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.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Comings and goings of Justin Beaver

The opening in the vegetation is a beaver drag.

It's a trail between water and a beaver's foraging area, and I want you to know that I crawled down that hole to get to the creek.

I learned my lesson last December when someone pilfered my camera at a much more obvious beaver drag.

After that bothersome incident I periodically heard a commanding voice (I think it was Charlton Heston) saying "Don't set your camera at a beaver drag that other yokels can use as a path to the water".

In other words, pick a place, and preferably a muddy place where you have to get on your hands and knees and crawl.

The location of this drag was a blackberry patch overhanging a bank.

Beaver sign told me they climbed up the bank through this vegetative tunnel and crossed a dirt road to reach a willow thicket.

I checked the place out, and was climbing out of the tunnel when I tripped and fell backwards into the briar patch.

I found myself suspended like a fly in the web making feeble limb movements and thinking I was getting too damn old to be a stuntman.

"It's not just your age", I told myself, "any fool in this situation would be challenged to get out."

The problem wasn't just thorny punishment to body movement.

My legs and butt were higher than my head, and I couldn't reach benign vegetation to right myself.

I studied the warp and woof of the tangled briars, then rolled over slightly, found some smooth woody stems, and delicately climbed out and removed the thorns from hands and pants.

It was a humbling experience, but I went to the car, donned my pack and crawled back down to the creek to set the camera.

121 photos were waiting for me 6 weeks later.

Justin (or was it Justine) made 6 visits and left 16 pictures.

One to ten minutes separated his comings and goings.

Sometimes he came several times without going, and went several times without coming.

Justin was obviously using more than one route to and from the willow thicket.

I won't forget this place, but I decided to pull the cams and give the Sac Valley wetlands a break.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Faux woodpecker granary

The faux granary log has not been a smashing success with the local California Acorn Woodpeckers, but it's not like they ignore it either.

I took this picture back in the spring, when the redhead was kind enough to call the woodpeckers to my attention.

Actually, I had pretty much forgotten the experiment, but my wife had not.

She had esthetic concerns about the granary log's contribution of our patio decor.

The granary does attract woodpeckers now and then, but it is not an irresistible attraction.

It needs improvement, like a few robotic decoys that periodically tap and go rukka- rukka.

And it should be a lot bigger and hollow with a diversion chute at the bottom so you can harvest bushels of acorns.

We have bird friendly coffee, but how about bird-harvested acorns stone milled to flour?

The challenge would be shelling, blanching, and milling this wholesome product.

Birders would seem a logical source of volunteer labor, but let's face it, they're too easily distracted.

It may sound like a hair-brained scheme, but think sea monkeys and pet rocks, or Douglas fir needle tea.

If it could happen anywhere, Californian would be the place.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The call of the high country

Christian finishes his log set.

The high country was calling, "get off your butt and set some cams -- the camera trapping workshop is only a month away".

So the codger spent a day in Sierra County in good company -- "graduates" from last year's Camera Trapping Workshop plus friends.

The northern Sierra still has plenty of snow.

Forest Service roads weren't always passable; snow drifts were thick on the north slopes.

And the Yuba River wasn't fordable by the usual routes and means: rock-hopping, wading, or crossing fallen logs.

The high country in Eldorado County, where I found more mountain beaver habitat this weekend.

That didn't stop us; we put out a record number of cameras in several habitats.

We GPS'd each set because in only 4-weeks the growth spurt of grass and Delphiniums will drastically change the appearance of each location.

I was pleased to observe that the guys learned their camera trapping lessons well and gained a great deal of experience on their own this past year.

Now they're pushing the envelope for camera trapping creativity.

What you can't see in the picture above is that Christian's camera trap is only 12 feet or so above the whitewater!

Okay, I'm joshing.

But in a few weeks when the drifts melt there'll be a lot more water flowing under his lofty perch.

And for other high jinks and discoveries from last weekend check Camera Trapping Campus.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Following her nose

Asiatic wild dog, bamboo forest, Rakhine Yoma, Myanmar: May 5, 2011

UMA's photo of a dhole or Asiatic wild dog (Cuon alpinus) was taken during the elephant survey in Rakhine Yoma Elephant Sanctuary.

