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.

Monday, February 25, 2013

It wasn't pleased to see me

It was only last week -- we were driving back to camp through the western hills of Burma when I spotted a kid on the road carrying a big cat.

It didn't look exactly like a house cat, so I asked the driver to stop -- "Yeppa, yeppa" and jumped out with my camera.

The boy was clutching a jungle cat (Felis chaus), one of Asia's most widespread small cats (Egypt to SE Asia and SW China).

It wasn't pleased to see me and meowed constantly, but it didn't attempt to escape.

Normally I would have asked more questions, but I was part of a group, and the group had a busy agenda.

My guess is that the cat's mother was caught for the pot, and the boy raised the kitten.

Only a hand-reared jungle cat would be so tame.

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.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Return of a Champion

This anthology of writings by conservationist Frederick Walter Champion is a volume that dedicated camera trappers will want to read.

How do I know when I don't yet have a copy?

Well my friends, the codger has read both of Champion's books  -- With Camera in Tigerland (1927) and The Jungle in Sunlight and Shadow (1934) more than once. They are worth re-reading. The anthology is based on chapters from these books and more.

Champion (1893-1970) was a British Indian forester, a dedicated naturalist, and a pioneering camera trapper.

His long out-of-print books are engaging records of how things were in the Indian jungle, not to mention reality checks for latter day camera trappers on their own personal trails of discovery.

Over the years Champion painstakingly acquired a splendid photographic portfolio of the subcontinent's mammals, large and small, and to this day his images remain among the most evocative records of India's striking fauna.

We have James Champion, grandson of the preeminent camera trapper to thank for compiling the anthology.

Here is more information about the book, and you may read selected pages of the work here.

To order it, go here (India) or here (UK).

I am sorry I can't give you a distributer in the US, but if anyone out there is able to locate one, please post it as a comment.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Interlude with a fat stick

Not all of my friends appreciate Fred's personality the way I do.

To some he's an unbearably spoiled extrovert.

I won't deny that he is spoiled, but most folks find at least a few of his antics amusing.

Take his 3-legged stance during morning constitutionals. It's become de rigeur. Has my regular praise at potty time reinforced this quirk?

Anyway, the other day we hiked down to the north fork of the Feather River and found that the sandy beach at Fred's swimming hole was replaced with a cobble bar.

Our extended family spent an afternoon on the sandy beach back in November.

My sister-in-law, a city girl, insisted "This isn't the right place."

"There was a sandy beach, remember?"

Cobbles driven into an alder crotch
5 feet above the bank. 

I explained that the floods must have washed it away, but she didn't buy it.

Finally I pointed to the more permanent features of the site and convinced her that high water can wash away a beach or fill a deep swimming hole with sand.

In addition to driving several cobbles between the limbs of an alder tree the floods also deposited a new crop of flotsam.

Fred quickly found a suitable stick and morphed into his stick-obsessed Labrador persona.

Then I found a fat punky chunk of wood and lobbed it into the river, and the dog gave full-throated chase.

The transformative effect of the super-normal stimulus was magical.

He emerged stick-smitten and pranced with the trophy.

He dropped it and barked . . . my cue to toss it in again.

The fat stick stirred Fred's dog emotions deeply.

He whined and yodeled as he tried to turn it with his paws.

He gnawed off great chunks of punky wood, and every time he lost his paw grip he would emote like a deranged hound of the Baskervilles.  

When it was to time to march back to the car, Fred wouldn't part ways with his beloved fat stick.

He gripped it in his jaws even when he rested.  He knew his beloved would roll back to the river if he set it down. 

After a mile and a half his ardor waned, and he abandoned fat stick on the trail. 

We were only two hundred yards from the car.

It had been a wildly passionate interlude, but he was exhausted.  

He crashed as soon as we got home.