Sunday, July 27, 2008


27 July 2008

We packed a bunch of work into a very few days this past week, and now we're recovering at home! First, we finished up the new excavation in the cave. By a stroke of luck, the floor of the excavation coincided almost exactly with the length of Liz's arm, so we were able to fully excavate the new deposit and not feel like we were leaving material behind. We spent a few days sieving the rest of the material, then went back to the cave one last time to fill in all the deposits, including my deposit from last year! It was so strange to see the pit filled in with rocks, and we all were fairly sore from lugging rocks into the various pits. Here's a group photo of the excavation crew- from left: Becca, Jessica, Uma, Liz, Clara, Tony, and Ariel.

We also did some extra mammal trapping, both at the cave and at a high elevation site near Castle Crags State Park. The extra trapping was worth it! We caught (and released) a ringtail (Bassariscus astutus) at the cave, which we think is leaving scats in various pockets of the cave. We also caught some chipmunks, a flying squirrel, and a rabbit at the high-elevation site! Here's the full species list from the summer, first the species we actually trapped, then the species we saw:

Peromyscus maniculatus (deer mouse)
Peromyscus boylii (brush mouse)
Neotoma fuscipes (dusky-footed woodrat)
Microtus californicus (California vole)
Mephitis mephitis (striped skunk)
Spermophilus beecheyi (California ground squirrel)
Bassariscus astutus (ringtail)
Tamias sp (chipmunks)
Glaucomys sabrinus (Northern flying squirrel)
Sylvilagus sp. (bachmani?) (brush rabbit)
Sorex trowbridgii (Trowbridge's shrew)
Scapanus latimanus (broad-footed mole)

Sciurus griseus (western gray squirrel)
Tamiasciurus douglasi (Douglas squirrel)
Odocoileus hemionus (mule deer)
Lepus californicus (black-tailed jackrabbit)
Urocyon cinereoargenteus (gray fox)
Ursus americanus (black bear)


I published a bunch of field photos on my picasa webgallery, so check out the full range of photos from this summer's field season!
Shasta 2008- Mammal trapping and excavation

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Busy Week!

20 July 2008

We had a very busy week, full of new people and new things to do! On Monday and Tuesday, we were joined by 5 new people: Becca Terry, who will be starting a post-doc with the Hadly lab in the fall, Liz, Tony, and Clara, and Uma Ramakrishnan, a visiting researcher/collaborator/former Hadly lab post-doc who is now an assistant professor in India. We started a new excavation in Samwel Cave- actually two, since one of them did not go down very deep, so we finished it almost as soon as we started! But, one excavation is still on-going, and it looks like it will be a fruitful deposit. We found an artiodactyl jaw with some teeth in it on Friday!

Excavating is hard work, though, and this year's excavations are much more difficult than last year. We are generally excavating while laying on our stomachs, which limits arm movement. So, we were all pretty sore for much of last week, though Ariel and I have been sieving bones rather than excavating for the past few days, so we both have more or less recovered. And, it looks like we'll be done with field work a bit earlier than planned, perhaps by Friday. So, this might be the last post from the field! And luckily, once I get home I will be able to upload photos from my camera, so stay tuned for the next post!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Quick update

14 July 2008

Just a quick update about our most recent activities. We had a pretty uneventful couple of days. We were trapping at a higher elevation site (Hirz Mountain) and all we caught were some Peromyscus mice. This was our last trapline for a while, so we'll switch to excavation and sieving for the next few weeks, with perhaps a little bit of targeted trapping- there's a chipmunk I want to catch around the cabin!

What is more eventful than trapping, actually, is the Redding library. The library is a wonderful resource- free wireless, air conditioning, lots of plugs, and Ariel and I spend a lot of our time in Redding here. It's also a great way to observe the local citizens. We are now among the regulars, it seems- every time we come here, we observe the same folks, with slight variations, and I'm sure they notice us. Today, however, the local Redding library dwellers are providing particular amusement. There's the normal guy who sits in a chair near our regular table and appears to stare at us the whole time we are here, with occasional cigarette breaks. There's a new guy sitting behind us with headphones blaring. He did turn them off to call his parole officer to check in, though. There's also the woman wandering around the library talking on her cell phone about her very stressful weekend, and the guy at the elevator door who is impatient at having to wait 2 seconds for the doors to open (the elevator went downstairs just moments before he walked up), and is now punching the button repeatedly and muttering about the wait (it's only one short floor to the main doors). Oh wait, now he's leaving to walk down, and the doors just opened behind him... Lest you get the idea that we think the town of Redding is full of nutjobs, there are of course many entirely normal people in the library, they're just not as fun to observe!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Heat, squirrels, and swimming holes

What a week it’s been! We finished up the two traplines near Samwel Cave on Friday and were joined on Sunday by Targe Lindsay, a local Palo Alto teacher and Jasper Ridge docent who has been in the Hadly lab over the past several months researching raptor diet using pellets. Targe arrived just in time for a major heat wave to hit the area, with temps between 109-114 deg F during the day (cooling off to 104 deg in our bedroom at night-we switched to a tent!). Luckily, we managed to situate our third trapline right next to a great wading hole in the McCloud River and have been wallowing in the cold water each afternoon before setting our traps for the evening! Fieldwork’s tough, huh?

