I’m Red Woodman, Senior Investigator for what we call the “Frog Court.” If I can just get through today, I can retire with a pension. But a whole bunch of new cases just hit my in-basket and I came to work to find a guy sobbing over a couple of baby robins.
“Erm, please don’t cry on the paperwork.” I asked him. He lifted his head from my desk.
I handed him a portfolio of known raptors, whom might have cleaned out his back yard robins. He quickly handed a picture back.
“Look buddy, I’m sure the robins were cute and all, but look at the kind of reports that have come in the last few days,” I said bluntly, picking up the wet paperwork. “Plus they weren’t frogs. This is FROG Court,” I reminded him. In truth, we kept intelligence files on all known raptors in the vicinity, most of whom “enjoyed” a frog now and then.
“I’ve got a lot of attacks to investigate.” I began reading. “This one’s removing a squirrel from the carbon cycle.”
I pushed a picture towards him.
“You mean kill.”
“I mean feed it to its babies.”
I quoted from another report of hawks preying.
“We have some in Rock Creek. They love to dine on juvenile Scrub Jays.”
”Looks like the ones that has been snatching birds off feeder in our back yard.”
“We are birders....sharp shinned hawks prey on song birds and doves. We've had several doves killed by a sharp shinned. We hate to see it...but everything must eat...”
I’m reciting direct quotations from the Neighbor to Neighbor blog for Washington County, Oregon during the last couple of weeks.
The blog thread started with a picture of a hawk, asking what is this. Fifty comments later, the neighborhood was trading photos and comments and experiences.
Unfortunately the blog photos usually reproduce very small.
Four of my neighbors witnessed attacks on song birds, as did I.
Most relished the hawks’ visits.
“This one comes around our place sometimes.”
“Beautiful hawk .... we just had a young one in my garden too .. so pretty.”
I found the neighborhood’s interest almost as fascinating as the hawks themselves. Several folks took high-grade photos of their hawk visits. No one complained about the edible songbirds. Several took up the Sharpie vs. Cooper vs. Red Tail argument, I stuck to discussions about how many hummingbirds can land on the head of a pin.
Wetlands and forests and big trees and open space under power lines and over gas pipeline rights of way, thread through and nearby my suburb. As new housing paves over habitat elsewhere, we may see more hawks crowding into my suburbs’ 60-year-canopy of mature redwoods, firs, and pines that provide welcome shade during these globally-warmed summers.
Here’s a link to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Raptor page.
Once, Washington County, west of Portland, boasted of square miles of forests of massive, hundreds of year old trees, mostly cedars, but fir and pine and hardwoods too. The fast-growing evergreens overshadowed and overtook most of the original oaks.
The Native American tribe Atfalati had several riverside settlements before white mans’ diseases reduced their ranks to 600.
One-hundred-sixty years ago, the lumber mills opened in places now called Cedar Mill or Cedar Hills or Beaverton. There are few fragments left of those cedar forests. We tried to protect the largest block of trees by referendum, but the real estate developers on the County Board simply poached money from the bike lane fund and rammed a road through the forest.
So the raptors of Washington County lost habitat talon over talon. Doubtlessly, some farmers also relished shooting the hawks that plucked away their chickens.
The Bonneville Power Administration constructed dozens of miles of redtail hawk perching habitat; that is power lines and poles. The BPA cut down every tree for a hundred feet from the lines, and kept its right of ways mowed close, which made a good place to hunt rodents, even while clearing away thousands of trees in our Greenway.
Besides the Red tail, Cooper’s, and sharp-shinned hawks, the Oregon DFW identifies several other local raptors, but those with similar colors all seem to be living east of the Cascade Mountains, a hundred miles or distant, for instance the goshawk and ferruginous hawk, and the rough-legged.
I can see more skittish raptors like kingfishers or harriers down at the Greenway, which is a 10-mile-trail under the BPA power lines and over a natural gas and gasoline pipeline, and next to a mile-wide wetlands of braided creeks and small pools and the occasional live or dead tree.
The hawks are reliably there. But the red-winged Greenway blackbirds want nothing more than a piece of a hawk and will dive bomb them without a break during nesting season.
Now the informers were calling in with wild stories.
“I can’t give my name. But the robins’ nest massacre … it was a hit. And the car that hit Gimpy the Squirrel, that was no accident.”
“Wait a second, give me some details!”
“Check it out. The car that hit Gimpy was a self driving Tesla. It’s been torched. But one of the witnesses, one Bridey Mae, says she saw a robin flying away from the fire. Then Gimpy’s posse tipped off the Red Tail Hawk where the robin’s nest was, for revenge.” The phone clicked dead.
Suddenly it all made sense. I knew the Eastern Fox and the Eastern Grey Squirrel Mafia families had sent some thugs out West, to take over the birdfeeder and fruit tree rackets.
Rumor has it they had lured Doug the Douglas Squirrel, former Don of this terrain, to inspect a midden, an inspection from which he never returned.
I tried to retrieve my old photo of Doug, but it was stricken from my 2015 Bucket. Who had the power to do that? I must be going up against some powerful forces, trying to cancel Doug from history.
The two Squirrel Mobs had agreed to share what had been Doug’s turf, but they wanted more than middens. The songbirds resisted their encroachments on their nests. But they took their shot at the King, and failed to kill the now-recovered Gimpy. So now the storm.
With the robins gone, now the squirrels were stripping my pear tree, and half eaten pears were piling up in the squirrels’ redoubt.
But the Hawks were both taking, and assisting the squirrels! Do they have a squeeze play in mind; lure the pear-fattened, slowed squirrels into relaxing their guard?
Why did this happen on my last day on the job?
The last Squirrel War, when Gimpy rose to power, wrought untoward destruction.
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