Friday, December 9, 2016

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Stand with Standing Rock

I joined in solidarity with the water protectors of Standing Rock for the October 15 Day of Action. #NoDAPL Protests happened in over 300 cities. In LA alone, they had 1,500 demonstrators. #waterislife

Watch: Bernie Sanders delivers an impassioned speech against the Dakota Access Pipeline!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


As promised, my blog is back in October!

I'll use it first as an opportunity to promote the comics project I've been working on since April.

"Resurrection: The Real-Life Superpowers of Frogs and Mosses" features the astounding abilities of amphibians and bryophytes to freeze or desiccate—then return to full vigor with spring thaw or soft rains!

A sample (page 3) is below. The full eight-page tale will be published in Awesome 'Possum Volume 3. This massive work of science and nature comics (45 creators, 350 pages) is live on Kickstarter through October 21 (16 more days.) Your preorder pledges are needed to bring the tome to life!

Our team project was recently featured on the blog for Popular Science.

FROZEN and ....... ALIVE??!!! To find out what happens, become a backer for Awesome 'Possum Volume 3!

Thank you, friends and supporters.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Spadefoot dreams

As my job at Yellowstone threatens to suck the life blood out of me, and I struggle to write and draw a new story for Awesome ‘Possum Volume 3 during my off-time—this blog is on relative hiatus through the end of September. Still, I will take a moment to share this drawing of a Spadefoot toad. I completed this one BEFORE my Spadefoot sojourn at Colorado National Monument. Fanciful types may call it a premonition.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Father wolf brings a gift

I am back to Park Ranger work at Yellowstone, this time at Norris Geyser Basin, in time for the centennial of the National Park Service (1916-2016)!

On an off-day last week, I awoke at 4:15 AM, and drove my Subaru across winding roads, past towers of steam and fields of grass and sage. The roads were mostly empty (too early for even the tour buses) and the sky turned from grey to pink to blue. My destination was Slough Creek, at the edge of Lamar Valley, where my contact Rick McIntyre waited, seated upon a stool behind a spotting scope, with crowds of wolf-watchers around him. Rick is a Biological Science Technician at Yellowstone, and has been out at the break of dawn to watch wolves and record their ways, seven days a week, for the past 16 years or so. I sought Rick’s wisdom in preparation for my evening program about Survival Stories from Yellowstone, which features, among others, Wolf 755M, now the alpha male of the Wapiti Pack in Hayden Valley, who has lived through hell and back. 755M and his mate the great huntress 06 had a den of pups in 2010, in the same location now occupied by newer generations. From our perch on the ridge, we not only spoke of the legends of elder wolves, but also watched the nascent lives of young wolves—legends in the making. We watched the den of the Junction Butte Pack. We saw their alpha male trot back to the den, with a bison skull in his jaws. Found on the plain, this skull would make a fine chew toy for his pups. We later saw a family reunion; canids young and old joyfully wagged their tails. We saw bison chase wolves, and wolves chase bison. No violence occurred, but the relationship between the great herbivores and carnivores is often tense. Wildlife biologist and wolf project director Doug Smith made an appearance at the overlook as well, and joined us in watching the unfolding story of the Junction Butte Pack through the scopes. With the den in clear view, we had a rare opportunity to see the wolves grow up, one that would prompt enthusiasts to travel around the world for a glimpse through the scopes. For me, it was a trip of one-and-a-half hours in the early morning, with a weary day to follow; even though I normally arise early, this trek challenged even my circadian rhythms!

(Of course, remember that I write this blog from the standpoint of a private citizen, who coincidentally happens to also work for the National Park Service.)

