ERNIE COWAN Outdoors
MOUNTAIN LION, FOX APPEAR AT LATEST ADVENTURE
At first there was only sound. Through the chilly morning darkness came the yelping of a distant coyote.
Imperceptibly, the darkness began to transform into a flat gray, allowing me to see the natural world around me. In this soft light, however, vision was more imagination than reality.
The first movement was a gliding hawk, silhouetted against a brightening morning sky with spring clouds ignited by the rising red sun.
I was on one of my sit and see adventures, where I pick an interesting place to simply sit for at least an hour and observe the natural world around me. This morning, I had chosen a little canyon with a small stream running through it in the foothills east of Lake Henshaw. This is grassland, dotted with stately live oaks and filled with deer, bobcats, coyotes, hawks, and even mountain lions.
I learned about the mountain lion when I left the warmth of my truck to hike to my destination. In the darkness, my headlamp illuminated two “ reflectors” about 30 yards in front of me. What could be reflecting out here in the middle of nowhere?
Suddenly, the reflectors blinked. A Coyote? Not likely. Coyotes tend to be skittish and would have dashed off. About that time the reflectors moved and I dimly saw the full body and long tail of the mountain lion as it turned to slink off into the brush.
Maybe I should go back and sit in the truck until daylight, but I really didn’t want to miss sunrise.
I began to whistle as I decided to continue along the trail, hoping my lack of aptitude as a musician would discourage my feline friend from coming any closer. This was certainly a puckering moment, but I now know what it means to be whistling in the dark. I’ll admit, that I kept a large tree at my back until there was plenty of sunshine. Soon the flat gray of predawn gave way to shadows as the rising sun began tooutline the shapes of hills, rocks, and trees. The world was waking up.
I watched a shadow creeping across a grassy meadow as the sun climbed higher. Hard as I tried, I could not see the shadow moving, but it was, and daylight was slowlyreplacing darkness. Behind me I heard the soft, but high-pitchednotes of a flock of bushtits as they approached the tree where I was sitting. For the next few minutes I was entertained by the antics of these tiny, gregarious little birds as they hung upside down,
bounced from branch to branch and chattered in high frequency tones while looking for tiny insects. With the first rays of sunshine came the early birds, like scrub jays, towhees and a flicker, all beginning their day by communicating with their own kind while looking for food. In the distance, I watched a falcon drifting low over the grassland, without a wingbeat, in search of prey.
It was still too cold for reptiles, but as fingers of sunlight began poking through the trees, a jackrabbit approached and then moved along on whatever mission rabbits pursue at first light.
This is wild turkey country, and despite the many tell-tale tracks in the dirt, none appeared during this visit.
As the brightening sunlight allowed me to see more, I noticed plenty of deer tracks and about then I spotted the big ears of a mule deer doe on a little rise above the creek.
As deer often do, she stood motionless, scanning for danger before slowly approaching the creek for a drink. I waited for more to show up, because deer usually travel ingroups, but not today. Things were settling down. The morning flurry of activity had passed, and hot coffee and breakfast sounded good.
I was about to leave when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I slowly turned to see a gray fox approaching the creek.
This beautiful little animal was obviously a veteran, with notches in its ears from past battles, but otherwise still sporting a healthy winter coat. He didn’t drink, but slowly moved off into the brush.
Another great encounter with nature and wildlife by simply sitting quietly fora time and enjoying the world around me.
I also learned I could whistle pretty well.