Smart birds—crows, and ravens are part of the Corvid family. This group of perching birds includes blue jays, magpies, and nutcrackers.
In Old Norse and English cultures, a dark-haired person who steals is referred to as a ‘raven.’ Native Americans associated the raven with prophecy and an omen of loss.
Smart Bird Intelligence
As adaptable as the raccoon and coyote, corvids live in a variety of environments – wherever there’s a ready food source – and take full advantage of abundant opportunities that humans offer.
Omnivores – corvids will eat just about anything; insects, snails, worms, frogs, snakes, garbage, carrion, seeds, grain, berries and other fruit, fish, small turtles, crayfish, mice, and baby birds from other species.
They quickly learn how to access food sources whether it’s by opening trash cans or dropping nuts from distance.
Corvids are social animals, mating for life and living in extended family groups.
Males and females build nests together. Between 3 – 9 eggs are laid and chicks hatch after about two weeks. Older siblings help care for the young.
Family units provide education, protection, comfort, socialization, and companionship.
Photo Credit: noisytoy.net
Thought to be one of the most intelligent birds, experts say their reasoning abilities are about the same as a seven-year-old child.
Crows remember events for ten years plus, teaching new generations what they learned.
Crows and ravens work in groups to problem solve.
Corvids have developed, sophisticated language skills – differing group and family dialects.
Mobbing is when they work together to drive off predators.
Corvids enjoy playing and require lots of mental stimulation.
They notice when a member of their group has died, holding ‘funerals.’
What are the differences between crows and ravens?
.7 – 1.5 lbs
Crows make caw-caw calls.
Spend winter nights in communal roots, sometimes numbering in the thousands.
Vocalize while flying.
Photo Credit: Diliff
1.5 – 4.5 lbs
Ravens make growl-like calls.
Hides food in stashes and uses distraction to draw attention away from them.
Large throat hackle feathers.
Mostly hunts for food in pairs.
Soars without making calls.
Ladybugs are members of the Coccinellidae family. The Latin translation means ‘scarlet.’
In the US, they’re called Ladybugs. In Europe, they’re Ladybirds. Legend (or internet rumor) says in the middle ages in Europe, farmers prayed to Mother Mary to save blighted crops. Prayers must have been made in spring because Ladybugs came along to save the day. In this case, ‘Lady’ or ‘Lady’s birds’ refers to Mary Mother of Jesus. Their German name – Marienkafer, translates to Mary Beetles.
In North America, there are 450 species of Ladybugs with California hosting at least 175.
The Convergent Ladybug is native to the North and South American continents. It is easy to identify by convergent (or intersecting) white lines on the pronotum, behind the head.
Solitary for most of the year, Ladybugs like to be near water and ponds. They congregate around food sources which can occupy forests, grasslands, suburban gardens, and agricultural fields.
All Ladybug species prey on soft-bodied plant suckers such as;
They’ll also eat;
stinkbug eggs and larvae
asparagus beetle eggs and larvae
potato psyllid eggs and larvae
their own eggs and larvae
In the fall, when Ladybugs are preparing to go into diapause, adults will eat pollen to gain extra fat.
Adult ladybugs can eat nearly 50 aphids per day and 5,000 over a lifetime.
Convergent Ladybugs have a special ability to modify their development in times of food scarcity.
Ladybugs use a sense of smell (with antennae) to detect pheromones secreted by aphids and other prey. They also have good eyesight.
Macro shot of ladybug eye.
They’ve been clocked at flying up to 37 miles per hour!
Bleeding Joints, a Defense Mechanism
Like other animals with flashy coloration, this communicates poison. The Ladybug is no exception. When frightened they produce an (alkaloid) chemical that causes a yellow stain. It’s secreted from their joints and has a bitter taste and foul smell. (Larval forms secrete it from the abdominal area.)
Another type of defense is playing dead. Pulling vulnerable legs under its hard shell, a Ladybug can withstand small scale attacks.
Life Cycle and Life Span
Females generally lay between twenty to thirty eggs at one time.
They have two reproductive cycles a year, in spring and fall.
Females will lay eggs in aphid beds so larva have a ready food supply.
All life stages can be found together at the same time.
