Baket

I see her perched in bright morning sunshine, so I step from the trail and approach.  She looks at me, a direct gaze measuring the man who invades her space.  At no time do I fool myself by thinking the raptor is unaware of me.

A female Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) staring at me from her perch (2009_10_24_033420)

In a show of forbearance much unlike what one expects, she goes back to preening and surveying the area, an interesting combination of morning bath and morning hunt wrapped up in a single perch.  Noisy and clumsy as I stumble through waist-high grass and wildflowers with unsure footing knocking me off balance, she allows me to come close with only a few glances in my direction, an act of patience and tolerance that would shock many.  But this is no ordinary Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) and I am no casual visitor to her realm.

A female Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) looking intently at possible prey (2009_10_24_033487)

Even as I stand within a stone’s throw of her location, she does not respond.  One could say she ignores me, but it’s more than that, it’s less than that, it’s different from that.  She no more ignores me than we ignore a barking dog running toward us.  The difference is she knows me and she knows I’m no threat, the same as if we stood watching that barking dog with full knowledge that it would leap upon us, shower us with licks and nuzzles, pounce on us with all the adoration of a lifelong companion.

A female Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) glancing to her side (2009_10_24_033498)

She looks beyond me, watches the passing joggers and cyclists who enjoy their early exercise.  Occasionally she issues a warning call to any who slow and look, who appear to impose upon our encounter.

A female Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) calling a warning to a nearby jogger (2009_10_24_033500)

Even still, I move closer, lean against the tree in which she perches, stand within easy reach of her with but a simple hop.  Nevertheless, she remains unflinching, unafraid, unworried.  We go way back, she and I.  Accipiters are exceptionally high-strung: her mate, who I have also known for many years, tolerates me being within eyesight of him yet becomes edgy when I approach; on the other hand, she demonstrates an unreal comfort with me, allowing me to approach to within a few steps, even letting me hunker down beneath her perch where I am close enough to touch her with the camera lens (something I would never do, mind you).

A female Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) looking intently at possible prey (2009_10_24_033511)

I have watched her raise young each year for almost ten years, and I have lived in her territory for all that time and have focused heavily on wiggling into her world as much as she and her man will allow.

A female Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) looking into the bright morning (2009_10_24_033541)

Her public name is Baket after the Egyptian hawk-goddess.  I use a different name when I’m around her, alone in her presence, one I repeat constantly so she identifies it as coming only from me.  She no doubt recognizes me in ways I can’t comprehend, but speaking to her and sharing a private moniker at least makes me feel like I’m doing my part to reinforce the trust she shows.

And trust it is.  While I’d like to say we share some measure of camaraderie—dare I say friendship?—I won’t insult our interactions with senseless anthropomorphisms.  What she thinks of me will never be known.  That she trusts me goes without challenge, however, and that is a trust based not on feeding and baiting and other manipulative actions but instead on years spent together, and time spent together, and slow and thoughtful approaches shared, and conversations only we know, and spaces only we occupied.

It can bring me to tears being in her presence, being so near, having her look at me without fear no matter how close I get.  Of all the souls I have encountered in nature, hers is the one most tightly intertwined with my own.

But lest you think our relationship one of profound interspecific relevance, let me show you that we still have our moments of disagreement.

She pauses to scratch an itch on her head.  I meanwhile ramble on ad nauseam about the weather or how nice her plumage looks today or why I feel such disappointment in her mate’s continued avoidance of me.  When I notice the sudden foot-in-the-air motion, however, I stop long enough to snap a quick photo.

A female Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) scratching her head (2009_10_24_033525)

And when she hears the shutter click, she slams her foot down on its ligneous perch and stares at me with a gaze that can only be described as one of consternation and upset.

A female Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) looking at me with consternation (2009_10_24_033526)

While she might allow a captivating level of understanding between us, she obviously has no intention of allowing me to show her in anything less than a dignified light.  Believe me when I say I got the message loud and clear.

No, I’m not Doctor Dolittle—that’s my mom—but I did learn from the best.  It has taken me nearly ten years to earn this hawk’s trust.  For Christmas 2009, it’s the best gift I could ever receive.

23 thoughts on “Baket”

  1. Jason…

    This is wonderful! The photos… jeez… her fierce red eyes, the gorgeous detail in the feathers. Outstanding.

    I envy you this trust you’ve made with her and wonder at the hours you must’ve spent to create it.

    1. If I remember correctly, Mom, when I was growing up I used to hear this all the time: “If you kids don’t learn to share…” I think it stuck with me.

  2. Your photos have left me speechless and the commentary touches my heart. Nature is truly grand.

    Might I ask about your camera, lens, etc. on obtaining such shots?

    1. Thank you, Scott. I’m glad this story meant something to you. I’ve kind of kept her a secret with so much focus on her triplets this year, but I thought it was finally time to introduce her.

