Category Archives: nature|wildlife

Hawk, Bobcat and Rabbit

Ka-ree… Ka-ree… Ka-ree…

I heard the angry cries at least a quarter-mile away. The screams were incessant. Running along the dirt road, I emerged from a grove of oaks and turned west — running down a short hill and then up another. Cresting the rise, I paused to search the parched terrain.

The Winter rain season had been the driest on record, and Summer heat was now oppressive, abusing the animals and desiccating the chaparral. A few clouds cluttered the sky, but they would bring no rain. The cries continued.

Ka-ree… Ka-ree… Ka-ree…

The screams seemed to be coming from a group of rocks and oak trees near the campground. I left the road and slowly walked through the brush in the direction of the shrill shrieks. As I approached, the intensity and urgency of the screams increased. Intimidated, I stopped.


There was not only fury in those cries, but a warning.

To my left, something stirred. Slowly I turned and looked down. For a moment I just stared. Rabbit lay face-down against a rock, twitching. Up in the oak tree, Hawk continued his irate cries.


Suddenly, there was motion to my right, and Bobcat bolted from the brush. Hawk swooped in pursuit. His broad tail flared and wings twisted one direction and then another, as he followed the abrupt zigs and zags of Bobcat through the rocks, up the hill, and out of view.

KA-REE… KA-REE… Ka-ree… ka-ree…

Afterward: This encounter occurred during a run at Sage Ranch Park in July of 2002. I continued my run, and when I returned about 30-40 minutes later, the rabbit was gone. The photographs were taken during the encounter.

Chumash Trail Racers

Red coachwhip snake (Masticophis flagellum piceus) on the Chumash Trail, near Simi Valley, California.

Encountered this red coachwhip/racer (Masticophis flagellum piceus) as I was running down the Chumash Trail today. It was a long snake — at least 5′.

In June 2005, I found a California striped racer (Masticophis lateralis lateralis) on the Chumash Trail that appeared to have suffered some sort of fatal trauma. It was a much smaller snake than the red racer.

Note: There was a handwritten notice posted at the Chumash trailhead warning of a mountain lion sighting on July 18, 2008. I haven’t been able to obtain any additional details.

Stuck in the Drive-Thru

Gopher snake (apparently) stuck in the one inch diameter entrance to a small burrow on Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Trail.

Was that a snake on the trail ahead?

It was a snake — a pretty big one — stretched across two-thirds of the road.

I slow, stop running, and then walk carefully toward it. The snake is dead still. A confounding series of thoughts follow in quick succession.

Looks like it’s probably a gopher snake… Glance at the tail — no rattles. Check the head — where’s the head? Check the tail again — definitely no rattles. It is a gopher snake. Look for the head again — did the snake get run over, or decapitated?

At least 30 seconds have passed and the snake has not moved — not a millimeter. Very weird. Is it dead? It doesn’t look dead. There’s no blood.

Realization dawns as I comprehend the snake may be caught in the entrance to a small burrow.

Com’on, stuck? If so, it’s in a bad place. Pick your peril: Upper Las Virgenes Canyon is hiked, biked, ridden on horseback, roamed by coyotes, and hunted by hawks.

Now it’s been a couple of minutes, and the snake still has not moved. I’m beginning to think maybe it is dead. So I touch it.

Panic! The snake writhes, contorts and convulses in an attempt to free itself. No go — it continues to convulse, and then suddenly, and impossibly, slithers down the hole.

What? My guess is that the snake had found a lizard, mouse, or other prey in the hole, started to swallow it, and with its body engorged, became trapped by its meal. Or maybe it just got stuck!

Department of Coyote Comportment

Coyote path at Ahmanson Ranch.

With little new growth this Spring and Summer, coyote paths at Ahmanson Ranch have become so well worn that several have recently been posted with “Restoration Area – Please Keep Out” signs. Whether the canny coyotes will choose to cooperate remains to be seen.

