Just a few weeks ago I was helping to release four gophers in to their new homes after they had been washed from their burrows by a winter rain storm.
Monday found myself and my Hubby having a walk on the earthen damn at Uvas Reservoir. Just a couple of years ago this reservoir was so dry you could walk the bottom and step over the trickle of a stream that was left on the bottom. We were in severe drought. This year, the reservoir is at capacity.
So we took a drive out to be lookie-loos. We walked the earthen damn while it was drizzly and cloudy. Nearby, a colony of Acorn Woodpeckers were raising hell with a murder of Crows who were disturbing them. The sound the woodpeckers make is very distinct WAKKA WAKKA WEEKKA coming from the tree at the base of the dry side of the damn. Crows flying, Woodpeckers flying, lots of noise down there. We’re seeing this from above, it’s an interesting perspective.
At one end of the damn is the spillway. We can hear that thundering from quite a distance away. Water going down to fill an already full Uvas Creek. There’s a fence along the spillway, to keep folks out. It’s always tempting to find a way around it. But no. I’m not THAT brave. We walk along the fence, I’m looking, just because I like to LOOK at random things. I’m a dork like that. I’m looking at the fence posts, nothing amazing about it. Just a standard chain link fence with metal poles, 6′ tall. Then I spot what I think are small bones at the bottom of one pole. I look closer, fur and random bones, tiny teeth. It’s a disintegrating owl casting (aka owl pellet).
Owls collect the bones, fur, and teeth of their prey in their gizzard in their digestive tract. Every 12 hours or so, they have to expel this pellet, or cast it out. They do this while perched. A great article about owl castings and gizzard function can be found here http://carolina.com/teacher-resources/Interactive/basic-information-on-owl-pellets/tr11103.tr
All of the bones and fur at this post are on one side of the pole. Judging by the size of the one partially in tact pellet, I’m guessing this is the favored perch of a Great Horned Owl. That owl likes to face a particular direction when perched here. So I start to look at the base of the other poles. Empty, empty, empty, MORE! Another pole with the same collection at the base, only on the opposite side this time. This owl eats lots of gophers! Most likely a PAIR of Great Horned Owls eating LOTS of gophers.
Yes, gophers. Those same little creatures I helped release just a few weeks ago and have learned a valuable lesson from. Gophers are the favorite food of many birds of prey. They’re essential to the lives of those birds. It’s all connected in nature. A big circle. Some may see this skull of a Botta’s Pocket Gopher and find it macabre. I find it beautiful. In that gopher’s death the owl finds nourishment and life. The cyclical nature of life is often easy to overlook. It often feels like a straight line, heading straight to the end. Sometimes the circle is big and makes us believe we ARE on a straight line. Other times the circle is so small we feel like we’re repeating over and over and over and over. (Groundhog Day, anyone?)
We orbit, cycle, circle in our lives and forget that we’re part of the natural world. The natural cycles of life. The ebb and flow.
This gopher skull reminded me of exactly that.
“Death is not the opposite of life but an innate part of it.
By living our lives, we nurture death.”
― Haruki Murakami