Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Good Flight Ruined

I thought that I was having a bad time on the eighth hole until I heard the hawk.

He was screaming for help as he flew over my head, about thirty feet up, with a small bird perched on his shoulders, pecking at the back of his head. Both the predator and his attacker were pretty much identical shades of gray and white making it difficult at first to detect the latter. But Mars and I have seen scenes like this many times in the past so I knew what to look for and where. In fact I had witnessed the beginning of this drama three holes earlier while she was intently hitting her second shot from the middle of the fairway.

At that time the hawk was hightailing it across the golf course heading for the shelter of one of the few trees that dot the landscape and occasionally deflect my drives. As he rapidly descended into the confusion of branches the smaller bird released its grip and flew upwards. It swooped threateningly towards the quivering bird-of-prey four times and then flew away to the top of another perch, about a decent nine iron away from the beleaguered member of the twosome.

Twenty minutes later they were at it again. It kind of makes you wonder what it would take for the hawk to "get it". I mean isn't that how those "Invisible Fences" for dogs work - one or two zaps and the canine is trained? Pecked once, twice shy - done!

Apparently it is all about territory. The smaller birds are simply defending theirs. And, in fairness to the hawks, the borders of each little avian's homeland apparently changes throughout the year - and not just because of their resident's innate flightiness. During the nesting season the birds need to set up and maintain a "Green Zone" for their fledgling familial activities.

Sometimes the initial nesting locations don't work out for whatever reason - noisy neighbors, unanticipated maintenance costs, high taxes, etc. So the boarders move and the borders change. When the little ones actually arrive the defense of the homeland becomes even more intense. And then there are the remaining nine months when they could care less.

To compound the problem for the hawks there are no clear geographic or artificial demarcations to pay attention to. Their borders are all drawn in the air - unlike golf courses that likewise are arbitrary rearrangements of the natural world but with the purpose of moving its voyagers in an orderly manner from one sub-region to the next, each pilgrim in sequential pursuit of their own personally-propelled white orb.

For example the one from which I was watching this saga unfold. Popularly called "The Flat Nine" it is a links layout of the most rudimentary design. The land has been left level, no water hazards or sand bunkers have been created, and (with one incredibly maddening exception) it is a straight line from tee to green. And six of the fairways line up parallel to each other with nothing but high-cut grass in between.

Just prior to noticing the hawk incident I hit a shot from the far side of the ninth fairway onto the eight green, the hole from whose fairway I should have been playing. Such boundary incursions are common practice on The Flat Nine. And are graciously incorporated into the ebb and flow of each golfer's pace of play. Because other courses have wider fairways, similar shots there would not impinge on those groups playing ahead or behind, but would instead be swallowed up by various forms of adjacent man-encouraged vegetation.

These golf course hole demarcations are, I am sure, perfectly obvious from the air. For some mysterious reason however the birds are unwilling to use them as a template for defining their own territories.

Conversely - and I think that this is a good thing - the earthbound golfers seem equally averse to copying the behavior of their territorially impinged upon, higher altitude neighbors. Definitely a plus for those of us who otherwise would end each round of play with a series of serious neck and shoulder wounds and a thundering headache.

Staying within the lines is sometimes a good thing. A bad day on the golf course is definitely better than a potentially worse one above it.

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