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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, October 29, 2009

Poison Water guzzlers -- amphibians

Western toad (Bufo boreas)

A few amphibians make Poison Water Spring their home, at least during the dry months. 

Water is scarce and localized on the ranch, especially during the hot months, so it seems likely that most frogs and toads are underground estivating in August when these pictures were taken. 

The spring seems to be an oasis for only a few amphibians.

California red-legged frog (Rana draytonii)

The photos were all incidental, taken while bats, jackrabbits or birds triggered the camera. 

Froglets, toadlets, or maybe Pacific tree frogs (Hyla regilla)

Pacific tree frogs were the only amphibians we encountered when setting the camera. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Poison Water guzzlers -- Western screech owl

Unless you are approaching the golden years of codgerdom, you may not remember comedian Jackie Vernon's appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show and his solemn pronouncement --  "A wet bird never flies at night".

Actually Vernon credited philosopher Sig Sakowitz for that gem of wisdom, but he believed it.

And so did I. 

I believed the heavy hand of natural selection had weeded out wet birds that dared to fly at night.

Now I am starting to have doubts.  

You see, it was night -- 9:40PM to be exact -- when this Western screech owl mirrored itself before the still waters of Poison Water Spring. 

Five minutes later it waded into the murky shallows.


Okay, it was only a sitz bath, but the camera took two more pictures at intervals of 8 and 16 minutes. 

Which makes me think it was a case of bathus interruptus -- in and outalways on the lookout, and all nervous like girls skinny dipping in the 60s. 

This little joker, a recent fledgling showed up the next night . . . .

. . . . sipped bath water . . . 

and definitely got his or her pantalones wet. 

I can't prove that the birds flew wet into the night, but I doubt they left Poison Water in a state of popcorn dryness. 

Sometimes you have to give up cherished beliefs.

Nowadays I'm inclined to believe that wet birds do fly at night. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Poison Water guzzlers -- dickeybirds

Left to right: California towhee, Lesser nighthawk, rufous-crowned 
sparrow, hummingbird impersonator (you tell me), Oak titmouse 

Admittedly, they're not much as bird portraits, but they are good enough to identify water hole guzzlers.  

Sage sparrows showing age-sex differences in plumage.

Examining 400+ photos is a lot of work, and poor picture quality means more work, because you have to drag the jpg from IPhoto to Photoshop to eyeball it up close.

Here is a summary.

Number of appearances by species; 18-21 August '09 (487 photos).

If you just count frames, California towhees placed first as the most photographed bird, with California and Mountain quail placing second and third. 

Oak titmice were often seen clinging to a timber waiting to dash in for a quick drink. 

We got only one frame of the Lesser nighthawk -- seen at the top of the page drying out after a bath -- and two frames of a white-breasted nuthatch. 

When the scrub jay visited other birds stayed away. 

Frequency of bird and mammal photos at dawn, dusk and night.

For the sake of economy we set the controller for night pictures, so we don't know what species visited Poison Water during the warm hours of the day.

A northern flicker butts in on the quail for a drink of bathwater.

The camera still operated in low light -- becoming active around 7:00PM when there was a flurry of bird activity and turning off just before 7:00AM. 

It is tempting to set the camera for round-the-clock activity.

That gap in the data makes you wonder who shows up in the heat of day.   


Monday, October 26, 2009

Poison Water guzzlers -- the Mountain Quail

Was the loner a scout or just thirstier than his kin who were lurking out of sight?

Chimineas Ranch, San Luis Obispo County, California

In only four days of operation, the camera took 487 photos at Poison Water Spring.

Birds were the most common subjects, and California Quail were numerically dominant among the 12 species of birds that guzzled at the spring.

A distinctive handsome fellow -- a Mountain Quail -- appeared amongst the evening guzzlers on the 4th day . 

Flank and bib coloration set the California and Mountain Quail apart. 

The camera took several pictures of him in the company of a small number of California Quail. 

One California Quail on the rail watches the Mountaineers guzzle below.

When the California Quail dispersed a small clan of Mountain Quail joined him. 

A few California Quail watched them from the grandstand seats.  

