Modoc Critters

We were looking for bucks all last week at Devil’s Garden. We found some, but also a bunch of other animals of interest.

We also came across a lot of cattle and a couple other domestic or feral animals.

Saw four bull elk, but they did not stick around for a photo. Three of them were spikes and the other was big, but didn’t see his antlers. Didn’t photograph the cattle, but now I wish I had. Saw lot of tracks – bobcat, deer, elk, coyote, great blue heron, raccoon and observed a few elk rubs.

Coyotes didn’t stay for a photo. Neither did one herd of eight wild horses.

Observed a great horned owl, ospreys and vultures. Don’t recall seeing any eagles.

Heard many bullfog in lakes and streams. Night hawks seemed to be everywhere making the noise they do with their wings when the dive.

Fished a bit in Janes Reservoir. Caught some small bass a crappie.

Plenty of bugs.

Of course I’m leaving a few things out.

 

Lassen Gray Wolves

Can’t help but wonder about the wolf I saw crossing Highway 89 near Almanor West last June. It’s been over a year now, but I kept hoping that I’d hear that somebody else saw him – didn’t happen.

Now there’s an entire family of wolves in the area. Apparently related to the infamous OR7, the same wolf that fathered the Rogue Pack. Didn’t take them long to propagate. I have no plans to go to Almanor this summer, but you never know. If I do visit, I’ll try to spend some time scouting around the area where I saw the wolf last summer.

The wolf crossed the road heading south and headed into Collins Pine Timber Company property. I checked a couple dusty roads down stream from where I saw him, but couldn’t pick up his trail.

Would be cool to hear him howl.

https://www.gohunt.com/read/news/new-wolf-pack-confirmed-in-california

Hunter’s Inventory

Early summer is a great time for taking stalk of the annual wildlife production, especially if you’re a hunter.

A hunter can’t help but notice the young of the year that begin to expose themselves during late spring and early summer.

While flocks of larks, blackbirds and magpies are noteworthy, it’s the game species that catch the hunter’s eye and so it was this weekend as we focused on hunting at the ranch.

Our primary thoughts were centered on preparing for our August archery mule deer hunt – A4. Knowing that we need to prepare, we decided to spend the weekend hunting for our ranches limited population of pigs while also setting up targets and honing our shooting skill.

This morning we set out early in search of the dozen or so pigs that live on our 2,000 acre ranch, knowing that we might catch them out in the open grassland when they are easy to spot.

IMG_3255 ducklings

Signs of a good mallard hatch have been abundant.

The pigs were elusive, but at the second pond we checked, my brother, Rob, couldn’t help but notice that a mallard hen and its brood of four ducklings were huddled up on the pond’s dam, a good sign that four young of the year had survived long enough to create a sense of optimism about their chances of reaching maturity.

We recalled that last year a hen mallard (maybe the same one) on that same pond had lost its entire brood.

We moved on searching for the pigs, but they were not cooperating. We couldn’t help but notice that deer numbers were dismal. The drought of 2014/15 had a drastic impact upon the number of deer on our ranch and we covered three-quarters of the ranch without seeing a single deer. Finally a lone yearling doe stuck it’s head up out of the annual grasses.

On the other hand, flocks of quail were diving into the brush everywhere we went, especially when we drove through a 200 acres brush patch that provides the most security for quail. I’m sure we saw several hundred quail, in every size and shape. Prospects for quail season hit the roof.

Valley quail

Prospects for quail in 2017 are excellent.

In general, game birds seemed to be doing well. Quail and dove especially, but we also came upon a group of five gobblers that were following a hen around. Seems a little late, but they didn’t want to give up. One of the five toms had a beard that looked to be eleven inches long and was quite thick.

Although we didn’t find the pigs, we think they are around the area somewhere. In the meantime we filled our archery targets full of holes,¬† set back the local ground squirrel population and I managed to get started on sighting in the rifle that I intend to use on a late-season mule deer hunt next fall.

We also avoided an impending disaster when Rob opened up the Kawasaki Mule and discovered that rats had built a nest inside and nearly destroyed the wiring that controls virtually everything. It was also a fire hazard in the making.

We also confirmed our date for scouting the X2 zone, enjoyed a few cocktails and barbecued some of last season’s venison.

The big disappointment was seeing no bucks, but that was somewhat offset by the fact that the does appear to have multiple fawns. Maybe the predator population is down as well and if so we will have deer again in a few years.

