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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.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A meal that kept giving

There was no gaseous bloat, no writhing skin bag of maggots.

Just a cold carcass, which in the words of cowboy curmudgeon Wallace McRae, had barely started its 'transformation ride'*.

"Now, if we had 'really beeg cojones' ", I mused, "we'd gut this elk and put a cam in the body cavity".

The gaggingly repugnant but most sporting of camera trap sets -- the 'chest-cavity set' periodically tempts me as a route to up-close and personal pics of hide-tearing flesh-gulping predators.

Cavity sets,  if you are willing to crawl into dark places, are usually reserved for hollow logs, burrows and caves.

Wildlife photographer Alan Root knows no limits in such matters (at least in his youth), and to him we owe gratitude for showing the marvelous possibilities in Mysterious Castles of Clay.

Even if you don a garbage bag, setting a camera in the chest cavity of a large dead ungulate is a messy feat.

But who would opt for the alternative of crawling into the rib cage and spending the night there with camera in hand?

And yet, there's more than one account of a freezing frontiersman bundling up in a fresh buffalo hide or crawling into an eviscerated but steaming carcass.

A sound sleep they didn't get, but kick-boxing wolves under a wet hide certainly warmed them up.

But I'm getting off track.

As you might have guessed, our cojones were not equal to the task, so we settled for the unimaginative 'cam-beside-carcass set', and we still got some surprises.

The cams were set for night photos, but circumstantial evidence told us that vultures first feasted on elk lips and eyeballs; then they scalped the faces, slit their bellies, dragged out the viscera, and liberally whitewashed the neighborhood.

The carcasses grew gaunt but were still in one piece a month later.

Only 3 scavengers were to be counted in pixels, and only a deer mouse was photographed climbing into the meat locker.

The rest tended the carrion like a garden, apparently picking tender maggots and crunchy beetles from the exodus generated by aging flesh.

A burrowing owl was the most popular visitor -- making 9 forays.

A coyote made 3 visits, but was never seen tearing hide or gulping meat.

Like the owl it seemed to harvest insects, but lacking a beak, straw was unavoidable.

The fare at this diner didn't measure up to the beef at the Carrion Cafe.

The elk was more like a garden -- a meal that kept giving.

*/ If you were too lazy to click on the first link, I'm reminding you that you won't regret reading McRae's "Reincarnation".


john said...

Native Americans, especially the Hopi, used to dig pits beneath carcasses, climb into them, cover them with a hide, and grab the feet of Golden eagles who came to scavange the carcass.
They used the eagles and their feathers in various ceremonies.
I loved the Burrowing Owl photo, and the cowboy poem.

randomtruth said...

You sure that yote isn't just using that piece of straw to pick the beetle legs out of its teeth, cowboy style? :)

Chas S. Clifton said...

The owl was a surprise to me — puts a new twist on "burrowing."

owlman said...