Category Archives: General Outdoors

Outdoor and nature news from all over.

Rule Five Field-Dressing Whales Friday

On my last foray in Japan, I was able to partake in one of the Sendai area’s culinary specialties – whale.  Now I didn’t have to harvest and process the whale myself, and while eating whale was on my Japan bucket list, I have no interest in obtaining whale meat for myself.

However, I have had occasion over the last forty-odd years to field-dress a bunch of big-game critters, from javelina and antelope to elk.  It’s a messy process.  So, imagine doing the same with a whale.  Ugh.  Excerpt:

“First, we opened the whale to expose the lungs, intestines, and liver,” (marine biologist Aymara) Zegers explains. Fluids gushed from the incisions, forced out by the immense weight of overlying flesh. The team sampled the fluids, as well as tissues and stomach contents. “These can help determine the possible cause of death, for example as a result of heavy metals or microplastics or red tide organisms,” says Zegers.

The team also took skin for DNA testing and examined the whale’s ovaries. Although the ovaries were small, another indication that the whale was not yet fully mature, she was starting to ovulate—a sign that the young whale was moving into her reproductive phase and therefore of generally good health.

Now, with the necropsy complete, the defleshing team can get to work. Whale strandings are unpredictable events that cannot be programmed into schedules or budgets. Most of the workers are friends of the museum crew, volunteering time and muscle to this stinkiest of tasks in exchange for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The museum does not have access to flensing knives, the best tools for the job, so instead the volunteers use cheap kitchen knives that Zegers purchased on her way out of town.

The goal over the coming days is to remove as much of the flesh as possible. Then they will carve the skeleton into parcels of manageable size for transport to the museum. Some bones, such as the jawbones, parts of the skull, and the ribs, will separate from one another naturally. Other sections, such as the vertebrae, will be cut up by hand.

Have a read, examine the photos and video, and imagine that.  Now bear in mind that this is a reasonably fresh carcass; imagine one that has been fermenting a while, which I suppose cetacean biologists probably also have to deal with from time to time.  I imagine “ew” just doesn’t quite cover it.

I sure don’t envy these folks.

Now the whale I ate in Japan (OK, I didn’t eat the whole thing) was caught and processed by a “research” vessel that had, I feel certain, powered hoists, power tools and experienced staff.  Also the whales taken by Japanese fisheries are minkes, which are unlike blue whales in being smaller and much, much more plentiful.  I wouldn’t be have eaten blue whale; my personal preference is to eschew endangered species.  Minkes aren’t.  They are basically the cows of the sea.

But no matter what tools you have to hand, this is a huge, bloody job.  I admire the dedication of these cetacean biologists who undertook this enormous task.  My Stetson’s off to them.

Animal’s Daily Tree Chicken News

Thanks once again to The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

Invasive iguanas have been a problem in South Florida for some time, and for some time I’ve been offering a solution to the problem:  Tell the local rednecks that they are good to eat.  Such solution, with a few variations, seems to be in the works.  Excerpt:

While many people view South Florida’s invasive iguana population as an annoyance at best and a pandemic at worst, Ishmeal Asson sees something else: lunch.

The Fort Lauderdale resident and native Trinidadian considers eating iguanas to be a way of life. Growing up, Asson learned to roast the island critters at roadside and backyard gatherings. Iguana is a staple in the Caribbean, where the reptiles are a native species and are known as “pollo de los árboles,” or chicken of the trees. Their meat contains more protein than chicken, and members of some cultures believe it has medicinal properties.

In South Florida, Asson is hardly alone in his taste for cooked iguana. He has more than a dozen friends who eat the animal, and they frequently hunt them using nets, snares and traps. “We are having a cookout this weekend,” he said earlier this week.

Asson said he and his friends use a traditional method of preparing iguana. “First, we cut off the head, then roast [the body] on the fire. You have to roast it with the skin on because it’s easier to take the skin off once it’s roasted,” he said. “Then, we cut it up into pieces and season it with a lot of fresh produce like chives and onions. I love to season it with curry and hot pepper, too. It tastes like chicken.”

As someone who has eaten iguanas his entire life, Asson still finds humor in eating the prehistoric-looking reptiles. “I prefer to eat it with the skin on,” he said, “because then I know what I’m eating. It kind of gives you a sense of humor, like, ‘This is iguana,’ you know?”

