Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Survival of the Fittest

Early Wednesday morning, a Cooper's hawk seemed to drop out of the canopy of a big-leaf maple as the sun burned through the morning mist. Fifty feet above the ground, it perched on a bare branch and calmly surveyed its domain.

Not seeing any immediate opportunities for breakfast, it focused on grooming. 

It made me wonder if this was a morning ritual, similar to washing your face and combing your hair.

The second year bird ignored the falling feather as it focused on a potential breakfast. Turning to follow its gaze, I spotted a pair of Stellar's jays as they silently worked their way through the witch-hazel. Jay's can be extremely noisy, but as a friend mentioned, whenever they are quiet there is usually a nest nearby. One jay picked a leaf off the witch-hazel bush and headed back the way it came. The other moved further away.

A moment later the second jay popped up out of the underbrush with an acorn. It perched proudly on a dead branch of a pacific madrone, no doubt enjoying the warm morning sun. I felt like the jay was teasing me, and the hawk apparently felt the same way.

One of my photographic goals is to get a beautiful photo of a bird perched in a madrone tree, but not on a dead gray branch. I would enjoy photographing a bird next to the gnarly bark at the base of one of the trees.

Even better would be a photo of a bird preening next to the smooth orange bark of one of the upper branches, especially where it peels back to reveal flashes of the lime green cambium. The icing on the photographic cake would be to have the outer edges of the photo surrounded by a rich green bokeh, in the color of the madrone leaves. Did you know that the pacific madrone is the only tree in the Pacific Northwest with evergreen leaves, instead of needles.

Obviously my personal desires meant nothing to the jay or the hawk, they were both much more appropriately interested in food and survival. As I focused on the jay, I heard a swoosh of displaced air coming from the direction of the big-leaf maple. The jay noticed the same sound and gave a loud two-part squawk as it disappeared into the undergrowth.

The hawk landed just below the jay's perch, also on the madrone, before following the jay into the bushes. A moment later the hawk flew out empty-handed and circled back the way it came. The jay survived its close encounter and the hawk went away hungry.

However, the hawk does eat. Five days earlier at the same spot I watched a hawk, which I believe is the same bird, rise up out of the underbrush with lunch.

Some of the later bites were dainty and nice...

...but an earlier photo shows a more graphic depiction of survival of the fittest.

Once it finished eating, the hawk flew to a dead branch on another madrone tree and began cleaning up. I think the birds prefer the dead branches because there are no leaves and very few twigs to obstruct their flight or their vision. It may take me awhile to get my perfect pacific madrone-bird photo.

Even though somewhat satiated... 

...the hawk remained always alert for additional opportunities.


Death may seem somewhat cruel to our civilized sensibilities, but it is nature's way of keeping a balance and evolving faster, smarter and stronger creatures. In nature, individuals die but only occasionally in unique situations do scores of complete species disappear. 

It seems ironic that our civilized society is causing the rapid extinction of multiple species. It is hard to even look at all the photos and drawings of the animal species that have been lost in the last century. If you are up for the challenge, Click Here

Even though the United States has been trying to address these issues for at least a hundred years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently lists 484 animals and 725 plants that are endangered in the United States. The following piece from the British Broadcasting Company beautifully explains both the value and the wonder of saving as many species as possible. 

Saving the species around us may turn out to be critical for humanities future. It does make me wonder what will be the ultimate meaning of the term, Survival of the Fittest.

Have a great day on Union Bay...were nature lives in the city!


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