The Riparian Brush Rabbit
We first saw and started to work with and photographed the Riparian Brush Rabbit (RBR) in Feb, 1993. It was listed as Federally Endangered in Feb, 2000. I was very fortunate that one of the mammals my mentor Dr. Dan Williams worked with was the RBR. One of the most common questions is, “how many RBRs are there in the world?” The official answer is, “We are not sure. In 1993 an estimated 200-300 riparian brush rabbits inhabited Caswell State Park. After severe flooding in the winter of 1997 only one rabbit was trapped during field surveys. While we know population numbers have their ups and downs in their population numbers, we found these poor trapping results alarming.” With the loss of over 90% of their habitat, part of the water issues of CA which we’ve always been involved with, while their numbers are still alarmingly low, they are doin a little bit better than these official numbers. This is due in large part to the efforts of ESRP and their very dedicated biologists.
Sharon and I have been involved with ESRP before its inception and I’ve been honored as a Research Associate with ESRP for more than 20yrs. That sounds like a lofty post but what it means is, I’m the best at sitting on a rock and staring at a hole in the ground for 18hrs. Last week when Patrick emailed telling me and sharing a couple of clicks of the activity of the RBR on the San Joaquin River NWR (a marvelous place for wildlife photography) and said I needed to get over, off I went. Upon Patrick’s suggestion, I came with my blind for the two mornings of work. The reasoning was simple, short time to shoot (activity level and light) and needed them to become accustomed to my presence fast. I could have shot from the truck but that high angle for shooting was less than desirable. I wanted to be on ground level with them, so the background would disappear unless I wanted it.
Literally just after being settled in the blind shortly after sun up (standard wildlife rig: D4s / 800mm w/TC-.25 on the Gitzo 5561SGT w/ Wimberley Head) the bunnies were out. I had Desert Cottontails as well as RBRs on the dike with my focusing in on the RBR. I was able to capture all sorts of biology from eating, dust bathing, grooming, nose touching and more all confirming the blind was the right call. The story of the bottom photo probably sums it all up best. Last morning, quiet compared to the previous when this RBR came our of the hedge to the middle of the dike. It stopped, looked right down the dike at the blind and made a 90 degree turn and headed straight for me. It would stop, look, hop, stop, look and hop until what you see above. At this point, it went over to the side of the dike, groomed itself and then slowly walked over to the front of the blind and then to the right. I could see its shadow under the front edge of the blind and then out the right side port. Then it went out of site. I watched the corner of the blind. Because of its design, there are little “entrances” which to a small mammal would look like a tunnel in vegetation. Sure enough, a few seconds later a small head pops through the hole, looks around for about 10-15sec and then slides back out. It was the second time a RBR had done that and is the greatest feeling because it means, we did everything right. And the photos? Well they were all sent off to the biologists to use. You see, as Patrick said to me, “You have the most observational time with the RBR of anyone in the world.” My speciality at work, sitting on a rock, in this case a chair, and staring at a hole in the ground paid off.