Adults live for one year. However, temperature and food sources may alter this. In cooler temperatures, adults have been observed living for up to three years.
Ladybug predators include birds and other beetles. If a Ladybug gets too close to an ant colony, they will attack. One-on-one ant and Ladybug relationships are dismissive but polite.
Insect Hibernation – Diapause
When temperatures drop, Ladybugs fly up! High above the ground, wind blows them into the hills (see Ladybug Wash-Ups in Resources below).
Aggregate site selection may be a combination of long-chain hydrocarbons left by previous winter gatherings as well as pheromone sensing. They also seem to enjoy places that receive warm sun rays.
Once temperatures drop below 55º, ladybugs stop flying. Aggregation is for warmth and mating.
Estimates of 37 million beetles have been observed in some aggregate locations.
Biological Pest Management – Invited Invasive Species
In the late 1800s farmers began experimenting with natural predators to control insect infestations. In the 1920s Southern California citrus growers imported Australian Ladybugs to combat mealybugs.
Between the 1920s and 1980s American farmers released imported Asian ladybugs in pecan, pine and soybean crops. (The native home-range for the Asian Harlequin is eastern Asia – Siberia and Russia through the Himalayas, China, and Japan. ) Now, Asian Ladybugs – Harmonia axydris, though beneficial, are considered one of the worlds most invasive beetles.
The Harlequin beetles are stronger than the native species. They compete for the same food sources. A success factor may be a single-celled parasite that lives inside them. It exists in all life stages from egg and larva to adult. It’s harmless to the Harlequin but deadly for other species especially if they eat their eggs and larvae.
Color and marking varieties of Asian Harlequin Ladybugs
Asian Harlequin beetles have a problematic habit of aggregating on or in homes. They prefer light-colored buildings and seem to like window screens.
When frightened or disturbed, Asian Harlequin’s may bite, as well as release their chemical defense.
If trapped in food, grapes, or wine they contaminate it with bitter ‘ladybug taint.’
To remove Asian Ladybugs, it’s best to wait until it’s cold and use a vacuum cleaner to suck them into a nylon stocking.
The Picidae bird family is adapted to tree life. It lives in oak and pine woodland forests. Toe arrangement is ideal for bark gripping, beaks are styled for pecking, long, sticky tongues are good for catching wood-boring insects, and skull size and orientation prevent brain impact injuries. Picidae species include; woodpeckers, the northern flicker, and sapsuckers.
This article focuses on family commonalities, then concentrates on acorn woodpecker behavior patterns.
Woodpeckers are an indicator species for healthy oak woodlands.
Woodpeckers, flickers, and sapsuckers inhabit areas with multiple oak tree varieties because each type produces a different amount of nuts per year. Acorns dropped by woodpeckers aid in tree proliferation.
Picidae feathers are mostly black and white with red highlights. Males and females can be identified by head plumage. (In the Resource section below, you’ll find bird call and feather pattern identification links.)
Spring, Summer, and Fall Diet:
wood-boring insects (*Black-backed woodpecker specializes in eating wood-boring beetles that emerge after a forest has burned.)
hoarded acorns, nuts, and insects
Predators & Food Thieves:
Drumming – proclaims territory and attracts a mate during mating season.
Usually occurs during March through June mating season.
Building prevention – light colored siding made of aluminum or vinyl
Other control methods – bird feeding stations, nest box placement, offering poles and other granary sites.
Migratory Bird Treaty Protection:
Woodpeckers are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. ”All woodpeckers are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). This law says: “No person may take (kill), harass, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such bird except as may be permitted under the terms of a valid permit…” Control methods that do not harm the bird or an active nest are allowed for most species.” -U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. (See link below).
Acorn Woodpecker – Melanerpes formicivorus
The industrious acorn woodpecker may be best known for constructing granaries. A granary, also known as a ‘mother’ or ‘pantry’ tree, is an older tree with thick bark. Borehole depth doesn’t spill sap that would spoil the nut.
A snag or telephone/power pole can also serve as a pantry.
Granaries are built by multiple generations of bird families. They require constant maintenance. As nuts dry, they shrink, causing them to loosen. A loose nut can be stolen, so acorn woodpeckers move them to smaller holes and continually check for tightness.
