Hi Eva, Mark and Steve,
I guess you must be in British Columbia by now. The weather here has been mostly cool and dry since you left, until yesterday, when the skies opened up right around fireworks time — from around 8:00 p.m. until almost 10:00. I still heard plenty of booming, though.
This morning I was out on the porch by 6:00, and was rewarded with my first good bear sighting of the year. I heard a racket in the walnut trees behind the Guest House, but saw only a pair of gray squirrels at first. The next thing I knew, a small bear cub was climbing the big red maple beside the driveway. A few seconds later, the mother appeared, along with three other cubs, one of them clearly identifiable as the runt of the litter. They were full of play, racing up the trunk of every tree they passed, one after the other, and then dropping to the ground and climbing on their mother as if she were another tree. I didn’t have my camera with me, but even if I had, I don’t think there would’ve been enough light for either a still photo or a video. I was just happy to see evidence that the mountain is still a good black bear nursery, as it has been for most of the past fifteen years. I watched as the bears scrambled up the bank above the road and moved slowly off into the woods. I could hear them crashing around for a couple minutes after they were lost from view.
This wasn’t the only family I’ve had the pleasure of watching from my front porch in the past week. Last Friday morning, the twin fawns that have been hanging around the yard put on a real show. They too were full of play, and were tearing around in big circles that took them well up into the woods and then back through the tall weeds in front of the springhouse, while their mother grunted anxiously. I’ve seen fawns at play plenty of times before, but what surprised me with this family was the way the mother got into it a little bit herself. When the fawns returned, they pranced on either side of her until she, too, began ducking her head and kicking up her hind legs. Then they were off again and the whole sequence played over. The second time they returned to their mother, one of them actually vaulted over her lowered head and climbed up onto her back — just like the bear cubs I saw this morning. The play session ended with a round of nuzzling, before they returned to their regular business of munching on everything in sight.
I haven’t had any more sightings of the third family of large mammals on the mountain, the coyote pups that we saw a month ago down toward the end of the mountain. But I did hear them howling in concert on Monday afternoon — a real cacophony! It sounded as if they were somewhere not too far beyond the Steiner-Scott Trail, and I went over there the next morning, hoping that the pups’ typical enthusiasm for playing in the middle of mowed trails would give them away, but no luck. I haven’t heard any more practice howling since then, so perhaps they moved on.
All these sightings have me thinking about play behavior, and how it seems especially pronounced in habitat generalists, which makes sense: such species would have the most need of a flexible, experimental kind of intelligence. The other day, a blogger friend of mine posted something about the human capacity for joy, but it’s good to be reminded that this capacity is by no means limited to human beings.
At any rate, I hope you’re all having a good time, and are taking plenty of breaks from driving to get out and explore.