Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What I did on my summer vacation

View to the north from Waggoner's Gap--a bit of haze in the distance

Ah, vacation!  Too short and never long enough!

My vacation last week was spent outdoors a lot.  I went hawkwatching at Waggoner’s Gap hawkwatch and saw oodles of raptors.  This time of year I can expect to see upwards of 1000 Broad-winged hawks in a day, but I also had good views of many Bald Eagles, a Golden Eagle, Peregrine Falcon and assorted Sharp-shinned Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrel.
A few Broad-winged hawks in a 'kettle"

One of the fun things about a hawkwatch is that raptors often do interesting things as they are migrating.  We saw two Bald Eagles lock talons and fall some feet cartwheeling before breaking off and continuing southwards.  We also watched a young Peregrine Falcon harassing local turkey vultures several times for no obvious reason.  Also unusual was the eastern skink that appeared, missing most of its tail, which in and of itself is not unusual as they can drop their tails in the face of danger.

Feet with skink
Dropping a tail can be dangerous for a skink or any of the lizards that can do so.  The tail is a place of fat storage and losing that fatty tail is not a good thing to happen close to winter.  The tail can take up to a year to regrow, so this one will be mostly tailess through the winter, when the loss of fat storage can be fatal.  A skink can only lose its tail once, I’ve read, so it’s at a disadvantage for future encounters with predators, one likely cause of losing the tail in the first place. And apparently, prospective mates don’t much care for tailless mates, so reproductive success is not good when the skink is tailess.

The skink did provide some amusement during times when the birds weren’t flying.  It makes me hope this one beats the odds and makes it through the winter.


Granny Sue said...

Looks like a good day. Poor skink--hope the tail will grow back.

Scott said...

I didn't know that lizards could only lose their tails once; aren't I glad I stopped by today?! Apparently, the hawk watch at Militia Hill in Fort Washington (my neighborhood) had a fabulous day on Sunday, with over 2,200 hawks counted. Apparently, the raptor tide shifted a bit eastward in favor of the bumpy Piedmont instead of the Kittatinny Ridge that day.

Carolyn H said...

Granny Sue: This skink's tail either wasn't totally gone or was about half grown back!

Scott: Thanks! I didn't know skink tails only grew back once either, but since they take the better part of a year to grow back and these little things don't live for more than a few years, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Yes, Militia Hill had a very nice flight. Some years they get the big numbers and some years they don't.

Pablo said...

Well, I didn't know that about the one-time-only tail losing feature.