Monday, January 2, 2012

Hawk-eyed




The first time we saw it, it loomed on a solitary tree pretending to be a fat squirrel’s nest exposed by winter’s bareness. Anne pointed out my mistake. The hawk was alone, red-tipped at the end of its tale feathers, no other living creatures in view except for us. He must have seen us, but he didn’t seem to care as I expostulated over forgetting the camera and then the two of us helplessly fiddled with Anne’s phone trying to discover the magic of the cell-phone photo function. People hold up their boxy little phones and just push-button away, I think. Happens all the time. They must be accomplishing something.
The hawk ignores us, certain he’s in no danger from this comical pair. Anne finds the camera icon, so we snap away, mostly by accident while looking helplessly at one another. Since we can’t find a zoom, the results are not promising: little spot of something against a bare tree and open sky. We move closer still. The hawk finally gets sick of us and flies, majestically, across the marsh to find a tree on the other side.
The second time I see it I am by myself. Human being-wise, I mean, because I am alerted to the presence of something by the agitated squawking of some 40 to 50 starlings occupying the same bare tree as some huge ball of gray, contoured fluff that individual members of black bird flock, undoubtedly the antsy young males, keep flying up to in order to peck at it.
Oh. Huge hawk.
Must be 50 to 100 times larger by volume than his persecutors, but he can’t be bothered to respond to any of these feeble aggressions. The combined squawking of these pygmies of the sky is loud and sustained. Little birds keep flying up to the big one, making a quick dive, and flying away. What a shot. I take my camera out of my “man bag” and hit the power button. Nothing.
I remember.
The battery is resting quietly in a comfy charger plugged into the kitchen wall socket just over my plate of toast crumbs. I am tempted to rush home and get it. But there is work to do and, of course, tomorrow is another day. I walk directly underneath the branch of the tree on which the huge red-tailed hawk takes his afternoon break, unruffled by the displeasure of the locals. He pays me no more mind than he does the starlings.
The following day, empowered camera in my bag, Saul (home for a visit) beside me, I traipse around the marsh without running into mobs of starlings or any sign of a hawk. On the back stretch we come around a curve in the trail and there he is. I take out the camera, get off a few long-range shots. We decide to keep walking, see how close he’ll let us get. We stop, close enough I think, and I take a few more. Later, I discover that even with benefit of the zoom, a large bird has been rendered very small. It’s the world that’s big.
Closer, still. The hawk spooks and I snap a few in-flight shots. Probably the best of this group.
The fourth (so far last) encounter comes some days later. I do have the camera, but it’s cold and I see no signs of anything moving in the marsh – no ducks, gulls, nothing, as I round the same bend in the trail where we discovered the big bird the last time. Then, astonishingly, from the same area – not one, but two hawks shoot out from among the branches before I can even properly see them. The larger one flies straight to a tall pine. A smaller one, deciding on the wing to follow, arrives a few seconds later and, so it appears to me, takes something from him and then flies back in my direction and disappears in the trees. The first hawk, the big one, then flies across the long end of the marsh past me (click, click), eventually crossing its width to hide somewhere in a further tree-line. I keep walking, wondering where I will find the smaller one.
When I do, she is mostly hidden behind layers of branches, I have no clear shot, but she flushes immediately and takes off the in the direction of the pine tree where she’d last seen her mate. That’s when I get the best shot.
Later, Anne managing to blow it up for me on the computer, it’s clear that something is hanging from the bird’s landing gear that does not belong to the bird. Do they fly with such long claws (legs?) hanging free below? Not reasonable. No, that can’t be bird we’re seeing hanging down. She must be holding, carrying, something. We blow it up some more.
My god, that looks like rabbit legs to me.
With this new perspective the encounter feels something like stumbling onto a crime scene and finding the evidence in the photo. Or simply interrupting dinner. Sorry, guys.