I'm currently taking a break from cooking and packing to spend the month of July camping in Sequoia National Forest for this next run, where things are sure to be a tad more unbridled than the last run. However, the last three weeks involved plenty of adventure as my partner Rachel and I began station checks for mustelids. With half of our stations at higher elevation (7,000 and 9,000 ft) and the other half at 4,500 ft, we had a nice mix of easier vs. more difficult hikes. I finally saw fisher tracks! This is my first experience with fishers (
), and while I've previously only seen a few marten (
) tracks, it's been a blast viewing photos of different species at our camera stations. Rachel and I had one set of stations where, every single week, bears would come and steal our bait, and one week a bear grabbed the cord holding our camera to the tree and chewed it off. Another bear was camera shy and slapped the camera to face another direction so he could snack in private. As I mentioned in the last post, I can't share project photos, but I can share the stories... for example, seeing my first wild flying squirrel on camera, or a black bear sow with a very curious cub.
We had one marten who was very angry at the track plate box and flipped it in the process of tearing out the back wire to get at the bait, two weeks in a row. I was surprised that the little weasels have the strength to do so, but I've been assured that they have really bad attitudes (reminds me of bobcats!). Rachel and I were unsure if it was a marten (we found scat at the box) or a bear ripping up the box, as most often the bears are guilty of "womping" the track plate boxes to get the meat inside. To determine the culprit, Rachel and I laid a large log over the box so that a bear could still lift it, but not a 1kg (two pound) marten. Sure enough, when we came back last week, the marten had conceded and entered the track plate box to get his prize rather than tear the box to pieces.
Rachel and I found lots to talk about this last month. Her and I are similar in our ability to talk, quite literally, about anything. We discussed everything from grad school to baking to research projects we'd worked on to why that particular hill totally sucked to... Katy Perry. Actually, we didn't really talk about Katy Perry. Rather, we talked about how we didn't want to talk about Katy Perry. You see, when I was on the bear project last year, I lived with five men in the woods all summer. I learned a lot about what men want in a woman, and I learned a lot about this particular performer. The discussion about how I got tired of hearing about female celebrities stuck, and from then out became a metaphor for which everything we didn't want to do, or hear on the radio, or disliked. While I'm sure this is not the household legacy the singer envisioned for herself, the metaphor became an expletive when faced with a particularly rotten piece of chicken not stolen by a carnivore: "This chicken stinks! Katy Perry!"
Rachel recording data
Two weeks ago we saw a ringtail run right in front of us on the road! Ringtails
are mammals in the raccoon family and are sometimes referred to as ringtail cats. Neither raccoon or cat, these little mammals are generalist omnivores, eating whatever is available, from fruits to insects to small mammals. They are adorable!
A ringtail, post-release, from another project last fall here in the Sierras. Photo by M Cancellare
To my mother's terror, I also saw my first wild rattlesnake! Rachel worked in the Sonoran desert for a year and has a lot of experience with rattlesnakes, so she helped me get as close as possible in attempts to take a photo. Sadly, the little guy was pretty scared, so we opted to leave him alone as opposed to agitate him with the camera. Next time!
Lower elevation, in rattlesnake territory
While embarking on one extremely miserable route to a station (it took us one hour to hike 200 meters downhill), through brush, burrs, poison oak, and a lot of Katy Perry's, we were rewarded at our wits' end by a very rare encounter. As Rachel barreled through some very nasty vines, I paused a few feet behind to contemplate my next step and catch my breath. Suddenly and silently, I caught movement about six feet in front of me. A screech owl alighted on the branch right in front of me and stared at me very intently. In that moment, I was very happy to be wearing my sunglasses, because she did not look happy with me. I started slightly when heard a rapid clicking and thrashing to my left, and when I turned I was met with two more pairs of yellow moon eyes. Juvenile screech owls! The adult in front of me suddenly took off, likely trying to lure me away from her young, who were obviously learning to fly. One of the fluffy juveniles was comically hanging sideways onto a vine and clicking at me rather angrily. The little bird had apparently tried to fly away and landed in a rather compromising position instead. His wings outstretched, I watched him silently from two feet away, both of us pondering our next move. He decided first and took off, narrowly missing my face and crashing to the ground right at my feet. I wish I had picked him up immediately, but I wasn't sure if it would be too stressful; I wasn't really concerned about the horrible bite I would have received (one of our crew members has worked with owls before and said it wouldn't have been horrible for the bird if I'd helped him out of the vines). Fortunately for the owl, another take-off was all he needed to escape the vines that were limiting his training session, and he flew to the tree above me and perched. The second juvenile regarded me coolly, seemingly unafraid like his sibling and every bit the wise characters of movies, so I moved in with my camera to get photos. By this time Rachel had crept back to take some photos, and I was able to get two feet from the owl for a good snapshot.
Isn't he adorable?!
Well, it's 8:45pm and I'm supposed to be in bed in an hour and I still have tons to pack for camping this week in Sequoia, so I've got to cut this posting short. Katy Perry!
Disclosure: I often blast Katy Perry songs on the radio when driving in the field truck with the windows down.