was made by judge Peter Green, whose career she described as long and distinguished. Green is a four-time Westminster Best in Show winner and a seven-time Westminster judge.

“When he pointed at us, I couldn’t believe it,” Harper said.

While Kai was bred by Susan Deangelo of Pennsylvania, it was Harper who bred the dog’s father many years ago.

“To show and win with a dog descended from my own line — well, that’s every breeder’s dream,” Harper said.

Harper, born and raised in Glastonbury [Connecticut], went west to college, stayed and made her career about dogs. Her connection to the breed began when she befriended a young, dangerously under-socialized Spanish Water Dog who was about to be put down. Harper took Tia, helped her overcome her fears, and took her to champion levels.

Harper subsequently became an advocate for the breed, importing dogs from Spain and Finland and competing in herding, agility, rally obedience, barn hunt and water work.

As the breed expanded, she helped establish the Spanish Water Dog Club of America, and served as chairman for six years. She currently serves as Vice President.

Dog clubs’ missions are to establish standards for their breeds, and to educate judges, members and the public on the breeds’ purposes and talents.

Harper’s goal as chairman was to qualify the breed for recognition by the AKC, which took 15 years of expanding the population and meeting AKC criteria.

The Best of Breed designation during the first part of the year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show earned Kai a spot int he Herding Group competition at the vaunted Madison Square Garden venue, where she was evaluated against the other breeds that make up the class of loyal, intelligent and prey-driven canines.

The winning dog in each group goes on to compete for the Best in Show title.

“The judge’s job is to decide if this Spanish Water Dog is a better Spanish Water Dog than that Border Collie is a Border Collie,” Harper said.

Free and easy movement

First the judge examined physical features including Kai’s bite, head structure, ears, chest and back end, Harper said. Then the handler walked Kai around to show off the dog’s gait.

Harper said the judge went up and down the line of herding dogs “about 800 times” after he had examined all fo them individually.

She noted that some judges will “pull” out of the line a few of the dogs they really like.

“We didn’t get a pull,” she conceded. “Maybe next year.”

The judge ultimately chose a Border Collie called Slick as the group winner, according to show results.

For Harper and Kai, being a part of the venerable Westminster Dog Show was what the handler described as a surreal experience.

“Kai’s tail never stopped wagging the entire time we were their,” Harper said.

Harper shares ownership of Kai with Colleen Nolan of West Virginia. Kai splits her time between the harper and Nolan households.

“Colleen does most of the obedience training and I do the showing,” Harper said. “I works out great.”

Kai has called Portland home for the past year.

Harper described Kai as typical for the breed: loyal, easy to train and devoted.

Spanish Water Dogs are medium-sized with unique, curly coats that may form cords when long. They are rustic, multi-functional farm dogs, primarily used for herding goats and merino sheep in Spain for centuries. They are also useful for hunting, fishing and vermin control. The dogs excel in activities including agility, herding and obedience.

Harper added the breed has been put to work in Spain for bomb detection.

Spanish Water Dogs are perfect for an active person or family who likes to get out and do things, according to Harper.

“These dogs really like to have a job, even if it’s something like ‘go find my car keys.’ [They need] something they can own. They’re not hang-around dogs,” she said.

She noted that people researching  breeds often regard their size and shedless coats as ideal attributes in a dog. But there’s so much more to any breed than what’s written on the internet, she said.

Spanish Water Dogs need mental stimulation as well as physical stimulation, she emphasized.

Kai has channeled those attributes into her status as an AKC Bronze Grand Champion with titles in obedience, rally obedience, and coursing. She will begin competing in agility this year.

The Westminster Kennel Club invites the top five dogs of each breed to their annual show. Harper has been invited every year since the breed was introduced to the show in 2016.

“To win at the world’s most prestigious show takes a great dog, a good handler, a judge who knows what he’s looking for, and alignment of all the stars,” Harper said.

Kai wins Westminster 2018!

Spring: About darned time!

After the most lingering winter in recent history, spring seems to have suddenly arrived in New England. Snow one day, spring the next, like a magician’s trick. It’s a good thing, too…one more snowfall and the population of our small town may have gone stark raving mad!

I’m a bit of a slow-goer when it comes to projects. The word “dabbler” is quite apt in my case, I move in fits and starts. But the spring projects are starting. The farm insurance was put into place last fall with the intent of boosting our chicken population and reestablishing honey bees on the farm.

