Tuesday, September 28, 2010

17th Category

I just had to create a new category (see previous post): Live in My Bedroom
It is a very hot night here and we have all the doors and windows open hoping for a breeze.
Instead we got a bat.  Live in My Bedroom.
I just spent half an hour with a field guide and I have no idea what species this bat is.
I grabbed my camera and snapped these shots and then we turned on the outside light and turned off the inside light.  And I am secretly relieved that this bat is now Live in Native Habitat.  But I am even more pleased that I got a couple of good shots.  And that the girls ran from their beds--too hot to sleep--and got to see it.  This project would be a whole lot easier if all of California's mammals would just troop through our bedrooms.  You hear that mountain beaver?  And you bighorn sheep?  And you fisher?  Open invitation.  Oh and as a matter of courtesy a nametag would be nice.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cervus elaphus roosevelti

Prairie Creek Redwoods Park is home to the largest surviving subspecies of elk: the Roosevelt elk, named after its savior, Teddy Roosevelt.  We pulled up to elk prairie where we found many signs warning us to stay back from these wild animals.  But no elk.

Inside the visitor center we got to see some elusive mammals.

The American beaver
The mountain beaver
A weasel with cobwebs all over its head.
Evelyn has created a hierarchy for our animal sightings. The gold standard is Live in Native Habitat.
15 categories below that, far below Roadkill and Scat, is Dead in Museum. We are not counting Dead in Museum.  Though I am happy to see things Dead in Museum because it gives me a chance of recognizing them when I see them Live in Native Habitat.

It was not at all hard to identify the elk when we did see them.  They are big!
See Clementine in the background leaning out of our friends' car.
This fellow lost an antler.

After seeing elk we went on to a hike recommended by my friend and fellow blogger at West Vista Urban Farm.  It was as fabulous as promised.

And we didn't know it until we returned from our trip, but as we slept that night our GameSpy caught a nocturnal visit from Mephitis mephitis, the striped skunk.

Now that was a mammal day that didn't stink.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

From Krummholz to the Pygmy Forest

We began at the sea, on a cliff dotted with seaside daisies. We walked along the cliff, skirting a prairie of sweet vernal grass and velvet grass.  Thence we traveled to Krummholz, called The Goblin Fortress by the wee people.  From Krummholz we climbed the Ecological Staircase to the Pygmy Forest, stuffing ourselves with blue and red huckleberries on the way.

It sounds like a passage from a fantasy novel, but it was the first and longest hike we took.  And the most varied and exciting.  A little over five miles round trip.  The hike begins in Jug Handle State Park.

The Ecological Staircase is a series of 5 terraces uplifted from the sea.  As you climb, each terrace is 100,000 years older than the one before.

We began at the headlands, on the first terrace, or rather, the second, as the first is now being formed just beneath the sea, where the water is lighter and greener.
Just beyond the coastal prairie you find trees twisted and bent by salt winds, giving them a quality known as krummholz, German for bentwood.  Our kids dubbed these trees The Goblin Fortress.  It was the best natural playground I have ever seen.
On the next step of the staircase you find the same Grand firs and Douglas firs growing tall and true.

Or fallen over and hollowed by fire, making an irresistible, if sooty, tunnel.

Greta found this mushroom, with the volva, the remains of the universal veil, still visible at its base.  The volva is evidence that this mushroom is in the Amanita family and may be deadly poisonous.
If there are mushroom experts among my readers, tell us what you know about this mushroom.

The trees also fell between other trees, great for climbing.  See Evelyn leaning against the trunk.

Anyone know what this powdery yellow stuff is?

These are red huckleberries.

And these are our old friends, blue huckleberries.

We picked enough to make huckleberry syrup to drizzle over our breakfast crepes.

The trail rose up through a grove of coastal redwoods and on up again to the pygmy forest.
Evelyn looked like a giant walking among these trees bonsaied by too much water and soil depleted of minerals.

Greta caught a snake on the way down.

But we saw no mammals, not so much as a squirrel, on the Ecological Staircase.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Procyon lotor

Today was full of thrills.

