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.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Fred in a Jonah log

T'is the season to hunt for nest holes and dens, and today we found a doozy.

Fred, who stands 24" at the shoulder gives you an idea of this Jonah log's capacity.

I don't think it could accommodate even a puny yearling bear, but gray fox and bobcat would find it commodious.

I'm optimistic. No spider webs, and the bedding is compacted.

We'll find out.

I took the picture from an opening on the top, but I don't think the extra opening should detract from its suitability as a den.

A back door is an asset when there are unwanted guests at the front door.

And as you can see, there's more resting space beyond the second opening.

(Thanks to neighbor Bea for the photo of me scoping it out.)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Mystery of the Night Flies

When I finally figured out that fast flying bats were causing blank video clips, I started to pay more attention to the insects in my videos.

Soon I noticed that swarms of small flies often showed up when an animal passed the camera.

I wondered if the hungry swarms ever give the critters any peace.

On the other hand, maybe the swarms aren't parasitic insects.

Maybe animals just stir resting flies into motion when they walk by.

I compiled some clips to show you what I mean.

And since I couldn't make any sense of it, I wrote to entomologist Bunyipco (an old friend) for an answer.

He didn't have an answer, and responded as expected of a taxonomist -- "Catch some specimens for identification".

"And how do I do that, may I ask?"

"Simple, hang some fly paper where you see the swarms".

If I post any pictures of bears donning fly paper next year, you'll know what happened.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Shop work

Neighbor Richard, Abhi Mandela and Rod Jackson at work in the garage

Rod Jackson, CEO of the Snow Leopard Conservancy and Abhi Mandela, a firmware engineer from Silicon Valley dropped by last weekend to use the shop and talk camera traps. 

Abhi's fascination with remote camera technology was nurtured as a project assistant to Dr. Andre Pittet at the Indian Institute of Science (IISC), Bangalore.

Now he is helping Rod design an "electronic scarecrow" for snow leopard conservation.

Livestock -- from goats to yaks -- are easy prey for snow leopards throughout their range.

One leopard can slay a herd of goats in a single night, even when they are corralled right next to the shepherd's hut.

Biologists call such wanton predation "surplus killing".

It has survival value in the remotest parts of Asia where there are no people.

But killing livestock belonging to montane pastoralists is the easiest way for a snow leopard to earn a death sentence.

An IISC camera trap (left) and a PIR activated
sound deterrent with a solar charger.
Why not make the corrals cat proof?

The answer is that alpine herders can't afford to roof their drystone-walled corrals. 

They live in a subsistence economy with an annual income of less than $400-$600.  

So Jackson and his supporters are developing non-ethal deterrents.

Hopefully they will work as well but will be a lot less expensive than building a predator proof livestock pen.   

We spent last Saturday laying out the work and drilling holes for switches and cables, and my good neighbor Richard, who can build practically anything offered his usual sage advice. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Wet & Thirsty Raptors

A number of raptors drink, bathe, and hunt in the same pools where the bears do their thing.

Not everyday, like Steller and scrub jays, but now and then.

I have a hunch that the birds seen here use several different pools on different creeks.

Screech owls were by far the most frequent users.

This video covers about 5 months of clips from several pools.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

2013 Camera Trapping Workshop

Top (l to r): Mick Bondello, Lisa Close, Arvid Ekenberg, Thea Cooper, John Adragna, Antony Shadbolt;
Sitting: Kolby Olson, Cindy Roessler, the Codger, Bill Wilson (photo by Mick Bondello)

The Codger delivered the 5th camera trapping workshop in mid-July to an assemblage of eight curious naturalists.

Most were Californians, but two came from New York, and one Kiwi attended from far-away New Zealand.

This was the 5th workshop I have given at the Sierra Nevada Field Campus, and the days rolled by quickly.

The resident colony of mountain beaver continues to be a red-letter attraction, and most everyone was game to climb Deadman Scree for bushy-tailed wood rats.

To our ever-growing species list we added two new species.

The elusive yellow-bellied marmot.
Bill's trail camera snapped a yellow-bellied marmot, which is a little embarrassing because marmots are anything but rare in the Sierra Nevada.

