It’s time for a heartwarming animal video—actually, three of them, all involving the same animal. The first and third are longer (about 20 minutes), but the middle one is a shorter summary. They all document the rescue of a tiny fox cub who apparently lost its mom, and I think it takes place in Russia. The bedraggled baby is transformed, with food, a bath, and love into a playful and gorgeous miniature fox.
As they say at the end of the NBC Evening News, after presenting a litany of woes, realizing that the viewer is depressed, and then winding up with a feel-good story, “There’s good news tonight!”
People are going nuts for an Ohio woodworker’s latest creation: A bar that caters to neighborhood squirrels.
Michael Dutko, a 35-year-old hobbyist, has been creating art and household items from wood for most of his life, and even chronicles it on his YouTube channel Duke Harmon Woodworking. But it’s his fun twist on a squirrel feeder that’s made him Internet famous.
“The Nutty Bar,” which is attached to his backyard fence in Hilliard, looks just like a real bar, and even has a range of nuts on tap.
Dutko said he built it to help his neighbor with her bird-watching hobby.
“The whole reason I even started to make this is because my neighbor bird watches with her daughter and told me all of the squirrels keep getting in her way,” Dutko told CNN. “I didn’t even tell her what I was going to do, I just built it and put it back there and when she saw it, she just started cracking up.”
Lucky squirrels who find their way to the bar get to choose from seven different nuts named after beers: Cashew Dunkel, Peanut Pilsner, Almond Ale, Walnut Stout, Sunflower Saison, Pecan Porter and Pistachio Pale Ale.
Dutko’s favorite part of the bar is its quirky bathroom sign: “Nuts” and “No Nuts.”
The project, which measures about 25 inches wide and 16 inches tall, took him eight hours to design and build.
After posting a video on YouTube showing the build process, Dutko said he was “overwhelmed” with comments and requests to purchase the bar. He immediately applied for a design patent and is now planning to launch a business to sell The Nutty Bar for about $175 – $200.
I had forgotten about the backlog of wonderful videos by the late Ecuadorian naturalist and photographer Andreas Kay, but he posted quite a few before he died at only 56. I’ll parcel them out over the coming months. Here are his notes on a remarkable caterpillar that almost certainly deters predators by mimicking a snake. Note that, relative to the body, the “snake head” is upside down so, when presented by a clinging caterpillar, it looks like a right-side-up head.
Snake-mimic caterpillar, Hemeroplanes triptolemus, Sphingidae from the Amazon rainforest near Puyo, Ecuador. When disturbed this larva of a sphinx moth expands and exposes the underside of the first body segments, mimicking a snake head with black eyes and even light reflections. Sometimes it also strikes like a snake to deter predators such as lizards or birds. Photos here.
And Rick Longworth made this video, complete with music, of a den of foxes (mom plus kits). The play behavior of the kits is adorable. Rick’s notes:
Red fox (Vulpes vulpes). At the end of May, I noticed a group of about 5 or 6 young foxes across the Snake River at a distance of about one third of a mile from my back deck. The mother had dug a den in an earthen mound at the end of a utility road between two farms. At maximum magnification, the uneven heating of the atmosphere made the image quite unsteady.
Today’s photos come from the western U.S. desert, and were taken and contributed by Charles Peterson. His notes are indented:
I work as a field biologist in the Mojave Desert, helping to keep the U.S. military in compliance with the Endangered Species Act. I got some nice shots over the past few days that I thought you might like (attached).
I was sitting in the shade of a creosote bush crossing the Ts on some paperwork when I looked up to see this desert kit fox (Vulpes macrotis) checking me out. I know you consider foxes to be honorary felines, and this may be the most feline of canids. As evidence I offer:
Our local endangered (officially Threatened) species, in this case a grumpy-looking little subadult Mojave desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii):
A chuckwalla (Sauromalus ater, formerly obesus) in the hand. This is a tricolor-phase male, with the brick-red torso characteristic of some populations. I caught him because he was having difficulty with the fence you can see in the background.
After I let him go on the other side I saw the object of his efforts, this female. A nice example of sexual dimorphism in this largest Mojave lizard, a herbivore related to iguanas.
A beautiful gravid female long-nosed leopard lizard (Gambelia wislizenii). The red coloration occurs only between ovulation and oviposition.
Many readers sent me this video made by engineer and inventor Mark Rober about his attempt to build a Rube-Goldberg-like bird feeder that would foil squirrels. (This is the ultimate pandemic project.) Thanks to all who sent this; it’s truly awesome (as the kids say), and “viral”, with over 14 million views in four days! (This may reflect people looking for cute videos while they’re quarantined.)
