Friday, December 23, 2016

Fox Pup in the Garage

I know gray foxes live at the Dipper Ranch because they show up on the wildlife cameras and leave me presents on the kitchen stoop. When I return home at night, I slow for the curve in the Dipper driveway where the view opens up to the deep canyon of Peters Creek, and if the moon is up, forested ridges shimmer all the way to Monterey Bay. Sometimes a smudge of motion catches my attention against the glare of the gravel driveway. It's the bushy tail of a gray fox on nightly patrol. Or even a pair of foxes, the smaller one loping behind the first, until they are just at the edge of the headlight illumination where they turn sharp faces to challenge the car to follow their floating tails under the barbwire fence and down a steep hillside.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Fox Tails

Alarm signal?   
With such long tails, gray foxes undoubtably use them to communicate aggression, submission and other messages to each other.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

On the Mound

The gray fox pups spent a lot of time on this mound just outside the den entrance.

Fox Pups in the Barn

A gray fox pup peeks out from under a barn door, an improvised den entrance.   
A family of gray foxes moved into the old barn on the Dipper Ranch in June. For a month, we watched the fox pups tumble, pounce and lounge about the farmyard day and night just steps away from our kitchen door.

The fox family packed down a dirt runway under the barn door - just like the entrance to an earthen underground den. From reading Random Truth's accounts of San Joaquin kit foxesI knew many family interactions would occur at the den entrance. We set up wildlife cameras in front of the barn and over the summer we accumulated thousands of photos and videos of the fox pups. First a head would peek out from underneath the big red door, then a small body and fuzzy tail. Soon another pup would wriggle out and playtime would begin. Lots of running, biting, clumsy tackles, and tail pulling.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Johnson Jumping Spiders Dance, Sing and Mimic

A Johnson jumping spider enjoys the late afternoon sun shining on its mushroom cap doorstep
 as it crunches on a earwig.  
The Johnson jumping spider got the most votes and will be featured on the 2016 Dipper Ranch walnut label.  This particular spider must be a male because its entire abdomen is covered in red felt whereas the female of this species has a black band down the middle.

Male jumping spiders dance and sing to get the attraction of a female jumping spider.  If she likes the performance, they mate. If she doesn't like it, she might eat him.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Vote for the 2016 Walnut Label

It's walnut harvest time. There's going to be a big crop and lots of neighbors and friends to share the bounty. Everybody gets to vote on the critter that goes on the label for the 2016 Dipper Ranch walnuts. Usually the label features one of the snakes that appeared on the ranch during the year, but there weren't many snakes this year. Why? Maybe because of the gray fox family that moved into the barn. Yes, foxes eat snakes. If you don't believe me, check out this video from the Camera Trap Codger.

I'm stubborn and even without a huge selection of snakes to choose from this year, I am not going to put some cutesy animal on the label. Instead, you get to choose among local animals I saw in 2016 which have a reputation of being creepy or strange, but really aren't. Mostly reptiles, spiders and bugs, but also some strange mammal tricks.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Annual Birthday Greetings 2016

Two teenage pumas kicking up their heels at a lovely spring day.   
Last night, I had to climb through the tangled branches of a downed oak tree intertwined with poison oak vines to pick up the memory card from this wildlife camera. We tried to go around but there was poison oak everywhere, so finally I said, "I'm going through!"

What a fantastic surprise to find photos of these young pumas. Probably worth the risk of climbing through poison oak. And I hope the Extreme Tecnu poison oak scrub works. I will know tomorrow since it usually takes 48 hours for my body to react to this allergen.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Lupine Hill Sunset

Tonight at sunset, April 17, 2016
Eight years of pulling yellow starthistle.

Eight years of seasonal grazing.

Spring rain with moderate temperatures.

Farthest location on the ranch from water.

Poor soils.

Nature wins.

Maybe I'll do a species survey tomorrow

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Vote for the 2015 Walnut Label

2015 Snake #1 The Golden-Eyed Rattlesnake - third of four rattlesnakes moved from the farmyard in two days in March and an especially dark one showing off its rattle at the release site (A Pile of Rattlesnakes). 
Here are photos of snakes we saw on the Dipper Ranch in 2015. Vote for your favorite below. The snake with the most votes will be featured on the label for the 2015 Dipper Ranch walnuts. I will randomly select one of the voters to get a prize -  a bag of delicious shelled walnuts.

What kind of crazy idea is this - snakes on a walnut label? You'll just have to go to past walnut label contests to get an explanation and see the snakes featured on prior labels:

Friday, February 5, 2016

Last Call for Rattlesnakes 2015

An unusual sight in an unusually dry summer - six bucks drinking out of the house trough in the day time.
If you look closely at the antlers of the third buck from the left, you can see they are red-tinged from blood vessels under the velvet the buck had just rubbed off.
Finally on August 22, we had our last snake adventure of 2015. The menfolk were repairing a window on the house and I was tending to other chores in the yard. I turned a valve on to fill a water trough on the other side of the barbwire fence near the house. The cattle were gone for the season and the trough had a crack with a slow leak, so I filled it halfway every few weeks to provide water for wildlife in the very dry summer.

