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December 16th, 2012
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A Shocking Incident!

Last week I wrote about how the noises from landscaping, in particular scraping a spade on the ground, can attract birds in exactly the same way that pishing does. It happened again today, but ended in a shock.

I’m in the process of taming some of the desert just beyond the walls of my yard (don’t worry, I’m still leaving nine acres untouched). It’s obviously imperative to keep the habitat natural and attractive to wildlife, but at the same time it would be nice to walk around without constantly getting stuck on cholla and prickly pear. So I’ve been clearing trails, moving things, planting trees, and I’ve now moved on to adopting some of the more prominent existing mesquite trees by creating watering wells so I can deep water them once a month.

Having completed a couple of smaller ones, I was clearing a well around the largest mesquite, right next to the house. Not dissimilar to clearing trails, there’s a lot of scraping and digging with a spade involved, which makes a sort of pishing sound.

Now, I love VERDINS. And who doesn’t? They’re extremely cute birds, plus they’re fun little things with abundant personality. I’d enjoyed watching the hyperactive antics of one an hour earlier, on the other side of the house. Within a minute of scraping away at the ground, a perky Verdin appeared in the mesquite above me, chiding me in agitated fashion.

Never one to pass up a good view of a Verdin, I stopped and looked up to see the little fella. I was looking straight into the sun and couldn’t make it out. Next second, my entire vision was suddenly filled with the underside of a hawk a couple of feet in front of my face, wings spread, talons bared. There was a light ‘poof’ and I turned to see the crisp male SHARP-SHINNED HAWK I mentioned last month flying off with the now silent and motionless Verdin in its left foot.

Wow! I was stunned. I never even saw the Verdin alive. Several thoughts battled for my attention.

The first and most dominant one was that my actions had got the Verdin killed. Let’s make this clear: I’m a great believer in not getting emotionally attached to wildlife on a personal level. I’m also a fan of the whole food-chain, law-of-the-jungle concept: everyone’s got to eat. Normally, as gruesome as it can be, I’m really excited to see this kind of thing – nature in the raw, the thrill of the chase, the kill… But, even though I shouldn’t, because it’s just the way it goes, I can’t help feeling that I’m somehow responsible for the demise of the Verdin.

My next thought was: I really must add a spade to my birding kit! That really works!

But perhaps the most interesting point to take from this drama was the ruthlessness of the Sharpie’s feeding technique. It was watching – quite possibly watching me in particular as I inadvertently caused a disturbance – and it was waiting. The Verdin came in and was clearly distracted. The hawk seized the moment and struck when the Verdin was completely off guard. The Verdin had no chance and probably didn’t even see its killer.

The hawk’s agility and accuracy was incredibly impressive. The Verdin was within the branches of the mesquite, not perched on the edge, yet I didn’t hear a single branch being brushed against, just an eerily quiet ‘boom’. A stone cold, professional killer. Very cool!

The final consequence of this incident is that I might concentrate on a few other jobs around the house before I go back to the tree wells. I’ll give my conscience a break for a few days…

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