Sunday, October 25, 2009

They're on the move

I knew I forgot something. 

I failed to mention the tarantulas in my previous post about my last trip to the Chimineas Ranch.

They were on the move-- male tarantulas, marching inexorably to the promised land.

In this case the promised land can be translated to female tarantulas larger than themselves and the prospect of mating.

It's a fatal attraction, because female tarantulas, like many other spiders often eat their mates when the seminal transaction is over.  

I saw dozens of the hairy fellows pausing at the edge of Soda Lake Road as I cruised by at 37.5 mph in my ancient red Honda. (I was low on gas). 

Their traffic sense must pay off, because I saw only a few black splats on the road.   

Arachnophiles celebrate the annual tarantula migration in various ways, and you can't blame them for getting excited. 

You don't see sexual crusades very often.

And crusades that end with the mothers-to-be eating their sperm donors are pretty unusual. 

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Back from the ranch

Just back from the ranch -- the Chimineas Ranch. 

We rode the range and collected cams. 

We did recces and saw new terrain.

Of the 11 new sets, we put two cameras in new habitat -- desert, where Spanish bayonet features prominently.  

We also called in a Great Horned Owl,  and of course Fred had a terrific time.

He retrieved his first elk antler.  

In a prairie it's hard to miss an antler, but we saw it before Fred did. 

When we opened the tailgate though, he jumped down and bee-lined to the branched bone like a good retriever. 

There was none of that catch-me-if-you-can nonsense, either.

And for the first time we saw his border collie genes kick into action, a thrill.

We had just made set 308 on a high windy ridge and were heading back to the truck when we encountered 25 cows on the slope below. 

Clearly they had a mission, and were no doubt heading for night pasture. 

Fred crouched a few moments, then flew done slope like there was no tomorrow. 

In no time he turned the herd around, and circled back to catch up a couple of stragglers.

He sent the old girls and their calves humping to where they came from.  

For four days he sniffed countless scats, some with more interest than others.

But camera trap lures -- a concoction called Fox Butter and month-old mackerel in punctured cans were the most cherished.

He sniffed at them long and deeply, licked air, and dearly wanted a roll with them. 

Chimineas has been good to us. 

I never expected a back log of photos and blogging material, but the wildlife pics just keep rolling in.  

So sit tight. 

Next week we'll return to the guzzlers of Poison Water. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Have a few quail

This is the first image from our Poison Water Spring series.

Remember that place?

I said staking a camera in the spring was taking a chance. 

Well, the camera filled nearly 2 gigabytes of memory with images in the first 8 days, and then something strange happened.

The Pelican case mysteriously popped open and the batteries dropped into the water. 

The camera remained perched within inches of water on its 1-inch aluminum shelf.

Not to worry -- Craig recovered the batteries from the water; they were intact and no damage was done.   

A lot of animals visited and emerged from Poison Water in those 8 days, and California quail took first place for sheer numbers. 

The population is doing well, as you can see.   

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

One handsome coyote

Just back from a quick trip to the SF Bay area where checking cams in Marin County was long overdue. 

This coyote passed the camera on two different days and paused long enough to give me two very nice images. 

What a difference from the rangy yammering skulkers at the Carrion Cafe

A few days later he was back and on the prowl at 5:00AM.

Whatever caught his attention, he decided to check it out and divulged his sex (so sorry, I was supposed to say gender -- I just keep forgetting that gender is the politically correct word for sex . Never mind gender, folks, -- I'm talking about sex. 

Be sure to check out SittingFox for Adele's recent pictures of  coyotes on the Canadian prairie. 

If yodel dogs make you feel poetic, she has that too.   

Sunday, October 18, 2009

One more from the night roost

Here is one more bat, the third species that roosted in the sandstone cave. 

It is distinctly darker than the long-eared species of Myotis, and I suspect it is either the Yuma myotis (Myotis yumanensis) or the California myotis (Myotis californicus). 

You can tell them apart by the size of the feet. The California myotis has little feet.

Getting bat pictures is gratifying, but you need high quality photos to identify bats to species, and even that is not always enough.