It’s a truly impressive project, but what impressed me even more was both the agility and the cleverness of the hungry rodents. If you’re one of the rare people who haven’t seen this, do watch. It’s a lot of fun.
Today we have part 2 of physicist/origami master Robert Lang‘s series of photos from his California studio (part 1 is here). Robert’s notes and IDs are indented.
Continuing my series of photos shot over the last year from my studio in Altadena, California, on the edge of the Angeles National Forest.
A Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis— see comments below) Southern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarinata). These are all over the place up here, but they’re both fast and skittish, so it’s hard to get a good picture. This one had found its way into a large copper kettle on the porch, and the smooth sides of the interior prevented its escape. (Once I got the picture, I tipped it over and let him scram.)
And now, the mammals. On the small side, we have what I think is a Brush Rabbit (Sylvilagus bachmani). We also have Audubon’s Cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii) in and near Altadena, but we’re up in the chaparral at about 1900’ elevation, which is more Brush Rabbit territory. Hard to tell by sight: they look pretty much alike.
Where you have rodents and lagomorphs you have predators, and I get regular visits from several. Coyotes (Canis latrans) are very common up in the chaparral, like this one below. They also range far down into suburban Altadena, where they help control the population of feral and outdoor cats (sorry!), to the benefit of suburban bird life.
About 20 minutes after the coyote wandered through, a Bobcat (Lynx rufus) also stopped by. It paused to sniff the California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica), which does have a lovely fragrance, but I suspect it was sniffing more for “Coyote” (or other critters) than for the aroma of the plant itself.
A less common canine visitor is the Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus). I’ve only seen a few of these in back. They’re delicate little things, very wary.
In the definitely not-wary department, I get tons of California Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionuscalifornicus), especially during the Fall dry season, when it’s not uncommon to get multiple visits per day, and in the Spring, when the acorns are falling.
Two young deer in Spring, admiring the origami:
During the fall rut. That’s a dominant buck, sticking close to his doe. A couple of smaller bucks were also hanging around nearby, not getting too close (the buck chased them away), but still sticking close, presumably looking for an opening.
We have contributions from two readers today. The first is a stunning leucistic pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), with the photo taken by Peter Thornquist and sent in by his friend, reader Gregory.
The bird is the subject of an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (click on screenshot),
The leucistic pileated Thornquist photographed Saturday was a male, an identification made possible by the red slash along its bill. Females of the species have a red crown only.
Thornquist said he’s only seen a pileated woodpecker in Milwaukee County three times, and each was leucistic. He believes it’s been the same individual.
The distinctive bird may have been spotted by others in southeastern Wisconsin in recent years, too.
A leucistic pileated has been reported at Cedarburg Bog in Saukville, Mequon Nature Preserve in Mequon and Schiltz Audubon Center in Bayside, according to local birders.
Given its call, appearance and behaviors, if it stays in the area it will likely continue to be observed.
Is it possible the male pileated has been traveling widely looking for a mate?
“If that’s true, I hope he finds one,” Thornquist said. “It would be great to have a family of them gracing the Milwaukee River corridor.”
And today we’ll finish the batch of animals photographed by reader David Hughes on a trip to India. Wild felids! David’s email to me with this group was called “And now your favourite animals”. (His first two sets of photos are here and here.)
And now your favourite animals….
Squirrel: The Indian giant squirrel (Ratufa indica), photographed in Satpura Tiger Reserve. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but this is not far short of a metre long from nose to tail tip. It’s a southern Indian species which reaches its northernmost range limit around Satpura, so it’s used as the emblem of the park.
JAC: I added a picture from Wikipedia because I didn’t know these squirrels existed. Look at that tail!!
Jungle cat (Felis chaus), photographed on a late-evening drive in Satpura. About the size of a domestic cat, and with a similar taste for mice and small birds.
Leopard (Panthera pardus), Pench Tiger Reserve: Of course, it’s the big cats that everyone really wants to see. Leopards are still widespread across much of India, but very elusive, so it’s a real thrill to see one. This individual was perched on a rocky outcrop, enjoying its latest kill, a spotted deer. The photo was taken with my longest lens through a veil of leaves and branches, so it’s not the best quality. The forested terrain makes it hard to get good views and photos of animals, compared with the more open environment of your typical African park.
Tiger (Panthera tigris): and finally, the most sought-after species of all. On my tour we saw tigers in Pench and Kanha, but drew a blank in Satpura. None of the sightings were particularly long duration, or close-range, but they’re still memorable. This is a tigress seen on an early-morning drive in Kanha. The park rangers monitor the tiger population by camera-trapping, and know all the resident adults as individuals. This tigress is T32, the “Umarjhola female”. She was born in mid-2011, so would have been around 7.5 years old when photographed.
