Friday, June 18, 2004

Lion at the Lookout!!

Hi all,
After receiving a thorough onsite training session from Kathleen- benefitting greatly from her experience and expertise- I staffed the lookout Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. I had a number of projects to work on before our 3 Cal Poly student interns and volunteer staff come on to staff for the rest of the summer field season.

Sleeping outside on a cot upstairs on the catwalk, I was still awake at 1am watching the Milky Way galaxy, constellations, and shooting stars. A gray fox was vocalizing nearby, and later I awoke to nearby frequent soft mummering sounds that I could not identify.

Walking about still groggy at 5:30am- 15 minutes before sunrise in the soft light of dawn- I was startled into instant alertness looking down at 4-toed predator tracks on the roadway near the lookout (close to the beginning of the stone retaining wall). Mountain lion tracks! I tried to think what else it could be and measured several tracks that were all 3 1/2 to 4 inches long. There had not been any visitors with large dogs since I arrived the day before, and the tracks were fresh from the night before because two tracks overlaid my vehicle’s tire tracks, where I had driven the previous afternoon. The impressions were not sharp enough to look for details like the lobes on the heel pads, but what else could they be? So, once again I have a story to tell of the many, many times in the field over the years having had close encounters and evidence of being near a mountain lion, but I have yet to actually see one!

What woke me up at 5:15 am was not the dawn songs of chaparral birds and a distant-calling mountain quail, but one very large horsefly making a loud humming sound in flight a few feet away from my head. Soon one became nine humming horseflies, all flying in a tight group at the northside of the lookout (the only place completely protected from the light morning breeze). The horseflies chased and darted at each other with amazing speed and rapid maneuvers, bouncing around in the air like a pin-ball machine in fast motion. Soon after sunrise, 30 minutes later, it was all over and the flies were gone, perhaps to go torment living flesh somewhere else. A potential study in crepuscular horsefly behavior?

During the early afternoon on Wednesday I picked up radio signals from one of the Pinnacles condors due north from the lookout, away from the usual location. A phone message with Wildlife Biologist Jim Peterson confirmed that the day before 3 of the condors had flown south away from the immediate vicinity of the Pinnacles release site.

The Anna’s hummingbirds are furiously competing for all the feeding ports at the two feeders. Hummers also perch on the edge of the birdbath to drink and dip their bellies in the water in flight to bathe. Juv. scrub jays are feeding on the apricot tree next to the water cistern, stabbing the fruits repeatedly with their beaks to get at the flesh. Swallowtails and other butterflies are often engaged in
hilltopping” flights. Along Hi Mtn. road the toyons, old man’s beard (Clematis) and chaparral penstemons are flowering. Finally, to emphasize the value of making observations over a period of time in one place, after all my previous trips to Hi Mtn. Lookout I had never noticed until this visit, that there is a solitary madrone tree growing about 1/3 mile distance east and below the lookout, on a n facing slope among the live oaks. A handsome tree to view through the spotting scope.

Steve Schubert