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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.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Ig Nobel Awards

The Codger is proud to announce that childhood chum, David Rentz, aka Mr Smiley of BunyipCo, received an Ig Nobel Award with distinguished fellow entomologist, Darryl Gwynne.

View the ceremony here and have some good chuckles.

It's 2 hours of jolly good fun, but you can drag the time slider to 1:39:00 and learn how these two esteemed scientists discovered that a certain brand of Australian beer (the "stubbies" have love handles) lure male buprestid beetles into romantic dalliance.

Read the 2-page original work here.

BTW, Mr Smiley joined us at Chimineas last week.

Rentz and Alice at Chimineas.
Is he getting a bright idea -- or is that a mercury vapor lamp? 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

More subway traffic

An adventuresome chickaree was one of two new sightings in the showtl's subway.

It was photographed exploring the tunnel twice, in the morning and afternoon.

JK of Cameratrapping Campus had a similar chickaree (or Douglas squirrel) experience at another showtl burrow a few miles from here.

What's going on? Are they hunting for truffles down there?

Chickarees are well known as fungus connoisseurs, but I know of no reports of their activities as subterranean fungus-foragers.

A long-tailed meadow mouse also trolleyed through a few days later (mid morning and late afternoon).

Most curious however was another appearance of the water shrew.

Is its peculiar posture just a coincidence or is it pushing mud in the middle of the tunnel?

The mud appeared on August 27 shortly after midnight, and the shrew was photographed 21 hours later, and once again 2 days after that.

After that the mud pile slowly disappeared.

I'd love to know what it was up to.

I am sure the showtls' tunnels hold many more secrets of natural history. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Will the real Ermine please stand up

September 3, 4:39AM -- in the showtl's underworld

We are just back from the north fork of the Yuba River.

Yesterday, the Codger, the Redhead, Audrey, and Fred pulled the last three camera traps, and I am terribly amped.

The picture above is one of the reasons.

You may recall that the codger was uncertain that "Herman the Ermine" was correctly identified in a recent "underworld post".

A few commentors thought the suspect was an American mink.

The unmistakable ermine pictured above confirms that the previous mustelid was indeed Slinky the Minkie.

This ermine was photographed in the same Aplodontia (=showtl) tunnel where the mink made its appearance last month.

To get an idea of the relative sizes of this little predator and its prey, compare the two pictures, which I have cropped more or less to the same size.

Like the mink, the ermine evidently failed to find the showtl, which showed up 6 days later.

Its absence makes you wonder if predator detection changed the rodent's use of the tunnel system.

Anyway, we're not done yet.

We staked out several Aplodontia burrows for camera trapping next year.

Our winter work is cut out for us. We've got to get faster cameras so we can diminish the number of false exposures down there in the showtl's underworld.

There's a lot of traffic and probably a few visitors that are just too fast for our cameras.

And to give you a bigger view of the showtl's busy underworld, here's an uncropped photo.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Searching for the Arabian Leopard

American David Stanton is planning a camera trapping survey of Arabian Leopards in northwestern Yemen.

Stanton taught school in Yemen for 19 years, and knows the country, its people and its wildlife very well.

When he became aware of the Arabian leopard's questionable and tenuous status in Yemen he rallied for its protection by organizing the Foundation for the Protection of the Arabian Leopard in Yemen.

What is needed now is a systematic camera trapping survey.

The IUCN's Cat Specialist Group has endorsed the idea.

This worthy project is soliciting modest funds through Kickstarter.

Stanton writes,
"This Kickstarter appeal represents the best option we've found to date for citizens around the world to contribute to our work, but as you know by now it is very time sensitive. Only two weeks to go." 
Please take the time to read about it, and make a contribution.

Even a small amount will help.

Confirmation of a viable population of Arabian Leopards in Yemen would provide the justification the government needs to designate a protected area for its continued survival.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Flying ace in a cool cave

This sandstone cave at the Chimineas Ranch was new to us.

A steep bank of loose sand separated it from the creek bed below and required a rather high-stepping fandango to reach it.

The cool interior was a welcome contrast to the heat of the arroyo, and we wondered what species normally visit such a place.

