By Stuart Thornton, National Geographic Roving Reporter, with editorial graffiti by his editor
It is nighttime in Muir Woods National Park, and we wonder what animals might be scampering around under the giant redwood trees.
Before heading out on the two-mile loop around the park, the leader of our BioBlitz “Mammals and More” inventory hike, Dave MacKenzie, says that it is possible to see coyotes, raccoons, mountain lions and Townsend’s big-eared bats in the popular park after the sun sets.
“What do you hope to see?” asks Debi Stein, another inventory guide.
Though we don’t see any big mammals, we are treated to a little one and a nice, quiet walk through a forest that can bustle with visitors during daylight hours.
Throughout the hike, MacKenzie showers us with interesting facts about the forest. He stops and shines his flashlight on a millipede crossing the trail.
“They tend to come out on this trail at night,” he says. “They are one of the skunks’ favorite foods.”
A few minutes later, he shines his light on a fallen tree bridging a creek.
“Raccoons will run right across a branch like that,” he says.
A volunteer docent assisting MacKenzie, Chris Nichols, scans the forest for animals while holding a clipboard.
“This is very cool,” he says. “I’ve never been immersed in anything like this.”
The find of the night comes when our group locates a deer mouse moving through the duff under a redwood tree.
“You can think of a lot of species that would like to eat that,” MacKenzie says.
None of those bigger species are spotted this evening, but everyone in the group is glad they came.
Debi Stein of nearby Sausalito says she was hoping to see a river otter or coyote.
“But it’s really beautiful,” she says. “And it’s so quiet.”