“This whole world is wild at heart and weird on top.”
An unusual year came to an unusual end. Since I’m on vacation and, finally, for once actually behaving as if I’m on vacation, I slept in later than is the norm on New Year’s Eve and casually padded into the kitchen to get my first cup of coffee. I took one sip, and then decided to take a peek out back. I don’t know what possessed me to do so other than perhaps instinct, but I was rewarded with the sight of the young red-tailed hawk perched in a rather fine position in the big maple tree of the backyard next door. And it was a splendidly clear morning with warm, early light beaming down brightly.
There was nothing else to do except grab Matilda and position her next to the window in order to guarantee getting at least one good shot since that early in the day the hawks are usually actively hunting and my stepping outside is cause for them to move on in search of more readily accessible prey. And to be honest, the angle from the window was perhaps better than I’d get outside since the hawk was sitting amidst a lot of sticks.
I opened the window and fired away. The hawk was undisturbed by this so having at least a good daily photo I donned my best Southpark attire and headed outside to try for more (and maybe even better). It was worth the effort. Turns out the hawk wasn’t going anywhere and I was able to get a great vantage point on it and snag some excellent shots using low ISO and a perfect f-stop.
My original intention and what would be my daily photo was catching the red-tail in the middle of a blink:
It seemed so serendipitious since it was, after all, New Year’s Eve and 2008 had blown past in what seemed the blink of an eye. But I was unprepared for what happened next. I thought the hawk was about to launch into flight so steadied the camera. Instead of flying off, however, it looked to be only trying to empty its crop:
And sure enough, emptying its crop was its intention, all right. However, it didn’t warn me it was about to empty the contents of its stomach, too!
Only one word came to mind. Ick!!! And then, just like any properly goofy youngster, it shamelessly let out what looked for all intents and purposes like one big, final belch:
With such a show, I was half surprised I didn’t actually hear something. Of course, the hawk was then quite pleased with itself and I’m sure that getting rid of the undigestible bits of whatever it had eaten did feel much better. I considered going next door to examine the pellet and see if I could determine what it had eaten, but it was cold, I didn’t want to bother my neighbor, and part of me was afraid I’d find it had feasted on one of the furballs so decided to postpone such exploration until later.
The young hawk continued to pose prettily, looking at me in sweet innocence, as if to say, “I didn’t do anything weird, lady!”
By now, I’d filled the card on the camera so brought Matilda in and went upstairs to pull off the photographs. While there, I took a peek out of one of the 2nd-floor windows and the unusual events of the morning were apparently not yet finished, for there, suddenly, on the other side of the big maple tree from the young red-tail, was perched the adult Cooper’s hawk! It was most decidedly a very rare occurrence for both these predators to be sitting in the same tree so I raced downstairs and grabbed the other camera, mounted the next-largest lens onto it, and promptly flew back out the door. By the time I got there, though, the young red-tail was taking off. As I watched, an even rarer scene then began to unfold in front of my surprised eyes – the adult Cooper’s hawk chased the young red-tail out of its territory!
I watched as the red-tail tried to maneuver through the trees; at first it seemed to be thinking simply reperching in another tree would be enough. But red-tails are nowhere near as nimble as the Coop, who is by design adapted to chase and catch smaller birds as they attempt to tuck themselves inside the safety of branches, so with the Coop staying so close on its tail, after making effectively a large, deep circle through the neighboring backyards, the red-tail had no choice but to finally lift and head out towards more open space in order to get away.
The adult Cooper returned not long afterwards, giving me only a stick-picking ID kind of shot of it. But to have seen it in fast flight, hard on the tail of the red-tail hawk was enough. It was surely quite the spectacular ending to this rather incredible year of up-close-and-personal encounters with our urban raptors.