To answer the question we staked the camera without bait or lure, and since the camera would be constantly in shaded light, we set it for 24 hr.

There were no surprises, no tawny snoozers in the heat of the day, just a California ground squirrel, woodrats, and cottontails.

The woodrats of course used the place as their latrine, which attracted a buzz of flies.

The Say's Phoebe caught them on the wing, giving an entertaining air show while performing a much needed public service.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Peeping in

The hollow belly of the red fir seems like a safe and snuggly place.  

It's quiet in there and it's dry, even though frass rains down 24/7 from the gallery of wood ants above.  

Bob's observation that "the cavity . . . looks like a bear den" was right on the money. 

Ten hours after we left the scene a bear peeked into the cavity.

In the next week the opening framed a robin several times,

and a chipmunk made a brief visit.

Then a small bear paid a visit,

and toppled the camera.

The camera took pictures of wood ants on thr floor of the den until we came back and reset it.

If I had a time lapse camera with 5 months of battery power, this would be a fine place to monitor a sleeping bear.

[If you like this sort of thing, be sure to check Random Truth's bear-in-the-log pictures.]

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Showtl's Underworld, Part 4

Can you see the bristles on its hind feet?

Well, neither can I.

Bristled feet are a diagnostic characteristic of the world's smallest diving mammal -- the American water shrew.

The photo doesn't do justice to the shrew's hairy feet, but that doesn't mean it isn't Sorex palustris. 

It matches the other external features.

Water shrews look like miniature torpedoes when they dive for amphibians, fish and aquatic insects in fast-flowing streams, and they do it all while dog paddling and twirling their tails like propellers.

Shrews (and especially shrews of the red-toothed tribe or Soricinae) live in the fast lane, pushing the envelope of energetic possibility.

They have relatively high thermal conductance, which means they are not well insulated, but their compensation for this deficiency is a high basal metabolic rate (BMR) and high body temperature (38.6 degrees C = 101.3 F).

Thus, shrews are fascinating topics of investigation, but as subjects of energetic study they are frustrating in the extreme.

Within the physiologist's metabolic chamber or respirometer, research subjects are supposed to rest peacefully in a state of post prandial quietude as the equipment measures their oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production.

And they should also be "postabsorptive" -- not digesting food -- because digestion has a caloric cost and raises metabolism.

Shrews are not good at this, because they are fussbudgets around the clock and they rest only briefly.

Their basal metabolic rate is so high, that the time it takes for food to pass through the digestive system ('throughput" to physiologists, "poop time" to most readers) is about an hour.

Count yourself blessed if you ever see a water shrew.

You have seen a rare sight -- the world's smallest diver, and one of the faster poopers in the west.

Question: the practitioners of what outdoor recreation have the best chance of seeing water shrews?

Post you answer in the comment section, and speak up if you yourself have seen one in action.


Gusztak, R.W. , R.A. MacArthur, and K.L. Campbell. 2005. Bioenergetics and thermal physiology of American water shrews (Sorex palustris). Journal of Comparative Physiology, 175:87-95.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Showtl's Underworld, Part 3

Herman the Ermine made but one alarming appearance, August 1 at 12:45AM.

Nine hours later the showtl was back, safe and sound.

Other species find Aplodontia's digs to be popular hangouts.

During a trapping study of Aplodontia burrows in the 1950s, Egbert Pfeiffer caught spotted skunks, long-tailed weasels, an ermine, mink, chickaree, dusky-footed and bushy-tailed woodrats, several species of mouse, and none other than Big Sally -- our Pacific Giant Salamander.

Other field workers added the striped skunk, raccoon, badger, marten, the snowshoe hare, more rodents, the coast mole, and the charismatic shrew mole, another Codger favorite (here's why).  

As a meeting place for some intriguing and rarely photographed species, Aplodontia burrows have much to offer.

[Note: I am not absolutely certain this little predator is not a mink -- please speak out if you have a definite opinion.]


Pfeiffer, E.W. 1953. Animals trapped in mountain beaver (Aplodontia rufa) runways, and the mountain beaver in captivity.  Journal of Mammalogy, 34:396.

Carraway, L.N. and B.J. Verts. 1993. Aplodontia rufa. Mammalian Species No. 431:1-10.