Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Persimmon in Every Pot - the Woodpeckers

Female hairy woodpecker showing a black back with a white blaze down the middle and white checkering on her black wing feathers.
The sapsuckers were the flashiest woodpeckers at the persimmon tree this fall. But there were several other woodpeckers that made appearances on the ripe glowing fruit and they challenged me to finally learn the difference between the hairy and downy woodpeckers. Well, at least the hairy part.

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Persimmon in Every Pot - the Sapsuckers

An agile red-breasted sapsucker feasts on a ripe persimmon.
Everybody likes the persimmon tree in the backyard in the fall. I've written about deer and coyotes picking up fallen fruit beneath the tree, and a raccoon family climbing its branches to feast, but this fall the tree's flying visitors caught my attention. And not all those flying visitors were birds.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Antler Eve

"Look, we've got visitors," said Mr. Gingerbread Boyfriend as he watched the sunset on Christmas Eve from the new bathroom window.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Sharpy Wins

Forest sharp-tailed snake showing its ladder-striped underside, sharp-spined tail,  orangish lateral stripe, blunt nose and overall small size.
The sharp-tailed snake squeezed ahead as the favorite choice for the label on the 2013 Dipper Ranch walnuts.  All-in-all, it was a great choice.  Who knows when I will see another sharp-tailed snake on the Dipper Ranch? And it was exciting to document it as the forest sharp-tailed snake species. I was pushing to pick a rattlesnake in the superstitious belief that maybe if a rattlesnake was finally on the label, no rattlesnakes would show up at the farmhouse next year.  Hah!

Snake video follows.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The 2013 Walnut Label Runoff

A top view of the forest sharp-tailed snake showing the red-brown line down each side, spine-tipped tail, and blunt nose.  
The 2013 walnuts have been harvested and I've cracked the first batch.  They're yummy as usual.  But I can't make the 2013 Dipper Ranch Walnut label yet because there is a tie between people's favorite snake to go on the label. So I figured I would share a few more photos of the two remaining contestants: #2 the forest sharp-tailed snake and #9 the crenulated rattlesnake from the springbox.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Vote for the 2013 Walnut Label

Not an advertisement for Stihl helmets, just a place to keep a small California mountain kingsnake safe while putting down the Stihl brushcutter. Amazing how the colors match.  
It's that time. Walnut harvest time. I was expecting a small crop this year since last year we harvested over 200 pounds from two trees, but the yard behind the barn is littered with  English walnuts while the first batch is drying in the guest bedroom.

The dusky-footed woodrat who lives in the barn is pleased to know this. So are my co-workers and neighbors who are coming to harvest walnuts, watch the sun set, and potluck it.

Walnut harvest means it is time for the annual reader poll. From all the snakes seen at the Dipper Ranch this year, you get to vote on which one will be featured on the 2013 Dipper Ranch Walnuts label.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

More Owl Mysteries with a Goatsucker Thrown In

In the family of "goatsuckers", I first starting seeing these small birds hunkered down on the ground at night at the Dipper Ranch after we put a thick layer of gravel on the driveway.  
After the interesting comments on the driveway owl - whether it is a great-horned owl or a western screech owl - I want to share more owl photos.  Especially a small owl that shows up at the Newt Spring and then a goatsucker that surprised me on the driveway tonight.

Those night critters.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sharps at Sunset

A large buck crosses the driveway and heads down the hill at sunset.  
I am working on a post about deer at the Newt Spring in late summer and early fall. So many different deer families and they are regrouping this time of year. My notes are something likes this:

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Water for the Trickster

Summer-dry brown in October. That's SoCal.  
Southern California. SoCal.  Land of lovely sunshine and 13.7 inches of average annual precipitation (at Redlands).  Last year, actual annual precipitation was 9.0 inches, and so far this calendar year, there has been 3.6 inches.  Future climate models project that this region will be dry and getting drier with more extreme events including longer droughts and stronger sudden storms.