This trapline was uneventful in terms of the species we caught- the normal overabundance of Peromyscus, with some shrews and squirrels. It was pretty cool to actually capture squirrels in our normal trapline, but man, are they big! Most of the individuals we caught were juveniles, but they were still difficult to handle. Here’s a cute little guy biting my glove! And, a more typical photo of Ariel and I trying to figure out whether one of our captured animals was Peromyscus maniculatus or P. boylii (the big debate of the summer, along with whether Facebook is or is not a time sink).

So, all was fairly typical, with days spent trapping and skinning (here’s Targe starting to make a study skull out of a squirrel we unexpectedly had to euthanize—see below), and nights trying to keep cool.

However, something was disturbing the traps each night, with some of our traps being carried over a hundred feet and visible bite marks on the outside of a few Shermans. The degree of disturbance has been escalating over the past several nights, and yesterday morning we found a Tomahawk trap with a California ground squirrel whose hind right leg had been chewed off. It was horrible to see and horrible to know that our traps inadvertently caused such an injury, so we euthanized the squirrel and decided to pull the traps a day early, since whatever is getting the squirrels knows exactly where to go for a nice meal and is just going to keep hitting the animals in the traps.

So, after another day spent in Redding, on to the next trapline! We will be heading up to (higher) elevation- the top of Hirz Mountain, where there is some Douglas-fir forest. This trapline should finish Monday morning, just in time to be joined by three more people next week- Liz, Uma, and Becca!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Field Work Makes Me Glow!

5 July 2008

Well, we've finished our 2nd trapline and had quite a pleasant week. The temperatures dropped about 10 degrees into the low 90's, the smokey skies cleared a bit, and the trapline itself was much easier than the first. So, it was a great week!

Overall, we didn't catch quite as much as on the first trapline- lots of Peromyscus again, and some voles, but no other species. I think we are generally checking our traps too early to catch the squirrels, since they are late risers and like the warmer daytime conditions. So, we did an afternoon of trapping on Thursday to target squirrels, and ended up catching 3 California ground squirrels. They are such beautiful animals! They are also much bigger than everything else we have caught, but after one escapee, Ariel and I managed to perfect our methods and we ended up collecting two squirrels. Skinning them was quite a chore- their tails are very difficult to remove and we both struggled with skinning for a number of hours, but managed to finish just in time to head into Redding for the Fourth of July!

The Redding fireworks celebration was canceled due to the fires, but my labmate Brenna was in town visiting her parents, who live in Redding. So, we went over to their house and had a very nice dinner and were able to sleep in this morning (and tomorrow too!). There has been a lot of car/boat traffic at Hirz Bay as people arrive for the holiday weekend, but overall it's relatively quiet, probably because the lake is so low. Both Ariel and I have been envying the boaters their nice water though. Anyone want to bring up a boat so I can waterski and Ariel can wakeboard? We can provide lots of entertainment as you watch us try to skin mice and squirrels!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Skunked! (and not playing cribbage...)

29 June 2008

Well, we had quite a morning today! After setting up our first trap line and trapping a bunch of Peromyscus mice (a cute, trap-happy, nuisance species), we were excited to see one of our larger traps closed and occupied this morning. Unfortunately, there was not one, but two skunks in the trap!! It was a small female, plus a baby skunk that was outside the trap, but had stayed next to mom. Well, I was a bit flummoxed about how to get the skunks out of the traps without getting sprayed, but I remembered a conversation with another grad student about getting skunks out of traps. Fortunately, it was a cooler morning, so I had a fleece jacket with me, which I threw over the trap to block any spray. The minute I did that the skunk started to release her odor, so I waited until she had calmed down again, then very carefully approached the trap and propped it open. I removed the fleece and Ariel and I left the skunk to find it's way out of the trap while we checked the other traps. Close call, but not a disaster, though that trap needs to be cleaned and I threw out my fleece jacket!

The excitement didn't end there (at least for us, though some of you reading this might not find the rest so exciting!) We added to our species list today! Besides the usual complement of Peromyscus, we also caught a vole (probably Microtus californicus), a shrew (Sorex trowbridgii) and a woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes). Here are a couple of photos of my field assistant, Ariel, in action: setting traps and weighing specimens!

So, we're pooped from all the early mornings, heat, and hiking, and are back in Redding for the afternoon resupplying our groceries and making contact with the world (via blogging, skype, and other means...aren't we technologically savvy!?). The fires in northern California aren't affecting us too much, though there has been a lot of haze in the sky for the past two days. Air quality in Redding is much worse than out at the cabin, which is lucky for us.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Field Season 2008

Well, it's a new year and a new field season. I'm leaving today to head back up to Lake Shasta. This summer, I will be trapping small mammals to get an idea about the composition of the modern mammalian community to compare with my fossil data from last year. I have a great field assistant again this year, Ariel Marcy, who is an undergrad at Stanford, and my advisor Liz and a collaborator from India (Uma) will be coming up in July. So, it should be an interesting summer and I'll try to keep this blog up-to-date so you can follow my progress!