Silhouetted ears
June 28, 2022

It's officially summer, and the rising daytime temperatures persistently remind me that the hottest days are yet to come. Following consecutive successes in spotting quail, I found myself on an early hike scouring the landscape for the awkward struttings of the uniquely bowling-pinned shaped birds. The arid air statically lofted amidst infrequent breezes as they languidly drifted; soon, all varieties of wind had ceased. As the sun illuminated the sandy ground, I could see that the path before me was strewn with quail footprints, and I could hardly wait to watch them bob their heads and forage for food. I traversed the narrow bends along the undulating trail before inadvertently flushing a tree filled with napping quail: a loud orchestra of "qua"-like purrs, and then the landscape fell silent once more.

The morning glow of orange and red overtook the violet twilight, and the layers of cragged mountain edges soon began to emerge into view. All around me bustled the eager wildlife, ecstatic to seize the day and catch the worm. But the light was challenging, often only illuminating the edges of brush while the avid singers performed so majestically from just beyond my reach, and I stepped away from the early morning with just a few lackluster images of distant birds amongst so many missed photographs.

With the sun well above the horizon, a cloud of flies and mosquitoes awoke and swarmed about the trees and wildflowers. Each step took me into a new crowd of insects, and my ears reverberated to the sound of their raucous buzzing. As disruptive as this was, it also reminded me that food would be plentiful for my photographic subjects as well. While I pondered on the path ahead, a curious Bewick's wren dropped by for a visit. It would hop to and fro on the twigs of the brambles, before returning to see me, often approaching within a few feet. It looked to be a juvenile wren, and its unrefined hunting techniques confirmed as much. Sometimes it would hop down into shrubbery, stumble and quickly upright itself, hop right back out to see if I was watching. I stayed a while to rest while the little wren meticulously cleared the insects from the vicinity.

The real highlight of the day presented itself soon after. As I hiked along the path, I was suddenly compelled to stop and look around. The brush was high, and I could barely see through the tops of the sparsely arranged brush all around. As I took note of the surroundings, I happened to see one silhouette resemble cat-like ears. It was completely still, and I had to stare at it a while longer to resolve an image in the sharp dark shadows cast by the bright morning sun. Tracing them lower, I found myself staring face to face with a gray fox. It look at me, perplexed in a way, trying to match the character before its eyes to one of in its memory. The best I could do was photograph through the twigs, as there was no clear line of sight to establish at my elevation. The fox made it even more difficult by approaching me; apparently it wanted to know more about either myself or the camera. Having fulfilled its curiosity, it slowly turned around, its bushy tail in tow, and silently tiptoed away.

On the walk back, I socialized with a few hummingbirds on their morning routine, speeding here and there, preening themselves, and dissuading other hummingbirds from encroaching on their territory. By then, the morning sun had established itself high about the mountains, and the cameras was packed away for the day.