All the Animals V

February 2019

Lisa asked me what animals I have seen while hiking or backpacking.  Not at all strange that we were hiking at the time.

I viewed almost all of these creatures while hiking, and almost all of the spied animals are made of living flesh.

Behold the fifth in a series of columns enumerating these critters.

I like animals.

28/1    grouse 1

Kelly and I are walking the Illilouette Falls Trail together, the fifth day of our eight-day backing jaunt.  We talk about how many times we’ve encountered bear on the trail which was almost none, so our direct experience with them is minimal.  We talk about how big bear are compared to how big they look.  We talk about how many people we know who have met a bear on the trail.  We talk about how safe they are, or aren’t.  We talk about what might happen if we were to turn a corner, surprise a bear and there is no place for she and me to run or hide.  We’re getting pretty hepped up here, about bear.

As fate would have it, we turn the corner of the trail and to our surprise…  There are no bear.  We laugh.

But, a grouse suddenly explodes from the trailside brush.  Scared us silly.

No one ever warns us about grouse!

Yosemite National Park

28/2 grouse 2

For an account of my grouse attack, please go to

Black Forest Trail
June 2006

28/3 grouse 3

Black Forest Trail
June 2006

28/4 grouse and squirrel

Yosemite National Park
September 2011

“I’m going this way.”

“Well, I’m going this way.”

29 water strider

From an observational point of view, it is often easier to see the shadows of these critters than the critters themselves.  Are they ghosts?

Laurel Highlands
April 2010

30 otter

February 2001

31 mosquito

(No photograph.  I just don’t seem to have the patience to allow a mosquito to have its way with me while I reach for my camera while trying not to disturb the little pissant as it burrows through my skin.)

The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

This special place is home to more endangered species than anywhere else in America.

the Mosquito Lagoon

A body of water that hosts sea trout, countless birds, oyster, bottlenose dolphin and, of course, mosquitos.  A hike around the Refuge takes you past the Lagoon, in case you’d like to spot any of these species, or if you are just in the mood to feed the mosquitos.

the Indian River Lagoon

Snug up against the NASA Shuttle Landing Facility.

the NASA Shuttle Landing Facility 

There are no landings today so it is relatively quiet.  A 15 000-foot long runway stretches to just within belief;  at a little under three miles in length, it’s one of the longest runways in the world.  Despite its length, astronaut Jack Lousma said that he would prefer the runway to be “half as wide and twice as long.”

The locals refer to the runway as the “gator tanning facility.”  Seems that some of the 4000 alligators who live here at Kennedy Space Center regularly bask on the sunny runway.

32 jackalope

For the lowdown on these excellent nearly real critters, please go to

jackalope indoors
jackalope in the wild
jackalope on the range
proud jackalope U alumnus
an improbably large jackalope
May 2015

33 Jean-Clawed

34 pika

This guy maybe looks a little like a mouse, but he isn’t a mouse.  He’s a pika, the American pika.  Pikas are also known as “whistling hares” because…  they whistle.  Like marmots.  Also like marmots, pikas like piles of rock and burrowing.  We hear them under the rocks over here, then over there, then back there.  We rarely see any, but we know they are there by the movement of their whistles as they dart around under this rocky carpet.  Reminds me of a fast-paced soccer game, slightly.

These little guys make calls and sing to define and protect their territory, alert others to the presence of danger, and attract mates.  The call sounds like the bleat of lamb, but higher pitched and squeaky.  The whistle sounds like…  a whistle.

They are some of the toughest animals in North America, living and even thriving in the low temperature alpine terrain above tree line.  It gets cold up here.

Every occasionally, Lisa and I see one dart from under a rock to under another rock.  We feel privileged to catch this view as their population is dramatically decreasing due to climate change (yes, it’s real) warming the atmosphere in their mountain home.  They do not do well in warmer environs where there are more predators, not as choice a selection of edible vegetation and as much as a third decrease in habitable land.

Why don’t they just move on up higher in the mountains like other species do?  Can’t.  They are as high as they can get and there is no place higher for them to go.

With all this, the American pika is not listed under the Endangered Species Act.  The closely related Bramble Cay melomys in Australia has gone extinct due to climate change.  The American pika could be next.

Wheeler Peak
New Mexico
July 2013

35/1 crab

in various physical conditions

crud on the beach
Bolinas Beach
May 2009

35/2 crab

one large, supine
Bolinas Beach
May 2009

35/3 crab

freshwater crab – a muddy ball
Sears Island
May 2015

35/4 crab

Fishermans Wharf
San Francisco
April 1985

36/1 wasps and bees

South Dakota
May 2015
Volcano National Park
June 2016

36/2 hairy butt bees

July 2018

36/3 wasps and bees

Hornets, yellow jackets, wasps, bees…  Usually not a problem on the trail.  Not this day.  And we learn two useful actualities associated with these flying, stinging pissants.

The first thing we learn is that you can run surprisingly fast while wearing a heavy backpack.  Have someone in your group (inadvertently) stir a nest and there you are, without even thinking, running on the trail with this large load on your back pulling you backward and weighing you down.  It’s like, after the bicycle accident, that woman who lifted up a car to release her trapped little girl.  When there is great fear or need, the strength appears.

The second thing we learn is just how simpatico friends can be.  Sally is one of our hikers.  Ever since she and her husband moved to town and we began to hike together, she and I found an easy and deep connection with each other.  We became close friends immediately, sharing many excellent conversations over the years.

So here we are, hiking this mountain in Maryland, and the bees are active today.  They fly around us, occasionally teasing us by touching us on the arm, the head, buzzing close to our ear.  Sally is hiking in front of me on a downhill stretch when I see a yellow jacket buzzing around her leg.  Scoping out the terrain, so to speak.  Then it dives in, stinger first.

As I mention, Sally and I feel very closely connected.  The moment Sally yells “Ouch!” and slaps at her leg, I feel a sting in the exact same spot on my leg.

Cue the spooky music, but I feel the sting of the yellow jacket as if I feel Sally’s pain.

If Sally were trapped under a car, I would lift it off of her.

Big Savage Mountain Hiking Trail
July 1999

36/4 bald faced hornet

Please read at

Mount Driskill
June 2012

36/5 hornet nest

Laurel Hill State Park
August 2004

36/6 hornet nest

White Tail Trail
September 2004

36/7 hive

Bradys Run County Park
December 2006

36/8 hive

Cheaha Mountain
November 2013

36/9 hive

Cheaha Mountain
November 2013

36/10 hive

Blacklick Valley Natural Area
November 2014

37/1 one ant


37/2 carpenter ants


37/3 big metal


37/4 many ants

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