“I have made mistakes but I have never made the mistake of claiming that I have never made one.”
(James Gordon Bennett)
Yesterday’s blog was part of the day’s multi-tasking. As I wrote it I was also going back and forth to take photographs in the backyard. While my descriptions of our November gloom were true, the morning had eventually blessed us with a little sunshine and I wanted to take advantage of it, spending time with the furballs and hoping for a decent shot of the Cooper’s hawk who’d been spotted checking out the day’s possibilities from the big tree 3 doors down.
As always, the furballs never disappoint my photogrpher’s eyes. The sunshine was obviously welcomed by them, too, though my worrisome little girl was slower than some to get going:
I love the old wooden fence that divides the backyards on the west side of our tiny lot. It functions both as both a prop and a backdrop, and like the annual pumpkin fest, often sets the stage for more unusual and amusing shots:
Of course, by now, most of the furballs no longer pay much attention to me or Matilda. Eleanor in particular is only ever really interested in her daily handout and, perhaps out of some sort of unconscious guilt over having ripped open the bedroom screen earlier in search of it, was quite the Queen Of Posing for me:
The thought that it was Thanksgiving was never far from my mind, though, so plenty of rations were tossed out between shutter clicks, making all the furry photograph subjects very happy. But I write today not to express my appreciation for the furballs, but instead to ponder the day’s juxtaposition of reason to give thanks from the perspective of the Cooper’s hawk.
As I’ve already said, the Coop was in the neighboring tree top by late morning, and it stayed put the entire time I spent photographing the antics of the squirrels. Its position was not conducive to anything more than a positive-ID shot from the backyard, nor worth a walk up the street, but after I was done with the squirrels I decided to check out the shooting angle from the eastern bedroom on the second floor of our house. This is something I’d thought about before but hadn’t ever had time to actually do so I trundled Matilda upstairs and positioned her in front of the opened window.
Better if the hawk had been sitting on a different branch, but the possibilities are, indeed, quite good:
And were I better at in-flight shots, this new shooting angle could prove fruitful:
As the Coop launched, it headed across the backyards towards ours. The grey gloom and my inexperience didn’t allow any of the shots I attempted to be of use but what was both frightening and wondrous was to clearly hear the hawk come crashing through our trees and then the sound of a flock of pigeons in frantic flight, followed by the scrambling and vocal protests of startled squirrels
This meant only one thing. The hawk had come by for its Thanksgiving meal.
I padded downstairs with Matilda as fast as the doorways, slant ceiling in the upstairs hall, and my feet could carry me and made a beeline to the back patio door. Indeed, the hawk was there with most of its back to the house and beneath it was … was? … was something that looked very much like the back end or at least the tail of a black-phase grey squirrel!
Thoughts flashed like lighnting and included serious injury to the hawk by the squirrel (unlike other raptors like the red tail hawk, Cooper’s squeeze their prey to death and squirrels can squirm and twist with great strength and inflict deadly damage with teeth and nails, which is why Cooper’s mainly prey on birds) and visions of having to care for an injured adult squirrel. They didn’t even really register, there was only enough for recognition of the situation to immediately snap on my internal protective switch. So, reflexively, I burst out the patio door and yelled, “Hey!” at the top of my lungs.
The world stood still as the Coop paused in puzzlement, distracted from its instinctive hunting focus, and the remaining squirrels in the yard scattered at top speed for the safety of anything above the ground. It finally dawned on the Coop to get out of possible danger, too, and as it loosened its grip on its prey and began to lift itself into flight, a pigeon shot up from the ground and flew away in frantic fear and panic.
I was relieved that the pigeon could fly and fly so well. I was then mortified to realize, too late, that the Coop would probably not now get to eat this day. On Thanksgiving, no less.
And as a photographer, I’d blown a prime shot of a wild predator.
A big, squishy, and very uncomfortable ball of guilt promptly splatted on my shoulders. I suppose that hawks and other predators who live in human-populated areas are accustomed to the NIMBY (“Not In My Backyard”) nature of most people. Certainly, the hawks here eat well; there is no lack of birdseed-fattened pigeons and other birds for the Coops in particular. I silently apologized to the gods, shouldered Matilda, and went to see if I could spot the Coop as it tried to figure out what it was going to do next, for it hadn’t flown too far off.
As it turns out, the Coop returned to the big maple tree in the yard next door in very short order. Apparently not seeing where its unexpectedly-lost prey had headed, it appeared to be looking to see if it was instead still in our yard. I was able to get close enough to where it sat on one of the large, clear-sight-lined branches and get a good shot:
I wish the light had been better since this is a very beautiful adult. But considering the circumstances, I’m simply grateful to have had any opportunity since, really, it isn’t fair to have been able to take this shot at all.