When Departure is the Better Part of Valor

I was just standing there, minding my own—

Well, not standing, but I was minding my own business.

A cool front had migrated, meandered, and oozed out of the northern plains overnight, dropping the morning temperature down to 70 or so, with a humidity to match. I needed to walk, so I got up at 0530 and set off (after petting, watering, giving ice to, petting, tidying up after, and petting Athena T. Cat.) The birds were just starting their serenade, and no cars moved. I took a longer route through the area around RedQuarters, seeing what houses were for sale, which had sold, if there were any new flowers, how the house with the Cottage! Garden!!!* was doing, and so on.

Some scattered clouds added a bit of color to the dawn, but not too much. I listened to some brisk walking-pace music and trotted my rounds, working up a bit of a moisture layer. A few dogs barked, and the doves, western kingbirds (aka “intersection flycatchers”) and Mississippi kites were up and about. Two male kites were sparring and tail-chasing, and circled me a few times as I strode up the street. I didn’t smell anyone drying laundry, but several people had smokers going. One person had used far too much lighter fluid to get his/her/its fire started. I could smell it for the entire block.

A few cats moved, or just sat and observed the world rotating around them.

I turned onto the street that would lead me to the road to RedQuarters. One of the usual dogs went off, but otherwise it was birds and me. I stayed alert, looking left and right, because of dogs and drivers. I caught a glimpse of motion off to my right, in an alley. The motion crossed the alley on the diagonal and came toward me, trotting at a brisk pace. It proved to be a low, black shape. With two. White. Stripes. Mephitis mephitis.

There’s an intriguing time lag between when the analytical part of the brain quietly observes, “Oh, look, it’s a skunk,” and when the survival part of the brain yells, “SKUUUUUUUNNNNNNNNNK!!!”

I did not run. I accelerated to a wogging pace is all. Really. For an entire block. Just in case.

*It is an amazing, riotous jumble of flowers that no one else seems to be able to grow, and it overflows the small fences around the place. No one minds. That garden, too, are easing into the summer lull that is July and early August. Lots of milkweed, though. That’s good.


The Hawk Ball Returns

Tie down your hats and get ready to duck—the Mississippi kites have returned for the summer.

Tuesday evening I ventured out for a stroll. It wasn’t too smokey, or too hot, and clouds masked the worst of the evening sun. The park was full of kids doing kid stuff, people with dogs, and activity in general. I happened to see a pair, then trio, of birds riding thermals or wind currents. I couldn’t tell if they were hawks or our buzzards. (There is a buzzard rookery in one of the old, high-dollar neighborhoods. The folks there don’t like the buzzards*, but can’t get rid of them, either. The rest of us just make sympathetic noises.)

As the birds came closer, I could see that they were raptors. They passed overhead and I aw the distinctive pale heads and darker bodies of male Mississippi kites. two males, one female, soared over. I grinned and followed, since that’s where the sidewalk went anyway. Soon more and more kites rode the evening wind. I stopped to count, and identified ten. After a moment I meandered on my way.

A few minutes later, more motion caught my eye, and I counted fifteen birds in a loose group, rising and falling on the evening wind as they traveled south-southeast. They will return to roost around the park, in a few other trees, and to take advantage of the locusts and other insects that thrive in early summer. Spring officially arrives with the kites. They will depart in August or early September, moving into more food-rich climes.

*When I was at Flat State U, some migrating buzzards decided to rest on the roof peaks of some garden apartments. This led to irate calls to Animal Control. It seems that the apartments were part of a Senior Living Facility, and the residents did NOT like having buzzards watching them, loitering and lurking. The buzzards departed the next day.

“Hunting or Fleeing”

That was the heading on a side-bar in an archaeogenetics book I’m reading. The question concerned modern humans’ adaptations that enabled us to stand upright and walk preferentially on our hind legs. Me being me, and having read about hunting big game, my thought was “the difference is . . . 2.3 seconds. Or less, if it is a Cape Buffalo.”

I AM smiling. Creative Commons Fair Use. Original source: https://cannundrum.blogspot.com/2014/07/cape-buffalo.html

Even the dedicated plant eaters on the African continent will track you down and turn you into pulp if you earn their ire. The Cape Buffalo . . . was born with an attitude that only gets worse as they age. Cape Buffalo spend their free time premeditating murder, or at least mayhem. Slow hunters? “Target acquired, gore, hook, and trample at will.” It would not surprise me at all if some naturalist discovers a secret Cape Buffalo score-board, where the buffalo list the number of humans et al that they’ve removed from the gene pool.

I suspect ancestral humans spent a goodly amount of their days avoiding wildlife as well as stalking and killing it. It is only in very recent history, in a few specialized environments, that humans have become the only apex predator. I’ve been out in the not-so-wilds of the US and have been stalked. Once it was by a young bobcat. Once . . . I don’t know, but I didn’t linger, either. Mountain Lions were not supposed to be in that area. Alas, mountain lions don’t read press releases or Fish and Wildlife monthly bulletins. I’ve been chased by a pack of feral dogs once, and I can attest that I was no longer at the top of that food chain. (I also discovered I could climb a cliff like a pro when truly inspired. I’d just as soon avoid that inspiration, thankyouverymuch!)

Heck, when I was in grade school and on a Civil War battlefields trip with my parents and Sib, we found a large warning at Manassas/ Bull Run Battlefield. A doe had treed a hunter. She proved to be rabid (!) and the park rangers were telling everyone to stay the heck away from the deer, and to back away slowly, then quickly, if we saw one by daylight. Yes, Faleen, Bambi’s lady friend, had tried to kill a hunter.

The difference between hunting and fleeing? A couple of seconds, especially if the bow-string snaps, or the spear just makes the critter angry. Imagine our intrepid paleohunters sneaking up on a Large Beast. One eases to his feet, aims, and throws.

Thunk. “Roooaaaarrrrr!” Thud, thud, THUD!

“Um, Thag, I think you missed the kill spot.”

Mockingbird Serenade

Over the past five to ten years, the population of mockingbirds in the area around Redquarters has been increasing slowly but steadily. This is delightful to those who appreciate the clever mimics, and less fun if you are a domestic cat or someone who needs to get to a door or vehicle in too-close proximity to a nest. A decade or so ago, an especially ferocious mockingbird managed to force the locking of a door on a university building for several months, and passers-by were warned with signs to stay well clear of that side of the building. (The next year, Mississippi kites began dive-bombing people who walked too close to some trees on a different part of campus. There were dark mutters in the archive about demanding hard hats as an employment benefit.) Continue reading