Friday, July 27, 2007

The Train, the Spectral Bird, the Goldfinch, and the Sunflower

I'm at least 50 yards away when the train whistle blows, announcing its imminent arrival at the crossing. With impeccable timing, the bird, flapping with speed, lands on the telephone pole directly above the track, just as it passes under her. Her back is to be. Then she turns her head and and I see it for the first time. It gleams silver, and though it's noon there is something spectral about her. Not only has she a nearly white head but her eyes are so shaded by her brow right now that they look to be black holes in her skull.

Which species is it? What bird lands like a Red-tail but has a white head.

She looks to be either a Krider's Red-tailed Hawk or albinistic.

She's focused on the ground and I realize that she may actually have arrived at this spot, cued by the train's whistle. Though the track has Dollar General done the way on one side and Ace Hardware on the other side of the track, running adjacent to it is a green way that leads through the FFA's (Future Farmer's of America) newly cut grain field in one direction and grassland to woods in the other. There is no doubt that the train has frightened and flushed many a small animal out in the open by it's passage in it's day. I must come again when the train is arriving to see if she sometimes arrives as well.

Still searching, she pants. It is 90 degrees and humid so perhaps the rodents are resting in their burrows during the heat of the day, instead of being flushed from the grasses in the field by the train after all.

Her belly band is more a pattern for connect-the-dots then familiar streaks

I need to get closer and behind her to see her tail. I start to move. Care must be taken because this is a country hawk. She cocks her head. Alert. She looks at me. Why me? People are getting in and out of cars for the stores, joggers just passed by, but she has seen my eyes on her. All the others haven't the slightest clue that she's there except me. And she knows that I know.

No question. She's picked me out as something that bears watching. I get the first glimmer that her eyes may be pale, when the light strikes them. I don't want her flushing off the pole, and I'm still quite a distance away, but it won't matter if she decides I'm a danger. I mustn't look at her at all until I'm in a position behind her where I can see her tail. Otherwise I may never find out if she's a Red-tail, Krider-tail or Brown-tail.

I don't follow my own advice and take another photo. Though after focusing, and setting the timer, I look at the trees, the grass, the wildflowers near the road.

When I finally look up from behind her she thankfully hasn't turned. Unfortunately her tail is obscured by the double bar style of the pole. She isn't looking. Perhaps if I creep closer, the change in angle will allow me to see her tail beneath the crossbeam.
But she is looking. Perhaps hoping I wouldn't notice as I hoped she wouldn't . She's peering over her shoulder at me. Once again I get that creepy feeling of being observed. One can see her pupils which isn't usually the case with Red-tailed Hawks. They are swept back at a severe angle to look without seeming to look. She's beautiful yet eerie.

She turns slightly to see me better and more of her tail appears. Its Dreamsickle Red. She's a mature Krider's Red-tail, Buteo jamaicensis krideri. During the winter I watched two Krideri chase a third from their range but never managed a photo, nor had I seen one since.

She is obviously looking and will take off any second now if I don't retreat. See, I'm leaving. I'm going back where I came from.

When I arrive in front of her. She still stares.

She stares some more. I keep retreating towards Ace Hardware. Perhaps if I hide behind a truck...

A cloud passes over: the glare of the sun a little less. She watches me go with intent focus in her Krider's light eyes.
Then her body tenses and she flaps back across the field, exposing her very pale under wings and body before disappearing into the trees. Perhaps to wait in the shade for the next train to blow its whistle. Then once again she may fly into position. She is clever. She waits until the train is nearly upon the spot to arrive, while everyone is distracted by the rumbling cars rolling by. She's extremely clever. Though as Ben Cacace, one of the early Central Park hawkwatchers is prone to say, "Never underestimate a Red-tail".

And what should I find when I return to the house and hour later? Another moment I've been looking for. Mr. Goldfinch has decided that the Sunflower seeds are now perfect for eating. (Love those feet.)

He chooses another.

Some things truly are worth waiting for.
Donegal Browne


Anonymous said...

Did you happen to notice that the Goldfinch has wrinkles under his eyes? Is that a sign of age?


Cindy Lenker said...

Great story w/pics about the Redtail Hawk. I loved your Goldfinch pictures!

Donegal Browne said...

Thanks Cindy, glad you enjoyed them!