Participant John Adragna gave us an image of a montane vole on the second morning.

The class probably thought my enthusiasm overdone, but new species records energize the codger like a triple espresso.

Until now, we've only gotten long-tailed voles; so now we know the two species coexist right on campus.

Pouring through hundred of images. 
Other highlights were a sighting of the local family of otters, and an experiment on mirror image recognition in chipmunks.

Indeed, the chipmunks paused briefly to gape at their images, but it didn't stop them from stuffing sunflower seeds.

But now I want to send you to Cindy Roessler's Dipper Ranch Blog for another view of the workshop.

It features a metaphysical trilogy on previsualizing camera trap sets.

"Set theory" is of course a topic I touch upon, but her treatment will give you a first hand perspective.

Start with "Thinking backwards, the camera", and then read "Thinking backwards, the animal". She informs me that the third and final piece is on its way.

Last but not least was the hands-on workshop for local Sierra County school kids.

It happened on the last day (after the camtrapping class dispersed) and started with Bill's slide show, which thoroughly engaged the kids  -- who piped out the names of the critters.

Then it was snack time (graham crackers and milk are now passe).

While the kids stoked calories we instructed the parents on how to set the cameras on stumps around camp.

When kids and parents had set their cameras we sent them all off to play in the Yuba River.

By now (5 days into the bargain) Bill and I were dragging butt, but the kids were even more fired up to view the video clips.

Its nice to see such rousing enthusiasm over chipmunks.

Finally a postscript: The class always gives me new ideas, and this time I learned the secret of finding the furtive but charismatic mountain king snake.

My teacher prefers to remain anonymous, but while walking Fred this week I put her counsel to practice.

Obviously you've got to be in the right place at the right time, but the mantra seemed to help.

Thanks guys . . .

I am grateful to "alumni" Ken, Jake, Sean, and Bill who set cameras in our old camtrapping haunts in June in preparation for the workshop. 

RandomTruth's camera magic, from that log set he made in June will inspire you. Be sure to check it out.

And many thanks to Bill who stayed on to assist the full week, which was a great help.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Beaver Spice

"Anyone care for a beaver-flavored Pepparkakor?"

Readers of this blog are well aware that when it comes to mammalian scent the codger has a discerning nose.

A recurrent theme in my summer workshop is that camera trappers who disdain scent as an attractant miss opportunities to pixelate their quarry.

So I was terribly gruntled this afternoon when Chas Clifton sent me a link to an article titled Beaver Butt Secretion Good for Baking. Thanks again, Chas.

And don't skip the remarks of the wussified commentators. I am sure none has seen a beaver's butt, let alone sniffed one.

I vouch for the captivating power of beaver castor.

That greasy paste is a rich mixture of various plant phenols, including molecular relatives of vanilla, and it's as close to a universal mammalian attractant as it gets.

We have a scent sniffing exercise after my evening lecture on olfactory attractants.

The class is understandably hesitant -- "Hey man, this is weird" -- so I tell them it's "very California", like wine tasting and aroma therapy.

Then I open a jar of Mud Road, take a deep whiff, and roll my eyes. 

Soon the jars are moving around the table, and when the participants aren't gagging their facial expressions are precious.

But with Castoreum it's different.

It's hard to get certain participants to surrender that spicy smelling jar to their classmates.

They just keep sniffing with this dreamy look, and of course everyone wants to sample it.     

So I'm not surprised that the Swedes have approved castoreum as a cooking ingredient.

I hope The Local follows up on the article, because I want to know how many Swedish grannies will be inspired to add castoreum to their pepparkakor.

I know I'll never get the redhead to do it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

One Month in Subterranea

This little movie is part of a continuing saga, a self-inflicted exercise in hope and frustration that started 4 summers ago when we found a collapsed mountain beaver tunnel in the northern Sierra Nevada.

In a strange way that narrow collapsed section of the tunnel resembled the shotgun-blasted stomach of Alexis St. Martin, the trapper whose misfortune set the stage for William Beaumont to become the grand old man of gastric physiology.

Like the gaping hole in St Martin's stomach, this mountain beaver's tunnel had a portal that exposed the mysteries within.

