Critter Chat - Our New Radio Broadcast/Podcast

Critter Chat

In our new radio broadcast/podcast, hosts Susan Brandt & Marney Blair talk with experts about the amazing wild critters that live in the Sierra Nevada mountains and foothills.

Listen to the show on the first Wednesdays of every month on KVMR!

Episode 1 - Acorn Woodpeckers

Episode 2 - Sierra Newts
Broadcast on KVMR:
May 15, 2024: 6:30pm

Episode 3 - Western Bumble Bee
Broadcast on KVMR: Wednesday, June 5, 2024: 6:30pm Pacific

Episode 4 - Coyotes
Broadcast on KVMR: Wednesday, July 3, 2024: 6:30pm

KVMR broadcasts in Northern California and online at

See below for more resources relevant to each show...

closeup photography of leopard lacewing butterfly perched on fern plant

Critter Chat Hosts

Marney Blair & Susan Brandt

Marney and Susan are life-long friends having met in kindergarten and now living as neighbors in Grass Valley, California. Together their friendly banter and infectious enthusiasm for the critters among us merges facts and fun to engage the community to learn more about the wildlife in our area.

Marney Blair is a biologist and farmer. She is a leader in biodynamic composting and blind farming. She is a member of various writing and poetry groups. Marney has a degree in Biology and a Masters in Psychology from UC San Diego.

Susan Brandt is a communication specialist, grassroots organizer and founder of Rational Animal. She is a producer and host of multimedia projects and special events. Susan did her undergraduate work at UC Santa Cruz and received her Masters degree in International Communication and Development from Ohio University.

Special thanks to Cláudio Mendonca of KVMR, Lisa Bjorn and Peter Blachley. Also a big thanks to Karen Handelman for our Critter Chat theme music and Laura Brandt for our show logo design.

Episode 1: Acorn Woodpecker

Known as the "clown of the forest," the Acorn Woodpecker is an essential species in the Oak and Pine forests of  the Sierra Nevada mountains and foothills. In this show we will talk with some experts who teach us some great information about these beautiful birds.

Photo: Acorn woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus bairdi) holding a nut in its beak on the campus of California State University, Chico.  © Frank Schulenburg

Thanks to our guests on the show:

Nancy Barbachano,
a 25 year veteran of bird rehabilitation,  Nancy has rehabilitated hundreds of birds as well as teaching and advising the wider rehabilitation community. She has worked with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on an important study about the release of rehabilitated Acorn Woodpeckers and contributed to Hand-Rearing Birds edited by Rebecca S. Duerr, Laurie J. Gage.

Nathan Pieplow, teaches first-year writing and rhetoric, an upper-division writing course for engineers and science majors, and an upper-division writing course on the rhetoric of humor. Nathan has been fascinated by birds since his childhood in South Dakota, and has intensively studied bird sounds since 2003. He authored the Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds Western North America

Linda Tuttle-Adams, is a biologist and wildlife artist. She works as a wildlife rehabilitator and as an advocate for conservation of wildlife through public education. Linda is also a talented artist, creating over four hundred original watercolor paintings and an illustrated glossary for her seminal book: Baby Bird Identification, an invaluable resource for wildlife rehabilitators, those who find baby birds in their yards or recreational places, and anyone who enjoys watching or studying birds in the wild.

Our thanks to  the Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for Acorn Woodpecker sound recordings.

References & Resources:

eBird, a project of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Why Do Woodpeckers Like To Hammer On Houses? And What Can I Do About It? , The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Story of Woody Woodpecker inspiration and more. Birdnote, October 14, 2020.

Walter Koenig, University of California, Berkeley | UCB · Museum of Vertebrate Zoology Ph.D. Fungal communities associated with acorn woodpeckers and their excavations
Article Apr 2022 Michelle A. Jusino Natasha D.G. Hagemeyer Mark T Banik[...] Eric L Walters.  "Wood-decay fungi soften wood, putatively providing opportunities for woodpeckers to excavate an otherwise hard substrate..."

Episode 2: Sierra Newt

Join Marney and Susan as the get to know the Sierra and California Newt.

Photo: Adult Sierra Newts, photo by Anton Sorokin.

Thanks to journalist Emily Sohn for writing this article The Newt Normal that features some of our guests on the show.

