Five weeks and 19 species

Back last February I asked for some advice about possible mammal watching sites in California for a few days I thought I would have available in August. In particular I was interested in racoons, skunks and opossums as they represented Families I had never seen in the wild. Several people were kind enough to respond, and I would like to thank them, especially Charles Hood who was kind enough to answer a number of my questions off forum.

Things changed though; my time was swallowed up by business and I ended up with only a few hours here and there for wildlife watching. Within a few days of returning home I was off on another trip, this time to France and Minnesota, again wildlife watching time was limited, but here is a report on what I did see. New species in bold.

My California trip ended up starting in Seattle. Late afternoon on the first day I got away to Juanita Bay Park in nearby Kirkland, where I saw Eastern cottontails. Apparently, they were introduced there about a century ago.

Second stop was Foster City, just south of San Francisco airport and on the bay. I took an early morning walk to try and find waders and saw a black-tailed jackrabbit in some wasteland as I walked past.

Our little roadshow ended in Orange County, and I had a couple of days break before the main event in LA, so I visited several reserves in the area. Desert cottontails and Californian ground squirrels were seen at Crystal Cove State Park but the star of the show here was a Steindachner’s ebony tarantula seen crossing a path. An attempt to spotlight in the Upper Newport Bay Nature Reserve ended when I managed to trip and fall over a curb. Fortunately, no serious damage occurred.

I had given myself a day at the end to head up into the mountains that surround LA. I went to a location called Grassy Hollow, which is a picnic area not far past Wrightwood, which is a tiny ski resort off Interstate 5 past San Bernardino. Here I saw western grey squirrels and lodgepole chipmunks. Qantas then cancelled my flight out that evening, annoyingly too late for me to stay up the mountain. I used the extra day to go to some museums and in the carpark of one I saw a fox squirrel.

Four days later I was off again, this time to France with my wife. We stayed at Ruthiere in the southern Alps. A hike up to the Pas de l’Alguile resulted in excellent views of alpine ibex. Firstly, one demonstrated their skills by running across a cliff face on the opposite side of the valley, then rounding the next corner there were a pair quietly grazing only 10 or 15 metres away. One of these animals then climbed into a small tree to feed and allowed us to approach to within two metres. Finally, shepherd’s dogs disturbed a family who then ran down a steep hillside not far from us. Alpine marmots that are usually seen at the end of the hike were unfortunately a no show.

Spotlighting on some roads at the top of the valley produced the expected roe deer in numbers, as well as an unexpected pair of red deer. A red fox was also seen. Using a bat detector around Ruthiere we managed to see and identify common bent wing bats and both Kuhl’s pipistrelles and common pipistrelles.

We also took a boat on the canals adjacent to the Camargue. However, if you discount the “wild” horses the only mammals seen were a couple of European rabbits. I see these rabbits every day and they are pests here; however, they are now threatened in their natural habitats and it was good to see them there.

Next stop was Alexandria, Minnesota, which we reached by flying to Chicago and driving up via Apple Valley, a suburb of Minneapolis. We stopped at the International Crane Foundation on the way, (well worth the stop) where I saw a thirteen-striped ground squirrel.

In Alexandria, we were staying at a bed and breakfast that was situated on several acres of woodland and adjacent to a lake. I enquired of the owner about local mammals. He suggested that most were pretty scared because of all the hunting that took place locally. Racoons had been coming regularly to their raspberry vines however the raspberries were finished now. He had exterminated the skunks on the property because they had become too “friendly”, however a bear had dropped a scat on his driveway only last week.

It did seem as if that all anybody in the town was interested in was hunting. Speaking to a couple at a function I told them about what I did, running a wildlife park and working on conservation of endangered species. They said they liked wildlife too, and had several deer and bear heads mounted on their living room walls.

I did see several white-tailed deer, and of course Eastern grey squirrels. When I learnt to recognise the call, Eastern chipmunks were obviously abundant in appropriate habitat, although I only got a handful of good views. Lastly, I had a couple of good views of American red squirrels.

I never got to see the racoon, skunk or opossum I had hoped to see, although I did see a roadkill racoon. Looks like that will have to do till next time.


  • Charles Hood

    Hi, glad you were able to see some things. For Southern California, the chipmunk might be Merriams? Just guessing — I am in airport in Panama, en rte to Lima. / Charles Hood

  • Michael Johnson

    INaturalist indicates both species have been observed in the area and the animals I saw more closely followed the description for Lodgepole as best as I could tell from Stuart’s North American mammal app.

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