Wednesday, October 21, 2009

...How Can That Be?

"It was a misty moisty morning, when cloudy was the weather." The first nor'easter of the year was (so to speak) heating up. Outdoor activities were just not to be. Mars and I were nestled in the family room reading more of Sunday paper than we usually would "when out on the lawn there arose such a clatter."

"Jim, there's a hawk in the tree!"

"The tree" is our floriculturally faltering flowering crab that we maintain in our front yard as the repository of our bird feeding stations. It is located ten feet in front of our window, and the branch on which our visitor sat is around seven feet off the ground.

The bird of prey sat perfectly still with its gray and white speckled back to us, turning its head around slowly -- more like an athlete gently working out the kinks than a raptor searching for second breakfast.

Later I looked in our bird identifying book and determined that, based on the illustrations therein, it could be a juvenile member of any number of hawk clans -- including several that have no right being in our part of the country. Still later the folks across the street identified it as a Cooper's hawk. So, because they know what they are talking about and since there is a neighbor with that name for whom it could have been looking, I will go with that.

Because of the dismal weather the feeders had been unusually inactive all morning. I was hypothesizing that the same unpleasant conditions might have driven this raptor to the more sheltered lower elevations when I noticed two of our three resident squirrels climbing up the tree towards the large, frighteningly obvious predator.

These tree-rodents, whom Mars has taken to calling "The Heathers", are hardly what you would call "streetwise". Born and home-schooled on our property their only experience with animals larger than themselves is basically us -- sources of food for them rather than vice-versa.

The first Heather to notice the hawk stopped in her tracks about three feet from the large bird. Her eyes got almost cartoonishly large and she crouched low with every muscle in her body tensed. Then she began to hop back and forth on the tree branch while staying totally in that taut, scrunched down position -- neither bending any body part nor lifting her feet in the process. She looked like a hand operated toy that might appear on the Antiques Roadshow. The hawk never acknowledged her presence.

Then Heather(2) approached on an adjacent tree limb. Where H(1) appeared nonplussed, H(2) was antagonistic and pugnacious -- the courage of ignorance. She assumed an about-to-spring, attack position and began to talk smack to the still oblivious hawk.

I figured it was just a matter of time before our visiting predator snapped out of its Zen state and turned our unassuming crab tree into a nature documentary crime scene. I decided to intervene.

I stepped out the front door into the gently falling rain. The hawk, which had now turned partially in my direction, appeared not to notice my arrival. Heather(1) stopped spinning, turned tail, and left the tree. With my eyes focused on Cooper, I saw her running across the yard in my peripheral vision. Heather(2) continued her rant.

Meanwhile Mars ran upstairs to get her camera and I stood motionless just outside the door hoping against hope that I didn't end up throwing myself bodily between onrushing predator and cowering predatee.

I needn't have worried. As soon as Mars handed me the camera and I began to compose my first photo of the two tree occupants, Cooper flew away and Heather(2) also left the scene.

Two hours later Mars was bemoaning our lack of photographic evidence when she once again spotted Cooper landing back on the same branch. ("How d' you do and how d' you do and how d' you do again.")

This time there were no squirrels in sight and the camera was at the ready. I stepped out again into the precipitation and was able to take this tree photo before the hawk flew out of our yard onto a nearby street sign.

(Please click photo to enlarge.)

Camera in hand I followed him.

(Please click photo to enlarge.)

Within an hour Mars was calling again for me to "look out the window, quick."

No hawk this time, but eating sunflower seeds on the ground beneath the tree, along with other several other small birds, was a pure white, similarly sized bird.

"Could it be an escaped parakeet?"

It flew up on to our quince bush where we were able to get a better look. We saw that the bird did not have the pink-colored eyes of an albino but did have a thin black stripe at the spot where each wing joined its torso. The size, head/body shape, and tail configuration were identical to those of the gold finches and purple finches that surrounded this severely bleached bird atop the thorny shrub. Then the whole flock left the scene before we could digitally document our sighting.

A thorough check of the bird book once again turned up nothing -- no Cooper's finch, no ivory hued juveniles. Several years ago Mars and I saw a white grackle in our yard. Later an Audubon person told me that such lack-of-pigment aberrations do happen occasionally in the avian world -- sometimes the colors just don't take. Unlike the Cooper's Hawk the white finch did not return for its photo shoot.

Earlier in the day I was going to ask Mars if she wanted to see "Where The Wild Things Are" that afternoon. Obviously we didn't have to.

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