Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wild, Wild Life

Yesterday morning, I parked my car on Montrose Avenue and Racine as I always do and walked down Racine Avenue to class at Truman College. About halfway down the block, I saw a large bird out of the corner of my eye landing on a railing. By the large size, I assumed it was a crow, which are plentiful around here. As I turned to look closer, I realized that it was not a crow, but some kind of hawk. For once, I didn't have my camera with me, but I remembered, for a change, that my phone has a camera in it. I fished it out of my pocket, and as I was trying to get the zoom adjusted, the hawk flew away. I was struck by how big the hawk was; the wingspan had to be about five feet.

As luck would have it, I happened to be on my way to my Biology class, so I told Roberto, one of my classmates what the bird looked like. He told me that I was describing a Red-tail Hawk, but that it was unlikely I'd seen one; they rarely go into cities. Still, there are two large cemetaries with lots of trees just a few yards from where I saw the bird, and Illinois is well within the area the hawks range, so I thought it might have been possible.

I got called in to work last night for someone who was sick, and I told my boss Dan about what I'd seen. He told me that one of his neighbors who is an avid birdwatcher told him that a Red-tail Hawk took residence in the area about six months ago.

Back last fall, I spotted a coyote sitting in Lincoln Park as Kim and I drove down Lake Shore Drive. I spotted another one in the city a couple of weeks ago, after I picked up Adam at my ex's house. I was driving down Lawrence Avenue, between Cicero and Pulaski, when I saw a coyote ambling across a railroad bridge that spanned Lawrence Avenue.

I haven't seen a deer in the city in a while-- years ago, I saw one crossing a railroad bridge on Foster Avenue, near a forest preserve-- but deer are regularly spotted in the city, sometimes taking up residence on people's lawns. We used to have a bit fat possum that used to waddle down our block, and racoons and skunks are occasionally spotted-- we live about a block from the north branch of the Chicago River.

I've been intrigued by Alan Weisman's best-selling book After We Are Gone, a book about an imaginary abrupt departure of human beings from the earth. Weisman pictures a world in which our infrastructure quickly falls to entropy without our maintenance, and plants and animals quickly retake the land we clawed away from them. Lately, it seems like the animals are coming in ahead of our departure. Maybe they know something we don't.


Monica said...

coyotes sure are cute. do you remember last year when the one wandered into quizno's? boy, he sure was adorable. there was a brown owl in a tree outside of my office back in november and apparently it was a really big deal...and he was really cute too.

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

It's weird seeing wildlife in city environs isn't it? We saw a fox one at a local park and it was kind of amazing, weird but amazing.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

A hawk is a pretty incredible thing to spot on the way to class, I would think.

The coolest thing I have seen here was six mule deer walking calmly down the centre of our street one morning.

Erik Donald France said...

Love it. Hawk in the city -- cool. Hawks used to visit the UNC-Chapel Hill campus without fear, and sit in the tall trees. And here, too, there have been coyotes in the winter, walking out on the ice of Lake St. Clair. Maybe they know, indeed . . .

SkylersDad said...

Several years ago, Denver built nesting site around downtown Denver and moved in some falcons. The pigeon population took a hit, which is exactly what they were going for.

SamuraiFrog said...

I have no doubt you saw a red-tailed hawk; I used to see them in Woodridge all the time when I lived with my mom, and Woodridge isn't really that far from Chicago (and it looks more like La Grange Park every day). They were especially visible around the 355; one guy I worked with even hit one with his truck. He was freaked out because it's illegal to kill them; he donated it to the Field Museum. We see them out here in DeKalb constantly, and they're very beautiful. There was a day in July when three of them hovered over the swimming pool, looking magnificent and terrifying. I see the poor things caught in blizzards, too.

I saw a few coyotes in Woodridge, but I never see them now (although I know they're here). One day, I saw a gopher running around the parking lot, which just looked weird. I used to see deer all the time by my mom's house, especially around one in the morning. There's a forest preserve nearby (right along Route 53), and they come out at night and walk around peoples' yards and driveways. It's stunning.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Because we huge open spaces separating the basin from the Valley here in LA, we do get to see some red-tailed hawks from time to time. They are amazing.