Collapsed mountain beaver burrows however are a dime a dozen.

What made this one special was that it opened up into an underground cavity big enough to accommodate a camera trap without blocking the passage.

Plus, this was not one of those thin-roofed sub-surface tunnels. This one was nearly 2 feet deep, making other cave-ins unlikely.

We started in 2010 by setting a still camera down there, a Sony s600 to be exact, and though there were lots of blank exposures the animal images were thrilling to see.

We learned that the mountain beaver's burrow system is a commons used by a lot of seldom-seen freeloaders like weasels, mink, and water shrews, not to mention great swarms of mosquitos.

Two summer's passed before I asked, "Why not video?"

It was an iffy idea, but I thought a few clips of the subway traffic would satisfy my whim and allow me to move on to other projects.

So I bought a home brewed DXG 567 from a fellow camtrapper and set it out in June, 2011 for the forthcoming workshop.

A bear cub unearthed the cam a couple weeks into the bargain, but not before the camera sampled some of the underground fauna.

In 2012 we tried again and discovered that chickarees actually mine the tunnels for truffles.

Now I was really hooked, even though the quality of the video schtunk.

The lens's field of view was too narrow, and depth of field was crumby.

So last winter I replaced the old lens with a $20 4mm wide angle lens from EBay.

The results are what you see above.

I am pleased with improved field of view, disgruntled with the focus, and flustrated with all the false exposures.

The camera is just too slow, and fixing it will be this winter's project.

My plan is to go back to the site and find all the entrances leading to that treasured tunnel.

If I can set external PIR sensors in the burrow entrances the camera will be rolling when the critters come cruising down the tunnel.

Friday, August 30, 2013

My neighborhood bears

As if you haven't seen enough bears on this blog already, here is the full cast of characters -- the bears in my neighborhood.

I've gotten to know them pretty well, and this shows how I tell them apart. 

Like people, they get a bit gnarly looking with age.

So, they are easier to identify when they get old.

My estimates of age are based on body size and photos of two of these critters taken some years ago.

If you are interested in this sort of thing, here are some useful references.

Alt, G.L. 1980. Rate of growth and size of Pennsylvania black bears. Pennsylvanian Game News, 51(12)7-17.

Marks, S.A. and A.W. Erickson. 1966. Age determination in the black bear. Journal of Wildlife Management, 30:389-410.

Rausch, R.L.. 1961. Notes on the black bear in Alaska with particular referecne to dentition and growth. Zeitschrift fur Saugetierkunde, 26(2):65-128.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Denning Kit Foxes

It took the codger a while to wade through 850 30-second clips to produce this little video about the den life of a pair of kit foxes.

This is the same den photographed by Randomtruth (RT) with the able assistance of California Fish & Wildlife Biologist Craig (aka "Dr. Fiehlgood") and his assistants.

You will enjoy the graceful foxiness of kit foxes in motion, but to fully savor their colorful beauty and other activities you really have to go to Randontruth's recent blogposts. (His 3 posts are chock full of wonderful photos).

I used two trail cameras for the footage, and RT's camera was set for stills.

The foxes were thoroughly cooperative, but one of my cameras was less than ideally positioned. Craig did the needful and moved it for a better view. (Thank you, once again, Dr Fiehlgood.)

One interesting observation was the foxes' infrequent examination of my cameras.

But when the pup approached the camera at about 6 weeks of age the mother (I presume) picked it up by its scruff and carried it away.

She showed no signs of fear to the camera, but she wasn't taking any chances with her pup.

The footage however wasn't good enough to include in the video.

Hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Creature Comfort

Bears take a beating in hot weather.

They huff and puff and seek water where they can cool off.

They wallow and tank up at any time of day or night, but during really hot weather they may visit the same pool several times a day.

"Shedding thermal energy" is biological techno-jargon for the various ways animals cool off.

I learned that from a "physiological ecologist".

It's hard to shed thermal energy if you are big and fat like a bear, because of the large surface-to-volume ratio.

Anyway, I've learned a few things from viewing hundreds of 30 second video clips of bears visiting water holes here in Butte County.

You'll notice that I've also moved the camera closer to center stage.

