While standing on the patio yesterday soaking up a bit of warm sunshine, something we hadn’t seen in ten days or more, I rested the camera atop the fence due to the lack of anything worthwhile to photograph. Besides, I spent most of the time standing in the open, my head leaned back and my eyes closed. I wanted to bathe in the strange light falling from the sky.
And then it happened.
A juvenile red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) An adult Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) landed in the tree no more than six feet (two meters) away from me. It was so near I could have spit on it.
Perched on a branch jutting out amongst many other branches, it set its eyes upon me and watched carefully. And like an idiot, there I stood with the camera turned off, my hands resting on either side of it.
I could have kicked myself.
Despite the precarious circumstances, and although I knew it was watching me closely, ever so slowly I moved my hands to the camera. The movement could only have been discerned by a predator. Unfortunately, that’s precisely what was eyeballing me.
Nevertheless, I was able to turn the camera on without too much commotion, yet the bird grew increasingly uneasy with each passing moment, its attention never diverting away from me.
Because I knew lifting the camera would frighten the hawk, I did my best to aim it from its position on the fence—which meant I couldn’t see what I was aiming at or even if I was focused on the correct scene.
Sadly, the moment I depressed the button and snapped the photograph, my spectacular visitor dropped out of the tree and flew around the corner. It moved too quickly for me to get another picture. In fact, it was long gone by the time I took the five steps necessary to get to that end of the patio from where I had been standing.
Damn it! I said that then and I say it again now.
Irrespective of the opportunity missed, I’m showing you a portion of the photo I took. As I suspected, I had not focused on the bird but instead on something behind it. Still, I caught the creature in full, so I’ve cropped the majority of the nonsense out to give you a direct view of the poor observation I had. As you can see, a branch between us kept me from getting a clear shot from where I stood. I had little choice considering how close we were, though, so I can’t complain.
These hunters are plentiful here at the lake, although not as plentiful as red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis). That said, this was the first time I’d seen one of either of these raptors that close, although I’ve certainly seen them in close quarters before.
Just the other day as I stood outside, I listened intently as a mockingbird sang defiantly atop a nearby tree. Meanwhile, house sparrows twittered and fluttered about in the tree near the patio. Without warning, the sparrows took flight and rapidly made their way to another tree some distance away, one huddled amongst several other trees that offered more protection. I had the camera with me but didn’t think much about it. I then turned my attention back to the mockingbird who had fallen silent. The moment I locked eyes on him, he too bolted in the opposite direction. It was then I knew something was afoot, so I diverted my gaze back to the south where it had been looking. Along the way as I turned my head, an adult red-tailed hawk swooped in low—perhaps ten feet (two-and-a-half meters) off the ground. It was spectacular to see. Its path traced a perfect line in the same direction the mockingbird had flown, so I suspect that’s what it was chasing. Like the other birds before it, it was gone in an instant, but the image of that low-flying predator sweeping in on still wings seared itself into my mind. It had been no more than fifteen feet (four-and-a-half meters) from me as it sped through the area.
Similarly, several weeks ago I was coming home and saw two massive adults circling above one of the major roads in this area. I had to drive beneath them to get home and found myself nearly causing a few accidents as I strained and stretched to see them. They had just flown out from the woodlands around the lake and undoubtedly were starting their ascent, perhaps in preparation for a hunt (likely, but I can’t be certain). Again, the view was phenomenal considering they were so low. Even with their upward movement in lazy circles, they started just above the streetlights and climbed ever so methodically without a single flap of their wings. As I should have expected, they had sauntered away from the street toward the lake by the time I stopped, climbed out of the car with the camera, and found a position to snap some photos. I had no direct route to follow them since thicket and heavy woods, not to mention a creek, separated me from their path.
But there will be other opportunities. As I said, they are numerous in this area given the plethora of food available in this wildlife refuge. I assure you I’ll try not to miss any opportunity offered to digitally capture these majestic creatures