Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Lizard's Old Skin

Treasures come in many shapes and sizes, and this one, the shed skin of a backyard lizard, is quite a prize indeed! We found it tucked away in a stack of oak logs that we piled up behind the house and decided to move. Amazingly, the skin is intact, down to the tiny and well articulated feet. How did the lizard extricate itself from the old skin? Half way down its body, about where the body begins to taper out to the tail, there is a small but obviously sufficient hole on the top--visible in this photo--through which it must have slithered out.

Most likely, this reptile is one of the common coastal range fence lizards that we often see scooting around. But it's about three times the size of the most populous residents of our yard, a testament no doubt to its ability to survive the many predators abounding. Long live the lizard king!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Snake with a bulge

We were walking to a nearby open space when we came across this garter snake, perhaps a coast garter snake (Thamnophis atratus zaxanthus) at the edge of  the trail near a perennial creek.  A big lump bulging just a couple of inches past its head told us that it had just eaten a tasty critter. We came across the snake too late to see dinner consisted of, but there are lots of mice and voles in the area.  It was sitting motionless at first, but as we watched we noticed it convulsing slowly and surely, moving dinner down the digestive tract.  We watched for about 20 minutes or so and the bulge moved a good 8 inches during this time.  In between movements, the snake stayed still, doing the work of digestion.

See the bulge just south of the stick?

Then in the wink of an eye it raced off and into the creek.  End of show.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Summertime and the berries are ripening on thorny brambles around the Bay Area! Blackberries are wild and seemingly unstoppable, their vines sprouting at the edge of walkways and trails, along sidewalks and in your backyards, if you let them. Try to trim them back and they will reemerge later in the summer or next year. But maybe let them go, let them grow. The rewards are great. The first round of berries, coming to fruition now, is chock-full of the plumpest, juiciest morsels. You have to know when they are ripe and ready to pluck or you'll be spitting out a sour, woody pulp--what a waste. Blackberries are ripest when the deep, black shine fades to a duller glow and when the berry falls willingly into your fingers. If you have to yank it off the branch, it isn't really ready. Patience!

With blackberries selling for obscene amounts of money in the region's markets--$4 for a half pint?--there is every reason to go berry hunting. Pick your own berries and eat them as you go. Or collect them by the quart, if you've found a particularly prolific plant, and turn them into some berry good dessert.

Find detailed information about blackberry varieties through UC Davis, which describes four wild varieties that are considered "pests." Ah, but the sweet, scrumptious berries. How could they be unwelcome? Well, it is their relentless march to take over every scrap of land that makes them so unwelcome, unfortunately. Their wonderful fruit is not enough to make up for their rapacious growth, and worse, their razor-sharp, iron-strong thorns will rip your unprotected skin leaving painful, red wounds. When I lived in upstate New York, I did battle with bramble and can't say who came out the winner. The vines are still there, no doubt, so I guess the berries can claim victory. As the UC Davis guide explains, the vines will overtake other plants, shrubs and even trees, using them to climb sky-high. They are about conquering, not peaceful co-existence.

However, as the aggie experts note, blackberry vines provide important habitat and food for wildlife. And for us, too, if we are adventurous and willing to risk some scratches for the flavorful prize.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Backyard Critter Watch is back after a too-long hiatus during which jobs, home, family and life took over and kept us away! But back in time to capture the best of spring time when the critters are out and about and multiplying!

In early May, we placed our trail camera aimed at a small creek near our house to see what stops for a drink. This time we got very lucky when a doe and a newborn fawn stepped in front of the camera.  The fawn is probably only a day or two old in this first video. Look at those legs, still very wobbly. 

In this second video the fawn is only a month old, and already it can run and jump as well as any grown up. Keep watching after the doe leaves the frame. The fawn comes through a few moments later.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Feral Cats caught by Camera Trap

We placed our trail camera by a creek in an open space park near our house, and we were surprised when the results showed a pair of feral cats coming and going in front of the camera almost every evening.

We also got quite a few blurry pictures of the local deer, birds, and raccoon along the creek, and a couple of slightly blurry pictures of a rat or rat like creature.

I guess we shouldn't have been too surprised. The creek is probably a good home for these cats.  There is cover in the bushes, rats and birdies to eat, and water to drink.  I suppose they could get on quite well.

You will notice in one photo a strange snaky streak next to the black cat.  We are not sure what it is.  A snake ghost?  A ghost of some other animal?  Or just the blur of the reflecting eyes of another cat as it ran through the photo?

They say coyotes and mountain lions come into this neighborhood from time to time.  We have not seen them here and have not caught any on the trail cam, but we did see a dog-like foot print in some sandy soil behind our house.  If they do come around, these cats may find life here a bit less enjoyable.

Feral cats have caused tremendous harm to the native populations of birds, especially song birds, and many naturalists have sounded the alarm about them. Should we try to capture and deliver these critters to a shelter? At least if they can be neutered, they won't be contributing to the problem by producing more ferals.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A fox in our backyard

Going through the fridge last week we found a Tupperware container with the remnants of three-week-old arroz con pollo. There was one piece of chicken left, a drumstick.  It was too old to eat, of course, and we don't put meat in our compost bin. But just tossing it seemed wrong. Repurpose! We got a bright idea: let's put it in front of the trail cam and see who comes to dinner!

We have been moving the trail camera to different locations in the hills here and have not gotten a lot of postable pictures.  We did see a few house cats or feral cats by a creek nearby (perhaps I'll post those later), and a bunch of blurry deer pictures.  We moved the camera into our back yard and put the drumstick a few yards in front of it.   A day later, the morsel was still there in front of the camera, but a couple of days after that it was gone.  We went to get the card out of the camera and 'OH NO' the batteries in the camera had died and there were no photos on the card.

Not completely daunted by this, we looked in the fridge for another item a critter might enjoy, and found a half of a cantaloupe that was never very good anyway and getting kinda old. We put it in front of the camera and 2 days later, voila, several very good pictures of a fox!  And a pair of raccoons, and a young buck.  All came to investigate the melon.

I'm not sure the species of the fox, all foxes look gray in the IR light at night.
Strange though, all they did was nibble on it.  It's still there.  Maybe we will get more pictures yet. Or maybe, like us, they didn't think the melon was very tasty.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Green Anole on Maui

After hiking around Haleakala (the tallest dormant volcano in the world, on Maui during our vacation last week, we stopped at a Mexican restaurant for lunch. They seated us right at a window with a view of a neat little rock garden just outside. And while we were eating, this guy appeared on the rocks.  He sat in the sun for awhile, then scurried to and fro, jumped from rock to rock, then lazed in the sun some more.  Every time a fly or other insect buzzed passed him, he would lift up his head and watch it closely, but we never saw him catch one.

He has a dewlap or throatfan under his chin that he would open up from time to time.  It was bright red or orange in color and would stick out from under his neck by half an inch or so.  He wouldn't do this when I had the camera on him, though. But, here is a picture of a gecko with his dewlap out.

The waitress said it was a gecko, and they like the geckos on Maui because they eat a lot of bugs.  A gecko in your house is considered a good sign.  But after researching him up on the web, I see he is not a gecko, but  a Green Anole (Anole carolinensis), a lizard that is native to the the southern United States and was introduced to Hawaii in the 1950's.  Some say they escaped from a pet store. Who could blame the critters? Life in a Maui rock garden beats a box in a pet store.