Posted by: atowhee | January 27, 2023


Yes, but…I do sometime verge off into the tree, or a frog or snake. I even occasionally deign to recognize some fellow mammal. Sadly, around my house, it is usually a squirrel or nutria. The latter an invasive water-rat, brought here against its will, so furriers could make higher profits.

If a bobcat would finally pose on my front porch, I’d take a scad of pictures and write for hours. Sigh.

I have done reasonably well with North American mammals though I haven’t been to the Arctic so I’m missing all those fur-bearers. Half dozen whale species including blue and melon-headed. Both western sealions, our harbor seal, Europe’s gray seal. Dolphins and orcas. Lots of river and sea otters–great creatures as long as you are bigger than they are. Both Oregon weasels. At least four species of ground squirrel. American tree squirrels, and Europe’s including all the American invasives there. Our elk and moose–first in Estonia, later Yellowstone. Our elk and deer and bison and bighorn and pronghorn and feral horses. In Europe fallow and red deer. Hedgehog. But the real hog, the warthog, I will save for later. Bats in many sizes and nations–the ultimate being the upside down hanging fruit bats of East Africa. Mink, and monkeys, and mice and voles and moles, though never a live shrew. Beaver and muskrat and groundhog and marmot. Skunk, raccoon, possum (awake and asleep), various rabbits and hare, badger and bobcat, capybara and manatee, chipmunks and porcupine, flying squirrel, coyote and red fox and kit fox…many mammals, marvels all.

In East Africa we saw nearly all big ones except giraffe. Lions ambled by our vehicle. Baboons watched and quietly called us names. Leopard sleeping. Elephants en masse–female herd head looking down her long trunk at us in our cage–“You will use this road when I am done.” Hippos in the river, larger than our puny boat. Crocs on shore not pestering a hippo–one bite would likely sever the croc’s long and exposed spine. Zebras stunned me. They’re in every zoo and wild animal park. They’re just sorta harlequin horses, right? Yes, but so much more. In a land with lions and cheetah, they are the most alert, electric-edged creature I have ever seen. They make hummingbirds seem stolid. The ears are constantly in motion, each on its own pivot. The nostrils flare and every faint scent is analyzed and identified. Nothing I have ever seen more encapsulates intensity, enthusiasm and explosive awareness. Any other creature grazing near zebras can relax. There will be a mob eruption if anything untoward happens, appears, is smelled or even imagined. Zero to 60 in no time. Only Merlins have ever matched zebra acceleration in my view.

We saw numerous antelope, all mesmerizing. But the impala! Surely the most lithe and elegant and bouyant animal in the real world. Seen in animation you would say it is preposterous, no wingless creature can fly like that.

But of all the African mammals we met, here is my favorite:

Aplomb, self-assurance, self-confidence, selfhood incarnate. Warthogs were common around the eco-lodge where we stayed near Lake George. They loved the critters living in the neatly clipped lawns and most other large animals stayed away, wanting to avoid the scents and dangers of being near our species. Most other mammals know that people stink, literally. Small monkeys might try to steal a meal, but the warthogs were focused. One might kneel next to the sidewalk, down on his front knees, snuffling in the grass and ground for goodies. As you walked past you might get a grunt or get ignored completely. Grunt and ground-work continued. One night, half-asleep, I imagined I had heard one mumble in low tones–“thanks for putting in all this grass, not move along.”

OK. I have saved the very best for very last. Click below for video of a night-talker in Ashland. The raccoon’s more secretive cousin, the ringtail. This animal does not range as far north as the Willamette Valley. Watch closely, right off the left edge of the birdbath–quick and gone.

Video by Lee French’s trailcam at his home. In eight years in Ashland I saw one ringtail, late at night. It ran across the street in front of my headlights and scurried down a storm drain.
Here is a daytime photo of one treeing in Ashland.

Photo by Kent Patrick-Riley near Ashland Creek, February, 2018. Click here for the detailed ring-tail blog I wrote back then.


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