I regularly have a sharp-shinned hawk who sits in the tree in my backyard. Unfortunately, he's there to dine on the birds that come to my birdbath, if he can. Most of the time he gets chased away by the crows, tho.

The other day in the PetCo parking lot, I heard that distinct maracas-like sound of a raven. I looked up and saw him resting on top of the sign, about forty feet in the air. Spooney thought it was just a big crow but crows don't make that rattling sound. You don't see ravens too often outside the larger parks and forests in LA, so that was cool.

lulu said...

This is a great book about nature in the city. I picked it up when I worked at the Field.

When I was a kid in M/P. we had deer in our yard all the time, but my favorite wild animal sightings are the wild chickens that live in the forest preserve out on Peterson.

GETkristiLOVE said...

Reading and hearing about wildlife in the big cities always makes me a little sad because I figure humans have invaded their space and now they have no where to live or hunt.

Around here, one of the first tasks they do with each new construction site is to go "relocate" all the prairie dogs, meaning they just force them on down into the next open space. Soon, there won't be any open space.

We suck!

Beth said...

Coyotes are getting pretty comfortable in the Atlanta suburbs. My sister saw one trotting through her neighborhood in the middle of the day recently. She also gets deer running through her yard. A heron is also eating the fish in their faux-pond.

busterp said...

We see hawks on a pretty regular basis, circling over fields or sitting on power lines.

Last week I saw a couple of coyotes carefully cross the highway and amble over the plowed cornfield like a couple of small deer.

Speaking of that book, the History channel had a special on recently with the same premise. Very interesting with good special effects:

Anonymous said...

You may be on to something. I read today that the Maya believed the world would end in 2012. That hawk was just getting a front row seat.

Tenacious S said...

Ask the people at your newest job about the hawks that have a nest at the library across the street. My parents used to live across the street from a prairie (before it became apartments) and there used to be pheasants in the backyard in the early morning. Last year Bink and I saw deer jumping hedges here in southeast Evanston on the way home from the grocery store. Pretty cool. We also have a possum family that hangs in our yard, including babies last summer.

Johnny Yen said...

I remember the Quizno's coyote!

I've seen a few owls on the way to driving to Tennessee to see my parents. I see a lot of hawks, circling the woods off of the interstate.

Dr. Monkerstein-
It is funny seeing them here in the city.

I've never seen a fox here in the city, but I've seen one in the suburbs of Chicago.

That would be cool!

When I worked in Cicero, there was a flock of snow geese that lived across the street from the school in a field-- their population is exploding in the midwest. Ironically, the coyotes are helping keep the population is in check by eating their eggs.

Skyler's Dad-
There are a number of peregrine falcons living on high rises in Chicago. I'm all for them keeping the sky rats in check.

It's amazing how big they are.

When I was a teenager, I was visiting my grandparents in Arizona. I was driving my grandfather's truck through the desert to check on his mining claim. We crested a small hill and suddenly a golden eagle flew up and over the truck. It must have had a 6 or 7 foot wingspan.

Last year I managed to see a bald eagle in Seattle. People I know who visit Wisconsin see them a lot up there.

A friend was telling me recently about seeing a pigeon grabbed by a hawk. She was shocked, but hey, that's nature.

I'd love to know the difference in sounds-- I imagine there are some ravens around here, coming out of the many forest preserves.

I'll have to check out that book.

Adam's mother lives by that forest preserve. I'll have to take him bicycling through it some time. We'll have to make sure to take our cameras.

I saw a heron flying near my home last year. I'd never seen one here, but I imagine that there are a bunch by the lake.

I've been trying to catch that show on the History Channel-- I've got to see if they've got it on demand.

My boss, the same one who confirmed that there was a red-tailed hawk, was telling me about the Mayan thing.

I'll have to ask them about it.

When my family moved to the 'burbs, we used to see pheasants all the time, and quail.

Mathman6293 said...

Shortly, before we moved to Atlanta I was driving home near Oakton and Lee in Des Plaines. I saw what I thought was a dirty old dog. When I got closer realized that it was a coyote.