"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Hawk in a Hickory
Copyright © 2008 by Bill Scifres

Well, it has happened again.

Mother Nature has coughed up another episode that to this point has defied logic--and the unwritten identification laws of her own land--to leave this observer (and many others who should have answers) befuddled.

But first let me back track a bit to the spring and summer of 2007. That is when it all started. Itís still going- -ďitĒ being the nest and presence of a very unusual pair of hawks, not to mention a strong possibility of young in the last two years. 

You see, last spring I observed this hawk nest high in a hickory tree that is larger than any such facility that I have ever seen. It is a good five feet in diameter (border-to-border) and fashioned from what is obviously very big sticks--some appearing as large as the wrist. Since the nest is high in a hickory tree, I can only surmise the inside construction. I stay at least 200 yards away to avoid spooking the inhabitants.

What is it? Who knows? We can only speculate on their identity because our largest camera lens is only 300 millimeters, and our binoculars are not powerful enough for a good, sharp view.

Off hand, my first guess as to their identity is Ferruginous Hawk, (fer- roo-jinous for you phoneticians, Buteo regalis). My second choice is Rough-Legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus). May the best hawk win.

The two are the largest raptorial hawks of the kingdom and both presumably are confined to nests in the far north of this hemisphere, and both depend heavily on rodents for food--the ferruginous to prairie dogs and the rough-legged to smaller rodents, and for these reasons their preferred ranges differ somewhat.

In separating the two, one canít depend on color and many other characteristics because Mother Natureís critters often maintain the important characteristic of being uncharacteristic. But not always. 

At any rate, I discovered the nest and the birdsí activities last spring, and observed it until the inhabitants brooded young and disappeared (perhaps because they were disturbed, not by me). I could not speculate on the youngís outcome.

The nest remained throughout the winter. I presumed the nest would rot away, but this spring it appeared to be somewhat refurbished on the exterior. Then, I thought my binocs showed young. I havenít been able to tell for sure.

On one occasion I observed an adult hawk (wingspan of more than four feet) flapping laboriously at low altitude while taking what appeared to be a snake to the nest. This seems to indicate the adult was feeding young. It could have been a squirrel with tail hanging down.

On other occasions I have observed the birds hunting from a perch in a nearby tree (no foliage) and in high soaring. In soaring, the birds seem to hold their wing tips slightly above horizontal, but not as buzzards hold their wings (dihedral fashion) as they ride the air currents.

The hickory tree, of course, must be credited with offering a clear view of the proceedings by customarily being a late leafer among the trees. 

We will hear more of this.

DID YOU NOTICE swarms of mosquitoes, much earlier than usual as they plagued Memorial Day cookouts? Our recent rains can be credited with this explosion. Ordinarily, the first skeeter to buzz ears is a product of mid-June or at times even July.

A Plea: Donít leave buckets sitting upright. They trap rainwater . . .which breeds skeeters and drowns little critters. Give the critters a break.

COOKIN KORNER--Green peppers (quartered or in eights), sautéed to brown, make a beautiful and tasty garnish (with chopped onion) for any meaty sandwich. Pimentos, or most of the other peppers, are prime candidates for the skillet. 

Wild asparagus is en route to Michigan . . . but pokeweed is hitting its zenith as poor manís morels (see recipe on http://bayoubill.com). Stinging nettle is right for the greens pan, delicious cooked as greens, drained and mixed with egg and cracker crumbs, and fried as patties with bacon and topped with melted cheese . . . Eating can be fun.

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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