Thursday, November 18, 2010

Raccoon Bones

I see a lot of dead raccoons in my travels and explorations -- in fact, after deer, they're the second-most common animal I encounter. In Ann Arbor they are especially prevalent, and not a day goes by where I don't see a raccoon or two dead on the road. They are large enough that, when they die in nature, their bodies are relatively easy to locate -- unlike squirrels and other smaller animals.

On Monday afternoon, I was exploring more of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens' property, over near Mouse Marsh. I was on the lookout for deer, and I saw a few -- but only their white tails, as they were fleeing from me. At one point, a buck started to snort, but I never caught sight of him. Toward the end of my walk, I approached a sheltered area, surrounded by short trees, and I saw a raccoon skull resting atop the leaf litter. Nearby, peeking through the fallen leaves, were the two halves of its pelvis. The natural whiteness of the skull was beautiful against the earthy brown tones, making for a wonderful scene:

November Raccoon

I sifted through the leaves and soil, and found the jaws of the animal, along with some of the front leg bones (a humerus as well as a pair of tibiae and fibulae), a scapula, a couple dozen phalanges, a few ribs, some vertebrae, and a baculum - meaning the raccoon was a male.

It's interesting to note that most of the ribs I found were damaged (broken), as was the very back of the skull, where the cranium connects to the atlas vertebra. Whether this damage was the cause of the raccoon's death (predation) or whether it was inflicted after the fact (scavenging) will probably never be known. As I mentioned earlier, the skeleton was found in a rather sheltered spot, making it both a more comfortable place for the raccoon to hide before dying, or a protected area for a predator to eat in peace. However, that is all speculation!

How long had the skeleton been there? The bones were all very clean, with not a scrap of ligament remaining, and were all relatively bleached, even the ones found beneath the leaves. However, there were no rodent gnaw-marks to be seen, which is interesting. Perhaps the raccoon died in the spring, and the hot summer months allowed for fast decomposition.

I'm finding I enjoy photographing skeletons just as much, if not more, than photographing recently-dead animals. Though bones are harder to relate to and perhaps not as "beautiful", they are far more intricate and provide for very interesting compositions. I also love to photograph these skulls and skeletons exactly as I find them: their immediate surroundings show just how much nature grows around these dead animals, and is nourished by them.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Feline "Gift"

Here's something I had not yet encountered until now: a cat gift. There are plenty of cats in our apartment complex, and while most of them, when let outside, are supervised by their owners, some are not. Just a few weeks ago, we saw a cat catch and kill a chipmunk, carry it to the concrete step, and begin to eat it -- only to see the owner come running outside, scold his cat, and bury the chipmunk's body. Of course, it wasn't the cat's fault -- cats are carnivores, and they're hard-wired to catch and kill prey.

That said, outdoor cats are a huge strain on wildlife, especially birds. I can't stress enough how it is the fault of the owners -- not the cats -- that bird populations are being impacted. Thankfully, I have yet to find any birds brought down by cats, but last week, I did find a mouse. It was missing its head and front legs, but there was no blood or gore to be seen. It was a very tiny body, so I used the macro lens to photograph it.

November Mouse

This was one animal, I'll admit, that I didn't spend very much time photographing. I was very hesitant to touch the body, as I've heard that mice can carry all sorts of nasty diseases. However, I was pleased with this particular photograph. It's larger than life-size, and it shows the softness of the fur and delicate nature of the mouse's feet.

I'm not sure of the species, so if anyone's got an idea, it'd be appreciated.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Colors of a Junco

Last night, my mother presented me with a junco she had found at her workplace; it had died after colliding with a window. She recounted how, after she had found the junco, she showed it to a family with a child, and they seemed to be very interested in seeing such a beautiful bird so close-up. By the time I received the junco, it was nearly dark outside, so I stowed it in my fridge to photograph today. It was much larger than I expected it to be -- it was about the size of a house sparrow, and certainly bigger than a chickadee. It felt strangely heavy.

October Junco I

Though its eyes were dry when it was found, the bird couldn't have been dead for long; I discovered tiny bird lice on its feathers this morning, leaving their host since it was deceased. Here is a view of a louse on the junco's breast feathers -- greatly enlarged, of course.

I'm always fascinated by bird feet. Not only do birds have very specialized feet depending on how and where they live, their scaly toes and sharp claws are such an interesting contrast to their soft, downy feathers.

October Junco III

I don't know much about juncos. They usually arrive in Ann Arbor around late-fall and stay for the winter. When I see them feeding at a birdfeeder, they're usually on the ground, eating fallen millet seeds. And as far as birds go, juncos are rather nondescript, with gray and white plumage. At least, that's what I thought...

October Junco IV

... until I took a closer look. In reality, all kinds of hues are mixed in with the junco's gray-and-white plumage: tawny browns and slate-blues, blacks and reds. It was amazing to have the chance to see such a beautiful palette of colors, and this has certainly increased my appreciation of juncos.