by Stephanie Gordon, Becketwood Member
On Thursday, December, 26, 2019, about 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon, I was sitting in our turret, when, outside, something white streaked by the periphery of my left eye. I jumped up from my chair, looking out the windows toward the Chapel. By this time the giant bird had already perched on a long branch in the deciduous tree in the front part of the Chapel lawn. There it sat, erect, pushing out its broad white breast, looking very regal, a mighty Queen of the big tree.
I rushed to my dresser drawer, looking for my so called opera glasses, and my trusty little Nikon Pix camera, to try to get some kind of picture of this bird. She had almost looked like a 747 cruising by our windows. She didn’t move for quite a while, enough time for me to find her through my glasses, and hopefully lean toward the window to get my elbows up on the middle window sash, so as to steady my hand, focusing my camera lens, as I found her. Quickly I called down to Paulette, at Security, asking her if she could run out with a modern day phone and snap a couple pictures of this resolute bird, herself? Soon Paulette called me back. Paulette had gotten the bird’s picture, too!
Next time I saw Big Bird, she sat closer to the main trunk of that enormous tree, remaining on the same limb. I called Jim Mansfield, asking him if he had seen this gigantic creature. Just then the bird flew toward the Member Gardens, so Jim didn’t pursue his own binoculars, and camera.
However, about an hour or so later in the afternoon, just as the haze of late afternoon shadows were beginning to creep above the horizon, Jim called me saying, “Stephanie, look on the spine of the east wing of Becketwood, and then look at the pinnacle of the East turret.” First Jim had seen about a 23 head count of black crows sitting on the east spine of Becketwood, and over on the towering turret sat this big bird I had seen earlier! Her tail feathers, some of her back, and head looked really red to me. Off I ran again to locate my camera and get this Red-tailed Hawk in my lens. Again, locating her from a distance proved harder than it appeared, but there she was, flash, I got her, sitting perfectly still with her back toward the spine of the east area of the building, where the crows were holding court. Jim said the crows had been antagonizing the Red-tailed Hawk, and had swarmed around the pinnacle of the turret, getting closer to her each time they zoomed in. By the time I got my camera ready for a second shot of her on the pinnacle of her world, all her feathers were sticking out, some quite ragged looking, and her talons seemed to almost penetrate the copper material of the pinnacle of the east turret, as she sat there, glaring. She looked very angry, as if she might start winging her great wings and her white breast their way. I didn’t see her there long, and as far as my story of Dec. 26th goes, it ends there.
But wait, this last Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, I talked with Bonnie Sample, who that very morning had seen the Red-tailed Hawk come from the woods, over east by the Mighty Mississippi, flying westward, to her Becketwood environment.
In between the days of these two sightings, Bonnie told me that Gerhard Johnson had seen a Red-tailed Hawk involved with a squirrel on our grounds. So this Hawk means business, and is out there preying on what comes in her view. She is worth waiting for, and bird lovers take heed when you spy her flying or circling for a branch on which to settle in for a great vantage point view, spying on other critters.
Now that I have identified what kind of bird she is, I really can’t say I’m interested enough to go looking for her, but I certainly will keep my eyes open for her streak of white breast and wide wing spread, as she hurtles forth, looking for her next meal, from her stately perch in our abundant trees.
As a small child I remember Mother introducing me to a beautiful big book, for a five or six year old, entitled Birds At Home. The book was full of lovely descriptions of our common bird friends, seen in most parts of the country. Mother wanted me to be able to enjoy birds and learn the names of common birds, I might see here and there on our walks. The birds in that book were pictured as large as each page, and beautifully portrayed, some sitting in pine trees, like the Scarlet Tanager, or the Red Cardinal. There were pictures of Blue birds, Robins, Gold finches, Sparrows, Orioles, Hummingbirds, Woodpeckers and Mother helped me look or listen for their particular song. We rejoiced finding these flying creatures resting somewhere, safely tucked away from prey, or other harm. Yes, I enjoyed Birds at Home, but they never took flight in my own nature. I preferred cats, and to this day I am still more in favor of the common cat, than a bird I might see roaming around.
However, I do have some appreciation of them from a distance. When I was in about the fifth grade I think, I saw my mother crawl into a thicket of hedge, to try and rescue a little owl, plastered against a high fence. Mother thought he had injured his wing, and that perhaps she could help him fly again. She gathered together a popsicle stick, an eye dropper, a deep lid for water, some string, and some tape. I was amazed at how she crept so silently into this dense thicket, and petted the owl with the lightest touch on his back. She put the eye dropper of water to his mouth, and he responded, liking the water. She gave him more. Then she was able to coax him into her arms, and sort of pick her way back out to the lawn beyond the hedge. There she looked at his injured wing, and fastened it to the popsicle stick, using a little string to tie it, somehow, and the owl stuck his nose toward the lid of water, pecked at it a bit more, and started to flutter his one good wing, and his splinted hurt wing. My mother just stayed with him there, a little longer, and pretty soon he made movement to try to fly, and soon, he made it ! He fumbled up and down in the grass a little while, and then flew off, who knows how far, and maybe someone else helped him again, out in the wild blue yonder, beyond our town’s lawns and hedges.
I thought that was an amazing thing my mother had done. She seemed so calm and certain that he would fly again. Her gentle ways with this little untamed creature were stunning to me, but it didn’t develop in me a desire to get closer to birds. I loved cats, and wanted one, always. I had a few in my growing up years, and Alan and I have made homes for them with us, but birds, I never have risen to enjoy beyond the most rudimentary appreciation of a few kinds, at a distance.
Knowing there are real bird lovers here at Becketwood, I feel I have shared my one day observation of this Red-tailed Hawk, learned a thing or two about its temperament under certain conditions, its stature, varied coloring, and its mind set, around our grounds. The cropped pictures, here at the conclusion of my blog just give you a quick look at my time line, Dec. 26th, scurrying around, looking out all our windows learning something about what appeared to me to be a very large bird, a Red-tailed Hawk, whizzing by our windows, intrigued by Becketwood vegetation and wild life.