Sometimes you have to look at their teeth.  

Now to see some truly excellent bat photos that show diagnostic characters, have a look at Michael Durham's webpage here.  

Friday, October 16, 2009

Lone bob kitten

Does it look familiar? 

It should, because I think we've seen it before.

This is probably one of the bob kittens I photographed this summer on the trail in Marin County. 

It was still around as of September 5th when the photo was taken, and is undoubtedly foraging on its own

It is still young, though, and mom would probably share with it at least her larger prey items. 

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Big blonds at the night roost

A big blond makes her entrance.

You want bats?

You get bats!

We are back at the sandstone cave looking at pallid bats (Antrozous pallidus).

They are distinctive big blond bats with relatively big eyes, and they are most abundant in the drier parts of the western and southwestern US.

The pallid bat stands apart from its relatives in the family Vespertilionidae.

For one thing, it forages on the ground.  

That's right: they land in open areas and dance about on their wrists and hind feet to catch large arthropods. 

And yes, some mammalogists have caught them in snap traps, though not intentionally.

How does that happen? 

The bats probably pounced on an arthropod perched on the trap's baited treadle. 

Potato bugs or Jerusalem crickets (Stenopelmatus spp.) are common prey.

As an aside, I might add that Jerusalem crickets are fond of oatmeal and big enough to trigger a mousetrap baited with it. 

They don't require the assistance of a pallid bat to get whacked. 

But back to big blonds.

The little stuff they eat on the wing -- that's their fast food.

With meaty stuff like Jerusalem crickets, katydids and scorpions they fly off  to a night roost in an outbuilding , rock recess, or cave and there they dine at leisure. 

Only a couple of pallid bats showed up, and only on two nights. 

Unwanted legs, wings, and head capsules they discard with the abandon of Falstaff, and the discovery of these little piles of carnage has been known to send bat aficionados into gleeful rapture. 

By the way, the camera trap also photographed a scorpion in the sandstone cave, but the big blonds weren't present.     


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My first otter photo

I am a discriminating road kill inspector.

I don't stop to inspect the common stuff.

This I couldn't pass up. 

The animal was apparently crossing the road between two irrigation canals when a car tagged it.  

Route 162 across the Sacramento Valley is a mighty tough road on wildlife.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Night roost

The sandstone cave yielded 602 photos, but only 274 were of animals.

The low success rate of 46% was due to false triggers caused by bats.

They zipped in and out of the cave seeking a place to settle, and this triggered the camera.

Even so, we got 117 bat photos, and this yellowish brown bat with biggish ears was the most commonly photographed species.

Two species fit the bill -- the big-eared myotis (Myotic evotis) and the fringed myotis (M. thrysanodes).

The distinguishing characteristic, a fringe of hair along the interfemoral membrane would make it the latter.

None of the photos is clear enough to see it.

I am not confident of this identification, so this is a call to any mammalogists out there to speak up.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Troglodytic rodents

California pocket mouse, Chaetodipus californicus

Three species of rodents came to the cave, but none was a frequent visitor. 

The pocket mouse, photographed on three different nights seems to have done a little digging and dust bathing. 

Digging and dust bathing in the fine sand. 

There is also a series of pictures where the sand magically forms a crater, and our best guess is that a dust bathing pocket mouse was out-of-site doing the work.  

The short-tail of this pocket mouse is an aberration due to the angle.

Two long-tailed species of deer mice have been recorded in the area: the Pinyon mouse (P. truei) and the Brush mouse (P. boylei). 

The Pinyon mouse also has big ears and a dorsal tail stripe that is less than 1/3rd the circumference of the tail.

This looks like a Pinyon mouse -- and a handsome mouse it is.


Pinyon mouse (Peromyscus truei), a species of foothill woodland and juniper woodland. 

Our old freind the dusky-footed wood rat appeared only once. 

Dusky-footed woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Acorn shoals

It's a good year for acorns.

They sink when they hit the water, and form shoals in the flume. 

It would be so easy to gather a bushel with a dipnet.

They're free.

You could make a year's supply of acorn mush.

The redhead isn't keen on the idea.