Sunday, December 12, 2010
I was hunting yesterday, and all the while, as I wandered between chases, names for this post were popping into my head. By the end of the hunt, with one squirrel in the bag and me sweaty and breathing hard, I realized that all my possible titles boiled down to an appreciation of the chess match that was being played out in the tree tops.
I've managed to squeeze in a few hunts over the last couple of days since the wind has died down.
Unfortunately, the temperature has risen as well.
I had an hour after work on Thursday where I snuck out and hit a spot that was usually good for a squirrel or two last year. It was another habitat that has dried out this year and the squirrels were plentiful.
The more time I hunt, the more impressed I become with the quarry. This particular spot is dotted with giant, vine encrusted, pine trees. The squirrels know how to use these well.
At the sight of the bumbling, ground predator, the squirrels run for the trees. Then at the sight of the hawks they spiral straight to the top. Once there, they freeze, grasping at the branches as the wind blows them.
An inexperienced hawk will lose a squirrel once it is over their head. They just won't look up.
My bird know better and start to ladder, branch to branch, up the tree. Often they will climb in different directions, or one will take a better vantage point in a nearby tree and watch for movement as the other bird flushes.
I am no help at this point.
The climb until they engage the squirrel in the treetops where he can either fight, or flee.
One squirrel, at this point, decided to flee. He was in a pine that grew so close to another they were almost touching, There was maybe a hand-space between the two.
The squirrel came spiraling down the trunk with the hawk diving at him from all sides. He evaded by changing sides of the tree, then, in a dizzying array of acrobatic skill, he changed it up.
Instead of a simple spiral, he made figure eights. Around one trunks, then circling through and going around the other trunk. It was amazing. I was on the ground, and this is where the squirrel made its mistake. He bailed to the ground and made a dash across the forest floor for a nearby brush pile.
He never made it.
In another chase, the squirrel spiraled up the tree to a nest forty feet up in the tip top of a pine.
Nothing I could do from the ground. I never saw the squirrel. The hawks must have. taking turns, one would sit in a nearby tree and watch for movements while the other scratched at the nest.
After a bit, I sat down. But they kept at it. I was ready to give it up - it had been ten minutes that they had been working on this nest.
My sock had migrated in my boot all the way down to my arch, so I hitched up my chaps, and took off my boot to adjust the sock, and the squirrel squirts out. The chase is on.
We ended up losing that squirrel in the end - but perseverance of the birds was amazing.
Holes, briers, brambles and root bundles. Squirrels use them all. They know the location of every one, and they can gauge their distances to them. The number of escape routes they use is remarkable.
The more I hunt, the more I respect the quarry. The more I respect the birds. The more I feel sorry for the land-walker (me).
Three hunts, five squirrels.
Season total so far - 25