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Three Toad Day

I joined my friend, Ranger Lesley McClintock, for a lucky day at Colorado National Monument. Lesley—alongside a seasonal ranger and a loyal band of volunteers—delivered and an environmental education field trip to second grade students (from an English-Spanish double immersion school), featuring hikes through the No Thoroughfare Canyon Trail, along the stream. Lesley showed her ability to interpret the science and wonder of insect life cycles and cryptobiotic soil, in both languages. In this living desert, there are the bright red flowers of claret cup cacti in bloom, and the green-and-yellow sheen of collared lizards basking in the sun. We passed a few clusters of toad eggs, and some tadpoles, along the route. A young boy pointed out to me a spider stretched horizontally on its web just over the water’s surface. After thinking it was first an insect, then an exoskeleton, I looked at it from very close up—yes, it was a spider. I congratulated the youngster on his sharp eye, then noticed more such spiders along the way.

When we arrived at the first pool, our destination, magic happened. Two Woodhouse’s toads drifted below the water’s surface, in their mating embrace. I posted myself next to them, as a sort of toad guardian. The kids were sufficiently preoccupied with the business of eating their lunches that they did not come to join me at first. Soon, a small band of boys and girls came closer, and exploded with excitement at the sight of the amphibians. The toads then swam to three feet farther away from us, where they met shade by the steep bank—presumably where they felt safer. I had to deter the excited youngsters as they attempted to poke the critters with sticks; they didn’t mean harm, but did seek a sense of agency from making the animals react. A trill noise happened at regular intervals. Following the noise, we spotted another Woodhouse’s toad perched on the rocky bank, his balloon-like vocal sac filling with each call. 

I explained to a boy, “He is singing because he is looking for a girlfriend.”

The boy asked, “Does the one in the pond already have a girlfriend?”

“Yes,” I answered.

Some of the girls were amazed to learn that the larger toad in the pair was the female. A girl asked me if the mother toad will come back to check on her eggs after she has laid them. I had to explain that in an amphibian’s world, every little egg and tadpole must fend for themselves, with no help from their parents. (I didn't go so far as to explain that eating one's sibling is common for the tadpoles of some species, including the next one we met.)

On our side of the shore, an awkward and pudgy elfin creature came shuffling along. I took a close look, and a huge and vaguely familiar pair of alien eyes stared back. It was as if the pictures I had seen in field guides and museum exhibits had suddenly sprung to life.

“It’s a spadefoot toad!” I declared, seeing this critter in real life for the first time. The amphibian was rather scared by the children who wanted to pick him up, held back by rangers. He tried to climb a crevice in the rocks, but fell, and tried to climb again.

Another spadefoot toad appeared and went swimming in the pond, and inquisitively approached the mating Woodhouse’s toads, as though unaware that he was of a different species. The spadefoot wasn’t too graceful in the water either, for their home is the earth. They are supremely adapted to the desert, spending up to a year at a time buried underground. When spring rains come, they emerge, gorge themselves on insects (a biologist observed a spadefoot eat 55% of his body weight in termites in a single night); partake in mating orgies wherein females can lay 3,000 eggs; and return to their earthen home. They can go from egg to adult toad in two weeks (or sometimes as little as nine days)--for in the desert, the water may not last. Inside the earth, they absorb water from surrounding soil. When the ground turns bone-dry, so can the toad. They can survive losing up to 60% of their body’s water and stay alive. Generally, amphibians can perform extraordinary physiological feats, as a result of their dependence on moisture, and adaptation to places where it can evaporate or freeze.

On the way back, we came upon a red-spotted toad in the stream.

Wildlife watchers at Yellowstone seek out a “three dog day,” which means observing at least one fox, coyote, and wolf on the same date. At Colorado National Monument, we had a three toad day. Considering the resourcefulness needed by amphibians of the desert, using the night time, the shadows, the puddles, the subterranean zone, sleep during drought and frenzy during rain—it’s a comparable spectacle.

I am not sure which species of Spadefoot toad we had. Lesley and I traded the camera back and forth, causing confusion over who took what picture, so we are claiming joint credit.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


I was impressed by the gibbon's athleticism and agility when pitted against a pair of young tigers--like a real-life Spider-Man. And so I captured the ape from India in my sketchbook. Stay tuned to this blog for more beasts of the field and tree.