By Katie O’Hara Kelly
This past week has been an AMAZING week for seeing wildlife! Most surprising were all the mammals we encountered in our neighborhood, Carman Valley, Sierra Valley, and Joubert’s Diggins!
One morning this week, I came across this Gray Fox down by our garden! I haven’t seen a fox for quite some time! Unlike it’s name, the Gray Fox has red, black and white markings that vary a lot. Foxes are usually nocturnal, but can also be seen during the daytime. They are omnivorous and eat mice, birds, squirrels, rabbits, berries, insects, seeds, and acorns. The Gray Fox is unique, in that it is the only fox that can climb trees to hunt or rest! It climbs by “hugging” a tree with its front legs, while climbing with its hind legs! They descend down a tree trunk like a bear does, with its hind feet first.
Foxes are usually solitary except during mating season, which begins in January and lasts until the end of February. Foxes do not mate for life, but they are usually monogamous. Approximately two months after mating occurs, 1-7 kits are born. The average number of kits is 4. The kits are weaned 2-6 weeks after birth. The female fox is the one that finds the den. Dens are made in underground burrows, in hollow logs or trees, under large rocks or ledges, or up in a tree canopy in a hollow trunk or branch. Both parents take care of the kits. The male fox is the main hunter and provider of food, once the kits are born. Gray Foxes are omnivores and eat plants, insects, eggs, small mammals, and birds. The male fox also teaches the kits how to hunt! After 10 months, the kits will be sexually mature and leave the family unit.
Last week we went back to Carman Valley to see if the Grackles were still there, and to enjoy its beauty again. The Grackles were there, but they took off before I could get a good look or a photo! Rats! However, I walked down the length of the wetlands and spotted a Black Bear foraging in a meadow a bit distant from the wetlands! It was a BIG bear, and was moving fast through the meadow, foraging as it went! WOW!!!
Black Bears are omnivores, primarily eat flowering plants and grasses in the Spring, and the fruit of forest trees and shrubs in the Summer and Fall. Only a small part of their diet consists of animal matter, mainly colonial insects (bees, beetles etc.), and carrion if available. What a treat it was to watch this wild bear!
In Sierra Valley we came across two male Pronghorns that were “practice” sparring with each other!!! They were locking horns, but not in a menacing way. When they finished sparring, they lay down next to each other! Their horns were definitely different in size. Perhaps they were an older male and its offspring? I’ll never know, but it was fabulous to watch them!
I frequently stop by Joubert’s Diggins to check on the pond life. Lately, there hasn’t been much activity in the two ponds visible from the road, so I decided to walk down to a third pond that’s not near the road. To my surprise and delight, there was a River Otter in the pond! WOW!!! The pond was totally covered in pond weeds, but every few seconds the Otter would briefly surface! River Otters usually eat slow moving fish, as well as turtles, crayfish, mussels, aquatic beetles, and waterfowl. I watched the Otter for a few minutes, until it got too far away to photograph! I have since read that otters will travel 10-18 miles on land in search for food! These ponds are not close to the North Yuba River. I think it’s at least a good mile or more steeply UPHILL from the river to these ponds. This is the second time I’ve seen a River Otter at Joubert”s Diggins! I wonder if it’s the same one I saw a few years ago. How did it find these ponds? They must have a great sense of smell! It was such a thrill to watch this one repeatedly surface and dive!
Damp Earth Art
We only got a sprinkling of rain last week, but rain is in the forecast for this weekend! I hope it POURS! Hopefully more storms will keep coming. Please join me in my continuing hope for precipitation! Perhaps our collective efforts may help it happen.
Editor’s Note: The rain forecast for last weekend ended up bringing over an inch of rain to Downieville, more than we received throughout the month May.