Monday, January 14, 2008

Wildlife

This is the nicetime of year in Scottsdale/Phoenix--our compensation for suffering through the beastly-hot summers. It's about 65 F. outside at the moment, and I've just come back from my late-morning walk, having had yet another encounter with the local wildlife.

We're about half a mile from the Phoenix Mountain Preserve (a big wilderness area), and most of the lots in our neighborhood range from half an acre to an acre in size, with a lot of unused open ground in and among. Consequently, we see quite a bit of wildlife.

There's a pair of great horned owls in the neighborhood; I hear them often when I'm working late at night. They court in December, so have been out hoo-hooing all through the eucalyptus trees at the back of our property for the last month or more. They're generally at it when I take the dogs out for a pre-bed potty-stop--very romantic to be standing out amongst the tumbleweeds and tywanees (this being a common local weed; God knows what it's really called, but the kids call them tywanees) under a waning moon in a vivid sky of purple-black, listening to the soft hoo/hoo-hoo (males hoot once, and the females answer back, "hoo-hoo") duet in the trees.

I've seen three coyotes since New Year's--the first on New Year's Day, while on my morning walk. He was trotting ahead of me, right up the middle of the street. When he perceived my presence, he looked back over his shoulder, and speeded up just slightly. We covered a good mile in this fashion, him looking back laughing over his shoulder every thirty seconds of so, until he saw something he wanted to investigate and vanished into someone's yard.

I've also had everything from king snakes (wrapped around the planter to keep cool) to raccoons (carefully washing and eating the nuggets of cat food) on my front porch. This time, though, I ran into the Harris Hawks.

Harris Hawks are rather unusual, in that they live and hunt in groups, rather than solitarily or in pairs. There's a family of them in the neighborhood; they sit on the neighbor's giant ham-radio antenna to bask in the mornings, much to his annoyance.

Anyway, I was strolling along, minding my own business, when one of the Harrises flew out of a yard right in front of me, flying low, holding a full-grown rabbit in his claws, still twitching. Now Harris Hawks are not all that big, as hawks go, and this guy was having a lot of trouble getting up any altitude. He flapped madly, rising only a little, across the street, and tried to zoom upward, trying to clear the house in his path. There was an SUV parked outside the house. He cleared the roof-rack--but the rabbit didn't. WHAM! and the hawk let go (perforce) and skittered wildly across the top of the SUV. There was a flutter of wings, and another Harris zoomed across the street and came down on the edge of the house's roof. Both hawks staring at the rabbit with an "OK. NOW what?" look on their faces.

In Celtic culture, seeing various animals, birds, etc. while out walking is supposed to be a portent of various things. Seeing ravens, for instance, is often a prophetic experience, in which the number of ravens seen is important. No idea what two hawks and a dead rabbit portend, but we'll hope it's a fortunate one--if not for the rabbit.

36 comments:

  1. It means don't bite off more than you can chew. Hehe... couldn't help it.

    Reminds me of the time when I saw a red-tailed hawk, with a snake in its talons, swoop across the yard. It was a magnificent sight. Hmmm... wonder what that would mean?

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  2. I don't now exactly what "hawks" are but I think they're a sort of bird?! If so I can tell you that in Albania it's always a very good sign when one (or more) birds fly over your head. Sarah

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  3. Dear Diana: Well I should have known I'd learn something from your posts. I learned a tad about owls today and now appreciate the two in my back yard even more. Celia

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  4. I am just going to believe it is a good Omen. It has to be, just has to be hehehe.

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  5. I can't resist asking: If the number of ravens seen is important, then what, exactly, is the significance of the three ravens that Jamie sees at Lallybroch in VOYAGER on the day Ian is born? (Other than being an ill omen, as Jamie observes at the time.)

    I've seen a coyote once, in Yosemite. Absolutely cannot imagine one walking down the street, however [g]. That must have been quite a sight!

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  6. What an interesting walk! Let us know if you later work out what the hawks "meant". (g) My DH came within a metre of a big, old-man kangaroo when out walking last Thursday night; wonder what the Celts would make of that? (bg)

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  7. Today seems to be the day for coyote sightings! We watched a coyote moseying along the deer track from our front windows this morning. He/she found something of interest under the snow at the base of a tree. We couldn't see what it was, but the coyote thought it was delicious!

    I wonder if the Harris Hawks figured out a tandem carry. *G*

    A great horned owl was sizing up my border collie right in front of us, we aren't sure if he decided Zorro was too big or if we scared him off!

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  8. karen h--

    Oh, the coyotes around here are bold as brass. I saw one, not too long ago, waiting at the bus stop near my house; just standing there next to the bench in broad daylight, watching the heavy traffic on the main boulevard whiz past two feet away.