Gathering more nuts than is needed is known as hoarding. Hoarding is used to remain in place year-round.
A single bird can gather up to 100 nuts per day in a harvesting territory that ranges between 12-15 square miles.
Family Social Structure
Acorn woodpeckers are highly social. Family units can be as large as fifteen. Usually there are several mating pairs with the females sharing a sister relationship. Grown children or siblings remain in the group to care for young and maintain granaries.
Females use a joint nest, laying all their eggs in the same hole. (As egg laying begins, a female entering a nest with eggs already in it will destroy some before laying her own.)
Cooperative behavior (adult birds opting not to reproduce) is an usual phenomenon that has been the subject of a long-range study by UC Berkeley and Cornell University scientists.
Toyon, in the rose family, carries a name given to it by Native Americans and produces fruit related to apples. Because it ripens and turns bright red around the holidays, its common names are Christmas berry and California Holly.
Photo Credit: redit Miguel Vieira
Toyon’s scientific name, Heteromeles arbutifolia, means “different apple.”
There’s debate surrounding the plant’s association with the naming of Hollywood. [See link in resources.]
A California native, Toyon is an evergreen shrub. It grows from sea level to scrub oak zones up to 4,000 ft. elevation; it’s drought tolerant and accepts a variety of soil types— including clay.
Specially adapted to flourish after fire, Toyon root crowns store carbohydrates allowing the plant to quickly send up new sprouts.
Established shrubs, reaching 8 to 10 feet in height, have lower water requirements than young plants.
Photo Credit: John Rusk
Small white flower bunches appear in June and July.
Photo Credit: Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz
While fruit is developing, berries contain a cyanogenic glucoside, a toxic substance, that protects them from being eaten.
Photo Credit: John Rusk
As the fruit ripens, turning red, the cyanogenic glucoside moves from the pulp into the seeds.
Photo Credit: Becky Matsubara
Birds and some mammals, such as coyote and bear, eat Toyon berries in the fall.
For humans, the taste of fresh berries is bitter. It’s a good idea to spit out the seeds.
Heating berries before eating removes some of the bitterness.
HISTORIC HUMAN FRUIT CONSUMPTION
Bark and leaf tea for stomach problems and wound infections – Kumeyaay people and other Native Tribes
Leaf infusions – menstruation regulation – Costanoan people
Sun parching – Luiseno people (southern California)
Thirst quencher – Mahuna people
Wine, custard, jelly, and porridge – Spanish and American settlers
The origin of Deer Creek water begins in two places; in the 1850s and at a 6,000 ft. elevation.
1850: Water Business Birthed in the West
Placer miners needed water for rockers; hydraulic miners needed it to move mountains.
The first miner’s ditch, to which PG&E traces its tap root, was built in 1850 by The Rock Creek Water Company. Historians locate this ditch is near Coyote Hill. Constructed by Charles Marsh, William Crawford, John & Thomas Dunn, and C. Carol at a cost of $10K, the ditch was nine miles long.
After only two weeks of operation, The Rock Creek Water Company investment paid off.
Successful, and profitable, water transportation soon spread to neighboring counties— Placer, Eldorado, Amador, Calaveras, Stanislaus, and Tuolumne County.
Before water management, Deer Creek was seasonal.
An 1854 drought caused local economic hardship. Mines stopped working, miners couldn’t pay debts, and real estate values crashed.
Wooden water flume. Photo Credit: Les Nicholson
After assessing the lakes in the Yuba Watershed, water companies built systems to move water to the mines using flumes, tunnels, high-pressure pipes, siphons, and trestle bridges. Gravity and elevation worked in their favor.
The water transportation system was an engineering marvel of its time.
Early engineers and savvy businessmen realized the potential of a year-round water supply for ranching, mills, and establishing towns.
When Sawyer Decision washed-up hydraulic mining in the mid 1880s, the South Yuba Water Company, and its subsidiary, the Central California Electric Company, was poised to capitalize on a new industry—hydroelectrisity.
Photo Credit: LocoSteve
Following Deer Creek’s Water Path
“There’s very little natural water in Deer Creek,” says Les Nicholson, retired Nevada Irrigation District Hydroelectric Manager.
