Harsh Reality

Ground squirrels are a key component of the grassland ecosystem.

The three-foot rattlesnake crawled out from under the  brush-covered rock pile where it had spent the night digesting the carcass a young California ground squirrel. Adult squirrels are difficult prey for the snake, but springtime produces young squirrels, not wise to the dangers of the grassland.The air was cool, but the rays of the morning sun inviting, as the snake stretched out into a position which allowed it to achieve maximum exposure to the heat source.

From its perch atop a blue oak, the red-tailed hawk spied the movement in the grass. With a hop upward and a 30 yard glide to the ground, it talons reached for the snake which was unable to retreat quickly enough to avoid disaster. The redtail climbed into the sky, holding the dangling reptile. The bird flew across the deep canyon, the snake hanging conspicuously, until it reached a spot where it felt safe enough to finish its meal.

While perching on a large boulder, the predator bird strattled the snake and ripped the still-live quarry apart – eating until it could hold no more.

Hen merganzers often have large broods. They cruise the lake shallows feeding on minnows and insects.

The hen merganzer led her brood down the estuary towards the lake below. Like a drill Sargent at the parade grounds, she uttered guttural sounds as the young birds chased minnows in the shallows. Suddenly her sounds became more agitated and the brood immediately sped to her side. Several of the small birds climbed on her back and the others crowded against her side. The group swam down stream at full speed with a roostertail wake behind them.

A bald eagle dropped from the sky, dive bombing the group and the hen dove beneath the cold waters to avoid death. The young birds scattered, but a second eagle appeared and then a third,  hovering and circling the brood like a flock of seagulls on a school of herring.

The mother merganzer surfaced for air, but she was no match for the attacking eagles. The white-headed monster from the sky had her it his grasp and in no time was carrying her limp body off for a meal. The other two eagles continued to harass the young merganzers until they each had one of their own with the other members of the brood were left to fend for themselves. In only a couple of minutes, the peaceful morning search for pond smelt had turned into a massacre.

Bald eagles are common around lakes and streams where they often feed on fish and waterfowl

The blacktail doe called softly to it fawns, which climbed to their feet to join her. Immediately they began to nurse eagerly. The mother let the young deer have their way for a moment and then turned to lead them onward. In the dwindling light, they approached a county road. The doe stopped for a moment before climbing down the steep embankment. The fawns were not far behind her.

Reaching the road, they began to cross. The sound of an approaching auto caused her to quicken her pace.

The driver of the auto was caught by surprise when she spotted the fawns directly in front of her, standing as still as statues, eyes reflecting the light from her headlights.

Swerving quickly, she momentarily lost control of the vehicle as it slammed into the hind quarters of the doe, which took one final bound and disappeared into a thicket of ceanothus.

The two fawns walked across the road and up to the dying doe. They hesitated and then laid down beside her still-warm body one last time.

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