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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.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

In a patch of horsetail

 I have been stumbling into patches of horsetail for several years now.

You know the stuff . . . scour brush . . . puzzlegrass . . . Equisetum.

It's a bizarre and ancient family of plants, a living fossil.

I think I read somewhere that native Americans used the gritty stems as toothbrushes. If true, they had calloused gums and no tooth enamel.

Horsetail grows in moist soil, in small patches or large monocultures -- Jurassic gardens, so to speak, and an authentic venue for war games with dino toys.

I've wondered what if anything lurks in horsetail, until last September when I finally got around to setting a camera trap in a stand near the Mad River.

It was on a silted flood bench, measured about 60 by 30 feet, and was surrounded by riparian woodland -- sword fern, alder, willow, Ceanothus, and bay laurel.

It was a troublesome set.

The camera happened to be one of my early constructions with a rocker switch on the bottom, not a recommended design for a macro-set with the camera sitting on the ground.

Two months later (early November) I found that I had inadvertently switched off the power when I set the camera.

I set it again and waited another 75 days.

The battery pooped out after 53 days, but I was gruntled to find there were 260 exposures.

The usual suspects, woodrats and deer mice had evidently triggered many of the 110 blank exposures,

but we also got opossums, raccoons, bobcats, and a spotted skunk.

And a song sparrow.

Many of the larger mammals were captured as partial images, because this was a macro-set, and my real goal was -- you guessed it -- shrews and white-footed voles.

So I was pleased to get the shrew at the top of the page.

As for its identity, we can dismiss two possibilities.

The marsh shrew has a dark belly, nearly as dark as its back, and the fog shrew has a unicolored tail.

That leaves us with the Wandering shrew and the Trowbridge shrew, both of which have bicolored tails and winter coats of gray.

The site was suitable habitat for both species.

If we can find an even bigger patch of horsetail, I'm game for another set.


John Van Niel said...

I had never heard about the teeth cleaning before. I have heard that you can use horsetail (or scouring rush) to clean cookware. I have only shined pennies. Great photo of that bobcat, but the shrew is the one that makes me envious... :)

Henry said...

Always great to get a Shrew, congrats! I enjoyed the Opossums as well, what strange creatures!

john said...

Oh my gosh! Those horsetails are gigantic. Our local Alaska horsetails are wispy things with a thin central stem, no more than about 15" tall. They are very abundant on the forest floor and beautiful.
Great shrew, possum, and Song Sparrow shots.