Archive for the ‘mammals’ Category

New England Lion

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

A mountain lion (puma concolor) was struck by an SUV near Milford, Connecticut in June. DNA samples showed it had come from South Dakota! Pretty wild. Folks have been spotting and tracking lions in New England for years. They used to be native to the northeast before all the development.

John Muir

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

john muir

I’d like to take a moment to celebrate the person known as Mr. John Muir.

Here is a person who is one of my idols. He is accredited as being the father of the conservation movement and as being responsible for the birth of the National Park system in our country which preserves huge tracts of wilderness.

This guy was intense. Almost not even human. He was so into the outdoors he would walk around in the mountains for days with little more than a loaf of bread, some tea, and his journal. He would walk out into the middle of storms and just hang out, enjoying the power of it all.

i have never heard anyone write the way he does. He has no doubt inspired masses of individuals to wonder at the beauty of Nature through the writings he left behind.

Who was this guy?

I have spent time with many naturalists throughout the country over the years. And I have been inspired by many of them in powerful ways. But to be perfectly honest, a good number of them exhibit massive displays of ego. This can be very confusing. It also produces suffering.

i recently revisited John Muir’s “My First Summer in the Sierra”, an account of his time spent in Yosemite working as a sheep herder. Reading it i was literally blown away. The way he glorifies Nature completely lays to waste any kind of ego energy in me or any of these other outdoor people i interact with.  here’s an excerpt:

“From garden to garden, ridge to ridge, I drift enchanted……..In the midst of such beauty, pierced with it’s rays, one’s body is all one tingling palate. Who wouldn’t be a mountaineer! Up here all the world’s prizes seem nothing.”

Hahahaha! What a crazy man. Some kind of alien for sure.

i’d like to see a John Muir Day as a national holiday in which everyone takes off work to go to the mountains or a local wilderness area to explore.

the Man

Feather River

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

Mustela vison

The American Mink, a weasel found often  in waterways throughout North America and beyond. I walked along the feather river in Portola California today in search of wildlife. Some co-workers said the river has otter. I wanted to find out. I found some otter-like scat, but i couldn’t ID it for sure. I did come across the other riparian weasel however. His trails and scat were all along the banks in the mud and up on the rocks. The scat was almost entirely filled with crayfish remains.

Yesterday I picked up John Muir’s “My First Summer in the Sierra” for the first time in years. I opened it up and was absolutely blown away. Everyone remembers him as a mountaineer, but honestly, I have never heard anyone else write like that. The mans mastery of words is phenomenal.  He makes Nature sound like Heaven. I’ve never heard anyone write about Nature like that. He was so enthralled by the wilderness and conveys it so well in his writings, I almost couldn’t relate, and i’m a naturalist. That guy was some kind of alien or something. Truly inspiring.

Castor canadensis

The Beaver, also a common resident of rivers, ponds and almost any place with water. If you look in the top right portion of the picture you can see a fairly large three-toed track that looks like a giant bird track, that’s the hind foot of the beaver. The hind left is also in the photo in the bottom left, but it’s jumbled up amongst other animals tracks and is harder to see.

The beaver has five toes on its hind feet, but usualy only the outer three show up. Not sure why honestly. It probably has to do with the fact that they spend a significant amount of time in the water swimming as apposed to travelling about on land.

Spotted sandpipers, ospreys, and a green-tailed towhee shared the banks of the Feather with me. The Osprey, Pandion haliaetus, makes a unique kind of shriek-call as he flies, that makes him sound like the dominant resident of the river.

bear trails

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

a walk in the snow

The walking trail of a black bear (ursus americanus) near Yuba Pass, one of the passes over the sierra that highway 49 uses.  This particular trail was less than forty five minutes old, likely minutes old. Sun was melting the snow pretty fast that day and these tracks were crisp. Plus he walked right on top of my trail that i had made forty five minutes earlier.

It was a stunning walk. All the snow reflecting the light like some kind of brilliantly lit lab room. I walked in the slush for a few miles out then turned around and came back the way i came only to find the sign of this wandering omnivore. He broke into a run just a few feet up from the photo above. I was singing pretty loudly on my return walk and i wondered if that is what scared him. I am saying him just cause of the size of the tracks. Not actually sure of the sex.

little one

Here’s a smaller one that crossed the trail earlier on my walk. That’s an AA battery for size comparison. I wonder how old this guy was and why he/she was alone.


Sunday, April 17th, 2011

Black-tailed jackrabbit

Recently saw an amazing talk by Fraser Shilling of the UC Davis “Road Ecology” department. That is, the study of how wildlife relates to human transportation systems. He said according to the Humane Society :


animals die


from auto travel in the US.

He started a website called in which citizens of California can enter roadkill observations onto the site as a means of making an accurate picture of roadkill patterns statewide. Its incredible. Check it out.

This is a Black-tailed Jackrabbit (lepus californicus) that was killed on the local highway, Hwy 49, last week.

