adventures in nature

otters and deer and other Point Reyes fun!

Any day spent in Point Reyes National Seashore is a gift, and the fact that this land is preserved is quite a gift unto itself – and a testament to the forethought and sensibility of some of our forefathers. I am so very grateful for places like this.

On this particular day, I joined several other trackers/naturalists to do some study on the landscape. As always, we saw a lot of fun things, some real-time and some emblazoned in the stories told by the traces and tracks left on the land.

As we explored the tracks and sign along the trail on our way out to the lagoons, we encountered some of the residents for which we usually only see their sign … river otters! As I mentioned in an earlier post, any day with otters is a good day, as far as I’m concerned. Unless they’re chewing my tires or something (thankfully, this has not happened to date). Everything they do seems to be fun. Probably anthropomorphic, but c’mon! There is a fun vibe to many of their antics. Don’t deny it any of you rigid science folk!! Of which I am one, so easy now.

river otters

river otters

river otters

river otters

After a great morning of tracking and learning, the group split up – I stayed out and saw lots of brush rabbit, mice and deer sign in the maze of trails in the dune grasses as I explored. Once I made my way out onto the beach, the waves were BIG but much of the sand slate was washed clean of tracks from the last tide. Still, there were some coyote trails along the dune grass / beach interface, and a lot more brush rabbit and plover(?) sign as well. I didn’t see one skunk track the entire time – interesting, because a month ago the dunes were covered with skunk trails (see my January post here).

white-crowned sparrow tracks (?)

white-crowned sparrow tracks (?)

brush rabbit tracks

brush rabbit tracks

At one point, I ended up stalking two deer on top of a bare hilltop above the dunes. I had seen the deer an hour previous, as I wandered below under their watchful eye, and was surprised to still find them there when I inadvertently found myself by them on the hill top. As a general rule I make a hefty effort to be unseen to any wildlife that I observe or photograph. But sometimes, as with the case with deer who are somewhat accustomed to seeing people in their areas, I’ll have some respectful fun. In addition to being just really fun to attempt to get close to them, it was a revealing close-up look at how they sense threats and movement. At one point I was about 10 or 15 feet from the younger of the two deer – after stalking within 20-25 feet, they got comfortable and actually moved towards me.

young black-tailed mule deer

young black-tailed mule deer

young black-tailed mule deer

young black-tailed mule deer

“Hey, was that flannel shirt, with a human in it, laying there on the ground this whole time?”
(five minute pause and stare)
“Uhh, I guess so I don’t know – look at this yummy grass though! It hasn’t moved so let’s keep eating.”
(munch munch)

They kept browsing for a long while, and I was so close I could hear them chewing, with the backdrop of crashing waves for a bass line. Finally after a period of time the adult female laid down with her back to me, surveying the dunes below her, so I rolled down the backside of the hill (literally – a fun exit strategy!) and let them be (resisting the temptation to get closer – ooo, to touch one! someday …). Interestingly, during the whole experience they seemed most alarmed by my backpack as they approached me, which was sitting 30 feet behind me and sitting upright as I crawled on the ground. They were very curious about me and the backpack, but after a period of evaluation, from a close distance, they seemed to discount me as either a threat or anything other than a rock or leftover human gear.

I’ve also experienced that same sentiment in the past from girls at a bar, interestingly.

young black-tailed mule deer

young black-tailed mule deer

young black-tailed mule deer

young black-tailed mule deer

A great day out at Point Reyes.

Special thanks to John Brossard for facilitating a great morning – check out some of his classes at this link.

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