Sunday, June 26, 2011

The first week of the 2011 Summer Camp season is now history. I managed to rip the crotch out of a pair of pants (while catching an Alligator Lizard) and kill my digital camera (by jumping into the reservoir after a Garter Snake without removing the camera case from my shoulder). I suppose I should be more careful or I'll actually be losing money rather than earning it. I had a nice group of kids for the week, although there were 23 of them, making it a larger than normal group. The groups will be larger all summer though, because we now have 162 kids a week rather than the 150 we've had in previous years. The extra kids means that I can only bring my own kids for one week each though, which is a shame. That said, I'm grateful for all of the free summer camp they've gotten in previous years. Alex gets to go multiple times, but he's old enough to volunteer now, which is exactly what he is doing. He volunteered down at the ropes course last week, and will be helping out with the little kids the week after this coming one.

This summer, I'm going to do my best to keep track of animals I've spotted, partially so I can remember when specific animals appear during the summer, and partially for fun. For instance, this is the time of year when it's easiest to find Kingsnakes. I've found 3 in the last week - one up at Almaden Quicksilver, one (a beautiful Mountain Kingsnake)in the garden at work during summer camp set-up week, and one on the driveway at camp on Thursday evening.

Here's what I saw this week:

Birds: Junco, Stellar's Jay, Raven, Crow, Swallow, Robin, Coot, Killdeer, Black Crowned Night Heron, and Quail, not to mention the countless little brown birds that I can't identify. The Killdeer had three eggs, and its efforts to lead us away from them clued me in to watch for them, which probably saved the eggs from being stepped on. The Black Crowned Night Heron was a bit of a surprise, but all of the others I more or less expect to see every week.

Mammals: Rabbit (in the garden), Mouse (it ran up my arm when I tried to remove it from the recreation equipment bin), Vole, Deer, Bats, Squirrel, Raccoon. No real surprises here - these are the mammals we see almost every week.

Fish: None this week.

Amphibians: Arboreal Salamander, Slender Salamander, Pacific Tree Frog, Bullfrog, Western Toad, and California Newt (larval stage). It's a bit unusual to see Arboreal Salamanders during the summer, but other than that, I saw what I expected to see.

Reptiles: Western Fence Lizard, Southern Alligator Lizard, Western Skink, Santa Cruz Aquatic Garter Snake (7 of them), Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (2 of them), California Kingsnake (large one in the driveway), California Mountain Kingsnake (actually last week in the garden), Red-Eared Slider, and Common Snapping Turtle. One of the Western Skinks was with a clutch of eggs, which was pretty cool. The big surprise was the Snapping Turtle, and I'll relate that story below.

Invertebrates of note: Golden Buprestid Beetle, Jerusalem Cricket, Millipede (3 different kinds), Calisoga Spider, Silvestri's Scorpion, Glow Worms (13 of them!), California Sister Butterfly, Swallowtail Butterfly. I've never seen this many Glow Worms on one hike, so that was the most unusual invertebrate moment of the week. The Golden Buprestid was great to come across too - it landed on a kid, which seems to be the way they usually appear.

As for the Snapping Turtle, I was in the pond at my favorite turtle spot, expecting to find some Red-Eared Sliders. A Slider ducked under water in front of me, so I pushed on towards the shore, noting what looked like a gray boulder jutting out of the water near the reeds that hug the shoreline. As I got closer, I saw that the "boulder" actually had a turtle shell pattern on it, but it was bigger than any Slider I'd ever seen. Being me, I gripped it by the sides and hauled it out of the water. The moment the head and front legs of the turtle cleared the surface of the pond, I knew I was holding a Snapping Turtle. The head snaked around towards me, with the mouth gaping open in turtle outrage. I shifted my hands back a bit and, pinning my pond net between my side and upper arm, pushed the turtle through the water towards the other side of the pond. I'm not sure how I climbed out of the pond with the turtle in my hands, but I managed to do this without losing the turtle or any of my fingers. The kids were all pretty amazed by the find and followed me as I sloshed towards the wheelbarrow we'd brought down to collect duckweed in. I plopped the turtle down on top of the duckweed we'd already collected and made sure the kids knew enough to stand back. Once back up at camp, I asked our receptionist, Jacque, to get me some numbers of animal rescue organizations. I already knew that we didn't have the resources to take care of such a large turtle, and I sure wasn't going to put it back in the pond (a couple of kids had already accusingly said, "I thought you said there was nothing dangerous in there!). Jacque found a number for a local turtle and tortoise club and called them, arranging for a guy to come and pick up the turtle. They somehow had the resources/connections to arrange for the turtle to be flown back to its native habitat, so this particular story has a happy ending. The turtle stayed the night at camp, submerged in a plastic tub partially filled with water and duckweed. It got picked up while I was out hiking the next morning. This is officially the biggest reptile I've ever caught.

