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Archive for the 'furbearers' Category

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Cool brick, flat squirrel

Yes, earlier this summer we did humanely trap the Enormous Family of Rock Squirrels who were living in our attic and relocated them to a squirrel nirvana. This created a Squirrel Vacuum in our yard, and everyone knows that Nature — like every cat but this one — Abhors a Vacuum (and also being dressed up as a shark). So, it didn’t take long — already the Squirrel Vacuum has been filled:


This just-about-full-grown young one has been closing in on our yard (we’ve heard his loud inquisitive chirps growing progressively closer from down the block), and he finally got here. He looks like he dropped from a great height, but he’s just pressed belly-flat to the cool bricks, taking a break from scouring the back porch for yummies — you can’t see, but his cheeks are packed full. The rugged nature of the image is due to being taken through blinds through a window at a steep angle with my cellphone. Pesky, yes, but Oh So Very Cute. I offer this photo for the enjoyment of those readers who will not be plagued with the patter of little gnawing teeth overhead.TBWF13-NatureExpo

Meanwhile, if you’re in Tucson , today is the last day of the Tucson Bird and Wildlife Festival at the Riverpark Inn. The field trips are full, but the Nature Expo is free and is open from 10am to 2pm today (Sunday Aug 18 2013; more info << left, click to make legibly large.). How I come to still have this Monsoon Droplet Beastie Pitcher (below) on the shelf is hard to imagine! So if you haven’t stopped by the Three Star Owl booth to say Hi, now’s your chance! And if you have, stop by again!


Posted by Allison on Aug 18th 2013 | Filed in Events,furbearers,yard list | Comments (0)

I’ve always wondered what the “peanut gallery” looks like. Now I know….

… it’s part of our roof.


Young Rock Squirrel peering out from under our tiles, where it was born. They are natural in the desert and welcome in our yard, but a problem in the attic and walls.

(Photo A.Shock)

Posted by Allison on May 27th 2013 | Filed in furbearers,nidification,yard list | Comments (2)

The Others Who Live in Our House

We have a loose house.

By that I mean that nothing — windows, roof, doors, plumbing — closes tight, seals off, keeps in, or shuts out. Anything. Everything — cold draughts, hot breezes, swirling dust, muddy floodwater, joint-leggedies, fur bodies, helicopter rotor din — it all comes in, then usually goes out again, unless it decides it’s nice enough to stay, or the cats find it.


From many angles, this is not ideal. But it’s never boring. We call it “living close to nature” and try to learn to appreciate having wasps’ nests in the door jambs, rock squirrels in the attic, leaf-cutter bees in the keyholes, Huntsmen and Cellar spiders at the top of the walls, praying mantises on the houseplants, and termites in the kitchen door frame. OK, to be honest, we haven’t yet learned to appreciate termites in the kitchen, although we haven’t evicted their larval selves yet, either. You get used to inroads, after a while.

>> Palo verde seeds of two types (photo A.Shock)

We uncovered the latest inroad yesterday while searching for a bag of sawdust in the garage: someone’s carefully harvested, cleaned, and stored seed hoard. It featured two different kinds of seeds, Blue Palo Verde and Little-leaf Palo Verde, neatly cached with a little fuzzed fiber as a casually engineered plug to keep the treasure from flowing down the fold of a burlap bag. It was nice work: no husks, droppings, or other pollution in sight. But no owner, either. It was probably one of the Other Mice, family Heteromyidæ, a pocket mouse or kangaroo rat (neither is either a rat or a mouse), most likely the former, which we see around the yard. Caches like this are generally stored underground, and in addition to nourishing the gatherers, provide one of the main ways Palo Verde trees propagate: seeds in a rodent’s forgotten subterranean hoard will germinate, just add monsoon rains. But this trove was high and dry, and the seeds would have languished without benefitting the tree.

