About Me

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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fred meets some reptiles

I couldn't help bringing Fred's attention to a foothill alligator lizard  last weekend. 

The lizard was wall climbing when I discovered it.

Fred's initial caution gave way to lusty barking, play bows, and total fixation. 

It was the same old routine he directs to sweeping brooms and digging shovels with occasional sideways glances in response to my comments.

"Be careful, Freddy Boy. That thing will grab your snout like a snub-nose pliers."

I felt a little bad for the lizard. It tried to drop to the ground, but changed its mind and just hung there by a few claws looking up at its tormentor with a jaundiced eye.

Finally the lizard dropped to the ground, paused for a long overdue bowel evacuation, and made a slow motion exit behind a downspout.

A half hour of quality dog entertainment ended.

A couple hours later, neighbor Richard called. Could I release a rattlesnake he just caught next to his house? 

I agreed to deliver it to a safe haven down the hill in the chaparral. After dinner -- when the weather had cooled off.

Then I started to wonder:  Was the dog-lizard encounter a bad idea? This is rattlesnake country. Had I unwittingly emboldened the dog to reptiles in general?

If Fred took the same liberties with a coiled rattlesnake that he did with the lizard -- well, Fred would be dead.

But Fred's virtues are that he is not overly bold, and he is very sensitive to discipline.

So the snake release became an object lesson.

Mouse traps on the garden's drip system taught him that "look out!" and "be careful!" means he can get hurt. 

When the rattler started to buzz in the bucket he backed away before I could say those words.

Then I dumped the snake out of the bucket. 

Fred started to approach but heard my bellowing "Noooo!"

He shied away immediately, and watched as I prodded the snake to make its exit.

The next afternoon Richard called again and asked where I had released the rattlesnake. He had just caught another rattlesnake under the hummingbird feeder. It was the same size (about 30") and a dead ringer for yesterday's snake.

I found it hard to believe it was the same snake, and suggested that maybe this snake had followed the first snake's odor trail.

Whatever the case, I would take this one further down the jeep trail.

It was an opportunity to test Fred's rattlesnake training.

Richard and Julia colored this snake's rattle with a felt marker pen.

Down the trail I gave my warnings -- "Look out! Be careful!"

As I dumped the snake out of the bucket Fred watched intently from a distance of several yards.

No play bows, no barking.

When the snake was gone, I rubbed my dog's ears.

"You're a good boy, Fred."

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sneaky jays and nervous titmice

It's sneaky-jay time of year. 

Cavity nesters are busy feeding their young and sneaky jays are on the lookout.

The ecological theatre is in the potting shed where the oak titmice have nestlings in the box. 

When I hear titmice sphishing, I walk to the shed and look up into the live oaks, and there they are dancing about in a frenzy of alarm.

Seeing the jay is a different matter.   

Whatever the jay -- Steller or scrub -- it tries to be cryptic. It hardly moves. In fact, it almost looks sleepy. 

But I have seen this little drama play out many times, and I know the jay is searching for helpless fledglings.   

Soon the fledglings will be out and about, and for a few days they'll be highly vulnerable. 

That's when sneaky jay will make its move as it did last year. 

I couldn't see the fledglings because they were motionless. 

But the jay pounced when a fledgling moved, and it flew off a little heavily with the squealing prey.  

Today I was a titmouse defender. I mean, I didn't build the nest box as a feeding station for jays.

"Get the hell out of here," I protest as I toss a stick up towards it. 

Under the usual  circumstances the jay would be gone, but now sneaky jay only flies up a branch. 

It doesn't regard me as a threat, and it has a lot more time than I do.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

A skinned skunk

[Skin, skull, and spinal column of the striped skunk. 
Leg bones with feet attached were nearby.] 

It's not often that you find a skinned skunk on the trail, but there it was.

Fred was sniffing it intensely. 

Whatever ate it, it dined fastidiously. 

The inverted hide is what you get when a predator pulls flesh from the torso and limbs while standing on the hide. 

Its hard to say what killed this skunk, assuming that it didn't die of other causes.

In this area, gray foxes, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, and great horned owls are the common predators reported to eat skunk, usually when quite hungry. 

I'd rule out mountain lion, because a large cat would have eaten the backbone. The same for a coyote.

A bobcat or a gray fox, on the other hand, would nip and shear the meat away from the backbone.   

My hunch? . . . we're looking at the table scraps of a bobcat or gray fox. 

Monday, May 11, 2009

Return to El Paso

[This is a feeder trail to "El Paso", with (aaargh) the most common user.]

Since I made such a big deal about "El Paso de las Pumas", I guess I have to write a follow-up.

I waited a month to check the two cams at El Paso, thinking I'd get at least a few bobcat and bear photos, and maybe even a shot of the elusive puma.

Instead, I got 9 pictures of squirrels and one of a female red-shafted flicker. The flicker photo made me feel a little better.

I set another cam on a different segment of the main trail. So I have three cams waiting to ambush a big cat.

[Flicker, uncropped]

I'm not ready to give up on the site, but in the mean time I guess I'd better call the place "El Paso de las Ardillas".

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Fred loves his bed

The redhead wanted to buy Fred a nice bed, so he could lounge near us in peaceful repose after dinner.

"I think it's too early". I'd respond. "He'll just tear holes in it".

That was a couple months ago, but now he has calmed down a bit, and responds better to commands.

So we bought the big soft dog bed at Costco.

It was love at first sight. The bed arouses all kinds of adolescent dog passions.

He bites and pulls it around, rolls on it, and as you can see -- he really loves it.

It stirs up such excitement, we limit his play dates to about 10 minutes max.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A good trail

Coyote came down the trail at 7:07AM on March 29

We're in Marin County, and this shady trail gave me a good feeling.

It follows the contours of a steep slope, winding around the bulges and into the drainages, and all the way it climbs gradually.

Here and there the chopped duff shows where animals arrive or leave it for a steeper route to some unknown destination.

There was animal scat too.

So, I set the camera in front of a Douglas fir looking up the path, and a month later the camera confirmed my hunch.

There were 96 pictures of mammals and birds on the memory stick.

Black-tailed deer accounted for 30% of the animal pictures.

The bucks were wearing velvet antlers that looked like fuzzy bratwursts.

Deer mice took second place among mammals (22%).

There was lots of bird activity .

Hermit thrushes were on the trail at dawn or late afternoon.

Together with varied thrushes they were the most frequent avian users (28%), but scrub and Steller jays, a robin and dark-eyed juncos also visited.

Only one raccoon made an appearance,

but bobcats showed up four times.

All were moving up the trail, meaning none faced the camera. (I put out a second camera for the next go-around, and aimed it down the trail.)

And here's the only other coyote picture -- following a shower at 5:15 in the morning.

I had great hope for a camera I set at a coyote latrine about a quarter mile away, but the camera had an electrical short.

After I left that evening, it took 400 photos in two and a half hours -- filling the memory stick. A couple of moths were the only animals photographed.