And it’s not just because it’s squirrels– it’s the location, too. Research takes me every year or two to the American Museum of Natural History, which is located on Central Park West between 77th and 81st Streets, and I often walk across to Central Park to have lunch, where I enjoy the wildlife, including the squirrels. Mike Klemens of the American Museum did a herpetological inventory of Central Park, which I’ve remarked upon here at WEIT (the only herps I’ve ever seen are turtles in Turtle Pond), so I’m glad to see the squirrels get their due.
The Times also had two earlier articles about the start of the census, here
Going through the multimedia piece on the results of the inventory, I noticed this photo. . .
. . . of a melanistic squirrel in the Park. This is interesting for two reasons. First, I didn’t know there were black squirrels in Central Park—I’ve never seen one. (In New York City, “black squirrels” are a color form of the gray squirrel; in other places, the “black squirrels” may be fox squirrels, Sciurus niger.) Second, it shows that the black squirrels are not all blacks (sorry, New Zealand!), but usually have some reddish color in them. In the one above, the belly is quite extensively reddish; in black squirrels I’ve gotten close enough to see, there’s usually some red color on the back, although their appearance depends on the lighting; and from a distance they may appear all black.
I was hoping to look at the report of the squirrel census to see the prevalence and distribution of the black squirrels (as well as to find other fun squirrel facts), but was disappointed to find that the report will cost you $75! But, a single ring chart was visible on the census website—in a copy of the report opened to show what you would be paying for—and this chart shows that there were 140 black squirrels out of 3938 squirrels whose color was recorded: a frequency of 3.56%. (There’s also mention of a more common “cinnamon” morph, but I’m not convinced that’s a distinct morph.)
The Times piece also provided some bits of data. From the following figure, I was able to determine that of 2969 squirrels with a known color depicted, 103 were black, for 3.47%. (The “white” squirrels in the figure, 54 of them, are actually blanks—squirrels with no color data recorded. The pie chart had 74 such missing-data squirrels.)
I’m not sure why there are 3023 squirrels total in the Times‘ figure, but 4012 in the ring chart, but the two estimates of the prevalence of the black phase, 3.56 and 3.47%, are very close. It’s no wonder then, that the handful of squirrels I would see during my Central park rambles would not include any black ones.
In a nice “squirrel map” of all the sightings in Central Park in the Times piece, there are about 3 or 4 black squirrels recorded in the part of the park between the American Museum and the Turtle Pond, so they do occur there, but, again, at low frequency, so no surprise I haven’t seen them.
Stephen Barnard sent a “spot the. . .” photo from Idaho, and in it, somewhere, lurks an owl (I don’t know the species, but I’ll ask). Click on the photo to enlarge it (twice to make it really big), and I’ll post a reveal at noon Chicago time.
This one ranks as “medium”, but please do not reveal in the comments where it is. If you found it, just note that.
Today Bruce Lyon, an ecologist and evolutionist at UC Santa Cruz, graces us again with a nice science-and-photo post—his final contribution on owls (Honorary Cats™). Bruce’s words are indented. Don’t miss his remarkable frogmouth video at the bottom!
Here is a third batch of owl photos and natural history to follow on the previous two owl posts (here and here) from a couple of weeks ago. (Note that ‘owl post’ also refers to mail delivery in Harry Potter novels—owls deliver the mail). Today I focus on Spotted Owls, why they are threatened, and why some owls have ear tufts and others do not.
This spring I was also lucky enough to see Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis) in three different locations in California. Spotted Owls live in old growth coniferous forest in the western part of North America and they are threatened in much their range.
Below: A female Spotted Owl roosting in late afternoon near Yosemite Park in California. The pair’s territory was in a lovely patch of mixed forest with some huge oaks, madrone, cedars and Douglas firs. I was able to sex the owls by differences in their calls.
Below: The male was roosting about 30 feet from the female.
Below: As evening approached, the male started waking up and he did several wing stretches. Many birds do these wing stretches prior to activity when they have been sitting for a long period of time—I assume it is like an athlete warming up.
Below. The photos of the male owl revealed the asymmetry of plumage markings on his face, particularly the brown facial disk and spots that separate the sides of the disk above the eyes. I find this asymmetry interesting because the ear openings are also asymmetric in some owls—I wondered if these two asymmetries are linked. I found a paper with measures of the degree of ear asymmetry for a few owl species but when I compared these measures to photographs of owl faces from the Internet, I could not see any link between ear and plumage asymmetry. The top photo is a normal photo that shows the right-left asymmetry in plumage markings; the lower photo is a Photoshopped fake that shows what perfect symmetry would look like for comparison (a mirror image composite of the same side of the face duplicated and flipped).
