Thursday, March 20, 2008

Animal Kingdom

I’ve encountered animals along the trail when caching, just as I’m sure everyone else has. I even have a cache named for the fauna experience that cachers might have while trying to find that particular cache. By far and away, the largest amount of animals that most people see while out on the trail has to be insects and arachnids. I remember several caches where we had to avoid bee’s nests in order to find the cache. I think bees even drove us away from one cache. Sometimes, the animals are controlled by man made circumstances, like the pond full of koi that I discovered at one virtual cache south of Fresno, California. Those encounters are surprises waiting to happen, as are most wildlife encounters.

If viewed from a safe distance, wildlife can be enjoyed by all. It’s when you surprise an animal, by accidentally coming to close to it, that problems sometimes occur. And it’s the bigger animals that that usually cause the most problems for cachers. Most reptiles and amphibians won’t pose a problem for cachers, but snakes can, particularly if they are of the venomous type. While hiking out on trail in May of last year, my friend and I encountered a nice five foot rattlesnake that was lying coiled up under a bush just off trail. When we had found the cache, we went off trail and didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary but on our return to the trail, I believe we ended up taking a slightly different route, which brought us in close proximity to the snake, who let us know we were too close right away. It’s been a while since I’ve heard a rattler’s tail go like that, and it took a split second or two to register what was going on, but we stopped, looked and saw that we had the snake in between us. We were able to make wide circles around the snake at that point and got back up to the main trail where I took a couple of pictures. It became something else to put in that memory bank for future stories of the road.

On another cache hunt, my son and I were looking for a way into an area to find a travel bug hotel that had just been placed. It was hidden down in this canyon behind some residential houses. The GPSr was teasing us, saying that the cache was only about 750 feet away, but we couldn’t find an access way down to it. Finally, after what seemed like hours of searching, we finally found a trail leading down alongside this one road that overlooked the canyon. As I stepped off the sidewalk, I realized immediately that the poison oak was going to cause major problems getting down to the cache because it appeared as an impenetrable wall of it leading across the trail. The other thing that bothered me was this rather large cat sitting in the middle of the trail. As we stared at each other, I kept thinking, this is one BIG cat, and when it turned around and disappeared into the poison oak, I realized that I’d been staring at a nice sized bobcat. Needless to say, we ended up finding a different way to that particular cache the following week, one that didn’t involve bobcats or poison oak.

One other time, a group of us had been working on a nice puzzle cache in a remote canyon and we were reveling in our triumph at the end of the cache hunt, when I looked up the trail and saw a coyote ambling down the trail toward us. I pointed it out to everyone else, and as soon as I pointed it out, something in the back of my mind was sending out warning signals. For one thing, the coyote didn’t look quite right. That little voice in the back of my head kept saying, maybe it’s not a coyote. Then, the “coyote” made a left hand turn into the brush at the side of the trail and it was then that we all realized that we’d been watching a mountain lion walk toward us. One member of our group wanted to go up and get a possible look at pawprints, but the rest of us convinced her that it would probably be prudent at that time to leave, since it was getting on toward twilight and the mountain lion was more in its element than we were in ours.

Another group of animals that I seem to encounter on a regular basis while caching are birds. I’ve seen egrets and hawks many times as they are quite abundant. Last summer, I got a rare opportunity at a virtual cache at the Grand Canyon to spot a California Condor. We’d heard from the rangers that they were out riding the thermals coming up from the canyon, so we went out and did the virtual caches on the west side of the canyon that particular morning. We were rewarded by seeing several birds hovering right along the rim, almost posing for us to take pictures. What made them particularly impressive was the fact that we were looking at a bird whose wingspan exceeded 9 feet in length. As far as wildlife concerns go, that condor was one of the main highlights of our trip last summer.

I don’t believe I’ve ever gone caching and not seen at least some kind of animal. Insects are a daily part of life and some of those smaller encounters can be things of beauty, so don’t overlook them – eh, it’s only a bee. Sometimes you can watch bees do some incredible things. And once you become more aware of all those moving little critters, you might be more in tune to spot others as well. On the caching trip where we saw the mountain lion, earlier in the day, we already spotted a Monarch butterfly and a large garter snake. That particular trip was a wildlife bonanza and it was in suburbia, not out in the wilds of a national forest. The animals are all around us. We just have to be observant and we’ll notice them.

Pictures are from the following caches:
Tower 212 I5
- by fontanabill
1 in the Rocks - by RedWilly
Curiouser and Curiouser - by Terra Girl, Bean Dog, and my faithful sherpa Max
Citadel Sink - Wupatki NM - by TerryDad2
The 12 Days of Cachemas - Day 9 - by Zombie Tribe
Peace on the Rim - by Timpat

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Hick@Heart said...

The sound of that rattle is unmistakable to me. I've come across a few of them and it is an awesome feeling to see them in the wild. This is my first summer as a cacher so I'll be sure to be careful. the Boy and I saw some insects on our last trip and we took time to watch the huge black ants and a few stink bugs. I didn't think much of it but he is still talking about the stink bugs. thanks for the perspective.

chaosmanor said...

Heh! I'm with the woman who wanted to check for paw prints :-) I'd have been right there with her: one to look at the prints and one to do look-out duty, then trade places.

We've run across a few rattlers over the years. Almost stepped on a baby one, once, on a solo hike. I've got some nice photos of that, and some of the others we've encountered. Beautiful animals, really.

I was on one short (couple of miles, at most) hike out in the Antelope Valley a year or two ago, and I saw not a single animal of any kind, except for humans way off in the distance driving on the freeway. No rabbits, no snakes, no lizards, no birds, no insects; no ants or flies, even! Really weird. The desert is full of life, if you know what to look for, and I saw some dessicated scat and such, but to not even have to swat away a fly now and then, or to not see a bird soaring in the sky, is unusual.