The sun was low in the sky when my husband and I began our hike. We parked on a dirt road on the mountain behind our house and continued on foot, heading for a small stream a mile and a half away. We were out for an evening stroll, and we carried only our fleece sweaters, a bottle of water, and a camera. I had once again neglected to bring my binoculars, which I would soon regret.
As we made our way to the stream I kept a mental checklist of the birds that I heard: Spotted Towhee; Western Scrub Jay and it’s darker cousin, the Steller’s Jay; Wrentit; grouse. At the creek I heard a quick burst of song from a Black-throated Gray Warbler. Then the sun sank below the mountains on the horizon and the birds quieted.
On our hike back to the car we heard a shuffling in the shrubs off to our right. I suspected a towhee, because those birds always sound much larger than they are, but when we peered through the ceanothus we saw, instead, a striped skunk.
The skunk became aware of us in almost the same moment that we spotted it. It lifted its tail in warning, then loped away.
We continued on, and only moments later came upon another stiped skunk. This second skunk was moving in the same direction the first skunk had been going, so given our proximity to the initial sighting we assumed that this was the same animal. The skunk raised its tail but did not spray, and I snapped a few photos. The skunk then ran off in the opposite direction.
Again we continued on, and after two bends in the trail we came upon a third striped skunk! Due to our distance from the first two sightings, this could not be the same animal. It disappeared almost as soon as it became aware of us, and I was not able to take its picture.
We resumed our walk. I was actively scanning the landscape for additional skunks when I caught sight of a black bear making its way down the hill below us. I tried to point it out to my husband, but it had disappeared into a tangle of thick shrubs. However, we spotted it again a little farther along and watched as it climbed up the far side of the drainage. The light was fading fast and the bear was too far away for a photograph, but we stood and watched as it meandered up the slope and disappeared from sight.
By the time we returned to our car we had seen a bear, two (or three) skunks, and at least a dozen deer. It was a beautiful evening for a hike.
This morning after breakfast we returned to the same spot and repeated last night’s hike. This time I had my binoculars. I kept a list of the birds we saw and heard along the way, and while we didn’t see anything as exciting as a bear or a skunk at close range, we did put together a respectable list of observations:
- Western Scrub Jay
- Mourning Dove
- Yellow-rumped Warbler
- Mountain Chickadee
- Acorn Woodpecker
- Steller’s Jay
- Northern Flicker
- Spotted Towhee
- Nashville Warbler
- American Robin
- Black-headed Grosbeak
- Cassin’s Vireo
- Red-breasted Nuthatch
- Black-throated Gray Warbler
- Lazuli Bunting
- Unidentified hummingbird (probably Anna’s)
We live in at the northern tip of the Sierra Nevada, at mid-elevation in a transition zone between habitat types. Thus, while it is usually uncommon to see Acorn Woodpeckers and Mountain Chickadees (or Red-breasted Nuthatches) in the same location, we are blessed with a great diversity of wildlife and often compile unusual species lists. Such was the case this weekend. I’m already looking forward to the next hike!