Thursday, 11 September 2014

Red-tailed Hawk hunting

On a visit to Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon USA we found a Red-tailed Hawk hunting Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels on the crater rim at Watchman Overlook.
Crater Lake with Wizard Island cinder cone in foreground.
Waiting for the Red-tailed Hawk to come by at Watchman Overlook.
Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels on scree slope just below Watchman Overlook.
Mount Mazama in southern Oregon is one of a line of volcanoes ranging from northern California to British Columbia in Canada on the so-called Pacific Rim of Fire. Other volcanoes in the region include Mt St Helens and Mt Lassen. The eruptions that destroyed Mount Mazama and lead to the formation of Crater Lake began about 7,700 years ago. The lake is 6.02 miles across (max) and 4.54 miles across (min), has a surface elevation of about 2,000m, a maximum water depth of 592m and holds 4.9 trillion gallons of water.
The volcano and lake are truly spectacular. We took about three hours to drive the 24 mile long access loop road around the crater rim, stopping at many view points to take in the majesty of the place. At the Watchman Overlook stop opposite Wizard Island, a cinder cone in the lake, we found Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels on the rocky scree slope below the overlook.
As we enjoyed the scene, a raptor flew by, effortlessly riding the mild breeze rising up the crater wall from the incredibly blue lake far below.
Red-tailed Hawk cruising along the crater rim.

The hawk stopped for a brief rest, showing the red tail.

It soon became apparent that the Red-tailed Hawk was not interested in the scenery but was focused on squirrels.  

The hawk moved across a wide area of the crater inner slope, stopping to hover in places to look for squirrels, and any other prey opportunities no doubt. From time to time the hawk flew by the slope just under the roadside viewpoint coming very close to us and other tourists taking in the scene.
One eye on us and one scanning the scree for squirrels.
This man did not realise the hawk was so close.
After coming very close to the man pictured above, the bird suddenly landed on a rock in the shade of a young conifer just below where we stood.
The hawk perched on a rock beside a small conifer.
Some minutes had passed when suddenly the hawk took a couple of rapid steps and lunged in under the conifer after a squirrel we had seen fossicking there. As the dust settled the hawk backed out from under the tree, composed itself and flew off. It was no surprise that this hunting method was far too slow and clumsy to catch a very fast and nimble squirrel in its element on the ground.
It was not long however before the hawk was back again hovering above the scree slope below the view point waiting for a Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel to become careless, as a number of squirrels enjoyed the warm afternoon sun perched on rocks close to the safety of their retreat holes.
Enjoying the sun with one eye on the sky.
Danger above.
Eyes scanning the scree for a careless squirrel.
The grand scenery of Crater Lake was a magnificent backdrop to view an every day survival drama with squirrels gearing up to spend a harsh winter in their homes in the scree slope under a deep snow pack while the hawk hunted from above for another meal. The hawk will no doubt spend winter in the low lands leaving the squirrels safe in their dens until next spring.

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