Jacque had an exciting animal week too, spotting 3(!) Mountain Lions in her driveway earlier in the week. It was a mom and two cubs. She said the mom was huge, stretching nearly from one side of her driveway to the other. She lives right up the hill too. I still haven't seen a Mountain Lion in the wild.

Apparently, the turtle is going to end up in East Texas. Willow, along with her mom and siblings, is in Texas right now too. Perhaps both planes were in the air at the same time. I think my ex-Father-in-law has passed away, or is about to. This leaves Willow with only her paternal grandpa and her maternal grandma left. Poor girl. I'll know more when she gets back.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Summer camp set-up week is behind me now. Everything is ready to go, so for 9 weeks this summer, I'll be wandering the trails at the front of a group of kids, exploring, discovering, relaxing, and just enjoying being out on the edge that divides suburbia from wilderness.

Speaking of kids, I've been feeling more like a kid since I bought a bike. Sometimes I go for aimless rides, just seeing how the neighborhood streets connect with each other. Today, I went on a slightly more purposeful ride. I wanted to see how long it took to get to the northern part of the Guadalupe River Trail. I ended up riding about 18 miles, making a big loop during which I discovered that it's quicker to take the Los Gatos Creek Trail than it is to take the Guadalupe Creek Trail to the Southern part of the Guadalupe River Trail and the hot, hilly Highway 87 Bike Path. It's nice to get back in touch with all of the paths and trails known only to people who are willing to leave their cars behind. I'm now up to nearly 250 miles traveled by foot and/or bike.

Yesterday, I went to the San Mateo County Fair with Jeanine and her daughter Eva. Eva seemed to have an affinity for the carnival rides that violently spin riders around in circles, including one that had at least a couple of puddles of vomit in front of it already. I watched a kid accidentally step in one of the puddles and then try to clean his shoe by spitting on the ground and trying to wipe his shoe in the spit. If that is indicative of the problem solving skills of the typical youth, then I weep for the future. After Eva got off the ride, I noticed the ride operator cleaning fresh vomit off the metal steps and adjoining handrail. Eva was fine though.

I found the first Mountain King Snake of the season in the garden this week too. Hopefully it won't be the last. Beautiful snakes.

Currently listening to: Natural Snow Buildings "Laurie Bird"

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Last night was the first night of the last week of outdoor school before Summer begins. My evening began in the company of a confused bat, who entered the camp office and flew around my head for awhile. I had the idea to use foam boards (used as song boards when we sing camp songs) to guide its flight toward the door, but it easily evaded them and continued its circling. Bats seem to use their sonar to detect and fly around obstacles rather than reversing their course. In other words, bats don't often make u-turns. It eventually landed, hanging awkwardly from a light fixture, and one of my co-workers managed to use a hat to capture it and release it back into the gathering darkness outside.

Bat in the hat. Ha.

Currently listening to: Evan Caminiti "Distant Lights" 7"

Saturday, June 04, 2011

It's a rainy Saturday, which is a bit unusual for June. I'm inside listening to music, and have resolved to do nothing productive today.

Jeanine and I have been continuing our long walks through the suburbs and beyond, increasing our reach nearly every time we go out. I've now walked or ridden over 184 miles since we started keeping track sometime back in April. The majority of those miles were walked. Yesterday, we took a 7+ mile walk down the Los Gatos Creek Trail and back, and discovered a perfect Alligator Lizard attempting to sun itself on a sidewalk. Given the weather, it only succeeded in clouding itself. It cocked its head and favored us with a suspicious glare before turning and disappearing into a nearby Agapanthus. It looked like it had recently shed, and it had its original tail, which I'd guess is unusual for a suburban Alligator Lizard. Cats and dogs can be hard on local lizard populations.

We also ran into a woman with a Red-Eared Slider that she'd found on the trail. It had probably come out of the creek or nearby percolation ponds in an attempt to lay its eggs, and she'd caught it thinking it was a pet. Since Sliders are an invasive species, she was at least half right. It was either a released pet or the descendent of one. Not knowing what to do with it, she tried to give it to me. I told her that she might as well just put it back in the creek, since there is already such a well established population of them locally. I don't have it in me to kill invasive species just because of the thoughtlessness of some long ago pet owner. Maybe that makes me a bad conservationist, but sometimes the proper action clashes with my personal inclinations. After all, given my European descent, I'm an invasive species too, and I definitely don't want anybody killing me. Sometimes the barn door just stays open.

I did once keep a Slider for a short amount of time. I'd found it in the Guadalupe River. It's damn time consuming to care for semi aquatic species. I ended up bringing to the children's museum where I worked at the time, and if I remember right, it eventually ended up at a turtle rescue organization.

This coming week is the last week of outdoor school before the lazy madness of Summer begins. It's hard to believe this given the very Winter-like weather we're experiencing at the moment. Due to budgetary concerns, Willow and her siblings only get 1 free week of summer camp this year, which disappoints them greatly. As for me, I'll just be thankful that they've gotten whole summers of free camp for the last several years.

Currently listening to: Marissa Nadler "s/t"