Monday, February 13, 2012

Playful Avians

Our blue heeler/border collie cross, Griz, always jets out the door first thing in the morning. I ask him every morning to wait politely at the door before I open it. But once I do, he twirls like a discus thrower before his release and then sprints to the fence in front of the house near the mares. Then he goes around the house to the barn and then onto the rental cabins. My husband and I have interpreted this intense circling journey around the property as a result of his guarding and protective instincts. He must go out into his territory and carry out his responsibilities to secure the property.

Once Griz has secured his home, he often sits on the deck or out in the snow watching his world wake up to the new day. Out of the corner of my eye this morning, I spotted Griz surrounded by two magpies. Even though they are spectacular in their black and white, they can be noisy and unfriendly as they fly from cottonwood to cottonwood. Known to aggressively drive off other species of birds, I anticipated they would be sassing Griz. And then I fully expected Griz to do some of his own harassing, but the three creatures seemed to be creating their own quiet interaction. I’d never seen magpies act so congenial. The three seemed to be friends. I wanted their low key play to go on, but the magpies casually wandered off and Griz calmly searched the ground for what looked to be like more of their scent.

Later in the day, I took Griz and Emma snowshoeing with me. As we approached the top of the hill, I heard a rather loud “Caw!” It was so loud; it made me think first that a fox or a coyote might be ahead of us. But high above I realized it was a large eagle with white on the tips of its tail, at the edge of its wings, and a beautiful white diamond shape underneath its wing. The sight reminded me of Native American designs and I thought, “So, this is how their art was inspired.” I later discovered I had spotted a young Golden Eagle, prevalent in the Western United States and still sacred to Native American people: only certifiable Native Americans enrolled in a federally recognized tribe are allowed to collect eagle feathers for ceremonial use. They often are used in ceremonies recognizing unusual leadership and bravery.

As I made my way up the last steep pitch, the eagle and two ravens, known for their acrobatic flying skills, went at each other like military pilots practicing dog fight maneuvers: fast, sharp turns, with the kind of energy it takes to kill, but quickly this practice session was apparent, just neighborhood play. Later, the Golden Eagle and one of the ravens, usually adversaries, continued sailing on a small thermal, shadowing one another, at a sort of military ease. The raven sailed just above the eagle and then at its side, the eagle’s dihedral wings taking full advantage of the wind’s lift allowing him to drift and float and turn and rest. Around and around they soared the two of them, enjoying the relaxing moments after the energized play and practice of their role as predators in their habitat on the hill.

These playful avians made me pause today as I watched what seemed to be unusual behavior between the magpies and Griz and the ravens and the eagle. I’m usually watchful and aware in my habitat, but after I told Pete about my sightings, he said, “Yeah, if only we stopped and looked more closely, more often, what would we see?”

*Essay first posted 2/27/09

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