The R Word

Can I believe it? Is it really possible that my floodplain might look more like this 36 hours from now — minus all the summer vegetation, of course?

September 2008 Flood

I’m afraid to even write it, much less say it out loud. Last weekend’s promised inch-plus of precipitation never manifested at my house. The total in our gauge? A pitiful 0.39 of an inch. Enough to dampen the ground and make the birds chirpy. Not enough for mud puddles, creek-fortifying, or vegetable watering.

Today those untrustworthy meteorologists are chattering excitedly about an impending significant precipitation event. Some counties near me have even been placed  under precautionary flood watches (so they’re the ones who’ve been hogging all the water!). The radar is full of massive green blobs that are purportedly heading my way. I am struggling to believe they will reach my thirsty yard.

Of course, if my creek overflows, that will present its own set of challenges. I worry about the Wood Duck couple that I saw quietly paddling up and down the creek this morning. Have they built their nest high enough off the ground to protect eggs/nestlings from disaster? It’s probably better that I don’t know the location of their nest.

And a prolonged driving hard r— (no, I’m not going to type the word — don’t want to scare it away) will be hard on Mrs. Red-Shouldered Hawk and her young brood. I’m fairly certain that, two days ago, the eggs began to hatch. Suddenly both parents were flying back and forth to the nest excitedly. I can’t even step out onto my back deck now — much less walk on the floodplain — without both parents complaining loudly and constantly about my unwelcome proximity to their nest.

I watched Mr. Hawk acting more like a chicken than a hawk yesterday afternoon. I’ve observed Red-Shouldered Hawks hunting for earthworms many times on my floodplain. The moist soil keeps the worms close to the surface, and they are abundant in the loose sand-silt enriched by debris from occasional floods. Usually, the worm hunters are recently fledged birds.

But yesterday, it was the parent bird. He settled near Brush Pile Mountain, where much organic debris provides excellent worm habitat. He made little jumps, talons extended, then pulled back his feet to scrape the soil. As fast as he scraped, he’d tilt his head to one side, looking for freshly exposed earthworms. When he found one, he immediately carried it to the nest.

My theory — I’m not a bird expert, I’m just going by my observations — is that regurgitated earthworms make excellent first meals for freshly hatched hawklings. They’re high in protein, and lack bones, fur, or feathers, which are probably harder for parents to process into something good for their young ones.  The parents gradually introduce larger prey to their brood as they mature.

Maybe the reason I always see newly fledged hawks hunting worms on the floodplain (they always hang together at that stage) is because that’s the first food they remember. And, of course, a worm is much easier to catch than a field mouse or frog running for its life.

For the hawk parents, the up side of a big precipitation event will be all the earthworms that flee to the surface to avoid drowning. All in all, a big precipitation event in my drought-stressed yard would definitely have more positive effects than negative ones.

But I’m not counting my chickens — or earthworms — this time. I’ve been disappointed by fickle clouds too often of late.

  1. #1 by Lesley Landis on March 10, 2011 - 4:39 am

    We got rain!! Love reading your observations. Keep up the great work.

  2. #2 by piedmontgardener on March 10, 2011 - 5:57 am

    Thanks, Lesley! We only got 0.32 of an inch so far, but the heavy — and potentially dangerous — line of storms isn’t quite here yet.

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