Near the vault toilet at Stevens Camp is a network of earthen tunnels dug under the sagebrush, each narrow entrance situated in the lee of a shrub, the surrounding area scattered with ovate fecal pellets—a telltale rabbit warren. Inhabited by the world’s tiniest, cutest leporid, the pygmy rabbit. I prowl the warren’s perimeter at dawn and dusk with my camera, waiting for a glimpse of this sage-nibbling, cecotrope-chewing, one-pound mound of fluffy xeric delight. It doesn’t often disappoint—mostly I stand there clicking away as it sits outside a burrow, distractedly working its jaws on some juicy green tidbit. Sometimes I talk to it in what I imagine to be soothing tones, to coax it further from its lair. This doesn’t work as well as I’d like, yet I’m not inclined to discontinue the practice. It may pay off someday. I have my co-worker Stephanie to thank for this rabbit-stalking routine. She’s the one who started it.
Yellow-bellied marmots are fat, languorous critters that trundle along and whistle at you from their rocky burrows. According to the Urban Dictionary, a marmot is defined as “a rodent of the squirrel family. Lives in mountainous areas. Usually fairly awesome. May cause a great deal of mayhem.” People call them rock chucks, whistle pigs, groundhogs, rodents of unusual size. Mayhem aside, marmots usually adhere to staid, ruminative, vegetarian lifestyles. I see them waddle down High Rock Canyon Road on occasion. They look pretty content and well-fed to me—I’ll keep my eyes out for that wild streak.
Hiking around the Poodle Mountain Wilderness Study Area one morning, I hear a faint gregarious prattle—undoubtedly a strain of garbled birdspeak—fast approaching my position on the basaltic rimrock. I freeze and swivel my head about, trying desperately to place the sound. Then I see them. A flock of pinyon jays passes through the nearby juniper copse like a feathered cerulean breeze, chirping conversationally, alighting on boughs just long enough to offer a neighborly greeting before winging west toward the Sierras. No pine nuts to forage in these hills; nothing to see here, carry on. By the time I raise my camera the jays have disappeared, as traceless as the wind.
The swifts bank and swirl high above the canyon floor, cleaving the air with crescent wings and loud, strident chatter. They feed on the wing, fight on the wing; they fuck, feint and frolic on the wing and they do it fast, all of it. Swifts nest and roost in cliffside cavities and in the mornings they shoot out of these defiles like early-rising bats out of hell. Avian aces, they patrol the canyon’s airspace with brio, swooping after insects and chasing tail at speeds in excess of a hundred miles per hour—real quick. They literally embody the adjective swift. They are aptly named.
Swifts copulate in an aerial maneuver known as a “courtship fall”: two birds (or sometimes more) collide and tangle up, together tumbling earthward for hundreds of feet, fucking and flapping and flailing as the ground rushes forth to meet them. At the last moment (ideally; not all couplings are without their hitches), the birds disengage, breaking their freefall and arcing back into the sky, that unfettered milieu of Aeronautes saxatalis: sailor of the air who dwells in the rocks. Talk about falling for one another. Talk about a quickie—or a swiftie. Talk about life in the fast lane.
Cyprinid fishes are a numerous, motley crew, variously referred to as carp or minnows; their 2,400 species in 220 genera constitute the largest family of vertebrate animals, period. The biggest cyprinids reach six to nine feet in length and can weigh hundreds of pounds. Most of them are quite a bit smaller, on the order of inches. They don’t have stomachs or teeth in their jaws; food is processed by specialized gill rakers in the back of their “throats”. They possess acute hearing due to an intricate gas bladder-inner ear apparatus known as the Weberian organ. They’re a neat family of fishes.
The Lahontan redside is one of those smaller cyprinids. It has no noteworthy traits, claims to fame, or otherwise thought-provoking characteristics. It probably swam in Pleistocene-age Lake Lahontan and persists as a relict species in the lake’s remnant basins, scattered across the intermountain West. It’s a small, beautiful chub minnow, one species among many. I chanced upon a creek full of them in Mahogany Canyon and stood watching along the bank, oblivious to the stinging nettle, following their shadows darting to and fro across the gravel-strewn bed.