A Christmas Tradition Broken

A juvenile red-tailed hawk looks down while perched on a blackberry vine at Rest Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

I normally go to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge on Christmas morning, as I don’t have kids and usually don’t travel to see family. If it’s pouring rain I might have the refuge to myself, or nearly so, and it’s a contemplative time until mid-morning when the crowds show up. But this Christmas brought ice that kept me from going up, as it would not just be risky to drive there but they often close the auto tour entirely when the roads are bad. But I can at least post a picture from Ridgefield, a juvenile red-tailed hawk in February 2008, listening for breakfast from its perch on a blackberry vine. It’s the juvenile redtails (that don’t yet have their red tails) that hang out close to the road and allow the tight close ups of some of my other pictures, although I saw them like this a lot more back then than now.

Things Are Not Always As They Appear

A western gull holds a dead red rock crab in its beak on Cobble Beach at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area in Newport, Oregon

It might look like this western gull has just caught a red rock crab but the crab was long dead. No flesh yet remained, yet the shell and legs were still held together by a thin material. Usually the dead crabs are scattered in pieces around the beach so I was surprised to see the crab of a piece, and perhaps the gull was too, as it quickly dropped it when it realized there was nothing left to eat.

The Rippers

A close-up view of a juvenile red-tailed hawk

At Ridgefield, many creatures prey on the Townsend’s voles that live in the meadows and marshes. Some predators like herons, bitterns, egrets, and coyotes swallow the voles whole. Others like this red-tailed hawk (above) and rough-legged hawk (below) have beaks designed to let them rip apart their prey and eat only the parts they desire. If you watch them on a fresh kill you’ll see them pull out parts like intestines they don’t want and cast them aside so they can get to the muscles and organs they prefer. It’s a bit gruesome and I always feel for the little voles but at least they die quickly, this is how these beautiful but deadly birds have evolved to survive.

I photographed both hawks on the same day, and in nearly the same spot, the rough-leg right as the sun was cresting the hill and the red-tail over an hour later in direct sunlight.

A close-up view of a rough-legged hawk