I’d try it.  I’ve eaten all sorts of critters in my day, from raccoon to opossum to rattlesnake to javelina, and dozens of others; iguana would just be one more, and there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t be tasty, properly prepared.   Iguanas are plant eaters, the ones I’ve seen in the wild in places like Puerto Rico (where they are also an invasive species) look big, meaty and healthy.

Since these are an invasive species, and since no license is required to hunt or trap them and there are no bag limits, maybe a trip to Florida with a really good .22 rifle is in order.  Any True Believers down that way who might be able to direct me to a good hunting ground?

Rule Five Off-Road Friday

Here are a couple of tidbits from Ford, the automaker of choice here at the Casa de Animal; first, the 2020 Bronco is finally getting a tease, and the 2019 Ranger is on its way.  Excerpt (Bronco):

When Ford first announced in 2017 that it was bringing the famous 4×4 SUV back, it only confirmed the name. The image reveals the Bronco to have a boxy, upright shape, a short-ish wheelbase, and minimal overhangs. We do know that it’ll challenge the all-conquering Jeep Wrangler and that it’s based on the 2019 Ranger.

The return of this proud old name is exciting – we still recall with great fondness our two Broncos, a ’74 and a ’92.  The first, the Green Machine, was a great truck – manual everything, sheet metal and vinyl interior, and it would damn near go up and down trees.  The second, the Dark Horse (black Bronco, Dark Horse, you get the idea) was bigger, more comfortable, and had an automatic transmission and transfer case, was damn near as capable off-road and much more suited for highway travel; the Dark Horse took us on outdoor adventures from Wyoming to the Mexican border, from Utah to the Mississippi.

But, as Ford informs us, the new Bronco will be based on that new Ranger, and that’s the subject of a little concern, at least to yr. obdt.:

It’s a real truck. The Ranger sits on a fully boxed, high-strength steel frame with six cross members. Suspension components of note include a double A-arm front suspension and monotube front dampers. Traditional leaf springs and shock absorbers help control a solid rear axle. Power steering will be electronically-assisted.

This Ranger gets frame-mounted steel bumpers with steel bash-plates and tow hooks. Two cab and bed options are available, but only one wheelbase is offered. SuperCab Rangers will have the longer of the two beds, while SuperCrew (full two door) Rangers will only get the shorter bed. Metal trim pieces over the wheel wells can be color matched or accented with a handsome magnetic grey color. The tailgate, front fenders, and hood are all aluminum, in keeping with one of the F-Series major brand identifiers. Engineers say that the Ranger has been tested to the same durability standards as the F-Series trucks.

That’s all good, but:

The only engine offered for the North American Ranger will be a 2.3-liter, direct-injected four-cylinder with a twin-scroll turbocharger. The crank and rods are forged steel. It will be mated to the 10-speed automatic with three overdrive gears co-developed with the folks at General Motors.

This isn’t an engine that will develop a lot of low-end torque.  It’s a car engine; a truck needs low-end torque.  But this is the real kicker:

The FX4 pack brings Ford’s Terrain Management system, a system first found on the ultra-capable Raptor. It has four modes: Normal, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, and Sand. Grass/gravel/snow simply numbs throttle response. Mud/ruts carries with it the throttle numbing, while also throwing the drivetrain into 4-Hi for truck stuff. Sand activates 4-Hi, tells the transmission to grab the lowest gear possible, and relaxes the traction control to allow some wheel slip.

In addition to the Terrain Management tech, a system Ford calls Trail Control will debut on Rangers outfitted with the FX4 Off-Road package. Think of this as cruise-control blended with a hill-descent control system. Trail Control will allow the driver to set and maintain a low vehicle speed (1-20 mph) while traveling through less-than perfect trails on the way to the next adventure.

Here’s my concern:  All these electronic gewgaws are not desirable, for two reasons:

  1. They allow the driver to get into touchy situations without first requiring the driver to develop any real knowledge of their vehicle’s capabilities, and without necessarily developing any real off-road skills.
  2. All that high-tech stuff will break, and it will break at the worst possible moment – say, when you’re up in the back end of Firebox Park south of Eagle, ten miles from the county road.

