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Critter watching expeditions

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POSTED January 20, 2013 10:02 p.m.

Although trout fishing and bass fishing are my favorite excuses to get out in the great outdoors, there are many times when just watching the wild critters is pretty darned good entertainment.

 As I write this, we’ve had a long cold snap with freezing temperatures every night. It’s difficult to work up much enthusiasm for standing waist deep in 33 degree water, and even sitting on a bank waiting for a striper or catfish to bite can be colder than a well diggers butt. As I get older, I look fore more comfortable ways to enjoy the great outdoors.

 Actually, right now, in late winter, is a great time for some critter watching that’s not going to freeze your tookis off. A great excursion in late January is a drive up to any one of the area’s foothill reservoirs and looking for Bald Eagles. Just take a drive up Highway 49, Highway 132, Highway 120, or any other road that runs near a large reservoir. This time of year the Bald Eagles have migrated south from Alaska and Canada and are wintering at bodies of water in our neighborhood. Your chances of spotting a bald eagle from the comfort of your car are really good. You can dress in warm clothing and bring along good binoculars or a good spotting scope and once you spot an eagle or two stop to get a closer look with your optics. Pack a picnic lunch, or stop at one of the many great eateries in Gold Country and make a day of it. It’s a pretty effective cure for cabin fever and you don’t have to freeze your butt off.

Another good critter watching expedition is elk spotting in the National Wildlife Refuge near San Luis Reservoir. Again, warm clothing and a picnic lunch make a great day out of it. I usually like to combine a trip up one of the canyons in the costal hills. In addition to Pacheco Pass, there are Del Puerto Canyon, Corral Hollow Road, Patterson Pass Road, or even the Old Altamont Pass Road. If you’re lucky you’ll see a couple of Bull Elk and a dozen or so cow elk with their babies. These are the remnants of the vast herds of Tule Elk that used to populate the Great Central Valley, before the Gringo Invasion.

By the time summer arrives you can shift to beaver watching in the beaver ponds of the high alpine meadows. Every summer  we camped along the  North Fork of the Mokelumne at Hermit Valley and one of our favorite pastimes was to go down to the beaver dam in the meadow at dusk and watch the beavers. It’s tough on a small kid to actually sit quietly for any length of time, but if we were able to sit still long enough, sure enough the beavers would regularly come out every evening and put on a great show. They would swim up and down the river and make a great splash! With their tails when we startled them. They would waddle up out of the water to the bushes and you could hear their gnawing, crunching, sounds as they gathered more sticks for their dams and for food.  Sometimes you could even hear the low grunts and squeaks as a mama beaver communicated with her pups. It was pretty cool.

If you happen to take your family dog along, be sure to keep him on a tight leash, one time my old dog Skippy got into a life & death fight with a huge beaver. The dog eventually won the fight but the beaver had bitten him clear to the bone in several places. Fortunately we were able to get old Skippy sewed up all right. And that evening we had beaver stew. It’s a whole lot easier on the dog, the beaver and you to simply prevent the fight by keeping old Fido on a tight leash.

 Trust me, if you ever get a chance to get up close and personal with a beaver, Don’t Do It!

Until Next Week,

Tight Lines

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