About Me

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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of four. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Back to the ranch

11:08PM -- "Hornly" the resident hooter confronts brazen plastic imposter.

It was good to get back to 'the Chimineas'.

Nearly 7 months has passed since my last visit, and a lot happened during the long winter.

More than once the storms had reclaimed the ranch's roads as gullies and washes.

Then it would dry up a bit, and thinking the worse was over Cowman Ross would start to grade --  until another storm rolled in with vengeance.

When spring halfheartedly arrived Craig and the team camera trapped the accessible areas near the ranch house.  

We spent the first night reviewing a grant proposal, transferring backlogged photo files, and checking cameras (3 more were out of commission).

For dinner we threw together a clam pasta prepared by the redhead.

Craig observed that it didn't taste much like clams, and I had to agree, though I'll allow that  a second beer might have compromised my ability to discern the delicate essence of bivalves.

We turned in early, but as for the coyote serenade, I have nothing to report. It was too cold to sleep with the door and windows open.

We set cameras the next morning in a new canyon and found a fairly large sandstone cave.

That afternoon RandonTruth and Craig's assistant Heather rolled in, and we enjoyed our reunion over grilled chicken burritos.

I was ready to test my automatic owl caller in the field, but  the 15 minute cycle of the  3 v motor (a lavatory air freshener donated by neighbor Richard) wasn't performing as it had the day before.

The plunger on the air freshener didn't start the CD player.

This was a disappointment, as the local pair of great horned owls (GHOs) had just fledged their young within walking distance of the ranch house.

Fortunately RandomTruth is a man of the modern era.

He quickly copied the owl calls from my CD to his IPod, inserted pauses, and it worked like a charm.

The modern owl caller (left) and my Rube Goldberg owl caller.  

After dinner we wired my hooter decoy to a stump near the nest tree, hid the IPod and speaker beneath it, and set up a couple of cameras nearby.

My cam was also on the fritz, but fortunately RandomTruth's home brewed camera trap caught the action-- thanks Ken.

Here's what happened with his photos.

The resident GHO, presumably the male (who we will call Hornly) arrived at the stump at 11:08 PM -- 2 hours after the decoy boldly announced its intrusion into the breeding territory.

With cocked tail and wings a-hanging he had a rather ruffled if not disturbed presence.

And perhaps he noticed that the puny offender had an uncanny ventriloquistic ability.

11:10 PM -- Hornly looks in the direction of the call. 

There were no photos of an aerial strike or a wing-flapping attempt to mount, but 50 minutes later Hornly felled the brazen imposter.

12:45 AM -- after Hornly's first strike.

The vanquished hooter however refused to retreat  and continued to announce its presence as if nothing had happened.

Hornly apparently struck again and the camera captured him hooting in victory.

1:36 AM -- Tail up and head bowed -- Hornly is probably hooting in victory over his plastic foe.

And so begins another promising season of camera trapping on the Chimineas.

If we get our grant, we will start a new experiment to test survey methodology.

And one last thing, as I packed up the morning of my departure I found a can of clams in my grocery bag.

I immediately recalled Craig's wistful observation about the unclammy flavor of the clam sauce, and laughed uproariously .

And you won't believe this, but it is true.

When I carried the Rube Goldberg owl caller to the car it started to play.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wolverine in motion

Alert to camera trap nuts -- this footage of the Oregon wolverine is waiting for all of you Gulo enthusiasts to enjoy.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Nest cam update

Richards 6 titmice are ready to fledge at 21 days.

We watched them on his TV monitor today.

The most rambunctious of the clutch kept flying up to the hole to peek out, and everytime it dropped back into the nest its siblings went into a frenzy of begging and wing flapping-- obviously mistaking it for a parent.

My screech owl box was appropriated by a pair of northern flickers about 2 weeks ago.

The seventh egg appeared yesterday between 9 and 10 AM.

Today one of the eggs disappeared. I presume it was damaged and the hen disposed of it.

I expect she'll get serious incubation very soon.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The fluttering sound in the attic

The rescued attic owl in the butterfly net.
[I recently recovered these pictures from a broken hard drive, and this is their story.]

I had dismissed my wife's suspicion that something was fluttering in the attic.

You see, I'm supposed to be the one with better hearing, but she's the one who's always hearing things.

"Listen," she said, "There it is again."

And she was right. Something was fluttering up there.

I got the ladder and a flashlight and climbed up into the attic's furnace-like heat.

