Category Archives: Wildlife

The Snake and the Frog

It was a dry year, and nothing was growing around Jim Craig’s diggings. Nor was there anything to eat anywhere in sight. Jim struck out for the Colorado River to get a mess of fish.

Sunrise Colorado River

Sunrise at Jim’s favorite fishing spot on the Colorado River

He got there and started digging for bait, but he could not find any worms. First thing he saw was snake with a frog in its mouth. Jim grabbed a forked stick and pried the frog away before the snake swallowed it. He was going to kill the snake, right then and there, but he changed his mind. He gave the snake a drink of whiskey and let it go.

Jim stuck the frog on his hook, made a cast, and yanked a big catfish from the river.  Then, just as he began to look around for more bait, the same old snake came along with another frog. Right behind him, wriggling and twitching, were nine more snakes. And they all carried frogs. They dropped the products at Jim’s feet and then they held up their heads with their mouths wide open.

from Pioneer tales of San Bernardino County
 WPA Writers’ Program –  1940

Life Histories: Whiptails

Life Histories:
Letters from Lizards to Lizards about Lizards

Cnemidophorus

Coy Cnemidophorus

Dear Troy,

It is not you but, me. I am leaving you for another female of our species. I have learned that female whiptails do not need male whiptails in order to reproduce. I do wish it could have been different. I am just so much more comfortable. Best of luck to you.

Much love. XO
~ Scarlett

Bear Lake, Baldwin Lake and Big Bear Lake

in the summer of 1845, Benjamin D Wilson, own part of the interest in the Jurupa Rancho, site of the present city of Riverside, led a troop of Calvary in search of cattle rustlers.

Setting out from San Bernardino Valley, he divided his command. Most of the men he sent through Cajon Pass, keeping only 22 Mexican troopers with him to follow a trail across the mountains. Two days later, Wilson and his men reached the lake where they  sighted scores of grizzly bears.

Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake

Most of the soldiers had been vaqueros. They formed in pairs and drew reatas, each pair attacking a bear. One looped a rope around bear’s  neck;  his companion  roped same bear by a hind foot. Then the men drew apart to stretch  the rope taut and hold the bear  a prisoner. They bagged and  skinned eleven bears, stretcher  their  hides and continued across the mountains to join the rest of the command on the desert at Rancho Las Flores, on the Mojave River.

Here the reunited party engaged Indians in a fight, after which Wilson and his 22 vaquero-troopers returned home by the way of the lake. They again found the place overrun with bears, and the same 22 soldiers brought in eleven more bears– enough to give them a bear rug apiece as a trophy. It was then that Wilson gave the name of Bear Lake to the little body of water.

Years later the name was changed to Baldwin Lake. The name survives, however, in Big Bear Lake which was created in the site of the Talmadge Ranch in 1884 when a dam was built to provide a constant water supply for the Redlands District.


adapted from ~ Pioneer Tales of San Bernardino County – WPA – 1940.

European Starlings — A Desert Invasion of the Worst Kind.

European Starling - US Fish and Wildlife Service

European Starling
Photo credit – Lee Karney, US Fish and Wildlife Service

The fleeting and dark aesthetic value of countless European starlings flocking through the air is quickly overridden by the realities of this highly invasive and destructive species.

Solar and wind farms certainly take their toll on our native and natural migratory avian wildlife, however, these damn birds will potentially eliminate weaker, less aggressive desert species as a vicious cancer would, silently eating its way through a once healthy body.

