After days of cool sunlight I awake to a warmer day. I have my windows open, but only silence greets me as the sunlight pours through the screen, illuminating my bedroom. By now the lesser goldfinches and house finches should be twittering away at the feeders. I should be hearing the “tcch, tchh, tcch!” of the hummingbirds, but nothing. I roll over tucking my thick quilt under my chin and speculate that a Cooper’s hawk is lurking about somewhere. I leave the warmth of my bed and, after dressing, take a look outside, but I see nothing.
With a cup of coffee, a bowl of cereal, and my binoculars, I take my seat on the patio. This morning’s warmth flows over me, permeating my skin and my inner being. I warmed through and through, the down-to-my-bones kind of warmth that only sunlight or a cozy fire can give. I search the surrounding rooftops and trees for signs of the hawk, but, I see nothing. Perhaps embolden by my presence a few lesser goldfinches arrive to pick their morning breakfast from the thistle feeder. Then the hummingbirds show up and I grab my binoculars to view a spectacular male Costa’s with his violet gorget flashing in the sun, the pointy ends streaming out far beyond his neck. Still, the birds are all nervous and jittery and few and far between.
After breakfast it’s time to process my most recent photos, including the ones I took last night at the Rosemont Mine meeting. As I sit at my computer in front of the den window a sudden motion catches my eye and there she is. A Cooper’s Hawk has just landed on the railing outside my window. I have my camera right in front of me, but the problem is that the side of the window I sit in front of has the screen on it, and that is where the hawk has landed. If I get up to move to the other side, the hawk will surely see me, and leave. I watch as it grasps the metal railing in its talons, eyes darting left and right and down into the brittle bush below. Are there actually sparrows hiding in the silvery foliage? While the hawk watches for birds, I watch it. We are both hunting, but for different reason. I want to capture an image, it wants to capture lunch!
I move slowly, waiting for its eyes to be diverted, but the phrase “eyes like a hawk” didn’t come out of nowhere, this bird is sharp-eyed and close. At only 10 feet from where I sit with only a window between us, it can see me as easily as I can see it. Though I try to move slowly and even drop below its range of view, the hawk catches my movement. In a desperate move it dives down into the brittle bush and sparrows fly out! Swiftly the hawk follows them towards the front of the house, and I assume my photo op is lost.
All this excitement has made me thirsty, so I get up and walk to the kitchen for a drink. Suddenly I hear the thump of a bird against glass, and I realize it did not come from the den, or the back windows, where I usually get window strikes. I head to the front of the house to see if I can spot where the bird has hit. I assume once again that the hawk has scared the birds out of the front yard bushes and into my windows. I look through the open slats of the shutters, expecting to find the outline of a bird body on the glass. Instead I find the Cooper’s hawk perched in one of my front yard acacia trees! Breathlessly I hurry back to the den for the camera, which still has the 18 to 70 mm lens on it from last night. I poke the extended lens out through the slats and start shooting. The slats of the shutters are working like a bird blind for me, for the hawk does not seem to notice my presence. Still at 12 to 15 feet away, I am not getting the close-ups I want. I quietly leave the window, and hurry to the den to change lenses.
To my surprise, the hawk is still there when I return. It grasps the tree branch and turns its head with eyes darting; looking, looking, for a meal.
I stand breathless and shoot, shoot, shoot. I have captured my prey, will the hawk catch his?
After many shots through the Low E glass windows, which lend a greenish tint to the images, I decide to see if I can sneak outside and creep along the side of the house to get a clear view shot. There is no grass to soften my footsteps. I try to tread lightly to minimize the sound of crunching gravel.
I hurry over hoping to get a shot of it as it flies away, and there it is on the fence. But the sharp-eyed hawk sees me and once again drops low, flying close to the ground across the wash, skimming over the fence towards the houses across the street.
I feel sorry the hawk did not catch its meal, especially since it was after these invasive house sparrows. As far as I am concerned, it can eat as many of them as it wants to! But I learned a lot about hunting from the hawk. I learned not to give up, to assume nothing, because your prey may be hiding right around the corner. I learned to use the landscape to my advantage and to keep my eyes and ears open, for that is the only way to survive in the desert.
It isn’t long after the hawk leaves before the birds return. Now I hear the cheerful twittering of finches outside my window. Then the merry laughter of a Gila woodpecker joins the cacophony of sounds. Outside my den window the house sparrows are at the feeder once again and I know that all is right in the bird world.
So, how did I get this photo of the Cooper's Hawk perched on the fence, outside my den window? Well, as I was sitting here typing up this story and editing my photos, he dropped like a gift from the sky onto the railing once again. this time he landed a little bit farther to the left, which allowed me to pick up my camera, which now has the 70 to 300mm lens on it, and lean over just enough to snap a few shots before it flew away. Also, I cleaned the lens between the first set of photos and these last 2. I think I can see the difference, can you?