Category Archives: Mammals

A Visit to Elk Country

Bull elk grazing in a front yard in Elk County, 4 Oct 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)
Bull elk grazing in a front yard in Elk County, Pennsylvania, 4 Oct 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Last Tuesday Geralyn Pundzak, Kathy Miller and I made a one day trip to see the elk near Benezette, PA.  During the rut, September-October, the males pursue the ladies, spar with other males and “sing” a bugling love song.

Our first two stops came up empty and we began to worry that we'd miss them.  Geralyn, who drove us there, said she wouldn't leave until she saw an elk. The pressure was on!

At Woodring Farm we heard an elk bugling on the hill above us.  He soon crossed the gravel road only 100 yards away, then stopped to bugle among the trees.  I was so excited I forgot to take pictures.

On our way to Dents Run we saw an elk lying down, almost on a front porch. Was he a statue?  No, his head moved!  We returned to an elk traffic jam and took these photos.

Bull elk in Elk Country, 4 Oct 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)
Bull elk in Elk Country, 4 Oct 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bull elk grazing in a front yard, 4 Oct 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)
Bull elk grazing in a front yard, 4 Oct 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bull elk in Elk Country, Pennsylvania, 4Oct 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)
Bull elk in Elk Country, Pennsylvania, 4 Oct 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

In addition to the elk we enjoyed birding, scenic overlooks, and the Field of Flowers at Woodring Farm.

A view of Elk County from Woodring Farm overlook (photo by Kate St. John)
Elk County view from Woodring Farm overlook (photo by Kate St. John)

.

At the Field of Flowers, Woodring Farm, Elk County, PA, 4 Oct 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)
At the Field of Flowers, Woodring Farm, Elk County, PA, 4 Oct 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Visit Elk Country now while the elk are bugling and the leaves are changing.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

Cheeps Like A Bird

The birds aren't singing and many aren't even making contact calls but you'll still hear something in the forest that sounds like a bird.

Listen to the video above as a chipmunk makes chirpy calls that resemble a northern cardinal -- except that they're too fast and "sweet."

Chipmunks make sounds we don't expect from such a small body.  Lang Elliott recorded three of them:  "chip", "tock" and squeak.  Click here to hear.

Want to know what they mean? Jim McCormac explains them in Deciphering the language of chipmunks.

You'll get a lot of practice with these sounds in the weeks ahead.  The chipmunks are in overdrive and very vocal, storing up food for the winter.

 

(video by PAphotofun on YouTube. Chipmunk audio by Lang Elliott via Wildlife of Connecticut website)

The Skunk Whisperer

Skunk Videos, Day 3:

Skunks in the window well?

Yesterday's long video showed Ray Kremer's success in getting the skunks out of his window well but the comment on his video says they went right back in there the next day.

Here's a guy who can "whisper" them out.

And he probably recommends a window well cover.

By the way, skunks can carry rabies without showing any symptoms.  Do not handle skunks!  This guy is a professional from SkedaddleWildlife in Ontario, Canada.

 

p.s. Don't even dream of keeping a wild baby skunk as a pet. In most states it's illegal. Where they are legal you must get a permit and must get the skunk from a breeder, not from the wild, to insure that the pet is not carrying rabies.

(video from SkedaddleWildlife on YouTube)

Skunks in the Window Well

Skunk Videos, Day 2:

What happens when a skunk family gets into a place where you don’t want them?

Ray Kremer figured out an elaborate bucket scheme to get this family of five out of his window well.  He had to be careful!

The video lasts more than 11 minutes, the rescue took longer.  Ray explains in the video comment that the skunks jumped back into the well the next day.

What is it about window wells?

Tomorrow: The Skunk Whisperer!

 

(video by Ray Kremer on YouTube)

The Element Of Surprise

Grizzly bear (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Grizzly bear (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

While visiting Glacier National Park on a Road Scholar birding trip this week, we heard that a mountain biker was killed by a bear just south of the Park. The incident made international news.

When a bear kills someone, wildlife officials investigate by collecting information on what happened, DNA samples of the bear and, ideally, the bear itself.  If it's clear the bear was predatory (if it ate or wanted to eat the person) then the bear is euthanized.  If it was defending itself or cubs, officials weigh the evidence and it often goes free.

As of this writing the investigation is still underway, the bear hasn't been found, and it's not confirmed that it was a grizzly.  The only thing we know for sure is that everyone was surprised -- the bear, the victim, his fellow cyclist, and the local community.  Montanans are especially surprised and saddened because the victim was a very knowledgeable local resident, an officer in the U.S. Forest Service who knew all about bear safety.

How could such a thing happen?   Imagine this: A mountain biker is traveling downhill fast on a silent bike on a narrow trail through a thicket. There's a bear in the thicket but there is no sound to warn the bear and no time for it to move away.  Bears have a chase instinct and will pursue things that are moving fast.  UPDATE JULY 3: The cyclist collided with the bear before the fatal attack.

Here's more about what happened near West Glacier, Montana:

http://flatheadbeacon.com/2016/06/30/search-continues-bear-killed-west-glacier-man/

 

Were we worried about bears while visiting the park?  No.  We followed the guidelines on what to do in bear country. These are from the Glacier National Park website:

  • Never travel alone. Don't trail run. (There were 11 of us walking and birding.)
  • Carry bear spray and know how to use it.  (Our guide carried this form of pepper spray that has a special nozzle.)
  • Make human noise especially talking, singing, clapping or calling out at regular intervals.  NPS says, most bear bells are not enough.  (We talked a lot!)
  • Never leave food, garbage and scented items unattended. Always secure them. (We were always with our food, packing in and packing out.)
  • Be aware of your surroundings, especially when you are near bear foods, running water or thickets. Notice bears signs. (Our guide showed us bear claw marks and dig-outs.)

