A few weeks back, the short-weeked Mr Bugg and I did a photo outing, a little early in the season when things weren’t quite up to speed, that nevertheless netted a handful of useful images, and I simply haven’t sat down to write up a post featuring them yet. Now, with a much-more successful outing just past, I’m going to put these up to allow the young whippersnapper a chance to post his own before I blow him out of the water, just for how snarky he tends to be. Respect; kids these days don’t know what it means.
At the NC Botanical Gardens, which were still thinly-populated with plants at that time, I made it a point to try and spot my old friends the Carolina anoles (Anolis carolinensis,) which I was eventually successful at, partially because I made the special effort, and partially because I know their habits and haunts. Shot handheld in the shade under the palmetto leaf, I’m pretty pleased with how the image above came out. A few minutes later as we passed the spot again, this one had made itself scarce and was nowhere to be found.
Further away in a small pond liner, a couple of green frogs (Rana clamitans, formerly Lithobates clamitans) peeped stoically from the water, and a stealthy manner allowed quite a close approach. Being my usual self, this meant I spent the remainder of the visit with mud and grit on my knees and elbows from having gotten down as far as possible without actually slapping my belly into the marshy conditions, but I’ve never been good-looking even when cleaned up so it wasn’t particularly noticeable anyway.
Prior to that, we’d taken a pass through Mason Farm Biological Reserve, one of the few times we could access it between the rainy periods that have existed for the past few months; the little concrete causeway that spans the creek, forming the entrance to the region, would flood out too far with the runoff from the area and prevent access. As it was, we plowed through almost half a meter of water to get in, but this meant we had the place to ourselves for hours. I prefer this, because others tend to spook off some of the animals that we’re likely to see, especially since the loop is a favorite of joggers. But despite this advantage, the day was still abnormally quiet as far as wildlife was concerned, curious because mating season was beginning and the day was quite pleasant. I think most of the species knew that we still had a couple of rather cold nights ahead of us.
But the evidence was there, if we paid attention. The alarm calls of a pair of American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) overhead drew our attention, and indicated that nesting season was indeed upon us.
I doubt that I need to point out what a crow looks like, so the other is a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) that was simply riding the weak thermals of the day in lazy circles – or trying to. The fact that it was in the vicinity of a crow’s nest earned it the enmity of the pair, which were repeatedly diving at it. Red-tailed hawks are heavy and flying is energy intensive for them, so they tend to glide when the air currents permit, while crows are more agile, so the performance played out with the crows circling around from a higher position to dive in and attack the hawk from above and behind, desperately avoiding those talons, while the hawk occasionally wheeled or dodged, for the most part appearing to ignore its harassers.
These were shot from a considerable distance with the Canon 100-300 L and cropped significantly, so the first image here was clearly the best, while others suffered from bad focus tracking on my part – I was shooting in manual mode because of intervening trees and the likelihood that I’d fail to keep the autofocus point precisely on the birds, causing the AF to start winding in and out in an attempt to find the subject; when that occurs you can easily lose sight of the birds. While I don’t expect this issue to be remedied entirely, there should be some improvements in this regard shortly. For now this is what we have.
It’s a shame that I wasn’t maintaining best focus, because this is just what I was following their actions for: a better shot of actual near-contact, with the hawk momentarily making an evasive move. Should the crows have dipped down just a hair too far, the tables may have been turned, because the hawk wouldn’t hesitate to snag one of them with its superior strength, and red-tails have a pretty broad diet – the reason the crows were concerned in the first place, even if eggs weren’t actually on the nest (which seems likely because both crows were involved.) The drama played out for several minutes until the hawk, riding the air currents, had moved on sufficiently from the region for the crows to feel safe and/or vindicated.
This reminds me of another drama that I witnessed several years back, when I did not have the camera in hand. Once again hearing the alarm calls of crows, I looked up to see a turkey vulture cruising through the area, followed closely by two upset crows. Vultures are much heavier than hawks, so even less evading was taking place, and I honestly feel the vulture was just passing by when its path took it too close to a crow’s nest. They passed out of sight and I went back to what I was doing – for only a few moments. In no time at all, the crows reappeared, this time hell bent for leather in the opposite direction, closely pursued by some angry grackles; in their harassment of the vulture they had passed too close to the grackles’ nest and earned the exact same response in return. Grackles are as much smaller than crows as the crows were from the vulture, while at the same time much more agile, and it’s amusing to see larger birds fleeing in apparent fear from a smaller adversary. Size might help at times, but it’s not the key factor in altercations, at least among birds.
And I close with another shot obtained later on once I came back home, after night fell. One of my resident green treefrogs (Hyla cinerea) had ventured out and provided a fetching pose atop the gate in the backyard, and while the flash was a little inadequate for this frame, it seems to have added a more mysterious air to the whole image. I can live with it.