It’s Monday, the first day of our three day weekend. It seemed as good a day as any to catch up on our Zs and rest. The deep layers of dark clouds and high winds helped to facilitate this desire. Recently showered and cozy in our camper Tim turned in for a nap and I read page after page of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. After a bit I put on the kettle and put down the book, tired of his grumblings on humans and musings on the desert being put into words better than anyone else could ever say such things. I decided instead to spy on the neighbors who were out and about despite the weather. It seemed so harmless since they were just going about their business eating a late lunch (early dinner?). Their movements became blocked a bit by some yuccas but I got my first hint that all was not necessarily well. At this point Tim got up and got out his camera to document their movements. It was shortly after this that we got a bit of domestic violence on film. Or was it courtship? Hard to tell sometimes with Jack Rabbits. The male kept moving in slowly with his ears back. Seemingly just wanting to nuzzle muzzles. Our female wasn’t having it and the male got a one two punch right on the kisser! Of course I have no true way of knowing the sex of either but the act was a clear “No!”.
The Black-tailed Jack Rabbit and the Desert Cottontail are by far the most abundant animals in the park both by numbers and sightings. With their high metabolisms they need to be almost constantly eating. One can catch them almost any time of day but driving at dusk one needs to be very careful. We call them suicidal, interjecting human intentions, when they cross the road and then double back onto the road right in front of us, having evolved skills to out maneuver four legged predators and not the four wheeled, bright light, kind.
Their abundant numbers mean that they can be legally hunted in the Preserve all year long. They also breed all year long having up to four litters with an average of three offspring. Jack Rabbits are not true rabbits but instead are hares. The distinction being that when born they are fully furred and eyes are open. Laid in a protective covering of mom’s fur and separated from each other in case of predation hopefully not all are found. Mom forages nearby but won’t go to them until the cover of night for nursing.
We don’t often see them engage their ability to bound 5-10′ at a time in an attempt of escape but rather a teetering lope from front to back feet as they move from one nibbling spot to another. Or in the case of our not easily discouraged suitor back and forth to his afternoon love interest. At one point he stopped to shake out his front paws in a hurried twisting movement that made us wonder at whether or not he had gotten poked by some cholla bit. We find these spider like bits all over our boots, laces and pants on a daily basis ourselves. At yet another stop he pulled his clown like hind foot to his mouth and plucked at it.
Adding to the goofy look of the Jack Rabbit are their iconically large ears, up to five inches long and rather thin they light up when the sun hits them. This highlights the many veins throughout the ears. The veins across the large ears move heat up and away from the body of the Jacks, an inventive and efficient adaptation to the (mostly) hot desert. Our neighbors seem to be on constant alert stopping every few seconds to take in the sounds around them. Sometimes they raise up on their front legs with ears fully forward, looking ever much like the chocolate bunnies of Easter time. They can also articulate the ears towards their backs so that in looking in one direction they are picking up sounds from the other.
Not just hunted by humans they are also prey to coyotes, eagles and bobcats. I’ve come to realize though that most are donated to the cause laying somewhat tenderized on the side of the road. Never for long. I’ve yet to see the same Jack carcass twice.
The undismayed wooer keeps coming around for more. I can’t be sure but our female might just be giving in. She steals away into the bushes and he follows. Our voyeuristic time has come to an end, just in time because the water for tea is boiling.