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Creek Running North

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May 31, 2004

Today's photos

This guy was found a couple years back in Redwood Park in Oakland, on a day I spent hiking to take photos for a gig as editor of the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council's quarterly newsletter. It's a western whiptail, [no, it's not: see note below] probably the second most-seen lizard around these parts, but still seriously outstripped in abundance by the far more common western fence lizard.


Here are a couple more photos taken that day. I stumbled upon them looking for the first, after my pal Sean decided to use a shot of the same species on his blog. Coincidence: yesterday, while planting a bunch of, well, bunchgrasses in the undeveloped back corner of the yard, I disturbed a whiptail from his hideout beneath the live oak leaves. I guess it's Whiptail weekend.

The whiptail has more to fear than this gardener's errant shovels. Above his head, up in the branches of the oak, a pair of scrub jays is raising a brood of chicks. Subsidized by the suet I started putting out in vain hopes of attracting Nuttal's woodpeckers, the family is boisterous and nearly tame. The mom will forage at my feet as I water the new plantings. Jays eat most anything that moves. The whiptail had better be careful.

In the meantime, looking at these photos from 2000 — not really that long ago — has me wistful. It's the last time Zeke and I went to what was once his favorite park. As a pup in 1992 and thereabouts, he raced up and down the deeply shaded canyons on each visit, splashing in the muddy creeks, inhaling deeply of the redolence of each passing banana slug. I think we'll need to go again, and soon.

One day hiking deep in those woods, we met a seriously overdressed woman, tweed skirt and white sweater, hiking the trail in spike heels, with a tiny, extremely clean white toy dog on a leash. In the middle of hundreds of acres of off-leash park. She looked uncomfortable, as if she had been given extremely bad directions to her pedicurist. Zeke bounded up to the dog, tail wagging furiously, and the woman scooped up the toy and sniffed somewhat haughtily. "Oh, don't worry, Zeke's friendly," said Becky. "That may be," said the Incongruous One, "but I wish you'd keep him on a leash."

She sulked past us, and we watched, slackmouthed, as she receded into the redwood forest. Her little dog pined back at Zeke, wagging what tail it had. "Well, Zeke," I said, not remembering how far normal conversational tones carried in these woods, "I guess we know where your stick went." She flinched almost audibly.

Good times. Good times.

Note: Matthew Bettelheim points out in comments that the lizard is actually an alligator lizard. Thanks for the correx, Matthew.

Posted by Chris Clarke at May 31, 2004 11:13 AM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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I had never heard of whiptail lizards before, so i Googled them up. Most interesting thing is that they're all Lesbians. They don't need guy lizards at all.

Posted by: Phil at May 31, 2004 08:19 PM
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Weirdly, the thumbnails aren't showing up. But if I click on the blank space, the pictures do pop up.

I like the lizard hissing at the camera. But is that a tick I see?

And your story about the over-dressed woman with her tiny dog reminds me of the time my backpacking group ran into some horsepackers who'd come in for the weekend. We'd been out there a couple of weeks, with concurrent decline in hygiene and appearance. We walk around the bend, and there's this clean woman with fluffy blond hair and white shorts fly-fishing. Surreal! (She was polite and friendly, unlike the snob you met.)

Posted by: Rana at June 1, 2004 02:32 PM
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Neat pictures!! I must tell you that in November I will be traveling to the Galapagos Islands on a photo tour. I am looking forward to photographing the beautiful iguanas, tortoises', sea lions, birds, etc. Here in St. Louis my main photos are of butterflies, flowers and the animals at our beautiful zoo. Have you ever been to the Galapagos? I am looking for people who have been there to get their perspectives on the Islands. There are several people from our zoo who are there studying the various animals and the plantlife at the Darwin Research Center. I will be looking forward to talking with them as our group will be visiting the Center. This has been a dream of mine for years and now it has become a reality. I try to do my little bit for conservation- I have a butterfly garden devoid of pesticides and tolerate the wildlife in my yard- rabbits, squirrels and a groundhog (I have named her Daisy-she has been around for 10 years) that tend to do lunch on my plants.............I must tell you that I check into your site often and enjoy seeing your pics & reading your blog..............

Posted by: Dottie at June 1, 2004 04:45 PM
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Yes, that's a tick - the western fence lizard's blood actually kills the bacteria in ticks that cause Lyme disease, effectivley purifying the tick - this, however, is not a western fence lizard (aka blue belly)...

Nor, however, is it a whiptail. I believe our lizard friend depicted above is an alligator lizard, not a western whiptail. Check Stebbin's "Western Reptiles and Amphibians" if you have any questions.

I once wrestled an alligator lizard in my uncle's sandbox - they bite, I lost. You don't forget alligator lizards.

Posted by: Matthew at June 2, 2004 11:35 AM
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Thanks for the correction, Matthew! He was a feisty little guy: the photo was taken after Zeke stepped on him mid-trail.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at June 2, 2004 11:41 AM
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Hey, the pictures are working for me again! :)

Posted by: Rana at June 2, 2004 06:34 PM
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Sadly, I also would have been sniffy to a lone male encountered in the middle of the woods if I were unaccompanied as well. A small number of men don't understand that a friendly smile doesn't consititute an irrevocable invitation to take what you want. They should wear signs, but they don't.

But I have to say that I don't hike in a skirt and heels, either, so maybe I'm misreading this whole thing.

Posted by: Vicki at June 4, 2004 06:05 AM
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It should be noted that Vicki has an annoying little dog, too.

Posted by: Phil at June 4, 2004 06:07 PM
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What are you up to now, Phil? 2012?

Posted by: Chris Clarke at June 4, 2004 06:53 PM
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