This video introduces "Tank", and one of these days I'll post a video of the full cast of Bruins here.

Meanwhile, enjoy.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Bathing Bears of Summer

Here is more proof that a lot goes on at the water hole in summer.

Day and night.

It's not surprising.

It's a whole other world down there, and after viewing hundreds of clips I think I am starting to appreciate the personality differences between these characters.

Hope you enjoy these Bruins as much as I do.  

Monday, July 29, 2013

Friendly Foragers

Montana Carl observed that the seasonal creek is a gold mine, and I have to agree.

I've been mining it since April and have been pleased with the performances of the creek critters if not the quality of the footage.

I first encountered the friendly foragers in a series of jpegs taken way down the ravine, and concluded their physical engagement was a fight.

Several weeks later I found footage of their shenanigans at another set and it was pretty clear they were getting physical in a friendly way.

No, not that. They were just playing, as you can see in the video. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Bully Skunk of the water hole

I can always count on a few clips of a local striped skunk at the water holes on the creek.

This man-skunk tanks up at the same place practically every night, which makes for rather boring viewing.

Let's face it, striped skunks have neither the flair of raccoons nor the charisma of bears.

But they are amusing when their noses get out of joint.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Bat strafes owl

It's not unusual for a bat to glean insects buzzing a mammal.

Occasionally fellow camera trappers in Minnesota photograph bats very close to deer covered with mosquitos, and it's obvious what the bats are doing.

What you see in this video clip however is a little odd.

The pools in this creek are swarming with insects, so there's no reason for the bat, probably a species of Myotis, to hit the owl in the head.

That is, unless something else is going on.

Could the bat be mobbing the owl, the way songbirds mob owls?

Or did it's radar fail?

This is the kind of footage that reinforces my obsession with camera trapping.

If you are curious about nature, get yourself a camera trap.

You'll learn a lot while you are having fun.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bears vs. the Squeaker

More bears from the pools of the seasonal creek.

I thought the jury-rigged squeaker might lead to the design of an effective bear deterrent.

Watch the video and learn what I learned.

PS: Just back from a pleasant week with camera trappers at the Sierra Nevada Field Campus. More on that later.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A modest bear

I have had to forego the pleasures of the blogosphere for the past 2 months because other duties have called.

I am now getting back into the blogging groove and have been busy finishing off preparation for the camera trapping workshop, which is next week.

I've also been plowing through a huge backlog of video clips, and couldn't resist posting this little sequence to YouTube.

It's part of a recent camera trapping story and lessons learned from Mother Nature . . .  I'll cover it all in the workshop.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cub See, Cub Do

Brownie approaches a cam on a deer trail.
The white upper edge is spider web on the
spikes of the camera's bear guard.

Brownie is interested in cameras. Deconstructing cameras.

She took out four cams in the past month.

Here she perched on a log and peered at the mysterious source of wonderment before starting work.

She sniffed at it, tried to mouth it, and managed to dislodge it even though it was equipped with a spiked bear guard.

When she was finished the camera was 30 feet away.

It took ten minutes to find it, and I was one worried and sweaty codger in the interim.

The pictures told the same old story: bear finds camera, bear examines camera, etc.

Brownie seemed to be a lone agent.

But yesterday I collected the card from another camera (the "ringtail cam"), and discovered that Brownie has two apprentices.  

The clips could be better, but you can still see that one of the understudies is learning the trade well.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ringtail on the beat

Here's some night action on a seasonal creek in Butte County, California.

Gray foxes, striped skunks, and raccoons use the creek bed as a thoroughfare, and are the most frequently filmed camera-trapped visitors.

Bears and bobcats stop to drink and then cross it and move on up the slope.

When I get better video of these common visitors I will post it.

This is the only footage of a ringtail I've gotten on this creek, but it is one of the more satisfying clips.

This ringtail didn't want to get its feet wet, unlike its relative the raccoon with its underwater hand-jive routine.

As you can see, it's a good rock-hopper.

Friday, April 26, 2013

In the family way

We're hoping this badger is in the family way, and we can't even prove it's a she-badger.

But she looks feminine, and she is doing all the right things. 