Bear attacks are extremely rare events.  There would be even fewer if we could eliminate the element of surprise.

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original.)

p.s. We never saw any bears at all, not a grizzly, not even a black bear.  It would have been nice to see a grizzly on a distant hillside from the car -- but only under those circumstances!

Groundhog Family

Groundhog family in the wall on the Lower Trail, Schenley Park, 13 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)
Groundhog family in the wall on the Lower Trail, Schenley Park, 13 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

On Monday at Schenley Park's Lower Trail I heard some rustling and turned to see a mother and baby groundhog peering at me from their underground home.

They're probably descended from the family that lived in this wall in 2012.  The habitat has changed (DPW sprayed the wall with defoliant last August, oh no!) but the groundhogs remain.  Here's the family I saw in May 2012.

Perhaps we'll see them tomorrow during my Schenley Park outing.  Hope to see you there. Click here for more information.

 

(photo by Kate St.John)

Coon Outside My Window

View from my kitchen table (photo by Kate St. John)
View from my kitchen table (photo by Kate St. John)

Last weekend while sitting at the kitchen table with my friend Kathy I looked out the window and saw an animal climb the green fence. I thought it was a cat.

The fence is close to the window.  The animal was very close to the window.  I didn't take a picture but it resembled this composite photo ...

Kind of what it looked like when an animal was climbing the fence ...
Kind of what it looked like when an animal was climbing the fence ...

It wasn't a cat. When she turned her face I saw her raccoon mask. Her belly showed she was nursing young.

The raccoon ran up the backyard and put her paws in the bird bath.

Coon at the bird bath (photo by Kathy Fox)
Coon at the bird bath (photo by Kathy Fox)

And then she ambled up the yard, climbed over the back fence, and was gone.

 

(photos by Kate St. John and Kathy Fox)

Evidence of Bears

Bear scat, Sugar Run Trail, Ohiopyle State Park, 19 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)
Bear scat, Sugar Run Trail, Ohiopyle State Park, 19 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Last month I hiked the well traveled Sugar Run Trail at Ohiopyle State Park.  At the top of the trail I saw footprints of people and dogs ... and I encountered this.  I put my boot next to it for scale.

I didn't see paw prints near it but the size of this scat pile indicates it was deposited by a large mammal. There's not a lot of fur in it and it's blue (why?) so this animal eats more than just meat.

The scat had been deposited so recently that I could smell it as I took the photograph.  I found another, older pile further down the trail.  This large omnivorous mammal left his mark over and over again.  A black bear.

The bear lives there. I was just visiting.  Though he wasn't in sight he was probably in earshot so I made human noise (speaking, whistling) so he'd know I was traveling through.

I'm sure he didn't want to be surprised any more than I did!

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

To Catch A Venomous Mammal…

ZooDom veterinarian Adrell Nunez (center) draws blood from a solenodon for DNA samples, Dominican Republic (photo by Taras Oleksyk and Yashira Afanador)
ZooDom veterinarian Adrell Nunez (center) draws blood from a solenodon for DNA samples, Dominican Republic (photo by Taras Oleksyk and Yashira Afanador)

There are only 16 (maybe 17) venomous mammals on earth and more than half of them are endangered.  One of the rarest is the Hispaniola solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus), native to Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Solenodons are nocturnal mammals that look like large, big-footed shrews.  They eat beetles, crickets, worms, snails and even birds and reptiles which they paralyze with a bite containing their venomous saliva.  Interestingly, solenodons aren't immune to each others' venom so if they fight they succumb when scratched by the teeth of a combatant.  (The Hispaniola solenodon is so poorly studied that we're not even sure if it fights very often.)

Solenodon paradoxus (photo linked from The Mantis Shrimp blog)
Solenodon paradoxus (photo by Miguel A. Landestoy, linked from The Mantis Shrimp blog)

These mammals evolved in the absence of predators so they are slow, clumsy runners and tend to trip and fall when pursued.  They are now so rare and so endangered that they're expected to go extinct in the next 10-20 years because of habitat loss and predation by dogs, cats and humans.

With time running out for this animal, scientists wanted to sequence its DNA before it disappeared, and they had to catch it in a manner that was safe for the animal and for them.  But how?

The researchers shown above caught the venomous mammal by allowing it to walk across their bodies at night in the forests of the Dominican Republic.

Yikes!

Read more here in Science Daily.

 

p.s. Did you know there's a venomous mammal in Pennsylvania?  The northern short-tailed shrew has venomous saliva that paralyzes its small prey.  From Joseph Merritt's Guide to the Mammals of Pennsylvania, "When humans are bitten, they may experience considerable irritation and swelling that could last up to three days."  Predators, including house cats, don't eat this shrew because it smells so bad.

(photo credits:
top photo by Taras Oleksyk and Yashira Afanador of ZooDom veterinarian Adrell Nunez with solenodon.
photo of Hispaniola solenodon by Miguel A. Landestoy, linked from The Mantis Shrimp blog
)