Something for us ecologists to consider when we are restoring land to natural conditions. How do we convert abandoned agricultural fields, mining pits, eroded bluffs, dissolving roads, buried or channelized creeks to diverse, functioning, sustainable natural systems? In the future climate, are these areas best suited as forests, grasslands, chaparral or ephemeral streams? With climate change, there's no going back so what is the path forward?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Arboreal and Frugivorous

Gray fox scurrying off with prey.  Are those floppy bunny ears hanging down?  
A week ago Saturday, we heard a loud crash in the backyard at 3:00 am.  People and pets raised our heads high enough to peek out the bedroom window. The backyard remained dark and silent so we went back to sleep.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fall Fashions at the Spring - Bold Stripes

Bold white stripes framed by a pert beanie cap on one end and a fluffy white and black tail on the other end = striped skunk  
When we were teenagers, my five sisters and I used to wait excitedly for the fall fashion edition of Vogue magazine. Like any of us ever spent $700 on a pair of pants.  Zoom forward to today at the Dipper Ranch where the boys are running around saying "Too many words!"

In the next few posts, I thought I would feature what the wildlife are wearing to the Newt Spring in the late summer and fall.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

An Honorable Herpetologist

slender salamander  
I was sad to learn of the recent passing of the great herpetologist Robert C. Stebbins.  Long before I met him, I was fascinated with his descriptive and beautifully illustrated field guides to western amphibians and reptiles.  Matthew Bettelheim has posted information about Dr. Stebbins here and is inviting people to share their memories of him. The commentary there will be worth visiting in the next few weeks as Dr. Stebbins encouraged so many people to discover the fascinating world of reptiles and amphibians.  My thanks to his family, colleagues and friends for sharing Dr. Stebbins and his legacy.

Tonight, I think I will share some photos of my favorite times with California herps to say my goodbye. So many scaly and slimy adventures of learning and delight.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Thinking Backwards: the Landscape

Not much grows on a scree slope
Photo by randomtruth.  
Part 3: are you still with me? Still thinking backwards? This is my favorite part - the landscape state of mind. You are crossing a natural area, hyper-alert but at the same time in a dreamlike trance since you are not task-oriented, just absorbing as much of your surroundings as possible. Collecting images, sounds, and maybe a little scent. As an ecologist, I'm looking for clues on how the pieces fit together. This natural area is not just a list of plants and animals, but a constant flow of energy with any little click being some type of adjustment between the animate and inanimate. Even if I don't recognize these ecological relationships at the moment, my observations might help figure out patterns of the place later.

Every day in our wildlife camera trapping workshop at the Sierra Nevada Field Campus, we ventured into the beautiful montane landscape of Yuba Pass to practice our skills in a new environment. One morning, workshop instructor Dr. Chris Wemmer led the class across the North Yuba River in search of the bushy-tailed woodrat (Neotoma cinerea). But first we had to climb the side of a mountain.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Thinking Backwards: the Animal

The bushy-tailed woodrat leaving its den in the scree slope at night.  
We climbed the side of a mountain at Yuba Pass, found the sought-after den entrances, and now it was time to mount a trail camera in order to take photos of the bushy-tailed woodrat (Neotoma cinerea). It was the third day of our wildlife camera trapping workshop at the Sierra Nevada Field Station, and we had already experimented with many techniques for mounting trail cameras on trees or on stakes driven into the ground. But the bushy-tailed woodrat lives in screes slopes which have no trees or soil. When you've got lots of rocks, you use rocks.

As one of my classmates in our trail camera workshop described, setting a camera is like walking onto an empty theatre stage. You've read the lines but now you must flesh out the play by imagining the future actors and scenery.  With a new camera in hand and rocks underfoot, I needed to conjure up my next few steps. At the high elevation, I felt closer to the ground, the animal level, but the logistics of technology were slipping away.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Thinking Backwards: the Camera

A bushy-tailed woodrat eating mystery food in the Sierras.
This photo was adjusted for exposure and sharpness.  
A scree slope seems like a barren landscape to search for wildlife. Shrink yourself. Then imagine scampering the maze beneath the jumbled rocks. Suddenly the underground landscape has warm-blooded potential.

