Never eat more than you can lift

Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them.
— Samuel Butler

A great egret (Ardea alba) perched on a log with two Texas river cooters (Pseudemys texana) sunning nearby (2009_06_21_024660)

As I processed that photo of a great egret (Ardea alba) perched on a log with a couple of Texas river cooters (Pseudemys texana), I giggled at the thought of the egret trying to munch on one of the turtles.  Obviously the size of the reptiles would prohibit that.  But the same could not be said of a small turtle I watched become breakfast for a yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea).

A yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) trying to eat a small turtle (20080722_09794)

Along the bank of one of the nearby creeks, a bit of movement caught my eye.  It was the night-heron trying to eat something.  I couldn’t quite determine what was in its beak.

A yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) trying to eat a small turtle (20080722_09800)

The bird dipped it in the water, bludgeoned it against a rock, tossed it to and fro, and appeared to be resigned to not eating it since it couldn’t break it open.

A yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) trying to eat a small turtle (20080722_09812)

It was at this point that I got a better look at the food and realized it was a small turtle.  Here’s a crop of that image.

A yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) holding a small turtle in its beak (20080722_09812_c)

You can see the legs sticking out and the head hanging down, though the whole thing is covered with mud and identifying marks are obscured.  Still, it was definitely a turtle.

It seemed too large to swallow whole, and the bird had struggled with it for several minutes such that I felt certain it would give up.  After all the banging and washing, the carapace remained intact.  Unless the heron could pull the flesh from the shell by the dangling bits, it seemed breakfast would not be served this day.

But then…

A yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) swallowing a small turtle (20080722_09813)
A yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) swallowing a small turtle (20080722_09814)
A yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) swallowing a small turtle (20080722_09815)

In one swift move, down it went.  The whole turtle.  Shell and all.

After which the heron turned, took a drink of water, and proceeded to look quite satisfied.

Close-up of a yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) (20080722_09852)

It stood around for a while after that.  I’d probably need a rest, too, if I’d spent all that time and energy trying to break open breakfast only to swallow something as hard as a brick lest I be forced to give up the entire meal.

I was left to wonder how long it would take to digest the intact turtle.  And some time later, I was left to giggle at the thought of that scene as I watched the egret and its turtle companions.

Such small hands

I love watching raccoons eat.  It’s the use of their paws like hands that fascinates me so.  It’s this dexterity that allows them to get into all sorts of mischief, from opening containers to unlatching windows.  It also gifts them with that most enviable of skills amongst mammals: climbing down head first.

This video is of a troublemaker.  It occurs to me only now that, after having watched her for some time, she lacks a significant fear of humans.  It’s that simple.  She has consistently been lacking in fear of me since she began visiting.  I try not to interact with them except for standing on the patio watching when the opportunity presents itself, yet she always shows an interest in me, in what I’m doing, and shows no significant distress at my presence.  I can talk, walk, go in and out, and she carries on with no more than a glance in my direction.

Her lack of fear makes her dangerous to the uninitiated.  She readily approaches me, making me think she already associates people with eating opportunities, and that no doubt will cause problems for someone in the future.  Not me, but someone.

I captured this video of her at the very onset of dusk one evening.  After having spilled water in the cat food bowl, I tossed the wet food over the patio fence with full knowledge that it wouldn’t survive long with all the wildlife traipsing through.  A few short hours later, the open windows allowed me to hear a bit of crunching outside, so off I went to see who was eating.

I stepped up to the fence and knelt down to get a good view.  She glanced at me before returning to her snack.  I turned the camera on, placed it against the fence to try and steady it, and proceeded to shoot some video.

She was about three feet (a meter) away from me.  You can see how scared of me she is, right?  She looks at me a few times.  That’s fear, right?  Not in her case.

In fact, I stopped the video when I thought she was leaving (when she walks out of the frame at the end), but that’s when she turned and came right to me.  Not good.

Anyway, throughout her quick indulgence notice the tap-tap-tap tactile approach to dinner as she feels the ground for tidbits.  That always puts a smile on my face as I watch raccoons eat.

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  1. Obviously this is a raccoon (a.k.a. common raccoon, northern raccoon, washer bear, or coon; Procyon lotor).
  2. I know she’s a female because she’s been around for about three years, I’ve learned to recognize her, and each year she spends part of her time coming through with children in tow.
  3. This video was shot with a little point-and-shoot camera, so the quality isn’t great.  Also, I had the white balance set wrong, and I know absolutely nothing about editing video, so the best I can do is WYSIWYG.
  4. The title is a nod to my favorite e.e. cummings poem.

put on your faces – diamondback water snake

Close-up of a diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer) slithering through dry leaves (2009_03_08_012928)

Diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer)

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W. C. Fields once said, “I always keep a supply of stimulant handy in case I see a snake—which I also keep handy.”  Humorous though it is, it speaks to something I’ve never understood: ophidiophobia (or ophiophobia), the excessive fear of snakes.

I can understand the fear of being bitten by a venomous snake.  That goes hand in hand with the fear of being in an airplane crash or falling into a vat of acid.

But the general and overriding fear of all snakes no matter the circumstances or level of threat?  That I just don’t comprehend.