Happy Bat Appreciation Month


October is Bat Appreciation Month, so WC is here with a selection of the other flying vertebrates. There are at least 1,400 species of bats world wide, filling a number of ecological niches, almost all of them nocturnal. Photographing them is a real challenge. But here’s a sampler. At higher altitudes, where it cools down…

Turbo Speed Goats, 2022 Edition


Pronghorn were an unexpected treat when WC started hanging around the Intermountain West. And WC still cannot resist photographing them when there’s an opportunity. Here are a few shots from this year. Because you can never have too many photos of Turbo Speed Goats. Remember, they are not antelopes, and are only distantly related to…

That Would Be Balaenoptera musculus


In response to WC’s earlier post on Humpback Whales, a reader asked, “What’s the biggest whale you’ve photographed.?” The would be Balaenoptera musculus, the Blue Whale, the biggest animal known to have lived on our planet.  In the North Atlantic and North Pacific, blue whales can grow up to about 90 feet and weigh over…

Muskrat Love


WC isn’t talking about Willis Alan Ramsey’s odious song, although WC will really have to do a blog post about Ramsey some day, and his (in)famous second album. “Muskrat Love,” originally “Muskrat Candlelight,” was covered by a lot of folks but made a hit by The Captain and Tensile back in 1976. Ars non disputanden…

Megaptera novaeangliae


“Megaptera” is Latin for “big-winged” and “novaeangliae” means “New England.” The name is nearly nonsensical. Whales don’t have “wings,” although these do have the largest pectoral fins of all cetaceans, and while they may or may not have first been seen in New England, in fact the species’ fourteen diverse population segments (“DPS”) are scattered around…

An Appreciation of Killdeer


Because they are so common, WC thinks that Killdeer are under-appreciated. A handsome member of the plover genus Charadius, the Latin root that gives us “charade,” they are an adaptable, ubiquitous, noisy and even entertaining bird species. The species name is vociferus, another Latin root meaning “clamorous or noisy.” Sometimes around the clock. The “charade”…

A Parula Puzzle


The systematics of Northern and Tropical Parulas, small, brightly colored wood-warblers, have a long, twisted history. Presently, ornithologists treat the two Parulas as a part of the genus Setophaga, along with some 32 other species. Formerly, they had a genus of their own. The Northern Parula breeds across the eastern United States, as far north…

Another BUCIP: Wild Horses in the West


It’s been a while since WC wrote about a BUCIP – a Big, Ugly, Complicated and Intractable Problem. The typical BUCIP is complicated, with multiple sides, entrenched stakeholders and packed with emotional positions. The problem of wild horses in the West is a classic BUCIP. Wild horses1 are an introduced species, not native to North…

The Alvord “Desert”


It’s not a desert, although the area only gets about seven inches of precipitation a year, on average. It’s a playa, the dry bed of a former lake, and it’s about 8 miles wide and 70 miles long. The surface of the dry lake bottom is absolutely, unnervingly flat, and bare of any visible trace…

The Rio Frio Bat Cave


WC suspects some readers are getting tired of birds. So today WC will switch to mammals. Specifically flying mammals: Mexican Free-tailed Bats. The cave itself is an unprepossessing hole in the ground, about 20 feet wide and perhaps six feet tall. It’s home to 10-12 million Mexican Free-tailed Bats, as well as a colony of…

Earth Day 2022


The late Dave Carter wrote “The Gentle Arms of Eden” more than 20 years ago. Carter died much too young, in 2002, just 49 years old, in the arms of his partner and collaborator, Tracy Grammer. Grammer and Jim Henry live-streamed a memorial concert featuring Carter’s songs recently, and closed the two hour set with…

Yup, a Fisherian Runaway


The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!  Darwin, C. (3 April 1860). “Darwin Project letter 2743”. Letter to Asa Gray. When WC was taught about evolution in high school biology, back in the late Pliocene, the focus was exclusively on natural selection. That’s likely because the other important…

Meet the Pigtails


Pig-tailed Macaques, that is. This is the dominant male, who walks with a swagger that makes his gonads swing back and forth, banging the inside of his legs. Ma Pigtail may be looking sweet, but she’s a Bad Girl, as you will see in a moment. Quicker than you can say “Pig-tailed Macaque,” Ma Pigtail…

Why Is This Gator Smiling?


Alligators have been around a really, really long time. Fossils of Alligator prenalis date to the late Eocene; call it 35 million years ago. They are nearly indistinguishable from modern Alligator mississippiensis. And their reptilian ancestors, of course, trace back to the Jurassic. Humankind has been around about 300,000 years, less than a hundredth of…

Climate Change and Bird Range Expansion


Back in 2017, Emma I. Greig, Eric M. Wood and David N. Bonter co-authored a paper documenting the range expansion of bird species in response to human activity. They chose as their example species Anna’s Hummingbird. They showed that, in response to milder winters, increased urbanization and more supplemental food sources – hummingbird feeders – Anna’s Hummingbirds had…

Bird Populations and Statistics


Mark Twain popularized the saying in Chapters from My Autobiography, published in the North American Review in 1907. “Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.’”1 Twain’s…

Field Notes: Bruneau Sand Dunes


The Bruneau Dunes – more properly, the Bruneau Dune – are an accident of geomorphology. The Bruneau Dunes are in the Snake River Canyon in south-central Idaho. It’s a stretch of the Snake River that cuts through the lake bottom sediments from the long-vanished Lake Idaho instead of the ubiquitous basalt that’s more common along…

Bergmann’s (Not Really a) Rule


Several readers asked about Bergmann’s Rule, mentioned by WC in a recent Great-horned Owl post. Bergmann’s Rule isn’t really a rule; it’s not even a principle. It’s more like a guideline. Bergmann’s Rule is an ecogeographical “rule” that states that within a broadly distributed taxonomic clade, populations and species of larger size are found in colder environments, while populations…

Idaho’s Turkeys


WC isn’t talking about Idaho’s politicians here; a comparison of Wild Turkeys to Idaho’s legislators would be an insult to the genus Meleagris everywhere. Nor is WC talking about Wild Turkey, a nearly undrinkable brand of Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co. and, by most reports, the favorite beverage of the…