She's spending an awful lot of time in this one burrow at the Chimineas Ranch, and the burrow has a huge tailing of fresh dirt.

And it's baby-badger-time-of-year. They give birth in March and April.

With the help of our trusty friend Craig, and his assistants, RandomTruth and I spent a few days at the ranch last month setting cams at carnivore dens.

At this promising den I set a Sony s600 for stills, and a Bushnell Trophy for videos of playful badger babies.

Regrettably, the Trophy can't be set for night time only, so there's been a flurry of false triggers in the heat of the day.

Craig, our good man in Chimineas has been cleaning the lenses and checking the memory cards.

Here's his most recent message.
"It seems that the badger shots decreased quite a lot over the course of the month.  I'm hoping it's because she had youngsters. 
As the badger usage decreased, Heermann's kangaroo rat visitation increased.  There are many shots of them bouncing around the entrance to the den. 

When I reset the camera, I saw that there was a rodent hole just above the badger den.  It seems unwise for a fossorial small mammal to have a den next to a badger den, but kangaroo rats were never known for their smarts.  
Raccoons visited the den and sniffed around a few times over the course of the set.  I still think that the badger is using this den."  

Knock on wood, my friends.

Let us hope the blessed event has transpired and that mom is blissfully nursing her litter.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Going for shrew and bagging shrew

A chance encounter between two Trowbridge shrews (tentative id) 

Humbolt County, April 2013:

Question: Why don't camera trappers photograph more shrews?

Answer:  They aren't looking for schtinkin' shrews, because they aren't interested in shrews.

Who cares about little tiny ferocious mammals that eat 1.5 times their own weight a day in insects, spiders, centipedes, and worms?

Shrews may be one of the most abundant predators in woodland habitats, but it's their small size that makes them hard to photograph.

Camera trappers focus on the larger animals they know, and when camera traps are set for larger species shrews are usually undetectable.

Shrews live in a different time-space continuum, and I've photographed only a few by mistake.

They are usually a speck in the overall image, often partially hidden in leaf litter, and they are hard to identify. That's why most good pictures of shrews are nature-faked.

But they are intriguing subjects, and a few months ago I set a camera specifically for shrews.

I knew it might be a waste of time, but I staked the camera close to a rotting redwood log, and clawed away the surface litter, thinking the disturbance might attract a hungry shrew.

The batteries lasted 70 days, and there were 83 photos.

But only three pictures were of animals, and as far as I can tell, all were Trowbridge shrews with bald tails [yes, older shrews can lose their bicolored tail pattern to baldness].

The surprise was a pair of shrews having an altercation.

Going for shrew and bagging shrew may have been a stroke of good luck.

I'll have to repeat the exercise several more times to convince myself that I really know how to hunt shrew.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Burmese trail muggers

From a camera trappers perspective Burmese villagers fall into three categories.

Dream walkers don't notice or don't care about the camera -- they just want to get home with their loads of bamboo or firewood. 

Poachers steal the camera because they don't want to be caught poaching.

And Burmese trail muggers strike poses hoping they'll be discovered by Hollywood.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Epitaph for a discarded book

Bound in orange buckram, my copy of Walter Dalquest's Mammals of Washington once belonged to the Port Angeles Public Library. 

The book went out of print in the 1950s or 60s, and the Librarian deemed it an irreplaceable reference, meaning it could no longer be checked out.

How often it was used is anyone's guess, but one reader scrawled a hand-written note to future readers, risking a fine and the librarian's scorn.

Eventually the book competed with more popular volumes for shelf space, and the librarian deaccessioned it and stamped DISCARD on the title page.

It became fair game for prowling used book dealers, and whoever bought it made a tidy profit.

You see, the codger paid $25 for this beat up copy of a discarded library book.

Some would consider it politically incorrect. It shows recently killed animals, describes trapping techniques, and lists pelt prices of bygone days.

But Mammals of Washington helped to set scientific standards for state mammal guides.

True, some scientific names have changed, and taxonomists have added several additional species of small mammals.

At least one charismatic mouse escaped treatment; the intrepid Dalquest apparently found the red tree vole too hard to find.

