Saturday, October 21, 2017

Under a full Moon

Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus) watercolor, available
When you spend as many summer nights as I out in the canyons of Arizona and Mexico, you will sometimes hear rustling in the trees above, bumping noises on a roof or little chittering voices. Little faces with dark eyes under big ears peer at you from behind branches. They jump and climb with ease, trailing a long, luxurious tail, banded in black-and white. But since it's usually dark when ringtails show themselves, I never caught more than a glimpse.
At Carr house in the Huachucas we saw a regular visitor high on the roof, slipping in and out of the beam of our flash lights. Similar fleeting impressions were left by a couple of them very high up in a tree during a black lighting session in Ida Canyon further south. At my friend Pat Sullivan's and Lisa Lee's house I wanted to check the black light at the bug room one more time before sun rise and found myself face to face with the resident Ringtail who had had the same idea. We both jumped and he retreated.  Once I slept under the stars at the Madrone Ranger station in the Rincons - when I got up a Ringtail had just tucked himself into a crucked branch above my head to spend the day. Most encounters where ghostly and swift. No photos.
But during our August trip to the Sierra Juriquipa in Sonora Mexico one of our group, Steve Minter, wasn't giving up so easily. At nightfall, he saw a little guy watching him from a tree branch, so Steve climbed after the ringtail, up into the tree, camera and all. One name for Ringtails is Miner's  Cat, but in fact, the little racoon relatives are better acrobats than even cats. So why did it not run?  Steve was wearing a bright headlight - so maybe it was the 'deer in the headlights' effect or maybe the ringtail knew that the thinner branches would not support even the most daring human - anyway, the miner's cat stayed put and Steve got a number of nice photographs. This painting was inspired by them.

Ringtails are omnivores that feed on everything from bird eggs to berries, lizards and bugs. They like rocky areas with crevices  and cavities for their dens and they tend to live close to water. I keep thinking of them as typical southwestern animals, but they can be found from southwestern Oregon, south through California, southern Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, eastern Kansas, Baja California and northern Mexico. I have sometimes seen a couple of them together, but those may have been litter mates or a female with a sub-adult kid. Normally ringtails live solitary in small territories. 

2 comments:

  1. Lots of moon mood in your painting. Ringtails are a favorite of mine .... but I've only had one fleeting glimpse of a live one. They are in my area, but so secretive.

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  2. Thank you, Eva! Yes, my observations stretch over a long period and many nights under the stars.

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