It is late August and the seasonal clock continues to tick at Big Creek. The barn swallows that have been nesting at Whale Point are getting ready for their long trip south. The last of the babies fledged and now practice their flying with the other juveniles. Just a few days ago there was a big family meeting on the peak of the roof of the dormitory building. There was a lot of discussion about getting ready to leave, about staying together, and about letting the adults lead the way. Soon, it will be quiet again. The swallow poop, which is a wonderful fertilizer, will be all that remains of our swallow families.
But at the same time, a bunch of Rufous and Allen’s Hummingbirds have shown up, all fighting over the one feeder. They are juveniles, but they are tough fighters. They guard their feeder all day, but just before dark, everyone sits down for a last slurp of nectar before finding a safe roost for the night.
The recent heat wave and dry winds would signal that summer is still around, but the woodrats can be heard at night, arguing about how quickly winter is approaching. There is much to do to get their houses ready. The Dusky-footed Woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes) is one of three species of woodrat in
Some woodrats build their houses up in trees, but at Big Creek the houses are usually on the ground, especially under ceanothus shrubs. These houses are elaborate piles of twigs, branches and vegetation, with many secret exits for a quick escape. The woodrat has been known to allow other animals to seek shelter in their houses, such as King Snakes and frogs. But they don’t like foxes, skunks, weasels or owls. They love shiny objects and will steal anything shiny and take it for decoration for their houses. Many a visitor to Big Creek has lost their watch, shaving razor or jewelry overnight. The woodrat loves to decorate in early campsite gear.
Every year, about this time, you can find clusters of California Bay Laurel leaves on the ground. The woodrats climb the trees and chew off the tips of the branches. Then they drag them to their houses, partially chewing the leaves to release the oil. The oil fumigates the house, helping to prevent mildew and acting as a repellent to keep parasites out. Woodrats have been seen to carry German Ivy to their nests for insulation. Unfortunately, the ivy grows very quickly in the vegetation that is mixed with rat droppings. Very soon, the ivy takes over and the rat must move to another area and build a new nest. (In fact, woodrat droppings have been used as a commercial fertilizer in
Many of the houses are the work of generations and are occupied by one or more females and their babies. After they have mated, the males live in a separate nest, while the female raises the young. She can have several litters throughout the year, usually in the same nest.
Recently, scientists from
Feynner Arias and Terry Hallock