And maybe not the pocket mouse who stuffed it into our loose garage, either. But we’ll never know — the human need for not sharing living space with chewing organisms (except dogs, for some reason) kicked in and we scooped up the hoard and spirited it away — a full 1/3 of a cup of pretty little hard, brown seedlets, the smallest ones speckled like the beans they are. Their fate is to be determined. I read that you can bake bread with palo verde seeds: like most legumes, they’re very nutritious. After all the rodent’s hard work, it seems like someone should eat them.

Now, does anyone have a recipe for termites?

Posted by Allison on Feb 18th 2013 | Filed in close in,furbearers,natural history,yard list | Comments (2)


Mellow from basking in the sun on the spiral stairs, the beeyooteeous Miss B was ready for her close-up, not at all a common occurrence.

Posted by Allison on Jan 30th 2013 | Filed in close in,furbearers,the cats,yard list | Comments (2)

The thing on the balcony railing

This is a sight I often wake up to: a looming goofy fluffwad with alien eyes strung along the hand rail of the little loft over the bed, like a leopard on a limb.

If it looks dangerous, it probably is.  I don’t mean the cat; he’s a pussycat.  I mean dangerous to do, because it’s about fourteen feet up and Hector Halfsquid is a hapless clod.  He’s fallen off once (to my knowledge), startling us awake coming down thump next to the bed.  He landed on his feet — like a cat — on the carpeted floor, entirely unharmed.  If he’d landed two feet over, he probably would have broken our legs breaking his fall.

It’s particularly annoying because at a time when I’m so busy I don’t have time to write a proper post and can only fling up some cloying snapshot of the household furstock with a brief anecdotal caption, The Cats just loaf around the house 22 hours a day, lying about like flat pools of hot hair, not moving a muscle except to lazily stare at lizards through the sliding glass door and shed, giving off not only copious amounts of fur, but also the impression that this is exactly what’s expected of them.  And who has time to argue?

Posted by Allison on Sep 4th 2012 | Filed in furbearers,the cats | Comments (4)

Spot the Bird, canine edition

Our fence had some extra height this morning, and a glorious tail.  Do you see the fur anomaly?  I’m pretty sure it sees you.

It was obliging, and let itself be fully revealed.  Such a kitty-dog!  That’s a 6-foot wall it leaped upon with little effort.  They regularly use the block walls in the neighborhood like geometric trails, navigating nimbly with neat-nailed feet, safely above the jaws of coyotes and the hubbub of dogs.

So — finally! — photos of the neighborhood Gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus).  E was in the right place at the right time, or the fox was, depending on your viewpoint.

Here’s another shot.  LOOK AT THAT TAIL!!!!!

The tail is key — here’s a bit reposted from an earlier post on our gray foxes:


Foxes are canids, but not Canis, the genus of dogs, wolves, coyotes, and jackals. The Gray fox has its own genus: Urocyon, which is from Greek ὀυρά, tail, and κύων, dog. Its species is cinereoargenteus, from Latin cinis, ash, plus L. argenteus, of silver. Put them together, and its name means “silvery ashy-black dog-tail“. In case you’re wondering, the genus of the Red fox and other “true foxes” is Latin Vulpes, meaning “fox”, which does NOT give us our word “fox.” That is said to be derived through Old English from Old German fukh (the modern German word for fox is fuchs), derived from the Proto-Indo-European root puk- which means “tail.”

Posted by Allison on Aug 16th 2012 | Filed in furbearers,natural history,spot the bird,yard list | Comments (5)

Let’s play Spot the Lagomorph

Seriously, dude, the ears are a giveaway.

A scrape in damp soil in the shade of a shrub is desert cottontail air conditioning on a 100 degree afternoon.  A nearby brushpile makes a good escape plan, and there’s viral bermuda grass for grazing just a few feet away.  This is the rabbit equivalent of the dude with beers in his hat tubing down the Salt River.  The only thing missing is the smell of sunscreen, and blaring music. (Photo A.Shock, Canon EOS xti).

