Monday, December 11, 2006

Red in tooth and claw

While taking my walk at lunch the other day, I saw something I hadn't seen before up close: a red-tailed hawk was on the ground of an open park-like lawn, energetically disposing of its unfortunate prey, which appeared to be at least squirrel-sized. There was no one else around, so I was able to sidle up pretty close--maybe 50 feet away--and watch the hawk at work. Grisly, but fascinating. I admired the way he flipped it around with his strong talons and sturdy, white legs. I could hear the snap, snap of his beak, picking the bones clean and see the tufts of white fur flying up on the breeze. Every now and then, he would pause and seemingly look straight at me, but I guess I didn't pose much of a threat as I was standing beside a lone tree, quite still. Finally, I decided to back away and walk the loop around the old house. By the time I got back around, I could see the hawk sort of hop-dragging the carcass beneath a big holly tree. It was on my second loop around that the impressive shadow of a vulture swooped overhead. All of this food-chain observation reminded me too, of the baby turtle I had found the day before--on the same loop--flattened into a perfect medallion on the asphalt. I suppose one of the Great Blue Herons I sometimes see at the neighboring pond had dropped it mid-flight.

It's heartening to see nature carrying on in the heart of an otherwise soulless office "park;" although, further construction in the area will shortly wipe out most of what's left there too. For the moment, a few ground hogs, rabbits, and chipmunks still have the run of the place, and hawks can enjoy a midday picnic. There's a pile of brush at the end of the circle that is providing cover for the winter birds: doves, mockingbirds, juncos, and what I think are some migrating warblers. They are very secretive, whatever the little birds are, and I couldn't get close enough to identify them. I'm sure someone will eventually clean off the brush pile, and that will be the end of that.