Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Raptor Garden: A Hawk-eyed Affair.





      I think the hawk loves me. Or else he's playing me.
      So (this is two days ago) I walk to the saltmarsh because the day is sunny and warm and I'm hoping the snow has melted on the footpaths, which it has not quite. I'm clumping through the crystalline, crustless snow on the path, looking for birds when I round the first bend, look out across the flat expanse of the marsh -- disappointed that no large wading birds have returned yet to go fishing in the tidal marsh -- when I scan the single big tree in view and notice a sort of pudgy irregularity among the branches and guess at once what it is. 
        Some part of my brain knows this hawk. He has his own synapse.
        I assume right away it's the same red-tailed hawk I'd seen the week before. Descriptions of the red-tailed hawk use words like "blocky" and "broad" with "a whitish underbelly with a dark brown band across the belly, formed by horizontal streaks." It's those streaks I'd focused on as the identifying marker when I'd seen hawk the first time. 
          It seems some part of this hawk's brain knows me too. He is really quite far away. In no way is someone below the marksmanship standard of, say, Katniss Everdeen, standing on my side of the marsh a threat to a hawk on his side of the marsh. But when I lift my little field gasses to check him out, he lifts his wings and flies across the marsh.

            Toward me. I switch from little glasses to little camera and try to catch him flight.

            He lands in the trees that border the high side of my path, but not so far away that I can't see him. So I walk slowly along the path, trying to get close enough for a picture. But when I lift the camera he flies away.

            This is the standard behavior of a bird who wants to keep his distance, but the hawk drops down again not very far off and still on the line of my path. I catch up to him, click a few more shots off; this happens twice more until the path goes around a bend and I grow tired of clumping through snow and decide to cut across a wooded area where the footing is uniform and easier.

            I cross under the trees and make it back to the wide footpath that takes you out to the street when I notice something large directly in front of me on the wide, flat path. My hawk is standing there, in a puddle, his feet and lower feathers in the water.A bathing beauty?

            I approach, slowly -- thinking 'some coincidence?' -- and snapping off photos every few feet as I approach.

            I get to the point where I have to ask 'how close do I want to get?' The hawks, aside from moving his head from side to side as birds seem to do almost all the time, has not otherwise displayed the slightest concern over my presence. Are we playing chicken-hawk? Would he let me get close enough touch him? He's big (two-feet long and "blocky," bigger than he looks in the photos), he also has very effective claws and beak, and I realize getting too close could be extremely unwise.There's a grassy patch to one side of the path and I slide over onto it; no reaction from hawk-friend. Then I slowly work a perimeter around him, keeping a good 10 feet away. I emerge on the other side of him, back on the main path again and snap a few more photos from this angle. 
     Finally I turn my head, and my camera, in the other direction at the cry of a bluejay, and when I turn back the hawk is gone. In a flash. Absolutely soundless. I have no idea where.

            OK, that was fun. I think my face time with the hawk is over for the day, but when I get back to the car I realize I have somewhere dropped the black carrying case for my field glasses. Since it's still a nice day and I think I should be able to find it easily if I retrace my steps, so that's what I do, taking a little shortcut directly to the spot where I took the glasses out of the case to gaze at "my" hawk where I first spotted it in a distant tree. Nothing. I retrace the rest of my path, exactly. Nothing. 

            I'm cutting back through the trees, as I did before when I catch sight of the hawk's large body -- yet again -- perched in a tree right along the marsh path and wholly exposed to view. I come up close and taking a few more pics, through tree limbs. The hawks sees me of course, but shows no concern.

            OK; think again. Why can't I find the dropped glasses case? 
            It's now that I begin to suspect that the hawk has arranged this cunning series of distractions to lure me away from the place where I dropped the case. And then, when I finally left the marsh, darted back and picked up. I imagine it warming a clutch of hawk eggs somewhere in a nest.

            Back at my car. An interesting day; some gains, a loss. I climb into the driver's seat and only then notice, on the very edge of the marsh as close to the car as a bird can find purchase my hawk perches on a patch of brush barely strong enough to hold its weight. He could easily find a higher, better perch in a nearby tree, far less exposed. He could, for that matter, sit across from somebody else's car.

            He's across from mine.

            Can't get enough of me, I think. I take a farewell shot. I assure my hawk that if I ever put together a "big bird issue" for a national magazine, or a calendar, he will definitely be on it.



             Sequel: I go back to the same place the next day. Dark skies, drizzle. No birds around, certainly no interesting ones. I go back to the spot from which I first spotted the hawk in the big tree across the harsh. There on the path lies the black field glasses holder. It was not there yesterday when I looked for it. Why is it back there today? Where has it been? Who or what took it?

            Conspiracy theories abound.