Tuesday 31 July 2012

Encounters with wildlife in the field

There's no doubt that seeing wildlife whilst doing fieldwork is one of the most exciting, entrancing and memorable experiences for a palaeontologist. Fieldwork helps a person feel a strong connection to the landscapes they work in, and seeing the animals and plants that actually live there is a massive thrill.

This set of photographs are records of some of the encounters I've had whilst engaged in fieldwork. I make no apologies for the bias to US species, as these trips had so much wildlife it was quite astonishing, and of course novel to have so many species of large mammals, reptiles and birds of prey to observe as we travel through and work the badlands. You might notice the images from North Dakota and Montana are surprisingly green for late June, this is because of the exceptionally damp year so far. As local garage owner Jim Martin said "You can tell it's been a wet spring when the clover's high on the gumbo banks".

Sea anemone (Sagartia elegans), Isle of Wight. Found in a rock pool whilst looking for dinosaur bones.

Bighorn Sheep, Zion National Park, Utah.
We came across a herd of these whilst on the 2011 SVP field trip.
I'm not sure, but I think this might be the subspecies Ovis canadensis nelsoni, or Desert Bighorn Sheep
which occurs in the Southwestern deserts of the US (wikipedia).

Unidentified invertebrate, Hell Creek Formation, North Dakota.
This intriguing little fellow was spotted by two of the
field crew when we went to check the sites at the start of the 2010 field season. It's head end
(unless it was in permanent reverse) is towards the top and it's around 4mm long. There was some
speculation it might be an aphid of some description, I wondered if it was a caterpillar.

Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus), South Rim, Grand Canyon, Arizona. Our guide Barry called these Kanab Deer, and These might be a subspecies of Mule Deer unique to Mexico and Arizona (wikipedia) known as the Desert Mule Deer, Odocoileus hemionus eremicus, although I think their range is further south. This handsome fellow was spotted from the trail that heads east from Grand Canyon Village. There were does and fawns around too.

Common Side-Blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana), Potter's Canyon, Arizona.
This attractive lizard was not for hanging about but did pose long enough for a couple of pics.

I have to be honest, I have no idea what this is but it was found by Professor Tom Hollocher
in the badlands of the Hell Creek Formation, North Dakota.

Plains pricklypear (Opuntia polycantha). Hell Creek Formation, North Dakota. 

A young rattlesnake (unsure of the species) warns us in no uncertain terms - stay away. Montana.

Common Raven (Corvax corax), South Rim, Grand Canyon, Arizona.
These magnificent birds frequent the trails around the canyon.

Desert Striped Whipsnake (Masticophis bilineatus lieolatus). Potter's Canyon, Arizona.
This fantastic snake was spotted during an SVP field trip. A shed skin was found nearby,
and it may well have come from this animal.

I think this a Woodhouse's Toad (Bufo woodhousii), Hell Creek Formation, North Dakota. 

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), Montana. The first time I ever saw a wild galliforme in the US was
when a pair of these wonderful birds came close to our trucks when we stopped to
chat to the landowner to get the lowdown on conditions in the badlands.

Tarantula (Aphonopelma sp.), Warner Valley, Utah. This is a male possibly out on the hunt for
a female. It was small, a wonderful blue-grey and a real beauty.

Next: Tracks and traces in the desert.

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