Hemet California in early winter
This will be a micro report from a mini-trip, mainly of interest to people who were enticed to chase kangaroo rats near Hemet, California after reading 2017 reports from Venkat Sankar and Jon Hall. My wife and I gave talks at the San Diego Zoo on Nov. 29 and extended our trip a couple nights to visit Crown Road and Thomas Road, for Stephens’ Kangaroo Rat and Dulzura Kangaroo Rat, respectively. Venkat had predicted that we might be skunked by cold at this season, but with temperatures above 10C (50F) both nights I think a nearly fully moon might be the main reason we saw no rats, just one Black-Tailed Jackrabbit each night. Lack of persistence, due to being 3 hours out of synch with east coast time, may have played a role too. Fortunately, during the intervening day we had nice views of California Ground Squirrels at Lake Hemet (USFS picnic ground) and California Chipmunks and Western Gray Squirrels at Idyllwild. We also found a great AirBnB spot, Casa Puesta del Sol, just across the highway from the access to Crown Road that we would strongly recommend.
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I suspect something other than full moon or cold is to blame for the lack of kangaroo rat sightings. My hypothesis is because vegetation (so seeds/grains, the primary food source for k-rats) was so prolific this year, kangaroo rats finished much of their foraging by mid-summer and have reduced their activity to near zero this late in the year. If there isn’t much to gain in food by leaving their burrows and a lot to lose (predation risk), it makes sense that activity of the k-rats would be low.
On Nov 29, I spent 2 hours spotlighting in the Panoche and Vallecitos Valleys is San Benito County, an area where I normally have no problem finding 20+ kangaroo rats of multiple species, year-round. I saw ZERO. By way of reference, I saw 200+ k-rats of 3 species in this same area in late May and Jon Hall saw 20+ in October. Temperature was in the low 50s so not too cold, it was a quarter moon, and the wind wasn’t very strong either, so all the factors we usually blame on low mammal sightings were not issues. I suspect my previous sightings in late Nov-Dec of k-rats in Panoche were likely phenomena related to drought years, when vegetation was more sparse and thus required k-rats to forage more frequently, year-round.