We're home after two wonderful weeks of camping.  It was great, but it had its hardships.  Rain filled our mugs with two inches of water one night.  Skim ice coated our dishwashing water several mornings.  I'm finding all the little things I take for granted thrilling: a bathroom (with warm water for handwashing!) steps from the bed, an ambient temperature that doesn't freeze my toes all night, a kitchen stove I don't need matches to light, my morning cappuccino.

The biggest thrill, though, came when I uploaded photos from our GameSpy.  We caught something the very first night we camped.

We had seen the pawprints on the picnic table and hoped this photo might be there, of Procyon lotor, the common raccoon.  Recent evidence suggests that P. lotor is not solitary, but social.  Groups of females or groups of males share the same territory.  They hunt alone, but use a common latrine and gather for eating, sleeping and playing.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Back to School

Greta kicked off kindergarten with the time honored tradition of losing her first tooth.
I didn't believe that her tooth was really loose so it came as a surprise when my littlest's smile was changed forever.

We're starting our school year in earnest today.  As soon as I am done with this post the bags go in the car and we are off for 2 weeks traveling up the California coast to Oregon and then down to Lassen Volcanic Park.  We're hoping to see some mammals...I hear that the Roosevelt elk will be roaming our campground at Prairie Redwood State Park. 

The Sierra Red Fox, one of North America's rarest mammals, hides itself in Lassen.  In addition to charismatic megafauna we're hoping to see some charismatic microfauna.  Armed with A Field Guide to Bacteria we're hoping to see evidence of stromatolites in Oregon Caves and extremophilic bacteria at Lassen.

So far we are definitely amateur trappers.  We caught a fox squirrel just in time for our class with naturalist Susan Labiste.  Fox squirrels were introduced to California by civil war veterans.
They are now displacing native Western gray squirrels.
With Susan the kids molded tootsie rolls into various kinds of scat.  Blunt edges for cats, twisted end for dogs, tiny rounded hershey's kisses for deer.

Then we went out in our backyard and found more scat there than I ever would have believed.  Fox, raccoon, squirrel, deer.

Last weekend while camping we set up our camera traps and were on the lookout for mammals.  This decomposing deer tempted me to take it home and have a nearly complete skeleton.  But it stank.  Oh boy did it stink.

Our night camera captured a feral cat.

Our live trap caught nothing.  We saw a lot of quail, a cormorant, a kingfisher, woodpeckers, mergansers and lizards.  Mike mused that people like to say that in the time of the dinosaurs, dinosaurs ruled the day and mammals slunk around in the night.  But it is still true.  Aside from us people, you mostly see birds and lizards in the day.  And the mammals come out at night.

This black-tailed deer settled down in our yard for a good day's snooze.  Black-tailed deer were classified as a subspecies of mule deer until recent genetic analysis revealed that they are a separate species.

We'll be back here in two weeks or so, I hope with many photos of mammals.  And bacteria.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mouse Spanker 3000

California mammals are, by and large, a nocturnal lot. To find out what is lurking in our backyard--and around our campsites--while we sleep we picked up a game camera. These are chiefly used by hunters to find bucks with the big racks. I surfed some hunting forums looking for camera reviews where I enjoyed dot sigs like this: Beer nuts--$1.89. Deer nuts--still under a buck.

In the end I settled on a relatively cheap camera (to test out the idea) with infrared flash (so as not to scare the animals away)--the Moultrie Game Spy I-40 Infrared Flash Game Camera. The night before last Ev and Greta and I walked the deer trail behind the house and set the camera up on a tree facing the trail.

In addition to ourselves, this is what we caught:

Ev suggested hopefully that it might be a feral dog, and suggested we check for a collar--which, as it turns out, is clearly visible.  At least we now have proof that the camera works.

Mammals of California suggested that we construct our own live trap for rodents.  I am quite skeptical about both the safety and efficacy of this trap, but we had fun rigging it up (and naming it).

Today a naturalist is coming to the house to teach us how to best set up our camera, what baits to use, and how to identify various rodent nests.  She'll also talk about the ethics of live traps.

In a few days we'll be camping and setting up our camera at night. This will be at a crowded campground, but with luck it will help us refine our techniques so that we'll be ready when we head up the coast to Jedediah Smith Redwoods later this month.