TThree Black Vultures showed up in the backyard Tuesday and headed for our stream. They were not looking for food; they craved water. They hover over us every day; that was the first time any of them landed so near our house.
Drinking water is in short supply in many wild places. We are in a time of year when water levels often are low, but Marsh Creek, in places where it normally only is low, is nearly dry. I was shooting pictures of a pair of Great Blue Herons looking for enough water to support a fresh frog for lunch when a Mallard drake swam by, about three feet over the surface of what used to be the creek. There was more water in the humid air than in the stream bed.
On a nearby fence rail, a dozen starlings sat with mouths open, panting. Other critters presumably have found shadier places to await sundown.
A Red-tailed Hawk floated above the trees, probably unsure whether to keep the breeze flowing or drop to snatch a squirrel on which to dine. One thing I learned from motorcycling: when you are moving at 70 mph through 95-degree air, it’s a 95-degree wind blowing across your face and hands.
When the sun hits just right, you can see where the Red-tail gets its name. The raptor’s tail surfaces glow like an F-14 fighter jet on afterburner, contrasting with the seemingly lazy circles it carves above the trees, though its solar-powered sensors are on full alert. Patiently, it waits for dinner – a mouse or small rabbit, perhaps – to forget the threat that waits over its head.
Hawks are Level 5 solar-powered. (A friend once claimed to be a Level 2 vegetarian. Cows eat plants, he eats cows, he explained.) Ol’ Sol powers plant growth, which powers grasshoppers and other bugs, which provide energy to spiders which pass it on to mice and voles, which are devoured by hawks.
I wonder about the temperature at 200 feet above the trees – whether altitude makes it cooler than where I am sitting, or the lack of shade trees makes it hotter. Most of the time, I’d rather drive with the windows down than turn on the air conditioner – I do not care for the noise of the blower or the blast of cold air on my arms and legs. But I noticed the other day that when I rolled down the tinted window, I suddenly became much hotter with the sun unblocked.
It is hot out there. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said this week June was the 14th straight record hot month on Planet Earth. In an Associated Press story posted Wednesday, reporter Seth Borenstein quoted NASA chief climate scientist Gavin Schmidt and NOAA climate scientist Jake Crouch saying 2016 will likely be the hottest year on record for a third consecutive year.
Temperature records go back to 1880.
I sometimes think of these things while sitting near the stream, listening to birds I cannot see and therefore cannot identify, or watching a wolf spider under the edge of a shrub, pretending that since it cannot see me, I cannot see it. I’ve known humans like that, though most of them have been younger than five years old.
El Niño cannot see us, but we can see it. It has heated the Pacific Ocean, made ducks swim a few feet above Marsh Creek (OK, I made that up) and vultures drink from the stream behind my house (I didn’t make that up).
It definitely is getting hot out there.