The dazzling embroidery of the natural world is often too intricately woven to fully appreciate without first teasing out the individual fibers and following their unique stitch through the fabric of the ecosystems they inhabit. For wilderness and wildlife scientists, it could take a lifetime (perhaps many lifetimes) to understand even a single fiber, and so it is no surprise that gaining a nuanced perspective on the interconnectedness of this natural tapestry can be challenging. All textile metaphors aside (I apologize, I can’t help myself), it is one thing to know a single species- where it lives, how it survives- and another to understand how that species fits with the many other species that occur within a given ecosystem, and still another to visualize the way in which these species actually live their lives across the landscape they inhabit. It is in this visualization that one begins to fully appreciate the dynamic beauty and substance of the natural world, and unfortunately, opportunities to gain this perspective are often hard to find.
For me, I was lucky enough to encounter one of the great literary presentations of this type of wilderness visualization at a very young age. In fact, my path to the Tejon Ranch Conservancy may have begun over 20 years ago, where sitting in my father’s lap, I was read One Day at Teton Marsh by the brilliant naturalist and nature writer Sally Carrighar. In it, Carrighar uses the perspectives of the many animal inhabitants of a small wetland outside Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to explore the secret proceedings of this natural habitat over a single day. In honor of Ms. Carrighar, and her simple, honest presentation of wildlife and their daily experience, I am happy to offer on the blog today Two Days on Martinez Ridge.
The concept for this post originated when I discovered that one of my wildlife trap cameras, set to record the interactions between wild pigs and cattle at a seemingly innocuous upland trough, had recorded over 250 wildlife videos in less than 40 hours. I was shocked at the frequency and diversity of the species using this rusted trough, buried into the overexposed western slope of Martinez Ridge. The following is simple chronology of those encounters, with a sampling of the recordings I found most interesting…
June 26, 2015
-1523-1640: A group of California condors intermittently drink and perch upon the hillside, including the legendary AC-9 (Orange tag # 21 shown in the upper right of the video). At 35 years he is the oldest male California condor in the wild and was one of the last 27 living condors on the planet in the mid-1980s when major conservation efforts for the species began.
-1714-1740: A group of ravens perch and drink from the trough.
-2005-2011: As darkness falls a group of cattle stop for a drink as they lumber across the ridge.
-2136-2139: A large solitary boar takes a quick drink and heads north.
June 27, 2015
-0222-0224: Another large boar (possibly the same individual from earlier in the evening) has a drink and continues north.
-0242-0243: Bobcat stops by the trough for a drink and a look around, continues South.
-0408-0410: Likely thirsty from a long night hunting, a large puma stops by the trough for an early morning drink.
-0609-0706: A group of cattle, a family of raven and a young mule deer buck mingle around the trough for a morning drink.
-0901-0932: A young golden eagle has drink while she surveys Bear Trap Canyon to the southwest.
-1010-1011: A brave ground squirrel risks the exposure and the raptors overhead to scamper up for a quick drink.
-1112-1301: Young golden eagle perches on the trough as heavy clouds roll in across the ranch.
-1301-1621: Three more golden eagle arrive, including one large adult that has been wing tagged, and intermittently bathe and drink until a light rain begins to fall (One of these eagle spends over 45 minutes perched on my camera, distorting the videos).
-1654-1714: Solitary golden eagle returns and calls out for his comrades.
-1834-1911: A group of cattle move up to the trough for an afternoon.
-1932-1934: A solitary doe tries to have a drink before she is pushed off by cattle.
-2000-2002: Once the coast is clear, the solitary doe returns to quench her thirst.
-2153-2156: Coyote stops by for a drink and heads west.
-2228-2229: Large boar has a drink and heads north.
-2255-2303: Lone cow ambles around the trough.
-0405-0406: Large boar has a drink and heads north.
-0734-0735: A young buck cautiously approaches the trough and begins to have a drink before he is spooked into the trough by his comrades creeping up behind him.
-0735-0739: Three velvety bucks have a morning drink.
-0750- 0807: A group of ravens hold court over the trough and guard it fiercely against the encroaching morning doves.
-0814-0815: After the ravens leave, a family of doves move in to forage around the trough.
-0942: The final recording shows a beautiful American Kestrel perched on the trough surveying the landscape below.