I’m not sure why someone can’t build a simple, tough utility with a manual transmission, manual hubs, crank windows, and a small-block V-8.  My first Bronco, the Green Machine, was great because of its light weight, short wheelbase, 302ci V-8 and manual everything.  It was simple, easy to clean, easy to maintain, and tough, tough, tough.  Build a truck like that today, sell it for around twenty grand, and I bet you’d have people lined up to buy them.

In the meantime, I’ll keep my Rojito for woods-bumming.  It’s a tad underpowered, but the 1999 Ranger was still available with damn near manual everything, and that’s the way I like it.  I’ll probably go look at the new Broncs when they come out, but I’m prepared to be disappointed.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

The common Western coyote is a tough, fast, smart adaptable little wolf.  They are ubiquitous over most of North America now, not excluding our major cities.  In Los Angeles, there’s a study ongoing to determine just what the the little urban wolves live on.  It’s no surprise that the answer is “a little bit of everything.”  Excerpt:

Shoes with rubber soles may seem unsavory, but preliminary results show that urban coyotes gulp them down, along with western cottontail rabbits, birds, avocados, oranges, peaches, candy wrappers, fast-food cartons and an occasional cat.

“Cats seem to make up only about 8% of a local urban coyote’s diet,” said Martinez, 27, a graduate student at Cal State Fullerton.

Another surprise: Remarkably few of the coyotes had eaten roof rats, a ubiquitous rodent that can weigh up to a pound. The researchers theorize that may be because roof rats are fast, superb climbers.

Determining whether a coyote had feasted on dogs — Chihuahuas, for example — is beyond the scope of the study, researchers said. That’s because it would be extremely difficult to differentiate the DNA of the predator from that of another member of the canid family.

The defining characteristic of the decomposed grayish-brown gunk in a coyote tummy, however, is its stench, which lab visitors have described as “shocking,” “disgusting” and “fetid.”

Quinn, who says her lab work keeps her “elbow deep in coyote carcasses,” put it this way: “It’s a sickly sweet smell — like the worst candy you ever had in your life. No joke. But Danielle is a trouper, and I’m used to it.”

Coyotes are successful precisely because of their adaptability, especially the ease with which they make a meal out of almost anything.  Our own ancestors did much the same; the human digestive system is pretty much a biological garbage disposal, making us very adaptable omnivores.  Way back in our history there were cousins to the human line, the paranthropines, who were obligate herbivores, specialized to live on rough vegetation.

In order to determine how well that worked out, take not of how many members of genus Paranthropus are around today.

I kind of like coyotes.  I enjoy hearing them sing on mountain evenings, and I like seeing them skulking along at a respectful distance when I’m hunting – mountain coyotes have long since learned that human hunters often leave behind gut piles, which is like candy to prairie wolves.  They can cause some problems with pet owners and so on (which can be forestalled by keeping your cat in the damn house) but all in all, I like having them around.

Animal’s Daily Big Cougar News

Thanks to The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

As for today’s headline:  No, dammit, it’s not what you think.

Biologists in Washington State have tagged a 197-pound tom cougar.  By way of comparison, the average such cat runs around 150 pounds.  Excerpt:

Washington state wildlife biologists have caught and tagged a 197-pound cougar. CBS affiliate KREM reports that the biologists tagged the massive cat on Monday north of Chewelah.

State carnivore research scientist Brian Kertson called the cat a “monster.” He said it’s so muscular that the first tranquilizer dart he shot at it popped out as the cat flexed.

Kertson says it’s the largest cougar caught in Washington state, as far as he knows.

Bart George, a wildlife biologist for the Kalispel Tribe, said the cougar was eating mostly elk.

It was captured as part of a predator/prey study.

Kertson has captured 20 cougars and collared 16 since December 2016.

On average, tom cougars weigh between 150 and 155 pounds.

That’s a damn big mountain cat.

Some years back, on a sunny late August afternoon, I was mooching around in the country around Hardscrabble Mountain in Eagle County, Colorado, supposedly scouting for that year’s deer and elk seasons but mostly just woods-loafing.  Right at the top of a 500-foot talus slope, a came across a big splash of dried blood and a bunch of elk hair.