Mammals of Washington has detailed descriptions of geological history, climate and vegetation, life zones and ecology, and physiographic provinces, and it discusses the emigration of the state's mammal fauna from the Great Basin, the Pacific Coast and the Rocky Mountains.

Its distribution maps are based on specimen locations or verifiable records  -- the gold standard.

In 1936 Mammals of Washington was the dream of two young naturalists from the University of Washington's Zoology Department: Dalquest was a 19-year-old undergraduate, and the 30-year-old Victor Scheffer was completing his Ph. D.

They drew their inspiration from Vernon Bailey's Mammals and Life Zones of Oregon (1936),  and W. B. Davis's Recent Mammals of Idaho (1939).

A checklist of Washington's land mammals had been published in 1929, but Mammals of Washington was yet to be written.

The call of gainful employment soon lured Scheffer away from the project, but he continued to help the young Dalquest who toiled on with the dream.

In his memoir Adventures of a Zoologist, Scheffer noted that Dalquest the workhorse had "a charming disregard for tradition and rules".

He was also a multi-tasker.

He spent the next four years taking courses at the university, and in his free time collected mammals all over the state of Washington, a commendable achievement for a kid in his twenties.

More remarkable is that he also found time to court Miss Peggy Burgner.

And it never hurts to be on the good side of your girl friend's brother. Dalquest enlisted Robert Burgner to help him study shrew moles on the university campus.

Walter and Peggy married when the statewide field work was finished in 1940, but he was saddled with an overwhelming volume of data.

It was too much to turn into a thesis in a reasonable amount of time, so he whipped out his masters thesis on geographic variation in snowshoe hares.

Then came December 7, 1941. Dalquest's daughter Linda writes,
"..dad went down the next day to enlist in the Navy, but during his physical exam they detected a partial hearing loss in one ear . . . the doctors discovered some plant seeds in the ear – apparently similar to what we call foxtails in Texas – which he probably acquired while camping outdoors.  Apparently they had punctured the ear drum, and he was turned down by the Navy and ended up working in the shipyards during the war. 
Mammals of Washington was published 7 years later.

It contained enough scholarship for an advanced degree, and would have been the academic swan song of many other students.

Dalquest tackled two more faunal studies of similar scope in Mexico before getting his Ph D. for Mammals of the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi.  

Mammals of Washington contains some amusing lessons about field work, like, never reach into a burrow for a sprung trap . . . "A female long-tailed weasel promptly fastened its teeth into my forefinger and clung on, bulldog fashion, to be lifted into the air with the attached trap swinging".

He was a pro at finding shrews and moles, fished 9 Townsend moles from the bottom of a well near an old cabin in the woods. By identifying road killed moles he discovered differences in above ground activity between species. (Coast moles don't get the "Firestone press").

He was the first to discover a nest of the mystifying American shrew mole (Neurotrichus gibsii) -- of all places in a hollow stump above ground, and he corrected the anatomist A. Brazier Howell, who claimed that shrew moles can't assume the picket-post (=bipedal) posture.

He proved it with a photograph in a separate paper devoted to the biology of the species.

Dalquest's colleagues Norman Horner and Fred Stangl noted that the old Swede had the hard driving work ethic of early American naturalists . . . "his personal vertebrate catalog number exceeded 24,000, and 50% of those were mammalian skins—a level of collecting activity rivaled by very few". 

My discarded copy of Mammals of Washington is a labor of love and remains fine fodder for mammalogists.

The loss of the Port Angeles Public Library was the gain of a grinning old camera trap codger.  

[Many thanks to Drs Linda Schultz and Frederick Stangl for information about Dalquest.]


Bailey, V.  1936.  Mammals and Life Zones of Oregon.  North American Fauna 51:1-416.

Dalquest, W.W. and D.R. Orcutt. 1942. The biology of the Least Shrew Mole, Neurotrichus gibbsii minor. American Midland Naturalist,  27: 387-401.

Dalquest, W.W. 1952. Mammals of the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi. Louisiana State University Studies, Biological Sciences Series 1:1–229.

Davis, W. B. 1939.  Recent Mammals of Idaho. Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho. 400 pp.

HornerN. V. and  StanglF. B., Jr.,  2001.  Obituary. Walter Woelber Dalquest: 1917–2000.   Journal of Mammalogy, 82(2):604–612.

