What began as witnessing a macabre scene in the natural world ended as a more poignant reminder of the destruction humans can have on another species.
I recently went to a local park in Howard County, Maryland to jog with my gear. I regularly exercise with my photography/outdoor backpack as it prepares me for future, rigid hikes and climbs. This particular park, Centennial Park, features a paved road that is centered around a man made lake that is particularly popular for its bird life. Located in the midst of suburbia the park is an excellent location for photographing waterfowl and wading birds. Naturally its an excellent environment for bird watching and exercising (which is fun when you can do both simultaneously!).
After about a half mile into my late afternoon jog I noticed a large bird silhouetted by the sun perched not too far above the lake. "That's pretty awesome," I thought as I took off my backpack, set up my tripod, and prepared to make some photographs. When an opportunity presents itself you take it.
As clouds passed by the sun diffusing the light I could identify the bird as an adult Red Shouldered Hawk. This particular raptor is very common in this area and there is something primal about witnessing a bird of prey. I think it is a combination of their power and stoic stature as they patiently await the hunt.
I stood with my tripod for a half an hour to acclimate the bird to my presence. The bird glanced at me once during the entire time allowing me to walk inch by inch closer when all the sudden it dropped from its perch in a vertical free fall. At first I thought it was a little odd that whatever it caught happened not to notice this large bird directly above them by no more then 20 feet but then I noticed it began feasting at once. There was no struggle, which means it was feeding on something that was already killed. I belly crawled closer and closer, with the bird taking no notice of me, allowing me to witness a rather gruesome scene.
As you can see this is not for the faint of heart but it is nature.
As I continued to shoot off images I noticed its prey source was pretty large, maybe a little larger than the hawk. Red Shouldered hawks hunt small mammals as their most commonly taken prey source. They also will capture amphibians, small birds, snakes, other reptiles, and during winter, I have occasionally seen one with a pigeon. As I looked closer at the prey source I recognized the head of a Double Crested Cormorant. Wow! That's pretty interesting. I have never seen a red shouldered hawk harassing a wading bird before so this was definitely not expected.
Later the call of a Red Tailed Hawk filled the area and the Red Shouldered Hawk looked above. A second call from this incoming threat caused the Red Shouldered to either flee or attempt to displace its competitor. I took a closer look at the dead Cormorant and thought how peculiar it was to have been killed by the hawk. With the sun at an angle a reflection emitted from the mouth of the bird. I took a closer look and saw a fish stuck in its throat, a pink fish. I then took an even closer look and saw that was no fish at all but a fishing lure. It all made sense. I don't know if the bird starved to death, choked, or was killed by the hawk or another predator in its weaken state but a feeling of disappointment came over me. As mentioned earlier the epicenter of Centennial Park is the man made lake. This lake is stocked with fish and people are allowed to fish either from a boat or on foot around the lake.
I know sometimes fishing lines have to be cut and I know its possible to lose them, but this seemed regrettably disturbing. Fishing lines and lures pose a dangerous threat to birds. They can become entangled in them, strangled by them, and like the cormorant they can become stuck in their throats leading to a painful death of suffocation and/or starvation.
Here's a well written piece on the problem courtesy of the New York Times.
In Centennial I have seen fishing line tangled in trees and discarded on the hiking paths. When I can, I remove it myself and promptly throw it in the nearest trash can.
So what do we do? Well first I would recommend placing signs alerting fisherman to be aware of their lines and lures and to discard of them properly. The other step is enforcement. But how do we enforce something in our parks when they are constantly having their budgets slashed and staff cut? There is no easy answer especially when fishing has an economic benefit to the local government.
I support fishing. I have fished and I like to fish. What this is about is personal responsibility. If someone is going to fish in a local city or county park they should be held to the strictest criteria of maintaining a safe environment for all life.
We have to continue to make people aware of their actions. As difficult as these photographs are to share, I am determined to see that they uphold a greater purpose of conservation and responsibility. I for one am going to send this blog piece to the Howard County Government and local officials. I encourage you to do the same.
Let's choose to act in the best interest of all the Earth's creatures.
As always I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org