Spotted Owls require old-growth forest with very large trees for breeding. This habitat requirement made them famous not only as an icon for habitat conservation but also as a hated species in some camps because of the bitter dispute between conservation and the timber industry. The owls competed with timber interests in the Pacific Northwest because owls and clear cutting cannot coexist, resulting in a pitched battle over the fate of old-growth forests. Russ Lande, a former colleague of Jerry’s at Chicago (and still a close friend it turns out) wrote an influential academic paper that used population growth models to explore the relation between habitat integrity and the stability of Spotted Owl populations. Lande used life table data—estimates of birth and death rates of different life stages or age classes—to determine the expected lifetime number of surviving offspring for the average female in a population. Any population is stable if the average female replaces herself with exactly one surviving female offspring—any less than that and the population will decline.
Lande determined that the population was stable under the conditions at the time. He also used the data to explore which ‘life table’ variables were particularly important to population growth. He found that the annual survival rate of adults is most important (these are long-lived birds) followed by the survival rate of independent young when they disperse from their birth territory to find a territory of their own. Lande realized that forestry often creates a patchy mosaic of suitable habitat islands (patches of forest) in a sea of unsuitable habitat (clearcut) so he used a second modeling approach to examine this aspect (technically a ‘metapopulation’ approach). In mosaics of suitable and unsuitable habitat like this, global population persistence is determined both by the probability that populations within individual habitat patches go extinct, and the probability of successful dispersal between habitat patches by youngsters. Too little dispersal relative to extinction, and the entire population slowly dwindles to extinction. When Lande factored in the negative impact of habitat loss on the dispersal phase of the owl’s life cycle, his model predicted the ultimate extinction of the spotted owl based on the proposed management plans of the USDA Forest Service for the region. My memory is that Lande’s paper played an important role in getting the owl listed [JAC: as a “threatened” species] and putting large swaths of forest out of reach of the chainsaw, but perhaps there are readers more familiar with the details of this conservation story who can weigh in on this.
Below: While this fight was going on, the possibility that large swaths of old growth forest might be placed beyond the reach of the chainsaw enraged the logging community, who rightly saw their livelihoods as threatened. This resulted in some now amusing examples anti-owl vitriol, such as the famous bumper sticker “Save a logger, eat an owl” shown on the left, and a barrel painted like a tin of cream of owl soup on the right (photos from the web)
Below: The owls featured here and in previous posts are all round-headed owls that lack visible ear tufts. However, about a third of all species of owls have ear tufts. The Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) has particularly nice ear tufts. I photographed this bird at Mercy Hot Springs in central California.
Below: Baby Long-eared Owls at Mercy Hot Springs. Owls can rotate their faces to a remarkable degree and the slow shutter speed I was using nicely captured the motion of this rotation.
Why do some owls have horns while others lack them? Several hypotheses have been proposed, but one seems most compelling to me: ear tufts make the owl more cryptic, which reduces the risk of being mobbed and, for small owls, perhaps even being preyed on by larger predators. When disturbed, many roosting owls change their shape and become tall and skinny. The idea is that the skinny posture, the bark-like plumage pattern and ear tufts all combine to make the owl resemble a broken-off branch. This idea is supported by the observation that owl species that are active during the day tend to lack ear tufts (they are active, not hiding, so there is no benefit to hiding). In contrast, nocturnal species that roost during the day tend to have tufts, especially those that roost in forests.
Below: A fun study with a captive Northern Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium gnoma), a diurnal species that usually lacks ear tufts, provides convincing evidence that ear tufts serve an anti-predation function. When humans approached the owl it never changed its appearance. However, when the owl was exposed to two types of predators, a cat and a peregrine falcon, it invariable changed its posture—it became skinny and extended its eyebrows to create prominent ear tufts. It also exposed a few different white plumage patches, which the authors suggest might act as disruptive coloration—bold or contrasting coloration that breaks up the outline of an animal and makes it harder to detect. The authors thanked Elwood the cat for his cooperation in the study. Can’t beat a study that combines honorary cats and real cats.
Below: The Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides), a large and nocturnal nightjar relative, also mimics a broken-off stick. I found this bird roosting in a patch of forest near Melbourne, Australia a couple of years ago. Frogmouths can be very difficult to spot in this pose because they really do look like a branch.
Below: In the same large patch of forest, someone found a female frogmouth and her chick sitting together on the top of a wired in enclosure. I suspect the chick had fallen out of its nest and then somehow clambered to safety up on railing. The video shows that frogmouths undergo the same posture change as owls when a predator approaches. I put my camera on a tripod far enough away so that the birds assumed a relaxed pose but as I approached they got skinny and pointed their beaks up at an angle. They do not have ear tufts but instead use their beak to resemble a broken off branch stub; they also have a feather tuft that points in the same direction as the beak that may work like an owl ear tuft.