Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dinosaurs Still Rule the Day

So we've had this yearlong project to see all of California's native mammals.  In the sidebar you can see photos of the furry friends we've bagged so far.  Out of 197, the tally stands at 31, or 15%.  Not a great showing, but the year is not over yet, by golly.

I don't know about you, but I bought that story about how dinosaurs ruled the day while mammals skulked around under cover of darkness.  But then an asteroid strike wiped out the lizard giants and (cue triumphant music) mammals were free to come out proud, into the sunshine.  Well, we have discovered that these are just about the only California mammals that you'll see out in the daytime.

 And even they like some shade.  And will scurry if scared.  Read on.

Dinosaur descendants (birds),on the other hand, and their squamate (snake & lizard) and testudinidate (turtle) relatives are abundant in the daytime.  In case you didn't get the memo, the term reptile is now obsolete.  It's polyphyletic.  And we don't engage in polyphyly around here.

We took a trip recently to Joshua Tree National Park.  Joshua Tree is as alien a place as anything you will find on any continent. Friends had seen bighorn sheep there, and so we went to see bighorn sheep.  We rose before dawn on two consecutive mornings and hiked to Barker Dam to look for sheep with big horns.  

Beautiful vistas abounded, but we saw no sheep.

There were also plenty of dinosaur relatives.

A friend stumbled on this nest with two baby birds and two eggs.
Afterwards the kids were on the lookout.  They checked nearly every cholla cactus we passed.

In all they found six nests.  All had four eggs.  Some pink, some blue.  One had babies and one had a mother who would not quit her nest.

The cholla cactus are vicious.  Some are called jumping chollas because they seem to go after you.

They are also beautiful and strange.

We saw a tour bus disgorge a load of foreign tourists at the cholla garden.  They couldn't read the signs telling you to stay on the path and beware of the sharp chollas with their barbed hooks.  Soon the place was littered with wounded.

Even one of our own, who could read the sign, fell prey.

The birds are not the only ones to use chollas to defend themselves.

The desert wood rat covers its nest in piles of cholla.  It is a nocturnal skulker, like most mammals, and we did not get to see it.
We did get to see something endangered.  Not a bighorn sheep, but this desert tortoise.

The truth is we were much more excited to see the desert tortoise than the mammal below, the antelope squirrel.  Which does come out in the day, though it scurries away into its hole pretty quick.

It was a great time to be in the desert.

And though we didn't see bighorn sheep in their native habitat, we did get to see one mammal we really wanted to see.

On the last day, I walked into the bathroom at our campsite and found this:

A kangaroo rat!  We are counting this fellow as being in his native habitat because when we tried to free him from the women's bathroom he ran along the building and squeezed under the door into the men's bathroom.

Our reptile and bird count far outstripped our mammal count, though.  I now understand why birdwatching is popular and mammalwatching, not so much.  We even saw frogs in the desert.

And we were very grateful to have heard one reptile, er squamate.  Yes, we were grateful, when hiking in a rocky canyon, that the rattlesnake gave us plenty of warning.   Judging by the way we scurried, dinosaur relatives still rule the day.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Quivering with Eggsitement

Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
       -Wallace Stevens

We haven't seen so many deer lately, or wild turkeys, either.  But we are hearing the spontaneous cries of quail all the time.  Not the Chi-CA-go of wild California quail from the underbrush.  These are my girls' long wished for pet coturnix quail.  According to this blog it has been more than two years since my girls got the idea into their heads to raise quail for eggs.

I'm not really into pets.  The only pets we have that are my idea are 3 goldfish.  Nevertheless our pets number in the tens of thousands.  (The girls always count their bees among the pets).  And then there are the ever-reproducing guppies.  And the mice.  Wait a minute, I think those were my idea.  And now nine quail.

Definitely not my idea.

Last fall Evelyn said, "We're never going to get quail, are we?"
I said, "You do the research, design a coop and save the money to build it and buy the quail and you can have quail."

They saved the money.  Clementine proved the truth of the old saw that a bird in the hand is worth a Wii in the living room when she won a Wii and sold it to raise money.

Evelyn and Clementine both put birthday and allowance money toward it.  They shed some tears over the design of the coop before we all decided it was beyond our skill to build it and they asked Dru at Happy Coops to modify a chicken coop for our quail.  He is a true craftsman. The girls have been putting the quail outside each day for a few hours to peck and scratch and take dust baths.  They have drawn the attention of a ginger cat and a redtail hawk, but nothing can get through the hardware cloth.  I hope.  Yes, I really hope.
Now the girls are waiting for the first egg.
Quail don't have to be hardboiled before they start laying--I'm told they start at just 6 weeks old.