Tracks and Quail and Spiders!
As we headed out on to the Preserve this day, the ground mist swirled around us and the big oak trees on the skylines were shrouded in fog. Standing still on the ground, we could see tiny droplets of moisture swirling by, the mist was that heavy.
It was warmer than it has been, so no frost on the ground, just lots of dew as we moved through the tall, green grasses. As the sun broke through the light was gorgeous, there was a depth and intensity that illuminated everything in a warm glow.
Onward, for wildlife.
In the Field
As we drove out to the first camera, there was still a heavy veil of mist and fog. We came upon a covey of California quail right in the middle of the road! We stopped and watched them, with what looked like the leader of the group standing his ground in front of us while the rest of the mixed group of males and females stood behind him, watching for the next move! They remained there for a minute before flying off into the woods.
We saw a lot of spider webs! In fact, crew member Patrick referred to all the spider activity as a ‘spider bloom’ which is a very appropriate term! With the weather warming up and more insects hatching out, it makes sense that there would be more spiders too, to take advantage of food resources. We saw beautiful orb webs, lined with moisture droplets from the heavy mist.
We also saw lots of funnel-web spider webs. These are very interesting, as the funnel-web spider builds a flat, springy sheet of web area where insects land and get trapped, with a hole in the middle of the web sheet leading to the spider’s burrow. When the spider feels the vibrations of an insect on the web sheet, she darts out of her burrow, injects the insect with venom and drags her prey quickly back into the burrow to consume the meal in safety and also probably to keep other insects from figuring out that the web sheet is deadly!
The spider bloom was so afoot that when we went to check one of the cameras, a funnel-web spider had made her burrow and web right between the camera and the T-post! With all the moisture in the air, her web was covered with dew droplets and it actually looked like quite a nice abode!
After admiring the cool funnel-web, we continued with the card change and camera check and replaced the camera back in it’s casing. We took care to replace the camera without disturbing the web and we’ll see what’s happening there next week!
Along the way to one of the other cameras we found what appeared to be some bobcat scat. Bobcat scat feels solid if you press down on it with your foot or a stick. If you break it open, there’s a felty quality to the scat texture. And the scat segments are well-formed, with blunt ends and the piece that exits the bobcat’s anus last usually has a bit of a point to it. We broke this scat open and it was solid with a felty quality. It appears this bobcat may have recently eaten a bird based on the feathers and bone seen here.
We also found some hefty coyote scat on the road as we walked along. This scat is discernible from feline scat because it tends to be formed in longer, twisty segments and there’s undigested hair visible. Also if you press on the scat, either with your foot or a stick, the scat is soft and collapsible. Coyote scat can contain berries and other vegetation as well.
We checked on the wild asparagus that we’d seen growing out by one of the trail cameras last week and to our astonishment we saw that just the tips of the stalks had been nibbled off! The rest of the stalks stood tall and green but the heads were gone. Maybe a cherry-picking raccoon or opossum took a shine to the tender tips and left the stalks for someone else’s consideration?
We saw a great buck track with deep register and dewclaws showing, indicating the buck was likely running. Dewclaws aren’t usually visible in deer tracks when they’re walking. Doe tracks can also display like this if they’re heavier and running. We know that there are several bucks who regularly cross the trail camera in this area and there are a number of does as well so there’s lots of sparring, vying for does, and chasing rivals and potential mates. We think this track is from a buck.
We saw some ‘great’ Great blue heron tracks along the bank of a slough. The track below illustrates well how the rear toe distinctively registers offset from the 3 front toes. Also, the metatarsal pad (the pad in the middle of all the toes) isn’t visible here which is not uncommon on harder mud or drier ground.
The track below looks like bobcat, walking along in the soft substrate toward one of the trail cameras that has regularly been getting bobcats. The tracks have a rounder shape than coyote and there are no nail marks. And the heel pad is larger than would usually appear in coyote tracks with no distinct two-lobed curvature at the rear edge.
As we came back out onto surface roads at the end of our camera checks we spied a raptor on a phone pole and stopped to identify it. What do you think it is? (Answer in the photo caption.) We got a great view of the banded tail, a distinctive identifier of the species. He or she was spending a lot of time calling repeatedly while sitting on the pole, likely wanting to check in with a parent. We didn’t see any other hawks in the area but this one was quite vocal!
Red-shouldered hawks are easy to confuse with red-tailed hawks until observers get some good ‘raptor time’ in and then the differences begin to sink in and before you know it, you get better at telling the difference between a red-shouldered and a red-tailed!
Be back next week with a report on what’s going on after all this rain!
Critter Camera Captures