Friday, 6 May 2016

A Cold Bath and Cold Chills

I was lucky enough to experience two small but powerful events during my walks last week.

The trail I walk on runs along the river and fairly high above it, but at one spot there is a small open shelter which projects out over the bank and gives a nice view from a safe vantage point. There are trees on either side, and often there are jays and geese and gulls in the vicinity.

One day, a crow flew into a tree right next to the shelter and perched there. Almost immediately I heard splashing sounds coming from below me. Looking down, I saw a second crow bathing in the shallows at the very edge of the river. It fluttered its wings in the water several times, reminding me of a person throwing water over his shoulders. Then it quickly bobbed its head into the water three times, shook the water off, and then bobbed three more times and shook.

It seemed clear that the crow in the tree was watching out for the crow in the water. I've often seen sentry crows in trees or on utility lines, watching while other crows look for food or have a drink from a puddle below. They are quick to warn their friends when a dog or cat - or a person - is approaching.

They aren't the only birds to do that, of course.

And the danger is not always on the ground.

A few days after the cold bath, while walking on the same trail, I saw a bald eagle some distance away. I hurried to follow it as it looped in lazy circles far above my head, hoping I would get a chance to take a photo or a video of it. However, it was travelling far faster than I was, following the river, looking for a meal. I slowed down as I got to the shelter, and went in for my usual look up and down the water.

Suddenly all hell seemed to break loose. Gulls and crows and geese and smaller birds of various kinds burst out of nowhere, it seemed, honking and squawking and cawing, and took cover in the vegetation and trees around me. Then everything went eerily quiet. There was not a bird sound of any kind. I watched for a minute but there was no activity and nothing to see, and so I was about to leave when I looked up ... and there was the bald eagle, swooping, looping - very close indeed. It continued to loop up the river and eventually was out of sight.

Only then did the smaller birds start to come out of hiding. The gulls and geese flew down and settled on the water. Chirping and cawing resumed.

I wonder if the birds felt the same cold chills that I did when I looked up and saw that huge bird of prey. It's fascinating to watch them in the sky, but that day was a fresh reminder of why they're up there and what they're looking for --- and what it means when they are successful.




12 comments:

  1. It's interesting how aware animals are -- we think they're just hanging out or eating, but they always have one eye cocked for predators! It must have been cool to watch that eagle fly so close. They're so beautiful. We see lots of them in Florida.

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    1. If I'd been a smallish animal instead of the donkey I am, I would have been lunch for that eagle because I certainly wasn't watching for predators! It was very cool - wish I had gotten a good photo, but he was moving too fast - and my camera was set for still photos, not video. One of these days I hope to get another chance. I didn't know they lived in Florida - good info!

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  2. The quiet before the storm...
    I am always fascinated by the look-out. And it isn't only predators they look out for. We have a cocky look-out who keeps a watch on the bird feeder. When we put food on it, he alerts the family...

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    1. Now that's an interesting adaptation to human behavior. And I wonder if animals are as fascinated by our behavior as we are by theirs? I can attest to catching our cats watching me when I'm not looking at them. One of them, especially, will quickly blink and look away ... just until she thinks I'm no longer looking at her ...

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  3. Animals are amazing and it's too bad us humans don't do a better job of taking care of them. Bald eagles are pretty darn cool. We lived in Alaska for a few years and it was awesome seeing them do their thing. Take care.

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    1. You're so right. And Alaska? Wow ... now I have to go check your archives to see if you've written about it. If not, consider it?

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  4. My friend Sara sent me some pictures of a bald eagle hanging out in the trees near her house in Truckee. I've never seen one around here, or even in the woods of far Northern California where I grew up. Crows are really smart the way they cooperate, when they're not busy squabbling...

    -Doug in Oakland

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    1. I feel lucky we have bald eagles here, but we're not a densely populated area, and the river is tidal because it's near the ocean, so maybe those factors make it a good place for them to live. Yeah, crows know how to get worked up :)

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    2. Here's a video of a crow asking for and receiving a drink of water:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYwRMEomJMM

      -Doug in Oakland

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    3. That's pretty cool; I'm happy they figured it out and gave the crow his drink! Thanks for that, Doug.

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  5. I didn't start paying attention to birds until I was about 18. Now I am always aware of their presence, migrations, and vocalizations. At least the ones that aren't too high for me to hear. Fascinating creatures and living in the countryside gives me more opportunities to learn about and from them.

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    1. I think I never slowed down enough to notice them until now. Better late than never. Country living has a lot of advantages, doesn't it? (I grew up in the country.)

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