The Misanthrope’s Field Guide to Noncharismatic Megafauna

by Steve, February 13th, 2015

Wildlife biologists refer to large animals that attract positive human attention for conservation efforts as “charismatic megafauna.” It’s not a scientific classification, just a way to refer to large animals that attract positive human attention. They are rarely the most important organisms in a biosphere, but they get the most human attention for better or worse. Around these parts, we have cougar, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, black bear, deer, beaver, nutria, eagles, osprey, hawks, herons, egrets, whales, sea lions and seals, among others.

But we’ve also got a ton of what I like to call “noncharismatic megafauna,” primarily great apes of the species Homo sapiens sapiens. Yes, the common human, or “house ape,” frequently accompanied by another common type of non-charismatic megafauna, Canis lupus familiaris, the domestic dog. As these non-charismatic species are often noisy, smelly and aggressive, charismatic megafauna flee before them.

Lately, I’ve encountered enough humans and their dogs to become an expert of sorts, and herewith offer my field guide to their behavior when they leave their habitat and interact with other fauna in the wild.


Humans live primarily in what they call the “built environment,” and try to limit contact with the natural environment as much as possible. This habitat consists primarily of enclosed spaces, with artificially controlled environmental conditions. Outdoor spaces are dominated by hard surfaces constructed for the purpose of moving between enclosed spaces in vehicles they construct of metal and plastic. The vehicles are fully enclosed and also feature controlled environmental conditions.

Behavior in the wild

When they leave their built environment, they take with them many tools and accessories that allow them to survive comfortably and remain connected to their built world. Males of the species tend to display these technologies as if in constant mating. (Humans do, in fact, mate year round.) Juveniles of the species tend to be especially noisy and unconcerned with their surroundings, built or natural.

Many house apes travel with captive dog companions, and this species is hyper aggressive toward wildlife and other house apes. Humans often allow the dogs to run untethered, despite signs with pictographs and human language prohibiting it. Dog feces litter the routes they have carved through the natural environment. House apes sometimes pick up feces in plastic bags, and then leave the bags along their routes. It is unclear whether this is some kind of territorial marking ritual, or if it has something to do with parasites from the feces making the humans go mad. Most “wilderness” routes are lined with small plastic bags of dog shit, which pretty much guarantees that charismatic megafauna will avoid these areas.

House apes vocalize loudly in the wild, and when, for example, encountering other humans observing charismatic megafauna, say things like: “Is it dead?” and: “Well I’ve heard they have those around here!” and: “Aren’t they really just pests?” and: “They have to trap them down in the valley on the farms, because they eat everything!” and “Do you think it’ll eat bread? Here, I have some I was going to throw at the ducks!”

House apes will feed human food to any fauna they encounter. Juveniles will often try to capture other fauna, and if that fails, try to injure or kill them with stones, sticks, or other missiles they can find.

Encountering Homo sapiens sapiens in the wild

When exploring natural areas for relaxation, education or spiritual purposes, it is almost certain you will encounter house apes who very little interest in cohabiting with native fauna or other humans. In order to avoid unpleasantness, it is advisable to step well off of trails when you hear or see them coming. Find a large tree or rock to hide behind until they pass. It is unlikely they will notice you, since they will generally be talking loudly and are typically not observant of their surroundings.

WARNING: If you are unable to avoid an encounter with a house ape in the wild, you may be subjected to tedious, inane conversation known as “smalltalk.” Males of the species will preen in the presence of others, proudly displaying branded clothing and accessories. Talking to them only encourages this behavior, so it is generally best to avoid them at all costs. Since most house apes are averse to extended physical exertion and exposure to the elements, they are best avoided in deep wilderness at least 20 miles from trail heads and roads and far from urban centers.

The Great Amphibian Relocation Project of 2013

by Steve, July 13th, 2013

Westside TrailJust steps from our door, three new segments of the Westside Regional Trail are nearing completion. The project will join existing trails to form a six mile bike and pedestrian corridor from the north side of Tigard through the Tualatin Hills Nature Park in Beaverton. Eventually the trail will continue north and south connecting western Portland metro area communities between the Tualatin River and the Willamette River.