Last fall, I acquired three rare heritage Barnvelders–two hens and a roo. My friend Beth hatched some out for herself and some for me, with the intent of helping preserve the breed. This is a friendly, medium-sized breed, brown with a little green sheen in color, that lays very dark brown eggs. The roos are supposed to get along with other roos, but the one here (as of yet un-named) would stupidly like to take on Mr. Big the enormous Orpington. Silly boy.

Yesterday, we acquired four new Rhode Island Red hens from a gal who was moving and needed to re-home her hand-raised chickens. It is pretty amazing how tame these hens are–I’m able to simply reach down and pick them up. Guess my lot has gone a bit wild! The new hens joined Mr. Big’s mixed flock last night in the hen house, and today the lot of them went outside to the chicken yard: 9 hens and Mr. Big. It was such a pleasure seeing the RIRs immediately take to the new space, scratching in the leaves and picking at grass. They also enjoyed what I suspect was their first dirt bath, often diving in underneath Mr. Big who scratches out the best bathing areas.

On the bee front, an order for two new hives was placed last week. Two old hives are standing ready to receive their new occupants, former mouse, wax moth and paper wasps being evicted. As much as I hate mice in the hives, seeing those little eyes staring up at me from the nests does make me pause….for about 5 seconds. They they’re OUT. Hoping the weather remains nice so the boxes can be repainted.

Dad has been down a couple of times in the last week, also, tackling his own projects. We attended a lecture on helping native bees a few months ago, and frankly it has both of us fired up. He mowed the bluebird hill and sowed white clover seed. The days of a mono-culture lawn are long over. Actually, there are several patches of wild flowers in our lawns, providing early blooms for native and honey bees alike. The early crocuses are up near the honey bee hives, which someone else’s bees are thoroughly enjoying. Soon, the little purple flowers in the side lawn will be up–tiny hyacinths? I’ll have to identify them one of these days.

American Dagger Moth Caterpillar

Here’s another beautiful case of chemical warfare in every-day nature. The American Dagger Moth caterpillar, an exceptionally large, fuzzy bright yellow caterpillar with black “lashes”, about 2-1/2″ long. Apparently eats tree leaves (ash and alder among them). The bright yellow hairs can cause skin irritation.

Amercian Dagger Moth caterpillar

I found this guy storming through the lawn this morning. Typical for me, I had no idea he was a chemical-warfare bug and immediately picked him up. Also, I “saved” him by putting him in the flower garden, where there is nothing he likes to eat.

The American Dagger Moth is one of those large flat gray moths that hangs out on your screen at night. Apparently, it uses up all it’s color as a caterpillar.

Springtime swarm

Here is a beautiful swarm, newly exited from the colony. After the queen is satisfied that her full retinue has joined her, she follows her scouts to new digs.

Nature follows a cycle. And about this time each year, the honey bee population naturally divides and looks for new digs by swarming. Swarming is a natural part of the honeybee reproduction cycle. Healthy colonies that have weathered the winter and outgrown their quarter begin developing new queens in queen cells–long, downward-pointing cells with a generous lining of royal jelly, the food required to grow an ordinary worker egg into a new queen.

When the new queens are about to emerge from their sealed cells, the old queen and about half of the workers gorge themselves on honey. The old queen then flies out of the hive, settling on a post, tree limb, car bumper–anything convenient–and waits for half of the colony to join her. The remaining bees will continue on with their new, young queen.

If you know what to look for, a swarm can be anticipated. One of our colonies had been so successful over the winter and spring as to completely run out of space for honey and brood. It built several queen cells along the bottom of some frames, and in that location they’re called “swarm cells”. Sometimes a swarm can be circumvented by splitting the hive into two, but this queen was so successful, we wanted to preserve her genes to start new hives. We added two new supers, giving them lots of extra room. And the day before the swarm, I also extracted three frames with queen cells to start two nucs and re-queen weak hive that may have lost its queen. Would it be enough to keep the queen happy? Apparently not. A routine (and fortunate!) visit to the bee yard yielded this lovely sight.

As the empty nucs had been occupied the day before, there was no more woodenware hanging around. I dug around in a pile of wood and struck gold: a bottom board and a cover. Then, I stole one of the “empty” supers (no brood, just some honey) to make a single-super hive. Propping the makeshift hive up to the swarm, the swarm found it promising enough for a look-see. Bee house hunting!

The scout bees begin to investigate the empty box. The queen–a beautiful golden Carniolan–remained on the post with her entourage.