I saw my first dhole in Nepal in the late 1970s while taking a late afternoon stroll near Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge with Hemanta Mishra and the late wildlife photographer Dieter Plage

I asked Plage why he was taking his movie camera. It was huge, clearly a burden, and we were only on a dusty jeep track killing some time before happy hour.

His reply was something to the effect that you encounter wildlife when you least expect it, and he wanted to be ready for the unexpected.  

Five minutes later a dhole paused at the edge of the road and Plage started filming. It trotted across the road and two more followed it. 

He had made his point. 

A couple years later my colleagues the Mishras and Sunquists were with me in India's Kanha National Park. 

We were on elephant back when we stumbled on a sambar doe -- just killed. 

The ranger advised us to come back in a half hour, and when we arrived the wild dogs were feeding. Only bones were left the next morning.

In February 1995 we were beginning a radio-telemetry study of Burmese brow-antlered deer in Chatthin Wildlife Sanctuary, Myanmar.

When the radio-tracking team returned to camp that evening they were excited. 

One doesn't witness large mammal predation in forested habitats, but they had just encountered a pack of three taw kway or wild dogs hunting on the ridge above camp.

First an exhausted and gasping muntjac labored by within yards of the radio-trackers. 

Then, moments later three wild dogs ran right into the trackers. 

They stopped in their tracks to stare at the people, who wasted no time scaring them off. 

I started to plan for a wild dog study, bought radio-transmitters, and we engaged a professional trapper from the US to teach the research team how to live-trap wild dogs.

We caught jackals and civets and never saw another wild dog in the park.

Nor did we get any reports of them from villagers.

The taw kway had left the wildlife sanctuary and vanished somewhere in the plains between the Irrawaddy and the Chindwin. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Seedy bear with the right tools

Chimineas Ranch, October, 2010.

We stuffed a punctured can of cat food down into a crack in the log, and a seedy black bear found it 16 days later.

It was 2:45 in the morning.

In no time Bruin located the bait precisely. and put its tools to work. 

Two minutes later it ripped the wood back, and exposed the can.

It had the right tools, but it didn't know how to use them to open the can.

I've seen captive Himalayan bears open the snap top on a can of pop with one claw.

This bear was equipped to do just that, but gave up and left the can where it found it.

The visit lasted 5 minutes.

An idle bear in a cage of course will spend endless hours solving the problem of opening a snap top can.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A delectable though minute haunch

"The light was fading, and she was roasting a woodrat for her evening meal. She gave me one of the minute hindquarters, and I never tasted anything so delicious."

The quote is from Carobeth Laird's biographical "Encounter with an Angry God", about a field trip to the headwaters of the Tule River in the southern Sierra Nevada.

The year was 1917, and Laird was assisting her husband John Peabody Harrington record the dying languages of the California Indians.

Harrington was driven, obsessive, and eccentric.

He didn't want WWI to interrupt his life's work, so pleaded with his young wife to back the model T over his leg so he could avoid the draft.

That saying that no man on his deathbed regrets that he didn't spend more time at work didn't apply to Harrington.

When he died in 1961 his professional estate of field notes, recordings, artifacts, some mummified birds, old shirts, and half-eaten sandwiches weighed in at 6 tons.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A dry wash channel set

Dry washes are the country roads of four-footed arid land drifters, and good places to set camera traps.

They're fickle places, though, especially in winter, when a rumbling wash of mud, gravel, and cobbles can sweep your beloved cam away. Forever.

The channel in the rock sediments seen here is a promising but unusual feature.

We all walked right on through the gap, realized its uniqueness, and got a little jazzed about it.

Practically every mammal bigger than a rat will be obliged to pass through that channel, just as we did.

Take a look at the top of the page again, and you'll see a couple of rocks at the bottom of the channel. 

There's a smelly treat under that stone, so we're expecting passersby to pause for a sniff before resuming their journeys.

That will give the camera time to capture their photo IDs. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Too yucky for pictures

Nature can inspire and Nature can gross you out.