There I traced the mysterious noise to a narrow corner where a rather pathetic looking screech owl had become wedged.

It was impossible to reach it.

If you recall Colonel Nicholson's grimy and sodden appearance after his time out in the hot box -- I'm talking about Alec Guinness in Bridge over the River Kwai  -- well, that was me.

Sweating and covered with insulation I crabbed my way down the ladder and stumbled to the sink to rehydrate.

But time was limited -- it was a miracle the owl wasn't yet cooked.

It had to be close to heat stroke.

I returned to the attic with butterfly net, and it was easy work.

The hyperventilating bird had enough strength to flip on its back and grabbed the net with its sharp little mouse squeezers.

Back in the kitchen it looked like road kill, but it guzzled water freely, and I placed the quenched bird in the shade next to the garage.

An hour later it flew to a higher perch where it dozed until dusk.

I think the little guy made it. There were no owl feathers to be found the next morning, 

How did it get in the attic?

It mistook a terra cotta ventilation tube under the eaves for a suitable daytime retreat.

The chicken wire bird-and-bat filter had fallen from the tube earlier that week.

This was the event that launched my winter pastime as a builder of owl boxes.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rediscovered or Ignored for 113 years?

Thanks to Bill Wilson for the heads up on the latest mammalian rediscovery -- the red-crested tree rat, a handsome rodent with the elegant moniker of Santamartamys rufodorsalis.

Somehow I doubt that mammalogists have been combing the forests of Colombia for the past 113 years searching for Santamartamys, but that doesn't detract from the excitement of the find.

There are quite a few species in Latin America known from a handful of specimens collected long ago, and it's always good news to find they are still orbiting through space with the rest of us.

Curious, hungry, or angry?

You have viewed your camera trap pictures and find that 18 of 27 images are of whiskers and a furry out-of-focus face.

What do you conclude, good reader?

Most folks would allow that the animal noticed the camera, and that it was sufficiently curious to examine it.

Here's the curious animal with those whiskers.

To give you an idea of the distance separating "stage" and camera, here's the set up with Fred giving perspective.

Wood rats and even the lowly opossum react to camera traps by getting up close and personal.

Bears sometimes take the camera apart, and elk have been known to lick and slobber them out of focus.

Camera botherers don't just react to the thing that flashes in the night. They also react to cameras in daylight that don't flash.

Folks are inclined to attribute different motives to camera-curious mammals depending on popular belief.

A camera-curious possum is vaunted as a genius of its kind, an elk is credited only for its acute sense of smell, and a camera-ripping bear is seen as an angry victim making even the score with the insulting flash.

I have to take my share of the blame for embellished interpretation, but in fact, I believe that simple curiosity drives most mammals to examine camera traps they encounter in the woods.

Of course, there are differences among and within species in that mysterious realm of subjective phenomena.

But the measurable difference between species is in what it takes to satisfy their camera-curiosity.

The elk sniffs, tastes, and thrashes the camera with the antlers, while the bear opens it and takes it apart with claws, jaws, and teeth.

The wood rat is equally bold, but satisfies its curiosity by looking and sniffing.

Given enough time, however, I wouldn't be surprised if wood rat gnawed a few holes in it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Two different bears

A few weeks ago two bears made an appearance at a camera near the house.

The cinnamon-colored bear was well-groomed and muscular, and the pictures tell me it had a calm but cautious presence.

If this was Scruffy, whom I encountered several years ago as a cub, she had grown into a fine specimen of womanhood.

Blackie on the other hand had a clownish bearing.

The camera was attached to the tree with a bungie cord and armed with a spiked bear guard.

Cinnamon approached and examined it with an inquisitive look. 

The camera's position didn't change, so I know Cinnamon didn't touch it. 

Blackie also examined the cam.

It  pawed the camera and tipped it toward the ground, and the cam snapped three pictures. 

The spiked bear guard did its job, so no damage was done.

But the interesting thing is the different way the bears reacted to the cam.

Maybe it as just a difference in mood or hunger, but animals differ in disposition.

Maybe they just have different MOs.  

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Rescue practice

Blogger needed emergency rescue yesterday.

While their engineers geeked madly to get it going again, and bloggers like yours truly were harboring unkind thoughts, our local rescue squad whacked into view down slope from the house.

The chopper hauled a long line attached to a coffin-like litter.

OMG -- was I witnessing a human drama?

