Sunday, January 13, 2008

Battle of the Buteos

The trails behind the Nature Center at Placerita Canyon was completely devoid of birds at 8:30 am last Friday. Getting bitter with disappointment and murmuring to myself "I drove over 30 miles for nothing!" I decided to try the picnic area. Imagine my amazement when I discovered that that was where the birds are! The grounds were literally hopping with sparrows (mostly Golden-crowned!) and Juncos. Some even a few feet from me totally oblivious of my presence. The creekbed alongside the picnic area still holds a few puddles of water from last week's rain. There Lesser and American Goldfinches, Golden-crowned, White-crowned and Fox Sparrows and Towhees were enjoying an early morning bath despite the low 60's temperature.

As I wandered around drinking in the apparent tameness of the feathered creatures of this place, I flushed a flock of Fox Sparrows. They all flew into a tall bush about ten feet from where I was standing. One individual clambered up the branches and gave me a long, hard look. I guess it was as curious about me as I was about him.

Then there was this couple of Nuttall's Woodpeckers. The male was working on a tree several feet away from the female. Both (unintentionally, I'm sure) played chase with me. As soon I came within photographic distance, the bird would fly off to another tree. First I would chase the male and when it would fly off, I will go after the female which would do the exact same thing. Persistence paid off eventually. I got shots of both.

At around 10:30 am, avian activity ceased completely. Where about an hour earlier, the ground was covered by birds, suddenly not a creature was stirring, not even an Oak Titmouse.

I was walking back to the parking lot when I heard a screeching noise from atop a tree. Looking up I saw first a Red-shouldered Hawk screaming its lungs off. Several branches below I saw the object of its fury; a Red-tailed Hawk was trying its best to ignore the invectives being hurled against its presence.

Occasionally, the Red-shouldered, unable to control its contempt for (what I assumed to be) the intruder, would take a swipe at the bigger hawk. Despite these brazen attacks, the Red-tailed managed to maintain its cool. Realizing that it was not making any progress in its attempts to dislodge the interloper from its perch, the smaller buteo shrugged its red-shoulders and flew off.

I almost applauded at the end of this drama I just witnessed. Too bad I didn't bring my videocamera along..and I wasn't able to take a shot of the attacks..I was just too absorbed at watching the whole scenario unfold before my amused eyes.

My 30 mile trip was worth it in the end.

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