We went out to Scott Valley Ranch yesterday to check on the prairie dogs, but we saw so much more.
When we turned off the highway onto the dirt road that winds around a bit before getting to our ranch, we hadn't gone very far (for those of you who have been out there with us, we hadn't even gotten to the T intersection) when we saw a large animal up ahead. We soon realized it was an elk! Ron stopped the Jeep; the elk was about 30 yards away from us. He had his head down, nibbling on some grass. Then he heard us, raised his head and stared at us for about three seconds before running off into the brush. He was a big elk with antlers. Naturally we didn't have our cameras ready; we'd just gotten off the highway and never expected to see something so camera-worthy so soon.
We proceeded to the T intersection and turned left. We hadn't driven very far when a red-tailed hawk swooped down low and flew right over us, its red tail prominent in the midday sun.
That's when we both turned our cameras on!
We drove around to our little piece of heaven out there, marveling at how green everything was compared to our last (somewhat sad) visit.
We saw prairie dogs! Big, fat, healthy prairie dogs.
This one was especially "well fed" and has apparently been getting ready for winter dormancy (I wonder if that means it will be an extra harsh winter). Ron named him Pork Chop!
We saw other prairie dogs, but none as large as Pork Chop. We walked all over the property, examining the burrows for evidence of activity, and were happy to see that most of the burrows show signs of recent activity.
The grasses and bushes look green and healthy, too. It was such a big change from last time we were there, during the severe drought. I feel much more optimistic about the survival of "our" prairie dogs.