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.
A skunk with a fluffy tail leaves the Newt Spring on a cool July night.  The springbox is at the bottom of the photo with one of its old boards showing to the left.  Note: all the photos in this post taken by the Moultrie camera are actually in the year 2013 - my mistake in setting the wrong year on the camera.  
The Newt Spring is a pipe that cowboys stuck into a leaky bank long ago.  The pipe dripped into a redwood springbox and then the water was diverted into a stock pond for the cattle.

I dug out part of the abandoned spring box this summer to provide a water source for wildlife.  Then I put a trail camera on the slope above the Newt Spring to see what wildlife would visit. A striped skunk showed up the second night.

Big skunk drinks in the early morning of August 8th.  
Little skunk drinks at the same spot in the evening of August 8th.  
I think there are at least two skunks.  If you look at these two photos 15 hours apart on August 8, you can clearly see that the first skunk is bigger than the second one.  I didn't move the camera between the two shots and neither of the photos is cropped, so the size difference you see between the two photos is real. These size differences are probably a larger male and smaller females. Generally a solitary species except when raising young or during the brief winter breeding season, a large male will often wander through the home range of several female skunks (Elbroch).

During the day, you can see a brown color to the tip of the tail. I think this is the smaller skunk.     
And a visit the next day from the brown-tailed skunk.  
From July 30 to September 22, a period of 56 days, a skunk showed up at the Newt Spring on 26 separate days. The Newt Spring is probably along the regular foraging route of a resident skunk. On three dates, there was a skunk appearance twice in a day, usually once in the morning and once in the evening, and usually it appeared to be the same small skunk although on August 8, it was obviously a big skunk and then a little skunk. On September 9, there were 3 skunk appearances, probably the same little skunk twice and big skunk once.

Eventually, I flipped the orientation of the camera but the distance of the camera from the spring is about the same so the sizes of the animals are still comparable. This looks like our regular "little" striped skunk with a small tail.    

Is this the same skunk the next morning? The tail looks much bigger but the body size is the same.  For an animal that uses bold colors and waves its tail as a warning before it goes for the big guns - skunk spray - it seems like the tail could express itself in many ways.  
Most of the skunk visits were at night, but on 6 dates, a skunk came for a drink during the day.

Big skunk checking out a cow bone left by the coyotes on a hill above the orchard. Check out the narrow stripe down its forehead (second narrow line is blade of grass).  
Another shot of a large skunk on the same night almost one hour later at Sunset Hill.     
 In late August, a large skunk showed up to inspect a cow bone left by the coyotes on a scenic hill above the orchard.  An hour later, another camera caught a large skunk approximately 2/5th of a mile away on Sunset Hill. Elbroch says skunks forage at a walking speed of less than 1.2 miles/hour, so this could be the same skunk. These two camera sets were only up for a short time and are 1/3 and 3/5 miles away from the Newt Pond.  It could be the same large skunk rambling between all three points, or maybe there are lots of skunks at the Dipper Ranch.

Skunk tracks on the dusty trail leading to the Newt Spring. I found these on September 8.  The skunk's rear track often has a line across the pad.  
The rolling hind foot of a skunk leaving the Newt Spring. The heel doesn't always register in their tracks.
I've only seen skunks at the Dipper Ranch with my own eyes a few times but I frequently see their digging handiwork. Once as I was walking home near sunset, a striped skunk came tearing down the hill directly towards me on the trail, stopped suddenly, and stamped its feet several times. It was sure trying to look tough for such a little creature. I ran away before it got closer. Elbroch says, "Pregnant females and youngsters foot-stamp [as a warning] at the slightest disturbance."

Skunk with row of black dots on its white cap.  
On September 10, a medium-sized skunk showed up with a line of small black dots on the white patch on the top of its head. The same skunk shows up three more times in four days. None of my other photos show a skunk so adorned. The line of dots stays in the same location, so I don't think it is debris. It could be ticks, but why would ticks line up so nicely? This dotted skunk spends a lot of time searching the springbox with its nose and forepaws. I think it is a third skunk.

By mid-September, I had been adjusting the camera to get more coverage of the area behind the spring.  On September 19, there are a series of photos showing the skunk leave the spring and walk into a culvert which drains the Newt Spring under the ranch road.  
The second time I saw a skunk on the Dipper Ranch, I was leading a party of volunteers down to the Monotti Pond to weed purple starthistle. Just ahead of us, a striped skunk scurried into a culvert which made it easier for us to do our work around the pond. On September 19, a series of photos likewise show a skunk enter a culvert below the Newt Spring. The skunks probably use this culvert frequently, this was just one of the few times the camera was aimed in that direction to catch its retreat route.

I flipped through my photos at the Newt Spring in 2012 and found two photos also in September and also showing two different sized skunks.

Big skunk walking the road next to the Newt Spring in 2012.  
Little skunk walking the same road by the Newt Spring a few days later in 2012.    
Bold stripes - a fall fashion statement that holds up from year to year at the Dipper Ranch.

Fashion mistake at the spring: gray on gray - not very bold   
Striped skunk - Mephitis mephitis

Mark Elbroch and Kurt Rinehart, Behavior of North American Mammals, Peterson Reference Guide Series, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011.

1 comment:

  1. To my eye, the monochromatic couture (i.e., variation in striping) suggests the 9/5 and 9/6 small skunks are different individuals. Perhaps you have a few juvie skunks dispersing from a mom - this is the right time of year for it.


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