A Field Day: For A Field Biologist

This morning’s hike was as a naturalist would say, productive! I reached the trail-head while it was still dark, just before sunrise. I walked no more than a quarter mile when I heard a lovely, deep “hoo-hoot, hoo-hoot”. It was a Great Horned Owl! I could barely make out her silhouette atop an agave stalk. I knew I wasn’t going to get a good shot of her with my camera because of her distance and the lack of good lighting; but I tried. To top it off, my battery was about to die. And yes. I also had left my back up battery at home too. It happens. Not often, but it happens. After learning the battery was about to die, I decided to put the camera aside. I wanted so badly to see the owl more closely with my own eyes anyway, so I slowly made my way towards her/him and to be honest, she really did give me a chance. I should have tried for another shot with camera before she finally flew to a near by hill.

Still rather dark, I continued into the mountains when I heard a familiar noise in the brush. A lovely young mule deer with velvet antlers bolts off the trail ahead of me, bouncing his way to a comfortable distance where he stops to look at me from afar. My eyes are beginning to see more as the morning’s first light peaks over the horizon. Up a ways on the trail I realize that I am tailing a covey of quail and attempt to get a closer look with the camera. Expecting only to see Scaled Quail I notice they were accompanied by a couple of male Gambel’s Quail. Scaled Quail and Gambel’s Quail have been known to occasionally hybridize. Scaled x Gambel’s hybrids are called “Scrambles”. I have always wondered if I’d ever come across one.

The trail continues at the base of a small mountain. At the top is a very large rock ledge where I notice a Red-tailed Hawk peering from what looks like the perfect look-out point. He remains there, completely un-phased by me as I continue around the base of the mountain. Then things begin to get interesting. There is now more light peaking from the horizon. Hiking onward, I follow a trail with many gentle twists and turns as well as many smooth ups and downs and I am bouncing along as happily as ever. After all, I already feel quite accomplished after seeing a Great Horned Owl, a beautiful young deer and a Red-tail hawk. What more could today’s hike bring?

The trail begins to turn when suddenly there, right ahead of me was a young Western Diamondback, right on the trail. Wow! This day is a great day for a field biologist and it was still so early! The rattlesnake was maybe less than two feet in length and, it get’s better. He was sitting next to a kill he had apparently just made when I approached. His meal: a Merriam’s Kangaroo rat. He stayed next to the rat for a while before sizing it up to start to consume it. I have seen my share of rattlesnakes but never one who had just made a kill and was about to eat. I stayed of course at a safe distance to take a few photos. Battling with the dappled morning light, I snapped a few photos when my camera finally died. But. I felt quite satisfied with what I was able to capture. So, enjoy the photos! I included other sightings from the rest of the day I was able to get with my phone camera.

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