“I can imagine no more comfortable frame of mind for the conduct of life than a humorous resignation.”
(W. Somerset Maugham)
Sometimes it feels like you can’t win for losing. It’s been a busier-than-usual busy week here so not much time for shooting. The only interesting opportunity found the young Cooper’s hawk tucked inside lots of little branches so it was more stick-picking for me. I’m getting better at it, to be sure, but I wanted something with more in-your-face appeal. Even the furballs hadn’t been around much or doing anything amusing when I had a minute with the camera so by Thursday I was feeling a little antsy.
It was a vacation day and we had plans to drive to Lansing for the monthly meeting of the Natural Resources Commission. I’ve been attending these meetings in my capacity as president of the Michigan Wildlife Rehabilitators Association since we’ve been working closely with the Department of Natural Resources to modify the conservation orders after Chronic Wasting Disease was found here back in August. This was the day the final decision was going to be made about the various options we’d come up with to continue deer rehabilitation.
I worked for a little while and then decided to double-check the meeting agenda so as to know just when we needed to hit the road for the somewhat long drive. Normally our item of concern was reviewed during the afternoon portion of the day-long meeting but to my chagrin I saw that this time it was up for review at 10:00 a.m. It was now 10:07 a.m.
I quickly wrote a note to my counterparts at the DNR to apologize for my mix-up and ask them to let me know how it went. Then started making other plans for the rest of the day. It wasn’t long, however, before I got a return message back from one of them, obviously working during the meeting on his Blackberry, letting me know the review went well and the Commission would vote on our matter later in the afternoon after public appearances. And would I be there later?
After all these months of hard work, you bet I was going to be there. So plans were shifted back and the morning continued on. But so, too, continued the speedbumps.
Around midday Bob called for me to step out back. “Listen,” he said. “What do you think that is?”
“A hawk,” I immediately replied.
“No, it sounds more like…like maybe a rabbit,” he said almost questioningly.
I listened some more and yes, the sound could have also been made by a small mammal in some sort of fearful distress. It was not a big sound, but it was rather high-pitched and quite ardent.
Suddenly, the source of the sound made itself known, appearing in the brushy growth surrounding one of the trees on the fence line 2 doors down: a sub-adult Cooper’s hawk, and its almost-plaintive calling continued. Then we heard a second sound, a little farther away, and quickly realized it was in response to the first.
There were 2 Cooper’s hawks over there!
Not one to skip the opportunity to shoot a hawk perched nearly at eye level, I quickly went inside and grabbed Matilda. It would be more stick-picking, but the distances was so comparatively small there was every chance this could be interesting. I carefully set up near our own fence, checked the settings, and pressed the shutter release button.
I pressed the shutter release several more times and then saw the dreaded “EE” error message. I hadn’t accidentally shifted the f-stop ring so looked at the control panel on top of the camera.
I’ll be doggoned if I didn’t have a near-dead battery.
The only thing to do was race inside, drop the battery into the charger, grab the D70, and put the 80-200mm lens on it. A heft to hand-hold and shoot, but the only people who fail are those who don’t try so I raced out the front door and then quickly and quietly went down the street and up a neighbor’s driveway to try and peg a shot.
The angle wasn’t very good with the Coop so deep in the low brush, so I went down to the next house. It was very cold and I felt a little conspicuous standing so near the house of one of the less-friendly neighbors. Apparently there would be no good shot from any other angle except that from within our own yard, and it was almost a relief when the young Coop flew up and out of its brushy hiding place. I returned home and tried to be philosophical about it.
But on top of the earlier meeting time faux pas it smarted. A potentially great shot foiled by my own forgetfulness to charge the camera battery. I told Bob that everything happens for a reason; more to convince me than him, really, and with a small sigh of resignation went back to doing the daily chores. Within what seemed like only minutes, however, Bob called in from the patio to tell me that the young hawk was back! By now, the quick-charging battery had enough juice to pull off some shots so I snatched it up and ran back outside.
Sure enough, there was the young beauty. Slightly less-hidden and knowing I was out there watching it:
But something more was going on. The young hawk was still calling and it was still being answered. It was still looking all around, as if to try and see its responder. Then it started looking down and its wings came out from its body. For a second I thought it was getting ready to take flight, but instead it continued to simply gaze eagerly towards the ground:
Suddenly, there was a soft but clear and insidious “whoosh!” and up flew an adult Cooper’s hawk. It landed on a nearby branch and both hawks began to “cloak” and bob at one another. Then the adult moved closer to the younger hawk and the wing and feather spreading grew enormous, reminding us how closely connected birds remain to their ancient ancestors and bringing to mind the myths of dragons:
The younger hawk was making a lot more noise than the older one, and after a few absolutely amazing minutes the adult Cooper’s hawk flew away. Not long afterwards, the young Coop flew off, too, but it went only as far as the enormous mulberry tree that sits on the lot line we share with our neighbors immediately to our east. I walked around to the front and took aim from their driveway. It was at this time that the day’s gloom began to briefly break up and the light was magical:
Almost thoroughly frozen through by now, I returned to the house. But the young hawk had decided to rest for quite a while and it wasn’t long before I took my half-thawed Self back out onto the patio to get a few more shots.
It hadn’t been apparent until then but the young hawk had managed to eat. As it rested in the frigid gusts of breeze that caused its feathers to ruffle and the entire tree sway slightly, it would occasionally throw its head up and back, mouth wide open, in order to empty its crop. I managed to capture this as it was returning to a normal posture:
It was all so very terribly exciting. I feel almost vindicated for forgetting to recharge the camera battery now; if I hadn’t messed up, I’d have attempted a few shots and we’d likely have just gone back inside and missed the whole awesome show.
And yes, we did make it to Lansing and, though a whirlwind trip, it ended up being very worthwhile.