I saw a flash of brown through the bushes on the trail ahead. I stopped as a deer emerged from a switchback. The doe was walking slowly up the trail with her mule-like ears turned back toward me. I said something like, “Where are you going?”
She turned toward me and stared quizzically. As I slowly pulled the phone from my pack, I continued to talk. Her expression was a mix of caution and curiosity. It was as if she couldn’t quite make up her mind what I was about.
This was peculiar behavior for a deer in this area. It wouldn’t be so strange if I was at Trippet Ranch. The deer there graze around the oaks and grasslands near the parking lot and are used to seeing people. But in decades of running the Chumash Trail, I’ve only occasionally seen deer, and they have always been skittish and quick to react.
This doe watched me as I slowly walked around the bend and toward her. I was reminded of a friend’s experience, when he was hit on the shoulder by a spooked deer. Not wanting to force a reaction, I stopped. The deer casually stepped off the trail and disappeared down the ravine.
Later, running down Las Llajas Canyon, I was startled by the sound of something large moving in the brush. This time I got only a fleeting glimpse, as the deer bounded uphill through the trees, rocks, and brush.
I was in that other-world you can reach when running, lost in thought and dreaming of dreams. As I approached the valley oak on the western edge of Lasky Mesa, I wondered if the tree was going to survive. Even though last Winter had been wet, it had been a hot summer, and this once-elegant star of TV and film was still struggling with the deleterious effects of five years of drought. Leaves grew in clusters along its spindly limbs as if it had been burned in a wildfire.
Nearly under the scraggly valley oak, I slowed to a walk to look at it more closely. Glancing upward I did a double-take… Perched on a bare limb at the top of the tree was a small raptor. So small, that it had to be an American kestrel.
Kestrels are extremely wary birds with acute vision, and I was surprised it had not flown as I had run toward the tree. I’ve seen and heard kestrels many times at Ahmanson Ranch, but never this closely. The diminutive falcon was only about 15′ above me. My camera was in my pack and just about any movement was going to spook the bird.
Ever so slowly, I turned my back to the bird and walked a few steps away from the tree. Wishing I had eyes in the back of my head, I carefully removed my camera from my waist pack, turned it on, made sure it was set correctly, and partially extended the zoom lens. Turning back toward the tree, I expected the falcon to be gone, but it had not flown.
I took a set of bracketed photos and then another. I needed to be a little closer. I took two or three slow steps toward the tree. As I raised the camera, the female kestrel — burnt orange across the back and upper wings — had had enough. With a powerful stroke of her wings she turned and leapt to flight, once again leaving me to my thoughts.
Indigenous to Southeastern Bolivia, southwestern Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina, much of the information on the web about the Black-hooded Parakeet appears to originate from these papers by Kimball L. Garrett:
Running along the recently repaired Blue Canyon Trail, I stopped to photograph a hillside of poppies. The shrieking, piercing cry sounded like it was just a few feet above me, and reflexively I ducked and looked upward. A large red-tailed hawk flew from the top of a sycamore tree to another tree. Just as I started to relax, there was another shriek, and another red-tail flew from the same tree.
As with the encounter with the red-shouldered hawk, there was an edge to calls of the red-tails that seemed urgent, and it wasn’t until I examined the photos later I saw their ire might have been directed at something else.
The silhouette of the smaller bird looks like it might be a flycatcher — maybe a western kingbird. Red-tails are the star cruisers of the local bird world and it’s not unusual to see smaller birds harass them relentlessly like so many X-wing fighters.
According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds, “Western Kingbirds are aggressive and will scold and chase intruders (including Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels) with a snapping bill and flared crimson feathers they normally keep hidden under their gray crowns.” A search online found numerous reports of kingbirds harassing red-tail hawks.
My intent was to try and walk past without scaring them. One doe did not run, but the youngster and its companion were more skittish and didn’t quite know how to react.
In some situations a bolting deer can be a real problem. Two friends running in Topanga State Park rounded a corner and were suddenly confronted with a spooked buck running toward them. There was a steep hill on one side and a cliff on the other. In the narrow confines the buck collided with one of the runners, hitting his shoulder and knocking him to the ground. All things considered he was very lucky. The bucks head was up, so the collision only resulted in a sore shoulder and some trail rash.
What do a hilly marathon, a pair of cygnets, and a herd of bison have in common?
Why, of course, a run in San Francisco.
Brett wanted to check out some of the hills on the San Francisco Marathon course and show me more San Francisco sights. The result was a 14 mile loop that began in the Marina District and visited Crissy Field, the Golden Gate Bridge at Fort Point, Land’s End Park, Sutro Heights Park and Golden Gate Park.
Most of the run between the Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park was on the California Coastal Trail. Near Sea Cliff we left the marathon course and continued on the Coastal Trail to Land’s End Park and Sutro Heights Park, eventually entering Golden Gate Park on its northwest corner at 47th Avenue.
Larger than New York’s Central Park, Golden Gate Park’s many attractions draw millions of visitors each year. That one of those attractions is a golf course isn’t particularly surprising. And you might expect a major city park to have a botanical garden, aquarium and a museum. But would you expect a park in San Francisco to host a herd of bison? I know when I put on my running shoes this morning I wasn’t thinking, “Hope we see some buffalo!”
Bison have been present in Golden Gate Park since the 1890s. According to this Huffington Post article by Fiona Ma the herd was repopulated in 2011 and, “The City and County of San Francisco would excitedly welcome 6 more urban bison members.”
The title photo is a black and white image of Monterey pines along the Land’s End Trail.