Red-tail Rapture

Boardwalk on Matthew Henson Trail

Yesterday on the Matthew Henson Trail I had an amazing experience–a close encounter with a wild member of another species. Because I’m a birder and because our daughter-in-law Leah is a falconer, and because raptors are large and beautiful birds, it’s especially exciting for me to have even a brief meeting, up close and personal, with a hawk.

Red-tail in tree

Red-tailed Hawk

 As I was walking along the boardwalk that protects the wetlands near Bel Pre Creek, I saw a red-tailed hawk sitting high in a box elder tree across from the bio-retention pond.

I edged along the boardwalk, trying to take a picture of the bird without spooking it into flight. I had only my iPhone camera with me but finally got a decent light on the bird, zoomed a bit, and snapped it. Then I just stood and admired.

Red-tail mantling

Hawk mantled over prey

 Whoosh! In a flurry of feathers, the bird hurtled past me to pounce on something invisible in the stilt grass. It spread its wings to mantle over its prey. I crept forward, wincing at every betraying crunch of dry leaves under my feet. Luckily the red-tail was so involved with subduing its wriggling prey that I could glide closer without disturbing it.

Red-tail and snake

A snake snack

 The hawk’s head came up, pulling at a long white string. A tendon, say from a rabbit? When I finally got a look through my binoculars, I could see that it was the pale belly of a smallish snake. In this not-terrific picture, you can see the white strip of snake hanging like a straw from the hawk’s beak. The snake went down in three or four gulps.

Red-tail on railing

Red-tailed Hawk on railing

 The hawk sat still in the grass for about a minute, as if reflecting on that tasty snack. Then to my amazement, the bird flew awkwardly to the boardwalk railing. It scrabbled a bit with those big yellow feet, trying to get a taloned purchase on the hand-rail. Once balanced, it sat there, maybe 10 or 15 feet from me.  I took more pictures, wondering why the hawk was willing to stay so close.

Red-tail close

So unbelievably close!

 Made bolder by the tameness of the majestic bird, I inched closer, my heart pounding. When I was about six feet away from it, I held out the iPhone and took this photograph. No need to zoom or to crop the picture.

The hawk sat calmly on the railing while I marveled, and then flew to another box elder between the bio-retention pond and the creek. Some people came by, walking their dogs, and I happily showed them the hawk perched in full view. Ten minutes later, as I walked past the area again, the hawk still sat on the same branch, looking down as if scanning the stilt grass for another snaky snack.

 I feel so lucky to have been accepted, however peripherally, by a wild animal that was going about its own business. For just a few minutes, I could enter into another life.

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