Well, maybe I'm exaggerating in this headline to grab your attention. But in truth, on April 9, I had arguably the rarest wildlife encounter in my 35 years of professional wildlife encountering. On that morning, Elizabeth Lesley and I were censusing Golden-cheeked Warblers in our Rodgers Southeast Prime Warbler Study Area, a rugged 100-acre patch of ankle-twisting, knee-popping terrain in the heart of the Refuge. We had hiked down a steep ravine, following the sounds of territorial male Golden-cheeks as we scribbled notes on our field maps. Towards the bottom of the ravine, I heard a harsh chattering noise that I couldn't identify; that's a rare event in itself, but that's not what I'm talking about. I assumed we had startled a fox squirrel, a raccoon, or some other small critter, but the sound emanating from up in the tree was just...strange.
After a minute, I finally spotted the species which was making the ruckus: A Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus):
The Ringtail, sometimes known by the misnomer "ringtail cat", is a lithe relative of the Raccoon and the Coati. They are strictly nocturnal and very shy. Encountering one in the daytime is quite unusual. I had only had this experience about three times previously, even though I have probably seen a total of 12 or 15 Ringtails in my career. Rare enough, but nothing to write home about.
In fact, there were *two* Ringtails in the tree. On all the nighttime spotlight surveys we've done, I can't remember ever seeing two in the same tree. I recall we once had three or four in one survey, but they were scattered all along that particular route. So, two Ringtails in a tree in the daytime: Very unusual, but that's not the rarest part of the observation...
They were...how shall I phrase this delicately...beginning a family together. After we initially interrupted their activity, they had relocated to a different treetop and the X-rated show restarted. From their new vantage point, the female was peering down on us and uttering what I assume was some type of alarm call. Her partner, with the typical short attention span of a courting male--of any species--was thoroughly focused on her. I managed to take a few distant pictures of the event with my little camera and actually recorded a 30-second soundtrack of the alarm calls and love chatter. I'm limiting my posting of that documentation out of a sense of discretion; it will remain available for future study in the "Refuge files".
The cute couple, begging for some privacy:
To paraphrase the ever-subtle Shakespeare,
here is a "two-tailed ringtail":
* By the way, in case you were wondering, the "R" rating is for "Rarity", "Rodgers", "Rugged", "Ringtail", or "Ruckus"...take your pick. This blog has been rated "PG" by the Balcones Canyonlands Blog Rating Association.