Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Season of the Hunter

Before dawn this morning, the waning Hunter's Moon glowed just to the west of Orion, The Hunter.  Later in the morning, that large moon hovered above the Front Range, soon to disappear behind the lofty peaks.

By contrast, down at South Platte Park the avian hunters were noticeably absent, represented only by a lone sharp-shinned hawk.  The autumn waterfowl count continues to increase as large numbers of gadwall and American wigeon have arrived at the refuge, joined by the resident mallards, a modest number of northern shovelers, a pair of hooded mergansers and an increasing number of coot and pied-billed grebes.  The number of bald eagles should soon increase along the South Platte River, joining resident red-tailed hawks, Cooper's hawks, American kestrels, golden eagles, prairie falcons, great horned owls and a host of winter visitors.  Since most mammalian carnivores (mountain lions, black bear, coyotes, fox, otter) are nocturnal, none were encountered on this sunny but cool October morning.

As the celestial signs indicated, the season of hunters has begun.  Over the next five months or so, carnivores and raptors will have a distinct advantage; their prey, stressed by harsh weather and diminished food availability, will also be easier to locate in the barren woods or against a white background of ice and snow.  Equipped with a thick coat of fur or dense plumage, the hunters will be well nourished and some will begin to breed long before the warmth of spring envelops the South Platte Valley.