Good nests make good neighbors

Cliff swallow colonies are bustling communities that are quite loud and easily distinguished by their mud nest. These birds are commonly seen through the windows of your car as you pass over bridges and overpasses. Despite what you may think you see from your car window, a closer look reveals that a day in the life of a cliff swallow can be quite trying.

– Jessie Story

Cliff swallows, WTAMU, texas Wild, PBS,

A mouse that has pockets

Plains pocket mice were one of the first species of mice that I caught as a wildlife biologist. In fact, I slid head first under Ray’s running but stationary truck in an attempt to catch it. Since that time, Ray and I have found many pocket mice on our travels. This one in particular was filmed at Caprock Canyons State Park and was found a short distance from our campsite scampering around in the prairie. In this Texas Wild segment,  Ray offers some information about the plains pocket mouse that is sure to surprise you!

– Jessie Story

Plains pocket mouse, West Texas A&M, Wildlife, Texas Wild,

The most dangerous animal we face: putting things into perspective

People ask Jessie and me what animals we are most afraid of and I know the answer without a second thought.  The animal I worry most about is unpredictable, has the potential for mind-blowing aggression, and is known to attack without the slightest provocation.  I am supported in my conclusion by evidence.  A study examined 91 job-related deaths of wildlife biologists from 1937-2000 and found that accidents are clearly the most likely cause of death for wildlife biologists and these include aviation and auto accidents.  Putting this into perspective, you are more likely to be harmed or killed driving to the field than in the field.

Of these 91 deaths, only one was due to snake bite.  Remember, wildlife biologists regularly handle snakes and yet few meet their demise from snakes.  Again, for perspective, this is the same number of biologists killed by lightening.  So what animal kills the most wildlife biologists?  The simple answer is our fellow humans.  Four wildlife biologists were murdered by humans making humans 4 times more deadly than any wild animal.

Last night at 1:00 am, Jessie and I were still walking around the Park’s campground looking for critters.  One of Jessie’s favorite places to look at night is campground bathrooms.  Lights attract insects and insects are food for lots of cool creatures (and are of course cool in their own right).  This visit to the bathroom was interrupted by an obnoxious and unprovoked verbal attack by a drunk camper.  Out of respect for our readers I will not repeat his language but it was unpleasant to say the least.  Apparently, our visit to the bathroom came as some sort of affront to our fellow camper (we weren’t loud, etc.).  We were both shocked to actually realize he was yelling at us.  Especially given that 1 hour earlier, well after quiet hours, his camp was the loudest in the campground.

In the end, we told him we were sampling under a scientific permit and this seemed to either confuse or appease him and he quieted down.  We have had our share of encounters outside and most are memorable from a positive perspective.  The few negative ones standout however.  We camp regularly and hike in bear and lion country, handle venomous snakes, hike at night, and much more and do all of this without worry.  I know the reality is that these things, while more dangerous than many jobs, are not that dangerous.  Buckle up, drive safe, and keep an eye on your fellow humans.  Most of all, relax, enjoy, and be friendly to all.  If not, we might just write a blog about you!

-Ray Matlack

Welcome to the Hill Country

Bastrop state park has been through a lot lately. Ray and I were first introduced to the Park shortly after the catastrophic fire for the purpose of studying the effects of fire on small mammal populations. Since then we have visited the park regularly. Just weeks ago, the park lost its lake when the dam gave way to flood waters. During our stay this time we experienced a mild tropical storm named Bill.

Tropical storm Bill didn’t flood us out but it did dump enough rain on us to limit filming and stalled our sampling of bat species in the park. Despite the hardships Bastrop endures, it remains one of our favorite spots to visit. We find ourselves now in the hill country where winding roads have led us back to Kickapoo State Park. Before we head off to film free-tailed bats and search for barking frogs, we enjoy the view from our campsite.