Ursos Trail

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

bear trail

Can you see the Black bear (ursos americanos) trail in this Photo? The prints start in the right bottom corner of the photo and head across to the top left.

It’s moving in an overstep walk, a simple back and forth type of walk, one bears use regularly to get around.


Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

Mystery Photo

Here’s a mystery for you. Who made these tracks?  The pine needle on the right is a ten inch Ponderosa Pine Needle for size reference.

Felis Concolor

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

felis concolor, mountain lion, male

The mountain lion.

I recently revisited a wonderful show I used to watch when i was ten years old. My housemates five year old son was sick at home watching “Felix the Cat” cartoon episodes on the couch. Remember that? That cat was tight. Whenever he got in a fix he would reach into his bag of tricks. Non-cartoon cats however, like the mountain lion, need our protection. Protection from whom? From us humans, our technology, and our often non-moral or unaware use of it.

A neighbor caught an image of a massive male lion on a trail camera back in January. He was completely ripped, muscles bulging out from beneath the skin. I went out in search of him and eventually came upon his fresh trail down by the creek below my home. I came back to the creek in the following days and each morning there would be a fresh trail. I wonder if this means he had a kill in the area that he was hanging by and feeding on. The third time i came back there were two trails walking tandem along the water.

can you feel the Love tonight?

I figured it was a mating pair and not just two trails that happened to be alongside each other. They were made at the same time, the print dimensions of one was significantly larger than the other, and they were walking in tandem, like holding hands in the park tandem. The size difference was incredible. The female was way smaller than the male. Small, delicate and soft compared to the angular, large, male prints.  Perhaps its difficult to see in the picture but in the photo above the male trail is the on on the right side of the photo, starting in the bottom right, and the female is the trail on the left side of the photo, starting bottom left. Both are moving away from the camera in what trackers call an “alternate walk”, or your most basic relaxed right, left, right, left kind of walk. Like we would walk from the kitchen to the bathroom except with animals there are four legs involved. It’s kind of difficult to get a size comparison looking at the photo, but the male measured close to an inch larger than the female.

right front and hind

Mountain lions are solitary and are only found together during a few weeks in winter when mating occurs. At least it happens once a year. This is unfortunately better than some of us can attest to.  Mountain lions are one of the most widespread carnivores in America, ranging all the way from the Canadian Rockies to the snowy mountains of South America. Of course they are all called different names in all the varied places they are found, some of them being, cougar, catamount, puma and probably all kinds of cool Spanish names. I read in this one book that they are even different sub-species in each location, labeled accordingly with a third Latin name. Of course they are physically, noticeably different in the different regions they are found. The Florida puma has what we call a “roman nose”. It kind of bends out like an Italian person in comparison with lions from California or some other location.  Although called a lion, they are not as similar to the African Lions as they are to a Panther or Jaguar. They are solitary and don’t hang out in prides, and they hunt from stealth and sudden attack as apposed to group predation.

The photo above is that of the males front right print (bottom track) and the rear right print (top track). It’s an interesting feeling when you see the tracks of an animal that could end your existence, walk on top of your tracks from the previous day. There’s kind of this moment of connection like, ” Whoa, a lion just stepped on top of my tracks.”  Then you feel all proud.  I heard from a naturalist friend once that on average us humans all walk within ten feet of a mountain lion without even knowing it. That is if you live in lion country. This isn’t really that hard to believe when you start to learn about these creatures. They are incredibly stealthy. They are nocturnal. And they don’t enjoy being seen. So during the day they are layed out beneath a bush, sleeping the day away, keeping one eye open as you and your friends hike past, talking about your recent stock bonds.

I went out with a lion biologist once to see the kind of work he did. We hiked around the rim of this canyon for an hour trying to locate with radio telemetry this female that was, according to the technology, quite close. We were about to give up when we looked back to where we had come, only to see her zoom out of this stand of brush that we had walked just twenty feet from 30 minutes earlier. What other things in life do we walk twenty feet away from without ever knowing of it’s existence?

sunset from porch, life is beautiful

Bassariscus Astutus

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Bassariscus astutus

Bassariscus astutus. Also known as the Ringtail or Miners Cat. The old gold miners used to adopt these guys as pets to keep the local rodent population down (they hunt mice). This one was found dead on highway 49 in Nevada City just before the Yuba crossing. Ringtails typically are found along rocky outcroppings in riparian habitats (along rivers). I had seen this one cross the same spot in the road a year and a half ago. Animals are often very habitual in their movements.

