Tuesday, January 28, 2014

OBSERVATIONS

The soaring red tail hawk looked down from high above the ground and instantly saw what it was looking for.  The rear edge of the wide wings as well as the broad tail was tilted downward allowing the bird to swoop toward the meadow below at an alarming speed.  The head was drawn back against the bird's shoulders and piercing eyes that missed nothing focused on the target.

The tiny gray squirrel was perched a foot in distance from the ground on the stump of an old poplar tree that fell some years ago and now lay rotting in the field.  He held a large nut in his paws and was attempting to gnaw through the tough shell in hopes of gaining access to the tasty meat within.  It was an awkward exercise for him to undertake but he was persistent in the endeavor and would surely prevail in good time.

A shadow appeared on the ground beside him and suddenly cast him in shade.  His head turned first left, then right but saw nothing.  He heard the loud sound of branches breaking above causing him to stand up straight and tilt his head back in order to gain a view of the sky above him and saw that a bird of prey was rocketing toward earth at alarming speed and would be upon him almost instantly.

The hawk plummeted toward the brown grass of the meadow finally leveling off at tree top height, skimming near the outermost branch tips of the tall trees all the while hoping to surprise the little squirrel on the stump below.  He cleared the top of the last tree that helped form the wood line against the meadow and gave a mighty thrust rearward with his powerful wings and propelled himself downward at full speed toward the intended prey.  Fixated on the little squirrel, he failed to see a tiny, thin, dead branch that reached out from a poplar tree further than any other and it is this branch he hit with his left wing.  The brittle wood broke off with a crack showering wooden pieces down through the limbs of the tree to the ground.  He tried to correct after the collision by slowing his decent and banking to the right in a short circle that would bring him back on line with his victim.

The gray squirrel ran and vaulted, as they do when alarmed, as fast as he could for the safety of the trees a short distance away.  The large nut was still in his mouth as he raced along the ground and he finally dropped it as panic drove him faster and faster toward the wood-line.  Suddenly the shadow returned and his heart beat quickened as the panic drove him on faster than he'd ever run.  He felt a sharp pain in his rear hip and a loud, screaming shriek from somewhere above him and suddenly he was tumbling on the ground held in the clutches of the hawk.  One talon of the bird's right foot was embedded in the squirrels hip and the little squirrel turned and bit viciously into the hawk's foot with those sharp nut cracking teeth.  He suddenly found himself free from the the talons of the hawk and leaped onto the trunk of an enormous oak tree as the terror was intensified by the sound of that loud shriek once again behind him.  He quickly flashed around to the opposite side of the tree just in time to hear a loud thunk against the tree bark where he had just been.

He listened to the commotion on the ground as the disoriented hawk stumbled through the dried leaves and he heard the wing beats as it finally returned to the sky, and he scampered down the tree to the ground and re-entered the meadow to retrace his path in hopes of finding the treasure he had previously dropped.
Ah, just the way I like it.  No tracks and no humans.
This morning was one of those times that was especially dreary, dark and bitter cold.  I carried my gear to the truck in the driveway and instantly became chilled clear through.  I'm usually not bothered by cold down to ten above zero and have even been on the lake working in those temperatures.  I have the clothing for it.  But, this morning had a little something extra moving the cold air.  Couldn't put my finger on it.  I aimed the truck through the woods to the river and the narrow paved lane that followed it's edge.  It was then that the snow started falling in earnest.  The forecasters predicted only an inch of snow for the day but it was already blowing across the road resembling white smoke.
The asphalt up on the main arteries quickly became slippery with ice and I reached back into my memory for the Pennsylvania winter driving skills that I knew were still there.  The road in the above shot is solid ice and I wanted to turn off it and return to the snow covered side roads where I could get good traction.  Four wheel drive is great for traction in snow but no better than two wheel drive on ice.  Anyway, I felt much safer when I got off this road as there are too many unskilled drivers who are forever in a hurry to get somewhere and icy roads don't seem to slow them down.   It's an odd thing here in Tennessee and I'll not ever understand or get used to their mentality about icy roads.  Oh well--

Tiny birds were quickly moving from branch to branch testing the bottoms of leaves and under rotted twigs for food.  They would not perch longer than a second or two as they were searching for something to fill the void in their stomachs and that something is mighty scarce on these zero days.  Their survival is dependent upon their ability to flit here and there quickly to find some meager morsel that will not only stave off hunger but replenish the energy that is spent while being highly active in their search.