About a half hour later, Papa Bear asked if I wanted him to turn the water off.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Prickly Situation

Coiled under the prickly leaves of a milk thistle, a small rattlesnake blends in with the brown leaves and dirt.   
On May 30, I was digging up milk thistles in the holding pen. I pushed the shovel into the soil around a tall plant and reached down to pull the last weed stem in my target zone for the day when I noticed a small rattlesnake hiding under the prickly leaves. I decided to leave the plant standing for another day. There was a jumble of rocks fortifying a nearby drainage, and surely that was where the rattlesnake must live most of the time.

I returned the next day and still the little rattlesnake was under the same thistle plant.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

In and Out of Harm's Way

How I prefer to see western yellow-bellied racers in the Dipper farmyard - out of harm's way.
June 2, 2009   
On May 25, I was mowing the orchard with a big walk-behind mower. The coyote brush was starting to take over and this mower is powerful enough to cut down young shrubs as tall as 3 feet. On a return path of my back-and-forth mowing pattern, I found an injured western yellow-bellied racer on the edge of the tall grass. Sadly, I realized I had probably hit it with the mower despite looking ahead and mowing in a way that gives wildlife the best chance to flee from the noisy machine. I set the injured snake in an area that was far away from my mowing duties. It was probably going to be dinner for a coyote or fox that night.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

It Was A Brown Snake

Round pupils, large scales between the eyes, black line through the eye, brown rectangular blotches arranged longways across the body, often shiny, head usually only slightly wider then neck = Pacific gopher snake.   
On April 20, I was happy to see the round pupils of a long gopher snake sunning on the gravel in front of the barn. Almost every year I see a long gopher snake in the Dipper farmyard and often it has a reddish color. Same one? I don't know but I just leave these shiny harmless beauties alone and call it/them Stellarosa after a former admired co-worker. Now, years later, I see billboards of a wine called Stella Rosa and it's confusing to me as I drive down the highway and see my fabulous snake name on a wine bottle in the city. I guess if I can put photos of a snake on the annual walnut label then they can . . . no, this is just too disturbing that they can ruin a perfectly good snake name like that.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Counting Triads

A California mountain kingsnake checks out a ranger's duty belt.   
On April 15, I found a California mountain kingsnake that had cleverly positioned itself above the water level in the spring box. It had accordian-wedged itself in a vertical crack in the concrete lining. While leaning into the vault to capture the brightly banded red-black-white kingsnake, I spotted a pointed and dull brown tail sticking out from underneath a ledge at the deep side of the springbox. It was a western yellow-bellied racer and it was out of my reach.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Pile of Rattlesnakes

A pile of rattlesnakes warming up in the sun under the barn door on an early March day.  
We saw 18 snakes on the Dipper Ranch in 2015 despite the fourth year of drought compared to just 9 snakes in 2014. Rather than slam all the 2015 snake photos and stories into one post, I'll split them into shorter posts over the next week. At the end, you'll get to vote for your favorite snake which will go on the Dipper Ranch 2015 walnut label.

We've carefully moved Northern Pacific rattlesnakes away from the farmyard for many years, but we still have a lot to learn from them. The 2015 snake sightings began and ended with rattlesnakes, but 8 total rattlers isn't out of the range of prior years. The days and nights turned consistently warm early in 2015, and I knew the snake season was also starting early when I saw four rattlesnakes around the barn in early March. Did I mention that I think the abandoned barn is a winter den for rattlesnakes?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Climate Change Made Me Do It

A sapsucker stretches after its winter arrival at the Dipper Ranch orchard.
This one looks like a cross between the red-naped sapsucker and the red-breasted sapsucker.  
Me in October:
Hardly any walnuts have fallen on the ground at the Dipper Ranch and they're all pecked open by birds. There will be no walnut harvest party this year.  It must be the four-year drought. The walnut trees leafed out in June this year - two months late. It must be climate change.
 The Dipper Ranch walnut trees in December:
Here's a few thousand walnuts on the ground for you. Sorry, dropped them in their husks this year. And it's going to rain soon so you better pick them up before they mold. Isn't climate always changing?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Who Scrapes There?

The first time a bobcat goes by the camera in this time period is November 12 near first light.   
A few days after I posted the Puma Scrapes story, I took a hike with my neighbors. To celebrate each new year, we take a hike across our rural neighborhood, usually from one house to another. On this year's Cuppa Sugar Hike, we found a fresh scrape on a trail at the edge of a wooded area.

"What animal left this mark?" we wondered. Especially since the scrape was unusually shaped, more of a square than a rectangle, and with a long narrow scat at the back.

"No problem," I said, "I've got a wildlife camera mounted just uphill. We'll check which animal went by after the rain five days ago and then we'll know."