Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Weather and the Hawk

Cooper's hawk in my backyard 12-8-09

All night long the wind howled rushing down the mountains like a flood. Hearing a tumbling grating sound I switch on the back light only to discover one of my bistro chairs has tumbled off the raised patio. I stand it upright in the raging wind and brace it between the gas grill and block wall. After locking all the doors I snuggle in next to Gus and tried to sleep while the restless wind calls to me in the night.

Santa Rita foothills 12-8-09

I awake on Tuesday morning to find the wind whipping the trees into a frenzy. Dark clouds gather over the mountains shrouding the peaks in gloom. At 7:15 a.m. with the sky barely starting to lighten I glance at the thermometer and read a temp of 48F degrees. By 8:00 a.m. the rain starts falling and with it the temperature drops. Over the next 3 hours I watch if fall until it bottoms out at 38F degrees. The storm has driven birds into my feeders in hordes. Costa’s humming birds swarm the nectar feeders, house finches and house sparrows mob the seed feeders. Gambel’s’ Quail clamber over the quail block and scurry around beneath the feeders gobbling any dropped seed they can find. The flickers take over the peanut and suet feeders. Gila woodpeckers vie with flickers for suet and easily muscle away hummingbirds for drinks of nectar. Everyone is puffed up from the cold, feathered pompoms bedraggled and forlorn.

Wind Damage 12-8-09

With all these hungry beaks to feed my seed supply has gotten low. As the rain tapers off I head to the store to purchase more seed for hungry birds. As I drive down the street I pass an uprooted weeping acacia tree in my neighbor’s front yard. It took the Christmas decorations with it and crushed them beneath its weight.

Cooper's hawk 12-8-09

Back home again I fill the feeders and sit at the computer entering data into eBird. The sun has started to break through now even as it is sinking in the west. Suddenly I hear a thump against the window in the living area. I know what that thump means, so I get up and turn the corner to see which bird has hit my window, hoping I can save it. Hoping it is not dead. It has been a long time since I have had a bird die from a window strike. As I turn the corner and the back yard comes into view I see that all the birds have fled. The reason why is easily apparent as I see a Cooper’s hawk perched on my block wall. She is standing there on one leg, her other foot tucked up into her thick down for warmth. I glance out the patio door. NO bird. I look out the picture window. NO bird. Then, I grab my camera and creep closer to get a shot of the hawk.

Dead female Gambels' Quail 12-8-09

It is then that I discover the dead quail on my patio table. The back of the couch hid its corpse until I was in the correct position to see it. I gaze at the bird looking for signs of life, but there are none. No foot twitches. No chest rises with breath. No eyelids flutter. She is truly dead.

Then, I start to wonder. Why doesn’t the hawk take the quail? It is still sitting there calmly on my block wall looking around as if it expects some other bird to suddenly present itself for a meal. It looks this way and that. It scrutinizes me with an intense gaze, but it doesn’t move.

I back off hoping it will fly over and take the quail. What a sight that would be! Is the hawk bold enough to fly underneath my covered patio and claim its prize? I don’t know. The hawk doesn’t move and I am beginning to think it is stupid. I put my camera down on the ledge and go back into the den to check on the status of my bird lists. The computer screen tells me my session has expired, so I try to get it back. I am only sitting there for about 5 minutes and then I decide to check on the hawk again. I creep slowly around the corner, hoping to spot it still, but the hawk is gone. I walk over to the window expecting to have to clean dead quail off the table but… the quail is also gone! The hawk did take it! And I missed it! I should have stayed there in the corner. Maybe I could have gotten the shot of The Hawk That Came to Dinner!

Male Costa's Hummingbird in my Palo Verde Tree 12-8-09

Knowing that hawks often will fly to a nearby perch to eat their kill I grab the camera and tip toe out the back door cautiously glancing up at the neighboring rooftops, hoping against hope that I will find the feasting bird, but alas, the rooftops are empty. I am so mad at myself for not waiting to see. I’m so mad because it wasn’t the hawk but me that was stupid. My only consolation is a cute male Costa’s Hummingbird fluffed up in my Palo Verde tree soaking up the last rays of the setting sun.

I go to bed on Tuesday night under silent starry skies. No wind calls to me in the night and so I sleep peacefully. This morning the sun burst forth from behind Mt. Fagan briefly flooding my kitchen with light before the shadow of the patio roof cast my world into gloom again. I crank the temperature higher on my furnace, brew a cup of tea, and sit down to finish painting my Christmas card. (No, you can’t see it yet!)


