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.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Yesterday, I accompanied Dino on his usual morning walk - we headed to the red gate, then headed upstream, then home. This was an excellent bird walk and gave us our 89th bird species for the ranch: Phainopepla. We also saw two blue herons and a second year juvenile bald eagle, plus our usuals. Flickers are starting to come back now that we're moving into fall.

I took a second walk mid-afternoon. I wanted to go to the spring by Altar Rock and see if anybody showed up there - birds often go there to drink - but that was a bust. I gave up after a bit and walked down Lion Creek's dry bed to the road, stopping to look at milkweed fluff and found these on one of the plants where the pods hadn't fluffed out yet (warning insect shot): Large Milkweed Bugs, Oncopeltus fasciatus.

I was having a heck of a time with the wind and count myself lucky the bugs are in any sort of focus at all. Yes, there are Small Milkweed Bugs too.

I decided to try some fall vegetables. After being thoroughly disgusted by my lack of planning earlier, having no seeds, and being completely skunked at finding any vegetable seeds at all anywhere in Oakhurst, Dino came through for me by bringing home some seedlings from his Thursday trip to Mariposa. Broccoli and beets. And he found some snow pea seeds. All that got planted in the two available cinder block beds yesterday. The cucumbers are putting in a very spirited second effort now, both the Armenian and the lemon, and we had an excellent cuke salad last night again. The bees are very busy in that bed again, which gives me hope we'll get a few more weeks of cukes. 

Check out the web site I did for the local Audubon society:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Snakes. Bugs. And a Triumphal Ha! Fungus!

Ha.  Another wildlife update. 

I had an excellent opportunity to observe a healthy specimen from the reptile kingdom on the way home from work the other day.  As I was making the approach to the abandoned houses, I noticed a large rattlesnake in the middle of the road.  It was not in a hurry to get out of my way and since I rather like snakes as long as they are not trying to bite me, I had no intention of simply running over it.   Never one to rely entirely upon rationality, I honked the horn.  Amazingly, that caused the snake to begin the slow process of moving off the road into the grass.  It had just barely gotten its tail to the edge when it stopped and allowed me to pull up to look closely and admire.  It had a good sized midsectional circumference, but maybe there was a meal in there? 

Sunday morning Dino and I took a lovely walk up the hill, then down along the river, observing birds.  American Robin and Western Bluebird were particular highlights.

Dino also pointed out a big group of these water striders (Gerris remigis) in a river backwater. 

A bracket fungus of some sort.  Wow, it's September, how did this grow this time of year.  Granted, it was not far from the river.  This one was quite firm, with a slimy surface.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Last weekend was the joyous occasion of my son's wedding. We journeyed to the Bay Area to celebrate the event, staying with my folks for a couple of nights.  Oh, a good time was had by all and the happy couple are on their honeymoon - Munich, Vienna and Prague.  Not sure what the exact itinerary is, but the Munich leg evidently included a beer hall and oompah band.  I thought the most fun part of the whole shindig was the jam session at the reception - I hardly ever get to hear my son playing, so really enjoyed that.

The happy couple:

A scene from the jam session:

A fun shot:

A slideshow of the photos taken by me and Dino at the wedding and reception here.
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