      As for the camera and lenses, I shoot with a Canon 450D (Rebel XSi) and use three Canon lenses (18-55mm, 55-250mm and 100-400mm). In this case, I used the 100-400mm lens with only a UV filter on it. These were taken hand held. Feel free to let me know if you want more details (exposure, shutter speed, etc.).

      1. Thanks Jason. That would be great if you have exposure, shutter speed, iso handy.

        What about on overcast days with the 400mm? I have been working to get good shots, but finding that increasing shutter speed and adjusting iso for low light can result in grainy shots. I have not yet found a happy medium.

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    1. Thank you, Jessamyn! I’m glad you like the photos. Calling them “heart-happy” is a generous compliment indeed.

      And yes, if I do say so myself, she’s quite a looker. Sometimes I think she knows it…

  4. These photographs are just wonderful Jason. As is the text, which is full of tenderness and insight. This is an extraordinary relationship the two of you have brokered. You do well to hold private the name/endearment she recognises.

    It strikes me that a casual visitor might look at your photographs of Baket and suppose that patience and some good camera kit are all that’s behind such work. But your post shows that the photographs, marvellous though they are, can’t be accounted for by the handsomeness of your lens. I don’t think I’ve ever in my life seen such characterful images of a raptor, and that’s because she’s behaving so differently in your presence … being more herself… than she would be around anyone she didn’t know or, in her own way, trust.

    It’s a real privilege that you’ve shared this account with us. Thank you for your generosity.

    1. I hadn’t really thought about it in quite that light, but you certainly have a point, Clive. In truth, though, I doubt I’d worry too much about someone thinking like that. My passion rests in sharing what I see and sharing my experiences so others realize there’s so much phenomenal beauty hiding in plain sight if they stop to look for it. In the scheme of things, if someone thinks it’s staged or fake or manipulated in some way, I still feel accomplished so long as they realize she lives at an urban park and can be viewed by anyone willing to look–and more importantly, that nature’s spectacle isn’t something you have to travel far to see.

      I think that’s why I do what I do: to show that the exotic, while beautiful, isn’t all there is to the splendor that lives outside the walls we put around ourselves; if you want to see the exquisite, just step outside because it’s waiting there, waiting to be seen, waiting to be appreciated by people too often out of touch with the world that birthed us and too often unable to comprehend that magic rests on the other side of the door.

      And thank you so much for your kind remarks! Why predators hold such a palpable fascination for me I’ll never know, but she especially has wormed her way into my heart like no creature before her. To say she has character is to understate the truth in profound proportions.

      (I’m so glad you mentioned her furbelows. Truth be told, I laughed constantly during this encounter: the more she preened, the more disheveled she looked. All was right again when she gave a quick shake before taking flight, though, as everything fell into position and she looked right as rain!)

  5. Unquestionably the best photos of a Cooper’s Hawk I have ever seen. To use the term stunning would be a gross understatement.

    I am so jealous of your relationship with her, I can’t tell you. I am working hard to earn such a relationship with the birds in my own yard and continuing to nurture a close relationship with a Great Horned Owl that I have only known since last year.

    It makes me feel as if I am accepted into the real natural world when I gain the trust of a raptor like this. Breathtaking.

    1. That is a gracious compliment indeed, Larry. Thank you! (But don’t be fooled into thinking photo quality means skill on my part; it just means I had one terribly cooperative subject.)

      You hit the nail on the head: a level of acceptance (as opposed to a level of tolerance) comes across to me as a charity we seldom deserve, something that says I’m not so separate anymore. No, she won’t be perching on my shoulder and whispering sweet nothings into my ear while her husband is away, but having her treat me like I’m not a threat is no doubt the most beautiful gift she could give.

  6. crazy good photos! I’m completely jealous as well. What an excellent relationship. I love when animals don’t view me as a threat, so I can imagine your joy with this ma’am. These pictures are beyond badass. There was a juvenile red-tailed in my parents yard that let me get that close a couple times, I was blown away. Thumbs up on this post!

    1. Oh my goodness. Thank you for your charitable remarks, Jill! I’m glad you liked this entry and its photos.

      I’m with you: having nature welcome me in some way is a profound treat, even if it’s tolerance at its most basic. If they don’t flee, I take it as a gift.

  7. Your relationship with Beket is extraordinary, and I know you must have started and stopped many times, over the years you’ve been acquainted with one another, to share this story. She’s beautiful, and the respectful and dignified interactions you have shared with Beket are inspiring.

    1. Thank you, Amber. I probably would have talked about her sooner in the sense of her being one of the only two accipiters living at the lake (the other being her male companion). Also, I started to post about her earlier this year, but then I became so enamored with her triplet kids that I focused on documenting them instead. All three of them are gone now, though, so I figured it was time for their mother to have a bit of the spotlight. (Now if only I can get her male friend to sit still long enough for some photos. Calling him twitchy is an understatement…)

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