Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Death Comes Swift and Silent

Standing at the sink, making coffee and looking out at the rainy morning it was a delight to watch the birds flock to the feed trays out on the fence. 

Less than 10 minutes earlier I had made my way out in the damp morning to spread half a gallon of bird seed on the two pieces of plywood attached to the top rail of the fence that serve as our ersatz bird feeding station.  Low tech for sure but functional beyond what might be expected.  In less than 10 minutes it had attracted nearly a dozen brilliant blue Steller’s Jays, almost two dozen red-winged black birds and the first flight of what would surely be uncountable numbers of small birds: sparrows, chickadees ,juncos, mostly pine siskins, and the occasional red shafted flicker.  The flicker comes for the suet cake as do many starlings from time to time.  It is comforting to see the birds, they remind me that though winter here can appear to be dreary and devoid of life, there is a structure and rhythm if you look closely, and long enough. 

As I watched, the first of the mourning doves came gliding in and just as it was about to set down there was an explosion of frenetic action. A cooper's hawk flashed into view; the dove did a ‘touch and go’ with the hawk in hot pursuit.  They dove to the ground and just as the hawk flared, talons extended, the dove franticly flapped just out of reach.  As the hawk recovered the dove was able to put a body length between itself and the hawk.  They few off, just skimming the fence but the dove was able to escape into the woods where the wider wing span of the hawk would not allow pursuit. 

The hawk landed high in the oaks, and all was still for a time.  Dozens and dozens of small birds perched in the thick tangle of the oak crowns not 20 yards ‘as the crow flies’ from the hawk.  It’s a stalemate, a standoff, a waiting game.

Over the next two hours a few of the small seed eaters would flit to the feeder for a few nervous bites, but quickly return to the safety of the thick tangle of branches.  The hawk made two more passes,  unsuccessful both times, driving the terrified seed eaters in all directions, and then a half hour later something really dramatic occurred: from nowhere a larger hawk, one I have not identified, swooped in scattering birds in all directiond.  The smaller cooper's hawk attacked this larger bird, driving him to the ground and then flew off to a higher perch.  The larger bird flapped up to the top rail of the fence in two wing beats and settled there for a couple minutes. 

I had time to go get my little Lumix point and shoot as he preened and recovered his dignity.  Unfortunately this little camera does not have the chops to get a decent picture through the patio door glass from 30 yards off.  Here is the best of the worst: P1060122
as you can see he knows I’m looking him over.  Eventually this bigger bird flew up into the trees and continued to cast a pall over the potential feast of the seed eaters. (If you click on this photo and then enlarge it to the largest setting on the flickr page you may get a good enogh look that you could identify him for us - I would be happy to know what you think) 

Having spent my allotted two hours of Sunday morning leisure time with a cup of coffee and the binoculars observing this death dance I find that I need to get on with the more mundane obligations of daily life, but I will take a peek from time to time to see how the life and death struggle goes on, just outside my doo

PS:  I noticed that we went over 100,000 page views recently, I know in the world of 'real' bloggers this is 'front pocket money', but it does suprise me.  Thanks for looking.  
P1060130

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