On Monday the 13th, I led a biology class from Saddleback College on a nature tour of Riley Wilderness Park. It was a hellishly hot morning, so I assumed that most of the wildlife, especially the furry ones, had taken siestas. Roughly twenty of us gathered at the trailhead and ventured into a shady grove of oaks and sycamores near a sandy streambed. The shade was a welcome relief from the almost unbearable heat, so I decided to spend some time identifying the differences between oaks and sycamores, including leaf structure.
While we discussed adaptations of oak leaves, a tan streak caught my attention from across the trail.
A long-tailed weasel scampered across a bridge-like tree about fifteen feet behind everyone. I stopped mid-sentence and told everyone to turn around carefully for a chance to see an extremely elusive creature. The squirrel-sized animal had an elongated body, orange-tinted tan fur, tiny legs, a dark-tipped tail, and a dark face with a white forehead. Its tiny legs were a blur as it raced back and forth through the woodland, eventually finding its way to a small puddle in the streambed to take a drink.
The miniature Parkour expert bounded from rock to branch to a high-stream terrace with ease. During one of its maneuvers, a ground squirrel got in the way. The squirrel did not appreciate the weasel and proceeded to attack. They tumbled together for an instant, but the weasel leaped away in dashing Robin Hood fashion. We noticed that the weasel seemed to be curious about our presence. In fact, as we laughed and discussed names for the weasel, it began to approach us. I had my camera in video mode and watched the weasel wander all the way to my bare feet and sniff my toes! I let out an "Oh my gosh!" and wiggled my toes to prevent a possible nibble. The weasel jumped back and continued to zigzag all over the place. Eventually, it decided to go upstream and out of view. I told the students how spoiled they were, considering I had never seen a long-tailed weasel in OC in my entire life.
Here is a YouTube video of the weasel experience:
The rest of the week proved to be just as rewarding...
1) Mule deer.
2) Western tussock moth.
1) Mule deer.
2) Iridescent cobalt milkweed beetles clustered on narrow-leaf milkweed plant.
1) Lesser nighthawk.
2) Trapdoor spider lunged at us to protect its babies.
3) Striped skunk.
4) Two western toads.
5) A glowworm was found underneath a shrub.
7) Treefrogs in chorus.
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Saturday: 1) A striped racer attacked a whiptail lizard in front of us.
No photos of those, though!