Sunday, January 21, 2007

Dr. Vector's field adventures

Hi folks, just some highlights from the Big Bend trip.

We spent most of our time looking for microfossils: teeth, scales, and scutes from fish, turtles, crocs, and dinos. The photo above shows (clockwise from left): my Swiss Army knife for scale, a little croc scute, a big gar scale, two halves of a dromaeosaur tooth that I found about a foot apart, and a big dead millipede. We found bleached-white millipedes and land snail shells all over the place.

We also did some big bone paleontology. Here I am jacketing a ceratopsian femur with Vanessa Meredith from Cal State Stanislaus. Everyone else on the crew was a current or former CSS person. Dr. Julia Sankey was in charge of the expedition. I was just along as a shovel jockey. It was a great vacation--hard on the body but great for the soul.

I spent a day with Bill and Mary Clark collecting desert ants. Bill is the director and curator of invertebrates at the Orma J. Smith Museum of Natural History in Caldwell, Idaho, and he's been surveying Big Bend ants for about seven years now. He is full of knowledge, generosity, and dry humor. Although I only got to spend a few days hanging out with him, he is one of my favorite human beings. I really hope I can go back to Big Bend next January, and if I do I hope to spend some more time chasing ants.

Now, for Darren's sake, some tetrapods.

These turkeys were always hanging around the campground. I don't know if people feed them or what, but they have very little fear of humans. You could walk up pretty close to them. If you got closer than 15 or 20 feet, they'd walk away until that invisible perimeter was reestablished, but they wouldn't flee. I'm sure they would have fled if we'd run at them waving our arms and screaming, but there's no reason to act like an asshole to a couple of agreeable critters who doubtless spend a lot more time in that campground than we do. We approached out of curiosity and admiration, not because we wanted to harrass some birds.

I spend the entire time wanting to see some javelinas, little peccaries (Tayassuidae) that are very common in Big Bend. We heard them rooting around at night and found their tracks and scat by day. Most everyone else on the crew saw a group (pack? peck?) of them down by the campground, but I think I was up at the ranchhouse cooking dinner at the time. I was getting a little desperate, but driving back from the quarry on the last day we surprised a big peck of paccaries crossing the road. Like idiots, we all bailed out of the van and ran into the bush trying to get photos of these diminutive but impressively beweaponed critters. We emerged unscathed, with photos ranging from completely incomprehensible to what I can only describe as "medium Bigfoot".

On the way back to California the next day, I got to kill some time in the Hip-O taxidermy shop in Alpine, Texas. I picked up a nice javelina skull on the cheap, and it will be gracing my wall very shortly. I'll put up some pictures as soon as I put up the skull; the photo above is stolen from Skulls Unlimited, which is currently having a sale on peccary skulls. You can see from the photo why pissing off a javelina is not smart: they have very large, very sharp canines, and they will use them. A gory warning poster at a Big Bend campground showed a domestic dog that had had one of its limbs ripped off by a javelina. Leash laws are there for a reason, folks.

Well, this post is threatening to become more about peccaries than about the desert (not that there's anything inherently wrong with that, I just have other things I want to do), so I'll wind it up with two last photos. The first one shows our breakfast and dinner table out behind the ranchhouse at Castolon. The cliffs in the distance are in Mexico; the Rio Grande flows at their base.

The last photo is my favorite from the trip. Gotta get back there.

Many thanks to Richard Peltier and Vanessa Meredith for sharing photos.

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Blogger Darren Naish said...

Look at the photo at the top of the post. You are Australia Man.

2:11 AM  
Blogger Dr. Vector said...

Hot DAMN! That is, hands down, the greatest thing anyone has ever said about me. Good spot.

Photos don't lie, folks. My awesomeness is unavoidable.

2:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man, at first I thought that millipede was a heteromorph ammonite! So geeky...


7:53 PM  

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