Sea & Sage Audubon
Celebration of TEN Years at the SJWS
Mar. 1, 2001
Ten Favorite Mammals
Mammals in the wild
are elusive. With their acute senses of hearing, smell and sight,
they are alert to our presence long before we ever come near them.
We walk along county park trails gazing at birds with our binoculars, never
realizing that a deer stood on the path moments before us or that a raccoon
is asleep in a nearby fallen log.
One of my favorite
mammals at the SJWS is the Coyote because, unlike other mammals, evidence
of its presence abounds. Look closely and its tracks are everywhere
in the dirt and soft mud around the ponds. Its large grayish scat
(droppings) litters our trails, forcing us to take notice and step gingerly
around it. Curious visitors notice the scat is full of fur and bones
and sometimes seeds and feathers. Participants in our
summer Bat Walks are occasionally treated to coyote sounds. When
I hear a distant siren, I urge everyone to be still and listen. Soon,
the yips and howls of nearby coyotes break the silence of the marsh, the
perfect nighttime serenade!
is another mammal whose presence is known by its tracks and scat.
When the pond levels are lowered, those little hand-shaped prints are common
on the exposed mud as the raccoon searches for crayfish, frogs, fish, insects,
and fruit. One large raccoon took up residence underneath the front
porch of the Duck Club for years. One summer, we wondered what inconsiderate
person was repeatedly leaving trash scattered in front of the Duck Club.
The naturalists and I discovered the culprit as we finished a Bat Walk.
A raccoon clung to the side of the trash can, staring at us before disappearing
inside and then reappearing with a trash dinner.
Twice I have seen the
Weasel at our marsh. While leading a Childrenís Birdathon
in 1995, we noticed something very long and tan and low to the ground racing
between Ponds D and E. "Thatís not a ground squirrel," I thought.
The girls and I were so excited about the encounter that we momentarily
forgot our birding competition. Long-tailed weasels are carnivores
that hunt day and night, searching runways and burrows for mice and voles.
Santa Ana schoolchildren
love our Audubon Cottontail Rabbits. If they see a cottontail
while listening to my welcome on the school bus, I cannot compete with
their shouts of "Conejo! Rabbit!" Cottontails stick close to the
edges of the meadow behind the Duck Club. Their long ears are alert
for danger, and they are ready to dash to cover if threatened. Sometimes
at dusk the lawn appears to undulate with the movements of so many rabbit
bodies. They do a great job of mowing the grass around the buildings!
The California Ground
Squirrel is diurnal (active during daylight), and can cause damage
to the clay-lined ponds with its digging and burrowing. We need more Golden
Eagles to keep their numbers down.
The SJWS is home to
a variety of Rodents we never see such as voles, pocket mice, white-footed
mice, and non-native house mice and rats. We can guess at their presence
because a nesting Barn Owl raised SIX chicks in spring 1999. There
has to be abundant rodents on-site to feed that many hungry owl mouths!
Did you know that mice will gnaw on bones from carcasses for the calcium?
I was jealous of Irvine
Ranch Water District employees who reported seeing a large Bobcat
as they arrived for work at 6:30 a.m. I had never seen one.
Until one afternoon while passing Carlson, I noticed a very strange-looking
dog crossing the road from the marsh. It was leggy and its face appeared
pushed in and the tail was short; thatís no dog! How exciting to
know that our little marsh could be home to a bobcat. Unfortunately
and to my utter dismay, it ended up road-killed several months later.
Leaving the marsh late
one winter night, I spied a small, black and white, cat-like body gliding
ahead of me on the road. With its boldly patterned fur, the Striped
Skunk cannot be missed. It digs for insects and grubs, leaving behind
small depressions in the ground. A population of striped
skunks needs at least 640 acres, so the SJWS is unlikely to host them.
At least 2 species
of bats are found at the SJWS, the Mexican Free-tailed Bat and the
Myotis Bat. Both are small insect-eaters that are active shortly
after dusk. The Mexican Free-tailed Bat has a flight that is straight
and rapid due its long and narrow wings. It usually feeds on moths
at high elevations so we donít see it. Yuma Myotis, however, with
its shorter and broader wings, has a swift and erratic flight as it forages
low over water in search of aquatic emergent insects. SJWS has plenty
of permanent water and midges, flies and small moths, so Yuma Myotis is
almost always seen on our summer Bat Walk programs. Both species
roost on bridges (Jamboree at Upper Newport Bay) and buildings (houses
along University Drive) in addition to natural structures. Our wish list
includes installing bat houses in hopes of encouraging them to not just
"eat and run" but to live here also!
The SJWS is closed from dusk
to dawn, allowing our wild mammal residents to freely roam the sanctuary
without disturbance as they hunt prey, seek mates, and raise their
young. On a few summer nights, however, you can visit their
nocturnal territory for a glimpse of how they live. Join us
to celebrate our TEN YEARS AT SJWS; sign-up today for our ever-popular
Summer Bat Walks and our new Sunset Walks; both highlight the mammals
of the marsh.