I noticed some more elk hair on down the slope, so carefully, following the bits of elk hair and blood splashes, I followed the trail on down that talus slope.  At the bottom, I found a cow elk, dead, partially eaten and covered with pine needles.  “Cool,” I thought, “I found a mountain lion kill!  Before long he’ll be coming back to eat again…”

Then it hit me.  “…before long, he’ll be coming back to eat again…”

Now most of the big mountain cats are pretty shy and will avoid humans at all hazard, but the odd one won’t.  As usual when I’m out woods-bumming I had a .45-caliber friend holstered at my side, but I’d rather not ruin the day of a mountain lion who is, after all, just being a mountain lion, so I backed carefully away and did my best old Army Eleven-Bravo sneak out of the area.

I didn’t see that cat that day.  I’ve seen a few lions here and there in my Colorado mountain adventures, but never one as big as that Washington cat.  And maybe that’s just as well; I don’t know as I’d want to meet a cat that big, at least not face-to-face, up close and personal.  I’d just as soon he went his way and I go mine.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove for the Rule Five links!

On this Saturday just past, my own dear Mrs. Animal and I moved from our temporary lodgings in Kinshicho over to the western Tokyo suburb of Akishima, where this job of work begins.  Yesterday we traveled to the mountain town of Takao, named for the mountain at the foot of which it resides.  It’s a beautiful area, and a great place to spend a beautiful Sunday.  Photography follows.  Enjoy!

Click for photos!

Animal’s Daily Monterey Bay News

Happy New Year, True Believers!  And for the first time this year (and certainly not the last) our thanks to Pirate’s Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links.

On New Year’s Eve, with the California project three weeks from ending, Mrs. Animal went for a drive down the coast to the environs of Monterey Bay, which is a gorgeous area.  We did some walking, enjoying the clean sea air and watching such critters as pelicans, seals and cormorants.  Photos follow.  Enjoy! Click for more!

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

California, where I have spent these last few months (in a somewhat restive manner) undoubtedly holds the title of the looniest of the several states.  And the primary stronghold of that lunacy, San Francisco, lies just to the north of here.  But to the south, in Santa Cruz County, there is a lot of pretty country and some great hiking trails.  Yesterday I spent the morning wandering in those hills, mostly for my own amusement but also to share the impressive countryside with all you True Believers.  Photos follow.

Continue reading Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

In a bit of news from around the Arctic Circle, a film crew caught some footage of another starving polar bear.  Excerpt:

This year, biologist Paul Nicklen published a video online of an emaciated polar bear on Baffin Island rummaging through trash cans, looking for food. The polar bear was likely at death’s door when Nicklen captured the footage in late summer.
Nicklen, who founded the environmental group Sea Legacy, said he wanted to highlight the future polar bears face because of global warming. It worked, and the video has gone viral, sparking media coverage about a polar bear that’s a victim of a warming world.

“We stood there crying—filming with tears rolling down our cheeks,” Nicklen said, National Geographic reported.

“When scientists say bears are going extinct, I want people to realize what it looks like. Bears are going to starve to death,” said Nicklen. “This is what a starving bear looks like.”

Yes, bears are going to starve to death.  Mountain lions are going to starve to death.  Wolves are going to starve to death.  It is a sad but inevitable fact in the lives of large predators that some of them never quite get the hang of surviving.  The death rate of young bears in many environments is appalling.

But that’s nature for you.

There are a number of questions that I’d like to have answered that might shed a little more light on the whole thing:

  1. Assuming the bear did die, and it does indeed look inevitable from the film, did anyone do a necropsy on the animal to discover if it was injured, infested with parasites, or diseased?
  2. How old was the bear?  Young bears, especially young males, are frequently injured by larger, older bears as they seek their own territories.
  3. Were any other emaciated bears observed in the area?  If the environmental conditions were the root cause of this bear’s condition, then other bears in the area would be suffering as well.
  4. Where, exactly, was the bear?  Near a human habitation?  Polar bears are creatures of the coast and pack ice, but one hanging out near human habitations may (again) be a young one still learning how to survive, and maybe doing poorly.

In other words, there are just too many possible explanations to just go off and go “RRHHHEEEEE!  Global climate change!  We must cripple our economy now!”  Large predators almost never die peaceful deaths.  They are killed in fights with other predators, they are injured trying to take down a prey animal, they die of disease or by accident, or they just plain starve.  It’s a damned tough world out there, and in the Arctic, it’s several quantum levels tougher.

Blaming this on climate change is some Olympic-level jumping to a conclusion.