On a recent trip to New Mexico, to do some recording and get out of the southern Arizona heat, I stopped by the Gila River to camp. I set up camp in a grove of large cottonwood trees, about 100 yards from the river. My dog, Shadow, and I spent the afternoon playing in the river, wading from sandbar to sandbar, looking for tracks of bears, mountain lions, raccoons and coatis, and lots of other wildlife known to frequent the riparian corridor. We returned to camp as the sun was setting, and after a quick dinner, went for a walk along the fence line that separated the area where we were camping from the riparian zone. I think the fence was designed to keep cows out of the sensitive area, so I was rather surprised when we ran into a large, black Angus bull on the river side of the fence. He was a very placid bull, and we watched each other for a while as I reminded my dog that he is not allowed to chase cows, and then we headed back to camp.
It was not a great night for sleeping. It was warm, and the cottonwoods had just finished blooming and were dropping the little casings that cover their flower buds. So all night long I kept being awakened by the tick, tick, tick sound of things smacking into the thick leaf litter under the trees and into my tent. As soon as the sky began to lighten, the birds started their dawn chorus and the cottonwoods erupted with a riot of sound. I turned on my recorder, and attempted to go back to sleep. Soon I could hear something very large stomping through the thick leaf litter and fallen branches, and the sound of heavy breathing. If I hadn’t seen the bull the evening before, I probably would have been scared out of my wits. I never heard the bull leave, so when I finally crawled out of my tent I expected to see him standing there. But he was gone; if I hadn’t caught the sounds on tape, I might have thought I imagined it.
Recoding notes: Recorded with Zoom H4n.
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