Bunny from the dark side

With the sun already below the horizon, I walked along the forest edge trying to avoid people who, like me, know summer in Texas means going outside in the morning or in the evening—but not during the brutal heat of the day.

Joggers and cyclists.  Families enjoying picnics.  Nature lovers appreciating the escape offered by White Rock Lake.  And possibly even a few people who were entertaining nefarious thoughts but who found the regular police patrols a bit problematic.  I was a tad surprised by the busy feel.

Yet I wasn’t terribly bothered.  My plan always keeps me away from other park visitors.  How else can I see anything of interest?

After stalking one of the creeks and chasing down every insect, bird and reptile I could find and photograph, I strolled through the Celebration Tree Grove in case something of interest might be lurking thereabout.  Sure enough, I walked right by one little critter who knew stealth at dusk meant sitting still and watching carefully.

Eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) huddled in the grass after sunset (2009_07_06_026115)

I was no more than ten paces from this eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) when I finally saw it.  The rabbit stayed close to the treeline where shadow and quick escape would protect it.  It remained unseen by me until I passed it and reached a position where it became silhouetted by grass rather than the dark understory.

Smart critter, too, for it never flinched during my closest approach: perhaps ten feet/three meters.  As with all wildlife, there’s a difference between being near and being interested.  You can pass within a few inches of a great many creatures without causing them to react, but that works only so long as you don’t act like a threat.  Understanding the species in question is the key.

I doubled back and approached the rabbit so I could snap a few pictures.  It watched me intently as I walked closer.  When I knelt and became still, it went back to eating.

Unfortunately it didn’t take long for some idiot to see me, wonder what I was photographing, and walk over—with large dog in tow.

Eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) sitting alert in the grass after sunset (2009_07_06_026125)

The rabbit became alert, swiveled its ears in various directions, watched the approaching man and canine, then quickly vanished into the woods.

I stood, turned toward the interloper and his four-footed friend, and said in a sardonic tone, “Thanks a lot.”

“Whatcha takin’ pictures of?” the clueless man asked.

“Nothing now that you and your dog scared it away,” I replied with the utmost derision and condescension in my voice.  Then I turned and walked home.

I admit I have mixed experiences with people who see me taking pictures.  Some look at me either with curious glances or as though I’m a nut (as though nothing could be worthy of being photographed).  Some talk briefly to the person or persons they’re with (if I hear them, it’s mostly about the camera/lens or wondering what I might be looking at).  Some ask me from a distance about the camera or about what I’m looking at (which can lead to an invitation to come see for themselves if I know that won’t ruin the chance).

Those who speak to me directly about the subject often use it as a learning experience, many of them asking about the nature of the thing (what species it is, how common it is, why it does what it does, and so on).

Then there are those like the bonehead last night who march right up as though lumbering into the scene can’t possibly interfere with me.  And that’s especially true of the clueless gits with dogs, dogs who are descendants of wolves and who are looked at by the rest of nature as dangerous predators.  It doesn’t matter if the dog wouldn’t hurt a fly; for wildlife, a dog is a wolf is a killer.

I also run into kids and teenagers who as a general rule can’t be trusted as far as I’m concerned.  Small children don’t know better and tend to chase and run and make too much noise.  Teenagers do know better and still act like fools by harassing, chasing, throwing stones or sticks, and generally doing their best to molest and/or harm wildlife.  There are exceptions with both groups; I nonetheless find it safe to assume the worst and be surprised when I’m wrong.

Amazingly, kids usually traveling in groups notwithstanding, I have more problems with adults than I do the younger generations.  It’s the adults I see letting their dogs run wild through a flock of birds.  It’s the adults I see riding their skateboards and bicycles right through a gaggle of geese.  It’s the adults who catch a snapping turtle while fishing then set upon the reptile as though it’s a terrorist.  It’s the adults who try to pummel a snake with a large stick simply because it’s there and not because it was attacking someone.  And it’s the adults who raise children and teenagers that do the same things.

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