Friday, July 24, 2015

The Hawk in My Backyard

I've been thinking about abundance lately. 

Unlike other parts of the country, the Pacific Northwest did not receive an abundance of snow last winter. But the unseasonably warm weather gave me a few unusual glimpses of wildlife, and that's one of my favorite forms of abundance.

One surprising glimpse happened back in February, when a hawk landed in my backyard. 

We see hawks all the time in Central Oregon - soaring in the sky and sometimes diving at prey. But I've never seen one perched in my backyard before. It was on what's left of the frame of a small greenhouse that once stood in our yard. Doves like to perch there sometimes in the early evening. 

After gaping at the hawk for a moment, I slipped away, snatched up my camera, and returned to the window. I snapped a few quick shots and then set my camera on the sports setting so that I could take pictures in quick succession. I was hoping to get a shot of it taking off, wings spread. 

Every time it twitched, I fired off a few shots. In this way, I captured some impressive shots of it pooping - which I will spare you.

It was a rainy day, and its feathers were all fluffed out. Had it gotten wet, and was trying to dry them? Had it tussled with some prey? Dived and missed? I had no idea what might ruffle a hawk's feathers.

Recently, I read Helen Macdonald's excellent book H Is for Hawk (which is as much about grief as it is about hawks and hawking). She mentions her hawk fluffing out her front feathers when she is happy or contented. 

Was this hawk happy? Had it just fed? I still have no idea.

After a few minutes, it moved from an angled perch to one that was flatter. It seemed more comfortable there. 

The rain came and went, and the hawk gradually assumed the lean, intimidating form I associate with a bird of prey. 

From poring over the pictures later, we think it may have been a Cooper's Hawk. 

It started focusing more on the smaller birds and critters around it. A chipmunk ran by underneath my window, watched by that fierce eye. You have no idea how lucky you are, chipmunk!

A few times, it seemed to look straight at me.

Here I think it was watching some birds - perhaps flickers? - up on my roof. 

After fifteen or twenty minutes, it took off, flying toward my roof. This was the last picture I got.

Ah well. No action shots after all. It was still a treat to watch it.

A few minutes later, as I went through the dozens of pictures I'd taken, I realized I had an action shot after all. 

When it moved from one perch to the other, my camera had caught what my slow eye and brain hadn't registered: 

the image of the hawk hopping from one perch to another. 

So it's not leaping into the sky. It's still a moment captured of wings and feathers extended, of a bird in motion, a picture I thought I'd missed altogether. I'll take it.