I’ve been seeing hawks lately when I’m out walking, which is new. I know partly it’s that I’m actively looking for suburban wildlife, but I’ve been doing that since last June when I started participating in iNaturalist. I started noticing how many squirrels and sparrows and phoebes and finches were around (in addition to the crows and pigeons and seagulls) right away. Maybe it’s seasonal? Maybe it’s the time of day I’ve been looking?
Whatever the reason, I’ve logged four observations over the last month or so. First, two red-shouldered hawks I spotted while hiking.
This is the best photo I managed to get of any of them, because it was perched in a relatively short tree at Madrona Marsh Preserve. Maybe only ten feet off the ground, just off the trail and not too far ahead of where I was standing. When I saw it, I stopped and took about five photos. It looked around, no doubt trying to spot some of the zillion tiny frogs I could hear (but not see), and then flew up to a higher tree, presumably for a better view.
This one’s not as detailed, but I like the way it came out. I saw it from a few hundred feet away in a tall tree at the South Coast Botanic Garden. Yay for zoom lenses! (Though I still cropped the heck out of this shot.) It stayed there for a while, but I decided not to try to get a closer view and just continue hiking.
And then on two occasions I’ve spotted red-tailed hawks up in the same electrical transmission tower while walking along a bike path. In both cases I spotted them from a distance, perched up in the metal struts, not sure what kind of bird I was looking at until I could get closer.
I swear I’m not trying to turn this into a squirrel-themed blog, but here’s another encounter that I thought was worth sharing.
Most of the squirrels I see are really skittish around people. This one, in a city park, walked up to me and posed. I’m not sure what it was doing in the first shot, because it can’t have been trying to psych out a boxing opponent. But a few seconds later, after I’d knelt down with the camera for a better shot, it adjusted its pose into a perfect Oliver Twist, “Please sir? May I have some more?”
This squirrel bounded along a wall carrying a walnut in its mouth as I walked down the sidewalk. It stopped and looked at me as if it had been caught in the act of walnut burglary. I had enough time to snap a couple of pictures with my phone and pull out my camera for a better shot before it scampered away.
The tiger was a lot closer to the fence than I expected, watching us tourists with a disdainful look as it lounged in the afternoon heat. The fence mostly blurred out of view, but I didn’t notice a dry leaf in front of its face to the left of its mouth, leaving a brown splotch in the camera’s view. The tigers at the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park have quite a bit of space, and this isn’t the only shade, which makes me think they were people watching. It’s an intriguing thought. And a disturbing one!
Looking at the photo reminded me: Tigers and other large cats have round pupils, unlike housecats. I read an article a while back on a study that linked pupil shape to ecological niche: Horizontal pupils mainly appear in prey animals (sheep and goats, for instance), and vertical pupils appear primarily in ambush predators who are active in both day and night, and whose heads are low to the ground (like snakes and smaller cats). Horizontal pupils handle glare better and offer a wider visual field. Vertical pupils adjust to a greater range of light levels and, by narrowing the depth of field, offer better distance cues…but that effect is stronger when your eyes are close to the ground. Higher off the ground, the vertical slits don’t help as much, so bigger cats like lions kept round pupils.