Posts Tagged 'mammals'

George Bird Grinnell and Others

gbgI went up to Woodlawn Cemetery to visit the grave of Herman Melville, and I stumbled upon George Bird Grinnell. Grinnell was born in Brooklyn and tutored by Lucy Bakewell Audubon, widow of John James, at the Audubon home in upper Manhattan. He started the first Audubon organization, believing the name should live on. Bird Grinnell, who was born with that name, was an influential editor of the magazine Forest & Stream, campaigning for national parks, respect for Native Americans, saving the bison, and protecting birds from the slaughter of the millenary trade (one of fashion’s many dark hours). This headstone is modest, by the way, but the family obelisk is pretty imposing (it is a competitive neighborhood; the robber barons flocked to Woodlawn in their effort to perpetuate their names after death).Patricia CroninPatricia Cronin’s stunning “Memorial to a Marriage.” Stunning because this is rather good, and because it depicts two women, Cronin and her wife (a little disconcertingly, they’re both still alive), and you know how often you see sculptures of actual women (non-symbolic), and how often you see sculptures of women lovers. Also, chipmunks, who are all over the cemetery, have burrowed underneath it, which means it has natural history value, too. It’s not as shiny as certain parts of Victor Noir, but give it time… Quercus albaA sprawling old White Oak (Quercus alba), one of the city’s Great Trees, said to be the oldest in the cemetery, but I couldn’t find any dates associated with it. Woodlawn opened in 1863.Procyon lotorA scratchy clambering sound on a tree turned out to be this youngish Raccoon (Procyon lotor) who had clearly just been in the lake. The last time I was in Woodlawn, some 19 years ago (!), I saw a Coyote. QuercusAnd Melville? I’m planning a group walk from his birthplace in lower Manhattan to his death place (26th St.) to his final “resting” place here, c. 17 miles, and wanted to be sure of the destination. The whole unhappy gang is there, with a cenotaph (marker without a body) for Stanwix, who was buried in California. Next to the family plot is a fine oak, Black, I think (Q. velutina), with huge leaves.Gleditsia triacanthosSpine of a Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos); postulated as defense against now-extinct giant herbivores. Sure could do a number on a mammal. Speaking of which:furIt was darker than it looks here, with some white, so I thought skunk.

Adios, Texas

Buteo swainsoniTalk about “road-side hawks”! A Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni). Loooong wings. Didn’t look like there was anything on the road, yet the bird must have been attracted to something before oncoming traffic flushed it (we, of course, had already pulled off to the side of the road).Parabuteo unicinctusAnother roadie, the Harris’s Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus), telcom-poll percher par excellence. Those shoulders!Falco femoralisAn Aplomado Falcon nest (Falco femoralis). There is actually a bird in there, but she can’t really seen here. Note the cactus that has grown around the nest. Another bird, probably the male of the pair, was seen another day devouring something to shreds in the distance. I wish I’d gotten a closer look at this spectacular bird, which like many another falcon, was once highly endangered.Petrochelidon pyrrhonotaCliff Swallow colony (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) on one of the bridges over the Rio Grande. The birds have expanded their range thanks to that most unlikely of ecosystem enhancements, highway bridges.Myocastor coypusNutria (Myocastor coypus) or Coypu, the invasive “river rat,” a term that doesn’t suggest their roly-poly beaver-size.Spermophilus mexicanusMexican Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus mexicanus). Pictured, like more than one life-form on this trip, through the window of the van.Amazilia yucatanensisOr, in this case, slightly out-of-focus, because you know those hummingbirds, they don’t wait on us. But you do get the red bill and nominal belly of this male Buff-bellied (Amazilia yucatanensis).Pitangus sulphuratusGreat Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus), a bird I really appreciated.

Three Mammals on an Early Spring Day

Sciurus carolinensisEastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis).Tamias striatusEastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus).Procyon lotorRaccoon (Procyon lotor).Procyon lotorTail-grooming (de-fleaing?).

In the Spartina

rat2They seemed to be taking whole reeds, perhaps to line their nests in the rocks. Rats can be awfully finicky about their nests. ratRattus rattus, baby. Updated: Evidently actually Rattus norvegicus. See comments.