A Scattering said...

A wonderful recounting of your hawk encounter - super photos as well.

Kathie Brown said...

Well, thank you! It was exciting!

FAB said...

Now that is some close encounter and well shot Kathie. I think the hawk was far too intelligent to be caught in the act...not your fault at all! FAB.

Anonymous said...

Those are some really fabulous shots of the Hawk Kathie.

bobbie said...

that hawk is gorgeous! So is the hummer. You're so lucky to have them all year.

Your neighbor's wind damage looks familiar. This morning my snowman was lying on his face too. The parking lot at the library around the corner is completely flooded.

Arija said...

Kathie, I so enjoy visiting your adverntures. They are so well written and illustrated. A lovely shot of the foothills and of course the birds. A bummer that you missed the great quail snatch...nver mind, something even better will come your way.

Hugs and blessings.

Gaelyn said...

Kathie, you are a superb writer. Your stories and adventures always draw me right in. Mon night's wind, rain and snow was horendous, and so cold. Going thru over 50 lbs. of seed a week. That Cooper posed so well for you, excellent captures. More patience. I'm sure the quail made a fine hawk meal. The birds fly so close to my window. The hanging crystals seem to alert them so far.

Thought maybe my unknown was a Swainson's thrush, although I'm at the edge of it's typical territory. Thanks for the input.

Can't wait to see the Christmas card.

Kelly said...! Excitement. I wish you had been able to see the hawk carry off the quail as well. Your winds have worked their way over to us. We have downed trees and many people are without electricity. Thank goodness ours is still on-- with temps dipping to the low 20s, it could get uncomfortable!

DeniseinVA said...

What a beautiful hawk. Sad about the quail but such is the nature of things. The humbingbird was lovely. An interesting post as always. Glad you were none the worse for the storm.

Kim said...

Fantastic Cooper's Hawk photos! There is something so captivating about the gaze of a hawk, you were so fortunate to capture it as well as you did!

Quiet Paths said...

What a great story; I enjoyed every word. And the photos are so fantastic. I am always amazed at the variety of birds you have down there.

Diane AZ said...

Great pictures, too bad about the the quail! At least the hawk got a good meal.

Kathie Brown said...

Early birder, thanks for the consolation!

Roy, the hawk made it easy for me, other than having to shoot through double-paned low E glass windows!

bobbie, this has been quite a storm, hasn't it!

Arija, I would have loved to capture the great quail snatch! Live and learn!

Gaelyn, it could perhaps be a Swainson's. I did not look it up in my book but it certainly looks like a thrush.

Kelly, so glad that you haven't lost power. I have been in the northeast in the winter without it and it is no fun!

Denise, so many times the hawks come to my feeders and never catch a thing. This will be the first time I know that a hawk has been successful here.

Kim, thank you!

Quite paths, I have lived in the north where the birds are scarce in the winter and I am glad to have so many during this time!

Diane, I agree! As you know, we have no shortage of quail around here but I do so love them. They are the cutest things! Still, I am glad the hawk will not go hungry and I am glad he took the quail off my table so I did not have to!

JRandSue said...

Great looking Coopers Hawk.
Lucky you.

Mary said...

Wow..what an exciting story! I hate it when birds hit a window. At least the hawk got a meal out of it. Beautiful photos of the hawk and the hummingbird is such a pretty little thing.

Celeste said...

Wow, such excitement on your doorstep Kathie. I think the stunning photo of the male Costa's Hummingbird is a pretty good consolation prize for missing 'the scoop,' he really is a beauty.

Anonymous said...

That is Mother Nature...the coops usually take their kills under our big blue spruce and it is usually a modo.....Michelle

Kathie Brown said...

JRand sue, thanks for stopping by!

Mary, as you well know, this is why we all watch birds...the excitement of the unexpected and the beauty of it all.

Celeste, with the cold weather they have been visiting my feeders in record numbers, so much so that eBrid questioned the amount I counted, but it was true! I had 5 females, 3 males and 3 immature males all at one time! Yikes!

Michelle, the weather has been stormy and the Coops are hunting my feeders on an almost daily basis. Today they visited the yard 3 seperate times that I know of!