Angles of Repose
Exceptionally warm weather with scant precipitation was the pattern this winter at WWP's Greenfire Preserve. In late November, light snowfall covered John Noack's tracks as he finished restoration fieldwork on 95 acres, but the warm weather quickly eliminated those dustings.
The conditions had little, if any impact on wildlife traffic and sightings at the preserve. Elk and deer showed up in large herds with magnificently antlered bulls and bucks.
Shortly after sunrise one morning, I watched a herd of deer cross the east field of the preserve. Panning with the spotting scope, I glimpsed a huge rack of antlers in the distance. Refocusing the scope, I saw all of a massive, sun-soaking bull elk lying in the grass among the rocks at the base of a cliff.
The excitement of passing deer now over, the big, drowsy elk succumbed to the warm sun and gradually closed his heavy eyes. As he began to doze, his head began to lower, in droops and jerks, until the weight of his massive antlers was borne by the ground. At that point, all that could be seen of the slumbering bull was an angle of repose: one huge antler branch jutting up to meet the sky.
The coyotes at Greenfire spent the winter hunting in the fields. One pair raised three pups on the preserve, and I've watched all five catching voles.
I also had the pleasure of seeing a bobcat this winter. At first, I couldn't determine whether it was a bobcat or a lynx because the animal refused to cooperate with the view I needed.
When I first spotted the cat, it was sauntering across the yard and appeared to have the stooped posture of a lynx. Other lynx characteristics -- large feet, light color, few spots, long ear tufts -- are relative to the individual cat.
The tip of the lynx's stubby tail is black; the tip of the bobcat's is white on the underside. At dusk, when the cat finally moved away, the spotting scope told the tale. It was a bobcat's tail, white on the underside.
The greatest viewing experience this winter was the sight of a bald eagle that I observed from my desk. I was on the phone with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when this great raptor streaked over the East Fork and perched in one of the cottonwoods north of the house. I watched as I talked on the phone. Suddenly, the eagle launched itself from the tree at an angle that made a splashdown in the river inevitable. I caught my breath.
The eagle's motive was clear. Its mighty splash was followed by a short hop to the riverbank. There, the great bird consumed a 14-inch trout.