Posted by Allison on Jun 7th 2012 | Filed in furbearers,natural history,yard list | Comments (0)

The Hidden Egg

This time of year the world is pregnant with nests full of eggs, tiny cottontails hopping and hiding in the yard, fledgling birds following their parents food-begging insistently, new yellow-green leaves and catkins on the mesquite trees, and glorious cactus blooms.

<< Praying mantis egg-case on a Palo Verde twig (photo E.Shock). >> close-up of a mesquite catkin (photo A.Shock)

But as this acceleration of generation increases, we see another side of abundance: broken eggs on the ground, young birds not experienced enough to stay out of the street, small mammals learning the hard way about the swimming pool, an adult gopher snake swallowing a tiny cottontail.

Spring is a scavenger’s prime-time. We’ve been watching an Inca Dove carcass decompose under the tangerine tree. In the dry desert, this isn’t a grisly thing: if not enjoyed by raccoons, foxes, or feral cats, the soft parts are quickly consumed by the local scuttling scavengers, usually ants or dermestid beetles and the like. Inca Doves are small, anyway — there’s not much to them, and small bodies don’t have time to bloat, liquefy, or smell very much.

>> Inca dove skeleton (photo A.Shock)

Decomposition is short and if not sweet, at least efficient. What was an intact dove carcass lying in the leaf litter a couple of days ago was, by yesterday, an articulated partial skeleton. The head was gone, but the ribs were still festooned with a few feathers, and the pelvis dangled two femurs and a foot. The ants’ tidy de-fleshing revealed a possible cause of death invisible to us before: egg-binding. Look below the rib-cage under the vertebrae and pelvis, and you can see an intact egg, cracked but still heavy with its contents, in place in the abdominal cavity.

<< Here’s a side-view. The large blade-shaped bone on the right is the little dove’s keel, or breast-bone; the egg sits snugly — perhaps a little too snugly — under the tiny pelvis.

I don’t have my own photo of an Inca Dove — although they’re common in our yard, they’re camera-shy, at least in my experience. But if you need the reassurance of a living image, or more info about Inca Doves, click here, for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology entry on the species.

And just to sweeten the pot because after all it is the holiday season, here’s a photo I posted last spring, of two terribly tiny bunnies snuggled into the form their mother scraped out for them. Go ahead; click to enlarge to see their tiny fluffy details. It was either this or one of the gopher snake eating a baby cottontail, but I think I’ll save that for next Easter.

>> two infant cottontails stashed in a form (photo A.Shock)

Wild burro

This past Saturday, E and I took a Sunday drive.  We got out into the desert, to look for things. Normally, April is a good time of year for wildflowers, but due to the late freezes this year’s show is a bit sporadic — some things, like the Paloverde trees, are spectacular.  All over the desert (including in our yard) they’ve been like long-lasting fireworks-bursts of yellow against the blue sky.  But the more delicate, ephemeral blooms have been absent or delayed.  Luckily, in the desert there’s always something to find, showy or not, even when it nearly blends into its surroundings, like the Rock wren on the previous post (have you spotted it yet?).

And like this stone-colored wild burro, grazing in a cobbly wash off of the Castle Hotsprings Road, NW of Phoenix.  She was standing out in the open so calmly we nearly drove by, thinking she belonged to a nearby cabin — we only stopped when we realized she wasn’t hobbled.  We’d seen wild burros up here before on a hike — the Lake Pleasant area is famous for them — but this jenny wasn’t far off the road, and although she was watchful of us, she didn’t run.  Like the Rock wren, wild burros are often heard before they’re seen; our last sighting commenced with loud, unearthly braying coming from a ridge behind us.  When a dog at the cabin started barking at us, this jenny turned and gave it a very loud, nostrilly huff of warning and airy disapproval of its racket, then she moved up the wash in search of greener, quieter forage.

(All photos A.Shock)

Posted by Allison on Apr 18th 2011 | Filed in field trips,furbearers | Comments (0)

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