Burlington Ridge, the apex of the North and South Fork of Deer Creek isn’t high enough to maintain a snowpack (4,160 ft elevation).
“Most Deer Creek water is imported,” Nicholson says. “Imported water means it comes from another drainage.”
In Deer Creek’s case, that drainage is the Yuba Watershed.
Attempting to use Google Earth and Maps to delineate the watercourse from its peak is like trying to untangle spaghetti.
Nicholson generously shared his time to explain the complicated route water takes before we see it in our ditches, creeks, and rivers.
The geographical tour, in the Deer Creek Water Origins video, begins in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, north of I-80, fifty-five miles northwest of Lake Tahoe.
French Lake–elevation 6,676 ft.
Faucherie Lake–elevation 6,135 ft.
Sawmill Lake–elevation 5,869 ft.
Bowman Lake–elevation 5,600 ft.
Fuller Lake–elevation 5,344 ft.
Canyon Creek Drainage
Bowman Spaulding Canal
Spaulding Hydro Power Plant
Spaulding Lake–elevation 5,014 ft.
Hwy 20 & Bear Valley–South Yuba Canal Big Tunnel
Deer Creek Forebay–elevation 4,477 ft.
Deer Creek Hydro Power Plant
North and South Fork Deer Creek Confluence
Scotts Flat Lake–elevation 3,069 ft.
Lower Scotts Flat Reservoir–elevation 2,094 ft.
*After leaving Lower Scotts Flat Reservoir, the video tour back-tracks to Burlington Ridge, the physical headwaters of the North and South Forks of Deer Creek.
Before we ever see water in Deer Creek, most of it has rained, snowed, and been stored in NID’s Mountain Division and PG&E Lakes. It’s moved from lake to lake, going through multiple powerhouses, generating electricity. It enters Scotts Flat Lake where sailors, motor boaters, and fisherman enjoy it. Flowing into Lower Scotts Flat Reservoir, canoeists and kayakers paddle across it.
Another portion of water entering Deer Creek comes from the watershed. A watershed is an area of land that channels water to a low point, such as a stream, river, lake, or ocean. Run-off and gravity always show the direction water is flowing.
Since 1921 the Nevada Irrigation District has supplied domestic, irrigation, and domestic water for Nevada and Placer Counties. It is an independent California special district governed by an elected board.
The Ariolimax genus for the Pacific Banana Slug means “air slug.” It is a shell-less terrestrial gastropod mollusk and is the world’s second largest slug species. Its lifespan is between one to seven years.
Photo Credit: David Connell, Nevada County Camera Club
Like the Pill Bug, much of a slug’s activities focus on water retention. Banana slugs keep to damp places under logs, inside tree bark, around rocks or planters. They are active at night and after rain when slime most effectively soaks-up surrounding water.
Color changes with age, health, exposure to light, diet, genetics, and the amount of moisture in the surroundings. While some Banana Slugs have black spots, this is not a way to distinguish between the Ariolimax subclasses; Columbianus and Californicus, both varieties found in California. (To make the distinction, see ‘Subclass Penis Particulars’ below.)
A slug’s mantle, the thick part behind its head, is the location of the slug’s single lung and reproductive organs. (It’s also where a shell would go, if it had one.) A large hole on the right side opens and closes according to oxygen needs. In dry weather or heavy rain, the slug completely closes its pneumostome. When it wants lots of air, it keeps it open wide.
With the ability to move eyestalks independently, the slug survey’s the environment. The top eye tentacles sense light changes and scans for threats. The bottom set feels and smells.
Slugs, like other forest floor dwellers, break down particles and nutrients that contribute to healthy plants. They are non-picky herbivores. They’ll eat; dead plants, fungi, animal droppings, and leaves.
Photo Credit: Richard Sullivan
Mushrooms are a favorite food.
Radula – sharp-toothed tongue
To eat, slugs have sharp-toothed tongues, radula, that grind particles to a pulp.
Slime is the Banana Slug’s superpower. It’s used to travel, rappel, communicate, mate, for personal hygiene and for self-defense.
Slugs generate several different types of mucus; thick and thin. (It’s similar to human mucus in nasal, lung, and intestinal linings.)
Slime contains mucins that inflate to one-hundred times their size when exposed to moisture.
