Halloween Mystery Visitor

Outdoor decorations. All the corn has been eaten. Photo: Alexander

Ornamental corn: notice all corn kernels have been eaten.

Last year we had a mystery visitor come to our front yard.  It had all started when I bought pumpkins and ornamental corn to decorate.

 

Upon returning from the store, I had haphazardly placed the items outdoors, to be arranged when I had more time.

 

The next morning on my way out, I noticed that some of the corn kernels had been eaten.  The morning after that, even more corn had been eaten.  Soon it wasn’t a very attractive decoration.

 

I thought it might be a squirrel, and decided to surrender the decorations to the creature.  Whoever it was, they were obviously enjoying it.

 

Before all the corn was consumed, we set our critter cam up on a tripod.  This is a motion sensitive outdoor camera for recording wildlife activity on our property.

 

Mystery visitor: Dusky-footed Woodrat

Mystery visitor: Dusky-footed Woodrat

Here’s our mystery visitor:  the dusky-footed woodrat.

 

A nocturnal mammal, woodrats are common in the deserts and forests of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, especially in the west.  No relation to the city rats that spread disease.

 

Also known as pack rats, they are generally solitary and build elaborate nests.  More info here.

 

The one photographed here lives in our wood shed, under a pallet that holds the firewood off the ground…has a good life.

 

We once kept gloves in the wood shed, to use when splitting and loading wood.  But the gloves kept disappearing.  Then one day we found all our gloves and safety glasses under the pallet.  The woodrat, aka pack rat, loves to collect things, especially shiny things.  So now we keep these items in a plastic box with a snap-on lid.

 

Our camera has a date and time stamp.  That night he or she returned to the corn every ten minutes, all night long.  I imagine there’s colorful corn kernels under that pallet.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

Rattlesnakes

Western Rattlesnake, sub-species Northern Pacific; Calif.

Western Rattlesnake, sub-species Northern Pacific; Calif.

Halloween Week brings out the scaries, but once you read about rattlesnakes, goblins might induce more fear.

 

Native to the Americas, rattlesnakes hunt rodents, lizards, and insects; and prefer open, rocky habitat.  Rocks offer the viper protection, and open areas offer sun basking.

 

As an ectothermic vertebrate, the rattlesnake relies on the sun for heat and metabolic activity.  During cold weather, they lie dormant.  More rattlesnake info (with a rattling sound byte) here.

 

Western Rattlesnake

Under our front steps

I live in “rattlesnake country.”  After 14 years, I have never had a dangerous encounter.  I have been rattled at, however, and readily recognize their warning.  It sounds like a shaking dry gourd.

 

Each year when they shed their skin, a new rattle segment is added.  Rattle growth varies depending on food supply and growth rate, and some rattles can break off; it does not reflect the snake’s age.

 

In our front yard

In our front yard

Each rattle segment is hollow, and made of keratin.  There are muscles in the tail that shake the tip, causing the hollow segments to reverberate against each other–they fire on average 50 times per second.

 

Once I had a large bundle of weeds in my arms and couldn’t see down.  I was headed for the tarp.  Another time I was on the phone, came outside for better reception, and apparently woke the master.  The rattle is loud and distinct, says nothing but “Stay away!”

 

Rattlesnakes are venomous, but their bites are rarely fatal to humans.  The majority of rattlesnake bites (72%) occur to intoxicated young males; and about half the bites occurred when the person noticed, but did not heed, the warning.  Obtaining antivenom treatment within two hours results in 99% recovery.

 

Rattlesnakes are super creatures.   Number one, they keep our mouse population under control.  Number two, how many creatures can fold their fangs back when not in use?   In addition, they gather strength from the sun, detect thermal radiation in warm-blooded organisms, and rattle unmistakable warning at their enemy.  Wish I could do all that…well, except for eating mice.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

Green Sea Turtle

Green Sea Turtle, Big Island, Hawaii

Green Sea Turtle, Big Island, Hawaii

The green sea turtle is the most common turtle found in the Hawaiian Islands.  Hawaiians call this ancient reptile honu.

 

Chelonia mydas can be found in many tropical places around the world.  Although they are titled “green” they are not that color.  The turtle’s color varies depending on where they are in the world, and/or what stage of life they are in.  Their name originates from the green-colored fat beneath its carapace (shell).

 

Although their conservation status is listed as endangered, they are easy to spot in the Hawaiian Islands. Primarily vegetarian, their diet is  kelp and algae, and can be seen foraging on land and sea.

 

Hunting, poaching, fishers’ nets, pollution, and habitat destruction contribute to the sea turtle’s demise, but there are also many protective laws and organizations dedicated to this creature’s survival.  Green sea turtle overview here.

 

They are quite awkward on land, lugging their heavy body (200 pounds and more, 90 kg) across the sand and rocks.  But when they are underwater, they are in their element.

 

Honaunau Bay, Big Island of Hawaii

Honaunau Bay, Big Island, HI. I always see green sea turtles here.

Green sea turtles can rest or sleep underwater for several hours at a time, but they must breathe air.

 

Turtle symbolism is well known in many cultures, including Aesop’s Fable of the Tortoise and the Hare.  Patience and pacing are the messages of turtle.

 

Snorkeling always stirs and thrills me:  finding new creatures, the vast array of fish and bright colors, getting accustomed to the rocking water, and sometimes its chill.  But when the turtle swims near me, I am instantly calmed, watching this magnificent creature swim, glide, nibble, float and drift off.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker, Calif.

Northern Flicker, Calif.

A New World woodpecker, the Northern Flicker can be found in Canada, the U.S., and parts of Central America.  Although most woodpeckers are often black and white, this woodpecker is brown, with red or yellow.

 

There are two kinds of Northern Flickers:  red-shafted and yellow-shafted.  The red-shafted, photographed here, are in western North America.  The yellow-shafted is in the east and north.  The two species interbreed wherever their ranges intersect, primarily on the western Great Plains.  Flickers in colder regions migrate in fall.

 

The diet of Colaptes auratus, a medium-sized bird with a strong bill, is mostly ants.  They also feed on beetles, termites, and other insects.  Due to their preference for ants, they can often be found near the ground.

 

Northern Flicker, Calif.

Northern Flicker, Calif.

With a very distinctive call and markings, birders know immediately when a flicker is nearby.  Beautiful and unique markings, and the easily visible white rump patch.

 

To learn more about the flicker, including a sound byte, click here.

 

My first siting of a northern flicker remains sweetly present in my memory.  We saw a big brownish bird foraging close to the ground, it was a complete mystery.  When it flew we saw a white rump.  We chased after it–ran across the front yard of a lodge, looking, I am certain, like total dorks.  With the help of our field guide, we figured it out.  Until then we had thought all woodpeckers were black and white, and banging on trees.

 

The flicker lives year round in California.  Their ki ki ki ki is an utter delight to hear, each and every time it echoes across the forest.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander