We Meet In Darkness
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Yesterday evening I went back to Sabino Canyon for the first time in about a week. I’d been staying away because it’s been so hot and dry lately that even the nocturnal creatures were remaining dormant. There was just no point in trudging around the canyon when the temperature stayed into the upper 90s for hours after the sun went down.
But, yesterday was different. Storms passed through the area yesterday afternoon and cooled everything down quite a bit. I decided that going was worth a try.
Last night was moonless and mostly overcast and, although it was only in the mid-80s at the canyon, the humidity was intense. Storms threatened in the distance. They would move through late last night and produce a tremendous amount of rain in some locales. By 8 p.m. it was pitch black — so dark that I couldn’t see anything beyond the little circle of light cast by my flashlight. I went over to Sabino Dam and began prowling around the riparian area. That area is pretty densely wooded and navigating it in total darkness was slow going. I spent about 10 minutes in the bushes, sweating profusely, and being bitten often by mosquitos.
Then, I heard something rustling in the brush. I shined my flashlight on the area from which the sound was emanating and the reflection of two pairs of eyes was thrown back at me. Slowly, two skunks emerged from the bushes. They stopped about 15 feet from where I stood. The skunks stared at me for a while and I stood as still as I could. I slowly raised my camera to eye level and was able to take a couple of pictures before the skunks faded back into the bushes. A moment later I spotted a third skunk a few feet away from the first two, also observing me. Like the others, it watched me for a few seconds, then turned and disappeared.
The skunks were Hooded Skunks, members of one of four skunk species that live in southern Arizona (the others are: Striped Skunks, Hog-nosed Skunks, and Spotted Skunks). Like all skunks, Hooded Skunks are strictly nocturnal. One almost never sees them in daylight. They are omnivores. They will eat almost anything organic but they are big fans of insects. These skunks were rooting around at the base of a dead tree when I found them and it’s possible that they were digging for termites.
There are a lot of myths about skunks. Skunks do not smell bad. They can spray a horrible smelling fluid from glands at the bases of their tails, but that’s strictly elective on their part. When they are not spraying they smell no more than any other mammal.
Skunks are generally not rabid. They can carry rabies, but all mammals can carry that virus. It is no more likely that the skunk one encounters while walking at night is rabid than would be the case with a fox, a coyote, a bat, or a squirrel.
Skunks are not aggressive. They do not spray for the fun of it. They spray defensively and only when molested. The ones that I encountered acted as if they couldn’t have cared less about me. After checking me out for a minute or so they simply walked away.
Skunks have few natural enemies but one definite predator of skunks is the Great Horned Owl (a bird with almost no sense of smell). Owls, like skunks, are nocturnal, and these big raptors are perfectly capable of picking off a skunk. While I was observing the two skunks at Sabino Canyon I heard a Great Horned Owl hooting a few yards from where I stood. I’m certain that the skunks were more concerned about the owl than they were about me.
Image taken with a Canon 5DS-R, 180 f3.5 L MacroLens assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite (full power with diffuser off), ISO 500, f13 @ 1/160.