When the redhead summoned me this morning she was holding something in a tissue.

It looked like a shiny gray grape.

Except the grape had legs, and they were waving feebly.

It was a bloated tick -- perhaps the American dog tick, but given the course of events I will never know for sure.

"I found it on the carpet!" said my wife.

Now I want to make one thing perfectly clear.

I'm an attentive dog owner. I check the dog for ticks every day, and observe his scratching and grooming patterns.

When I pluck a tick from Fred's hide he can't wait to sniff it.

In his dog-mind the smell of the tick is proof that the discomfort of its removal wasn't just another human trick. (Well, that's my reading of it.)

I was wondering how Fred could have nourished this bloated thing for at least a week without my notice, when the redhead asked, "How can I kill it?"

A vial of alcohol seemed advisable, but before I could articulate my thought I witnessed a surreal moment of life in slow motion.

She gave the tick the big squeeze, and I could hear my voice echoing,

"D O N ' T  D O  T H A T. . . ."

It was too late.

The tick exploded, the redhead yelped, and a black glob of semi-digested dog blood spattered her throat.

It was like a scene from The Godfather.

The tick was no longer a suitable specimen, and I called out to her as she hurried to the sink:

"Couldn't you wait till I got a picture of it?"

Thursday, June 9, 2011

About to leap

Not much to say, except I wish the camera had taken this photo a half second (or so) later.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pulled in two directions

Day 3

By the time Coyote showed up at set 421, Gray Fox had paid 7 visits and left 27 images.

I have no way of knowing exactly how many foxes Gray Fox happens to be, but suspect there are two look-alikes, a couple, in this corner of Chimineas.

But back to Coyote.

His first visit was brief. He looked at the camera, it flashed, and he was gone.

Caution, suspicion, fear, neophobia -- call it what you like -- it ushered him away.

Day 7

On his second visit, 4 days later, his decided to leave before the suspicious thing flashed.

Day 21

But  2 weeks later he was back.

He studied the suspicious thing long enough for it to flash, but when that happened he didn't hang around.

Day 28

Coyote made another appearance seven days later.

This time the camera was a stronger lure than the bait.

He needed to know more about the suspicious thing.

When the flash went off he played it safe.

He decided to leave Dodge City to braver souls like Gray Fox, who by this time had left 54 photos of his visits and scent-marking shenanigans.

Day 34

On day 34 however Coyote once again found himself drawn to the increasingly tempting stench from under the rock.

He was savoring that smell when the suspicious thing flashed and ended his reverie, but once again he escaped unscathed.

Day 57: 8:49:56

Finally, on day 57 Coyote stood his ground for over a minute.

He discovered that the suspicious thing was only a bluffer.

Its flash was harmless.

He sniffed the fascinating but fading balm with impunity.

The camera captured 4 images as he alternately sniffed and regarded the suspicious but harmless thing.

Day 57, 8:50:16

Day 57, 8:51:09

Day 57: last photo -- 8:51:29

The camera trap took pictures for 108 days.

Coyote left 12 photos during 7 visits, and Gray fox left 62 photos during 22 visits.

Two MOs.

If the suspicious thing had been dangerous, there's a good chance Gray Fox would be gone, and Coyote would still be around.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Pay attention to your enemy

Set 421 at the Chimineas Ranch-- an eroded outcrop hidden by a patch of holly leaf cherry -- was an interesting crossroad.  

It was there that a flock of chukars paused to roost in the trees, and bobcats left their calling cards.

But let's not fool ourselves; the attraction to the mammals was the bait (a punctured can of cat food) and the scent lures -- your garden variety fish emulsion and a butterscotch-scented concoction imaginatively named "green death".

They summoned gray fox, coyote, bobcat, and wood rat and deer mouse.

Here we see Br'er fox sniffing the lure while wood rat watches in the background.

Smart rat.

The wood rat that doesn't pay attention becomes dinner.

On only three occasions have we camera trapped these two species together, and the rats hadn't paid attention.

Consequently, they were limp or missing body parts.