Monday, July 5, 2010

The Hunters & The Hunted

The sun beat down on my head from an almost cloudless sky; I wanted shade, but I knew that if I moved, I would be spotted and the dramas playing out before me would come to a sudden end. From my lofty position, a group of hunters had gathered and were lying in wait beneath me. Their prey needed to get into the area, but each time one tried, a predator would break ranks and dart for it. If they were too slow, they would soon be eaten; a short distance in front of me another drama was playing out. A single large predator had cornered a number of its prey and had them penned in; periodically it made sudden, startlingly dramatic lunges to take out one of its victims. Finally, to my right another lone predator, this time a prowler, stalking very slowly, at times motionless, at other times creeping forward inch by inch, ever in search of its prey which it was trying to ambush from within dense vegetation.

So where was I? The Serengeti? The Maasai Mara? Nope - this was lunch time on one of the little metal bridges at The Nature Conservancy's Migratory Bird Refuge off Sunset Boulevard. The first scenario wasn't a line of crocodiles waiting for wildebeast to cross the river, it was a line of Green Sunfish, waiting for any opportunity to grab the pairs of Common Bluet damselflies that were trying to lay eggs in the area. The second scenario saw a single large fish, the water just too murky to determine exactly what it was, hunting minnows in the shallows; finally, the third scenario involved all the stealth and guile of a Northern Water Snake as it patrolled for sticklebacks amongst submerged waterweed.

Sometimes - especially when it's hot - it's good to just sit and watch from a suitable vantage point and it's amazing what you can see. The various hunting strategies taking place at a single small bridge in Cape May just shows how nature has found a way to fill every niche, to take advantage of every opportunity. You don't have to go to Africa to see nature red in tooth and claw - and you don't have to be David Attenborough to witness it first hand!

Green Sunfish lying in wait for lunch [Photo by Mike Crewe]

The hunters become the hunted. Tandem pairs of Familiar Bluets have to run the gauntlet of the local fish population if they want to ensure that their species survives. More often than not, it is the damsels that are doing the hunting. [Photo by Mike Crewe]

A Northern Water Snake pauses for air during its underwater sorties. Water snakes can often be seen hunting fish and can hold their breath for several minutes at a time. [Photo by Mike Crewe]

As a quick after note to Don's previous post, I heard from TNC staff that at least one pair of Black Skimmers has laid eggs on the South Cape May beach which is great news. Now we've just got to keep the Fish Crows at bay...

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