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.