Nothing like a little murder to get one's day started!
It was a gloriously clear and sunny morning, blue sky above, new snow below. The temperature was somewhere subzero (-5 at work). Toby and I took a leisurely stroll around the horn, making it longer by taking in both ends of our street. We noted that the deer were out en force over night (could the enormous full moon have been an influence?), but so far it appears they haven't made a foray over my fence. When we reached the water tower, I was shocked to see six snow buntings on the utility line overhead. Usually these little birds are seen at a distance, foraging on the ground or in the road, or flying up from said ground or road. But here they were perched on the line, all at the end that was in the sun. It was nice to get a close look at them. Then they flew off and joined a large flock of goldfinches that were zooming about a large balsam fir - shelter at the nearest bird feeding station.
BUT! The excitement came when I got home.
I had just finished fixing breakfast and had carried it into the living room to wolf down before heading to work. The cat was sitting where I had planned to sit, so I made for the piano stool, figuring I could watch for any birds at the feeders. As I sat down, I saw maybe five or six snow buntings on the ground. They were picking at the seeds I had scattered there yesterday. A blue jay flew in and checked out the peanut situation, which was lacking since I haven't refilled it in a couple days. I set down my plate and looked at the buntings through the binocs, just to confirm that's what they were (the sun was directly behind them, and the window is a bit less than perfectly transparent). I then set down the binocs and picked up the plate. I didn't even get one bite of food when the snow buntings flew off - all but one. The jay was still looking over the food situation.
"Hm," thought I.
Just then, another bird showed up on the scene - right next to the bunting. Then right on the bunting. It happened so fast! I'm sitting there thinking all at once "plate" "camera" "binocs" - not knowing which to handle first. I found a place to set the plate and grabbed the binocs again. Focusing on the action, I see the raptor holding the bunting down (I'm leaning towards it being a sharp-shin hawk; it wasn't much bigger than the bunting and it was all brown and white streaks, and it's a bit late in the season for the merlins to still be around). The bunting was now on its right side, belly facing the window. The hawk took a couple jabs at the bunting's neck. The bunting's feet bicycled in the air a couple times. And then the hawk grabbed its breakfast and flew off into the sun.
While the "struggle" was going on, the blue jay watched silently from the crabapple tree next to the feeders (so much for jays giving the alert). And then, shockingly, it flew out of the tree directly at the hawk, strafed it, and flew off.
I abandoned my breakfast and dashed out the door to see if there were any discernible signs of a struggle in the snow. There was no blood, and there were no feathers. The only thing I could find was a small depression in the snow amidst the snow bunting tracks and sunflower seed husks.
Wow! What a great start to the day! Well, not so much so for the snow bunting, but for the curious naturalist it was quite exciting.
And now I will be arming myself with the camera, donning snowshoes for the first time this season (we have about 9" of snow), and will hit the trails. Who knows what cool things I will find. Afterall, it was a full moon last night - maybe something dramatic happened here as well.