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I’m so glad these taxonomy issues are being raised on a popular science Youtube series:

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The cute little red fox is quite a savage beast. It also shows us that the current fad for filming rare or relatively rare birds on nests with the use of web cameras can sometimes wind up with the ending we weren’t expecting:

 

 

The war of mesopredators and a family saga, sort of like wolves vs. grizzlies on a smaller scale:

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I caught this bass at a private pond in South Carolina a few weeks ago. It was one of several I caught on a Zebco Omega Spincast.

I am, however, going again for trout this weekend, and I have to say, I’ve caught one of those in ten years.

Every time I ask for advice on trout, I get told to get a spinning reel. I cannot use one of those reels without getting so frustrated with it that break it into many pieces.

I have to use the spincast technology. No discussion.  I am stuck using the reel that gives me the least amount of grief, because I cannot go down to the trout stream and have a wild cussing fit at a tangle every three to five casts. It’s supposed to be relaxing. It’s not supposed to be a war.

The Zebco reel I have comes with red “Cajun” line that is about 10-pound test line. That’s a bit much for trout, so I am thinking of just doing a leader on it. I’m not taking that 10-pound test off, because it’s much easier to get on a bass hole than a trout stream in this part of the world.

The odds of me catching a trout are extremely low.  The only way they could be lower is for me not to go or to throw rocks in the creek before I cast.

So I’m going down to play in the creek and dumb around with a stick and some fake worms that look like giant sperm.

Probably to catch jack again.

I wish this stream had other species in it, because then I could try for a smallmouth or a bluegill when I get bored and frustrated with salmonoids.

I am not much of a waterman or an angler. I’m a ridgerunner, landlubber sort.

So I am off again. Waste some time. Deposit a few yards to the miles of line that I can’t retrieve out of a snag, along with my hooks and sinkers,

And watch people who don’t even know that a rainbow trout is a Pacific salmon or that a brook trout is a char catch over their limit and hide from the game warden.

There is no meritocracy in fishing. It’s not like hunting deer, where you figure it out over the trips you take. I can call a white-tail right up to my feet,  But every time I got to the fish, it’s a different hell. The primitive rayfins with minuscule brains have me outsmarted.

I don’t mind hooked a nasty largemouth bass and hauling in it, but that’s not something I’d want to eat.  They come in all spikes and green rage, like some sort of water monster that you’ve roused from the depths.

The one trout I’ve caught fought beautifully and angelically, like a cherub wheeling in the water before landed it. It was a rainbow, the transplanted Pacific salmon whose ocean going form is called a steelhead. It was a native to this land as people with German last names, pale skin, and blue eyes.

But it was more native than I was, more at home in the water than I ever could be in my terrestrial existence.

So humbled by a damned fish.

Who knew?

 

 

 

 

 

This is “Mr. Ethiopian wolf,” pretty much the world’s leading expert on the species:

There is a very interesting discussion in the Q and A portion about the introgression of dog genes into Ethiopian wolves and why that’s not necessarily always a bad thing.

The current research is working toward a full genome sequence of the Ethiopian wolf, and if they are like coyotes and “Holarctic” wolves, I bet there will be some surprises in store.

 

lupullela adustus

As we have examined the genomes of various  dog species, one problem has become evident:   The genus Canis is paraphyletic. Two endemic African jackals, the side-striped and black-backed jackal, are actually more distantly related to the wolf-like canids than the African wild dog and dhole are.

One way to solve this problem would be to make the dhole and African wild dog part of Canis, but the problem with this classification remedy is that the paleontology on the dhole and African wild dog is quite hard to trace and still fairly controversial. Anything in their lineage needs to have different classification in order to keep those specimens distinct from the main wolf-like canid clade.

The other solution is to give the black-backed and side-striped jackals their own genus.  In the early part of the twentieth century, it was common to refer to these species within a genus called Lupullela. I’ve noticed that a few papers have popped up using this genus, like this one that examines which predatory species may have left the remains of quarry in a Late Pleistocene cave in Morocco.

I don’t think it will be very long before both the side-striped and black-backed jackal will be commonly referred to as Lupullela.

I won’t be complaining. Paraphyly is something I find annoying.  We are classifying nature in light of evolution, and making sure we have true clades in which animals are classified according to their common descent is important.

The classification of jackals is undergoing a sea change. The creature known as the golden jackal is two species, but the exact way to classify the two species is still hotly contested.  The African “golden jackal” is closer to the wolf and coyote than the Eurasian “golden jackal,” but we don’t have good full-genome data to place the African golden jackal properly. It could wind up that the African golden jackal is very close to the wolf, as the coyote was recently found to be, and this will make the actual classification really touchy.