DSC_0077[1] doe and fawns

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Symbiosis

While in South Africa, Linda and I observed oxpeckers eating ticks off the back of and also from inside the ear of a rhino. That is a form of symbiosis.

On occasions I’ve seen magpies and starlings feed off the back or heads of deer and cattle. Yesterday I came upon two starlings each standing on the head of a cow.

Here is a photo of the two cows, each with a starling on their head. It’s difficult to see the starling on the head of the all-black cow, but look close, you’ll see it. The beak stands out.

two starlings on cattle DSC_0974[1]

Not sure if they were after flies or ticks, but there were plenty of flies. When a symbiotic relationship benefits both parties, it is called mutualism. Had to look that up.

 

 

Whipsnake Survey

Yesterday, biologist Mandy Murphy allowed me to tag along with her while she ran her string of snake traps in search of Alameda whipsnakes and other reptiles.

We found a whipsnake in the third trap we checked. It was a recapture as she had caught it once before and left it with an identifying mark.

The snake was a large one, about four and a half feet long. She also caught a gopher snake.

IMG_3199 trapped gopher snake

The trap consists of vertical boards which guide the target species towards four wire cages that are similar to minnow traps. Once the snake or other critter enters the trap, it cannot find a way out. In this photo there are four separate wire mesh cages underneath the foam boards which protect the caught snakes from overheating.

The traps are monitored closely so that snakes will not be injured.

Trap

Snakes that are caught provide samples for DNA testing to determine their genetic makeup. According to Mandy, researchers have determined that two California racer species, the Alameda whipsnake and the California racer, are closely related. It is anticipated that the snakes captured on our ranch will share the genetic makeup of both species.

California Red-Legged Frog Egg Mass

California red-legged frogs are listed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as threatened where ever they are found.

california-red-leg-frog-cropped

This is an adult California Red-legged frog.

Around March 1 is the time of year when we see California red-legged frog egg masses in our ponds. Here is an egg mass photographed on February 26.

IMG_2877 CRF egg mass

This red-legged frog egg mass stands out because it is covered with silt from the murky pond water. The egg mass was photographed on February 26, 2017.

These eggs will produce larva (tad poles) which will eventually morph into frogs by July or August. We see the juvenile frogs in the ponds into late September. During the fall they will disappear from the ponds and move into underground burrows or other hiding places to endure the winter months.

juvenile red leg frog cropped

Juvenile red-legged frogs live in the ponds until fall when they will depart for underground burrows which provide winter security.

Skulls

In my opinion, most skulls are very interesting and nice to look at.

Does that make me weird? I don’t think so. Up on the ranch we have a cow skull sitting on a bank next to one of our roads and it’s been there for a few years. I admire it every time I drive down that road.

Our old camp is an open lean-to with several mountain lion kills hanging on the walls. Three deer skulls and the skull of a boar are prominently displayed. As with the cow skull, I can hardly drive by that camp without checking out those skulls even though I’ve seen them a thousand times.

European-mount skulls with antlers or horns, are proudly displayed in many homes and trophy rooms. It’s not just the protrusions that are attractive, a bleached skull is a thing of beauty and the symmetry has a special feel about it.

This wildebeest is my mini water-buffalo.

wildebeast

A smallish pronghorn I killed with my bow a few years ago is a trophy to me, but not worthy of full shoulder mount treatment, so I had it done European.

pronghorn

Bow-killed boar and warthogs are trophies I also display as European mounts. They are nice to my eye.

One of my favorite trophies is a whitetail skull collected by my guide on a South Dakota hunt that took place about 15 years ago. It died during an outbreak of disease that killed most of the whitetail in the region.

whitetail-buck

I purchased the skull from my 19-year-old guide when he decided he needed $50 more than the skull. It was a good deal for each of us.

This skull also tells a story. The buck died along a river and the winter flood buried the skull beneath the gravel of the riverbed. When the water receded, only the right antler was protruding.

My guide spotted the antler while scouting for deer. He was surprised and elated when he pulled the antler from the ground to find that it was attached to the entire skull. You can see that the right antler is bleached white, while the left antler and skull are brown from being underground for a while.

A more recent addition to my skull collection is the skull  of a bird.

scrub-jay-skull

The size and black tip of its bill give away that it is the skull of a scrub jay. I was very happy when I spotted it on the ground while deer hunting. Bird skulls are very fragile.