Standing on a scree slope above 6700-foot Yuba Pass in the Sierra Nevada mountain range is a good place to take a mental leap. I wanted to photograph bushy-tailed woodrats (Neotoma cinerea) which den under the rocks but I was struggling to understand the new Bushnell HD Trophy camera. You would think that setting up trail cameras, aka as wildlife cameras, is all about the technology - the sensors, trigger, flash, and digital equipment. But you also need a feral imagination since you are not going to be there when the camera is triggered. You have to picture the animal moving in the landscape, often at night, and contrive a plan to steal a few moments of its life on a carefully set camera.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Cam Trap Mistakes: The Stubborn Brush Rabbit

A brush rabbit in a willow thicket at dusk.
Photo taken with Moultrie M100 trail camera and post-processed (cropped, exposure and contrast adjusted).  
In July, I took a five-day workshop in the Sierras on photographing wildlife with trail cameras. It was an excellent workshop at the beautiful Sierra Nevada Field Campus. There are no good books yet about using remote cameras to photograph wildlife (aka camera trapping), but there are good blogs on the adventures of experienced cam-trappers with gorgeous photos and exciting videos, websites that review trail cameras, and trail camera discussion groups.*

I learned a lot at the workshop especially from my mistakes. What the heck, why not share my cam trap bloopers? In these next few posts, I will reveal the trials of a novice cam trapper and throw in my subjective reviews of a few commercial trail cameras with example photos (and maybe videos?).

First up is The Stubborn Brush Rabbit.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Fox Dines on the Jepson Manual

A grey fox smiling at a tasty meal or the Flehman response?
While I was away at a workshop in the Sierras, the mice did play. And so did the cats. Somehow, this resulted in a grey fox eating dinner off my Jepson I manual. How did this happen? How did a botanist end up playing with foxes? Learning is a good thing and sometimes it changes your perspective.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

When Is a Heifer Not a Heifer?

An unexpected calf on the Dipper Ranch in May 
Heifers are female cows who have never bred. Steers are male cattle who have been fixed so they cannot breed. The grazing operation at the Dipper Ranch is a seasonal lease and this year as in previous years, Cowboy V reported that he was bringing in 80 heifers and steers from December to June.

In May, I found a small black calf on the ranch. How did that happen?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Breakfast at the Dipper Ranch

Black-tailed does at the water trough as seen through a window screen on an early summer morning.
Something is going on with the black-tailed deer. The does are congregating near the house. Maybe the water in the cattle trough and bird baths is attracting them. It has been a dry year and perhaps their other easy sources of water have dried up. Maybe predators have pushed them to the top of the property or to congregate in bigger, safer groups. Or maybe their fawns are old enough now that the does of several generations are joining back up in their matriarchal herds. However, most of the does don't seem to have fawns anymore. The largest and therefore probably oldest doe has one fawn. And another doe has one fawn. A third doe has had a yearling buck with pencil-stub antlers following her around and it looks like a yearling doe (who didn't breed last year or lost her fawns this year?) has joined her recently too. I wonder what the gals are talking about at the water trough.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sharp-Tailed Snake : Long or Short?

Sharp-tailed snake showing the black-white crossbars underneath and spine on the tip of its tail.  
Do you ever just flip through a field guide? Besides enjoying the gorgeous illustrations such as Stebbins' plates in Western Reptiles and Amphibians, I sometimes randomly open a field guide and start reading. I know I will either learn an interesting fact or hear a good story from a raconteur like Alan St. John in Reptiles of the Northwest. And I might remember an important fieldmark for the next time I have only a few seconds to identify a surprise visitor.

Recognizing a distinct black-white pattern helped me respond quickly to a little snake that appeared in the yard in April. Was this the newly described forest sharp-tailed snake? I immediately abandoned my yardwork and spent the rest of the afternoon playing citizen scientist.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Tracks Upon Tracks

A mountain lion journeys along the old stage coach road.
When Naiad and I returned to the house after our afternoon of tracking at the end of the road, we excitedly checked the memory cards from the wildlife cameras to see what "hits" we got over the last few weeks. Mostly cows, lots of cows. Cattle are irresistibly drawn to the ribbon of an open road.

