What happens to the animals when there is a fire?

Rim Fire. Photo by Steve Ryan

Rim Fire.
Photo by Steve Ryan

You have (I hope!) seen news lately about the Rim Fire, which has been burning in Stanislaus National Forest next to Yosemite National Park. It began near the “Rim of the World” scenic viewpoint off Highway 120, and has been making Yosemite visitors and residents of Groveland quite nervous. It has burned over 200,000 acres and is reportedly 32% contained. A collection of pretty incredible photos of the fire is here.

First: no, this year’s juncos are not currently on fire. My field sites this year are in Stanislaus National Forest, but considerably further north. We have, however, seen smoke and had bits of white ash falling around us.

But of course, even if my juncos aren’t in the fire, other juncos are. And Chipping Sparrows, and American Robins, and mice, and gopher snakes… So what does wildlife do when the world starts burning around it? Are all the animals in that 200,000+ acres doomed?

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The nest that came back from the dead

This summer we have lost nests to logging, cows, and natural junco predators. None of those shocked me. A pinecone as death-dealer, however, was a surprise.

2013_NCB1When I took this picture, I thought that this nest was dead. The chick you see was completely motionless and stone cold. The pinecone—which was not supposed to be in the nest—had (we think) prevented the female from warming her chicks up, and without their mother’s warmth these very young, naked chicks quickly got too cold.

But when I took the pinecone out to count chick bodies, one of the bodies moved. My field assistant and I took the chicks—there were three, all as cold as the morning mountaintop air—in our warm hands. I still thought they were probably dead: recently dead things may twitch when disturbed.

But as the tiny bodies began to feel less chilly, they squirmed more and more.

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On the recent sparsity of posts

Hi TLB readers! First, let me apologize for the recent lack of posts, and especially for the lack of the lengthier science-y posts. I’ve been trying my best to keep up, but as I’m in the field about 4 out of every 5 days, it’s hard—and the field work has to come first.

Second, let me assure you that the state of affairs will improve in the (relatively) near future. Hang in there! Once the field work settles down I will have more time for in-depth posts on topics like color and parental care, or brood parasitism strategies.

In the mean time, I hope you don’t mind the shorter here’s-some-photos-of-birds style posts. And (because I’d hate to have a post without photos) here are some photos of junco chicks who think they can fly already—despite, you know, not entirely having feathers yet:

SSKA

SSKA

IREA

IREA

OAKK

OAKK

OAKK trying really hard

OAKK trying really hard