It was a long day getting into Boquillas Canyon. There’s a ten or twelve mile stretch of park where floaters are not supposed to camp. The Mexican side is available but it’s populated and we chose to avoid those areas. When we finally reached the canyon it was late afternoon and time to decide where to spend the night. This was never an easy decision. The Rio Grande does not offer wide sandy beaches with trees and plentiful tent sites. We juggled the various shortcomings and amenities. There were mud landings, no moorings, steep banks, hummocks. On the plus side were views, hiking, grass, shade. Ideally we wanted a flattish spot with a cobble landing and a tree somewhere within 100′. No mud. Well, no mud was impossible but we could dream. Access to a walk was nice, too.
Our second night in Boquillas was the penultimate night of the trip. We had in a mind a spot vaguely described and near a feature called the rabbit ears. Early on we had hoped to lay over and explore this canyon but we never were able to make more than 15 miles a day and did not store up enough milage to allow a rest day. Late in the afternoon we thought we had found the rumored canyon but there was no landing area. We decided to stop at the next hospitable bend. This was as magnificent failure to achieve a goal as I have ever experienced.
The camping area was merely meh. Two spots for tents and room for a kitchen. We’d arrived with enough daylight to explore the side canyon heading off into Mexico. On the beach we noticed some very small cat tracks and lots of twisted scat. If you’ve cleaned a litter box it was the same size as a house cat. One upside to the shellacking of mud was we could see tracks everywhere we went. Once the area dries out the tracks will all blow away with the wind. We headed up the canyon in the creek bed which required some boldering and thorn wrestling. We were rewarded with waist high blanket flowers and desert marigolds. Wet spots in the canyon walls featured mysterious flowers with lush leaves and scores of stamens. Flowers in fall would normally be all it takes for an satisfying hike but this canyon had even more to offer. The walls were packed with crystals. Literally packed. There were crystals of all shapes and many hues everywhere we looked. I’d never seen such a thing. I like a pretty rock as much as anyone but this was mind blowing. A site like this would be world famous on any of the western U.S.’s popular rivers. Here in Big Bend it was up to us to find it on our own.
I was tired. This was the first multi-day backcountry trip I had taken since before my heart troubles started more than four years ago. I had resigned myself to never doing an arduous trip again but my recent change in medication changed my mind. I figured I’d try and see how it went. This trip went well but by day 7 I was tired. So while Margaret scrambled up a pile of rocks I sat and gazed off into the canyon. My eyes were unfocused. I sat and looked without looking. I had the unfocused gaze of a hunter that sees nothing but catches movement in a wide field. Suddenly I saw something slipping between the rocks and cacti above us. I yelped, “It’s a mammal, it’s an otter, it’s an I DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS! It’s black, it’s moving! Look! Look! Look!” Burt had his binocluars and he spotted it as I pointed and continued to describe what I was seeing. “It has a long tail, its face is flat, the ears are rounded, it looks like a squirrel, a really huge squirrel, its legs are short, it’s a squiotter!” Each of us took a turn with the binoculars before it disappeared behind a ridge only a couple hundred feet away. Nobody had an idea what we had just seen. All we could say was a short legged, long tailed, flat faced mammal that moved like an otter or cat.
M and M contiuned up canyon in the direction our mystery animal had headed. Burt and I returned to camp. The animal sighting was filed away for later research. I figured there must be a massive Coahuilan squirrel we’d never heard about. Maybe neotropical otters were in the area.
The kids in music class are getting their right hand strumming under control so this week I let them hold the instruments by themselves and had them try to play a chord. Obviously nobody is going to learn how to play music this way. The idea is to open minds to things they might do in the future. Many of the kids have guitar players in their families. Here they can develop an interest that might lead to a desire or a drive or an inkling. Who knows? Maybe one day they’ll ask to play papa’s guitar. There aren’t many (any?) local female instrumentalists that I know about. Once again we’re modeling ideas. Giving the girls something to think about.
This week we also did an improvisational dance number where I hilariously yelled out to dance like a spider when I meant to say frog. Araña is spider. Rana is frog. I said araña instead of rana as I proceeded to hop about like a frog of a certain advanced age might. The kids figured it out. This magical moment is available in video on Facebook thanks to class mom April.
I’ve been doing some Portal Irish Music Week bookkeeping. While I sat at my computer sending off annoying emails reminding people to pay their deposits this scorpion caught my eye. It was hard to miss as it made a move towards my foot. Happily I was shod in real shoes and saw it before it sought shelter in my pant leg. My yell for Burt had an unmistakable element of intensity. Burt thought I was either under attack or had won the lottery. And the truth is I was very excited in a happy way and also terrified. The thing is these big scorpions look bad but have a fairly mild sting. But they really look bad. We relocated this to an open field across the street.
Our new trailer spot is withing a 400 meter radius where we’ve been all season but here we are sharing the yard with a gang of Javelinas. I use the word gang intentionally. One of these guys bit a woman last year and they are notorious dog maulers. Usually they are mild mannered and easily frightened but like all wild animals (and humans) they are unpredictable and can get their dander up. I think there are more javelinas here because the area isn’t as well fenced as the property next door. Our cat Mimi enjoys watching them through the trailer windows. So far we’ve avoided any dog and javelina meetings. Mostly through good luck and leashes.
Yesterday I watched as a set of twins followed mom around nursing. The twins were nearly as big as mom and to reach her teats they had to get down on their knees. They were actually crawling around on their knees to keep up with mom as she foraged. Mom easily eluded them. If you’re eating solid food and still crawling around begging mom for a handout it’s time to wean. Get a job. Since we had a prodigious monsoon season there are acorns and other fruits of the forest everywhere. It is easy pickings for wild gleaners.
