Mid-Summer Report

Saturday morning, with the temperature on its way to sweltering, I headed for the shady Henson Trail. At the big pond, bullfrogs barely bothered to produce a bark or two. Common whitetail dragonflies zipped and zoomed above the water and invading grass. The trees rang with cicada song, the sound of summer.Bluet damselfly

No snakes were visible on the creek banks near the bridge. No snapping turtle lurked in the deep pool downstream. The creek flowed in slow silence, awaiting the crash of the next thunderstorm. Damselflies darted and hovered; one landed on the railing near me. Damselflies fold their wings together at rest, unlike dragonflies. This was one of the delicate little bluets; I can’t tell you the species.

Many local nesting birds are done for the year or are feeding their second brood of babies. American goldOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfinches, though, are just getting started. They wait for thistles to bloom, because they use the thistledown to provide soft linings for their nests. So the goldfinches were quite busy, calling and singing in the open woods near the creek. If you listen to the rhythm of their call notes, they seem to say “Potato chip!” during their scalloped flight. (At our house, goldfinches are also harvesting catnip seeds and soon will be feasting on the seeds of their look-alike flower, black-eyed Susans.)

Alerted by a fellow walker to “two Bambis,” I scanned the meadow and found two spotted fawns lying in the grass near the bluebird box. They were so cute I paused to watch them.

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Like a lot of people, I carry two simultaneous and opposing views about white-tailed deer. As individual animals, they’re beautiful, graceful, and a treat to see. As a species, there are way too many for the land’s carrying capacity—and that’s our fault.

So much in the relationship between people and nature is complex, conflicted, and difficult. I’m grateful to simply enjoy a morning’s walk in our small and semi-wild park.

 

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Red-tail Rapture

Boardwalk on Matthew Henson Trail

Yesterday on the Matthew Henson Trail I had an amazing experience–a close encounter with a wild member of another species. Because I’m a birder and because our daughter-in-law Leah is a falconer, and because raptors are large and beautiful birds, it’s especially exciting for me to have even a brief meeting, up close and personal, with a hawk.

Red-tail in tree

Red-tailed Hawk

 As I was walking along the boardwalk that protects the wetlands near Bel Pre Creek, I saw a red-tailed hawk sitting high in a box elder tree across from the bio-retention pond.

I edged along the boardwalk, trying to take a picture of the bird without spooking it into flight. I had only my iPhone camera with me but finally got a decent light on the bird, zoomed a bit, and snapped it. Then I just stood and admired.

Red-tail mantling

Hawk mantled over prey

 Whoosh! In a flurry of feathers, the bird hurtled past me to pounce on something invisible in the stilt grass. It spread its wings to mantle over its prey. I crept forward, wincing at every betraying crunch of dry leaves under my feet. Luckily the red-tail was so involved with subduing its wriggling prey that I could glide closer without disturbing it.

Red-tail and snake

A snake snack

 The hawk’s head came up, pulling at a long white string. A tendon, say from a rabbit? When I finally got a look through my binoculars, I could see that it was the pale belly of a smallish snake. In this not-terrific picture, you can see the white strip of snake hanging like a straw from the hawk’s beak. The snake went down in three or four gulps.

Red-tail on railing

Red-tailed Hawk on railing

 The hawk sat still in the grass for about a minute, as if reflecting on that tasty snack. Then to my amazement, the bird flew awkwardly to the boardwalk railing. It scrabbled a bit with those big yellow feet, trying to get a taloned purchase on the hand-rail. Once balanced, it sat there, maybe 10 or 15 feet from me.  I took more pictures, wondering why the hawk was willing to stay so close.

Red-tail close

So unbelievably close!

 Made bolder by the tameness of the majestic bird, I inched closer, my heart pounding. When I was about six feet away from it, I held out the iPhone and took this photograph. No need to zoom or to crop the picture.

The hawk sat calmly on the railing while I marveled, and then flew to another box elder between the bio-retention pond and the creek. Some people came by, walking their dogs, and I happily showed them the hawk perched in full view. Ten minutes later, as I walked past the area again, the hawk still sat on the same branch, looking down as if scanning the stilt grass for another snaky snack.

 I feel so lucky to have been accepted, however peripherally, by a wild animal that was going about its own business. For just a few minutes, I could enter into another life.