Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Grassy alluvial benches with an occasional juniper and clumps of wild buckwheat.
Curious collections of grass seed -- a phenomenom of microclimate or a rodent's granary?
Burrows with aprons of fine soil and dust basins where rodents groom and clean their lax pelage.
This is giant kangaroo rat country.
Dipodomys ingens -- whether you accent the first or second syllable you gotta love the poetic name.
They are the largest of k-rats, and make a hearty meal for medium-sized owls like the long ear.
Their furry toes float on sand, and their hindlegs can catapult them as far as 6-feet.
If you ever chase a k-rat as it richochets in moonlight or the headlights of your car, you'll marvel at their nimble footwork and changes in direction.
Giant k-rats were the main food item in the long-eared owl pellets we examined a few hours earlier in the day.
And speaking of food . . . in my gangly youth the late Robert T. Orr, Curator of Birds and Mammals at the California Academy of Sciences related how he and mammalogist E. Raymond Hall once made a fine collection of k-rats in the Nevada desert.
"One afternoon we set 100 snap traps and the next morning 98 of them had rodents."
They decided to cook up those meaty veal-colored k-rats haunches.
Instead of hardwood sawdust they used cornmeal to skin the rats (either product eases the skinning and removes fat), and they saved the plump hindquarters in a coffee can which they stashed under the front seat of the car.
They forgot about it, but only temporarily.
As they were cruising the dirt roads a couple days later there was a dull thud under the car seat and they were overtaken by a powerful stench.
No one dined on k-rat haunches that trip.
Here the giant k-rat shares it habitat with kit foxes, which together with burrowing owls usually eat the rats fresh.
The prospect of photographing a kit fox lifted my spirits, but Craig warned me that it isn't ideal kit fox habitat.
So we set one camera under a juniper in the middle of the grassy plain.