A red-letter bird day

Wednesday morning I was stumbling around the kitchen before I managed to ingest my daily dose of caffeine in the form of hot tea which isn’t nearly as potent as the caffeine I used to get in a day’s worth of coffee. Alas, another compromise as I have grown older.

I looked outside and saw a big bird in the trees. Over time I’ve gotten used to finding them amidst the camoflage of the tree branches. They look like a big blob interrupting the natural flow of the branches.

Red-tailed hawk, 2013-o4-10
Red-tailed hawk, 2013-o4-10

It was a red-tailed hawk.

Sharp-shinned hawk- 2013-02 – 17

Our bird feeders have been frequented this winter by a rather bold sharp-shinned hawk who likes to hunt there, but the larger red-tailed hawks don’t come around as much, and when they do, like some of the other more skittish birds, they tend to stay back and within the protection of the woods .

I recently read about the benefits of green smoothies from my blogging friend Marion at Figments of a Dutchess and have been trying them out all week. I poured my green smoothie made with an apple, pear, banana, and spinach, into a large glass and sat down at the table beside Mark. It was an April morning and for some reason the wood ducks we saw last year came to mind. “Do you think the wood ducks will be back this year?” I asked Mark. “I haven’t seen them yet.”

“I saw them yesterday,” Mark replied. Unlike me, Mark doesn’t rush to announce his nature observations to me or the world at large.

“I hope they come back again.”


From my lips to the universe. I looked outside and spotted the female wood duck perched on a sycamore branch.


She and I were both looking all around. I was looking for her mate. I didn’t know at first what she was looking for, but I found out later.


There he was. Just a few trees away, perched on the limb of another sycamore.

You’ll have to take my word for the next part because I wasn’t quick enough to catch a photo. This is not as easy as it looks.


The female duck went into the hole in the sycamore tree. I circled it for you. I was stunned to say the least and not certain. But then I saw a cascade of dried brown leaves shoot out of the hole and flutter down. Then again. I became hopeful. Like the chickadee I told you about earlier, the wood duck was apartment-hunting.


She poked her head out to check out the view from her front porch.


Meanwhile, her mate was waiting patiently.


And then not so patiently as he quacked at her, “Well, make up your mind, Mabel. Do you like it or not. I’m not going to stand here all day.”


She took one more good look around and then darted out of the hole and flew right past her mate who immediately took off and followed behind. Again, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

But that wasn’t the best part. Later in the day a movement through the woods caught my eye. It was a large black bird with striking white stripes on its wings sweeping through the trees. It landed on the trunk of a tall tree near the top and I saw the tell-tale red plummage on the top of its head. I enjoy all the birds I see from the smallest wren to the largest owl or blue-heron, but some birds really thrill me because of the rarity of their visits. And the pileated woodpecker is one. It moves quickly through the trees with a flash of white, landing here and then there. A true wonder to see.

Yet again, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

The big birds were out today – Birds of prey at the VOA

We no sooner set foot on the path around the lake at the VOA when a big hawk swooped out of a tree, flew close to the ground, and then soared away.

I was juggling my camera trying to get a shot, but the settings were wrong from yesterday’s trip to an amusement park, and I wasn’t able to get anything worth showing.

Not to worry.

I quickly spotted another hawk in a tree,

who stood his ground at first,

but soon decided to put some distance between him and us.

I suspect he was intimidated by our killer dog Arthur.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I believe this is a red-tailed hawk, primarily because it looks like the pictures on the Cornell Lab’s All About Birds Red-tailed hawk page. Also because the odds are in my favor because, according to  Cornell, the red-tailed hawk is probably the most common hawk in North America. Also the behavior was right as the red-tailed hawk soars above open fields, slowing turning in circles. They have broad, rounded wings.

But one of the women in the park thought it was a peregrine falcon and said that they are becoming common here now.

Which is one of the reasons why, although I still think the first bird is the hawk, I think this bird that flew across our path as we were leaving was a peregrine falcon. It’s color was darker than the hawk. It’s wings were not as rounded. And its tail was longer, and straighter.

This looks a lot like the silhouette of the peregrine falcon in my Peterson Field Guide, and the photos of the peregrine falcon from All About Birds.

We weren’t done yet.

As we were driving away, I spotted this bird in a tree outside the park.

I thought it was another red-tailed hawk. There were several hawks soaring in circles in the general vicinity of the park. But I suppose you could argue that it was the same one we saw earlier.

I was a little uncertain about the identification because when the bird ruffled his feathers, the tail looked more square and not as curved as the one we had seen before.

I wanted to show you this lightened version so you could see the dark band on the belly. I think this is a characteristic of the red-tailed hawk.

I hoped to capture this bird in flight, but he was fairly incorrigible and wouldn’t be scared away by my shouting, Mark moving the car closer, or beeping the horn. Mark eventually opened the car door and closed it and the hawk took off. Sadly, my photography skills fell short. Not much help here.