No sense of impending doomThe new segments of the trail cross some difficult terrain, including steep hillsides with switchbacks and bridges over wetlands. Construction began in the summer of 2012, but was suspended for the wet season. At the approach to a new bridge, a large puddle formed over the winter, and in the spring we noticed tadpoles. The doomed breeding ground
By summer, the construction crews returned with their heavy machines and piles of gravel. The tadpoles had turned into Pacific Chorus Frogs, but they weren’t ready to leave their birthplace on their own. We also discovered immature salamanders, still with gills.

Since it was clear their world would soon be buried under tons of gravel and pavement, son Z and I embarked on an emergency relocation project. Still with gillsThree evenings in a row, we took nets and plastic containers to their little pond and caught as many as we could. We walked them to another wetland and set them free. We got 19 in all; 12 frogs and 7 salamanders. We think we got most of the frogs, but the salamanders were really hard to catch. On the third night, we were assisted by daughter E and Grandma L.

When we came back from a short trip to Iowa, we found that crews had resumed work on the approach to the bridge, destroying the little world as we expected. Some of the puddle remained, so we hope any remaining salamanders and frogs were able to flee.

Waiting for relocation
Arriving at their new home


by Steve, March 10th, 2013


I can’t remember not being interested in nature. When I was younger I loved hikes in the Iowa woods. At a teen I was drawn to the challenge and thrill of the high ground, be it Colorado fourteeners, then as an adult, glaciated Cascade volcanic peaks. I was always trying to get to the highest ridge or butte around, just for the view, if nothing else.

But now I find myself drawn to the lowlands in between the peaks and ridges, where the water drains and pools and the wildlife gathers. There’s just a lot more going on down there.

This wetland is on Johnson Creek, the stream that drains the north side of Cooper Mountain on it’s way to merging with Beaverton Creek near the Tualatin Hills Nature Park. Beaverton Creek flows west into Rock Creek, which feeds our valley’s namesake, the Tualatin River.

Tree Preservation Zone

by Steve, February 24th, 2013

Saving a heritage oak at a new trailhead at a neighborhood park. And in contrast…

Multnomah Falls’ younger cousin

by Steve, November 25th, 2012

Nature Church has a new sanctuary

by Steve, November 23rd, 2012

Found a new Nature Church sanctuary in the neighborhood. I’m going there all week. Peace out.

Autumn in Oregon

by Steve, November 4th, 2012

I think I still owe a Tualatin River Diaries entry for our last 2 days of paddling this year. That will have to wait. Meanwhile here are some Autumn nature pics from Z and Steve’s Church of Nature (meets every weekend at a green space near us).

Yesterday, we went to “Newt Day” at Tualatin Hills Nature park. (Sun rise is from earlier this week.)
Autumn Sunrise on Mt. Hood
Rough Skinned Newt
Forest Pimeval
Snake on fall leaf litter
Teeny-tiny slug
Fibonacci forest tunnel
Red tree

Happy Mother’s Day!

by Steve, May 13th, 2012

The mom of the house requested a morning walk, and off we went to see if the ducklings had hatched. They had!
Mothers' Day Ducklings
The bull frogs were out, too, making our backyard Chorus Frogs seem tiny by comparison.
Bull Frog
Bull Frog
The beavers, they have been busy.
Beaver Stump
Busy Beavers
They keep this up, we’re going to have to rename Nutriaville to “Beaverville” or “Beaverton” or something.

The roses never stop blooming around here.
Mothers' Day Rose
And the poppies are in full bloom.
Mothers' Day Poppy
Happy Mother’s Day to all!

Snake skeleton

by Steve, August 13th, 2011

forest throne

by Steve, April 7th, 2011

“A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fiber thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves. No wonder the hills and groves were God’s first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself.” ~John Muir

Here are several more photos from Jr’s 9th birthday nature walk.