Javelina (also called the collared peccary) can breed all year round. Packs of the beasts have animals of all sizes. There’s another group wandering around with a newborn about the size of a kitten. Now that newborn fits under mom very easily. This allows for convenient lactation and protection from predators. Yesterday mom was spotted having post-partum sexual relations while her new baby attempted to find the nipple or at least some protection. Our neighbor Bonnie saw it and caught it on camera, coitus en flegrante. In wildlife biology this is called post-partum estrus, meaning a female can get pregnant while nursing a newborn. It brings to mind the old wives’ tale that a woman can’t get pregnant while nursing. Do you think the javelina heard the same thing? I’m wondering if all the easily available food is making the herd more fecund.
I love the kitties of this world but have only seen one wild feline alive in a natural setting. A few years ago Burt and I spotted a Canada Lynx on McDonald Pass in Montana. Like all cats it seemed uninterested in us. It stared at us as we stared at it. Eventually it unhurriedly slipped into the dense snow covered timber. Today I quadrupled the number of wild cats I’ve seen in nature in the span of 2 minutes. Three (3!) bobcat kittens crossed our paths as we were leaving the ramp job late this afternoon. Kathleen was coming up the driveway as we were driving down and they flushed between our two cars. She spotted them and made excited hand gestures that we knew meant get out of the car and look at this. The mother bobcat and kittens had been spotted a week or so earlier by Chris so we had all had our eyes peeled but I hardly dared hope we might see them for ourselves.
These kittens looked to be about 8 to 10 pounds. Full grown bobcats can vary from 11 to 30 pounds, give or take. Litter sizes vary from 1 to 6 kittens. Three is not unusual. Two of the three we saw today ran off but one stayed in the crook of a pine tree. I was able to snap these pictures from about 6 feet away using my iPhone. Moss kitty had that same aloof stare I get from Mimi. It says you stay where you are and I’ll stay here and we’ll both be fine. There are 13 subspecies of bobcat currently recognized. The southwest U.S. is the range of l.r. baileyi.
Weeks of regularly checking in finally paid off with seeing the newly hatched spiderlings. This ferocious mama arachnid charged me twice while I took photos. Green Lynx are known to be very attentive and protective of their spriderlings. Some mothers starve to death keeping watch over their egg sacs. This individual did very well. She was observed with a buggy feast just a couple of days before the big debut of her many, many babies. Some unlucky bug wandered too close.
Over the course of studying this lynx spider I discovered that this spider is also a chameleon and changes its color, much like the crab spider. Over the course of a couple of weeks they can change from bright green to orange or purple or, as seen here, off white. Our specimen matches her habitat very nicely. The spiderlings are also very well camouflaged. The spiderlings will hang around with mom until their first molt (shedding of skin) then they well send out parachutes of silk and fly away on the breeze to make a life of their own. It seems so improbable that any survive. I plan to check in again and see if I can catch a picture post-molt but pre-flight.
I was hanging laundry today when I heard a distant rattling sound. My ears told me something was going down in the rocks and shrubs about thirty feet away but my brain said, “there is no way you can hear something that far away.” The sounds persisted. It was a short rattle and it reminded me of something I had heard very recently. It was the sound a rattlesnake makes while moving but not actually rattling. I learned of this while sitting in the Cave Creek Visitor Information Center. The snakes on display there make noise as they move over twigs and sand. Sit at the VIC quietly and you can hear soft rattles at irregular intervals as the snakes move about in their enclosures. But my doubts lingered. I thought maybe it was a Cactus Wren or a grasshopper trying to make me a fool.
A few more rattles later and I was compelled to look further. The laundry was hung and I rounded the chicken coop where I was met by a very large and angry Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. I screamed and ran for backup. Burt and our neighbor Barb came running as I ran towards them. Then I remembered that I was looking for a snake. Why was I surprised to nearly step on one? I was surprised because this was not the snake I had heard. It was in the wrong spot. Anyway he was as scared as I was and had disappeared under the shed. The three of us proceeded to try and figure out what I had heard. Barb was skeptical but Burt knows I have a keen ability to distinguish sounds. Pretty soon we found what I had been hearing. It was a pair of mating blacktailed rattlesnakes. The male was amorously caressing the female with his head and flicking her skin with his tongue. Whenever he got too fresh she rattled at him and he would back off. It was the quickest of tail flicks. They were entwined but the deed was not completed. He’d whisper a little Barry White in her ear and nuzzle up the length of her spine. After a nuzzle of about 6″ she would rattle or shake him off. A few second breather and he’d try again. It went on and on and on. Over and over he tried. I watched. Barb and Burt left. The female was substantially larger in girth than the male. After a long while Burt came back and tried to clear away the vegetation so I had a clearer view. This startled the snakes and they fled right towards our feet. They and we were not amused. Everybody took a step back. The snakes changed direction. The male stayed with the female and they picked a new spot out in the open. We watched some more. The neighbors came. More nuzzling. More irritable female. More nuzzle. More irritation. It got boring. We left for lunch.
I read up a bit on these snakes. Not much is known. Mating rattlesnakes aren’t everyday occurrences. The literature says the blacktails breed in the spring (occasionally twice a year) but these green lovelies were doing it in the fall. Live birth of six or seven young is the norm. The babies stick with mother for a day or less. Males follow scent trails of ready (randy) females. Sometimes the males guard their females. It is believed these are monogamous snakes. It’s possible there are several males hanging around hoping to get lucky.
After lunch I tried to find the pair but they were gone from their love nest. I poked around and eventually found the male or a male. His head was peeping out from behind a rock. I watched him as he slowly meandered and peered and probed looking for something. It took him twenty minutes to cover ten feet. Two of those feet were very nearly mine. Finally he disappeared in the brush and I decided I couldn’t safely follow.