By Eric Giebelstein, Wilderness Ranger
While monitoring for solitude in the wonderful Ramsey's Draft Wilderness in Virginia, I came across a curious sight. A small yellow and gray bird was hopping and fluttering among the plants and rocks just off the trail. I stood and pondered and observed for a couple of minutes. The bird appeared to be wounded, dragging its outspread wings pitifully between hops and flutters. However, I realized that it could be a distraction display by the bird, drawing my attention to it and away from its hidden nest of chicks not yet fledged.
The situation became more complex when I heard a slight rustle in the brush. Upon inspection, I discovered a thirty-inch rattlesnake quietly moving away from the area. My role in this scenario was suddenly muddled. Was I really the predator that the bird was distracting or was the display meant for the snake? Was the bird's behavior a ruse or had the snake maimed it? Was the snake covertly fleeing because it sensed that I was a predator of both it and the bird? What was my role in this? Was I an interruption, or just an observer of the events unfolding? What was clear is that I had stumbled across something brutally raw and beautiful. It was nature in its glory; it wasn't the romantic view of nature, but the delicate and intricate balance between life and death. Predator-prey behavior outside of the textbook and in the flesh. I am truly grateful for the experience.
At the time, I assumed that I had interrupted the struggle. So I packed up and eased down the trail, realizing that what I had witnessed was one of the intentions of the Wilderness Act. I smiled at that and thought about how feeding time reptile house at the National Zoo must pale in comparison to the drama of the wild.