Monday, July 20, 2009

20 July 2009

A pale sickle clings to the bottom of a black orb. A veil of clouds shrouds the blushing horizon. It is possibly one of the quietest mornings of the summer, only the whip-poor-will sings in the distance.
It is quite dark, and my mind wanders to a similar morning ten years ago when I was startled from my concentration by two coyotes down the trail. It was clear they saw my approach and alerted everyone. The coyote's bark is one that is very different from a domestic dog. There is clearly urgency and fear in the coyote's voice.
The grasses are long, and I cannot walk in silence. And then I hear him: woof, woof. First low and quiet as if he's unsure of himself. I stop, turn on the camera and record the panic of barking to come. I can see his white chest only 30 yards or so down the trail. He's frantically trying to communicate danger to someone. After about 5 minutes he disappears in the shrubs nearby. I take the opportunity to set the camera down, point the microphone in the right direction, and pull my hood over my face to mask my white skin. He continues on and on--complaining of my presence.
His absence gives me an opportunity. I advance and force the tripod legs into the bramble. The tiniest bit of light breaks through the darkness. I can see three times as far now. As I settle in, he reappears on the trail: barking, barking, barking. But he does not see me, and he cannot smell me either. He advances, trying to ascertain where I've disappeared. Up over the ridge? No. Further still? No. Closer? Yes, but where?
His show goes on for about 40 minutes, until he finally gives up with a final two barks.

Friday, July 10, 2009

10 July 2009

The trees are alive with the celebratory song of birds. A feast! The Cardinal declares it so. Red translucent gems cling to dense undergrowth. They're all here: the catbird, waxwing, robin, flicker, blackbird, and towhee. Juvenile robins cling close to one another, and waves of blackbirds move through the grass as the wind. The time is now to take it in--as we have now passed midsummer and are on the downside of summer. Gorge yourselves now, fall will be here before you know it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

8 July 2009

The drive in is dark--the moon veiled by thick storm clouds. Something small on the side of the road hesitates to take cover, and as I approach it's identity becomes clear. It is a miniature version of a coyote: one of this year's pups. He's probably no bigger than a large house cat. At least he takes cover as my headlights get closer.
The moon's brilliance breaks through the clouds. A trio of Whip-poor-wills serenades my hike into the darkness, and the mosquitos descend by the millions. As I settle my camera and gear into the Bayberry, an Eastern Towhee and Whip-poor-will sing the moon to sleep. It is dark again.
You know that feeling you get when you know you're being watched? Well, I look to my left to see a coyote watching me. Clearly, he can't figure out what I am. He changes his position, half-heartedly sniffs the ground and stares again. It is far too dark to film anything. Perhaps this coyote followed me in on the trail--they do that being curious about people. Finally, something triggers the alarm and he runs for cover. Eh, wishing I had a night vision lens.
I wait patiently as the sun rises and the long shadows shrink. Nothing but a rabbit.
Undulating screams burst from the thick undergrowth behind me. Adult coyotes steady out the song--it's either breakfast or nap time.

Monday, July 6, 2009

6 July 2009

I am blessed with yet another cool morning. The Whip-poor-will is still singing--perhaps he enjoys this weather too. For the past three mornings there has been an almost raspy cry coming from high in the trees. It's almost hawk-like. As I work my way through the sub-climax forest I'm sure I'll see who's voice this is. A silhouette reveals an ear-less owl. He shrieks again, turns to look at me, and silently flies to another post. I continue on my way. I can only guess a Barred owl based on the size and shape--though I've never heard them cry this way. Only the 'who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?' typical inquiry.
Dew helps collect sand on my pant legs. There is no wind.
This trail has seemingly eroded over the past ten years. If something short like a coyote were to walk by, it would surely be hidden by the tall grasses lining the trail. I sit in the field anyway and hope someone will decide to use the dune across from me. A pair of chickadees work a nearby pine. Sparrows visit a clump of bayberry with pieces of grass dangling from their beaks. Surely they're finding a place to call home.
Hours pass and I decide to quit. Upon returning to the trail I find it riddled with what are certainly puppy tracks. The gait is smaller, and the foot as well. When they were here I cannot be sure--but there was rain last night which wiped the trail clean. I'm thankful that they are still here, and hope to have luck again tomorrow.

5 July 2009

I return to find the previous morning's breakfast missing. I hope that someone came back for it. As at least one of yesterday's coyotes found me out I shift position again. Further, further now down the trail. I push through some spindly small trees and one branch pushes back a little too hard. I look up to see a coyote staring me down--only for a moment--then he dissolves into the night.
I think to myself that's probably it for this morning and haven't even set up yet. Mist forms out over a distant pond. I wish to myself that it would come my way. It is cool and calm once again. Usually if I hear noises behind me I don't turn around--but stay still in hopes of not giving my location away. But today something told me to look. A branch snaps somewhere behind and down from me. I look to see a coyote pushing her way through the shrubs to come out into the open grassland. This is our collared female, and the first I've seen of her since that cold, rainy night. She is in excellent condition, and thankfully so is the collar. She does not see me so I take the opportunity to swing the camera around almost 180 degrees. There is a large shrub between us now, and I make more adjustments--exposure, focus, width of frame. I open my left eye to gauge where she'll pop out from behind the shrub, readjust frame, focus, look again and she's seen me. Too late--she's dove back into the thick cover behind me.
Two coyotes, two mornings in a row.
Two buck pick their way through the dense growth almost a mile from me. They are merely red dots, but work their way closer. But as they disappear, two does graze their way into the meadow. They are fawnless. One clearly is a yearling, the other much larger.
I wait. Song sparrow, Eastern towhee, Yellow-billed cuckoo, Great blue heron, American robin, and American goldfinch all help pass the time.
The sun is high in the sky now, and I give up my post.

4 July 2009

The rain has finally stopped, and sleeping in is gladly interrupted once more. With turtle nesting nearly done, I return to my original post. The very moment my camera and tripod are settled a ghostly figure appears on the ridge beside me. With no moon and a cloudy sky it is quite dark, but his white chest gives him away. This is the largest coyote I have seen in some time, and he is gone in a moment.
Whether he saw me or not I'm not sure. I'm nestled up to my chin in shrubbery. It is cool and humid--perfect conditions. The mosquitos have their morning meal, and I watch as the first morning light sets fire to the cottonwood across the trail.
Along comes another...but looks rather strange. I peer through the viewfinder and see that this one has his morning meal: a raccoon dangles from between his jaws. He must be eager to eat, as his pace is very fast. Trotting through the sand straight for me, he never sees me until he is five feet away. He lets out a yelp, drops his breakfast and bolts in the direction that he came from. I can see clearly that this is not an adult raccoon--but one that was born this year. Certainly no bigger than a house cat. His clear eyes look up at me. I feel guilty for interrupting coyote's breakfast--but why he gave it to me I'll never know.