    There's a coyote den in the open ground a block or two away; every now and then, they get together at night and have a jamboree--very eerie sound. Drives the dogs NUTS.

    As for the three ravens, I think in this case, it was just the fact of them _being_ ravens.

    Though here's a site with assorted corvid superstitions (there are _lots_ more, believe me):

    http://www.shades-of-night.com/aviary/folklore.html

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  9. Thanks for the link - that was very interesting. Especially the one that says "In Scotland, a raven circling a house was said to predict the death of someone within." No wonder Jamie was unnerved by the sight of them!

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  10. Actually, I work with Totems. :) Hawks have been revered, honored and even worshipped by many cultures, as have Rabbits. Coyotes are uniquely North American but have rich symbolic meaning for many NA cultures.

    Finding out what significance this event might have for you, Diana... well the best way would be to read about the all three Totems and let it sit with you for awhile. You're the one who would know.

    But it would seem that since these were Harris Hawks and they work together, that would indicate to me that it's about a joint effort that is significant for you. Hah! Now that could be a heck of a lot of things, couldn't it? LOL Like I said, you would know. Finding out more about Harris Hawks and how they prey might give some more insight for you.

    The significance of Totems isn't like reading tea leaves. This doesn't mean that, period. Or even wooowooo - I see your future! It's very much about observing and learning about relationships.

    If you are, or anyone else is, interested, I can refer you to resources. :)

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  11. Whoops! Edit that to say Coyotes are uniquely North and Central American. Doh!

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  12. Betty--

    Actually, Raven is my totem--Raven is a storyteller, for many of the NA cultures. [g] And in Celtic cultures, corbies (usually crows, but the term is used for ravens, too) are scavengers, who haunt battlefields and pick the bones of the dead. Very appropriate.

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  13. There was a bull on the loose in one of the subdivisions here yesterday(Austin,Tx). Imagine coming home from work and seeing that in your front yard!
    julie

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  14. Diana ~
    Yes, Raven is quite, suitable for you! *grin*
    And Raven is likely your lifelong totem.

    The Goddess Diana with a Raven on her shoulder - it fits! LOL

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  15. Dear Julie: The news coverage of the loose bull was hilarious. I loved the cameraman ducking for cover, the cop jumping the fence, and the poor attempts to wrangle the bull into the trailer. Too funny! Celia(Central Austin)

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  16. Julie--

    The bull coverage brought back memories. [g] My late father-in-law was a small-time cattle baron in California, and when Doug and I would visit out there, it was--depending on Max's current project/leased land situation--fairly common to get phone calls during dinner, from people telling Max that some section of fence was down, and there were bulls all over the highway. [g] Which was the signal for mass exodus to round them up--how well I recall hunting one Texas Longhorn bull through a subdivision in the dark...

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  17. ok so riddle me this... like you, I enjoy my arizona wheather and take bike rides as often as possible. Last week as I was entering my community after one of these rides an animal that I have discovered is a ringtail cat was sitting on the entry gate just starring at me. What could this omen mean? I have seen it twice since but it hasnt wanted to face off in a starring contest again

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  18. Keighley--

    How interesting! Ringtail cats are not uncommon in Arizona, but I've never seen one, myself (javelina, pronghorn antelope, and porcupines, yes--to say nothing of the raccoons, which were Simply Enormous--but not ringtails). Don't think I've ever come across any mythology or symbolism connected with ringtails--but it's always possible that your visitor is either a personal totem animal, or some other form of spirit guide. [g]

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  19. Sarah--

    Yes, hawks are large birds of prey--raptors. They hunt small mammals, snakes, and that sort of thing.

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  20. Diana, have you seen any javelina recently around your home? A friend of mine in Cave Creek says they are becoming a real problem, i.e. coming on porches to eat plants in pots, etc. Her daughter (Scottsdale residents)usually goes jogging with her dog just before dawn and her dog (golden retriever - not a small dog) was attacked and suffered some very serious wounds. I would rather watch owls and hawks myself - coward that I am.

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  21. Sherrye--

    My younger daughter called me in great excitement a couple of weeks ago to tell me she'd just seen a javelina cross the road a couple of blocks from our house (she was driving back to her apartment after having dinner with us). I've seen four coyotes this month alone, but haven't yet (thank goodness) run into a javelina in the neighborhood. _Have_ eaten 'em, though. [g]

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  22. Better tasting than coyote I'll bet (I've not tried either, rattlesnake is as exotic as I have managed to try and swallow - try being the operative word).

