by Maureen Gaffney
Have you ever seen a mountain lion on the Napa Valley VINE TRAIL? Yeah, me neither. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t seen you. The mountain lion—Felis Concolor—literally “cat of one color,” is one stealthy kitty who’s a pro at going unnoticed, blending in with the beige/gold grasses and tan oak woodlands. While both bear and mountain lion do call Napa Valley home, they are relatively rare and are most often found (or not, as the case may be) in the farther reaches of the county, away from the relative hubbub of the VINE TRAIL corridor.
What you might actually see on the trail includes beavers, raccoons, deer, skunks, gray foxes, bats and bobcats. And turkeys. Always with the turkeys. While the fox and bobcat sightings certainly feel more special than a turkey, deer, raccoon, or that black and white ambulatory stink bomb, these more ordinary critters are an important part of the ecosystem here in the Valley and should be treated with respect—and an appropriate distance. Especially the skunk.
Hot tip: Skunks will warn you of the impending stench by stomping their feet, clicking their teeth and raising their tails. Good to know! Aside from being putrid, skunks can be beneficial as they like to dine on insects, wasps included. So thank a skunk! But maybe from far away.
Ubiquitous and ever-present, especially when you have some nice flowers or a garden coming up, deer are herbivores and provide the middle link in a food chain. They gain energy from consuming grass or leaves (or your whole dang yard), but are themselves a food source for predators like the mountain lion or other large chompy things that we humans have shoved aside (wolf, for example).
Not knowing what nice thing I could say about turkeys, I Googled it. “Turkeys are intelligent and sensitive animals that are highly social. They create lasting social bonds with each other and are very affectionate; rather similar to dogs. Turkeys have the ability to learn the precise details of an area over 1,000 acres in size.” From OneKindPlanet.org. Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle (or aunt, rather). I always thought they had the IQ of a cocktail olive and would drown in the rain from gazing up at it. I guess I need to give the gobblers another chance.
Bats are super cool as they zoom around eating pests, dispersing seeds and pollinating things, and the lowly raccoon, reviled for his trash-can raiding ways, also disperses seeds and acts as an ecological clean-up crew, feasting on things nobody else wants. If only he’d do it while leaving the garbage can alone.
These are just a few of the creatures you might find along the VINE TRAIL, and a few quick facts about them. More fun, interesting information about the ecosystems the VINE TRAIL traverses can be found along the trail on the beautifully rendered interpretive panels placed alongside the route. Now, close your computer, put the phone down, and go see what you can see on the VINE TRAIL! And remember, if it’s black and white, furry, stomping and clicking, run away!