DEAR JOAN: I haven't seen my goldfinches at my birdbath for weeks and my friend hasn't seen his at his sock feeder in Mountain View. I miss them.
DEAR SANDY: I checked with area birders and experts, and the overall good news is that there doesn't appear to be anything wrong with the goldfinch population. Other people are reporting finches at their feeders, and nothing seems amiss.
There are a few reasons why you may not be seeing them in your yard. Birds tend to go where there is a supply of the things they require -- food, water, nesting spots and a little romance. When food is ample in the wild, birds tend to slight the feeders. Nuts, berries and seeds in open spaces offer more variety than most of our backyard feeders; or they may be feasting on insects. Even in years when food is scarce, most birds use feeders only to supplement their diet. So it may be that the goldfinches in your area are so well fed (and watered) they don't need to visit your yard.
Goldfinches also are late-season breeders. With all the pairing up and such, larger flocks may have broken up into smaller ones and settled in other areas.
If you and your friend want to attract goldfinches to your yard, try cleaning your feeders, putting out new ones, or changing the food to see if they might prefer a different kind of thistle or something more exciting. Above all, be patient. They will come.
Dealing with 'it'
In a recent column a writer asked how to tactfully confront people who don't clean up after their dogs. I admit that I was a bit flummoxed and was reticent to recommend challenging the offender for fear of a bad reaction. But I heard from several readers who have a civilized solution that they've tested out.
When you're out walking your dog, carry some extra poop bags. If you see someone walking away without cleaning up after the dog, politely call to them and offer them a bag.
As several readers pointed out, the dog walker may have simply forgotten to bring a bag and will be grateful for one.
Those who wrote to suggest this route said they have never had a negative experience doing this. Either the person is glad to have the bag or they are too embarrassed to object.
Some people also include a friendly lecture on the law requiring owners to clean up after their animals.
Will they scoop every time from now on? Maybe, maybe not. But at least you took care of one mess.
I received quite a bit of feedback on last week's column about Abby, the Yorkie killed by a neighbor's dog. Many people asked what they should do if they find themselves in a similar situation. To help answer those questions we have scheduled an online chat with one of the nation's leading dog trainers and behaviorists, Judie Howard, of Moraga. Join us at 1 p.m. Oct. 11 at www.mercurynews.com/pets-animals to join in the conversation.
To celebrate the Feast of St. Francis several area churches have conducted blessing of the animals services. Although most were done this past weekend, Saint Giles' Episcopal Church in Moraga has scheduled its blessing for 11 a.m. Oct. 14 in the Chapel Plaza, 1928 St. Marys Road.
For those of us who can't resist dressing up our pets, Halloween gives us a perfect excuse to indulge. Snap a picture of your pet in costume and send it to me. I'll be putting together a slideshow and featuring them on Pinterest.
Contact Joan Morris at email@example.com; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.