Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wild Kingdom

The past few days have been glorious here in NC. Sunshine, cool temperatures, Carolina blue skies -- perfect squirrel watching weather. Today's lunchtime feeding started out as most of them do, with some peanuts and sunflower seeds strewn on the ground and then the waiting for somebody to notice. After about ten minutes one squirrel appeared, then another, and the feasting began. A couple big crows stood on the periphery and would occasionally glide in, take a peanut, and glide out again.

Then I saw it -- a flash of white up in the trees. The crows scattered and the squirrels stood stock still. One of them began making a sound that was a cross between a moan and a bark. I knew we had an unwelcome visitor, but I wasn't sure exactly what kind of wicked this way came. I just knew that Something Very Threatening lurked in the trees. One of the squirrels scampered up into the maple tree and curled himself up into a ball, cleverly hiding his white belly and blending perfectly into the bark. But the other one was frozen on a stump and at that point I was feeling very guilty about baiting the field.

And then the Something Very Threatening revealed itself by flying into a tree closer to me, where I could get a good look at him.

A beautiful Redtailed Hawk. He rested in the tree for a minute while I and every other living creature around me held our breaths. And then he flew off. I watched the two squirrels continue to hold their poses, and after about five minutes the one on the ground decided it was safe enough to resume hoovering up the sunflower seeds. The one in the tree stayed where he was, though, and every so often he looked straight at me. I couldn't tell by his expression if he was rebuking me for leading him into a trap or asking me if it was safe to come down.

I've seen hawks around Winston-Salem before, usually sitting on the tops of light poles. Two weeks ago I saw what I am sure was a Merlin (although my friend in the Audubon society chuckled and said "If you think you saw a Merlin, then you saw a Merlin") in that same area of the park. But this was the first time I'd seen predator and prey so close together.

If anyone wants to know what I want for Christmas, a good pair of binoculars would be on that list.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Field Notes

I've been feeding the wildlife at the park for a while now, and it's become an addiction. At least once a day I must visit the park, food in hand, and watch the show. I can recognize individuals squirrels now, especially one who had a sore on his back (which is now healing nicely -- Nature has a way). I also find myself getting annoyed at people who walk their dogs on my lunch hour (which scares the squirrels) and anyone who parks in the best spot for throwing food from my car. Once the mosquitoes calm down I'll actually get out of the car, but till then all you people just stay away from the spot at the far left end of the lot, okay?

Going once or twice every day has led me to some conclusions:

1) Gray squirrels have an amazing ability to blend in with the bark of trees. They can hold stock still and unless you'd seen one scamper up the trunk, you'd never know he was there.
2) Crows are greedy, but shy. They are reticent about investigating a possible food source and wait till others have sampled whatever's there. Then they swoop down and take 4 or 5 bits at once.
3) Blue Jays are badass birds. They will take out squirrels, birds, other Blue Jays and small dogs if any of those get between them and the food.

I've also observed that the preference for food, among all customers, is as follows
1) French fries
2) Peanuts
3) Popcorn
4) Cherries/Grapes

With that diet I guess I should scatter some Zocor along the way, too.