Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ground Sloths

Yesterday, we took an interesting side trip to the Madera Fossil Discovery Center to look at old animal bones.  The fossils at the center were extracted from the landfill right across the street from the center. Some years ago, as one of the equipment operators was scraping up dirt, he saw bones. What's remarkable is that he stopped and told someone about them and paleontologists were allowed to swoop in and start collecting and analyzing. They are still doing it - as the dirt is being scraped off a new section, a scientist follows along and if bones are spotted in the scrape, a small flag goes in the spot. All of the fossils found in this area are Pleistocene era - around 700,000 years ago. These are all mammal bones: Colombian mammoth, camel, horse, dire wolf, short-faced bear (14 feet tall on hind legs!), peccary, smilodon - aka saber-tooth cat - and three species of ground sloth. They had created life-sized replicas of all of these skeletons and the one that I found especially intriguing was the Harlan's ground sloth. Those critters were big and the rib cage! We figure it was six feet across if measured at the greatest extent of the outside of the rib cage. It's estimated they weighed 3500 pounds - it was really impressive. Here's a link to a photo someone else took of this replica: Link.
The center didn't have very many "customers" when we arrived and after we saw a short introductory video, as we were coming out of the screening room, we got an impromptu invite to get a personal tour. So we got the whole spiel from someone who was working on the dig. It was great to be able to ask questions and get in depth answers.

I found out also that I can now get senior discounts. Evidently, I've been in denial that turning 55 means that I have moved into the senior range.  Dino was very amused by my reaction although I remain firmly convinced that I have not become fossilized yet. On the other hand, we saved four bucks on the admission fee.

Before we set out on our trip to town, we took our morning walk. There's a big spring up the hill where we lingered, hoping to see (and photograph) birds. We did see a flycatcher that would have been a new species for the ranch, but there are two species that look almost exactly alike and we just don't feel certain enough about the ID to call it. Either a Hammond or a Dusky. Dang those flycatchers can be tricky to identify. Was the head rounded or did it have a flat area?   At Dino's request, edited to add:  our available time for identifying the mystery bird was cut short by the sudden appearance of a kestrel, which naturally enough, scattered all the birds in the vicinity.

Here's this year's obligatory wild grapes photo. It doesn't have any grapes in this one, although at the moment the grapes are at peak ripeness and are delicious, and although very small and seedy, worth it.

No comments:

Site Meter