This bird-watching stuff is not as simple as it looks.

Early ancestors, vegetarians, parenthood, and ambivalence

I feel a ramble coming on. Thoughts are jumbling around in my mind about our earliest ancestors, vegetarians, parenthood, and ambivalence.

It all started with a tweet from a blogging friend, who I’ve mentioned before, Julia Munroe Martin, alias Wordsxo. Which is actually quite a clever, concise, and cryptic name if you think about it, unlike Random Thoughts from Midlife, which is bulky (I curse it every time I have to log in to make a comment on someone else’s blog), and non-descript, but probably every bit as descriptive of what is going on in this little section of the WWW.

Julia told me about the Cornell Lab’s live cams of the Great Blue Heron and Red-Tailed Hawk nests complete with noisy, hungry babies. Talk about a time drain, once I turn these on, I have a lot of trouble turning away unless mama or papa is sitting asleep atop the babes, which actually happens a fair amount of the time. The rest of the time, like the sparrows and starlings, the devoted parents spend trying to feed their ravenous chicks. (Is there a special name for baby blue herons, or baby hawks? Another side-trip, another diversion, another wild goose chase. I warned you about the rambling.) (And does the frappin’ period go inside or outside the parenthesis? This one always drives me crazy.)..

Back to finding my point. The baby birds in the live cams (or in the videos of big events like papa-drops-off-a-vole) are absolutely adorable fuzzy little charmers. The baby herons’ spiked hairdo’s and miniature long necks will make you laugh. The hawk babies’, with their soulful eyes invoke a desire to cradle one in your hands. Then mama or papa heron swings back and drops a fish into their midst. Or mama or papa hawk lay a rabbit across the nest. I don’t need to tell you what happens next. Hence, the ambivalence.

I was thinking about all of this last night as I was eating a juicy piece of steak.

I have no desire to debate the merits of vegetarianism. I know people who are vegetarian or vegan. I’ve considered it for myself at the very outer edges of my mind. But I don’t go there, because I want to be able to eat meat. Life seems easier to me if I am able to eat meat. So I don’t dwell on it.

Here’s the other thing, and where our ancestors all come in. You may think, like I do, that your ancestors are from England, or Germany, or Ireland, or Africa, or the far East, or any number of places. But the truth is, we all have ancestors who lived in the very earliest of time, dwelled among caves, hunted and gathered. Ate meat. I don’t claim to be an expert anthropologist, although that is on my what-to-be-in-another-lifetime list. And I don’t know if all human life stems back to one (I guess that actually should be two beings) or whether this miracle occurred in several different places on our planet. But I do know that spontaneous human creation is not happening today, nor did it happen in modern times.

If it were possible we would all find out that our roots go back to two, or four, or ten, or some number of the earliest of our ancestors who were men and women living in caves, building fires, and hunting and eating meat. It’s our heritage. And it’s part of our natural inclination.

We can talk about overcoming natural inclinations at some other time if you’d like.

So how do I make sense out of cute little heron babies attacking and devouring fish, or a hawk mother delicately feeding her fluffy chicks meat from the fur of a soft bunny rabbit who was probably minding its own business eating the lettuce in someone’s garden, or trying to get food for it’s now orphaned babies in a nest somewhere? How do I justify eating meat while loving little critters and big animals and all of nature at the same time?

I see now that I don’t really have a point at all, but a question.

Related post/s:

As the Nest Turns by Wordsxo

Hunting in the daytime — the Great Horned Owl

If not for the phone call from my mom, I would have missed it. The owl was hunting today.

I had gone into the kitchen to refresh my cup of tea when the phone rang. As I talked to Mom, I walked to the window to look out and that’s how I saw the owl when it moved. From the corner of my eye, I caught the motion of a large bird landing on the bank of the creek. I saw its horns and knew it was the owl.

Great-horned owl - January 16, 2012

I grabbed the camera that I keep in the kitchen and started shooting.

After a short while, the owl flew up to perch on the branch of a nearby tree and waited.

Great-horned owl - January 16, 2012

At first the owl looked kind of sleepy and sluggish, occasionally rotating it’s head with a slow, smooth, robotic motion. I don’t know if it was the juvenile I had seen before, or an adult, for I heard neither the immature squawk or the Hoo, hoo-oo, hoo, hoo characteristic of the Great Horned Owl. The owl was hunting. A silent stalker.

I want to get a photograph of this great bird in flight. So I wait.

A little sparrow lands on our deck by the bird feeder. It doesn’t realize the great predator is  a quick glide away. A downy woodpecker arrives to peck at the suet. The owl waits.

I stand with my camera aimed, focused and ready. I want to capture the moment this huge bird spreads its wings. An American goldfinch lands on our feeder.

