Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Newt or Not A Newt?

Eyed by newt on the landslide road.
Is it a loathsome creature or a fairy?   
When is a newt not a newt?  When it is a lizard?  When it is a salamander?

In this post, I will briefly sort out the different salamanders that occur in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. This info should answer some of the questions that have come up so far and will help with the odd twists that are revealed in upcoming posts of the Mystery of the Red-Bellied Newt series.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

First Ever Red-Bellied Newt

As it walks through the forest litter, the red-bellied newt with its dark brown back and black eyes momentarily flashes the bright-red underside of its hands   
With photographic proof and reliable eyewitness accounts of red-bellied newts in the Santa Cruz Mountains, it was time to go looking for them myself. My first few trips to the streams and trails above Stevens Creek are unsuccessful. I find no brightly colored newts and only see a few of the common orange species, the California and rough-skinned newts. I'm not surprised. Newts spend large amounts of their lives under things - under logs, leaf litter, and in burrows underground. It's rain that gets the newts moving. I might have to wait for the second or third rainstorm to see any newts crawling towards the creeks, and if the population of the newly discovered red-bellied newts was small, it might take many, many trips before I stumble onto them.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Is That a Salamander in Your Pocket?

A photo on a computer screen in the ranger office   
Months went by and I forgot about the alleged red-bellied newt of Santa Clara County, then one Monday in December when I walked into the ranger office, a photo flicked on a computer screen and caught my eye. It was a newt being held by a hand clothed in a ranger's khaki sleeve. I looked again:  the newt in the photograph appeared to be the dark-eyed stranger I'd never met, the red-bellied newt. In the background of the photo were the same ranger bulletins I could see on the real bulletin board across the office. I was stunned as photo after photo of a red-bellied newt clicked on the computer's screen saver.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Thousand-Watt Smile

Chuck, long-distance runner and trail patrol volunteer, and his partner Chris
Sometimes you meet someone whose physical appearance so closely matches your unconscious image of a personality type that something very odd has to happen for you to be jolted into seeing that person as an individual instead of a stereotype. Same, same, same, BANG, different.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Mystery of the Red-Bellied Newt

This is a story of a dark-eyed stranger, one of the most powerful neurotoxins in the natural world, a suicide, and something out of place.

The dark-eyed stranger is the red-bellied newt, known in scientific circles as Taricha rivularis.  A medium-sized salamander (5.5 to 7.5 inches from nose to tail) with a chocolate-brown back and tomato-red underside, this newt lives in the redwood and similar forests and streams of northern California.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

First Mud Puddle

First mud puddle - must have been some party going on after that rain   
Rain. Here are photos of tracks that appeared in one little mud puddle on the Dipper Ranch after rainstorms finally arrived in mid-November. Can you tell what the tracks are from? The mud puddle was on a road that goes past the water tank.

Everyone's saying "Rain" with such joy. We've been getting rainstorms every few days. People have been going out for walks in it. Waking up at night to watch the stormy skies. Turning off the radio and TV to listen to the sound of it on the roof and the leaves.