When a slug wants to move, it glides where it wants to go, utilizing external moisture to plump-up slime roads.
Slime trails, sensed by the lower tentacles, tell an encountering slug the direction the other slug is moving. It also contains pheromones that trigger mating behavior.
Anesthetic compounds in slime cause numb feelings humans experience when licking slugs (why?!) and are part of the animal’s self-defense mechanism.
The Banana Slug’s tail contains a mucus plug; it makes ‘cords’ used to rappel down steep surfaces.
Finally, a slug’s got to look good. Mucus produced near the head, washes stuck-on body debris to the tail where the slug can eat it.
Although slugs have both male and female genitalia (hermaphrodite), they prefer to mate with a partner. Forming a circle, Banana Slugs swap sperm. A few days later, eggs are laid in moist secluded places such as in a log or a hole in the ground. Banana Slugs mate and reproduce year-round.
Photo Credit: Christopher,
It takes a month or two for eggs to hatch. When young are small and haven’t fully developed slime abilities, they are most vulnerable to predation.
Apophallation may be as interesting as slime. It’s when slugs become stuck in the mating position.
One or both animals chew off their penises.
Not to worry! Next time a penis-missing slug meets another, she’ll use her female reproductive parts.
Subclass Penis Particulars:
Distinguishing between Banana Slug subclass species takes a limacologist, a zoologist specializing in slug study.
Ariolimax Columbianus has a penis that sticks out / protrudes, top (apex) is rounded and blunt Ariolimax Californicus has a penis can turn inside-out (like a vagina), top portion (apex) is equal to and can be greater in length to the basal portion. The muscle that pulls it back is shaped like a fan and is located at the penis tip.
Reptiles, birds, amphibians, fish and other mammals will prey on Banana Slugs.
When under siege, a Banana Slug contracts its muscles, making it more compact. It produces a sticky, foul-tasting. mouth numbing mucus making it a less appealing meal.
Raccoons evolved around water sources. People observing them gave them names describing their ‘washing’ behavior.
Scientific name – Procyon lotor means “before-dog washer” in Latin
Aztecs – Mapachitli – “one who takes everything in its hands”
Chinese – Orsetto lavatore “little-bear washing”
Garman – Waschbär – “wash-bear”
Italian – Araiguma – “washing-bear”
Algonquian / Powhatan Indian – Arocoun – “he scratches with his hands”
English speaking North American colonists changed Arocoun to raccoon
Hands & Masks
Raccoons explore with touch. It’s long been thought that ‘food washing’ was for cleanliness. Dipping ‘hands’ in water is called dousing; it stimulates nerve endings in the forepaws, giving the animal an improved ability to detect changes in pressure.
Raccoons don’t have thumbs but use both forepaws to manipulate objects, like hands. Their forepaws have concentrations of mechanoreceptor cells similar to primates and humans.
Since the animal is nocturnal and thought to be colorblind, it makes sense that it interprets the world through touch.
The mask, a stripe of dark fur surrounding the eyes, maximizes night vision by blocking glare.
Raccoons are omnivores; they’ll eat anything. Scientists believe that this characteristic, as with humans, contributes to their extraordinary intelligence.
A raccoon is a relentless problem solver, passing learning along to their young. As people attempt to keep them out, raccoons adapt, becoming smarter in the process.
In 1907, H.B. Davis published a raccoon intelligence study in The American Journal of Psychology. Twelve raccoons were given a series of locks to crack. He presented the test subjects with 13 puzzles to solve. Their success rate was nearly 85%.
“The learning curves for the raccoons and Kinnaman’s monkeys… seem to show a nearly equal facility in learning to undo fasten-ings.”
“Test of the raccoon’s powers of retention show that skill in undoing simple fastenings once learned remains practically undiminished…”
Breeding & Raising Young
Mating Season – January and June
Females mature and can reproduce at about one year
Two – five kits are common per litter, born in spring
Females separate from others to raise young.
Mothers teach kits by example
Kits remain with mother between 13-14 months
Raccoons in tree cavities & burroughs – keeping up to 20 den sites at one time
Full grown = up to 23 pounds
Adult male = boar
Adult female = sow
Young = kits
Lifespan = wild – 2 – 3 years, captivity 20 years
In the wild bobcats, coyotes, mountain lions, great horned owls, and red-tailed hawks pose threats.
