13 March, 2011

Never Say Die, Part Two

But an attempt to fly off with the squirrel proves that the hawk doesn't have it after all.
Looks at those wicked talons! Very impressive, even if they didn't hold on to the squirrel.  If you double click on the photo you can see a little blood on one of them.  Hmmm, hawk or squirrel blood, I wonder?
And there the poor squirrel lies in the snow where it was dropped by the hawk.  The hawk perched in tree only 15 feet away to keep an eye on the squirrel.  And that is how things stayed for an hour ...

I wondered why the hawk didn't go back for the squirrel.  I still wonder.  I fully expected to look out and see the hawk back on the squirrel eating it before it froze.  But instead I saw that the hawk stayed on its perch and the squirrel
manages to get the tree it tried for earlier and climb to the lowest branch.  You can see the wounds on its head and shoulder.
By this time the temperature was dropping from the high of 5F (-15C) to 3F (-16C) on its way down to -9F (-23C) during the night.  

The next morning, when I put out the birdseed, I fully expected to see the frozen carcass of the squirrel still in the notch of the branch.  Or perhaps on the ground at the base of the tree, but that was not the case.  I walked up to the site of the original capture and saw only a few drops of blood on the snow.  The site of the second capture and the drop had no visible blood at all.  

Three weeks went by with no sign of an injured squirrel showing up at the bird feeders (which could just as accurately be called squirrel feeders.)  I assumed the worst of all possible scenarios -- a squirrel dying a long drawn out death and a hawk going hungry. 

I left the country (for Belize, but that is another series of posts) on February 14th and returned February 26th.  Back into the weekend routine of armchair birding on Sunday February 27th, I was watching the usual assortment of birds and squirrels at the feeders when I saw a squirrel dive off the bird feeder and head for a tree faster than I have ever seen before.  Then all the birds and squirrels flew, hopped, or ran for cover as a red-tailed hawk flew over and landed in the neighbors' yard.  I kept an eye on the fast squirrel as it made a false start or two to come back to the feeder.  It seemed to have some injuries.
There is an area on its head with some puncture wounds.  Made from talons?  Maybe.
Is it the same squirrel?
i would like to think that it is, if only to have some symmetry to this tale.  But even if it isn't, this squirrel never said die.

Never Say Die, Part One

Here in upper Midwest of the US, we will remain snow-covered for at least the next few days.  I sincerely hope all the snow disappears as the temperatures warm next week.  But before we ease into spring, I want to share the following mini-drama that unfolded outside our windows in the cold, cold, heart of winter. 

January 22 dawned a cold bright day.  During the night the temperature had dropped to -22F (-30C).  As usual, I had ventured out soon after waking up to replenish the birdseed at the feeders.  When the air is this cold, each inhalation freezes the moisture on your nose hairs -- not a very comfortable sensation; I try not to breath at all when I go out.  The official snow depth at the airport weather station was 18 inches.  Being a child of the south and more suited to the tropics, I am a real wuss about winter; it freaks me out that you could die just from being outside too long.  I don’t know how the wildlife manages to survive the winters here in Minnesota.

Anyway, Dennis and I were cozy inside with a fire in the fireplace, relaxing on this Saturday afternoon.  My camera was handy for my usual winter weekend armchair birding.  Dennis got up to do something and I heard him calling from the bedroom which looks out onto the hillside behind our house for to me to grab my camera and come quickly.  A hawk was manteling over its prey.  It was a red-tailed hawk, but we couldn’t see the prey.  The view from the bedroom window was partially blocked by shrubs, but the hawk was also visible from the den window.  That is the window I fixed for photography by removing the screen and also the mini-blinds that are situated between the double panes of glass.  This window looks out directly over the side yard, but I could manage shots of the hawk with the camera aimed through the double layers of glass at an extreme oblique angle.  It doesn’t make for the best optical setup, but it is what I had to deal with.  Here is what we saw:
It sat there, motionless for a bit, then rearranged itself, bent down toward the prey and came back up with 
something dangling from its beak.  Whatever it had was struggling to escape.  Now we can see that it is a grey squirrel.  If you enlarge the photo below you can see the talon around its head.
The squirrel is not going to give up easily.
Meanwhile life goes on as usual, with deer passing through the yard, oblivious to what is happening 30 feet up the hill.
The hawk, however, is vigilant and surveys the surroundings frequently.
It seems to hear the ultrasonic focus on my camera, and gives me a good stare.
All of this has happened in only 5 minutes.  I took a break from the window, and when I returned 2 minutes later I was surprised to see this:
The hawk has let loose of the squirrel and fluttered to the side.  The squirrel is motionless in the cold snow.   
The hawk stays focused on the squirrel, at the ready to make a move.
Looks up at me as if to say "Got it!"

End of Part One