Saturday, January 21, 2006

Big Sur Safari

Today was gray, dreary and overcast until the very moment that I picked my girlfriend up from work. The clouds rolled away to the east and the sun shone brightly over our local paradise. We had originally planned to go work out together at the fitness center downtown... but the weather was whispering sweet nothings in our ears, and we were listening.

We decided to take a drive out towards Big Sur, and to let the sunlight and the ocean waves guide us to whatever destination they thought best. On our way, we passed the dirt road that leads towards the lagoon at Carmel River State Beach, and we both had a feeling that we should turn around and take that path. We made a u-turn on Highway 1, and then turned left, heading northwest towards the lagoon.

As we were approaching the fence which cut across the end of the dirt lane, we saw an animal. It was bounding like a dog, and at first we thought that it might be a a fox. After two leaps we both realized that it was unmistakeably a cat... a very LARGE cat! As it made its final leap into the bushes we saw its bobbed tail and knew that we had just been awarded for listening to our instincts. It was a bobcat! Its fur had a dark orange tint, and it paid no mind to us as it loped along in its search for whatever a bobcat wants at 4:30pm on a sunny, cool Carmel afternoon.

After our feline encounter, we continued our lovely drive and were treated to the glorious sight of 3 different groups of whales (each consisting of 6-8 individuals) travelling south at high speed. Each of the whales in the pods would surface, blow, and then dive one after the other in a very quick succession.
We had a spotting scope and a pair of binoculars for just such an occasion, and stopped along the side of the freeway at several different locations, braving the now frigid ocean breeze, while we sighted the blows which were about half a mile out to sea.

Back in the car we talked while enjoying the scenery until the sun was almost setting. At this point we decided to pull off the highway by the Point Sur lighthouse. A large group of cattle stood below on the grazing land between our spot beside the highway and the point. We were watching the steers, who for the most part were lazing in the evening sunlight (except for one which suddenly started running crazily through the throng, bucking and leaping like a young deer who has just learned how). We were just about ready to head back towards home, when my girlfriend shouted: "It's a fox!... I see a fox! No... wait... It's a coyote!"

Sure enough, it was indeed a coyote. This particular animal was meandering leisurely amidst the cattle as if it were just another member of the herd. It stopped once and looked right up at us in the car... but it was more than 500 yards away and probably was not aware that we were watching it. We pulled out the scope and the binoculars and watched intently from inside the vehicle as it stopped suddenly a couple times as if it were a retriever on the point. The next moment it charged towards a steer as if to challenge it to a game of chicken. It stopped short just a foot or two away from the comparatively gigantic beast, who munched its grass, thoroughly unimpressed with the coyote's bravado.

We stayed and watched the coyote as it wandered back and forth through the sparsely gathered group of larger animals, stopping at odd intervals when it thought that it sensed some kind of prey nearby. We were treated to the entertaining spectacle of "Coyote Pouncing" twice during this performance. It caught something approximately groundhog size with the first pounce, and ate it "on the run" immediately afterwards as it pranced through the beefy crowd towards the far side of the herd. Once there, it pounced again; but to no avail this time. Following this failed attempt, it licked its chops, looked around enthusiastically, and then walked off into the sunset of our wonderful afternoon.