In urban environments, infection, disease, and cars are the major causes of death
Differing Interactions with Humans
Raccoons in the wild are shy around humans, avoiding them when possible.
Urban raccoons will approach them looking for handouts.
Highly adaptable, raccoons are able to easily navigate living in urban environments. Food sources (pet and bird feeding stations and garbage day) are plentiful and they’ll den in attics and abandoned buildings. Raccoons understand traffic patterns and travel on roofs and fence tops.
In 1934 a forester released a pair of raccoons to “enrich the fauna” for hunting. In 1945, twenty-five raccoons escaped from a fur farm after an air strike. Since then, the raccoon population in Germany has grown tremendously.
German raccoon population increase
Raccoons are now considered an invasive species. A zero tolerance policy is in place. Over 10,000 raccoons are trapped and killed in Germany per year.
Japan Rascal the Raccoon anime show appeared in the 1970s. As a result, children wanted pet raccoons. At one time, over 1,500 raccoons were imported per month. When keeping them became difficult, many were released in the forest.
Today, raccoons cause hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage to ancient, irreplaceable buildings and temples. Raccoons have spread to most regions in the country. Japan prohibits raccoon imports.
To discourage denning on or near property;
• Securely close trash containers
• Don’t leave pet food outside
• Remove bird feeders
• Eliminate water sources and ornamental fish
• Cover outdoor sandboxes when not in use
• Keep brush cleared
• Eliminate access to attics, basements, and barns
Raccoon Voiding Spots and Latrines
Wilderness raccoons prefer to poo at the base of trees, on horizontal surfaces, on large rocks or in raised tree forks. Undigested seeds are often visible.
In urban areas, they’ll go on rooftops, decks, woodpiles, and in attics, haylofts, and in garages.
A raccoon latrine is a communal defecation area used by multiple raccoons.
Feces Spread Disease
Parasitic raccoon roundworm- causes neurologic damage and possible death: eggs are temperature resistant and can become airborne when dry
Leptospirosis – contact with open wounds
Above is a list of some of the infectious diseases carried by raccoon feces. They can also be spread through contact with urine, saliva, bites and scratches.
Because food sources attract a variety of animals, disease can spread. Infectious raccoons may appear healthy. When a disease moves from a raccoon to a cat, dog, or human, it can be more challenging to combat.
Prepare for cleaning by protecting your airways (mucous membranes) and skin.
• Wear disposable gloves and rubber boots (or disposable booties that cover shoes)
• Wear an N95-rated respirator (hardware store)
• Plan to burn or sterilize gear when finished
Outdoor Latrine Cleaning
• Use a shovel (or inverted bag) to collect feces and contaminated material. Bury or burn. If placing in the trash, double bag and secure to protect landfill workers
• Roundworm eggs are chemical resistant. High heat will kill them. Cover feces with boiling water or blast with a propane torch
• Use boiling water to disinfect shovel blades and deck surfaces
• Burn or boil and disinfect protective gear
• Wash hands thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Launder clothing with hot water and detergent
Indoor Latrine Cleaning
Lightly mist area with soapy water in a spray bottle to avoid stirring up dust
Collect and dispose of feces as listed above
Use a bucket of hot, soapy water and a damp sponge to wipe down the area
Rinse sponge frequently
Flush contaminated water down the toilet
Disinfect the bucket with boiling water
Burn or boil and disinfect protective gear
Wash hands thoroughly with hot, soapy water
Launder clothing with hot water and detergent
Apart from post titles, I endeavor to present Deer Creek topics objectively from multiple angles, using reliable sources. While the Center for Disease Control says, “human infections are rare,” I think a cautionary note is valuable.
As more people spread into wild areas, animals with the ability to live in urban areas join us. Our structures, pets, feeding stations and trash fulfill their hierarchy of needs. As a result, species whose paths would rarely cross are ‘meeting at the grocery store,’ creating opportunities for infectious organisms.
There are valid reasons behind the statement, “don’t feed wild animals.”
Below are several worst-case scenarios illustrating those reasons.