American goldfinch – January 16, 2012

A blue jay flies past the owl unconcerned. A second joins the first. The  owl watches. It has perked up. It’s movements are quicker. It watches its surroundings but does not leave its perch. It looks left, right, left, straight ahead, and then behind.

More goldfinches join the first one at the feeder. Five goldfinches occupy the perches, a downy woodpecker is on the suet feeder, two sparrows hop on the deck furniture. The little birds fly from the woods to the feeders and back again. The owl waits.

I have been watching in a ready position for over 30 minutes. My shoulder starts to ache. I think I should get my tripod, but am afraid to leave my watch and miss the owls departure. I wait.

The owl looks down at the ground. I see a little squirrel running past and then up the tree.

Great-horned owl - January 16, 2012

The squirrel doesn’t notice the predator waiting. The owl watches the squirrel on its way up the tree and waits.

Great-horned owl - January 16, 2012

Forty-five minutes have passed. I take a chance and hurry to the closet for my tripod. I make it back in time. The owl is still waiting. A downy woodpecker lands on a tree beside the owl’s roost. The owl watches, but does nothing.

It’s been over an hour. A sprinkling of snow flakes trickle from the sky. My cell phone rings in the study where I left it. I am afraid to leave my watch. I don’t answer.

The birds are gone now. I think the owl is waiting for prey to land near the creek below. I’ve witnessed this large bird swoop down and glide along the creek bed in the past.

An hour and fifteen minutes have passed. I am getting hungry and thirsty. I see my cup of tea across the room where I left it when I answered the phone. I dash there to get it and return to my watch when a large motion catches my eye.

A hawk has arrived.

Red-tailed hawk - January 16, 2012

The owl watches the hawk that stays in the nearby trees for a minute and then leaves.

Great-horned owl - January 16, 2012

The owl still waits. And I wait with it.

Finally, after more than an hour and a half, the owl moves. I do not get a photo of its flight.

I follow its movements to a nearby section of the woods.

All of a sudden there are two large birds in flight, landing. The hawk has returned.

Hawk near upper left corner, owl near lower right corner of photo - January 16, 2012

The hawk watches the owl.

Red-tailed hawk - January 16, 2012

The owl watches the hawk.

Great-horned owl - January 16, 2012

The hawk moves to a different branch, one that’s closer to me.

Red-tailed hawk - January 16, 2012

The owl still watches the hawk.

The hawk leaves again, swooping past my deck, it’s glorious wings spread full.

The owl waits.

It moves to a new perch above the creek.

Great-horned owl - January 16, 2012

It preens its feathers.

Great-horned owl - January 16, 2012

And waits.

Great-horned owl - January 16, 2012


You can hear the call of the juvenile Great Horned Owl here.

The Red-Tailed Hawk or Arthur’s narrow escape

The little birds were having a bird party on the railing to my deck. I tried to fill the bird-feeder, but it was too tall to reach, too stuck to dismantle, and the ladder too wobbly to try. So I poured the pitcher of mixed seed I had prepared onto the railing of our deck. The birds didn’t seem to mind.

Cardinal and house finch - January 13, 2012

All of a sudden the birds scattered and Mark said, “There’s a hawk.”

Red-tailed hawk - January 13, 2012

A hawk had swung by and landed in the top of a tree in the garden beside our drive. I rushed to get my camera and headed outside. Arthur followed me. He walked off the deck, around the stairs and down near the bird feeder. I was trying to locate the hawk.

The next thing I knew, the hawk came swooping low towards where Arthur and I were near the bird feeder. I screamed for Arthur. Now, I don’t know if a hawk is strong enough to take Arthur off into the sky never to be seen again, but I am not willing to take any chances.

The hawk perched itself in a tree near the plentiful feeding grounds we had created.

Red-tailed hawk - January 13, 2012

After a brief period of panic and much cajoling, I finally got the little in-great-need-of-obedience-training dog to come. I closed him securely in the house.

Red-tailed hawk - January 13, 2012

The hawk looked around, watching for birds and watching me.

Red-tailed hawk - January 13, 2012

The hawk didn’t stay in one place very long. It moved around flying and landing here and there.

Red-tailed hawk - January 13, 2012

At one point, I thought it had caught something because it beat its wings back and forth near a tree.

Red-tailed hawk - January 13, 2012

A majestic bird, the red-tailed hawk is one of my husband Mark’s favorites. I’d probably like it a lot better if I knew for certain the hawk will never consider my little white dog prey.

Red-tailed hawk - January 13, 2012

After a short wait, the hawk flapped it’s wings and left. Arthur escaped the hawk to live another day. (Not funny, really.)

Red-tailed hawk - January 13, 2012

For more information on the red-tailed hawk see http://pelotes.jea.com/AnimalFact/Birds/hawkredt.htm.


For more bird photos, see my bird page under the wildlife tab above.