Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sunsets, Shopping, and a Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sunday Sunset 12-7-08 by Kathiesbirds

Mom arrived by train late Friday evening and we drove to Flagstaff to get her. It was a 9 hour round trip and we didn't arrive home until almost 3 a.m. on Saturday. Of course we all slept late, but after lunch we drove to Rio Rico and Tubac on Saturday afternoon. We knew our time together was short and we had to make the most of every minute. On Sunday we relaxed at home and while Gus watched football Mom and I took an evening walk where the desert sky put on a spectacular display for us.

Blushing sky over Elephant head by kathie 12-7-08

The fire in the sky turned to a soft blush over the western desert where Elephant Head Mountain at the southern end of the Santa Ritas is barely visible on the horizon. Back at home Gus grilled T-bones for us, while I light a fire in the free-standing fireplace Gus bought for me. We end our evening with full bellies and our feet propped up by the fire's warmth as we watch the winter starlight shine.

On Monday Mom and I go out to breakfast before we start our day of Christmas shopping. We shop for new dresses for Mom, then Christmas presents for the grand-children and great-grandchildren. We need to get them wrapped and sent off while she is still here. Towards the end of the day as our feet and spirits tired, Mom bought a Christmas present for Gus and I: our first Artificial Christmas Tree. I have resisted getting a fake tree for years. I am a purist, always wanting the real thing with it's lopsided evergreen shape and the fresh scent of pine or spruce. I always love the experience of searching for the perfect tree, but I have finally conceded, realizing that I don't have to water a fake tree, or worry about the tree drying out. There will be no shedding needles this year, and no worry about where to dispose of the tree. We brought the impostor home and Gus assembled its perfect green branches. He stands it in the corner of the living room and plugs it in. I get out the tree skirt and the new Christmas angel I bought two years ago. The rest of the decorating can wait until the next day, but I want to see the tree with these simple adornments tonight. The skirt is easy enough, but the angel proves to be a problem.

Her china head and arms are heavier than the skirt with the plastic cone inside. When I place the angel on the top stem of the fake tree it folds over and she tumbles off. Discussion about how to solve the problem flies about the room and we try various ideas, including sticking one of Mom's knitting needles down inside the thin metal tube of the tree and taping it up to support the angel, but that is just the problem. The knitting needle is straight. What I need is something tapered, thin at the bottom and wider towards the top. Short enough to sink in and rigid enough to hold her up. As usual, I went searching for ideas and stumbled on a brilliant solution. I grab a bunch of old artist's brushes from my closet and bring them to the living room. A couple of tries produces a brush of just the right length and taper to work. My Christmas angel is now supported on top of my Christmas tree with a paintbrush up her skirt! She doesn't seem to mind as she smiles her benevolent china smile at all who enter.

Sharp-Shinned Hawk in Sycamore Canyon 12-9-08

So on Tuesday morning we decorate the tree and wrap Christmas presents with the strains of Christmas music playing on my old boom box. As we busy ourselves with holiday preparations a small hawk flies in and lands on the block wall outside my bedroom window. After pointing it out to Mom, I grab my camera and watch and photographed this Sharp-shinned hawk for over 20 minutes. Though the coloring is the same as the Cooper's Hawk who usually hunts around my feeders, this raptor is much smaller with a shorter neck and tail and a more hooded look to its head. The Cooper's has a more capped appearance. Still, there is an overlap of in size between these two species and a large female Sharpie and a small male Cooper's can appear very similar. Accipiters are one of the hardest bird ID's to make.

The amazing thing to me is that while the birds at my feeders initially all flew off, they quickly returned to the mesquite tree on the opposite side of the yard. Then, in what I considered to be an act of brazenness, a little Lesser Goldfinch flew over to the Palo Verde tree right next to the hawk!

Sharpie on the lookout 12-9-08

Though the hawk continued to look around, it never attacked the birds in the mesquite tree. It stood in the sun on the block wall for over 45 minutes...

Wary Gila woodpecker in Mesquite tree 12-9-08

...while this sweet-faced Gila Woodpecker watched warily from the mesquite tree. It almost looks like it is trying to hide behind the thin branches.

Hawk eyes 12-9-08 by Kathiesbirds

Still the Sharpie gazes away from the birds in my yard and faces the warmth of the afternoon sun while it scans my neighbor's yard instead. After shooting almost 100 photos of the hawk, first through the glass, and then slowly sliding the door open to capture a few shots unobstructed, I finally decide to get back to work. Though I glance out the window every few minutes I don't see when it finally flies off and the birds go back to their relaxed and noisy feeding once again.

