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Rock-watching in the wind

A few days ago, we drove far out into sage-covered lava rocks to check out some hot springs on the east side of the Sierra Nevada.  After walking to the top of the hill, walking around the next hill and between two other hills, seeing what birds were around and about, and while E was nearby doing Science in Hot Water, I felt I’d had enough wind — since we were above 7000′ feet, it was a cold wind — so I sheltered in the cab of the truck.

The rock I watched >>

If this seems like a nature-phobic sort of thing to do, let me recommend it: a vehicle makes a wonderful blind, great for observing otherwise human-wary wildlife.  I watched a Wilson’s warbler, a sweet scrap of yellow with a smart black cap, struggle in the gusts from one juniper tree to another right in front of the hood; an Audubon’s warbler, too, was getting buffeted about in the same nearby trees. And, next to the truck was this large Rock (top photo).  I studied it, thinking about making a sketch.

<< Ground squirrel and spiny lizard (far right edge of rock)

It was clear that this rock had been heavily used — most obviously by people, who’d built fires under it, but also by plants who’d sprouted in its cracks, lichens crusting its surfaces, and by animals, who were sunning themselves on it. Although I never made a sketch, I was able to watch and photo a series of species — seven in all, ultimately, although I only could photo five — as they used this rock as viewpoint, shelter, sunning place, food storage or source. (All photos A.Shock; be sure to click on each image to enlarge for better viewing.)

Birds landed on it briefly, including the Wilson’s warbler, and a vivid Western tanager male.

<< male Western tanager on the Rock

Being hydrothermally altered (so I’m assured by E), it was porous and full of useful cracks and refuges.  A small movement caught my eye, and in the darkest crack in the darkest center of the sooty overhang, a Piñon deermouse had packed the crevice with soft needles and moss, and was turning this way and that in its snug, sheltered nest, running tiny paws over its big ears.

<< Piñon deermouse in crevice nest in the Rock

Best yet, I happened to look over at the upper dark hole in the rock just in time to see this little face peering out, checking on how things were in the middle of the day.  It’s a Long-tailed weasel, a native here (unlike in New Zealand), but still an active and industrious predator.  I was alarmed when the ground squirrel above made a short trip into the very hole the weasel had just gone back inside.  But there was no disaster, and the squirrel came right back out again, presumably with all its parts, and with no dramatic nature-show confrontation music to mark the event.

Long-tailed weasel outside its hole in the Rock >>

The seventh species I observed on the Rock was Homo sapiens.  It was one of the two dudes that came by in a battered Isuzu Trooper (like the one I drove for years).  Although I didn’t get a picture of him up on the top of the Rock, we were particularly glad to see this human being: something you won’t often hear me say.  The reason he was a fine sight on this backcountry, rocky road?  That’s another story.  I won’t tell it here, except to say that it involved jumper cables…

Posted by Allison on May 29th 2010 01:00 pm | 8 Comments
| View birds,close in,field trips,furbearers,natural history,nidification,reptiles and amphibians,rox category

8 Responses to “Rock-watching in the wind”

  1. kate mckinnonon 29 May 2010 at 2:08 pm link comment

    That weasel is cute as hell.

  2. Allisonon 29 May 2010 at 4:58 pm link comment

    I know; they’re SO cute. And they would totally eat your face, if they could. Or, at least nibble on a finger as you napped, like my cats.

  3. sueon 31 May 2010 at 9:40 am link comment

    that’ll teach you to run your foot spa off the car battery…

  4. Allisonon 31 May 2010 at 5:19 pm link comment

    ha! sue, that is almost not a joke — we think it was probably my husband’s iPod, which he forgot to unplug from the lighter-charger…

  5. sueon 01 Jun 2010 at 6:38 am link comment

    so glad those guys came along!

  6. kate mckinnonon 04 Jun 2010 at 11:36 am link comment

    I sometimes think that about my cats; if I were suddenly very small, would they kill me and eat me?

  7. Allisonon 04 Jun 2010 at 11:38 am link comment

    Of course, but they would play with you first.

  8. […] process has left the rock cracked and full of holes, which is just what a rock wren likes.  Click here for a tale about another hydrothermally-altered rock that hosted many […]

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