Scheffer, V.B. 1982. Adventures of a zoologist. Encore Editions.

Taylor, W.T. and W.T. Shaw. 1929.  Provisional list of the land mammals of the state of Washington. Occasional Papers Charles R. Conner Museum. No 2:1-32.

Monday, February 25, 2013

It wasn't pleased to see me

It was only last week -- we were driving back to camp through the western hills of Burma when I spotted a kid on the road carrying a big cat.

It didn't look exactly like a house cat, so I asked the driver to stop -- "Yeppa, yeppa" and jumped out with my camera.

The boy was clutching a jungle cat (Felis chaus), one of Asia's most widespread small cats (Egypt to SE Asia and SW China).

It wasn't pleased to see me and meowed constantly, but it didn't attempt to escape.

Normally I would have asked more questions, but I was part of a group, and the group had a busy agenda.

My guess is that the cat's mother was caught for the pot, and the boy raised the kitten.

Only a hand-reared jungle cat would be so tame.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

In a patch of horsetail

 I have been stumbling into patches of horsetail for several years now.

You know the stuff . . . scour brush . . . puzzlegrass . . . Equisetum.

It's a bizarre and ancient family of plants, a living fossil.

I think I read somewhere that native Americans used the gritty stems as toothbrushes. If true, they had calloused gums and no tooth enamel.

Horsetail grows in moist soil, in small patches or large monocultures -- Jurassic gardens, so to speak, and an authentic venue for war games with dino toys.

I've wondered what if anything lurks in horsetail, until last September when I finally got around to setting a camera trap in a stand near the Mad River.

It was on a silted flood bench, measured about 60 by 30 feet, and was surrounded by riparian woodland -- sword fern, alder, willow, Ceanothus, and bay laurel.

It was a troublesome set.

The camera happened to be one of my early constructions with a rocker switch on the bottom, not a recommended design for a macro-set with the camera sitting on the ground.

Two months later (early November) I found that I had inadvertently switched off the power when I set the camera.

I set it again and waited another 75 days.

The battery pooped out after 53 days, but I was gruntled to find there were 260 exposures.

The usual suspects, woodrats and deer mice had evidently triggered many of the 110 blank exposures,

but we also got opossums, raccoons, bobcats, and a spotted skunk.

And a song sparrow.

Many of the larger mammals were captured as partial images, because this was a macro-set, and my real goal was -- you guessed it -- shrews and white-footed voles.

So I was pleased to get the shrew at the top of the page.

As for its identity, we can dismiss two possibilities.

The marsh shrew has a dark belly, nearly as dark as its back, and the fog shrew has a unicolored tail.

That leaves us with the Wandering shrew and the Trowbridge shrew, both of which have bicolored tails and winter coats of gray.

The site was suitable habitat for both species.

If we can find an even bigger patch of horsetail, I'm game for another set.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Return of a Champion

This anthology of writings by conservationist Frederick Walter Champion is a volume that dedicated camera trappers will want to read.

How do I know when I don't yet have a copy?

Well my friends, the codger has read both of Champion's books  -- With Camera in Tigerland (1927) and The Jungle in Sunlight and Shadow (1934) more than once. They are worth re-reading. The anthology is based on chapters from these books and more.

Champion (1893-1970) was a British Indian forester, a dedicated naturalist, and a pioneering camera trapper.

His long out-of-print books are engaging records of how things were in the Indian jungle, not to mention reality checks for latter day camera trappers on their own personal trails of discovery.

Over the years Champion painstakingly acquired a splendid photographic portfolio of the subcontinent's mammals, large and small, and to this day his images remain among the most evocative records of India's striking fauna.

We have James Champion, grandson of the preeminent camera trapper to thank for compiling the anthology.

Here is more information about the book, and you may read selected pages of the work here.

To order it, go here (India) or here (UK).

I am sorry I can't give you a distributer in the US, but if anyone out there is able to locate one, please post it as a comment.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Interlude with a fat stick

Not all of my friends appreciate Fred's personality the way I do.

To some he's an unbearably spoiled extrovert.

