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 25, 2015

A white-breasted nuthatchery

I hope the incubating nuthatch in this box was satisfied with its mates' choices of carry-out.  

During incubation he served his lady a lot of legless carpenter ants, and she accepted them eagerly. 

Occasionally he served her a red ant, but . . .

the mainstay was caterpillars (which Mr Smiley identified as those of noctuid moths).  He also delivered shelled sunflower seeds from our bird feeder.  

He was a bit of a show-off. His acrobatics were eyecatching, . . . 

  but he didn't hang around after deliveries. 

I was puzzled by the occasional delivery of squirrel fur, a feather, and perhaps paper mache from wasps' nests. 

At these times he was also photographed peering into a gap in the box. 

The old nest box was coming loose at the backboard, and I gather the materials were intended for nest maintenance -- an attempt to chink the gap with fuzzy bird oakum.  

Finally the hen appeared with a fecal sac, and I knew the eggs had hatched. 

Apparently she made hasty exits, because the camera trap never caught this action again. 

When the chicks hatched, spiders and small beetles were added to the mainstay of caterpillars . . . 

and then moths replaced caterpillars.

The camera snapped one youngster the day before the family suddenly disappeared.

Except for yellow rubber-band lips and short tail, junior looked just like its parents.

The little imp also looked vulnerable, especially clinging to the box.

The next morning . . . (insert a heart-rending "oh no" here) . . . my camera caught several images of a Steller jay on top of the nest box.

I immediately checked it out with a flashlight.

The box was empty. There were no nuthatches at the feeder either.

I started to think the worse. Did the jay eat the fledglings? (Of course it did, you damn fool. Wasn't it just there, looking for more?)

It would have been so easy to nail the little buggers, and that's probably what happened. (Hey, you're a biologist. This is how it works.)

Two weeks later four nuthatches showed up at the feeder.

If the jay dined on tender nuthatch, it didn't get all of them.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Scree in Winter

Deadman Lake and its scree, on the north facing slope of Rt 49 (Google earth image)

You are looking at Deadman Lake at 6675 feet, and its ancient field of scree that spills downhill nearly 700 feet.

A camera set in deep boulder-scree
We set camera traps on Deadman's scree slope last November.

It's a strange place.

In summer you can slow-fry eggs on the sun-baked boulders, while cool drafts and the babble of moving water rise from the depths. 

In winter it's a wasteland of ice and snow,  

We've camera trapped Deadman in summer and fall, when little chief hares or pikas raise their squeaky alarm.

Scree isn't plant friendly, and you wouldn't expect many small mammals other than pika to live there.

But we've photographed wood rats, deer mice, chickarees, chipmunks, and golden-mantled ground squirrels far from the more vegetated edges.

The presence of those critters convinced me that talus must be a winter paradise for weasels.

It offers ever-present protection from the elements, thousands of recesses to escape from hungry raptors, and a steady supply of food.

Normally Deadman starts to look glacial in mid October, but winter was late last year.

We managed to get our act together in early November, and set our camera traps in shirt sleeves on a fine Indian summer day.

Six months later we were casting about and scratching our heads looking for our cameras.

I was the one who couldn't find his cameras, and even with the GPS telling me I was there I still had to peer into deep recesses to find two of them.

The camera batteries had died months earlier in most, but two of my cameras set a new record of 6 months -- they were still running on external D-cells.

We didn't have much to show for our patience, and we didn't get a single picture of a white weasel.

But a bobcat made several appearances at the first cam I set at the foot of the scree.

Full frame of scree visitor

The space was too small for a full body shot, but the cat showed us both working ends. 

Another revealing view.