A few summers ago, my son participated in a day camp at the Catoctin Creek Nature Center. One day, he came home eager to share something with us: a YouTube video. (Yeah, I know, I thought that it would be a cool feather or something, too). So, he typed “Birds of Prey Are Cool” into the search tool, and up came an educational video about (obviously) birds of prey, featuring a montage of film and pictures set to a weirdly catchy, folksy, guitar-strumming song cataloging each bird. Although it’s been years, we all still break out into song almost every time we see a hawk, eagle or vulture, which, embarrassingly, is not rarely. In case you would like to do the same, here it is:
Birds of prey are common along the Monocacy, and, while I do see eagles, vultures (both Black and Turkey), red-tailed hawks, and barred owls are the most easily spotted (or heard). There is a pair of hawks that reliably nest not far from my neighborhood, and vultures glide over us in broad circles nearly every day. In general, I see these birds from afar, but lately my interactions with them have been a little more personal. While walking through a wooded area a few weeks ago, I disturbed a couple of turkey vultures and a crow who were feasting on a rabbit. While the crow chased off one vulture, the other flew in my direction, headed for a nearby branch. Though not beautiful, turkey vultures are large, impressive birds, and my young hound mix was threatened enough to jump onto her hind legs, pull against her leash, and let loose a barrage of growling barks. Eventually it was annoyed enough to leave, flying low and heavy through the trees. Then, only two nights ago, at dusk, a barred owl squatted comfortably on a neighbor’s roof, allowing itself to be seen and chattered at by every small bird within a quarter mile’s radius. It was completely nonplussed, and no doubt was the same owl who couldn’t stop repeating his questioning hoots a few nights before. (The barred owl is the one who so famously asks, “Who cooks for you?”) It took my son forever to fall asleep because he couldn’t resist opening the window and leaning out into the cool dark to hear the owl better. The owl did get his answer that night, but it was from another barred owl, not us.
Today, in addition to a red-tailed hawk diving into the trees and a turkey vulture soaring in the distance, I saw a few other surprising birds, who, while not birds of prey, are predators in the eyes of fish and other swimming things. Just as I approached the river, a belted kingfisher leapt from a tree toward the opposite bank, and below, on the water, I found a double-crested cormorant swimming on its own. Both of these birds are ones that I feel lucky to have found, especially on the same day. If you haven’t seen a belted kingfisher, you should look at my “Birds of the Monocacy” page, where I record all of my avian sightings. The belted kingfisher really is a hilarious bird, something of a mix between a blue jay and a kookaburra.
But what has this to do with trash? Well, to be sure, the vultures do a far better job keeping the river clean than I do. They’re not very interested in picking up all the plastic, of course, but I’m not so inclined to deal with rotting flesh. I happily leave that to them.