Thursday, February 01, 2007

Stumping the Science Chimp

Julie Sciencechimpefoose sniffing spring witch hazel.

If you are a regular reader of 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.
Strange dark trail indeed. The Science Chimp was perplexed.

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?"
JZ/SC: "Yep."
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.
To the left of the mystery trail is the discarded snow shovel, dropped when the trail was discovered. Note the dark handprints from where the Science Chimp knelt to smell the evidence.


At 1:29 PM, Blogger Jeff Gyr said...

Great post, Bill.

Sorry, Julie, I guess you get to pick up the tab on this one.

But there has to be some way of getting him back...hmm...


At 1:31 PM, Blogger Rondeau Ric said...

I think the Chump is going to pay big time for misleading the Chimp.

Well done, keep her honest BT3

At 7:08 PM, Anonymous [email protected] said...

No doubt zick got duped this time but I doubt she will never forget what coffee scat looks like!! BT3, I have a feeling you are going to pay for this one!

At 9:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You two are some WEIRD COUPLE !!

At 9:55 PM, Blogger Susan Gets Native said...

Bill, did you do that ON PURPOSE???

At 10:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trails like that in the snow in our yard on trash day when someone forgot something for the dumpster.
Caroline in SD

At 10:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just thinking is that a "star*buck" trail?
Caroline still in SD

At 10:51 PM, Anonymous Dea Lloyd said...

You two seem to have so much fun together. Thanks for a delightful post.

At 12:04 AM, Blogger halcyondays said...

That is so funny! I can just see Julie on the case only to find out it's coffee!!!! ahahahah. Good one!

At 11:52 AM, Blogger Patrick Belardo said...

Too funny!

At 2:47 PM, Blogger janet said...

Hee, hee! Congrats on stumping the Science Chimp.

As a big time spiller of coffee, I recognized it the instant I saw the photo. If youse guys come to Plum Island, you can track me by the coffee trail in the sand.

At 3:50 PM, Blogger KGMom said...

Just read your amusing post--and I am sitting here laughing out loud.
Always look on the bright side of life!

At 6:21 PM, Blogger The Swami said...

Caroline should get bonus points for her "star*buck" comment.

A fun post.

At 6:33 PM, Blogger robin andrea said...

What a funny, delightful tale.

At 7:12 PM, Blogger Mary said...

LOL! I loved this! Zick was fooled! She'll get you back, BOTB!

At 3:33 PM, Anonymous katdoc said...

Very funny story! How about starting a new game show: "Stump the Science Chimp"? Should be more interesting than "reality" TV.


At 11:08 AM, Blogger Doc said...

This post has been removed by the author.

At 11:10 AM, Blogger Doc said...


I would watch my back. I'm surprised that Julie isn't making you sleep in the garage yet...


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