A red belly spends little time in on spot on the tree.  He lifts a tiny piece of bark and then another and flies to the other side and repeats the operation.  Then he will return to this side of the tree, only a bit higher up and works his beak against the bark again, never perching in one place for longer than three or four seconds.  In warm weather these birds will do a more thorough investigation of the wood for insects but these temperatures dictate he move along rapidly and scrutinize more trees.  Woodpeckers search out dormant insects that reside just under the bark in the winter.  They are not seed eaters, although I've seen them on my bird feeders at home on brutally cold days.

If the pictures appear a bit fuzzy it's because it was snowing when I took the shots.  A flock of wild turkeys was scratching under some oak trees searching for acorns and any other seed that may have fallen from the surrounding shrubbery.   I noticed they are staying in the forested areas near the river and it's probably due to their ability to find cover that will protect them from the wind.  The farms along this road appear to have "not" planted grain fields in the immediate area and that may also be a reason they are in the dense areas.

Wild turkeys are hearty birds and masters at survival, eating anything they find whether it be insect, seed and will even pick at carrion if times are severely harsh.  I always thought that if I see wild turkeys, then the area is a prime area to view many other wild critters.  Turkeys are very wary and intolerant of human encroachment once they identify human presence.

It seems that winter is a season when dogs appear from nowhere searching along the woods or roadways for food appearing hopelessly lost.  I wish I could pick them all up and take them home with me but that's an impossible dream.  My heart breaks when I see them lost or cast out, especially in severe temperatures.  A little dog was walking along the road in front of me and I slowed and he gazed up at me cautiously.  I didn't stop the truck.  For what reason would I stop?  I couldn't take him.  His eyes met mine and I was tempted to stop the truck for whatever reason.  Was I thinking of offering him a ride?  To where?  I noticed in my mirror that he stopped, turned and looked up the road at the truck.
I can't take him.  Just can't.  I'd have a house full of dogs if I picked every one up I found.  Most won't come to me anyway.  I averted my eyes and continued on my way.
Good grief!  This guy is like a red beacon in the forest and his brightness kind of hurts my eyes.   I wonder why cardinals were never given camouflage by Mother Nature.  
And yet another dog.  What's his story, I thought.
 Is there no end to lost dogs?  I've heard that Tennessee is especially known for people casting away their pets when times get money tight.  I don't know.  I do know that I've not seen this many lost dogs anywhere else I've traveled in my life. How can a pet owner claim to love his companion and throw him away when life throws some curve balls?
About an hour after taking the shots above I came upon a most disturbing scene.  What I saw was absolutely heartbreaking and I wondered if this dog's family (owners) ever thought about the misery, torment and desperation they were causing for him when they drove out in the country and let him out of the car and drove away.
He stood in the falling snow beside the calf he killed watching me.  I suspect he probably killed the animal two or three days ago, if indeed he actually did kill it.  He wouldn't be deterred but stood guarding what could only be described as carrion.  I imagined he would run off after filling his belly and return at the end of the day or the next morning to eat again until there would be nothing.  He's a big dog and is not showing the signs of starvation.
I really do believe he killed this animal.  It's not good to have this dead calf so close to the road because I can only imagine how the owner of the farm would react if he saw what I'm looking at.  Then again - maybe his lethal action would be a blessing for this lost dog.  As a final thought - this is the kind of wild dog one wouldn't want to meet late at night while camping I'd not think.  He's a big boy and I doubt very domestic, if ya get my drift.

I couldn't wait to get home because I missed the girls and the main roads were very slippery when I turned away from the river.    Hope you liked the little tale at the start of this entry.  I have many in mind.  Stay warm and "come on summer!"
Now, that's happiness and contentment and I assure you they are not lost and never will be.