The trusty old Recon camera, however, had a short series of very interesting photos taken three mornings earlier:

Monday, July 1, 2013

Tracks at the End of the Road

To find a raccoon, be a raccoon 
"We could go to the end of the road," I prompted Naiad, trying to keep her moving and distracted. "This is an old stage coach road. It probably went back to lumber mills and then the Shriner's camp before it became a state park." Now, I explained, the old road ends at a remote location on the Dipper Ranch where a steep ravine has been washing out crossings and culverts for a long time. "Maybe a hundred years!" I claimed to make the dirt road sound exciting.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Weeding at Sunset is like a Prayer

Goodnight Mindego Hill. Goodnight land of San Francisco gartersnakes.
Goodnight slowly diminishing hillsides of purple starthistle.  
The weeds have raised their ugly heads. Italian thistle is starting to blow seeds, milk thistle is fat and purple, and yellow starthistle is bolting. I hope you got many weeds at their seedling and rosette stages (see Thistle Logic for these early strategies). There is still time to capture more weed seed before it ripens and escapes.

Weeding can be hard and weeds can be depressing. We need a coping mechanism. Every few days, I make sure to weed where I can watch the sun set. Recently while admiring a tangerine-blasted horizon, I found myself singing while tossing thistles into an overflowing wheelbarrow. From whence comes such joy? Weeding at sunset is like a prayer.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Busy, Busy

Grazed hillsides in late spring on the Dipper Ranch.
Soon the cattle will be leaving at the end of their grazing season. Things will get quieter.
How's your late spring going? Busy, busy? Lots of interesting things happening at the Dipper Ranch and in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Seems like the only time I have to write is on sticky notes while washing the dishes.

Here's what I am working on:

Friday, May 3, 2013

Stay Calm and Mow

A clear day in April on hills that often burn. View to the west from Walker Ridge, Lake County, California.
It's smokey in the San Francisco Bay area this morning. Smoke is blowing in from wildfires in Napa and Solano Counties.  The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) now has these local wildfires 100% contained but wildfires are also moving in southern California.  With a nearly dry spring and an early increase in fire activity, the state is preparing for increased fire risk for the summer.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Pile of Sawdust

Fresh sawdust chips on a trunk.
I noticed piles of fresh sawdust beneath a dying canyon live oak when I was chasing some cows out of The Pasture of Death last week. After unchaining the gate and opening it wide, I snuck through the forest to get behind the cattle and did a chicken dance to get those bossies moving into the proper pasture.  While waiting for the cattle to walk through the gate, I went back to look at the mysterious sign.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hanging Laundry by Lantern Light

Another sign of summer - the first moonless night when the crickets are louder than the treefrogs.

Fade to Blue

A.M. - just enough fog to outlines the hills.
 Goodbye spring.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

30 Years of Conservation

Bringing the outside inside.
Ok, office moved. Attitude shifted. Now I'm ready to start my third decade of land conservation.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day and Change

This way or that way? As a large mammal, mountain lions have choices on where they can go but they are still blocked by roads and human conversion of natural lands.
Happy Earth Day. I am spending Earth Day moving my office which could be boring but has me thinking about climate change.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Fat Does

Swelling doe 4/16/12
Who is going to see the first fawn this year?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hanging Out with California Natives

Blue oaks (Quercus douglasii) have large gaps in their canopy through which you can see the stars. Growing only here, blue oaks are California natives.
I'm working on this idea that it takes a long time to know a place. So if you want to know California better, you better hang out with California natives, not just the native plants and animals but also the people who were raised in this state.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Driveway Moment

On a full-moon night,  the moon rises at the same time the sun sets.
Half our world is sky. At least when you are in the country and have a 360-degree view and there are clouds to remind you of that huge volume of space above your head. Or stars, sunsets, moon rises, and sometimes comets. The driveway to the Dipper ranch house is a road that shows up on a US Geological Survey topographic map from the late 1800's whereas none of the other modern day country roads existed then. Other people must have walked, ridden or driven down this road and gazed upwards. Some of them must have come through the gate, around the corner and gasped to see the full moon rise just as I did the other night.

