Saturday, October 23, 2010

Going Nuts

We got back from our September trip and plunged into activities.  Why is it that I am never able to keep an open schedule?   Two weeks have gone by during which I had planned to post every day about our mammal sightings on our trip.  Instead I've been teaching classes and overseeing deskwork.  I'm starting to think that we're not eclectic homeschoolers--we're suffering from multiple homeschooling personality disorder.

A couple days ago I decided to do an experiment with my science class on what happens to fish if you cool the water they are in.  We were supposed to do this with goldfish, and they were supposed to open their mouths less often.  Instead we did it with guppies, because we have a lot of guppies, and well, they did open their mouths less often as the water they were in approached 10 degrees Celsius.  They opened their mouths less often because they rolled over and sank to the bottom, dead.  Actually, they were only apparently dead.  We quick bathed their jars in hot water and they all revived.  Phew.

You just never know what will happen when you try things out in the real world.

Back to our mammals.  This fellow is a douglas squirrel, commonly known as a chickaree.  This was the easiest squirrel ID ever.  There are tons of them running all over the campsites at Jedediah Smith Redwoods.  They'll obediently sit on a picnic table and let you take photos.

Chipmunks are another story.  They aren't too hard to photograph, but the identification is terrible!  There are at least a dozen species that live in California.  Some are browner, some are grayer, some have a brown stripe as their outermost stripe.

And others have a white stripe on the outside.

This is a lodgepole chipmunk.   The one above it is a Siskiyou, I think.  We were trying to figure out why the rangers were saying Townsend's Chipmunk when a brochure claimed the area had Siskiyou chipmunks.  Then Evelyn cleared it up for us.  She read in the guidebook that Townsend's chipmunks had been recently split into four species based on differing penis bones.  Right then I realized that I am just not committed enough to kill a chipmunk and inspect its os penis.  That's another name for penis bone.  And if that wasn't enough, here's another: baculum.  In researching this I found a place where you can buy raccoon penis bones.  In bulk.  Yes you can buy a "Bag o' Raccoon Bacula".  But careful, these are second quality raccoon penis bones, suitable for "art and craft purposes".  Not first quality ones, used for....I have no idea.  Anyway, luckily it turns out that chipmunks species usually do not live in the same area, so you can ID them without dissection.

This guy really drove us nuts.  Evelyn spent a long time with the guidebook and eventually shouted with glee.  It is not a chipmunk at all.  Chipmunks have stripes on their faces.  This golden mantled ground squirrel "superficially resembles a chipmunk" our guidebook taunted.  We were chastised.

Later at Lassen park these guys were running around everywhere.  A woman asked Greta if she had seen the chipmunks.  She said, "That is not a chipmunk, that is a golden mantled ground squirrel."  "Well if you say so," the woman replied, "but in Georgia we call 'em chipmunks."

So we're not the only people to be fooled by this superficial resemblance!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Not So Steller

 I was hoping, when we visited the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center in Crescent City, to see a Steller's sea lion, so that if we ever saw one in the wild we'd know what we were seeing.

We sidled quietly up to the enclosures and got to see this very cute harbor seal pup. 

No Steller's sea lions, however.  There had been one there earlier in the year, but they released her and she died.

Steller's sea lions are named for Georg Wilhelm Steller, a German naturalist who set sail in 1741 with Danish navigator Vitus Bering on a mission of exploration.  They left Russia's far east for Alaska, crossing the strait that would later bear Bering's name.  It was a lucky trip for Steller. On the return voyage they were shipwrecked on this island, one of a chain known as the Commander Islands.  Doesn't it look cozy?
Treeless, foggy, prone to severe storms, it also has frequent earthquakes.  Bering got his name slapped on it but he also died there. As did much of his crew, from scurvy.  They were forced to overwinter and were reportedly "plagued by arctic foxes".  Steller, however, set about describing the wildlife in detail.  It was here that he described the Steller sea lion and the Steller sea cow.

Boy would I like to see a Steller's sea cow, whose range did once include California.


When Steller made this sketch in 1741 Steller sea cows had already been extirpated in all their range except for the cold, inhospitable Commander Islands. These gentle, herbivorous 30 foot long manatee relatives went the way of the dinosaur in 1768, just 27 years after Steller first laid eyes on them.  They were slow moving, they could not dive, and they were tasty.  End of story.

Theirs, anyway.  Ours will continue with more mammal sightings at beautiful Jedediah Smith Redwoods Park.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Slug Kisses

A project makes you think of doing things you never thought of doing before.  Not kissing banana slugs.  The kids do that all the time.  Though never before have the slugs puckered up so nicely.
No, it was something else.  Something bigger.  Taller.  We waylaid a ranger on our hike along the Brown Creek Trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods Park and asked what mammals there might be here in this deep and muffled wood.
Full of trees that can swallow a kid whole.

"Well," the ranger said, "At the top of Douglas fir trees lives the red tree vole.  It spends its entire life there.  Multiple generations live in one tree."

So I thought...hmm...if we want to see a red tree vole we're going to have to climb a Douglas fir.  I'd been planning to bring the audio version of The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring on our trip about the folks who first climbed giant redwoods and rappelled down into them.

I asked Evelyn what she thought of learning to climb big trees.  She jumped around saying "boing boing boing."  I've found a tree climbing school in Atlanta, and a tree climbing adventure outfit in Oregon, but nothing closer to home so far.  Very disappointing.  Like a big ol' slug kiss on our dreams.  Going to keep trying.