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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 31, 2011

Back to the ranch

11:08PM -- "Hornly" the resident hooter confronts brazen plastic imposter.

It was good to get back to 'the Chimineas'.

Nearly 7 months has passed since my last visit, and a lot happened during the long winter.

More than once the storms had reclaimed the ranch's roads as gullies and washes.

Then it would dry up a bit, and thinking the worse was over Cowman Ross would start to grade --  until another storm rolled in with vengeance.

When spring halfheartedly arrived Craig and the team camera trapped the accessible areas near the ranch house.  

We spent the first night reviewing a grant proposal, transferring backlogged photo files, and checking cameras (3 more were out of commission).

For dinner we threw together a clam pasta prepared by the redhead.

Craig observed that it didn't taste much like clams, and I had to agree, though I'll allow that  a second beer might have compromised my ability to discern the delicate essence of bivalves.

We turned in early, but as for the coyote serenade, I have nothing to report. It was too cold to sleep with the door and windows open.

We set cameras the next morning in a new canyon and found a fairly large sandstone cave.

That afternoon RandonTruth and Craig's assistant Heather rolled in, and we enjoyed our reunion over grilled chicken burritos.

I was ready to test my automatic owl caller in the field, but  the 15 minute cycle of the  3 v motor (a lavatory air freshener donated by neighbor Richard) wasn't performing as it had the day before.

The plunger on the air freshener didn't start the CD player.

This was a disappointment, as the local pair of great horned owls (GHOs) had just fledged their young within walking distance of the ranch house.

Fortunately RandomTruth is a man of the modern era.

He quickly copied the owl calls from my CD to his IPod, inserted pauses, and it worked like a charm.

The modern owl caller (left) and my Rube Goldberg owl caller.  

After dinner we wired my hooter decoy to a stump near the nest tree, hid the IPod and speaker beneath it, and set up a couple of cameras nearby.

My cam was also on the fritz, but fortunately RandomTruth's home brewed camera trap caught the action-- thanks Ken.

Here's what happened with his photos.

The resident GHO, presumably the male (who we will call Hornly) arrived at the stump at 11:08 PM -- 2 hours after the decoy boldly announced its intrusion into the breeding territory.

With cocked tail and wings a-hanging he had a rather ruffled if not disturbed presence.

And perhaps he noticed that the puny offender had an uncanny ventriloquistic ability.

11:10 PM -- Hornly looks in the direction of the call. 

There were no photos of an aerial strike or a wing-flapping attempt to mount, but 50 minutes later Hornly felled the brazen imposter.

12:45 AM -- after Hornly's first strike.

The vanquished hooter however refused to retreat  and continued to announce its presence as if nothing had happened.

Hornly apparently struck again and the camera captured him hooting in victory.

1:36 AM -- Tail up and head bowed -- Hornly is probably hooting in victory over his plastic foe.

And so begins another promising season of camera trapping on the Chimineas.

If we get our grant, we will start a new experiment to test survey methodology.

And one last thing, as I packed up the morning of my departure I found a can of clams in my grocery bag.

I immediately recalled Craig's wistful observation about the unclammy flavor of the clam sauce, and laughed uproariously .

And you won't believe this, but it is true.

When I carried the Rube Goldberg owl caller to the car it started to play.


Anonymous said...


Well done.


randomtruth said...

Always happy to help, Chris. And we now have a second successful test on the gh owls up Mariposa way - post coming soon. :)

owlman said...

Great blog Chris.
Love the expression on the GHO
and did she really forget to put the clam in the pasta?

Camera Trap Codger said...

The clams were supposed to be added to the sauce base of olive oil, garlic, butter, and capers. I didn't listen too closely to the redhead's instructions, so we used the olive oil mix without the clams, which I had failed to see in the bag after a couple of beers. It was still good, but it had no hint of clams, and I gave it no further thought -- until I found that can as I was brewing the morning coffee.

Tyler Montbriand said...

Who wouldn't want an owl call on their iphone?

A good photoshoot and a funny story. :)