Spring has arrived and it brings the changing of the herpetofauna guard.  The lizards are coming out and bowing to the sun and the amphibians are finishing their aquatic breeding and returning to the dark, damp earth.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Santa Teresa County Park - Wildflower Hotspot #7

Santa Teresa County Park featuring California poppy and gypsum spring beauty
Santa Teresa County Park is in the Santa Teresa Hills of south San Jose. Skip the golf course and head further up Bernal Road to the less developed parts of the park. There are winding trails through grasslands and oaks with attractive trail names like Hidden Springs, Coyote Peak and Rocky Ridge. Many of the local neighbors use the park for early morning or evening hikes and rides and a quick conversation at the trailhead or on the way may steer you to their favorite view or a spot with current blooms. Last year, one of those locals told me, "Santa Teresa has a lot of serpentine areas and the Stile Ranch, Rocky Ridge and Bernal Hill Trails are usually very good in April and May."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Night Has a Comet and a Lion

Comet PANSTARRS - thanks to sky-aware friends who point out these things.
We saw the Comet PANSTARRS from the Dipper Ranch gate tonight. A herd of five deer were watching too, or perhaps, as someone suggested, the deer were looking to see who was making all that racket. Just sitting in lawn chairs at the gate in the dark with binoculars and cameras. Such a pleasant way to spend a late winter evening. Meanwhile, a mountain lion has showed up several times on a wildlife camera on a remote part of the ranch. Mostly at night.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

In the Provident Shadow of Omnivores

Nighttime silhouette in the wildlife camera at the cattle pen.
I felt restless in late November as I often do around the full moon, but I was also nervous about attending a four-wheel drive class. Meanwhile, the omnivores were leaving sign at new places on the Dipper Ranch, sometimes being rascals and sometimes making fortuitous appearances.

In the middle of the night before the 4WD class, I woke suddenly. Everything was silent. There were no kids or cats jumping on the bed, so I looked out the window to check on Orion's progress. Under the foggy full moon, the backyard was blurred by swaying tree shadows. Then I saw an especially dark shadow slink in a diagonal path. Was that an animal moving or was I just sleepy?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Snow Moon

Full moon through California buckeye tree at the Dipper Ranch, February 25, 2013
Late February's full moon is the Snow Moon.  In central coastal California, we had snow for about 4 hours this winter.

I meant to photograph the full moon just as it was coming over Georgia's Ridge. I was inside getting ready by cleaning my best lens only to get distracted by amazing reflections of the cowboy light in the newly cleaned lens.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Merganser Afternoon - Yellowstone Reflections

One afternoon in Yellowstone National Park I wanted to hike, but I was on my own and the Park Service strongly recommends that people hike in groups of three or more for safety in grizzly bear country. So I settled for a solitary stroll on the boardwalk at LeHardy Rapids on the Yellowstone River.

The boardwalk was too short to soothe my wanderlust, but it provided an excellent view of the rapids, so I settled onto the grizzly-free deck to watch the river noisily leap over and surge around rocks. Even here, in this little byway where the Yellowstone River regains its tumbling nature after leaving Yellowstone Lake, the park offered a rich opportunity to view wildlife. Out of a curtain of splashing bubbles, a bright orange bill appeared above a lowrider feathered back.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

One Wolf in a Bison Herd - Yellowstone Reflections

A lone wolf surveys a bison herd at Yellowstone National Park
The fourth and last wolf we saw in our summer week at Yellowstone National Park was wandering in a bison herd. We first saw the wolf cross the East Entrance Road from the shoreline of Mary Bay on Yellowstone Lake and then immediately trot into a herd of bison on the other side of the road. The bulls, cows and young bison did not stampede when the wolf walked among them. They kept grazing and resting, belching and rolling in the dirt. The wolf slowly trotted through the herd of about 40 bison, occasionally stopping or changing direction, and constantly looking around.