Note: Ahmanson Ranch was acquired as open space in part to protect several sensitive species and their habitats. Some (human) use trails have evolved and “Restoration Area – Please Keep Out” signs are a reminder that the area is a preserve.

From a recent run at Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (formerly Ahmanson Ranch).

Related post: Trickster

Mt. Langley in a Day from L.A.

Cirque Peak from Cottonwood Lakes Basin.
Cirque Peak from Cottonwood Lakes Basin

The sky was brightening in the east, and sunrise was approaching when I met Miklos and Krisztina at the Denny’s in Sylmar. We were already wasting light. The plan was to drive from near sea level up to Horseshoe Meadows, at about 10,000′ on the Sierra east side. The hike/run we had in mind was a keyhole loop from the Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead up (old) Army Pass and then down New Army Pass. If we felt OK at the top of Army Pass, we would also do Mt. Langley (14,026′).

The weather forecast looked good. There was a chance of some gusty southwest winds in the afternoon, but temps were warm and there was virtually no chance of T-storms. With a record low Southern Sierra snowpack, there was almost no chance that an ice axe would be required on Army Pass. I was familiar with the route on Langley and down from New Army Pass, and expected to be back to the car well before sunset. But, just in case, the moon was about half full.

Low snow year on Army Pass. June 23, 2007.
Low snow year on Army Pass. June 23, 2007.

In fact, there had been very little snow on Army Pass, or anywhere else. We reached the pass relatively quickly, and decided to continue to Langley. Now, after another hour of hiking, we were above a prominent rock band that extends across Langley’s south face, and making good progress.

I’ve been convinced for some time that pursed-lip breathing helps me at higher altitudes, particularly when I’m not well acclimated. There’s a skill to it. There seems to me an optimum blend of heart rate, respiratory rate, and the amount of resistance created on exhalation. When all these factors are in balance, the breathing technique is almost automatic and effortless, and it really does seem to help. It certainly seemed to be helping me now.

I topped out a few hundred yards west of the summit, and ambled over to the high point of the peak. On a scale of 1 to 10, I felt pretty good — maybe a 7. Making an effort to stay hydrated, consume plenty of calories, and not push the pace too hard seemed to have worked — at least this time.

The view along the crest to Mt. Whitney and the peaks of the Kings-Kern Divide was telling. It was remarkable just how little snow there was at the highest elevations of the Sierra. A week before I had been paddling the Kern River. Now I could see why the flow on the upper Kern was dropping so fast.

This wide-angle photograph of Mt. Whitney and the Sierra crest from the summit of Mt. Langley is from a high resolution composite of 8 individual images. It was created using the improved photo-merge tools in Photoshop CS3.

Big horn sheep on the slopes of Mt. Langley. June 23, 2007.
Big horn sheep on the slopes of Mt. Langley. June 23, 2007.

Miklos and Krisztina joined me on the summit, and after taking a few summit photos, we headed down. Screeing down the slopes below the rock band, we were startled when a herd of perhaps 20 big horn sheep rumbled across the slopes below us. They flowed across the rough landscape like quicksilver. Graceful and robust, they moved effortlessly between the rocks and up a small slope. In the moments it took me to react, grab my camera, and turn it on, all but two large rams trailing the group, had disappeared.

Energized by the sight of these fleet-footed animals, we continued down to the saddle at Army Pass, and then up and over New Army Pass. Before sunset we would be back to the car, and before dark, eating dinner at Lone Pine. Before midnight we would be back in L.A. Here’s a Google Earth image and Google Earth KMZ file of a GPS trace of our route.

Note: Going to higher altitudes without properly acclimating can result in very serious, life-threatening illnesses. There is much information available on the Internet regarding altitude sickness and acclimatization. As a starting point see UIAA Medical Commission – Advice and Recommendations and Wikipedia: Altitude sickness.

Related post: Cottonwood – New Army Pass Loop