June 14th: Rob, Dan and I arrived at Roxborough around 6:00 PM. The golden eaglet was visible on the edge on the nest, squawking at the top of its little lungs. It wasn’t long before one of the adults showed up, circling above the nest. A small rabbit in the canyon below the nest never saw the eagle coming, and after a couple of minutes dinner was served.
After spending half an hour or so at the nest, we decided to push on. As soon as we reached the upper parking lot I noticed some movement on the right hand side of the road. I grabbed the radio, “Rob, the two bears are back – upper lot!” Dan and I hopped out of the truck, I went down onto my knees in the road and began shooting – the bears crossed the road in front of the truck and started walking east on the other side of the road. By the time I pulled my eye away from the viewfinder and stood up there were four cars stopped behind us – bear jam. The bears flanked the road for a bit, then headed up the Willow Creek trail.
We stuck with the bear pair for the next hour or so (I ran out of disk space and Dan ran out of battery power), then made our way back to the truck. We reached the truck as my buddy Chris and his wife pulled up. Chris was anxious to see his first bears of the season, so we told him where to look and he started up the trail. After a bit of “bear talk” with Rob, Dan and I drove east to take a look in the canyon. We reached the high pullout on the east side of the park where we usually scope from, and before I could get the spotting scope out Rob was on the radio. “Another bear, upper lot again!” This bear was extremely skittish – it had darted through the parking lot and attempted to scramble up a tree near Rob’s vehicle, but fell out about half way up. The reddish-cinnamon bear finally settled down a bit when it hit the brush line on the other side of the road, following the path that the other bears had taken, sniffing the ground for the scent trail as it walked along. Dan, Rob, Chris’ wife (sorry, I’m not very good at remembering names) and I watched the bear for a couple of minutes, then Chris came around the corner on the trail – just in time to see the third bear as it ran past. The light was gone, so we decided to call it a day.
June 15th: Arrived at Roxy around 6, and passed a large group of cub scouts at the visitor center on my way up the Fountain Valley trail. My hike yielded nothing, just too hot for the wildlife to be out. I made my way back to the truck and down to the eagle nest, arriving just in time to see an adult leaving the nest – just missed feeding time. I waited around at the nest for a couple of minutes, and a group of scouts led by a park volunteer came down the road. I did my best to point out the nest, but it’s camouflaged against the cliff and hard to make out without an eagle visible on it. Down the road, and after a half hour of nothing, I found myself back at the upper parking lot. Four deer shot out of the oak brush, heads held high, bleating and scattering as they ran at full speed. I picked up the radio – “Rob, you’d better get over here, something’s got these deer spooked. Definitely a predator.” As soon as I took my thumb off of the receiver a mountain lion walked out of the brush. “Mountain lion, mountain lion, get over here quick!” I was out of the car and shooting in a couple of seconds, and Rob raced into the parking lot. The lion slowly stalked toward us, eyes locked onto the two humans below it the entire time.
The lion came to about 40 feet from us and froze, looking off to the left. We could hear the sound of kids walking up the trail, and the lion obviously heard them as well, dropping down as low as it could in the tall grass, ears exposed above the foliage. The next hour was a blur – kids and parents trying to be a quiet as possible (these are kids, after all) while we watched the ears twitch in the grass. I shared my photos with the kids, discussing lion behavior with the brave ones at the front of the group and explaining to the frightened ones that the animal was just as afraid of us as we were of it. We could’ve ignored the scouts and let them pass by without ever seeing the lion, and we may have been able to get more shots after they passed, but I’m convinced that sharing this experience with the kids was the right thing to do. The joy and excitement on their faces made it worthwhile. Chris and his wife waited with me until dusk, and as soon as the crowd left the lion arose. It looked over at us for a moment, then disappeared into the thick oak brush. My first mountain lion sighting of the year, and I’d finally been able to get shots of the reclusive cat!
June 16th: Dan and I got into the park later than usual, about 6:30. Not much happening, another hot afternoon. We spent some time with the eaglet, squawking again at the edge of the nest as an adult circled overhead. Rob spotted a bear near the Willow Creek lot, and we were on the trail within shooting distance of the bear within 10 minutes. We spent the evening with the bear, a beautiful black that didn’t seem to mind our presence at all.
At sunset a female bear and cinnamon cub appeared on the top of the ridge above us, obviously very interested in the black bear we were photographing. She stood on her hind legs for a better view as the cub rambled around the rocks at her feet. First cub of the year, hopefully we’ll have more time with it in the future. The light was gone, so we headed back to the truck. Another 3-bear day, and these were three bears that we’d never seen before, bringing our running total to 7 individuals in the park so far this year – another day in parkadise!