Stumping the Science Chimp
Julie Zickefoose's blog, you'll know that she's been doing a lot of animal track sleuthing lately around our snow-covered farm. I call Zick Science Chimp because she's got an insatiably hungry mind for natural history information. She is also blessed with a near-photographic memory, so once facts and info check into her brain, they don't check out. Her brain is like a Hotel California for nature knowledge.
Being both smart AND inquisitive, she sometimes pushes herself to the limits of conjecture in search of an answer to a nature riddle. Such was the case about 10 days ago when she shared with me her discovery of an unusual dark trail she'd found in the snow.
You have to realize that our 80 acres had loads and loads of creatures on it--many of which we rarely or never see. But we know they are here because of the clues they leave us in the form of tracks in snow or mud. Zick will drop onto all fours in a second, hand sweeping air toward her nose, to catch a whiff of a pile of unfamiliar scat. "Coyote!" she'll declare as she stands back up.
Jules e-mailed me the images she'd taken of a strange dark trail that paralleled the sidewalk for about 10 feet from our garage to our house. "Weird Pee Trail" was the subject line of her e-mail.
Science Chimp has found bobcat scat, coyote dens, mink tracks, turkey dust baths, woodcock nests, and weasel tracks on our place. She's also able to ID birds' nests in the winter, when the leaves are gone and the nests stand out in the bare trees. She is an expert at identifying the former owner of single feathers--something I never seem able to do. She'll hold up a brownish-gray feather with white splotches on it. "Mourning dove?" I'll ask. "Nope! Barred owl flank feather!" After a few such failed guesses I usually challenge her to a game of whiffle-ball home-run derby.
"I can't figure out WHAT would leave such a dark trail in the snow?" she wrote. "Maybe an opossum that was sick?"
I laughed quietly to myself. "Hmmm," I said. "It's a rare day when the Science Chimp gets stumped! Let's review the data!"
Bill of the Birds: "The trail is from just outside the garage door and it parallels the sidewalk, right?"
JZ/Science Chimp: "Right"
BOTB: "And it looks like it is some sort of liquid, correct?"
BOTB: "And it came out in a line, like it was released while the animal was moving?"
JZ/SC: "That's what I was thinking..."
BOTB: "And this was NOT there yesterday, so it must've happened last night?"
JZ/SC: "Definitely NOT there yesterday afternoon!"
BOTB: "From your photos it looks coffee-colored. Maybe lightened a bit by, say, half-and-half."
JZ/SC: [expletives deleted]
BOTB: "Well, the Science Chimp has struck again! That dark mysterious trail WAS made by a walking mammal. That's my leftover coffee. I poured it out of my travel mug as I walked from the garage to the house last night."
JZ/SC: [more expletives deleted]
Every now and then, we Science Chumps need to keep the Science Chimps of the world honest. It's our solemn duty.