Category Archives: Field Notes from 3RF

Wildlife biology research for 3RF (3 Rivers Foundation)

BEAVER!

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The arrow points to the area the beaver disappeared into. 

Note: This story being shared is a tad late, but that’s what happens when life transpires.

It’s not often I have a really exciting day in the field. Especially when the day starts out frustrating. But then you later realize if it were not for those frustrations then the exciting part of your day would have never occurred.

The day started with a key not working, then progressed to having a piece of equipment connected to the Gator. Those were mere irritations, but irritations nonetheless because I’m the type of person that if I have a job to do I want to get it done.

After stocking up with water, because the day was already getting hot and humid, June and I went back to the car to get the bug spray and sunscreen. Ron was mowing the main part of the campus and it took a bit to get his attention to touch base with him.

We then took off so I could check the one camera trap I recently placed in a new section. Before checking the camera, I wanted to show June the vast expanse of Good Creek in the area where Boiling Spring is supposed to be. Along the way were two white-tailed deer and one was browsing a hackberry tree.

We arrived at the Good Creek overlook site that has about a 10-foot drop. I walked up to the edge expecting to see lots of water due to the recent 5.66 inches of rain within 24 hours a few days before.

I sighed.

To my disappointment, there was no new water standing in Good Creek. I looked over towards the south bank of the creek and movement caught my eye. I lightly tapped June’s arm and pointed in the direction of the large brown loping animal. In all honesty, I truly did not know what I was looking at. My first thought was that it was a raccoon. As soon as it turned back south between a section of juniper trees – I saw the tail!

In the span of mere seconds, I grabbed her hand and squeezed it, we turned and looked at each other and yelled, “BEAVER!” By the time we looked back towards the area where the beaver went – it quickly was disappearing among the trees. Our yell probably scared off the rest of the wildlife.

BEAVER!

The adrenaline and excitement of seeing an actual LIVE beaver totally took all everything out of me like I had just climbed a 1000-foot grade in the span of a few minutes.

Why was I so excited? Here’s some insight on such wild excitement.

I’ve studied beavers presence at Matador Wildlife Management Area in Cottle County while assisting with a baseline survey for Texas Parks and Wildlife.  The first live beaver I really saw was at Rio Moro National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico in 2016. The refuge manager with us gently said in the truck – “look a beaver.” It was his first time of seeing a beaver and I took the opportunity to capture a photo. Plus, I’ve walked across several beaver dams in Montana that were so well-built that no wood moved under my feet, making you understand quickly that beavers are truly great engineers of our natural world.

While I’ve seen beaver tracks on the main property of 3RF around the Beaver Pond since I began my research study in 2015, I’ve never captured them on my cameras nor visually seen them. There might have been one time when one was caught on one of the camera traps, but I’m still not one hundred percent sure on that ID. The historical records from Foard County say the beavers disappeared long ago but given the tracks, the main beaver lodge, a secondary smaller beaver lodge, and now this sighting – beavers are still present in the county.

This was a rather large beaver, not a baby or a juvenile. Given that beaver pairs mate for life there should be another beaver around with hopefully at least four kits being born if they have not already been born. Offspring will remain with their parents until they are around two years old.

June later brought this up – if things had not gone the way they did with the office key not working, the Gator delay, and trying to get Ron’s attention – then seeing that beaver would’ve never happened. There is truth behind her statement. I need to stop next time and realize that something spectacular may be awaiting me when it comes to frustrations in life that delay me. Because if it were not for those early frustrations in that day – then we’d never seen the beaver. I’ll count this as a blessing.

Yes – my heart rate is back to normal until next time.

Historically, beavers were nearly extinct by 1900 due to the fur trade. By 1925 they were protected by Texas laws to control their harvest. Little records exist on the number of beavers transplanted in Texas or brought in from other states, but some records do exist from 1939 to 1961 that indicate there were numerous beaver transplants.

The beavers got to Foard in a unique way and I’m trying to pin down the historical story with as much accuracy as I can, because what I was originally told may not be the entire truth. Historical stories take more research. Apparently, there is a beaver dam that I’ve not seen yet that can be walked across like the dams in Montana.

Beavers build dams that create ponds that in turn contribute to the stabilization of water tables and help reduce rapid runoff from rain. Dams also help reduce soil erosion. These ponds create a habitat beneficial to many plants and animals and contribute to a diversity of plant communities. Beaver ponds are excellent sites for observing wildlife behavior.

Stay tuned!

Secrets of a Feral Hog Skull

In a cleaning event at the Comanche Springs Astronomy Campus, a feral hog skull was rediscovered. I’m not sure how old the skull is, but it was in need of repair to stabilize it for future conservation education programs with the 3 Rivers Foundation.

To start the cleaning process I placed the skull in a bucket of bleach to whiten, clean off dirt, and remove the lasting bits muscle. This process took several days. After it was fully cleaned it was allowed to dry thoroughly.

 

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During this entire process, Azrael inspected nearly every move I made with the skull. She’s a rather curious shepherd.

 

I then glued the fragile bones back in place, as well as the teeth. I even went back and reglued several areas to ensure everything was set. The final touch was applying several coats of clear sealant to help preserve the skull even more. Its still a fragile skull, but the teaching opportunities will be immeasurable, especially given one of the major the secret’s the skull holds.

As I was working during the regluing stage, I wondered how could I tell if it was a boar or sow skull. It took a bit of research but I soon discovered that it was a young boar skull. The mystery was solved by the holes on the sides of the lower mandible. The tips of the terminal end of the tooth root are known as the root apex. The root apex of this skull goes to the second molar. Viola – boar! A female’s root apex only goes to under the first to third premolar.

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In researching a bit further I discovered that when they are born both sexes of feral hogs already have deciduous or milk teeth. We all know that male and female wild hogs have tusks and use them for defense. Boars have a tendency to slash and stab with their tusks, while sows would rather bite.

Feral pigs have a total of 44 permanent teeth. The top teeth are hollow and serve as a grinding machine for the longer lower teeth, which continue to grow throughout the animal’s life. For teaching, purposes to show this other secret of their skull I left out one of the upper teeth to illustrate the hollowness of their teeth. These teeth remain hollow except in very old pigs.

Another secret the skull shows is how small their eyes are. Eye sockets of feral hogs are very small which gives them poor vision.

Some other interesting scientific facts about feral hogs you might now know:

  • Early Spanish explorers were the best bets for introducing hogs in Texas over 300 years ago.
  • Feral hogs are unprotected, exotic, non-game animals. They can be hunted all year long, with no bag limits and taken by any method, as long as it’s not your car. A hunting license and landowner permission are needed.
  • Feral hogs travel in family groups called sounders, comprised normally of two sows and their young.
  • Feral hogs are omnivorous. Meaning they do eat both meat and plants.
  • Feral hogs can carry a lot of potential diseases and include pseudorabies, swine brucellosis, tuberculosis, bubonic plague, tularemia, hog cholera, foot and mouth disease, and anthrax. Scary, huh?
  • Capable of producing at least two litters per year.
  • Current estimated population in Texas is about 1.5 million feral hogs.
  • Pigs don’t sweat.

 

 

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Here is a good photo showing a “sounder.”