The queen accepts the hive and enters, leaving the rest of the swarm to make their way in.

Success! The queen accepts the new hive and enters the hive, leaving only the stragglers to enter. Once the lid was on, bees began appearing at the front entrance, raising their bums and fanning pheromone signals to the bee yard: this is OUR house, and only family may enter!

A note: A lot of people panic when they find a swarm in their yard, thinking the bees are about to invade. But really, they’re just waiting for the whole gang to arrive before they move on. Additionally, the bees are pretty well sated on honey, and they have no home to protect, so they are less likely to sting you. This swarm was so gentle, they didn’t deliver a single sting in the entire process of hiving and moving them to their new location. If you find a swarm in your yard, don’t bother to call the exterminator: just wait. It’ll most likely depart within a few hours. Better yet, make a bee keeper’s day and call him to collect them for his bee yard! It’s fascinating to watch, and a great lesson in nature for the kids.


How in the world did this little guy get all the waaaaaaaay up the hill, between the pool and the house? Quite the trek for a 5″ baby!

Take the freakin' picture already.

This is a common snapping turtle, starting on his second season. And guess what? Even with all the prehistoric defences, they pee on you when they’re scared.

Wish I could have gotten a picture of him more emerged from his shell. So cool–the overlapping armor on the legs, the spikes on the tail, the sharp claws, the maw of it’s beak! Gotta watch your fingers with these guys–that beak, striking with the speed of a rattlesnake and with some serious power behind it–can do some major damage. A medium-sized snapper would have no problem taking off a finger or two if it were threatened. Generally, they’re shy and would rather not encounter a human, but they will protect themselves.

Snappers are slow-movers on land but great in the water. Omnivorous, they eat fish and other aquatic animals,  and also all sorts of greens. Clutches number about 20 eggs, and lifespan in the wild can go into the 30’s.

Dad put this little guy in a bucket with a little water (figured he might be thirsty) and released him out in the wilderness, off the property.

Wikipedia says these don’t make good pets. (Gee, really?) To learn more about snappers, here’s a link:

The latest project: moving the day lilies

My grandmother was really into day lilies. When she started nearing 100 and didn’t have the energy to garden quite as much, she let some of her beds in the yard go and The Boys (meaning her very adult sons) moved her beloved day lilies into the vegetable garden for easier care.

Now Dad would actually like to grow veggies in that garden again, so the intention is to move at least some of the around 70 varieties in the veggie garden to other places in the yard. I should note: not all of her varieties are in the veggie garden. I’m guessing we have about 100 varieties from her collection remaining.

Here’s my latest project: re-establishing the flower beds by the low rock wall. The garden used to be on both sides of the rock wall, with a walking path through the center, but the thought of weeding all that square footage makes me shudder. I don’t know how she found the energy. As it is, Dad and I tilled up the soil, and I’ve been moving day lilies, bee balm, peonies, phlox and iris from the veggie garden to this location.

Most of the tags have aged beyond recognition or been lost, but I’m hoping this year to be able to document the flowers and identify some of them.

Friends have been coming over for the past several years to take divisions of what they like. Even now, with only a little bit of green and no hint of flowers, it’s easy to tell which are the most admired: the clumps are tiny! The less-preferred varieties have huge clumps. I’ve taken to carving off a smaller sample and throwing the remaining tubers down the hill, some of the mounds are so big. You can see from the photo–there’s no way all of the lilies are going to fit in these beds!

But I think Dad will be happy–plenty of room for tomatoes, peas, squash, peppers and Brussels sprouts this year, and I may get a nice-sized bed of Yellow Finns in, too.


Wildlife’s calendar follows Mother Nature’s lead

This winter was extraordinarily mild. After the freak October nor’easter, our snowfall was almost unmeasurable, resulting in all sorts of affects on different flora and fauna.

For some, the mild winter was a real life-saver. For example, this was the year that the different oak varieties simultaneously took a break from acorn production. Under normal weather conditions (meaning snowfall in New England) this would lead to massive die-offs in populations dependent on acorns (i.e., deer and squirrels) and the predators that prey on them. This winter’s mild weather and lack of snow kept other food sources accessible.

However, the mild weather also triggered early spring cycles–too early? We can see this in our honey bees. In the autumn, the hive population changes–drones are evicted, the queen’s egg-laying slows, and longer-lived winter bees whose sole job is tending the hive emerge. Warm weather triggers egg production, which requires lots of stored honey and pollen. If the stores are used up before a new food source arrives, the hive starves. This winter, three of our four hives wintered well, but the fourth is so light I could easily pick it up.