ringtail fore feet

I am trying to make a project happen where we would gather information about the movements of animals such as this Ringtail in relation to the well used auto highways in Nevada and nearby counties. This basically needs to happen all over the country/world.  Back closer to the begining of the century when automobile travel began to get very popular, a big influx of cars came into use along with roadways to accomodate them. However the engineers who designed these roadways didn’t really put much attention into whether or not animals could live with these highways in a harmonious fashion. Animals are very similar to your uncle Craig or your aunt Betsy or your sister, mom, dad, etc. They need to drink when they get thirsty, they get really hungry, like as hungry as when you get back from school/work hungry, they need to keep their body temperature above a certain level, they need mating – partners. And just like the way we drive to the market, or drive to the clothing store, or drive to the singles bar, they walk, run or hop to various places to get their most basic needs met. This means that they move, travel from one location to another, and the bigger the animal is, the bigger space, or territory it needs to get these needs met. A male mountain lion often will have a territory, an area of repeated use, of one-hundred and twenty square miles. Now imagine using a space like that and trying to fit it in with Interstate 80 or any other major freeway found all over the continent. If you imagine for long enough your mind will eventually come to the same scenario that one sees all the time will driving everyday along your local roads: Roadkill. Dead animals. Dead mothers, dead fathers, dead aunt Betsy, dead uncle Craig, just trying to get to work. Last spring I had to take care of a frozen young coyote pup whos mother had been killed on the road just outside my driveway. My heart broke.

killsite , highway 49, Nevada City, CA

Anyways………… So we need land bridges, and culverts, and tunnels. Ways for mammals and amphibians, and reptiles to cross well used auto roads without dying. Its called Connectivity. Green patches are great, but you also need green links between the green patches. Being at home is great but when the fridge gets empty, unless you have a garden you need to go out to the local farm or market to get something to eat. And what do we use to get there? Roads. Just like us, animals have home space where they rest, play and relax, but they also need pathways that affords them protection to get to other spaces where there  is food, water and so forth.

The  picture with the red in the background is that of the Ringtails front feet. Ringtails are most closely related to the Raccoon and Coati family, hence the ringed tail, but they kind of act cat-like or weasel-like. They are silent as ghosts. I witnessed one walk about thirty feet over dried up oak/madrone debris forest floor without making a sound. I didn’t hear a thing until it stared growling at me up in a tree thirty feet later.  Studying the paws of this one i thought they most resembled miniature otter feet.

ringtail hind feet

Basically we are all just like our brother and sister animals. Everything we need comes from Mother Nature but we wrap it all and ourselves is so much plastic, metal, styrofoam, polyester and rubber that we forget where it all came from in the first place. Then we bring babies into this man-made set up who are brought up and go for their whole life never seeing the original connection of their food, water, and shelter. The golden field of grain that your Mcdonald burger bun originated , the snow capped mountain that drained into your Poland Spring water bottle, the majestic redwood that stood for hundreds of years, housing generations of flying squirrels and raccoons in its trunk, which is now the banister of your winter ski-lodge resort. Etcetera.  The interesting thing is that alot of people don’t really care all that much. i am trying to understand this one. “Don’t tell me about that. Just let me eat my roast chicken in peace.” , they say as we sit at the restaurant table. How do we get that connection again? Love? That’s how the investigation began for me. I keep wondering if that can work for everyone, or are me and my friends are just weird. Well we are definitely weird,  but maybe not in a bad way.

Summer Solstice

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

The Yuba River

The rushing Yuba River. All the snow has been melting in the high sierra, so i hear, so all the water is rushing down into the foothills. A friend and i went and sat by the river. It was amazing. Woodrat, snake or lizard of some sort, huge bull frog, deer mouse, fawn and deer, killdeer, turkey, and quail tracks along the bank. Hoards of cliff swallows flying in and out of their nests under the bridge. A hot yet beautiful day.     

mystery tracks

  Not sure what these guys are. i was with a bunch of folks, when we were looking at them, who had to be somwhere, so i didn’t get to study them closely. i guessed that they were tracks of the meadow vole.  One of the tracks is about   3/4 of an inch long.  What do you think? please let me know if you have an idea. 

Black - Tailed Deer

  The male black tailed deer or a “buck” as they are commonly referred to.  Soon after i took this picture i watched as he proceeded to scratch his underside with his large antlers. they seemed pretty unwieldy so it was a somewhat impressive feat. 

ground squirrel dust bath

   The Beldings Ground squirrel, or at least thats what i think it is. I was calling the ground squirrels around here California ground Squirrels earlier. But now i am thinking they are Beldings( spermopholis beldingi). If i read correctly they are both in this range, but the California has white dots on its back while the beldings is smaller and has a reddish brown back. These guys are reddish and smaller.

   Anyways the ground squirrel “bathes” by rolling around in the dirt, or what others call a “dust bath” . Look closely for the fine striations in the dust which are the marks of the squirrels hair as he rubbed about.  

turdus migratorius

       The tracks of the American Robin. The tracks below are from the Western Gray Squirrel (sciurus grisius).  The feet of gray squirrels are amazing. the ones out here are gigantic, so their feet are also exceptionally large, as well as extremely dexterous. This has come about from the amazing acrobatic lifestyle they lead: jumping about from tree limb to tree limb and literally running up large vertical tree trunks. I was observing one in a low branch before me the other day. His/her hands protruded an almost nimble intelligence, the mark of their high-wire lifestyle no doubt.