“The introduction of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) in New York City in 1890 and 1891 resulted in their permanent establishment in North America. The successful occupation of North America (and most other continents as well) has earned the starling a nomination in the Top 100 list of ‘Worlds Worst’ invaders. Pimentel et al. (2000) estimated that starling damage to agriculture crops in the United States was $800 million yearly, based on $5/ha damage. Starlings may spread infectious diseases that sicken humans and livestock, costing nearly $800 million in health treatment costs. Lastly, starlings perhaps have contributed to the decline of native cavity-nesting birds by usurping their nesting sites. We describe the life history of starlings, their economic impact on agriculture, and their potential role as vectors in spreading diseases to livestock and humans. We recommend that the database on migratory and local movements of starlings be augmented and that improved baits and baiting strategies be developed to reduce nuisance populations.”

from ~ Managing Vertebrate Invasive Species: Proceedings of an International Symposium USDA/APHIS/WS, National Wildlife Research Center, Fort Collins, CO. 2007.

Awareness of the beauty of the desert is one thing, but awareness of the reality of circumstances is important too.

American Avocet

A common to abundant winter visitor to salt ponds, fresh and saline emergent wetlands, and mudflat habitats throughout the Central Valley and the central and southern coastal areas. Breeds from March to mid-July, and is relatively common during this period in northeast California, the Central Valley, and coastal estuaries. Common most of the year at the Salton Sea, but only a few pairs have been known to nest.
American avocet
Forages on mudflats, salt or alkali flats, in shallow ponded areas with silt bottoms, and in salt pond. Feeds by probing in mud, sweeping bill through water or soupy mud, or by swimming and tipping-up like ducks. Preferred foods include aquatic insects, crustaceans, snails, worms, and occasionally seeds of aquatic plants
State of California

These were spotted in the Saline Valley several hundred yards away from the salt lake shoreline. They would, randomly it seemed, all take off into the air, circle around and land in the same spot they left. I imagined that was an adaptation they have made to spot predators.

A gentleman coming from the Warm Springs walked up to me and we started talking. He told me this was a “lost” flock of American avocet that drifted into the valley long ago during a storm. They found the lake hospitable enough to stay — that every time they tried to leave, they just turned back after a short distance returning to the salt sink at the bottom of the basin that was now their home.

Maybe the guy was knowledgeable and truthful, but more likely he was passing along something he heard that was passed along by someone else who heard something and so on and so forth. You never know who you are talking to.

more about the American avocet

Where are They Now?

 

white-tailed antelope squirrel, Joshua Tree National Park

Gary, the white-tailed antelope squirrel, succumbed to type II diabetes on July 29, 2011 after 4 years of surviving solely on corn chips provided by campers and tourists visiting his native national park habitat.

long-nosed leopard lizard

Ed Lizard – Long-nosed leopard lizard. Died at the pointed beak of an adult roadrunner, June 4, 2008.

Axl Squirrel (round-tailed ground squirrel) - b. unk. d October 12, 2013 Cause of death: eaten by hawk.

Axl Squirrel (round-tailed ground squirrel)
– b. unk. d October 12, 2013
Cause of death: eaten by red-tailed hawk.

Loving & Devoted Mother …

Geococcyx californianus, roadrunnner

Geococcyx californianus

The following was written and recorded by E.C. Jaeger in 1922. I believe, although dated over 80 years ago, this behavior is just as relevant today as it was then, however scaled down from our increasing intrusion into their ever-shrinking habitat.

If a female road-runner is approached when on the nest, she generally remains quiet until the intruder is right upon her; then she slips over the back of the nest and flies a short distance to safety, but where she can still see the unwelcome caller. At times she has been known to permit herself to be caught rather than forsake her young.

baby roadrunners

Baby roadrunners about one third grown

A member of the Cooper Ornithological Club (Mr. J. R. Pemberton) gives a most interesting report concerning the actions of a female roadrunner whose nest he found some ten feet above ground in a sycamore tree. As the observer began climbing up to the nest, the bird hopped to the ground.

“Immediately,” says Mr. Pemberton, “it began to squirm, scramble, and drag itself away across an open space and in full view. The bird was simulating a broken leg instead of a broken wing! The bird held its wings closed throughout the demonstration, though frequently falling over on its side in its enthusiasm. The whole performance was kept entirely in my view, the bird gradually working away from the tree until it was some thirty-five feet distant, when it immediately ran back to the base of the tree and repeated the whole show. I had been so interested up to now that I had failed to examine the nest, which, when looked into, contained five young probably a week old. When I got to the ground the bird continued its ‘stunt’ rather more frantically than before, and in order to encourage the bird I followed, and was pleased to see it remain highly consistent until I was decoyed to a point well outside the grove. Here the bird ran suddenly away at full speed and in a direction still away from the nest.”

