Toad in the Hole

July 02, 2005

Yuba Pass, Mammals and All

Iím going to tell about our Yuba Pass trip in no particular order.

We camped at the National Forest campground thatís right on Route 49 at Yuba Pass. Itís been pretty crappy (literally Ė they donít pump out the outhouses often enough) since its management has been privatized, taken over by some management company whose name Iíve flushed. And itís more expensive. It would have been $18.00 a night except for the technicality that it wasnít open yet. That meant we could camp there legally, but there were no "services" Ė the water was turned off at the bibbs; there was no dumpster; the can wasnít pumped outÖ Oh wait; that wasnít any worse than usual. And there was no charge posted (I inferred the fee from the campgrounds that were open along the road) and no payment envelopes. We carry a water jug and can pack out our trash easily enough, so no problem.

There were still stray snowpiles in the shade, but the weather was balmy enough. We set up camp and took a stroll around the meadow by the campground. The elephantís-heads werenít blooming yet; the willows were barely leafing out; there were shooting-stars and blue camas blooming. Dusky flycatchers sneered at each other ("Dweeb! Dweeb!") and yellow-rumped warblers, mountain chickadees, and juncoes darted around.

Across 49, thereís a hard dirt road flanked by a wet meadow and pine-red fir woods. Absurdly red and rococo snowplants were just emerging under the trees. It was too early for rein orchids, but there were some little delphiniums. More warblers, chickadees, and juncoes, an evening grosbeak, and a pair of Cassinís finches (a bird that shows you youíre in the mountains) who were gathering nesting matter, courting, and mating. And, for a wonder, we stumbled on a pair of mountain quail, a real piece of luck. Also white-headed woodpeckers, a red-shafted flicker yelling offstage.

Next morning we headed up to the Lakes Basin, past Bassettís, and made our ritual stop at Sand Lake. This is an old beaver pond with lots of dead snags Ė drowned trees Ė and a nature trail with a boardwalk over the marshy parts. We were on the first bridge over actual running water, near the start of the trail, and I could hear something setting up an incessant clamor across the marsh in a cluster of tall silver snags. I found a hairy woodpecker doing most of the yelling, accompanied by every other bird in the neighborhood: vireos, warblers, chickadees, a very aggressive flicker.

I followed the action to its center, a snag with holes in it. Out of one hole Ė "Ha!" I said to Joe, "Thereís a squirrel with its butt hanging out of a woodpecker hole." ThenÖ "Thatís not a squirrel," from Joe as Iím figuring out that the tail is wrong. Then the whole critter emerges backward. "Weasel!" says Joe. "NoooÖ Omigod. Marten!"

Itís about housecat-sized, but skinnier; brown with black tailtip and paws and a bit of yellow under the chin. Itís obviously quite agile. Itís frustrated too, as it gnaws irritatedly at the edges of the hole, not making much evident difference in its size.

The woodpeckers keep yelling and charging at the marten, evidently making contact sometimes, as I can see its fur ruffle.

The marten puts its head back into the hole, worries around a bit, and emerges with an almost-fledged woodpecker nestling in its teeth. It makes a fast U-turn and takes the bird down out of sight in the shrubs at the treeís base. In about 30 seconds it comes back up the tree Ė still accompanied by the incessant bird chorus Ė and this time gets all the way into the hole, clearly a struggle. After a minute, it re-emerges, with another woodpecker fledgling. Down the tree again.

Another several seconds, and back up the tree, headfirst with considerable effort into the hole, back out with a third chick, and down into the shrubs.

Things slowed down almost immediately, so we figured that was the last chick, and indeed the marten didnít come back out. Gradually, the birds dispersed, except that the vireos continued the local "Down With All Nest Predators!" mood by mobbing and harassing a Stellerís jay that wandered in belatedly.

This was the first time either of us had seen a marten, and it was quite a show. Judging by the thoroughness of the raid, it was probably Mother Marten providing for her own youngsters, somewhere in the fairly heavily human-used Sand Lake area.

On the way out, we saw a yellow-bellied (Stop that; that's what they're called.) marmot scuttle across the road with a mouthful of Terebinth's pteryxia, pause on top of a boulder to scope out the people in the parking lot, and scuttle under the boulder when a woman approached waving her clearly uncomprehending infant in the marmot's general direction.

Posted at July 2, 2005 05:25 AM


Interesting! But also a little distressing that it had to be carrying off almost-fledged woodpeckers!

We went to my SIL's last night and saw Barn Owls! A pair had raised a baby on a suburban street (with no barn in sight).

I don't know why they bother with the so-silent wings when they are so noisy themselves, with non-stop squawking. I was surprised about that (we've never seen them before).

I tried to get pictures but it was just too dark.

Posted by: Rurality at July 2, 2005 02:17 PM

We had the same sort of clammor at my house a couple of weeks ago with a huge owl going after some poor bird's babies every night for about 3 nights straight. It was almost dark, so I could not get a good look at the owl, but it appeared to have a very large wing span. He perched on the same branch in one of our trees each time he devoured one of the babies. I couldn't even tell what type of bird was so distressed (I'm not that good at identifying birds yet), but she was putting up a racket and perched herself dangerously close to the owl.

Posted by: Hick at July 2, 2005 03:05 PM

Sometimes that red-in-tooth-and-claw stuff does get upsetting, even if, like me, one fancies predators. That was quite an investment those woodpeckers lost, and I have no reason to believe they don't have feelings similar to ours about it all. Of course, I tell myself that the woodpeckers are predators too... Dang, though.

Posted by: Ron at July 2, 2005 04:26 PM

Yeah you'd wish that martens would eat only starlings, house sparrows, etc.!

Posted by: Rurality at July 3, 2005 05:34 PM