Thanks to our guests on the show:

Lee Kats
, is a professor of biology and the Frank R. Seaver Chair in Natural Science at Pepperdine, and he has been at the forefront of the University's research efforts since he began teaching at the University in 1990. His research focuses on the areas of animal ecology, tropical ecology, and conservation biology, and for more than 30 years his students and he have studied the conservation biology of local amphibians. He also enjoys traveling as a faculty member, and he conducts research and teaches in Costa Rica and Argentina. To learn more about Kats' current research with Pepperdine students, visit the Behavioral Ecology Research Laboratory website.

Sally Gale runs Chileno Valley Ranch located in the rolling hills of Coastal Marin, where she founded the Chileno Valley Newt Brigade. Now operating for over five years, they recruit and train volunteers to shepherd thousands of newts to safety and to document those killed. Inaturalist is the app they recommend using to upload photos and track newt activity. 
See the New York Times article about them here.

Anton Sorokin is a wildlife biologist and photographer based in California. Here are some articles and research he gave us with some important newt news:

References and Resources

Newt Snake Evolutionary Arms Race in Bay Nature 

Report on newt road mortality along Lexington Reservoir in Santa Clara county

Secrets of the Oak Woodlands Plants & Animals Among California's Oaks, Kate Marianchild, Heyday Books, 2014.

The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada, John Muir Laws, California Academy of Sciences, Heyday Books, 2007.

Western Bumble Bees 

Join Marney and Susan as the get to know bumblebees and the Western Bumble Bee. 

Photo: Western Bumble Bee, Jeremy Gatten, US Fish & Wildlife

Thanks to our guests on the show:

Helen Loffland, a Meadow Bird Specialist, she received her B.S. in Wildlife Biology from the University of California Davis, and her M.S. in Biology from California State University Sacramento. She has spent the last 20 years studying Willow Flycatchers and other meadow birds, raptors, carnivores, insects, plants, and fish, primarily in the Sierra Nevada.
Kristen Hein Strohm, programs director, Wolf Creek Community Alliance, is a wildlife biologist with 25 years of professional experience in field biology, habitat restoration, education, and watershed planning, including leading development of the community-based Bear River Watershed Restoration Plan, of which Wolf Creek restoration is a part. 

Steve Reynolds, a bee lover since childhood, a short time spent as an adult keeping honeybees. Currently mostly interested in native bees.

Special Thanks to Peter Blachley for the use of his song and recording, "Soho Sunday Morning" from the album Nevada Sky, featuring David Mansfield, mandolin.

References and Resources

The Great Sunflower Project 

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

California Bumble Bee Atlas

California Native Plant Society - Redbud Chapter

Field Guide to the Common Bees of California Including Bees of the Western United States, Gretchen LeBuhn (Author), Noel Badges Pugh (Illustrator), September 2013, First Edition.

Humblebee Bumblebee, Brian L. Griffin, Knox Cellars Publishing, 2012.


Join Marney and Susan as they explore the world of the coyote.

Photo: Coyote, Marin County, California. © Karen Handelman

Thanks to our guests on the show:

Marc Bekoff, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals, is professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a former Guggenheim fellow. He has published more than a thousand scientific and popular essays and thirty books. His latest book with Jane Goodall is entitled Kids and Animals and is freely available at this link. 
Shelly Covert is the Spokesperson for the Nevada City Rancheria Nisenan Tribe. She sits on the Tribal Council and is community outreach liaison. She is also the Executive Director of the Tribally guided, non-profit, CHIRP (the California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project), whose mission is to preserve, protect and perpetuate Nisenan Culture.

Yellowstone National Park, Sound Library

References and Resources

Social Ecology of Coyotes,
Marc Bekoff and Michael C. Wells, journal article, Scientific American, 1980.

Wild Justice, The Moral Lives of Animals, Marc Bekoff & Jessica Pierce, University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Project Coyote

Coyote America, Dan Flores, Hachette Book Group, 2016.

Upcoming Episodes: Pallid Bats

"Pallid bats are as diverse as Californians – living in various ecosystems from California’s deserts, oak woodlands, coastal redwood forests, and high up into the pine forests of the Sierra Nevada mountains." - Naomi D'Alessio

Join Marney and Susan as the get to know California's new official state bat - the Pallid bat! 

Photo: Pallid bat SOURCE: USFWS