 

Better Holes & Middens

Desert Woodrat
Neotoma lepida

Desert pack rat nests can be used by the same pack rat families for generations and generations.

Packrat nest

Wood rat midden


This rodent is commonly known as the “pack rat” or “trade rat” named for collecting any shiny or metallic object it fancies. Its burrow is easily recognized by the rubbish littered about the entrance.

More about the wood rat:
http://digital-desert.com/wildlife/rodents/desert-woodrat.html

Snake Bite — Don’t Make it Worse

If there is a statute of limitations for what I’m about to write down, I hope it has gone by — I’m a little embarrassed by my conduct during events taken place in April of XXXX while I worked as a volunteer at the California State Poppy Reserve in Lancaster, CA.

I was working the trails one hazy midday when two very excited young gentlemen came running toward me and told me that their uncle had stepped on a snake and it had bit him. The uncle, limping badly, looked pasty-pale and with his friend and brother made their way into the visitor center after once again telling me the man had stepped on a snake. The victim’s brother (as I found out later) while closing the door whispered to me, “He didn’t step on it, he kicked it to get it out of his way.”photo of snake bite.First, I inspected the wound.  Yep, it was a snake bite hole. Next, I asked if he knew what kind of snake it was, or what it may have looked like. He told me, “It looked like a snake. I told you that already.” Ooh, sarcasm. Yep. That’s a good way to irritate me. I bit my lip. He was regaining color.Morris is my friend although he never looks at the camera when I take his picture.Since I’m not a doctor and I felt the patient was being uncooperative, I decided a medical professional would have to take it from this point. I called 911. It takes about 20 minutes or so for emergency response vehicles to get from Lancaster to the reserve. The dude was looking better and looking at me as if he expected me to suck the poison out of his leg. “Not my job,” I thought. There were other volunteers there that were far more capable than I, so I went out with my buddy Morris (Volunteer of the Year) to stand in the parking lot.599-DSC_7355The fire truck came first with a support vehicle, whatever they call the service truck that follows. The fire truck couldn’t make it up the sidewalk to the visitor center, but the smaller truck could. I wanted to ride on the back too, but I didn’t ask. It looked like fun.599-DSC_7360The paramedic rushed into the building with about a dozen other personnel and did a triage-type-thing. Assessing the wound he confirmed my suspicions that it was a snake-made-hole in his leg.

599-DSC_7363Next, the helicopter came. There was no place to land so it went away. That would have been so cool to see the guy get a ride in that. I would have asked if I could go with them, but I would have had to walk back.

So they took him away in an ambulance.599-DSC_7365One of the guys with him asked me,  “Where did they take him?  I said, “I don’t know. I’m not from around here. I live about 70 miles away.”

My shift was over then. So I went to my brother’s house to stay the night with him. I hope the snake is alright. I can’t see how the guy with his little-skinny-toothpick-legs could have kicked it hard enough to hurt it. Good example though. Nobody else kicked a snake for the rest of the season. One of my best times ever, so far, yet.

Simply Nature

Photo of cresote bushes at sunset in early spring in the Mojave Desert

Creosote at Sunset

It is simple, really; the wind storms bring dusk early to the high desert. The airborne dust hastens the sunset, and the sunset goes deep and passionately purple. the wind rests and the day is over.  Equilibrium.
The desert wind has played its joke.

Move forward into the forever blue of the “Everything.”

A long night to hunt or be hunted.
By the time the sun has raced around the earth and rises, the game has changed ever so slightly, and some desert creatures will be dead, and some will be fed.

~ W.Feller.