Sweet red-tailed hawk fledgling. She flew a little unsteadily, but her landing ability was questionable. She then cried for her parents. They must have been near, because the crows decided not to hang around!

Here’s another result of the mild winter: the April 3 appearance of a newly-fledged red-tailed hawk. She flew a little unsteadily, but her landing ability was questionable. She then cried for her parents. They must have been near, because the crows decided not to hang around!

According to the Connecticut Wildlife website, red-tailed hawks usually begin fledging in mid- to late-May, meaning this chick’s egg was laid more than a month ahead of schedule!

In New England red-tailed hawks breed beginning in about March. A male and female pair will perfom aerial acrobatics as a form of courtship. The two hawks mate for life, although if one dies the other will seek another mate. They use the same nesting areas for years. They can build new nests out of sticks or repair existing ones, and prefer to nest high, around 50 or 60 feet above the ground, in tall trees or on cliffs. 1 to 4 eggs are laid in late March or April. The male will do some of the incubation, but mostly feeds the female while she sits on the nest. Both care for the chicks which hatch out after about 33 days. The baby hawks can fly in 43 to 48 days. Their parents teach them hunting skills and they become independent after about 2 months. The lifespan of red-tailed hawls is about 13 to 20 years in the wild.

Chickens in the Garden

Mr. Big and the (laughing) white hen scratching for grubs in the garden.

I am fascinated by lots of animals, but cutworms ain’t one of them! And one the great ways to get rid of cutworms in the veggie garden? CHICKENS!

Dad came over and plowed part of the garden yesterday. It is, after all, time to get the peas in. And the warm weather reminded me that last spring we had a great head start due to chickens in the garden before planting. They scratch up the soil looking for bugs and eat all sorts of weeds. Plus their fertilizer is some of the best stuff in the world!

The hens know the routine, but this was a new experience for Mr. Big, the rooster.

1. Open the chicken yard gate.

2. Pick up your herding stick–a 12′ bamboo pole.

3. Calmly walk all the way around the chickens and begin to slowly herd them toward the gate.

4. Watch for any of the birds looking in the wrong direction–it is likely to bolt! And once one is gone, they all prone to bolting. If one does bolt, calmly leave the larger group and herd the bolted bird back to the flock. Only then is it safe to continue.

5. Use the bamboo pole to create a backwards funnel, like a “V” (with you as the point). Try to lift the pole WAY UP in the air instead of swinging it over the birds’ heads. That’ll scatter ’em for sure!

6. On the final bit, walk them directly against the garden fence towards the gate. When they hit the gate, they’ll pop right in.

7. Close the door.

There are two ways to get the chickens back into the yard in the early evening:

1. Reverse all the steps in the chicken-yard-to-garden trip above, except interject every two points with a lot of blue streaks.


2. Open the garden- and chicken-yard gates and go back in the house. When the sun goes down, go out and close the gates. The chickens will be asleep in the hen house.

A New Use for Old Tennis Balls

Beekeepers are always looking for new ways to provide water to their bees without drowning them. I’m always amazed at  how easily the little ladies drown–it’s not like drinking is a new thing for them. But drown they do, and in just about any depth of water.

Here at Ames Hollow Farm, we have a large, white, cement in-ground swimming pool with sloping sides. It’s a natural water-hole for the bees, so long as no small waves come and sweep the bees from the edge. As a girl, I remember saving lots of drowning bees and even some butterflies from that pool. But not every beekeeper has a nice pond or pool to keep their ladies in water.

Some people run small bubbling water features with lots of pebbles. Others put floating materials (sticks, slats of balsa wood, even packing peanuts!) in a shallow dish. But here, at last, is a simple but ingenious use for the thousands of tennis balls that my dogs deposit all over the farm!

Recipe for waterer or liquid feeder:

1. A big, flat pan

2. Enough tennis balls to fully line the pan

3. Liquid (water or liquid feed) to fill the pan

Put the tennis balls in the pan. Dump the liquid all over the tennis balls. If they don’t get soaked, then rotate them so the wet side is up.

Be sure to fill the pan with water or liquid each day. If you’re feeding sugar-water, remember that the water evaporates, leaving a really heavy syrup on the balls. Visit daily to replenish the water and help any bees that might get over-sugared!

I’m guessing it will also be helpful to wash the tennis balls every once in a while–hot water.