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.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Do skunk's scatter-hoard surplus food?

You know how the jackals and hyenas show up after the lion finishes its meal? Well, it looks like wood rats and deer mice here clean-up after mini-carnivores like Stinkarella, the spotted skunk.

This week the climbing skunk tackled and ate two gopher baits (Pics 1 and 2). The 2nd gopher (a big one) was gone in 45 minutes. The skunk then spent about 30 minutes coming and going, digging holes (pic 3), and checking out the cam (pic 4).

I didn’t give the digging much thought until I looked at the next 8 photos, which were triggered by 2 wood rats and a mouse (pics 5). The mouse was there first—an hour after the skunk’s exit. The rat made its appearance 3 hours later. It looks like the wood rat was digging where the skunk had dug. Stinkarella returned to the scene 25 minutes after the last wood rat photo (at 5:15AM), and stuck his head in the hole.

Hypothesis: the skunk "scatter hoards" its leftovers, just as a squirrel buries nuts. (Next time I’ll dig around to see what I find). Other animals "larder-hoard"--store a lot of food in one place. I haven't found any reference in the scientific literature about spotted skunks hoarding food. I admit the evidence is circumstantial, but maybe we're onto something.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

A winsome skunk

I hadn't encountered Stinkarella, the spotted skunk since last February, but a few nights back she made an appearance to dig up 4 pieces of salmon skin. I buried the skin in an old woodpile of bull-dozed manzanita. It was created by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) about 30-years ago. It's also a whistle stop for local small mammals. The smell of that salmon kept drawing her back that first night--she made 6 visits over an 8-hour period.

The pictures here were made the next night (9:11 PM, October 14), when I used two dead deer mice as bait. It took her 14 minutes to scarf the mice, during which time the camera took 21 pictures. A half hour later she was back to see if any more mice had appeared, and I got two more pics. It seems that's when she first noticed the camera. Five hours later the woodrat showed up to check out the scene. The pics were all taken at a considerable distance, so you are seeing the cropped images.

Friday, October 6, 2006

The fine art of scatology

I sent this photo to my old friend Brian Miller for help in identification. (Brian manages the Wind River Ranch in NE New Mexico). I found the scat on the trail next to the house. It was big and packed full of jackrabbit fur.

Brian answered: "Halfpenny says red fox scats are less than 18 mm wide (92% of the time), and coyote scats are between 18 mm and 25 mm wide (63% of the time). So it is too big for both of them. I use the sniff technique to separate felid, canid, and ursid scats. Every member of the canid family has that acrid, sharp smell. Pumas and bobcats have a smell just like domestic cats leave in the litter box. Bear scat smells like a musty old cigar. Of all the scents, I prefer bear. If the scat is still there, break it open and see if there is any scent left."

The timeless art of scat identificiation is a stepwise process starting with visual inspection, and usually ending with the sniff test. (The boy scout joke about the taste test is probably fiction, though biologists have shown that there are consistent differences in the pH of dog and cat poop.)

It is a moot point whether Brian lit and smoked the scat to get that cigar smell. But this all goes to show that identifying scats is truly a fine art. Like other paleolithic inventions such as cheese making, brewing, and the barbecue, scat identification is still alive and well in some quarters of modern society.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Coexistence at last

Checked the camera trap in the ravine today. A lot has changed since my last message about Sasquatch's contempt of cameras. This time there was no search and destroy mission when she arrived at the water hole, even though the camera was in plain sight. We seem to be co-existing at last.

After the depressing event last month, I wasn't about to leave another camera in the woods without added protection. I found the solution at the Dollar Tree Store. When you detach the magnet from this cheesy little security alarm its piercing scream sounds like an enormous German roller canary. Neighbor Richard and I installed the bear alarms on the camera traps. Spiked treadles serve as triggers.

I don't know if Bruin messed with the camera and got a blast from the "screaming canary" and pricked her bear paws. Maybe she was still satisfied with her last victory over technology. There were 14 bear pictures on the cam taken over the past 2 weeks. The bears made three different visits. Two series of shots were of the camera-eating Sasquatch, and one shot was of a cub drinking.

Sasquatch is into personal hygiene. Her ablutions start with a sitz-bath and peaceful reflection. Then she combs her hair. (The teats confirm that this is a she-bear.)