I won't deny that he is spoiled, but most folks find at least a few of his antics amusing.

Take his 3-legged stance during morning constitutionals. It's become de rigeur. Has my regular praise at potty time reinforced this quirk?

Anyway, the other day we hiked down to the north fork of the Feather River and found that the sandy beach at Fred's swimming hole was replaced with a cobble bar.

Our extended family spent an afternoon on the sandy beach back in November.

My sister-in-law, a city girl, insisted "This isn't the right place."

"There was a sandy beach, remember?"

Cobbles driven into an alder crotch
5 feet above the bank. 

I explained that the floods must have washed it away, but she didn't buy it.

Finally I pointed to the more permanent features of the site and convinced her that high water can wash away a beach or fill a deep swimming hole with sand.

In addition to driving several cobbles between the limbs of an alder tree the floods also deposited a new crop of flotsam.

Fred quickly found a suitable stick and morphed into his stick-obsessed Labrador persona.

Then I found a fat punky chunk of wood and lobbed it into the river, and the dog gave full-throated chase.

The transformative effect of the super-normal stimulus was magical.

He emerged stick-smitten and pranced with the trophy.

He dropped it and barked . . . my cue to toss it in again.

The fat stick stirred Fred's dog emotions deeply.

He whined and yodeled as he tried to turn it with his paws.

He gnawed off great chunks of punky wood, and every time he lost his paw grip he would emote like a deranged hound of the Baskervilles.  

When it was to time to march back to the car, Fred wouldn't part ways with his beloved fat stick.

He gripped it in his jaws even when he rested.  He knew his beloved would roll back to the river if he set it down. 

After a mile and a half his ardor waned, and he abandoned fat stick on the trail. 

We were only two hundred yards from the car.

It had been a wildly passionate interlude, but he was exhausted.  

He crashed as soon as we got home.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Among the fungus eaters

Finding the Fog shrew (previous post) had a seductive effect. I decided to set three cameras in the damp fern-choked slash on that same north slope.

I was still after mountain beaver, but I wanted to see what else was scooting around in there.

I was looking for the charismatic little guys.

"Botherations" visit the camera trapper in a thicket.

You need a scaled-down perspective, and to get a Lilliputian's view you have to crawl around in the undergrowth.

It was a different world in there, but various camera trap sets soon presented themselves, and I decided to skip the use of bait or lure.

The holidays came and went, and last week during a spell of clear weather Terry and I made a dash for the cameras.

All but one contained water and several were too wet to work. (A few days over the wood burning stove fixed all but one.)

I was pleased to get mountain beaver, shadow chipmunk, and another shrew, as well as the usual deer mice and a winter wren.

But the prize was this vole.  It wasn't the usual meadow vole, that I knew.

But could it be the mysterious white-footed vole (Arborimus albipes), the arboreal browser of alder leaves? Or was it the California red-backed vole (Myodes californicus)?

It never hurts to have friends who are taxonomists, so I sent the photos to Al Gardner at the National Museum of Natural History.

He identified it as the California red-backed vole, Myodes californicus.

Myodes californicus? What happened to Clethrionomys californicus? That's the name in my mammal books. Am I living in the taxonomic past?

Al wrote:

". . . some Russians are trying to resurrect Clethrionomys, but I don't think they will be successful. The few Arborimus albipes I looked at all have longer tails and lacked the "reddish" back. I did  not see any Arborimus albipes in the general collection from Arcata, which is the type locality. It would be nice to get specimens (with tissue). If you get up to Arcata tale a look at the mammal collection. Incidentally, some M. californicus do have white feet."

This is not a species you attract with bait.

California red-bacled voles are subterranean fungus eaters, truffle specialists, and according to Chris Maser's excellent book, they are usually found in conifer forests with little ground cover but abundant rotting logs.

This is where I found the vole.

There are redwood groves near by, but it is not coniferous forest. It's early second growth -- braken and sword fern, salal, Ceanothus and alder. And a colony of mountain beaver.

So I wonder?

Is the California red-backed vole another free loader seeking truffles in the mountain beaver's underworld?


Maser, Chris. 1998. Mammals of the Pacific Northwest. Oregon State University Press.