Mammals, Too

We were pretty much surrounded by a Gunnison’s Prairie Dog colony, and heard them call from the meadow across the stream. A couple were sitting upright in the distance. Then a herd of Elk (Cervus elaphus) charged across the colony, surprisingly quiet, through the stream and into the misty meadow beyond. Cervus elaphusWe also saw two other species of p-dogs, the Utah and White-tailed, on our perambulations. Ovis canadensis nelsoniDesert Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) in Zion National Park. This one was sitting right above the road and was soon joined by a small flock.Ovis canadensis nelsoniOdocoileus hermionusThis Mule Deer (Odocoileus hermionus) fawn was in Zion Canyon itself with its mother. There were also sightings of White-tailed Deer.
Spermophilus variegatusRock Squirrel (Spermophilus variegatus) seen in a number of places, including Picture Canyon east of Flagstaff. Spermophilus lateralisGolden-mantled Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus lateralis) at Cedar Breaks.m6OK, I’m still confused by all the chipmunks and ground squirrels that are found out there, so let’s just enjoy this one, photographed on Bright Angel Point, North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

We had an interesting experience with a Coyote (Canis latrans), which we scared from the road. The wild dog circled our van at a good distance twice — it was a very empty road — running hard and looking at “us,” — the van, that is — all the time, trying perhaps to figure out if it/we were dangerous, before returning to the last bits of a road kill which it had been scavenging. Gory, stretched viscera.

But perhaps the highlight of the mammal action was this Long-tailed Weasel (Mustela frenata). Sorry about the auto-focus; hard to observe and document at the same time.Mustela frenataI heard a strange abbreviated squeal and then saw this long lean animal bounding down along the edge of a concrete path, with something in its mouth. It ran off the path. I shouted to my travel companions “Ferret, or something!” or something like that, and then I saw the weasel again ducking under some rocks. It started to shoot, snake might be a better word, back and forth under this rock and then closer and closer and closer to the path again. I surmised it had dropped its prey and wanted to return to it, a half dozen humans be damned. I bid everyone still. It did get closer and closer, and finally, rooting around in some tall grass, it emerged, with the prey — which looked ratty. The weasel was two-toned, tan on top and creamy below, with a black tip to the tail.

Homeboy Mammal

First glance on rounding the corner of a shady tree: I thought this was a hairy cat on the loose. I mean, a big, low-slung hairball, one of those Persians who’s been to Paris, if you know what I mean.Marmota monaxWoodchuck. Whistlepig. Groundhog. Land beaver. Marmota monax. In Green-Wood.
Marmota monaxI’ve seen them there before, but this was my closest, most extended view. Note those rodent teeth: these animals are the largest members of the ground squirrel family in the East.Marmota monaxIt ambled about and nibbled on tender, presumably, grasses, and then hit the jackpot. Which it sat up to munch on.wc5A crab apple.
appleBut left a little. (How many apples would a woodchuck chuck… oh, never mind.) The animal took another apple and ambled over to the shadow of a bush.Marmota monaxClearly a moraine woodchuck, not a drumlin one.

Who’s the Bos?

lascauxI am inordinately moved by the fate of the Aurochsen. Bos primigenius were the wild ox of Eurasia, painted by their hunters at Lascaux and elsewhere tens of thousands of years ago. These big beeves with the great horns were the ancestors of domesticated cattle, of which there are many breeds, including some with Aurochsen characteristics still, like the Maremmana, Pajuna, Maronesa, and Sayaguesa. The last Auroch died in Poland in the 17th century, tantalizingly close to the present day, at least in comparison to the other megafauna of Eurasia (and the Americas). lascaux2cattleRambling through farmers’ fields in Dartmoor, I occasionally came across cattle face-to-face. cattle3The fields were the cows’ after all, and I was just passing through, remembering to close the gate behind me. If I got close enough, they would freeze and stare. I found myself somewhat mesmerized by them. Firstly, because I’m no farm boy and had no idea what they would do, never having been so close before; I’d passed a few notices about the birthing season, just past, and how the animals will sometimes crowd people to protect their calves. Secondly, because these creatures were much bigger than I was, a little respect was in order. And thirdly, because of their eyes. Yes, their big, soft eyes. Classic don’t-kill-the-cute-baby trick there, the big eyes.cattle2(This is the bovine equivalent of camera-flash red-eye.) Bred, worked, milked, slaughtered, sacrificed to the gods, cattle have served us well. It’s with some gall then, that we condemn them as none-to-bright, if this is indeed what we have made of them. What they certainly are is tamed, domesticated, so that they can live in the domus, the home (this was literally so in the traditional Dartmoor long house, for instance, in which the farm animals wintered below and helped warm the people above). They have been breed for thousands of years now to get the wild out of them. But what is the wild? Fear of humans? There are plenty of examples of animals with no experience of humans who walked right up to people, who then proceed to slaughter them all, as happened to numerous now extinct island species. But most animals have learned to fear us, to run, or simply to stay hidden. Survival depends on it. We are, after all, a species-cidal lot, killing well beyond our need for food and safety. Cattle, meanwhile, have been our companions for a long time now — until fairly recently, a greater proportion of us were in much greater contact with farms, and in some places still are. cattle4These passing stick figures in the fields may be associated with food, water, and shelter, all good things, on the whole, as well as, inevitably, pain. Consider the cattle prod, for instance, and read Ted Hughes, who farmed near Dartmoor in the 1970s, on “Dehorning.” And of course, the last seconds of terror in the abattoirs.

