We revisited Monte Bello this year on Friday 2/8/13, taking the new trail configuration and meeting at 4:00. KG, LJ, CR and I scouted it on 1/28. While cold, it was colder on the public hike, and CB took LJ’s place. We stopped first at a small seasonal puddle. Surprisingly, it was teeming with life. There were many brown flatworms swimming slowly, orange clam-like ostracods moving a little faster, other pond microlife, and treefrog egg clusters as well as a few small tadpoles. The water had shrunk some from our earlier visit, and there was less activity.
We passed a fresh “cowboy’s handkerchief” mushroom and an old puffball, and reached the White Oak Trail intersection at about 5:00. 11 days earlier, we had come across a pair of freshly-shed deer antlers from an old animal. Here, the biologist scouting with us demonstrates. We stashed the antlers so they would be available to show hike participants, but alas, they were gone. Five live deer were spotted along the way.
At 5:20, we turned to go downhill, and found a different kind of animal sign, a skunk carcass. A few feet from the carcass were scattered clumps of fur. Oddly, the tail had been stripped naked.
We arrived at the pond and our dinner post at 5:30, ten minutes before sunset, hoping that the frogs would start calling by 6:15-6:30. Four Hooded Mergansers floated on the water. We heard duetting Great Horned Owls, and one landed atop a tree over the pond while it was still light enough to see, along with a short bark from a Western Screech-owl.
The air temperature was about 37F; unfortunately that was too cold for the frogs to feel like calling. One or two treefrogs gave a couple of calls, but we heard no red-legged frogs. One gave some calls on the scouting hike, which was warmer at 44F. Gambusia (mosquito fish) were still present. The newts were still visible, as well as egg clusters. Along the back of the pond, a female newt hunched above a big pile of egg clusters. One of the participants saw an “albino newt”, but we didn’t see it.
We decided to head back at 7:30. Always fun, we pointed out a couple of fluorescent millipedes in the woods, and arrived back half an hour early at 8:30.
Here are more photos, and here are frogs from 1/28, with one in the foreground.
Edit: While we talked about the skunk carcass on our hike a little, contemplating what might have gotten it, I still wanted to know more. After we saw the owl at the pond, it reminded me that Great-horned Owls eat skunks (they can’t detect odors very well, unlike Turkey Vultures). The carcass was also not too far from the road. I posted the find to the bay area trackers club online group. Here are a couple of edited comments:
“…it IS roadkill season for skunks as they come out of torpor spells feeling hungry and looking to make social connections. …But the stripped condition of the tail, and it looks like other parts of the carcass though a bit unclear, is consistent with raptor kills, since they tend to pull the skin off the prey rather than eating through it like a canine or feline, and the carcass seems fairly whole, not scattered as if it had been scavenged.”–RV
But your point about roadkill is solid – it could have been stripped by crows, ravens, TVs or like.”–KH