But that current debate is nothing compared to the way we are starting to classify the two divergent jackals of Africa. These animals don’t get studied as much, but I would highly suspect that there are surprises hidden in their genomes. It could be that there are actually several species currently classified as black-backed and side-striped jackals, and it is also highly likely that there are hybrids among these forms as well as between the species classified currently as side-striped and black-backed jackals.

Neither jackal is endangered, but they are something different, something that is at least worthy of study.

These are sort of forgotten dogs, and their secrets are only now just coming to light.

 

Grandpa’s Bird

aududbon wild turkeyIf you were to travel the back roads along the wild border between Calhoun and Gilmer Counties and mention my name to some well-worn local, you would probably get “You mean that guy who kills all the turkeys?”

I am Scottie V. Westfall III.  Junior is my father. The elder has passed on.

I have never killed a turkey, though I’ve certainly seen the birds slinking along on gray November days, the sort of days when you hope against all hope that a white-horned stag might come slinking out of the thickets and into rifle range.   When the bipedal fantails come trudging out of the gray gloom, I’ve been sorely tempted, but I’ve held my fire.

Not in season. Let them be.

My grandpa killed 8 turkeys in one season. The limit is 2.

He saw them as the Holy Grail of wild game.  He made his own calls and spent hours scouting and “chumming” them.  “Chumming,” of course, meant the copious dropping the “yellow call” in the March woods,  and “yellow call” was cracked corn. Baiting turkeys was illegal as taking more than the yearly bag limit.

He and often argued over conservation issues, but he liked playing the scofflaw, a sort twentieth century version of the old European poacher who loved to flaunt the king’s edicts about the king’s game.

Turkey hunts in spring begin before the sun rises.  The birds start moving and then start courting once there is just enough light to see, and the big tom birds drop from their treetop roosts and go about the business of fighting and fanning before the often reluctant hens.

The trick is to hit the woods before the birds come down and begin the process of “talking turkey.”  The talk a man gives the tom bird is supposed to be that of a dopey but receptive hen that is looking for a male company but just can’t make her way toward him.

If a tom is “henned up” with plenty of female company, he’s not likely to leave them to look for the yelping idiot on a distant ridge. He’s going to be content to stay with his harem and fan and puff  up for them.

The best hunters have strategies for the birds, but the very best– the ones who shoot 8 birds in a season– use the yellow call. They risk the game warden’s fines, but if he really wants the bird, it’s a risk that some will take.

Before there was ever a turkey season, my grandpa set out a bunch of game-farmed Eastern wild turkeys in the back country. The dumb things were too tame to be sporting birds, so he took to harassing and harrying with sticks.

And they soon learned to fear man, and they thrived in the backwoods.  When their numbers were high enough, my grandpa opened his own season and shot a tom.  He was totally flaunting the North American model of wildlife conservation. He’d set out private birds on private land, and now he was opening his own private season.

I can’t say that I approve of such things. I’m more or less in love with public wildlife model that has served our game species so well. I don’t hate conservation laws, which are mostly based upon the most rigorous science available.

But a few days ago, I saw a few big toms out fanning in a pasture. The greenness of the new April grass painted a pastel promenade ground, and the bird’s iridescent feathers were shining in the April sun.

I saw in them the beauty that had so beguiled my grandfather. They drove him into the scofflaw world of sniping turkeys with a .243.  They were what led him the regular haunts in the March woods with buckets of yellow call.

“You gobble. You die,” said the vanity plate on my his Ford pickup.

And for the turkeys he took, it certainly meant death.

But in their gobbling, he truly lived. He was a wild beast of the woods as his ancestors were, hunting hard the wild game without any regard for such artificial abstractions as law and conservation science.  It is the way that our kind lived for much of our 200,000 year existence. It is a way that has brought down many species, including the passenger pigeons which used to fill the skies on warm spring days.

The pigeon died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914, more than 19 years before my grandfather was born. They died off as the wild turkey nearly did. We just couldn’t stop killing them.

The turkey was saved, though, and is doing well.  And the bag limits and seasons get more liberal every year.

I think of my grandpa when I see these birds on clear April days. I know that he would be out there questing for them, yearning for them, coaxing them, ready to harvest as a wild hunting man should.

And I can only come up short. I’m an ersatz hunter-gatherer, wet around the ears, domesticated by the post-industrial world.

Yet still seeking that essential wildness that lies in gray woods of my people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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