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  23. I've never been to the dry/desert areas in the US, but wildlife experiences seem to be the same all over - I'm a conservation ecologist on the west coast of Canada, and I once followed a cougar up a logging road, watching its tail swish in undecided annoyance until it gave up the road to me and took off. But a funnier similar story I have is from once doing field work on the coast of the Great Bear Rainforest in BC. I was watching a juvenile bald eagle struggling to lift a kill from the water (often they catch very large salmon and have to half fly-half swim to shore before they can take off). So I'm watching this huge bird floundering around in the waves, amidst the vastness of the Canadian wilderness, with no other human around for hundreds of miles, and when he finally gets airborne, what does he ponderously lift from the water? An entire butterball turkey - fully plucked and ready for the oven! If anything, I take this as a cosmic comment on human-animal interactions, but I'm not sure for which side its being made ;)

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  24. Michelle,
    What a wonderful occupation you have. My only encounter with a cougar was while in a wilderness area riding a very young horse & the horse was not best pleased being watched by the big cat (actually neither was I).

    AZ seems to have its urban coyotes and we in England have urban fox. They can sometimes be as cheeky as the US racoons. Like your traffic watching coyote, a friend's neighbour had one that sat on their fence post (brick pillar) and watched the commuters every morning. He looked like a statue. One of the favourites over here is the hedgehog (almost like a minature porcupine and drives the dogs mad)!

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  25. I am wondering if corbies are what I saw in Ireland last summer. They seemed to be nesting in the old stonework and high walls of all the ruined churches and buildings we visited. They looked like large crows but had gray on or under their shoulders. They were very vocal and I thought quite beautiful. When I asked the tour guide (at the Rock of Cashel, I think) if she knew what they were, she gave me an odd look like "why would anyone care?" I looked at pictures on the internet, but the "corbie crows" I found there seemed to have more gray than I remembered. Any ideas?

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  26. BethS
    Here is a website to help identify the bird (could have been a jackdaw). Paste this in your browser and click on Bird identity,then C at the top of the page. There are pictures with each bird.
    www.rspb.org.uk
    or just google rspb (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds).

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  27. Sherrye
    Oh, thanks! I looked on the site and I think they must have been Jackdaws, based on their calls and coloring. They are probably pests to the tour operators, but I liked them.

    By the way, we have coyotes in urban Memphis, TN but I once heard someone pronounce it "cow-oatie"...

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  28. BethS
    Could this be a southern pronunciation? I had a boyfriend from N Carolina (ridge runner - his saying not mine)and it took me a long time to understand the pronunciation of my name!
    I didn't realise that the coyote was located in the eastern part of the US. Bears and snakes, yes!! Hey great, at my age, I'm still learning new things.

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  29. I mostly see birds in our garden or squirrels. But that’s because I live in a village and not in the open country. We feed the birds in winter and a strange thing happens around Christmas. They all disappear. Don’t know where they are going, maybe they make a holiday or something like that. Only the blackbirds stay, but they are the whole time in our garden and they often brood in places we don’t want to have them. Their baby’s are sweet even when they don’t have feathers after they got out of their egg.

    Julia

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  30. We have billions (or it seems that way) of pigeons here in London, however, in 30 years here, I have yet to see a baby pigeon. I reckon they are hatched fully grown so as to plague us quicker. Or....they just extra long lives!!

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  31. Apologies, that last sentence should have read "Or...they have extra long lives." Sheesh, some days it doesn't pay to get out of bed and get dressed!

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  32. I did see a baby pigeon once - from the highest window of a scarcely-used room in a gothic college building with lots of nooks and crannies. I have no recollection of why I was up there (studying, no doubt!). I could actually look down into the rain gutters of the building and there the whole family was. The babies were pretty well feathered, but not flying yet and did look like little mini pigeons. I don't know what else they might have looked like, but it's amazing to me how homely and unlike their parents some tiny birds can be. I cannot remember the official term for babies like this (the opposite is "precocious" like ducks, chickens etc. who have down and can hunt for their own food straight out of the egg). Since Diana did her thesis on Pinon Jays, I'm sure she could tell us...I seem to recall it has alot to do with how fast the family has to move and how long the parents can hang around to feed and warm them. I imagine that pigeons are opportunistic nesters and are just really good at finding places we wouldn't normally see.

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  33. I have seen a few pigeons nesting (both parents in view)in an above ground tube station, but never actually saw the wee ones. Standing on a tube platform 5 days a week, twice a day waiting for a train can be rather boring so one does become interested in the surroundings. Especially when one is trying to keep out of the way of the feathered fiends.

    Happy Burns Night to you all. Hope you have had success hunting your haggis for this evening meal (g)!!

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  34. I'm on my way to a Mexican restaurant...guess that doesn't count.

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  35. Well, maybe you could try and pass off the tamale as a Mexican version of Haggis!

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