Photographer's Notes: All of today's photography is by Kathie with the Nikon D80.
  • Winter Sunset-Focal length 50mm; 1/100 sec - F/5
  • Blushing Sky-Focal length 70 mm; 1/15 sec - F/4.5
  • Sharp-shinned hawk-Focal length 300mm; 1/500 sec - F/5.6
  • Lesser Goldfinch in Palo Verde-Focal length 300mm; 1/800 sec - F/5.6
  • Sharpie on the lookout-focal length 300mm; 1/800 sec - F/5.6
  • Wary Gila-Focal Length 300mm; 1/1000 sec - F/5.6
  • Hawk eyes-focal length-300mm; 1/800 sec - F/5.6


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful early Christmas present the Sharp Shinned gave you. It's cool you were able to capture a whole lot of wonderful photos with great light. I like your pix of the Gila woodpecker too. It's good to hear that there was a truce going on at your feeder. Everyone was just enjoying the scenery.

Ruth's Photo Blog said...

Great photos of the birds,and I truly enjoyed hearing about the time spent with mother.These are precious memories in the making.
The tree looks great,I do hope we get to see it all decorated.

gina said...

great photos. i especially liket he hawk and woodpecker.

Stacey Olson said...

Kathy great photos. love the look out hawk..
You asked about my vicious bird on my blog. that would be a brown capped Rosy Finch.. LOL>. thanks for stopping by..

Chrissy said...

Great photos. I posted a Harris Hawk on my blog tonight. I've never see a sharp-shinned hawk. Thanks for sharing :-)

Vickie said...

Love the beautiful skies and the story of your preparations. Birds are so much fun to observe. You never know what's going to happen. Terrific sharpy photos!

bobbie said...

The alliterative title of your post is quite a tongue twister!

Your tree is lovely, and I'm sure you'll grow to love it.

I'm glad you and your mom had a nice visit together. The sky certainly cooperated to show you a beautiful sunset.

A New England Life said...

Hi Kathie,

It's always difficult to make that switch over to an artificial tree. My older daughter still wishes for a real tree but with our woodstove drying things out so much we just don't feel it's practical. Hope you are enjoying your new tree : )

Nice hawk/bird photos! I've never seen that woodpecker before. For some reason when ever the Red Tailed Hawk comes around our yard the first ones to go sit near it are the Gold Finches. It's like they are the tattletales of the bird world. LOL! Or maybe just the alarms.

A New England Life said...

Oh, I almost forgot! I hope your mom had a wonderful visit!!!

Kathie Brown said...

Natural Moments, I was a bit amazed at the truce myself!

Ruth, I'm glad you enjoyed this visit. I know these were precious moments and we tried not to waste one of them!

Hi Gina! Thanks!

Stacy, I thought that might be a rosy finch, but I have never seen one myself. Do you know how lucky you are to have them?

Hi Crissss, I'll have to come take a look at your Harris. Glad you liked the sharpie!

Vickie, so nice to see you! Birds make me smile, no matter how sad I am.

Bobbie, I'm chuckling at the tongue twister comment! Mom and I had a great time and there are more adventures to follow!

New England Life, How funny about the goldfinches and the redtail! I like your idea of them being the tattletales. I have a Christmas story from New England I plan to post nearer to Christmas. I hope you come back and read it. And yes, Mom and I had a wonderful time! Thank you for your good wishes.

Deborah Godin said...

I'm with bobbie, love the title. It reminded me a little of The Wizard of Oz (Oh my!) and the photos and narrative are wonderful, as always! And that's a sweet little angel topper!

Gaelyn said...

Your photos, as always, are amazing. How nice to have your Mom visiting. I sympathise with the choice for a fake tree. Yet it's good for the enviornment. My fake tree is only 8" tall. Very inventive way to afix the beautiful angel.

Pappy said...

Hi Kathie,
I keep thinking I'm going to quit this nonsense, but I haven't been able to leave entirely. Thanks for dropping by. I still read quite a few posts, but I don't comment as much as I used to. Hope you have a very Merry Christmas. Pappy

Celeste said...

Kathie, when I started reading about how organised you were, getting all your gifts and wrapping them to, I started to feel very guilty about the fact that my remain undone! But I was soon entranced with your beautiful pictures of the hawk and the woodpecker, then I felt better! :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathie,
Does that Mesquite tree have rather sharp thorns sticking out of it, that may be why the Hawk wasn't brave enough to go after the other birds. All great photos.

Cathy said...

You've been given an award. Please check in here to pick it up!

Loran said...

Sometimes a goshawk comes to visit us. It's so cool to see. Your pictures are awesome.

Susan Gets Native said...

Love your Sharpie! There's hardly any overlap between a female Sharpie and a male Coop, but you noticed the right stuff...the "hood", instead of a "cap". The tail of a Sharpie is "squared off", while a Coop's tail is "curved".
And Sharpies have impossibly thin legs.

From Susan, your friendly neighborhood raptor-ite.