The vultures were also out in full force. Was there a corpse down there in the manzanita?

Grabbed the camera, tripod, telescope (and a cold beer) and hurried outside.

The pilot lowered a coffin-like litter into a clearing; the hovering chopper descended to within 50 feet of the ground, and then rotated.

Someone climbed half way out of the cabin -- apparently peeking down.

Then the chopper ascended and headed down the canyon. As the coffin turned I could see it was empty.

It was just practice, and they practiced in the same place all afternoon.

Late in the night Blogger was working again, but they are still trying to recover lost posts.

I was lucky -- I only lost a few comments to the previous post.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Never forget your wedding date

The codger held forth at an event for a worthy cause last weekend.

The subject of course was camera trapping, with some illustrated biographical recollections of how zoological obsession took hold of an otherwise normal yours truly.

The event took place at the very church where the redhead and the codger took the sacred vows of matrimony nearly 45 years ago.

I was actually preaching from the pulpit of the church when a slide popped up of the dazzling redhead and the boy-codger at the alter.

Since there was a chronological series of events I had posted the year of the wedding next to the blissful photo.

Now you won't believe it, -- well, if you know me, you will believe it . . . but I didn't get the year right, and the redhead piped up in the audience to set the record straight.

Everyone knew the redhead was right, so I played the fool, and the laugh was on me.

(PS--The redhead just read this, and informed me, "You didn't play the fool, you were the fool." I tell you, its tough being a camera trap codger.)


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Corpse in the nest box

Neighbor Richard's titmice are nesting again and he and his Mrs have been viewing the family life daily on their TV monitor. (They're using the same Harbor Freight set up I was using for the screech owl).

I've been remiss in maintaining my own titmouse box.

It's been hanging by a thread of weathered bungie cord since last fall, swaying in the breeze.

Believing it was unsuitable and abandoned, I took it down for repair on May Day.

Pried it open in the garage, and to my surprise found 6 warm eggs.

I got another surprise when I put my glasses on.

The mound of fluff next to the entrance was a mummified titmouse.

Makes you wonder.

Did it die last winter or early this year?

Did the surviving member of the pair take another mate? Or are they a new couple?

The only thing we know for sure is that a dead conspecific didn't deter the new pair from getting on with nesting.

I repaired the box (without the use of hammer), and as the resident pair chirped nearby I secrured it to the live oak in the potting shed.

[May 4 update -- all is well -- the titmice are brooding.]


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Unexpected rat of marsh and swamp

Sacramento Valley farmers call them rice rats, a fitting but incorrect name for a rodent associated with rice fields.

True rice rats (genus Oryzomys) are natives of the southern US and beyond into South America.

Most likely these guys are Norway rats, stowaways from Asia that arrived with Spaniards and English seafarers.

In this neck of the Sac Valley they are abundant and at home in water and on land.

Many times I've glimpsed them in the beams of head lights on the road shoulder.

And I've flushed many a barn owl there too, which leads me to speculate that the rats may be a fatal attraction and one reason why Barny takes so many hits on the roads.

From our camera trapping results I can tell you that these rats also live in the riparian woodlands.

They're tough, and they're here to stay.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Does the wild bear poop in bed?

We all know the wild bear poops in the woods, but does he poop in his bed?

I stumbled upon this old bear bed beside a large ponderosa pine in steep canyon country.

Ponderosa pines sometimes have a distinctive elevated berm of shed bark around the trunk, and disturbance of the zone is easy to see.

This tree had such a disturbance -- a clear round depression the size of small bear right next to the trunk.

Normally a bear bed looks like someone tried to dig a hole with a rototiller.

This bed wasn't fresh because it was covered with pine needles.

Fred wouldn't lie down in it, so I put my rucksack there for scale.

Cool enough. I was pleased with the find.

As I stepped away from it however, I exposed a well composted bear pie under the needles.

It seems the bear hung its hiney just over the rim of the bed, and therefore came close to committing the unforgivable -- pooping in bed.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Wetland engineer

Beaver visited the set 7 times, and left 10 pictures over 3 week.

This was the only full body shot. 

In another photo it was munching a stem of cat tail. 

These are "bank beavers" -- they lodge in burrows dug into stream banks and levees.

My fellow camera trappers at Camtrapper.com post some very good beaver portraits with fair regularity.

For a monogamous rodent, however you'd expect to see more family shots. 

Seems they sleep together but work independently.