There is an effort to cross-breed cattle back to something close to the Aurochsen. Close, perhaps, but certainly not the actual thing. I don’t immediately clap my hands with wonder at this idea, as I don’t greet with awe those who talk excitedly about cloning mammoths and other extinct species from samples of DNA. De-extinction, as the groupies call it; when told that some people think it’s playing at being god, one fan says that killing off these species in the first place was playing with god. Right, so isn’t the lesson then: don’t play at being god? Cloning the mammoth means nothing without cloning the big predators that hunted them, and you may have noticed how the re-introduction of wolves has been greeted by some. Now imagine dire wolves and saber-toothed cats roaming the land. People are talking about cloning the passenger pigeon, but not, for obvious reasons, the hundreds of thousands of acres of woodlands they once thrived in. (Much woodland has regrown after the scorched-earth settlement, but it’s not at all the same.) One without the other is a sad circus freak, to be gawked and gaped at. At the back of all such talk, I hear the inevitable cash register, and the amoral notion that if it can be done, it should be done. Alexander CalderAlexander Calder, 20th Century, a seemingly simple but very evocative limning of a shape that would be, I wager, instantly recognizable to Paleolithic humans.

Auroch is singular; Aurochses, Aurochs, and Aurochsen are all possible plurals. The word comes out of the Old High German, related to the Old English ur, origin unknown, but I would suspect a Indo-European root. Ox, too, comes forth from the word. ChauvetChauvet Cave, c. 34,000 years ago. Aurochs, rhinos, and, the great survivor, the horse.

Your Morning Chipmunk

Tamias striatusEastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) in the Vale of Cashmere. Cute as the dickens, but you know, without any predators they can become quite a problem, being predators themselves.

Night Walk

A downy woodpecker patrols the trunk of a tree, the white strip down its back almost glowing as the light turns to dark. Above, a blue jay is remarkably quiet as it works out some issues before roosting for the night. As predicted, a young raccoon ambles out from the bushes to start pulling plastic bags out of the garbage bin, one at a time, looking for wasted human food as a crowd of 50 of us watch and photograph from just feet away. It’s the long slow slide into summer twilight. The chirps are robins, snarfing the last grubs of the day. There’s a shift-change in process between the diurnal and the nocturnal animals. A big dragonfly patrols, zipping back and forth through the airborne density of the humid evening’s bugs, many attracted to the heat and chemistry of a clump of fifty humans. Bait; my calves will be dotted with mosquito bites soon. The twinkling lights of the fireflies, low to the ground suggest we could be across a harbor watching the lights of the town blinking on and off. But watch out, flashing mimics will pretend to be females of your own species, and eat you for your defensive chemistry. The film noir world of Coleoptera. In the trees, cicadas get their last licks in; they won’t rattle during the night. Not their scene. But the night chorus is already here, having been silent all day long. Carolina ground crickets stridulate, rubbing their body parts together, comb over rasp, from the bushes. Higher up, katydids, too, begin to emphatically say their name, which making them true katydids, not coneheads or angelwings, who have different sounds. You’ll hear them in street trees soon, ticking away, but the katydids like the thicker cover of the park.

And then, darkness, but in the light saturation of the city, never really dark. The bats emerge, dropping down from their daily roosts. We hear them first in an echolocator, which translates their high-frequencies for our limited hearing range. Then we see them, barely, the fast, fluttery things with unmistakable wings; flying mammals! Just a couple of them, one at a time. The bats of the Eastern U.S are beset by a fungus that wakes them from their hibernations, disorientates them, makes them sitting ducks for predators and starvation. They are beset by ignorance and popular cultural nonsense. But bats are quite awesome. Among other things, they make the world a better place for us. They are vital pollinators (of agava, for instance), and, in the northern hemisphere, insectivores of astonishing efficiency. Some can live 30 years. Twenty percent of all the mammal species in the world are bats, more than 1200 species. The smallest has a 2″ wingspan, the largest 6′, as big as an eagle.

Orbweavers are building their webs, as they do every night. Big beetles cross the path. That splash might be a night-heron aiming for a frog or a rat. It takes about a half hour for the human eye to really open up to the night, the rhodopsin blooming, as it were, to whatever light there may be. (Thank the horseshoe crabs for some of our discoveries about vision). This is an ability vary few of us ever have a chance of experiencing now in the glaring sprawl of Megalopolis. We are missing out on a whole world.


Tamias striatus
Tamias striatusNo mean forager and predator, the Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) will eat just about anything, from acorns and nuts to baby birds, from slugs to insects to carrion. Our local ones are missing out on the bonanza of the 17-year cicadas, which are concentrated in Staten Island. Central Park has seen a rapid rise of their population in the North Woods; they have few predators (the city is scant on coyotes, foxes, and fishers, etc.) other than Red-tailed hawks and the odd large owl.Tamias striatus


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