Friday, 20 April 2012

Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

Actually, "Nature Red in Beak". Let me explain.

When I opened the front door to go for my walk, I swept a small lizard (skink) inside which had been hiding under the door. A few weeks ago, on my walk, I was in the middle of stepping over a small twig when it wriggled away, and I realised it was either a small snake or, more probably, a legless lizard. On that occasion I emitted a manly shriek and jumped a foot in the air. Since it was clearly a lizard on this occasion, I merely grunted in surprise, and then decided to walk first, de-lizard the house second.

When I returned I found a Greengrocer Cicada sitting on my front doorstep. This was quite unusual for a couple of reasons: first, these creatures are not common here in Canberra, since their range is mostly coastal; second, it was very odd to find one sitting on my doorstep, since they are normally found in trees or long grass.

Anyway, I got the broom and pan and gently evicted the lizard, which just lay on the front porch without moving. I then brushed the cicada onto the front porch also, at which point the reason for all this wildlife hiding at my door became apparent. While I was standing there holding the screen door open a magpie arrived. It is reasonable to suppose that it had been stalking both of them, and they knew it.

The magpie eyed off both targets, ignoring me entirely, then went for the lizard, at which point I shut the screen door (not wanting a bird in the house) and kept watching. After a couple of attempts it managed to tear off the lizard's tail, which fell on the porch wriggling and writhing, obviously in great pain. The main part of the lizard fell onto the ground just beyond the porch, obviously dead. At this point the magpie set the lizard aside and went for the cicada instead, demolishing it in several sharp snaps of its beak.

Then the magpie did a rather curious thing. After cleaning its beak on a sleeper in the courtyard, it returned, picked up the still wriggling lizard tail, stilled its movement with a sharp bite, and then walked up to the front door with the lizard tail in its beak. I said: "No, I don't want it, you can have it." The magpie turned around, walked to the edge of the porch, dropped the lizard tail and flew off. Now magpies will eat skinks, but they prefer invertebrates, and obviously the cicada was sufficient for its present needs. But it was hard to escape the impression that the magpie was offering me the lizard tail as a thank you for allowing it to get the cicada.

Anthropomorphising, I know. But I'll stick with my interpretation, since the Buddhist in me is distressed knowing that my actions led to the death of two very small harmless creatures, and while the cicada was a meal, the lizard was simply killed on speculation. I shouldn't have intervened, that's all I'm saying.