The other night, Sandi and I spent several minutes watching a scene not common in this world that, if it hadn’t been played at high stakes, would have been fun. We were parked in the Ivy restaurant parking lot, facing west, waiting for the 5pm dinner time to start. I was looking down the freeway when I noticed what appeared to be a restless magpie flying between cars driving on the asphalt. He flew, descended, dodged a car and started again. Again and again. Weird!
Then I saw a small creature, probably a mouse, dodging between the wheels of rushing traffic. This weird acting magpie was trying to catch the mouse. Or maybe a gopher or a chipmunk. The little creature ran from one edge of the curb to the other side of the highway, dodging traffic the entire way. Equally determined, the magpie flitted, dipped and pecked at the mouse between the cars.
As Sandi and I watched, another magpie joined the fray. Magpies, which in my opinion are one of the ten meanest birds in the world, operate in families, just like ravens and ravens, and are rarely far from their siblings and other relatives when the races are on the table. As we watched the pair of magpies harass the little creature, it seemed just a matter of time until a car or truck ran over the little furry dude, and rodent mash was on the menu. With the usual 5-hour traffic bobbing around the bend of the Ponderosa at anywhere between 30 and 50 mph, everyone bet it would end up being a frisbie first.
After several minutes, four or five at least, the magpies congregated on the pavement for several seconds and then simply disappeared from our view. Seconds later, the mouse ran down the sidewalk, crossed the sidewalk toward the safety of the grass, and stopped. Really stupid.
The two magpies were hiding under the branches of one of those tall pines that overhang the sidewalk along the Ponderosa Campground. It looked like they both nailed the poor little guy. A real clever ambush. It was too far from where we were sitting in the car to see if he had escaped or not. It reminded me of a passage from an old poem: “As he approached the Plains of Victory, he stopped to rest and, while resting, died.” Somehow says it all.
Some of our most colorfully feathered visitors are noticeably absent from feeders and birdbaths this summer. We saw lots of wrens, sparrows and finches, even a chipmunk visitor. As I write this, in mid-July, the youngest group of fledglings have just left the nest and mum robin has raised a healthy second hatchling. The absence of our giant poplar, where it usually nests and which we removed last winter, does not seem to have deterred it from nesting again in the area. Our resident falcon seems to have moved on to more productive climates.
Watching fledgling youngsters trying to figure out their world is a hoot. All the more reason to watch the neighborhood magpies. The damn magpies will land inside Darrel’s big blue fir trees and then, mimicking something (I’m guessing they’re mimicking another sparrow, as they’re great mimics), they stalk the young birds by crawling along the branches until they locate the little dudes, then kill and eat them. They kill the little guys by repeatedly pecking them on the head.
Reminds me of how great horned owls kill wild turkeys on the roost. They land next to them while the turkey sleeps, then stand next to the sleeping bird and begin to lean against it, pressing down on it. As the turkey, still asleep, reflexively descends the branch, the owl follows, gently leaning against her when the big bird stops. Eventually, the turkey misses the branch and, still essentially asleep, falls from the tree and the owl comes down to eat dinner. It’s a true “dinner and rush” scenario.
I don’t know this for a fact, as I’ve only read about it in the books, but it sounds very similar to how our Wyoming Game and Fish treats our state’s resident hunters – like boiling frogs. But that’s another story, another day.
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