This counts as a “backyard wildlife” experience even though the little community at Natural Bridges National Monument is surrounded by millions of acres of wildland and wilderness. Wild animals do act differently when they’ve become conditioned to humans being around that show no intent of harming them. Like park rangers.
Because last winter I noticed how a Desert Cottontail rabbit that lives around our house has a spot where it likes to doze during many of the daytime hours in the winter.
It’s a perfect spot: it catches the midday winter sunshine, and has brush and other cover to break most of the wind, and also to protect the rabbit’s rear approach from any predator that might be sneaking up on it. But no brush facing south that would shade out the sunlight.
I was watching it again this winter. It started using its daytime napping spot again while there was still snow on the ground underneath the sagebrush bush. But as it warmed up the snow melted quickly underneath the bush, giving it an even warmer spot in which to laze the day by.
Then came our latest storm and the rabbit shifted to whatever other spots it likes better when the snow is soft and deep. Probably some other of the nearby sagebrush bushes that are even more sheltering, even though they don’t get any sunlight underneath them. A rabbit is well adapted to stay warm in the coldest of weather. Its sunny napping spot, when available, is a luxury it doesn’t need but clearly enjoys when available. Why not?
Several mornings after the latest big snows, I was walking to work when a different rabbit was out near the Visitor Center. It, too, was accustomed to the rangers and staff coming and going, so I was able to get several good shots of him in the dazzling hoarfrost morning light.
Until he finally had enough of my lingering, and moved off under the trees.
Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, southeast Utah.
Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg