Sunday, June 6, 2010

red-tailed & half-squirrel

okay! the observationist is back online!
for the time being, anyway.
i'll spare you the details of my computer resurrection adventure — i have a lot of catching up to do, so i'll just cut to the chase…

this post is not for the squeamish. or for people who really like cute little squirrels. but a hawk's gotta eat, and, lacking the shirt and shoes to gain service at subway, panera, pita delight, or other similar fine dining establishments, he opted for a fur-covered, bushy tailed, slow-off-the-draw squirrel instead.

this is not to say i enjoy dead squirrels, but this is nature — what was done was done — and i just captured it. my role of the observer keeps me detached.

squirrels always provide a source of amusement for me, put a smile on my face, and even instill a sense of wonder. i recently watched two of them chase each other up and down and around a tree in what i believe to be a courting ritual. (not that i can tell the difference between male and female squirrels. i just project human traits and behavior patterns on animals until said projections are proven to be wrong or just plain silly, at which point i retract my opinions in favor of cold, hard fact.) one would chase the other up and around a tree trunk, then they would stop, tails held at attention, ears pricked, listening for the tell-tale sounds of claws against bark, then it was off to the races again. they would always pause on opposite sides of the tree, so that at any given moment, neither squirrel could see the other. in essence, they were playing hide-and-seek. this went on for some time, and i never got tired of watching it.

yeah, yeah, the squirrels…amusing. so what about the hawk?

oh yes, the hawk. i'm too easily distracted…

as i've stated in previous posts, i rarely look ahead of me when i'm walking, opting instead to whip my head about as though it is operating on a completely different set of instructions than that of my body, constantly scanning left, right, up, and down while my body continues on, straight ahead, undeterred. this habit has ensured that my neck is left feeling as though i'd been in several consecutive car accidents, rear-ended each time. it has also ensured that i occasionally step off the trail, tripping over roots and crashing through underbrush like a drunk ox. but it has also yielded some great opportunities, as well: the barred owl (featured in a couple of previous posts), a female wolf spider carrying her egg sac (featured later on in this post), a black rat snake draped over some tree branches (he was dead, so he kind of fit in with this post, too), and, of course, the squirrel-eating red-tailed hawk.

finally, the hawk.

i know…thanks for your patience.

not-for-the-squeamish, part I
red-tailed hawk perched with meal
here is the red-tailed, perched on the branch. at this point, i had not noticed that he was sitting down at — or more accurately, standing on — a meal.

apparently, their eyesight is astounding, because, like most of the other birds i try to photograph, they see me and/or my camera coming, and they bolt. this one was what seemed like a mile away, but sure enough, he spotted me spotting him, and away he went. but first he picked up the meal that i had been unaware of all this time.
red-tailed hawk getting his meal to-go
cool! another opportunity for a flying sequence with an added bonus!
red-tailed hawk flying off
(click the picture for a larger version)
poor little squirrel. awesome little photo op.

not-for-the-squeamish, part II
i love wolf spiders. they can get quite large and scary looking, but i love the fact that they take such good care of their young. like, for instance, they don't eat them. at least, not readily.
wolf spider with egg sac - front
and they will fight to the death to defend their eggs.
wolf spider with egg sac - back
when the young have made it past the larval stage, the female bites open the egg sac and the little guys crawl out and onto her back, clinging for dear life to the tiny, bristly hairs that are found there. then they proceed to try not to fall off as the mother resumes her hunting duties. wolf spiders are predatory hunters, chasing down their prey “on foot” rather than building webs, thus the “wolf” part of their name. though i don't believe they hunt in packs.

not-for-the-squeamish, part III
i smelled it before i saw it. i was on the gibson park greenway, having taken a left where the trail splits, rather than my usual right. i take it all in when i'm outdoors: the sights, the sounds…and the smells. on this particular day, i was enjoying the smell of the crisp, cool forest air when it hit me. it was like running into a wall of foul odor, having an almost physical effect on my body upon “impact.” a couple more steps and i was out of it. the smell was immediately recognizable as decaying flesh, so why i turned back to investigate the source of that stench remains a mystery to me, but that's exactly what i did. and that's how i found this guy:
black rat snake hanging from tree

he smelled worse than he looked. in fact, for a minute there, i wondered if he was actually alive and that the smell belonged to something else close by. but his lack of response to my tromping around in the dead leaves next to the tree he was in pretty much convinced me that this was the source.

i had to wonder how he ended up here. my first thought was that he got plucked up by a hawk, then dropped in flight for some reason — maybe he whipped up and bit the hawk, and the hawk dropped him out of surprise? i don't know, but whatever happened, it wasn't a messy death. i noticed one scratch midway between his head and his midsection, but that was it for wounds…and it wasn't a life-threatening wound, at that. i took a few shots, but felt a little weird about it after a few minutes. this was kind of undignified end to his life, me taking pictures of him frozen in his final moment of consciousness on this earth, hanging from a tree. thus, only one picture posted.

well, that wraps up the “squeamish” post. from this point on, my posts will be about creatures that are still actively breathing, flying, leaping, slithering, and/or walking. i guess i was just in a mood with this post. my apologies to those who were expecting something more…lively.


Mary said...

The only part of this post I didn't like was the wolf spider. I don't do well with spiders, esp. one that hunts on foot. My God.

And, like you, I have felt the same way about photographing something dead, dying, or in danger. (snake). I do wonder why it died.

There was a baby Mockingbird that had fallen into a storm drain and while I waited for help to arrive to save this bird, I had my camera but could not take a photo. Didn't seem right.

Susan Gets Native said...

Wow. A lot going on in that last photo.
First, shed skin.
Two, puncture wounds.
Third, it looks like the snake was egg-bound.
But an egg bound, wounded, recently molted snake wouldn't get up in a tree under its own power.
This seems to be an abandoned kill. Sad. And smelly, it sounds like.

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