Double Take

By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
Open, locks,
Whoever knocks.—William Shakespeare, Macbeth (Act 4, Scene 1)

Young Red-tailed Hawk, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, Texas
Young Red-tailed Hawk, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, Texas. Elisa captured this image of a hawk that was hunting among the thickets. Most young hawks don’t make it into fully adult plumage. I rediscovered this image while perusing our archives on a miserable rainy day. Canon EOS 7D/500mm f/4L IS. Natural light.

During the dreary, rain-spoilt part of last weekend, in bitter anticipation of the next monster rain storm (Monday into Tuesday), I perused our photo archives in search of interesting tidbits to brighten my mood. Some nice shots I’d forgotten about did resurface, like the hawk above.

But birds do often lead a more hardscrabble life than we sometimes think. Not surprisingly, close re-inspection of images sometimes yields evidence of disease or parasites. The Bay-breasted Warbler below–that frustratingly stayed in the shadows of a thicket–turned out to have a tick above the left eye, for example. Birds are subject to infestation by a variety of disease-causing ticks, and some researchers worry about the introduction of diseases into North America by migrating Neotropical birds.

Bay-breasted Warbler, Lafitte's Cove, Galveston island, Texas
Bay-breasted Warbler with Tick, Lafitte’s Cove, Galveston Island, Texas. This bird was part of small wave of Bay-breasted Warblers that showed up at Lafitte’s Cove for a few days during spring migration 2015. Canon EOS 7D/600mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). Natural light.

In addition to evidence of parasitism and disease, I sometimes find physical injury to birds when I return to the archives and really scrutinize the images. In the field I didn’t notice the spine-like projection under the lower jaw in the Lesser Yellowlegs below. At first, I thought the spine might really be a spine—as in a fin-spine that pierced the floor of the lower jaw, perhaps when the bird attempted to swallow a fish. But clearly a fish with a fin spin that large would be too large to attempt to swallow. On closer inspection, it appears (based on color and texture) that the spine is a shard of the lower jaw that continued to grow, perhaps after being fractured. If any readers know more about the origin of such injuries, I would be interested in hearing about it.

The result of these sorts of searches serve to remind that nature, like the world of Man, can be a harsh place. Birds face a gauntlet of challenges, and I often regret not being able to do more to preserve them and their world.

Injured Yellowlegs, lagoon near Bryan Beach, Texas
Injured Lesser Yellowlegs, lagoon near Bryan Beach, Texas. Canon EOS 7DII/600mm f/4L IS (+1.4x). High-speed synchronized fill-flash.

©2015 Christopher R. Cunningham and Elisa D. Lewis. All rights reserved. No text or images may be duplicated or distributed without permission.