Mystery iNatter Stories

Around The Corner Cholla Cactus

This summer I watched a pair of curved-billed thrashers raising their brood in a beautiful, tall and healthy cholla cactus. The plant was growing in a patch of dirt between a sidewalk and a house that had two barred windows whose panes were covered by shabby curtains. This cholla was probably 8 feet tall. The thrashers built two nests there. The best one was used to raise their family. One day I discreetly showed the nests to a friend of mine. When we were standing a foot away from the plant, we saw a fledgling that was waiting for its parents to return with food. A minute later they arrived, perched on the cholla and fed the young bird as if we didn’t exist. Nobody else was around. After admiring the thrashers’ dedicated parenting skills we left the family alone and walked away. Every time I rode my bicycle by the cholla I would glance at it to find out how the family was doing but every single time I had no luck. Eventually I concluded that the birds must have flown off and didn’t use the nests anymore. The birds left but the cholla cactus decorated with those two nests stayed. It was a joy to look at it even if the birds were gone.

A couple of weeks ago I rode my bicycle next to the cholla again and I was shocked to see that that familiar armored “bird house” wasn’t there anymore. Someone neatly cut the base of the cactus and took it away! I couldn’t believe it. I was speechless. Later, I tried to rationalize that act of vandalism against Nature. I thought that the owner of that house wanted to landscape that patch of dirt with different plants. But a small cholla and prickly pear cacti were growing near where the large cholla once stood. The weird thing is that those cacti are still there and there are no signs of any landscaping work being done at the site. I know that in New Mexico folks collect the “skeletons” of cholla cactus to decorate their homes. This cholla was alive, green and protected by spines. There are a lot of large cholla cacti in my neighborhood so it’s pretty strange that, for some unknown reasons, this one was targeted. In fact, its disappearance is even more mysterious considering that, in a different street, there was a second cholla cactus that had a nest with a second fledge that was so exposed and visible from the sidewalk that anybody could have reached out and grabbed the bird if they wanted to. Well, that cactus is still standing and the nest is still there!

What’s your mystery iNatter story?

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Once I was walking in a forest, when I spotted a weird mushroom. It was growing at 1,5 meters in a tree. I wanted to take a look, so I came closer. It suddenly occured to me that what I took for a mushroom, was in fact an exposed bone fragment from a deer’s leg which was stuck between the branches of a small tree.
Possibly some predatory bird tried to lift it, and dropped it later on, but the largest predator there is Buteo buteo or Corvus corax. I’m not sure they would manage to lift a few kilograms of weight.
Of course, I took a picture of this scene, but I managed to lose it somehow.

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I have heard of hunters here in New Zealand occasionally coming across a deer or goat with a limb or head trapped in the fork of a tree - could something like that have occurred?

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Nah, the limb was stuck horizontally and there was no sign of blood or the animal itself. I attached a reconstruction made in paint:D

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Most likely was put there by another human being.

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Probably! This possibility creeped me out even more! :)

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I collect skulls when I find them. Last year I found a dead pelican, took the skull, and left it in a bucket under the house to clean later. Soon we noticed that every night the skull was removed from the bucket and moved it a few feet away. We tried to guess who the incompetent thief might be. A raccoon or coyote or dog? They should be able to carry it off entirely. Flying squirrels? Not big enough to lift it at all. Finally the skull disappeared and we couldn’t find it anywhere in the yard. A few days later I was sitting on the porch and saw a gray squirrel in an oak tree gnawing on something long. At first we thought a piece of bamboo, but then realized it was the pelican skull, about 12’ up in the tree. The squirrel eventually left it there stuck on a branch. My cell phone wouldn’t take a photo but I confirmed with binoculars that it was the pelican skull. What motivation it took to secure that prize! Sorry to “solve” the mystery for readers, but anyway it kept us diverted for days.

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“Pyramids” built out of moose bones scattered throughout Ontario’s boreal forest north of Lake Superior. Probably not a huge mystery but always spooky to come across.

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My first mystery occurred many years ago before iNat was even a glimmer in my eye. I was living in Northern Southern Ontario (trust me, it makes sense) and went to Toronto. I was walking along part of the Toronto waterfront and came across perhaps 100 or more complete, dried fish about 20cm long scattered across a small area. Some were even on top of a little hut. There was no sign of predation either pre or post mortem. I have no idea how they got there, or why. I still don’t.
The second little mystery happened this summer in Winnipeg. I came across a dead, dried Chickadee that was missing it’s head. A few weeks later, in the same area, I found a dead vole, fresh, also missing it’s head. The vole vanished later, and I never went back to check on the chickadee.

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I once had the opportunity to mistnet birds as part of an ornithological survey on Lambay, an island off the coast of Ireland. I had some nets up in a small wood, which I checked every half hour. The only birds I caught in the nets were a Wren and… a very dead, wet, headless Turnstone. The Turnstone had presumably been carried there by a Sparrowhawk which had struck the net and escaped, leaving only its partially-eaten prey. But as I recall, I never saw the Sparrowhawk. It was a bit eerie to catch a headless wader in the middle of a small wood!

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Weird! This morning I took a picture of the cholla cactus stump.Whoever cut it did a really good job, that yard looks so clean now!

iNat Cholla Stump

On my way back home I greeted my “friend” a curved-billed thrasher:

iNat Cholla C-B Thrasher

and found these pieces of prickly pear cactus on the ground in the the front yard of the house where I live. Something that I have never seen since I have been living there:

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Maybe it was an artist who created a sculpture with found objects…Did it happen only once?

Do squirrels eat meat/bones?

Yes! I have a nice, big hog skull in front of our house, which is regularly visited by the resident squirrels. Have a look here and here, and also here. I guess they get some minerals such as calcium out of it, which might be deficient in their regular diet.

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Cats usually eat head only as it’s most valuable.

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The gray squirrels at my house chew (very loudly) on pieces of turtle shell


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If that happened to an aloe in a garden here - plant thieves, who go around the corner and sell it to an unscrupulous gardener. The same gardeners who are happy to buy poached from the wild plants.

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Can that cholla develop a new root system if it is planted again somewhere else?

I am not surprised to read that. Here in Albuquerque desperate people steal anything even car manuals. When I go camping I don’t keep anything in the car that may be a temptation for a thief. I guess that’s why more people drive camper vans that don’t have windows.

Earlier on I tried to convince a squirrel to come to the side of the yard where I keep a horse skull so it could clean it but I failed.

I can’t speak for cholla. But when we moved from the first to the second garden.
I sawed off our aloes at ground level.
Left them on a shaded patio for months while our new house was, waiting, to be built.
When the lying flat aloe, leaves grew bending up to the light - I heeled them in at the rented garden.
When the new house was finally built - all that took about a year. I dug them up and they lived happily ever after.
Almost indestructible. And the stump would have sprouted if the new owners had let it.

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